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Half a century ago, Belgian Zoologist Bernard Heuvelmans first codified cryptozoology in his book On the Track of Unknown Animals.

The Centre for Fortean Zoology (CFZ) are still on the track, and have been since 1992. But as if chasing unknown animals wasn't enough, we are involved in education, conservation, and good old-fashioned natural history! We already have three journals, the largest cryptozoological publishing house in the world, CFZtv, and the largest cryptozoological conference in the English-speaking world, but in January 2009 someone suggested that we started a daily online magazine! The CFZ bloggo is a collaborative effort by a coalition of members, friends, and supporters of the CFZ, and covers all the subjects with which we deal, with a smattering of music, high strangeness and surreal humour to make up the mix.

It is edited by CFZ Director Jon Downes, and subbed by the lovely Lizzy Bitakara'mire (formerly Clancy), scourge of improper syntax. The daily newsblog is edited by Corinna Downes, head administratrix of the CFZ, and the indexing is done by Lee Canty and Kathy Imbriani. There is regular news from the CFZ Mystery Cat study group, and regular fortean bird news from 'The Watcher of the Skies'. Regular bloggers include Dr Karl Shuker, Dale Drinnon, Richard Muirhead and Richard Freeman.The CFZ bloggo is updated daily, and there's nothing quite like it anywhere else. Come and join us...

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Saturday, January 24, 2009

BIG CAT HOAX UNMASKED

Our friends over at Big Cats in Britain [BCIB] have uncovered the first big cat hoax of the year. Good for them!

Check out the whole story at:

http://bcib.wordpress.com/2009/01/21/bcib-uncover-a-hoax/

and be amused at these quotes from the Ashbourne News Telegraph which tell us quite a lot: "All evidence of alleged big cat sightings the News Telegraph receives is forwarded on to experts and this picture was sent to the British Big Cat Society for verification. Unfortunately their spokesman, Danny Bamping, failed to get back to us before we went to press so we had no way of ensuring its authenticity before we published Dave and Ralph’s tall tale."

and

"The British Big Cat Society used the article to declare that the Forestry Commission coming clean over its own sightings was “proof” that big cats exist in the wild, and accused Government-run organisations of “sitting on” information."

Well done to BCIB for this, also kudos for their round up of strangely coloured British wildlife which can be found:
http://bcib.wordpress.com/category/uk-cryptozoology/

As far as the BBCS is concerned, their day has - in the opinion of this humble writer - gone!

AT NIGHT ALL CIVET CATS AIN'T GREY! WAYHAY!

Channa Rajapaksa is a banker from Sri Lanka. Already that opening sentance sounds like a line from one of Pete Sinfield's sillier songs for Emerson, lake and Palmer. Those of you of a certain age listen to Jeremy Bender from Tarkus, and you will see what I mean. But he is a banker with a difference.

A few years ago there was a godawful NatWest advert on British TV showing a young bank clerk with the sort of post-Thatcherite wannabe yuppie look on his face that made you want to hit him, going out on the town with a vacuuous bimbo after he had finished work. No wonder we have a global recession. However, if bank employees were all like Channa, the world would be a different place because Channa is obsessed with civet cats.

Civet cats are - of course - not cats at all, but carnivorous mammals of the Viverridae, which are found across tropical Asia and Africa. There are in the region of twenty species, and one of them (and the recognition of a severely overlooked second species) are completely down to Channa.

According to the Sunday Times website:

The first time he saw a real-life civet is etched in his memory. “It was dark and the animal had been slaughtered for its meat. Although known as the ‘golden palm civet’ its fur was brown,” says Channa. It was chocolate brown (P. montanus) and not golden, leaving Channa puzzled. How could that be when the stamp indicated the latter? “The people called it the Sapumal kalawedda because it emits a scent similar to sapumal,” he explains.
Channa

Then a year later, he was able to trap a few and they too were brown. The crucial question came to mind – is this another species? Doubts assailed him, he was not a scientist. He was talking to scientists and experts, introduced by Sampath Goonatilake of IUCN. Some scientists had indicated that mention had been made in the 1700s of another species but the name decided on had gone into disuse.

