April, 2011

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Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

All of our up to date fun and frolics in the East from office antics to great conservation stories and those magical connections with nature.
  • Nature where you least expect it

    Blogger: Gena Correale-Wardle, Community Fundraising Officer

    This morning I was ready a little earlier than usual so decided I would take a longer walk to work along the river Wensum via Cow Tower. This is one of my favourite walks in the city, you step off the busy pavement at Whitefriars Bridge and are soon surrounded by an ocean of calm along the small footpath.

    Shafts of sunlight (if you're lucky!) shine through the tree branches onto the yellow crocuses blooming below and a little further on the weeping willows and chestnut trees are alive with birdsong. No matter how hard I try I can never make out where the birds are singing from against the leaves rustling in the breeze, but I never fail to stop and strain my eyes just in case! It is such a glorious walk, you really can't believe you're in the heart of the city, and it never fails to lift my spirits and make me feel glad to be alive by the time I've reached my destination. Two weeks ago I was even lucky enough to spot a grey wagtail flitting along the river which made me smile for the rest of the day.

    Today, however, as I stepped off the pavement and down the steps onto the river path, I looked up to see a high piece of fencing and red and white tape blocking the path a few metres down. My heart sunk as I noticed the 'footpath closed' sign and I thought how it was sod's law that I couldn't enjoy the wildlife of the river on such a beautiful morning.

    So I turned back and walked along Bishopgate and up Rosary Road feeling a little cheated out of my tranquil start to the day. Just as I was walking up to the Rosary Tavern, a closed down and cordoned off pub, a small bird flitted across my path and sat on a high wall singing. At first the browns and tawnies of its feathers made me think it was a house sparrow, but as I got closer and it flew down to a tree branch nearer me I saw it was a female chaffinch. With her distinctive dark brown 'mohawk' she looked to me like a bit of a rebel, especially darting in and out of the run-down site totally disregarding the 'no entry' signs pinned to the railings covering it. She wouldn't have looked out of place with a leather jacket on casually leaning one wing against the run down smoking shelter.

    It was so unexpected to have this encounter with nature in such a run-down place that I was completely mesmerised by her antics - until she decided she'd had enough of entertaining me and fluttered off around the corner of the building. I walked the last five minutes to the office in total delight, the sun shining on my face and the memory of my rebel-chaffinch friend in my mind.

    I like to think she was there to remind me that you don't have to be in a beautiful location to enjoy nature, that it's around you wherever you are and whatever you're doing, and sometimes it's even more enjoyable for being so unexpected.


    Photo Credit: David Kjaer (rspb-images.com)

  • Put up the Bunting, the Swallows are Here!

    Blogger: Murray Brown, RSPB Volunteer Project Coordinator

    Swallows have arrived in the park and are busy feeding over the lake with the occasional house martin.  'Our' swallows winter as far away as South Africa and yet all of a sudden here they are...amazing isn't it?  The males look particularly elegant as they sport much longer tail streamers.  Strangely no sand martins have been recorded as yet but we've got our eyes peeled.

    To the delight of visitors, some of the heron nests now contain sizeable chicks that are easily visible through the telescopes provided by the RSPB.  One cheeky pair of mallards has taken over a disused heron nest right in the middle of the colony.  They may feel safer there at the moment but the risk is high as ducklings are occasionally taken by grey herons as a natural part of their diet.

    There are already a few mallard ducklings on show, especially on the River Ver which runs through the park and it will be interesting to see whether any of the remaining tufted ducks stay to breed.  The shoveler duck pair also continues to linger and can usually be found around the north island.   However, about ten days ago, Dave, our friendly Park Ranger, pointed out that the pochards had gone.  Sure enough, we've not seen one since then.  They will be bound for their breeding grounds, perhaps heading as far as Scandinavia or Russia.

    Last week I had a call from our very own stalwart volunteer, Barry Tennessee, to say that he was looking at an oystercatcher on the bank of Verulamium Lake.  Unfortunately I was in Sussex but Barry knows his waders and I promptly posted the sighting on the Herts Bird Club website, allowing some local birders to come along and see the bird which only stayed for that day.  Walking the dog later, I did pick up a cracking jewel of a male firecrest on the South Downs as compensation but to be honest I was pretty miffed to have been 'gripped off' by Barry (as we birders say)!  An oystercatcher at the park is very unusual indeed.

    Our species list hit 60 on Wednesday when Shaun, the RSPB Membership Development Officer, Barry and I found a male reed bunting on the heron island during a quick walk around the lake after the exhibition trailer had been closed up for the day.  We need five more species in (or over) the park to beat last year's 64...your help would be much appreciated, so if you have seen something out of the ordinary then let us know!

    Photo Credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)


  • Thinking outside the (egg) box this Easter

    Blogger: Aggie Rothon, Communications Officer

    We got desperate the other night. We were having one of those 'after dinner pudding cravings' which saw us rooting to the back of the cupboard where we had stashed the Easter eggs ready for the weekend. Paul's egg was in fact a giant white chocolate Easter bunny. The bunny now no longer has ears or a face. We felt bad, momentarily, for the demise of poor Peter but, hey, it's Easter time! A time for ribbons, and bright foil-wrapped eggs and sunshine and treats.  

    It's at this time of year that everything turns blue for me. Not because I'm feeling sad - far from it - but because I remember my art teacher once telling me that his favourite colour ever had to be duck egg blue. Since then, Easter has always been a lovely shade of soft turquoise-blue in my minds eye. But it's not often that you'll see signs of a blue egg. The shards of egg shell that we find flung in to the garden as a hungry chick barges its way out of it's casing are usually white or speckled-brown. Or there are the tiny rows of yellow eggs glued to the underside of cabbage leaves deposited by weightless white butterflies and the crisp black packages known as Mermaid's purse that you find washed up at the beach; in fact the egg cases of sharks or skate. Isn't it amazing how nature has found so many different shape and sizes for eggs - something for all occasions and for all beasties.

    Avocet checking on the next generation. Photo Credit: Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)

    So, this Easter do as Mother Nature does and think outside the (egg) box. Sit up, take a breath and take the next step. Already an RSPB member? Join us as a volunteer! A seasoned Big Garden Bird Watch participant? Have you tried Make Your Nature Count? First time visiting our reserves? Donate and buy one of our lovely pin badges!

    Have a great long weekend and regardless of the weather make the most of this Easter time!

    All the best from your Communications Team in the East - Erica, Aggie, Adam, Rachael & Janet