Valentine’s Day is almost here and even if you’re not feeling the love, nature definitely is. Here’s my guide to seven of the best sights and sounds of early spring brought to you by a star-studded cast of attention seekers from the world of wildlife. These extroverts will do whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd and find a mate - and the ideal home…
Ravens are not just any old crow - they're huge, with a deep call and diamond-shaped tail (Chris Gomersall rspb-images.com)
1) Noisy ravens - “Kronk!” The gruff, far-carrying call of our biggest crow, the magnificent raven, is reaching new peaks as these early nesters take to the skies to perform acrobatic, tumbling displays. They’re long at the front and back due to a large sturdy beak and a long, diamond’ shaped tail. They’re big birds – getting on for buzzard-sized and are magnificent in the air, especially when the sun shines.
Goshawks exude power and now is the time to see these rare and secretive birds high above the treetops (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
2) Skydancing goshawks - A life spent among the trees in thick forest means goshawks are rarely seen – apart from now that is.... They take to the air high above their territories to display with a steady climb on slow, elastic wingbeats until they are high above their treetop domain. Once fully airborne, they soar and stoop in a rollercoaster display before suddenly closing their wings and plummeting into the trees with a near vertical stoop.
You might have seen grey herons grappling with eels, but you can see them carrying huge sticks to their treetop nests now (Eleanor Bentall rspb-images.com)
3) Treetop herons - You might be surprised to see grey herons carrying big sticks and branches this February. Heronries are alive with activity as the birds repair their huge basket nests in the treetops. Herons nest in close proximity to one another, so there is the odd scuffle and bit of stick- stealing but there is definitely a lot more love than hate going on. Bill snapping, neck stretching, presenting gifts of sticks and mutual preening seal the deal.
Probably the UK's most headturning bird - certainly with the biggest wingspan - white-tailed eagles are performing tumbling displays now (Chris Gomersall rspb-images.com)
4) Cartwheeling eagles - Did you know that trees have been know to collapse under the weight of white-tailed eagle nests? Our biggest bird of prey, featured in full in Nature’s Home Spring 2018 magazine, mailed to all RSPB members, is an awe-inspiring sight with a wingspan up to 2.5 metres. It also builds a huge, re-usable nest either in trees, or on sheer coastal cliffs. Not only do eagles get more vocal now, they lock talons mid-air and spiral to earth in series of spectacular cartwheels.
The dawn chorus is gaining pace already and blackbirds are warming up - what's your favourite songster? (Chris Gomersall rspb-images.com)
5) The dawn chorus begins! Nature’s soundtrack builds fast during February with more places coming alive with the sound of bird song. Count how many species are singing in the dawn chorus each day and you’ll be able to see how the cast grow as the days pass. My favourite’s the sweet and simple melody produced by the blackbird. How about you?
Common frogs are among the first species of the year to get on with breeding. Frogspawn has been found already!
6) The frog chorus. If you hear frogs croaking (tip: they get really excited after rain!), peer into ponds and ditches where you may witness a writhing orgy of these early-emerging amphibians, consumed by the need to reproduce. It’s a sight and sound not to be missed once February arrives.
Woodpeckers live up to their name in early spring - listen for their short-lived "drumming" on dead wood (Mike Langman rspb-images.com)
7) Drum roll please. Not all birds use their voices to make themselves heard. Woodpeckers “drum” to mark their territories. The further the sound travels, the better, so they seek out hollow trees and branches. They’ve adapted to using telegraph poles – even the metal plates on them. Their built in shock absorbers – pockets of air in their skull and strengthened bone tissue - means this isn’t as painful as it may sound…
What’s your favourite springtime sound? Let us know by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or leaving a comment below.
Our Nature's Home magazine photo of the week is chosen by Emma Lacy. Emma looks after Fellows' News and Impact - our newsletters for our brilliant Life Fellows and Regular Givers.
It’s that time of the year again, Big Garden Birdwatch is upon us! Shortly, we’ll be gathering at our windows, looking onto our garden bird feeders, and counting the wildlife we’re helping to give a home to. I myself was astonished last weekend when a party of four jays came to feast on my ground feeder. A starter of mealworms, a main of fat balls and a dessert of birdseed saw them through a chilly weekend. It was a stunning sight and I can only hope that they make a repeat visit this weekend in time for the official count.
