We catch up with Rennie, CAT’s nature expert as he reports last weeks sightings around CAT

cmshrew1By Rennie Telford

1 March

Following on from last Friday’s Naycher Korner, my candidate for Britain’s most ferocious predator is the shrew — more specifically, the common shrew (we have 5 species). These diminutive (3 inches long) but belligerent creatures live in nature’s fast lane and spend most of their short lives (they live for about a year) hunting, eating and fighting. They even have to sleep in short snatches, as if they go without food for more than about 3 hours, they will starve to death. Their diet consists of earthworms, woodlice, caterpillars and just about any insect they can catch during a ceaseless search for food. They are solitary, extremely territorial animals and if two rivals meet, they hurl themselves at each other with unmitigated fury, emitting what they probably consider to be ferocious and bloodcurdling roars, but which sound to us like high pitched squeaks. In fact this sound is usually the only indication of their presence you will get, unless you spend a lot of time skulking around the bushes on your hands and knees  –(I don’t do that any more, since the incident in the park — my case comes up next week).

Oh yes– and their saliva is poisonous – if one bites you it leaves a burning sensation and believe me, they will bite when handled. What I love about shrews is that they don’t seem to realize that they are small and to see one determinedly hauling an earthworm much longer than itself out of the ground or defiantly chewing your thumb are sights to behold. They are one of our commonest mammals so there are bound to be plenty around the Quarry — You have been warned!

2 March

tree-creeper1Another interesting little bird to keep an eye out for around the site is the Treecreeper. This has been spotted by several people although I’m a bit miffed because I haven’t seen it myself yet. This time of year is a good time to catch a glimpse of this unobtrusive bird as it does what its name implies and creeps up the bark of the trees searching for insects which it digs out with its slender bill. It spirals around the trunk always going upwards and then flies off to the base of another tree to repeat the process. I have made a V shaped nest box which I think Biology have put up somewhere to try and encourage it to nest — being almost exclusively insectivorous severe winters take their toll so it needs all the help it can get.

Some of the older bird books will tell you that it can easily be confused with a mouse as it climbs around the tree, but after years of observation I have noticed some subtle differences. Mice tend to have four legs, fur and a long tail, but the Treecreeper on the other hand. You pick up these little aids to identification as you go along.

3 March

messent-rooksYou all probably have your own sight or sound that is a sign that spring is on the way — the first daffodils,  newborn lambs etc. — but for me the real harbinger of  spring is the raucus noise of a flock of rooks beginning their annual repairs and renovations of their rookery nests. I was watching the rooks down by the railway station in town the other night while waiting for the train — they were returning to their roost for the night –and were arguing and jostling each other for the prime positions. They are intensely gregarious birds– I hesitate to use the word sociable as they seem to be constantly bickering with each other. Here at the quarry we get predominantly crows rather than rooks –the old rule of thumb is; if you see a rook on its own it’s a crow and if you see lots of crows together they are rooks — a bit of a generalisation but more or less true. Adult rooks have a bald patch at the base of their bills and also have a more ‘ baggy trousered ” appearance to the feathers at the top of their legs. If you get a chance it is well worth spending a few minutes watching  a flock of rooks –there is something almost human like in their interaction with each other —  squabbling, playing –exercising their dominance but  at heart  enjoying the company of each other. It reminds me of somewhere, I just can’t place it?

5 March

willow-warblerIt’s around time for the annual invasion of the warblers. These unremarkable looking little birds are in fact extremely remarkable   — they are the first of the summer migrants to arrive and thousands of them are at present battling the elements on their, perhaps two thousand mile journey to Britain. The first to arrive is usually the onomatopoeically named Chiff Chaff– In fact some may already have arrived although I haven’t heard one yet myself. This little greeny -brown bird is the Seasick Steve of the bird world — it only knows two notes and it repeats them over and over — but it’s another welcome sign of spring. Listen out for it, especially over by the north drive or in any mature deciduous woodland. In a couple of weeks time the other warblers will start to appear, the most common one being the Willow Warbler (Telor yr Helyg in Welsh). This is practically identical in appearance to the Chiff Chaff but has a beautiful melodious song. Another more uncommon one often found in Wales is the Wood Warbler, again extremely difficult to identify by sight (at least to me) but with a subtly different song.

