The Independent Nature Club: The hills are alive
From country lanes to bedroom walls, Britain is packed with wonderful wildlife. Here, the members of the Independent's Nature Club share the sights that made their summer
Tuesday 17 August 2010
Snakes in a suburban garden; orchids on a roadside verge thoughtlessly cut down by a local council; bumblebees mating; a blackbird sticking its backside into an ants' nest; little owls catching flies; a weird and wonderful moth which turned up on a bedroom wall. These are just a few of the wildlife experiences Independent readers have sent in to us after our invitation to share them in our new monthly forum, Nature Club.
In doing so, they are joining in the venerable tradition of the amateur observer, which is what has marked out the British way with natural history for centuries. It is remarkable just how alive so many of us are to the happenings in the natural world around us, especially when they are somewhat out of the ordinary, and remarkable too is the pleasure they so readily excite.
Excitement today is usually to do with the big, the loud and the violent, from football matches to motor races to war movies; but the British tradition of observing nature – it must be somehow in the national genes – means that many of us can be excited by goings-on which may be quite unspectacular, but intriguing, or curious, or above all, are reminders of the natural world's most sublime characteristic; the wonder of it.
We apologise to those whose entries have not made it, for lack of space, but we encourage readers once again to send in their wildlife sightings – and we will report on them in September.
The orchid site at Sprotbrough, South Yorkshire is at its best. Although the butterfly orchid has dropped to one plant this year from six last year (the early purple orchid showed a similar drop due to the bad winter, presumably) the others are fabulous. Hundreds of common spotted orchid; pyramidal orchid; twayblade; several bee orchid and a good few bird's nest orchids make a fine display. Accompanying plants such as sainfoin, milkwort and ploughman's spikenard make it a premier site in Yorkshire. The bird front is quiet now after the exciting savi's warbler and sarsh warbler seen nearby.
A white plume moth, Pterophorus pentadactyla, was on our white bedroom wall earlier this summer. Using a glass, I carefully took it outside and photographed it on a piece of oak before it flew away – so delicate and beautiful! I know nothing about these moths and it was a first for me, but a friend identified it.
Ann Cole, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Snowdonia
I live on the outskirts of a village near Norwich. There is farmland round about as well as woodland and a small river. Last week I woke up earlier then usual (5.30am), hearing a scuffling, thrashing noise outside. Ever curious, I had to have a look – suddenly there were flashes of red, white and black as five great spotted woodpeckers shot across our small garden, flying with their wavy flight path; two were dignified and competent, three crash-landed into the ash tree as they tried to reach their waiting parents. I felt privileged to see them; I've never seen so many together before. Later that morning I heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree nearby; now I'm wondering how to keep them off my lovely liquidambar. The parents were regular visitors all winter and spring. That's what you get when you feed peanuts to birds all winter!
Rosalie Byrne, Barford, Norfolk
During the warm days in June we saw up to five grass snakes in our garden; in previous years we have not seen more than two at a time. They sun themselves on top of the compost heap, and every year when we turn the compost we find clusters of around 30-40 eggs that they have laid. We replace the eggs carefully within the turned compost and the disturbance does not seem to cause a problem as young snakes can be found in the compost during autumn.
Al and Sue Venables, Cardiff
Normally we would expect to see little owls in the summer evenings, perched on telegraph poles, but so far this year we hadn't. However this last Saturday we actually spotted a pair for the first time, and they were doing something I had never seen. They were flying out from a branch and it looked like they were catching airborne bugs or flies, like a spotted flycatcher might, then returning to the tree. There were quite a lot of other little bird sounds, and we wondered if they were feeding young. Whatever they were up to, it was a treat to watch.
Leslie King, Hadleigh, Suffolk
Seen in Earley, Berkshire, last week: pyramidal orchids on a verge of a very, very busy road. Seen a couple of days later: the same orchids cut down by a municipal mower. Earley, once host to the biggest housing development in Europe, has very little green space. But we do have roadside verges, with transient wild flowers, common though they may be. Our local environmental group is championing the wild flowers growing on our verges in this International Year of Biodiversity. And – success! The borough council has promised to suspend any cutting of any notable flora.
Sheila Crowson, Earley, Berkshire
I live in South Oxfordshire about half a mile from the Thames. I've been regularly pestered by a heron after my fish. A couple of weeks ago through my study window I watched him (any nuisance is a "he"!) perch on a laburnum to survey the pond. After a couple of minutes, a carrion crow zoomed towards him from a nearby lime tree – and went on attacking him until he flew away. The next day, I saw the heron flapping past, with carrion crow in hot pursuit. I don't think he has been back since.
Dr Ann Soutter, Warborough, Wallingford, Oxon
I was admiring the vibrant blue of this pansy, which I had planted in a mixed hanging basket, and was getting ready to take a photo of it when this bumble bee buzzed its way into the frame and settled on the pansy. The basket was swinging slightly in the breeze, making it difficult to focus. The bee stayed on the flower for a couple of minutes. I realised that the bee was not interested in any of the other pansies; it was the blue that had attracted it, as it had attracted me.
Isabel Keighley, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk
This afternoon, 13 July, for the first time ever, we saw a hummingbird hawk-moth. It was feeding on valerian in our garden, here in Durham.
J Hutchinson, Durham
Last Friday I quit my job so I can pursue a life working in wildlife conservation. So I had a week in my garden and was so pleased to see all the things that I have been missing. It started with a hummingbird hawk-moth taking nectar from purple sage, then two pairs of azure damselfly laying eggs on water soldiers and a male banded demoiselle damselfly displaying. All this and much more was happening around my small garden, which consists of a lot of plastic tubs transformed into water features dotted all over the place. I think that I am getting my sanity back.
Nicholas Elsey, Stoke Holy Cross, Norfolk
Weather permitting, our cats have their meals on a tray on the patio. Any leftovers are eaten by hedgehogs at night and birds by day. But I am puzzled about one visitor: why does a magpie take a beakful of moist food and immediately rinse it in the nearby birdbath, leaving a mess in the water? Could it be removing gravy or jelly?
Elisabeth Telford, Four Marks, Hampshire
I have seen a male blackbird walk backwards and wedge his tail feathers into a section of rockery stones, beneath which lies an ants' nest. The ants crawled up his tail feathers, which he then tucked between his legs and pecked off the ants. I'd never seen such behaviour before – it was fascinating.
To take part in The Independent's Nature Club, email your wildlife observations to firstname.lastname@example.org; the best entries will be published each month
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