Big Wild Sleepout, supported by Rohan, is taking place from 28–30 July, so to help get you in the mood for a night under the stars, here are my 10 top night time wildlife delights to look out for...
Are you a lark, or an owl?I can get up early when I must, but am much, much happier in the twilight and always have been. It's that mysterious period when the day shift gives way to the creatures of the night and spooky things happen (allegedly). So as a self confessed night wildlife nut, I thought I’d share my favourite experiences of watching nature by night. Please let us know about your favourite night time wildlife, and your best experiences, by leaving a comment below, or emailing email@example.com
What goes on in your garden as the night shift takes over? (Chris Shields rspb-images.com)1) Badger paradeI’m really lucky to be able to watch these stripy-faced animals literally on my doorstep in the evenings. I’ve been feeding my local badgers for a few years now and they come about half an hour before dark every night to parade a few feet from our back windows – more precisely, they come to stuff their faces. For a truly wild experience to put your tracking and fieldcraft skills to the test, seek out a badger sett at dusk and wait patiently with the wind blowing into your face to keep your scent away from these super-sniffers and watch their fascinating behaviour.
2) Go batty for batsMuch easier to see than badgers, and just as much fun to watch, are our bats. There are several species in the UK, many of them rare and localised, but if you get a bat detector you should be able to identify several from their echolocation calls, that help them locate food. Common pipistrelles are easily seen around gardens and you might also find the rather brilliant brown long-eared bats with their Batfink style ears and habit of hovering at vegetation to pick off insects. Noctule bats are big and fly high across the sky on long wings.
3) A kaleidoscope of mothsThere are around 2,500 species of moth on the UK list and they come in a tremendous variety of shapes, sizes and colours. From the angle shades that looks like a crumpled leaf to the super shiny burnished brass; the colourful chunky hawkmoths to the ghostly swallow-tailed moth. If you thought moths were all small and brown, you’re in for a treat.
You might even get tigers visiting you at night (tiger moths that is) – this is a garden tiger (Tom Marshall rspb-images.com)
4) A quartet of owlsTawny, little, barn and long-eared – four owls that you could find near you if you tune in to their calls at dusk and through the night (there are no tawnies in Northern Ireland though). Barn owls have an unearthly hiss that will really make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It doesn’t fit their cute, dewy-eyed appearance, or graceful look as they patetiently fly over a field or roadside verge looking for small mammals to eat or take back to their nest. Little owls are full of character. Look and listen for them before it gets fully dark. We have one that pops up on a tree by our garden every evening.
Barn owls are surely on everyone's favourite night wildlife list? (John Bridges rspb-images.com)
5) Anyone for cricket?One of my favourite sounds of dusk is the “chirp” of this secretive cricket coming from hedges, bushes and taller plants. Have a listen between July and October and you’ll realise it is one of those sounds you hear all the time, but perhaps have never checked out what’s making it. When you hear it, approach carefully and slowly, peer in and you should be able to see the cricket.
6) Take a moonlit walk along the beachIt might seem a strange entry to the top ten – but bear with me... Waders are returning from the Arctic throughout July, stopping off on our beaches and estuaries to rest and refuel on the abundant, often slimy, goodies that live in the soft sand and mud. Not all birds go to sleep at night, including waders who take the opportunity to continue feeding. You should be able to pick out several wader calls, from the excitable piping of oystercatchers to the "cour-lee" of curlews. Choose a still, moonlit night and enjoy.
7) Hedgehogs!The decline of the nation’s favourite animal has been all too apparent in my part of the world. I rarely see them on my patch now, but when I do it’s very exciting. I know many of you do enjoy them regularly though, from the great pictures and stories you send. Keep them coming – it’s good to know they are still around.
