Author Interview: Matthew Oates, His Imperial Majesty: A Natural History of the Purple Emperor

Matthew Oates has spent fifty years trying to unravel the ‘Emperor’s’ secrets and with His Imperial Majesty: A Natural History of the Purple Emperor,  due to be published in June, he has written an accessible account of one of Britain’s most beloved butterflies; the majestic Purple Emperor.

 

Matthew Oates has taken time to answer our questions about his book and about the beautiful and elusive butterfly, that if lucky enough, we can glimpse through fissures in its tree top world

 

  1. You describe the Purple Emperor as the most ‘cherished prize’ among Victorian butterfly collectors, while you personally have chosen to devote much of your life to studying this species. What is it about this butterfly that makes it so alluring?

This butterfly is all about mystique. It exists within a different dimension to us, but one which we desire to experience and understand. It is a unique being, capable of doing anything – which means it is unpredictable and utterly captivating. Make no mistake, the Purple Emperor is addictive – but this is a positive addiction, which provides depth of experience tinged with great humour. No one forgets their first Purple Emperor, the experience leaves you wanting more.

2. How has our understanding of the Purple Emperor changed in the half century since your first encounter with ‘his imperial majesty’?

Much of our so-called knowledge was actually mythology and assumption. Oh, the power of assumption, even in ecology! So much of what was considered true, and real, has proven to be utterly wrong; not least because the Purple Emperor, and nature more generally, continually moves the goalposts. Nothing is ever static in nature, perhaps especially with insects.

3. You tell of some of the remarkable lengths that butterfly enthusiasts have gone to in pursuit of the Purple Emperor. What is the most unusual technique you have used when searching for this species?

There is a long history of extreme endeavour here. This is the one butterfly the Victorian collectors most assiduously sought, to form the centrepiece of their precious collections. The Purple Emperor has generated some of the most extreme eccentric behaviour in human history. Collectors used to obtain specimens of this canopy-dwelling butterfly by means of the ‘high net’, a butterfly net attached to a pole often ten metres long. There is a long history of baiting Purple Emperors too, exploiting the male’s attraction to festering messes – the juices of dung, offal, and worse. I helped develop the practice of baiting for Purple Emperors using (relatively inoffensive) shrimp paste, and also pioneered The Emperor’s Breakfast (as shown on TV, several times).

4. It is heartening to read of a species whose populations are on the increase. Can the story of the Purple Emperor offer any lessons for the conservation of other wildlife in Britain?

Yes, definitely! This is proving to be a highly mobile species with good powers of colonisation and, in consequence, recovery. It is becoming a suburban species, and is certainly not the ancient forest inhabitant we once thought it was. Above all, the Purple Emperor is a good news story, at a time of horrific loss and adverse change. It provides hope at a time when we need hope.

5. What do you plan next in your studies of the Purple Emperor? Are there mysteries that you are still hoping to solve?

The journey is by no means over. My book is merely the launching pad towards proper ecological understanding. I sincerely hope it generates the necessary detailed scientific research, and have suggested areas where that need to be conducted. I’ve merely done the spade work. My job now is to help landowners and others to give this magnificent butterfly the future it deserves.

His Imperial Majesty: A Natural History of the Purple Emperor
Hardback,  June 2020,  £13.99 £16.99

Matthew Oates has spent fifty years observing and researching this beautiful and elusive butterfly.

 

Browse all our books covering Butterflies & Moths (Lepidoptera)

Gardening for Wildlife: Creating Habitat

In the first of our two-part series, Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food, we looked at how to attract wildlife to your garden by including plants for pollinators and providing food for birds and mammals. In the second of our two-part ‘Gardening for Wildlife’ series, we look at how to create nesting or overwintering habitat effectively for the wildlife that visits your garden. Natural nesting sites for birds, insects and mammals have become rare in the broader landscape due to changes in farming, woodland management practices and building construction techniques. Wildlife-friendly gardens can provide fantastic habitat for invertebrates, birds, amphibians and mammals by making a few simple changes and by letting a bit of wildness back in.

