Watery wildlife

The boat’s captain, Gordon, was very friendly and showed us so many different animals.  He even let me drive the boat!

I am visiting the Isle of Skye in Scotland with some of my human friends.  Yesterday, we went out on a boat to see what wildlife we could see living around the sea.

There are lots of different types of sea birds that build their nests on the cliffs.  They catch fish from the sea to feed their chicks.  My favourite birds that we saw were gannets, black guillemots, kittiwakes, razorbills and shags.

There aren’t as many kittiwakes or shags in the UK as there used to be, because they don’t have enough fish to eat.  They eat a type of fish called a sand eel, but humans have been catching so many that there are not enough for the birds.

Thankfully, people noticed that the birds were finding it hard to find enough food to feed their chicks, so they stopped catching sand eels near where the birds live.  Hopefully, the numbers of sand eels and birds will soon start to recover!

Here are some photos of the birds I saw.

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Gannets are beautiful birds.  They catch fish by flying high above the water then diving down very fast.  They can dive at up to 100 km per hour, which means they can dive to depths of up to 20 metres!

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Razorbills use their wings to “fly” underwater and chase fish.  They can dive as deep as 120 metres!

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These kittiwake parents are still working hard to raise their young.  In a few months, those balls of fluff will be able to fly and may spend the whole winter out at sea without coming back to land!

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Shags are one of the birds that need lots of sand eels to eat and feed their chicks.  The chicks we saw looked very healthy so I think there must be lots of food around this year.

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I thought these black guillemots were very beautiful birds.  They chase fish like razorbills, using their wings like big paddles.


Beautiful Birds

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Hides are great for watching birds from.  With a pair of binoculars you can get great views.

I recently visited a nature reserve run by the RSPB called Dungeness.  It is a great place for seeing all sorts of different birds, especially birds that live in and around water.  There are lots of buildings at Dungeness called hides.  These buildings let you get close to birds without them seeing you, so you can watch them without scaring them.  I saw lots of different types of ducks, sea gulls, waders, cormorants, terns and grebes all living on the water, and many of them had babies!

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Seagulls, ducks and cormorants resting on a small island

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These reddish birds are called Black Tailed Godwits.  They are a type of bird called a wader.  This is because they have long legs which means they can wade through the water while they use their long beaks to search for food.

The RSPB have over 100 reserves all over the country, so if you want to get close to some birds have a look at their website to find a reserve you can visit near where you live!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/

Electrifying Eels

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You can see the wires going into the water with the electric current and the scientists catching the sleepy fish in a bucket.

Have you ever heard of people fishing with electricity?  I had not until I went electro-fishing with some scientists on the River Stour in Kent.  Electrofishing uses an electric current to stun fish so that they fall asleep.  Then, while they are sleeping it is easy for scientists to catch them using a net.  The fish wakes up again after a few seconds so it is a good way of catching fish to study them without hurting them.  The scientists I was with were trying to understand how clean and healthy the river was by looking at how many fish were living in it.

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Can you imagine one of these Eels swimming all the way to America?

What was very exciting is that we managed to find lots of Eels!  Eels are very special fish.  They spend most of their lives in rivers in Europe, but when they become adults they swim out into the sea and then swim 4,000 miles to the Sargasso sea near America to breed.  The baby eels then drift on currents in the ocean all the way back to Europe where they grow up in the rivers, then they have to make their own journey back to Sargasso Sea to breed.  Unfortunately, the numbers of eels in our rivers has dropped by 90% in the last 20 years.  Scientists say they are critically endangered, just like saigas.  They are worried that they may disappear for ever, so it was great to see so many in the river!

For more pictures, videos and facts about eels, click here.

 

Moth Night

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This is an Eyed Hawk Moth.  Can you see the fake eyes?

Did you know that there are over 2,400 different types of moths that live in the UK?  Most of these moths are very small and hard to see, but I recently met a big and very beautiful moth called an Eyed Hawk Moth.  They have large spots on their lower wings that look a bit like eyes.  If a bird is about to eat the moth, it flashes the eyes at them which surprises and confuses the bird.  This gives the moth a chance to escape from being eaten.

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What do you think this Buff-tip moth looks like?

