October, 2012


We're about more than just birds (though obviously we like them a lot).

Wildlife Enquiries

'Good morning, Wildlife Enquiries...' We take hundreds of calls and e-mails every day. Find out what everyone's asking this week
  • Octobers garden chores, have you ticked them off?

    Have you got your hands dirty to help wildlife during October? Some tasks can't really wait much longer so here is just a reminder of some of the things that you might need to do before we get into winter proper!

    • Cleaning nesting boxes. I did this a couple of weeks ago, I emptied all the material out, give it a wash and brush out, allowed to air-dry and then popped it back into position after a couple of tweaks. It was used by blue tits earlier in the season, no sign of eggs or chicks inside so either they didn't get round to breeding or they all fledged successfully! The only thing I did find in there other than moss and grass was a live red worm, no idea how that got there! A great tit has already been checking out the box so hopefully it will provide a safe roosting site through the winter and maybe a nesting site once again come spring time.

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

    • Pond maintenance. If you need to do any tidying of vegetation or minor adjustments to your pond then now is the time to do it before the amphibians start to hibernate. We found a smooth newt heading up the path outside the office this morning, heading for a safe hibernating spot no doubt, but many amphibians will use the deeper water in the pond as a winter refuge. If you do move any plants out of the pond, leave them on the side so any critters can make their way back to the water.
    • Leaf piles. Now that many trees are losing their leaves don't be tempted to get rid of them all, rake at least some into a quiet and sheltered corner of the garden as this could become a winter home for hedgehogs, toads and numerous invertebrates. Leaves that have been raked into the borders will shelter invertebrates too allowing birds like robins and blackbirds to toss them over to find food throughout the winter.

    Ben Hall (rspb-images.com)

    What other wildlife gardening tasks have you been doing this month?

    If you are looking for some extra things to do then now is a good time to put up some more boxes for birds, bats and insects as well as planting some shrubs or trees. In my top five for gardens i'd go with the following, what would be in your top five?

    1. Hawthorn
    2. Hazel
    3. Pyracantha
    4. Holly
    5. Crab apple


  • Coming to a garden near you soon...

    I am of course talking about the sparrowhawk! This time of year sees this species spreading out across the UK from breeding ranges and also an influx of birds from the north and east, following the mass movements of other birds such as winter thrushes, starlings and finches.

    The autumn months are crucial for this years sparrowhawks who are now out on their own. Many won't make it through to next spring as the winter is unforgiving for this bird of prey. The autumn months are so vital as this is when they need to hone their hunting skills. They might be born with sharp senses and the physical attributes to make them a top predator but catching prey isn't easy, our native birds don't give up without a fight and have evolved strategies to avoid these predators. At best sparrowhawks make one successful hunt out of ten, they have to work extremely hard for their food.

    During their learning they will make mistakes, unfortunately in many instances these mistakes are fatal,  the frequent reports of dead sparrowhawks from window collisions to our team here tells a sad story. Popping a few transfers on the outside of the glass will reduce the risk of catching unsupecting birds of all species from this tragic accident. Those that get injured in pursuit of prey or simply don't get the hang of it won't survive the winter, if they can't hunt, they can't eat. So if you see a brown, coarsely speckled sparrowhawk in your garden this autumn wish him or her well as they will need all the luck in the world to make it through the next few months, let alone reach adulthood like the impressive female pictured below!

    Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)


  • The wildlife teams top tips for this weekend!

    This weekend will be the penultimate full weekend before the clocks go back and we lose an hour of evening light, shock horror! That to us is the call to get out and into the wilds and take full advantage of the extra daylight whilst we can, the weather is still half decent as well for some of us! So what can you do and what can you see? Here are some suggestions!

    Autumn migration - birds are moving all over the place, summer breeders are still filtering out of our shores, headlands and coasts are good places to observe this. Winter visitors are starting to arrive with some species like the jay and redwing arriving along the east coast. Head to wetlands and estuaries to see if any wildfowl or waders are around. Don't forget to keep an eye on your local patches though as you never know what may make an appearance! Don't forget to add the sightings to Birdtrack.

    Spiders -  love them or hate them you can't help but notice them at this time of year given the dew covered webs everywhere, the pic below was our heath one morning recently! There are loads of different species just waiting to be discovered if you look close enough. Have a look in bramble patches to start with, look out for the horizontal sheet webs of spiders like Linyphia triangularis or the big orb webs of the familiar garden spider. See if you can tell what they are eating or see if you can find one building the web!

    Fungi and foliage - We've seen a few Fly Agarics around already this October, these might be among the flashiest fungi but there are so many more to look for...or smell like the aptly named stinkhorn! They look great amongst the autumn foliage but probably best not to touch as some can be deadly! Great for some autumnal woodland photography if the suns out like the below Beech here at the Lodge!!!

    Hogs and frogs - and toads...in the garden you can make homes for these critters so that they can sit out the winter in safety. You could buy or make a toadhouse, hogitat or frogitat to go somewhere sheltered in your garden. It's also worth raking any fallen leaves into a few piles in quiet corners of the garden or borders so that wildlife can shelter there.

    If it's raining all weekend where you are how about writing a letter to your MP asking for the badger cull to be stopped or writing to to the Law Commission consultation asking for better laws and higher penalties for offences against wildlife!

    Whatever you do, have a great time and please share your experiences and pictures on the forums!