Natures Home magazine uncovered

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Natures Home magazine uncovered

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  • A good week for dancing grebes

    Spring is in the air, and the great crested grebes know it. Our editor-in-chief, Mark, watched a couple of birds re-enacting ‘Splashy Come Dancing’ at the weekend. 

    I’ve yet to spot any, but this is a great time to keep an eye out for the bizarre courtship ritual of grebes on our ponds, lakes and reservoirs. 

    The springtime courtship displays of the great crested grebe are a must-see for March and April (Ben Andrew)

    On chilly mornings or dusky evenings, listen out for the braying call of the male, answered by a female - it’s an invitation to dance, so grab yourself a ringside seat. 

    The male and female advance towards each other (sometimes underwater), then draw up face to face. One grebe will rear up and neck arched down: “would you care to dance?” and the other will show its willingness by opening her arms and frilling the cheeks. And so begins an elegant water ballet. 

    They’ll start by shaking their heads and preening their own backs, then things progress past first base: they’ll both dive down to the lake-bed then burst from the surface with a bill full of trailing weeds. 

    A lovers' gift of water weed or vegetation is all part of the display (Ben Andrew)

    With these love tokens they embrace, breast-to-breast, rearing up out of the water and paddling wildly as they entwine their necks together. It’s a sight to behold. 

    See it yourself

    Here are some good RSPB reserves to visit to look for dancers; aim for early morning or dusk, when things get particularly frisky out on the water. 

    RSPB Carsington Water near Matlock, Derbyshire. take a ringside seat around this reservoir to enjoy the grebes’ spring spectacle. 

    RSPB Fen Drayton Lakes between Cambridge and Huntingdon. This former gravel quarry is a good place to spot a weed dance. 

    RSPB Hodbarrow near Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. This coastal lagoon is a courting-grebes magnet, and they nest on the island here. 

    RSPB Lochwinnoch, Paisley, Scotland. A verdant wetland nestling amid low hills; look for for the courtship ritual on open water.

    RSPB Rockland Marshes, near Norwich, Norfolk. A wheelchair-friendly path runs along the shores of Rockland Broad, where you can watch the action. 

    RSPB Ouse Fen, Cambridgeshire Fens. An former gravel pit, still being redeveloped into a nature reserve, is already attracting these courting couples. 

    RSPB Portmore Lough, Co Antrim, Northern Ireland. This lowland lagoon, surrounded by arable land, is pretty much circular, so dancing grebes should be easy to spot!



    Have you witnessed this spectacle yet this spring? Tell us when and where, or send us your photos or video links!

  • Showy snowy makes my March

    It’s dull and dreary here in Bedfordshire, but there’s no dampening my spirits, nor those of any bird lover who found themselves in North Norfolk over the weekend. Two RSPB reserves, Snettisham and Titchwell played host to a most magnificent Arctic visitor. In my opinion it is one of the best birds you can see: a snowy owl. And what a snowy owl it was – a first winter female, so big, buzzard-sized and decked out with beautiful barring on that classic snowy background. And here she is...

    RSPB volunteer Anne Bunyan relocated the snowy owl behind the shore hide at Snettisham on Sunday morning and quickly shared the news of her exciting find (image by Les Bunyan)

    A big thank you
    It's thanks to RSPB Volunteers and local birders Les and Anne Bunyan that so many people got the opportunity to admire this wonderful bird yesterday. I've been treated to some of Les’ wonderful bird photography before in the Nature’s Home inbox and he has very kindly allowed me to use some of his shots of the owl that he sent to the magazine this morning, all of which were taken as I was there. The second vital person in my weekend success was my Mother who on Mother's Day kindly overlooked the fact that I arrived five hours later than planned due to the owls' appearance...

    Anne relocated the owl mid morning yesterday at the south end of RSPB Snettisham reserve. This wonderfully wild place is a real favourite of mine and I know it well, having spent many happy weekends staying my parent’s caravan here. So a big thank you Anne and Les from me!

