All posts by sarahd


Today is LGBTQ+ Stem Day. I’m not sure if I am actually someone who works in STEM, because I don’t study and I don’t have anything academic other than a BSc and a Lantra PA1/PA6 (that’s a little joke there for the fellow conservation workers) I saw “STEM supporting” and thought that might be more appropriate for my job?

I might not actually science science, but I do a fair bit of bits of science and I read a lot of sciencey science. I collect data, and write reports, read journal articles, and I assist actual scientists who are working on my reserve.

I also identify as lesbian, although I’m not massively open about it where I live, I don’t think anyone would mind too much. As a LGBTQ+ person, I thought I would write about what I did today, on LGBTSTEM Day.

Last night, myself, two colleagues, a scientist and a friend went to sit in a bog in the middle of the night to listen for nightjars.

We didn’t hear any, but it was still a very pleasant evening. This morning, I drove my colleague, who had stayed at mine after the nightjar expedition, back to her island.

But first we filled up some water butts, because her island doesn’t have any running water, and put them in the truck to drive to the island. Wait! How can you drive to an island? Well, we can because we have a truck, and it’s low tide, and also I have the key to the gate. My colleague protects a breeding colony of Little terns, an incredibly rare seabird in Ireland and the UK. So on the drive we talked a lot about how her colony are doing, issues she’s been having with the public, general chat.

Sea lavender flowering in the salt marsh along the track to the island

On the way back, I stopped off at the Cash & Carry to pick up some household supplies for the reserve, cleaning stuff, bog roll etc.

I had twenty minutes for lunch, then phone and email discussions about whether or not I was going to join some researchers on Saturday, studying a gull colony in the hills about 2 hours drive from here. They wanted to start at 7, so I’d have to leave the house at 5am, mainly so they wouldn’t disturb the birds in the heat of the day, but really so they could get home in time to watch the football. I ended up declining because Saturday is my one day off this week. I’m not going to get up at 430am on my day off, gulls or no gulls.

I then had about 45 minutes to catch up with emails. This includes queries from the public, general work admin, and updating various people about the current state of the bird colony on my reserve. We are coming to the end of the breeding season, and everything should either be fledged or failed, and in my case (as last year) the gull colony is a complete failure.

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A really sad image – many hundreds of dead chicks in a large gull colony

Yesterday we had collected about a dozen dead chicks, and our resident scientist, researching the health and fitness of urban vs rural gulls, and myself drove 2 hours to the government labs to get these autopsied. We had a really good and detailed chat with the Government Veterinary Investigation Officer about what might be causing these die-offs, about other colonies that are also failing, and he brought out stomach contents from a dozen dead chicks we dropped off last week to look at. Is this die-off widespread? Are colonies across the country experiencing the same problems? Is it a Northern Europe issue?

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Equipment round the back of the vet lab

The drive back was even longer due to an accident ahead of us. Once back at the reserve, we went into the colony to check on his study chicks (sadly, all are now deceased or MIA) and change the battery in a gull relay – this is for a separate study, it receives the data from gull GPS tags.

Finally, I had planned on spending a couple of hours rolling bracken, but I was too tired. So I spent half an hour preparing a presentation for a careers talk at the local high school I had been invited to, then myself and our scientist put out a moth trap for the evening. Because moths are cool.

What is happening to the gulls?

It’s World Seabird Day today, so let’s see what is happening at our gull colony.

Back in the late 60s, the colony of Lesser black-backed and herring gulls at South Walney was the biggest in Europe, with about 45,000 pairs of these gorgeous characterful birds nesting. When my colleague and I completed this year’s transect back at the end of May, there were just over 3,500 pairs. This is a huge decline, but actually a slight improvement on last year, however that could just be stats as we count quadrats and multiply up, and I had readjusted some of the quadrat locations.

Still, we would like to not get any smaller, and I hope through predator deterrence we could increase and be stable at about 5,000 pairs, possibly recruiting urban gulls driven out from nearby towns.

Ideally, gulls lay 3 eggs, and most can usually get at least one fledged, if all goes well; sometimes if all goes very well they get two away, I don’t think they ever manage to raise all three. When the colony was at its height, it was estimated to have a productivity rate of 0.7 chicks fledged for each pair. When predation became a problem (I am told foxes only arrived on Walney in the 1990s) this fell to about 0.2 or 0.3 chicks fledged per pair.