These wonderful corvids have a stunning cyan flash on their wing and a white rump that always turns my head. They are usually shy birds found in woodlands eating acorns, but they will occasionally flit into our gardens in search of peanuts and mealworms instead. I’ve personally noticed them making more of a presence in family and friends gardens too. So, in speculation, perhaps we’ll see them appear on more survey results this year. But if not, at least they’ve had a shining moment in my garden.
Image courtesy of Nature’s Home reader, Jim Walker
My choice for this week’s photo is a nod to those four hungry fellows who had a transient dinner party at my place.
Thanks Jim for this amusing portrait of a rather peckish jay!
Check back next week for another Nature's Home reader photo and if you’ve taken any shots recently, feel free to send them to email@example.com.
Well, like half a million other households across the UK, I am gearing up for this weekend’s Big Garden Birdwatch. It’s going to be mega. I seem to have a pretty good variety of bird species visiting my back garden during winter.... but will they all turn up during our chosen one-hour slot?
Sit back and enjoy the show... it's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend at last! (Photo: David Tipling, rspb-images.com)
For the uninitiated, full instructions on how to join the Big Garden BIrdwatch can be found here.
And here’s how to prepare:
• Download the Big Garden Birdwatch pack (it’s full of background info and tips, and has a handy tally sheet).
• Bring in all the bird feeders, dismantle and wash them, and refill to the brim with fresh food.
• Add a freshly filled birdbath (you can make your own like this).
• Put out a diverse banquet including mealworms, peanuts, nyjer seed, grain, pellets, suet balls, porridge oats, sunflower hearts, and maybe even an apple on a skewer. Or make your birds a quick and easy homemade cake!
• Make a cup of tea, grab a pair of binoculars, camera and tally sheet, and sit down by the back window… then relax and enjoy the show!
Fill 'er up! Feed hungry birds, help them survive winter, have fun, bond as a family... AND contribute to conservation science. It's all good. (Photo: Andy Hay, rspb-images.com)
My family will be joining me; the kids love spotting movements and looking up species they cannot name. Like the birds, they do tend to flit in and out, but at least one member of the household will have their eyes trained on the action for the full hour.
There’s usually plenty to see. But for those of you looking to spice up your household’s Birdwatch even more, here are five ways to have even more fun.
Come get it, my beauties! (Photo: Rahul Thanki, rspb-images.com)
1. Enjoy it twice! Why not submit one record for your garden and another one for the local park? Or, if you don’t have a garden, two different parks? You’ll need to register two separate profiles, but it’d be an interesting exercise to see what effect the presence of garden feeders and planting has on the outcome. You may find that your entire neighbourhood is great for certain species, whether in the park or garden. Another way of enjoying it twice is to choose two separate hours, and submit the one with the best result (no cheating or adding them together though, that wouldn't be helpful).
2. Compile a bird-themed music playlist to play during your Birdwatch. Here are a few ideas to start you off: The Beatles’ Blackbird, Fleetwood Mac’s Albatross, Prince’s When Doves Cry, Starlings by Elbow, the much-covered jazz standard A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square, anything by The Eagles, or even the cheeky 1926 recording of All Birds Look Like Chickens To Me by Sweet Papa Stovepipe!
3. Create a BGBW group either in your lounge or on social media (such as Facebook or WhatsApp) and set a time for all members of the group to check in, do the Birdwatch and share sightings. Which member of the group will have the most enviable record? Who’ll take the best photo? Or eat the nicest cake?
4. Big Garden Bakeoff, anyone? The birds needn’t be the only ones feasting this weekend. Why not whip up these bird-themed treats for the occasion, or think up a bird-themed indoor picnic?
5. Share your highlights, live sightings and photos with the rest of the social media world via #BigGardenBirdwatch. You can also email us at the magazine with any great shots or amazing sightings from your Big Garden Birdwatch.
Want more? Click here for more Big Garden Birdwatch fun & games for your family!