Category: Wildlife and Animals

Kitchen Birdwatcher: Spring with the Toon Magpies

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Exciting news from the Toon Magpies – they’re building a new nest! It’s in the same tree they used last year, as you can see from the photo above (the 2018 nest is top right, this year’s is top left), which means I’ve had a grandstand seat in my kitchen for the building process again.

The new nest is looking a bit scruffy, but it’s large and I am sure it will be perfectly cosy for the forthcoming eggs. The recent unseasonably warm weather in the UK has increased the building activity to the extent that I now actually think that TWO nests are being built in adjacent trees, by two different pairs of magpies!

Spring is very nearly here…

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Beware the Yule Cat!

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I am really very fond of kitties, big and small. Ask anyone who knows me well, and they’ll tell you I’m a mad cat lady in training. But I think I would run away screaming if I ever met the Yule Cat…

The Yule Cat is not your average domesticated feline; the sort who purrs like a lawnmower, and is only really guilty of attempting to pinch your dinner and leaving the odd half-dead rodent in your shoe.

The Yule Cat is, in fact, from Iceland, and it seems certain moggies in this part of the world are a little bit… um… different. The National Museum of Iceland explains further:

It was customary in the old rural society that employers gave the employees in their home a new garment and sheepskin shoes for Christmas. This was done to reward the people for good work as the tasks that had to be accomplished before Christmas were numerous and therefore the weeks leading up to Christmas were characterized by a rigorous workload.

The saying went that those who did not receive a new garment for Christmas would be ‘devoured by the Christmas Cat’ which was a fate to be avoided at all costs – whether this meant that the Christmas Cat would eat them or eat their food. Thus everyone worked zealously at finishing all the woolwork and knitting of garments for the members of the household before the arrival of Christmas.

You have been warned.

Meow…

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If you’re in the mood for lots more festive reading, click here!

Kitchen Birdwatcher: Blue Tits and Toon Magpies

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Yes! The magpies made it through! I am delighted to report that all went well for the brave little magpie pair whose progress I was following from my kitchen window back in the spring, and there is now a large gang of youngsters squawking noisily round the neighbourhood

They are now officially known as the Toon Magpies thanks to my friend Jim, who is a Newcastle United fan (for non football readers, United play in black and white striped shirts, are nicknamed the Magpies, and their fans are known as the Toon Army).

As a result, Jim has decided to name the young magpies after his favourite players and managers from the club. This means we have Sir Bobby [Robson], Rafa [Benitez], Shola [Ameobi], [Alan] Shearer, Speedo [Gary Speed] and more…

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Kitchen Birdwatcher: The Magpies’ Nest

The Kitchen Birdwatcher’s essential kit

I live in west London, right under the Heathrow flightpath, and my flat backs on to a fairly busy railway line that sometimes sees traffic at all hours of the day and night. Noisy, yes, but still a great place to live because (and this may surprise some people) of all the wildlife in the area. There is a perhaps surprising amount of green space nearby, creating perfect habitats for numerous creatures – you’ll find a small park and various allotments (some in use, some derelict) within a block or so of my flat, and the railway line itself is flanked by trees and other greenery.

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A Room With a View

This is the view from my living room window.

Lovely, isn’t it?

I can see these beautiful sycamore trees from my desk, and they make a great distraction when writer’s block comes calling. For example, this morning there were several enthusiastic magpies bouncing about on the branches, squawking loud enough to wake the dead, and I often see the local squirrel gang playing in these trees, fearlessly leaping and bounding about like tiny Olympic athletes with fluffy tails. Occasionally there will also be green parakeets, which are always a colourful treat to see (albeit a distinctly noisy one!).

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Vintage Animal Magic: ‘Dog Fashions’ (1958)

The world is a thoroughly horrible place at the moment. Every day it seems to get worse and worse. I don’t know about you, but I’m spending a lot of time looking at pictures of cute animals in an attempt to bleach my brain of the terrible things that appear on the news daily. It works – for a while, anyway. So here’s a newsreel snippet of some very trendy 1950s doggos in their designer outfits for you. I hope it makes you smile!