We have electric fences, which now are mains powered and can be maintained at over 7,000 volts – a nasty shock to deter even hungry foxes. The colony was also incredibly dense, with nests at the centre only a foot away from each other, and this density of gulls in a colony can easily drive away aerial predators, such as magpies or kestrels.

So we were confident that we might have an exceptionally good year – except by mid June, it was clear that something had gone horribly wrong. Instead of thousands of fluffy gull chicks, there just didn’t seem to be any at all. As the end of June was reached, the BTO and Natural England arrived hoping to ring several hundred chicks; they found only 9 big enough to ring. It was devastating but seemed that the colony had failed.

We found 9 fresh dead chicks and one dead adult, and took them to the Animal & Plant Health Agency’s lab for a post-mortem. I had seen a colony collapse like this before, working a few years ago at a gull colony in the north of Cumbria, also managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, which has failed for nearly ten years running. Post-mortem there revealed that the chicks were being pecked to death by adults, who were presumably stressed, although it’s difficult to say why. The gulls nesting on a nearby industrial estate had no problem fledging young.

At that site, it was difficult getting any further. Here at South Walney, however, we are very lucky that we have hosted gull research for decades, and despite the dwindling numbers, it’s still a nationally important site for these birds.

The post-mortem of the gull chicks showed that all 9 had starved; their stomachs were empty. Conversely, the adult bird was in good condition and had actually eaten itself to death gorging on earthworms. I emailed these results to the BTO researchers working at South Walney this year, and also to our regional Natural England contact, expecting just commiseration. Instead, a proper investigation into what has happened is being driven forward – why have none of the gulls gotten enough food? Has a food source collapsed somewhere?

This really highlights how our noisy neighbours can act as an “early warning” for a marine ecosystem that’s so often out of sight. Has a mussel bank disappeared? Has a fish population crashed? This morning myself and two colleagues went back to the colony, to count chicks and collect food pellets.

After a walk through of the whole colony, we counted just 53 chicks, all about the same age – 3ish weeks – and no fresh corpses, which suggests that all the other chicks died at roughly the same time, but that the chicks alive now should hopefully make it as the parent birds were clearly finding food somewhere.

Like owls and other birds of prey, gulls eat food whole and then regurgitate anything they can’t digest in a tightly packed pellet. We collected 38 pellets this morning, and dissected them to see what the gulls had been eating.

This isn’t a robust method, because the gulls will eat lots of soft things that won’t be represented in a pellet. But it gives us some idea. By far, the majority of pellets contained a fair bit of vegetable matter, and plastic, sadly typical. There was a low percentage of mussels, but that’s because mussel shells don’t form into pellets (they just sort of scatter everywhere) so I hadn’t collected many. We found the remains of a small rodent, and beetles, but what we didn’t find were very many fish bones or scales.

Next, I want to go back and collect more pellets, and make more note of how many piles of mussel shells there are. Because the BTO have been tagging birds at South Walney with GPS trackers, we know where they are going to feed – the next step would be physically going there ourselves and see what is going on.

Crossing a continent by rail – New York to San Francisco

Years ago, for some reason, I decided to take a train from Edinburgh to Istanbul for my brother’s wedding to his wonderful now-wife. Back in the near-mystical ancient times of 2010, you could only book trains in Western Europe through the DB website. Now, I could book the whole way in a few clicks, but back then I had to sit and work out the timetables and trains past Munich, then phone an office in London, speak to a nice DB employee who then spent several minutes working out the fare.

This trip had me hooked on long-distant train rides. There’s something endlessly hypnotic and soothing about doing nothing but stare out of an ever-changing window for days at a time. I have never felt so rested.

I took trains that followed the route of the Orient Express, snaking across farmland and cities of France, Germany, Austria, then through forest and mountain of Romania and Bulgaria, and, like the Orient Express, drew up finally at Istanbul’s historic Sirkeci Station, the terminus at the very end of Europe.

Rather than pulling into Sirkeci, the final stop on the historic Orient Express (the route I was following via normal trains), the last 100km of my trip were on a rail replacement bus service.

