Monday 30 January 2023

Mini-zoo Update


Unfortunately the Aquatics outlet that we have got to know well at Bradmore has been shut down (an energy crisis casualty sadly). Will miss Liam, Chris and Kieran as it's become a weekly outing for the family, each week collecting something new or starting a new project. They had to sell all their stock at reduced price so we stocked up on a few new fish and plant species.

Across the Paludarium, Gecko tank, Tropical Reef tank, Freshwater tropical tank and the mini-farm animals we now have 74 species (of plants and animal including live foods). I'm still cycling the Reef tank and there are still traces of nitrites so still waiting to add the first animals in there but we should be able to get to the target 100 species with corals, hermit crabs, marine snails and marine fish and shrimps etc. 

We added springtails to the Paludarium yesterday to increase the bioactive element to the system.   

There's quite a bit of science behind establishing these mini-ecosystems, especially the marine reef tank so it's a great thing to do with the boys to introduce them to natural processes.   

Friday 27 January 2023

Day in Kent

Another day in Kent, this time on Sheppey with Sue looking at various investment opportunities . Did a bit of incidental birding which was pretty impressive 6 Wild Swans (presumably Bewick's) , 180 White-fronted Geese, 140+ Red-throated Diver and 2 Hen Harrier was a good haul for stopping and scanning a couple of times. 

In other news met up with Zach on Wednesday at Beddington Farmlands- it's all still in limbo over there and apparently we photographed and recorded a moth species in West Papua which will be a first for I-Naturalist (if confirmed to research grade) which is quite sweet here and here . Seems like its a common species in West Papua (here) so all seems plausible. 

Back at the Old Vic, the moth year list is underway (we could be here for most of this year so might as well make the most of the good mothing here) - Pale Brindled Beauty, Mottled Umber and Winter Moth attracted to the lights on the side of the house. 

Also some of the Portuguese Rarities Committee reports and one paper that we contributed to have been added to mine and other committee members ResearchGate profiles so are now available to read HERE which hopefully will help them coming up in searches more easily. 

Finally my gambling is getting better (probably not for long) and my playing around with investing in green transition stocks and shares (admixed with shorter term stocks) has resulted in a position where I am only 0.16% down. Which is the closest I've ever got to actually breaking even. So still loosing but not as bad.   

...and even more finally (just catching up with the week's reading), seems like good news for wildlife farmers as DEFRA announces the new farm subsidies regime. It's not all the time I agree with the Guardian and George Monbiot but there seems to be a broad agreement that this is one of the advantages of Brexit. See HERE. For UK Naturalists, Brexit could have been critical , the EU Common Agricultural Policy was basically the single fundamental cause of nearly all the UK's biodiversity problems, these changes in farming policies enabled by Brexit could put the UK in a lead position to demonstrate a global model for sustainable farming. Indeed Brexit could affect the economic dominance of the UK but for anyone who has de-growth sympathies that might not be a bad thing. I always held the view that Brexit was the fastest, most dangerous and painful way to get to where we need to get to and staying in Europe was the long safer but more drawn out road.  It will be very ironic if Brexit proves to be the gateway for Leftist ambitions considering how vehemently that camp opposed it.  Will be good if that realisation addresses polarisation and brings people back to more central ground. Will see. All still early days.   

Here's another interesting development from this week- Triodos bank have loaned £5.2 million to a new wildlife charity (a re-wildling group) who intend to pay the money back through crowd-funding. HERE . Meanwhile in Scotland another millionaire re-wilder is forking out £10 million to get in on the action HERE. The nature conservation gold rush seems to be well and truly on- just got to get in on this!   

