Fingerless

Autumn.
Cold toes and finger tips. One can’t wear gloves when one is carrying out a lugworm sperm survey. Writing, counting, photographing.

Nor can one wear gloves when one is carrying out a WeBS (wetland bird survey). Binocularing, writing, photographing…

Having experienced a Kingfisher perched three metres from me, looking at me. At that moment I couldn’t have cared if my fingers fell off!

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ha ha ha ha ha

Brave enough to look?  Or too chicken?

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Happy horrid halloween …

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Win wins

“Mission 500, to get a 1969 Fiat 500 from Tuscany to Cheshire whilst saving the lives of 500 migratory birds”

So how did we do?  Well we got the Fiat 500 all the way, though I’m yet to learn what state she is in…  The highs and lows of Oom’s journey will come in another blog.  But Oom related problems along the way obviously affected other aspects of the mission.

The birds?  Much of the time it felt more like lows than highs, but who ever said that working with animals was easy huh?  Right, no one.  The weather has been incredibly pleasant.  This does mean that many birds will be migrating later on.  Just a few days ago, I saw Swallows in France.  Swallows in October!  Many hunters/poachers are good at what they do.  They’re not going to waste time and effort putting traps out until there is an abundance of birds arriving on migration.

Oom was not ready/with us for a trip to Lucca, where we had hoped to show her off in her bunting, driving her around the wall and attracting lots of attention to our project.  Fail.

Thanks to the wonderful Catia, of Oasi Smeraldino (Rozzano), our mission made it into two Milan newspapers.  The girl power features are sure to have raised some awareness and compassion amongst Milanese.  Win.

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We were due to help run the LAC stall at the Milan Vegan Festival.  This was another opportunity to take bunting and leaflets and help the LAC team to raise awareness of wildlife crime in Italy.  Due to some paperwork not being completed on time, and ridiculous Italian bureaucracy, the whole massive event was cancelled!  Fail.

I have mixed feelings on our effort at the CABS Brescia Protection Camp.  Fiona and Ruth got to experience what the Brescia volunteers do, how they find evidence of wildlife crime, and how hard it is.  It takes years of experience to become proficient in the skills required at this camp.  Having newbies along for the trip can jeopardise an investigation.  So we helped out by searching areas that have a history of poaching, but are no longer of high risk.

Our effort meant that these locations could be crossed off the list for this autumn, so giving the more experienced volunteers more time to target the high risk sites.  In a round-about twisted way, by giving the other volunteers more space to achieve great things, we did actually help to save birds.  The Brescia team have so far helped the police to catch six different poachers in the act (of poaching).  So obviously we did something worthwhile.  But I had really hoped that we could have come across a live trapping site, so that we could have shared the horrors with our mission 500 followers.  There is nothing like seeing the real thing for yourself.  Win?

Due to a variety of unforeseen mechanical issues, we towed Oom all the way from Brescia to the Ardennes.  So, again, we missed many opportunities to dress her up in bunting and raise awareness.  Also though, not knowing the French (like I know the Italians – being half one myself), we were unsure of what reaction this would have brought from people along our route.  We felt we ought to be a little cautious.  Fail.

We arrived in the Ardennes area armed with excellent descriptions of the ‘perfect’ habitat for horse-hair snares, along with probable locations from two different sources.  We searched both recommended areas, finding the habitats much changed since when the snares had been observed.  Myself, I would have kept roaming around the countryside, searching every tiddly bit of woodland for days.  Alas, my team-mates out-voted me and we headed back to England.  We may not have found any snares, but this evidence of none is just as important as finding something.  These locations, which now have farmland or forestry in place of the old native woodland, do not ever have to be searched again.  From our findings (or lack of!), we can better understand that this hideous tradition is almost probably dying out (along with the old men who carried the atrocities out).  Win?

Many people joined us on this adventure, through this blog, through our facebook page, through Twitter, and via many publications (both print and on-line).  We have certainly raised awareness.  And thanks to Oom, we’ve hopefully preached to quite a few not-already-converteds!  Thank you, all of you.  We really appreciate all the shares and comments of support.  This too all counts as saving birds.  Win.

Ruth is busy putting together a short docu-video of our mission for youtube, watch this space… The video will also tell you more about a real life wildlife heroine, our fabulous Catia.  The type of person you sometimes read about, and I am so proud and happy to know here and have her as a friend.  Win.

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Fun Italian Guys

I’ve received a complaint of ‘too many fungus photos’…  So I’ve withdrawn all fungi from the Italy part of the trip blogs and popped them all beautifully here together – so you can take them or leave them …

 

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Joy or despair

Well, after another day of searching sites known to have horsehair snares two years ago and finding that the woodland areas have altogether vanished, we didn’t know whether to feel joy or despair.

Joy for there not being hideous strangling death traps everywhere. Despair as so much native woodland has been lost to farmland and/or non-native sterile forestry.

We’re now on our way to Calais.

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Until dark

Arriving in Northern France after two days of driving (and two hotel stops) the first thing I discovered was that thanks to some rather sharp edges underneath Oom, the ratchet straps were wearing down. Yikes.

So off we headed to the town hardware store for new ratchet straps. Nope, they didn’t sell them. Next idea, to find a mechanic that would know where we could buy them. This we did achieve and off we headed on a 40 minute drive to buy said ratchet. Time was thin, arriving at the shop just 15 minutes before it closed.

So we left Oom with the mechanic the next morning, in the hope that he could replace ratchet straps AND stop it happening again.

In the meantime, we explored the woodlands in the area. We came across plenty of shooting platforms along with corn scattered along paths – used as bait for deer. 😖

The woodland habitats are divine. Rich in moss and fungal species.

Tonight, for the first time in 2.5 weeks, we were actually able to cook and relax by the tent. Until now we’ve always been working until dark, travelling until dark, everything until dark…

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Cute enough to eat

Our time in Brescia over, we’re heading north. We felt a tad deflated leaving Brescia, like we hadn’t achieved much. We found no active trapping sites. Nothing to give to the police. The truth is though, new Brescia volunteers are never sent in to the most vital areas. It takes years to really get a feel for what you’re doing and to not be seen or suspected by anyone. And although I have done Brescia before it’s still only my second time and I had other Brescia newbies with me.

The finch migration hadn’t reached Brescia yet. So we couldn’t be useful to them either. Hunters go up into the mountains and early morning shoot thousands of finches as they fly over. Our, or any other volunteer presence could potentially save thousands of little lives each morning.

Whilst in Brescia it was hard to share much of what was happening. It’s all ongoing investigations and so we couldn’t jeopardise anything. But whilst we were there, thanks to CABS, the police caught four poachers.

So we’re now heading north to Northern France and we’ve been entrusted with our own little operation. We’ll be gathering valuable data. Number of (legal) traps; number of birds in traps, number of trapped protected species and which they are of course.

We’ve driven through Switzerland. We saw scenery like nothing I’ve ever seen. As we’re avoiding motorways, we’re driving through exquisite places we’ll probably never see again.

And then, then colourful chocolate box French villages. Divine. Indescribable. Cute enough to eat.

We’ve seen flocks of Red kite along the way. And a few Alpine chough. My life tick.

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