Last weekend was the 33rd Big Garden Birdwatch, which I posted about in 2010 and 2011, and I was wondering how to make it a little different – hence the background to our little group of islands and the modest diversity that we have in our flora and fauna.
Adders: normal and melanistic colour patterns – preferring dryer areas (heaths), where they can find a wide range of prey: rodents, and the eggs of chicks of ground-nesting birds.
All the pictures tell their story of some of the flora and fauna under threat ... whose annotations I've set out in red.
The British Isles is an archipelago consisting of two main islands – Britain and Ireland – and about 1,000 others, including the Channel Islands. The name Brittannia was used by the Romans for our islands and those further north including the Faroe Islands (now Danish) and Iceland ... before finally becoming the Roman province of Britannia (one ‘T’) with the northern boundary being Limes Britannicus – Hadrian’s Wall.
Harpella Forficella – Concealer Moth ... the caterpillars feed on dead wood and have been seen on King Alfred’s Cake
The fact the British Isles is situated in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Continental Europe gives it an unique climate ... the North Atlantic Current brings warm waters from the Gulf of Mexico giving us our temperate climate with its warmer and wetter weather than might be expected.
A fungi - King Alfred’s Cake – growing in clumps on dead and dying wood, especially the Ash tree. The shiny black balls are excellent tinder for fire-lighting ... as they crumble when broken as if charred: hence their name after the burnt cakes by the Saxon monarch.
This current allows us to have vineyards at the same latitude as Canada has polar bears, or date palms at 50 deg north, where normally they would grow in the Canary Islands off Africa. The Gulf Stream is a major factor affecting our islands’ weather ... while the atmospheric waves (winds) recently have been bringing subtropical air northwards warming our shores.
The Stag Beetle – from Fauna Germanica by Edmund Reitter (1845-1920). Pliny the Elder noted that Nigidius called the stag beetle ‘lucanus’ after the Italian region of Lucania where they were used as amulets. They lay eggs in rotting deciduous wood, which the larvae feed on for several years (before pupating in 3 stages)
We have a relatively small biodiversity because of our physical separation from continental Europe, the effects of seasonal variability, the shortage of time for habitat evolution to occur since the last Ice Age (+/- 10,000 years ago) and our small land masses.
Heathland at Woodbury Common, Devon. Purple flowers of heather and the yellow of gorse. Heather is vital as a food plant for a range of creatures, including emperor moth caterpillars and red grouse.
|Topography of the UK|
Yet as islanders – we can access all parts of our nation reasonably easily ... of which, in 1993, 10% was forested, 46% used for pastures and 25% for agricultural use. Most of the country is lowland terrain, with mountainous regions in Scotland, running down the spine of England, into Wales petering out in the westerly counties of Cornwall and Devon. There are major estuaries and rivers – with feeder tributary systems criss-crossing the countryside.
Distances as the crow flies are 660 miles north to south; 255 miles Penzance, Cornwall to London; 270 miles from Holyhead, north Wales to Great Yarmouth, Norfolk ... and we’re never more than a couple of hours journey from the seaside.
This gives us, the British public, unlimited access to all of our wildlife habitats ... our gardens, urban parks, wild-flower meadows, rock-pools at the seaside, bluebell woods, ancient woodlands and forests, fields, meadows and hedgerows, rivers, estuaries, lakes and marshes, mountains, moors and heaths, coasts and islands ....
For the diversity, even with evolutionary change, we still have a huge range of birds – some are going north, some are moving south, some will die out and some will gain strength ...
Goldcrest (female) – Shetland – usually found in coniferous woodland and gardens; Eggs of the chicken, Little Owl and Goldcrest (smallest); Little Owl – introduced to the UK in 1842 and is now a naturalised bird, found in open country and parkland; it can hunt during the day.
Some of our wildlife I have shown here... while the results of the Big Garden Birdwatch last weekend will be published in a couple of months’ time.
The Top Ten garden birds in 1979 The Top Ten garden birds in 2010
Starling House Sparrow
House Sparrow Starling
Chaffinch Blue Tit
Blue Tit Chaffinch
Robin Wood Pigeon
Song Thrush Great Tit
Great Tit Robin
Dunnock or Hedge Sparrow Collared Dove
Some of the changes or declines are because of diseases, adaption to being able to survive in areas subject to intensive farming, thriving due to increasing sophistication of the modern bird-food market – more specialisation.
Ruddy Turnstone – one of the world’s great travellers ... flying from their breeding grounds in the Arctic, via Britain, to winter in Africa. They rest on rocky shores above the high tide mark. The lift stones and seaweed to find food.
So we must count ourselves lucky in these islands that we are able to travel to see all this flora and fauna in their different habitats, while being able to access information points to gain further knowledge – as well as participate in what is thought to be the biggest “citizen science” exercise anywhere in the world ....
Pair of Bullfinches – they love to feed on the fruit tree buds found in orchards
.... last year 600,000 people took the survey – that is more than the population of Luxembourg ..... I wonder how many this year – as the weather was far more benign – in 2011 it was icy, snowy and positively freezing.
We are lucky here ... and on top of that we speak English – which helps! Feedback re the British Garden birds anon .... after the April A - Z Challenge, which I've signed up for - all the details are here ... do join us - it is fun.
My 2011 post - The Birds, My Feathered Friends
My 2010 post - Great British Garden Birdwatch
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds 2012 Big Garden Birdwatch website with information.
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