Friday, 25 February 2011
I am so very glad to be home, I am not a natural traveller and although it is interesting to see other countries, I happen to love my own more! We arrived in India on Monday morning, valentines day! the flight was uneventful, which is always good, we then tidied up at the hotel in Delhi before getting onto the train to Kalka, which is the nearest train station to Pinjore the home of the first of the vulture breeding centres in India. Some of the group did not make it to the train having been held up in Kathmandu on the plane, so they arrived very late by taxi. I have to say I did not envy them the trip having done three taxi trips to and from Pinjore, two in the dark and if you enjoy being terrified out of your wits for six hours, being unable to unclasp your hand from the handle above your head because you have been hanging on so tightly, and spending the next four hours awake unwinding from the constant adrenalin surges – it is exactly the trip you need. However I was told that the road is much improved and so far less scary (I am not sure I believe it, but it all makes for exciting trips away!)

The following day it was raining!! Home from home, although actually I should not say that because contrary to popular belief, it does not permanently rain at home, indeed far from it. We saw some of the improvements at the Vulture Breeding Centre, and they were extensive and very good, and I quickly saw the first clutch of vulture chicks in the brooder room, what a pleasure, and how very satisfying to have been involved with this project from the very beginning and see this excellent result. We returned to the hotel in Pinjore, where we started on meetings. The beginnings of many meetings, which was of course the main purpose of the trip, to have meetings and launch SAVE.

We did manage a second visit to the centre the following day to see the new individual aviaries being built to try putting individual pairs together rather than the colony aviary. They were coming on nicely. We ended the day with completion of the first meeting and a round table, which I think achieved most what we needed to discuss.

Back to Delhi on the Shatabati train and then the following day, I wrote up the minutes of the Pinjore meetings and others had various other meetings prior to the launch of SAVE. This acronym stands for Save Asian Vultures from Extinction. The Minister for the Environment of India came to the meeting which was good, and many other people. Professor Ian Newton, who is probably the most respected raptor scientist worldwide is chairman of SAVE and he plus various others gave a number of talks, ending with Tim Stowe the director of International programmes. One gentleman, however blindsided us all and his presentation was disgraceful, he showed photos of vultures, unfortunately he appears not to be very good at vulture identification and so none of the birds in his photos were in fact any of the highly endangered species! He then went on to say that the way to save vultures was to save and protect areas. Apparently he failed completely to understand the diclofenac problem and was advocating working on protected areas. It was probably the most unprofessional behaviour I have ever seen at any public meeting, and his group should be ashamed of his behaviour, I certainly would be if he worked for me, although I suspect he would not be working for me for very long! I and a couple of other members of our team were absolutely furious and I was in great need of a very large gin and tonic at that point. However I was told that most of the audience probably did not notice. Let us hope so as he obviously did it on purpose and it could have been very undermining.

Next stop Nepal, via Kathmandu. We all flew to Kathmandu and were collected by the Nepal team and a large people carrier and drove to Chitwan National Park. If you want to see some lovely countryside Chitwan was it, if you want to be depressed beyond belief drive there round the Kathmandu ring road and then through the mountains. I guess India is probably as bad, at least all the places that I have seen. But somehow this was sad in the extreme. I had by this time got a cold which did not help, but to see on both the trip there and back, what had been stunning scenery so ruined by us humans had a huge impact on me. I think I am going to become obsessive about plastic now because everywhere there were humans there were huge amount of rubbish, 90% of which was plastic of some kind. Where the mountains were very very steep, beyond where the land could be utalised, it was stunningly beautiful, where the land was physically possible to fell the trees and cultivate, and that was still pretty steep, the trees were stripped away and the land either terraced, or just dug up, most of it must end up in the river below in the rains. Where there was enough room to build a house or shop or shack all along the route, which was 6 hours of driving, there were people, and as soon as there were people, there was rubbish, mounds and mounds of it.

