Sunday, 23 December 2012

What is it? #13 revealed

photo: wildstock
This bird is called a fieldfare,Turdus pilaris . It's a member of the thrush family and flies in from Scandinavia during October and stays until Spring, feeding on fruit, berries and invertebrates. Fieldfares are very sociable and can group together in flocks of over 200 birds.
Less than four pairs of Fieldfare now nest in the UK, making this bird a breeding rarity and a Red List species in the Birds of Conservation Concern review.

Although few birds breed in this country, when they do nest, they protect their eggs by bombarding thieves with their faeces. Clever, smaller birds often nest nearby to take advantage of the extra protection and the fieldfares themselves often nest in colonies, probably to protect themselves from crows. 

To help protect our breeding birds The Wildlife Trusts are working closely with farmers and landowners to promote wildlife friendly practices. we are working towards a 'Living Landscape': a network of habitats and wildlife corridors across town and country with are both good for people and wildlife.

Friday, 21 December 2012

What is it?#13

photo: Wildstock
This one is a winter visitor so if you keep your eyes peeled you may well see flocks of them in fields and along hedges feeding on winter berries at this time of year. They can be attracted into gardens by windfall fruit but more recently they have been feeding on invertebrates due to warmer winters where the ground is less frozen.

But what is the name of this bird?

Sunday, 16 December 2012

What is it? #12 revealed

photo: Gatehouse studio
These berries are called rosehips and are the fruit of the dog rose or Rosa canina. They have lots of uses and are made into jams, jellies, syrups and drinks. They are packed full of vitamin C so have recently become a treat for small rodents such as pet guinea pigs as they cannot manufacture their own vitamin C and are unable to digest many vitamin C rich foods. They are also fed to horses in small doses to improve the condition of their coats.

Due to their valuable vitamin content, rosehips are eaten around the world. In Hungary they are used to make Palinka, a traditional alcoholic drink and in Slovenia they are the main ingrediant of the national soft drink called Cockta whilst, rosehip soup, 'nyponsoppa' is popular in Sweden.

During World War Two, Claire Loewenfeld, a dietitian who worked at Great Ormond Street hospital, encouraged people to collect rosehips to make a vitamin rich syrup for children as citrus fruits from abroad were increasingly difficult to import. However, children discovered a different quality that the berries had. If split open, they contain small hairs that are extremely itchy to the skin, therefore, rosehips soon became used as a home made itching powder to entertain the hours away.

It's not just vitamin C, rosehips also contain vitamin A and B and lycopene, an important antioxident. All rosehips are edible, and good for you, so, if you fancy making your own rosehip chutney, check out a recipe here. Alternatively, banish those winter colds with a lovely rosehip syrup that can be poured over ice cream or use to make a drink for the kids.

If cooking's not your thing then just go for a winter walk, look out for the last few bright red berries and content yourself with the fact that at least some of the local wildlife can get the benefit of these delicious wild foods.

Friday, 14 December 2012

What is it? #12

photo:Gatehouse studio 
Before you all shout out 'It's a robin!', this week's quiz refers to the berries in the picture, not the bird. Do you know what they are? There are still a few around at this time of year, adding a bit of bright, red cheer to the cool colours of a winter landscape.These berries were very valuable during the Second World War and people were encouraged to collect them - why do you think that was? They were also popular with children who used the specific qualities of these berries to entertain themselves. Any ideas what they were doing?

Come back on Sunday and find out if you were right.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Spectacular starlings

If you've never seen murmuration of starlings then this is the time of year to go and do it. Right now, our Community Action Officers have taken their amazing volunteers for an unforgettable Christmas treat.
photo courtesy of

Between Autumn and February each year starlings flock together to create beautiful, magnificent murmurations. Moving together, twisting and turning, like some kind of well rehearsed dance, the starlings fill the sky, looking for somewhere to roost for the night. You can see a film of how they do this on the BBC website here. You really can't beat seeing it for yourself though, hearing the swoosh of thousands of wings beating as they swoop in unison overheard  Luckily for us, the Somerset Levels and Moors are a fantastic place to watch this spectacle, with the nature reserves at Westhay Moor, Shapwick Heath and RSPB Ham Wall providing the most reliable views of one the UK's most memorable natural sites. Be warned though, there is very little parking at the reserves, so it's best to avoid busy times like the weekends. To find out exactly where the starlings are currently ring the Avalon Marshes Starling Hotline on 07866 554 142 and listen to the answer message, or email 
Starlings are great at mimicry and can make a diverse range of sounds, I've even heard starlings in the centre of Bristol mimicking the sound of a car alarm! But generally, to me, their general song of whistles, squeaks and cries sounds like a dalek or some other science fiction character. Male startlings sing throughout the year, with the exception of July and August when they are moulting.
photo:Alan Price
 Starlings have a wide diet, feeding on worms, insects, fruit, berries and scraps.They are often found commensal feeding, alongside lapwings in wetland areas, eating up food that the lapwings have disturbed.
Sadly, these handsome birds have declined in number recently, by over 70%, and are now on the Red List of birds of high conservation concern. There are suspected reasons for this decline; changes in farming practices, changes in grassland management, loss of invertebrate food through the use of pesticides, fewer nesting sites in urban areas owing to household improvements and poorer survival rates among young birds.