Well, it would have done, if the last 100km weren’t a rail replacement bus service. Plus ça change.

My friend invites me to California. I hate long distance flying. I decide to break it up with one of the greatest train rides in the world – New York to San Francisco. Well, almost San Francisco – it actually terminates at Emeryville, and the final journey into San Francisco is taken on a rail replacement bus service.

I schedule a day in New York first, which coincides with one of the worst blizzards in years. Everything is shut. It’s freezing, there’s almost no-one in Times Square, and the only sightseeing I can do is a wander about Grand Central Station, which is stunning..

..and contrasts nicely with my departure the next day from the 1970s bunker that is Penn Station.

(Technicalities: There is a waiting area, where you have to show a ticket to get into, and has a “maximum wait” time of 2 hours. This is also where I discovered the horror of American Public toilet lack of privacy. What the heck, America?)

Eventually, we descend to the platform. I’m shocked at how big the trains are – I know the US loading gauge was big, but these are huge double decker, steel train carriages. They look awesome!

I didn’t take this picture in New York, but look at the size of those carriages!

The train conductors organise people by carriage very carefully, to avoid people being woken up unnecessarily in the middle of the night by departing passengers. I am directed up the stairs of the carriage, and as the train gently pulls away out of New York, I’m sat next to a chatty French-Guianan who works for Amtrak and explains how, for example, the recliner and leg rest works.

Did I mention leg room? There’s about two foot of space between the seat and the one in front. The chair reclines to about 40 degrees, and there’s a foot rest that brings it nearly up into a bed.

Departing at 4pm, the train – The Lake Shore Limited – follows the Hudson River out of New York, then across to Buffalo along the banks of Lake Erie, across to Elkhart and into Chicago. The guy I’d been speaking to alights before evening, and I get two seats to myself for the night.

The Hudson River

The train is hot, though, far too warm. The vestibule in between each carriage isn’t weatherproof, and by the evening, snow has blown in, leaving them refreshingly chill in comparison to the sweaty coach. I’d bought a woollen blanket in New York but I don’t use it.

The seats are nearly flat, but having two of them to myself means I can curl up across both of them – there’s no arm rest – and despite the heat I have one of the best sleeps I’ve ever had on a train. I try out the breakfast in the restaurant car in the morning; it’s overly fancy, suffering from too much laid out on too small a table, and it’s far too expensive.

We get to Chicago a few hours late (this is normal) so I don’t get to shower or explore Chicago.

Crossing into Chicago

Instead I have a quick wander around the outside of the very grand station, take in the river that had been dyed bright green for St Patsy’s Day, then have a beer with one of the friendliest barstaff I have ever met in my entire life. I know Americans are friendly – if you meet a US citizen while travelling abroad, they are your best friend – but I really wasn’t prepared for how genuinely friendly they are. It’s ridiculous and lovely and I leave everyone a massive tip.

Chicago Station

Chicago Station

I’ve been warned that the cafe food on Amtrak is terrible, so I attempt to stock up at Chicago, but can’t really think of anything except bags of nuts and the American equivalent of a beef pot noodle thing (ingredients: chicken). Onto the train at Chicago, where I’m sat next to an incredibly nice young man, a music student, going to stay with his Uncle in the Rocky Mountains for skiing.

On the platform at Chicago

The train pulls away from the platform on time, then stops after about 10 feet. The tannoy informs us that one of the engines has broken down, and as we are on the very final carriage, we get to listen to the radio on the engineer leaning out of the back window – they are bringing a replacement engine, but it’s facing the wrong way, and by the time it’s pointing the right way round and we get underway, we’re 2 hours behind.

De-icing the train next to us as we wait

The train crawls through fairly non-descript American farmland and towns, this being my first time in the USA everything is interesting. But I do have a walk through the train. I’m sat in “coach”, reclining seats on the top deck, below us is divided into a smaller seated compartment, then a luggage rack, then 4 small toilets off a corridor and a “lounge” – a tiny room with a large mirror, plastic seats and sinks. One of the toilets has a bit of extra space and is labelled “changing room”. As the restrooms are otherwise tiny and there’s no shower in coach, this bit of privacy with space to strip off without dropping everything down the loo then have a wash is much welcome.

