August, 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!
  • What time do you call this?

    As Mark mentioned in his recent blog post, the breeding season is over, migrants are preparing to leave the country and the birds around us are a-changing.

    Well, most birds.

    A pair of woodpigeons at The Lodge are bucking the trend. From our office window, we can see them flying about carrying twigs. They rummage around on the woodland floor for suitable building material before flapping into the air with their awkward cargo and disappearing into a tree outside our window.

    Pigeons and doves are some of the few species that can breed at almost any time of year. Their food sources enable them to be more flexible than other birds - blue tits, for example, are largely dependent on certain caterpillars, so a breeding attempt without those creepy-crawlies is a non-starter.

    I even remember seeing a pair of collared doves participating in some festive fornication on Christmas Day one year!

    So, keep an eye out for strange goings-on in your garden, on your way to the shops and at the park - you never know what you might see...

    What do you think? 

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  • On the move

    As we enjoy our summer holidays, spare a thought for those birds that are setting off on their travels too.

    Have you looked up into the skies recently? Notice something missing? The swifts have gone. No longer are they racing around in flocks over our homes, showing an impressive turn of speed and ‘screaming’ their excitement. Their summer show is over for another year and I for one miss them already!

    By the time you read this, most swifts will be well on their way to Africa where they will spend the winter, leaving just a few lingering youngsters.

    Swallow in flight

    Arranging for a neighbour to feed the cat and water the plants, and stopping the milk delivery are things we think about before going away. For the birds preparing for their long haul flight, preparation of a very different kind is needed.

    Take a few minutes to watch birds like swallows, house martins and warblers over the next few weeks. You’ll see that they spend a lot of time feeding; filling up on the abundance of insects and natural fruits available at this time of year.

    They’re not feeding for fun though. They’re busy stocking up - and turning all that food into layers of fat for their big journey ahead. For birds like swallows, this can be as much as 200 miles every single day until they reach their destination south of the Sahara Desert. With around 5,000 miles to cover in total, that’s a whopping 25 days of flying before they can start their holiday!

    It isn’t just birds that migrate though. Take a close look among the butterflies and bees collecting nectar from the flowers in your garden for the small, but perfectly formed, marmalade hoverfly.

    These beautiful little black and orange striped insects arrive in large numbers in August. They are easy to see in most gardens - usually perched on a flat flower with their wings held out.

    Huge arrivals have been noted at the coast, on beaches and in coastal towns, proving that marmalade hoverflies cross the sea between Britain and Europe – quite incredible when you see how small they are!

    When I was a child, on my summer holidays on the Norfolk Coast, I remember an ‘invasion’ of little orange and black flies. They were everywhere: on my bucket and spade, on my Dad’s car and on the door of every amusement arcade and fish and chip shop. I now know they were marmalade hoverflies.

    Butterflies do it too. Painted ladies, red admirals and the dazzling clouded yellow arrive in large numbers in August. These late summer arrivals are the offspring of butterflies that bred in southern Europe earlier in the year.

    And moths. The hummingbird hawk moth - causing confusion to some who think they have seen a real hummingbird as it hovers at flowers - migrates too. They love gardens and the flowers that we grow in them, as does the silver y moth, named after the ‘y’ shaped mark on each of its wings.

    Take a stroll down your garden at dusk and you’ll see them flitting from flowers to flower in your garden like little ghosts. They love the buddleia bushes in my garden. It’s great to see so many of them enjoying the nectar of the flowers.

    So, as you sit back enjoying the break, remember to keep an eye out for the travellers of the natural world and see if you can spot them taking a break from their amazing journeys near you.