The Independent's Nature Club: A month on the wild side

In the latest dispatch from The Independent's Nature Club, readers report back on their recent wildlife highlights


I work part-time at a plant nursery. Every year we have swallows nesting in the store sheds; they sit on the ridge of the greenhouse and chatter constantly, which is lovely to hear when the vents are open. Recently we noticed a pair of wagtails flying in and out of the greenhouse and the adjoining shop, several times a day. We thought they were searching for bugs in the cobwebs. One day last week I spotted one diving under the bench which holds the till. On further inspection I found a nest with young in it. The following day I took in my camera with a long lens to not disturb the babies, but I had been rumbled, and the nest was empty. I managed to get this shot [picture 1] of one of the fledglings, but have not seen them since. We sit in the shop for tea breaks and lunch, but had never heard a squeak out of the babies; and at busy times they must have had long waits between feeds.

Lizzie Cottrill, Cheshire

This photograph of two frogs was taken by my son-in-law earlier in the year when it was extremely dry. The frogs were hiding under the pond underlay trying to keep damp.

Linda A Byrne, Southport

I work beside the River Kelvin just outside Glasgow. I had overheard the fishermen on the banks talking about the sighting of wild mink on the river. It took a few days of trawling the banks, but was finally able to see one out of the water – sadly I wasn't quick enough with my camera.

Marco Capanni, Greenock

We live in a southern suburb of London. Until today our most exciting spot was a recent visit of a greater spotted woodpecker who spent several days drumming on our cordyline, and there are frequent fly-pasts by the green parrots. These were entirely surpassed by a sudden flurry in the bamboo and an eruption of sparrows, followed by a buzzard swooping in and then sitting for the next 15 minutes on our archway to feed on the sparrow he caught, as you can see in his talons. We have never seen a buzzard in the locality before.

Hilary Sinclair, Carshalton

For ages recently, a female blackbird struggled to feed one of her voracious offspring. She began to moult and lost her tail feathers. Each morning she came to scoop up the mealworms I put out and take them into the bushes where her large youngster was calling. Then one day "he" appeared at the mealworm bowl and was happily stuffing himself when his mother arrived. To my surprise, "he" picked up a mealworm, hopped towards her, dropped it in front of her, then begged, with fluttering wings, to be fed.

Anne Mansell, Farnham

At 8.30am on a sunny and mild 2 September, we both gazed in astonishment at the variety and number of birds rocketing around our bushy garden in suburban west Sheffield. For 30 minutes, there were more birds than at any time in my 20 years of observing this garden.

A dozen blackbirds paced the lawn and squabbled. Twenty blue, 10 great and six coal tits were never still. Five wood pigeons gobbled seed before a collared dove and three stock doves could commandeer it. Two crows paced in elderly fashion, scattering a trio of sparrows and six chaffinches. A robin ticked, three dunnocks flitted wings. A song thrush landed on the cotoneaster, two magpies and a jay argued.

Then three nuthatches arrived, scuttling round the patio, finding small fry in the cracks. Twelve starlings were upside-down in the birches, eating seed, pretending to be goldfinches; then, lo and behold, 10 goldfinches zoomed in and showed them how to do it, as three male greenfinches wheezed away in a treetop. A wren whirred across.

Best of all, a mixed warbler flock was in, 10 willows and 10 chiffchaffs, with a blackcap head poking from a bush. Close views were of the willow warbler pacing the lawn, another on the patio table and a third on the kitchen window ledge, looking in.

The pièce de résistance was to go into the bedroom and find a blue tit on the bedside lamp.

John Kirkman, Sheffield

In our first year living on the Isle of Man we had many visitors, and by good fortune these sightings coincided with these visits. We were walking by the harbour wall on the south side of the bay when we saw three basking sharks enter very close by. They were each at least 60ft or more in length, and they circled around several times before leaving.

The next sighting, again with visitors, was on a walk along the north side of the bay. We saw a large flock of gannets about 70ft over the bay, where a large flock of herring gulls were gathered on the water beneath them. The gannets plainly picked their target, closed their wings, and plummeted vertically, entering the water sometimes only 18 inches or so from a herring gull. We were intrigued to notice that as they emerged to climb again they were not carrying any fish, and we could only assume that they swallowed the fish whole. Whilst following this same walk along the north side of the bay, about a year later, again with visitors, we saw five basking- sharks very close in. However, they must have been young ones, about 20 or 25ft long. The following day we saw two large basking sharks just outside the bay, and wondered if there could be a connection.

David Wilkie , Port Erin

I've become a butterfly enthusiast recently since I went on a National Trust guided tour with butterfly expert Matthew Oates last year. Surrey is a great place for butterflies as there is so much woodland and heath to explore throughout the Summer. However, it appears the place to be in August is on the warm south-facing chalky slopes of the North Downs on Ranmore Common. Here several species of blue butterflies abound amongst the thistles and marjoram; the place is buzzing with insects and the air is thick with pollen. The Chalkhill Blue is giving way to the Adonis, a well-named beauty.

Three of us were walking along the path on a recent hot Sunday when suddenly an eruption of blues engulfed us. The contrast between the fawn underside and blue upper parts is astonishing, both beautiful but completely different. I also saw a Small Heath, which the field-guide says is common, but it's the first one I've ever seen. It's exciting being a beginner because of the new discoveries you frequently make.

David Hasell, Thames Ditton

We were lucky to be working near our pond when a Hawker Dragonfly pupated and rested to dry its wings before flying off. Several more followed. It must have been the day for these beautiful insects to start their new lives.

Roger Clarke, Cwmbran

During my lifetime I have observed and recorded many aspects of wildlife. This summer, due to restricted mobility while convalescing, my wildlife watching has been reduced to very local habitats. From the garden seat I watched in awe as a garden spider created with amazing precision its delicate orb web. Then followed the spider's first meal, a fly caught and removed at once, thus leaving the almost invisible web to ensnare the next unwary creature.

Resting on a bench under a lime tree in the nearby churchyard, I watched a caterpillar crawl into view on the seat beside me. Its exotic lime-green body with red flashes, blunt head and curved pointed tail was later identified as the caterpillar of the lime hawkmoth. The adult will emerge from the pupal stage next summer, when I hope to be able to renew acquaintances, with it a fully grown moth and me fully mobile again.

Margaret Grant, Stanford in the Vale

Biking on a forest track on the Balmoral estate on a warm, sunny day, I stopped for a breather and a drink. I left the trail and went into the trees to find some shade. Leaning against a big pine I heard scratching beside my shoulder. The scratching stopped so I very slowly turned my head.

Right next to me – upside down with its tail pointing skywards and looking directly at me – was the smallest, most beautiful red squirrel I've ever seen. We both remained stock still looking at each other, but after a few seconds it turned tail and shot off up the tree. Wonderful.

Stuart Batty, Northants

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