Then an aged golden palm civet walked into his trap at Kalupahana in Knuckles. DNA tests were tried but failed. A further surprise awaited Channa. In another trap he had laid at Knuckles was a golden palm civet with three prominent stripes (P. stenocephalus) on its back. “Usually the single stripe is not very prominent but blends with the other fur, but this was not so,” says Channa. The thought that raced through his mind was whether there was a third species.

Read the rest of the story here...

NEW CATFISH POSES MORE QUESTIONS THAN ANSWERS


A new species of catfish, which - it is claimed - "could grasp and climb rocks with its tail and mouth", has been discovered in a remote part of Venezuela, and - bizarrely - shares traits with two different fish families — Loricariidae (armored catfishes) and Astroblepidae (climbing catfishes). It has bony armor that protects its head and tail, and a grasping pelvic fin that helps it to climb vertical surfaces such as rocks.

Studies of L. wahari confirmed that the species is a member of a group that bridges two catfish families. Bony plates on its head and tail, plus other features, link the species to the Loricariidae, the widespread and successful family of fully armored catfishes. but the specialised pelvic finthat decouples from its body and moves backward and forward independently is otherwise found only in a family of climbing catfish restricted to the Andes, the Astroblepidae. Climbing could be an advantage to these fishes because of the irregular and sometimes high-flow of streams in these elevations.

So many new South American Catfish have been discovered in recent years that taxonomists have had to resort to a novel way of cataloguing them. David Marshall, of the Ryedale Aquarists Society and an old friend of the CFZ writes:

In the late 1980's a small variety of loricarins new to the U.K. aquarium hobby began appearing in aquatic retail outlets. All of these fish were given exotic-sounding common names so a small white fish with black stripes was sold as the emperor or zebra peckoltia, a fish with wavy black and yellow markings the scribbled plec, and one with a dark black body and white spots was sold as the vampire plec.

From the scant information that could be obtained, mainly through friendly retailers, U.K. aquarists were led to believe that all of these fish had originated from the Rio Xingu area of Brazil and were vegetarian by nature. It would take sometime for this information to be corrected, and make aquarists realise that these particular loricarins’ natural range extended beyond the Xingu area and that their dietary requirements were actually very varied.

As more of these loricarins began to appear, the sales tickets on their aquaria (first seen in Yorkshire through L 018 - Baryancistrus niveatus 'golden nugget') began to show a sequence that began with the letter L followed by a series of numbers. Shortly afterwards the letters LDA began the sequence with some of these fish. The shape and character of the sequenced species was also starting to change as no longer did they all have the look of a miniature plecostomus, but some resembled whiptail catfish, others large otocinclus, and then came the truly bizarre sight of little loricarins with grey and black marbled patterns - best described as elongated wine gums with fins. What on earth was going on?
When all was revealed, it became clear that these loricarins had been available on the European mainland for some time before we had seen them in the U.K. They were appearing not only from the Rio Xingu, but from many other areas of South America. As each new fish had been discovered, the well known German magazine DATZ had featured their portrait.

Worried about varying common names that had been given to these fish in the trade, the DATZ Editorial staff had come up with a system in which each new fish would be given an L-Sequenced number that would allow it to be universally recognised, until the scientific community could get through the tortuous procedure of giving them a proper scientific name. Going back in their records revealed that the fish U.K. hobbyists would come to know as the `white spot pleco` had been the first to be pictured, so this fish began the L Sequence as L 001 (L1). With some of the new species, it was clear to see that these were only colour, or regional, variants of loricarins already sequenced. So this was indicated, by adding a lower-case letter at the end of their number. Thus L O90d is the fourth known variant of ‘panaque species Peru'.
The Editorial staff of the rival German magazine Das Aquarium had also received photographs of other new loricarins coming out of South America, along with different-looking photographs of some of the L numbered fish, so not to be outdone they created the LDA numbering system for their photographs. Starting this sequence was the gold peckoltia which thus became LDA 01 (LDA1).

