Saturday, 31 August 2013

Feeling peckish? Well go to the larder!

Spotted Flycatcher - such a delightful bird

Every late summer and autumn my garden fills up with assorted migrant birds, probably because there are plenty of trees and a wide variety of mature shrubs and plants offering berries, caterpillars and nectar supply, which in turn means lots of insects.
Yesterday there were Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler along with at least 4 Spotted Flycatchers. I love Spotted Flycatchers; they are one of my favourite birds. One particular bird caught my attention though as it decided that it might as well sit in amongst the action, choosing to perch on the flowering Buddleia bush itself!  We all know how attractive a buddleia shrub in flower is to butterflies and various other insects, all attracted in by the great nectar source the plant offers.  
So, it makes sense if you are feeling a little peckish to go to the larder to find something to eat! Luckily, this charming individual seemed to ignore the numerous butterflies feeding on the flowers, seeming keener on catching small black flies feeding on the blooms. He or she was however quite possessive of this bush and regularly saw off other birds who dared to fly into the shrub, in particular one Chiffchaff who only gave up after numerous scuffles amongst the flowers!      

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Chianti, Bee-eaters and Wild Boar

I have just spent a quiet week in the Chianti region of Tuscany, Italy, staying in a house three and a half kilometres from a tarmac road. During the day time Bee-eaters flew overhead with their rather plaintive calls and as the light faded and a bottle or two of the local Chianti emerged, so would the local Nightjar start up its churring call from the valley below the house, Roe deer would bark their alarm calls and the grunting and squealing of foraging wild boar would all begin to fill the air.
The numbers of wild boar seem to have increased of late, along with their confidence, as they would quite happily root around within feet of where we were sitting, taking no notice of our talking and the clattering of plates. I have put a photo of one of the smaller garden intruders!
There has also been a lot of forestry work since I was last here, with a workforce from Transylvania apparently, heavily thinning sections of steeply sloping hillsides. I don’t think it would be considered in the UK, as some of the gradients being harvested are extremely steep and I think that tractor use would be ruled out as too dangerous. But this of course is Italy – say no more!!  Again I have placed a picture of the operations, with one of the hills behind that had been “thinned”.
One of the smaller garden intruders!

A colourful Bee-eater

The forestry operation

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Berry & nut harvest looks like a cracker this year!

Looks like a good berry year for shrubs like this Hawthorn
This year looks as though it is going to be an amazing year for nuts and berries. This follows last year when 14 out of the 16 species of trees and shrubs saw their worst season for fruiting since the turn of the century!
Already the squirrels have started feeding on the Hazel nuts – long before they are ripe enough for us to eat and the large Elderflower bush in my garden is so laden with fruit that I think the branches are in danger of breaking off!
This food supply will be welcomed by a wide range of wildlife, especially as last winter and spring were such a struggle for many species – they are due a bit of a break!  

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Do you buy British farmed produce?

British cattle on a British farm
Did the bacon buttie you had for breakfast this morning contain BRITISH bacon? Was the lamb you had for supper produced in the UK or had it travelled across the world from New Zealand? Not sure?  Well you should be!
The UK produces just 62 per cent of its own food. British food supplies would run out on August 14 if all the food produced in Britain in a year was stored and eaten from January 1.
The National Farmers Union (NFU) has launched a “Back British Farming charter” to get us all eating more food produced from British farms – go to:
Apparently a One Poll survey has revealed that 78 per cent of consumers thought supermarkets should stock more British food. All I can say is “what is wrong with the other 22% of consumers!!
I fully support the NFU on this campaign, as long as of course, they don’t take their eye of the ball as far as the environment goes. SUSTAINABLE farming at all times.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Clever moths with balls!

Cechenena lineosa - a clever moth!
Bats and moths have been engaged in a natural arms race for nearly 65 million years, each evolving strategies to outwit the other. Scientists have long known that members of the tiger moth family blast bats with ultrasound signals, resembling the echolocation calls bats make as they search for and close in on prey. But tiger moths were assumed to be the only moth group able to imitate the bats' signals.
But now a study has shown that several species of tropical hawkmoths can rasp their genitals against their abdomens to beam out loud ultrasound signals at approaching bats, possibly as a weapon used to throw the hunters off course.
Behavioural ecologist Jesse Barber of Boise State University in Idaho and phylogeneticist Akito Kawahara of the University of Florida in Gainesville went to Borneo to try their luck with hawkmoths, a large family of excellent flyers, many of which are found in the tropics.
When the researchers played bat ultrasound to the hawkmoths, they found that three species (Cechenena lineosa, Theretra boisduvalii and Theretra nessus) that they had captured emitted ultrasound clicks in response.
The purpose of this behaviour is not known. It is thought that the moths' ultrasound perhaps serves as a boastful warning to bats of the hawkmoths' barbed legs and excellent aerial skills. One the other hand, it maybe that the hawkmoths are jamming the bats' sonar, as one species of tiger moth has already been shown to do. Either way, the fact that hawkmoths can also make ultrasound clicks means it is likely that "there are even more insect groups that make sounds back at bats", Barber claimed.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Want to feel calm and relaxed? Well, take a hike!

A new report from Natural England reveals that the English adult population made approximately 2.85 billion visits to the outdoors between March 2102 and February 2013. The 4th annual monitoring report contains a wealth of information about visits made to the natural environment - where we travel from, where we visit, what we do when we're out there, and how experiencing the natural environment impacts on our behaviour, attitudes and general wellbeing.
Since the first annual report was published, the proportion of people taking at least one visit to the outdoors in the previous week for health and exercise has increased significantly from 34 per cent in 2009 to 44 per cent in 2013. Respondents to the survey also consistently agreed that being out in the natural environment made them feel 'calm and relaxed' or 'refreshed and revitalised'.
The survey shows that green spaces near home are an important part of modern life. Visits tend to be taken close to where people live, with two thirds of visitors travelling within two miles of their home. The survey shows that 92 per cent of people 'agree' that having green spaces close to where they live is important. The evidence from this report is being used by Public Health England to help local authorities identify priorities for greening their communities which will, in turn, improve people's health and wellbeing. More details at Natural England Visitor Numbers PDF
Walking in the countryside is gaining in popularity

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

A spash of summer yellow clears the clouds.

I was working near Chichester in Sussex yesterday, on Lordington farm run by Andrew Elms. This is a Conservation Grade (CG) farm and I was doing a habitat assessment for CG to make sure that Andrew is meeting the strict criteria laid down by the Grade and where appropriate, giving advice to help improve these habitats even further.
Lordington is situated in a attractive part of the South Downs and to be quite honest, it would be difficult to have classified this as “work” - walking around this delightful farm on a beautiful summer’s day!  
Part of Andrew’s business is growing Lordington Lavender, much of which has now been harvested to be made into the oils, soaps and creams that are so sort after, creating a vibrant business. Luckily for me, Andrew had left 3 strips un-harvested for the wildlife to enjoy, and enjoy it they did! The strips were covered in all sorts of different butterflies and bees, including the first two Clouded yellow butterflies I have seen this year.    
   The Clouded Yellow is primarily an immigrant to the UK, originating from North Africa and southern Europe, with numbers varying greatly from year to year. It is amazing to think that this species, like a number of others such as the Painted Lady butterfly, have crossed the channel to lay their eggs here with us on plants such as Clovers, Lucerne and Bird’s foot trefoil.
I have put some photos onto here so you can see for yourselves what beautiful splashes of summer they are!
A stunning Clouded Yellow Butterfly

Two clouded yellow - more than enough to make my day!