It’s Peregrine Time!

You may remember that last year I posted regularly about a breeding pair of peregrine falcons on Nottingham Trent University’s Newton building… well it is once again that time of year when they will begin nesting, ready to lay eggs and rear their young!  I have already started checking the live webcams and have seen the female on several occasions sitting on the ledge around the nest site, so I expect that in a month or so we will see a clutch of eggs in the scrape!  This year is extra exciting though, as not only will I be watching and blogging about the Nottingham peregrines, but also the Coventry AND Leicester pairs!

Why Coventry?  Well, last Christmas I was gifted an ‘adopted’ peregrine through Warwickshire Wildlife Trust which supports the “amazing falcon that has made its home at the top of Holy Trinity Church and Coventry Cathedral”, so of course I will be following their story over this breeding season, as well as throughout the rest of the year.

Why Leicester?  Being my home town, I have followed the Leicester Peregrine Project (a collaboration between the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society and Leicester City Council) for quite a while now, and try to spot and watch the peregrines on the Cathedral whenever I go into the city centre.  Last year I wrote about how they hoped to install a live camera, which unfortunately did not happen during the 2017 season… but I am happy and excited to find that the live stream is now available to watch on their website!  The camera is positioned brilliantly on the “5-star nest platform”, providing an intimate view of the nest site and close-ups of the gorgeous birds.  What is also great is that there is a daily written commentary alongside the video, so we won’t miss a thing – such as the fact that there has been lots of ‘bond-posturing’ and calling recently, which is a very good sign.  Last year, the Leicester pair did actually lay a clutch of eggs, but sadly they were all unsuccessful… so I am keeping my fingers crossed that we see some chicks this year!  I will make sure to keep you all posted.

IMG_20170318_150738_259© Peregrine Falcon on Leicester Cathedral, 2017

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What did I see?

Last weekend was the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch and I chose Saturday to do my count.  Unintentionally, I always seem to pick the day with the worst weather and this year was no exception – drizzly and windy!  As planned though, this year’s count was done in my grandma’s garden (2016 was at my mum’s and last year was at my in-law’s) as I am very interested to see the results from different locations.

rspb© the Green & the Wild

My grandma has been putting food out over winter, so after ensuring there was plenty on the grass and in the feeder, I sat in her conservatory between 11:30am – 12:30pm expecting to at least see my grandma’s regular garden visitors (2 woodpigeons and 2 magpies), but all I counted in the whole hour was a fleeting visit from a single blackbird and one woodpigeon!

As it is just as important to record no birds as it is many birds, I wasn’t disappointed but my grandma was keen for me to see the regulars, so later that afternoon once the weather had cleared up, we had another ‘birdwatch’ and would you believe it, within five minutes the lawn was crowded with two blackbirds, one of the two regular magpies and three woodpigeons, one of which was a juvenile which I found very sweet as the whole family was out for dinner together!

I didn’t manage to take any photographs of the birds this year, so instead I thought I would take part in the RSPB #ShareHowYouWear

shyw© My RSPB and some of my other wildlife charities pin badges.  I usually pick a species that represents the RSPB reserve I buy it from or is a bird that I have seen there.

Did you take part in the Big Garden Birdwatch this year?  If so, please share with us what you counted and of course, don’t forget to submit your results!

The Plastic Problem

As many of you will know, one of the biggest environmental problems right now is plastic pollution, specifically in our oceans!  Plastics do not go away and what is scary is the fact that over 300 million tonnes of plastic is being produced globally every year and half of this is for single use!  Furthermore, more than 8 million tonnes of plastic finds its way into the ocean and onto our beaches every single year… and if action isn’t taken, this figure will continue to rise, as society has produced more plastic in the last ten years than during the whole of the last century!  The average plastic bottle takes about 450 years to completely break down, meaning the plastic waste of today will be floating around the ocean or laying on the sea bed for generations.

The effect of plastics on ocean wildlife is absolutely awful.  For example, turtles choke on or get entangled in big pieces of plastic, smaller pieces fill the stomachs of seabirds leaving no room for food to feed their young, whilst microplastics (which are defined as particles less than 5mm across) are contaminated further by toxic chemicals and pesticides and are then consumed by a range of marine animals such as corals and zooplankton, which ultimately end up entering the food chain!

Thankfully this crisis has been at the forefront of discussion recently, with help from environmental charities and programmes such as Blue Planet II, as big corporations and Governments have been called upon to take action!  The UK Government’s 25 year environmental plan commits the UK to “eliminating all avoidable plastic waste by 2042”, but I think as individuals we need to and CAN help now by making some simple life changes.

Firstly, why not find out what your plastic footprint is by using this calculator.  Once you know how you are using plastics, think about how you can reduce your usage.  I have come up with a list of 10 easy ideas:

  1. Carry a reusable bag around with you for those unexpected shopping trips
  2. Always use a reusable water bottle
  3. Take your own travel mug to coffee shops for the barista to fill up
  4. Reduce the use of sandwich bags by putting food straight into a lunchbox or Bento box
  5. Ask for ‘no straw’ when ordering drinks
  6. Use real cutlery and plates instead of disposable ones at parties
  7. Swap your plastic toothbrush for an eco-friendly bamboo one
  8. Stop using cosmetics that contain exfoliating micro-beads
  9. Avoid excessive food packaging by buying fresh and shopping wisely
  10. Recycle! Take a little extra time to check packaging and break it down properly for the different types of recycling

Do you have any other tips or suggestions for how we can all individually reduce our plastic usage?

