Nature Notes for June with Malcolm Cox

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Starlings, don’t we all just curse them when they descend mob handed upon the mealworms that we have just put out for blackbirds and that timid robin that lurks to collect what is left on the dish.

Starlings, the Derek Trotter of the bird world. In appropriate light at the right time of the year their seemingly dull plumage can sparkle. We have a gap near a dormer window which has housed nesting starlings for about three years. The remains of an egg lay on the shingle garden. What a lovely colour it is, turquoise blue.

As June gets under way millions of eggs will be laid. A clutch of blackbird or dunnocks eggs is a wonderful sight. We have no blackbird nest this year but dunnocks are again safely installed in a clematis/honeysuckle thicket, impenetrable and secure.

Every breeding season brings joy and hassle for all nature reserve wardens especially where rare species are concerned. A Lynn News report from April reminded us that up to 300 oologists (egg collectors) continue to trouble RSPB and similar wildlife protection bodies. In co-operation with law enforcement the RSPB has again launched “Operation Compass.” The rarer the species the greater the challenge for the more ruthless collector.

As I stood looking at that starling egg remains it occurred to me that it had been many years since I actually read up on the subject, it was time to refresh my knowledge.

Eggs are formed using mostly calcium (for the shell) in a variety of background colours. That lovely blue of the starling egg occurs frequently. The song thrush for example is an identical colour but with blackish spots on the “blunt” end of the egg. It is those markings, all sorts of squiggles and spots which made oology such a tempting hobby for Victorian gents. These markings are added just before the eggs are laid. As we know many species have been collected almost to extinction.

This brings me to an observation from the back garden which brought back so many memories. On the 10th of May I recorded an osprey making haste due north. Rather a late migrant and as such maybe a sub-adult without a mate or breeding territory. In younger days I spent countless hours along with other volunteers at Loch Garden in Speyside. The RSPB is famed for the longest monitoring of any species at this lovely location. Thanks to this pioneering work ospreys are breeding in many locations in Scotland, and a few in Wales and England.

The period March to June is of course the height of bird migration. It is that time of year when birdwatchers especially those of the “twitcher” variety check daily – actually hourly, to see what is arriving on our shores. This years “cosmic” (some readers may fondly remember fellow Brummie Bill Oddie’s somewhat more colourful term) has just turned up in God’s own county. Twitchers have been dashing as only they know how, to catch at glimpse the citril finch which has been displaced to Norfolk’s sand dunes near Holkham beach. I am alas now too old and grizzled to participate in such madcap events.

On May 13th I joined a group of ramblers for a short stroll along Snettisham beach. It was nice to see a couple of little egrets, a couple of buzzards, avocet and myriads of waders, many of which such as knot should really be on northern breeding grounds. It was also good to hear so many summer breeders, warblers, back in good voice. It was also good to see tough survivors emerging from the shingle. There were fine spikes of hounds tongue, cushions of thrift (sea pink) and of course that icon of the shoreline horned poppy.

It had been a long while since I had been there. The footpath access issue is now finally resolved. King’s Lynn Ramblers now offers more shorter walks in recognition alas of old geezerdom. Readers will be familiar with the photos of John Hocknell. He joined our group and found a “nest” of brown-tail moth caterpillars. This was new to me. I have seen the adult moths before but never the larvae. These creatures have the protection of irritating hairs and should not be handled. There is always something new to be discovered, so thank you John.

Finally, I mentioned in May’s notes the debate on Britain’s national bird. Rex Hansey who writes a similar column for the EDP favours the barn owl. However, my choice would be the dunnock. Almost daily this sombre-plumaged unobtrusive accentor brightens our garden with his sweet, gentle warble. Being such a quietly plumaged bird prunella modularis is easily overlooked. Perhaps that is why I favour it so much.