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!

Your Questions

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.

Identification Help

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!


Your Stories

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.


And Finally…

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.