We've all heard of ET phoning home but you wouldn't expect a white stork to make hours of phone calls, at least according to his tracker

When a tracking device on a bird stops signalling, there can be a number of technical causes.

Or it may be due to something nefarious. The raptorphiles are convinced that human interference is to blame. To this end, they sometimes quote figures showing that a transmitter fitted to raptors in Scotland has an unusually high failure rate. This does seem rather damning. I hope nobody will think I am giving comfort to wildlife criminals when I highlight the extraordinary case of Katjek, the white stork.

This noble bird was tagged and named by a Polish environmental group called EkoLogiczna as part of a study of migration habits. Last summer, the group placed a mobile phone tracker on the stork. They monitored it over the winter as it flew 3,700 miles from eastern Poland to the valley of the Blue Nile in Sudan. Once there, in February, it seemed to stay put well into spring. This delay in going home was unexpected. Then things got downright weird, as a representative of EkoLogicnza explained to the Polish media: "Unusually, Katjek's signal remained in Sudan until April, when it suddenly disappeared. Then, a month later, we received a phone bill for more than 10,000 Polish zloty (just over £2,000). This surprised us until we realised that somebody in Sudan must have found the stork, removed the SIM card from its tracker, then put it into their own phone and used it to make calls.

The phone bill shows that they made more than 20 hours of calls and, though we are appealing against the charge, our charity will probably have to pay"

So somebody in Sudan got both a free meal and a free SIM card. We mustn't laugh. And I do hope no miscreant in this country gets any funny ideas.

Credit - Alasdair Mitchell, Sharpshooter, Shooting Times and Country magazine 19 September 2018.