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.
Author: Rachael Murray, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
I don't know about you but I love this time of year, when the grey skies give way to a more confident blue and I get the growing feeling that spring has settled in, and summer truly could be a possibility! It’s around about now that we welcome well known summer migrants back to our shores, including screaming tangles of soot black swifts.
As they soar enthusiastically into our neighbourhoods as if our island were a great big airport terminal, I feel a great sense of freedom, experienced vicariously through their playful loops and aerial tricks. Their agile flight is unsurprising, as swifts spend most of their time on the wing and even sleep whilst in the air!
Swift in flight Credit: Mark Thomas (RSPB)
However, as their joyful sound resonates across our towns and villages, after an incredible 3,000 mile journey from Africa, swifts arrive to face a housing crisis here in the UK. Swifts have declined by an alarming 38% since 1995 and are now an amber-listed species on the list of Birds of Conservation Concern. Whilst we don’t know the exact cause of their decline, the loss of nest sites in the UK is likely to be at least partly responsible.
The good news is that if you are going to have company for the whole of the summer, you couldn’t get better house guests than swifts. If they were to answer a ‘housemates wanted’ ad they would be very clean, stay only 12 weeks per year and be very helpful in getting rid of mosquitoes and other flying insects.
When they arrive back in the UK they return to the exact same location year after year. Swifts like to nest in the rooftops of old buildings but renovation and development often destroys suitable sites.
Their nests are minimal, made from stuff they collect in the air, such as feathers, paper, straw, hay and seeds. These materials are cemented with saliva and used to build a nest in open eaves, under loose roof tiles and in holes in walls.
Here at the RSPB we have a team of conservation officers that encourage planners, developers and statutory bodies in the East to incorporate swift friendly features into new developments. We recommend the use of special ‘swift bricks’, which are simple brick like structures swifts can nest in that are built into buildings.
However, you don’t have to work for a conservation organisation to do your bit. To keep swifts the poster boys and girls for summer here in the UK, we can all do something to help.
What you can do to help swifts this summer
Author: Rupert Masefield, Communications Officer, Eastern England Regional Office (EERO)
Last month in this column I wrote about the urban dawn chorus I enjoyed one morning as I made my way through the city to work. This month I find myself irresistibly drawn back to the subject of feathered songsters, this time to shed some light on nature’s sopranos, tenors and baritones.
The dawn chorus may sound like a frantic melee with the most beautiful voices with the birds competing to get their voice heard, but there is method in the madness and the singers know exactly when their slot is and if you listen regularly you will start to recognise certain species habitually starting before others. So, without further ado, here is a very brief guide that will hopefully help you start to identify who’s who in the choir:
Act one: robins and dunnocks
Act two: blackbirds, songthrushes and skylarks
Act three: chiff chaff, chaffinch, wood pigeon, and collared dove
Act four: blue tits, long tailed tit, great tit, goldcrest and tree sparrows
Chaffinch. Credit: Ray Kennedy (RSPB)
Dunnocks and robins are among the earliest to warm up: to hear the first act you’ll need to be in the stalls early as they start to sing about an hour before sunrise.
Blackbirds and song thrushes come hot their heels, probably because the ground is wetter in the morning so worms are more active and the ground is softer.
Finally, contributing to the crescendo, wrens, tits and warblers come in, with the tiny call of the goldcrest on the stage too. These later arrivals to the choral scene eat insects and are perhaps more sensitive to the coldness of dawn.
Unbeknown to many there is also an evening performance, with a chorus at dusk, but it’s much quieter, and it’s easier to hear birds like blue tits and tree sparrows. They sing in the morning too, but we are less likely to notice them among the cacophony!
Great tit. Credit: Grahame Madge (RSPB)
Guest performers and soloists:
Summer migrants join the chorus
As the breeding season approaches its peak, migrating birds like cuckoos, nightingales, turtle doves and warblers returning to this country for the summer will join the chorus of resident blackbirds, wrens, dunnocks and robins.
If you’re lucky enough to live in area with farmland, woodland or reedbed nearby, you might hear the unmistakeable songs of some of these traditional heralds of summer. Otherwise, an early morning visit to one of Norfolk’s many nature reserves is a great way to track down these more elusive songsters.