Adult Med Gull (aboves) at Shellness
Adult Common Gull- I need to revise the wing formula for Russian Common Gull so will do so as soon as i get five. Update 290123- I rarely get five and will synchronising nowadays so here's a tweet to show what I should be looking for from DS here. On this bird looks like black doesn't reach primary coverts on p8, there's a large mirror on p9, looks like a pale tongue tip to p7 and the markings on the head extending over the crown all look good for a European Common Gull 
These wild swans are being reported as Bewick's and they presumably are but were always at about a mile away so wouldn't put my life on it but look like it from this image too. However at least one of the young birds looked rather Whooper-like and I wasn't completely convinced they weren't a mixed group so hopefully others have had better more conclusive views. Pictured below with the group of White-fronted Geese. 

Brents- no shortage of these on the Swale
A confiding Turnstone at Shellness 
An obliging Little Egret 
View from Warden Point towards Shellness. What with the epic birding on Sheppey plus the Eocene geology containing bird fossils (been wanting to do a bit more paleobirding for a while now- I did make a start last year here but just got into moths too much ) it would be great to spend more time in this area. It's certainly one of our investment search areas. Off to Selsey/Pagham area next week to view some more investment opportunities. Considering we will be moving out of the Old Vic much much sooner than planned, will need to make some decisions on all this very soon. The previous plan has obviously been knackered (as all good plans tend towards) and still not clear yet on where this is all heading. It's between moving to either East Kent, Sheppey, Selsey or staying in Bucks/Oxon or a combination of two of these options.   

Tuesday 24 January 2023

Malta, The Final Day

View over the North of the main island over towards Comino and Gozo

Unfortunately my Malta trip has come to an end. I really need to go back in the Spring sometime to target Algerian Whipsnake (and also still need Cat Snake and Leopard Snake for the WP, although hopefully I will get them in Bulgaria). I've seen Maltese Wall Lizard (although not all five races, four of which are islet races from Filfla, Fungus Rock, Comino and St Paul's Island), Turkish and Moorish Gecko, Mediterranean Chameleon and also Western Whipsnake on previous trips there as a kid. There are also 24 endemic plant species and Wikipedia claims there are 78 endemic pan-species endemics here. So it will definitely make a good spring trip. I've asked our project manager there to try and get the next stage finished by next April so that I can time the next stage of meetings etc with a bit of naturalising. 

All looking good on the small development project there, which should help with the current 'investment fund raiser' we are doing. Seems like all the stops have been pulled on that now and just need to wait for funds to build up. Not a great time to be taking too many financial risks what with all the strikes, the cost crisis, inflation etc and the whole thing feels to me like we are all heading towards an economic hurricane. What with a Global Oligarch Dynasty rep (Rishi Sunak) now at the helm of the UK economy presumably he has been put in that position to push through more of the global fourth industrial revolution (digital currencies, more digital platforms, AI advancement, digital based healthcare reforms and more experiments in mRNA treatments, social credit systems, carbon credits, biodiversity credits etc etc). Post Brexit Britain is the ideal place to experiment with this kind of thing as without the regulatory backing of a superstate, the whole of the UK population are now lab rats. 

I've written on this blog about the urgency, IMO, for regular people to build personal resilience in the face of this system change/ upgrade including becoming more self sufficient (growing own food, off grid capabilities etc), acquiring land and forming survival networks (local trade networks etc) and from a naturalist's perspective to try and 'ark-up' i.e. protecting as much of your local and personal biodiversity as possible. A system change/revolution of this scale will be extremely costly in terms of human wellbeing and environmental damage. However it's a price we have to pay to evolve to the next level.  I also hope that this blog is a day to day account on the implementation of that 'survival strategy' that anyone with a particular interest in nature and birding can apply. From being based in a working class community in South London to being based in millionaire row in Buckinghamshire we've been demonstrating how resilience and people power nature conservation can be built in any environment using strategies ranging from local community building to individualistic approaches. Will keep all that up too as long as we can through the changes ahead.  

