Nature Notes – latest news

October 2012

Why an update now for Britain’s least consistent wildlife blog?  Because I had a visit to my garden by one of my favourite birds in the whole world, a delightful autumn sprite called the firecrest.  These tiny little birds (along with goldcrest, they are the smallest in the country) have moved from the continent for the winter and, because of their rarity, are always a treat to find.  Traditionally, they have been thought of as continental birds and only very rare breeders in this country, but recently they have been discovered breeding in a number of Kent woodlands.  They are difficult to see in spring, hanging around at the tops of trees and singing at such a high pitch that older people cannot hear them.  They are much more visible at this time of year, and if you get a good view you will see the bright orange crest on top of the head that gives them their name.

Another noteworthy event was recently pointed out by a neighbour; large flocks of brent geese flying in V formation over the village.  I have never noticed this before and can only assume they are travelling from the Swale Estuary, where they are easily seen, to an inland feeding site, probably an agricultural field of some description.  These dark-coloured geese are winter visitors from the high arctic and provide a little taste of real wilderness

Alan Johnson

February 2011

The world of nature has been so exciting recently that I have not had the chance to update this section of the website for some time.  It has been a long, hard winter and this has been reflected in the birdlife.  Over recent years, a series of mild winters have discouraged a suite of species to stay further North.  This has meant that birds that would normally visit our relatively mild shores in large numbers, such as wigeon, teal and pintail, have stayed on the continent to feed.  Not this year.  There have been massive flocks of birds on the marshes around the Swale Estuary, along with some more unusual cold weather refugees, such as great northern divers and lapland buntings.  Closer to to home, the orchards have been full of fieldfares, redwings and siskins.  Because of a shortage of berries in Scandinavia, large numbers of waxwings have invaded Britain.  These Northern invaders are very smart looking animals, with wax-like red drops on the wings (thus the name) and swooping, aquiline crests on top of their heads.

The first signs of spring are on the way.  A few buds, a few more catkins and blackbirds, starlings and blue tits warming up for the looming annual dash to procreate.

 

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

 

23rd June 2010
The recent invasion of Painted Lady butterflies seems to have calmed down.  Thousands of these African migrants passed through the village as part of a broad front across the whole East coast.
Hobbies are regularly seen hunting over the village at the moment.  They nest in old crows nests and are very secretive during the breeding season.  One technique used to monitor them is to identify crows nests in winter, when they are most visible, and revisit in summer to see if hobbies have taken over.  They can be confused for kestrels, but are more slender; rather like a big swift.
I saw something I never knew existed at the weekend.  Lying on the grass watching ants while the kids were trying to climb on my head, I picked one up for a closer look and noticed something slightly different (the sort of slight difference you notice if you spend a lot of time looking at ants.  Which I do).  Rather than the usual opposing mandibles that all ants have, this had a long, sharply pointed proboscis that curved under its head.  In every other respect it looked exactly like the other ants running around in front of me, but was in fact a predatory impostor.  It was an Assassin Bug.  These vampiric insects use their long mouthparts to pierce their prey and suck out the juices.  Sometimes they mimic their prey species, I presume to get closer to the unsuspecting victim.  Sleep tight.

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