So from the start, we had confusion with different L and LDA numbers applying to the same fish. This became even more compounded when regional and colour variations of sequenced loricarins would slip through the system, thus giving them a totally different L number than that already assigned for their kind.

This would become partly to blame for further errors occurring, as other aquatic publications began captioning loricarin photographs with incorrect L and LDA numbers. These problems aside, the two sequencing systems remain the recognised - and best - way to keep a record of all the subject species, until the arduous task of scientifically naming them all is finally completed.

It is hard to keep track of LDA numbered fish through publications available in Britain, but by September 2003 a total of 76 loricarins had been sequenced. Thankfully, information on the L numbered loricarins is easier to come by, and of September 2004 the sequence had reached number 387.

One has to wonder why all these new catfish species have suddently turned up at once. Is it merely that the Amerindian collectors are now plundering hitherto untapped areas? Is it that they are better at their job than they used to be? Or could it be that something is causing a far greater degree of speciation than usual, and producing a bucketload of new species. This peculiar new species with which I started this column would tend to support that hypothesis.

GUEST BLOGGER RICHARD FREEMAN: Cellar Surprises

Guest Blogger time for Richard Freeman again. It almost seems silly introducing Richard to you all once again when he makes an appearance as guest blogger several times a week. However our viewing audience/readers (whatever you like to call yourselves) is growing so fast that it is certain that some of you missed the last time I introduced him.



So, Richard is one of my closest friends, and is the Zoological Director of the CFZ, and this time he is waxing lyrical on a subject dear to both of us - museums.

In any given museum a large proportion of the specimens will be off show. This is especially true of large, old collections that have amassed mind-boggling amounts of material over the years. The Natural History Museum has literally millions of specimens. In collections like this it’s not surprising that some material does not see the light of day in decades.

Occasionally a great zoological discovery will be made, not in some remote jungle or deep ocean, but in a museum. Old, mislabelled, or forgotten exhibits can by a cryptozoological gold mine.

A large stuffed lizard lay unnoticed in the Marseilles Natural History Museum for years. It was on display but no one, scientist or layman, noticed anything unusual. This was odd as the lizard was a gecko two feet long, twice as big as the largest species known to science! It was not until 1979 that it drew the attention of the curator of herpetology Alian Delcourt. Taking measurements and photos, he posted them to herpetologists around the world.

Villanova University herpetologist Aaron M Bauer and Canadian Biologist Dr Anthony P Russell identified it as a gecko, but a giant new species. The specimen was unlabelled but it was identified as belonging to the Hoplodactylus genus of New Zealand and accordingly given the name Hoplodactylus delcourti. It seemed to have been collected in the mid 1800s.

In Maori legend there is a large tree dwelling lizard that sounds remarkably like Delcourt’s giant gecko. Known as the Kawekaeau, such a beast was killed in 1870 by an Urewera Maori chief in the Waimana Valley on North Island. The description exactly fits the museum specimen.

Sightings still occur today. James Mack, assistant Curator of New Zealand’s National Museum, has regular reports from North Island’s east coast forests. A living specimen has yet to be caught, but it seems like this giant gecko is one of the most likely cryptids to exist.

One of the strangest and most bloody stories in the annals of cryptozoology is that of The Beast of Gevaudan. This weird beast was said to be bigger than a wolf with forelegs longer than the hind ones. It had upright ears, a short tail and stripes along its hindquarters. In 1764, a 14-year-old girl tending sheep was killed and eaten by the creature near Langogne. By November 11th, other women and children were devoured by the Beast. An army unit was sent to hunt the creature, but failed.

