It’s official – Spring 2020 was the hottest and driest on record.
And – coupled with the Coronavirus lockdown – it has meant that our members have been out and about in nature, practising social distancing and enjoying the countryside at the same time.
It helps if you get up at the crack of dawn and an early morning visit to Etton Maxey Pits paid off for Angela Trotter who took this great shot of a Roe Deer in the distance. We’re making it our image of the month for May.
Each month we select photographs taken by our Facebook members. They might not be technically perfect – but they sum up the events of that month. Here are some other images from May.
Everyone loves the Wren and this little thing was seen alongside the Maxey Cut by Liam Boyle.
It is good to see the Turtle Doves are back along the Maxey Cut and making use of the special feeding operation mounted by Langdyke volunteers at the Etton Maxey nature reserve car park. Kevin Eldred took this shot.
It is interesting to view our nature reserves at different times of the year. Here are three May shots of Swaddywell, Etton Maxey and Castor Hanglands.
The Covid-19 lockdown has meant that Langdyke has been unable to hold working parties. One of the casualties of that is that no tern rafts were launched on to the water at Etton Maxey to attract breeding birds this year.
All the same it was good to see that this Common Tern made it’s way to the site in May and was photographed by Steve Zealand.
Other images captured during the month prove what a diverse range of species our reserves attract.
And finally. Just to prove that you don’t have to go outside to view nature. Sue Welchdiscovered this Brimstone Moth had been trapped in her kitchen overnight. After a quick photo it was released back into nature.
The next online talk will take place on Wednesday, June 3 featuring Carry Akroyd – long term John Clare supporter and highly regarded painter.
She is the latest of our guests who will be answering questions and talking about nature matters as part of the Langdyke online events programme using the Zoom experience.
Carry is a painter and printmaker living in Northamptonshire. Landscape is her usual subject, and as a bird-noticer, they usually fly into the pictures.
She is also the current President of the John Clare Society.
To take part in this session, which starts at 5pm, you need to click on the link below. You do not need to load any software on to your computer to take part. The session will not be open until 5pm on June 3 and will last about an hour.
In the latest of our How to … series of articles – in which we look at ways of making your gardens more attractive to nature – Langdyke volunteer Malcolm Holley explains how to build simple structures out of rubbish to attract insects to your wildlife garden …
There are many ways to make homes for bugs like woodlice, centipedes, millipedes, spiders and so on.
You can go for a really deluxe version and create a complex bug hotel. But there a simpler ways of building one as well.
Idea 1: Just use some old wood
A pile of old wood will rot away and provide an ideal home for all sorts of bugs.
Use old timber which has not been treated with chemicals and/or old logsand tree stumps.
Find a place in the shade but where it can get wet.
Stack the wood in a pile so that it will not topple over.
To inspect, carefully remove logs to identify the bugs, then replace the wood carefully.
Idea 2: Use old bricks
A stackof bricks could attract lots of bugs and spiders which prey on these.
Get some old bricks, preferably those with recesses or holes through them.If they have broken edges, so much the better as these create passage ways in the pile.
Stack them face down in a pile on a flat piece of ground.
Stack each layer in a different direction so they bind safely together and will not topple over.
Some bees, like mason bees and leaf cutting bees, do not live in colonies but make individual nests for their eggs.Theypreferold masonry and walls or holes in wood.
Idea 3: Make a simple bee house
Cut a 6 inch tube from and old piece of drain pipe,
Pass a strong piece of twine or string through the tube and tie it into a loop to hangup the bee house.
Cut old garden canes into 6 inch lengths and pack them into the tube. Hammer in pieces of split cane to wedge the canes in tightly.
Hang your bee house in a sunny place on a wall or shed.
You can tell when the bees are using your bee house as they seal the holes with leaves to protect the eggs and young bees.
Idea 4: Use an old log
Another way to attract these bees is as follows:
Take an old log or post about a foot long.
Drill lots of holes of different sizes into it.
Hang it up on a wall or shed and watch.
Idea 5: Bigger could be best
More complex bug hotels can be made from 4 pallets to attract a whole range of bugs and maybe reptiles. The hotel can be made in layers with different types of materials in each layer to attract different creatures as follows:
Select a flat piece of ground. Place a brick in each corner where the bottom pallet will go.Make sure the pallet will sit on the bricks without rocking.
