Archive for ‘Birds and animals’

Mar 27, 2013

Aberdeen Beach – Puffin Graveyard

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Aberdeen’s famous miles of golden sands were distinctly chilly today despite some bright sunshine.

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The tide was running high washing up all kinds of everything onto the beach including large amounts of unused lengths of 2 X 4. So if anyone has a DIY job in mind the beach could provide your timber for free.

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Unfortunately the most common item on the beach – aside from nappy liners which begs the question why do people flush them down the lavatory – were dead birds, mainly puffins.

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The harsh winter weather has caused havoc with wildlife this year and puffins are just one of the obvious victims of starvation.

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I think this is a goose. Perhaps dead from starvation or a victim of high winds and seas.

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There were several cuttlebones washed up. The first time I’ve seen them here.

The cuttlebone is the inside of the cuttlefish and is made of aragonite. Cuttlebones were used as moulds by jewellers and silversmiths. Some people stick them through the bars of budgie cages.


Looking towards Footdee (Fittie) from the esplanade.

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Aberdeen beach is a great place to go for all kinds of reasons. But …

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…you must not do this, do that do that.

This sign was put up to prevent youths walking into the sea after leaving this monstrosity night club.

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The club has gone. Unfortunately the ugly building continues to be an eyesore at the beach. Time it and this sign were torn down.

Aberdeen Beach

Mar 12, 2013

Mr W. Dunbar and the rare Bohemian Waxwing 1847

This letter appeared in an Aberdeen newspaper letters page on December 8th 1847.

Thankfully sensitivities towards preservation of bird and animal life have improved since then, to some extent, but I believe it is still the practice to kill a previously unknown species of captured bird to confirm its unique identity.


A Rare Bird Shot

We (Inverness Courier) have received the following letter, which may be interesting to some of our readers: –

“Bonar Bridge, 20th Nov.; Dear Sir, –

It affords me much pleasure to be able to state, that I have succeeded in killing one of the most rare and beautiful birds that visit the British Isles.

The bird is a fine male specimen of the Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrula.) Yesterday, my brother on his way to Lairg, discovered on the top branch of a mountain-ash, in Mr Cuthbert’s garden at Balblair, a bird with which he was not at all acquainted. On his return, late in the evening, he mentioned the circumstances, and from his description, I thought that it might be the bird which it actually proved to be.

Early this morning, I started with my gun, and to my great pleasure I found the bird feeding on the berries of the same tree, and brought him to the ground. I have him now preserved. A more beautiful bird is not easily found, combining, as he does, a graceful figure with a varied and brilliant plumage.

The Waxwing is a rare bird in Britain; and, so far as I am aware, has not been detected in the northern counties until now. It is a native of Asia; but where it breeds has not been ascertained. Perhaps it would not be out of place to give a sort of description of the bird, in case there are some more stragglers about; it is possible some may yet be captured:- The bill, black; eyes, dark red; forehead, rich chestnut; an ample crest adorns the head; feathers of the crest, drab; breast and abdomen, yellow drab; the coverts of the primaries, black, tipped with white; quill feathers of the wing, black, tipped with yellow – the four inner quill feathers terminate in a small oblong spot, resembling red sealing-wax; upper tail-coverts, grey drab; tail feathers, smoke-grey, tipped with rich gold-yellow; under tail-coverts, reddish brown; legs and toes, black; – all the plumage a soft and silky appearance. –Yours truly, W. Dunbar.”


Jan 27, 2013

A glass of metaldehyde please


Recently I was speaking to someone involved in the distribution of agricultural chemicals who mentioned the over-use by some farmers of metaldehyde slug pellets.

These common slug controls are cheap. Very cheap at £5 to treat a hectare of land and so the tendency is to spread them as directed and then add a bit more for luck.

Six to ten thousand tonnes of slug pellets are spread each year on farms in the UK. 

The point is metaldehyde is a hazardous pesticide and when it’s applied to land around crops and then it rains some of that chemical ends up in water run-off and some will find its way into drinking water.

It is rain which adds to this problem. Our climate is becoming wetter leading to higher numbers of slugs and snails. In England and Wales farmers are no longer allowed to burn stubble, I think they still are in Scotland although it is discouraged because of environmental damage. Burning was a means of controlling large numbers of molluscs in agricultural land in the past now slug pellets are the normal means of dealing with them.

Rainwater which falls on the land must run off somewhere: onto roads or ditches, burns and eventually into rivers. We get our drinking water from these freshwater streams and inevitably some of what is sprayed over land and crops finds its way into reservoirs. This something will sometimes include metaldehyde in areas where it is used. Tests on fresh water supplies have shown alarmingly high levels of this pesticide in some parts of the UK.