The killings continued in December with a boy, two girls and a shepherd falling to its jaws. In 1765, the creature was again after man flesh and a team of volunteers killed 100 wolves, as the creature was generally believed to be some form of huge wolf. By mid-September of 1675, 77 people had been killed in a stretch of land covering around 31 miles. On the 20th of September a big wolf was shot and the attacks seemed to cease.

The monster re-appeared in December when two children were eaten near Mont Mouchet. More victims followed in 1766 and continued unabated into 1767. It was obvious that the large wolf shot in 1675 was not the culprit.

Finally, Jean Chastel shot a large creature with a reddish pelt at Nozerolles. After this, the killing ceased totally. The Beast was crudely stuffed then displayed in the region for two weeks. It was no wolf and people did not seem to know quite what the killer was including the naturalist, the Comte de Buffon. The remains were sent to the Museum of Natural History in Paris and forgotten for 52 year until it was finally examined and identified as a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena).

The striped hyena lives in India and the Middle East, but was at one time common in the Caucasus Mountains. As I discovered on my recent trip there, sightings of these creatures suggest that they are returning to their old haunts. This is still a long way from France but perhaps one had escaped from a travelling circus. Maybe this explained its lack of fear in the presence of humans.

The striped hyena was supposed to have killed children in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. This fits in with the Beast’s nature. In the district of Yereven
in the Caucasus in the 1880s, hyenas were thought to be responsible for the disappearance or injuring of 25 children and three adults who slept outdoors. Further incidents in that area of striped hyenas killing children were reported in the 1890s and 1900s, as well as in Azerbaidjan in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1962, nine children were thought to have been taken by hyenas in the town of Bhagalpur in the Bihar State in a six week period. In Kanataka, Bihar state, attacks on children have been reported as recently as 1974 when 19 children up to the age of four years were reported killed at night. On March 13th 2005, a hyena injured 70 persons in six villages of Sonsor Tehsil.

The most amazing thing about the whole case is that it took so long to identify the creature whose remains had been sitting in a museum for half a century.

In an earlier blog about odd animals turning up in travelling zoos, I mentioned the case of the Gurt Dog of Ennerdale. It has some parallels with the Gevaudan case. A massive, dog like animal with a striped hide, the Gurt Dog drank the blood of its victims and bested any dogs sent after it. I postulated that it was a thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) that had escaped from a travelling zoo. It was finally killed after being wakened by gunshot then attacked by a pack of hounds in 1816. Its remains were displayed in Keswick Museum until it was closed in the middle of the 19th Century and its contents summarily thrown on a tip! The modern Keswick Museum has no knowledge of the fate of the beast’s remains. Perhaps someone retrieved the remains from the dump and the skull of the Gurt Dog is gathering dust in someone’s basement to this day.

Debbie Martyr, orang-pendek witness and Indonesian Tiger Conservation group leader told me in 2003 that she was sure that some Dutch Museums held remains of the mystery ape orang-pendek. She believes that they are mislabelled as orang-utans and that a thorough search of skulls brought back from Sumatra in colonial times would prove the orang-pendek’s existence. It would not be as exciting as trekking through the steaming jungles, but if someone with an intimate knowledge of orang-utan skulls were to sift through the Dutch collections, a zoological bombshell might be waiting.

The next time you are in a museum, take a closer look at the things behind the glass. You never know what might turn up.



MYSTERY PARROTS OF THE WORLD

This is an article that Richard and I wrote some years ago for a magazine which then proceeded to go spectacularly bust. As far as I know it was never published, or if it was, I don't think more than a handful of copies of the magazine escaped the warehouse before the rest were pulped. The CFZ Coalition is about responsible pet keeping as well as everything else we do, and we feel that the keeping of exotic pets - IF DONE PROPERLY AND RESPONSIBLY - can be a very positive and ethical thing, so this article pushes several different buttons. Not bad for something we wrote seven years ago and then forgot about!

