Wheatears- It is hard to imagine that these lovelyy, robin-sized birds were trapped and eaten in their thousands in this country, for centuries. Migrating from Africa in early March and returning in September, Wheaters (the name derives from the white rump- from ‘white arse’) boosted the meagre income of South Downland shepherds until the early years of the 20th century. In 1842, for example, sixty dozen were sent to
London in one day, on the Eastbourne coach. 1,480 dozen were recorded trapped in the Eastbourne area alone in one year. In 1665 the Rev. Giles Moore records buying two dozen, for one shilling, in Lewes. Highly prized as a delicacy, they were often cooked, wrapped in vine leaves, and roasted. They like open ground- we watched this one on the cliff tops in Suffolk the other day. Conditions: Sun, cloud and cool breeze. Temperature: Max 12- Min 7c.
Otters– after years of watching for Otters, we were recently very lucky to watch this one, spotted by Lynn, at Minsmere, for half an hour, fishing. Its speed was astonishing, frequently leaping out of the water and successfully catching many fish. The hide window was closed at the time and no-one dared open it, so the photo’s aren’t great but the experience was! You will see much better shots, probably of this very Otter, on Springwatch at the end of May. Since virtually disappearing from central and south-east England by the 1970’s, due to organo-chlorine pesticides, habitat loss and persecution, they have made a steady recovery, even sighted on the River Don in Sheffield now. Conditions: The hot spell continues. Temperature: Max 20- Min 13
Otter at Minsmere
Otter with fish
Otter leaping out of the water.
Bearded Tits- possibly the most mis-named UK bird, being neither a Tit nor having a beard, this beautiful, elusive reed-bed bird can sometimes be located by its ‘ping’ call. This year at Minsmere I at last got some shots, and if you watch Springwatch from that location later in the month they will doubtless show these lovely birds. They nest low down in dense reeds but their long tails and cinnamon colour make them identifiable when they flit from one patch of reeds to another. The male has wonderful black ‘moustaches’ and both male and female cling to swaying reeds with great agility. Badly affected by cold
Female Bearded Tit
winters they have fared quite well this year. Conditions: Light cloud and very warm days. Temperature: Max 19- Min 13c..
Roe Deer- well, although we aren’t experts on Deer id we
Roe Deer Buck
Roe Deer Buck
Roe Deer Buck
think this is a (male) Roe Deer, seen recently at the wonderful Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire. Grey/fawn in winter they become redder in summer. The males have small antlers and become territorial; around this time of year. Extinct in England in the 18th century they clung on in Scotland and, since being reintroduced, is now becoming rather overcrowded in some woodlands, which is why they can be increasingly see on scrub-land like this. Their white rump expands when excited or alarmed. They have a black moustache and white chin, as seen in the photos. Conditions: A warm and blue-skied day. Temperature: Max 16- Min 9c.
Barn Owls continued– Our most widely distributed Owls, they are recovering since the devastating impact of DDT sprays in the 1950’s and 60’s but to be sure, the Barn Owl Trust wants anyone who sees one to record it on their (very easy) sightings site. Barn Owls have many adaptations to improve hunting– larger wings and a lighter body means they can fly more slowly and even stall, and hover over prey. Extra soft feathers, and hooks on their leading wing-feathers deadens their sound. Asymmetrical ear-placings, with one higher than the other, means they can locate prey very accurately by hearing alone, even catching Voles etc on the darkest night. Exceptionally long legs and talons means they can catch and kill prey in their talons alone. Some of these photos are in very low light, so blurred, but show their astonishing manoeuvrability. Conditions: More sun and warmth, with some showers. Temperature: Max 12- Min 6c.
Barn Owls- just back from Norfolk and Suffolk, where we had some great walks and nature-watching, including stunning, incredibly lucky views of a Barn Owl at Cley-next-the Sea. The best view was one morning and probably due to the wind and hail that visited us at intervals! Barn Owl feathers are not very water-proof so they will hunt voles, mice and insects in daylight if weather conditions have been unsettled. Magical to watch, it is thought their white under-parts form an ‘anti-silhouette’, the lightness making them less visible to prey, from the ground. More facts, and less clear photo’s tomorrow! Conditions- After a cold spell, with snow showers in Sheffield, so they tell me, a milder spell is on its way.