Sunday, May 14, 2017

Red Grouse chicks

The heather moorland on Pikestone fell near Wolsingham in Weardale today was full of recently-hatched red grouse chicks.

When they are this small they have difficulty in running through the rough grass and forests of heather, so sometimes running across the top of the heather bushes is the easiest rout to safety.

The chicks are well camouflaged but when they know they have been spotted they make a run for it ....

.... and there is only one place they want to be ....

.... and that's with their mother.

This very protective hen bird has six chicks sheltering under her body and wings.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Peak Bluebell

This was the scene this afternoon in Hollingside wood, about a mile south of Durham city centre.

On a mild, still spring day the scent was intoxicating. The 17th. century herbalist John Gerard, who knew these flowers as the English Jacinthe or Hare-Bel, thought it 'a strong, sweet smell, somewhat stuffing the head.....'

In The Englishman's Flora (1958) Geoffrey Grigson lists almost 50 county or regional names for bluebell, that include adder's flower, blue bonnets, blue bottle,crow-bells,, cuckoo's stockings, fairy bells, goosey-gander, griggles, pride of the wood, rook's flower and ring o' bells ..... but the one I like best, from Kent, is snapgrass, said to be derived 'from the rubbing, clicking noise of the stalks when gathered'.

The bulbs were once harvested to make glue.

This is how John Gerard described them, in The Herbal or General History of Plants, published in 1633:

'.....the root is bulbous, full of a slimy glewish juyce, which will serve to set feathers upon arrows instead of glew or to paste books with.....'

Friday, April 21, 2017

Then there were three .....

I didn't really take much notice of the noisy, agitated lapwing overhead, or of the car that drove slowly past until I heard the screech of tyres on tarmac as it braked to a halt. Then I realised there we four little bumps in the road behind it; lapwing chicks that had strayed from the pasture onto the road.

The parent bird, utterly fearless, landed in the road and ushered one of the chicks away into the verge but then took to the air again as the car drove away.

One of the remaining chicks was just a patch of blood and fluffy down on the road but the two others had gone into their instinctive survival routine as we approached, pressing themselves flat against the road and staying perfectly still, hoping they wouldn't be noticed. We picked them up - fluffy, almost weightless bundles with outsized feet - and dropped them over the wall, back into the pasture where they ran for cover - peep-peeping for their parents.

To his credit, the driver turned around and came back to see if he could help and was clearly very distressed that one was dead. In all fairness, if he wasn't forewarned he would have found the birds very hard to see when they were in their defensive prone position in the road.

It was, though, an all-too-common tragedy. The parent birds would have incubated four eggs in their exposed nest for the best part of a month, defending them all day-long against crows, only for one to be flattened under the wheels of a car within hours of hatching.

We really need an awareness-raising campaign in the dales, warning drivers that from now until June they can expect to all sorts of upland juvenile animals and breeding birds straying onto roads, and advising drivers to be vigilant and slow down.

Road traffic takes a terrible toll on wildlife - hares, hedgehogs, badgers, wading bird chicks - in late spring.