Filter it out you may say but that is not easily achieved. The problem with metaldehyde is that it is very stable in water making it virtually impossible to be removed in treatment plants.


What is metaldehyde?

Metaldehyde is the commonest molluscicide. It is a cheap ingredient of slug pellets and so commonly spread on land growing cereals such as winter wheat, potatoes and oilseed rape as a means of controlling slugs and snails from wreaking havoc with crops.

Problems with metaldehyde

  • It is a stable chemical compound difficult to remove from water.
  • It is dangerous if consumed by birds and animals, including domestic pets. Slug-eating hedgehogs are very vulnerable to the pellets. Once metaldehyde is ingested by an animal the chemical attacks the liver, kidneys and heart so that the animal finds it difficult to stand. It may become blind and its breathing it affected. It may sweat and salivate and death is accompanied by seizures.
  • In the less likely instances of human exposure to metaldehyde there may be skin damage but for a young child the consequences can be fatal – organ collapse and death.

In view of possible contamination from metaldehyde the EU set limits on its levels in drinking water. Greatest risk from this kind of contamination come in areas with the highest agricultural output such as we have here in the Northeast of Scotland as well as parts of southern England and in Wales.

Scottish Government figures for 2011 state that over 10,000 hectares of Scotland’s farmland was treated with metaldehyde mainly for winter wheat. In 2010 141 out of 1,912 hectares of strawberries were treated with it.

Contaminated water in the River Ugie near Peterhead was found to be seven times over acceptable levels in autumn last year and this was three times higher than the concentration found there in 2010. Higher levels of metaldehyde were also found in the Deveron.

Scottish Water is said to be doing what it can to remove traces of metaldehyde from its plant at Peterhead but as we’ve seen this substance is very stable and does not easily break down.

A Briefing Paper by Water UK reports

‘The characteristics of metaldehyde mean that it is not effectively removed by adsorption onto activated carbon –The normal treatment for removing any pesticides that may be in raw water. In addition, the relatively simple structure of metaldehyde means it cannot be broken down by other water treatment processes using chlorine or ozone. It is therefore a very difficult compound to remove even using existing advanced water treatment processes. Further research is being carried out into other treatment methods but early indications are that even if they work they would be prohibitively expensive and energy consuming to implement.’


Despite the incidence of metaldehyde in UK rivers we are reassured drinking water is safe. In October 2012 the UK Health Protection Agency which covers England assessed metaldehyde in water as not posing risk. It stated that while levels greater than the standard for individual pesticides has been found in drinking water this standard is ‘not set on a health basis.’

The EU specifies that pesticides should not be present in drinking water. That sounds totally reasonable to me. Why should we be happy with any level of pesticides in our drinking water when it could be avoided altogether? And some eyebrows may be raised by the HPA’s description of the EU ruling as ‘a technical and political issue’. The EU is not alone, the USA has had strict regulations over the use of metaldehyde for years.

I can understand the frustration of farmers faced with the voracious appetites of slugs and snails for there is no question they can wreak havoc with crops. Farmers tell us that if metaldehyde pellets are no longer available to them the alternatives will push up food prices. However it is the cheap nature of this control which has encouraged misuse by some farmers – £5 a hectare remember. The over-application of metaldehyde appears to be growing and inevitably some irresponsible farmers will overuse the pesticide and be careless over disposal of its containers – a direct danger to animals. But it is the threat to drinking water in those areas where the use of metaldehyde is highest which pose the greatest risks specially where farmers’ interests lie solely in their yields. In such cases run-off from their land is going to be a secondary concern.

Alternative slug treatment by using different chemicals would increase the costs of treating each hectare by £13, a trifle in most farm budgets and little more than the price of a set of rubber mats for the new Range Rover.

Jan 3, 2013

2013 is the Scottish Year of the Coo

A few pictures from week one 2013

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Traditional image for New Year’s day – heid in a bucket

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Looking towards Bennachie – 2nd January

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Clouds like spaceships over Aberdeenshire – 3rd January

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Heading down Deeside with Clachnaben in the distance

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Burnbanks Haven at Aberdeen

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End of a warm and sunny day in the Vale of Alford

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The coos are back – up to their oxters in sappy dubs

Dec 2, 2012

Fieldfares on a Rowan Tree

Fieldfares feeding on a Rowan tree in Aberdeenshire

Fieldfares feeding on a Rowan tree in Aberdeenshire

I thought these were Mistle Thrushes but I think they are Fieldfares.

Fieldfares on Rowan tree in Aberdeenshire

There are flocks of Fieldfare in the fields around but close up they do have a look of the Thrush about them.

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Beautiful birds.     Sixteen of them on the Rowan tree this morning.

Fieldfares in Aberdeenshire

Are they known by any other name in Scotland?

Jul 11, 2012

Grazing – the summer of 2012

Summer grazing?

