Blogger: Erica Howe, Communications Officer
I have discovered some great wildlife facts this week about some of my favourite birds. I love all wildlife and the great outdoors, but one of my other favourite things is a good pub quiz! And what a way to marry the two together – facts about wildlife! My first of the week was this. The nuthatch is the only bird in the UK that can climb down a tree headfirst. This makes me smile every time I tell it. It conjures up memories of me as a child climbing trees, grazing my knees on the way up and getting so high that I would struggle to actually get down. Of course, if I’d had the acrobatic prowess of a nuthatch, I doubt my experiences would have been quite as dramatic, but my parents would have been impressed. Hanging upside down and perching on wafer thin twigs is quite a circus act, but for this agile creature, it comes as second nature. With such beautiful colours and graceful moves, this nuthatch is certainly a bird to fall in love with.
My second fact for the week is that a male nightingale will actually stop singing when its eggs have hatched so not to attract any unwanted attention to the nest. He will give only short calls to tell his mate that all is well or that danger might be approaching. This really caught my imagination. We’ve known for centuries that birds are instinctive, intelligent creatures, but this really demonstrates just how intuitive they can be...and romantic of course! You can always find a bit of romance amongst nature, whether it’s kingfishers feeding their date with tiny fish or a great crested grebe dazzling its partner with elaborate dancing. For what some might say, was a bland brown bird, the nightingale certainly defies all preconceptions with a song that has become an iconic part of our countryside. As a protective bird, the nightingale makes every effort to be a good parent and partner by looking out for both, keeping them under their watchful eye and making sure that no harm will ever come their way.
This is why I love wildlife so much. Just when I think I’m pretty clued up about it, along comes a fact or two that takes me pleasantly by surprise and gives me a whole new layer of appreciation for it. Although we seek comfort in the familiar turning of the seasons, the arrival of the swallows, the delicate bloom of the snowdrops, learning something out of the blue that amazes me is certainly refreshing. It makes me feel grateful that we share our planet with such incredible creatures that have hidden secrets and talents. And you never know, you might have a question about a nuthatch in your next pub quiz!
Article in Eastern Daily Press on Saturday 3 March 2012
Photo by John Bridges (rspb-images.com)
Blogger: Kim Matthews, Campaigns Officer
It’s always the quiet ones! At least that is what my grandmother used to say. So what started me reminiscing on my grandmother’s pearls of wisdom?
It all began with the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. In the aftermath of the big weekend there were rumblings on the Twittersphere about having only seen dunnocks during their hour. LBJ’s (little brown jobs!) are often dismissed as dull and boring, but I’m telling you, when it comes to the dunnock you seriously need to reconsider that opinion!
For a start, take a closer look at their colours, they are like stripy feathery tigers stalking through your shrubs and hedges. Then there is the song, it’s quite simply beautiful. It came as a pleasant surprise the first time I realised the song I was hearing in my garden was actually coming from the beak of such an unassuming little bird (I found a cracking clip on YouTube for you: Dunnock Singing). Then of course there is also the fact that their love life is one of the most complicated and varied that you can find!
I should start by doing the "science bit" and explaining the different mating systems found in the animal kingdom:
Monogamy – nice and easy, one male and one female and 90% of birds fall into this category (although we now know that most are not strictly monogamous at all!).
Polygamy – much more complicated and actually broken down further into:
Polygyny – one male, several females
Polyandry – one female, several males
Polygynandry – the technical term for promiscuity! Several males, several females.
So what makes the dunnock so unusual? Well, they can have literally any of the above systems and it all depends on how their food is distributed. Females defend a territory against other females. Where food patches are densely clumped together female territories are small and you find one or sometimes two males will have access to both females.
When food is sparsely distributed and territories larger, two males will move in to defend one female. One of them will tend to be dominant and they will compete over who gets access to the female. The alpha male will try to guard his missus but the beta male will be constantly trying to sneak a cheeky mating. The female not only accepts the attention of the beta male she goes out of her way to encourage him by trying to give the alpha male the slip, the reason being that the beta male will only feed her chicks if he has managed a sneaky mating with her. However she has to be super sneaky, if the alpha male spots her cavorting around with the beta male he will reduce the amount of food he brings to the chicks. Chicks fed by both males have a much better chance of survival so it’s in her best interest to keep both males happy!
