You will find out about all the exciting stuff going on with the RSPB in the east of the UK. We cover our sites in the following counties: Norfolk, Suffolk, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, and some of our great Lincolnshire ones. So if you are if you have never heard of the Strumpshaws and Snettishams or Stour Estuary or Sutton Fens here is you chance.
I’ve had a rather entertaining fortnight. Autumn Watch may be over for another year, but something equally addictive has managed to catch my attention recently. Every time I head out in the crisp winter air for a stroll or I layer up my jumpers, coat and scarf to walk to work, I am followed by a new-found friend. It isn’t guaranteed where i’ll bump into him, but I can assure you that at some point during my journey, this cheeky little chap will turn up to say hello.
At a mere 18 cm in length, this bouncing, flitting creature has made a real impression on me. The pied wagtail might not be a bird that you’re instantly captivated by, or one that gets all the attention, but trust me, the minute you spot your first pied wagtail, they will start popping up all over the place. As cute as a button, they hop, skip and dart along the pavements hoping to pick up a crumb or two for their supper. With such an ability to fade into any urban backdrop, you could be forgiven for almost walking over one. But, their repeated chattering song makes them easy to recognise as they bob up and down alongside you.
With their classy mixture of black and white, a pied wagtail on his own can look a little bit lost, but a group of them getting ready to find a roosting site for the evening, looks sophisticated and decadent. You could almost imagine them sitting in a city tree, each with a cocktail in its hand! It’s when they are in their groups for the evening that the real work begins. They will use this time to chat to each other (over a cheeky martini i don’t doubt!) and exchange information. Often, birds who have been struggling to locate food and shelter, will follow the ‘healthier’ looking birds during the day to find a decent dinner.
You don’t have to be a city commuter or shopper to catch a glimpse of these energetic little creatures. They’re certainly not the fussiest of birds; farmland, coastal marshes, gardens, riverbanks, city centres, school playgrounds are all great places to spot pied wagtails and this is the time of year when they, like us, are off in search of warmth and shelter.
Don’t be surprised if you’re visited from a pied wagtail in your garden this winter. As the colder weather hits us, spare a thought for the tiny bird who might cheerfully hop into your garden looking for a snack or shelter. If you can keep your bird feeders and baths stocked up over the next few months, they will be eternally grateful. Although perhaps keep the martini for yourselves this Christmas, water will do just fine!
With more and more people filling the shops to rush out for a last-minute Christmas pressie (or if you’re anything like me, you won’t have even started) I do often wonder about all the millions of pounds that we spend each year on gifts for our loved ones, friends and family. In a time of such financial hardship, it always amazes me how generous people are at this time of year and how much time, effort and money goes into buying gifts.
Don’t get me wrong, celebrating Christmas and exchanging gifts is a wonderful thing and I cherish the time i get to spend with my family, but I wish that our collective spending could be put to a better use than lining the pockets of multi-million pound corporations.
This is why I LOVE the RSPB Christmas shop. Not only is there a huge variety of gifts for everyone. And I really do mean everyone, you don’t have to be a nerdy birder to find something of interest at the RSPB’s shop! Whether your Dad’s into digital photography, or your sister would enjoy something from the Skinny Dipper range, this is the perfect way to shop over Christmas. Where else can you say that 100% of the money you have spent on Christmas pressies goes to protecting the environment? How amazing to think that you’ve contributed to the creation of a new reedbed at your local nature reserve or helped to protect a dwindling population of birds of prey because they were driven to extinction. Your money really will go the extra mile if you shop with us this Christmas.
Next time you’re rushing around the busy high-street shops, consider going home, making a cup of tea, getting out your laptop and checking out the RSPB’s online shop here or take a trip to one of our shops on an RSPB reserve. You won’t be disappointed and you may even pick up a little treat for yourself!
Oystercatcher image copyright Liz Cutting, www.lizcuttingphotos.com
Much like whistling, touching my toes with my legs straight and rolling my tongue I have never been able to master accents. My Irish accent sounds much like my Scottish whilst my Yorkshire sounds very similar to my west country. It came as quite a shock to me therefore to realise that I am actually pretty good at mimicking bird calls. I remember realising this unexpected skill of mine, lying in the long grass growing thick on the bank of a saltmarsh. Acres of velvety mud lay glistening ahead of me, cut through with the snake-like meanderings of a multitude of sea-streams. Stubby, salt-frosted plants sat glinting as the sun glowed in the porcelain sky. It was a lazy day and one with the time to listen and repeat back all the bird calls that I could hear.
I was so well hidden in my grassy recliner that frequently birds would startle on spotting me as they took off for a casual flight nearby. Much like their striking black, white and orange outfit would suggest, oystercatchers were the birds that made the loudest perturbations as they veered away from me. Descriptions of the call can’t do it justice but try whistling ‘Ker-peep, ker-peep, ker-peep!’ quickly and shrilly and you won’t have gone too far wrong. The fact that the call of the oystercatcher is hard to miss and that it is, for me, a sound synonymous with the Norfolk coast may well have been why it was one of the first calls that I managed to master lying next to the salt marsh that summer’s day.
Not only is the oystercatchers call and plumage remarkable but their habits are too. As an oystercatcher, you would be divided in to one of two groups, either a ‘hammerer’ or a ‘stabber’. A ‘hammerer’ would crack open mussel shells by using it’s beak to pound the shell open. For this reason the beak is thick, blunt and fairly heavy. A ‘stabber’ by contrast would use it’s beak to probe the mud for worms and have a rather more slim line, tweezer-like beak to do this. Amazingly oystercatchers can actually change the shape of their beaks depending on the type of food available to them. In fact their beaks can grow and change at four times the speed of human fingernails!
So, next time you are out taking advantage of the fresh winter’s air, listen out for the call of an oystercatcher. Perhaps with the holiday season fast approaching you can make this year the year that you master the call of the wild.
Agnes Rothon, Dec 2010.