November, 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!
  • Monday's magic moment: Low tide at Mersehead Sands

    No matter that I love my job, Mondays can sometimes still just feel like a drudge. And I bet there are plenty of you who also feel like that.

    But Mondays need never make you feel down again as we bring you our new feature: Monday's magic moment.

    At the start of each week we'll be posting an uplifting, inspirational, or just downright cute photo from our very own image library

    So, without further ado, let me introduce you to the first magic moment:

    Mersehead Sands at low tide by Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    With the Christmas madness of present-buying crazy crowds fast approaching, don't you just want to be there - enjoying a moment of peace and quiet?

  • It's snow joke for hungry birds

    As cold weather and terrible snow puns sweep across the UK, your garden birds need your help! Robin by Nigel Blake (rspb-images.com)

    During cold snaps, birds become vulnerable and are more likely to come into our gardens to seek refuge. When temperatures drop below freezing, the insects, berries and seeds that garden birds usually feast on will become off limits thanks to frost and snow. Taking the time to provide some nutritious food and water for them is essential to their survival.

    To help your birds survive, you can provide food such as meal worms, fat-balls, crushed peanuts, dried fruit, seeds and grain. Leftovers, including grated cheese, porridge oats, soft fruit, unsalted bacon, cooked rice, pasta and the insides of cooked potatoes are also good sources of energy for garden birds, and water for both drinking and bathing is vital.

    It’s not all doom and gloom, though. The chilly conditions may also mean that you get to see some birds you don’t often see until later on in winter. They will use gardens as a safe haven. Look out for fieldfares as well as colourful species such as siskins and waxwings that will add a bit of cheer to the bleak mid-winter.

     Here are six top tips for helping your garden birds: 

     1. Put out feed regularly, especially in severe weather.  Set up a bird table and use high calorie seed mixes. This can also be used to put out kitchen scraps such as grated cheese, pastry and porridge oats.

     2. Put out hanging feeders with black sunflower seeds, sunflower hearts, sunflower-rich mixes or unsalted peanuts.

     3. Ensure a supply of fresh water every day. If it is very cold use tepid water but DO NOT use any antifreeze products.

     4. Put out fruit, such as apples and pears, for blackbirds, song thrushes and other members of the thrush family.

     5. Birdfood bars or fat hung up or rubbed into the bark of trees is a great help for treecreepers, goldcrests and many other species.

     6. Put up nest boxes to provide roost sites for the smaller birds. They will then be used for breeding later in the year.


    When the weather conditions take a turn for the worse, you might notice that your birds start behaving differently. They will be very active first thing in the morning after a long, cold night and last thing in the afternoon as they try to build up energy to get them through another night.

    During winter, birds feed often, but they have to take plenty of rest to conserve energy. Many become more sociable, flocking together to improve their chances of locating food, and huddling together during the critical night-time period to help conserve body heat.

    Other birds fly to milder regions in search of areas less affected by the weather where food is still readily available. This can create a sudden and dramatic change to the birdlife in your area.

    So, leave some food out for your birds and keep your eyes peeled – you might be lucky enough to spot some unusual garden visitors. Let us know who’s eating at your garden restaurant!

     

  • Flaming autumn

    Flaming autumn by L King
    'The summer-flower has run to seed,
    And yellow is the woodland bough;
    And every leaf of bush and weed
    Is tipt with autumn's pencil now.

    And I do love the varied hue,
    And I do love the browning plain;
    And I do love each scene to view,
    That's mark'd with beauties of her reign.'

    Autumn, from The Village Minstrel by John Clare, goes on for many more verses, but those first two sum up really nicely how I feel about autumn.

    Yellow, orange, red, purple, brown

    I love this time of year. I love watching the trees turn from green, through oranges and reds, to brown.

    Leaf litter by L King

    Every morning as I come into work, the scene is slightly different from the day before.

    Autumn leaf litter at The Lodge by L King

    But nature doesn't put on this spectacle for us.

    Here comes the scienceAutumn beech leaves by K Fuller (http://www.flickr.com/photos/bogbumper/)

    It's in my nature to try and understand things that I see, so if I remember my GCSE Biology correctly, as days get shorter and winter approaches, there is not enough light and water for photosynthesis to take place. Photosynthesis being the process that turns - via sunlight - water and carbon dioxide into oxygen and glucose, which plants use as food to help them grow. This basically means that during winter, trees have to live off the food they've already made.

    But how does that explain the amazing range of colours?

    It turns out that orange and yellow hues are easy to explain. The pigments that are responsible for these colours were always present in the leaf, but you couldn't see them because they were masked by the green chlorophyll (the chemical that helps make photosynthesis happen). As the tree breaks down the green chlolphyll and redistributes the nutrients to their trunk and roots it exposes these colours.

    Red hues, however, aren't so easy to explain. The pigment that makes red has to be made fresh each autumn. But why would trees want to expend energy making this when the leaves are about to fall off? Turns out no-one really knows!

    Red autumn leaves by L King

    It could be that the red pigment, called anthocyanin, helps trees keep their leaves a bit longer, and therefore they can eek out even more sugars, nitrogen and other valuable food before the leaves fall off. Or, the pigments could protect the leaves from the sun, and lower their freezing point, giving some frost protection. Another possible reason is that when the leaves decay, the anthocyanins seep into the ground and prevent other plant species from growing in the spring - leaving all the nutrients in the soil for the tree.

    It's amazing that something that happens every year is still such a mystery! But what isn't a mystery is that autumn creates some truly beautiful colours, and it's definintely a brilliant time to get outdoors.

    And it seems I'm not the only one who loves autumn: Mark Avery loves the colours of autumn, Katie talked about it in her recent autumn delights post, while some of our reserve staff are experiencing their first proper autumn! In the US, 'leaf peeping' is big business. People travel from all around the world just to marvel at the mixture of hues that autumn brings

    You can experience autumn colours for yourself on many of our reserves.  You can also celebrate autumn by posting your photos on our Flickr group.

    Enjoy flaming autumn!

    Autumn colours out of focus by L King