In fact all the warblers look much the same and can be incredibly difficult to differentiate between. After spending a couple of hours with a rather nerdy friend, who was pointing out at great length the subtle difference between (I think) a Grasshopper Warbler and a Cetti’s Warbler (something about the colour of their legs I seem to recall) I have now given up and just enjoy them as little brown jobs that sing beautifully. I’ll never make a twitcher.

CAT examines Gender and Climate Change on International Women’s Day

iwdblogTo celebrate the 99th anniversary of International Women’s Day CAT looks at why gender is deemed a climate change issue; the stories of women that are inspiring mitigation and adaptation to climate change in their communities; and a brief history of eco-feminism. Follow the links below, and tell us how you spent IWD 2010 in the comments.

Women…In The Shadow of Climate Change – UN Chronicle:

“Climate change is one of the greatest global challenges of the twenty-first century. Its impacts vary among regions, generations, age, classes, income groups, and gender. Based on the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is evident that people who are already most vulnerable and marginalized will also experience the greatest impacts…” …continue reading.

Sisters on the Planet – Oxfam:

This is a series of short stories from women around the world who are determined to put a stop to climate change and to inspire others to do the same. You can order a free copy of the full documentary from Oxfam.

The impact of climate change on rural women – UN Radio:

In Copenhagen in December, the Global Gender Coalition Alliance lobbied for all areas of the future climate treaty to reflect the special concerns of women. Follow the link to United Nations Radio and hear why climate change is a gender issue from Angelina Mensah, a member of the coalition and the Environmental Protection Agency of Ghana.

Deeds Not Words – Climate Rush:

Climate Rush is a 21st century women’s group inspired by the actions of the Suffragettes 100 years ago, that believes that “government inaction on climate change threatens the future of humanity”. Below is the trailer to their film Deeds Not Words, that follows the groups first direct action in their pursuit of climate justice. Follow this link to watch the full film.

9 inspiring examples of women’s climate activism – Jess Macabe:

Here is a collection of feminist and women’s activism on climate change and environmental issues by The f word.

Tell us how you celebrated International Women’s Day in the blog comments.

Vietnamese farming expert to visit Machynlleth to discuss climate change and rural livelihoods in CAT’s Quarry Cafe

1_village1The Centre for Alternative Technology presents, Earning a Living in a Changing Climate: A Vietnamese Perspective on Climate Change, combined with good food and conversation in a free talk this Thursday at 7.30 in CAT’s Quarry Cafe in Machynlleth.

The guest speaker Nguyen Quang Minh, is Livelihoods Programme Coordinator for Oxfam Great Britain and works with some of the poorest people in Vietnam to help them earn a living.  Minh will talk about the impacts of climate change in Vietnam and some of the practical solutions for communities to adjust to these pressures.

“Though at opposite ends of the world there is actually a lot in common between what Minh does in Vietnam and what the Centre for Alternative Technology does. Machynlleth has an established Oxfam group and so bringing Minh to Mach is a great chance for supporters to hear first hand about the work their support enables.”  Representative from Oxfam Cymru.

Minh will cover issues from food, income, climate change and the gender challenges that Vietnamese communities face through his everyday work and how he is tackling these issues through initiatives such as community based forest management as well as policy and grassroots work to develop long-term livelihoods to help overcome poverty.

Over the next two weeks Minh will be visiting Wales, as part of an ongoing project by Oxfam Cymru to bring the experiences of people working in the developing world to communities in Wales.

Food will be served in the Quarry Cafe from 6.30, in time for the talk at 7.30 followed by a question and answer session. Join us for a stimulating debate over dinner, at the Quarry Café and find out how your support for Oxfam Cymru could help to change the lives of others across the world.

