Howdy folks!

Whilst the covid-19 situation continues, our Conservation Intern Paige is writing a series of blog on wildlife to watch out for at home, and on your daily exercise. Take it away Paige....

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Hello everyone,

With spring in the air, migration is everywhere… maybe even in your garden!

Now is the time to keep your ears and eyes peeled for the regular migrants coming to the UK to breed. One of my favourite and most famous migrations, is the long-distance travelling swallow, which spend the winter in Africa. A regular summer visitor, swallows start to arrive here in April. Although, there have been reports of swallows already arriving before the end of march via BirdTrack. Most swallows are breeding come early June, with the first brood already flying the nest by July. This then gives the parents a chance to raise a second and sometimes a third brood. They may stick around for about 5-6 months, preparing to leave again in September, with youngsters from the first brood already gone. However, some may stick around a little while longer. It’s not uncommon to see a few stragglers in October.

The journey back to Africa will take them around six weeks. Making their way through western France and eastern Spain into Morocco, then crossing the Sahara Desert and the Congo rainforest, before reaching their destinations in South African and Namibia. Learning this is how I developed an immense appreciation for swallows. Considering their long journey to and from the UK, travelling about 200 miles per day, you can only imagine how tired they must be once finally arriving. However, they don’t stop there. They then need to find food for themselves and start preparing their nests. To help alleviate some of the work ahead for them, there is something we can do; which is putting up nest cups to provide them a place to raise their young. They will happily take up residence around buildings. After all, they do eat some of the flying insect we don’t particularly like, such as mosquitoes. I am personally grateful for this, because when I play touch rugby every summer the fields are swarming with flying insects, however swallows can be seen flying all round the fields taking advantage of the banquet which then releases some of the pressure, i.e. I get less insect bites. So, while we are in isolation, why not try and get swallows to move in?

Another species worth mentioning is the house martin, who are currently on route to the UK. House martins traditionally built their mud nests on cliff faces. However, by the 19 century they started to make use of buildings, allowing them to increase their nesting range. Because of this change in behaviour, it means we get to enjoy their presence. You can find them on the outer walls of your house, or inside roofs and sheds. They usually nest in groups, averaging 4 - 5 nests per colony, however town colonies are smaller. Like swallows, they are insect eaters and rely on this food source to fuel their breeding season. Because of this you will see them in action between May – August. Keep an eye out for these beautiful birds coming in, see if they take up residence on your property and if you can observe them from your garden. (house martins also benefit from providing artificial nests such as nest bowls).

You may also see the chiffchaff from your garden. As more chiffchaffs arrive in the UK, the females get busy building their nests, and they may well be in your gardens. They nest close to the ground in tall grasses and bushes, and sometimes on wall creeping plants. Dead vegetation is used to construct the nest, with an added lining of feathers on the inside. About the size of a blue tit, chiffchaffs are small birds, with brownish-green upper parts and buff underparts, and a dark eye stripe through the eye, a pale eyebrow (supercilium) and a thin pale eye ring. If your unsure if you have a chiffchaff in your garden, try listen out for their call; the Chiffchaff's song sounds like its name "chiff chaff" or "zilp zalp”.

There are many other species that are also enduring their migration routes, and for some they were completed months ago. Blackbirds for example, the ones bobbing around your garden in January could well be winter visitors from Eastern Europe. Other summer migrant species you will see in the UK include martins, swifts, flycatchers, wheatears, whinchats, redstarts, nightingales, yellow wagtails, tree pipits, hobbies, ospreys, cuckoos and turtle doves.

It is important to understand more about migration and it is something still not fully understood by scientists. However, we do know it’s about survival. Birds are one of nature’s best examples of adapting to survive, and migration is a form of adaptation. In order to survive, procreation must occur. To be successful at procreating, you need the right food to eat and habitat to nest in. Some birds will migrate thousands of miles to find the perfect conditions in order to carry out their desires to provide the next generation. Aren’t we lucky that so many birds choose to come to us for this? Plus, it is a pretty cool and brave adaptation if you ask me.

There are plenty of changes occurring in the natural world, and there is no time like the present to set aside some time to observe it. Depending on where you live and where you can take your daily exercise, you might well see some migrating species. Don’t forget if you do, to let us all know! If its from your garden, why not share it with the community of the #BreakfastBirdwatch via twitter?

We hope you stay safe, well and connected to nature.

Thanks for reading!

Paige

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