The rain was pretty relentless round my way this weekend, so I spent most of it cooped up inside. But today, the skies are blue and the sun is shining.
I'm just hoping that unlike the very atmospheric image below, this break in the clouds is a little more permanent.
Find your break in the clouds on RSPB Images.
Hands up if you’ve ever spent a rainy weekend trawling round the DIY stores? I know I have! So this weekend why not pick up a water butt? It’s an easy way to save water, giving gardeners a ready supply of water for plants during summer. They’re easy to get hold of, all the large DIY chains and garden centres stock them.
With the hosepipe ban covering southern and eastern England it can only help when it starts to dry out again soon. I mean, it’s got to hasn’t it?
Even if you don’t live in an area affected by the hosepipe ban it’s a still a good way of greening your garden and helping to conserve out precious water reserves.
All you need for your water butt is a gutter and down pipe coming off your house or any garden buildings.
You’ll probably then need a hacksaw to cut the pipe so that the water flows into the butt, but that should be the limit of the tools required. Simple!
Even someone as unpractical round the house as myself can manage that!
I found a useful guide on the BBC’s website on how to fit and install them with a handy video, have a look for yourself and give it a go.
What to do with your water
When you’ve collected enough water then you can water your plants guilt free! Alternatively, you use it to top up your pond or even create a container pond. They’re easy too!So make the most of the rain that is due to sluice down from the skies this weekend and get yourself a water butt installed. Your garden will thank you!
If you want more tips on gardening for wildlife, see our Homes for Wildlife project. Once you’ve registered for free and answered some simple questions, you’ll get tailored advice for your garden.
Happy St. George's Day!
In honour of England's (amongst others) Patron saint, I've trawled RSPB Images in search of images of dragon slaying. Amongst the thousands of stunning wildlife shots I couldn't find any actual dragons, but I did find something that I think is way cooler.
Take a look at Mike Lane's superb image of a hobby eating a dragonfly in mid-air! The skill involved to hold its foot up to its bill and munch on the dragonfly, all whilst keeping itself from falling out of the sky simply astounds me. Eat your heart out St George! It's also a tough shot to capture whilst the hobby is zooming through the sky.Hobbies are another one of our spring migrants that ought to be gracing our presence soon. They're perfectly evolved for catching insects on the wing, as this image clearly shows!
One of the best places I know to see both hobbies and their dragonfly prey is Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk. Why not go and find out for yourself?
As I mentioned on Monday, swallows are arriving. They might be a bit slow to return because of bad weather here and in Europe, but be patient - they're on their way.
If you get a good look at a swallow and see its unmistakeable forked tail, it's easy to identify. But beware - there are other, similar, birds out there to confuse you.
The house martin is quite similar to the swallow, having glossy, dark blue wings, but is a bit less graceful and a bit plumper.
Like swallows, they build a nest from mud, but it's usually on the side of a building, under the eaves, rather than inside a barn, for example.
Watch out for their bright white rumps and short, forked tails.
They're social birds and quite chattery - their calls sound a bit like 'jik, jik.'
The sand martin is smaller than the swallow or house martin. It has brown wings and a brown stripe under its chin. It's also quite a social bird and can be seen feeding in flocks over water.
Watch out for sand martins flying along rivers. They excavate their own nest burrows in loose soil like riverbanks, or even sometimes in big piles of sand at quarries or in drainage holes on concrete riverbanks.
They have a buzzing, fizzy kind of call: 'vvvvzsssszzz'. Or something like that.
The swift is in a different family to the swallows and martins, but arrives in the UK slightly later - around the end of April.
They nest in buildings, especially old ones which have plenty of gaps where they can squeeze in and nest in the roof space.
Swifts hardly ever land except when they're nesting - they spend their entire lives flying around, even sleeping and mating in mid-air.
They're pretty noisy beasts around their nest sites. Listen for a high-pitched 'sreee, sreee, sreee'!
Have you seen any other newly-arrived migrants yet? Let us know!
Every year birds migrate to our shores from as far away as Africa and Russia. Amazingly, very few birds seem to take a wrong turn on their journey, with some even returning to the exact same spot year-on-year.
Our understanding of migration is ever-growing - if Ian Newton's recent 500+ page book on the subject is anything to go by!
So with neither road signs nor a computer GPS to guide them, how on earth do birds navigate from one place to another?
I've touched briefly on this subject before on this blog, but wanted to delve a bit deeper.
It turns out that some birds have tiny grains of a magnetic mineral called magnetite in their heads. This mineral can detect the Earth's magnetic field.
To test if birds do use magnetic fields, an experiment in the 1960s took some robins and placed then in cages with artifically created magnetic fields. They found that the birds orientated themselves according to the new magnetic fields, and that the new direction corresponded with the route they would have taken had they been migrating naturally.
Where am I?
We know that birds follow the same migration routes each year, but whether birds learn a 'map' of their immediate surroundings via remembering specific landmarks on their journey is hard to prove.
However, the humble starling has offered some insight into this issue. Just as they were about to start their migration, thousands of starlings were captured in the Netherlands and then released in Switzerland.
The juvenile starlings set off in the direction that would normally have taken them to their wintering grounds had they still been in the Netherlands. The adults, however, corrected for their new location and nearly all reached their normal wintering grounds.
So, it seems that birds with experince of a location can re-find it, and that they must to some extent have 'map sense' - the ability to know where they are in relation to their home, based soley on their current location.
Stars in their eyes
For birds that migrate at night, star positions are important in helpnig them get to where they are going. Birds put in planetariums where the star patterns had been changed became confused, while on overcast nights there tends to be less recorded migration.
That birds use the sun to navigate has been known for over 50 years. And it's thanks, again, to starlings. In experiments that changed the sun's direction, it was shown that starlings corrected their flight paths to take account of the sun moving.
Back to school
Lastly, we come to good old-fashioned learning. For those species who migrate as families (eg geese and cranes) it seems that the young learn the routes from their more experienced parents.
Once learned, younger birds are then able to travel the route successfully themselves.
If that's left you with a sense of wonder, I've got just the thing for you: the trailer for our award-winning film Born to Fly - a film all about the epic migration of European cranes.
Sit back, relax and enjoy this truly incredible story.