Sunday, 29 January 2017

Post 456 - Big Garden Birdwatch 2017

Blackbirds were the bird I saw most of -
there were nine when we first put the food out
Hey everyone, today's Post 456 and as most of you will know, the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch took place this weekend, it's the largest bird survey in the UK, and is also very important for the RSPB, and I guess lots of other conservation organisations. It helps to monitor bird populations and with half a million people doing it they get a lot of data and can see which birds are doing well and which aren't doing so well. Essentially, all you have to do to help is spend an hour looking out of your window at birds in your garden or you could go to your local park and pretty much anywhere else you can think of. The only two rules are to not count birds that fly over you, only ones that stop in your garden, as others around you also doing the Birdwatch could count them too, and only count how many you ever see at one time, not sightings, or you will probably end up counting the same birds several times.

It's surprising how many different birds you can see in just an hour, but also, other birds you've seen every day in the garden might not always turn up. Chris Packham tweeted that he had four nuthatches in his garden at the same time, Norman, the name I gave to a Nuthatch that visited us a couple of Autumns ago, didn't turn up sadly, but hopefully somebody else saw him :)

Anyway, the birds that I did see were:
Dunnock peering out of the hedge

9 Blackbirds
1 Wren
1 Coal Tit
3 Blue Tits
2 Great Tits
2 Long-Tailed Tits
1 Robin
3 Wood Pigeons
1 Collared Dove
3 Starlings
3 Dunnocks
1 Song Thrush
1 Carrion Crow
6 House Sparrows

I also saw 18 Mallards, 1 Herring Gull, 3 Black-Headed Gull, and what I'm pretty sure was a flock of about 30 Waxwings but these were all flyovers, so we didn't count them.

Zip in grab a seed and zip off again!
Oh and we got a visit from one of the local squirrels ;-)
Little and large - my biggest and smallest visitors.

It was interesting watching the different bird behaviours. There was a Carrion Crow that was just sat at the top of the trees, watching everything happening, surveying the area and occasionally taking off to go and explore something in the next field, but it didn't venture onto the bird table.

The Coal Tit and Blue Tits just zipped in for a few seconds to grab some food, and then flew off straight away taking their haul somewhere to enjoy safely. The Woodpigeons just walked around the bird table eating as much as possible it seemed, and the Sparrows (who dive into the hedge behind if there's any movement or noise) just jump on every so often to grab some, and then go back to the others. The Wren hardly ever stopped doing little circuits of the garden constantly hopping around searching for scraps to eat. It was nice to get a picture of the Wren next to a Woodpigeon, my smallest visitor next to the day's biggest.
Surveying the area.

The Blackbirds were another one that were interesting to watch. Most took it in turns to peck around the floor but now and again they would squabble to get a place on the bird table. They all seemed to get a good amount to eat and even if they didn't get onto the table the flapping and fighting made sure a few more bits of food found their way onto the ground. The Dunnocks happily helped to mop this up too.

This year I only had one Robin. In other years I've watched a few having little battles about territory, but not this year. In fact the Robin was unusually shy and didn't hang around very long.

One of the House Sparrows - they do well in our garden
Anyway, I always enjoy doing the Garden Birdwatch, and I hope you did as well. If you haven't had a chance to yet you can still take part tomorrow as it's on for an extra day this year.

You can find out more at: Big Garden Birdwatch

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 22 January 2017

Post 455 - Coots, Cannons and a Cool Crisp Morning

A lovely atmospheric dawn at Lingham Lake at Nosterfield 
Hey everyone, today's Post 455 and today's been a long day for me! I woke up at about quarter to 6 and was out by quarter past, Dad & I went to Nosterfield Quarry, as arranged by Jill Warwick and the rest of the East Dales Ringing Group.

Being up and out so early it wasn't even light when we got there. We met up in the car park of the quarry. Today we were hoping to ring some Coots and maybe a few other species using cannon nets, which is a pretty exciting way to catch the birds to ring. We started by splitting into as little cars as possible, as because it's a working quarry and because we wanted to disturb the birds as little as possible so we could get a good catch. Or that was the plan. There had been some shooting in the area recently so the birds were a bit cautious. There were a lot of Coots on the other side of the Lake so a few of us were sent back round that way to see if us being there would encourage the birds toward the area with the food that had been put out.