We got to our hotel late that night, the next morning we were all up early, looking at birds (we had some very very serious bird watchers in the group – not sure about them!!!! There is obsession and obsession!). Then all climbed into the van and off to the vulture breeding Centre, which was about a two hour drive along some interesting roads to say the least. The vulture breeding centre is in the national park and next to the garial breeding complex and I believe a turtle breeding place as well, so it is well placed. We saw the Centre and the aviaries, which are great, had tea – we had tea everywhere! Andrew Routh who is wonderful and is the chief vet at ZSL and I had a look at a couple of birds, one of which the staff were worried about and one of which had had a problem but was obviously on the mend. The staff here are very new to vultures and so are doing a good job, but lack the experience that they now have in India, although it must be remembered that six years ago, we had the same inexperience in India and now, we are removing first eggs, double clutching, hatching and rearing chicks, the whole business, in only six years.

We had the chance to see the garial breeding centre as well, where they collect eggs from the wild, hatch and rear them, they are amazing looking creatures I liked them much better than alligators, but that is probably because they are fish eaters and don’t eat Labradors!! Off we went again in the vehicle this time to the Vulture Safe Zone, where the various teams of people in Nepal have organised a 100 kilometre diclofenac free zone so that vultures are relatively safe from picking it up in dead cattle, unless they fly further afield, which sadly we know by our first radio tracking that some of them do. As in many parts of the vultures range, cattle are a huge part of the locals beliefs and religions, these groups have started cow rescue centres where the farmers can sell their worn out cattle and they are cared for (in many cases they have a better life then they had before!) and fed and receive veterinary treatment until they die. At no time however do they get any untested or dangerous NSAID’s which are the drugs responsible for killing the vultures, Diclofenac being one, but others may well be as toxic to the birds. Once they die, they are taken to the feeding area for the vultures, which is a little outside the village. All the village is involved. Some care for the cattle, some provide the food, there are other projects that are funded by the VSZ funding to help to local area, and at the VSZ that we went to they have an education centre and they have built a hide so that the feeding vultures can be seen by people who are interested, and they charge for this, which again helps the local people. It’s a brilliant concept, takes huge amounts of effort and seems to be working. Plenty of vultures now know of the sites and are coming in and the breeding of vultures in the immediate area seems to be increasing, although that may be for other reasons, that we do not yet know. We then had a quiet morning and an elephant ride!! We saw a juvenile Changeable Hawk Eagle and a whole load of LBJ’s that the bird watchers got excited about, and four Indian Rhino’s which everyone got excited about. Then it was back to Kathmandu for the Nepal Launch of Save. This went very well, and both the people from the Nepalese government had obviously learnt about the topic and actually offered support and interest, which I have to say is rather more than the Indian Launch provided. Well done them.

During the meeting I managed to get a cold which then turned into a cough and then I lost my voice, which is not exactly useful when you are at meetings and need to talk, so sounding like a complete idiot I whispered my way through about four meetings, hoping that it would recover by the time I got home. It hasn’t!! But yesterday the weather was glorious, the crocuses are fully out, the snowdrops are nearly over, the daffodils will be out soon, we had lots of visitors yesterday and I went for a ride on Henry today which was very much more exciting than planned, but I stayed on!!
Now we concentrate on our breeding season and it has started well, which is excellent news.
Sunday, 13 February 2011
OK! So I am packed, which never takes long as I have few clothes and I always take the same thing anyway. I have no idea what the weather is going to be like in Nepal, but I think I am covered.
I have written out instructions for the horses. James knows what to do with the dogs, I still have to get Imodium though! The birds are OK, the eagle eggs are fertile so we cross everything they hatch while I am away. The loos are probably going to be done by the end of this coming week.
My sister has just told me that Chitwan National Park which is one of our stops is a long way from Kathmandu, and I think we are going by bus!!!! I wonder if I should tell my travel companions that I get bus sick!! I will not have time to climb something in the Himalayas - what a shame!
So its all systems go, the weather was lovely here yesterday and not quite so lovely today, its raining. But I will still miss home and every one here. And doesn't Acer look cheerful on Richards quad bike!
Saturday, 12 February 2011
Can you flipping believe it, we are in the middle of redoing to loos, there are benches, saws, bits of wood, plumbing and heaven knows what in them and outside, there is a notice on the door stating that they are under refurbishment (as it you need telling!) and please use the loo in the café, and yesterday some moronic idiot peed in there, in a loo that is not even plumbed in!! Sometimes I despair of the public…………………… The notice on the outside is rather stronger now!!

A good friend of mine came over on Thursday and we rode both horses out, she and I used to ride every day in the 60’s and 70t’s! We would go through the woods at speed and jump all the logs, this time, we went through sedately and walked the horses round the logs!! And we used to be so brave – what happened!

