nature notes

MrsBiscuit

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I have been meaning to start this thread for a month now, inspired by the great geographic distances between us, I thought we might spot different wildlife. We don't get much with 4 legs around here (last week I saw a rabbit. This is noteworthy!) but there are a lot of birds and a great variety of insects. Its the behaviour as much as anything which fascinates me, for example, in January I saw a sparrow eating an olive. This is unusual, because as you may know, raw olives are 100% revolting, and even the birds don't normally eat them. Perhaps in the cold they make an exception for the oil, and/or the fruit is about 3 months old so perhaps it is less unpalatable.

I am no expert and not even a well informed amateur, but I do spend quite a bit of time gazing into the near and middle distance :D Anyway, the ninny thread has spurred me into action, specifically Marigold's mention of a fieldfare and HG's observations. Yesterday I thought I'd spotted my first ever fieldfare, but closer inspection with the binoculars and a book made me realise I was looking at mistle thrushes :oops: and my first ever redwing(s). They were on waste ground opposite, which is relatively open but with enough long grass to hide in and eat the seeds, or wait for worms and ground dwelling insects. They were doing that thing of being still so you didn't know they were there till they moved. Whilst I was marvelling at them something else, much larger, came into view and as yet I can't ID it. It was like a small hawk/falcon with blue/grey shoulders. It was sitting on the ground and I never saw it in flight so I couldn't deduce much from its tail.

Anyway, what's going on in your part of the world? I am holding romantic view that artic foxes or hares are up on Fetlar :D
 

dinosaw

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Beyond the usual woodland animals, game birds etc I suppose our area is known for Red Kite and Glis Glis. The amount of Red Kite you see around these parts it's hard to believe they were ever an endangered species, I've even started to see the odd one that has come a cropper on the roads.
 

rick

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Great idea!
Ive been taking my camera with me everywhere lately, photographing mostly birds and trying to name the photos. Its a learning curve and I'm somewhere near the bottom i.e.
took few pics walking the dog the other afternoon and got nowhere with the RSPB birdfinder so asked the handy ecologists we have at work - a redwing and a long tailed tit (those little fluffballs are so cute!!!)
Also a cormorant (not too sure what sort, doesnt look quite like any uk resident - most like the american sorts but that seems very unlikley. Mostly what you get looking up cormorants is by anglers who hate them with a passion)
The Black headed gulls are still around - heads getting blacker now.
And this I saw this morning. might be difficult to make out but it is where a pheasant has slipped over on the snow (probably landing) Was OK it seems - footprints leading away from the embarrassing incident
OI000004_1.jpgOI000002_1.jpg
 

Hen-Gen

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Yep, romantic notions I'm afraid MrsBiscuit. The polar bears have eaten all the Artic foxes and Artic hares! :D
No rats, weasels, stoats, foxes, badgers, bats, hares, voles, shrews or moles here but we do have rabbits, mice and hedgehogs.
I suppose that I have to say that this island hosts (in the summer) 90% of the UKs Red Necked Phalaropes. They are currently enjoying the balmy heat of Ecuador but return here to breed. Actually they are a common bird globally speaking but just scrape in to the UK here.
In the 70s there were Snowy Owls breeding here but the old male drove all his sons away until he died of old age. This left several females laying clutches of infertile eggs until they too died. A tragic tale of unrequited love.
For me though there is another bird that symbolises these islands. 60% of the entire world population of Great Skuas breed here. They are currently wintering Gibraltar and down the African coast. Once they return then every other life form better watch out. Wader chicks, sea birds and the eyes and tongues of new born lambs are all fair game. Walk through their breeding areas and expect to be dive bombed. They really are avian thugs and most crofters are not averse to accidentally treading on the eggs of this protected species!
 