Mystery parrots of the world

by Jonathan Downes and Richard Freeman



Cryptozoology is the study of unknown animals. This term was first coined by Professor Bernard Heuvelmans - a Belgian zoologist - in the 1950s. Although it may seem surprising to some that there are still unknown animals waiting to be discovered at the very beginning of the 21st century, this is in fact a case. We are two of the only professional cryptozoologists in the world, and for over a decade now we have been running an organisation called the Centre for Fortean Zoology which is the world's largest mystery animal research group.

If you say the words ` mystery animal` to most people they will either gaze at you blankly, or mention one of these three creatures - the yeti, Bigfoot, or the Loch Ness monster. Whilst it is beyond argument that these are the most famous mystery animals in the world ( if that is not a complete oxymoron), there are many others. Every continent on earth has its animal mysteries, and is our job to try and solve as many as we can.

That's all very well, I hear you say. All very interesting, but what has all this that to do with parrots? In this article we will take you on a journey to some of the world's more far flung places, introduce you to some of the mystery parrots in the world, and endeavour to solve some of the parrot world's most enduring mysteries.

THE CAROLINA PARAKEET

This was the only species of parrot native to North America. The Carolina parakeet was a member of the conure family. They appeared somewhat similar to the Jenday conure. Their bodies were bright green, with a yellow head splashed with brilliant orange. From head to tail, they were about twelve inches long. Their beaks were sharp and quite strong for their size, apparently for opening tough- shelled seeds such as the cocklebur. Their eggs were light greenish white in color. Many females laid their eggs together, with each laying two or three. Parakeets would occasionally breed in captivity, but seldom with much success.


They lived in enormous flocks across much of the United States east of the Ohio River. In his 1969 study of the decline and extinction of this remarkable bird, George Laycock wrote: "As we tracked the vanished bird it seemed unreal that the parakeets had once flown in colorful flocks along the nearby Ohio river. Where a traveler saw one parakeet, he was likely to see a flock of a dozen or more. If disturbed in their feeding, they flashed into the sky as if all were triggered by the same instantaneous force."

Sadly for the species, they soon found that the crops of the farms of the European settlers provided much tastier pickings than the native plants, and they soon began to be regarded as a pest. However, they were pest without any great instinct for self-preservation. A farmer only had to shoot one individual for the rest of the enormous flock to fly around aimlessly, as if in grief. In that way they were easily picked off by farm labourers with shot guns. These birds were also collected for their colorful feathers and because the young birds were considered good to eat. It is speculated that habitat destruction may have also contributed to their decline. By the 1890's, the parakeets were quite uncommon, and collectors eagerly caught the few remaining birds to sell them to zoos. The last known pair of parakeets were called "Incas" and "Lady Jane." They lived in the Cincinnati Zoo for some 35 years. In the late summer of 1917, Lady Jane passed away, leaving her mate listless and mournful. Alone, and the last of his kind, Incas quietly "died of grief" on February 21, 1918.

However, rumors of their continued existence have surfaced intermittently ever since. In 1926, Charles E Doe saw several pairs at Grapevine Hammock, Okeechobee, Florida, and stole some of their eggs. The National Audubon Birds Society wardens for the Santee Swamp area of South Carolina reported the species on several occasions in the 1930s, andsightings of animals which appeared to be the species were made regularly up until the beginning of the second world war. Sadly, even if the Carolina parakeet had survived in small numbers in the Santee Swamp, they were doomed for extinction because the Swamp was destroyed in the late 1930s to make way for a hydro-electric power plant. However, there are still swamps in that part of the country which are very little known and it is not impossible that this beautiful birds still lingers on in small numbers.

However - like an equally iconic bird; the passenger pigeon - its very habits when alive do tend to suggest that its continual survival is unlikely. Both birds lived in huge flocks, and whilst the social and behavioural mechanisms of both species remain obscure, we know from studies of other birds who live in large social groups, that they are unlikely to be able to adapt to living in isolation. Sadly, it looks probable that the Carolina parakeet is lost forever.

