Monday, 2 October 2017

Top 5 Favourite Birds!

Hello everybody! Well, Springwatch is underway on the telly and the live cams are up, which prompts me to finally do another post on this blog(well, they WERE up when I made this...not anymore as I'm posting). This post is my official top 5 list of my favourite birds! I'll start from five and count down to one - which will be my ultimate favourite bird. Let us begin!

TOP FIVE FAVOURITE BIRDS


Five - the Red Kite

Ever since I first saw these birds soaring over the roads as I came home from school, I was captivated by them. It took me a while to identify them, but once I did I was very pleased with myself. But now, to my utter delight, I see them soaring over my semi-detached house in Newport Pagnell. I saw them out my bedroom window and, no longer recently (oh, blog-making procrastination...), I was laying on my trampoline with a duvet covering myself in the late Spring/early Summer evening when a ginormous figure starting gliding over my vision. I saw a pointed tail, obvious 'wrists' of the wing and white patches on the undersides of the things taking this creature to the air. A Red Kite, it was, as is obvious by the title of this paragraph - and I couldn't help but gawp at it with an open mouth in true awe. Its size was a feat I had yet to experience any bigger - my bird book The Most Amazing Birds to see in Britain says it all - the male can be 56cm and the female 61cm.

I love these birds and I hope some day I will learn more about them. But for now, I will absorb some facts from my book and input them on this screen for your enjoyment. Firstly, a fact I found a little upsetting but interesting as well - "a whole range of paper and fabric, even soft toys, may catch the Red Kite's attention when it builds its nest. If an item can provide a cosy nest lining for its young, the Red Kite will take it." Which means that, ever so occasionally, some child's christened teddy bear that they left on the windowsill to have a nice view for the night while they slept, would become the nest lining for a bundle of fluffy bird of prey chicks. I'm not sure if that's a comforting thought or a terrifying fear for all stuffed-toy owners across the country.

Along to a slightly more morbid fact, Red Kites have a varied diet. They eat carrion, especially dead sheep, as well as small mammals, rabbits, fledgling rooks and gulls, and occasionally worms and frogs. Nice!

Now that I've told you about this bird, it's onto my next member of my top faves list../

Four - the Tawny Owl

What a bird this is! Ever since witnessing the growth of Grub the owl a few years back on my first time watching Springwatch, I have been utterly taken by the endearance of these owls. Simplified, it means I think their chicks are really, REALLY cute! But it's not just about cuteness. The adult birds are so beautiful, and they have their classic 'kee-wick' and 'oo-ooooo' calls (which gave rise to the 't'wit, too-woo') made by the female and male. They feed on small mammals but they rely on the weather being right for them to hunt for their food. With its mottled brown plumage, this bird is superbly camouflaged against tree trunks or brown leaves.

Here are some facts, gathered from the RSPB website page about them. Let's start with when they are present in our country. These creatures are resident to our country, which means they are present all year round. It is, like a lot of owls, a nocturnal bird, which means it only comes out at night. So you're likely to hear it calling in the darkness if you're in the right spot, but Tawny Owls are more often heard than seen.

I very nearly put the Short-Eared Owl on this spot, but I think the Tawny Owl snatches this spot by a hair's - or should I say a feather's? - breadth, just because of dear old Grub.

Three - the Swallow
There are a few species of Swallow in the world, all fantastic, but the UK's stunning Barn Swallow, hirundo rustica, is by far my favourite and takes the cake for me.

After seeing these birds sitting on a nest on one of the live cameras on Springwatch (and sadly hearing that apparently the nest failed) I decided to place this beautiful bird on my list. And beautiful they are: classic ruby-red throat and forehead, stunning blue back and navy-blue wings and tail-streamers, complimented with a creamy white 'apron' making this bird aesthetically pleasing and very smart-looking. If I were to have a best man at a wedding, this bird would be it.

There is a fantastic scene on Springwatch about mayflies, and there was this single clip of a swallow coming down, snatching the mayfly off the surface and flying up and away while shaking some water off the little creature. I absolutely loved that - and it shined some more light on the already famous birds. Here's a link to the gif on the Springwatch twitter if you are curious: https://twitter.com/BBCSpringwatch/status/869278682959015936

Swallows are a symbol of Summer. There is a saying; "one Swallow does not make a Summer" which is based on fact - a few Swallows with arrive earlier than others, but when it is more truly Summer they will arrive in their huge amounts.