We can all help our bird populations during the winter by leaving out scraps of food and water for them. There is lots of advice online about what to feed the birds but peanuts, seed mixtures, fat balls, cooked rice and breakfast cereals are all good. Do not feed birds milk, cooked porridge oats or mouldy food. Why not use our recipe to make your own bird cake? Or get prepared for Spring and make a bird box - no good for starlings but very attractive to smaller birds like blue tits and great tits.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

What is it? #11 revealed

This plant is called Clematis vitalba or Old Man's Beard due to it's wispy, hair-like seed heads. In France, it is called Herbe aux gueux, which means the beggar or rascal's herb and the story goes that beggars used to use the acrid sap from the plant to irritate their skin. This was done to induce sympathy, and therefore cash, from passers-by. It's also known as Traveller's joy, probably as it is common around the countryside and adds visual interest to an otherwise fairly bare landscape and also due to the fact that it is a twisty, fervent climber.

It is also known as virgin's bower, ladies' bower, love vine and traveller's ivy. A member of the Ranunculaceae family, it is considered a weed in some areas due to it's vigorous growth that can choke other plants.  It is actually very poisonous if ingested and has caused death in cattle. However, it's not all bad as the thick, windy stems can be used in basketry.

The flowers of this species are eaten by the larvae of moths including The V-Pug and Double-striped Pug and the leaves by Willow Beauty.

Friday, 7 December 2012

What is it? #11

With wispy, wintery, white tendrils blowing in the wind, I can be found all over the place, in woodlands, hedgerows, roadsides and hilltops, but what am I? I have a slightly almond smell, and with my distinctive grey, fluffy seed balls climbing and clambering over trees and bushes, I have several common names. How many do you know?

Find out more on Sunday!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Where the Wild Things are..

This week the Guardian posted an article about the value of children having outdoor experiences, how it can build their confidence and transform their relationships with their teachers. In my role as Learning Development Officer at Avon Wildlife Trust, I see this first hand time and time again. It is one of the truly rewarding aspects of my job.

Meeting restless children in a classroom and taking them into a natural environment, encouraging them to make decisions, be creative, explore, investigate, see, feel and hear the world around them has so much impact. To see them experience their senses fully, to independently discover an beetle in a piece of rotting wood like it's a piece of golden treasure, to hear their cries of wonder when they make the connection with the ugly predator they found in the pond with it's adult form of a beautiful dragonfly. The list is endless. No doubt we were all fascinated by the natural world once, when we were young... when we had time to look around us and discover new things...

On Tuesday I visited Ilminster Avenue E-ACT primary school in Knowle West and took the year 5's up to Callington Road nature reserve. This was their second visit with me to their local nature reserve as part of the Wild City project run by Bristol City Council. Each season we are visiting this urban nature reserve to look at the changes throughout the year, explore the woodlands, grasslands and pond, discover the native wildlife and to do some learning outside of the classroom. This week students learnt about winter wildlife and discovered the woodland habitat, creating their own, imaginary creatures.

Yes, it was cold (we wore coats), yes there were hazards (I did a site visit and wrote a full risk assessment in advance), yes, it was noisy at times (they were engaged in their learning) and yes, we had to travel to get there (we walked - it was free). The outcome of overcoming these the potential barriers was that the students not only learnt about habitats, adaptations and their local environment but they also worked creatively together, they assessed risk for themselves, they engaged with their local neighbourhood in a positive way, gained confidence (at times they were blindfolded and led by their partners), developed their knowledge and skills and formed deep learning experiences. I'm already looking forward to my Spring visit with these pupils, they are bright, enthusiastic, capable and,hopefully, with a little more encouragement, becoming, as one child put it 'Nature Nerds'. Fantastic!