February, 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!
  • Monday's magic moment: leaping for glory!

    Happy Leap Day! 

    In honour of today being a leap year, I scoured RSPB Images for a suitable leaping nature image. And I came up with this coot. It's a cracker, isn't it?

    It's one of thousands on RSPB Images. Take a look for yourself and see if you can find the perfect image!

  • It's not just hares: mad march animals

    You've heard of the mad March hare, right?

    You know, when the year swings into March and our fields up and down the country turn into battlegrounds. Fur is flying as female hares give the tiresome males a bop on the nose to tell them they’re getting too close. Not seen it for yourself? Check out our video below.

    It’s not just hares though. March sees Spring attempt to shake off winter’s hold and nature starts to get busy.

    Migrant birds are returning, mammals are squaring up and amphibians and reptiles wake from their winter slumbers. So, what else is going on?

    Great crested dancing

    Although this year's mild winter may have played havoc with a newt's internal clock, usually in March adult newts emerge from where they've spent the winter.

    They’ll then head to a suitable pond and get ready for breeding. Once there, the males perform an elaborate dance, in an attempt to woo the females. You can see this for yourself on a video on the Arkive website.

    It mainly involves a lot of tail waggling - but it's worth a watch. But then, if you had a tail, you would, wouldn't you?

    Perhaps it's something to do with being called great crested, but our grebes are also thinking about cracking out their dance moves! A pair attempt to impress each other by shaking and waving their heads around and using weeds as a romantic adornment. See the video below:

    Mad birds!

    OK, maybe it's not mad in the grand scheme of things, but I've always thought some of our migrants are a bit mad for returning to the UK in March!

    Take chiffchaffs, for example. These tiny birds, weighing less than a pound coin must think it’s blooming freezing! I mean, why would you swap southern Spain for these shores? But listen out for them singing their name from the tops of the bare trees – a real sign spring is here. Not sure what they sound like? Have a listen.

    Nesting? Already?

    Yep, it’s already beginning – a couple of months before the BBC Springwatch team start beaming the trials and tribulations of bird family life live to the nation.

    There may even be some small punk-rockers in your local park - grey herons start nesting in February. Look out for the chicks begging fish from their parents in a park near you.

    Have you seen any mad March nature?

    What have I missed? What’s your favourite March moment?

  • How we're helping: short-haired bumblebees

    Here's an example of how we are taking something you can do in your garden - planting nectar-rich plants - and using it to help bring back a species. 

    Have you heard of the short-haired bumblebee? If you've been following our conservation work over the last few years, maybe, but otherwise, I'm guessing not.

    Well, these little critters are unlikely to be buzzing around your daises, dandelions and dahlias. They're much rarer than that.

    Short-haired bumblebee - image by Jesper Mattias (rspb-images.com)

    Once common and widespread across Southern England, the short-haired bumblebee was sadly declared extinct in the UK in 2000. The last time anyone saw one on these shores was back in 1988.

    Bringing back the bees

    Then in 2009, along with our partners Hymettus, Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) and Natural England (NE), we decided it was time to bring back the bee.

    Although extinct in the UK, the bees still lived elsewhere in Europe. A pioneering project was then created, aiming to reintroduce short-haired bumblebees to the UK.

    So, in 2012 the first queens were reintroduced to our Dungeness nature reserve in Kent, from Sweden. These releases have continued ever since, building up a strong, and hopefully sustainable, population.

    And the great news is, it's working!

    This year, for the third year in a row, our surveyors found worker bees. This is brilliant news, as it means the queens have successfully nested and produced young - a strong indication that the bees are finding sufficient food to build colonies.

    The reason the bee disappeared initially was largely due to loss of the flower-rich grassland it lived on.

    To make sure there was enough food this time around, along with our partners, farmers and landowners, over 1,000 hectares of bumblebee-friendly habitat have been created within the release area of Dungeness and Romney Marsh.

    But it's not just the short-haired bumblebee that is benefiting...

    Five of the seven UK BAP priority species have been recorded and England's rarest bumblebee, the shrill carder bee, has returned to our Dungeness reserve after a 25 year absence. It doesn't stop there though - the large garden bumblebee has come back after ten years.

    The project doesn't stop either, it continues this year and into the future.

    So there you have it - there's a lot going on for bees! It might be on a larger scale than in your garden, but it shows what can be achieved. 

    How can I help?

    If you've been inspired by this tale, how about planting some flowers that bees love in your garden? Even a small patch can help. Give it a go! 

    Ps. We've also produced a short video of the short-haired bumblebees reintroduction to the UK, why not take a look?