nature notes

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Re: nature notes

Postby Marigold » Sat Mar 03, 2018 8:15 pm

Unlike sparrow hawks, peregrines and other raptors etc, Kites don't kill other birds, they're scavengers that hunt for carrion such as birds and mammals that have already died from other causes. The reduction in the number of other species is more likely due to agricultural factors such as hedgerow reduction, crop spraying which kills the insects on which many birds feed, and intensive methods of cultivation which don't give enough time for ground-nesting birds such as lapwings and skylarks to hatch and rear their young undisturbed in fields. An old man in his 80s has lived all his life just down the road from us in a bungalow backing on to fields, and he remembers being sent out by his mother in the 1940s to collect lapwing eggs for tea. They were so common nobody thought this was at all unusual or wrong, especially with rationing in force. When we moved here in 1971, there were still vast flocks of lapwings, calling to each other as they settled down for the night, and nesting undisturbed in the fields, which weren't constantly sprayed with weedkiller and fungicides, lethal to their chicks. My husband was a bird ringer and we used to watch for the chicks, gently circle round and catch them and he would ring them, whilst the mother bird was making distress calls and pretending to have an injured wing nearby. Gradually they died out as the farming became more intensified, and a few days ago, when we actually saw a lapwing in the snow, it was a rare bird round here. So sad. But Red Kites are a daily joy, sometimes there are as many as 5 or 6 cruising around, and although so far none have landed, they circle really low over our garden, in our 'air space.' I do think they're driving out the buzzards, though - these used to be equally common, and each year's hatch stayed with the parents for several months before the young ones dispersed, so there were sometimes parents plus several young birds in the air together. Becoming much less common now, though.
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Re: nature notes

Postby MrsBiscuit » Sat Mar 03, 2018 10:46 pm

Ah, that is interesting, thanks for that Marigold. My Mum has a couple of kites circling daily, and piles of feathers on more than one occasion, so I put 2 and 2 together and made 5 :oops:

Strangely I saw some lapwings a fortnight ago, here in Portugal, but much further south in the plains. They were on the ground, sharing space with cattle and egrets. I realised I haven't seen them for years either.
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Re: nature notes

Postby bigyetiman » Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:36 am

This is the OH MrsBiscuit and we live in a farmhouse which has 3 acres of land including a large lake. The rest of the land was sold off to another farm many years ago by the previous owners. luckily that farmer has grown up with a love of wildlife and leaves the fields unploughed over winter so we get many finches foraging amongst the grass tufts. I am a bird surveyor for the British Trust for Ornithology and RSPB and I was talking with him the other day about the lack of Lapwings generally in this area, but he has had a flock of Golden Plover on some of his land all winter.
Totally agrees with Marigold Kites are scavengers they will only go for live prey in extreme weather conditions and like Kestrels they prefer to drop onto prey i.e voles, mice as they are not built for a chase. The culprit is probably a Sparrowhawk, a female can easily take a pigeon. Even Buzzards prefer to scavenge rather than waste precious energy on a hunt.
You could look at the feathers closely, if they have been plucked out, it will be a bird of prey, if they have have been bitten off it will be a fox, cat.
I would love a Black Redstart in the garden for my garden list, although I did add Stonechat at the end of last year
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Re: nature notes

Postby Marigold » Sun Mar 04, 2018 8:30 am

Our fatball feeder has been covered in sparrows all winter. Every now and then the sparrowhawk flashes through for an easy tasty snack. Nice example the food chain in action!
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Re: nature notes

Postby Hen-Gen » Sun Mar 04, 2018 8:56 am

Never seen a Black Restart or a Stonechat here, bigyetiman, but both very pretty birds. I remember as a kid seeing Black Redstart in London (I kid you not) and Stonechats on holiday in Dorset. Those countless holidays to a caravan at Swanage were not a total waste.
The commonest bird at the moment seem to be snipe. I don't know whether we have a lot of over winterers but you can't walk anywhere without putting a couple up.
As you say re Lapwings, the demise of wildlife is depressing in the extreme. One of the major reasons I moved here was the abundance of birds though whimbrel are decreasing. The RSPB tell us that this is due to a change in their wintering grounds in Africa. Most folk here think that that is BS and that it's due to the huge increase in the Skua population.
Another bird that's declining here is the Artic Skua. Again the Great Skua is blamed here though the experts in their comfortable offices in Sandy won't have it. Maybe they're right and it's all due to the loss of sand eels.There is a love hate relationship with the RSPB here. Lots of people benefit from payments to fence off bits of land and graze to the RSPBs instructions but at the same time think their planning is daft. As one local boy said to me a couple of years ago 'there were more phalaropes here before they got involved'. Manx Shearwater have completely gone. It's blamed on feral cats. But Petrels are thriving.
No kites or buzzards but ravens are constantly on the look-out for any dead sheep. They really do radiate a kind of 'angel of death' feel. As I think I've said before, I hope to see Sea Eagles back here before I snuff it and perhaps Snowy Owls too. Post Harry Potter they would be great for the tourist trade.
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Re: nature notes

