River Wissey Lovell Fuller

Countryside Notes July 2016

July 2016

How cruel can nature be? The fact that it is has been well and truly brought home to anyone watching ‘Springwatch’ on TV this year. Cameras on a variety of bird’s nests filming 24 hours a day have shown exactly what happens and revealed, amongst other things, the extent of predation even before chicks have left the nest. A particularly vulnerable time is when they first fledge but it’s nearly impossible to follow their fortunes afterwards. In our house ‘Springwatch’ is now called ‘Deathwatch’ because so many deaths have been recorded due to the incredible film footage obtained. For instance a stoat with eight kits killed not only rabbits but also scaled a tree and took a brood of green woodpeckers from a hole 20 feet above the ground. If it could have got into one of the nest boxes it would also have had some great tits but it was a jay that put pay to all but one of them in the end. A male sparrowhawk was regularly catching small birds, of at least a dozen different species, as food for his wife sitting on five eggs. And that’s just to feed her just imagine how many extra will be required to feed five growing chicks. There were black backed gulls snatching other gulls’ chicks and all the avocet chicks disappeared. What’s been eating them? On the Farne Islands puffins, desperately trying to bring back sand eels for their chicks, were having to run the gauntlet of being mugged by gulls. They also had to contend with thousands of seals hoovering up sand eels making them harder to find in the first place. Weather conditions can also have a huge impact on survival rates. ‘Springwatch’ has certainly revealed nature in the raw but it’s typically showing what goes on unseen throughout the countryside. Nature lovers watching have been shocked by what they’ve witnessed because it’s laid bare the truth concerning the trials and tribulations of reproduction in the wild. It’s food for thought that while predator numbers are on the increase many species on which they prey are decreasing. At this time of year every adult bird killed most likely deprives a brood of chicks of a parent. A pair of blackbirds nested in our garden and at the end of May we watched them collecting food, likewise blue tits in one nest box and great tits in another. Then the weather changed, the temperature dropped and we had a month’s worth of rain in a morning. We feared for their wellbeing. My neighbour had a pair of great tits nesting in a box with a camera inside enabling her to monitor the family’s fortunes. One chick died and she could hardly bear to watch as the parents struggled for a quarter of an hour to manoeuvre the body out through the hole. The rest eventually fledged but their fate is unknown. It’s all very well developing an empathy with wildlife when things are going well but it can be quite upsetting when they’re not! Jill Mason

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