June, 2015

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!
  • I've got Batman visiting my garden

    The only direct contact I’ve ever had with a bat was when I worked in Woolworths and one day a live Long-eared Bat turned up, exhausted, in the pick ‘n’ mix.

    How it got into a high street store in full daylight remains a mystery, but I was known as the ‘wildlife boy’ and so I got called over.

    I picked it up, put it in a cardboard box and took it home, not banking on the fact that it would squeeze out between the staples and end up flying around my bedroom. (If that happens to you, by the way, don't do as I did but call the Bat Helpline!).

    Apart from that, my only experiences of bats are those I see as flickering silhouettes across the dusk skies, but every sighting is still exciting.

    So it has been thrilling to find that my new garden is visited every evening by small bats. Usually there is just one, but occasionally I see two at one time, (although of course it is impossible to gauge whether in fact there is a stream of several individuals passing through).

    My bats love feeding in the lee of the larger trees, and in particular they concentrate on circling the new glade I’ve cleared and filled with cornfield wildflowers.

    I presume they are some kind of pipistrelle, of which the UK has three species. But a couple of weeks ago, I was watching them when suddenly a much larger bat appeared.

    Whereas the smaller bats have the wingspan of perhaps a robin, this one appeared to be the size of a blackbird. The wingbeats were much slower, so that I could make out the scalloped outline of the wings. But its flight speed was incredible – it appeared to cover 50 metres of airspace in just a couple of seconds.

    It was like having Batman pass over!

    Bats are notoriously difficult to identify in flight, but I’m pretty certain with this one. There are only three very large bats in Britain, and only two are at all common – the high-flying, Swift-like Noctule and the lower-flying Serotine, which is a southern speciality.

    So, after several more sightings in the last fortnight, I’m pretty sure it is the latter, which is thought to breed and sleep almost entirely in suitable old buildings.

    I like to always adorn my blog with my photos, but on this occasion there is no hope of me getting even a blurred shot. So I’ll leave you for today with a photo of what I think it may be feeding on – as I see these flying over the garden most nights too!

    And if you are having bat experiences in your garden, do share them.

  • Throwing everything including the kitchen sink at wildlife gardening

    The RSPB team which created, set up and ran the stand at this year's BBC Gardeners World Live have now sent me the photos to share with you all.

    "Apologies for the delay," Claire wrote in her email. "We were in the NEC for 13 hours on the last day setting it up and we were all a bit delirious!" Anyone who has been involved with setting up something like this will know how they feel!

    The team had taken the theme of 'Giving nature a home' quite literally, and created what I'm going to call a 'fusion' of nature-friendly gardening and household objects. Note that a kitchen sink did indeed make an appearance, brimming over with plants, in the first photo.

    I do like the wardrobe kitted out as a solitary bee hotel. You'll be pleased to know that all the 'kit' was recycled, much of it thanks to donations from RSPB staff at The Lodge.

    But perhaps my favourite photo to come through is below. One member of staff clearly no longer has a bathroom!

    I've been blogging about my garden boudoir which is just an upturned dustbin lid - this surely takes it one step further! It is great to see a bath being used as a pond rather than ending up on landfill. And note the wooden ramp to allow creatures to get out that might have fallen in. This would look lovely sunken into a garden. Has anyone out there tried it? I'd be really interested to know how you got on.

    I'm told that thousands of people visited the stand and took great interest in all the features and ideas, and hopefully went home inspired to give nature a home.

  • What is very small and very wet?

    Today I was hoping to be able to share with you photos from Claire, April and the RSPB Events team of their final masterpiece at BBC Gardeners World Live. You may remember they gave us a glimpse of wardrobes, kitchen sinks and empty milk bottles leaving us to imagine how that could all be turned into a thing of beauty and wonder.

    Well, internet connections appear from Birmingham appear to be limited, so you've got today, tomorrow and Sunday to go and have a great day at the show and see it for yourself, and the rest of us will have to wait until next week's blog.

    So instead, what you get today is my Cute Moment No 1 of the week.

    It all happened in my stone birdbath. There was this little head poking nervously up above the rim.

    I'll let you play the guessing game for a moment, Remember, this is only a small birdbath, so normally it is really easy to see what species of bird is wallowing about in it.

    Up it fluttered, hovering over the water in a whirr of tiny wings...

    ...before plonking itself down on the rim of the birdbath.

    Hopefully now the tell-tale features are all in view. Dull green back, thin white wing bar and dark wing patch, fine bill...oh, and a 'gold crest'. I think that gives it away, then!

    Those black streaks down this Goldcrest's chest are just wet feathers, and I'm sure it looked very dapper once it had towelled itself down and header back up into the spruce trees to feed.

    So there we have it, Europe's smallest bird, weighing just over 5 grams - or a little more when soggy!