Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 Results

Good morning! I’ve not been blogging very much lately because – to cut a dull story short – I accidentally removed my WordPress plan and now I have basically no storage space. As most of my posts involve photos, this is a problem. I expect I will have to rip myself off and upgrade again but in the meantime I’ll try to blog using words rather than pictures.


So the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch have been released and I’m always interested to compare how my own garden fares against the rest of the country. I posted about this in January when the event took place but I don’t think I shared my own results. So, I saw:

  • 7 long tailed tits (44%)
  • 5 house sparrows (31%)
  • 1 blackbird (6%)
  • 1 blue tit (6%)
  • 1 dunnock (6%)
  • 1 woodpigeon (6%)

It was disappointing that my goldfinches didn’t make an appearance on the day but I do see them most days. The blackbird, blue tit, sparrows and woodpigeon were obviously fairly typical sightings, but the long tailed tits are less common in the nationwide results. Long tailed tits in fact went up one place compared with last year so perhaps they are doing a bit better these days – or just moving into gardens.

Did you take part this year? What did you see?

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Wildlife focus: the mole

Hello nature fans!

I’m starting a new blog series all about wildlife, focusing on a particular species each time in depth. In general, I’ll probably talk about the features of the species, the role it fulfills within its ecosystem, the folklore surrounding it, and species idiosyncrasies, including a few interesting facts. I’m starting with the humble mole.

The Mole

A nocturnal creature that is practically blind, it moves awkwardly above ground and expertly tunnels below. This mammal digs and tunnels its way through the soil, leaving those familiar molehills dotted about the landscape. They have sharp claws, soft velvety fur and eat earthworms and, surprisingly, nuts.

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How to spot a mole

The Norfolk Wildlife Trust gives this helpful advice on how to identify moles:

The European mole is a small mammal with a body length of between 10-14cm, weighing between 75-120g. They have a cylindrical body covered with dense black fur, a pointed snout, short tail and spade like forelegs with long sharp claws which they use for digging tunnels.

If you manage to get really close to a mole you might be able to notice that they have an extra thumb on their forepaws, a feature that evolution has decided is helpful for moles, meaning that they basically have two thumbs. You can find moles all over the UK and they seem to be doing fine, despite some gardeners and landowners viewing them as pests.

Diet

Moles primarily eat earthworms, which they collect underground in specially built ‘mole runs’ that are essentially a series of tunnels – the mole can sense when a worm falls into the channel and quickly locates and eats it. They can even store earthworms in their larders to eat later as their saliva contains a toxin that paralyses the worm.

Breeding

Moles breed between February and May. Males woo females by wandering into unknown territory and letting off high-pitched squeals. If a match is successful, the young are born between March and April and each brood generally contains 3-5 youngsters, who depart the nest after about 6 weeks.

Random Facts

  1. Moles can dig 20 yards of tunnels each day.
  2. A mole can dig through 14m in 1 hour
  3. Males are called ‘boars’, females ‘sows’, and a group of moles is a ‘labour’.
  4. They have a complex mental map of their undergound tunnels.
  5. The texture of fur allows it to lie in any direction so it can easily reverse in a tunnel.
  6. They have no external ears.

The Burrow by Kafka

Franz Kafka wrote an exceptional story about a mole. It was unfinished and published posthumously, like most of his work, and it’s the most strikingly strange idea: essentially a monologue by a mole, who adores his carefully constructed underground palace of tunnels and feels an ever-growing threat of ‘the beast’ who could shatter it at any moment. Read into that what you will. Human irrationality and anxiety of an inevitable yet unidentifiable destroyer (i.e. death)? If you’re interested, you can buy it here.

Here are a few photos of a mole I managed to take at Strumpshaw in Norfolk in the summer. I just happened to see one above ground – a very rare treat. 

Starlings at Strumpshaw Fen (November 2017)

Starlings at Strumpshaw Fen (November 2017)

I had heard that large flocks of starlings have been seen most afternoons at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen in Norfolk and they had been murmarating in fairly large numbers to the delight of enthusiastic crowds – so we had to make the trek and have a look for ourselves.

For those unfamiliar with the term ‘starling murmuration’ – it is basically when large numbers of starlings gather together to roost and fly around in a strange pulsating rhythm. No one is completely sure why they do it but it’s probably because it offers them several advantages, such as safety in numbers, warmth and companionship (starlings are noisy and communicative birds.)

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It’s hard to know how many birds classify as a murmaration (at Strumpshaw recently they’ve seen several thousands to 21,000) but it’s possible to get millions.

I managed to get a short video:

Starling flock & murmaration

Sorry for the poor quality – I don’t think me and my new camera are quite sympatico yet!

A few shots of the setting sun first of all:

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The reedbed outside reception hide. Note the cormorant spreading its wings.

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The first starlings begin to arrive.

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The flock thickens

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A marsh harrier in the distance spots the spectacle and hopes to catch a bite. A sparrowhawk also got in on the action later.

Montagu’s Harrier killed

Last month came the sad news that Sally, a Montagu’s Harrier featured on BBC Autumnwatch, had gone missing and presumably killed illegally. The bird was tagged and released into the wild on the show last year and researchers followed her migration to and from Africa.

The RSPB, who were monitoring Sally’s progress, lost track of her signal on 6 August around her Norfolk nesting site and believe she has been illegally killed. If a tagged bird dies from natural causes, the satellite track is not lost and the corpse can be found, so foul play is of course suspected. Birds of prey are often persecuted by gamekeepers and shooters in efforts to protect their grouse and game from birds they believe their profits would otherwise fall victim to. 

Sally and her mate Roger was one of only 4 breeding pairs in Britain, so she was incredibly rare and vital to raptor conservation in the UK. They had been breeding in Norfolk for 2 seasons and so far had successfully raised 5 chicks. Sally was 4 years old and could have bred til 20, so this is a significant loss to the population.

To all accounts, Sally was a remarkable birds; according to Mark Thomas of the RSPB:

“This year she timed her return migration to perfection, arriving back in Norfolk at the exact time as Roger and they met up once more over last year’s breeding field. Her satellite tag has been very reliable giving us a daily window into her life.”

Chris Packham noted:

“We cannot directly accuse the shooting fraternity of illegally killing this bird but the fact it disappeared under such mysterious circumstances is enough to raise suspicions.”

Anyone with any information is urged to call Norfolk Police on 101 quoting ref  12815082017.

Birding Diary #1

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I’m a (very) amateur birder, so it makes sense to record my birding adventures on this blog. It will mean I can remember what I have seen and where I’ve seen it – mostly this will have been in Norfolk, as this is my stomping ground. These ‘birding diary’ entries will mainly be about the locations, the background, and, of course the birds. Don’t expect expert knowledge – I am just muddling through!

Today we went to RSPB Titchwell Marsh, a nature reserve in Norfolk, that houses sand dunes, salt marshes, and a freshwater lagoon. Historically, this is an interesting site because artefacts from the Upper Paleolithic period have been found, as well as military paraphernalia from the world wars. (Yeah, I Wikied it….)

A pair of Montague harriers were spotted nesting on the marshes back in the 1970s, prompting the RSPB to purchase the land, and since then it has been home to all kinds of sandpipers, birds of prey, water voles, plovers, goldeneyes, godwits, oystercatchers, and all sorts.

What I saw:

 

** We couldn’t work out which, but tend towards the opinion that it was most likely a curlew. This video from the BTO has been very helpful in IDing this mysterious bird.

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