How to watch wildlife
PUBLISHED: 16:18 21 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:55 20 February 2013
some simple suggestions that might help you spot lots more wildlife this spring.
Spring has sprung and this month we're expecting lots of people to be out and about in the countryside. There's so much to see and enjoy - budding trees, beautiful views, wild flowers, fresh air, wildlife ... Well, lots of people set off thinking they'll see wildlife during a walk in the countryside, but how many see more than just a few rabbits and birds?
Most wild animals have much better senses than we do and probably see, hear and smell us coming long before we get near them, which means they have plenty of opportunity to get out of our way and out of sight.
Here are some simple suggestions that might help you spot lots more wildlife in the countryside this spring:
1. Pick your position - if you're on the move or on the skyline, you'll be seen and heard from miles away. But if you pick a spot under a tree or hedge and stay still and quiet, you're more likely to blend in and see the local wildlife carrying on as normal. Top tip - make sure you're comfy as if you fidget most wild animals will be gone in a flash.
2. Timing is everything - if you want to see deer, badgers, hares or other nocturnal creatures get in position just before dusk. If you'd like to see birds, a dawn start is best as many are more conspicuous in the mornings when they are busy refuelling with food. For newts, frogs and toads a spring evening near a pond should reap rewards, while reptiles are best seen on warm days basking in the sunshine to raise their body temperature.
3. Look for signs - even if you don't see the wildlife itself, it's often fun to become a 'mammal detective' and look for signs of it. Footprints are an obvious indicator. Droppings also tell you what species are around and about, and food remains not only tell us who is eating but also what they are eating.
4. Don't forget the essentials - dress warmly but in quiet, muted colours. Lots of layers are best and, if you're going to be sitting still for a long time, a good hat and gloves will help keep the heat in. A blanket or camping chair to sit on will also help keep you comfy. Take a drink and some food, but avoid noisy packaging. A notebook and pencil will help you record what you see, as will a quiet digital camera.
Wildlife on your doorstep - Get an eyeful of garden birds
Birds are probably the most popular and easy-to-spot wildlife to visit our gardens. Some birds will spend their entire lives in garden habitats while many others use gardens on a seasonal basis, which means lots of species we think of as being 'garden birds' are really common species found in a variety of habitats.
The easiest way to watch garden birds is from indoors, through a window, so you can see them without disturbing them. You'll see even more if you've established a bird feeding area close to a window and keep it stocked with seeds, scraps and fat balls.
Many gardens will be visited regularly by up to 35 species of birds. Here are some of the most common to keep an eye out for.
Blackbird - a very familiar garden bird that's often joined in the winter months by migrant blackbirds from as far east as Poland and Russia. Easy to spot with their black feathers (brown for females) and bright orange bills, they are territorial by nature and will defend nesting and feeding sites. Their top bird table treat is rotten apples.
Robin - so easy to identify from its red breast, round shape, long legs and cocked head postures. Robins have a very flutey song which can be heard all year round and sometimes even through the night where there's street lighting. Their top bird table treat would be fat or mealworms.
Blue tit - these have a plump, lively appearance and are easy to identify with their blue-black eyestripe and the brighter blue 'skull cap'. Their native habitat is deciduous woodland, but they are regular garden visitors especially to feeding stations during winter months. Their top bird table treat would be black sunflower seeds.
Magpie - this two-tone black and white bird with its long tail and cackling call is easy to spot. It's a member of the crow family and can be fascinating to watch as they're very social birds with the ability to adapt to variable and changing environments.
House sparrow - these are small but sturdy birds with stout beaks for eating seeds. They make a range of chirping and chattering calls and usually nest in holes in buildings or, if these are not available, they build untidy detached nests within ivy. At the bird table they'll join the blue tits in enjoying black sunflower seeds.
Chaffinch - this little bird lives in lots of different habitats as well as gardens. You can find it in woodland, parkland, farmland as well as urban environments, which is one of the reasons it's such a resilient species. Single birds or small groups are likely to be local, while large groups seen in open countryside after October are probably continental birds here for the winter.