8) Glimpse a goatsuckerAs you’ll see on the next cover of Nature’s Home magazine, nightjars look like nothing else you can see in the UK. There’s still plenty of time to enjoy these crepuscular crackers over the next few weeks, so head to a heath, moor or woodland clearing and peel your eyes and ears for the males’ churring calls and their erratic, graceful flight. They also have lots of spectacular alternative names, including the goatsucker!
Mysterious nightjars come out at about 9.30 pm at this time of year – well worth staying up for (Chris Shields rspb-images.com)
9) The sweet smell of honeysuckleWe have three honeysuckles in our garden and they smell nice in the day. In the evenings, they smell amazing though! To attract night time pollinators such as moths the scent increases, and what a smell it is! Just brush past a honeysuckle bush and you’ll be immersed in one of nature’s nicest niffs.
10) Stay up late for a stag partyI thought long and hard about including this one because the truth is I have never seen one. I am assured though that it really is an experience to savour! It remains my most wanted to see species of UK wildlife and there is a horrible stag beetle shaped hole in my “lifelist”. I was confident of breaking my duck at the end of June when I made back-to-back visits to a hotspot where they had been seen just the day before, but no joy (just its lesser stag beetle cousin).
For more ideas of things you can do at night to make your Sleepout extra special, check out Anna's blog post from the summer solstice.
A special offer for RSPB membersTo help you enjoy your Big Wild Sleepout and enjoy nature by night, we’ve teamed up with our partners at Rohan, official supporters of Big Wild Sleepout. They pack a whole load into their clothing from sun protection to waterproofs and are offering RSPB members 10% off, including sale items. Plus Rohan will donate 5% of sales from this offer to the RSPB. Simply visit rohan.co.uk and enter code NHM3 at the Basket Page or mention the offer at your nearest Rohan shop. Offer ends 13 August 2017 and cannot be used to purchase gift cards.
Watch the Big Wild Sleepout film!Make sure you also check this superb Big Wild Sleepout Film from our friends at Rohan! It's sure to get you in the mood for a night under the stars.
I'm delighted (and more than a little envious) to present a guest blog from former RSPB Director of International Operations, Tim Stowe who brings a tale from the high seas of an AGM with a difference. Wish I'd been there? You bet and I'm sure you will too!
“It would be great if you came to our AGM”, Mark said the last time we met. “Sure!” I said, half heartedly. Mark is the dynamic Director of BirdLife South Africa, our BirdLife Partner in the country. Now, I know the RSPB’s AGM is pretty special – business followed by some of our most inspiring communicators show-casing our best achievements - but travelling to Cape Town to attend an AGM?
But this was an AGM like no other. This was The Flock2017, held aboard a luxurious liner cruising many miles off the South African coast, for a sea-watching extravaganza! How could I refuse?
Not a bad place to host an AGM. Add in a spectacular array of albatrosses, petrels and shearwaters and it's an experience never to be forgotten!
Setting sailWe set sail from Cape Town late afternoon. There were a few Cape fur seals in the harbour, the roof-nesting Swift terns filled the air and a few African penguins ‘porpoised’ in the swell outside. I’m not a great sailor and I had never been on large vessels. I now found myself on a floating skyscraper. We had access to decks 5-12, and the view from the top deck was amazing. As the sun set that evening, and the Table Mountain disappeared over the horizon, I was relieved that the ship was so stable.
It was dark when most of the 1800 bird watchers on board had breakfast the next morning. We were now at the edge of the continental shelf. At dawn, birds started to appear all around the ship – great-winged and soft-plumaged petrels chased the ship, shearwaters and storm-petrels danced in the wake. It was not long before someone shouted “albatross” and a giant of all these ocean wanders came gracefully and effortlessly into view. The sheer size of a wandering albatross made it visible at over a kilometre from our tower on the sea. Gliding on stiff wings, the precision with which it rose above the wave crests and let its wing tips caress the surface in the troughs made it a magical master of this environment.
The wandering albatross is one of those birds once seen, never forgotten - it is huge!
