Quite a few things have caught my attention so far this week, mostly things to do with nature, which is not surprising seeing as it is a veritable hive of activity and reproduction at present in the natural world.
I have found a Sparrowhawk nest in a park nearby, it is high in the crook of an Oak tree and right next to a busy road, so it is not exactly secluded. The nest itself is a messy mass of twigs, thick as a tire and covered in many small white downy feathers that give away what the hawks have had for tea; the female herself is currently atop the eggs, which can’t be far off hatching. They nested in the same park last year and reared five healthy chicks, these birds never nest in the same place twice though so have relocated – meaning I had to spend ages searching for their new residence.
Walking through another local park yesterday I stumbled upon what at first looked like a large brown blob of mud, stuck to a dead branch high in a tree, but through my binoculars was revealed to be a seething ball of honey bees – a swarm in May. These bees will have split off from another hive nearby, led by a newly hatched queen, they are now searching for a suitable site to start a new colony; the majority will stay in one place to protect the queen whilst scouts fly off in search of a hole. Later on in my walk I watched in awe as the very same swarm flew past me along the edge of the wood; several thousand individual bees rushing along in a swirling cloud is an impressive and somewhat frightening sight.
I have noticed quite a few Magpie fledglings this week, the young birds sitting on branches and squawking for food from their ever-patient parents, also the blue tit clutch from a bird box in my garden have fledged now and are being fed by the adults in the trees – it is good to see that some species have bred well this year.
On another note I noticed that in a large field coated in freshly-burst Ox-eye daisies there were no more than two bees and a fly attracted by the beautiful floral display in the whole place. Not a single butterfly, no beetles and no hordes of other flying insects which once would have audibly buzzed in this meadow; the lack of invertebrates in such an apparently food-rich area was extremely worrying to me, especially combined with the dearth of butterflies and dragonflies so far this year. I do hope there was some other reason for this empty field than my suspicion that all the insects are being exterminated by the actions of humans.
On a lighter note I saw last week that a Blue Tit pair had decided to nest in the lamp of a lamp post that stands alongside a busy road – I could hear the chicks squeaking inside and watched an adult fly into a gap between the pole and the casing of the lamp.
I have become much more aware recently of how the general public, the common man, views nature – or rather the fact that they notice it at all. Scientists, conservationists, birders and the like often overlook or are not entirely aware of how many people (who are not seriously or professionally interested in it) care about nature in this country. On at least three occasions this year, maybe more, I have been stopped and asked questions by people while I have been walking around my local park – binoculars in hand. They have asked me what I am looking at, I reply ‘birds’ or ‘wildlife’, they then proceed to ask me what I have seen or if I have seen the so-and-so bird which they have themselves noticed. I recently pointed out a fledgling magpie to a woman who had questioned me, sitting on a nearby branch, she was visibly thrilled at seeing it and thanked me – saying how cute it was, before walking on. These people are not the sort of people who know the difference between a lesser and greater spotted woodpecker, yet they are clearly interested in and care about wildlife – they actually notice it and are pleased by it.
Politicians often talk of wildlife being something that tree-huggers and niche-groups and scientists are interested in and that it is not really important to the majority of people; which is why they never mention it in their campaign speeches. Clearly this is not the case, many ordinary people who work in offices and schools and hospitals and supermarkets actually do care about its existence – I have seen with my own eyes that nature makes people feel better, makes them happy – they may not conduct butterfly surveys, but they notice when no butterflies visit their garden.