Other moths try to avoid being eaten by being very good at hiding.  When it’s resting, this Buff-tip moth looks just like a twig which nobody wants to eat!  Trying to blend in to where you live is called camouflage.  Some animals do this so that they don’t get eaten.  Other animals use camouflage so that they can sneak up on other animals to eat them!

I think moths are very cool animals.  Tonight and tomorrow night are part of Moth Night.  If you’re interested in moths too, you can find a moth night event near you where people will be recording all the different moths they see.  This will help scientists understand more about these amazing creatures which fly at night when most people are asleep!

Swanning about

When I was in Canterbury for the conference last week, I went to explore some of the nature nearby.  Some friends took me canoeing down the River Stour.  It was very peaceful and beautiful.

I sat at the front of the canoe so that I had the best view

I sat at the front of the canoe so that I had the best view

We saw a pair of Mute Swans.  Most swans pair for life.  That means that the same two swans will make a nest and have babies together every year, and live together for their whole lives.  Most birds don’t do that, and change partners each year instead.  Young swans are called cygnets or swanlings.

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Aren’t swans beautiful?

All Mute Swans in England and Wales are owned by the Queen, because of a law made hundreds of years ago.  Back then, people thought that swan was a very tasty meal.  The royal family wanted to make sure there were enough swans to eat at royal banquets!  Anyone caught killing and eating a swan without permission would get into a lot of trouble.  Do you ever get into trouble?

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Swans lift up their wings like to make themselves look more impressive when they see other swans or animals

Because swans have been protected for hundreds of years, there are a lot of swans in the UK.  However, there are sometimes killed by people’s pet dogs, as well as foxes and mink.  If there is a lot of rubbish and pollution in their river, they can get sick.  Sometimes, they get caught in old fishing lines that have been left in the water.  So if you are ever walking by a river or fishing, make sure you take your rubbish home with you!

 

Making friends with scientists

At the British Ecological Society conference, I have made lots of new friends.  One evening, they gave us all lots of yummy food, and we could walk around the hall chatting to each other and looking at all the wonderful posters.  Scientists use big posters to tell each other about the work they have been doing and what they have discovered.  It is much quicker and easier to understand something from a picture or a diagram than from lots of words, don’t you think?

Here are some photos of me with my new friends, finding out about their work.

Dr Simon Pooley showing me his poster about crocodiles

Dr Simon Pooley showing me his poster about crocodiles

Dr Simon Pooley grew up in southern Africa and has always loved crocodiles.  Personally, I think they are a bit scary.  They eat antelopes like me!  Crocodiles also eat humans sometimes, which means that people want to kill them.  Simon has been collecting information on crocodile attacks from all over the world.  He wants to work out where and when crocodile attacks usually happen, and how we can avoid them.  He hopes that crocodiles and humans can live together without killing each other in the future.

Janine showing me her poster with a beautiful chameleon on

Janine showing me her poster with a beautiful chameleon on

Janine Robinson is a scientist who has been working in Madagascar.  Madagascar has a lot of weird and wonderful animals found nowhere else on earth.  Because the animals are so special and beautiful, some people in different countries like to keep them as pets.  This sometimes isn’t very good for the animals, because there aren’t many left and they like it better in the wild.  Janine has been finding out about the people who collect the animals in Madagascar.  People are very poor there, so the money they can make from selling wild animals can be very important to them.  They can use the money to buy food or go to school.  Janine wants to make sure that people and wildlife can both survive.

I will share more photos and stories from the conference next week.

 

What is a conference?

This week, I am staying in the beautiful city of Canterbury in southeast England.  I am here to attend something called a conference.  A conference is a way that scientists share information.  They all meet up in one place, and tell each other what new things they have learnt in their work.  This conference is organised by the British Ecological Society, to talk about the best ways we can look after nature in the future.

Some scientists give talks for everybody to listen to, and some scientists put their results on big posters for people to look at.  As well as being really interesting, it is a lot of fun meeting new friends and sharing stories of adventures around the world.

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Here I am in the lecture theatre listening to one of the talks.

Over the next few days, I will be sharing some photos of the people I have met and their stories.  Stay tuned to learn more!