Spring has sprung.

OK, so maybe it is obvious to most people that it is now spring, but some of us have our own signs that the season has changed (for me Winter comes with the arrival of goosanders). So, the clocks have gone forward, the daffodils are out and, yesterday, so was the sun, and it was warm, but to me, the telltale sign of spring occurred this morning on my way to work. It was the sound of a chiffchaff calling. I stopped to listen and make sure, but there really is no mistaking the call of a chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita).

According to the Bird Guides website which has pictures and more information about the chiffchaff, the best way to distinguish this little brown job from the equally small and brown Willow Warbler is by its black legs. In my experience I rarely see one before I have heard it and the call is enough to distinguish it from anything else.

I have seen them in Winter, but they usually return to nest in Spring, the ones landing in these shores are thought to have wintered in southern Europe and Africa. So, the next time you are out and about listen for the call of one of the earlier and most vociferous migrants to these shores.

There is no such thing as an environmentally – friendly diesel car.

In the latest issue of the RSC’s Chemistry World (April 2008/Volume 5/Number 4/Page4) there is a small news article confirming what I have always suspected – there is no such thing as a good diesel car. The article reports on recently published findings which seem to indicate that far from being better for the environment (of which we are a part) low emission diesels may in fact be worse than their soot-chucking predecessors. The smaller sizes of the emitted particles can apparently penetrate more easily into lung tissue. This just goes to prove that the only way to help the environment and ourselves is to leave the car at home and use our feet – after all, that is why we have them.

Big Garden Birdwatch Results

The results of the big garden birdwatch were released this week and seem to reflect a lot of my own observations this Winter. Although the average number of birds counted has dropped since the first survey in 1979, there are some success stories. The most noticeable of these has been the rise of the goldfinch which sits in tenth position (replacing the greenfinch which drops down to eleventh – reflecting the low numbers that I was seeing earlier in the year). This is not surprising as I regularly have 4 of these(and up to 7) at any one time fighting over the sunflower hearts. Also of note was the increase in the numbers of other finches such as siskins (which enter the Top 20 for the first time) and bramblings seen in gardens. Although I didn’t see any on the actual day, this year marks my first ever sighting of a brambling (a female came in with some chaffinches for a couple of weeks) and the first time I had siskins in my garden (a male and female were there sporadically over a couple of months). This increase this year is thought to be due to a low yield of conifer seed in Scandinavia which has driven birds over here and into gardens. They apparently are attracted by the niger seed which more bird lovers are putting out in their gardens. I can safely say that this is not the case in my garden where sunflower hearts are the finches food of choice with the niger seed feeder being visited only when the goldfinches are chased off the other feeders (by almost anything else as they appear to be way down the pecking order!).

For those that are interested the top bird was the starling, followed by the house sparrow with blackbirds overtaking blue tits to take third place. More information can be found on the RSPB website where they also have the top ten listed for all the counties. The Northants list is as follows:

1. Starling

2. House Sparrow

3. Blackbird

4. Blue Tit

5. Chaffinch

6. Collared Dove

7. Woodpigeon

8. Robin

9. Goldfinch

10. Great Tit

I have to say that the numbers of sparrows in my garden has reduced this Winter, I am not sure though if this is because they are less keen on the sunflower hearts than they used to be on the mixed seed that I used to put out. I think I will get a better estimate when they start breeding and I put the mealworms out. As far as my list goes this Winter has definitely seen the rise of the chaffinch and the goldfinch which have by far outnumbered all the other species.

Easter Snow

I had a long list of things that I had intended to do over the 4 day Easter break, but the weather put paid to many of them. The last week has seen rain, wind, hail and, for the last two days, snow. However, we did manage to get out into the garden and move some plants and the snow does not seem to have done anything any harm – as witnessed by the huge number of birds in my garden this weekend.

Rhubarb in the snowAlso sticking two fingers up at the weather are the various plants which are putting on their spring growth including the rhubarb shown in the photograph which is poking its bright cheery stalks above the ground and giving me great hope of the crumbles and cakes to come. (Rhubarb is also great in a stir fry!)

Frogspawn – the prognosis is not good.

