Nature-watching in Europe issue 8

Bulgaria - Central Balkan National Park

France - Golfe du Morbihan

Ireland - Pine Martens

Spain - volcanos on the western Canary Isles

Garden Finches

News & Research

Subscribe to Nature-watching in Europe, only on the Apple Newsstand - only for the iPad.

Allow Apple to give your email address to us, and get the current issue free. (we promise not give or sell your address to anyone else)


Gossip from the Garden

It’s late January, and New Year’s resolutions have usually either been abandoned by now, or put aside to be done "sooner or later”.  Sorting out the sun-room fell into the latter category.  It was meant to be a room where we could sit and enjoy the back garden, where the bird feeders and and the plant pots are.  But over the last few months - or maybe a couple of years now - it has become a store room, a dumping ground for things that we haven’t had time to put away properly.  The seats are used by cameras and lenses, not by people.

That came to a sudden end last week when I was asked to record a piece for Radio Wales about the RSPB Big Garden Bird Survey.  I had only a few hours notice to tidy things up so we could sit and watch birds while the reporter asked me questions.  Okay, so it was for radio and no-one would know if it was recorded indoors or outdoors, or if there really were any birds.  But it is a lot easier to talk about something that you can actually see.  So now the room is usable by humans again - though there is still plenty of stuff that needs to be properly sorted out, thrown out or put away.

I sat in the sun room this morning with a cup of coffee, watching the sparrows lining up for their turn on the feeders, the starlings squabbling amongst themselves and generally being bullies until the squirrels arrived and sent them packing.  Blue tits and great tits snuck onto the peanuts whenever the squirrels gave them a chance. Up to eight blackbirds busied themselves with the abundance of windfall apples.  A bank vole made its way through a grassy tunnel by the wall.  This is what the sun-room and garden was supposed to be about!

Then a male bullfinch flew in.  One of my favourite birds with its scarlet waistcoat and black cap.  Usually we have up to a dozen in the autumn and early winter when the privet berries start to ripen.  Once the berries are gone, so are the bullfinches.  These birds usually pair for life, so seeing one alone for about ten minutes suggests that he may have lost his mate.  He ferreted around in the ivy on the wall, within a few feet of the window.  Of course, I hadn’t got a camera ready - a casualty of not using the room for so long.  When he disappeared round the back of the wall for a few minutes,  I reached for a camera, but did not have a tripod.  In the dull light, through double glazing, and hand-holding a long lens, there was no chance of a decent photo.

But what I did see more clearly through the camera (no binoculars in reach either) was that the bullfinch was not really interested in the ivy.  It was the stalks of honeysuckle growing through it that had caught his attention.  He was working his way along the stalks, eating the new leaf buds.  It is this habit of eating leaf buds, and more particularly flower buds, that got this species into trouble with fruit farmers.  No flowers mean no fruit.  I remember my grandmother draping old net curtains over her black-currant bushes to keep the birds away. 

This coffee break was reminder that I need to get the camera and tripod organised so that I can photograph anything that comes into the garden - double-glazing not-withstanding.  The prevailing wind comes across the garden so we can’t leave the windows open at this time of year.

It was also a reminder that I must get into the habit of having my coffee breaks in the sun-room instead of in the kitchen, so I can enjoy the birds properly again.  


Nature-watching in Europe: issue 7

Scotland - photographing snow

The Straits of Gibraltar - orcas and other whales

Montenegro - National Parks

Estonia - bird-watching trip

Floral stories - Samphires and other salty plants

News & Research

Subscribe to Nature-watching in Europe, only on the Apple Newsstand - only for the iPad.

Allow Apple to give your email address to us, and get the current issue free. (we promise not give or sell your address to anyone else)



Nature-watching in Europe: issue six - FREE


Issue 6

Croatia - Kopački Rit Nature Park

Sweden - for dragonflies?

Portugal - Alvao Natural Park

Wales - the Great Orme

Chamois - life on the edge

Keeping a record - so you don’t forget

Index to all articles in issues 1 -6


Twenty-five years ago I was travelling through the Balkans, and listening to news reports of candle-lit vigils in Wenceslas Square and other eastern block cities.  I met a group of Hungarian birdwatchers who had an East German ornithologist with them.  He was the first in his state to have been given a travel permit to study birds outside East Germany.

Back in Britain a few weeks later, I watched the Berlin wall come down on TV.  How things have changed since then.  Places in those eastern countries are now so much more accessible.  The closest I could get on that trip was Kopački Rit in Croatia. 

But the news is not all good.  I was saddened to read about birds being “slaughtered” on wetlands in Albania.  Why has this happened?  Because the ordinary people suddenly had access to guns and activities such as hunting that had previously been the preserve of the rich. So they were taking advantage.  Shades of the French Revolution. 

How to change this?  If the wildlife and countryside has no economic value to “outsiders” then why should the locals care about anything more than getting whatever food they can from it.

We need to visit places in these countries, and show that it has as much value as the exotic resorts on other continents.



Late dragonfly

One effect of the mild autumn is that many insects are still active (at least, they are when the wind and rain stop).  So the sight of a southern hawker dragonfly this morning wasn't too surprising.  It did look the worse for wear, with chunks missing from its wings.

This one is relatively easy to identify, once it stops flying.  Even without worrying about whether the spots along the abdomen are green or blue, you can see the spots on the last couple of segments are fused rather than separate. This means it is Ashna cyanea, the southern hawker, and the colours show it to be a male.

It is a late summer dragonfly, flying well into the autumn, and November records aren't unheard of!

Photography details - the dragonfly perched on a branch above head height, so I used a Sigma 150mm macro lens on a Nikon D7000, with the pop-up flash because the light was poor and the camera was hand-held (using a tripod would have meant standing further out in the road)