Day 15: For today’s Close up Monday, I’m delving deeper into a favourite flower of bees, bellflowers. Bellflowers or campanula (fairy bells) have around 400+ species, native to northern temperate regions. They are either annual, biennial or perennial plants, and flower from spring to late summer. Bellflowers vary in size from dwarf variations to ones reaching 6ft!
One of the most famous bellflowers is of course the bluebell. The many pictures in today’s blog are of siberian bellfowers. These semi evergreen perennials, native to former Yugoslavia have miraculously appeared in cities over the past couple of years. I love how they trail along garden walls with their pale purple hue. The star shaped flowers are always buzzing with pollinators.
Day 8: Today is World Oceans Day, so in honour of this campaign, today’s Close up Monday will be of bottle-nosed dolphins. I’ll admit that marine wildlife is one aspect of my knowledge that isn’t particularly strong. So I am going to use today as a platform to further my understanding around this subject.
What’s your favourite ocean inhabitant?
The bottle-nosed dolphin is probably the best known of all UK whale and dolphin species (cetaceans). While reading the summer edition of the RSPB’s Nature’s Home magazine, I was surprised to discover that up to 28 of these aquatic mammals have been seen around UK shores.
Some facts on bottle-nosed dolphins:
UK bottle-nosed dolphins are the biggest in the world, their larger bodies help with the cold of our waters
They can live up to 50 years of age
Are carnivore and eat other fish and crustaceans
They have good eyesight and their eyes can move independently of each other
They can’t detect colour
Highly sociable and live within pods of up to 15 members
Research has shown that dolphins have names or a unique whistle to identify them from other dolphins
Like bats they use echolocation for finding food and navigation
Their stomachs consist of three chambers, one to store, one to digest and one to excrete
They sleep by shutting one side of their brain and the opposing eye
‘Breaching’ or jumping out of water is a way of cleaning parasites off their bodies
As a mammal they are warm blooded and need to breathe through a blow hole
Moray Firth dolphins
Bottle-nosed dolphins enjoy the safety of sheltered bays and can be seen often at RSPB Bempton Cliffs, Moray Firth in Scotland, Cornwall and Dorset.
Have you seen any bottle-nosed dolphins around the coast of the UK? Have you seen any other cetaceans?
Day 1: Who would have thought that during a raging pandemic, the likes the world hasn’t seen in a hundred years, that nature would be taking centre stage. With many people restricted to their homes, and less traffic on the roads the air has smelt cleaner, the stars easier to see. The change in seasons from winter into spring has unfolded before our very eyes.
Step into June and The Wildlife Trusts’ 30 Days Wild, the annual celebration of all things wild-life! This year, as in previous years I shall endeavour to blog every day. Continuing the theme from the past two years, Monday’s shall be called: Close Up Monday’s, where I throw a spotlight on a given species and delve a little deeper.
To start off 2020’s 30 Days Wild the first Close Up Monday will be all about the largest member of the tit family, the great tit. My interest in focusing on this bird was piqued when I recently saw someone post a picture of a great tit with a dead mouse on social media. I always thought they were seed and insect eaters but apparently they have been known to murder other birds, pied flycatchers in particular! I don’t know why I found this information startling as I’ve had murderous finches in my own aviary, so it happening in nature shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
So without further ado let’s get to know the great tit a bit better.
The great tit (Parus major) came seventh in the annual RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2020. This woodland bird, larger than a blue tit is increasingly becoming more common in urban settings, enjoying garden feeding stations and bullying smaller birds. Some studies have shown that UK great tits have evolved longer beaks than their European neighbours, a reason for this could be an adaption to accessing bird feeders.
Great tit’s can be seen all year round in the UK but I usually see them in my Liverpool yarden around May-June during the breeding period and during winter months too. They enjoy a range of seeds and insects. This spring I watched with amusement as a great tit fluttered about the ivy hunting out spiders. European great tits have been recorded to attack and eat hibernating bats. Recently some studies from the Netherlands have voiced concerns over climate change creating territorial conflict between great tits and migrating pied flycatchers, with great tit’s looking to have the upper hand.
Great Tit coming into land!
Great tit’s are recognised by their ‘teacher teacher’ call and have a lifespan of three years. They build their nests in tree holes or nest boxes, and can have up to nine eggs a brood. Their conservation status is green with an estimated two million birds in the UK. In 2012 I had the enjoyment of great tit parents bringing their two chicks to our yarden.
Do you have great tit’s visiting your garden? What is your favourite member of the tit family? Mine are the long-tailed tits, or titmice, they are just balls of fluff!
Day 17: Following on from last week’s Close Up Monday, today’s focus is on the red squirrel.
I am very lucky to live within an hours drive from Formby, which is a stronghold of the red squirrels. Disease and the introduction of the American grey squirrel in the 19th Century has impacted greatly on red squirrel numbers.
Red squirrels, a mammal, are native to the UK and classed regionally as endangered. Though red squirrels can be found in other European countries. Their population in the UK is estimated at approx. 140,000 which is quite shocking given that the figure of the grey squirrel as 2.5 million.
The reason for this disparity is obvious when you see both species side by side. Whereas the red squirrel is small and dainty the grey is larger in body.
The two main competitions are:
Food: The grey squirrel being larger has show to eat more and also to be more successful at foraging. Whereas the red has been left behind and is often pushed out of an area due to the competition for food.