The biodiversity moneyless economy- recording bird and moths etc data is one of the best forms of resilience (a free reward based system) and I imagine that once the initial destructive and shock waves pass through the UK, the re-construction of our society will be along more eco-social lines and the Naturalist citizen science community will be vastly expanded. In the Fourth Industrial Revolution World (where ecology  and climate change considerations are also incorporated into the DNA of the revolution)  we will need millions of citizen scientists in the UK alone to record and monitor and feed into global systems like Ebird (and every other biodiveristy group which will be monitored on global digital platforms in the future) which will inform World Government decisions in global ecosystem redevelopment.

Ironically as it looks like the UK will be the first industrialised nation to be forced through these changes, to me it seems more likely that we won't be re-joining Europe in the future and compromise our sovereignty to Brussels but it's more likely 'we '(i.e our masters, UK based oligarchs and the politicians they pay for policy) will be leading the charge on the rapid assembly of a World Government where we are more likely to compromise our traditional sovereignty- be handy if they build the world government hub in London though- Tony Blair would love that I presume) . Anyway before any of this stuff can be forced through, first they need to crash the current system to justify the emergency measures and controls (these things need to be engineered so that they appear to happen suddenly) so I really don't think any of those nurses, teachers, postal workers and other public workers will be getting any meaningful pay rises, their obsolescence to some degree is on the table and most of the work that they do will undergo an AI, machine learning, remote working, de-centralised, app based systems digital intensification which eventually will all feed into world government central computer systems. Postal workers will be replaced with drones, GPs by apps that monitor our health and feed it into algorithms and private health care providers, NHS nurses by private nurses, AI and robots,  teachers will be replaced with AI etc etc. 

What this means for nature conservation and biodiversity is fascinating. We've already seen the private nature reserve revolution beginning, digital recording platforms, carbon and biodiversity credits appearing and natural capital accounting and there are already the first signs of the corpocracy beginning to adapt their bottom lines to reporting on carbon emissions and biodiversity impacts so the beginning of a multi-index system is well underway. Fortunately the inefficient charity model is being complimented by more market based solutions and also it looks like the whole CIEEM and LINK crowd ( following Richard Benwell on Twitter getting stitched and un-stitched by the Tories as they dangle these ELMS, Nature Recovery Networks and Sustainable Farming Incentives is entertaining btw- he seems remarkably head strong through it all)  that have been making too much of their money on taking their pounds of flesh from overdevelopment will presumably also need to up their game with more interest from the corpocracy now to actually do more than just greenwash and tick boxes. Once economic and ecological algorithms start being formed these companies will need to show net biodiversity gain across their managed territories. Hopefully the Beddington Farmlands case study that we are working on will provide more insights into those transformations which is a wasp nest of dodgy CIEEM ecologists, dodgy local politicians and community poodles and underperforming council biodiversity officers and un-tapped community group potential and under-utilised citizen science technological potential . 

The old world is dying  fast and there are immense opportunities ahead. There are also immense risks and dangers and both malevolent and benevolent forces are at a work at every scale from your village to the entire global scale. There is an entire power and wealth structure that needs to be reassembled and those who are currently clutching onto old models of power and wealth will not let go easily and they will drag millions of people down with them. 

Ok so off the tangent and back onto Malta, so hopefully the Malta small development project (building a new flat on top of the one we have) will provide affordable rental accommodation (we always aim to rent at 30% below highest rates) and help us spread risk across Euro/Pound currencies and add to our portfolio which includes Bulgaria too (land purchases) to spread risk across three different countries (in the unlikely but possible event of needing to escape the UK if these new systems initially appear in Authoritarian and Euthanasian form). Back in the UK the search remains on to buy a small farm where we can bunker in and then basically doing our best to survive the coming few years. I'm still experimenting in green transition stocks and shares and investing in carbon markets and crypto currency/block chains too. Hopefully the strategy of land and property investment, green space management service provider, emerging green markets and new financial system investments coupled with a home based self sufficiency strategy will not just put us in a 'good-chance-of-survival' category but also form some models of how individual and small group eco-socialism/ natural capitalism is evolving and can play a complimentary role in solving the ecological emergency along with the academic, charity and corporate/private wealth sectors. In fact in the fourth industrial revolution the role of smaller players (through digital democratisation) is likely to become a very important area of growth in all sectors including nature conservation.  