Not for the faint hearted….

By Rennie Telford

Morning Everyone,
Yesterday Caz and Roger were fortunate emough to experience a close encounter of the mammalian kind ( stop it ! ). They surprised a stoat or a weasel in the cold store outside T chest. These two carnivores are superficially similar and move so rapidly that they can easily be confused. The stoat is larger and always has a black tip to its tail and the weasel is more likely to be seen in its characteristic upright position.
The stoat is a relentless and bloodthirsty hunter and once it pursues its prey rarely gives up until it has caught it. A couple of years ago, down on the Mawddach estuary where I live, I watched, enthralled, as a stoat fed on a rabbit it had just killed. It bored its way into the rabbit’s skull by way of the eye socket, its head disappearing inside at times and at intervals lifted up its face to look around with blood and bits of brain dripping from its mouth. Probably quite good that it is a relatively small creature!
Size for size I rate the weasel as the third most voracious carnivorous mammal in Britain with the stoat as the second.

However there is another mammal in this country- fill in the blank of this nature competition with a chance to win. In my humble opinion, without a doubt the most belligerent, bloodthirsty, voracious and unceasingly angry mammalian carnivore in this country is the – – –

There will be prizes

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Nature Update

by Rennie Telford

As you arrive shivering and cold for work, spare a thought for some of our wildlife in this cold weather. The wren, in particular can suffer dramatic decline in bad winters and I think the recent cold snap has had a marked effect on the numbers at CAT. I saw my first one this year ,yesterday and normally , although they are unobtrusive , there are lots on site. Luckily as a species they are astonishingly resilient and by producing several broods and large clutches numbers usually recover.
They are one of our most big hearted birds and sing all year round and although the song can’t be called beautiful, it is so enthusiastic and irripressable that it is a joy to hear.
Wrens in their nest The male wren is a nest builder par excellence, and builds several nests that it then shows to its prospective lady-love, who chooses the one she likes best. They always seem rather fussy little birds to me and you can imagine the female commenting on the nests –” It’s quite nice, but rather a rough neighbour hood ‘—- ‘Are you sure that roof won’t leak?’

As a survival strategy in the cold weather they will abandon their usually solitary habits and roost communally in old nestboxes and crevices, huddled together in large numbers to keep warm — this may have given rise to their Latin name of cave dweller –Troglodytes troglodytes.

If you see any wrens around the place please let me or Grace know –it would be good to know that we have a healthy population again.

Bird Watch

Every day when we arrive at CAT,  a new email lies waiting for us telling us about birds,  plants and flowers  slowly creeping out of their winter slumber. Rennie Telford is one of CAT’s expert bird watchers and as Spring fast approaches we want to share with you some of Rennies insights into the wonderful world of nature.

Last week Rennie spotted around 10 or 12 crossbills in the topmost branches of some conifers.  When there is a shortage of pine cones in certain areas there occurs what is known as an irruption as large flocks of crossbills  fly great distances and invade localities which are heavily forested with conifers, so they might be around again. It is an unusual enough sighting as crossbills have never been seen at CAT.

Rennie writes……..

Alright , I know it’s freezing cold and frosty, but spring is on the way – trust me.  The early morning bird song around site is increasing daily, with more and more different species starting up. This morning we had both the Mistle Thrush and the Song Thrush blasting away from the trees. For those non-naturalists amongst you, a good rule of thumb to differentiate between the two is that the Mistle tends to sing from an elevated and exposed position at the top of the tree whilst the Song generally favours singing lower down and somewhat more concealed. Also the Song is smaller and more round shaped and of course the song is completely different— or it was – my earsight’s not what it used to be!

