The Birds and the Bees

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As spring moves into summer in the UK a few things start to happen. Firstly, I remember that I have hay fever and start to hate all flowering plants, which is usually about the same time as the second thing: beer starts to taste better when its drunk outside. Then, while sipping said beer, through my blurred and itchy eyes (from the hay fever, nothing to do with the beer) I start to notice the diversity of life that the warmer weather brings, and I decide that actually my hay fever isn’t that bad after all.

Last week I began my mission to improve my birdwatching skills, with the first of what will from now on be a bi-weekly Twitching Challenge. The rules are simple: 1 point for a positive identification of a bird species by sight, and 1 for identification by sound, and I have 1 hour (or an average walk around the park with my dogs) to ID as many species as possible…

My first challenge started well, almost too well – I’ll definitely have to learn some new birdsongs or get some binoculars to beat this score. Here’s my scored card for this week…

  • Robin (sound) – the unmistakeable tinny song of the Robin can be heard in parks and gardens all year round, and Nonsuch park is no exception. 1 point.
  • Great tit (sound) – another easy one, the “tea-cher, tea-cher” call of the great tit is one of the easiest bird calls to learn. 1 point.
  • Carrion crow (sight, sound) – “caw, caw!”. 2 points.
  • Woodpigeon (sight) – unfortunately I didn’t hear it call, I was excited to test out what I’d heard on the BBC Wildlife Magazine podcast and identify the woodpigeon by listening for it supposedly saying “my toe IS bleeding”, gotta love a great mnemonic like that! 1 point.
  • Chaffinch (sound) – the song of the chaffinch that ends in a sort of bouncey phrase has been bugging me for a while, until I heard it on the Radio 4 Tweet of the Day and realised what it was. 1 point.
  • Greater spotted woodpecker (sound) – a distant echo of the distinctive sound of the greater spotted woodpecker drilling into a tree. 1 point.

So a total of 7 points for this week, which I think is pretty respectable for my first attempt. I’m sure I won’t hear a greater spotted woodpecker every week, so I’ve been learning some new songs and calls for next time – we’ll see in a couple of weeks how much I can remember!

The other exciting thing thats happened recently is that a colony of bumblebees seem to have built a nest in the eaves of our house. My mother and our neighbours were a bit concerned watching the “nest surveillance” behaviour, which consists of about 20 or so bees doing what is described in an article on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust website as an “aerial dance” around the nest. It took me a while to identify them as I couldn’t get a clear photo, but it turns out that its the tree bumblebee, a species common to most parts of Eurasia and becoming quite widespread in the UK since it was first seen here in 2001. The nest surveillance stage has stopped for about a week or so now, but if I sit in my garden and watch the eaves I can see the workers coming too and from the nest to forage, and it makes me smile to know that I’m sharing a home with these furry little insects – especially considering that most of their family are in dramatic decline. If you do see tree bumblebees in your garden, you can do what I did and take part in some citizen science – add some data to the research being done by the Bee, Wasp and Ant Recording Society by recording your sighting here.

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum)
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