Two - the Swift
The thought of Swifts becoming my second favourite bird popped into my mind a while ago while waiting in the chip shop with my Mum. They were screaming around the buildings up our high street, coming so low, but flying so swiftly (pun intended) and impressively. You can never see the insects they're catching, but you just know they are and...it's so difficult to express why I love these birds.

They are definitely adapted for life in the air. When a young Swift fledges from the nest, they will not land again for perhaps another three years. They never touch the ground unless by accident and don't perch on wires like their silhouette-lookalikes the Swallows. The only time they land on purpose is when they are nesting, in a swift nest box perhaps. Their legs are short, able to grab onto walls but very ungraceful in any attempt at walking. Even their family name, Apodidae, means 'without feet'!

According to The Most Amazing Birds to be Seen in Britain, Swifts used to be called 'Devil Birds' because of their calls that sound like screaming. Loud they may be sometimes, I love them. It's always a joy to hear them for the first time in the year...it makes me feel like Summer has just begun. Unfortunately, I don't hear Swifts anymore, since Summer is practically over and all of the Swifts have migrated back to Africa - south of the Sahara.

THE BIG FAVOURITE

Well, you've been waiting - or reading - for this moment. What is my mega-favourite bird? What bird captivates me so much? Have I ever seen it? Is it a tiny Goldcrest, perhaps, or a classic Blue Tit? Maybe the Scottish Crossbill, the only endemic bird to the UK? Or one of the the incredibly underrated gulls of the UK seaside? Maybe I've gone for a more spectacular choice, like the White-Tailed Eagle, or the Egyptian Goose?

Actually, my favourite bird is none of those, although those are all amazing  birds - and my favourite is certainly spectacular. I'll just cut to the chase already, since you people are undeniably getting a bit bored being teased about my favourite.

One - the Osprey

In my opinion, what could take the #1 spot quicker than the epic Eurasian Osprey? A fish-eating, dark-brown and creamy white bird of prey with a success story moving enough to put those TV dramas to shame.

Ospreys lived once in the UK. But, because they are so spectacular, they were chased down by egg collectors - people trying to steal those precious eggs from their own nests to keep, or even sell - and, as horrible as it sounds, skin collectors too. They were driven to extinction in this country in 1840. To think of a time without this bird is just depressing, but how it clawed back is what makes this bird smash the #1 spot even harder.

In 1954/1956, a pair started to nest in Loch Garten in the Scottish Highlands. Egg collectors were still at it, however, so the RSPB made the nest area more secure, and made viewing only possible via telescope. After all of that, and work still continues to this day, in 2011 the RSPB estimated there were between 250 and 300 nesting pairs in Great Britain. There are also a few times Ospreys have bred in England, but it's mostly in Scotland where these birds like to live.

Ospreys are Summer visitors to the UK. They migrate back to West Africa when the breeding season is over. These birds feed entirely on fish, with incredibly sharp talons and feet covered in 'spicules' which help grip onto slippery, struggling fish. They mostly eat Trout, but Ospreys nesting in Wales will also eat Grey Mullet.

Because these birds are so amazing, they have live cameras that cover their nests. I won't bother linking one, though, because they won't be there now, as far as I know.



Well, that's it. My top 5 favourite birds list. I hope you enjoyed this - a nice meal of a post after being starved of them for ages due to the troubling effects of blog-posting procrastination. Tell me, what is your favourite bird? Anyway, I'll see you later.


Wednesday, 15 February 2017

By The River & Other Nature Experiences!

Hey guys! I have quite a few stories of nature sightings for you, so buckle up!

Firstly is one of the most exciting! Last weekend, I was at my Dad's house. On Sunday, me, my step mum and one of my step brothers went out to walk up to ASDA. My Dad has a really nice river near him, and it goes by down his road. We were walking on a pathway beside it when I noticed a cute little bird standing on a rock in the water. When I saw its colour scheme - grey and yellow with a little bit of white - I was super-happy to see what it was...a grey wagtail, a new species to my list! I saw it on the way back too, happily hopping around with a bobbing tail, probably searching for yummy insect morsels to enjoy!