Mining Bee © Ed Phillips

Insects

It is easy to provide habitat for insects in your garden just by leaving the lawnmower in the shed. Setting aside a patch of grass to grow longer should encourage wildflowers to grow in your lawn, and will provide food and shelter for insects and small mammals. Creating a log pile in which beetles, woodlice and earwigs can shelter is also an easy way to increase garden wildlife habitat. You can provide additional nesting space for solitary bees or overwintering quarters for other insects by creating or installing an insect house. These can be homemade and constructed to your own design, or you can purchase purpose made houses. These are particularly important for solitary bees, who use tunnels in wood, mortar, plant stems or artificial houses to nest. They lay eggs and place a food source in a series of cells, and then block the entrance with materials such as mud, leaves or fine hair. Other nest sites can be provided by leaving dead wood and stems standing and leaving a patch of bare earth or mud bank for mining bees.

Vivara Pro Seville Nest Box

Bird Boxes

Providing bird boxes in your garden can be an excellent way of helping wildlife, as natural nest sites can be rare due to changes in house construction and woodland management techniques. There is a vast array of nest boxes available for many different species of birds, so it is worth knowing which bird species visit your garden before selecting a box. A good place to start is by providing a nest box with a 32mm entrance hole that is suitable for house sparrows or blue and great tits, who are enthusiastic occupiers of nest boxes. Most nest boxes are made of breathable materials such as wood or wood fibres mixed with concrete (Woodcrete or WoodStone). The advantage of Woodcrete and WoodStone nest boxes is that they are much more durable and can last for 10 years or more. Purpose-built nest boxes are available for many different species such as swifts, treecreepers and even robins. For more details on our most popular nest boxes, please see our series of blog posts on nest boxes suitable for different locations. For more details on where to hang your nest box, please see our blog post

Image by Peter O’Connor via Flickr.

Mammals

Gardens are extremely important for hedgehogs and can provide excellent opportunities for foraging and hibernation. Leaving a pile of fallen leaves or a log pile can give them a place to shelter during the daytime or you can choose to invest in a hedgehog nest box. These can provide a safe place for hedgehogs to sleep or hibernate – there is even the option of installing a nest box camera so that you can watch footage of them using the box.

Hedgehogs can travel up to 2km each night, eating as they go. Allowing them to move freely between gardens is important to ensure that they can obtain enough food and find safe spaces to sleep. If you have a garden fence, cut a hole at the bottom measuring 13 x 13cm to allow hedgehogs to pass through on their nightly wanderings. You could also remove a brick from the bottom of a wall or dig a channel underneath. 

Bats also use gardens for foraging, so increasing the number of invertebrates in your garden will help to attract them. Bats naturally roost in a variety of spaces including holes in trees. With natural cavities being rare, providing a bat box can be a great way of helping them and our series of blog posts on the top bat boxes for different locations, and our advice on where to hang your bat box is a great place to start. The best time to watch them is at dusk when you can sit in the garden and see them whizzing around catching mosquitoes. Alternatively, you can invest in a bat detector and identify the species visiting your garden. For both bats and hedgehogs, connectivity to other patches of suitable habitat is key. Hedgehogs use hedgerows or need access through fences to be able to visit multiple gardens, and bats use treelines and hedgerows when foraging.

Image by Erik Paterson via Flickr.

Amphibians and Aquatic Invertebrates

The easiest way to help aquatic invertebrates and amphibians is by creating a pond or small body of water. Even if you have a small garden, you can create a mini pond with an old belfast sink or a washing up bowl. Choose a warm, sunny spot that will be good for dragonflies and tadpoles, consider planting a few native freshwater plants and wildlife such as pond skaters, damselflies and water beetles should soon find the spot. Please ensure that ponds are positioned with safety in mind if you have children, and that you include rocks or sloping edges so that wildlife can get in and out. There are fantastic guides to creating a pond available, such as the Wildlife Pond Book, and once your pond is up and running you can even try some pond dipping. It is not recommended to collect frogspawn from the wild, but you can encourage amphibians into your garden by providing damp areas such as log piles or a frog and toad house.

