April, 2009

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!
  • Mission: eggpossible

    I always remember one Easter when I stayed at a friend’s house. We used to stay in their conservatory that had a telly and a sofa bed - the weather was fabulous that year. They were marvellous hosts - toast in the mornings, dinner on the table, enough blankets and duvets to keep us warm and our very own Easter egg hunt! Yes that’s right, an Easter egg hunt.

    One lazy afternoon, I woke up from a summer nap and found my friend’s mum unravelling a bundle of string through the house and garden. She was traipsing up and down, round and round and almost got herself tangled up. The only way I can describe it is that her garden became a scene from Mission Impossible - little beams of light bouncing off the walls then the secret agent has to do a series of contortionist moves to avoid the alarm going off. I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what she was doing. Is she mad? Is she having a funny turn? Is she trying to tie us up? Bizarre!

    It was only until she gave me one end of the string and said ‘Follow this’ that I realised I would have a lovely egg-shaped, chocolaty surprise waiting for me at the other end. So there we were, each of us with string in hand, sneaking around the garden, trying not to trip over each other’s string. We were all in our late teens, not the kind of ‘cool’ thing to do at that age, but we enjoyed it. It was a lovely thought and we each found our very own Easter egg.

    So what’s this got to do with nature…? Well it got me thinking about some other creatures that also act a little strange around their nests and eggs this time of year.

    Take the cuckoo for example. Female cuckoos lay their eggs in the nests of other birds that have the same colour and markings as them. So when the cuckoo egg hatches, the other bird brings up the young cuckoo as one of its own. Talk about lazy parenting - good job they don't have bird social workers out there or the cuckoos would be in big trouble!

    Birds that nest on the ground, such as skylarks, never land near their nests. This is so they don't give away the nest location to predators. They tend to land a way away then sneakily make their way to their nest undercover. Other birds use 'distraction' techniques to divert predators away from their nests. For example, Ringed plovers pretend to have a broken wing so the predator follows it thinking it's injured and an easy meal. Once the predator is far enough away from the nest, the ringed plover flies away - 007 eat your heart out.

    • Seen any wildlife acting strange recently? Write a comment (you'll need to register first - this is free - then log in).
  • Are you looking at my bird?

    The Monday morning calm was shattered by one of those moments that come along every once in a while to test the ‘manhood’ of us males.

    I was walking through my village with my girlfriend Laura, heading for the bus stop to catch the bus to work when a soft, but clear ‘wolf whistle’ sounded out behind us.

    To be honest, I always find it a compliment when my girlfriend gets such public shows of admiration. I was pretty sure she wouldn’t think the same though. In fact, past experience has shown me she’d rather not be the subject of such attention.

    A glance passed between us and the realisation that I was going to have to protect her honour dawned.

    Don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of old fashioned chivalry and would happily defend the love of my life against anything, but was this going to be worth missing the bus and, more importantly, risk the wrath of an unruly gang for?

    Starling - Isle of Man birding

    “Did you hear that?!”, she said.

    At this point in the proceedings, I was tempted to say “No” and hurry us along to the bus stop, but my conscience was pricked into telling the truth. I answered in the affirmative and instantly regretted it.

    Time was ticking and my manhood was now well and truly under the spotlight. With an Easter break with her parents/the future in-laws fast approaching, I could ill afford to fail this test.

    We stopped. At that very same moment, he whistled again, above where we stood. The scoundrel was up a tree! Surely it was a cheeky young lad then. Better than having to deal with a gang of ‘wideboy’ builders, or a gang of ‘hoodies’ I thought. I flexed my muscles, put on my ‘serious’ face and turned to face the music…

    I tell you what, that starling won’t be messing with me again after the look I gave him! Rather stupidly, I’d forgotten that starlings are brilliant mimics and frequently copy the sounds made by us humans.

    This cheeky chappy had clearly heard a serial ‘wolf whistler’ to pick up such a perfect imitation. If starlings could laugh, this one would have done.

    With my manhood intact, I then proceeded to gain brownie points by telling Laura all about the powers of mimicry shown by starlings, so all’s well that ends well. This time anyway...

  • It's not a bird and doesn't look like a lady

    My wife George and daughter Florence spent the day in the garden at Florence's grandparents on Wednesday.  It's so nice that we can start to spend a bit more time outside now the weather's picking up. They came home telling me about a creepy crawly they'd never seen before. My in-laws have lived in the house for 30 years and had never seen one before either. We reached for our wildlife book and George described it as "looking a bit like a bee and a bit like a fly". Before long we'd idenitified it as something we'd never heard of, but that is apparently quite common. A beefly. What a great name.

    You can just imagine the conversation at Animal Naming HQ when that one turned up. 

    Animal namer 1: "Hmmm... Bee-like and fly-like."
    Animal namer 2: "Flybee or beefly"
    Animal namer 1: "Beefly.  Done.  What's next?"

    With such seemingly simple criteria, how did we end up with ladybird, hedgehog and, most worryingly, cockchafer?