August, 2010

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!
  • Marvels of migration

    'We have had a wonderful summer watching a pair of spotted flycatchers nesting in the climbing rose next to our house, followed by the feeding of their two chicks, and now the surprisingly noisy teaching of the young to learn their fly catching skills.Spotted flycatcher sitting in a tree. Photo by Annie Williams

    When you realise these sparrow-sized birds are only summer visitors from May to October, and they have yet to fly 9,073 kilometre (5,638 miles) back to South Africa, I am filled with wonder. It takes a Boeing 747 airliner 10 hours to fly that distance at 913 kph (560 mph). We all know that swallows do a similar journey but let's not forget the less spectacular birds that also achieve  this incredible feat.'

    This lovely story and photo was sent in by one of our e-newsletter readers, Annie Williams.

    As well as not forgetting the less spectacular birds that make amazing journeys to our shores each year (willow warbler, chiffchaff, blackcap, and whitethroat all spring to mind), it got me thinking that we should also not forget about the thousands of insects that also migrate here.

    Moths like the hummingbird hawk moth come here all the way from the Med and North Africa, while the Silver Y travels up from Southern Europe, with some individuals not content at stopping in the UK, and instead going as far as Greenland and the Arctic Circle!

    Painted lady butterflies join us from Morocco, red admirals from North Africa and continental Europe, and large white butterfly numbers swell when individuals from mainland Europe join our resident population.

    However, it isn't just moths and butterflies that make the trip to the UK: Marmalade hoverflies, as well as dragonflies like the migrant hawker all get a population boost in summer too.

    But how do they do it?

    For my summer holiday this year, I stayed in the UK. It only took me a couple of hours to get to my chosen destination, and I also had a road to follow.

    But every year, thousands of birds and insects travel much further distances than I did, with nothing more than the food they eat to fuel their journey there and back. And they certainly don't have road maps to help them should they get lost! So how do they do it?

    Well, it turns out that they aren't just going wherever the wind takes them. A recent study found that they alter their flight paths to select winds that are going to take them in the right direction.

    The scientists also calculated that adding flight speeds to wind speeds, butterflies and moths can travel as fast as 100 kilometers an hour (62 mph). And that at that rate, these little creatures could make the 2,000 km (1,243 mile) trek from Africa to the UK in just three or four nights!

    Like Annie, I too am filled with wonder.

    Can you add to my list of UK migrants? I'd also love to know what migrants you all enjoy seeing while out and about, or in your garden. Do leave me a comment below.

  • Nature on the streets

    Bird image, taken from Google Street View.Previously Katie has mentioned how you can see some of our wonderful reserves on Google Street View. But what about actual wildlife?

    Well, my colleague Paul mysteriously beckoned me over to his desk this morning. Thinking that he was just going to ask me about the latest footy gossip, I wandered over. Now, it turns out he didn't want to discuss his beloved Sheffield Wednesday's chances this season, he was actually looking on Google Street View for somewhere to buy horse manure for his garden! (I'm sure there's a joke there!).

    I wasn’t able to help with that, unfortunately, it’s not really my speciality. However he then asked me what the bird flying up out of the hedge was. Nature on street view! After a bit of scrolling up and down the road, we finally identified it. We found it surprisingly difficult, and took us several goes. But we got there!

    So, this is our challenge to any eagle-eyed readers out there. Firstly, take a look at our bird and see if you can identify it. You might have to scroll up and down the road like us, to get a better view. Secondly, have you seen any other wildlife on Google Maps or Street view? If you have, leave us a comment, and post a link to it if you can to share it with us. When my boss allows, I'm going to have a trawl through, but we’d love to see what’s out there, wherever it is. Let’s see what we can find…

    Oh, and Paul found somewhere to buy his manure from, so his garden will no doubt be a riot of colour next year!