Watching Wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are several ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you a great view of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects and aquatic invertebrates. Read our blog post to find out how to choose a pair of binoculars. Alternatively, trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors such as hedgehogs and birds. These standalone weatherproof cameras use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. Options include the Bushnell NatureView Live View, which has interchangeable lenses for excellent close-up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge which offers amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on how to choose a trail camera. For a really close-up insight into what the wildlife in your garden is doing, consider installing a nest box camera. See our guide on how to choose a nest box camera for advice on the different options. A hedgehog nest box camera can also give you really amazing footage of hedgehogs feeding and nesting.

By providing food resources and suitable habitat for wildlife, you can ensure that your garden becomes a sanctuary for the animals around you and a spectacle of nature right on your doorstep.

Recommended Reading

The Wildlife Pond Book
#246688
£11.99

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Making Wildlife Ponds
#231864
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Nestboxes: Your Complete Guide
#241181
£10.95

 

 

 

 

RSPB First Book of Pond Life
#202385
£4.99

 

 

 

 

FSC Freshwater Name Trail
#175156
£3.30

 

 

 

 

Recommended Garden Products

Bee Brick
#244140
£24.95

 

 

BeePot Bee Hotel
#244760
£39.95

 

 

 

Bee and Bug Biome
#245924
£19.99

 

 

 

 

Red Mason Bee Nest Box
#217452
£10.99

 

 

 

 

Vivara Pro Seville 32mm WoodStone Nest Box
#234956
£21.95

 

 

 

Traditional Wooden Bird Nest Box
#193705
£12.50

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Swift Nest Box
#217160
£34.99

 

 

Vivara Pro Barcelona WoodStone Open Nest Box
#234963
£21.95

 

 

 

House Sparrow Terrace FSC Nest Box
#201458
£37.50

 

 

Hedgehog Nest Box
#179141
£45.95

 

 

 

 

Igloo Hedgehog Home
#216719
£19.50

 

 

 

Large Multi-Chamber WoodStone Bat Box
#246918
£47.99

 

 

 

 

 

Magenta Bat 5 Bat Detector
#171849
£86.95

 

 

 

 

WoodStone Frog and Toad House
#209839
£17.99

 

 

 

NHBS Pond Dipping Kit
#244947
£31.99

 

 

*** Please note that all prices in this post are correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time. ***

NHBS: In The Field – Song Meter Mini Bat Detector

The SM Mini Bat is the latest addition to the ultrasonic range of acoustic recorders produced by Wildlife Acoustics. This passive bat detector offers comparable versatility and quality to the highly successful SM4 Bat but at a much lower cost and a smaller size of only 12cm x 13cm. These impressive detectors also feature an easy to use configuration mode through your smartphone or tablet over Bluetooth.

In mid-March we deployed an SM Mini in a rural location in South Devon to record any emerging bats, as the spring season got underway. Our aim was to find out how easy setup is when using the Mini Configurator app and to get an example of its recording quality. Originally our plan was to retrieve the detector after a period of three weeks, however the developments around Covid-19 meant that it was unsafe to do so. Therefore in this blog we will cover our experiences with setting up and deploying an SM Mini. Once social distancing rules are lifted we will provide a follow on update with our recordings.

We used a 32 GB SDHC card, however the SM Mini Bat can support SDXC cards of up to 1TB. The SM Mini Bat comes with a built-in microphone and when powered using 4x lithium-ion AA batteries it will record for up to 30 ten-hour nights. You can add an additional acoustic microphone to record birds, amphibians and other species when not using the ultrasonic microphone.

Setting Up

The SM Mini is designed to be used with a companion app called Mini Configurator. This free app allows you to easily configure the SM Mini’s recording settings before deployment as well as check the status of your detector while it’s in the field.

When powered on the SM Mini Bat emits a constant Bluetooth beacon, and when you are within range of this beacon the Configurator app will automatically detect the recorder and display it in the recorders screen of the app. You can now press the status icon on the app and view the current status of the detector, including SD card capacity, battery life, recording mode and number of recordings taken.

