Day 543 – The birds and the bees

Yes, yes. We’re all adults here. We know how this works. Well, apart from the size difference. I mean, I’ve never really understood… ah… never mind. Another time.

But this is a whole different “the birds and the bees” tale.
It doesn’t end up in any sort of procreation – in fact, quite the opposite.

We’re always “beeing” told to look after the honey bees by Big Apiculture. There are news articles, puff pieces and even a film (allegedly featuring some hints of iffy inter-species naughtiness).

It’s superb PR. The cult is hard at work.

They won’t tell you about the dead penguins, though. Oh no.

The absolute buzzy bastards.

The penguins were transported to SANCCOB for post-mortems, and biological samples were sent for disease and toxicology testing. No external injuries were found on the birds, and post-mortems revealed that the penguins suffered multiple bee stings, with many dead bees found at the site of death.
Thus far, the preliminary investigations suggest that the penguins died after being stung by Cape honey bees. A dead penguin was also found on Fish Hoek beach on Saturday, having also sustained multiple bee stings.

There are just 13,000 breeding pairs of these gorgeous, comical, endangered birds left in the entire country, and then some swarm of angry, stripy scumbags knocks off over 3% of the Boulders Beach population in a single, unnecessary hour-long stinging frenzy, ostensibly just for shits and giggles.

Absolute carnage.

You might think that this would be the end of the story, but only if you weren’t aware that penguins are actually rather well-known for two things: waddling and eating fish their absolute lack of forgiveness, and their cold, abiding bloodlust when it comes to avenging their dead brethren.

Whom amongst us could forget the great Muizenberg Herring Massacre of 1978?

Exactly.

This now seems almost certain to escalate way beyond a simple local dispute. Already, there are rumours of calls being made by the survivors of this heinous attack to their less monochrome cousins up north, to assist with retaliatory strikes on hives around the Simonstown area. And it seems unlikely to end there, with the prospect of an all-out World War between birds and insects surely very much on the cards, given each sides’ well-recognised aggression towards the other.

Ostriches vs Termites
Chickens taking on Wasps
Pigeons against Beetles

Overall, my money is on the birds. Not so much the penguins – which, while clearly adorable, are also clearly a bit shit at fighting bees (see above) – but overall, the size and maneuverability of the Aves class will surely outdo the sheer numbers of the six-legged warriors, despite their ferocious reputation for organisation and aggression (and killing penguins).

So… are you Team Honey or Team Egg?

Kies jou kant Choose your side wisely, just in case we humans should get dragged into this conflict.

You think the pro-vax/anti-vax thing is getting nasty?
You ain’t seen nothing yet.

Cape Vulture facts blog post

The older child is on a hike around the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve. I’ve never been there but the brochure looks nice. The younger child did an advancement programme with Cubs this morning and so we’ve been working on knots, bird feeders, water filters and conservation stuff all afternoon.

Part of the work was to learn about two endangered species, and she stayed local with African Penguins and Cape Vultures. I knew a bit about each, and was able to supply images to complement her fact sheets.

The Cape Vulture has additional issues with conservation because it’s really not cute or cuddly like a penguin or a nifler. Nor is it bold and iconic like a rhino. The guy above looks like some English thug whose beer you’ve just spilled in a dodgy pub in deepest urban Essex.

This will not end well for the pint, you or the vulture.

Cape vultures are critically endangered, mainly due to… well… humans.

Loss of habitat, electrocution on pylons or collision with cables and unintentional poisoning.

Add in a few wind farms and you might be forgiven for thinking that we’re actually trying to wipe these magnificent birds out. Crazy.

There are moments of good news. Vulpro is an organisation working to try and save the last of the Cape Vultures in South Africa. And they’re doing a reasonable job too, despite the difficult conditions.

Junior presents her findings on the penguins and vultures to her pack on Friday evening, hopefully setting the wheels in motion for some of the next generation to work to preserve our natural heritage.

Jet pack pengy

Spotted on twitter, an image described thus:

I’m published in [as an honorable mention in their photo competition]! This photo was taken while we were sampling waters and sediments to develop tools to assess the risk of contaminants in Antarctica.

… and featuring a penguin which I correctly identified as an Adélie (Pygoscelis adeliae), which has been mentioned before on this blog (not this actual Adélie penguin, obviously). You’ll note that the description isn’t all that thrilling, so you’ll likely have guessed that the image is pretty good.

You’d be right.

Perfect timing. And yes, the penguin has just leapt out of the water, but it does look like it has some sort of water jet pack on its back. Or maybe it’s a blast from its bottom: Adélie penguins are known for that sort of thing – there’s a whole scientific paper on it:

Featuring lines like:

Chinstrap and Adélie penguins generate considerable pressures to propel their faeces away from the edge of the nest. The forces involved, lying well above those known for humans, are high, but do not lead to an energetically wasteful turbulent flow.

Honestly, what sort of scientist wakes up one morning and thinks:

You know what? Today, I’ll try to find out how forcefully a penguin shits.
There’s a meritorious project that will provide humanity with essential knowledge and earn me scientific infamy.

But I digress. Often. It just looks like this penguin is shooting an water jet from its anus. As I mentioned above, that’s unlikely to be the case.

That this great photo only made it into the Honourable Mention section of the  Nature #ScientistAtWork photo competition mean that there must be some absolute bangers in there.

And there are. Go and see right here.

Photo credit: Darren Koppel 

Big Issue Cover Fail

It’s been a while since we mentioned the pisspoor (but lovely at heart) SA version of Big Issue magazine (it was October 2017). That’s because my life is a better place without the Big Issue in it.

I have to ask about this month’s cover though:

I see no need for the Antarctic Peninsula(?*) to be exploited. I’m actually with Greenpeace on this one [audience gasps]. But despite this unusual alliance, I am still going to take exception with the Big Issue cover.

Q. Why don’t Polar Bears eat Penguins?
A. Because they can’t get the wrappers off.

Or because one inhabits the Arctic and the other, the Antarctic. They are literally poles apart. And yet this incorrect and profoundly misleading cover is being shown to impressionable kids at traffic lights and road junctions all over South Africa.

And then we wonder why the education system is broken here.

It’s only a matter of time until the Bunny Huggers start using it as part of a misinformation campaign, telling us how OMG! you can’t find a Polar Bear anywhere in Antarctica anymore and how we must give them lots of money before the penguins disappear too.

(I do know that the penguins are disappearing though.)

 

* is it really actually a peninsula though?

More penguin peril

Life is hard if you’re a penguin.

If it’s not humans overfishing your pilchards and (allegedly) changing your climate, it’s large wild cats eating you on the beach. And if you survive them, you’ve got to look out for malaria and beagles. And whalers.

Nope. Being a penguin ain’t easy.

Now though, they face their latest, smallest but possibly biggest challenge yet. Viruses.

Because yes, penguins are birds, and birds get Avian Flu. This is the same H5N8 strain that has been affecting the Western Cape (and beyond) for several months now. I mentioned it back in August here.

We think about it affecting farms (which of course it does), but no-one ever considers wild birds, which – in the Western Cape – include penguins.

And while Boulders Beach – our most local (but not necessarily our best) penguin colony – will remain open for tourists, they will have to take precautions:

Visitors should change shoes and clothes if visiting poultry farms to prevent contamination from one site to another.

Which is important because the chicken farms just outside Robertson have really upped their tourist game recently, and it would be sad to waste all their effort.

Seriously though: fingers crossed that this doesn’t do a lot of lasting damage.