Nature Notes for February

Red Kite
Red Kite

I must begin this month’s notes with an overdue acknowledgement of reader David Brooks. Thanks David for clarification of Britain’s lonely albatross (“AKA Albert Ross”). Note the clever word play, brilliant!

Note the clever word play, brilliant! Weather wise so far we southern softies have had little to complain about so maybe another easy winter. There is a certain tabloid newspaper which is obsessed with this topic and regularly forecast apocalyptic “Big Freeze”, “all doomed Mainwaring” type scenarios. “Four inches of snow…” yes quite normal over the Cairngorms! The recent feared storm surge was thankfully not as dire as forecast, good news for the folks of Jaywick. I should add though that to ignore evacuation warnings does seem risky. Are we the only readers who chuckle at such headlines? Sorry – another of my digressions – Frau Cox is frowning.

Willow coppice

Willow coppice

So here we are then, already well into 2017. What have we noticed lately? It will be sometime before I can comment on plant (something arboreal later) or insect life so ornithological subjects will inevitably catch most of our attention. I should mention something about the diamond backed moth which apparently devastated some sprout plantations. Reader’s comments? Only a few days ago we were delighted to see our first red kite of the year as we drove into Lynn on the A17. Our automobile has a useful glass panel in its roof. It was a fleeting glimpse yet enough to convey the grace of kites, such a leisurely, “time on my hands” sort of glide. That forked tail making identification so easy. Red kites are another of those success stories that raise spirits at a time when every day brings news of yet more threats to the natural world via foolish human activity.

I cannot see these birds without my mind drifting back four decades when as an RSPB volunteer I was privileged to witness the release of imported kites into the Insh Marshes area of the highlands. These birds were wing tagged with blue, numbered plastic. All of course in aid of tracking their dispersal. Now of course they are regularly seen in just about every county. Like many viewers of the seasonal offerings we did enjoy the delightful animation “We’re going on a bear hunt.” Did you spot the accurate depiction of red kites? I frequently browse my weathered copy of “Natural History of Selbourne.” Gilbert White tells us that during his day (1770’s) kites were know as “gleads” in northern areas, from an ancient Anglo-Saxon term (glidan) referring to their buoyant gliding flight.

Undoubtedly the cheeriest news for naturalists locally is the sighting of dolphins in the Great Ouse near King’s Lynn. What a treat this must have been for those who saw them. We were told that only fourteen sightings of these cetaceans off the county’s coast have been recorded since 1800 which was a big surprise to me. I am using a long precious paragraph for this topic as I am so chuffed at the news. Any similar sightings to Carl Chapman at “Sea Watch Foundation.” The story appeared in the Lynn News with an excellent photo by David Beesley.

From this joyous report I switch to a rather sad local one, right on my doorstep. St Clement has bid farewell to one of its oldest residents, possibly 600 years old. This grand old willow tree sadly had to go due to its instability. The stump it seems is to be left so hopefully we may see a sprightly regrowth of new mini willows (coppicing?). Fortunately such willows are not as ecologically valued or treasured in folklore as an oak or elm.

Blackbird

Blackbird

Lack of severe frost has retained lots of fruit on one of our crab apple trees. Members of the thrush family in particular await the frost to soften these fruits. We no longer have that crafty female sparrow hawk who liked to lurk in an out-of-sight corner of a hedge backed fence watching its prey tucking into the fruit. She was a canny gal, always waited for three or more birds to be distracted by their feasting before launching her attacks which as far as we could see were mostly failures. I guess an average blackbird in good fettle might weigh up to 100g. Stripped down to the edible flesh that might be 10g. Could well keep a hawk going for a day depending on temperature etc. As with most raptors the males tend to be about one third of the females size. If you read these notes regularly will know that like Mr Packham this species is something of an obsession.

As ever finishing on a positive note. Our future king has just penned a Ladybird book on Climate Change, presumably aimed at children, but I reckon that some adults might benefit from it. Well done say I.