Bugs, Birds and Beasts in the East

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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.
  • A new home for glow worms

    Blogger - Agnes Rothon

    The good news is that another creature, the glow worm, has decided to call RSPB Lakenheath Fen nature reserve its home. My first experience of glow worms came when reading Roald Dahl’s classic novel James and the Giant Peach as a boy - one of the creatures that James shares his epic journey in the peach with is a glow worm.  I learnt from the book that they are curious creatures – perhaps one of the reasons that Dahl chose to include them in the first place.

    James and the Giant Peach reveals to readers that glow worms are not actually worms at all but are in fact beetles. Most adult beetles can fly, but a few, such as female glow worms and weevils have lost the ability to fly and rely on crawling to get around instead. Imagine then, the trip that the individuals found at Lakenheath Fen must have suffered to colonise a new area and start to call the reserve their home!

    The males will have had an easier time of it than the females though. Whilst the females are only able to crawl, the males are able to fly and wing their way to a mate having been attracted by her ‘glow’. The female glow worm releases this ‘light energy’ through a chemical reaction inside her cells. These chemicals also taste bad to any predators and actually cause vomiting. What males have in wingspan however they lack in luminescence; the males themselves only glow very faintly.

     Neither of the adults feed during their lifetime. The larvae do though, their favourite food being snails. The RSPB are therefore hopeful that the population of glow worms will thrive at Lakenheath - there are plenty of snails to be found on the reserve. Moreover, there is already a good number of glow worms at nearby Thetford Forest meaning that colonisation of the surrounding area isn’t out of the question. Let’s hope that more flying males will find their way to Lakenheath and that the females will be brave enough to endure the arduous journey on the ground. Reserve wardens will certainly be having a good look around the reserve at night over the next few months to see if more glow worms have arrived.

     Glow worms to garden birds, bumblebees to beetles - you too can Give Nature a Home in you garden. Visit http://homes.rspb.org.uk/ for lots of information on simple things that you can do to help make your patch a haven for wildlife. Help the RSPB build a million homes for nature! 

    As featured in the Eastern Daily Press, Saturday 3 August

  • Pear trees not just for partridges

    Blogger: Adam Murray, Communication Officer

    You may find yourself humming the classic Christmas line about a partridge in a pear tree this festive season, but pear trees can be a great gift for all sorts of other wildlife too.

    We are encouraging people to think about planting pear trees now, to benefit birds and other garden wildlife in the future.

    At the time when most of us are thinking about all the chocolates and mince pies we have been eating, why not think about a healthy, fruity start to the New Year for our wild garden visitors. 

    In early spring, pear flowers are brilliant food sources for hungry honeybees, solitary bees and bumblebees.  Providing sources of nectar and pollen early in the season can really help these insects. During summer and autumn birds like thrushes and blackbirds will benefit from the fruit as windfall. The foliage is nibbled by many caterpillars, which later turn into beautiful moths. The adult moths are great food for bats.

    Adrian Thomas, wildlife gardening expert from the RSPB says, “What I REALLY like about pear trees is that they are good for us and wildlife – they look great in blossom; the pears taste great, and wildlife can share the bounty.”

    Kate Merry, Project Development Officer for Butterfly Conservation, said: “Pears and other fruit trees are fantastic feeding stations for our butterflies and moths. The caterpillars of a number of moths such as the Dark Arches and Vapourer moths feed on the foliage. In the autumn, Red Admiral butterflies can be seen drinking the juices from the fallen fermenting fruit.”

    A well-planned garden can provide a mix of areas for wildlife by using plants of different shapes and sizes.  This will provide wildlife with a variety of places in which to feed, shelter and nest. Planting a mixture of different trees and shrubs is a natural and sustainable way to provide year round food for wildlife.

    The best time to plant trees and shrubs is right now.  ‘Bare rooted trees’, those not in pots, are the cheapest ones to go for and are best planted before the end of December.

    If you don’t have a huge garden and think a tree might take over, follow the example of many urban gardeners and train it alongside a wall.  More and more urban allotments and community gardens are adopting this tactic as the best use of limited space.

    The wildlife will still benefit, no matter what shape the tree ends up!

    For more information on the RSPB’s Homes for Wildlife, please visit www.rspb.org.uk/hfw

  • First sounds of Spring

    Blogger: Steve Rowland, Public Affairs Manager

    Spring seemed a long way off last week as I took my lunchtime walk through the woods, the leaves on the trees were yet to unfurl, the ground was bare and covered in a mulch of last autumns dead leaves, and a light, cold wintry rain drizzled down.

    And yet I realised that my mind had picked up on the subtle changes in the quality of light and drawing out of the days. I became aware of a slight tightness in my ears, an unconscious straining and heightened alertness to the bird song around me. And I thought that after more Springs as a birder than I care to remember, my brain was quietly and unobtrusively saying to my ears to be alert for couple of unremarkable notes of bird song one up followed repetitively by another down, up and down in short bursts, from a bird that takes its name from these two notes of song, the chiff chaff.  (photo below).

    Naming a bird after the sound it makes is known as onomatopoeia and two other species that occur in the UK the cuckoo and the kittiwake also take their names from their calls.

    I will acknowledge here that chiff chaffs are not blessed with the most captivating of names or musical of songs. But for me they compensate for that with the charisma that comes from being the first of our returning migrants to fill our bare Spring woods with their song, perhaps a month before the other returning warblers have got back from a winter spent south of the Sahara.

    Chiff chaffs like many of our other warblers, might at a glance appear a little drab and indistinct. In particular at first you might easily confuse a chiff chaff with its close relative the willow warbler.  (photo below).

    A rough guide to telling them apart is that a willow warblers legs are a light flesh colour whilst a chiff chaffs are black and a chiff chaffs has a more olive coloured plumage (being a birder you carry a veritable colour palette in your head to describe shades of green and brown feathers).

    But the surest way to tell these cousins apart is to listen to them singing. Compared to the chiff chaffs repetitive two notes, willow warblers have a to my mind a much nicer song, a lovely tinkling sound that seems to gently descend a set of musical scales before being hauled by the bird back to the top only to descend down them once more.

    Willow warblers arrive from their wintering grounds in Africa a little later in the spring than chiff chaffs which tend to spend the winter in the Mediterranean. So my brain wasn't tipping my ears off to listen out for a willow warbler practicing its scales, but for that starting gun of the season, a simple two note Chiff then Chaff song that would light up the woods and put a smile on my face, a sign of the end of winter and the beginning of natures headlong rush into spring.

    I didn’t hear a chiff chaff last week but I’ll be out again for a lunchtime walk in the woods this week, listening carefully for those two notes. If you have some time to spare over the next week or so why don’t you go out and see if you can hear a chiff chaff and then tell us here.

    Photos credit John Bridges (rspb-images.com)