Moston Fairway

The Oropendola team have been busily working away on a short video for the Wildlife Trusts  about their Moston Fairway reserve.

Moston is small residential village in the north east of Manchester and as its name suggests it was once a rich peat and mossland. The site of the reserve is nestled in the heart of Moston, bordered by housing and a railway line. But the urban location and the historical use of the land not only adds to its charm but has had a lasting effect on the habitats and species found on site. 

Although modest in size the reserve boasts three distinct habitats: woodland, mossland and grassland. Each with their resident species including a kestrel, bull finches, smooth newts, cotton grass and even the colourful sphagnum moss.

Not only is it a great place for inner city wildlife but the collaboration between local schools and the wildlife trusts has led to forest schools project where children are able to leave the classroom and learn in the woodland. This forest schools project is the one featured in the short video which should be completed in a few weeks time. 

Nick, Oropendola Productions

Sardinia Continued..

As we left the airport and headed to the shores of Cagliari the sun began to set behind the mountains, luckily we had time to capture this beautiful sight as the water reflected the colours of the fading light.

In no time at all we drove away from the city and headed south to the Sulics,  where wonderful committed people were met, and a fabulously wild Mediterranean forest was crossed.

In which, also, the deep culturally rooted problem of animal poaching was investigated, and its universe of dense political and economical reasons to exist was discovered.

May we say it ourselves, the problem is bigger and darker than we thought. May the Blackbird, the Robin, and the Sardinian Deer, whoso photos feature briefly below, represent the reality of what indiscriminate poaching of these animals can do: slow and painful deaths, often of unwanted animals left to rot in the same traps they died in and never collected, just so that a few selected grams of meat can go and feed the mouths of the rich and heartless few who can afford paying £80 and more for a few boiled birds.

A lot can and should be said about this, which doesn't only involve Sardinia, nor just Italy, but virtually every Mediterranean country. Hopefully the film we will make in the next few months will manage to concisely tell the story of the long fight against bird and ungulate poaching in Sardinia, but for a larger and broader look at the problem, we fully recommend the wonderful essay "Emptying the Skies" by American writer Jonathan Franzer. Here 

                                                                  

  Capoterra, the heart of poaching in Sardinia. The sign says it all.

Meet the team. This tireless bunch woke up every day before dawn, walked 10Km and more uphill, removed thousands of traps, and even tolerated us filming them, all with a smile on their faces.

Day one, introducing The Forest. A stunning 68900 hectars of Mediterranean forest, covered in Holly Oak, Arbutus, Cork Oaks, Prickly juniper, Christmas Holly, Montpellier Maple, Myrtus and many more we don't even know the names of.

One armed and very new trap for ungulates. With this type of trap poachers hope to capture boar, which they can sell in the black market for about 10 euros a Kg, but unfortunately more often than not Sardinian deer get trapped in them. This is a protected species which was on the brink of extinction just a couple of decades ago.

When a trap is found, the wire is removed and folded away by the volunteers.


                                                                       

 A few of the wires for ungulate traps found after a mornings work in the forest.

A beautiful adult male, at least 4 years old, trapped in the leg. Needless to say, this male suffered a long and painful death. What's even more absurd is the fact that the carcass is unwanted and the poacher will not remove it: there is no market for deer meat and the risk of being caught with it (being a highly protected species) is too high. This deer will become food for the scavengers of the forest.

                                                         

Screenshot from video, just to be reminded of the beauty and grace of these creatures.

 Nora beach, the start of another day.


                                                                                                            

An example of the beautiful Linchens which thrived within the forest


Elisa, the youngest of the volunteers, and one of the very few at the camp who is from Sardinia, in the process of removing an aerial trap for birds.

The team celebrate removing the 100th trap of the day.

The President of Lipu, looking over a mountainside covered in traps

An unfortunate blackbird, fallen prey to an aerial trap. Blackbirds, together with Thrushes, are the birds that poachers are after because they make up the "griva", the traditional food still eaten by a few in Sardinia at Christmas.

Freeing a dead Robin from a ground trap he unfortunately fell into.

We will keep you posted about editing of the film.

Nick, Oropendola Productions

 

Absolutely Conkers

A horse-chestnut tree leaf with the typical markings of miner moth Cameraria ohridella

Rejoice, for it is that time of the year once again, when the horse-chestnut trees are fully loaded with their shiny deep red bullets and conkers fall from their tired branches onto our heads, before rolling on the wet ground and bouncing gracefully over a bed of brown leaves.

