Continuing along the theme of last weeks blog post, I will be featuring more emails from our readers as there are so many great questions, images and stories to share!
This week, I've decided to choose a question that I've had come in a few times here at Natures Home magazine, and recently it has been asked by Stephen Batchelor. He tells us about the pheasants that regularly visit his garden, but a recent, oddly coloured individual amongst them sparks the question "Are black pheasants rare?".
Photo by Stephen Batchelor. On the right, our easily recognisable female pheasant. One the left, a melanistic pheasant most probably the result of hybridisation when bred for sport.
Pheasants are a species of bird that were introduced many years ago, and have since spread across the country, often seen in our countryside walking through fields. They were introduced for the sport of shooting game birds, and stocks of pheasants that are bred for such purposes can result in different melanistic colour morphs, such as the one shown above. The colours of melanistic individuals can range from black to white, though how often this can happen is uncertain. It is most likely that individual birds from breeding stocks have somehow escaped or been let out, so although it is uncommon to see these pheasants out and about, it is not heard of.If you have any wildlife questions you would like to ask, you can do so by sending in your questions to our Ask An Expert section on the RSPB's website.
In last weeks blog post, I asked if any of you knew the ID of an odd looking insect. Those of you who guessed Plume Moth are correct! Plume moths are a group of moths typically identified by their feather-like wings, and is a group made of around 34 species in the UK(!), many of which don't have common names. If you have any ID questions that you would like help with, send them in!
This weeks ID comes from Michael Weller, who asks if we can identify this "monster" caterpillar that he found in his garden and has helpfully included a trowel for scale in the image. So, would anyone like to hazard a guess as to what species this belongs to? Answers revealed next week!
Photo by Michael Weller – Michael found this huge caterpillar while in his garden. Do you think you know what it is? The answer will be revealed next week!
Over the last couple of weeks, I have been receiving regular updates from a young wildlife enthusiast called Samuel Kyle-Henney, aged 8. Samuel wrote to me to tell me about how the high winds over the last month or so had resulted in an old tree being blown down in their garden, but to the surprise of both Samuel and his father there were large holes in the base of the tree. These holes had been made by stag beetles in order for them to lay their eggs (pictured), with the tree now fallen however, the larvae weren't protected from the elements and would be easily predated by the birds that visit their garden. In order to give them the best chance of growing up to become adults, they made sure that they were kept safe and comfortable in a pot full of sawdust and rotten wood, and hopefully they will see the results of their hard work in the future!
Photo by Samuel Kyle-Henney. Three stag beetle larvae that were discovered when an old tree fell down during high winds.
Stag beetles and their larvae love old trees and dead wood, such as the tree found in Samuels garden. The adults will bore their way into the rotting wood of a tree or log and lay their eggs where they will hatch and grow through their larval stage which can take anywhere from 4 to 6 years before they become pupae! The pupae then live in the soil before emerging as adults a few months later. A long process, but something that I think will be very much worth it to see them develop into adults. A great find by anyones standards, and you can find out more about what you can find in your own backyard in our A to Z of wildlife in your garden.
As for me this week, I would like to share some images from the RSPB's very own Middleton Lakes. A vast reserve, with a variety of habitats, it presents some great photo opportunities if you head out for an early start. I enjoy using natural light to produce different results in my photography, it creates a much more interesting image, adding something to the story behind the picture. I recently visited Middleton Lakes with a friend of mine, Matthew Lissimore, and here are just a few images that I managed to capture during the day.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Out on one of the main lakes at Middleton, a flock of black headed gulls take residence on a small island. With the sun behind them, and the mist rising from the lake, this image of a black headed gull coming in to land was one of my favourites from the visit.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Reed buntings were busy collecting nesting material amongst the reed mace. Again, with the sun lighting the scene from behind, it creates a nice silhouette effect, highlighting the material it carries in its mouth.
Copyright Ed Marshall. And finally, even a species as common as Canada Geese can be transformed by early morning light, and the right conditions.
For me, this week got off to a great start. I found out that I have been accepted onto an internship with the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust that is due to start this summer. I’ll be spending 4 to 6 weeks helping to organise and build their image library, working with the other staff on the islands and generally having an amazing time! You can read a little more about the amazing work that the team out there have been involved with on the RSPB website, such as the the Seabird Recovery Project. Although this summer can’t come quick enough, I will miss getting out around my local patch during my time away. With the length of days stretching out I have been looking forward to those mild early starts of summer, and the lighter nights allowing for more photography time. I guess I’ll have to make the most of it in the mean time!
