Rennie Telford continues to keep us enthralled with his spring updates- every day more green shoots push out from the soil, buds uncurl a little bit more and the primroses and daffodils add vibrant splashes of yellow across the CAT site. Here is a selection of this weeks Naycher Korner
Hope you have all had your breakfast and you are not eating anything at the moment because I thought we might consider the dietry habits of the Magpie ( Pioden in Welsh ). I walked in this morning along the back lane and came across a couple of magpies feeding happily on some unidentifyable animal remains. These striking looking birds will eat just about anything — carrion, grain, insects, worms and ( brace yourselves ) dog faeces. In bygone years they would join ravens in picking over the corpses on battlefields, but probably their most distressing ( to us ) activity is their relentless raids on other birds’ nests to collect eggs and nestlings. In the breeding season a pair of magpies will systematically work a hedgerow, flushing out nesting birds and emptying the nests of eggs and fledglings often ignoring the frantic parent birds valiant attempts to protect their young. I would love to know if anyone has ever seen a successful defence of a nest by targeted birds.
Mind you they are only doing what magpies do and as a species they are great survivors. Listen out for their machine gun like chattering from the fields bordering the south drive most days.
There is a welcome splash of colour after a long grey winter, as you come up the garden steps. One of the first of the spring flowers has appeared, a little later than usual, –the coltsfoot or as it is sometimes called ‘ son before father ‘ — so called because the flowers come out before the leaves. In the morning they are closed up quite tightly but later in the day the bright yellow flowers really catch your eye. Nerdy type fact — the leaves used to be collected and dried to make a form of herbal tobacco.
Carrying on the theme of yellow I spotted a lovely male yellowhammer by the lake yesterday feeding on the grain put down for the ducks. It is really good that we have these birds at CAT as they have been in a steady decline for some years now. The males start to sing in March and the usual mnemonic for their song in bird books is ‘ little bit of bread and no cheese ‘ — although it never sounds anything like that to me. I used to hear the song throughout the summer as a boy in Somerset but it is now sadly not heard so frequently. One of the Welsh names for the yellowhammer is Melyn yr Eithin which I think translates as yellow bird of the gorse — a beautifully apt name as so many of the Welsh names are.
Listen out for the gentle croaking of frogs as you come up the garden steps — mating is in full swing now the weather is a bit milder. There are two ponds near the steps, one in Roger’s garden and another deeper one at the end of the Cabins, both of which frogs return to regularly for spawning.
The males are the first to arrive and they wait around the edges of the pond for the arrival of the females — a bit like the lads at a Saturday night dance. They don’t have much finesse though, because as soon as they see a female, they leap onto her and grasp her in a tenacious hug called ‘ amplexus ‘ and resist all attempts by other males to dislodge them. Their grip is helped by knobbly ‘ nuptial pads ‘ which develop on the males’ front feet during the breeding season, and there is something rather endearing about the sight of two frogs locked together in an embrace with what appear to be beatific smiles on their faces. But then as mating can carry on continuously, night and day for up to a week, I suppose they are entitled to look a bit pleased with themselves. Of course the prosaic scientific reason for the male’s vice like grip is to ensure that it is he alone who fertilizes the eggs, but my preferred interpretation is that they like a bit of a cuddle ( or an amplexus if you like ).
A bit more about buzzards. March is the time when, if you are really fortunate, you might see buzzards shake off their customary lethargy and perform their amazing sky dancing routines. Several birds ( I have seen up to 12 ) circle high in the sky, uttering their plaintive mewling cries and demonstrating their complete mastery of the air with some truly breathtaking aerial gymnastics. If you ever come across this event, just stop whatever you’re doing and watch — it really is one of the top wildlife sights of this country in my opinion. One bird will climb vertically, then stall and go into a long downward free- fall, then flip onto its back in a corkscrew action, perform a couple of rolls and sometimes finish off with a steep controlled dive. Each buzzard may perform, apparently trying to outdo the others and then one by one they disperse. Just as spectacular are the courtship consolidation displays — on one occasion I watched as the slightly smaller male swooped down on its mate in a sort of mock attack and just when a collision seemed certain, the female flipped upside down, their talons touched briefly and they flew apart. There are probably learned scientific reasons for this behaviour, but i prefer to believe that they do it out of sheer enjoyment and just because they can. Incidentally, bird books often portray the buzzard in flight with out stretched wings as seen from below and above. Now, below I can understand, but I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of many times when you’re likely to be viewing it from above, unless you’re falling off a mountain or something, in which case you are unlikely to be too worried about bird identification— so it seems a bit pointless!