Many of you reading this blog will have heard us mention how many stunning reader photos we receive in the Nature's Home magazine inbox every day. The only slightly disappointing aspect to receiving so many beautiful photos is that there is never enough room to fit them all in a single issue, even if we dedicated the entire magazine to it. Celebrating the wildlife and other nature you’ve seen and captured on camera is the theme of this brand new weekly blog post: photo of the week. So without further ado…
I’m one of those people that enjoy winter. Feeling a bit chilly connects me to the natural world, and experiencing wildlife on a windswept estuary or snow-capped hilltop gives me a different kind of appreciation for wild things and where they live. The downside to winter for me is that my house is old and cold. I often blog about my home and the wildlife I share with it, which is why this photo of the week peeked my interest.
My toilet is situated down a long, dark, sometimes icy corridor. I think (and hope) it’s the closest I ever come to experiencing my mother’s childhood recollections of an outdoor toilet in the garden of a Sheffield council house. Without the chance wildlife encounters I’ve had while seated on the frozen throne, I’d feel much less fond of that part of the house. On Monday, perched in the dark, the shrill call of a vixen shattered through the toilet window from just outside. Oddly, it didn’t startle me, and she continued for a few minutes calling regularly. Foxes are busy at this time of year, and the female’s call announces her receptiveness to mating.
Image courtesy of Nature's Home reader Karen Diton
I’ve chosen this image because of that Monday evening experience, and for the lovely bit of behaviour on show, in the snow, between the two foxes.
Great shot Karen!
Come back next week to the Nature’s Home blog for another wonderful reader photo.
What's your favourite nature spectacle? A peregrine on the hunt? The autumn red deer rut? Flights of wild geese overhead on a winter afternoon?
We've got our "must sees" here at Nature's Home and today we present one of the very best of all them thanks to a guest blog from Jacqueline Hitt who is studying for an MA in Nature and Travel Writing at Bath Spa University. This is a sight you can see now and there are a few ideas for sites where you might see it (no guarantees!) in the current issue of Nature's Home magazine. It's starling roost season! Here's Jacqui...
Today’s weather doesn’t promise much. A morning of drizzle has given way to an afternoon quilted in light-grey, altostratus cloud. Its muddy and awkward underfoot; impossible to get a proper grip.
By mid-afternoon, what remains of daylight is ebbing away, colouring the flooded wetland fields in tints of pewter, gilt and green. A sense of possibility hangs in the air. It’s what’s brought this small group of strangers here. The hope of seeing a natural wonder only a few others will see.
One starling looks good in winter, but put tens of thousands together and it's a whole new ball game (Ben Andrew)
No-one speaks as we huddle behind a sun-bleached wooden screen by Hal Frankham’s lagoon in the middle of the RSPB’s Otmoor reserve. Everyone is intently watchful, observing the reed beds through rectangular windows in the screen. Someone has cut these out with care: each one strategically positioned to perfectly frame the wetland view. Nearby a herd of white and toffee-coloured cows are grazing on swathes of moist, marshy grass.The only noise is the gentle rustle of reed heads, a mallard or two’s call and the flapping of lapwings taking flight.
Streaming inAfter a while, a trickle of birds comes into sight. It’s a small group of ten or so and flits over the glassy surface of the lagoon, dappling it with small, pebble shapes. Then another and another pass overhead. As we crane our heads-upwards to get a better look, the trickle becomes a streaming rush of beating wings, dark feathers and sharp beaks.
Looking eastwards now towards the low-rising hills in the distance, we see something moving, rapidly and inexhaustibly towards us. From this far away, it looks menacing: like a cloud of insects moving at speed. Edging closer, it grows and swells. It becomes possible to see that it’s not insects, but starlings: a swirling of thousands and thousands of their shiny, feathered bodies. Just like water, this avian river rises and falls, ebbs and flows, following an invisible course across the dusk sky.
Take your imagination along with you and you'll pick out shapes among the masses (David Kjaer rspb-images.com)
The starlings don’t billow into dancing clouds as we all expected them too. Instead they pour into the landscape like a huge conveyor-belt of life constantly moving above the horizon, flowing from right to left. The sheer numbers of starlings converging on this soggy corner of Oxfordshire is astonishing. As is that it all happens so quietly.