Sometimes we tend to overlook the more common birds because they are always there, but they can be just as, if not more, interesting than the unusual ones. Take the ubiquitous robin – there are several pairs on site and although they can be endearingly tame and confident around humans, they are aggressive little buggers to each other. They are extremely territorial and each pair has their own area which they defend robustly against other robins. The edges of these areas tend to overlap and this is where fairly evenly matched skirmishes occur – but when, say, T chest area birds penetrate deep into Cabins area birds’ territory (for a prime food source perhaps) – then the Cabins birds will attack quite viciously and generally dominate the invaders. When the situation is reversed, the T chest birds wiil usually come out on top. So the next time you pause to listen to the melodic outpourings of a cute little red breasted robin perched on a branch in the weak spring sunshine — remember the song translated is probably ” F*** off out of my manor innit, or I’ll have you”
Back to Robins. If you want to try and identify birds from their song ( which opens up a whole new world ) , the robin , at this time of the year is an ideal bird to start with. As the trees are bare of foliage it is easy to see a robin perched on a branch singing its lovely , liquid, warbling song. Once you have seen it, close your eyes for a couple of minutes and concentrate hard on the song — get it firmly in your head and then listen out for it over the next few days. After a while you will find that you recognise this particular song, even when there is a veritable cacophony  of other bird song around. Then progress to other easily recognisable birds – blackbirds, chaffinchs, blue tits etc. and repeat the process –locate, identify, close your eyes, remember it and listen out for just that song for a few days. You will soon build up a mental library of bird song that will last you a lifetime.
Thinking about it , it is probably best to do this when there are no visitors around — the sight of CAT staff standing around with their eyes shut, listening dreamily to bird song doesn’t really tie in with the image we wish to present of  a dynamic, highly motivated, perfectly honed, all action and totally professional workforce.  Which of course we are (??)
It is a really good skill to master — I am not particularly good at it (exposure to AC/DC and Seasick Steve at maximum decibels has not helped matters either ) but if you are interested, sign up for the woodland birds thingy this Saturday  ( see Grace ) and the dawn chorus walk which Grace is organising with a really brilliant lady from the RSPB is unmissable.

22nd February

If you are walking or cycling up the south drive listen out for a sharp, staccato drumming sound in the distance. This is the Greater Spotted Woodpecker talking to other woodpeckers by performing its drumming routine. It finds a suitable tree and proceeds to bash it repeatedly with its beak producing a far carrying and resonant sound which has a peculiar sort of vetriloquism to it and is very difficult to locate accurately. There are at least two pairs of these strikingly exotic looking birds in or around the quarry, they regularly visit the Cabins’ bird feeders and they were also regulars on the feeders at the back of the shop outside the Courses office.
There is something really manic about these birds — after all any bird that decides to repeatedly head butt a tree has got to be a bit loopy –they even have a sort of built in shock asorber at the base of the beak to avoid brain damage. This head banging analogy was re inforced to me a couple of years ago when I was listening to a slowed down recording of the drumming while trying to count the rate at which it struck the tree ( I know— I really should get out more ) and it sounded for all the world like the riff from Smoke on the Water!

These heavy metal head bangers of the avian world , also have a rather gruesome side to them and will enlarge the holes in nest boxes, of other species to get at the eggs and  nestlings inside , to provide a high protein supplement for their own brood  — which is why it is a good idea to reinforce the area around the entrance with metal or thicker wood and of course never put a perch below the hole.

Video round up: the videos that got us talking this week

If you want suggest more videos for next week’s round up post a comment on the blog or the Facebook page

Our Zero Carbon Britain research team pointed out this video. Useful for anyone who needs some info on counteract the current climate skeptic stuff that’s going on in the media.

The Robin Hood Tax is a project launched on the 10th of February 2010 calling for a tiny tax on bankers that would raise billions to tackle poverty and climate change, at home and abroad. By taking an average of 0.05% from speculative banking transactions, hundreds of billions of pounds would be raised every year. That’s easily enough to stop cuts in crucial public services in the UK, and to help fight global poverty and climate change. Over 50 organisations have signed up in support of the project, including CAT- find out more here Robinhood Tax

The Story of Cap and Trade Cap and trade is made simple in this film from US sustainability activist Annie Leonard. Find out why the ‘carbon market’ solution to reducing emissions, may not be such a quick fix after all