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.
Some things about Christmas are certain, aren’t they? I will put on a few extra pounds, I will have to fake happy on opening a random gift and dozens of robins will come fluttering through my letterbox making me feel guilty that I haven’t remembered to post my Christmas cards.
Well maybe things will be different this year. The robin has been knocked off its top spot as the bird most likely to feature on the RSPB’s top selling festive cards. Yep, you heard it here first. You are more likely to find firecrests, blue tits and long tailed tits on your mantelpiece this season than the good old robin. Robin’s don’t rock in until number eight this year.
Interestingly, the birds that feature on our best selling card also have an important winter message to tell. The teeny tiny firecrests, blue tits and long-tailed tits are among the birds that will struggle most in the cold weather due to their diminutive stature.
So when a firecrest or blue tit pops through your door this year, we hope that, as well as bringing warm wishes from friends and family, it will bring a little reminder that birds need our help at this time of year in their battle to survive the ice and snow.
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.