Wild People

And we may have another rarity …

The beautiful Great Yellow Bumblebee was once numerous in flowery meadows throughout the UK but, as with many other species (including the Corncrake), changes in farming practices over the last 100 years have led to a drastic decline and populations are now confined to the Inner and Outer Hebrides, the far north of Scotland, and parts of Orkney. It is one of the rarest bumblebees, and is a Biodiversity Action Plan Priority Species.

Great_Yellow_Bumblebee_-_Bombus_distinguendus

Here on Easdale we have an abundance of all the things the Great Yellows like best, especially up on the plots: red clover (see illustration above), knapweed (like a puny thistle without the prickles) and vetch (a low growing leguminous plant). The queens choose holes under tussocky grass to make their nests, and we’ve plenty of that as well. They prefer to make their nests a polite distance apart, so it’s unlikely that we’ll have more than one or two colonies; but, as each colony has up to 50 workers, there could be 100 of them zooming about! So take a bit of time to rest in the sunshine amongst some red clover and vetch and listen for the BZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.

The RSPB is apparently undertaking a survey of Great Yellow Bumblebee numbers, but we couldn’t find a link to it. If you do spot any individuals, contact the Bumblebee Conservation Trust – HERE – who have a very helpful factsheet on their website.

 

 

 

 

We have Corncrakes!

Yes, not one but TWO! They’ve taken up residence in the shrubby bank at the back of the Coalree, and their territories extend in roughly a semicircle down into the Rush’n’Gush.

Corncrakes lurk about in the undergrowth and are very hard to spot, but one islander was actually lucky enough to see one as it legged it across the path into cover at the other side.

Corncrake

The males call mostly at night, between about 11pm and 3am, but ours are pretty shouty during the day as well. This was good news for an RSPB birdwatcher who’d come across to the island to verify our reports, and our resident birds are now officially logged.

The corncrake’s Latin name derives from its call – Crex Crex – and this distinctive call can be heard for almost a mile! Females usually make a bark-bark call, but also use the crex-crex call like the males, so we can hope that we have both a gentleman and a lady in our midst, and that they become very well acquainted!

There’s lots more information about the Corncrake on the RSPB website - HERE - including a video recording of a calling male.

Privileged!

Yesterday evening, while enjoying a refreshing libation in the cool shade of the T’n’T garden, the Twitcher family were privileged to witness at close quarters the kind of event you normally only see on tv wildlife programmes.

A pale-coloured moth fluttered by at a height of about 60cms above ground, hotly pursued at the same height by a small speckly bird. Snap! The moth was gone!

Having ingested its prey, the small speckly bird swooped down to perch on a bench (looking smug, we thought) and revealed itself to be a slightly scruffy, very round young robin.

 Its black beady eyes were darting everywhere and it soon spotted some crumbs on the ground. We kept very still and it hopped about without fear only a few centimetres from our feet, pecking avidly until every last crumb was gone. Finally it flew up onto our table to take a last check for any edibles, and when it darted away into the bushes we felt quite bereft.

Only a small thing, but quite heart-stopping.

The Entertainers

The new broods of young starlings are out and about in force right now; a little late, like everything else and (also like everything else) seemingly growing at an amazing rate. In their juvenile plumage, with pale bibs, they look not unlike fluffy little penguins as they continually scrap with their siblings, making a lot of raucous noise as they do so. (A bit like human children, really …)

Their parents are working hard, teaching them to forage for insects in the earth and grass and studiously ignoring their cries of “Feed me! Feed me!” as they waddle behind mum or dad, obviously wondering why they’re being expected to do the tedious hunting bit when they’re used to their mouths regularly being filled.

The young are also introduced to what’s regularly served up on the island’s many bird tables, from suet balls and suet cakes to juicy raisins or assorted kitchen scraps. On the Twitcher table a family of four greedily fought over a piece of exceedingly ripe and smelly Brie, their squawks a little muted until they’d wiped the excess gooey stuff out of their nostrils.