Coach class

Four more coach carriages ahead is the Sightseer Car, with windows curving up into the roof, and downstairs from there, more café seating and a tiny little kiosk selling the worst instant meals you’ve ever had, soft drinks and light refreshments. I ate a hot dog, it was literally the most horrible thing I’ve ever eaten in my life.

Beyond this is the restaurant car, and beyond that, the mythical land of $600 compartments. My seat in coach cost $170, for the whole 74 hour trip.

At most of the small towns you can alight for ten minutes to get some fresh air. Once again, the carriage on this train is far, far too hot. The conductors organise their carriage efficiently; everyone in mine is either travelling the whole route, or are all getting off at the same stop. So while we cross the Mississippi I can sit on my own, but not long after the carriage fills up again so I am sat again next to my music student friend.

Crossing the Mississippi

The next morning, we pull into Denver and have a 30 minutes wait. My neighbour leaves, and from there, the scenery quickly changes from flat expansive farmland to something much more exciting – we begin the climb into the Rocky Mountains.

Pulling into Denver

This involves climbing the “Big Ten”. As the conductor explains over the tannoy, this is a series of switchbacks so the trains can gain maximum height in a small geographic area. Hoppers filled with rocks and gravel have been welded to the track here to act as a windbreak from the gales blowing down from the mountains, and as we climb out of the plains, the scenery become utterly stunning and it doesn’t stop for another 2 days.

The Big Ten

craning for a view in the sightseer car

We follow gorges and snake through the mountains, pass the scene of a recent goods train derailing, and are told to look out for a herd of Elk, then meet the Colorado River, and follow alongside it for about 300 miles through the mountains, pass lodges and towns. It’s pretty incredible.



ski lodges

Following the Colorado River

Following the Colorado River

Following the Colorado River

The rocks get redder and redder and we arrive at Grand Junction;

Following the Colorado River

The freeway into Grand Junction

from there, we pass through incredible canyons and into Utah. It’s late afternoon now, and I’m sat in the Sightseer car, where one of the conductors is reeling off facts and sights about everything we see to two older ladies. I join their table, spurred by tales of how you meet the most amazing people on this train journey.

Following the Colorado River

It’s traditional for Colorado River Rafters to moon the California Zephyr as they pass; this still being wintery weather, it looked like I was going to miss out on this ancient tradition but no! Right towards the very end of our time running alonside the Colorado, I got to catch a couple of guys absolutely belt back to the water’s edge to flash their arses at the train. Hooray!

You can just make them out in this shot..

The conductor who gave a running commentary was amazing, his father and grandfather worked the railroads, and his brother right now is driving the train. He points out film locations, ghost towns, names rocks and mountains and is generally delightful to listen to.

the cafe from Thelma & Louise

Transportation Ridge…

Can you make out the outlines of a battleship, steam train, and a couple of trucks? You probably could if I had a better camera.

However, once the sun sets and there’s no more landscape to talk about, him and the older ladies turn instead inexplicably to the worst racism I’ve ever heard.

I get up and sit instead with a man I’d noticed earlier, with an ear piece, sitting and pouring over timetables and charts and making notes in a thick dossier. I’d assumed he was working for Amtrak, but no, he’s called Eric and he is the most epic trainspotter ever. Over the following day, I learn more from Eric about US trains than I could ever have hoped for.

I learn that train enthusiasts in America are called “foamers” i.e. Foaming at the mouth. I also eat a cheese-filled bread snack that is actually worse than the hot dog I had the other day. Amtrak only just saves itself by also serving frosty Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.

Another hot and stuffy sleep (this train has about 6” more legroom than the last one) and I wake up as the train pulls through Nevada Desert.

I sit and have breakfast with Eric, who I’m not sure has moved since last night. He’s travelling with his wife, who I think is sitting in Coach rolling her eyes, he has detailed timetables and descriptions of the entire route, plus incredible knowledge. He also has an in-ear radio, which not only lets him hear members of the train crew talking to each other and central dispatch, but also automated markers on the line. These monitor things like the temperature and sound of train wheels, and broadcast them in an automatic voice, sounding a bit like an eerie numbers station, and allow train crews to pick up on any faults early on.