To set up or edit an SM Mini’s recording schedule you must pair the detector with the app. The first step in this process is to hold down the PAIR button on the SM Mini for three seconds, which prepares the device to be paired (indicated by the green flashing Bluetooth light). On the Mini Configurator app a ‘pair’ icon will then appear next to the detector’s name, and once pressed the app will be paired with this detector. Once paired the SM Mini synchronises its time and date to your location and a new ‘configure’ icon will appear next to the detector, which grants access to the SM Mini’s recording settings. These settings include the recording schedule (e.g. an hour before sunset through to sunrise), recording format (zero crossing or full spectrum), minimum trigger frequency and recording length.

What we found

Setting up an SM Mini and getting to grips with the Configurator app can seem daunting at first, but with the quick starter guide and Wildlife Acoustics’ helpful online tutorial videos, we found it to be a relatively straight forward process. The app has a simple user interface with clear graphics and together this really helps make navigating the app easy. This was a welcome change when compared to the issues that new users can have when navigating the older style LCD menus on previous detectors.

The beacon status system has also proved incredibly useful whilst we have had the detector deployed. Since the social distancing restrictions came into place, we have been unable to access the detector. However we were able to guide the owners of the land where the detector is deployed, through the process of installing the app and checking its status for us. This has been incredibly helpful as we can see whether we have recorded any bats in its current location, as well as whether the batteries need to be replaced.

Despite its small size we were still able to run a python lock around the detector, however as our location was a private residential area we were not concerned about theft and so opted for using a few cable ties to secure the detector in place.

Our Opinion….so far

The SM Mini Bat offers a user-friendly passive bat detector building on previous iterations in the Song Meter bat detector range. Its small size means it’s much easier to store and transport, and it is much more discreet when deployed in the field, compared with other detectors. Being unable to add an additional external microphone is a limitation to keep in mind, however for us this wasn’t an issue.

 We will post a follow up blog once we are able to retrieve our detector and access our recordings.


The Song Meter Mini Bat Detector is available to order from the NHBS website. For assistance with any queries regarding our range of bat detectors, please do not hesitate to contact our team of Wildlife Equipment Specialists on 01803 865913 or equipment@nhbs.com.

This Week in Biodiversity News – April 22nd

A new species of bent-toed gecko has been described at the Prey Lang Wildlife Sanctuary in eastern Cambodia. This new discovery has been named Cyrtodactylus phnomchiensis after Phnom Chi mountain where it was found. 

Yellow-legged Gull Larus michahellis embryos are able to communicate with each other from within the egg. Studies have shown that eggs exposed to predator alarm calls hatch later than eggs that are not. Newly hatched chicks also produced less noise and crouch more than chicks that were not exposed to sound while in the egg. 

A five-year study looking at four species of flamingos at the WWT Slimbridge Wetlands Centre has shed light on the long-lasting social bonds flamingoes can form. Not only do they spend time with their mate, but they also regularly socialise with three or four others and have been shown to avoid certain individuals. 

A report by the National Capital Committee explains why poorly-planned tree planting on peat bogs could result in an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. 

The use of pheromones has been seen for the first time in a primate – male Ring-tailed Lemurs Lemur catta produce a fruity ‘perfume’ from the scent glands in their wrists to attract a mate.

This Week in Biodiversity News – April 8th

 

Seven new defence behaviours have been reported for the False Coral Snake Oxyrhopus rhombifer, one of which is the first registered for all Brazilian snakes. Cloacal discharge, body flattening, and false strikes are just a few examples of the variety of defence behaviours demonstrated by this species. 

The average wing size of two Nightingale populations in central Spain has fallen over the last twenty years. Nightingales migrate over vast distances from Sub-saharan Africa to Europe, where they breed. But, after their first journey to Africa, those with a shorter wing length are less likely to return to their breeding grounds. Climate change is the accused culprit; the timing of spring has changed and droughts are lasting longer in central Spain. Scientists believe this is having a knock-on effect on a series of adaptive traits that enable Nightingales to migrate effectively. 

Two new studies have shed light on the best way to achieve long-term success after giraffes are translocated for conservation. A founding population of at least 30 females and 3 males is amongst the recommendations given by scientists to achieve long-term population viability post translocation. 

The longevity of the largest fish in the world, the Whale Shark Rhincodon typus, has up until now proven difficult to determine. But past atomic bomb testing has given rise to an identifiable ‘time marker’ that can allow scientists to estimate the age of specimens. 

