Despite the variable weather, we’re now well into spring and many birds will already have started raising their families.
Some early-nesting birds like robins may already have fully fledged chicks, while others like house sparrows could still be nest building or incubating eggs.
Once birds have started nesting, they are legally protected until the chicks fledge, so if you find a nest in the garden, just sit back and enjoy them for a few more weeks.
During the nesting season, it’s still important to keep feeding your garden birds. While the chicks will normally be fed on natural food like caterpillars, the adults will be very grateful for a reliable feeding station for themselves, meaning that they can spend more time with their brood. Make sure not to use whole peanuts unless they are securely in mesh feeders so that they can’t be a choking hazard for young birds.
If you find a young bird out of the nest, please resist the temptation to take it in to look after it. The parents will be looking for it and the youngster will be calling for them at the top of its voice. If you need to pick it up, to take it out of the road for instance, this is ok, but please put it back as near as you can to where you found it. Birds have a poor sense of smell, so handling a chick in this way will not cause its parents to abandon it.
For more information on baby birds see http://www.rspb.org.uk/advice/helpingbirds/health/babybirds.aspx
If you’re interested in seeing how some of our bigger birds raise their chicks, why not have a look at the webcams for our Date with Nature projects.
The Chichester Cathedral Peregrines and the New Forest Goshawks are each raising a brood of 3 youngsters and you can keep up with all the action as the hungry chicks grow up into magnificent birds of prey.
So whether you’re watching thrushes in the garden or peregrines at the cathedral, this is a truly magical time for birds!
I was lucky enough to grow up in a small village in West Sussex which was surrounded by woods, fields and roaming horses.
I’d play outside with friends all day, experiencing wildlife first hand. We’d make rope swings, build dens and generally create a lot of extra washing for our mums; I’d play and explore all day until the call of my name across the fields would herald dinner time and I’d run home. As an adult my love of wildlife and the natural world has only grown - you will still find me ‘playing’ outside of a weekend - swimming down the Ouse or hunting for mushrooms on the South Downs. Which is why I’m so excited about putting on an event which will celebrate everything outdoors and raise money for the RSPB too.On the 25th of July the RSPB are teaming up with Hunter Gather Cook - a foraging school based in East Sussex. The event is taking place in Barcombe on a private nature reserve, which is locally renowned for its population of rare butterflies. Guests will be brought right back to nature - under the expert guidance of the HGC instructors, they will learn how to identify seasonal edibles from nature’s larder, cook a haunch of venison in a traditional underground oven to create a foraged feast for dinner, learn how to make a fire from scratch and enjoy some of the wild’s finest brews and cocktails at twilight. Finally guests will build shelters for a cosy night around the fire. I realise not everyone had the chance to play in the great outdoors as a child like I did, but it’s never too late...If you would like to learn the ways of the wild and be one of the party on the 25th of July, send me an email to find out more firstname.lastname@example.org
"We couldn’t be more on the edge, even if we tried"These words come from Rainham Marshes' Information Officer Howard Vaughan in filmmaker Kieran Evans’ documentary Outer Edges. A seventy-minute film, which tracks a peripheral route from north Essex to the Thames. Rainham Marshes is part of a journey that follows the flow of the River Roding from its source to its conclusion at Barking Creek and along the Thames Gateway to Tilbury. Apart from Howard, long serving volunteer Sam Shippey talks about when he first visited the area long before it became a nature reserve.Narrating the film is musician Karl Hyde who for many years lived in Romford, not far from the marshes. Part of legendary dance outfit Underworld, Karl is a firm fan of the Rainham Marshes and rumor has it, he has been visiting a few times. Underworld broke through to the mainstream with their Born Slippy/Nuxx track, which they penned for Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting movie from 1996. Danny and Karl (together with the other part of Underworld, Rick Smith) teamed up again for the London 2012 opening ceremony as Underworld did the intro music. So it’s a wee bit of stardom, that Rainham has had sprinkled over the marshes.And the music doesn’t stop here as Outer Edges partners with Karl Hyde's solo album, Edgeland, which is just out as a lovely CD/DVD deluxe version. It’s probably the first time Rainham Marshes has been part of a record release. First single to be lifted from the Edgeland, The Boy With The Jigsaw Puzzle fingers, also features Rainham Marshes – see if you can recognize some of the scenes...
You can watch a trailer for Outer Edges here.Finally, you can always come to Rainham Marshes yourself and explore the “wild lives” of all those wonderful creatures living in the furthest reaches of London suburbia. On many levels, they couldn’t be more on the edge, even if they tried!
“This has to be the best place in Britain for warblers,” said the celebrated and highly decorated environment journalist Michael McCarthy.