At one point the chief conductor comes over and takes a look, and it’s just magically American, this man in uniform slowly and deliberately scratching his head, licking a thumb and paging through the timetables before drawling “Well gosh darn, I ain’t never seen nothing like this before”

After the desert, we hit Reno, and from there we head into the Sierra Nevada. This is yet more spectacular scenery, but unlike the Rockies, this is thickly forested which makes getting pictures to capture it difficult.

Into Sierra Nevada

We pass Donner Lake, the scene of where the infamous Donner Party, pioneers crossing into California, got stuck for a winter and ended up eating each other to survive.

Donner Lake

We go through snow tunnels and mountain passes, crossing the highest point on the entire trip – Eric tells me there used to be a turntable up here – and you get a real sense of how cut off it can get up here. Heavy snow clearing equipment is used to keep the tracks clear, and it’s double tracked, the second track being built some time after the first and along a slightly different route.

The Highest Point

We also pass the California Zephyr from the other direction – that’s quite cool! A train leaves in both directions every day.

Eric continues to reel off facts and points out highlights from the window; particularly interesting stations and these old train sheds that are going to be pulled down.

As the day progresses, we descend into unusually green California, then through flooded plains and alongside the bay, Eric pointing out the Suisan Bay Reserve Fleet, a load of moored mothballed warships, and over an old railway bridge dwarfed by the interstate. On the horizon, I can see the Golden Gate bridge and the skyscrapers of San Francisco.

As we get ready to detrain, I thank Eric for a fascinating narrative of the trip, and he tells me that if I’m really interested, there’s a model railroad club with a scale model of the stretch from Davis to Emeryville I should definitely check out.

I alight in Emeryville in the blazing sunshine, but can’t see where to collect my luggage. I ask a café assistant, who is as happy and friendly as everyone else, who tells me that they bring it round on a little buggy. Enough time for me to finally get a picture of the engine.

Departed New York Penn Station 15:40 Wednesday, Change in Chicago Thursday, arrive Emeryville 16:10 on Saturday – 71 hours and about 3,000 miles.

Buy tickets from Amtrak
Seat 61 details of this trip

Some tips:

    Bring food – if you are nice to the guy in the cafe, he’ll give you hot water. They won’t heat food up for you however.
    Wet wipes, loose clothing, clean socks and/or sandals. You will become extremely smelly on this trip. There’s space to change clothes and have a freshen up, but the tap water is not much more than a useless dribble. Anti-bacterial wet wipes are your friend.
    Ear plugs, because everyone snores and chews loudly.
    Most stops are for at least 10 minutes, unless you’re way behind schedule. Go outside! You won’t regret fresh air and a look at the scenery.

Adopting a blind cat

Every guide to settling a new cat into your home, says “prepare a room with toys and litter tray, to be their home for at least a week until they get used to it” As with my last cat, I prepared the bathroom, with litter tray, toys, food and a bed. And as with my last cat, within 10 minutes this new friend was eager to get out and explore the rest of the house.

Unlike my previous cat, this one is a blind, one-eyed boy cat. His remaining eye is permanently dilated, with mesmerising green shapes reflecting back the light. As his pupil didn’t contract under the vet’s torch, they concluded he had no sight in it. So as he began to explore the rest of the house, I anxiously would pick him up and drop him back in his litter tray every ten minutes or so, just in case. He continued to explore, gently walking into walls until he worked out where the doors were. I tapped his food bowl until he found it. Once fed and happy, he found my lap and cuddled up for a snooze.

And yes, he had no problem finding his way back to the litter tray.

Although his RSPCA/vet name is Robin, my friend’s husband is called Robin, so that would be a bit weird. I called him Fury after googling Nick Fury when someone suggested it, and I approved. I had picked him from the RSPCA shelter after searching for an indoor cat; I wanted the company of a cat, with none of the bird and small mammal murdering. When I went to visit him at first, he leapt up into my arms, purring madly and pushing his face into me – what a sweetie! And at home, he spent (and still does) a lot of time rubbing his face on things, I guess scent-marking them for easier navigation.

He’s extremely confident – within a day or two he owned the house, and happily coming to greet any visitors. He has the house sorted, and very rarely walks into things, only when he’s chasing a toy do I occasionally here a soft clang as he runs into a rail on the back of the sofa.

