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Wildlife Chronicles

A Nature Blog by Elfyn Pugh

March 2007

It’s the 31st of March today and I saw my 1st swallow and yesterday I saw my 1st chiffchaff which uttered a very half hearted rendition of its song reminiscent of its name perhaps it’s a bit out of practice having spent the winter in warmer climes resting its vocal cords! I have been busy just recently monitoring kite nests on my ‘patch’ of Wales for the Welsh Kite Trust. It’s a task which I enjoy and it gets me out and about meeting farmers and other landowners. Walking through woodlands bare of leaf cover they can appear eerily quiet but stop awhile and you discover that the birds are certainly there parties of tits foraging in the tree tops keeping up a constant yet barely audible medley of contact calls with each other. The delightful treecreepers scurrying up the tree trunks, the diminutive wrens bellowing out their songs. I’ve heard the call of a lesser spotted-woodpecker a series of ‘pee-pee-pee---’ calls but I failed to catch a glimpse of this elusive bird. Then there are the ‘jungle drums’ (as I term it) the drumming or ‘instrumental signals’ of the great spotted woodpeckers as they hammer their bills on various trees each tree giving out a distinctive resonance the hollow ones being especially loud sounding like some kind of woodland ‘percussion symphony’.

I have come across a few active badger setts too and on occasions the strong scent of a fox pervading the air. Badger mothers will be active now with growing cubs. Sadly I have seen many dead badgers recently the victims of road kills. Many thousands must be killed on our roads every year and when you think of it if a sow badger with young cubs dies then they will probably perish too (The badger gives birth underground to a single litter of 1-4 cubs each year from mid-January to mid-March).

Brown HareEarlier in the month with two companions I walked along the embankment by the river Clettwr near Trerddol and we saw a brown hare ahead of us on a track between the embankment and a ditch it was running in the direction of the railway line between us and the estuary until it spotted some railway workmen on the trackside and it then rapidly bounded back in our direction whereupon it spotted us it seemed now to be faced with a survival dilemma it stopped and sat on its haunches on the bank of a deep and dark peat coloured ditch which was probably about 6 to 8 foot wide. It pondered on what to do for a few moments but its deeply entrenched fear of man drove it to take what seemed to us interested onlookers a dramatic course of action it took a determined leap across the ditch but fell short by a couple of feet and did a belly flop into the ditch! It then swam to the bank on the other side of the ditch and ‘galloped’ at full pace across an open field with a buzzard hotly on its tail and the buzzard was in turn being harried by a crow it was quite a remarkable scene water trailing from the waterlogged hare with the buzzard trying to sink its talons in it. Thankfully it was able to reach the relative safety of some cover on the margin of the field. On the subject of ‘Lagomorphs’ (Rabbits and Hares) I have seen many rabbits recently suffering from Myxomatosis that dreadful viral infection which is fatal to this species. From my own evidence and from my conversations with landowners and countrymen it seems that it is rampant in our area at the present time. The disease is transmitted from one rabbit to another by a blood-sucking insect such as a flea or mosquito. The symptoms of myxomatosis include a watery discharge from the eyes and swelling of the eyelids and nose which makes the animal hopelessly disorientated blind and deaf and it then falls easy prey to predators such as foxes, buzzards and kites. This surfeit of food may benefit these predators in the short term but a reduction in the rabbit population due to decimation by this disease could have a temporary influence on the breeding success of buzzards in some areas it is a raptor which is particularly reliant on the rabbit population as a prey item in some areas although in this region of Wales they will probably find enough sheep carrion and small mammals to ensure their survival. A pandemic of myxomatosis (or ‘mixie’) in 1953 wiped out a considerable percentage of the rabbit population in Britain. My hope is that in due course our local rabbits will develop immunity against this disease and the population will recover again.

Osprey on nest

On the 26th March I received a bit of good news from Emyr Evans the RSPB’s Osprey project officer in North Wales that on that day the male Osprey returned to his old patch in the Glaslyn Valley near Porthmadog. He was seen on a perch tucking into a grey mullet. Lets hope that the female will also make a safe return to our shores and that the pair successfully breed in 2007.
right: Osprey © Emyr Evans of the RSPB

April is a good time to be out and about with lots of migration taking place so dust off your bins if you haven’t used them much this winter don your walking boots and take yourself out into the country or to the coast and look out for the arrival of our summer visitors.

Don’t forget to enter your sightings on the BTO’s online bird recording scheme ‘BirdTrack’ .

Elfyn PughElfyn Pugh, retired police officer and life-long observer of the natural world, now leads bird and wildlife trips in Wales through his company Red Kite Safaris.