Bees

At the end of May, my grandma was lucky enough to find a bumblebee nest in her garden… in the outside wall of her house! This may sound worrying to some, but having become a member of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in 2016 I was instantly excited and told her not to disturb it.  Bumblebees are harmless and only the females will sting if they feel threatened.  They do not cause structural damage as they use material which is already available to make their nests and they will only live for about 2 to 3 months, meaning nests are empty by late autumn.

It is brilliant being able to watch a living, working bumblebee colony as it is a well-known fact that our bumblebees are in trouble!  There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but many of these such as the Great yellow bumblebee which used to have a wide UK distribution, are now less common and can only found in a few locations.  Around 13 species of bee have been lost since 1900 and another 35 are considered under threat of extinction.  This decline is largely due to changes in agricultural practices, the removal of flowers from the landscape, the loss of habitat and exposure to harmful pesticides.  ‘Bees are vital to a healthy environment and healthy economy.  Around 75% of the food we eat needs to be pollinated, and bees – wild bees, not just honey bees – are major players in that job.  Bees also help keep our green spaces flourishing.  That includes gardens, parks and streets, as well as uncultivated areas like woodland, heath and grasslands’ which is why it is important that we must help to save bees and other pollinating insects! You can financially help the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in many ways but also physically get involved, perhaps as part of #30DaysWild to show your support.

You could:

  • Attend an event run by the Trust
  • Make a bee-waterer
  • Plant bee-friendly flowers and other plants in your garden
  • Become a ‘BeeWalker
  • Or even take part in the Great British Bee Count

The Great British Bee Count has been set up by ‘Friends of the Earth’ and lasts until 30th June this year, so you still have time to take part.  All you have to do is download the free Great British Bee Count app and get counting.  The app will help you identify and record different species, whilst your recordings will help experts build an understanding of species, distribution and how bees are getting on in the UK in general.  Eventually, the information that is collected will be shared with other expert researchers, government ecologists and ‘environmental decision-makers’, even go towards conservation programmes and of course the future protection of our pollinators!

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust has some brilliant information about how to identify bees and also has some lovely illustrations on their website of the UK’s most common bumblebees.

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© I took this photograph at Middleton Lakes RSPB reserve in 2016.

Have you spotted any rare bees this year so far, or are you lucky enough to have a bumblebee nest in your garden?  I would love to know!

 

Drama On The Peregrine Ledge

It has been an action-packed few weeks for the NTU peregrine falcon chicks.  After spending a week in Dartmoor (me, not the chicks) with little internet access, I returned on May 26th to discover that all four were out of the nest and exploring the surrounding ledge.  Most of their down had been replaced by stunning feathers and they were looking truly beautiful and elegant.

They have since been feeding themselves, flapping their wings, spending more time on their own and out of sight of the cameras, but on June 1st camera one captured something extremely dramatic (and a little bit funny if you keep watching it) which you can view in slow motion here.

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As you can see, one of the chicks attempted to fly and ended up crashing into its mother causing them to tumble off the edge of the building!  Luckily both were fine and the chick landed on a lower ledge.  As the chick had not properly fledged and was unable to fly, it could not return to the nest, however it has been reported that the adults have continued to feed it!  Despite this, I (and I am sure many others) have been a little worried about the chick over the last few days in the rain and wind… and unfortunately I have some sad news.  After following the peregrine falcons throughout the whole nesting cycle, it breaks my heart to announce that earlier today the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust reported that one of the chicks (I am not entirely sure whether it was the one on the lower ledge) had “been killed yesterday on the road below the ledge”.  It is assumed that “it got blown off or lost control of a flight in the ferocious wind we have been experiencing”.  Obviously this is a terrible shame as the four chicks were each doing brilliantly, but it is important to know and remember that less than a third of peregrines actually reach breeding age, so the family have still done very well.  Those peregrines that do reach breeding age are expected to live for 6-13 years, but the oldest known peregrine was over 16 years old!  So let’s keep our fingers crossed for the remaining three!

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All stills taken from the NTU live stream.

It’s Time To Go Wild!

This June, the Wildlife Trusts is once again challenging the nation to do something wild every day for #30DaysWild.  I took part for the first time last year and had a fantastic month full of random acts of wildness, which you can read about here.

Your random acts of wildness do not have to be extreme – they can be small, fun, indoors or outdoors and are simply about experiencing, learning about and helping wildlife.  I have come up with some suggestions which you can use as inspiration.