The RSPCA gave me his vet notes. I don’t know his history, although I was told that they had to remove one of his eyes as it was very diseased. His notes tell a story; some of the comments over the 3 months he was in treatment:

“…grey eye possibly needs removing…”
“…unable to take blood pressure – too aggressive”
“…not rehomable at this time.”
“…castrated and left eye removed…”
“…concerns about remaining eye…”
“…requires antibiotics & drip.”
“…probably completely blind in remaining eye.”
“Unsure if rehomable.”
“…stitches in eye removed, healed nicely.”
“…advise rehomed as house cat, may need remaining eye removed.”

Sounds so very different to the affectionate, confident young cat I have now.

As he is a lot younger than I expected, he needs a lot more attention and play. Toys that make noise, of course, are well chased, particularly crinkly toys. He might be blind but he knows a box, and loves to climb inside and sit, like any other cat.

But as I live alone and work full time (albeit from about 20 yards away), after a few weeks it was obvious he was still getting a bit bored. I started letting him out into our enclosed yard. For the first week I supervised, then I would leave him alone for ten minutes, call him back, give him a treat; the next day leave him alone for 20 minutes, and call him back with a treat, and so on, until he was outside for an hour. (The nearest road with occasional traffic is about 1½ miles away, our nearest busy road is a good 7 miles away).

Having watched a dunnock land right in front of him, and he barely noticed, I’m happy he won’t go on a killing spree. My 3 chickens, however… at first sight, the head chicken, Grey, went crazy, clucking and charging at a very confused Fury, while the other two, White and Brown, ran away. So I tried to only let him out when they were cooped up; one time I misjudged and went out to see what all the fuss was – Fury was chasing White chicken up and down the yard, the poor thing.

(Yes, the chickens are called white chicken, brown chicken and grey chicken, and the cat was very nearly called “cat” I’m not very good with names)

Now, all three chickens have clicked (clucked?) that if they stand still in silence, he doesn’t know they are there, but still I make sure he only goes out at the same time as the chickens if he is under strict surveillance.

And he is so happy, running about outside, but he still gets a bit over-confident about where a door is, and boop! Walks straight into the wall. He doesn’t even break his stride. The RSPCA send an agent out to check up on rehomed animals, she seemed amazed on her visit, stating that she’d never known a cat to not be hiding under the sofa, let alone sitting on it and demanding cuddles after just one month.

One evening recently, he’d been outside for a little while, and I went to my neighbour’s house to watch a film. I must have left the door open, because after about an hour he walked in like he’d always lived there, and sat down beside the fire. Such confidence!

One afternoon he was lying in a sunbeam, and I was stood at the window. When I turned round and looked at him, he was looking straight at me. I raised my arm as silently as possible, and he followed it; on closer inspection I could see that his pupil had gotten smaller, ever-so-slightly. He’ll follow a torchlight too, so I think he can see some light.

He is very vocal, and recognises linear raised bits in the wall as doors – he’ll scratch and try to open not only doors and cupboards he comes across, but also the skirting board, fireplaces, and bookshelves. And he then miows at me to open them for him.

Now I have a wee furry friend, who sleeps at the foot of my bed and wakes me up for purring cuddles at 6am. Being blind has seemingly zero effect on his general catness, and I wholeheartedly recommend a blind cat.

Gull chick day 13

Nearly two weeks now of stinky noisy Gullward/Bindipper Jr. He’s still a fussy eater, but if left with food eventually he does eat it all. He also now hit the 500g mark! His feathers are starting to come through “in pin” so it shouldn’t be long now before he’s moulted out of the downy feathers he hatched with.

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During the day, if it’s not raining or too cold, I’ve started putting him out in the yard, where there’s enough room for him to flap his wings and run around a bit, which I think he seems to like. He’s also eating tiny pebbles for his crop, which is good to see.

Gull Chick Day 9

Gullward is still going strong! I’ve been weighing him a couple of times a day, and this graph shows just how much he’s growing.

I’m feeding him on cheap tinned fish, and scrambled egg, but he seems oddly picky – making begging calls but not wanting to eat anything. Now he’s up to 225g he is being particularly noisy, but again, despite lots of stinky food, he isn’t interested. When he does eat, he’s much more keen to eat it out of my hand than off the floor.