Lapwings & Golden Plover over the lake
Going back over to this side of the Lake was lovely. It was just getting light and it was incredibly atmospheric being there. It was very still and really quiet with only the calls of Curlew and Lapwing to hear. The sun started peaking through the trees over the mounds of gravel and it was just slightly misty. I was tired, but I really enjoyed being there in the moment.

We didn't know if our plan was working as we watched the birds over the water from our screen but suddenly the peace was briefly shattered by the boom of the cannons. Yes cannon netting is just that. A few cannon are set up to fire big weights which pull a big net over a target area. The calm was soon restored as the Lapwings, Curlew and Golden Plover that had flown up settled back down as cannon smoke drifted across the lake.

It wasn't until we got back round to the netting area that we found out what was caught. in fact 27 Coots had been caught and they were all safely bagged up ready to ring. Not the biggest catch but a good number to ring.

One of the Coots that was ringed. They're lovely up close.
You might wonder why birds are ringed. Well it's all about understanding more about birds lives, how they move around, how long they live, their population levels etc. Collecting all this data lets us understand the birds more and to be able to help them better if they are suffering population declines.

It's a quick process when the rings are put on, the birds are weighed, their wing length is measured, their age and sex is worked out. This time round as well a colour ring was added. Two were recaptured but I didn't see the one I had ringed last year. It had the ring  DAZ which for me stands for Did Attack Zach - they are feisty little birds as you can read in last years post!

It only took until about 10.30 to do all the ringing and then pack up. The big nets had to be put away as did the cannons - they're a bit heavy! Then it was back to the Quarry office for a cup of tea and a piece of homemade flapjack thanks to the Quarry manager Chris's wife.

Packing the cannons away.
Apologies for the crimes against fashion  but you really
needed to dress up warm!
Before we headed home Dad and I popped to the main reserve at Nosterfield to see what was about. The water levels are really low but there was plenty to see. We were only there about 30 minutes but there were hundreds of birds. A Heron, Redshank, Teal, Wigeon, Grey Heron, Curlew, Golden Plover. Rooks, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese. 

Again it was really quiet, we were the only ones in the hide and we couldn't see anyone else on the reserve all we could hear were the call of Lapwing and Curlew. So the morning ended like it had started really relaxing and atmospheric. 

So if you fancy a new hobby and want to help nature - try ringing and birdwatching.  

Cold? Sometimes very! Tiring? Well you do get up early! Worth it? Always!

Hope you enjoyed,


Saturday, 21 January 2017

Post 454 - Wonderful Winter Wandering Waxwings

What's that in the tree there?
Hey everyone, today's post 454 and, as we're into the new year and well into Winter we're in between the main bird migrations. However there are still some birds that move about and come to England throughout the Winter if the conditions are right. You might be thinking of birds like Lapwings that move from the continent in Winter if it gets very cold.  But they're not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the birds my Mum and Dad had in their garden before I was born, the birds Dad saw walking to Sainsbury's last week while I was at school,  and what I finally saw today. Waxwings! This bird for some reason is quite special to me, for no other reason that it's a bird

I love the look of and I've been looking for, for a few years now, and I got so excited when I finally put my camera on them.

Our family was heading out to Ripon for a walk we haven't done yet this year so we thought it would be nice. We heard that there were about 24 Waxwings seen in a village nearby us which was on the way so we made a detour and tried to see them but failed. We carried on and I had a nice walk along the river and through the woods and saw Grey Wagtails, Treecreepers, a Bullfinch, Great Tits and Blue Tits etc. It was nice to be out and I'd forgotten the disappointment of not seeing the Waxwings.

