February, 2014

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Our work
You might be surprised to read that our work is far broader than nature reserves and Big Garden Birdwatch. Read more about what else we do.

Natures Home magazine uncovered

Behind the scenes at the RSPB magazine and much much more...
  • The UK's Most Elusive Species

    A press release came in to the team at Nature’s Home magazine last week detailing the ten most elusive species in the UK and it got us thinking, have any of our readers seen these species out in the wild for themselves? The report was the result of data collected from the general public, but surely our dedicated members of the RSPB would result in a much higher percentage of us having seen some of these species, so we want you to let us know! Top of the list as the most elusive species sighting in the UK was the nightjar with only 4% of the UK population spotting one in the wild, and the nightjar was joined by other rarities such as the pine marten which has been seen by 5% of us (which doesn't even  include Sir David Attenborough!), and the golden eagle with just 9% of us seeing them in the wild. Other species in the list include the stoat (16%), otter (17%), cuckoo (22%), slow worm (25%), adder (29%), raven (30%), and kingfisher (34%). Let us know if you’re one of the few who have seen one or more of these species in the wild by commenting on this post below!

     Ed Marshall. The kingfisher is one of the few species from the report that I myself have managed to see and photograph in the wild here in the UK. Though I'm sure many of you out there have seen much more!

     Ed Marshall. The otter pictured here is a captive individual. Although they have made a comeback in recent years, with them now being found in every county throughout England, they still remain one of the more elusive species to see in the wild.

    The reason that otters are still such a rare sighting in the UK, and for that matter why I think the results of such studies should be taken with a little pinch of salt, comes down to a number of things really. Most importantly of which I think it is because they are more active at night, and as such it requires a true dedication to seeing them in the wild if you hope to catch a glimpse. This said, it is of course possible to see them in the day if you know where to go, I always find a well-managed animal sanctuary can guarantee a sighting (though this is of course cheating!)

    The golden eagle is considered the third most elusive species in the UK, with only 9% of those asked saying they had seen them in the wild. Yet there are similar points to make about these statistics. Golden Eagles are typically found soaring amongst the Scottish mountains and surrounding areas which isn't exactly where a great number of people will find themselves, unless they really plan on seeing them in the wild. The low percentage of people having seen them therefore isn't surprising to me and the same applies for nightjars. As their name might suggest, you are more likely to spot them around dusk and of a night, something that requires a certain amount of dedication by whoever wishes to see them. Even in daylight you would need the trained eyes of an expert to spot them on account of their amazing camouflage! The only time I have ever seen one was when I was on a 6 week expedition in Bolivia, so I don’t really feel like it counts for my UK species list…

     Andy Hay (rspb-images.com). A rare view of a nightjar, and one that illustrates the wonderful camouflage of this bird.

    With all this said, it is important to remember that these species should be at the top of our priority when it comes to conservation. Yes they are elusive, and this can be down to certain inherent factors to do with their behaviour or ecology, but let's not let these wonderful species reach the point where we are at risk of not seeing them in the wild here in the UK. So see how you compare to the rest of the general public, and see if this gives you the itch to get out and spot some of the UK's more elusive species!

  • Familar birds in Middle-earth

    Thanks to Nature’s Home volunteer Ed for keeping the blog updated over the last few weeks or so while I’ve been away on Honeymoon. Ed is doing a great job helping me out with the huge volume of emails and letters that you are sending in - keep them coming please, but please bear with the team of myself and Roger and Ed (my amazing volunteers) as we try to keep up!

    While the weather here has been causing problems for humans and wildlife alike, I’ve been enjoying the delights of Queensland, three weeks in New Zealand and then a few days in Hong Kong.

    Although I was on the other side of the world as many of you geared up for Big Garden Birdwatch, the starlings, house sparrows, blackbirds and song thrushes that you will have been hoping would turn up on the weekend were a big part of my holiday.

    New Zealand, where I spent three weeks, has a great number of endemic birds, the vast majority of which I was lucky enough to see thanks to my very patient wife. From kiwis and albatrosses to giant, flightless takahes, black stilts and blue ducks, we were very lucky to catch up with a huge number of birds, many of which are incredibly rare.

    In the wrong place

    New Zealand also has a large number of species that have been deliberately introduced to the islands by man. One of the guides I met on my trip told me that something like 142 species of non-native birds were introduced to New Zealand originally. Settlers from the west wanted to be reminded of home, so they took with them familiar birds such as robins and even nightingales. Unsurprisingly many of the birds were not able to survive in a country with a totally different climate and insect and tree diversity.

