The other day I caught a show on the western part of England, fronted by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall. Now, I usually avoid programs with celebrity chefs (generally male) looking to expand their CVs by talking about stuff beyond food and cooking. Never mind that their cooking shows display a whiff of desperation to try to find the next new food frontier. Now we have to listen to them drone on about wildlife, countryside, politics, social issues in the UK and other countries blah, blah, blah….
However, he was going to do a segment on long-tailed tits, and I really like it when programs spend time on ordinary, every day birds. It was a good little segment, where Hugh spends some time with an actual expert and some excellent film footage on their roosting habits, whole families piled up on twigs (interestingly, this film footage was replicated on Winter Watch that aired this past week. I’ve noted this type of replication on other BBC shows).
At any rate, this expert was talking about a nest he was watching that had been predated. Cue the question in the title by our man Hugh. I almost turned the television off there and then. Thankfully, the expert explained it was a jay, but I wish he had gone on to explain to Hugh wrong the assumptions about Magpies often are. And, if Hugh doesn’t know this himself, he has no business fronting a show having to do with wildlife. It ain’t fittin’, it just ain’t fittin’.
I thought that I had evolved a rather new theory about magpies and their ilk (i.e. pests), such as rats, pigeons, crows etc: they are considered enough of a pest that abuse (crow and magpie traps) and elimination (grey squirrel culls) are justified to get rid of them, our direct competition, masters of environments we have created. But drat the luck, Simon Barnes proposes a similar view in a recent edition of the Sunday Times Magazine where he talks about seagulls:
We have a tendency to despise two types of non-human life. We feel comfortably superior to those that have as little to do with us as possible and, as a result, are declining fast in a human-dominated world — like rhinos, often regarded as near-dinosaur: out competed in a world faster than they can deal with. And we resent the animals that adapt well to humans and can make a decent living among us: cockroaches, rats, pigeons — and gulls. (see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/nature-we-like-to-sneer-at-gulls-but-throw-a-chip-and-you-ll-witness-a-marvel-of-agility-and-adaptation-d6gvgs2pj).
And speaking of the despicable…
Michael Gove, a UK government minister, has been addressed by prominent animal charities about the grey squirrel cull in the UK. According to the Times, “Grey squirrel cull is nuts.” (see https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/grey-squirrel-cull-is-nuts-gove-told-twslsw6ww) These charities maintain that grey squirrels are not responsible for deforestation. And red squirrel populations would not be so seriously depleted but for the ‘cull’ of them for their fur and because they were considered pests themselves by gamekeepers. Scotland, seen as the last stronghold of red squirrels, was one of the more dangerous places to be a red at various times. (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/highlands_and_islands/8023283.stm for an account on the varying fortunes of the reds).
This is her in our glass lean-to cum conservatory at her tin–an aluminum dish where we stored all her treats, mostly all kinds of nuts in the shell common in supermarkets around Christmas. You will note that it seems rather low on nuts, something that has not escaped her notice either. In fact, conspicuous by their absence are her favorites: walnuts in the shell.
Below, she is making do with a nut not in the shell, all the while keeping her eye on me, waiting for me to produce the goods. Alas, she was destined to disappointment: now the holidays are over, it is really difficult to find nuts in the shell anywhere (aside from peanuts, which to her mind is a pretty poor substitute for walnuts).
I have a regular rat visitor to the yard, although on the boundary where the fields and manor house grounds are. I do have to admit it is testing my own tolerance, but while it is a distance from the house, I am ok… And while I have been typing this, the sparrowhawk has been conducting its own cull–there is a completely plucked and eaten blackbird by my mailbox.
Long-tailed tit photo attribution: By Tony Hisgett from Birmingham, UK (Long Tailed Tit Uploaded by Magnus Manske) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons