My August

I can’t quite believe that it’s almost the end of summer. August for me is a time for mourning. Mourning the warmth, the lighter days and all the wonderful wildlife that visit my yarden. I’m not sure if others notice it, but there’s a slight shift in the angle of sunshine, a scent of autumn is carried on the wind, and in my yarden there is the scratchy call of hundreds of starlings eating their way through all the fat cakes I make. August is summer’s swan song and the song of the starling, is for me, the sound of autumn.

The month began by celebrating David’s birthday. He wanted to go to Leighton Moss to get to grips with his new camera. So we headed up the motorway and spent a peaceful couple of hours spotting birds and enjoying nature.

The wildlife highlight for me this month has been watching the visiting bat, Batty and their friend hunt around the yarden. One night Batty was particularly energetic, hunting moths and midges, turning summersaults in the air.

The other evening we were witness to a spectacular sunset. I tend to miss many sunsets but this one made the whole sky look like it was on fire!

In June I sowed a packet of wildflower seeds for 30 Days Wild. This month they are finally flowering. I have field marigold and camomile growing with a host of field poppies, that are attracting bumblebees and hoverflies.

During the evenings David and I have been watching some older TV shows, both I hadn’t seen before. We started the month with Ricky Gervais’s The Office and now getting through the seasons of Stargate SG1.

At present I am reading The Mabinogion, a set of Celtic Welsh tales, suggested to me by fellow blogger Charlotte Hoather.

All of the Dyfi Ospreys have embarked on their migration south. Safe travels my gorgeous Ystwyth, (Bobby Bach). I wish them all well on their travels. I don’t know why, but the leaving of these beautiful birds makes me feel sad. Another sign that summer is ending. 😦

On a day off work, I was cleaning the bird feeders when I saw a bird strike the kitchen window with a thud! I rushed out into the yarden and discovered a baby goldfinch lying on its back, still breathing. I scooped him up and put him in the hospital cage with the heat lamp on and a hot water bottle. Within half an hour he had perked up and was fluttering about the cage. So, to lessen the stress, David and I let him free. I hope he recovers from his collision. Fly free little one.

My August 2021 ends in spectacular fashion! The Airbnb we had booked for my birthday last year, (and which we had to cancel due to Covid-19 restrictions), luckily we managed to re-booked in April. Thankfully Covid-19 restrictions have eased and we have finally managed to get to this beautiful loch side cabin in Scotland!

Well, that was my August, with a lot of wildlife sightings! How was your August? Did you get up to any adventures?

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2021 – Day Twenty-five.

84089555_3891626394242797_3198285049070949385_oDay 25: Continuing a theme from the past two years, Close Up, where I throw a spotlight on a given species and delve a little deeper. These Close up days will be on Fridays for 2021!

Today’s Close Up will be all about the fastest bird in the world – the peregrine falcon.

In the 19th and 20th centuries numbers of peregrine falcons declined rapidly due to persecution from humans and the introduction of pesticides such as DDT. The use of DDT increased adult mortality and caused the thinning of egg shells, resulting in many breaking and the parents unable to breed. By the 1960’s 80% of the UK peregrine population had been lost! There was another population decline in the 1990’s but the cause is unknown. Since these dark days the numbers of peregrines are slowly increasing, and city residents are faring better than their countryside brethren.

In the past, peregrines were found in the north and west of the UK, however in recent years they have been spreading south. They do not migrate and most stay within 100km of their hatching. The peregrine is our largest falcon, and can reach speeds of up to 200mph as they stoop or dive for its prey.

In cities they prey on pigeons but have a wide and varied diet from garden birds to wading birds. They are very territorial and nest on cliff ledges but in cities nest on tall structures, such as cathedrals. The breeding season begins in March-April and the female will lay 3-4 eggs with incubation up to a month. The male will provide food. The chicks take up to two months to be independent and up to a third will reach breeding age. The lifespan of a peregrine is around five years. 20% of the European population of peregrines live in the UK. The main threat to peregrines is illegal persecution especially on grouse moors.

Have you seen a peregrine falcon? I briefly spotted one on a walk a few years ago at Raven Crag, the Lake District.

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine xx


Further Reading:

https://www.bto.org/our-science/projects/peregrine-survey/results

http://www.london-peregrine-partnership.org.uk/peregrine-info.html

https://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/visit-what-see/peregrine-falcons-live-stream

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/peregrine/#:~:text=Peregrines%20can%20often%20be%20found,lovers%20spot%20these%20stunning%20birds.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/bird-a-z/peregrine/population-numbers-and-trends/

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/birds/birds-prey/peregrine-falcon

https://derbyperegrines.blogspot.com/p/our-webcams.html

My Bird Count for RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2021!

This weekend was the highly anticipated RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. I have been participating in this annual event for the past nine years and 2021 was no different. During the last weekend in January, you are encouraged to sit with a hot cup of coffee and count the visiting birds for this all important citizen science project. This year I had David alongside me, taking fantastic photos of the wonderful array of feathered friends we have visiting our yarden.

I suppose not many people can say a herring gull was part of their count, but Steven saw me sitting by the window and he flew to our wall looking for kitchen scraps, so obviously he had to be the first bird to be counted. We did our count on Saturday, 30th January 2021, 11 am to 12 noon. The weather was windy and drizzly, with a temperature of around 5°. It was a very damp, grey, overcast day which made for counting birds pretty easy. Through the hour, (and all day in fact) the feeders were visited frequently by swathes of hungry birds.

Steven wasn’t the only celebrity that featured during our one hour count. Hoppy the pigeon who, five years ago we rehabilitated after having string wrapped around her feet, decided to help herself to the feeders and frightened the goldfinches away in the process.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch Results 2021

During the hour we counted 11 goldfinches, (a smaller charm than usual), a brave blue tit, four squabbling starlings, an unassuming dunnock (my favourite garden bird) and of course 10+ pigeons gobbling up the food dropped by the others. Six species in total. Perhaps not as many species for other gardens but for an inner city walled yard, I’d say that was a good tally.

The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 has now ended but it doesn’t stop me looking ahead to next year. Who knows what 2022’s count will look like, it could have the likes of such feathered visitors as the sparrowhawk, chaffinch, robin, house sparrow, chiffchaff, yellow wagtail and blackbird, all species who have visited the yarden in the past.

How did your RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2021 go? What birds did you see?

Thanks for popping by,

Christine xx

Batty for Bats

Seven years ago David and I began work on creating a wildlife yarden. We focused on attracting as much wildlife to an inner city walled yard as we could.

garden

Yarden

Bird feeders were the first and easiest addition to the yarden and during late summer/early autumn the feeders are usually awash with different coloured wings and bird calls. From chattering charms of goldfinches and the happy chirruping of sparrows to boisterous gangs of starlings. The odd blue tit is seen nervously snatching away a sunflower heart as well as two delicate greenfinches who’ve visited among with the goldfinches. All this activity has caught the eye of several sparrowhawks whose presence in the yarden is a wondrous sight to behold.

About three years ago we put in a wash bowl pond. It’s in a sheltered spot so we don’t have dragonflies or damsels visiting but we did have a little frog for a short while.

Over the years we have planted shrubs and herbs which flower at different times of the year to attract insects. We even have the odd sapling tree, with a hawthorn being my pride and joy!

Trying to increase the insect population means that other predators will hopefully move in. Imagine my excitement and surprise when I discovered that a bat frequents the area!

I know nothing about bats so here’s a few facts on them:

  • There are 18 species of UK bat, with 17 breeding here
  • They all eat insects and are a natural pest control for e.g. mosquitoes
  • A pipistrelle can eat up to 3000 insects a night
  • They use echolocation to find food
  • They are indicators of biodiversity
  • They pollinate and spread seeds
  • Like the dormouse and hedgehog they hibernate
  • The mating season is from September and females give birth to one pup around June in maternity roosts
  • Cats and birds of prey are their main predators
  • They are the only mammal that can fly

I wonder what type of bat is visiting? It could be the most common bat in the UK, called a common pipistrelle. I’d need a bat detector to discover the identity of our new visitor, perhaps I’ll add one to my birthday/Christmas wish list. :p

Have you got bats visiting your garden? What is your favourite bat?

Thanks for reading,

Christine xx

A Small Miracle

Mid May I ordered five painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore, hoping to have them by the end of this years 30 Days Wild. They were dispatched min June and I waited anxiously for them to arrive. The first week passed with no caterpillars, then a second week passed. 30 Days Wild ended with no caterpillars in sight. I complained to Insect Lore customer services and they said that post in my area had been extra slow, but that they would kindly dispatch some more caterpillars.

butterfly2After a full three weeks since the caterpillars were dispatched, they finally arrived!

