Thursday, 30 April 2009

Bronx Breakdown

One of the more unusual victims of the credit crunch is the Bronx zoo (established in 1899) that has been forced to send large numbers of animals to other zoos because of a "15 million-dollar hole in its budget" (http://www.nypost.com/seven/04242009/news/regionalnews/wild_fired_by_the_zoo_165956.htm). The zoo (with more than 2 million annual visitors) is to close 4 areas on its 107 hectare site of "parklands and naturalistic habitats" including its World of Darkness and Rare Animals Range. The displaced species include antelope, Arabian oryx, bats, deer, guanacos, lemurs and porcupines. Not much hope for conservation then if the oldest city zoo in one of the richest locations can't continue to function?

The 'Flu Has Flown


The Swine 'flu outbreak has been upgraded by the WHO to level 5, as person-to-person spread has occurred in at least 2 countries (http://www.direct.gov.uk/en/swineflu/DG_177831). The possible pandemic is actually more advanced than that as that kind of spread has clearly occured in Mexico and possibly the USA. The disease has also been confirmed in Austria, Canada, Costa Rica, Germany, Israel, New Zealand, South Korea, Spain and the UK but mainly in people who have recently returned from Mexico (so the person-to-person transmission may not have occurred in their country of origin [although it seems to have happened in Spain]). It is also reported (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8022437.stm) that patients with 'flu-like symptoms are under observation or being actually tested in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Guatemala, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Peru, Sweden, Switzerland and Uruguay. The chances are that this agent is going to spread across the globe. The only positive piece of news thus far is that, to date, few people outside Mexico appear to have died because of the infection (a toddler in Texas is the only non-Mexican fatality). This may actually be due to at least some of the Mexican deaths being linked to secondary bacterial infections with pneumonia (hence the increasing interest in antibiotic stocks rather than anti-virals). Even given the media tendency to hype, things look likely to get a good deal worse (and there is no doubt that mass infections will lead to worse prognoses than the current situation where intense medical help can be directed to what is still a small number of people who are mostly young, fit and relatively wealthy).

Monday, 27 April 2009

Seeing the Changes 192




The Ball mustard (Nesila paniculata) was in flower in Bynea. In Swansea, the Clustered dock (Rumex conglomeratus) and Anise (Pimpinella anisum) were coming into flower. In Blackpill, Wild mignonette (Reseda lutea) was in flower on the edge of the shore.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Fortunately Pigs Can't Fly: Unfortunately Humans Can

I suppose the only positive feature about the new strain (A/H1N1) of Swine 'flu that has killed over 80 people in Mexico is that the primary focus species of the virus (the pig) is less mobile than birds, the generally infected animals in Avian 'flu outbreaks (http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N24524032.htm). Having said that, people contracting the disease may certainly be moved by air transport and cases have already been reported or suspected in the USA (in a wide number of states), Australia, New Zealand, France, Spain, Israel and Scotland. Most of the affected individuals had recently visited Mexico. Some countries, such as Russia, are banning travel to Mexico as well as the import of Mexican pork products. It is somewhat disturbing to learn that this novel virus is a strange mixture of swine, human and avian viruses. I suspect that this story will be a focus for, at best, several weeks and that's if it doesn't turn into something worse.

European Biodiversity Goes AWOL

There is a worrying report from the European Environmental Agency suggesting that most of that continent's habitats and species are in a 'poor condition' with increased risks of extinctions (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/24/europe-biodiversity-loss). The claim is that the losses may be worse that predicted from global warming (although this is hardly remarkable as it is clear that climate change as well as direct destruction of habitats, pollution, unsustainable exploitation and the introduction of alien species all play a role in exacerbating situations). The biggest habitat losses in Europe are seen in fenland, bogs, heathland and coastal areas (largely being replaced by 'constructed, industrial habitats' so favoured by our species). Although it is claimed by DEFRA that the conditions of England's Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) have improved since 2003, the UK species that are said to be particularly at risk include several kinds of Bumble bee (Bombus sp); the Honey bee (Apis mellifera); the Swallowtail butterfly (Papilio machaon); the Garden tiger moth (Arctia caja); the Stag beetle (Lucanus cervus); the Great crested newt (Triturus cristatus); the Golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos); Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus); Common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) and the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra).

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Birder's Bonus 47


Another chicken-sized egg (bluish, so probably belonging to the Mallard lurking in that location) taken by predators in Bynea. In that location, also saw its first Swallow (Hirundo rustica) of the year.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Seeing the Changes 191








Lots of flowers out around Blackpill. They include Beaked hawksbeard (Crepis vesicaria), Few- leaved hawkweed (Hieracium murorum), Hedgerow cranesbill (Geranium pyrenaicum), Small-flowered cranesbill (Geranium pusillum), Common vetch (Vicia sativa) and Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus comiculatus). In Penclacwydd, got some nice shots of a male Orange tip butterfly (Anthocharis cardamines).