Less than two weeks ago I was delighted to discover frogspawn in our recently redeveloped pond. I did some research on the internet and discovered it would be about a month before the tadpoles emerged but was a little disheartened to read that the spawn rises to the surface of the pond so that it is warmed by the sun. Mine didn’t do that – and it needs all the help it can get in the north-facing garden – this is not a pond to hang around in, lazing about – well not in Winter / Spring / Autumn. What is the lazy frogspawn doing I wondered. But the worst was yet to come – following all the wind and rain I looked in the pond and discovered it had gone deeper (although not much deeper because the pond is less than 2 feet deep). But, this morning there seemed to be some ice on the surface of the pond, and snow is forecast for the weekend (although I don’t remember the last time the weather forecast was right). I went to have a look this evening and the situation looks dire. Not only is the spawn at the bottom of the pond, it looks sickly and cloudy. I fear the worst for my would-be frogs, it looks as though another year will go by without any tadpoles and froglets.

Peregrines – adaptable and evil!

I listened to a BBC Wildlife Magazine podcast this morning whilst eating my porridge and was fascinated to hear about a side of peregrine falcons that I had never heard about before.

It is a much-publicized fact that more peregrines are taking up residence in cities these days and feeding on those pesky pigeons. Apparently though these only make up around half of their diet. Other city dwelling birds such as blackbirds and thrushes also fall victim, but the surprising fact as far as I am concerned was that they are also rather partial to other birds such as woodcock, water rail and various ducks such as teal. I have visited numerous cities in my time and don’t remember coming across many of these (or any peregrines unfortunately). These are birds that spend most of the day in places that the falcon cannot catch them and tend to do most of their flying about at night. The crafty peregrines use the light pollution of the city to hunt by and catch these birds unaware.

Matters are tipped further into the peregrines’ favour by the light-coloured bellies of the wildfowl developed to prevent fish from seeing them easily from underwater which are nicely illuminated by the street lights!

Recycling at the supermarket.

Whilst doing my weekly shop this evening at the previously lauded Waitrose I noticed a bin next to the magazine section. This was labelled as a repository for all of the unwanted supplements and advertisements in the magazines. What a great idea, it saves me having to put them in the recycling at home and earns them brownie points. The question is, how do we stop the magazines from putting them in there in the first place. After all, do people buy any of the things they advertise, or do most people, like myself, empty out the magazine as soon as they get home and not pay any attention to them?

Winter Bird Atlas – The First Results Are In

The first newsletter from the BTO reporting on the early findings from the Winter bird surveys has been published. The findings so far indicate an increase in the northern range of the Little Egret (although Winter sightings are mainly confined to the south of the country), an increase for the nuthatch to the north of England and south of Scotland, and a much expected eastern push for the buzzard which was mainly confined to Wales, Scotland and the west of England in the records collected for the last atlas (1981-1984).

The increase in the range of the buzzard is thought to be due to a reduction in the use of pesticides (this should also help the peregrine falcon) and less persecution from more enlightened farmers and gamekeepers.

For anyone interested in finding out more about the Bird Atlas and how they can help they can find more information on the BTO website.

Butterfly World

Just a quick post about an article I read in the Times today (p3) about a butterfly conservation project. A new project is underway to build ‘Butterfly World’ near St Albans which will open in 2011 and is envisaged as a sanctuary for British butterflies, many of which are under threat. The site will contain an Eden-project type dome to house tropical butterflies and will be surrounded by gardens designed to stop the decline of British butterflies.

According to the article three quarters of the 54 resident species of British butterflies have declined in the last 20 years.

For more information about British butterflies and how you can help protect them then the Butterfly Conservation web page has lots of useful information.

The return of Ravens

According to the RSPB website Ravens are believed to be nesting at two sites in Northamptonshire for the first time since the 19th Century. One of the pairs is at an undisclosed location in the south of the county, the other at the RSPB reserve at Fineshade Woods. There have been more numerous sightings in the area that have been reported on the Northamptonshire Bird Club Yahoo Forum and in their bird sightings pages many of which are around the Daventry / Badby area – so who knows, maybe they will one day become a common sight around Borough Hill.

For the full story see the RSPB website