Driving home from a lovely stroll along the Lagan towpath the other day I noticed a sure sign that summer is nearing an end.
Perched neatly on a telephone wire (like this little fellow) were about a dozen swallows, almost as if they were queuing for their long journey back to warmer climes!
By this time of year our swifts have already departed for the southern hemisphere, a mammoth 6,000 mile journey during which they will never touch the ground – it’s little wonder their Latin name Apus Apus translates as ‘without feet’.
However, depending on the weather, swallows (and house martins) tend to hang on into September or even October.
But when they do take flight to Africa, they can cover around 200 miles a day and reach speeds of up to 35 miles per hour!
Sadly, these amazing birds are now amber-listed (of medium conservation concern) in the UK and Ireland. It’s thought changeable weather conditions, as well as factors like modern agricultural practices, have affected populations right across Europe.
But as we bid farewell to summer visitors like swallows, it won’t be long until they are replaced by winged wonders from the north, like whooper swans from Iceland and goldeneye ducks from Russia.
For me, one perk of the darker days and tumbling temperatures is the whirling, swirling flocks of starlings which take to the sky at dusk – their numbers boosted by migrant birds from the continent. The Albert Bridge in Belfast is one of the best places to spot a ‘murmuration’ and the sight certainly makes rush-hour traffic much more pleasant!
Our reserves are great places to watch wildlife all year round – visit www.rspb.org.uk/northernireland to find a haven for nature near you.
Craic, ceol agus caomhnú (fun, music and conservation)
On Saturday 8 August, we, along with 170 other people, pitched our tents for the most westerly Big Wild Sleepout in the UK.
The setting for this magical night was the Ulster American Folk Park, where the journey of Irish emigrants from Ireland to America is brought to life. Campers were given exclusive access to the museum after hours to pitch up and enjoy a night under the stars with the RSPB.
From a 3D space show with the NI Space Centre to a batastic night time bat walk with the Northern Ireland Bat Group there was something there for everyone! We hunted for minibeasts, went on a nature trail with Omagh and Strabane Council, made popcorn over the campfire with Cotswold Outdoors, and learned all about where our food comes from with White’s Oats (while trying some tasty samples as well). Phew!
Campers also had the chance to enjoy a yummy BBQ with hotdogs, burgers and soft drinks, while enjoying the sounds from a traditional Irish fiddler and accordion player from the All-Ireland winning Knockmore Ceile band.
As the sun set, we gathered round the campfire and toasted our marshmallows, before some very tired campers headed off to their tents for a good night’s sleep (in some spectacular tents!).
The event was the third Big Wild Sleepout event held here in Northern Ireland – two weeks earlier we had pitched up at the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum for even more fun!
We’re very grateful to our partners – Cotswold Outdoors, National Museums Northern Ireland, and White’s Oats, as well as our team of fantastic volunteers (which included some incredible Girl Guides!) for helping us make this event happen, but the biggest thanks go to all our campers who by supporting the event, are helping to give nature a home here in Northern Ireland.
See you all again next year!
Summer is supposed to be the season for spending time in the great outdoors, soaking up the sunshine. Well over the past few weeks we’ve certainly been soaked – unfortunately just by torrential rain and gusty winds!
But spare a thought for the wildlife that can’t stay cosy indoors with a cuppa, especially garden birds like robins which may still be trying to raise chicks. With that in mind, why not set yourself a challenge to do one thing to help give nature a home in your patch before autumn rolls around?
If you’re good at DIY, why not make a hedgehog hotel for the prickly visitors to your garden or build a bird box for our feathered friends to shelter in and breed next spring? (Or buy ready-made homes for nature at www.rspb.org.uk/shop - we won’t tell!)
You could also take advantage of the rainy weather to create a small pond – it’ll be full in no time! Even if you don’t have a garden, a large container like a big washing up bowl or an old Belfast sink will do the trick. You’ll just need special pond soil, mixed with grit, and some pondweed and native plants to make a great pad for frogs, insects and other wildlife.
If that all sounds like a bit too much hard work then why not simply take a break from the lawnmower? Mowing your lawn less, and letting parts of it grow long, will save you time and is great for nature. Longer stems create a sheltered microclimate, a sort of a mini jungle which beetles and other small creatures can wander through, and pollinators will love feeding on the flowers which pop up.
For more ideas and detailed instructions visit www.rspb.org.uk/homes