This week in the blog, I’ll be catching you all up with some of the emails that I receive regarding everything from wildlife stories, identification help, and the questions and photographs that you all send in to the team here at Natures Home magazine. I love this part of what I do with the RSPB, so it’s only fair that I talk about it! As I’m normally off gallivanting with my camera, and due to the sheer volume of emails that we receive, I often play catch up with the emails for which I apologise. But I do my absolute best to answer each and every email I receive, and I may even cover an email that you sent in yourself a little while ago, so do read on!
The question that I chose for this week’s blog comes from Sarah Isherwood-Harris, who asks if birds of prey such as kestrels perch atop poles and posts in order to conserve their energy. Her question was even accompanied with a lovely image of a Kestrel taking off from a lamp post!
Photo by Sarah Isherwood-Harris
Birds of prey such as kestrels will use high points within their territory to their advantage. It grants them a view out over the area that they typically hunt, and they would much rather save their energy by perching and looking out over the field instead of flying and hovering. I’ve seen this behaviour myself in an area local to where I live. Telephone wires run directly through the middle of a field that the kestrels hunt in, and they often perch at various points along the wire as it gives them a clear view with which to spot voles and mice to prey upon. You can read more about kestrels on the RSPB’s web page.
First up is one of the many identification requests that are sent in to us here at Natures Home magazine. This one I wouldn’t have actually got had I not encountered the same little critter just a few days before the email, resulting in me looking it up myself. At a glance it looks a little unusual for what it is, so let’s see what you all make of it. Post your guesses in the comments below! I have a feeling this could be an easy one for many of you out there...
Photo by Norman Hall – Norman found some of these peculiar flying insects in his conservatory in August. Do you know what it is? All shall be revealed in good time!
Over the weeks since the Big Garden Birdwatch there have been large numbers of emails expressing their frustration at their garden birds! Why? Well, it seems that for some of our readers, the birds of their garden caught wind of the dates that the Big Garden Birdwatch was taking place this year, and decided to boycott it! Never fear though, because the results of the Birdwatch for 2014 have been released, and you can read a little more about what we found out on the Birdwatch results page, as well as some handy tips on how you and your family can provide for the wildlife in your garden.
You will notice that the mild winter weather that we’ve had has resulted in a few changes of position in the top ten list of garden birds spotted this year, and some nice surprise entries into the top twenty! Let us know if you had any surprise sightings (or disappointing turnouts!) for your Garden Birdwatch in the comment section below.
For those of you who take interest in what I get up to (all two of you), never fear! I wouldn’t dream of depriving you of my goings on, so I thought I would include a quick few words about what I’ve been up to. You can keep up to date with all of my goings on by following me on Facebook (Ed Marshall Wild Images) and Twitter (@edmarshallphoto)!
Last Friday saw me accompany the MSc Biological Photography and Imaging students of The University of Nottingham down to Slimbridge Wetland Centre. Having been before I knew that the best sort of shots I could get would be nice intimate portraits of the various species that you can encounter here, both captive and wild. There are obviously a great many wetland species to be seen at Slimbridge, but there are also many more common “garden variety” species that allow you to approach much closer than normal. I thought it was important not to miss an opportunity like this so I fired away, and here are just a handful of the images that I captured…
Copyright Ed Marshall. As they are more comfortable around humans at places such as Slimbridge Wetland Centre, you can get much more intimate portraits of common species. Try changing the perspective too by getting on their eye level.
Copyright Ed Marshall. A male Goldeneye duck, with its brilliantly golden eye!
Copyright Ed Marshall. Close up portraits such as this can reveal details that you may never have noticed before. Notice the elliptical pupil on this wood pigeon!
Copyright Ed Marshall. Even the much more timid species such as this grey heron are a little more accepting of my presence.
Copyright Ed Marshall. And lastly, it's important that you don't pack your camera equipment away when the heavens open. A plastic bag is all you need to keep the water off your kit, and with a little hole where the lens goes means you can keep shooting away to capture images with another side to the story.
Over the last week, I’ve seen a few signs that people are setting up things such as “insect hotels” in their gardens in order to attract as many bugs as possible over the coming months, and that some have started putting out moth traps to see what’s making a return to their garden now the milder weather seems to be settling in. Although insects will ideally have used these “hotels” as places to over-winter in, it’s still important to make sure they have places they can hide out now the weather is warming up. Here at Natures Home, as I’m sure many of you will have noticed, we help to spread the word about the wider variety of wildlife that you can all help to provide for right from your own garden, and why. Feel free to check out some more advice from the RSPB's website on how to garden for wildlife.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Bees such as this red-tailed bumble bee (Bombus lapidarius) are becoming more active now, and it's important that you have plenty of plant life in your garden in order to provide them with a source of nectar to keep them going.
One of the best things you can do to provide space for invertebrates in your garden is to have something like a compost heap or log pile, basically somewhere you can put garden waste to make sure that there is plenty of food and space for bugs to make their home. Now I’m sure that many of you who are keen gardeners will be wondering why you should encourage these insects into your garden, when many spend a great amount of effort preventing them from eating our vegetables, fruits and plants in the first place. Well, there are many species of bugs that are important for a healthy garden and many species can help to control levels of unwanted species. The best known example of this is our good old seven-spot ladybird and their control of aphid populations. By creating a wildlife friendly garden, you can ensure you attract plenty to keep you occupied over the coming summer months.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Every gardeners best friend. Ladybirds will keep numbers of aphids in check in any garden, helping to protect the plants that grow there.