Now, I only have one more wagtail to find: the yellow one!

My new school is twenty minutes away from me, lying in the Bedford area. We like to take the scenic route; it takes a little longer but it's prettier with a lot less traffic, and calms me down before I get to school. We also see a lot of birds on the way AND there! On the way, we constantly see birds of prey (at least one per trip, probably) either gliding above us or perching in a tree. We can never quite tell what they are, but I think they might be buzzards, and also a few kestrels. Though, I'm not always  right; I once almost mistook a house sparrow for a great tit!

Another thing about Bedford...there's a really cute store called Budgens, and we went there to pick up some bacon after school. When we walked in, we noticed a stand for the Wildlife Trusts, specifically the BCN (Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire) one. We walked over to have a peek, and the first the man standing their said to us was,

"Are you two wildlife enthusiasts?"

Needless to say, we got the guy to explain some stuff about what the Wildlife Trusts do, about their reserves and we even signed up! I've got a "Where to see Wildlife in Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire" book I recieved from him right next to me as I type!

Other sightings include some really cute ducks in some ponds/lakes beside a road in London, and a kindly old  shopworker in Budgens telling us about the time she saw a tawny owl taking off from a garden fence! Wow!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Christmas Update!

Sorry for not posting in ages! I am making a new post but I don't have time to get it out before New Year probably...so, in case I don't post it before Christmas/New Year,  have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, and hopefully I can see you all soon! Byeeeee!

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Under A Plank

In the corner of my long garden lies a small area that is never lawn-mowed, chipped or managed. When we first made it we put down an empty bed frame and a plank of wood originally so I could crouch down on it and not get absolutely covered in grass, dirt and bugs when I was looking at something in it. I still remember I saw this huge, long, centipeedy orange thingie crawling at me when I was looking at it. I ran into the house and didn't really go into there for a while after that.

The other day I was looking at it and I thought....hmm...I know that some bugs like to go under things. What if I flipped this here plank over?

And so I went with it. I carefully (with achey legs) crouched on the soil and reluctantly flipped over the log. Tiny ant-like creatures scurried out of the way to cover. Pill woodlice tried to find a crevice to escape the giant that had just reorganised their home. And slugs...well....the slugs...just sat there. Or at least didn't move very far. Because...well, you know...they're slugs.

There were tiny slugs, medium slugs, and huge (albeit a little scary) slugs. Fat slugs, thin slugs, slimey slugs. Yellow and spotty slugs and brown squishy slugs. As you can tell by now I'm not good at identifying species of slug yet.

What's next?

Amazing Wildlife Sightings: Caught on a Blog!

Welp, I've been waiting for so long to post these things on here, and the wildlife hasn't been better! I can tell you, I'm literally out of breath!

Lately we've had a lot of jackdaws out, pecking at some cotton fluff we put out and carrying it away in their mouths, presumably to stuff their nests full of it. I bet those chicks are the comfiest in town!

As you know Summer is heading towards us (though some of the weather tells otherwise) and Summer means swifts. I was bouncing around on (and roly-polying onto) my trampoline when I hear a telltale screeching from up above. Half a second of confusion - and then instantaneously I can tell what it is. Swifts! I glance up, sun reflecting off of my glasses, trying to spot the amazing streamlined aerodynamics. And there they were, screeching and frantically zooming in all directions, looking like they were going absolutely mental. I gazed in awe as I saw one chase after another, another one trailing behind. Perhaps they were competing for a mate? Who knows? Did you know that swift's legs are so weak and stubby because they almost never land except to breed? And that when a young swift leaves the nest, they may never land for three or four years?! Imagine those sore wings! Pass the paracetamol!

Not long after a few weeks later, something amazing happened that almost actually blew my socks off. I was yet again sitting on the trampoline staring up at the sky like a gormless fool when I heard the telltale scream again. Suddenly I saw a group of four or five swifts who were far closer to the ground than I had usually seen (they were usually just tiny shapes in the sky from where I was). I was surprised. Then, out of the blue, they came rushing down and swooped down through my garden, metres above my head, and then flew inbetween some houses, out of sight.

A while later I went down to the shops with my sister, and some swifts were frantically bobbing between houses like they were doing it for fun. I couldn't believe I was the only one noticing them! I must admit a few people down the local pub stared me down like I was a complete nutter...