For sunny days:

  1. Visit a nature reserve and enjoy a walk, bird watching or even bat detecting
  2. Do some wild photography
  3. Go wild in your garden to benefit wildlife
  4. Take time to stargaze on a clear night
  5. Make a bee waterer (using a dish, stones/marbles and clean water) to keep our pollinators hydrated

For rainy days:

  1. Dance in the rain
  2. Make a terrarium
  3. Become a member of a wildlife charity
  4. Write a poem about nature
  5. Learn cloud names and classifications

For days at work:

  1. Hold a fruit and veg cake sale
  2. Watch live wildlife footage on your breaks
  3. Go outside and take a walk at lunch
  4. Take a healthy packed lunch full of fruit and veg (maybe homegrown)
  5. Explore your workplace for plants and wildlife

For the kids:

  1. Camp in the garden
  2. Explore a forest
  3. Go on a bug hunt
  4. Press flowers and leaves
  5. Build an insect hotel

For people who are unable to get out and about easily:

  1. Do a mini garden birdwatch
  2. Watch a nature documentary
  3. Experiment with windowsill gardening
  4. Read a nature book or blog
  5. Do some ethical cooking

If you are feeling inspired and have other ideas of how to be wild for 30 days, you can sign up for the #30DaysWild challenge here.  You will receive a free pack of goodies including stickers, some wildflower seeds and a wallchart to help you plan your month, plus lots more ideas from the brilliant Wildlife Trusts.

Like last year I will be blogging about my #30DaysWild month and would really like to hear what other people do for their random acts of wildness!

Eyas Update

It is week four of the NTU peregrine falcon chicks’ development and I am honestly amazed at how quickly they are growing!  I noticed yesterday that the cameras were off for a while, so knew that it was ‘ringing time’.  It was exciting to later read that the Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust and NTU Sustainability team had indeed finally ringed the chicks and found out that there are three females and one male!  To ring the chicks, the team waited for the parents to leave the nest and then quickly fitted a small, lightweight, harmless, metal ring around the leg of each eyas.  Ringing birds is essential for bird conservation as it helps provide information about their movements, locations and lifespans.

Some brilliant photographs taken during the ringing process.  (Thank you for these Emily).

The images below are just a few stills from the NTU live stream that I have saved.  Archie and Mrs P have been providing a constant supply of feral pigeons and other medium sized birds for the eyases and as you can see in the fifth image, their crops have been nice and full.  Although one chick is smaller than the others (and has been nicknamed ‘Diddy’ on Facebook) all four are getting their fair share of food… I even caught one of them possibly ‘gaping’ for food whilst both parents were away, which you can see in the sixth image!

On May 13th, I noticed that all four chicks were starting to grow their flight and contour feathers, and yesterday (16th) the new darker feathers were poking through their down quite clearly (image eight).  The chicks may have changed a lot already, but we still have plenty of development to see.  At this stage they have gained a sharp eyesight and are very interested in anything that moves – whether it be a fly or blowing feather.  Their legs are getting stronger and they are a lot more active in the scrape.

In the next week or so, they will lose most of their down apart from a few tufts on their heads (hopefully – for our amusement) and will be showing off their juvenile feathers.  We may see them flapping their wings and before long, in week six, the eyases may fledge the nest for the first time!  They should remain around the nest-site for a few weeks, during which time they will become adept at flying, pursue other birds and capture their own food, but will still rely on their parents for most of their food.  Around August they will leave the nest for good… and I must say that I will certainly miss watching them!

Hedgehog Awareness Week 2017

This week (30th April to 6th May) is Hedgehog Awareness Week, an annual event organised by the British Hedgehog Preservation Society.  Often called the ‘gardener’s friend’, hedgehogs are lovely, harmless creatures, but sadly since the year 2000, “rural hedgehog populations have declined by at least a half and urban populations by up to a third in the same period” across the UK.   #hedgehogweek consequently aims to highlight the problems which are causing this decline and suggest ways in which the public can help.

The declining hedgehog population in both urban and rural habitats where the pressures and changes in the environment are very different is not simple to explain, as there could be many contributing factors.  Hedgehog Street, “a campaign aimed at ensuring the hedgehog, the UK’s only spiny mammal, remains a common and familiar part of British life”, is a fantastic website with information, FAQ’s and tips for helping hedgehogs.

Some simple, instant ways that you can help hedgehogs in your garden are:

  • Ensuring there is hedgehog access in your garden – a 13cm x 13cm gap in boundary fences and walls.
  • Moving piles of rubbish to a new site before burning it.
  • Ensuring netting is kept at a safe height.
  • Checking compost heaps before digging the fork in.
  • Stopping / reducing the amount of pesticides and poisons used.
  • Covering drains or deep holes.
  • Ensuring there is an easy route out of ponds and pools.
  • Piling up some logs in the corner of your garden.
  • Putting out a dish of fresh water in hot weather.
  • Planting nectar-rich plants to encourage insects for hedgehogs to eat.