Postby NicolsT » Sun Mar 04, 2018 9:17 am

Having at last moved to France (Lot-et-Garonne/Gironde borders), we have been staggered by the sheer numbers of birds visiting our feeders. Last September there wasn't a single bird in the garden (bar the odd hoopooe and egret)..we assumed that the pickings were so good elsewhere (we are surrounded by plum orchards and sunflowers) that they didn't need us. But I arrived in November with a sack of peeled sunflower seeds, and the response has been phenomenal. Probably most exciting for me was my first sighting of a haw-finch..quickly joined by all his friends and relations. Bramblings, siskins, clouds (yes, charms, I know) of goldfinches, and redstarts and bats nesting in the roof. We get through a 20kg sack of said sunflower seeds every 2-3 weeks, and I have to order them from the UK..expensive, but worth it for the show. Otherwise, we have coypu on the dam behind the house, deer all around us, and the odd wild-boar. Not too many squirrels, but as was said, in France they are all red...but skinny! Lovely birds of prey, even a harrier..couldn't see which one..over the house this week. The cranes are moving north now, and their calls are eerie and beautiful.
There are bugs too of course, house-centipedes which are extraordinary hairy things, enormous black bees, hateful Frelons (big asiatic wasps). Snakes in the pool in summer (!) and frogs everywhere. In May we have to step carefully as there are thousands of little black frog babies all over the garden. But also in May, we get nightingales. Nothing beats sitting outside on a warm May evening and listening to them. We're glad we moved!
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Re: nature notes

Postby Hen-Gen » Sun Mar 04, 2018 9:43 am

I'm so envious, NicolsT.
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Re: nature notes

Postby chrismahon » Sun Mar 04, 2018 11:13 am

I was confronted by a French house-centipede at our previous rental Hen-Gen and they are not a pretty sight -I prefer the snakes. This one was fully grown so about 2" long and moved at an incredible speed on account of the long hinged legs they have. I didn't mention the Asiatic Hornets- we had a nest in the wall last year and had to call out the pest control man. €150 and an hour later they had gone, but we still got visiting ones in the fruit trees. Extremely dangerous they are and can kill on account of their sting-for-nothing nature and the pheromone trail they leave so the rest of the hive can locate you and sting as well. The big black bees are wood boring- they don't sting but will bite. One took a liking to our chicken enclosure gatepost and bored right through it causing it to collapse.

On balance the wildlife here is great, but there are downsides. We thought it strange when we moved here that there were no wild birds at all, but they have gradually turned up- something we think is due to the ultrasonic mole repeller that the previous owner had. I found the high pitched noise very irritating and would rather have the moles. One thing I found strange was the 'pinging' noise at night- sounds like those old table top tennis games they used to have in pubs. Turns out that's the call of the midwife toad. I found one last year when dismantling the enclosure- a tiny frog and it was carrying the eggs on it's back.

We've tried to get Sunflower 'hearts' here NicolsT and also couldn't find them. Only ones were sold in small pots or bags at the agricultural merchants or garden centres, which is an expensive way to buy them.
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Re: nature notes

Postby bigyetiman » Sun Mar 04, 2018 7:19 pm

Oh would agree with you Hen-gen about the Birds and Africa. More like predators raiding nests and farming practices. One good result from the bombing of London was the Black Redstart loves that sort of rubble to inhabit, which led to them colonising the city. The Olympic park at Stratford has them breeding as does what is left of Ford motor company. Sizewell and Dungeness nuclear power stations also have breeding birds.
Very envious to NicolsT and of your Phalaropes Hen-Gen. OH has seen one Snowy Owl and that was one that turned up at Felixstowe Port, part of a group of birds that got caught up in a storm and landed on a container ship off Canada, most of the birds hopped off when the ship reached Belgium but this one stayed on to Felixstowe and was a wonderful rodent catcher, I do hope you get your wish
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Re: nature notes

Postby Marigold » Thu Mar 08, 2018 4:19 pm

Frogspawn in the pond yesterday - a wonderful surprise, as although we have always had frogs, they don't seem to have spawned for the past two Springs. Also rather amazing as the pond was frozen solid enough for the dog to walk on a few days ago, and although it's melted the water must be extremely cold. When they used to spawn regularly, it was always later in March or even in April - our garden is on a fairly exposed site at the top of a hill and there's always a noticeable temperature difference from down town, in the valley. Only one precious clump of spawn, but I've put it into a fish-proof pond basket for now, and later on, when it gets beyond the jelly stage, I shall set up a mini-pond in a large plastic tub and feed them tadpole food.
When frogs were so much more common, a lot of children at the primary school used to hatch out tadpoles in the classrooms, and when they became froglets, they were released into our pond. (Tadpoles, not kids!) Over the years, because the tadpoles came from various places originally, we began to get a wide variety of colours in the frogs that actually hatched from spawn in our pond, ranging from pale yellow to really deep black. We had to be careful walking round the pond after dusk in summer as the paths were covered in tiny froglets. But as frogs have declined so much nationally in recent years, you can see why I am so happy to have the frogs laying again this year. I can only hope that the same can soon be said about my new pullets!
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