Thursday, 18 April 2013

Nature Notes 2006


by John Haslam, Scotland
I went for a walk on the Downs Sea Wall this afternoon and watched a rook feeding on the sward: it attacked whatever it was getting out with tremendous force like a little piledriver, getting the weight of its neck and shoulder vertically above the head and beak as it struck down. When it tussled with its 'prey' it brought its whole body into play. The 'chin' bit of its bare face was plumped out like a little pelican's pouch - I was going to ask, 'do the birds store food there to take back to the nest?', but I've just seen in my bird book, 'Adults carry food to young in a throat pouch.' I've never noticed this before.

Pitiful sparrows
I saw a painfully pitiful sight this morning, driving to work. There were two dead sparrows on the road, looking to my untrained eye about the size and plumage of adult sparrows, but battered and saturated by the rainstorms - so they might have been fledglings? They had blood on them as though from a cat attack. Standing by them was an adult male sparrow, and totally contrary to normal bird behaviour it didn't move as I drove up to it, just stood there. I had to stop the car in order not to drive over it. I couldn't help but think, 'As though in grief'.

Treen Beach by Vivienne Shanley
I've just been walking and camping in Cornwall, mostly between Penzance and Lands End (really magnificent, grand coastline from Treen westwards). Here are some nature notes and questions.
I camped two days in the back of my car at Treen, in the meadow carpark where they let you stay overnight for a small charge. I do recommend this as a wonderful way to birdwatch - you lie relaxed with windows all around, at the quiet times of dawn and day and see some lovely sights.
- On the coastpath west of Minnack I watched a gannet hunt and dive - always a magnificent sight. Nearby a bunch of birdwatchers were looking out for Cory's shearwaters being blown shorewards by a storm.
- Inland and on the path I saw many butterflies and dragonflies, including red admiral, peacock, clouded yellow, meadow browns, blues (feeble ID I'm afraid, as, as so often with birds, this is my first attempt to name them). I looked at many of them through binoculars, to see them 'closer up' then I could with my naked eye. A peacock is astonishing viewed like this. It's the lower wings that are the convincing 'eyes', quite powerful and mesmerising, the upper ones more like fancy ears? And the whole thing looks like the work of a graffiti artist, particularly the freeform blue 'spray paint' zagging from the upper eyes.
- The most striking dragonflies I saw were large black and gold striped, the stripes being diagonal on the
Golden-ringed dragonfly
by Johnny Durnan
front body. Is this a golden-ringed?
- I watched a kestrel hovering above the coast path in a really strong headwind from the sea, and maintaining perfect position. Its outline was very different than normal as it took up a really extreme position, with wings strongly cranked, all feathers outstretched and tail flared. I had to discuss this with my resident aeronautist at home, as to the naked eye the only force to set against the wind was the bird's weight, which was obviously insufficient. He confirmed that in this strong diving position there would be lift engendered at right angles to the slope of the body, sufficient to 'pull' the bird up and forwards and keep it in position. Clever stuff...
- At the same site (above the lighthouse between Treen and Lamorna), I saw what appeared to be a natural plantation of some strange plants I have not ever (knowingly) seen before or since (I collected a sample to send to Darrel but it fell apart). In fact they looked like a small Xmas tree plantation, but made up of needly shrubs with a growth habit like an Xmas tree, very dark colour, and fluffy pale flowers at the tips. Any ideas?
- As usual on a coast path I saw many of those lovable, slow, rotund black beetles with big feet, which are often helpless on their backs, and equally often dead - squashed by passing feet. My questions are - how and on what do they live? Why have they evolved with this helplessness and how do they survive as a species?
- I visited the beautiful village of Sancreed (to see its holy well) and its Church. The church was locked but I sat in the porch, where swallows had built their nest and were only slightly shy of dashing in and out to feed their young about three feet from one's nose. I saw a similar sight in a seaside church near Hartland Point a couple of years ago, with martins, and felt equally charmed and privileged.
- I spent some time watching groups of swallows congregating and 'talking' together on phone lines. I had no idea they had such a varied and imaginative way of communicating with each other - you almost felt you wanted to join in...