As the light dims, more and more birds arrive and the sky fills with starlings (David Kjaer rspb-images.com)
After just over half-an-hour, the starlings suddenly stop, dropping like stones into the reed-beds below. They disappear as if swallowed by the land itself. But this isn’t what’s happened. The starlings have simply reached their destination, a safe place to roost. The reed heads on which they are perched sway to the same rhythm the flock did in the air.
Reedbeds provide a secure overnight home, but starlings also roost on piers, buildings and conifers (Eleanor Bentall rspb-images.com)
It takes us all a few moments to realise that the starlings have vanished, that the ‘show’ is over. We can hear them softly chittering and chattering to each other but can’t see them – not one. It's our sign that it’s time to go; that night will soon fall.
As everyone heads back along the darkening path, a single marsh harrier circles above. We all ponder how much luck he will have tonight. The starlings know well how much safety - and warmth - there is in numbers.
Starlings in your garden?Big Garden Birdwatch is just days away, so make sure you're prepared and don't miss Charlie Elder's feature in the Spring issue of Nature's Home showing what your results have revealed about our most familiar birds, including the fabulous starling. I hope you get plenty coming to visit for your Birdwatch. TIP: they love fat balls...
My family had a very busy festive season, despite spending all of it at home. I am only just catching up with all the festive TV movies now. We spent many hours standing up and cooking, and many more devouring the fruits of our labour.
But we didn’t forget our feathered friends outside. Although not a flake of snow settled in our part of the world (much to the kids' disappointment), there was some pretty inclement weather outside, and we made sure we refilled the feeders every day. And it kept things nice and busy.
Mealworms are very popular - the mealworm feeder always empties within 20 minutes, and we’re buying them in huge sacks to try to keep up.
The grain table and peanut feeders have brought in blue, great and coal tits, long-tailed tits, collared doves, woodpigeons and squirrels plus assorted corvids, while our robin, blackbirds and dunnocks pecked around on the ground. And gorgeous clouds of goldfinches frequent our nyjer seed feeder and teasel thicket. There’s always plenty going on.
But over the past few weeks we’ve welcomed two new arrivals: our first greenfinch, glimpsed fleetingly at the peanut feeder, and not one but two blackcaps.
Blackcaps breed in the UK in summer but are starting to show up in winter, too… (Photo: Paul Chesterfield, rspb-images.com)
As you’ll see in the current issue of Nature’s Home (p33), blackcaps are an unusual addition to a winter garden. So I was very excited when a male started frequenting the fat-ball feeder, and ecstatic when a red-headed female showed up a week later.
This otherwise grey-brown warbler traditionally leaves our shores in autumn and heads south to milder climes, returning in spring to breed. However, the 2006 Big Garden Birdwatch recorded that 10% of gardens were reporting these birds in January, mainly in southern England and Wales.
Recent bird-ringing studies revealed that these are actually birds from Germany who tried to fly south but got a bit lost, and are managing to survive our winters thanks to garden feeding and our warming climate.
We have a Mrs Blackcap, too! Easy to spot with her auburn bonnet. (Photo: Kev Chapman)
This helped me realise just how important my garden feeding is. Without me, my Mr and Mrs Blackcap might not find enough to eat, and could perish. And apparently, the study suggests that they are gradually evolving into a different sub-species from those birds that spend winter in Spain, so definitely worth hanging on to.
So I’m ecstatic that this pair has decided to hang out with me in Wiltshire instead of jetting off to Spain. I definitely would’ve made a different decision in their shoes, but hey ho, horses for courses and all that. I’m making sure I look after them well.
I am seriously hoping these two birds will show up during my one-hour participation in the upcoming Big Garden Birdwatch - partly for the smug-factor of uploading their sightings. I’m pulling out all the stops (ie. laying out an irresistible daily feast!) to make it happen, and I will let you know how we get on.
Next week we’ll be sharing some more ways to make the most of the Big Garden Birdwatch - make sure you sign up and tell the world who’s pecking around in your garden! And if you see any blackcaps meanwhile, do record your sightings at Birdtrack and help UK ornithologists keep an eye on these special little warblers.