Yes  you

Nov 6, 2011

4 and 20 Blackbirds baked in a pie – and robins and thrushes

Song bird slaughter

Many of us have been feeding songbirds all year and others will be joining in to provide small birds with food, in the form of seeds, nuts and fruit over the next winter months.

We don’t do it for any other reason than we like to see birds and with increasing loss of natural habitats to agriculture and building we do our bit to ensure they have enough food to keep them alive over the toughest period of the year.

I expect it’s not only the birds who are grateful for our efforts. There will be many people living around the Mediterranean, Spain and Cyprus who, if not actually grateful, should be.

These are people who earn money from selling songbirds onto restaurants and bars. The tapas you enjoyed on your holiday could well be the song thrush which delighted you with its song earlier in the year; its speckled breast not recognisable once plucked and roasted, so quite understandable that you hadn’t realised the bite, scarcely a bite, between drinks.

The RSPB tells us there has been a ‘catastrophic’ decline in bird species, and it’s not all down to loss of habitats. Somewhat more sensitive an issue is the part played by our fellow Europeans.

When the birds disappear from our gardens to fly south for the winter, the chances are they won’t be back. Many millions of small song birds are trapped and killed every year around the Mediterranean, including Cyprus and Spain, while migrating between Europe, Africa and the Middle East during spring and autumn.

The bird trappers yell out, hands off our traditions, echoing UK fox hunters. There are lots of people who demand the right to slaughter anything that moves. They like doing it. They get a thrill from it. They say it’s their right to carry on killing. Only they don’t call it killing. They call it culling or hunting or participating in sport. In Cyprus and Spain they make money from what was once an activity to put food in their mouths, no longer essential, but still carried out.

In Cyprus mist nets and lime sticks is still common for trapping, despite being illegal. Birds are attracted by whistles or recorded birdsong played over loudspeakers, now the trappers have moved into the 21st century. The birds are made into ambelopoulia – pickled or grilled songbirds. Some birds are more sought after than others but the birds not required usually die too.

Warblers, shrikes, redwings, chiffchaffs, flycatchers, robins, cuckoos, golden orioles, owls and hawks are among the most desired in Cyprus for ambelopoulia. Being tiny morsels then a diner will want several, perhaps a dozen or more. A warbler is worth around €4. By the time it’s cooked for the table, its value has increased.

In Malta and Italy hoopoes, golden orioles, bee-eaters, herons, storks and shearwaters are regularly shot and the popularity of the practice and determination of the bird hunters is increasing, as is the demand for the birds in restaurants.

More common in Spain is the use of parany or sticky traps. This involves attaching poles to trees, forming a screen which is covered with glue or lime. The trappers use electronic lures to entice birds to roost in the trees. The birds’ wings gets stuck to the glue or to another’s feathers as they try to free themselves and they fall to the ground where they are collected by the trappers who crush their skulls between his thumb and fingers or wring their necks.

As these countries are part of the EU there have been campaigns to outlaw these ‘traditional practices’ but despite the odd court case the incidences of trapping and shootings of small migrating birds is on the increase on the continent as well as in Africa.

Each country is responsible for the death of countless millions of small birds each year and campaigns to stop the slaughter have come to nothing. So do what you can for the birds in your garden but don’t get too attached or imagine they will survive the migration because the chances are you will be snacking on them next time you holiday in Cyprus, Malta, Italy or Spain.

Jul 30, 2011

In Your Name – The Bacon Roll too Irresistible to Care?

The video footage from the English abattoir showing slaughtermen burning pigs with cigarettes and generally abusing them is shocking, for most of us I imagine. But then, there are you who just cannot do without your bacon roll, can you? So you won’t watch the images, for long, or you’ll shrug your shoulders and won’t care how you get your food – just as long as you get it.

But cruelty to animals can mean more than pain and distress for a sentient being unable to defend itself. People who are capable of being so nasty, so violent don’t always stop at animals.

Various research has linked cruelty to animals with violence against people (and a tendency to commit other crimes). It should come as no surprise that few poets find work within slaughter houses. The ability and willingness to kill animals must appeal to a certain type of human being, and sensitivity to suffering would not feature on any job description for the work.

Domestic abuse: attacks on spouses, the elderly and children have been traced to mistreatment of animals by the perpetrators.

“Abusing an animal is a way for a human to find power/joy/fulfilment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend itself.” (American Psychiatric Association)

Of course there is no automatic jump between animal cruelty and other types of abuse but the gratification that the act of cruelty gives the perpetrator is similar to that of the bully and of a rapist – total power to inflict pain, terror, mutilation and humiliation ( in the case of people).

