Welcome to Lockdown Wildlife Watching 28th April – 13th May 2020.
Weather is all. Give us sunshine and warmth and all is well; get out into the garden, rummage around and discover. Give us chill northerly winds and rain and suddenly it all changes and isn’t quite so much fun!
Anyway, an update on the local wildlife is necessary I feel.
The swifts have returned in small numbers, the most I’ve seen together is 7 birds which sadly is a shadow of their historic numbers. Is it the lack of suitable nest sites? Is it some general adverse circumstances in wintering grounds? Is it simply a cyclic reduction in numbers? Or, is it something more sinister like a vast reduction in available food and/or climatic factors? Let’s be honest, whatever it is, it’s bound to be linked to the activities of man. It strikes me that nature has reached the opposite of a critical mass, maybe a critical minimum, whereby it enters an ever reducing cycle of returns. I hope they build up numbers, the cruel northerlies may be holding late migrants back, but I doubt it. It’s hard to see how this trend can be reversed, but you never know. You can become involved by taking part in the RSPB Swift Mapper project. It’s a simple app that’s helps track nesting activity of swifts. Read all about it here, register and play your part in helping these wonderful birds that encapsulate summer. Not sure what a swift looks like? Have a look at my guide which will help.
One interesting snippet occurred as we were walking around on our daily permitted exercise. A pair of swifts were prospecting a traditional nest site under the tiles of an unmodernised dwelling when the resident starling took great exception to the intrusion. It proceeded to chase one of the swifts around the rooftops, and I must say I was quite impressed by its agility. The swifts will be fine (they loitered around anyway), because the starling chicks will fledge soon to leave the roof space clear. Never seen a starling chase a swift before.
Our own swift box now plays host to a brood of great tits that are being fed by parents that look very much the worse for wear. Gone are their pristine yellow breasts, given way now to a dowdy washed out lemon-grey. It won’t be long before they fledge and then they will have to run the gauntlet of the local magpies.
I mentioned last time that these pied marauders were largely absent from the garden of late. Well that’s changed! They have their own young to feed and I watched one pull a greenfinch nest from our lone conifer the other day. Yesterday the partly eaten corpse of a woodpigeon squab decorated the path. That unfortunate had suffered a beheading and I wondered briefly if a sparrowhawk was to blame. But they don’t tend to take nestlings from the actual nest and this one was only half grown and couldn’t fly. I suspected magpies were to blame, and sure enough as I watched from the house, one of these merciless crows hopped onto the path and proceeded to resume its meal. Gruesome, but just nature. Although I must confess to feeling a touch aggrieved that because we have a wild garden it acts as a kind of take-away diner for them.
Other avian notables have been a kestrel hunting over the garden for the first time in years, and that’s about all!
The inclement weather of the past week has reduced insect activity, although in moments of sunshine holly blue butterflies flit around happily.
Some rather distinctly patterned flies took my notice around the area of the pond and I think these are one of the Anthomyiid family. Not sure about species though. A rather attractive little bee took my attention but I can’t key it out from the photograph. I’ve concluded the only way to identify species is to temporarily pot up the creatures and have a good look with a hand lens. Next time.
I have a small colony of long-jawed orbweb spiders around the pond. They look quite fragile but are effective predators. Look at the way each leg is holding a strand of the web – nothing will blunder into the trap without being instantly detected.
I managed a single moth trapping which produced 17 species with some pleasing ones amongst them. Well camouflaged or what!