The birds are well, they are appreciating the milder weather and the plants are all thinking that it is spring and buds are starting to come out, I hope we don’t have a very cold spell again or many of them will suffer.

We have our Valentines Owl Evenings this Friday and Saturday. It was fairly full on the Friday and absolutely full on the Saturday, so we are doing two next weekend as well. My staff will be doing them as I leave for India and Nepal on Sunday and will not be back until the 23rd late. It’s a manic trip of rushing around, seeing the vultures Centres, having meetings and looking at the future of the projects, no rest and tons of travelling. But I am taking my camera and hope to get some decent photos if I can.

A good friend from South Carolina happens to be coming today to stay and help out, so I am deserting him in the house and he is in charge of the dogs! I bet he leaves something out and Sorrel eats it, as long as it belongs to him and not me, that is fine, but I suspect it will end up being the TV remote. Can you believe how expensive they are to replace!! Just to make his life interesting, we have run out of gas and the boiler is not behaving!

The stables are cleaned out and Anabelle gave them a coat of paint on the inside, so I am expecting white horses, we put shavings down instead of straw as it is easier to muck out while I am away. There is enough horse and dog food to last, my emails are almost cleared, Holly is going to check them while I am away. My clothes are getting sorted out. My laptop is charged, I have various bits of paper to take and I might even be ready, all I have to do now is actually want to go!! However that is asking a lot when it is spring coming, the breeding season and I hate leaving the place anyway.

I know everyone will do a great job while I am away and I don’t keep in contact because there is no point, there is little I can do from that distance and if they don’t know how to cope, then that is my fault for not teaching them, and they do because I did!!

I am hoping there will be eggs hatching while I am away, that would be great. Today the weather is absolutely glorious, the sun is shining and it looks wonderful out there. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain damn it!! Why can’t it rain in the week instead, although having said that the chances are the weather forecast will be wrong as usual!
Monday, 7 February 2011
Gosh I do miss Nettle; I suppose because she slept on my bed our relationship was that bit more important , plus she was the oldest here, I would happily give her the whole damn bed to have her back. One of the others will be pleased to take her place, but as I have to go to India next Sunday and will be away for ten days, I will wait until I get back before offering one of them. Technically it should be Indigo as he is the oldest now by about ½ an hour, but Rush would not be happy, and if they both come that leaves just Sorrel and Sedge in the kitchen and I suspect Sorrel will be vociferous about that. We will have to see. This is a picture that Gary sent me from Japan - a young Nettle!

It has been much milder over the last few days, and we have by good luck missed almost all of the rain that has dumped on others, probably because the rain clouds are racing past too fast. We have had one hell of a wind for days now, too much to fly many of the birds and so over half of the demonstrations have been indoors, when we tried Cool Ground outside, he flew into the hedge!

Finally the sun came out today, but I chickened out of going riding this morning, the wind was actually quite scary at the top of the hill. Poor Henry managed to get a nail in his foot on Saturday, he is particularly accident prone, he was good as gold when we pulled it out, but he is a little sore. Georgia is going to ride Dante tomorrow; she jumped him yesterday and said he was very good!

The birds are doing well, much to our delight Lammerlaw, the African Fish Eagle laid her first egg, which was a lovely surprise, especially as the year before last she seriously tried to kill Faraday her husband. We were trying to decide what the technical name for murdering your husband was, not Patricide, or siblicide, so Holly suggested Pesticide, which a number of us thought was highly suitable for husband murder!! We don’t expect it to be fertile, but it’s a good start and she is sitting. We have Tawny Eagle eggs, and the female Saker Sage is chasing Mosquito around, so we are hoping that he will think she is the best thing since sliced bread. It does not look like the Griffon Vultures are going to bred this year, but the Steller’s are looking good and the Verreaux’s are mating.

The two ponds are looking great and the ground is drying out so I am hoping that Mark Davies will be able to roll it soon as that will make a big difference. The daffodils are starting to show and the crocuses, we have lost some plants though, some of my Hebe’s do not look well and the Choisya I suspect may not come back, the one by my house looks very dead indeed.

The young Steller’s is coming on well, she looks magnificent on the concrete block in the Hawk Walk and even lies down on her shelf perch, although she swamps it!!She looks huge in the weighing room too 5600 grams!