    The owl was first reported at North Wooton last week, before a couple came into the visitor centre at Titchwell to ask the team there what the bird was that they had photographed on the beach at Heacham – it was the snowy owl that had relocated a little way to the north.

    Owl on tour
    On Friday, I found myself at Rutland Water taking in some of my favourite winter visitors –12 smew, nine scaup and enjoying plenty of other good birds. It had been a good day, including watching a weasel stalk a water rail at close range - until I checked the news to find the owl had been found on Scolt Head Island, viewable (very) distantly from the mainland. Having seen one snowy owl before, a slightly oiled/sooty individual that came in from Canada on a ship at Felixstowe Docks 17 years ago, I was hoping for something to eclipse that. Once I’d missed my turn on the A1 and news of traffic delays came through, I decided it wasn't meant to be..

    On Saturday, I’d arranged to meet my Sister and nephews and that didn’t leave me time to see the owl up at Thornham Point at Titchwell where it spent all day, mainly sitting on the beach attracting a procession of admirers. Once it flew off inland at dusk, I had a feeling it could end up anywhere - if it was ever picked up again. It didn’t look as if it was meant to be, so I was busy in the garden on Sunday morning getting a few things ready for nicer weather when the news came in that the snowy was at Snettisham - and I literally dropped everything. if the owl was where I suspected it was sitting, the views would totally eclipse those of the previous two days.

    The moment that the owl flew up onto this post from its spot hunkered down in the grass was up there with my best birding moments ever It was good when it was sitting in the grass, but it was elevated to to awesome after it flew to this post. These were the views that nobody would want to miss! (image Les Bunyan)

    Super Snettisham
    The walk down the beach at Snettisham is wonderful and the calls of Mediterranean gulls, a big flock of dark-bellied brent geese and newly-arrived avocets added to the soundtrack and helped to ease the anxiety of the one mile walk down and the concern the bird might get disturbed.

    I’ve enjoyed many great moments at the remote south end of the reserve, overlooking saltmarsh and seawall which is always alive with birds. I remember seeing my first short-eared owl in the very same spot when I was a child, Montagu’s harriers on several occasions and there are always barn owls and marsh harriers here as well as hen harriers in winter. With a snowy owl present, one of my favourite spots was going to be better than ever!

    It’s amazing how owls change shape – you can see how they are pretty much all feathers from its tiny head! (image by Les Bunyan)

    Once the crowd was in sight, I could relax. The owl was hunkered down in a tussock of grass with only its head and shoulders on view, but after a heavy rain shower an hour or so later, it shook itself and I suspected it was going to do something special. There was no way I was leaving yet and it was the right decision. Soon after, it took flight and landed in full view on a fencepost resulting in an audible gasp from the crowd – me included. I felt a bit sorry for everyone who had left at this point because this was something else!

    Here's a snapshot I took of the owl on my phone - check out the vicious talon poking out from its feather-clad leg and foot (image by Mark Ward)

    What will the rest of spring bring?
    This wonderful bird will definitely take some beating in the weeks ahead, but with my annual adder obsession no doubt kicking in once the temperatures start to consistently hit double figures and lots of cool spring fungi to go at over the next few weeks, not to mention all the incoming migrants, I'm hoping there's lots more to come. We've just about finished the April edition of Nature's Home and packed it again with wildlife-watching advice, events and top reserves to visit, so I hope it will help you have a fabulous spring as well.

    Another one of my snapshots to show that the owl was just as good from behind - I thought it looked like a knight in chain mail! (image by Mark Ward)

    Did you get to see the snowy? Why not let us know by leaving a comment below, or e-mailing

  • Nature's Home photo of the week - toad in the snow

    My choice for our photo of the week is a photograph that captures the impact of the "Beast from the East" and the conditions that our wildlife-faced at a time of the year when they would normally expect to be enjoying milder temperatures as their thoughts turn to spring.

    Nature's Home reader Peter Richards says: "I saw him at the side of the road in Sharnbrook, Bedfordshire, on the morning of Saturday 3 March. Needless to say I left him alone so nature could take its course. Why he wasn't hibernating, I have no idea!