Have you got it yet? At this time of year many of the queries we get about identification have a similar theme, brown, often in flocks, lots of noise sometimes described as looking like plain brown woodpeckers... What could they possibly be seeing?
Well in most cases the birds turn out to be recently fledged starlings and given their sizeable beaks you can see why many people come to this conclusion. These urban birds are just approaching fledging, mostly these days inside roof cavity nest sites, if they have not fledged already. They will be the starlings first brood this year, they usually have a second if conditions allow, and each nest could yield four or five hungry beaks to feed! They will follow the parents pretty closely for the first few days, often joining up with broods from other pairs hence the large flocks, safety in numbers is key for a young starling.
The parents feed them on a wide variety of foods but they spend most of the time looking for invertebrates in the soil, a protein rich food for healthy chick growth. If you want to help them find supplies of natural foods then adopt a mowing regime that allows for a variety of grass length. For example, leave the edges of the lawn to grow long and mow the centre short or create a patchwork effect with long and short squares or strips. They will also look for caterpillars and other insects on trees and shrubs as well as raiding bird feeders for mealworms, fruit, fat snacks and cake crumbs.
Other ways to help starlings are to keep your garden chemical free and put up nesting boxes (under north or east facing eaves ideally but definitely above 3 meteres on walls or trees trunks can also work).
As a member of the wildlife enquiries team you often get some great opportunities to find out about some excellent places to see wildlife and we are also incredibly lucky to be able to work with various other departments and staff members to further our knowledge and increase our experiences.
In my spare time I enjoy wildlife photography and are always looking for new and interesting locations and subjects to photograph. In my local area I often spend time searching the local farmland to photograph one of my favourite British mammals, the Brown Hare, however these are nervous animals, they can run extremely fast and often these two components make them quite tricky to photograph...I do my best but getting really close can be tricky!
Recently I heard about an amazing place in Suffolk to photograph these mammals up close and personal! Havergate Island is one of Suffolk's best kept secrets and one of the most amazing RSPB reserves out there, but the secret is out and this year the team who work on the island have been extremely pro-active in bringing people to the island to show them exactly what it has to offer! This is great news for everyone and I wanted to take a look myself! After getting in contact with Monika Koch, the Events Officer for Havergate it transpired that she had big plans for the island this year and those plans involved bringing people to Havergate to not only see the wonderful wildlife but also to engage in some artistic and creative events involving artists and photographers, much to my surprise (after Monika had thoroughly checked my credentials) I was offered the opportunity to not only see the island but to also become one of the photography tutors
This was a fantastic chance, not only would I get to see an amazing RSPB reserve and as an RSPB employee this is really valuable but I would also get to photograph the wildlife, pass on my knowledge and meet some great people including staff, members, non members and people interested in photography!
To properly undertake my tutoring role it was vital that I visited the island so arranged to visit twice so I could understand the lay of the land and gauge how best to see and photograph the wildlife there. For me the Hares are the stars of the island, almost upon arrival after the short 10 minute boat journey from Orford Quay I saw my first Brown Hare, it was sitting along the main footpath and quickly scampered off down the track upon seeing me. I was a little worried, the island was billed as somewhere where the Hares were incredibly tame but this one acted in the same way I have seen so many before. Regardless we moved on, scanned for birds in the hide which rewarded us with views of Redshank, Dunlin, Oystercatcher, Shelduck, Cormorants and some Gulls, the lagoons here are a haven for birdlife and the island itself is extremely important for breeding Herring and Lesser Black Backed Gulls!
Soon we reached an area of gorse, this is one of the main "Hare" areas and within minutes Hares seemed to be everywhere! Popping out of the gorse, running along the track and interacting with each, I even saw some boxing!
Now I started to see what all the fuss was about, Hares casually strolled past me, sat and cleaned themselves on the track and nonchalantly moved around the gorse like I wasn't there! You cannot call these wild animals "tame" but certainly they are habitualised to people and this has to be the best place in the UK to see them up close and observe their behaviour, it was fantastic! The story goes that many years ago when Havergate had a resident farm the Hares were brought across to be hunted for food, the farm is long gone but the Hares are still around and this island lifestyle has afforded them a great deal of protection from hunting and predation, their natural fear of humans is somewhat missing and so they are far more tolerant of close encounters.
The other half of the island is just as amazing, as you stroll past the wooden huts where the wardens reside you enter as throng of noise and action which is the Gull breeding colony, the Gulls are yet to start nesting but I still made sure not to disturb them as best I could, soon Common Gulls will be back on the island nesting, Havergate is such an important nesting site for Gulls and as many of our Gull species are now on the decline this makes it even more important, when the Gulls have chicks it will be a great opportunity to see them up close, most people rarely get to see Gull chicks!