They're Waxwings!
We were about a minute away from home when we went past a road and I looked down it to a big tree. I saw a large flock of medium-sized birds sat in it so I asked Dad to turn the car around. I held out no hope that they were actually Waxwings, but I was curious and when we drove back to them, there they were! It was fabulous to see them at last! I'd taken my muddy boots off after the walk so I was just in my socks but I was straight out of the car as soon as Dad had pulled up. The soggy feet were worth it as I watched the flock, I counted 36 in all, moving between the big tree I'd seen them in and a small berry laden tree in someone's garden. Their feeding is quite a frenzy. We watched them for quite a while until my feet were really cold and wet!

It was a pretty grey day but I got some OK photos of them but let's get on with some facts.
  • They are usually found in large flocks flying between berry trees to eat, the flock I saw was 36 Waxwings, and on RBA most sightings are of flocks about this size.
  • There are about 10,000 birds found here in the Winter, quite a big amount when you only see them in small flocks.
A feeding freny on the berry bush.
  • Seeing as this number is holding pretty stable at the moment, and it doesn't show signs of falling, they have a Green conservation status.
  • Probably the most distinguishing feature of a Waxwing is its crest, you can see a relatively large tuft of feathers stick up on the top of the bird, if you see this you recognise the bird immediately.
  • If you want to see them, look on RBA or some way of finding out what's around, and just look around keeping eyes on all trees near berry trees, they usually jump between one tree and food.
  • Speaking of their food, in the summer they eat insects but in the winter they eat berries, mostly Rowan and Hawthorn, but they will also eat Cotoneaster and Rose.
  • They're a bit smaller than a starling, being, on average, 18cm long with a 34cm wingspan. Both Males and Females weigh exactly the same, about 63g.
  • A surge of Waxwings in Winter is not technically called a migration. It is instead an 'irruption'. I'm not sure why but I think it's because they only come for a little time in Winter for food.
A closer look in the berry tree.
  • The Waxwings we see here in the UK are most likely from Scandinavia. If berry crops are poor there they will move to look for food.
  • The first record of Waxwings in the UK was in York, hardly any time ago as well, in 1680, they've done quite well to get their numbers up so quickly.

Anyway, I'm so happy that I saw these beautiful birds, I got quite jealous when I heard my Dad had seen them, but now I've seen them too!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 8 January 2017

Post 453 - Fabulous Frost

A crisp frosty walk in Silton forest
Hey everyone, today's Post 453 and I think it's the perfect time to do this post. As it's early in the New Year now and Winter is well underway it's definitely right to do my first ever post on frost. It's not been that wintery yet where we are but over the Christmas holidays there were a few days when we went for walks where there was quite a bit of frost. I've probably covered frost slightly in some of my Patterns in Nature posts, but I don't believe I've done one completely on frost, so in this post I'm going to say how frost is formed, and what it is.

So, what is frost?

Frost even brings out the patterns in a pile of leaves.
What most people know about frost is that it's ice crystals formed after a cold snap. Frost only forms if the temperature is below freezing, and there has to be moisture in the air. If it is dry you can get sub zero temperatures without frost. Frost forms when the moisture in the air changes directly from gas to solid.

Frost is renowned for being one of the most beautiful natural occurrences. The patterns it can make on leaves for example are beautiful. There are lots of different types of frost, which I have listed below with their definitions:

Advection Frost - is tiny ice spikes that are created when there is a very cold wind blowing over branches of trees, poles and other high up surfaces. Usually it forms against the direction of the wind. It can occur at any time, Day or Night.

Frost up close - here its formed icy tubes
Air Frost - when the air temperature is below freezing and there is water in the atmosphere ice crystals form. Generally an air frost forms on surfaces a metre above the ground.

Ground Frost - similar to an air frost but ice crystals form on the ground. Sometimes the ground can cool quicker than the air so you can get ground frosts without an air frost.

Some crystals were amazingly long!
Hoar Frost - This is where white ice crystals are deposited on the ground. They form on cold, clear nights when the conditions let heat radiate out to the open sky faster than other sources (such as wind or warm objects) can replace it. The name 'Hoar' comes from an Old English adjective that means something is showing signs of old age. In this context it means the frost makes trees and bushes look like white hair!

