A beautiful, still evening last Saturday provided us with great opportunities to listen to curlew trilling out their bubbling display call. We had ten visitors in attendance, and most of them saw at least three curlew during our walk. We were also able to hear the short but sweet song of the Lesser Whitethroat, with two different birds heard during our walk. We also stumbled across an abandoned nest of a pheasant with several bluish eggs still visible.
Our hay meadows were awash with yellow - cowslips by the thousands! And just emerging with their delicate flowers were tiny Green Winged Orchids, amongst the swathes of cowslips. This flower is purplish pink and gets its name from the two petals that fold out either side of the main flower, and have thin green, striped veins across them.
Green winged orchid - Photo: Max Thompson
Photo by Max Thompson, one of our very own Somerset Reserves volunteers, which he took on the walk on Saturday evening! It is a close up of the green veins on the Green Winged Orchid. He took a close up macro photo once I had pointed out the identifying features of this orchid, ie the green veins on the side petals.
A badger also trundled across our path briefly, as we approached another field brimming with cowslips. We also had some great views of a roe deer buck, keeping a safe distance from us, then disappearing swiftly across the fields.
The climax of the evening was the haunting, bleeting sounds of displaying snipe, high above us at dusk. They came so close to us, their display was easy for everyone to hear. Male snipe fly high in the sky, then turn and dive downwards, opening out their outer tail feathers, and as they plummet, their feathers vibrate, creating this wonderful sound! It seems to work for the females! West Sedgemoor is a very important place for breeding snipe, and in some years we have had over 90 pairs breeding here.
It was an absolutely freezing day at the reserves today. In fact I think it was roughly 1c and there was definitely snow falling around me as I topped the feeders up at Swell Wood. As I stood shivering, desperately trying to warm my frozen fingers I watched the birds, busy as ever, going about their daily lives. They seemed completely nonchalant and blasé, singing beautifully as ever and looking extremely plump. Do they not mind the cold? There was I wrapped up tight, wearing layer after layer, shivering and breathing out warm vapour that was visible in front of my face, in contrast those tiny little birds seem to be coping much better than me.
So how is it that so many of our birds can survive such harsh conditions? Well, many birds become more sociable to improve their chances of survival during cold weather. Flocking together in winter improves their chances of locating food and huddling together during the critical night-time period helps conserve body heat. Tree creepers, which are often spotted at Swell Wood do this. Smaller birds such as robins and blackbirds are equipped with several layers of fluffy, insulating down to trap heat, so you won’t find them shivering like I was. It is finding food and ensuring they eat enough to build - and maintain - adequate fat supplies to store on the body and ‘burn’ for energy that are the greatest tests for wild birds in winter. This becomes even more difficult in hard weather when snow and ice hide once easily available natural food and in periods where cold weather is prolonged, such as currently. This is when those garden feeders become increasingly important to the survival of many small bodied birds such as blue tits, sparrows, chaffinches, coal tit or the long tailed tit that are particularly susceptible to the cold, needing very dependable food supplies to survive icy conditions. Noticeably there is often a flurry of bird activity on the feeders first thing in the morning – as they replenish energy lost overnight - and last thing in the afternoon - to prepare for the long night ahead. I admire those little birds and their determination; I know I couldn’t do it. For me it was straight home to sit in front of a warm fire and drink hot chocolate.
Do visit our Homes for Wildlife pages and find out what you can do in your garden. Did you know that 4% of the British countryside is made of gardens? Our own little nature reserves just outside the back door.
And let's not forget those hardy herons, busily hatching as nature's calendar intended, but unexpectedly into this harsh cold weather. Do pop up to Swell Wood over Easter and come and have a look, and meet a warden or two and find out more about yet another wonder of nature.
by Bev Phillips - Volunteer Information Warden
It’s that time of year again when the magnificent grey herons will be ‘fraarking’ their way into Swell Wood Nature Reserve. RSPB Swell Wood has the largest heronry in south west England and one of the ten largest in Great Britain, with regularly over 100 nests to be seen.
Grey heron breeds in colonies known as heronry’s, nesting in the tall Oak trees abundant at Swell Wood. This can be a noisy time of year at Swell Wood with elaborate courtship displays of bill clapping and loud squawking beginning soon. Enthusiastic males will be trying to impress the ladies through their nest building or repairing skills and defending off other male competitors.
Later on in the season cues the arrival of little egrets taking full advantage of the pre made nests, more than suitable for their brood.
If this sounds like something that tickles your fancy why not pop down to the reserve throughout March, April & May to enjoy this spectacle for yourself. For 3 weekends at the end of March into April (10am-4pm), including Easter, why not come and meet an RSPB warden to learn more about the herons and experience the sights & sounds of these enigmatic birds on their nests.
Photo: Pete Woodgate
In addition to the wonderful herons and their remarkable nests the woodland offers many other delights. A recent stroll around Swell Wood with Dave Laithwaite (People Engagement Residential Volunteer) uncovered a colourful treasure taking resident on a dead wood trunk. The Scarlet Elf Cup Fungi with its striking red inner surface is enjoying the damp, shady places that the woodland can offer. Found between the months of December to April this clever, uncommon little fungus attracts flies through their strong odour, covering the flies in tiny spores which are then carried elsewhere.
Photo: Scarlet Elf Cup fungus, by Dave Laithwaite
Written by RSPB volunteer Bev Phillips
Looking out of the window as I write this blog post I can see the snowdrops in flower, and over the last few weeks I’ve also noticed more birds singing- spring is on the way! For any interested in learning birdsongs and calls (myself included) then now is the best time to try and start learning. At the moment it’s easier to pick out the fewer species that have started to sing- and, as more birds start to join in with nature’s orchestra I hope that I can slowly add their sounds too alongside those I can recognise. The other benefit of starting now is there are fewer leaves on the trees, making it easier to see and identify the bird you’re listening to.
Photo: Lynne Newton
I have an audio CD to try and help with learning bird songs and calls, which first gives me something to listen for when I’m next out, and second gives me a reference to come back to after having heard a bird initially outside. However, nothing can truly beat the field experience for matching sight and sound of each bird species first hand, and it’s this experience and knowledge which becomes most relevant too!!!
To take part all you need to do is count the birds in your garden or a local park for one hour over the weekend of 26th or 27th January ......... then tell us what you see.
1) Over the hour keep a log of the highest number of each bird species you see landing on the ground at any one time
2) Register online and submit your results. It doesn’t matter how many or few birds you counted - the lack of birds can tell us just as much!
........ and, to say thank you we’ll give you a £5 discount to use in our online shop.
You could also check out the various Big Garden Birdwatch events taking place on RSPB reserves around the country.
For more information visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/
Now over half a million people take part each year, and with 30 years of data we can keep monitoring YOUR GARDEN BIRDS to see their population trends and patterns. It’s really important conservation work, and each form submitted will become part of something BIG!!!