January, 2016

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!
  • How Big Garden Birdwatch is helping hedgehog conservation

    Henry Johnson, Hedgehog Officer at People's Trust for Endangered Species, explains how the survey's hedgehog records have made a real difference to his work.

    "No-one can deny that the world of wildlife recording is complex, and we find ourselves in a transitional period as digital platforms and apps come to the fore. A future where information about wildlife is updated in real time, and freely available to all, should be the goal for our sector."

    "That's why it was hugely encouraging to be approached by Daniel Hayhow and his Big Garden Birdwatch team and offered hedgehog records from this monumental survey."

    Hedgehog. Image by Ben Hall (www.rspb-images.com)

    "As we know, hedgehogs are currently declining precipitously in the UK. In November, People's Trust for Endangered Species (PTES) and the British Hedgehog Preservation Society (BHPS) launched the State of Britain's Hedgehogs 2015, the headline of which was that since 2000, rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period".

    "The value of Big Garden Birdwatch is that it has dramatically improved our understanding of where hedgehogs are in the UK."

    "In the last two years, around 42,000 more dots have been added to our national distribution map. For an animal that is in rapid decline, the half-life for distribution data is short, so collaborating with the RSPB has greatly improved the accuracy with which we can work."

    "It also massively helps with volunteer engagement, as volunteering for our Hedgehog Street campaign is a more enticing prospect when you know that these spiny creatures are stalking the streets in your neighbourhood after dark. Many people do not realise that they still have hedgehogs as local residents — for now at least."

    Source: Henry Johnson, Hedgehog Officer, People's Trust for Endangered Species

    Did you know?

    • We started asking the public to record other wildlife they see in their gardens as part of Big Garden Birdwatch back in 2014. As a well established survey with a wide geographical reach, this data has proven useful to a number of other specialist conservation organisations, including The Mammal Society and The Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Trust.
    • We introduce some different species to the survey's 'other wildlife' section every year. This year, we'll be asking people to tell us if they see species including hedgehogs, badgesr, grey and red squirrels, foxes, stoats, slow worms and grass snakes.
  • Wonderful winter

    This weekend, many of us will have woken up to winter’s first snowfall. Though we were graced with just the lightest of dustings here in Bedfordshire (hardly enough for a snowman, let alone enough to crack out the sledge), it was more than enough to fire me up for a bracing morning walk.

    When temperatures plummet, it’s definitely tempting to stay cozied up indoors with multiple cups of teas and a good box set or two (winter is coming, after all). But equally, there’s nothing quite like striking out into a glittering countryside and getting a lungful of lovely fresh air to blow away the cobwebs and set you up for the day. There’s no need to go far: my local park (St Neots’ Priory Park, if you’re passing) was transformed: all frosted leaves underfoot and stark, dramatic trees against an ice-blue sky.

    But possibly the best thing about winter walks (especially if you're organised enough to set an early alarm - and motivated enough to actually get up when it goes off) is you’re likely to have the place to yourself: a silent wonderland with just you, the elements and the wildlife the summer crowds usually scare away.

    And besides, that mug of tea by the fire will taste all the better when you get home.

    • Browse RSPB Images to find more breathtaking photos like this (you can order a print or canvas if any takes your fancy).
  • Monday's magic moment: whirling, swirling starlings

    January days may be short, and often damp, but it's still possible to make the most of your weekend.

    I spent the latter part of Sunday afternoon deep in the flatlands of East Anglia. Marsh harriers floated over the water, upsetting the ducks swimming beneath. Cetti's warblers burst into song, hidden from view, while water rails squealed from far away. 

    As the sun faded behind the clouds, flocks of small birds began to stream past us, gathering into larger groups. Starlings! Numbers built slowly - we weren't sure if it could be described as a 'murmuration'.

    A few hundred starlings whirled and swirled over the reeds. Then the real action started - from behind us, a long, undulating stream of birds - as if they were on a gentle rollercoaster - flew towards and then right over us! They made an amazing sight, but the sound was equally impressive as thousands of pairs of wings beat overhead. 

    There were a few more minutes of aerobatics from the starlings... I'm bad at counting, but perhaps 10,000 birds performed in front of us. At times it was easy to forget that the flock was made up of separate animals, and wasn't just a big, elastic, shape-shifting mass.

    Then, somehow, they decided it was time to bed down for the night and the flock poured down out of the sky, into their favoured patch of reeds. There was nothing more to see, just the sounds of thousands of fidgety, wriggly starlings bickering over the best place to spend the night.

    By the time we started our walk back, it was cold and raining, but sometimes that just doesn't matter.

    • Browse RSPB Images to find more gorgeous photos like this one. You can order a print or canvas of any one that takes your fancy!