If there is one thing about the office at RSPB Northward Hill, we operate an open door policy.
All are welcome to pop in and say hello, ask questions, and find out what's about on the North Kent Marshes. It's not a visitor centre by any means, but since we are all working hard inside giving nature home it is nice to meet the visitors and members who also make it happen. I am not one normally to begrudge my work, but yesterday something arrived in my in tray that, frankly, wasn't my job to deliver.
I had twice heard something move on my desk, and not being the tidiest of desks I thought something was about to fall over. In the end I gave the desk a good shake so that what-ever it was that was sliding would just get on with it and then I could file it away properly. On the third occasion I thought I was losing my marbles, but the sound caused me to take a proper look in my in tray and there I came nose to beak with a juvenile robin!
The nest is in the apex of the barn roof exactly in line with the office door. The chick must have finally launched its self to freedom and parachuted on a straight-line trajectory into the office and from there some-how made its way to my pile of work. I believe in adopting the right attitude at work, but this was ridiculous! The fledgling was promptly moved to my out tray and decanted back into the wild, and I had a stern word with Mrs Robin on the way back in, lest she had any ideas for the remaining chicks.
Is it Spring? Not all of our birds seem convinced! We are hearing nightingales and cuckoos, and seeing the usual migrants, whitethroats and lesser whitethroats, willow warblers and chiffchaffs, but are they here in the numbers that we would expect?
In the next of the RSPB’s monthly bird ringing adventures you can join the ringing team to see who has arrived.
A short interactive presentation will explain what a ‘Constant Effort Survey’ is, the nationwide ringing study coordinated by the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO), and how it reveals the state of nature in the UK.
BTO volunteer Roger Kiddie said, “Our bird ringing research provides a close-up health check on birds. The cold start has knocked back insects, the staple diet for many nesting birds, the race is now on to recover from a late start and get chicks away from the nest.”
As usual,you will assist the ringing team in releasing the birds back into the wild, presenting a unique opportunity to see the birds close-up.
All the details are on the events page... see you there!
Our first Swallows of the year were spotted five days ago and since then we have had a steady stream passing through the Northward Hill reserve. Chiffchaffs and Blackcap are now in song and a large fall of Wheatear (50+) this morning, along with our first singing Nightingale, really signaled the start of spring. To add to the excitement, a female Redstart was noted near the reserve. Spring is finally here!
Walking through the woods today the birds weren’t singing and the bees weren’t flying. But before I cried into my last soggy tissue I took a moment to have a poke around in the undergrowth. The variety and density of mosses was outstanding, and it’s the best time of the year to observe them. Mosses are simple organisms, with a lack of vascular system (a network used for the transport of nutrients and water).This simplicity limits their size however makes them perfect for colonising untouched ground. Recently Scientists have suggested that the arrival of early plants on land 460 million years ago, such as mosses, encouraged life to flourish by reducing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2).At this time there was 16 times as much CO2 that meant the average global temperature was 25oC - ten degrees higher than today’s average! Moss removes CO2 from the atmosphere by dissolving the rock it sits on with an acid to extract nutrients; the chemically altered rock then reacts with CO2, which removes it from the atmosphere.
Coincidentally right now is the time that mosses reproduce, indicated by sporophytes, alien like capsules, reaching out from the tips. Although the spores are perfectly formed for transport by turbulent air the lack of vascular system and thus close proximity to the ground means that the spores don’t quite reach the atmospheric turbulent wind boundary layer. The evolutionary response to this dilemma, by some mosses, is quite outstanding – they explode their capsules – cannon gun style 36,000 feet into the air!
The more you read about mosses the stranger it gets! The only period in a mosses lifecycle that the moss contains full genetic information (diploid) is during the reproductive period. Everything before this point in its life has been with only half its genetic information (haploid). Generally, life cannot exist substantially in this state, for example, an egg or sperm cannot develop further until fertilisation. However if you look at any moss without the reproductive pods you are observing an exception to the rule. There are no differences from the haploid moss to a diploid moss apart from the fact that it cannot reproduce.
Not only are mosses simply amazing they are also very beautiful. Held on up to the light some species are translucent and glassy, the individual leaves resemble peridots other darker species emeralds. Some species are wild and tumbling whereas other are arranged around a central point giving them a star like formation. So why not head outdoors and have a closer look at the undergrowth, you might be pleasantly surprised.
My name is Nico and I am a residential volunteer that started at Northward Hill Nature Reserve last February. Being in the right place at the right time has enabled me to record this footage with my camcorder last week at Cliffe Pools. I wanted to share on the blog this video I made of a barn owl and, also, take the opportunity to say a few words about this wonderful bird.
Being of Spanish origin, I am interested in knowing the common names of birds in both languages. Doing a bit of research on barn owls, I found that in Spanish we have three different names for birds that we, in the UK, consider as owls. The word owl is translated as “búho”, name given to those owls which have plumage that stick up from the head looking like ears (Strigidae family). Barn owls (and all the Tytonidae family) go under the name “lechuza”; and little owls (Glaucidium genus) are called “mochuelos”.
It is a privilege to be able to see a barn owl flying over Northward Hill most evenings when I go for a walk. They are amazing birds for their unique hunting habits, but also, they are very important birds as indicator species. Their presence show that other wildlife that provide a good food supply must be thriving, therefore, indicating good habitat condition.
They depend on their hearing and their smooth silent flight to catch prey. Each ear opening, situated one below the other behind their eyes, hears the same sound differently, enabling their brain to calculate the exact location of their prey. In addition, having a "low wing loading" (big wings supporting a lightweight body) and soft feathers allows for slow and quiet flying, an essential feature to be able to selectively listen out for prey.
Barn conversions, land-use intensification and the use of insecticides, pesticides and rodenticides have been the cause of their decline throughout the 20th century. Although barn owls are on the amber list of conservation concern in the UK, their population is stable at the moment. However, we need to keep supporting the work done by the RSPB and other conservation organizations so we can keep seeing these charismatic birds flying on our landscapes. I especially believe in the importance of encouraging our farming community towards more environmentally friendly and traditional forms of farming, as these approaches will maintain the habitats that sustain our barn owls and many other wildlife.