By next year they will have shed their cute penguin garb, donned their glorious coat of many colours and will be finding out for themselves what hard work it is being a parent!

There’s some interesting starling information on the BRITISH GARDEN BIRDS WEBSITE, including chatty bits about what the starlings get up to in the author’s own garden. I’m not entirely convinced by the author’s assertion that boy starlings have blue bases to their beaks and girl starlings have pink ones, but doubtless those with more knowledge than me will put me right!

Merry Christmas!

Featuring on many Christmas cards that have come through the Twitcher household’s door, robins are in vibrant plumage at this time of year, both males and females sporting orange-red breasts. (And we always thought it was just the lads who wore the fancy waistcoats!)

The bright winter dress is in preparation for the courting season, which can begin as early as January if the winter weather has been kind. Unusually, it’s the female who builds the nest, but her chosen mate helps out by bringing her plenty of choice tidbits while she’s nest-building and laying her clutch of four to six eggs. Mother robin incubates the eggs on her own, but both parents care for the babies once they’re hatched and, in about a fortnight, the young birds are ready to fly. Robins normally have two broods a year but, in a good year, can have three or four, which could equal up to 24 “new” robins from each pair! Even allowing for that fact that around 50% of eggs and chicks never make it to the fledgling stage, that’s still an impressive family size, and because of this robins are far from endangered, having increased in numbers by 45% since 1970. (They are still protected by the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act, as are all wild birds.)

 They look plump and round right now, but that’s because their feathers are fluffed out against the cold weather, and they are very vulnerable in a cold spell, losing up to 10% of their body weight during just one cold night, so they need to keep well fed. One snack they particularly appreciate is mealworms – if you can’t face the yuck-factor of live worms, buy dried ones and soak them for a while in warm water to soften them up. They also enjoy meat scraps (turkey, perhaps?), fat, biscuit and cake crumbs and dried fruit, so a bit of Christmas cake should go down very nicely!

 The information above was taken from the RSPB WEBSITE, where you can find out more. Scroll down to the bottom of the “Robin” page to read about breeding, territory and threats, listen to the robin’s song or watch a short video.

Do you suffer from the lasks?

If you do, it seems that a few brambles might do the trick.

As the bramble season is upon us again, we thought readers might be interested to see the medicinal properties of this ubiquitous berry, as noted by Nicholas Culpeper in his “Complete Herbal”, which was first published during the reign of Elizabeth I.

BRAMBLE

Common Bramble

Name. It is also called blackberry bush, and is so well known that it needs no description; its virtues are as follow.

Government and virtues. It is a plant of Venus in Aries. You have directions at the latter end of the book for the gathering of all herbs, plants, &c. The reason why Venus is so prickly is because she is in the house of Mars. The buds, leaves, and branches, while they are green, are of good use in the ulcers and putrid sores of the mouth and throat, and for the quinsey; and likewise to heal other fresh wounds and sores: but the flowers and fruit unripe are very binding; they are also profitable for the bloody flux and lasks, and a fit remedy for spitting of blood. Either the decoction or powder of the root, being taken, is good to break or drive forth gravel and the stone in the reins or kidneys. The leaves and brambles, as well green as dry, are good lotions for sores in the mouth or secret parts; the decoction of them and of the dried branches doth much bind the belly, and is good for too much flowing of women’s courses; the berries or the flowers are a powerful remedy against the poison of the most venomous serpents as well drunk, as outwardly applied, and help the sores of the fundament, and the piles; the juice of the berries, mixed with juice of mulberries, do bind more effectually, and help fretting and eating sores and ulcers wheresoever. The distilled water of the branches, leaves, and flowers, or fruit, is very pleasant in taste, and very effectual in fevers and hot distempers of the body, head, eyes, and other parts, and for all the purposes aforesaid. The leaves boiled in lye, and the head washed therewith heal the itch, and the running sores thereof, and make the hair black. The powder of the leaves strewed on cancers and running ulcers, doth wonderfully help to heal them. Some condensate the juice of the leaves, and some the juice of the berries, to keep for their use all the year, for the purposes aforesaid.

