It’s been a bit of a busy week for me this week, starting off the week down in Southampton not only to visit friends, but to spend a little time doing some bird watching around the Pennington Marshes along the Hampshire coastline. Since I’ve been back home I’ve been having plenty of late nights and early starts, getting out regularly trying to catch a glimpse of some owls that have been reported to be present on a nature reserve not too far from home, and on top of this I’ve been working closely with members of A Focus On Nature (AFON), the young conservationists network, regarding various plans for a few different projects. One of these projects being to get the ball rolling that will allow AFON to set up a photography exhibition this September aiming to showcase powerful imagery regarding environmental history topics. All in all, pretty busy!
So, Southampton, a very welcome change of scenery for myself! Spending my days smack bang in the middle of England, the smell of the seaside in the air as I stepped off the train soon brought memories of seaside holidays rushing back to me, but as much as I would have loved to have stopped and smelled the “roses”, it was 3 o’clock in the morning and I had to get some sleep (the trick is getting trains at stupid o'clock in the morning to really save on rail fare…)!
Copyright Ed Marshall. This was the view that was be had at my friends house. Looking out over the River Itchen.
On the Saturday, I had made plans with a friend of mine (the one and only Professor Paul White of The University of Southampton) who is an active bird ringer and an avid bird watcher, and he had told me of his plans to go and try and catch a glimpse of a long-billed dowitcher which had been sighted around the Pennington Marsh area just on the coast. Greeted with the first “t-shirt and shorts weather” of the year, we headed out early in the afternoon, and spent a great amount of time having our hopes raised and dashed by spotting the various other waders that were present such as redshank, spotted redshank, curlew, and ruff. Though I have to admit, I was enjoying watching them through the binoculars so much I forgot to take any photographs of them! Brent geese were there in good numbers and were a pleasure to watch as they passed overhead (not so easy on the ears I might say), but unfortunately there was no sign of the dowitcher for the entire visit, hopefully I’ll find myself down that way again sometime soon to see what other species there are to be seen.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Prof. Paul White searching for signs of the long-billed dowitcher.
Once I had returned home, I got straight back into the effort that I’ve been putting into finding barn owls around the fields not too far from my home. There have been sightings of them being present from around 5 weeks ago according to a local birder that I bumped into, so apparently I have yet to find the right locations and be there at the right time. One evening I headed out to the field where they have been sighted, and got comfortable. The sun set was amazing, and definitely kept me entertained as I waited, the low lying cloud on the making the sun appear like a perfectly visible golden orb. If only I had some owls to pop in the foreground!
Copyright Ed Marshall. An amazing sunset through the misty clouds as it sinks towards the treeline.
Once the sun had set, I moved over to an adjacent field and kept my eyes and ears peeled, waiting for something to happen. It was then that I heard a call, very unfamiliar to my ears, but one I will never forget. As soon as I got home I looked through the RSPB’s database of bird species, listening to each of the calls for the owl species. Tawny I could rule out straight away, and it wasn’t barn, it was in fact short-eared owl! I’ll be back there frequently as and when I get the opportunity, and I only hope that I can start to share some images of them. I guess I’ll have to be patient but then again that’s the joys of wildlife photography, I can happily spend hours sat in a field seeing nothing, with one glimpse of something special making it all worthwhile.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Ok, maybe I didn't quite see nothing, these swans were there to keep me company...
I hope many of you out there share the same viewpoint, and as usual please share your stories of special wildlife moments by commenting below, it’s always great to hear what you have been up to!
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 email@example.com
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!