We have spent quite some time observing and filming these trees recently, and our collection of conkers is starting to take over the house. It is sufficient to say I have even found conkers rolling through my bedsheets as I went to sleep...

As we followed the browning of the leaves and the falling of the conkers, we couldn't help but worry as we observed the destructive work of the tireless horse-chestnut leaf miners (Cameraria ohridella). These are very small moths that on the larval stage feed on the tree leaves, burrowing or mining their way through the green, and leaving streaks of brown destruction on their path.

Holding strong against the assault of miner moths

Once the caterpillars grow to full size (which is a mere few millimetres), they cocoon and emerge as micro-moths, which we could observe in millions during the past weeks, flying around the sad looking trees and shrivelled up leaves. These parasites are not lethal to the trees, but they cause their premature ageing, meaning the horse-chestnuts that are infested tend to shed their leaves and conkers as early as the end of August.

A quick search for these leaf-mining caterpillars and we discovered that they were first observed in 1984 in Macedonia. Since then, they quickly colonised new trees and new countries, and they are currently found living and thriving on horse-chestnuts of most European countries. As far as we could observe, every horse-chestnut tree in Bologna is affected but, to our surprise, when we inspected some trees in Hamburg a week ago, we couldn't find trace of their presence. The leaves of these healthy trees were still radiant and green and the chestnuts were strong, big, and heavy, still dangling from the branches.

A freshly fallen conker, in all her shiny and smooth beauty

But it looks like apart from a few healthy trees in northern Europe, the moth is spreading, and there isn't much we can do about it. What this means is that we'll have to get used to smaller and earlier conkers, and that rather than being a typical autumnal event, we'll have to get used to seeing conkers rolling at our feet as we walk back from the beach, at the end of summer. It's good news for the little birds though, as we found blue, great and coal tits, as well as black birds and thrushes, literally feasting on the larvae at the top of the trees. A welcome and hearty snack in preparation for the long, rainy autumn that will soon arrive.

Not the healthiest leaves, but still attractive in the first light of dawn

Nick, Oropendola Productions

Falling In Style - Gliding Ants of the Peruvian Jungle

Cephalotes atratus, King of Controlled Aerial Decent

We all know of Buzz Lightyears unquestioned ability to fall in style, but he may have a new rival in the form of the Gliding Ants from Peru. Cephalotes atratus is a species found in the canopy of many neotropical forests, but it is no normal ant, because it exhibits this fascinating, almost magnetic attraction to glide back to the trunk of the tree from which it came.  It was a researcher from Berkely who noticed this, whilst sat in the canopy of the Iquitos jungle, when he brushed off a number of ants that were investigating his presence on their tree. That's when he noticed that rather than dropping like dead weight and randomly falling into the undergrowth, a group of ants soared and planed around the tree, until finally cascading back onto the original tree trunk.

Following further investigation, he discovered that they free-fall on average for 3 to 4 seconds whilst slowing their decent and locking onto the tree, orientating their flattened head, hind legs and abdomen like wings to make a rapid adjustment to point towards the home tree. Finally, the ant turns upside down and extends its claws on the legs at just the right moment to grab onto the trunk before impact. In real time this as impressive as it sounds, like a mesmerising J-shaped glide back to the tree,  which you can watch in this video:

This video was created to compare a non-gliding and a gliding ant, both dropped from a tree. Video courtesy of Steve Yanoviak.

So what is the evolutionary driving force behind this adaptation? Well, being blind, they communicate through the ability to sense and release pheromones.  As such, when they fall off a branch straight onto the jungle floor it is likely they would be unable to find the chemical pathway back to the colony leaving them lost, alone and vulnerable to predation.

Further, in the depths of rainy season the forest floor can quickly turn into a river, so any ant knocked off the tree due to strong winds or even a passing monkey would be quickly carried away by the current, becoming tasty fish food. There is even some evidence that the ants jump in desperate yet calculated attempts to flee their predators, which would make Cephalotes atratus one of the coolest ants around of the jungle (as if ants weren't cool enough already!)

I was lucky enough to encounter a few in the jungles of Manu National Park whilst working last year. In fact, one is the star of the little video "The Tasty Wood"! Check out the dark flat head, spiny back, rounded yet flat abdomen and long back legs, all tools for Controlled Aerial Decent, also known as "falling in style".

Nick, Oropendola Productions