Wildlife crime

Whooper cygnet, in prime of life. Image by Dave Johnson.

You may remember a couple of weeks ago I went in search of some owls. While we were waiting for the owls to appear, some of us wandered down to the nearby pond; one of the guys pointed out a pair of Bewick’s swan cygnets. As it happens, telling swan species apart can be quite tricky, and on the local bird forum over the next few days there was an entertaining debate as to whether these were Bewick’s, Whoopers, or as someone put it, Bloopers. I was relieved to find I was not the only one to struggle to tell swan species apart; either way, they were majestic.

The same cygnet, shot by hooligans. Photo by Dave Johnson.

On Wednesday, one of these cygnets was found shot dead. It had been shot five times.  [Images from here]

Needless to say this has shocked local birders. Ironically I had produced a report on wildlife crime while working at Naturewatch (here), so it was sobering to be confronted with it again – but now as a reality, not from a desk.

Wildlife crime is known to be a problem in the area; it doesn’t help that it’s so low on the priority list of police forces. Having said that, two guys who shot nine kittiwakes (a protected species) were given a five week jail sentence on Thursday (here). This sends the right signals.

Not a great image… but a record shot of goosanders on the River Wear.

This also sparked a debate about the wisdom of making information about interesting birds publicly available. Suffice it to say that because local birders have done so, I (and presumably loads of others) have gained huge enjoyment. Thus on Thursday I had a pleasant morning ambling along the bank of the River Wear upstream from Durham, because of a note on the forum last week. To my surprise and delight, three goosanders swam into view: magnificent birds! A little later I saw them again and just managed to get a small photo of them – as here. Not great, but it proves they’re goosanders!

[Update 1/1/2010: sadly the second of the two Whooper swans has been killed in a similar way. It makes it unlikely that they were the victims of chancers, but have instead been sought out and killed by crooks who knew what they were doing.]

I’m now back in Cheltenham for Christmas and the New Year. I stayed an extra few days after the end of term to get some assignments done – which was very necessary with the pile of work that had accumulated!

This has been an awesome term. Really brilliant to be able to start training in Durham and to do it with such a great group of people. Have there been stresses? Absolutely, particularly towards the end of term with assignment deadlines looming. But after the long saga that there was in my getting onto this training course, this is a set of stresses I’m quite glad to have!

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