Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Sense and sensibility – birds have lots of both

You think you know the world, at least the general shape of it, the way it works, yet sometimes you are struck by just how far you are from truly comprehending it in all its glorious peculiarity.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Ireland's corncrakes - no longer in every acre

Are we divided by the same language? There is no doubt that the British Isles – that is, Britain and Ireland combined – constitute a geographical entity. We have the same climate (temperate, moist, and 10 degrees Celsius warmer than it should be, because of the Gulf Stream), the same topography of low mountains, small lakes and relatively short rivers, and the same wildlife. But so ingrained are the social and political differences between the two countries that they are rarely considered together (the Lions rugby team being a rare exception).

The charming Chess: one of the vanishing Chiltern chalk streams

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Cherish these rivers - they may soon flow no more

The idea of a river dying is not a common one. If we were to categorise how people feel about rivers, in so far as they do so at all, we might suppose that feelings generally focus on power and permanence. T S Eliot, contemplating the Mississippi pounding past St Louis where he grew up, thought of it as "a strong brown God". Oscar Hammerstein portrayed it as eternal: "Ol' Man River, he jes' keeps rolling along".

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: For the first time, we can see spring coming from 4,000 miles away

Over six months, the mystery of where cuckoos winter has revealed itself

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Just because Nessie is a myth doesn't mean we can't dream

Nature has powers of persistence, even when all evidence points to a vanishing

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: We think swans are beautiful. So why not ducks?

Why do we laugh at ducks? Why do we find them funny? Did Walt Disney choose Donald Duck as a cartoon character because ducks are inherently comic, or do ducks seem all the more comical because of the creation of Donald Duck? In English, we have developed specific, mocking words to describe their actions. Ducks do not walk or hop, they waddle. They do not call or cry to each other, they quack. These are loaded, non-neutral verbs, waddling and quacking. They predispose to derision.

A badger’s powerful front claws can uncurl the hedghog’s tight ball of spines

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: More badgers and fewer hedgehogs. Coincidence? I don't think so

A badger's powerful front claws can uncurl the hedghog's tight ball of spines

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: We all know it has been mild recently – but butterflies think it's spring

Here's a remarkable butterfly story. When you first become interested in butterflies, you naturally enjoy their vivid colours and concentrate on recognising them, but as you become more involved, you start to look at subtler things.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: We all know what they look like, but have you ever really seen a mole?

It is the only mammal to spend most of its time underground
It was clear that the gnomes in 'The Little Grey Men' could not survive the creeping urbanisation, and the modernisation of agriculture which even in 1942 were spreading across the
countryside

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: The debt I owe to Dodder, Baldmoney and Sneezewort

Our initial encounters with real stories, with fully formed characters and narrative, can shape us for many years to come, and recently I was put in mind of the first story, the first proper book, with which I completely engaged.

Talk turkey: The ocellated species

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: There is another way to appreciate turkey

There are two ways of looking at turkeys, it dawned on me one day in the Yucatán peninsula in Mexico, that enormous tooth on the map, that great limestone molar, which separates the Gulf of Mexico from the Caribbean.

People had known for centuries that swallows migrated from Britain in the winter, but nobody had any idea it was as far as to South Africa, 6,000 miles way, until a Staffordshire solicitor, John Masefield, ringed a young bird in the porch of his home in May 1911

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: In a birder's paradise, I thrill to the sight of a myna

Mynah birds (then spelt with a final h) were once popular in Britain in the days when every other family had a budgie in a cage and antimacassars on the back of the sofa; their ability to imitate human speech was regarded as equal to that of parrots. Cor. What a larf. They disappeared from British domestic parlours a long time ago but I have been watching them in the wild in the past week, while covering the UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: What this pyramid says about us and climate change

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist of the mid-20th century, a scholar of human behaviour generally known for one particular imaginative insight into how people behave: his hierarchy of needs.

Frozen dinner: the hunt begins

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: When one beast must die – to let another live

One of the attributes of young schoolboys – or at least it was, centuries ago when I was one – is the impulse to gather round, fascinated and excited, when a fight erupts in the playground. I mean a serious fight, a grudge match between two boys going at it hammer and tongs. Shouting breaks out. Sides are taken. Emotions run wild, until the teacher arrives to break it up. Is it a purely male attribute, this animated reaction, or is it a universally human one? I've no idea. Although you may disapprove of it, it most undoubtedly exists. It's in the genes.

Nature Studies by Michael McCarthy: Medical myth is dooming the rhino to extinction

Can nobody stop it? Can no major political leader or other public figure realise what is happening and have the guts or find a moment to speak out about the horrific, heartless, headlong slaughter of the world's rhinos which is now running out of control?

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