I hope next time you see a dunnock you will think differently of them because like I said, it’s always the quiet ones!
Blogger: Laura White, PA to the PA Manager
Have you ever been so totally bowled over by something that even a couple of days after the event you’re still thinking about it? You feel your mind wandering back to the moment and as you savour the awe you felt you smile to yourself in a goofy way, making people around you raise their eyebrows. Well I had that kind of experience yesterday and even now while I’m writing this I’m shaking my head at the unexpected way life has of being beautiful? I bet by now you’re waiting for me to talk about a moment with nature so thrilling its vibrancy leaps off the page. But you’d be wrong. I spent all day yesterday, as I do most working weeks, in the office.
As usual on the last Wednesday of the month I was note taking at an all-morning meeting. During the meeting we were updated on the plight of the turtle dove. Like a majority of our nature it’s fighting for survival. The story of its demise is both shocking and all too familiar! But what bowled me over was the passion and the knowledge of the person updating us. He knew where they wintered, where they summer and how far they travel between the two places. He knew how many broods they had in the 70’s and how many broods they are having now. He understood completely the issues facing their ‘food security’ on all legs of their journey and he also understood the simple measures people can take to improve their plight but what was most impressive is how he is willing to fight for their survival. He spends hours reading and deciphering huge swathes of legislation. He meets with MP’s and MEP’s to discuss policies and to put the case for nature. He works with farmers and land owners advising them how to make their land productive both for humans and for the birds. He types emails, makes phone calls and attends meetings. He updates systems and interprets data. And he even finds time to attend an internal meeting and inspire me! This morning I hit my desk running. I arranged a particularly difficult meeting, sorted out some particularly fiddly paperwork and dealt with some interesting calls from members of the public all with a smile on my face, because by doing that I’m supporting a team of people who do all of the above everyday.
There was a John F Kennedy quote that always stuck in my mind. He was being shown around NASA and he sees this guy sweeping the floor of the rocket assembly building and he said to him “what exactly is your role?’ and he said, ‘I put men on the moon, sir.’ He didn’t see himself as a cleaner, he saw himself as part of a team that put men on the moon. This is the same way that many people within our Public Affairs Team feel, people like Laura and myself. We believe that maybe, with our combined efforts and support from you, we can help halt the decline of the turtle dove and other wildlife species.
Blogger: Annie Sadler, Volunteering Development Officer
I love taking part in the RSPB’s beached bird survey! Who wouldn’t? It’s a great excuse to get out on the coast, feel the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin. Believe it or not, every year, for the seven years I have volunteered for this, it has been sunny, even in February!
This important international survey is held on the last weekend of February every year. All we ask people to do is walk a short stretch of the local coastline looking for oiled and dead seabirds, and any other evidence of oiling. This is then recorded on a sheet and sent to the RSPB regional office to be collated with all the other UK data at HQ. Simples!
All you need is basic seabird identification skills and the ability to walk along your local coastline. You will receive a report of the UK’s previous year’s results when you are asked to repeat your survey the following year.
I am happy to report that the part of the coast I monitor has always been free of oil – fantastic! I cover Sheringham – West Runton in Norfolk and it’s always a delight to walk this stretch of the coastline. Not quite as delightful but very interesting is to see the erosion of the cliffs – this year sand was literally streaming off the cliffs, whipping gently into my face, but revealing fascinating layers and history beneath.
With the golden sun glistening on the sea making you feel glad to be alive and at the same time knowing you are doing something useful for nature, this is one of my favourite volunteering roles. So why not join in and walk a piece of coastline? It’s not too late to take part on this year’s survey.
Watch this space for this year's results. Why not take in a breath of fresh air like me this weekend? You could always visit your nearest RSPB reserve on the way home and sample the local chip delights after your stomp along the beautiful East coast!