Strumpshaw Fen, end of August

Strumpshaw Fen, end of August

After 2-3 months of blistering heat, August has been quite temperate and we’ve had a chance to cool off. I’ve also noticed a lot of autumn flowers and berries a bit earlier than normal as they have ripened too soon in the excessive heat.

So I get to do my autum berry photoshoots earlier than usual. :)

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We walked round RSPB Strumpshaw fen at the end of August and it was a windy, grey day so not many birds were out and about. There was a family of swans with their young cygnets and a flock of what I think were wild grey partridges, though they were very distant.

Those clouds!

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How to keep wildlife safe in the heatwave

I am a very heat intolerant person. I’ll happily moan about the hot summer weather and I don’t care who it annoys because you know what? Hot weather makes me feel ill. It makes me dizzy, it gives me palpitations, it exacerbates all the dangerous cardiac symptoms of my chronic illness and anyone who insists that I should be obliged to enjoy hot weather can do one.

This year, the UK has been “enjoying” (read: suffering) from extreme Mediterranean temperatures. I live in the driest county – East Anglia – and we haven’t had a single, solitary drop of rain for nearly 2 months. It’s been between 20-30 everyday and this week the office has been 32 degrees! I happen to have unwisely chosen this summer to be pregnant, so that’s also making me hot, sweaty and intolerant.


Our garden birds have been bringing this year’s young to our feeders, and that’s at least one thing I’ve been happy to see, but I am worried for them. I can’t put down water because the cat will get them. How are they keeping hydrated? How are farmland birds getting at worms in the parched earth? While the hot weather has been good for some species – reptiles and butterflies  – it has been bad for others, including amphibians and birds. Not to mention the devastating wild fires that have spread across moorland and farmland, which will have had a huge impact on the flora and fauna dependent on them.

So how can we look after wildlife in the heatwave?

  1. Leave out water dishes (make sure they are regularly cleaned and topped up and placed in a shady spot away from the hiding places of predators.)
  2. Leave out another water dish for bird baths – they need to keep their feathers clean and it helps to refresh them.
  3. Watch out for sleeping hedgehogs when you mow the lawn (there’s a brilliant poem by Philip Larkin on this matter; you can read it here.)
  4. Make a pond from a washing up bowl to give a cool, watery habitat for frogs and toads. The RSPB has some great advice on how to do this – you can read my experience of creating a garden pond in this blogpost.
  5. Keep your plants watered – wild plants can die in this heat, making our garden flowers even more attractive to pollinators.
  6. Don’t trim your hedges (you shouldn’t this time of year anyway!) as they can provide vital shade. In particular, let the ivy grow.
  7. Create nature highways between your garden and others. This is good advice for all year round but it really comes in handy in a heatwave to make it easier for hedgehogs and other animals to move between habitats in the hunt for food.
  8. Know which local animal charity numbers to ring if you see an animal in distress – the RSPCA website is a good place to start.
  9. Don’t forget pets! Take dogs for walks in the mornings or evenings and not in the midday sun. If it’s very hot, avoid hot surfaces like pavements as these can burn the dog’s paws. Cats will take care of themselves but make sure they have water, food and shade and keep the fleas at bay.

I hope this advice proves helpful! How are you keeping cool?

 

 

Bearded Tits

Bearded tits have always been a difficult bird for me to photograph – they’re just so quick and I rarely get to see them. There is an aviary at Pensthorpe in Norfolk that houses some bearded tits, which are bred for conservation programmes, and because the reeds are a limited territory within the aviary it’s actually possible to get some photos.

So here are some I took recently.

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National Insect Week

It’s not the most glamorous of ‘national week of…’ events but it is globally important to the conservation of insect species, which are rapidly declining. The celebration was started to “encourage people of all ages to learn about insects”, which is a particularly prescient exercise given the recent evidence from France and Germany that shows a 75% decline in insect species across the countryside within the last 25 years.

