February, 2008

Wildlife

Wildlife
We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Notes on nature

We love nature... from every little bug on a blade of grass to birds, butterflies, otters and oaks!
  • Adios winter

    Siskin and greenfinch on feeder. Photo by Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images)

    Here I sit on the last day of February, spring just around the corner. But who mourns the passing of winter? Time seems to be wished away and all you hear is how spring is nearly here, people and wildlife seem to be getting excited by new beginnings. In autumn you don’t see many people excited about the onset of winter. Well I’m a fan!

    OK the days are short and grey, but without leaves on the trees, it’s easier to see the birds that hang out there and the other wildlife that inhabits our woods and forests.

    The winter visitors we’ve recently have been great! Having complained about the lack of siskins on our feeder earlier this year, they’ve appeared with a vengeance. But they’ll shortly disappear from these parts, with the ones at The Lodge probably off back to Scandinavia.

    Another finch I’ll miss is the orange, white and black brambling, there has been distinctly less of them about the last couple of weeks. One lunchtime, Mark and myself were lucky enough to see seven (yes seven!) species of finch on one set of feeders at the same time. Including another winter visitor, mealy redpoll, a rare visitor. For a couple of weeks in February, The Lodge went finchtastic!

    But now the great spotted woodpeckers are drumming and the robins pairing up, so soon many of these finches will be off. The waders, ducks, geese and swans that also call the UK home for the winter will join them in heading (mainly) north. Yes they’ll be replaced by the ‘fair weather’ visitors from the south, but I for one will miss the antics of the siskins on our feeder, chasing off any other bird that dares to eat when they are!

    I think winter is great, so let’s say fare thee well and come back soon (although not too soon, I’d like a nice spring and summer first!).

  • Did the earth move for you?

    This morning, I woke just before 1 am to the sound of my bedroom door rattling, and shelves and a filing cabinet shaking. I opened my eyes and felt the whole room wobbling!

    Robin singing in tree. Photo by Chris Gomersall (RSPB Images)Even 90 miles away, some of us felt vibrations from the tremors that struck Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, though we were lucky enough not to suffer any damage.

    A friend of mine who lives in Peterborough, closer to the epicentre, was already wide-awake, playing on his computer. He likened the sound to 'the low rumble of a truck pulling up outside followed by at least 50 cats bouncing up and down on the conservatory roof', but when he stepped outside, the air was full of blackbird and robin song.

    Some birds do sing at night at this time of year, notably the two species mentioned, but not in the same numbers as my friend heard. Birds must be used to roosting in trees which wobble about in the wind, so what caused them to wake up and start singing?

    It's been thought for centuries that animals are sensitive to earthquakes and other natural phenomena. In 373 BC, contemporary historians recorded that small animals deserted the Greek city of Helice before an earthquake razed it.

    Having canvassed friends and colleagues who live nearer The Lodge, the majority slept through this momentous event and were bemused by the headlines on the television and radio when they finally woke.

    I like the idea that the 'quake might make people think a bit more about the natural world and what goes on in it. You have to marvel at the power of nature when something like this happens, and it's all down to some large rocks shifting around underneath us...

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  • Doorstep vs. world

    I think it's easy to take the wildife in our local area for granted when we see it everyday. On wintery mornings, I tend to ignore the frosted leaves and spiders' webs glistening on my neighbour's holly bush. Instead, I frantically try to clear the ice from my windscreen without being late for work. I march blindly past green shoots beginning to pop out of the ground in my front garden, and I am oblivious toFrosted leaves. Photo by Andy Hay the sounds of birds overhead.

    Travelling offers a chance to change this attitude and learn a new appreciation for nature. I should know - I've just got back from a brilliant five month trip through Australia, New Zealand and south-east Asia. Each country offered new birds, insects and mammals, and everything in the natural world became a novelty.

    September in Western Australia brought kangaroos with joeys in their pouches hopping onto campsites and across golf courses. They came out at dusk, with their yellow eyes flashing in the dark. I used to love watching 'Skippy the bush kangaroo' on television when I was young. To see these creatures in the wild for the first time was exhilirating as an adult and I remembered how excited I used to get about wildlife when I was a child.

    The Karri forests south of Perth were silent and massive. The photos I have don't do these trees justice - you have to see them to really appreciate these silvery giants.

    October in New Zealand brought possums creeping through the bush and cheeky keas strolling through carparks, pecking at tourists' cars and shoes.

    November to January in south-east Asia, with its sunshine, beaches and jungles, was teeming with wildlife. In Thailand's Khao Sok National Park, I was transfixed by huge butterflies bobbing through the jungle. Monkeys squabbled in the trees overhead, and snakes balanced on branches, curled into scaly black and yellow bundles.

    Returning to England this month, I am grateful for many things, especially wine, the NHS and cheese sandwiches. But my travels have also renewed my enthusiasm for my local wildlife, and now I take time to say wow! to the frosty spiders' webs before de-icing my car. Back at work, siskins flit between the feeders at The Lodge, and I remember that there is plenty of great wildlife to see on my doorstep. It's just a shame that my doorstep isn't a Thai beach!