I was a little weary of opening the packaging, frightened of what to find! Would I find dead caterpillars? On opening the package and taking out the pot where the caterpillars feast on some unidentified brown goo. I found a mess! Among the excess food source, caterpillar poo and fras (a fine web caterpillars weave when they feel threatened) I discovered five chrysalises. Not hopeful they were alive I extracted them from their filth and placed the chrysalises inside the mesh habitat I kept from last years batch and left them.

A week later while David was in the study working from home, he called me in saying that one chrysalis was alive. It had been vibrating. I was overjoyed! At least one was alive!

Some half an hour later David called me in again and said I had a butterfly! It had burst out of its chrysalis and we watched as it pumped up its wings. It was a wondrous sight to see. I hadn’t had much hope for these beautiful souls.

Several hours later I discovered that another chrysalis had burst and a new butterfly had emerged. I had two butterflies!

I still had three chrysalises and two were quite small so I had little hope for them. But come the next morning we found that all chrysalises had emptied and I had five painted lady butterflies! What a miracle! After spending three weeks in a dark box, sitting in a Royal Mail post room, they had overcome the odds to become beautiful butterflies!

Last weekend I released them.

Four flew away, however one wanted to stay an extra day. So after watching the butterfly sit lethargically in the garden, David and I popped him back into the habitat with sugar water and flowers and planned on releasing him the next day.

The butterfly seemed much livelier on the second release day and enjoyed the flowers on the salvia. We left him enjoying the flowers and on returning to the garden, he was nowhere to be seen. I hope he managed to fly off and begin his adult life.

What a wonderful story of life fighting against the odds!

But my caterpillar story for this year isn’t over yet as on the day before I released the butterflies from the first batch, the new set of caterpillars arrived. Only a week late! On opening this package I am happy to report five caterpillars looking a little stunned. It took them a while to begin moving but in the few days since their arrival they doubled in size.

Since then they have already become chrysalises.

So I had caterpillars for a few days at least. I wonder if they will all develop into painted lady butterflies? I’ll let you know!

Thanks for reading,

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twenty-two.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_22Day 22: Today’s 30 Days Wild is Close up Monday and we are focusing on the UK’s largest predator, Badgers! In 2019 David and I had the wonderful opportunity of watching wild badgers by partaking in an event at RSPB Haweswater. For as little as £12 pp (if you are a member), you can spend up to 90 minutes with these elusive yet iconic animals.

I am sure you local wildlife trust or RSPB site has a similar event, check out their website for more details.

Badger (Meles meles) Facts:

    • Badgers are mammals and sometimes are called brocks
    • They are common throughout Britain
    • They live in family groups underground called setts, and some setts can be 100 years old, being passed down from generation to generation
    • Badgers are part of the Mustelid family (otters and ferrets)
    • They grow to one metre in length
    • They are crepuscular (active dawn/dusk)
    • Playing and scent marking strengthens social bonding
    • Badgers can live up to 14 years though five to eight years is more optimistic
    • Females can have up to five cubs a litter and most cubs are born mid February, and will emerge above ground after 12 weeks
    • Up to 50,000 badgers are killed each year on UK roads
    • Badgers are omnivores but 60% of their diet are earthworms
    • They are the only predator of the hedgehog

Have you seen a wild badger?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x


Further Reading:

Badger Trust: https://www.badgertrust.org.uk/badgers
RSPB: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/wildlife-guides/other-garden-wildlife/mammals/badger/
Wildlife Trusts: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife-explorer/mammals/european-badger
The Woodland Trust:https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/blog/2019/08/badgers-what-do-they-eat-and-other-facts/

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Sixteen.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_16Day 16: Today’s 30 Days Wild is all about birdsong and hopefully being able to ID them more easily.

On my daily walk with Riley there are a number of birdsongs that I hear. I can ID a robin and a blackbird’s song but get confused when a chaffinch and wren add to the mix.

Here are some of the birds that live in my local park, that I hope to be able to ID more efficiently next time I’m out walking the dog.

robin

Robin

The Robin: Hopefully the easiest song to recall? The robin is part of the flycatcher and chat family. Other chat’s known are the stonechat, redstart and even nightingale. The robin is the gardener’s friend. I mainly see them of a winter, hence red breasts on Christmas cards. You can familiarise yourself with its song here.

The Blackbird: my favourite bird song of all. The blackbird, the song of long, warm summer nights and early summer mornings. You can familiarise yourself with its song here. The blackbird is part of the thrush family. They like to eat insects, berries and worms. The females are confusingly brown but the males are strikingly black with yellow beaks. If you like their song here’s a one hour long rendition of their song, found here.