The National Insect Week website lists all the different types of insects and has a wealth of learning resources. Insects include:

  • beetles
  • butterflies and moths
  • bees and wasps
  • ants
  • crickets and grasshoppers
  • dragonflies and damselflies
  • earwigs
  • lacewings
  • mayflies
  • stoneflies
  • silverfish and firebrats
  • true bugs
  • true flies

A casual flick through the website and I have learnt that while there are over 50 or 60 species of butterflies in the UK, there are a staggering 2000 species of moth! I have also discovered what a firebrat is.

You may not be especially interested in insects – you may even avoid them at all costs – but they are an essential component of any ecosystem because so many animals depend on them for a food source. They are also pollinators so they help plants and flowers to reproduce, which contributes to a healthy and diverse ecosystem. Some insects even break down decaying organisms, returning those nutrients to the environment.

The RSPB suggests excellent ways to encourage insect species in our gardens:

  • build a bug home
  • plant for butterflies
  • install a bee hotel
  • pile up dead wood
  • support campaigns by Buglife

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Bluebells at Blickling in May

Every May comes the annual trip to the woods at the Blickling estate in Norfolk to see the bluebells, and it never disappoints. Vast carpets of delicate purple flowers lay across the woodland floor and hundreds of people turn up each year to see this spectacle.

Here are a few photos of my trip this year.

 

4 things we did in the Cairngorms in May

4 things we did in the Cairngorms in May

In May I visited Scotland for the first time. It was a long train journey from Norfolk to Inverness (total of 10 hours!) so we split it up with a few nights in Edinburgh. We didn’t stay in Inverness but in Nethy Bridge, a small but well-known village in the Abernethy forest in the Cairngorms national park.

Here’s what we got up to!

  1. Visit the Ospreys

    The RSPB run the Osprey Centre in Loch Garten and here you can see from the viewing point at this time of year the osprey nest. We saw the female with her eggs sitting on the nest! It would have been great to see the male coming in to feed them but sadly he hadn’t been seen for a few days.

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    Credit: Psylexic

    This place is quite special because after being persecuted to extinction in the UK a pair of ospreys returned to this spot 50 years and ospreys have been coming back ever since. There are now around 400 breeding pairs in the UK, most of which reside in Scotland so it’s a rare conservation success story. You can watch a live nest cam here.

     

     

  2. Dolphin Spotting on the Moray Firth

    We took a boat trip into the Moray Firth in Inverness and hoped to see dolphins. Wildlife watching being the unpredictable activity it is, we sadly did not see any dolphins but we did see seals, artic terns, and guillemots. Plus it was a beautiful sunny day, which we definitely appreciate in Scotland!

  3. Cawdor Castle

    It’s not a UK holiday if you don’t visit an old house, am I right? Cawdor castle was built in the 14th century but never saw any defensive action – it’s just a nice, fortified house. It also has a holly tree growing inside the house because of a funny legend you can read about here if you’re interested.

    The castle had beautiful gardens and an incredible forest that they called simply ‘the Big Wood’, and rightly so, for the trees are enormous!

  4. Highland Wildlife Park

    You may have heard that a polar bear cub has been born in the UK this year – the first time in 25 years. Well, it’s at the Highland Wildlife Park and we saw it playing with its mother. We also saw the infamous Scottish wildcat, which was amazing enough, but she had kittens! Wild kittens! I wanted to take them all home with me.

    At the park you can walk around the areas that have the enclosures but you can also drive around the park on a mini safari. There are bison roaming free, as well as vicuna, horses, deer, and an elk, though we could not find the elk anywhere.

    The other highlight was seeing the red squirrel. After a week of seeing bushy red tails disappearing out of the corner of my eye faster than I can take my lens cap off, we finally had a good look at a wild red squirrel who wandered into the woods to eat from a nut feeder.

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    And a few more photos to finish this post.

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