 

Please note that the editorial team accepts no responsibility for anything whatsoever that may result from our readers trying out any of these “cures”!!

However, we can testify to the fact that a glass of bramble whisky makes the world look and feel a whole lot better!

 

P.S. The lasks is … er … the “trots”!

No danger!

Even though there wasn’t much bright sun, all these little fellows were basking on a warm roof and, by my count, there are twenty of them. The average sighting for house sparrows in this year’s RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch was 4.2!

House sparrows are Red Listed birds, because their numbers have declined in some places by as much as 60% over recent decades, but they certainly seem to be flourishing on Easdale, beating the BGB five times over!

Easily confused …

It’s often difficult to distinguish between species of bird with similar plumage, especially if you only get a quick glimpse, and this is particularly true of that large group of garden visitors “Small Brown Birds”. Here are three which can easily be mistaken for each other.

House Sparrow

Usually seen in groups, chattering loudly and argumentatively, they always seem to be in a state of hyperactivity! Amazingly, house sparrow numbers are declining, to the extent that they have been given “Red Status” by the RSPB, and are listed as being “globally threatened” by BirdLife International.

What they eat: Seeds, and scraps of all sorts.

Tree Sparrow

Scarcer, and shyer, than house sparrows, from which they can be distinguished chiefly by their chestnut brown (rather than grey) heads and the distinct black splodge on their cheeks. The tree sparrow is also on the Red List as a species under threat.

What they eat: Seeds and insects.

 

Dunnock

Quiet and fairly solitary, dunnocks are most often seen on the ground, scuttling busily and somewhat furtively with their shoulders hunched as they search for tasty fare. The meeting of two males results in an animated and aggressive display. Often darker and plumper than shown in this illustration, and the facial markings are difficult to see because the bird is concentrating on looking at the ground. The dunnock has “Amber Status”, indicating that its population is contracting.

What they eat: Insects, spiders, worms, seeds.

The Big Garden Birdwatch

It’s time for the RSPB’s annual Big Garden Birdwatch.

Just take an hour over the weekend of 29th/30th January to note down which species of birds land in your garden (not counting the ones that fly over), recording the highest number of each species that you see at any one time. Don’t total them all up over the hour, as you might be counting the same sparrow or blackbird several times over! Putting out generous portions of seed, fatballs, bread etc. should ensure a good response from the local birdlife. Return your results to the RSPB before 18th February, either on paper to

FREEPOST RRSX-YHAU-AJTB

The RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch,

Halifax Road

Melksham SN12 6YY

or online at www.rspb.org.uk

The website has lots of information about the different birds, including guides to identification. and recordings of their songs. The top ten birds seen in Argyll & Bute during last year’s event were:

1. Chaffinch

2. House sparrow

3. Blackbird

4. Blue Tit

5. Robin

6. Great Tit

7. Coal tit

8. Starling

9. Dunnock

10. Greenfinch

Wildlife Watch

Although Easdale is only tiny it has a wide variety of wildlife, and it seemsn interesting plan to try to compile a dossier. Who knows, ultimately we might even be able to print a guidebook. (Why not? Let’s think big!)

 So, folks, please use the comment facility on this post to add your sightings of birds, bugs, butterflies, mammals, wild flowers, grasses – everything, whether common or unusual.

 To start the ball rolling, I saw my very first water shrew the other day. A plump little fellow with a dark grey back and white underside, and a slightly waddling gait. It was in the bathroom, strangely enough, but it must have come in from somewhere! When I looked them up I discovered that they have red-tipped teeth, and a bite that causes a burning pain – even in humans. Must remember to look carefully before I leap out of the shower …