The Wren: This diminutive bird surely makes up for its size when singing its melodious repetitive song which lasts up to six seconds. You can familiarise yourself with its song here.

The Chaffinch: I don’t know why but I always struggle with the song of the robin and the chaffinch. The robin though has a higher pitched song to the chaffinch, the chaffinch song can be found here.

Greenfinch: The biggest eye opener on the list has been the song of the greenfinch! I always thought that the song of the greenfinch was the alarm call of the robin. We learn something new everyday and today the scratchy sound of the greenfinch isn’t the alarm call of a robin at all!! You can familiarise yourself with the greenfinch song here

The Song Thrush: I see song thrushes on my walks, but can never get a good picture of them. Being part of the same family as the blackbird, you can hear the similar tones in this thrush’s song. You can familiarise yourself with the song thrush melody here. Their conservation status is red. If you’d like to listen to an hours recording of the song thrush song, you can find it here.

So there you have it, six bird songs from my local birds. The RSPB website, found here is invaluable to understanding UK bird songs. YouTube videos are also a great help. There are also phone apps which can help ID bird songs, Warblr is a good resource and Merlin.

Which bird song do you like the best? My favourite will always be the blackbird.

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Thirteen.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_13 Day 13: I’ve been feeling down these past few days so a bit of a lazy post for today’s 30 Days Wild I’m afraid. Today’s blog is a poem from Philip Larkin, taken from the illustrated anthology, Birds, from The British Museum, edited by Mavis Pilbeam.

We have another patient in the form of a pigeon called Pete who has a sore wing. Fingers crossed he makes a full recovery.

Pigeons

On shallow slates the pigeons shift together,
Backing against a thin rain from the west
Blown across each sunk head and settled feather,
Huddling round the warm stack suits them best,
Till winter daylight weakens and they grow
Hardly defined against the brickwork. Soon,
Light from a small intense lopsided moon
Shows them, black as their shadows, sleeping so.

What are your thoughts on pigeons?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Twelve.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_12Day 12: Today’s 30 Days Wild is going to be a ladybird hunt. Right or wrong I prefer to call them ladybugs!! On my daily walk with Riley we follow a path close to a railway line. At present the embankment is full of nettles and I’ve seen shinning red against the greenery, lots of ladybugs. Native or not (harlequin) I’ve decided to take a count of how many ladybugs I see on my walk.

On today’s walk I spotted a grand total of 24 ladybugs, a mixture of native and harlequin. In one section of the walk there were an abundance of ladybird larvae. They do seem to like nettles and knapweed.

It looks like the photos I have captured are all harlequin ladybugs, however I have seen some two, seven spot and 16 spot ladybirds during my count. I find it quite hard to tell native ladybirds from harlequins. Maybe the white eyes are a give away?

There are around 40 native ladybirds in the UK. Their redness is a sign to predators that they bitter tasting, they also exude a liquid that detracts birds and ants. Adults hibernate in winter. Their larvae are voracious aphid eaters.

Harlequin ladybirds are from Asia and arrived in the UK in 2004. They are more prevalent in towns, hence seeing more in a local park. They are larger than the native ladybird and out compete natives in prey and will eat other ladybird’s eggs and larvae.

Have you seen any ladybirds where you live?

Thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x

30 Days Wild 2020 – Day Five.

twt-30-days-wild_countdown_05Day 5: For today’s 30 Days Wild, I’ve decided to watch a webcam. There are so many wildlife webcams that it’s hard to chose. Just a quick search on Google brings up hundreds of links. Here’s a few I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks.

What are your go to favourite webcams?

The Wildlife Trusts’ web-page (here) is a good start to find wildlife webcams to watch. There’s webcams on mammals as well as birds.

If you like ospreys then you’ll find there are numerous webcams and websites dedicated to this beautiful bird. One of my favourite and the most clear camera is the Dyfi Osprey Project, found here, they have two chicks at present.

If peregrines are more your thing then Salisbury, Winchester and Leamington Spa all have peregrine webcams, but be quick their chicks are pretty big!

The Nest Box on Facebook, here, have a selection of webcams streaming live 24/7. This week I watched as six blue tit chicks from Cumbria fledged. The Nest Box still has streams of kestrel and starling nests.

These web-sites are all from the UK, but there can be found webcams from around the world. I hope you enjoy looking at some of these webcams and searching for your own.

In the meantime, thanks for reading, and stay wild!

Christine x