Two birds, one word: ahhhhh! Let's hear your caption ideas for this one, folks!
Today is the last in our series of spotlights on species that you might see during your Make Your Nature Count survey. And what a handsome beastie we've got for you!
Holding the title of Britain's largest beetle, I present to you the stag beetle:
I first fell in love with stag beetles when our family moved house. At just aged 5 I was exploring our new garden and happened to overturn a large stone.
Underneath was the most impressive looking creature I'd ever seen. It raised its fearsome-looking antlers at me and waved them about a bit. After deciding I wasn't going to run away - it did!
That's my one and only encounter with a stag beetle, but it was brilliant!
Beetle hide and seek
The funny thing is, stag beetles spend much of their lives as a white and squidgy muching machine. The beetle larvae spend five years underground turning rotting and dead wood into fat.
When ready, they turn into a pupa from which an adult emerges six weeks later. But they still don't pop their heads above ground. No, they spend a further year underground and only break the soil for a brief 15-40 days to find a mate and lay eggs before dying - their job done.
Stag beetles won't be seen by everyone. They seem to prefer South East England, although no-one really knows why.
It might have something to do with the fungi they need to help them digest wood can't survive in chalky areas, which limits their ability to disperse over chalky landscape. But I'm now getting a bit ropey in my explanation, so will let Chris Packham explain that theory to you in more detail.
If you live in the right area and would like to help these fab little critters, you can do no better than create a log pile.
Needless to say, I think stag beetles are great and if you've got one in your garden I'm more than a little bit
There's a snake in the grass... or is it in the pond?
The grass snake is another creature we want you to look out for this week as part of our Make Your Nature Count survey.
Another name for it is water snake, as this slithery customer is very much at home in the water. A toad, newt or frog is its idea of a tasty snack. So you might well spot one going for a swim in your garden pond, or basking at the water's edge.
If you have a garden compost heap, that's another place you could find a grass snake lurking. The warmth of the decomposing veg peelings, teabags and grass clippings (or whatever you have in there) make a snug nest for snake eggs. So watch out for dinky snakelets. They start very small, but adults can reach up to more than a metre long.
A grass snake is harmless to humans but if provoked or startled can make a pungent smell! The UK's only venomous species, the adder, can be told from the grass snake by the dark zigzag pattern on its back, while the grass snake sports a rather smart, lemon-yellow collar.
Happy snake spotting!
I must admit, I have a real soft spot for hedgehogs. A few years ago I fostered an underweight youngster that I found wandering around my garden in broad daylight (not a good sign), and so I shared my living room with the little chap for several weeks – from then on, I’ve been smitten!I don't know if it's their little button nose, their squinting eyes, or the endearing way they trundle along, but there's something wonderful about these spiny mammals.City hogsAlthough they’re woodland animals at heart, hedgehogs are incredibly adaptable and are quite at home in an urban setting. They’ve evolved to hunt at night, using their acute sense of smell to sniff out their prey of slugs, snails, worms and insects (plus the occasional fruity treat). This is a really clever tactic, because at night some of their main rivals for food – birds – are tucked up asleep. Cunning!During the cold winter months, when food is scarce, hedgehogs have another trick up their sleeve – they find a cosy corner somewhere, curl up and sleep! (Sounds like a pretty good plan to me!) During hibernation a hedgehog’s body temperature falls dramatically and its heartbeat slows from about 190 to just 20 beats per minute – something that would be fatal under normal circumstances. This helps the hedgehog to conserve energy and eke out its remaining fat reserves until warmer weather and its prey return.Hibernation really is a fascinating phenomenon – if you’re interested in learning more, have a read of this great factsheet. Super spinesI couldn’t fail to mention the hedgehog’s signature feature – it’s spines. Not only do these modified hairs have the obvious benefit of warding off predators, they also act as mini shock-absorbers if the hedgehog takes a tumble while climbing. Baby hedgehogs, or hoglets, are born with soft spines under their skin to protect mum, and a second set of spines emerge after a few days. As a hedgehog grows the number of spines increases – by the time it reaches adulthood it will have a staggering 5,000-7,000 of them! Tell-tale signsOne of the easiest ways to tell if you have hedgehogs visiting your garden is to listen out for them. They emit a series of pig-like snuffles, snorts and grunts when they’re foraging and eating – hence the name hedge ‘hog’. The hedgehog I fostered certainly wouldn’t win any prizes for its table manners - I can honestly say, I didn’t realise such a little creature could make quite such a racket when it was eating!If you’re not lucky enough to see or hear hedgehogs in the flesh, there are still ways to tell if they’ve come visiting. Be on the look out for small forage holes in your lawn, and the black, slug-shaped poo they leave behind. If you come across any small footprints you can check out our handy guide to see who made them.A gardener’s best friend Apart from just being incredibly adorable, hedgehogs are really great to have around if you're into gardening, as they feed on the slugs, snails and other wee beasties that might otherwise be munching on your prized petunias!Make a hog havenI’m pleased to say that hedgehogs still visit my garden so I got to tick them off my Make Your Nature Count list this year. They can live for up to 10 years, if they’re lucky, so I’d like to think that ‘my’ hedgehog comes back to visit every now and then! If you don't have hedgehogs in your garden at the moment though, there are lots of ways you can try to tempt them to visit. Try these tips and you never know, when Make Your Nature Count comes round again next year, you might just get to tick that box!If you're really keen you could even become a Hedgehog Champion - as seen on Springwatch!
(Oh, and if you think I sound over-enthusiastic about hedgehogs have a listen to this!)
Katie and Rosalind may have got you excited with their talk of splendid newts and secret agent frogs, but personally I think I've saved the best amphibian until last - common toads.Conceited, self-centred and lacking in basic common sense, 'The Wind in the Willows' hasn't given Mr Toad a very good reputation, which, as you'll read, is more than a little unfair.While Mr Toad might have liked wearing tweeds, toads can actually alter their skin tone to suit their surroundings without the help of clothes.
And while he might also have dressed up as a washer-woman and had the help of a human to escape from prison, toads can get out of most sticky situations by themselves.
When faced with danger, they secrete a toxic and foul-tasting substance from their skin, which puts off all but the most determined predators.
Toads togetherBetween March and June, toads migrate en masse to their favoured breeding ponds.
They move under the cover of darkness with some males hitching a ride on the back of the larger females. Once on, they use their legs to kick away any other males also hoping for a free ride.Females lay strands of eggs many metres long. Tadpoles hatch after two/three weeks and as they gobble up as much vegetation as they can to feed their growing bodies - they can form shoals of tens of thousands of individuals.Then, on damp nights in June and July, when the young have changed into toadlets, a swarm of them emerges from the water. They won't return until they are ready to breed two/three years later.
If you've a toad in your garden, don't forget to let us know.To find out more about these creatures listen to our mini-podcast.