    House sparrows were widespread in New Zealand (image by Ray Kennedy rspb-images.com)

    Many did establish themselves though and as well as the species already mentioned, I also saw wild turkeys, Canada geese, common mynahs, yellowhammers, greenfinches, goldfinches, and many other species that really shouldn’t be there. House sparrows were very common in all areas, begging the question of why they are struggling in the UK. I hope our scientists will have a definitive answer soon so we can start to turn around the decline.

    Gibson's (wandering) albatross off Kaikoura - where I enjoyed a pelagic trip to the edge of the continental shelf. I got lots of shots but haven't had time to sort them out yet, so here's one from the same place by Guy Shorrock (rspb-images.com)

    Simon says

    Simon Barnes tackles the subject of non-native species in his column in the current issue of Nature’s Home, so make sure you have a read and let us know what you think.

    From my visit to NZ, I know that mammals have ravaged the avifauna of the islands and many species became extinct due to animals like possums, stoats and cats arriving. The conservation movement in New Zealand is fabulous and great work is being done to return native species to predator-free areas. Inspiring stuff.

    Have your say

    Thanks for all your feedback on issue two of Nature’s Home, Great to read that many of you liked it even more than issue one, so that’s a big relief for me and my team. It’s a bit like the difficult second album for musicians...

  • A blow out in Kent

    I was up all night on Valentine's Night. The frighteningly damaging gales were causing havoc outside and I've been a bit wary of strong winds since I saw my Mum's washing blowing off the line when I was a kid. I got very upset that it was lost forever! As the bedroom wall started to creak as the wind hit 60-70 mph, I was seriously worried about what I'd find in the morning. 

    My mind was racing with thoughts of losing my favourite cherry tree in the garden, nestboxes and insect homes blown away, or the chimney falling on my car, but as it was the paper-thin fence that I've been propping up between my neighbour finally gave up the ghost and it was smashed to smithereens. No excuse this time for a non-repair by my neighbour! It was terrible to see the damge that occurred across the UK and the very sad  loss of life, so I counted myself very lucky.

    Early riser

    With a sleepless Friday night, Sunday morning's jaunt down to Hythe in Kent to see a Chinese pond heron - a potential first for the UK, but an also equally possible escapee from a zoo - meant it was a particularly rude awakening at 4 am to get to my birding buddy's Ade's house. I'm getting too old for that sort of malarkey!

    We'd toyed with going to see the amazing yellow-rumped warbler found on the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch, but chose the heron as a good day beckoned at RSPB Dungeness, close to Hythe. As it was, the heron didn't appear (making it easy for us to dismiss it as an escaped bird...) and Ade managed to not only blow a tyre, but also shatter the wheel completely after a drain came up in Hythe. Note to self, stay away from Hythe in future...

    "Dunge" was a bit cruel to us to start with as we spent two hours trying to locate the wintering Hume's yellow-browed warbler without success and missed a glaucous gull, but two black-throated divers together on the new diggings, right next to the road were a superb treat - absolute stunners, even in their juvenile black and white. We finished the day in style by connecting with a penduline tit in the reedbed at Hooker's Pits and timed our arrival back at the new diggings to see the glossy ibis fly past on its way to its roost. I loved the letter in the current Nature's Home about the glossy ibis seen in manchester by reader Peter Dagnall and it was nice to get in on the action and see my first of the winter.

    Black-throated diver by Mike Langman (check out his work in Dominic Couzens' Secret Lives in Nature's Home) -  stunning in summer, pretty fine in winter too.

    The "ready runner" tyre that we'd been pushing our luck with on the pot-holed roads at Dunge managed to get us home too, so a definite day of two halves. The came a body blow as we learned that the yellow-rumped warbler looked to have departed on Sunday night, so we wouldn't get to see it this coming weekend. I was so pleased for the family who found this rare bird - especially after our feature in the current issue of Nature's Home about Big Garden Birdwatch and how you never know what might turn up, including real rarities. I felt a little bit smug about that I must admit!

    Let us know what you've been seeing

    We'd love to know what you've been up to in this very mild, but extremely stormy winter. Keep the letters and e-mails coming to natureshome@rspb.org.uk or by leaving a comment here.  It hasn't been a winter for waxwings or influxes of cold weather species from the continent such as wild geese and ducks, but the biggest influx of parrot crossbills for 20 years or so has been a stand out feature and colonising species such as great white egret and glossy ibis are present in some of their biggest numbers ever. But it's not all about the rarities -  my garden birds have been thinking of settling down to breed for the last two weeks.