THE AUSTRALIAN NIGHT PARROT

The Night Parrot Pezoporus occidentalis is one of Australia's most intriguing birds and possibly its least known. It lives in remote parts of the continent, comes out at night and runs along the ground like a quail.

The Night Parrot is a medium sized bird, about 23 cm long. It is mottled yellowish-green and dark brown over most of the body, with the lower belly and under tail coverts yellow. There is a pale yellow stripe through the middle of the wing. This species closely resembles the Ground Parrot Pezoporus wallicus of coast southeastern and southwestern mainland and Tasmania. It differs by lacking the orange band on the forehead across the base of the upper mandible, a noticeably shorter tail, and shorter, straighter claws on the toes.

The first known specimen of the Night Parrot was collected by John Mcdouall Stuart in October 1845, north of Coopers Creek, far northern South Australia, as part of an expedition led by Charles Sturt. The Night Parrot was not formally named until 1861, when John Gould described it as Geopsittacus occidentalis, based on a bird collected in 1854 near Mount Farmer, Western Australia. Until the 1870s, sightings appeared to be very occasional. They became rarer from the mid 1880s, stopping almost completely by 1900. In 1990, a dead specimen was found at the side of a road in southwestern Queensland. Seven separate sightings were made in 1992 and 1993 a short distance north of where the specimen was found, but since then the species seems to have disappeared again.

The exact status of this bizarre little bird - who is surprisingly closely related to the budgerigar - is unknown. Over the last few decades it has been described as common, threatened, extinct, and some people have even suggested that the species per se doesn't actually exist at all. Whatever your viewpoint, it is undeniable that the Australian night parrot is a genuine enigma, and furthermore one which deserves some serious scientific study.



ON SATURDAY 17 September 2006, Robert ‘Shorty’ Cupitt, the ranger-on-duty of Diamantina National Park in south-west Queensland, was grading an interior road of the reserve when the blade of his vehicle exposed the yellow underbelly of a bird he didn’t recognise. As it eventually transpired, it was a deceased Night Parrot— only the second specimen to be found in nearly 100 years.

THE JAMAICAN RED PARROT

Another fascinating parrot mystery comes from the Caribbean island of Jamaica. In 1996 bird expert Errol Fuller found a painting at a London antiques fair. He immediately recognised it as being by George Edwards (1694-1773), a well-known painter of birds. It particularly interested him because not only was it an unknown painting by Edwards, but it also appear to show an unknown species of bird. The painting was accompanied by an inscription and a letter (written on the reverse of the painting).

These identified the subject of the painting as a bird lent to the painter by Alexander Russell. It had been shot in Jamaica, dried and brought over to England where Edward painted it in 1764. He said that the people of Jamaica had never actually recollected seeing a bird of this type before and speculated that it must have been very rare. So rare in fact that this is the only sighting on record. It appears to be very similar to an Amazon parrot, but the striking red plumage doesn't correspond with any other species known. It has been suggested by Dr Karl Shuker - a British cryptozoologist - that this is an erytheristic colour morph of a known species, or even more excitingly and a specimen of a species which we must now presumed be extinct.

The current whereabouts of the original stuffed specimen is unknown, and we do not know whether it has survived into the 21st century.

THE GLAUCOUS MACAW

The Hyacinth Macaw (Andorhynchus hyacinthinus) is well known because of its beautiful blue color and its status as the largest parrot in the world. Closely related is the highly endangered Lear's Macaw (Andorhynchus leari). However, there was once a third member of this genus, the Glaucus Macaw (Andorhynchus glaucus). At the end of the 18th century explorers reported seeing this large turquoise blue macaw as they traveled the Uruguay River in south-central South America, but it is generally believed that this, the third large species of blue macaw was becoming scarce by the end of the 18th century as their main food plant - the chatay palm - slowly disappeared. The species was generally believed to have become extinct at the beginning of the 20th century, but in nearly every decade since its supposed extinction a few sightings trickled in to perplex the ornithological establishment. In 1992 one of a pair of Lear's Macaws was identified as a female Glaucus Macaw by a number of parrot experts. Other experts, however disagreed and dismissed the episode as an unfortunate bout of wishful thinking by self-styled experts who really should have known better.