For more from British Pathé (including some fascinating film on vintage fashion for humans), follow their YouTube channels here and here.

Playlisting: Sporting Animals

Usually, my Playlisting posts involve music, but this one is a little different. Today, we’ll be overrun by pine martens on the pitch, alligators and capybaras on the golf course (not at the same time, obviously), and sheep on the football field – plus a demonstration of the need for goat line technology, an invasion of plastic pigs, psychic octopi, the penguin cup final, various avian pitch invaders, cats with a fascination for ball games, and lots and lots and lots of dogs. Dogs love football. And we all love a dog on the pitch.

This playlist was originally compiled as a bit of fun for the members of an online football prediction league I play in, but it seemed a little unfair not to share the hilarity with a wider audience – so it’s time to meet a selection of sporting (and not so sporting) animals…

If you know of any sporty animal videos that can be added to the playlist, post a link in the comments or tweet me!

Vintage Animal Magic: ‘The Naughty Otter’ (c.1916)

Here’s something short and sweet to begin this new series of vintage film treats from the BFI National Archive. Regular readers will be aware that I have a fondness for river creatures (you can see my most recent encounter with such wildlife here), so when I came across this hundred year old snippet of film I just couldn’t resist.

The antics of this very cheeky little otter were filmed around about a century ago by Charles Urban, an American-born film-maker and producer. Despite being born on the other side of the Atlantic, Urban had an important influence on early British cinema generally – including producing some early examples of wildlife films, a genre which remains highly popular on British TV. We are still fascinated by otters too, although it is not often that we see one in the kind of environment that Urban found here!

For more from the BFI National Archive, visit their website or their excellent YouTube channel.

A new avian supermodel?

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“Aaaaand… hold that pose. Beautiful!”

While I was busily looking at blossom and daffodils on yesterday’s riverside walk, I was quite astonished to turn a corner on the towpath and encounter this heron. I’ve posted about herons before – but I’ve never managed to get so close to one in all my years of exploring the area. It really didn’t seem at all bothered by the many Sunday strollers milling around, and it let me get within a few feet of it to snatch these shots as it happily posed. Having consulted the bird guide on the RSPB website, I suspect this may be a juvenile bird, which might account for it showing off for us humans! A supermodel in the making, perhaps?

Watch out Kate Moss – there’s a new kid in town…

The Red, Red Robin…

Robin Redbreast (1880)We love the robin. This cheeky, cute little garden bird with its distinctive red breast and vivid song is a popular visitor to feeders and bird tables all round the UK – and it is one of the animals we most closely associate with Christmas too. But how well do we really know this much-loved creature? And why is it connected to the festive season anyway? Today, I’m going to attempt to find out more…

The European robin (Erithacus rubecula) is a common sight all year round and across the country, favouring hedgerows, gardens and parks in particular. They eat worms, seeds, insects, and fruit; frequently provided by us humans. They often nest quite close to us too – sometimes in unusual and unexpected places such as sheds, hanging baskets, discarded kettles or pots, and farm machinery – and have two broods of young a year, often more. The birds and their nests are protected by law.

Both the male and female adult robins have red breasts (young birds are a sort of spotty golden brown), and it is these red feathers that seem to trigger the highly territorial nature of this otherwise innocuous-looking small bird. Indeed, they will often aggressively defend their territory, and have been known to viciously attack other robins they perceive as a threat – and scientists have found that they will also go for small stuffed ‘toy’ robins or even clumps of red feathers!

Their attractive song is used to find a mate, although it is also part of their territorial display. Both the male and female sing, and have different songs for different times of the year, depending on the song’s purpose. During the summer time, territories will be held by mated pairs who defend it together, but by the time winter rolls round, each robin will be singing noisily to protect its own individual patch.

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