We finally managed to get a number of the birds flown this afternoon as the wind dropped and this evening the sun was out, the sky clear, the light was lost later, the days are slowly getting longer and the sunset was just beautiful. Now there is a good moon and the night smells like frost.
Wednesday, 2 February 2011
My back hurts, my heart hurts, my plum vodka is all gone and my diet is on hold today. It has not been a great day. My back hurts because Adam and I dug a dog grave today, my heart hurts because I lost Nettle today, my plum vodka is gone because it might have annealed my heart, but it didn’t, and my diet did not include plum vodka, however good it was.

Nettle was due a checkup and scan today, she had an ultrasound scan about three weeks ago, because she had come down three times over the last five months with a very high temperature and feeling very poorly. A long course of antibiotics did the trick, but there was a small mass in her spleen, and it was going to be checked today. I took her in today, with every expectation of bringing her home again, and left her to be scanned, before 10.00 am the vet phoned to say that the mass had increased and that they were going to operate, however although the spleen can come out and dogs have a good life afterwards, it was most likely to be a tumour, and if it was there could be more in the liver. He said that if that was the case it would not be fair to bring her round, but to euthanise her then and there. I asked to be at the operation, but they did not think that was a good idea. So after coffee I phoned again and said that I would be there when Nettle had the anesthetic and then leave. I had to cancel a dentist appointment and I gather that they were not pleased, and even asked what the emergency was! I have to say that if I am charged for the appointment, which was a cancellation anyway, I will be changing dentists. I drove over to Ledbury and was with her as she went to sleep, and hoped against hope that it was not the last time I would see her alive. Sadly after a very short time, that hope was not founded and I got a phone call saying that she had a larger tumour on her liver and that it would not be kind to allow her to wake up.

Its one of those things that you wish you had known, I wish I had known that yesterday would be her last day, that going up to my bedroom last night would be the last time, that sharing my bed with her would not happen again. Nettle was a gentle and unassuming dog, with a lovely temperament, she would stamp her back feet if you rubbed her coat on her back near her tail, she would sometimes forget her age and place joyfully. She mugged the customers with great skill and was a joy to live with. Rush is her son. She was 12 years old, an age I hate as only one of my dogs has got to an age older than 12. I will miss her greatly.

We buried her next to Salix, and Adam and I dug the hole. It did not go quite as planned as I obviously got the headstone in the wrong place with Salix, so we bumped into part of him! We beat a hasty retreat, having apologised to him profusely, he would have laughed, and dug a second hole next to him and then in the rain, all of us took her down there and buried her. She is the ninth Labrador I have buried there, with the addition of Raven, a German Shepherd I had for too short a time, and two of Nettles puppies, I just wish they all lived longer and I hope she has met up with the others and is having a good time somewhere else.

Ironically we had a lovely day yesterday, all the birds flew well, we had lovely customers, the sun was out, Delectable was rather more spectacular than planned and flew right round the field, behind the pond and tried to land in the beech hedge, but she was very good and came back on foot. Richard came last night to do the lights in the shop, but the wiring was not behaving itself, so Anabelle has been working with them all day, some are OK, others are not. She and Georgia took the horses out for a ride in the afternoon today. I have achieved bugger all, but hope to improve. The shop is clean and tidy, and Jan used the carpet cleaner today up there and I did the stock room this evening. Angela had done the cafe carpet on Sunday and Monday. Here is hoping for good weather in February.


I have to say that keeping a weblog can at times become compulsive and at other times a chore. Sometimes I am berrated for not keeping it up and sometimes I get wonderful comments from people who follow the news of the Centre.

It is fun to share the daily goings on here, some good and some bad, some funny and some sad, but all a part of our daily lives.
And as I said before its a pretty cool to be here and it is a great place to visit, you should try coming and watching the birds and meeting the staff and of course the dogs.

An interesting video on Lead

An interesting video on Lead

I find it staggering that people who want to hunt don't see the value in changing their ammunition from lead to a safer product. We have stopped using lead in petrol, in paint, in our water pipes, but they still want to use lead - ah well, apparently eating it not only kills birds but leads to reduced intelligence in humans......................

NO ONE is asking you to stop legal and genuine hunting, they are just asking you to change your ammunition!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


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