Thursday, 23 April 2009

More Buried Treasure





Back on the cycle path between Bynea and Penclacwydd, now discovered that a site occupied by Marsh mallow (Althaea officinalis) had been covered by rubble and soil. A little later on, the location of Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) and Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) had been buried in a similar fashion.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Seeing the Changes 190










An interesting fungus (actually an early stage of Dryad's saddle or Polyporus squamosus) was growing on a log in Clyne and, in Gowerton, there was a patch of Yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdalon). In Bynea, the first Ox-eye daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare) was peeping out. In the cycle path areas that had been blocked for a week between Bynea and Penclacwydd, there was English scurvy grass (Cochlearia anglica), Charlock (Sinapis arvensis), White clover (Trifolium repens), Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) and Red campion (Silene dioica) all in flower. In Swansea, the Horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastaneum) and the Beech (Fagus sylvatica) are firmly in flower.

Bringing the Giraffe Down to Earth

A recent study has revealed dramatic declines between 1989 and 2003 in the numbers (in percentage terms from 95 to 67%) of Giraffe, Zebra, Warthog, Topi and Impala at the famous 1500 square km Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya (http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/apr/22/kenya-giraffes-maasai). The International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi have linked the declines to the rapid expansion of human settlements around the reserve. This area was formerly used by the ungulates for seasonal grazing but is now being intensively used for crop production and live stock rearing. Activities such as the killing of animals that damage crops and actual intentional hunting may account for part of the decline. There is a recognised need to encourage the livestock traditions of the Masai as their practises helped to conserve grazing wild animals in their traditional lands. There is also a need to ensure that these formerly neglected people benefit directly from the maintenance of the reserve and its animals as this will encourage their help.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Thieving Magpie?

An interesting debate is developing about a recommendation that Magpies (Pica pica pica) should be culled to reduce their effects on nestlings and eggs (they eat them and feed them to their chicks) of garden song birds (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/wildlife/5165155/Cull-magpies-to-protect-dawn-chorus-say-campaigners.html). Needless to say, the RSPB is against this suggestion (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1396652.stm), feeling that all birds deserve equal consideration and viewing the links between the declines of song birds and predator bird numbers as not being especially strong. Having said that, there is little doubt that Magpie numbers are booming (possibly because these birds benefit in the tough winter months from human provisioning of birds and human waste and don't now show marked winter declines) and that these intelligent members of the crow family can be highly efficient at locating the nests of smaller birds. It is, however, part of their normal behavioural repertoire and they may be 'picked on' to some extent because they have a) striking plumage and b) a 'bad' reputation in terms of luck and larceny. Jackdaws operate in a similar manner (and may be showing even greater population increases) but they have more somber feathers.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Seeing the Changes 189






The Woodruff (Gallium odoratum) was in flower in Clyne. Escaped Garden strawberry (Fragaria x ananassa) and Field mouse-ear (Cerastium arvense) were seen in Gowerton. Ground nesting bees (Dasypoda altercator) were busy making their little 'volcanos' in my garden in Loughor. In Berwick, a yellow crucifer was in flower, probably Warty cabbage (Bunias orientalis) along with a short flowering grass.

Birder's Bonus 46

The Linnet (Carduelis cannabina) in Oxwich was 'bouncing' from bush to bush whilst emitting its urgent call.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Seeing the Changes 188















The sunshine brought out the Holly blue (Celestrina argiolus) and Small blue (Cupido minimus) along with the Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria) butterflies in Loughor. There was also a Green-veined white (Artogeia napi) in Bynea and a battered Peacock (Inachis io), probably from hibernation, in Berwick. In terms of flowers, Black medick (Medicago lupulina) and Greater celendine (Chelidonium majus) appeared in Loughor. The introduced Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) along with the native Field forgetmenot (Myosotis arvensis), Changing forgetmenot (Myosotis discolor) and the Thyme-leaved speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) were in bloom in Bynea. In Oxwich, Bluebell (Endymion non-scriptus) was in flower. There were also the day-flying Ruby tiger moth (Phragmatobia fuliginosa fuliginosa) and predatory spiders lurking on flowers along with large numbers of Great green bush cricket (Tettigonia viridissima) nymphs. Spotted a basking female Viper (Vipera berus) in the dunes.

A Song Unheard?

There is a somewhat odd finding that highly toxic Pumpkin toadlets from Brazil apparently cannot hear their own mating calls ( https://w...