I don't think anyone with even the slightest awareness of what is going on around them is in any doubt that we are on the cusp of radical and exponential change and as always Little Oak Group attempts to show how individuals and tiny groups can keep going/growing (barely) in the midst of global cataclysm without compromising ours souls and values too much (although there's been a bit more of that lately too in these extremely testing times).    

Friday 20 January 2023

Malta Day Four- indoor rarities

My last full day on this trip and fortunately got all the work done and the contracts have been signed with no major issues. I spent this morning at Buskett, an area of Mediterranean Pine habitat and Citrus fruit gardens and I had lunch at the Medieval city of Mdina and visited the Natural History Museum there. Latest trip list here . In the afternoon I met up with my cousin Lizio, a Maltese hunter, fisherman and farmer and we talked all things nature all afternoon. I was hoping to try for the Bonaparte's Gull again but got lost in conversation.  Had a good look through Lizio's bird collection (registered with the authorities) and he showed me some Maltese rarities that he has collected. 

First-winter Richard's Pipit 
Female Snow Bunting 
Trumpeter Finch
A leucistic Pied Flycatcher
Male and female Chestnut-tailed Starlings. An Indian species and a partial migrant with vagrant records from Oman, Sri Lanka and Pakistan see here. These were collected 55 years ago by Lizio's dad. The provenance of these birds is an obvious question. 
An interesting first-summer Harrier- will have a read up on this when I get home. A juvenile Montagu's Harrier behind. Update 290123- I'm not sure about this as can't check the underwing to go through a full suite of features  but as it start it does look like this could be a worn juvenile so presumably a bird at the end of it's first cycle (first-summer). In that case the underpart saturation has been bleached/worn and the pale tips to the upperparts also worn. Despite the slightly dodgy taxidermy looks like that is a distinct boa on the neck and a pale collar with a dark cheek patch that reaches the lower mandible. So the head pattern looks like a better bit for juvenile Pallid (compare to juvenile Monty's in background that lacks the pale collar and no sign of boa (but could be obscured). A quick look on Ebird and this seems a fit here and more birds in this age and time of year here
A bit of Eleonara's Falcon variation. 
A decent bit of Long-eared Owl taxidermy 
These collections are stunning. Unfortunately this tradition is no longer sustainable as hunting pressure cannot be absorbed by all species in the context of cataclysmic habitat destruction and intensive land use across Europe . Lizio no longer collects but still hunts game legally. 
Highlight of a visit to the Natural History Museum was finding out about the Giant Swan, a species from the Middle Pleistocene from Malta and Sicily. The bird weighted 16kg and had a wing span of 3m.
Buskett (above) and the view from Mdina (below) across the eastern side of the island . Buskett is one of the few wooded areas in Malta. 

Thursday 19 January 2023

Malta, Day Three

I met up with local birders Ray and Nicholas Galea this morning. We visited Salina Nature Reserve and had a look for the first-winter Bonaparte's Gull that has been around since early January. It's the first record for Malta. Unfortunately no luck in finding it. We also had a look for a couple of OBPs which have been wintering but no luck with them either, although it was raining so that probably didn't help. Great to meet Ray and Nicholas and hopefully I'll see them again in the future on Corvo as it's on their bucket list to visit there. 

There were a few other interesting gulls including Slender-billed, a couple of Caspian Gulls, a couple of presumed Baltic Gulls and lots of Med Gulls. 