Big Garden Birdwatch 2018

It’s January… the month of predicted snow showers and welcoming hygge… but also time to get your binoculars out and fill up your bird feeders, as the Big Garden Birdwatch is once again upon us!

That’s right, the RSPB is holding their annual birdwatch from 27th – 29th of this month and they want you to get involved.  You can request a FREE pack on their website now and that’s it, you will be set to take part in the world’s largest garden wildlife survey!  On your chosen day, simply get comfy in your garden, a room with a good view outside, your local park or green space and count the birds that you see in a single hour, making sure you jot down the maximum number of each species you see at any one time.  Once the hour is up, you will then have to log your results on the Big Garden Birdwatch website or post your paper form (within three weeks) for the RSPB to collate and analyse!

By taking part in the Big Garden Birdwatch, you will play a vital role in the health of the UK’s wildlife and even help “change the fortunes of an entire species“.  There’s nothing to lose!  Last year around 500,000 people took part in the birdwatch and I think we can beat that amazing figure this year – so join me in being a citizen scientist and request your pack today!

Gardens can prove a real life-saver for birds at this time of year, especially when it is frosty or snowy“, so if you are eager to count lots of birds during the survey and need some inspiration on how to attract them into your garden during the cold months (as well as all year round), check out the RSPB’s gardening tips!

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© Chaffinch.  One of the many birds I spotted near my local brook last Autumn.  2017.

Corvids

I am a big fan of corvids and have been wanting to write a post about them for quite a while… so here it is!  I don’t have a particular story to tell, or pet crow to write about (I wish), but just wanted to share some information and my favourite facts about this particular beautiful bird family!

So first things first – which UK birds are actually in the corvid/crow family?

Carrion Crow – An all-black bird that although is known to be fearless, can actually be quite wary of humans – they will however take advantage if food is put out for them in gardens.  They are relatively solitary and can be seen alone or in pairs, but there will be several around in one area as they stay close to their roost.

Chough – A beautiful black crow with a red bill and legs!  They can be found in the west of the British Isles diving and swooping near cliff edges… in fact I saw them for the first time in 2015 around South Stack, Anglesey.

Hooded Crow – The hooded crow is closely related to the carrion crow but they have grey ‘hoods’ and are mainly distributed across in North and West of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  They are more sociable than carrion crows however, so can be found feeding and ‘mixing’ together.

Jackdaw – A small, black crow with pale eyes and a characteristic silvery sheen to the back of their heads.  Jackdaws really make me smile!

Jay – Again, I saw my first jay (that I was aware of) in Anglesey.  They are shy woodland birds and do not move far from the trees.  They are very colourful with mainly pinkish-brown feathers and black-and-white wings, with eye-catching blue patches.

Magpie – A noisy bird, but so interesting to watch!  They can often be seen scavenging together or spread out across a particular area.  Magpies are very distinctive with their black-and-white plumage and long tail, which shines blue, purple and green in the sun.

Raven – Ravens are the largest member of the crow family.  They are all-black like carrion crows but have larger bills and long wings.  I have been told that you probably think you have seen a raven until you actually see one and then realise just how big they really are… and that what you saw in the past was probably just a large carrion crow!  I haven’t actually seen one in real life!

Rook – Rooks have a greyish-white face, thinner beak than a carrion crow and a peaked head.  They are sociable birds, and actually roost and feed with jackdaws.

It is good to know that all eight of these crows are RSPB green listed, meaning that they occur regularly in the UK!

chough© Chough – South Stack, Anglesey – 2015

Corvids are extremely intelligent for their size and are deemed among the most intelligent birds studied.   Some demonstrate self-awareness and even tool-making skills, which I find very exciting!  It’s not surprising though once you know that their total brain-to-body mass ratio is equal to that of great apes and cetaceans, and only slightly lower than in humans.  Amazing right!?

FUN FACTS:

  • Corvids are emotional creatures – they show happiness, sadness and anger.  They are also know to react to hunger and danger by vocalising their feelings… much like me!
  • They have brilliant memories and are masters at hiding, moving and storing food in different locations, and remembering where it all is.
  • Crows form huge roosts together where they rest in the evening, but during the day they separate into groups and tend to stay within a particular area around their roost.
  • They build fake nests in their roost to fool predators and make their colony appear bigger!  (This is one of my favourite facts that I like to tell people).
  • Ravens can be taught to speak basic human language!  Check out Mischief the raven!

Do you have any interesting facts or stories about crows that you would like to share?

Big Butterfly Count

Tomorrow is the start of this year’s ‘Big Butterfly Count‘ – a nationwide survey (and the world’s largest butterfly survey) held by the British charity, Butterfly Conservation and Waitrose, to gain an understanding of the health of our environment.  Counting butterflies helps determine natural health as they “react very quickly to change in their environment which makes them excellent biodiversity indicators“.  If we begin to see a reduction in butterfly numbers and/or species, it could warn us of other wildlife declines.

To take part, you simply have to count the butterflies that you see in any location within a 15 minute time period.  Like the Big Garden Birdwatch, if you are counting in a single area, you should count the maximum number of each species that you can see at a single time.  However, if you decide to count the butterflies you see on a 15 minute walk for example, then you can add up the number of each species that you come across.

Your results, even if you see no butterflies, will not only support the environmental health assessment, but also help the charity identify species’ trends and consequently develop protection plans.

To help you with your 15 minute butterfly count, you can download a useful identification chart from the Butterfly Conservation!  Once your sightings have been tallied up, you then simply have to submit your results online or via the free Big Butterfly Count app.

The Big Butterfly Count runs from Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, so if you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes, do something wild, get counting and have fun!

pb© Peacock Butterfly

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.

fall1

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!

june3

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!