You can also spread the word about #hedgehogweek by:

  • Holding a fundraising event, such as a cake sale, coffee morning or jumble sale.
  • Displaying information in your work place, school, library, local shop, etc.
  • Writing blog posts about hedgehogs.
  • Following BHPS on Facebook and Twitter and retweeting / liking / sharing information and posts to your page.
  • Taking a selfie with the BHPS #hedgehogweek sign and sending it out via social media using the #hedgehogweek hashtag.

Each year, the week focuses on a different campaign, and this year is the ‘Strimmer Campaign’.  The British Hedgehog Preservation Society has created waterproof stickers to be sent to councils, tool hire companies, grounds maintenance teams etc. to remind them to check areas for hedgehogs before using any machinery.  You can help with this particular campaign by contacting your local council or tool hire shop to ask if they are willing to use the free stickers from BHPS on their machines – if they are, they can then contact BHPS directly on info@britishhedgehogs.org.uk.

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What are your plans for Hedgehog Awareness Week?

The Fourth Peregrine Chick

As hoped, today was the day that the fourth NTU peregrine falcon chick hatched out of its egg.  I checked the live stream at 13:15 after my sister messaged me about them… and there it was, it had hatched just before 1pm!  The male was feeding the larger chicks a feral pigeon as chick number four (being less than half an hour old) was getting used to the world and its siblings.

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The newly hatched chick and its siblings waiting for food.

After a few minutes, Mrs P returned to the scrape and I just managed to save a still image of the whole family together!  WARNING: Some may find the below image disturbing.

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All four chicks (eyases) are being kept warm and fed and are looking healthy and ‘wide-beaked’ this evening.  Peregrine falcon chicks eat a tremendous amount of food and if all goes well, this time next week they will have doubled their weight and in three weeks, will be ten times their birth size!  I am very much looking forward to following their progress over the next six weeks or so as they rapidly get bigger, grow juvenile feathers and eventually fledge the nest.  Once they start to fly they will depend on their parents for a few further weeks to learn how to hunt, so Archie and Mrs P still have a lot of work to do… and we still have a lot of great things to watch!

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All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

Peregrine Chicks

It has been a busy few days for NTU’s resident pair of peregrine falcons, Archie and Mrs P, as their eggs have been hatching!  The hardworking parents have been incredible to watch over the incubation period, taking it in turns to keep the eggs warm, so much so that I don’t think I actually saw all four eggs together on the live stream! Their first chick hatched around midday on Sunday 23rd April, followed by the second that evening.

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The third chick hatched from its egg at 21:16 on Monday 24th April and all three chicks have since been helping their parents keep the fourth egg warm.

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At 15:57 on Tuesday 25th April, I noticed what I thought to be a crack/hole in the fourth egg and some movement coming from inside (see image below) before it began sleeting!  Several people on social media also agreed, however the chick is yet to hatch…  I expect (and hope) tomorrow will be the day.

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Archie and Mrs P have both been extremely diligent – I have seen them regularly swapping jobs of hunting and protecting their brood and love the wiggle Mrs P does as she settles down on top of the chicks and final egg.  There has also been a lot of live camera action in terms of feeding, which although can be quite disturbing for some viewers, is a truthful glimpse into the world of these beautiful, wild peregrine falcons.

All stills taken from camera two of the NTU live stream.

The Results Are In!

If you remember from My Big Garden Birdwatch Results blog post at the end of January, I took part in the RSPB’s annual birdwatch, and I am sure many of you did too!  The RSPB has been collecting and counting the results from over half a million people over the last couple of months and the results are now available here!

The top 10 birds of 2017:

  1. House sparrow
  2. Starling
  3. Blackbird
  4. Blue tit
  5. Woodpigeon
  6. Goldfinch
  7. Robin
  8. Great tit
  9. Chaffinch
  10. Long tailed tit

Over 8 million birds were counted, with some interesting results.  Goldfinch, blackbird and robin numbers have all increased over the last 10 years.  Waxwing sightings were very high this year (I wish I had seen one) due to “a lack of berries in their native Scandinavia” prompting them to travel to the UK, even as far west as Wales and Ireland!

Along with the increases though, there unfortunately had to be some decreases!  Surprisingly sightings of blue tits, great tits and coal tits were all down by at least 10% on last year’s figures.  Also since the first RSPB Garden Birdwatch in 1979, greenfinch, starling and chaffinch numbers have all dropped too (despite the latter two being in this year’s top 10).

The RSPB is a brilliant charity and by running the Big Garden Birdwatch, they not only encourage people to take an interest in wildlife and give nature a home, but also allow us to know and understand which birds are doing well and which are not.  We can then help, take action, monitor and hopefully make a difference!

Peregrine Falcons

Last autumn I was told about a pair of peregrine falcons that had been nesting on Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building for more than a decade, with support from the university and Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust.  I was eager to learn more so was delighted to find a webpage dedicated to them, containing a live-stream, photographs and FAQs.  Obviously at the time, the nest was empty, but I added the website to my ‘favourites’ ready for the falcons’ return in the new breeding season.