Remove the pallet and place old bricks, broken tiles and plant pots in the area between the bricks.This will be the “Basement” and will attract all types of bugs that like damp places and maybe reptiles like frogs or newts.
Place the pallet on the corner bricks with the top of the pallet facing down like a floor to make the “first floor”.Fill this with old and rotten wood and branches, the more decayed the better. This will attract wood lice, beetles , spiders.
Place the second pallet face down on top of the first. Fill this with old garden canes and other sticks and branches. The canes might attract leaf cutting bees and the sticks could attract all sorts of beetles.
Place the third pallet on top of the second floor and fill this with all sorts of plant and leaf litter.This will attract earwigs, centipedes, millipedes and beetles.
Place the last pallet on top of the third floor and fill this with fir cones and dry sticks.It is meant to be a place where insects can spend the winter.
Get some old garden compost/fertiliser bags and tack these on top to make a roof.
As an option, you can place clods of earth on top to anchor the plastic and provide another habitat for insects and beetles.
Whichever method you use your bug hotel will be ready for your first guests.
The bug hotel in our main picture is in the garden of Caroline Cade in the Dogsthorpe area of Peterborough.
Langdyke has 72 bird boxes positioned across its reserves; there are eight types of orchid growing during a year at Swaddywell Pit and the Trust has planted 79 heritage fruit trees which are growing in the community orchard at Etton.
Just a handful of fascinating facts included in the 2019 Langdyke Countryside Trust annual review, sent out recently to members.
In other areas of the report:
Chair Richard Astle looks at the many threats to nature in the area
There’s a round-up of happenings in our natural world during 2019; and
We take a special look at Operation Turtle Dove
Becoming a member of the Trust means you automatically receive a copy of the review each year along with a monthly newsletter of events and happenings and special access to Langdyke events. There are details of how to join on the website here.
You can read a copy of the review – which we are making widely available this year – by clicking here.
In the latest of our How to … series of articles – in which we dish out simple advice on ways to better enjoy nature in your garden – Keren Thomson sets out a simple way of turning an apple into a tasty treat that will attract more birds to your garden …
Here’s a recipe for young and old to follow to create an apple bird feeder for your garden.
Children will also enjoy helping to make this simple feeder but please note they may need a little adult supervision.
This recipe makes four feeders.
Step 1: Get your ingredients together
All you need:
Two large eating apples (any variety)
Jar smooth peanut butter
Bird seed and dried mealworms mixed (mealworms optional)
Apple corer or skewer Knife to spread the peanut butter
String or garden twine
Sharp knife (adult use only)
Large eyed yarn needle or child’s plastic needle – cheap and easy to buy online using search terms: “large eye plastic yarn needles” or “children’s plastic safety needles”
Once you’ve got all the ingredients together this is how to do it:
Step 2: Get mixing
Mix the seed and mealworms together in a tray.
Step 3: String and apples
Cut the string in approx. 4 x 40 cm lengths and tie a large knot in each length at one end.
Thread the needle with a length of the string.
Place the apples on the chopping board and cut them horizontally using the sharp knife. . *If using a corer, core the apple before cutting in half.
Step 4: Make a hole
Using the skewer bore a hole from the uncut edge through to the flat cut edge (use circular movements to make the hole big enough).
Step 5: Add peanut butter
Liberally spread the cut face and sides of the apple with the peanut butter.
Step 6: Dip in
Press the peanut butter sides of the apple in the tray of seed/ dried mealworms mix, ensuring well covered.
Step 7: The messy bit!
Gently thread the string through the hole in the apple.
Step 8: Hang it up
Hang your new bird feeder from a tree or post.
Step 9: Enjoy the birds
Alternatively, if you just want to place on the floor for the ground feeders do not bore the hole or thread the string.
In the latest of our How to … series of articles – in which we dish out simple advice on ways to enjoy nature in your garden – Mike Horne explains how to construct a temporary wildlife pond
Building a long-term wildlife pond takes some time in the planning and construction stages.
But if you have decided you need something for you and your family to do during the current lockdown why not get out into the garden andmake an unsuspecting object into a temporary wildlife pond.
It has long been known that the creation of a water feature does something to the mind that has no equal when it comes to staving off feelings of deep boredom or depression, and the satisfaction of adding a totally new aquatic ‘dimension’ to your garden almost instantly allows the restoration of ‘balance’ and harmony.