Doing this isn’t only for the insects of your garden either, because with a healthy population of insects you will hopefully see a healthy population of garden birds and who knows, in time a hedgehog or two may even catch wind of the bounty that is on offer in your garden. So for the sake of invertebrates in your area, please do what you can to encourage them to set up home in your garden. Some of you may have already seen that our very own Mark Ward has been keeping his eyes peeled for potential habitats that he can place in his own garden, as he mentions in his recent blog post “Moonlighting at the Country Spring Fair”.
I myself have spent most of this week looking amongst the undergrowth to see what can be found, and I’ve enjoyed it immensely! On Monday I was back down to Alvecote Wood, an area of woodland I've mentioned previously that is local to myself and carefully managed in order to encourage a greater variety of species to live there. Here are some of the different critters that I spotted (though some were pretty quick so I’m not quite able to narrow them down to species, let alone get pictures!)
Copyright Ed Marshall. This banded centipede (Lithobius variegatus) was found on some rotten wood. They were very numerous and incredibly quick. Thankfully this one stayed still long enough to get a shot of it.
Copyright Ed Marshall. A parasitoid wasp belonging to the species Ichneumon suspiciosus. These wasps are unlike the common wasps that many people look upon with distain. These little critters are largely inactive at the moment, becoming more active from around April through to September, and they eventually go on to lay their eggs in the caterpillars of butterflies and moths. The larvae then eat their host from the inside out, it is this that gives this group of wasps the label of a parasitoid.
Copyright Ed Marshall. I saw several species of slugs, though I can't for the life of me identify different species (yet!), though I did spot these eggs underneath a piece of bark that had fallen to the floor.
Copyright Ed Marshall. There were plenty common woodlouse (Oniscus asellus) amongst the log piles found in both my garden and Alvecote Wood. Interestingly these are actually terrestrial crustaceans, and are not technically arthropods but isopods.
These were just some of the organisms that I was able to get some images of. In addition to these I also spotted springtails, leafhoppers, ground beetles, some tiny snails (the species of which I was uncertain), bumble bee's passing by, a black millipede, and the banded centipede's slightly plainer looking counterpart, the brown centipede. As I spent a great deal of my time looking through my macro lens, I found it to be a remarkably easy way to pass the time, as you can get so engrossed in the more intricate details of the creatures.
So there you have it, there is a vast abundance of wildlife that you can provide a home for right in your backgarden simply by leaving bits of garden waste or old pieces of wood lying around! The next time you are out and about either in your garden or around your local patch, I highly recommend you try and see what sort of things you can find in the undergrowth. Even if you’re not normally the sort of person who enjoys “creepy crawlies”, you may surprise yourself with how much you enjoy it!
I’m feeling particularly pleased as I write this because we’ve just put the third issue of Nature’s Home to bed – sending all the final pages to the printers means the hard work is done and we look forward to seeing the fruits of our labours in beautiful, perfectly-printed magazine format!
It’s been great fun working on this issue and I won’t give too much away, except to say it’s by far my favourite issue of Nature’s Home yet and certainly the best. I think you'll like it too! As ever, do let me know what you think. I've recruited a brilliant new team at Immediate Media to work on the magazine with me, and the RSPB youth magazines, and Dan, Will and everyone else have done us proud as we continue to improve the new magazine.
Come and see me at the Country Living Spring FairI’m also pleased to get everything wrapped because at the end of this week I'll be doing a spot of moonlighting. From Wednesday 19 March to Sunday 23 March, the RSPB will be at the Country Living Spring Fair at the Business Design Centre in London.
You might ask what that has to do with me – well, instead of wandering around the variety off fabulous stands and watching the demonstrations, I’ll be part of the show, as will be my friends and colleagues from the RSPB, Richard Bashford and Ben Andrew. We will be giving talks on Giving Nature a Home in the show's garden and we'll be offering advice on how to make your garden even better for wildlife. I’ll be sharing some of the secrets of how I’ve made my garden into a wildlife haven and passing on the RSPB's excellent advice. We’ve also been talked into giving some demonstrations of hands on activities for the "Getting your hands dirty for nature" talk. We have been promised a glamorous assistant to give us a hand with the latter, so I'm looking forward to that slot!
I'm still busy creating in my garden and just last Sunday I came across three huge logs that someone had dumped at the roadside. I couldn't believe my luck - they were perfect for making a new log pile, so into the boot they went.
The perfect log pile - Get some wood in your garden and the birds will come flocking, as will the bugs, beasties and animals....
I’ll be doing my thing on the Friday and Saturday, but don’t let that put you off. Come along – it’s a great day out. The RSPB talks start on Wednesday though so you have five days tro choose from.
I’m also going to be moonlighting next month at RSPB Members’ Weekend in April. I’ll be leading some bird walks and ID sessions and doing a book signing for my RSPB Pocket Garden Birdwatch book but more about that next week. It’s a good weekend and last year was great for the birds at York University with Arctic tern and Jack snipe topping the bird list.
I hope you enjoy the latest issue of Nature's Home. Please keep your comments coming by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org