Sunday, 31 January 2016

Jan 31st Norwich

With it being the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch this weekend, it was time I did my part. The Big Garden Birdwatch is an annual nationwide count of our garden birds. Thousands of people take part each year and it is thanks to this survey that the RSPB has a clear picture of the state of British garden birds. Sadly, it is telling us that in recent years, many of the species are in decline. House sparrows, starlings and greenfinches are the most concern with some of the reasons still unclear of why. But with so many of us feeding them, it shows that we care and if we clean feeders daily to prevent diseases and putting up more nest boxes, we could boost their numbers very quickly.

Blue Tit
As I don't have a garden myself, I will help my parents and my Aunt Barbara out with the survey at their gardens. It means I have two surveys to do this Sunday. I began round my parent's house, watching their garden for an hour (from 10:10-11:10am) with my dad, who joined me half way through. It was raining lightly, but this did not put off the birds from visiting the garden. We managed to record; 1 great tit, 1 dunnock, 2 blue tits, 3 blackbirds, 2 robins, 3 woodpigeons, 2 long-tailed tits and, best of all, at the last few minutes, a jay! That is eight different species of bird visiting their garden. It was an improvement from last year's count.

After the hour at my parent's garden was over, Dad and I made the short trip to my aunt's house for my second hour of the survey. I usually don't have much success at her place, having spent an hour seeing nothing one year. This year though, we were in for a surprise as ten species of bird visited her garden within the hour (from 11:35am -12:35pm), beating the my parent's garden's score of eight in the previous hour! Despite my aunt's dog making a lot of noise, the three of us counted; 4 goldfinches, 2 woodpigeons, 2 collard doves, 2 blackbirds, 3 starlings, 1 great tit, 1 blue tit, 1 greenfinch, 1 wren and 2 chaffinches. There were also carrion crows and jackdaws in the area too, but they did not land in Barbara's garden. It is amazing to find out that there are more birds here than the short distance away at my parent's house, on the other side of Sprowston. But while we have recorded starlings and greenfinches, it is sad to not record house sparrows. This might mean that they are no longer found in the areas of the two gardens I have surveyed today.
Collard Dove
Male Chaffinch
Female Chaffinch

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Jan 30th Norwich Castle

Norwich Castle
The RSPB have taken over Norwich Castle this weekend. This castle is a big part of Norwich's history. First built under William the Conqueror's rule as a fortification to control East Anglia, it then became a prison for hundreds of years before being converted into the museum that it is today. It is full of history and historical artifacts from across Norfolk and beyond. Now, as part of the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch weekend, volunteers and staff from Strumpshaw Fen have taken over with stands to promote the event, Strumpshaw and nature in general. There are plenty of fun activities for families to do from dressing up as woodpeckers, owls and otters to making or playing with things. There are also toy birds hidden throughout the castle to find and stamps to collect. I am here to help out. It was a lot of fun.

Setting up the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch stand
Another of our stands
Trying out the woodpecker headpiece (too small for me sadly)
Getting children interested with outdoor activities with this rowing maching
Fishing at a mock-up pond (also otter costume in action!)
Making dream catchers
Manning at my stand
This year, Strumpshaw Fen is celebrating its 40th birthday. To celebrate this landmark year for the reserve, the staff have come up with the 40th Birthday Challenge. It entails the visitors to make several visits to Strumpshaw throughout this year and search for forty special species found on the reserve and to tick them off on a sheet. Some of the species are easy, others challenging, while the rest are seasonal with a short window of opportunity to seek them out. I was given the job today to promote this challenge at a stand and to hand out these sheets to the public. Though I did not attract as many families as the other activities, I was still successful to the point that I had almost ran out of sheets! I also brought two of my wildlife diaries with me, which went down a treat and inspired children to start their own.

The museum has a collection of taxidermy birds, featuring a room of every British bird species that breed or regularly visit this country as well as a corridor of habitat dioramas. The dioramas display the habitats found in Norfolk with a selection of wildlife found in each one. Here are a few of my favourites...
Estuary diorama
Bittern and Reed warbler with Cuckoo chick in the Broadland diorama
Sparrowhawk, Swallowtail and Flag Irises in the Broadland diorama
Great Crested Grebes in the Broadland diorama
Kingfishers and Sand and House Martins
Cuckoos, Rollers and Hoopoe
More British birds in taxidermy form
Eagles and other birds of prey
Marsh Harriers
Peregrine Falcons
Great Auk and egg (extinct since 1844)

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Jan 28th Earlham Cemetery, Norwich

Earlham Cemetery
A cemetery may sound like a strange place to see wildlife, but you'd be surprised. I am at Earlham Cemetery in Norwich with my mum for a walk. With the city just a stones throw away, it is remarkably peaceful here. There is a magical connection between nature and the dead in this place. As I walk along the rows of tombstones, I notice life living on and around them. Patches of lichen decorate the older tombstones as well as the occasional ivy. Birds such as robins, blue tits, long-tailed tits, nuthatches, jays and magpies create a chorus of melancholy to the still winter air. Leafless trees tower above the dead, standing completely still without a breath of wind to stir their branches. It feels like a different world to what I have experienced before.

Grey Squirrel
Squirrels are everywhere. Wherever you look there is one either bounding around amongst the tombstones or leaping from tree to tree. They also seem to like eating the flowers put out by loved ones. I saw this one eating these flowers on a the person's tombstone and then went to get another to take away to bury somewhere. Clearly, it has no respect for the dead! We also saw robins and treecreepers during our walk this afternoon.

Spring has appeared early this year. Two months early in fact. With such a mild winter, spring plants that usually emerge in mid-February and March are already in flower now in late January! Snowdrops have emerged a couple of weeks ago, ahead of normal schedule and are in full display. Daffodils, crocuses and even primroses are the more surprising blooms to see at this time of year. Though seeing a carpet of purple crocuses amongst tombstones is a beautiful sight, it does, however, open up your eyes to a changing climate.

Another Crocus
Crocuses and Tombstones!