NATURE WATCH

May

The Pipistrelle Bat

Pipistrellus Pipistrellus

In the UK we have 17 Bat species. That’s almost a quarter of all our mammals! The common Pipistrelle ie Pipistrellus Pipistrellus is one of our smallest. This little bat can fit in a matchbox. The first time I got close to one of these little guys a friend called me as one was just lying on her front step. We got him into a cardboard box and gave him water and released him later that night. I was struck by the fact it was such an ugly little thing but that in itself made him beautiful. I’ve had a soft spot for bat’s ever since. 

75% of bat sightings are Pipistrelles. They are our most common bat and are seen quite regularly around dusk. All our bat’s are nocturnal and find their food through echolocation. They will eat up to 3000 insects a night by scooping them up in their little wings. They roost in tree holes, roof spaces and of course Church roofs. Their colonies can be up to a 1000 strong. 

Females will get pregnant between September to November but will then undergo a process known as delayed implantation. Her eggs will be fertilised immediately but the embryo only starts to develop when hibernation ends around 4 months later. The females will form maternity colonies and have just one single pup in June/July. They will feed their young on milk for around 3 week and then the pups are ready to fly. During this time the males will stay well away.

Bat populations are still fairly healthy but the last few years there has been a worrying decline. Habitat loss and disturbance are their biggest threats. If bat’s are disturbed they will abandon their young and won’t return to them. As usual a drop in habitat loss from the destruction of mature trees and hedgerows and agricultural practices have meant the loss off dwelling places and insect food. Which also is an issue for most of our wildlife today with up to a 75% decline in all insect numbers. If you would like to help bat boxes offer great roosts and planting wildflowers to help increase the amount of insects. Dandelions and foxgloves are great! 

ANGELA STARLING


February

The Badger

Family - Mustelidae

With their characteristic black and white face the Badger cannot be mistaken for any other UK animal. Stocky and powerful they typically weigh between 10kg - 12kg with a body length of 90cm. They are the UKs largest land predator. 

Badgers are omnivorous which means they eat a wide range of food. But 80% of their diet is actually made up of earthworms. They can eat up to 200 a night. Fruit features heavily in their diet and when all this is scarce they will eat small mammals such as voles, rabbits and even our beautiful hedgehogs. 

Badgers live in social family groups typically around 4 to 8 individuals which is called a Clan. Mating will take place all year round but a process of delayed implementation will occur to stop cubs being born until January or February. The young will then stay underground for about 2 months before emerging from the Sett. Cubs reach maturity around a year old. Some stay with the family and others will leave to make a new territory. 

The best Badger habitat is a mix of woodland and open countryside. They live in a network of underground burrows and tunnels called a Sett.  

There will be a main Sett which is their headquarters where they spend most of their time and rear their young. Then there will be smaller ones which are for safety when they are out foraging. Setts can be used for generations and can be hundreds years old. They are nocturnal and are generally only spotted in the day if they have been disturbed. 

Historical persecution means they are now fully protected by law. This has helped double their numbers since the 1980s. However they still get killed by vehicles and illegal persecution. Also culls driven by bovine tb are immense and regularly take place even though this was and us proving to be ineffective. 

The photo is one I took of 2 Badgers one a very pale called Erythristic. This means they have a slight genetic difference which is sometimes referred to as Rufous. 

The earliest traces of Badgers in Britain have been dated back to half million years ago! 

ANGELA STARLING


January

The Jackdaw

Corvus Monedula

We've all seen these inquisitive birds that nest in our Church or our chimneys. To many they are a pest but to those that watch they are a very interesting and social bird. Jackdaws are part of the crow family along with the Magpie, Carrion Crow, Raven, Rook and Jay.

The Jackdaw is very distinctive as it gets older due to its silverback plumage and pale eyes. It lightly steps around the garden or field looking for food such as beetles animal or vegetable matter and insects. They present little threat to other bird life, although will take an odd egg if they happen across it. But if you feed the birds from your garden they will quite happily scavenge any leftovers way before any rat can get to them.

Its name Jack means brief squawk and Daw from the 15thC word for the bird. It has many names including Caddow, Chauk, Jacko, Ka-wattie, Seacrow and chimney sweep bird. Daws usually find a partner around the end of their first year although they don't mate until the second year, so maybe its a form engagement first. They will mate for life and when they build their nest it will be close to others creating a loose colony. The female will lay one clutch of eggs between April and May with 4-6 eggs. She will incubate over 18 days while the male will guard and protect her and bring her food. It takes 30 days for them to fledge and another 5 weeks before being independent from their parents. They normally have a 5 year life span.

The Daws have a strict social hierarchy where unpaired females rank the lowest. They are last to have access to food and shelter and are liable to be pecked by others without being permitted to retaliate. However when she selects a mate she will assume his rank immediately.

There are a few old wives tales around the Daw including If there is one on the roof it's said to proclaim a new arrival or an early death. In the fens if you encounter one on the way to a wedding it's said to be a good omen. Greeks said that the Swans will sing when the Jackdaws are silent...meaning the wise will speak when the foolish are quiet! They have long been known for their love of Church steeples and An 18thC poet named William Cowper wrote…”A great frequenter of the church, where bishop like, he finds a perch and a dormitory too”. Because of this habit of frequenting churches the Jackdaw was deemed sacred in parts of Wales.

Thanks to Graham for the preference to the Jackdaw, i've really enjoyed looking into these birds and have found a whole new respect for them! One last little piece of information about our resident birds are what they are called when they are in a group. They are then referred to as a Train or a Clattering.

ANGELA STARLING