They're not to everyone's tastes and some gardeners might consider them their worst enemies. I know one of my neighbours hates them with a passion. He patrols his lawn and plucks the dandelion flowers from their stalks before disposing of them carefully. For slugs, he has devised an even more ruthless strategy: he collects them in a bucket and empties the hapless contents onto the road outside our houses so that they get run over!I see slugs and dandelions differently. Goldfinches adore dandelion seeds, and for me that's enough to make me look upon them favourably.
Because of the cheerful yellow flowers (which I secretly like), I can stand at the kitchen window as some of my favourite birds feed just a few feet away. They soon munch their way through a dandelion head and leave a scattering of down on the grass - minus the seeds. It's unquestionable that slugs are unpleasant creatures, but I've forgiven them this year. The reason? A pair of song thrushes has built a nest in my (slug-hating) neighbour's garden. When I look out of the window, there's often a beautifully-spotted thrush hopping across the lawn with a beak crammed full of tiny slugs in the manner of a puffin carrying sand-eels. I'm proud that my slug-filled garden is keeping song thrush chicks fed, and I like watching the goldfinches making short work of the dandelions. Rather than worrying about how to get rid of these pests, I'm hoping that the birds will do the hard work for me...
We’ve seen them around the reserve, with their flirtatious behaviour, making strange noises in bushes and open displays of affection. No, I’m not discussing the lunchtime behaviour of The Lodge staff (I doubt I’d be able to write about that!), but actually the behaviour of a couple of our resident birds.
Firstly, there is a male firecrest. He’s been singing, displaying and generally trying to attract a mate. Nothing forbidden about that you may think, except that there is a lack of other firecrests at The Lodge. So (the forbidden bit) he’s attracted a female goldcrest!
I watched them yesterday, hopping from branch to branch, openly flirting with each other, well the bird equivalent. She seems smitten by the slightly exotic, clearly alluring stranger. Can we blame her though? A male firecrest is a striking bird, with his bright orange crest and white eye stripe. He is certainly unique on the reserve and it seems the resident goldcrests have failed to chase him off, they’ve tried their best though!
They’ve gone quiet today, obviously hiding in the bushes from disapproving stares, particularly those spurned goldcrest males. If, and when, they produce chicks, what will we call them? They’ll technically be hybrids. I’ve searched for information on firecrest/goldcrest hybrids and they do exist, but the chicks should be infertile, i.e. they won’t be able to produce their own chicks further down the line.
So will our very own little Romeo and Juliet avoid the same fate as that famous couple? I’d like to say that they’ll realise the error of their ways and go back to their own kind. But (as far as we know) they’re aren’t any other firecrests at The Lodge, so who who can blame him for seeking a little bit of company after the long, cold and lonely winter?
Last night, I heard raucous squawks from the garden and went to the window. A carrion crow was sitting on the outer branches of the ash tree, ducking its head as the parent jackdaws divebombed it. As it flew off, I saw what the crow was carrying - a tiny, naked jackdaw chick, yellow beak open. Shortly afterwards, the crow returned and took another, like a baby-carrying stork gone bad.
Things happen to chicks and eggs all the time, and jackdaws are a common species, but when it's going on in your garden it's difficult to ignore! The parent birds' distress was easy to see and understand - they had put a lot of time and energy into laying eggs, incubating them and then feeding the chicks. It might seem like that's all gone to waste, but their effort has now been recycled into young crows instead.
It wasn't a good result for the jackdaws, but it's possible that the jackdaw chicks had been fed eggs or young from the nest of another species (though mostly they eat invertebrates). It's a crow-eat-crow world, after all.
I'm not sure what's happened to the jackdaw nest now, hidden away in a hole in the ash tree. This morning, the adults were feeding busily in the garden again - it seems that there are still some chicks left to feed.
Jackdaws lay four or five eggs, so there could be two or three chicks left. The loss of two siblings could even give those remaining a better chance of survival. However, if they're all gone, that's the end of their breeding season, as they only have one brood per year.
Whatever happens, I'll still enjoy watching these intelligent, beautiful birds as they go about their business in the garden - and that includes the carrion crows, too.
You either love early mornings or you hate 'em. It's a bit of both for me, I think. But Sunday was International Dawn Chorus Day - a great reason to get up early.Trust me, the hardest part is always when the alarm goes off and you think 'Mmmm, I think I'll just close my eyes for five minutes...' Don't do it! Once you get past that, grab a coffee and something to eat and you'll be OK.By 4.50 am, I was greeting my fellow early-risers in the car park at The Lodge, ready to lead a walk to explore the woods and heathland and - hopefully - hear some birdsong.We strolled down the bridleway, stopping to absorb songs and sounds from woodland birds including green woodpecker (Professor Yaffle laughing at us), blackcap, chiffchaff (sings its name, helpfully), wren, chaffinch, goldcrest and great spotted woodpecker (drumming on a dead branch).Pausing at the gate, we heard and watched a whitethroat scratch its way through a not very tuneful song, though the skylark singing from the fields beyond was much easier on the ear. Unfortunately there was neither sight nor sound of the usual nightingale though we did hear a cuckoo - a bird that's less common than it used to be.Tummies were rumbling on the home straight, but there was time to stop and listen to some energetic, stream-of-consciousness babbling emanating from an oak tree. Garden warblers aren't the most visually exciting birds, but their song is one of my favourites. It even sat out on a branch for us to see it, in all its brown and grey glory.At 7 am I was sitting down to a cooked breakfast, having enjoyed two hours of wonderful birdsong on a beautiful nature reserve. It struck me then that I really should get up early more often. It's great: the dawn light is beautiful, there aren't so many people around and the birdsong's louder than the traffic noise.
This week at The Lodge we’ve been on the hunt for killer. With its jet black fur, long tail, red-tipped teeth and poisonous saliva, I’d forgive you for thinking someone has being playing a practical joke on us and we’re searching for a mystical beast from an early horror movie.
You would, however, be wrong! What we’re actually looking for is a shrew, yep you heard me right! A shrew. Tipping the scales at 12-18g and measuring around 150mm in length, the water shrew is hardly likely to give you nightmares, but it does make it Britain’s biggest shrew.
Whilst if it bit a human, it’d leave you with red rash and sore skin, to a newt, freshwater shrimp or other pond dweller the shrew calls prey, it’s deadly. It’s unusual in the mammal world to have poisonous saliva, but the toxin contained within the saliva will stun its prey, it’s quite a beast, in the pond world!
The water shrew is not common, hence our hunt for it. And no, we haven’t seen it yet! It’s one of those things in nature that you’ll have to wait for a glimpse of it, and unfortunately, our lunchbreak is not quite long enough. I’d love to spend all day looking for it, but think my boss might complain!
It’s not all doom and gloom though. We’ve had some good views of smooth newts, the commoner version of their great crested cousins. With plenty of newts in the pond, it's easy to understand why the shrew lives here! Pond skaters live up to their name, whilst a couple of large red damselflies (the earliest to come out in spring) flit between the reeds, I can think of worse places to spend my lunch. Whilst walking around the edge of the pond, we stumbled across a grass snake, sunbathing in the leaf litter. No doubt, like us, enjoying its lunchbreak in the sun!
It just goes to show, RSPB reserves aren't just good for birds!