Greenery: An interview with Tim Dee

Tim Dee is a naturalist, radio producer, and author of Fourfields, The Running Sky and Landfill. His latest book, Greenery, is a poetic hymn to spring time, a masterpiece of nature writing that is deeply informed and profoundly beautiful.

Between the winter and the summer solstice in Europe, spring moves north at about the speed of swallow flight. That is also close to human walking pace. In the light of these happy coincidences, Greenery recounts how Tim Dee travels with the season and its migratory birds, out of Africa from their wintering quarters in South Africa, through their staging places in Chad and Ethiopia, across the colossal and incomprehensible Sahara, and on into Europe. Tim Dee has answered questions about this remarkable journey.

For those who don’t know, you have published three other major titles on green spaces and birds- Landfill, The Running Sky, and Four Fields. Following from these, how did the idea to travel with spring and its migratory birds come about? And how does Greenery differ from your previous books?

My last book was Landfill, a sort of junkyard travel-guide to the gulls that now thrive on our waste and in the middle of our towns and cities. Inevitably it was dirty and messy and botched: modern nature is like that. It has to find ways and means to live alongside us – we who are the most-botched species of all. I admire the gulls and I was fascinated by the gullers – watchers of gulls – who spend time in wretched places like landfill sites in order to connect with their quarry, but afterwards I needed some fresher air to live in and some wilder life to watch, and so the spring, which has always been my favoured season, appealed, and most especially some witnessing of the movement of passage migrant birds that make the European spring for birdwatchers. When I discovered that spring moves north through Europe at somewhere between the speed a swallows flies at and the speed we might walk at (about 4 km an hour), I knew that I had to try to follow the birds and the season for as long and as far as I could. So, I start with barn swallows in the European midwinter in midsummer South Africa and I end with the same species, who knows perhaps even the same individuals, in midsummer arctic Norway. Who wouldn’t want to have as much spring as possible?

By travelling north you poetically write about the birds that come and go; from observing redstarts in Lake Lagano, Ethiopia, to enjoying the dawn chorus in a reedbed in Somerset. What can be learned from birds in migration, and how is migration changing for them?

Studying and thinking about migration tugs at our notions of home. Migratory animals carry their homes with them. Yet, when I first saw barn swallows in South Africa I couldn’t see them as anything but away from their home. In fact, of course, they were perfectly at home: they were meant to be there and able to be fully alive there. Ever since migration has been observed, birdwatchers have ceaselessly wondered where the birds have come from, where they are going, how they know where to go and how they know how to live at the other end of the world. Migration has always intrigued – Homer makes poetry from it, Aristotle discusses it, the Bible and the Koran make parables for life from it. Nowadays we know more and more of its facts – know for example that a migrant redstart may literally return to the same tree in sub-Saharan Africa in its wintertime just as it flies to the same oak in a wooded coombe in Exmoor every spring of its life; but we also begin to understand (and face up to) how much our activities are tugging at the world’s time and making migration and a bird’s swapping of one tree for another harder and harder. This is what phenological mismatch is all about: the unseasonal time that our activities are creating.

You explore time and movement in this book. In a very fast-paced world, where few have the time to slow down and connect to the seasons, how has journeying with spring changed you? Was there anything specific you were looking for and anything you found?

To try to have more spring has been my mantra, to go looking for signs of new life even before a calendar year has ended, like a mistle thrush singing in November and thereby meaning therefore to have spring again, or rooks visiting their old nests each day from the autumn onwards with a literal view to their future; and to travel when possible both south from Britain to Mediterranean Europe where spring arrives earlier and then north towards the Arctic Europe where spring lasts longer. Hearing a pied flycatcher still singing in northern Norway when the same species are silent in their British breeding woods feels like a life-bonus, feels like more of life, which can only be good. We are only given one springtime in our own lives but the return of the season and the cyclical round or rondure of the natural year is a marvellous tonic and corrective to the linearity of our one-direction journey. Again, who would say no to that – to a bit of time travel and season stretch in order to stay with the season of becoming and of re-energy. Greenery is an anagram of re-energy: I was thrilled to discover that.

