Nature and Conservation


Wildlife Ways February 2019



And so it begins…having survived storm Eric unscathed, the milder temperatures and hushed tones of the dawn chorus are gently heralding the imminent arrival of spring.  

Well, when I say ‘hushed’ what I mean is that so far, just a few individual birds are loudly proclaiming their territory and trying to impress the ladies.  This is a great time of year to learn your bird songs as they are much easier to pick out now than in May when all the species are singing together as the dawn chorus reaches its crescendo.  

 In my experience, the best way to learn is by picking out a single call or song and searching out the bird (binoculars might help here, if you have them), this can take a lot of patience but should be a little easier at the moment whilst the branches are still bare.  Once you have found and hopefully identified the vocalist, try, if you can, to observe them singing for a while to help the audio-visual connection.  You could even make up what you think it sounds like.  A good example of this is the song of the yellowhammer which has historically been described as ‘a little bit of bread and no cheese’.   

Having had lots of practice (and a little bit of help along the way from some experts), on the dog walk this morning I was able to pick out the descending scales of the chaffinch, the distinctively loud verses of the song thrush and the repetitive ‘teacher’ or, as I prefer to think of it, squeaky door of the great tit.  The tiny wren’s ‘shrill with a trill’ song and the melodically smooth blackbird’s song.  Then there are the laughing birds - the cackling magpie and the less harsh but not dissimilar yaffle of the green woodpecker. 

I suppose, in the light of the sad decline of the cuckoo over the past 40 years, the most recognisable bird sound is probably the unmistakable drumming of the great-spotted woodpecker. It’s no wonder so many composers looked to the natural world for inspiration – you only have to listen to Vaughan Williams’ Lark Ascending to transport yourself to a warm summer’s day in the English countryside.

The daylight is creeping around the curtains a little earlier in the mornings and the days are languidly stretching out, a little too sloth-like for my liking.  But we must be patient as it is still only February, and although the aconites, crocuses and daffodils are in full bloom, I can still hear my grannie’s voice warning me to ‘ne’er cast a cloot ‘til May is oot!’  As we all are very well aware, the British weather is nothing if not unpredictable and much as I am willing spring to arrive with all my might, I must reign it in, in the knowledge that there could be blizzards and eastern beasties just around the corner waiting to catch me out.

We have the nest boxes cleared out ready and are planning to finish cutting back the bushes in the garden this weekend in advance of March and the breeding season. That said, I have lately been delighted to watch a pair of song thrushes flirting and hopping around the front lawn and underneath the hedgerow where they normally nest and have seen reports of long-tailed tits nest building already, sadly not in my garden. We will definitely need to double check the bushes before we begin our gardening work.

I’m hopeful that this year the blue tits return to use the camera nest box and am pleased to report that we do have some activity caught on film – the motion trap camera has some excellent footage of not just the blackbird pilfering the hedgehog food but starlings too!  They obviously get up a lot earlier than me as there is no real activity overnight just these very early birds.  No sign of any prickly friends yet but it’s only a matter of time, especially in this mild spell.

I hope that you too are getting the opportunity to get out and about to spot and enjoy the first signs of spring, after all it is the season of new beginnings…  

Please feel free to ask questions, send me your wildlife news or offer suggestions of what you would like me to include in future -113 Ermine Street or and thank you for all of the emails you have sent so far.