Marigold

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Snow overnight, down to -6, now -3.5. Another garden species this morning, now up to 28 this year, a female Reed Bunting clearing up under the feeders. She has been really tucking in for over an hour, her crop must be lovely and full of sunflower seeds and kibbled peanuts by now, plus she's had a drink. Reed Buntings are common in the local hedgerows and along the river valley of the Test just down the field from us, but not usual in the garden. When she joined the sparrows on the fatballs she was camouflaged among them, so maybe they do visit more often than is apparent at a glance, as that 'little brownish bird' category can be confusing to identify.
I keep on popping out to add leftover hot water from the kettle to the bird bath, which is much appreciated. To some extent, there's a temporary truce between birds who would normally waste energy chasing each other away from the resources on offer, - up to 4 robins feeding alongside each other this morning, which is unusual to say the least. However, two collared doves have been wandering around on the frozen pond, looking helpless and hopeless, instead of coming up to the feeders as usual and finding water up there.
 

chrismahon

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One thing that surprised me in France was the amount of wildlife- even more so down here than in the Dordogne, although I haven't seen a Salamander here. We have kites (red and black winged), buzzards, hawks, magpies and crows all disturbing the chickens. 1000's of pigeons at certain times of year but otherwise just a couple of collared doves. European cranes migrate over here as well but we have about 50 resident cattle egrets with a few cheeky enough to wander around in the garden. All the usual small birds except no sparrows here- something we were plagued by at the last house with them eating almost as much food as the chickens. Get the occasional deer nearby but, because we have electric fencing, they no longer come into the garden to eat the roses. Saw our first wild boar here last week. It was huge! Of course we have green frogs (noisy), common toads, midwife toads, whip snakes (the resident female is 1.5metres long) and small lizards. We also have coypu, called ragondin here, but fortunately they stay down in the valley as otherwise growing veg would be impossible as they eat ⅓ of their body weight a day of roots. Seen red squirrels, which are far more common further North. We also have hares.

The things we haven't fortunately got down here are rabbits, ordinary rats and grey squirrels- I haven't seen a grey squirrel in France at all. Mice however are a big problem! Between myself and our dog we have caught 120 since October, although she may have eaten quite a few so the actual number could be higher.
 

bigyetiman

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Ivy berries are revolting to which is why birds leave them until last. OH has got to through 25Kg of duck and goose food this week, mainly because the couple of Egyptian Geese that come to the lake for a bit of food every day, brought 45 friends to the all day buffet hopper, then the Canada Geese brought some Greylags with them, even the rooks from the rook roost in the woods have been seen with their heads in the hopper. About 300 Redwing have been foraging around the lake and garden. The flock of Sparrows has gone up from 140 to nearly 200 in the roost, and the resident pair of Great spotted Woodpecker have been joined by another 2 for the duration. Even the Grey Wagtail that is usually along the brook has been under the feeders
Not quite managed a Cattle Egret in the garden yet, but Little Egrets are daily, and we have had Great White Egret, once
 

Icemaiden

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I never dreamt that grey wagtails would use a feeder! Do you have the fat balls with insects in them?

Sounds as though you'll be eating a lot of goose in the near future. ;)
 

bigyetiman

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Yes OH has fat balls hanging up with various bits in them, and the Grey Wagtail is busy underneath the feeders with the Pied Wagtails hoovering up spillages. She has also hidden fat balls under shrubs for the Blackbirds and Thrushes. She came in all excited from feeding the ducks and geese, as she had peered over the hedge and was scanning along the brook and found a Jack Snipe bobbing about
 

MrsBiscuit

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Are you on a reserve or something BYM? All that goose food, not to mention the sheer numbers of birds. There was a mention of red wings and field fares on Today this morning, saying there are far more of them around as than usual. I watched a bunch of sparrow again this morning, fighting over fallen olives, just like watching hens with tasty morsels. You obviously have a good eye as well Marigold, but I am glad you provided a photo commentary Rick!

I have seen skuas on wildlife programmes, vicious looking things. I do wonder about kites, I know they have been reintroduced, and are expanding hugely as they are such good hunters. I am beginning to question if it was altogether a good move as I know where my .mum lives the variety of birds has dwindled greatly and although wood pigeons are in great supply, it is very common now to find piles of feathers on her back lawn.

It's wet and miserable here, my only spot, and not a very original one as they are common, is a black redstart.
 

Marigold

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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.
 

MrsBiscuit

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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.
 

bigyetiman

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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
 

Marigold

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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!
 

Hen-Gen

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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.
 

NicolsT

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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!
 

chrismahon

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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.
 

bigyetiman

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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
 

Marigold

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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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