However, there is hope for this beautiful species. As recently as 1978 a closely related species - The Spix's Macaw - was rediscovered in the wild after being thought extinct for the best part of a century.

THE INDIGO WINGED PARROT AND THE BALD PARROT

More hope for those who believe that The Glaucus Macaw and other supposedly extinct species may yet be rediscovered came in July 2002, when the Associated Press announced an exciting rediscovery. After a gap of ninety years the Indigo Winged Parrot has been rediscovered near the summit of the highest volcano in Colombia. An expedition from Bogota University found the flock of 14 indigo-winged parrots in the Andes. The bird has only been sighted once before, near the peak of the same volcano in 1911. The Times says seven of the birds were captured and their remains are on display in America but notes of their breeding habits were not taken. The team from Bogota University are now taking notes, photographs and video footage of the birds to help develop a conservation plan for the species and its habitat.


Dr Robert Prys-Jones, head of birds at the Natural History Museum in London, advised the team. He said: "This is remarkable. They have found perhaps the last flock of surviving indigo-winged parrots, making it one of the greatest wildlife discoveries to date. We were concerned that this spectacular parrot was lost for ever."

The same year perhaps the strangest ever species of parrot was discovered. To the astonishment of ornithologists it is bald. The discovery of the Bald parrot, or Pagagio careco, as it is known, since its home is in the Portuguese speaking Mato Grosso region of Brazil, has sent a flurry of excitement around the bird world. So far only one has been seen, but it has been photographed for a Brazilian bird magazine, and filmed by the local television network. It is so distinctive because of the lack of feathers on its head that experts have no doubt it is a previously unknown parrot.

In the same way that a vulture which ate carrion had developed baldness to keep its head from getting too messy. The hunt is now on for more members of the same species.

THE WOODBURY MACAWS

But one does not have to travel to the ends of the earth to search for mystery parrots. has confirmed that there is now a population of several thousand wild ring necked parakeets – a denizen of tropical Africa – living in and about London. A flock estimated at about 850 are living near Heathrow Airport, and smaller numbers of two other tropical species – Alexandrine and Monk parakeets – are also living in the south of England albeit in smaller numbers.

Indeed the African ring necked parakeet has now been reported from most counties in England and Wales and has even been described by irate Kentish fruit farmers as a pest on a par with the native bullfinch because of its fondness not only for fruit but for the flower buds of fruit trees.

Apart from the vociferous fruit farming lobby, most people seem quite happy to have these beautiful additions to the British avifauna. Indeed, thirty years ago, one member of the parrot family – the ubiquitous Budgerigar even got the seal of Royal Approval when the Queen Mother, no less, suggested to the Lord Lieutenant of the Scilly Isles that he introduce a flock of free flying budgies to the estates on the island of Tresco. Four pairs from the royal aviaries at Windsor Park were introduced to a specially built aviary and within six years there were over a hundred of these charming Australian grass parakeets living wild in the Scilly Islands. Although there was no evidence that they ever bred away from Tresco, they were seen on many of the neighbouring islands foraging for food.

For several years a pair of cockatiels, another Australiasian species kept commonly as a pet lived quite successfully in Powderham woods in south Devon, and during the winter of 1998, an example of an even more exotic species – the black headed parrot from South America – was reported at a bird sanctuary at Dawlish Warren (another site only a few miles from my front doorstep).

