June, 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!
  • Puffin good time at Bempton

    'Wow' and 'amazing' are words often over used, but last Wednesday I couldn't stop them from continually spilling out of my mouth in my excitment at seeing so many seabirds and their fluffy chicks.Puffin landing on grass

    You see I was at our Bempton Cliffs nature reserve, and was bowled over by the whole experience.

    Admittedly, the smell was interestingly fishy, but, to be honest, I didn't really notice it after I'd spotted my first gannet effortlessly gliding by, close enough to look in the eye.

    Then I spotted my first guillemot, followed by my first razorbill, my first tree sparrow, fulmar, puffin, meadow pipit....

    I found it - yes, you've guessed it - totally amazing and wow.

    The hustle, bustle, noise and sheer number of birds was nothing like I had expected, or experienced before, even though I'd read that the cliffs appear to be alive with birds at this time of year. I felt privileged to be able to watch young kittiwakes being fed their meal of regurgitated fish, see groups of gannets patrolling along the cliff top, and be amused by the many neighbourly disputes settled by a sharp poke from a beak.

    As I was peering over the cliff edge, I saw one of our Date with Nature Gannet and Puffin cruises meandering along below. The boat got so close to the cliff, I can only imagine what I'd have said had I been on that trip!

    My only disappointment for the day was having to return to landlocked Bedfordshire!

    I'd love to know if you've been to Bempton, or on one of our cruises. Where are your favourite places to watch seabirds? Register for free, then leave me your comment.

  • A walk on the wild side

    Like so many other people, my interest in birds stems from watching them in my village garden when I was a kid.

    I spent hours and hours glued to the window, seeing what was coming and going. I hung feeders on the washing line, much to my mum's annoyance. Blue tits, blackbirds, robins, house sparrows... and I remember the excitement I felt when I saw something out of the ordinary - a flock of long-tailed tits, a goldfinch or a fieldfare, and on one occasion, a tree sparrow! My heart skipped several beats.

    Birds were my first love, but in more recent years, I've strayed and become interested in other creatures, too. That's why I went for a walk along the River Great Ouse, not far from The Lodge.

    At first glance, this particular stretch of river doesn't look anything special. The Great North Road is close by, with lorries bustling past, so it's not peaceful. This path isn't well-worn; the nettles and cow parsley try to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. But those plants are all-important here. This is the land of the scarce chaser, a rare and beautiful dragonfly.

    Scarce chasers are - as their name fails to suggest - not as rare as they used to be. It's only a few years since they sneaked into Bedfordshire along the Great Ouse, and this is one of the best sites to see them. I started with grand plans to walk a few miles along the bank. On a humid spring morning, we saw a total of 45 in less than half a mile! No need to go any further...

    After up to two years spent as a fierce, ugly larva, on the riverbed, they emerge in mid-May as bright orange beauties. For me, they're at their most beautiful then; later, the males turn powder-blue and the females darken. The chasers perch on the nettles and stems, basking and hunting. They fly into the air and snatch small insects, returning to their perches to munch their meals (you can hear them!).

    As if the glorious dragonflies weren't enough, this riverbank holds more attractions. Banded demoiselles. Thousands of 'em. They flit and flutter among the nettles, chasing, resting, feeding and displaying. I remember seeing these damselflies when I was a child; I watched them skip over the surface of the Nene and wondered what kind of butterfly they were. Now I know...

    Though I'm getting better at some insects, I know next to nothing about plants. Or fish. The ones we saw in the river near the lock were whoppers! They must have been 18 inches long, and sported appendages on their chins - they were barbel. Ten-pounders. Or so I was told. Big, bottom-feeding fish. So there's something else for me to learn about...

    I think that's what I like about nature: there is always something new to learn or see.

    What do you think?

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  • Screaming for help?

    The beautiful sunny weather we've been having has seen me out in my garden even more than usual.Flying swift

    In-between planting out some green beans and thinning the lettuce, it was brilliant to hear the noisy wren from over the fence, the starlings pinging away from a nearby tree, to watch the male blackbird looking after his recently fledged youngster, and screaming above me, swifts chasing their dinner.

    Although excited to see swifts zooming around above me, I wasn't so excited to see how few had made the journey back to our shores this year. Where in previous years I would see swifts in double figures, this time I saw just four in a group at any one time.

    I'd like to think that some of them just haven't made it back here yet, but I know this isn't likely to be the case - the number of swifts coming back to nest in the UK have been steadily, and steeply, declining for the past 10 years.

    However, I've learnt that it isn't all doom and gloom.

    By filling in a simple form about the swifts you've seen, the results gathered will help build up a clearer picture of where swifts are nesting, meaning more nest sites can be provided and better protected - a small, but very important way to help these magnificent birds.