Pied flycatcher, Ficedula hypoleuca, single male singing on branch, Powys, Wales, April 2012

When most people think of spring they think of new life, new beginnings, however you eloquently write “spring means more to me with every year that passes and takes me deeper into my own autumn.” Could you elaborate more on this, what does springtime mean to you?

There’s that lyric to a song: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til its gone…. And I think as we get older the morning of life, the world’s morning as D H Lawrence called spring, feels more and more poignant and uplifting. We are headed only one way but, hey presto, here are new shoots, and green beginnings once more, and then a chiffchaff, fetching an echo out of a wood, as Gilbert White noticed them doing in Eighteenth Century Selborne in Hampshire. My eyesight has got worse, my hearing is half-baffled, I move increasingly with a wobble, but the injection of new birds from the south, the heavenly racket of their song, and seeing them at home in their new places is a forever tonic, like an effervescing vitamin C tablet, or a pick-me-up, or a fillip – life is worth living among those that are living it most, and spring visiting birds are the most alive – active, mobile, purposeful, committed – things that I know.

As you explore life and death, love and grief through springtime, is there anything in particular you would like for people to take away from this book?

I think we all spend a lot of time ignoring time, shut away from the weather, heating our lives, conditioning our air, eating strawberries out of season, yet I know that we all, almost all of us at least, notice the spring, want it, anticipate it, lift our faces to the first splash of sun after grey skies, talk about snowdrops, look out for the first swifts, and so on… We are reminded of spring by spring itself coming around, it schools us in life and growth, in beginnings and becomings; and in my book I just want to underline that reminder and encourage us all to take in what can be taken in, and to keep in step with the passing of time and so live happily in time and on time too. Look at the birds that do that so well; I have done that and it has helped me live.

Tim Dee has been a birdwatcher for most of his life and written about them for twenty years.  As well as Greenery, he is the author of LandfillThe Running Sky and Four Fields and is the editor of Ground Works.

 

Greenery

Hardback | Oct 2018 | ISBN-13: 9781908213624   £15.99 £18.99

 

 

 

 

Gardening for Wildlife: Providing Food

Spring is blooming all around us, with primroses, wood anemones and blackthorn flowering now and foxgloves on their way. Birds are building nests ready for eggs and the sky will soon be full of wheeling summer migrants such as house martins and swallows.

Wood anemone. Photo: S. Webber

With many of us being confined to our homes, those of us lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor space will probably be spending a lot of time outdoors. Being surrounded by nature is a fantastic way to boost our mental wellbeing, and gardens can be an invaluable resource for wildlife. By following some basic principles, you can turn your garden into an oasis for wildlife and enjoy some brilliant wildlife spectacles up close.

Planting for wildlife

Attracting insects to your garden is one of the primary ways in which you can help wildlife and also increase productivity of plants and trees. You can provide vital food resources for bees, butterflies, nectar-drinking moths and other insects by planting pollinator friendly plants with high levels of pollen and nectar. Lavender, verbena and buddleia are well known for attracting bees and butterflies, but other plants can be equally important, such as goldenrod for hoverflies and late flowering plants such as ivy.

Peacock butterfly on buddleia. Photo: Andrew Fogg, www.flickr.com

The Royal Horticultural Society has a fantastic database of plants for pollinators so that you can choose plants that will flower across the seasons to provide a year-round resource for pollinating insects. Increasing the insect diversity in your garden will also encourage insectivorous birds and mammals into your garden. 

 

 

Wildflower borders and meadows

Another option is to create a wildflower border by scattering either annual or perennial wildflower seed mixes on to bare soil. It’s a low maintenance option that will provide invaluable habitat for insects. The UK has lost 96% of its species-rich meadows so these are a beautiful and valuable addition to the garden and broader landscape. It’s best to choose a mix of native plants such as poppies, cornflowers and corn marigolds (annual) or ragged robin, buttercups, yellow rattle, knapweed and grasses (perennials). If you wish to create a permanent area of meadow grassland with perennials then the RSPB has a guide to creating a wildflower meadow. Wildflower seed mixes can be ordered online.