Looks like a couple of Caspian Gulls, an adult, above (which looked rather round headed and also the legs were quite bright yellow) and a second-cycle bird below 

First-winter Med Gull, there was also Slender-billed Gull 
A couple of Lesser Black-back were present which are presumably Baltic Gulls
In the afternoon before the next work meetings, I visited an old childhood haunt, Zonqa. There was an outfall there with hundreds of Med Gulls. 
Male (below) and female (above) Sardinian Warblers- they are everywhere on the island


Wednesday 18 January 2023

Malta, Day Two, Maltese Sparrows

I had a free morning so did some more exploring.  I first visited the world famous Hagar Qim and Mnajdra Neolithic temple sites, two of the numerous temples on the island which date back to 5000 BC (Check out the Netflix series Ancient Apocalypse for some dodgy but entertaining pseudoscience that features these temples)  

I got a bit distracted from the archaeology as the temple ruins hosted breeding colonies of 'Maltese Sparrows'. The jury is still out on 'Maltese Sparrows', Ebird classifies them as Spanish Sparrows as does various local ornithological texts, but Birds of the World (also Cornell/Ebird) suggests that Italian Sparrows are also present on Malta and one of the most recent reviews into the matter by Massa et al (here) concluded that there is a cline-like situation between Italian and Spanish Sparrows which form a large hybrid zone from Southern Italy to Malta- with birds becoming progressively Spanish Sparrow like as you go south. Italian Sparrow itself could be an ancient hybrid (between House and Spanish Sparrow) although Massa et al suggests there is some evidence that Italian Sparrow originated as a distinct species from North Africa and expanded North (and has since become extinct from North Africa).  

So it's a bit messy and if I understand correctly we could have Italian and Spanish Sparrows here which certainly hybridise or otherwise the whole lot are just a big hybrid swarm with no pure Italian or Spanish sparrows remaining or pure birds were never here and colonising birds were from hybrid populations. Considering Malta forms the boundary between Spanish Sparrows in North Africa where Italian Sparrows are not present it seems to make sense that the hybrid wave moved through Malta first so indeed there could have been both pure Italian and Spanish Sparrows here at one point and there still might be. 

Anyway here's a few of them that were at the Temples- presumably these sparrows have also been here for the 5000 years the temples have. This isn't the best time of year to look at these sparrows as most of the research done on them is during the breeding season in summer plumage but most of the males were already in summer plumage and were seemingly holding territory (singing and visiting nest sites). Only males distinguishable as the females of House, Spanish and Italian are largely inseparable. 

Just heard from Nicholas Galea that 'pure' Spanish Sparrows do occur in Malta on migration in March and October which adds another fascinating layer to this situation.  

Update 190123- see comment below for an even bigger twist to the plot. Pre-print on paper referred to in comment here. According to this work the Maltese Sparrows are indeed a population of Italian Sparrows and are cited as being an example of where hybridisation is a pervasive evolutionary force that generates new species. If I understand the paper correctly Italian Sparrows are indeed an ancient hybrid of House and Spanish Sparrow (formed when House Sparrows colonised the Mediterranean) and in Malta they just have a bit more Spanish Sparrow genes in them but are still a 'stable species unit' aligned with other populations of Italian Sparrows. 

A rather Spanish looking 'Maltese Sparrow' (above and below). Considering the time of year presumably these already dense markings will intensify further. 

A bird coming out of winter plumage with grey tips to crown and reduced black markings on breast. This is why it's not the best time of year to look at these birds as reduced black markings on the upperparts are a feature of Italian Sparrows and also winter plumaged Spanish Sparrows. However the grey head markings are perhaps a good indication of the extent of the winter ware to summer plumage.  
Another Spanish looking Maltese
A rather Italian looking Maltese Sparrow with black mainly confined to the bib with reduced black on the underparts- reduced here to relatively light streaking. The lack of grey markings on the crown could indicate this birds is already approaching summer plumage.
A rather Spanish looking one
A very Spanish looking one with very dense underpart markings
Still transitioning into summer plumage but this is very Italian looking (but that fine underpart streaking could well intensify as summer plumage develops more)
The puffed up underpart feathers make this look even more Italian like
Also feeding on the temple ruins were Black Redstart (above) and Robin (below)