There is no denying that having somewhere new in your own garden where one can go to sit with a nice cup of tea or coffee and peer into the water to see what may have appeared overnight is an exciting prospect.
Here’s how to create a temporary wildlife pond.
Step 1: Choose a container to be your pond
I chose to repurpose a water butt stand that was hiding in a corner of my garden, although almost any large-ish object that can hold water will do. The bigger the better, really, so that the water temperature doesn’t fluctuate very much during the day (as that only seems to encourage algal blooms). One thing you could use is a washing up bowl. If you want you can also dig a hole to place your container in, but remember that you need sloping sides so that potential wildlife visitors can get in and out easily.
Step 2: Fill it with water
If you are a patient sort of person, you may well be content to use water from the mains tap to fill up your object and then wait a week or two so that the chemicals can dissipate. Alternatively fill it from a water butt.
Step 3: You may wish to add an additive
I often use an additive that instantly makes tap water safe for fish and wildlife, and which is very convenient.
Step 4: Acquire some plants
This might easily be done if you have an obliging neighbour who has their own wildlife pond. Naturally, you will need to observe social distancing, but if this can be done then all is well.
Ideally, you should have a mix of fully aquatic plants such as a mini water lily, oxygenators – such as hornwort, and semi submerged plants such as brook lime or water mint. Reeds and Iris also add structure to a pond. Stones can be used to keep the new plants in place until they develop a root network.
Step 5: Add some wildlife
Lastly, you need to introduce some small fully aquatic life into the new wildlife pond, and so do please ask your friendly neighbour to include these when they are bagging up the plants.
Water fleas are essential in keeping algae from turning the water into a sort of ‘pea soup’ colour, and having a few water snails and water louse are also quite helpful in keeping the pond clean and balanced. (Adding fish to a wildlife pond never works very well, as they eat all the water fleas and the water usually then turns green within a week or two.)
Insects such as water beetles, water boatmen, dragonflies, damselflies and caddis flies will find your new pond easily enough, and in a few weeks you will have many new additions to your wildlife pond.
If the pond is at ground level, then your local amphibian population will also be delighted to discover its whereabouts. On hot summer days frogs, in particular, will often sit in ponds to keep cool.
Step 6: Enjoy it
Good luck with your new addition to your garden. It doesn’t take long to create a wildlife pond – once you have a source for the plants and animals, but it can give hours of pleasure just sitting nearby and watching what is going on underneath the surface.
The magnificent sight of Swifts soaring through the skies is a sure sign of summer.
This summer the Langdyke Countryside Trust is launching a Swift action project to monitor the birds across John Clare countryside. Langdyke member and trustee David Alvey explains what you can do to help this RSPB survey …
For the summer of 2020 we are inviting everyone to join in with a targeted survey of the John Clare Countryside.
With the ongoing uncertainty of what we will be allowed to do in the coming weeks and months this survey can be conducted from inside your house, in your garden or during your daily exercise walk around the village where you live.
What to look for
We are asking you to look out and report any groups (two or more) of low flying and preferably screaming Swifts. This is not just a one off event. We would like you to continue to look out for and record the number and location of Swifts flying low around buildings in your area between May 1 and July 31.
We’d like to find out where swifts are seen and where they are nesting.
Watch out for screaming groups of swifts flying at roof-height that means they are probablybreeding nearby.
What not to look for
Do not report sightings of swifts that are either very high in the sky, feeding over water bodies or away from the villages. Swifts travel some distance to feed so these may not be local birds.
Swifts can be confused with three similar but unrelated species (pictured, below): the swallow, house martin and sand martin.
The primary differences are the lack of any significant white, their size and their distinctive sickle shape.
When to look
The best time to look for ‘screaming swifts’ is around dusk on a warm still evening, or early morning.
Last year I saw my first pair of Swift’s flying low around Barnack on May 11at 19:30. The peak activity I observed was on July 9 at 19:45 when a group of 22 birds entertained me with their aerial acrobatics around the buildings in the centre of the village.
The final sighting was of a pair on August 4. My observations were on irregular survey dates as I was walking the dogs –normally between 19:30 and 21:00.
The beauty of watching for Swifts is you do not need to sit still or hide away – they will happily entertain you whatever you are doing.
How to take part
We would like to know where you’ve seen screaming swifts or swift nest sites.