Seabird extravaganzaMore birds appeared, as the ship slowly cruised along the edge of the shelf. The shelf is important for seabirds because the change in water depth produces mixing of water of different temperature and chemistry, bringing to the surface plankton, cephlapods (eg squid) and fish, all food for seabirds. Soon there were more wanderers, accompanied by shy albatrosses, shearwaters and more petrels, and then a sooty albatross. BirdLife South Africa had provided guides on each deck who helped those less knowledgeable see and identify the birds around us.
If you don't have sea legs, this might make you feel a little queezy!
We passed some deep sea fishing boats using bird-scaring lines to prevent birds getting entangled in the fishing gear. These lines are one of the devices successfully promoted by the Albatross Task Force, hosted by the RSPB on behalf of BirdLife International, to reduce seabird deaths at sea. Black-browed albatrosses (we saw several most days) love to follow fishing vessels and are especially at risk. Reductions in albatross deaths achieved by the ATF may have stabilised the breeding populations of these albatrosses on the Falklands Islands.
The Albatross Task Force has made great strides in albatross conservation thanks to the support of people like you (black-browed albatross by Gary Cusins)
Conservation actionAs we cruised around through the vast wilderness – the boundary between the Atlantic and the Indian Oceans – we saw thousands of seabirds including the white-headed petrel, tiny black-bellied storm–petrels, Antarctic prions, northern giant petrel and great shearwaters. These shearwaters breed in their thousands on Gough Island (part of Tristan da Cunha), some 2,500km away, where the RSPB is preparing to eradicate invasive house mice which are eating seabird chicks alive.
Great shearwaters are one of several seabirds getting a helping hand from your support
BirdLife South Africa held its AGM on the fourth day, with many of us tearing ourselves away from the sea-watching to hear about the conservation successes of our Partner. Only the gentle rocking indicated that this AGM was over 100 miles from land, during an epic journey, recording 33 species of seabirds including 7 species of albatrosses, plus dolphins, pilot whales, and Cape Fur Seals many miles from land. This was the second time the AGM was held afloat, and it was hugely popular - not only that, the event made a significant profit for conservation. What an AGM!
The route followed by TheFlock 2017 (Andrew Hodgson)
You can find out more about our partners at Birdlife South Africa and their work, plus a full report of the cruise but be prepared to be even more envious of what you missed!
As Britain went to the polls yesterday, I was spending a very pleasant afternoon up at RSPB The Lodge, meeting with ed-in-chief Mark to do final checks on the next issue of Nature’s Home, and sign it off for print. We also couldn’t resist a tiny nature walk, to see how the resident family of greylag geese is doing (very well, as it happens!) and spot some interesting bees, micro-moths and beetles.
Back to Nature’s Home, though. Now that the magazine is signed off and on its way to the printers, I’m delighted to be able to offer you a sneak peek of next issue’s front cover!
The autumn issue will reach RSPB members next month.
In this issue we’ll be exploring a very special habitat - lowland heath, and the wildlife that depends on it, along with urban waterways, the atmospheric and archaeology-rich habitats of Dungeness, and the marshlands of Frampton. We’re covering a lot of ground this issue!
Families can get ready for the RSPB Big Wild Sleepout, the ultimate child-friendly nature-by-night experience - while birders looking to meet, mingle and expand their skills have Birdfair to look forward to.
We also reveal an inspiring garden created from a bare concrete yard, which proves that even a garden planted entirely in pots and containers can give nature a home.
There’s much more besides - including fantastic photos from our readers, field skills and the latest RSPB successes and news. So click here to join the RSPB and get your hands on these 100 wildlife-packed pages - delivered free through your door!
Well, it’s been a long and exciting night and there’s plenty going on today, so I won’t take up any more of your time.
I hope you enjoy the next issue as much as we’ve enjoyed putting it together… and find tranquility and joy in all the glorious wildlife that’s carrying on as usual all around us.