The sound of Zitting Cisticolas is ubiquitous across the island but they are not that easy to see or photograph on the deck
Mnajdra Temple- the sparrows were getting in between the blocks
I did a bit of exploring around the surrounding garigue. There were a couple of Blue Rock Thrush. Mnajdra Temple is in the background under the weathering protection dome. 
After visiting the temples I did a quick bit of exploring along the amazing coastline of this area towards Dingli Cliffs. Absolutely stunning landscape (above and below). The gentle sloping green areas are the clay areas which are fertile and are farmed in terraces. Must be a migrant mecca at the right times of year. 

Tuesday 17 January 2023

Malta, Day One

I'm in Malta at the moment on a 'business' trip. This was supposed to be part of our five year investment plan to save up a million quid to buy a private nature reserve/small holding but since the sad passing of Holly's dad this xmas we will probably have to move out of our 'commune' (The Old Vic) because of affordability reasons so I actually don't know what the hell is going on (until after probate). Anyway the wheels are already in motion over here and we are building a new flat on top of a flat that we already own in partnership with a neighbour and local developer in order to double our equity and have a new rental income stream. 

So my first work meeting is tomorrow so I had a free day today. Malta is an island of two halves- an eastern over-developed, mass tourism, cruise ship, over-crowded and congested real life matrix-like hell half and a western Mediterranean hidden natural gem half.  I did a bit of orientation today and visited areas I've never been to before  (I've been to Malta many times as my Mum is from here but this is the first time on my own to do as I please). I started off in the north of the island over looking Comino and Gozo, popped into Ghadira nature reserve quickly and then spent a bit of time at Malta's main national park , Majjistral, mainly an area of Mediterranean Garigue (pronounced gari-goo) habitat. I then explored the escarpments around the Victoria lines before heading back south to my base in Marsascala and spent the late afternoon at Delimara. No point in sharing the Ebird lists as there really aren't that many birds in Malta this time of year but today's highlights included a couple of Greater Flamingos at Ghadira, a Great Cormorant off the Delimara, a few Blue Rock Thrushes, Black Reds, Sardinian Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas.   

There are no endemic birds on Malta but there are several endemic plants (including endemic Pyramidal and Spider Orchids) and there is also Maltese Wall Lizard and this is the only place in Europe to see Algerian Whipsnake. There are also good numbers of Mediterranean Chameleons and other decent herps like Western Whipsnake (Black morphs), Cat Snake and Leopard Snake and even a few Terrapin exotics and Painted Frogs. However I'm here at the wrong time of year to see any of that.      

Black Redstart
Blue Rock Thrush- the national bird of Malta but I always find them shy (probably due to the famous Maltese bird hunting pressure). They were singing today at the Victoria lines escarpment
I remember reading something about the Maltese 'Spanish Sparrows' and 'Italian Sparrow look-alikes'. I'll have a closer look over the next few days. This one looks like one of the dodgy ones. Update 180123 - found this on the subject Here
View over Comino and Gozo islands
View over Ghadira nature reserve. Despite all the bad press that Malta gets from the hunting culture it actually has about 13% of the island designated as Natura 2000 sites (in pretty good shape too) and over 30% of Maltese waters is Marine protected areas. Ecologically its in a lot better shape than some nature depleted, judgemental and hypocritical deluded  European islands like Britain.  
Maltese geology in one shot- (from top to bottom) the Upper Corraline limestone (7-5 mya) , Greensand, Blue Clay (the steppe like habitat gently sloping area) and the basal limestones (Globigerina and Lower Corralline, 28-23 mya) under that.
View from the Victoria Lines escarpment over Mjarr. This must be an excellent vis mig spot during migration times. 
Couldn't help seeing some of the tourist spots on my travels- Popeye Village (the set from the movie- they make a lot of films in Malta).