Michael McCarthy, by Rolf Williams
We were in the wooded sanctuary of RSPB Northward Hill surrounded by spring blossom and bluebells, our quiet conversation drowned-out by the song of two competing nightingales, willow warblers, chiffchaffs, whitethroats, lesser whitethroats, blackcaps, as well as song thrush, blackbird, a raucous wren, cuckoo, chuckling green woodpecker and drumming great-spotted, a thousand rooks, mewing Mediterranean gulls, croaking grey herons and warbling egrets; this was no dawn chorus, it was lunchtime!
Michael was visiting the Hoo Peninsula to capture his thoughts on film for a later television feature about the disastrous declines in migratory birds, most particularly the nightingale, 90% of which have gone within my relatively short lifetime.
We had spent the morning at Lodge Hill, arguably home to the densest population of nightingale in the country, at least 84 pairs. There we listened to the distinctive, hesitant yet punchy melody of the birds and contemplated the local authority’s plans to level the site (now designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest) in favour of 5,000 homes – homes that can go some-where else if they try.
“I have never heard so many nightingales in one place,” continued Michael - we were up to five already, an echo of the English countryside from times past. Most in Britain have never heard a nightingale, but one person in the film crew said, “I can’t tell what’s what, it’s just a load of birds.”
Actually, once you hear a nightingale you never forget or mistake it again, that is why the song has inspired writers and musicians for millennia. Michael described the national ‘indifference’ that has brought the nightingale to the brink of extinction in the UK, it’s last stand now in the south east, mainly in the ‘Garden of England’ – Kent.
That garden is not so healthy any more, with most farmland birds and many invertebrates sharing the fate of the nightingale. Sadly, for any guarantee of delighting in the experience of their song you will have to come to the RSPB’s reserves at Northward Hill, Cliffe Pools or Pulborough Brooks, and some special nightingale events are now posted on the reserve websites, please join us and the birds for a ‘performance’.
Nightingales do still occur in large numbers at Lodge Hill and in small numbers elsewhere, but unless we can protect these sites the singing of a nightingale you hear today may be its final curtain call and the silence that follows will not be peaceful but deathly.
Two nightingales competing in song along the edge of abutting territories at RSPB Northward Hill, Hoo Peninsula, Kent
Some of you may have already heard about the short-haired bumblebee project but if you haven’t – here is a quick introduction, and an update from Nikki Gammans, the Project Officer for Hymettus Ltd - the premier source of advice on the conservation of bees, wasps and ants within Great Britain and Ireland.The short-haired bumblebee, Bombus subterraneus, was once widespread across the south of England, occurring as far north as Humberside, but post-1950’s its population distribution became isolated and patchy. This bee was last recorded in the UK in 1988 near to Dungeness, Kent and officially declared extinct in 2000.The short-haired bumblebee project involves Hymettus working in partnership with Natural England, RSPB and Bumblebee Conservation Trust with the aim of reintroducing Bombus subterraneus back to the UK. In order for a successful reintroduction to take place suitable forage habitat must be in place around the planned initial release site of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. To date the project has had enormous success with bumblebee habitat creation and improvement prior to the reintroduction of B. subterraneus. The project has created, advised and assisted in the management of flower rich habitat within the release site of Dungeness and Romney Marsh. In spring 2012, up to 100 queen bees were collected from two areas of Skåne in southern Sweden where good numbers of Short-haired bumblebees were found in 2011.The bees were then checked for mites and disease by a registered vet and honeybee inspector in Sweden prior to a heath certificate being signed which allows their transportation to the UK. After a period in quarantine at Royal Holloway, University of London, they were released at Dungeness nature reserve.
Short-tailed bumblebee, by Nikki Gammans
Now, with spring's arrival, the project is getting ready to go to Skane, Sweden to collect this year’s emerging short-haired bumblebee queens. By the time you read this, myself and (initially) three volunteers will be travelling (at the end of April) over to revisit our field sites and monitor flowering of white dead nettle and other favourite food plants and wait for the queens emergence. Once emerged another 6 volunteers will join us for queen collection. We hope to collect 100 queens during a five day period. The queens are then stored in our campervan fridge and brought back to the UK where they are kept in quarantine and the healthy queens are then released back to the UK at the RSPB Dungeness Nature Reserve.Extensive work has taken place across the release zone of Dungeness and Romney Marsh in Kent and East Sussex to recreate flower rich habitat. Working with farmers, land owners and conservation groups has helped recreate over 850 hectares of flower rich habitat. This has helped increase the abundance of many of our rare bumblebee species and helps every other species which depends on this habitat.