Uncommonly common - BEES
We all love bees ... don't we? We love their lazy buzzing in the garden, as long as they keep their distance.
Yet most bees are docile and unaggressive creatures, even near the nest. The males can't sting and the female workers who can sting really aren't out to get you. Curiosity may lead them to inspect you in case you're a source of food, and unfortunately this often results in people waving their hands around furiously, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. Bees will only sting if they think they're being threatened.
Bees are so good for pollinating garden plants. In the wider landscape they are essential pollinators for our food chain - one third of the food we eat would not be available if it weren't for bees.
There are almost 300 species of bee known to live in the UK, and no two species is able to inter-mate. However bees are in danger of disappearing from our environment as their natural habitats disappear.
There are three different types of bee that you might see in your garden:
Solitary bees - this is the most common type of bee and represents 270 of the 300 species in the UK. The bees live alone in holes or burrows and each species will feed on particular flowers, so as soon as the flower's season ends the bee dies as its food supply is cut off ... but not before laying eggs which hatch the following year
Honey bees - these live in large colonies of up to 70,000, usually in a cavity or man-made hive. The bees make hexagonal beeswax cells - honeycombs - and use these to store honey which they've converted from nectar. All the eggs are laid by one queen, which can lay up to 2000 eggs a day.
Bumblebees - these live in social colonies and have evolved thick furry coats which enable them to forage for pollen in quite cold weather. When the winter comes bumblebee colonies die leaving young queens in hibernation ready to start new colonies in the spring.
You can help the bee population by making your garden bee-friendly. Try to leave dead wood, leaf litter and dried stems in undisturbed corners. Earth banks, fences and sunny walls with old mortar are also important bee-nesting habitats.
A range of nectar and pollen is needed for food, especially late in the summer, so growing good nectar plants will help bees in your garden. Bee-friendly flowers include sea holly, bugle, bellflower, lamb's tongue, scabious, sweetpea, sage, globe thistle, snapdragon, lupin and foxglove. Good trees and shrubs include apple, cheery, plum, rock rose, heather, germander, veronica, honeysuckle, lavender, hawthorne and buddleia.
Or, if you have a wild area in your garden, bees love deadnettle and comfrey, black horehound, purple loosestrife, woundwort and betony, dandelion, hawkweed and hawksbeard, figwort and toadflax, hollyhock and red campion, ox eye daisy and birdsfoot trefoil.
Places to visit:
Here are a couple of reserves where you'll stand a good chance of spotting wildlife:
Siccaridge Wood Nature Reserve, an ancient woodland three-miles west of Stroud near the village of Sapperton - OS grid ref: SO 939034
Lancaut and Ban-y-Gor Nature Reserves in the Lower Wye Valley with limestone cliffs and woodland full of rare and beautiful wildlife - OS grid ref: ST 539966
More information about all Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust nature reserves can be found on the website www.gloucestershirewildlifetrust.co.uk.
My Favourite Place - Snows Farm Nature Reserve, Slad Valley
Jean Brown, Volunteer
I've lived in Gloucestershire all my life and been a volunteer with Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust for 20 years now. In this time I've seen a lot of beautiful places while helping out with conservation work on the nature reserves, but none more awe-inspiring than Snows Farm in the Slad Valley.
It's a hidden gem, located down a private road with no houses around. The Dillay Brook runs through the centre and there are woodlands and the remains of an old building to the north.
I love the diversity of the two sides of the valley, particularly the south side with its abundance of wild flowers. It reminds me of my youth, when wild flowers featured more in everyday life. The intensified farming and increasing use of pesticides since WWII has affected their populations greatly and you really don't see a lot anymore.
Appreciating them is something that has passed down in my family, my grandmother taught me by pointing them out on the long walk into town and now I've encouraged my children and grand-children to make their own gardens wildlife-friendly. This has been inspired by the flowers of Snows Farm and seeing the wildlife that they support: the birds, butterflies and bees.