Turtle, by Brocken Inaglory
Does anyone have any thoughts on this?: Animals have a lifespan that goes from very brief, hours or days, to between 50 to 100 years for the very long lived - humans, elephants, turtles, parrots....
Plants and shrubs also have lifespans that go from a brief season to perhaps 20 years of so. But as shrubs become trees suddenly it's a different ball game, and by huge factors. A typical tree could last from 100 to 200 years, and the long living ones from 200 to 2000 years upwards. What in nature and evolution has developed so that a tree could live such an enormous span when no other living thing comes close?

Des’s ‘Rubbish birds’
(A jokey fellow member started a thread on 'birds we don't like'...) I tried to think of a non-charismatic bird but couldn't. But there are two I have a problem with, tho' the reasons are pitifully anthropomorphic. One is the magpie: it's not the egg 'n chick eating, but that this exotic-looking bird which should be quite beautiful, is awkward both on its legs and in flight, in a strangely sinister way. Shades of Carlos Castaneda and the hopping crows that morph into female sorcerers...
The other is starlings, with whom I live in close contact as there's loads of them up here in Filton, sitting on all our roofs, in the gardens etc. Beautiful though they are swirling in flocks, and attractive tho their plumage is, it's something about the way they never acknowledge you're there, not by eye movement or any other way. Also they quarrel a lot. And more shades of C. Castaneda - I've always found that crooning sound they make reminiscent of the ghosts who try and lure you off your path (in the books, that is), whom you can only recognise because of their extra-sweet, silvery alluring voices...

Red kites & Lambourn Vale
(Later note: the allure of red kites has lessened as they have got more common...) Just had the most stunning experience walking today in the Lambourn Vale in Berkshire (north of Hungerford, east of Swindon), up on the chalk downs just south of the Ridgeway. The weather was south westerly stormy with some teeming rain. I was in an upland valley by a large free-range chicken farm (above South Fawley I think) when I saw 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 and eventually 6 red kites quartering the valley. I got the most superb close views of them - they are so BIG and majestic, and the colouration of their wings was absolutely magnificent.
They were constantly circling over arable fields, woodland, and the chicken enclosures, and a couple of times I saw them swooping down into one chicken enclosure close enough to touch the grass, but I couldn't see them fly off with anything. At one point a pair of them circled and hovered above my head, and I felt as though I was prey, or they hoped I'd feed them a tasty morsel! Finally as the weather worsened and I was leaving this area, I saw one perched in a woodland tree. Would the chicken farm be a big attraction for them? Would they ever have a go at a live bird?
by Peter Facey
Pheasants flustered guiltily away from the enclosures when I startled them pinching the hens' food...
The autumn colouration was fabulous, glowing flame colours all over the place, like going through a tube of glowing gold when traversing the woodland paths. There was a beech tree on the edge of a wood of such (that word again) magnificence I don't know if I can describe it: Large and ample, more like an oak than a beech in shape, its trunk, branches and twigs sharply black where the rain had touched them and khaki elsewhere, it still had most of its leaves. In the southwesterly winds these formed an undulating dancing veil across the tracery of branches, of fiery copper.

I see this elderly woman, quite a tartar. Yesterday she was opening Xmas cards, some of which showed robins. She said, 'I WISH they wouldn't send me robins.' I asked why, she said: 'I can't BEAR robins.' I didn't dare ask her why - some childhood trauma?...

Ring-necked parakeet
by Christine Matthews
Last night I dreamt I was walking down a street with a companion, somewhere in this vicinity, when I saw a couple of parakeets in a tree. 'Look!' I cried, delighted, 'Parakeets!' When we stopped to look further, the trees went back in a sort of arcade from the road and the branches of each tree were full of scores of parakeets glowing green and gold in the winter light. 'Wow' I thought, 'Parakeets come permanently to the West at last! I'm going to have to write this up in Bristol Wildlife. Now, about how many of them are there?'...
I fear this birding business is getting to me.

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