October, 2014

Homes for Wildlife

Homes for Wildlife
If you love the creatures in your garden, you'll love our Homes for Wildlife project. This is the place to ask and answer questions about making your backyard wildlife-friendly.

Gardening for wildlife

Follow the adventures of Adrian Thomas, our wildlife gardening expert, and be inspired to create your own wildlife haven on your doorstep. Adrian posts here every Monday and Friday without fail, so make it a date and drop by!
  • It's Hallowe'en, so make homes for fungi

    My RSPB day job took me yesterday out onto one of our newest reserves, the glorious lowland heathland at Hazeley Heath in Hampshire.

    In summer is alive with Silver-studded Blue butterflies and, by night, the sound of Nightjars. Yesterday, it was a little quieter, although Common Darter dragonflies were still plentiful in the balmy conditions over the heathland pools and wet flushes.

    You'll be impressed, however, that - even out there - my thoughts returned to wildlife gardening. The prompt was the array of toadstools that were present, which got me thinking about how many fungi there are in my new garden and in gardens generally.

    The thought was very brief: I don't have any. Well, actually there are some old bracket fungi on a dead fruit tree, but no 'mushroomy' type things poking up through the 'woodland' floor or in the grassy areas.

    In fact, given that 80 years ago I know my garden was an orchard, it has astonished me this year to find how little biodiversity has survived. I believe the previous owners were big users of herbicides and pesticides and I think it has wiped the slate pretty clean. All the more for me to put right!

    So yesterday's fungi-fest, which included these..

    and a fairy ring...

    and, of course, some superb Fly Agarics...

    Well, it got me thinking that so often we talk about making homes for birds and butterflies and bees and pond creatures but we often forget the fungi.

    So, as I don't have any fungi yet, I'd love to hear from you if you do, and what you've done to help them flourish. Go on, share your thoughts!

  • Watch out for the Acorn Hoarder

    If there is one bird for me that is synonymous with October, it is the one the French call the ‘Geai of the oaks’, the Dutch the ‘Gaai’, and the Germans the ‘Eichelhaher’ – the Oak Jay.

    The names Geai, Gaai and our name, Jay, are all onomatopoeic, derived from the same source – the harsh, rasping call.

    At this time of year, every journey you go on you seem to see them. In ones and twos, sometimes more, they flap languidly but purposely on their butterfly wings, ranging over towns and villages, woods and fields. And it is all in search of acorns.

    There are, of course, way too many acorns to be eaten right now, so it is time for the Jays to collect and stash them.

    It has been calculated that one Jay will collect in the region of 5000 acorns in autumn, working 10 hours a day to do so, and flying 100 miles a day, backwards and forwards, to suitable clearings and woodland edges where they can bury them just under the earth. Those caches include my garden, as I disturbed a Jay only last weekend ramming a gullet load of acorns into my vegetable patch!

    This was one doing just the same at Anglesey Abbey which I visited last week.

    ...And a second photo to show it didn't fall down its own acorn hole

    So keep your eyes peeled right now for one of our most glamorous birds. By the winter, most will have melted back into the woodlands from whence they came to secretly live out the rest of the year, making the odd foray back out to try and find where they left those 5000 acorns!

  • Sparrows in Paradise

    Regular readers, please excuse my bad case of AWOL-ishness as I disappeared for two weeks. Yes, I went away sunning myself, and here I am freshly tanned thanks to the sun, wind and rain of what for me counts as the tropics - the Isles of Scilly.

    Have you been? The place is simply glorious. Here for example are the Eastern Isles last week - I might as well have been in the Caribbean!

    The islands are famed for their mild climate, where snows and frost are almost unheard of. It allows plants to grow in gardens that you can only dream of elsewhere in the UK, and the subtropical gardens on Tresco are a treasure-trove of flowers from across the globe.

    There's something about Scilly that also seems to work wonders for House Sparrows. You see them everywhere: in gardens, in fields and farms, out on the maritime heaths, on the beaches.

    This was a flock of 28 waiting on a porch roof to come down to some seed on the ground. Well, it's a long time since I've seen a flock that large where I live, and there were some flocks I saw on Scilly that I think were closer to 100.

    You're probably well aware that the House Sparrow is one of those cause celebres, a species that we once took for granted but whose numbers plummeted. We lost an estimated 68% of our sparrows between 1977 and 2011; in other words, for every three sparrows there were, just one remains.

    We still don't know the reasons for sure, although changes in agriculture practice in rural areas and shortages of insects in urban areas are implicated. The good news is that the decline seems to have bottomed out, with signs of an increase in the west and north although it is still not translating into a nationwide bounceback.

    Big Garden Birdwatch in January will give us another massive snapshot of how well they are doing, to add to the figures collated in the BTO's Breeding Bird Survey.

    How are your sparrows doing? Can you beat a photo of 28?