May newsletter 2020
We are always pleased to see what you've all been getting up to and spotting on your daily walks. Thank you to all who posted pictures on our Facebook, even if it was an identification query, it's good to see what we have on our doorstep. Here are a few of our favourites!
What's Wild Last Month
Many of you may have noticed the borderline murmuration of mayflies that have swept our great outdoors this past month. These are one of my favourite aquatic insects purely because of how unique they are. The mayfly will emerge from its previous nymph form, and have just 24 hours to find a mate and continue it's lineage. It spends most of it's life as a nymph, it can be as long as two years, before becoming a 'vehicle for reproduction' as an adult. On the surface, they may seem to be a pointless insect but besides serving as food for predators, the mayfly plays an important role maintaining balance in our ecosystem. Even as a larvae, its role is important in preventing the build up of a large biomass of aquatic algae and waste, and in nutrient cycling. Every single creature, no matter how short it's life, always has a meaningful role to play.
Many of you have had some exciting visitors in your gardens at home. It has been really encouraging to see, as well as a huge mood booster, as it's always fantastic to have nature so close.
Hannah has also been sharing videos of the wrens nesting on her porch. This shows the importance of leaving spaces for wildlife in all parts of your home and garden. A messy garden and gaps and holes surrounding your home will very soon increase biodiversity. And it will give you a well earned break too!
A few of our top wild sightings for May include:
What's Wild This Month
This month we're kicking off #30DaysWild on all our social media, and would love for you to get involved. Even if it's quietly at home, by doing something that benefits wildlife or getting out into the outdoors and practising an act of wildness, it's all good news. We'll be giving pointers every day, but feel free to do what suits you best and send us any ideas you found useful!
Over the past few weeks it's been really hot, and on the cusp of June, it's only going to get hotter. This is already a tricky time for wildlife, as many creatures have come out of hibernation too early and struggled due to the warm weather or the fluctuating cold weather. Less people are out now which can be a good thing, but also means water supplies are less present too. You can help very quickly and easily, by making your own wildlife bath/drinking station. For example, using old pots of dishes and a variety of stones, can be absolutely perfect. The stones are important so smaller mammals like mice or even birds, don't get submerged and are unable to escape. Different levels act as steps for a leisurely drinking and bathing experience. By all means, feel free to buy a ready made one, but this just shows you how easy and cheap it is to do at home.
Many fledglings will be out and about now, too. They can be difficult to identify sometimes as they will look different from their parents - for example, young robins are brown with speckled breasts. As a hint, if you watch carefully from a distance you may see the parent birds feeding them. Some fledglings may leave the nest before they can fly properly – if you find one, please don’t try to take it home as its parents will be nearby. Some birds spend a day or two on the ground before their feather development is complete. It is really best not to interfere most of the time as the parents will be close by and come to feed the bird as soon as it is safe. However, if the parents don’t return and the youngster has definitely been abandoned then please contact the RSPCA, your local vet or a local animal rescue centre. They have the expertise to help you. Look on a local lake or river for ducklings, goslings and cygnets. These young birds have to find their own food but their parents stay close and will brood them in cold or wet weather. You may even see young cygnets taking a rest by having a ride on their parent’s back. Great crested grebes also frequently carry their young in this way. Another important factor is that as many young birds are vulnerable on the ground right now, it's important to keep your dog on a lead when out walking. We have already had fatalities this year of dogs attacking freshly fledged jackdaws, so be aware and take care.
A few of our top wild sightings for June include:
Black Birding Week runs from May 31st to June 5th and is a chance to celebrate black scientists, scholars, and naturalists and to increase the visibility of black birders, who face unique challenges and dangers when engaging in outdoor activities. This is a new event that culminated on May 29th 2020 in direct response to a racially charged incident in Central Park. It is even more important in light of recent events of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and many, many others, that we must not remain silent to the prejudice that black people face on a daily basis.
Within the wonderful community we have of biologists, ecologists and wildlife lovers, we all have a right to feel safe and protected when doing what we love. We should have this right no matter what we're doing. It's important to recognise our privilege when it comes to this. I know, as a white woman, before I go out for a survey, to bird watch, to take pictures or to just enjoy the great outdoors, I will never ever have the looming worry of being a part of a racially charged attack. I can put on a hoodie and not think twice. I can, like many of you, enjoy doing what I love without fearing for my freedom or my life.
While, as white people, we will never understand what that feels like, we must be doing whatever we can to ease that fear. It’s important to be learning every day what we can do to make our wildlife groups and spaces safer for all minorities. So how can I help?
What you can read:
Black Faces, White Spaces: Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors - Carolyn Finney
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race - Renni Eddo-Lodge
If you want to support black authors, I recommend:
Mississippi Solo: A River Quest - Eddy L Harris - A travel writer
Anything by Mélina Mangal - Specialising in children's books about nature - my favourite
The Body of the World - Mary Moore Easter - Poetry rooted in justice and nature
How you can donate:
UK Black Lives Matter Fund
Donate binoculars for black birders
George Floyd Fund
Ahmaud Arbery Fund
Breonna Taylor Fund
What petitions you can sign:
Here's a list
What you can watch:
Netflix - The Hate You Give/ When They See Us/ 13th/ Dear White People
iPlayer - A Black and White Killing
YouTube - Bird Watching While Black/ Birds with Jason Ward
Travel YouTubers I recommend:
Oneika the Traveller/ Gloria Atanmo
Who you can follow:
@hood_naturalist + Twitter
@juitamartinez + Twitter
@afro_herper + Twitter
@jasonwardny + Twitter
@sciencewithtyus + Twitter
@blackgirlsbird + Twitter
As always, please do your own research and do as much as you can to help. Please view this as a starter kit, rather than all you should do. Please send us any accounts/films/books or information, we haven't included as we're all still learning and we are all much stronger as a community.
As life isn't fully back on track yet, here are a section of our May favourites to keep you busy.
This one doesn't need much explanation! The crew have adapted fantastically to current distancing measures, and it's full of brilliant wildlife information as always. You can watch it here.
A Year in an English Garden: Flicker and Pulse
This is one for those budding botanists and garden enthusiasts. It is also really relaxing to listen to, even in the background while you're undertaking other tasks, so is suitable for all. This short film explores the relationship between the seasons and the plants and people who work within the walls of the garden. It was released in 2017, but a lot still is important for today - especially in the way gardening can bring us together. Definitely something to look forward to in the future. You can watch it here.
Countryfile Magazine - May Issue 164
This was a fantastic issue, including articles on how to photograph wildflowers, Mike Dilger studies on bats, list of the BBC’s 10 best audio nature shows and an array of information on fascinating species of insects. Obviously with the break of June, a new issue has been released which is full of just as interesting information, and is definitely worth a look to see if there's anything that you're taken by. If you don't have access to a local store, the magazines are available online and on the Kindle.
Bee Quest by Dave Goulson
Dave Goulson is the type of author where you could pick up any of his books and not be disappointed. I have recently reread ‘Bee Quest’, which was published in 2017 but still relevant today as it enforces the notion of the responsibility we have to secure our future. Goulson has a fantastic love of nature, and within this book he travels all around the earth finding species of bees you may have never even heard of. It has definitely taught me a lot and is a must for any bee lover. You can buy it here from a bookstore that's committed to working with charities to improve literacy among young people. They partner with national literacy charities and a local primary school to engender a love of reading among pupils.
World Wild News
Corvid-19: Confusion and Celebration
Within these past few months, I have seen a variety of different names for this pandemic. A few include the standard coronavirus, COVID-19, corona or ‘this thing going around’. However, by far my favourite is the commonly misspelled Corvid-19. This has been spotted in several shop window signs and out by parks. Even, when looking at Google trend statistics in England from the beginning of the year to now; the word ‘corvid’ has quadrupled in interest from February 29th to March 18th. This was four days before the UK went into lockdown, and I can imagine the searches were not due to a sudden national interest in birds.
It can be alarming due to the earlier mass confusion surrounding it, but now as shops are set to reopen in the near future, we can reflect on what we’ve learned. If you haven’t accidentally been searching for lockdown information and received pages of bird pictures, here’s what you’ve missed.
So first of all, most importantly, what is a corvid? Merriam-Webster defines this as any of a family (Corvidae) of stout-billed passerine birds including the crows, jays, magpies, and the raven. The RSPB elaborates on this by describing “their strong, scaly feet, and stout (or down curved) bills, mostly with a small patch of bristly feathers covering the nostrils”. Eight species breed in the UK, but there are many others around the world. These eight include the carrion crow, hooded crow, chough, jackdaw, jay, magpie, raven and rook.
Despite the feral pigeon, corvids are arguably the most overlooked birds, borderline pests to some people. Superstitions surround them also, for example - if you see 5 crows, sickness will follow; see 6 crows and death will follow or seeing one magpie will bring sorrow. However, this is obviously not the case, and I find corvids to be the most fascinating and intelligent group of birds. So, staying in theme, here’s unlucky 13 corvid facts that may persuade you otherwise.
7. John Marzluff gives a Ted Talk that exhibits how well corvids solve problems, among many other things. Within this it shows the crows ability to mould and use tools to get what they want. This wasn’t just a fluke, as the crow was able to repeat this in 90% of the trials. Additionally, some types of crow use sticks as a means of digging food out of small holes in fallen branches.
8. Another behaviour similar to humans, is the fact they hold funerals. Within Dr. Marc Bekoff’s studies, he noted they have some interesting rituals to honour fallen friends. This proves that corvids are known to mourn their dead. In one study, Bekoff observed magpies gently prodding a dead magpie with their beaks before retrieving grass and laying it next to them. This common practise has been seen taking place in other corvids such as crows and ravens, too. There is some evidence to prove the presence of grief.
9. While it may be a common stereotype that magpies collect shiny objects, corvids have been known to give gifts too. One story of a girl regularly feeding the crows that would visit her garden, was soon rewarded. The crows started leaving small items for the girl in the feeder after they finished their meals. The gifts ranged from shiny objects to dead animals. It may not be scientific evidence, but more motivation to keep feeding them!
10. Corvids also have the ability to be paranoid. A study released in early 2016 found that ravens possess something known as the ‘Theory of Mind’ - the ability to recognise mental states within themselves, and understand that others have mental states, too, and that those mental states in others may differ from their own. An incredible thing for a bird to possess. These studied ravens liked to stash food for later, and were observed doing so more cautiously when other ravens were around.
11. Unlike many creatures, crows aren't driven purely by instinct. They can exercise self-control if the end result is a greater reward. A 2014 study devised a test based on the Stanford marshmallow experiment. The crows were given a snack and the option to trade if they were willing to wait. They could either receive a better quality snack or a higher quantity of the same snack. They preferred to wait until a better snack was on offer, but if it was more of the same, they wouldn’t. In some cases, they waited up to 10 minutes for a better snack. This showed that they were waiting because they wanted to - not because they were actually hungry.
12. Crows are able to gesture. Outside of primates, this means of communication had never been observed in another species - until researchers observed wild ravens doing it. Simone Pika and Thomas Bugnyar, found the ravens using their beaks like hands. They recorded 38 interactions between pairs of ravens, 25 of which involved the raven picking up an object and showing it to their companion, and 10 of which involved ravens offering an object to their companion. "These distinct gestures were mainly aimed at partners of the opposite sex. Subsequently, the ravens interacted with each other, for example, by joint manipulation of the object," the researchers quoted.
13. Ravens use social ostracism to punish others they view as being selfish. In a 2015 study, researchers from the University of Vienna gave ravens a task where they would only receive the reward if they cooperated. This included pulling on ropes to raise a platform which had two pieces of cheese, one for each raven. If one raven stole their companion's cheese, as well as their own, they were on the outs: the other raven would refuse to cooperate with them - but they would cooperate with other ravens who played fair.
* Feel free to contact us for any sources not mentioned.
Local Wild Groups
We are not alone! In case you're interested, have a look at some of our neighbouring wildlife conservation groups:
Wildlife in Ascot
Wild Eton and Eton Wick
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