It’s been a topsy-turvy week in terms of the weather on the reserve. Earlier in the week the frost was making the reserve sparkle in the winter sunshine. Later the sun made a welcoming return giving an extra touch of warmth. Then the cold weather made its return with hail showers. What a mixture! No wonder the wildlife on the reserve is confused. Is it winter or is it spring? Well, whilst working on the reserve this week, – I would probably say spring. Birds have been chirping from the depths of the woodland, a gentle reminder that better weathers on its way. So, with a spring in my step, – here’s what has been spotted this week…
Well it has felt like spring this week – but I did not expect to see a butterfly! Whilst out working on the reserve one of our wonderful volunteers, John, came across this colourful sight. It had been hibernating in one of our barns, taking shelter from the cold harsh conditions of winter. Peacock butterflies will often 'shut-down' during winter and reappear early in spring. Butterfly wings are made up of thousands of scales that create the striking colours we all like to see. The Peacock’s spectacular pattern of eyespots confuses predators. This helps to keep it safe from birds that might want to take a munch. Isn’t nature clever? You too could help butterflies overwinter in your own garden, by building a home for them. Visit http://homes.rspb.org.uk/ for more information.
Peacock butterfly by Carl Capewell
Our biggest mammal visitors have certainly been putting their mark on the reserve. Unfortunately, not in the snow. However, with all this wet weather there’s plenty of mud to make a print. Or should that be hoof-print? The muds good to squelch in too! (wellies are essential)! Deer tracks have two toes (hooves) that make an upside down heart-shaped track. We have three species of deer on the reserve: red, roe and Muntjac. Late last year Rachel, our warden intern and I, managed to get a glimpse of a Muntjac deer. Of the six species that call Britain its home, only the red and roe are truly native. These 'Bambi' munching machines often snack on brambles, ivy and young tree shots. So, keep your eyes fixed on the ground for the signs. You never know, you might even catch a glimpse!
Wood Mice & Shrews –
It’s not just the big mammals that have been making an appearance this week. Wood mice have been venturing out, taking advantage to chomp on the seeds, buds and worms on offer. You can tell if it's a wood mouse as they have golden-brown fur, large ears and large eyes. These beady eyes help it to find food as they are mainly active at night. During winter, they often share a nest, with up to four individuals per nest (cosy!). They nest below ground in a complicated burrow system, which is often used by younger generations. The nest itself is made up of leaves, moss and grass.
The common shrew is one of Europe’s most abundant small mammals. It is easily recognised by its velvety dark brown fur and long pointy snout. These tiny terrors can devour up their own body weight in just one day. Selecting insects and worms from natures pantry. All that eating should wear down their teeth. However, iron in their teeth helps to keep their teeth strong and turn them red! When disturbed from the nest, young shrews sometimes follow their mother in a “caravan fashion”. They use their flexible snouts to hold on to the tail of the sibling in front, following the leader!
Common Shrew by Mike Lane (RSPB Images)
These colourful members of the bird world have been out and about this week. They are often seen at Coombes flying across the woodland giving its screeching call. After you have explored the wonders of the woodland, take five minutes at the viewing platform. You can often get a glimpse of one trying to find acorns. At this time of year Jays, like many other species often take food and hide it away. Its a kind of insurance policy against bad weather, so they always have a fresh supply. Think of it as a kind of treasure hunt. It is estimated that a single bird buries several thousand nuggets each year!
One of the many tree species we have on the reserve is Elder. It grows in woodlands and hedgerows often near rabbit warrens or badger setts. Elder flowers have both male and female parts on the same flower. After pollination by the busy bees – each flower turns into small purple berries. It is thought that the name “Elder” comes from the Anglo-saxon word aeld, meaning fire, because the hollow stems were used as bellows to blow air into the centre of a fire. Many moth caterpillars such as the dot moth and buff ermine like to feed on the leaves of elder too. It was thought that if you burned elder wood you would see the devil, but if you planted it by your house it would keep him away. So get planting!
So, with the Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, grab yourselves a cuppa and get counting. It only takes an hour of your time.
Visit https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/https://www.rspb.org.uk/birdwatch/ for more information.