You can enter as many records as you like at different times.Ideally we would like to add your sightings to the RSPB Swift Action database by clicking the link below:
If for some reason you are unwilling or unable to do so then please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with your survey results and location and I will add them to the map.
Information and Facts about Swifts
Swifts are one of the iconic birds of our summers. but how much do you know about them
The Common Swift (apus apus) is the most aerial of all birds and spends most of its entire life on the wing, flying continuously day and night.
Our’ swifts are only ‘British birds’ for a quarter of their lives (three months per year) – the rest of the time they are African. Living in Central and Southern Africa.
The wings are long and narrow, and superbly adapted for fast flight, but don’t allow slow flight or a great deal of manoeuvrability.
As a group, swifts are the fastest birds in level flight. The peregrine is officially the fastest bird but only in a steep dive called a stoop. Our swift holds the record for the fastest proven level flight, recording an impressive top speed of 69.3mph in a recent study.
A swift weighs about the same as a Cadbury’s Crème Egg,40g.
For its size, the swift has an exceptionally long life-span – averaging about 5.5 years.
They almost never land – except at their nest sites – doing everything on the wing.They eat, mate and sleep in the air – they can ‘snooze’ with one side of their brain at once, and then switch to the other side.
They seem to bathe by flying relatively slowly through falling rain.
It’s estimated that swifts fly an average daily total of nearly 500 miles. With the 6,000 mile journey to and from Africa each year, in its lifetime a bird may fly a distance in excess of 1.24 million miles.
The swift probably eats more species of animals (small insects and spiders) than any other British bird.
Swifts can be quite selective about what they catch. One was found to have caught only stingless drones around bee hives, and to have neatly dodged all the females, which had stings.
Swifts can’t feed in wet weather in the UK, so fly around storms to find dry areas – the only UK birds to do this. On the wintering grounds in Africa it’s different – there are more insects in the air on rainy days, so the swifts will head for rain.
Swifts are extremely site faithful, so once they have found a suitable nest site they will continue to use it for the rest of their lives. Some colonies are very old indeed and have been used by successive swift generations for tens if not, hundreds of years.
Nesting material is collected on the wing (it has to be) so they can only use what they can find in the air.
Clutch normally 2-3 white eggs (May-June). The weight of an egg is about one-twelfth the weight of the female that laid it approx 3.5 grams and are incubated for 19-21 days (mostly hatching mid June)
Parent swifts gather insect snacks for their chicks. Each bolus (ball of food) brought to the babies weighs just over a gram, and contains 300 – 1000 individual insects and spiders. The average is 300-500 food items per bolus .
They have a clever adaptation. Food can be scarce in bad weather – the chicks can go cold and torpid and survive for days without food, then regain weight rapidly once supplies resume. Most baby birds can’t do this and would simply die within hours.
At about a month old, the babies do ‘press ups’ in the nest, lifting themselves up by pushing down on their wings, probably to strengthen the wings. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear of the ground like this for several seconds
Fledging is 5-8 weeks (late July-early August)
Once they launch themselves off on their very first ever flight, that’s it, they don’t return to the nest and are no longer cared for by the parents. After leaving the nest where they hatched, they’ll keep flying non-stop for three years!
There is more information about them on the RSPB site.
Threats to the bird
Like so many other small birds, swift numbers have declined sharply in recent years, some estimates suggest by over 50 per cent.
Swifts numbers are declining for a variety of different reasons, but one that all the experts can agree on, is the lack of suitable nest sites available to them. Swifts are almost entirely dependent on our buildings for their nesting sites, squeezing into small nooks and crannies generally under the roof tiles or soffits.
Unfortunately when older buildings are refurbished these little openings are often inadvertently sealed up by the homeowner and the nest sites are lost forever.
To make matters even worse virtually all new buildings are extremely wildlife “unfriendly” with no spaces available for birds to nest. So as part of the John Clare Countryside vision we are planning to install Swift boxes in as many promising locations as we can.
In addition, an abundant supply of insects is critical for their survival. So even if you do not have Swifts nesting around your property you can help them out by making your garden more insect friendly.
The first Langdyke lambs of 2019 have been enjoying the early year sunshine.
These cute twins (above) are happy with their mum a Jacobs ewe.
It was also fun in the sun – captured in this great video – for these little Hebrideans, born just before Easter.
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