Male nightingales prefer to sing alone, turning their performance into an all-night after-show, singing until sunrise. They can’t rely on visual clues to attract a mate so their song is particularly important and they can’t risk it being lost among the other voices.
What’s all the noise about?
At this time of year, birds are in the market for a mate for the breeding season. Male birds establish a territory- an area they will defend against competing males of the same species- using their song both to stake their claim and to attract a female.
They are at their loudest early in the morning, which is not a good time to go foraging for food if you’re looking for insects and relying on sight to find them.
The louder your dawn chorus the more proud you can be of your efforts to give nature a home too. If you’re providing food, water and shelter, it is bound to make their voices as strong as possible!
Singing is hard work, so it is usually the fittest, best fed males who sing the loudest. In many cases, once a female has been serenaded the male will sing less often as his work is done.
Find a nature reserve near you to go and experience the dawn chorus: www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
Dawn chorus events on our Norfolk nature reserves:
Join one of our guided dawn chorus walks at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen or Titchwell Marsh nature reserves.
For details of these walks, including cost and to book (essential), please contact:
RSPB Strumpshaw Fen – 01603 715191 email email@example.com www.rspb.org.uk/strumpshawfen
RSPB Titchwell Marsh – 01485 210779 www.rspb.org.uk/titchwellmarsh
Everyone is taken by a different aspect of nature. Some quest to see as much of it as they can, ticking off myriad species as they go. Others are wedded to particular creatures, developing a strong allegiance in the form of sponsorships, cuddly toys, perhaps even taking a once in a lifetime adventure to spot them. I know people enraptured by the fluffy and others enthralled by the feathered. Me? I am quite simply enchanted by anything that grows in the fields, flowerbeds and forests around me.
In particular, at this time of year, I love the feeling of delighted surprise that I get when I first realise that the cherry blossom tree in my front garden is in bloom. In what feels like an instant, the tightly packed buds burst into frilly existence, like floral popcorn, signaling fresh life and new beginnings. Somehow my tree blossoming has become symbolic of the joyous potential held bud-tight, ready to unfurl in the months ahead.
Ask anyone about the nature moments that really fire them up and they’ll probably all say something different, however we are all united by the simple fact that whatever you love about nature, it has a hotline to our heart.
I feel soothed by the gentle green of buds and shoots, I feel a genuine optimism as the world fills with colour, slowly erasing the grey of winter and I feel hope as I look closely and see just how many creatures are enjoying the new growth as much as I do. Bees are filling their knees with pollen, the first few butterflies of the season are tentatively supping nectar from the brave early blooms and birds are busily house hunting amongst the branches.
For those of you, like me, craving a summer of growth, one of perfect things to get on with in the wildlife-friendly garden at this time of year is sowing seeds.
Wildlife Garden. Credit: Andy Hay (RSPB)
There's little more satisfying than poking a few seeds into some pots of compost (peat-free, of course!) and tending the seedlings as they emerge. How is there so much energy and knowledge packed into those tiny, lifeless packages?
The RSPB’s wildlife gardening expert, Adrian Thomas, gave me some tips on his favourite hardy annuals for wildlife to be sown outside directly into the flowerbed – he guarantees us that if we grow a good patch of these, come summer, the butterflies and bees will be on their way!
And if sowing from seed seems a bit too much, you can always head to the wildlife friendly plant section in your local garden centre and buy them fully grown!
Echium vulgare Blue Bedder: With short, crowded spikes of violet-blue flowers, magenta flushed when fading, and pink buds, this plant, also known as ‘viper’s bugloss’ is very attractive to pollinating insects.
Cosmos bipinnatus: Considered a half-hardy annual, although plants may reappear via self-sowing for several years. The cultivated varieties appear in shades of pink and purple as well as white and will flower through the summer and into autumn.
Cerinthe major: With blue-green leaves and tubular yellow and purple flowers, ‘honeywort’ is a winner with wildlife.
Phacelia tanacetifolia: In bloom, the ‘fiddleneck’ will reward you with an abundance of densely set soft blue or lavender-blue flowers through summer and autumn.
For more information on planting for wildlife, visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes.