They’re back! One animal’s image that we see everywhere at this time of year, because of Halloween, is the spider. Great, big hairy ones feature in scary things to buy which are loved by children but not always by parents, especially when placed on a pillow as a surprise! A much smaller one has been in the news recently, as a new species has been found in Norfolk at Winterton Dunes Nature Reserve. This tiny money spider is native to northern and central Europe and has not been recorded in Britain before. Its official name is Syedra myrmicarum but no one has given it a common name yet. The big spiders that we see in our houses in the autumn we have talked about before. It is one of the Tegenaria species and is widespread in Britain, found in both the country and towns.
Living surrounded by the Norfolk countryside is wonderful for many reasons but especially because of all the wildlife that I see. But cities and towns are also nature-rich and the first place to start looking is in your own garden. When you put Mr. Tegenaria out, which you will do, of course, (you’re not going to swat him, are you?) stop and have a look around. Your spider will scuttle to the nearest cover – flower border, leaf litter or maybe under a plant pot – and there will be other animals living in these places as well. Even the smallest garden or yard will be a secret world of invertebrates and birds and maybe amphibians, reptiles and mammals. This will especially be true if you have made an effort to make it wildlife friendly with water, places to hide and hibernate and, of course, bird feeders. Any piece of waste land in towns will be quickly colonised by plants followed by animal life; turn over a few stones and you will be amazed at the little worlds that exist underneath. Large open areas, such as parks and allotments are homes to insects, bats, hedgehogs, town foxes, even deer sometimes and of course many birds.
Also, urban churchyards, which usually remain relatively undisturbed, are wonderful places to observe wildlife. Sit quietly early in the morning or late evening and you may see surprising things among the gravestones. So, there are many mini-safaris you can make if you live in a town and don’t forget to look up. Our Norwich peregrines have nested on the cathedral for several years, now, and hopefully will be back in the spring and there will be other unusual birds flying over; let me know if you see anything of interest.
Your bird feeders and tables will be up and running, now, and it is important to keep them clean. A disease called Trichomonosis, previously found in pigeons and doves, is now infecting other birds. Greenfinches, in particular, are being badly affected but it is also killing Chaffinches and has been found in House sparrows and other garden birds. This parasite thrives in damp conditions and can be passed from a bird to its young in saliva when feeding. It also lurks on feeders and tables which are not very clean and will be picked up by visiting birds.
A bird which has become much more common in Norfolk than it used to be is the Buzzard. Previously only found in hilly parts of the country, Scotland, Wales and the Lake District, it has now spread across England to colonise moors, woodlands and many types of habitat. Its mewing cry is very distinctive as it rides the thermals, circling higher and higher in the sky. The buzzard is quite a slow flyer relying on patience rather than speed to catch its prey and will often sit on a tree, building or fence waiting for dinner to pass by. This could be a rat, rabbit, small mammal or ground dwelling bird. They also feed on a great deal of carrion which gets them blamed for deaths for which they are not responsible, especially in the case of game and lambs. This does not mean that they will not occasionally feed on these animals but the victims are often weak and unattended or already dead; worms and insects will also be eaten when more substantial food is not available. The Buzzard usually nests in the top of a tall tree producing 2 – 4 eggs which are incubated for a month by both parents and the chicks are looked after for 6 – 8 weeks. This is a protected bird and it is illegal to interfere with nests, injure or kill any individual. Norfolk has many shooting estates but any loss of game can be dramatically reduced by providing feeding stations with road kill and other carrion (no lead pellets or poison should be involved, of course) which the buzzards will quickly find. So let’s enjoy these beautiful raptors flying in our county.
Many birds migrate from their summer homes to spend the winter in other countries and how they find their way has always intrigued us. We know that birds are sensitive to the earth’s magnetic forces and that they also follow visual clues but it has recently been discovered that they remember smells and are able to detect odour trails to guide them for thousands of miles. It is also possible that other animals use these methods during mass migrations. There is still much more to discover about our amazing natural world.
Scent is also being used to confuse moths, the ones that eat our woollies. Of course, it isn’t the actual moths which do the damage but their larvae children which hatch from eggs laid in our wardrobes and feed on the contents. As we’ve talked about before, their natural food is fur and feathers and taxidermy exhibits at the Natural History Museum in London have suffered badly. A devious plan has been devised! Male moths have been coated with a female pheromone confusing other males into wasting time chasing them around with a view to mating, which of course can’t happen. Since this system has been in operation the number of moths in the museum has fallen by nearly 50%. These moths, though, are not always a nuisance because they provide a useful food source for other animals. Some years ago, when we lived in Cheshire, close to the suburbs of Manchester, we had large aviaries attached to our veterinary surgery yard. They provided accommodation, not only for convalescing avian patients, but also pet birds which happily nested in all sorts of inaccessible corners. The debris and feathers attracted clothe moths and in turn hundreds of bats which we spent many hours watching every evening. In the morning the entire yard would be gleaming silvery-gold with the moths’ wings that had been discarded by the bats. It was an amazing sight! Another example of how animals, which don’t always fit in with our ways, never the less play an important part in the big picture.
Homer, the racing pigeon, still lives with us; he’s been here for over a year, now, and we are very attached to him even though he is an extremely messy bird!
Finally, before you set light to all the garden waste you have saved for your Guy Fawkes bonfire, please don’t forget to move it. There will be animals such as hedgehogs, toads, voles and many others which have found your pile a cosy place to rest. As soon as you have relocated everything, burn it straight away before they all creep back in.
Activities this month include:
- Beginner’s guide to Norfolk birds, Wildlife walk & a stroll in the dark – all at Cley Marshes.
- Visit to High Ash Farm.
- Children’s Wildlife watch – Norwich Castle Museum.
www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk or 01603 625540.
- Titchwell’s fabulous wildlife – Titchwell Nature Reserve. 01485 219779
© Sheila Sims 2015. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org