May, 2016


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: nature's tiny jewels

    Now's the time to head down to a river, stream or pond near you and watch out for tiny, delicate jewels. Spring is the time when many of our damselflies and dragonflies can be seen.

    How do you tell the difference between the two? Well, dragonflies are larger than damselflies, and rest with their wings held out to the side. Damselflies usually rest with their wings held in along their narrow bodies.

    This is a female banded demoiselle. What a beauty! Despite their fragile appearance, damselflies and dragonflies are voracious predators while they're growing underwater, turning into efficient aerial predators once they're on the wing. But humans have nothing to fear! Just watch and enjoy.

    • This photo was taken by Kevin Sawford and comes from our own photo library, RSPB Images. Browse to find more breathtaking photos like this (you can order a print or canvas if any takes your fancy).
  • Monday's Magic Moment: Northern Exposure

    During a recent trip north to the stunning Malham Cove, I came (almost) face-to-face with one of nature's best fliers - the peregrine falcon.

    Peregrines are famous for their aerial prowess - and for making a home on Malham's lofty limestone cliffs.

    With the help of RSPB volunteers and a powerful scope or two, we were able to get clear shots of a pair of falcons living the high life and, even better, watch as they sliced through the air in search of prey.

    Peregrines have nested at Malham - in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales - since 1993, and are now an integral part of a visit to the spectacular horseshoe-shaped formation.

    Hit hard by illegal killing by gamekeepers and landowners, they've seen a recent upsurge thanks to better legal protection and control of pesticides, and are now a much more common sight in our skies.

    As an exiled northerner based at The Lodge, I'm proud of the great work the RSPB is doing in my home county of Yorkshire and across the north-east.

    Whatever floats your boat, we've got it all on our northern reserves. Whether it's a clifftop stroll, a wander through ancient woodland, or a mooch through purple-tipped moorland, there's something and somewhere you're bound to be interested in.

    Here are five of my favourite northern haunts. All are well worth a visit.

    RSPB Dearne Valley - Old Moor

    Located right at the heart of the Dearne Valley, Old Moor is a great place to explore.

    In the winter, the reserve is an important stopping off point for geese, ducks, swans - and thousands of golden plover.

    But there's plenty to see whatever time of year it is - and young families will love the reserve's fantastic adventure playground.

    RSPB Fairburn Ings

    Recent sightings at this northern gem include cuckoo, black tern and spoonbill.

    The reserve's heronry is also bearing fruit right now, with great views of cormorant and heron chicks as well as little egret nests.

    RSPB Blacktoft Sands

    The tidal reedbed at this East Yorkshire reserve is the largest in England and teeming with life. It supports over 270 different species of bird, including the marsh harrier, which are a common sight during the summer months.

    RSPB Bempton Cliffs

    Bempton is one of the best places to hear and see seabirds in the UK - with some 250,000 flocking to the cliffs between Bempton and the equally impressive Flamborough Head.

    Don't worry if you don't have a head for heights - there are six safe viewing platforms from where you can watch the action unfold.

    RSPB Coquet Island

    Coquet Island is a reserve about a mile off the coast of Amble, Northumberland.

    Several thousand nesting Sandwich, Arctic and common terns accompany rare roseate terns in May, June and July, and thousands of puffins, now under serious threat, occupy the main part of the island. 

  • Notes on nature: Rover and out

    Last month, you may remember that we told you all about a pair of robins that had decided to build their nest inside the dashboard of a vintage Land Rover.

    Well, like a proud father, I'm happy to report that the plucky pair successfully fledged five chicks from the interior of the fully-functional four-wheel drive.

    Vehicle owner Dan Skinner, 43, a UX designer based at The Lodge, said: "I feel like a proud father! Mum and dad did a great job.

    "Five eggs were laid from which hatched five little chicks. They all seemed to survive the fledging period and when I came back to check on them one morning recently they'd all disappeared!"

    Dan, of Whepstead, Suffolk, left his beloved ex-Army Land Rover alone for around five weeks to allow the fluffy family to fly the nest.   

    Robin chicks hatch naked and are totally dependent on their parents for food and warmth.

    Feather growth becomes evident with the appearance of quills at three days of age and, by day five, their eyes start to open. By this time, rows of feathers start to appear on backs and flanks too, with the body more or less feathered by day 10.

    Flight feathers are the last to grow at around two weeks old, although the chicks are not able to fly for another couple of days.

    Young robins are fed and protected by their parents for up to three weeks after fledging. Frequently the care of the fledged young is left to the male while the female prepares herself for the next nesting effort.

    Robins normally raise two broods a year, although three is not uncommon - a fact Dan now knows all about.

    "I got back in my Land Rover a couple of days ago and there was a new nest in the same place protecting three new robin eggs," he added. "It looks like mum and dad were so pleased with it they've moved back in again.

    "The Landy is back on the drive until the new brood flies the nest. I'm literally giving nature a home!"