Monday, 15 November 2010

Dark clouds looming in nature

Starling roosts to spread across UK skies.

The RSPB is warning that there are dark clouds forming overhead this autumn. But thankfully rather than meaning something foreboding they form part of one of the UK’s most incredible wildlife spectacles.

Hundreds of thousands of starlings will turn the sky black around the UK in the next few weeks, as they come together in huge clouds, wheeling and swooping in unison.

The jaw-dropping wildlife exhibition, known as a ‘murmuration’ can be seen on many of the RSPB’s nature reserves and other sites, and the wildlife charity is organising up close and personal viewings.
One of the most popular sites to see starlings is RSPB Leighton Moss, Silverdale, Lancashire.
Many of the autumn roosts are already forming well, and more and more will flock together as the weeks go on, with numbers swelling to around 100,000 in some places.

Early evening, just before dusk, is the best time to see them as they choose their communal night time shelter.
The huge gatherings are at their largest in winter, as they are boosted by thousands of migrant birds visiting from the European continent for Britain's milder Atlantic climate.

They join forces for safety in numbers in case of predators and to keep warm at night. They also exchange information, such as good feeding areas. They often feed miles away from where they roost and return each evening. On many sites you can almost set your watch by their arrival.

But despite the incredible size of the flocks, these numbers are just a fraction of what they used to be.
Crashes in the starling population of over 70% in recent years mean they are now on the critical list of UK birds most at risk.

The decline is believed to be because of loss of permanent pasture, increased use of farm chemicals and a shortage of food and nesting sites in many parts of the UK.

Johann Holt, RSPB Visitor Services Adviser says: “The starling roost is one of the most incredible natural spectacles we enjoy here in the UK and they are so easy to see. In many cases they are like clockwork – you know that at certain time in the evening the sky will start to turn black and its mesmerizing watching the flock grow and grow.”
Of course the best local place for us is the Runcorn Bridge. Chris

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Waxing lyrical in Lancashire

Nature lovers are waiting with bated breath to see whether recent sightings of waxwings turn into an influx this winter.

The striking birds flood to the UK from Scandinavia every few winters and in between you would be lucky to see one at all.

Their colours mean they wouldn’t look out of place in a tropical rainforest, with a prominent crest and small black mask around their eyes with yellow and white in the wings and a yellow-tipped tail.

But in the coming weeks, you could see them much closer to home in places like supermarket car parks, shopping centres, local parks and RSPB nature reserves.

In recent days, reported waxwing sightings have already come from around Lancashire including Burnley, Barrow (near Clitheroe) and Rishton (near Blackburn).

Waxwings are bold birds which don’t mind feeding close to humans and the RSPB is hoping that seeing the unusual birds will move people to help other migrant birds that may visit their gardens this winter and have a tough time in the cold weather.

And as waxwings feed on berries, the wildlife charity is also urging gardeners to avoid cutting any hedges with the last berries of autumn still on them until they have all been eaten.

They don’t breed in the UK, but are erratic winter visitors. When they come over in larger numbers, it is called an irruption, or ‘waxwing winter’ among nature lovers. They come to the UK when the population on its breeding grounds gets too big for the food available or their preferred food of berries dwindles.

Experts believe that there has been a poor berry crop in the Scandinavian countries they originate from so far this year.

2008 was a fairly good waxwing winter, but the last major influx was in the winter of 04/05.

Ian Hayward, RSPB Wildlife Adviser, says: “Waxwings are really unusual, beautiful birds, and we are getting lots of calls from people asking what the strange bird with the funny crest on its head is.

“They are all over the place at the moment, which suggests a bumper year for waxwings. This will be a treat for everyone as they are easy to see, sometimes in large flocks in excess of 300 birds.

“We hope that in seeing these amazing birds, people will be moved to help other migrant birds that will need their help in their gardens.

Redwings and fieldfares have also travelled thousands of miles, and some blackbirds are also migrant visitors that have come to the UK for our help.

“The reason these birds come to the UK is because they can’t find enough food at home, and as the weather worsens, it will become tricky to find it here too. We can make all the difference by putting out extra food and holding back on cutting hedges with a few last berries still on them.”

RSPB Director of Conservation Mark Avery says: “Waxwings only visit the UK very erratically and every winter we wait expectantly to see if this will be the year.

“At the moment we are wondering if it will be a flood or a trickle, but the reported sightings certainly suggest that we could be in for a treat this winter and we hope it will inspire everyone to do their bit for all wildlife as it starts to get really cold.”