There are also several different sub-types of Hoar Frost:

  • Air Hoar is a deposit of Hoar Frost on objects ABOVE the ground, such as tree branches, plant stems, and wires.
  • Surface Hoar is fern-like ice crystals directly deposited on snow, ice or already frozen surfaces, usually ON the ground.
It made this plant look like a crystal chandelier
  • Crevasse Hoar consists of crystals that form in crevasses where water vapour can accumulate in calm weather conditions. This is IN the ground.
  • Depth Hoar refers to cut crystals that have slowly grown bigger within caves UNDER banks of dry snow. Depth Hoar crystals keep growing, seemingly consuming neighbouring smaller crystals.

White Frost - Is a rare type of frost that forms when the humidity is over 90% and the temperature is below -8*C and it grows against wind direction.

A bramble branch with new icy spikes!
Window Frost - This is a formation of amazing looking crystals that can be found on windows, such as car windscreens or house windows. Water vapour condenses on the glass forming frost patterns.

There are also phenomena called Glaze and Rime which are slightly different. They are formed when supercooled fog or drizzle come into contact with surfaces. Rime forms on vertical surfaces and glaze forms on the ground - sometimes known as Black Ice.

The best I could do to capture the frosty sparkle
One of the things I like about frost too is the folklore of Jack Frost - the mischievous character that paints the ice patterns on windows and nips the noses of people on cold days! Jack Frost seems to have been around in folklore since the 1700's but there are lots of other myths in other cultures associated with winter. In Norse mythology Ullr was the god of winter, son of a frost giant and ruler of Asgard in Odins absence in winter. In Russia there is a Father Frost. He's a bit different to Jack Frost as he is essentially their Santa and he delivers the presents helped by a Snow Maiden.

I didn't know nearly as much as I did about frost as I do now! I didn't know there are types of frost that could grow in the day, or that there was even more than one type of frost.

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 2 January 2017

Post 452 - Petition update

Looking after the little things that rule the world!
Hey everyone, Post 452 and first things first Happy New Year! I hope you all have a wonderful, wildlife filled 2017.

Dad and I did a little film on post 450 that showed some of the things that I had been up to this year. One of the things I did was to start a petition. After reading and talking a lot about Brexit I began to understand that we would probably need a whole new set of laws when we leave the EU as a lot of our laws are made by Europe. Not everyone is happy about that, but some laws that we have from the EU are some good laws that protect nature. So I thought it would be good to try and help nature and try to get those laws saved.

The petition is linked here.

It's really interesting doing a petition and starting to watch it grow. You really don't know when you start off if any one will agree with you apart from the few people that have to sign to start you off. So with only a few days left on the petition, which closes on the 6th January, I am amazed that 7,157 people have signed. Thank you so much everyone who's signed and those who supported my Thunderclaps.
I had started to get a bit excited that I might get a response from government as the numbers started to grow but with only a few days left I know that probably won't happen. I'm not too disappointed though as a couple of things have happened which I think are positive for nature by the Government.

On my petition page the Government did sort of respond and put two links to some very long videos of sessions of the Environment Audit Committee. In one of them Andrea Leadsom, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is questioned. It all seems very complicated but I've talked about it with my family and I think it's going to be like this:
How will our environment be looked after?
  • When we leave the EU there will be a bill - the Great Repeal Bill - which means that all EU laws will become UK laws.
  • Some laws may need some technical legal changes to be brought into UK law.
  • Then the Government will examine all the laws and see if we want to keep them, change them or scrap them.
  • This might take quite a long time so some people are asking that laws that are not looked at in 5 years are scrapped.
  • The department that looks after the environment DEFRA is producing a 25 year plan to look after the environment.
  • All of the work done by the Environmental Audit Committee is being put into a report just before my petition closes
So, the good news is that there are lots of people that are already looking at laws that will be needed to look after nature when we leave Europe. When we leave the EU all the laws will become UK laws, but Government will review them.  Perhaps the not so good news is that the person in charge has also said they want to have a vote to repeal the hunting ban!

We've asked Govt, academics & policy experts about the Natural Environment after the EU Ref. Read our report on Jan 4th. #PostEUEnvironment

A lot of changes are planned and I think we will all need to spend 2017 watching the changes closely!

Here's the petition link again :-)

Hope you enjoyed,