The end of the island offers another cracking view from a hide and more gorse and obviously more Hares! Whereas my first visit I was baking hot and bathed in glorious sunshine my second visit was slightly more of a wet affair and the majority of Hares I found were hunkered down looking rather grumpy and soaking wet! This one finally started to stir in amongst the gorse...
All good things come to an end and after two great trips I am now back on dry land and far away from Havergate. It was a wonderful place to visit, it goes to show that not all the RSPB reserves have to be big, well known and full of people....many of them are small gems tucked away, some have very little access to them because of their sensitive nature and some are hardly known about. These reserves are just as important as our marquee reserves, often so little is known about them that many RSPB members and members of the public won't even realise what great work goes on, what amazing wildlife inhabits them and how much good conservation work goes on, but it does, and its making a real difference! Kieren and Aaron manage the island and do a fantastic job!
I will be returning to Havergate, Monika's enthusiasm coupled with the charm of the island convinced me to say yes to the tutoring and I will be returning on June 22nd for one of the islands 'Days of Discovery', this will include sleeping on the island which I cannot wait for! I will get to see the sun set and then watch it rise, there will be a full moon and I will see everything in a whole new light. I would implore anyone to pay the island a visit, there are lots of opportunities to do so so there really is no excuse!
For more information please check out this section of the Havergate website: http://www.rspb.org.uk/reserves/guide/h/havergate/events.aspx
Or e-mail Monika directly here: email@example.com
April is always a manic month for us in the wildlife enquiries team, as it is in the natural world here in the UK! Now we have some spring like conditions, out there in the wild things are waking, nesting and generally more active! Here are 5 of the most frequently talked about topics for us so far this April!
It’s been a tough winter and spring for the wildlife in our gardens. In Wildlife Enquiries, we get a number of calls and emails asking for advice on feeding the birds, the right type of feeders, what to feed and when.
Some people think that they should only feed the birds through the winter months when there is less natural food available. It’s actually OK to feed birds all year round as supplementary feeding only makes up about 10% of a bird’s diet, and they are drawn to natural food over supplementary food. This is one reason why at times they can seem to abandon our gardens and feeders only to return later. During the summer months the supplementary food can really help parent birds who are busy collecting food for their young. It enables them to grab some food for themselves using as little energy as possible. If there is a shortage of food due to weather conditions, supplementary food can help with the shortfall when feeding their young.
Whatever you feed your birds, don’t forget to provide some water for them to drink and bathe in, a shallow plant dish is ideal and easy to keep clean. Take a look at our online shop for details on the different types of feeders and food available for our feathered friends. Remember, after filling your feeders and putting food out for the birds, always wash your hands afterwards.
So spring is keeping us waiting and here in the wildlife enquiries team we have been getting some of our usual and not so usual queries.
Lots of window collisions have been reported, it is a sad fact that even masters of ambush can fall foul of colliding with large solid surfaces such as windows and patio doors. At least two were as a result of a heated chase, with birds trying to avoid the snatches of a Sparrowhawk. Although the Sparrowhawk is also a common casualty. There are simple steps one can take to avoid this.
March would not be March without ducks turning up gardens. Preferring to nest away from the busy waters edge, even the most suburban garden provides welcome shelter as well as peace and quiet to bring up the kids. It won’t be long before little bundles of cuteness will be getting into all sorts of japes. One of our favorite enquirers here in the wildlife team was a young man pondering if Duck’s (like Keith Richards apparently) are immortal as he had never seen a dead duck! After being told ducks can become the victims of predators the young man was not convinced as according to him predators are fictional and only appear in the popular film with Arnold Schwarzenegger...
Many reports of Waxwings still coming in strong as they migrate from the UK to their breeding grounds... The Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) which visits the UK during winter is larger, fatter and greyer than the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) which breeds in open wooded areas in North America. The cedar waxwing is known to get drunk after feeding on fermented fruit...I personally would love to see them in The red lion on a Friday night...alas they will remain propping up the bars of Florida and the other states!
Our cheeky punk rockers of the bird world are still being seen as the volumes of emails received this week reflect. It seems that folk are still tantalised a shade of light red by these quirky birds. Many waxwings are now fuelling up for the journey home. We wish them well.
And finally...Still have no idea how this ended up in our department?!
Have a Happy Easter : )