The British List – the bible for all UK ornithologists – records another thirteen species of parrot as escapees that have lived wild for a time in the UK, and whilst it is certain that most of these birds reached an unfortunate end, either because of the rigours of the British climate, or more prosaically because only single specimens escaped and so were not able to establish breeding colonies, it also seems likely that when you factor in the burgeoning trade in exotic pets and the advent of global warming, that more of these beautiful birds may yet become established here.

The quest for unknown parrots is a rewarding one, and we would be the first to admit that we have only just scratched the surface in this article. There are several more species thought to be extinct which may well have survived, other species - even macaws - rumoured to be living wild in the British countryside, and no doubt there are more totally unknown species awaiting discovery. So whether on holiday in an exotic location, or even wandering around British woodlands, the keen parrot fancier with a fancy for the cryptozoological could do worse than follow the advice given on a well known TV science fiction series. Keep watching the skies..you never know what you will see!

GUEST BLOGGER MATTHEW OSBORNE: How to corrupt a Town Councillor

Matthew Osborne is an increasingly familiar face here at the CFZ. We have only known him a few years, but now we wonder how we would have got along without him.

In this libellous screed that follows he accuses me (in particular) and the CFZ (in general) of having corrupted a nice, clean-living, Methodist, boy with a seat on Bideford Town Council. However, this rather revolting picture of him in women's clothing predates his involvement with the CFZ and confirms much of what we know about Liberal politicians...

Never mind Matty, we love you dearly, and have no idea how we would function without you.

When I was working for the Prince’s Trust in Barnstaple along side the Devon Fire and Rescue Service, I was asked by the Chief Executive of the Parent Charity and Contract holder for Prince’s Trust North Devon (Torridge Training Services) if I could help out as the `Muscle` on a new project he wanted to trial, and being I was always willing to help I agreed.

The Concept of the Project was that free at POD we would feed and offer Key Skills training to a group of Homeless people from Bideford. Much as the `little white town` might seem to be idyllic and shine on the surface, the moment you scratch the surface the problems are easy to find.

I enjoyed the project and as part of the deal with the clients if they attended we would arrange an author to come and speak to them. For 6 weeks I worked alongside Pat (the project manager)with the project, as whist my spelling is bad I knew how to work most of the English language and enjoyed the sessions putting my knowledge and skills from working for the newspaper in Oxford to help the people tell there stories, partly improving their English skills so they can be closer to work and there fore closer to finding a permanent residence and partly to allow them catharsis.

At the end of the run of sessions and as the Prince’s Trust team was winding up Pat found a local and well published author, one Jon Downes!

Jon and Richard came to TTS to talk to our six clients and people from other courses who wanted to hear the talk and so inspired the clients that two volunteered to support the CFZ events and in exchange live in the local woods supported with enough to keep them going. Unfortunately that did not come to pass due to the ill health and the sudden death of the young lady.

The other person Jon inspired was me.

As a current Town Councillor for Bideford, Jon saw the chance to get into the know about how the system works, (I blame myself for Jon’s current plans for World Domination) and so I was invited to an evening meal. At which Jon sought information and my help and asked if I could help out at the event he was running. (WW06).

So the Hook was baited and I was being reeled in!

Over the next two years, through three girlfriends, two job roles, and five cars, I became more involved and helped write a new constitution and slowly get the ducks in a row for the charity commission.

With the latest car, a 1.7TD Cavalier (Isuzu) giving enough space to transport Jon, not only comfortably and with my IAM/RoDAR training safely (most of the time) I have become a driver for the team as well.

I have also on one occasion at the WW filled in for the break in technology that Dave BP was working on. I demonstrated CPR on a plastic dummy and had (Uncle) Jon conducting the mass singing of a Nursery Rhyme.

In my Day Job I am a First Aid trainer and I relish the chance I have been given as the News member of The CFZ Directorate as the Non-Stipendiary Local Services Manager

I have also tried to regain a seat on the Town Council but as I have been unsuccessful and my job is giving me solid days work, I will devote my time to FASW and CFZ, and hope that life affords me good opportunities with both roles.