I started checking the live-stream at the end of February this year and first saw the female peregrine falcon return to the nest in early March.  Since then, I have been watching both the male and female preparing the site and making a “scrape” in the box ready for egg-laying and excitingly, on Friday morning (17th March) I clicked on the live-stream to see the female ‘crouching’ and the male having a good old look!!  After a few minutes, a lovely brown egg was laid, the male flew off and the female began brooding instantly.  What a great thing to watch live!

Over the next week or so, she may lay 2-3 more eggs and if all goes well, we will see them hatch in around six weeks, soon after Easter.  Then the fun will begin… feeding, growing and fledging!

The nest site has previously been very successful, with the faithful pair of peregrine falcons returning year after year and 32 chicks fledging in the last seven years.  However, last year, almost straight after the young had fledged, a new male peregrine was spotted around the site and the “resident male was seen less and less often, until he disappeared completely”.  It is believed that as he was old, he gave up his nest and may have died.  The cycle of life continues though, and the new male, who was ringed as a juvenile in London in 2012, clearly liked the site and returned this year with his partner – allowing us to follow them this season on the live-stream.

City centres such as Nottingham and urban areas have been colonised by peregrine falcons in recent times due to the fact that “tall buildings mimick their natural crag or cliff environment” and therefore provide them with safe nesting sites.  Also, peregrine falcons feed almost exclusively on medium-sized birds such as pigeons, so cities are an ideal place for them.

As expected, Nottingham is not the only city centre to be home to peregrine falcons in the midlands… my home-town of Leicester is too!  YES!  “In February 2014, a partnership between the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) and Leicester City Council (LCC) was formed called Leicester Peregrines to monitor the habits and activities of a known pair of Peregrine Falcons in Leicester city centre”.  They had been spotted on several tall buildings including Leicester Cathedral, but did not have a specific nesting site.  As a result, “in January 2016, the Leicester Peregrine Project was given permission by Leicester Cathedral to remove one of the louvres within the bell tower/spire” in order to build a nest-box.  Although they did not use the box last year (they did rear two chicks elsewhere), it appears that this year the pair may have taken up residence.  Hopefully in the next few weeks, a live-stream camera will be installed, or failing that, webcam photographs will be added to the website revealing whether or not any eggs have been laid.

The Leicester Peregrines Team from the LROS hold regular ‘Peregrine Watch Point’ sessions with telescopes and binoculars in the grounds of Leicester Cathedral, starting around 9:30am in St. Martin’s Square until around 2:00pm.  The proposed dates for this year are 19 April, 17 May, 15 June, 12 July, 9 August, 20 September, 11 October, 15 November and 9 December.  As these usually take place whilst I am at work, I decided to nip to the site with my camera at the weekend and spotted the pair straight away.  They were very high up on the spire, but I zoomed in as much as possible and managed to get a few decent photographs.

Peregrine falcons on Leicester Cathedral, 18/03/2017.

I hope to write several posts about both the Nottingham and Leicester peregrines this season and I would love to hear if like me, you are following any pairs too.

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch

It is that time of year again… the clouds are grey, the air is chilly, but there are things to make us smile and feel warm inside.  The days are slowly starting to get longer, Winterwatch is back on our screens next week and of course, the RSPB is holding the Big Garden Birdwatch from the 28th – 30th January.

The Big Garden Birdwatch helps to build a picture of garden wildlife across the UK and we can all be part of the world’s largest wildlife survey!  I took part for the first time last year and had so much fun, despite only counting a handful of birds (it was a cold, windy day).  Amazingly, more than 519,000 people all over the UK took part in the survey and counted an incredible 8,262,662 birds over the weekend!  The top three spotted were the house sparrow, starling and blue tit.  I wonder what the top three will be this year!?

It is easy to do and is great for any age.  Just find a comfortable spot, inside by a window (which I am going to do this year), outside in your garden or even a park.  Then over a single hour on any of the three days, simply count the maximum number of each species that you see at any one time. For example, if you see three blue tits together, and later you see four, and after that two, the number to submit is four (not nine). This makes it less likely that you will double-count the same birds.

I have already registered and received my pack.  If you would like to join me and thousands of others to count the wildlife that is counting on us, you can request a pack here.  If you order it to be sent by post, the RSPB also kindly sends a few little goodies including a coaster, packet of coffee and a lovely recipe for some biscuits (which are delicious – yes I have already baked some).

I will be blogging about my experience and survey results after the Big Garden Birdwatch weekend and would love to hear your results too!

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© This photograph was taken in the summer, but I am sure the sparrow will make it into the top ten list again this winter.