Wildflower meadow. Photo: cristina.sanvito, www.flickr.com

Seeds and fruit

It is also good to think about plants and trees that will produce fruits and seeds for birds. Native species such as hawthorn, elder, and rowan provide a fantastic autumn feast of berries, and if you leave the heads on sunflowers after they have flowered, goldfinches can take the seeds. Fruit trees such as crab apple offer blossom for insects and birds in the spring, and fruit for species such as blackbirds in the autumn. The wild type native trees and shrubs usually attract more birds than some of the cultivars, so they are worth seeking out. Most of these plants and trees can be ordered online.

Feeding birds and mammals

Finally, providing supplementary food for birds and other wildlife can help increase their overwinter survival prospects and give you the most dazzling display of wildlife behaviour.

Greenfinch and goldfinches on a seed feeder. Photo: Nick Holden, www.flickr.com

Investing in a wide range of bird feeder types and food sources will ensure the most diverse range of birds visit your feeders. Peanuts are very popular with blue and great tits, sunflower seeds will draw in finches such as chaffinches, greenfinches and goldfinches and nyger seed is a favourite of siskins. During the winter birds need extra calories so suet balls can be supplied in feeders, or apples left out for ground feeders such as blackbirds and redwings. In addition to hanging bird feeders, a bird table will offer space to ground feeders such as robins and chaffinches. Ensure that feeders are placed at height and away from windows, and not too close to cover, to avoid sudden predator attacks. Birds and mammals also need fresh water so offering a water bath with sloping sides is important, as well as providing a fascinating focal point for watching your garden wildlife.

Hedgehog. Photo: milo bostock, www.flickr.com

Gardens have been shown to be an increasingly important habitat for hedgehogs and with their numbers in steep decline, feeding hedgehogs can give them a much needed extra food resource. Leaving food such as tinned dog or cat food (excluding fish flavours) or cat or dog biscuits will encourage hedgehogs to visit your garden, particularly if there is access from neighbouring gardens via a ‘hedgehog highway’ hole in the fence. Hedgehog feeding stations or nest boxes can provide a useful way of protecting the food from other garden visitors.

Watching wildlife

Having attracted wildlife to your garden, there are a range of ways you can get fantastic views up close.  Binoculars give you great views of wildlife that is further away, but with close focus distances now much improved, they also offer a great way of magnifying insects. Read our blog post to find out How to Choose a Pair of Binoculars. Alternatively trail cameras can be used very effectively in gardens to record garden visitors. They are standalone weatherproof cameras that use passive infrared to detect passing warm-bodied animals and take either still photographs or videos. With options including the Bushnell NatureView Live View, that has interchangeable lenses for excellent close up feeder shots, and the Browning Recon Force Edge that has amazing 60fps video footage. For more information on trail cameras, see our blog post on How to Choose a Trail Camera.

Recommended Reading


Wildlife Gardening
#244291
£14.99

 

 

 

 

Wild Your Garden
#249932
£12.99  £14.99

 

 

 

 

The Garden Jungle

Pb   #249709  £7.99  £9.99

 

 

 

 

 

Guide to Garden Wildlife
#246618
£9.99  £12.99

 

 

 

 

 

 

Butterfly Gardening
#226117
£9.99

 

 

 

 


Making Garden Meadows
#212003
£9.99

 

 

 

 

Wildlife Gardening Products

 

Droll Yankees Lifetime Seed Feeder

From £19.99

 

 

 

Defender Metal Seed Feeder
#238813
£15.95  £17.50

 

 

 

 

 

 

New York Slate Hanging Bird Table
#236543
£26.99

 

 

 

Droll Yankees Bird Lovers Suet Ball Feeder
#176819
£7.99

 

 

 

 

Challenger Peanut Feeder
#238828
£2.99  £6.95

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defender Metal Niger Feeder
#238816
£19.50  £21.95

 

 

 

 

 


Echoes Bird Bath
#195520
£25.96  £37.99

John Beaufoy Publishing: Publisher of the Month

Established in 2008, John Beaufoy Publishing (JBP)  is a natural history publisher covering a range of subjects such as ornithology,insects & invertebrates, reptiles & amphibians, marine & freshwater biology, and conservation from all over the world, with a focus on South Asia, South-East Asia and tropical regions.