Why would a person hit, kick, burn, torture a defenceless person or animal? It may the perpetrator has himself been the victim of abuse but then when that person becomes an adult free-will and responsibility should prevent the continuation of the behaviour, unless there are mental health issues – and then that problem should be tackled.

There are notable examples of psychotic killers in America, such as the Columbine High School killers, who ‘worked up’ to killing humans through long and sustained cruelty to animals. Many are included in research into the impact of cruelty to animals and subsequent cruelty and execution of people.

There is increasing research and clinical
evidence which suggests that there are
sometimes inter-relationships, commonly
referred to as ‘links’, between the abuse
of children, vulnerable adults and animals.
A better understanding of these links can
help to protect victims, both human and
animal, and promote their welfare.

What are the links?
The research evidence
Evidence of the links between child abuse,
animal abuse and domestic violence is
drawn mainly from studies in the USA, which
relate to cases of serious abuse. There is a
growing research base in the United
Kingdom. Key findings include:
If a child is cruel to animals this may be
an indicator that serious neglect and
abuse have been inflicted on the child.
While recent research in the UK
suggests that animal abuse by children is
quite widespread, in a minority of more
extreme cases it appears to be
associated with abuse of the child, or
subsequent abusive behaviour by the

Sustained childhood cruelty to animals
has been linked to an increased
likelihood of violent offending behaviour
against humans in adulthood.

If a child exhibits extreme aggressive or
sexualised behaviour toward animals this
may in some cases be associated with
later abuse of other children or
vulnerable adults unless the behaviour is
recognised and treated.

From these and other studies it appears that
animal abuse can be a part of a constellation
of family violence, which can include child
abuse and domestic violence. However, this
does not imply that children who are cruel to
animals necessarily go on to be violent
adults and adults who harm animals are not
necessarily also violent to their partners
and/or children. Investigation and/or
assessment are key to determining whether
there are any links between these factors
and the possible risks to the safety and
welfare of children, adults and animals.

(NSPCC leaflet)…/understandingthelinks_wdf48177.pdf

Battered Women’s Reports of Their Partners’
and Their Children’s Cruelty to Animals
By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D,
Utah State University, Logan, Utah
Originally published in Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol. 1(1) 1998
ABSTRACT. Anecdotal reports of cruelty to pet animals in families where partner battering occurs are common but there exist few empirical data on this issue. Determining the forms and prevalence of such cruelty is important since abuse of pets may be a method batterers use to control their partners, may be related to batterers’ lethality, and may result in children in such families being exposed to multiple forms of violence, a significant risk for mental health problems. Thirty-eight women seeking shelter at a safe house for battered partners voluntarily completed surveys about pet ownership and violence to pets. Of the women reporting current or past pet ownership, 71% reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets. Actual (as distinct from threatened) harm to pets represented the majority (57%) of reports. Fifty-eight percent of the full sample of women had children and 32% of these women reported that one or more of their children had hurt or killed pet animals; in 71% of these cases, the women had also reported animal abuse (threatened or actual) by their partner. This study represents one of the first empirical analyses of the prevalence of animal maltreatment in a sample of battered women. The high prevalence rate of batterers’ threatened or actual harm of animals and the relatively high rate of animal abuse reported for the children in this sample are relevant for future research and policy analyses.

Battered Women’s Reports of Their Partners’ and Their Children’s Cruelty to Animals

Oh, and free-will covers the choice you make about how much cruelty you are happy to accept as the price for your food.

Mar 13, 2011

Panda Terrified by Earthquake

From The Week


Oct 24, 2010

The Wild Geese

Surely one of the most evocative pieces of writing Scotland can offer. Violet Jacob’s beautiful poem written in the Doric of Angus is ripe with emotion of a returning exile once more in the heart of his beloved Angus glens and overhead, ‘a lang, lang skene o’ beatin’ wings wi’ their heids towards the sea’.

‘Oh, tell me what was on yer road, ye roarin’ norlan
As ye cam’ blawin’ frae the land that’s niver frae my mind?
My feet they trayvel England, but I’m deein’ for the north—’
‘My man, I heard the siller tides rin up the Firth o’ Forth.’

‘Aye, Wind, I ken them well eneuch, and fine they fa’ and rise,
And fain I’d feel the creepin’ mist on yonder shore that lies,
But tell me, ere ye passed them by, what saw ye on the way ?’
‘My man, I rocked the rovin’ gulls that sail abune the Tay.’

‘But saw ye naethin’, leein’ Wind, afore ye cam’ to Fife?
There’s muckle lyin’ yont the Tay that’s mair to me nor life.’
‘My man, I swept the Angus braes ye haena trod for years—’
‘O Wind, forgie a hameless loon that canna see for tears!—’

‘And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings wi’ their heids towards the sea,
And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air—’
‘O Wind, hae maircy, haud yer whisht, for I daurna listen mair!’