September, 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!
  • Grab and stash raids

    As I look out of the office window, there's a constant stream of birds, especially coal tits, visiting the webcam bird feeder here at The Lodge. Where have they come from and what are they doing?

    It's been noticeable for the past two weeks. Are the birds migrants, newly-arrived here and need of a square meal?

    Probably not. Coal tits in the UK usually stay put, keeping close to the area they hatched in. That means the birds I'm seeing are probably all local, maybe even all hatched from tree holes and nestboxes at The Lodge.

    In that case, why the sudden appearance of coal tits on the feeder? I'm guessing that the reason has something to do with the time of year. It might be a time of plenty for many birds at the moment, and the weather is mild, but somehow they know that things could be very different in a matter of weeks.

    It's amazing, considering that many of the birds I'm seeing will have hatched this spring - they've never lived through a winter before, but they know they need to prepare for it!

    The view from my window is limited - I can see the feeder if I peer around the corner of my computer monitor - so I can't really see exactly what the birds are up to. But yesterday, I spotted a coal tit flying down and shoving a sunflower seed into the ground.

    All these industrious little birds are probably doing the same thing - grabbing seeds, flying off and hiding them. There must be seeds everywhere! I've found them in a variety of locations before: rammed into doorframes, keyholes and tucked into buddleia plants. Will they remember where they've left them? I suspect not, but you never know...

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  • Blackberrying

    You know it's autumn when blackberries gleam in the hedgerows. What better symbol is there of harvest and times of plenty in the countryside? Around The Lodge, blackberries are eagerly awaited by creatures of all shapes and sizes...

    Birds are perhaps the most obvious consumers of brambles. Thrushes and warblers love them, the sugars in the berries being easily converted to fat which will fuel their migration. You might see them gobbling up fruit, or perhaps spot the aftermath - messy birds with berry juice smeared around their beaks, or bright purple or pink droppings left behind.

    On our lunchtime stroll yesterday, Lucinda and I stopped at several bramble patches to watch the diners. Along with the wasps and bees, butterflies were also partaking of the purply-black feast. We watched a vivid orange comma butterfly sipping delicately at a blackberry; closer inspection after it had flown off showed where its tongue left the berry looking deflated.

    Smaller beings also enjoy the fruits of the bramble bush. Old folklore says that you shouldn't pick blackberries after St Michaelmas Day  - 29 September - because the devil spits on them, but the real culprit is the flesh fly, whose saliva makes the fruit go squishy. 

    Though they're strictly carnivorous, dragonflies seem to congregate around bramble bushes, too. Southern-facing bushes appear to grow the best, juiciest berries and dragonflies appreciate a nice, warm resting spot, so perhaps it's just a coincidence.

    The berries draw in plenty of insect life - dragonfly fodder - and the thorns mean they can perch safely away from predators. Common darters and migrant hawkers are the most common species at the moment, but last week I pushed my way through a bed of nettles to get a closer look at a fantastic brown hawker. Ouch!

    Of course, we couldn't resist sampling a few blackberries ourselves. The nicest-looking ones are always just out of reach of human hands, but the birds and insects deserve them more than we do.

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