If you have followed our blogs over the years then you may have seen this mentioned before but of late we have had a spell of queries that prompted me to share this. Basically every year in late autumn (or early winter if you like!) we speak with people who are a bit puzzled as they have found a strange looking brown bird, often in unusual places like the centre of London. Over the last couple of weeks these queries have peaked.
So what is going on? Well at this time of year the UK is the chosen winter destination for thousands of woodcocks that have a summer home in Eastern Europe. After crossing the north sea they arrive on the east coast, many of them following obvious landmarks like rivers for example. One of our biggest rivers is the Thames and as these night flying migrants are following the river, many of them come to grief as a result of colliding with the many tall glass buildings across the capital, hence why the majority of people finding woodcocks are in London, many within a few hundred metres of the river. Unfortunately obstacles like buildings to a night flying bird with poor forward vision are a big hazard.
Thankfully not all the stories end in sadness, many of the kind people who find these stunned birds pick them up, seek help with local welfare groups or take the birds along to local open areas like a wood or park where this usually elusive bird would naturally be holed up during the daylight hours.
Recently we have also had a number of other reports of other species crashing into windows, I just spoke with a lady who had found a goldcrest on its back, encouragingly it was now standing up in the box she had popped it in and she intended to release it shortly. Our advice is to give the stunned bird a place to recover, a box or animal carrier, in a dark and quiet place for an hour or so, this usually helps them come round so they can then be released in the garden.
We also try to recommend that the windows where the bumps occur are made 'bird safe'! There is some discussion about what works best, we recommend bold transfers stuck to the outside of the glass. Have you tried this, has it worked for you, if so what shapes and colours did you use?
Don't be put off by the dropping temperatures, November is a great time to get outside and catch up with some of the best wildlife spectacles the UK has to offer. It just so happens that many of the species involved with these special wildlife spectacles begin with the letter 'S'! Here are a few examples in no specific order!
It's murmuration time yet again! We are already getting a few requests from people asking about where to go to watch these phenomenal roosting displays. The reliable sites like Ham Wall, Aberystwyth pier and Leighton Moss are well worth a visit but in truth, these roosts can turn up in the most unusual of places. Even a small stand of conifer trees can attract a roost of hundreds of birds, wherever you go, keep an eye out for small groups of starlings heading towards reedbeds, woodland or sheltered manmade structures like piers, you might stumble on a significant roost! Some more sites to consider can be found here. If you are heading down to Ham Wall, don't forget to check the starling hotline to get the latest news on the roost, call 07866 554142 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you want to see something really cute this winter then look no further than the grey seal pups that are being born around our extensive coasts right now. There are loads of places where you can get safe views around the UK, both for people and the seals, such as Horsey in Norfolk, Donna Nook in Lincolnshire and if you fancy seeing them by boat head to Morston Quay where you can get a trip to Blakeney point, Norfolk. They could be viewed from clifftops around many other parts of the UK as well especially in Cardigan Bay, the southwest, the Farne islands, Strangford Lough and many places in Scotland. Just remember not to approach them or take your dog along.
Chris Gomersall (rspb-images.com)
These graceful creatures are one of the highlights of the winter for me, I love the soundtrack of the whooper and Bewick's as they feed and socialise out on the marshes and graze on the stubble fields and pastures. Of course our native mute swan shouldn't be left out of the equation, they are just as stunning! Whilst mute swans could be found on pretty much any watercourse, our winter swans are best spotted at places like the RSPB Ouse washes or WWT Welney in the fens, in Scotland our sites at Broubster Leans, Abernethy and Fetlar and also down at WWT Slimbridge.
This is a tricky one and may take some travel for many of us but if you get lucky and find them it is well worth the effort. You might think you have to go to Scotland to see this spectacle but not so, some rivers in England, Northern Ireland and Wales have opportunities to watch the salmon run. I came across a blog on the Autumnwatch webpages with some interesting suggestions of places to view salmon.
Kaleel Zibe (rspb-images.com)
OK so it might not be as dramatic as a whirling flock of starlings or as cute a fluffy seal pup but there is a certain appeal in looking for fungi, maybe its the possibility of finding new species. Anyway trying to find new fungi species on your local patch is a challenge and worthy of a mention as some of them or very attractive, some of them have great names and some are just huge! Convinced? If you can get on a guided walk with a fungi expert then do so, it is amazing just how many varieties are all around us. Try your local woods or parks and see what you can see, or smell! Just make sure you don't eat anything you find unless you are sure of what you are doing, in most cases it's best just to look and photograph.
Or so we have been told by a caller today! A few weeks ago they called us asking what had happened to all of their garden favourites and today they rang back to tell us that they had all come back, just like we told them they would!
This follows the pretty consistent pattern we observe every autumn, now the weather has turned a little bit wintry with bad weather, cooler temperatures and the leaves dropping in the woods and hedges, gardens become a much more attractive option with the shelter buildings and garden shrubs provide - not to mention all of the supplementary grub being provided by bird feeding enthusiasts! Is everyone else noticing an increase now? If so what is turning up, any unusual migrants, what are they feeding on?
A common question for us at this time of year is what else can I feed them now its colder. Well we have loads of ideas on the link here, but my current strategy is to continue with a sunflower heart rich seed mix, dried mealworms and windfall fruit on the table and i'm currently using some shop bought suet filled coconuts. When they have been picked clean i'm going to refill them with a home mixed blend of lard and porridge oats, I bought enough for a few refills for less than £2, bargain bird feeding!
You probably saw on Autumnwatch that they were looking for records of redwing, brambling and waxwing. Redwings are here every year in good numbers so sightings of them are pretty consistent year to year, the other two are less predictable, numbers arriving here are influenced by the success of certain wild food crops like beech mast and mountain ash in their more northerly and easterly ranges. I have to agree with Chris Packham though, I don't think we will be in for a 'waxwing winter' on the scale of the last couple of years. I had a good luck at the berry trees growing in a plantation on the way to work this morning just in case some waxwings had turned up, unfortunately not but the trees were covered with redwings, starlings, mistle thrush and chaffinch, though I didn't hear or see any fieldfare - my tip for the week is to go out to find your nearest patch of rowan trees as the berries are primed and ready for the birds to fill their boots!
Many other creatures are winding down their activity with hedgehogs and bats preparing to hibernate, the deer rutting season will be drawing to a close and insects will be much less abundant, although I did spot a late flying comma earlier in the week in a rare spell of sunshine, it was nectaring on Michaelmas daisies! Have you seen any other butterflies on the wing lately? Many of the hibernating species may have already found a safe spot in your sheds and garages!