Gullward a few days ago

Speaking of stinky.. very stinky! he craps a LOT. He’s also going to be big enough to get out of this crate soon; once his juvenile (the non-fluffy) feathers come through and he is waterproof, he might go and live outside, we don’t have any foxes about at the minute and he might be a bit happier than stuck in a box.

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Gullward today

Gull Chick Day 3

Wee gull chick! still peeping and putting on weight. However, it started to lose interest in the white fish fillet, so I tried it some cat food and it gulped it down – I wonder if gull chicks demand a naturally varied diet, or mines just super fussy?

Also lovely to see it play with the pebbles and strands of straw, it’s still adorably clumsy, but with some encouragement is drinking out of a saucer and eating on it’s own. Plus, it’s now up to 90g – double what it was on Saturday.

Gull Chick 1

On Saturday, a member of the public brought us a very small gull chick, still fluffy and tiny, so not more than a day old. It is very difficult to know what to do, they had phoned the RSPCA and not been happy with the response, so left it with me (this is the 4th gull I’ve been given over the past fortnight). All I can do here is call the RSPCA, but as I have plenty of time and energy I thought I’d give hand rearing it a go instead.

I left it in the shoebox it had been brought in, but it was soon desperately trying to escape. I put it into a paper-lined fish crate, with a hot water bottle, covered half the box with a towel and left in a dark room. I found some good resources online that suggested what to feed it, so hand fed tuna. I was also pleased to see it attempt to feed itself from dropped pieces, as well as drink freely from a shallow dish of water.

However, it peeped and peeped and peeped! Resources from a wildlife rehab website I found suggested that they don’t beg for food, but instead just beg whenever they think an adult is nearby. It was very persistent.

I weigh it twice a day, it was 46g when it arrived, by the end of the first day it weighed 53g.

The next day one of our volunteers brought me some freshly caught and filleted whitefish. I snipped it into tiny strips, and the chick happily gobbled all of these up, and even stopped peeping! Definitely preferred it to the tuna.

By teatime of the second day, the chick was up to a whopping 70g!

The reserve I live on and manage was at the forefront of gull research in the 1940s to the 1970s, with a Dr Nikko Tinbergen writing his piece “The Herring Gull’s World” on the reserve, which at the time had the biggest Herring & lesser black-backed gull colony in the British Isles. Although the work has some flaws, and his later pursuits were questionable, it remains one of the great works of biology and animal behaviour research. From this and other research he completed with along with Konrad Lorenz and Karl von Frisch, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1973 “for discoveries concerning organization and elicitation of individual and social behaviour patterns”



The local cultural heritage people were over visiting the nature reserve to document our crumbling WW2 structures, using a drone with a camera that enabled a 360 degree, 3D digital record of the concrete bunkers before the next storm reduces them to ruins.

That in itself was exciting, but while we watched them fly a drone about, I scanned the shore with my bins and, way out at low tide, about half a mile away, spotted a dark shape with curved bits sticking up. Is that a shipwreck? I asked my colleagues who’d come along for a neb. Let’s go see! we decided.

It was a suprisingly long way out, of course, and the sands here are terrible and scary, with the tide turning fast and easily cutting off the unwary. So we jogged across the sandflats, and found that yes it was a shipwreck – incredible! an old wooden ship, the hull full of shingle.




We were all very aware that the tide had turned half an hour ago, so literally just grabbed a few pictures and the jogged back up the beach.

A web search, and although there’s been many wrecks on this side of the island, the only one i can find that names this particular sandbar – Hilpsford – is the 1825 wreck of a brig called Susan. Would something from nearly 200 years ago have survived this well?

Next Holiday Sorted

A piece about owls in the Guardian mentions Kikinda in northern Serbia:

“.. up to 750 long-eared owls – part of this species’ largest concentration on the planet – roost every night in the town’s main streets …

“At dawn the entire town is caught in sunlit hoar frost, and as the residents stroll to work or their lessons, they thread through the parallel world of these night birds. The owls are utterly indifferent, their eyelids squeezed tight like closed shutters, holding aloof from the human community and stopping up in the darkness of their dreams all that gloriously unknowable magic of their lives.”

Booking holiday now.