Before this experience, I remember looking through the window at one of the feeders my mum had put up in the garden. Then I noticed a small bird. I thought it was just another blue tit at first (which still were relatively new to my garden at the time) but then I noticed white...and a salmon pink...and a freakishly long tail. Practically falling off my chair I saw a long tailed tit. Wow! I don't even think that's a garden species...we must be doing well with our feeding.

But today's experience was the most amazing of all. I was getting up off of my computer to talk to my mum about something and looked through our window as I was passing by. I stopped in my tracks. I saw a rather large bird hopping along the path. I thought it was a song thrush at first, but it seemed a little...greenish.

Then the mystery bird turned around to hop onto the grass. I saw a black nape, red cap and brilliant yellow-green uppersides. It looked about the size of a jackdaw, perhaps taller. It had a rather long bill and stought build.

My jaw dropped. My breath was swept away. I felt like I was going to drop and faint.

What was I looking at?

I was looking at a green woodpecker.

In my garden?

I couldn't believe it. Slowly I grabbed my binoculars and threw off my glasses and  peered through them. I was right. It WAS a green woodpecker. Noticed the yellow rump.

It was an astonishing sight.

Maybe one day I'll wake up, and I'll hear a noise like no other bird can make...

Tap...tap....tap...tap...

Monday, 2 May 2016

A Big Day Out

Welp, it's been another snappy wildlife photography trip with my Dad - and what a story I have to tell you!

This time it was at Willen Lake, and it was very fun. I got to add another species of bird onto my sightings list: the Great Crested Grebe! To some this bird may seem so common that you may glance over it, but to me, it was very fascinating to watch. But, on the other hand, it was proving very difficult to photograph. Reeds, small waves, the diving habits of this bird and my shaky hands in panic were certainly not helping. I was frightened that I wouldn't get a photo of this amazing bird for a keepsake so I was constantly taking photos without much care for the outcome!

Something that is probably new to this blog is a species of fish I saw. It was the Carp. Let me tell you what happened.

Me and my Dad were at the Bird Feeding Point, chucking out some bread for some Greylag Geese  (unfortunately the bread serves no nutritional value for the birds, but if we were offering peas or lettuce to them I was certain sure we'd get a reputation as the weirdos who didn't know how to feed birds properly to other non-experienced bird feeders, so we went with bread) when I spotted something moving in the water, but it was not a diving bird. I realised instantly what it was and frantically pointed.

"Fish! Fish! Fish"
My Dad seemed confused. "What, where?"
"Over there, look!" I said, continuing to point.
"Oh - that's a carp! Good find," replied Dad, noticing it.

We observed it for a while until I heard what was probably the strangest noise I've heard in all the times I've watched nature.

Sleeuurrp!

I heard my Dad laugh slightly.

"What was that noise? Seriously, that sneezing sound?"
"That was the Carp. It's sucking up the bread."
"Sucking up the bread!"
"What? He has no teeth so he has to suck it up,"

That's when I saw the Carp once again pop up to the surface and - to my surprise - slurp up a chunk of bread like it was a string of spaghetti. I found this so entertaining that I burst into a fit of giggles!

More Carp came and slurped and sucked their way through the bread, and I must say it was very amusing!

We also saw some beautiful bluebells and buttercups as well as daisies and dandelions and a daisy-like flower which I didn't know the name of.

Wow!




Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Mystery of the Sparrow Eggshell

Eggshells can hold a lot of history. For example, the largest egg in the world was laid by the elephant bird, measuring is 30cm high and 21cm in diameter. That's 100 times bigger than a hen egg! Unfortunately, the elephant bird was thought to go extinct from their home in Madagascar in around the 17th century. All that from an egg!

As you may have guessed, I didn't find an egg that was nearly that size. It was smaller than a hen egg, in fact. It wasn't even a full egg - it was half of an eggshell. White, speckled with brownish-black blotches. That's a little bit of a common egg decoration among birds.



The egg from both angles.
 
There's a hole in the wall and a pair of house sparrows keep flying into it, so perhaps this was a hatched chick's egg fallen out of the hole. On the other hand, it might be the remains of an egg that was eaten by another bird.
 
I managed to identify it as a house sparrow egg not too long later.