Disease: grey squirrels seem to have a natural immunity to squirrel pox than reds. Pox to the red squirrels has a 100% mortality rate, which is catastrophic to any resident population. According to The Wildlife Trusts, there is currently an outbreak of squirrel pox at Formby, but hopefully it won’t be as devastating to the population as the 2008 pox outbreak when 80% of Merseyside and Lancashire’s red squirrels were wiped out!
Habitat loss is also a contributing factor to the decline of the red squirrel.
Red Squirrel by David Evans
Red Squirrel by David Evans
Red squirrels are found in the North of England and Scotland. They prefer to live in coniferous forests and nest in dreys. They can have up to two litters a year, with 2-3 kittens per litter. Their diet consists of hazelnuts and pine cones but occasionally they eat small birds and eggs. Like the grey squirrel they do not hibernate.
There are a number of projects currently running to help sustain red squirrel numbers: Red Squirrels United is a partnership with The Wildlife Trusts, academics and volunteers and funded by the EU and The National Lottery to create a scientifically robust conservation programme. In turn Red Squirrels United are working closely with Saving Scotland’s RED Squirrels, who work with local communities to preserve this iconic UK animal. Red Squirrel Survival Trust is an entirely donation run initiative created to spread awareness to the plight of the red squirrel.
What is your stance on the red vs grey squirrel argument? Do you ever see a time when both can coexist in the UK?
Day 10: Today’s Close Up Monday is inspired by my short break to The Lake District. Last year, on another trip to the Lakes, I focused on herdwick sheep. Sharon and Louise suggested red squirrels being synonymous with The Lake District, with ospreys a close second. I’ve decided to focus on ospreys for today’s post but don’t worry I will blog about red squirrels next Monday.
The osprey is a large bird of prey, with a wingspan of 1.6m (that’s bigger than me!) They migrate to the UK to breed during the summer and overwinter in West Africa. Their lifespan in the wild is nine – twenty years and are a UK amber species. They can be seen from March to October in Scotland, Wales and the Northern England. Their diet is primarily fish.
Ospreys become sexually mature from two to five years. Are largely monogamous and prefer tall structures like conifers to construct their nests called an eyrie. When visiting Dodd Wood, Cumbria in 2017 we saw a reconstruction of an eyrie and it was huge! The female lays two to three eggs during April and incubation takes up to a month. The female incubates the eggs while the male provides fish. Once the young have fledged, both parents feed the young for the next two months. Many juveniles die before reaching maturity. Hunting and poisoned food and water are the main threats to numbers of osprey.
There is a lot of webcam footage of nesting ospreys in the UK. While I wrote this blog I came across the webcam for the ospreys at Loch of Lowes, Scotland. Webcams are an insight into nesting behaviours and the rearing of young.
Loch of Lowes Osprey
Loch of Lowes Osprey
However they can be quite traumatic for the viewer sitting warm and safe at home. While watching I noticed two of the nestlings were being fed and looked strong while the runt lay apart from its siblings and looked to be wasting away. Apparently it had gotten stuck in the twining of the nest and was stood upon by both parents. The chick died not long after, such is the nature of life for a young osprey.
Day 18: For today’s Close Up Monday, the animal (I believe) most synonymous with the Lake District, is the Herdwick. Their name stems from the Old Norse, Herdwyck, meaning sheep pasture. Herdwick sheep are the most hardy of Britain’s hill sheep. They can roam some 3,000ft around the central and western fells, and territoriality keep to their heaf, which is a learnéd bit of fell they graze.
Info taken from Herdy® states that, Lake District Herdwick farms are granted commoner grazing rights, which set the number of sheep on any given common by the grazing capacity of the fell.
Each farm has its own way of identifying straying herdwicks. Lug marks are small notches on the sheep’s ear, whereas smit marks are coloured marks on the sheep’s fleece.
The herdwick’s body has evolved to withstand the extreme winters of the Lake District. They also have resistance to diseases and ticks. They are primarily bread for meat.
The lambs are born black, but within a year they turn brown (at this stage they are called hogglets/hoggs). After their first sheering their fleece lightens to grey.
Their grazing of heather and grass, keeps bracken and scrub under control, which in turn helps keep the Lake District look.
Their wool is best suited to carpet wool and is a good insulator.
What animal do you think is synonymous with the Lake District?
Day 11: For today’s Close Up Monday, the species in question is the tiny but mighty tadpole.
In our minuscule wildlife pond we have at least two tadpoles. It has been thrilling to see them develop. At present they have grown their limbs and will soon emerge from the pond. Let’s look more closely into their life-cycle.
A female frog or toad can lay up to 50,000 eggs known as frogspawn. Tadpoles are the larval stage of the cycle and hatch from around 1-3 weeks. They eat vegetation and have adapted jaws to do this.
Tadpole with legs
The tadpoles in our yarden have been undergoing a fascinating metamorphosis. Unlike the butterfly, who goes into a crystals to morph, the tadpole changes before our very eyes.
Lungs develop, gills vanish, and limbs grow. I thought one of our tadpoles looked pretty mean! You can see its limbs clearly in the picture. Over time the tail is absorbed and the frog/toad becomes terrestrial.
Lifecyle of Frog/Toad
Frogs and toads are Anuran which means tail-less. Their skin is permeable to water meaning that if a frog is thirsty they just have to jump into water, while toads just need to find a muddy spot in which to absorb moisture through their stomachs. Frogs and toads are carnivorous and eat mosquitoes, files, snails and other invertebrates. Frogs reach maturity at three years old whereas toads at four. Frogs can live up to eight years and toads 12 years. I found most of my information from the Woodland Trust website, here. and Arkansas Frogs and Toads.