Copyright Ed Marshall. I managed to get this shot of a tufted duck pair the other morning, the stillness of the air allowing a low-lying mist to form on the surface of the lake. I was flat on my belly, soaked through I might add, in order to get right down on the eye level of the subject. By doing this it really made the mist stand out that little bit more, helping to separate the subject from the background.
Copyright Ed Marshall. By contrast, I also took this shot of a great crested Grebe, bringing the reflection of the trees into the image to help create a more interesting composition. I appreciate it’s an image that might not be for everyone, but there’s something about it I quite like.
As some of you may know, I’ve been on somewhat of a quest to find barn owls local to myself to photograph them, but so far I’ve yet to succeed. After struggling through the winter many barn owls haven’t returned to their usual haunts, with a number of people informing me that places in which they were sighted last year have failed to play host to the barnies again this year. You can read a little more about barn owls in the RSPB's online Bird Guide. Though I haven't had quite the success with barn owls I would have liked, I have had some new information that could just prove to be the ace up my sleeve, so you’ll all have to watch this space! I continually take inspiration from a number of photographers who capture amazing images of these birds, and recently I received an email from Natures Home reader Stuart Pike, who had done just that.
Photo by Stuart Pike. Barn Owls have had a tough winter, with sightings of them in my local area dropping compared to previous years. I can only hope to get a shot like this eventually!
The next issue of Natures Home Magazine, which is shipped around the 15th of April, will be featuring a look at the variety of nocturnal wildlife that can be found here in the UK such as the barn owl, and I for one will be sure to give it a read for inspiration. Until then, get out and about to enjoy what there is to be seen near you. You can either find a local reserve or visit your local patch, but be sure to let us know what you get up to either by emailing to us here at Natures Home, or by commenting below!
And finally, this weekend Mark Ward and a number of other RSPB members will be off having a great time in York for this years’ RSPB Members Weekend. It’s a great weekend that is packed full of activities for members, including talks and outings around York and nearby nature reserves. If you haven’t quite managed to book your spot on this years’ meet up, then be sure to think ahead for next year, it's a great event and something you can definitely look forward to!
A lot of people may find it easy to believe that bird watching as well as other observations of the natural world) and the conservation efforts that go with it, is a field that is dominated by the older generations. On Wednesday I got to attend a young birders workshop arranged by A Focus On Nature, and was able to meet a fantastic group of young people at the BTO headquarters in Thetford. I listened to many of them talk about why it is they are so passionate about not only birding, but the natural world around them. It truly was an inspiration to listen to so many youngsters give talks (and the odd slightly older, Matthew Bruce), and encouraging to see such enthusiasm from them for something that I'm sure all of us share a common passion for.
Copyright Ed Marshall. Some of the young naturalists attending the Young Birders Workshop.
In the morning there was a bird ringing workshop which helped to show what sort of work bird ringers do and why, and there was even the chance to release some of the birds once all the data had been recorded. Activities such as this is a great way to inspire the younger generation, and if you know any young people who are interested in helping and getting to work closely with nature, then training to become a bird ringer is a fantastic way to do this! This sort of work often involves some of the more common species such as the robin pictured below (top), but every now and then there may be a bit of a surprise in the mist nets (below bottom)...
Copyright Ed Marshall. A robin caught during the morning bird ringing workshop, being released by keen young birder Ben Moyes.
Copyright Ed Marshall. The staff at the workshop were fantastic, offering friendly advice and expert knowledge. They even offer service with a smile after ringing a mallard duck that took a bit of a fancy to the nearby mist nets!
Towards the end of the day, there was even a debate focused around what peoples thoughts were on the topic of how young birders are perceived, and indeed on how they felt about voicing their love of the natural world. What was said came as a large surprise to myself. When I was growing up, I was always a lover of the natural world, and that was something that most of my friends knew. It was something that I generally didn't talk about, I knew they weren’t really interested and they understood that was my “thing” and it was left at that. To hear that some young people have suffered bullying where their passion is concerned was disheartening. It’s a reflection of how some of the next generation look upon those who care about the natural world and want to do something to ensure its there to be enjoyed in the future. My hope is that the pendulum will eventually swing in the other direction, bringing in a greater number of those who have an appreciation for the natural world around us. I already see amongst the emails that are sent in, that many of you out there are actively encouraging the younger generation to get excited about the natural world, and that is great to see. Maybe at some point in the future, they themselves will be visiting such workshops in order to talk about their own passion for watching wildlife!
Copyright Ed Marshall. A Speckled Wood butterfly basking in the morning sun.
In the meantime, I encourage all of you to get out and enjoy the fantastic spring time weather we have been having of late, as I have no doubt that in true British form it will all come to an end soon!