NHBS is pleased to announce John Beaufoy Publishing (JBP) as our Publisher of the Month for April. We have great offers on a selection of their new and bestselling books throughout the month; making this a perfect opportunity to celebrate the world’s fauna and flora by exploring their catalogue of books.

Books from JBP are written by leading experts in their fields, many notable, such as Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne and his books on Sri Lanka’s natural history and botany. Another JBP author Bikram Grewal, of The 100 Best Birdwatching Sites in India, is a trustee of the Wildlife Preservation Society of India (WPSI) and was awarded the Lifetime Award for spreading awareness about birds and conservation in India.

JBP has an exciting programme of new titles, together with revised and updated editions of some of their most successful books. We have selected ten titles to highlight, and you can browse their full range available at nhbs here

 

The 100 Best Bird Watching Sites in India
Paperback| February 2020| £16.99 £19.99
This fully illustrated guide describes the 100 best sites for viewing both common and rare species throughout the 26 states of the subcontinent, including the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

 

Phillipps’ Field Guide to the Birds of Borneo: Sabah, Sarawak, Brunei and Kalimantan
Paperback| February 2014| £19.99 £24.99
669 species superbly illustrated in 141 colour plates with more than 2,000 full colour bird images, including most of the sexual variants and immature forms of polymorphic species.

Wild Flowers of the Mediterranean
Paperback| August 2017| £13.99 £16.99
A user-friendly pocket nature guide to the plant world of the Mediterranean: a region is remarkable for its great diversity of species and forms.

 

 

A Field Guide to the Birds of Mongolia
Paperback| October 2019| £24.99 £29.99
Birdwatchers have long wanted a field guide to the birds of Mongolia. Featuring fantastic illustrations on 154 plates, this guide covers all 521 officially recorded species.

 

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Mammals of Australia
Paperback| November 2017| £11.99
This easy-to-use identification guide to the 300 mammal species most commonly seen in Australia is perfect for resident and visitor alike – part of JBP’s Naturalist’s Guides Series

 

The London Bird Atlas
Hardback| December 2017| £29.99 £39.99
Brings together the analyses of millions of bird records and research to tell you which birds are doing well, which ones have declined or held steady, and what the changes have been in relation to previous distribution surveys.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Butterflies & Dragonflies of Sri Lanka
Paperback| October 2018| £9.99 £11.99
An excellent book for residents and visitors alike to learn about the commoner butterflies and dragonflies of Sri Lanka before progressing to more advanced technical books.

A Naturalist’s Guide to the Reptiles of India: Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka
Paperback| December 2017| £9.99 £11.99
High-quality photographs from the region’s top nature photographers accompany this identification guide to the 239 reptile species most commonly seen in South Asia.

Wild Philippines: The Landscapes, Habitats and Wildlife of the Philippine Islands
Paperback| August 2019| £19.99 £24.99
More than just a ‘coffee table’ book; Wild Philippines provides an authoritative and entertaining study of the wide spectrum of wildlife on the land and in the seas of this diverse country.

A Field Guide to the Birds of Malaysia & Singapore
Paperback| Due August 2020| £19.99 £24.99
Due to be published in August 2020, this is a fully comprehensive field guide to the 815 bird species of Malaysia and Singapore

 

 

Browse all John Beaufoy Publishing at NHBS

Our ten favourite spring garden activities for children

This spring is destined to be a different and difficult one for most of us. Some things, however, remain the same – the leaves and buds on the trees are unfurling, the flowers are blooming, and the outside world is gearing up for a new year of growth and renewal. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, then getting the children outside each day is a great way for them to burn off some energy and to get some fresh air and vitamin D.

With this in mind we have put together ten of our favourite garden activities, most of which are suitable for children (and adults) of all ages – although supervision may be required for the younger ones.

  1. Learn about the insects and bugs in your garden

Insects and bugs are fascinating to children of all ages. As soon as the weather warms up in spring, the garden fills with the buzzing of flies, bees and wasps, whilst the soil teems with beetles, worms and other creepy crawlies. A butterfly or sweep net is ideal for catching flying insects and those in the long grass, while a pooter can be used to pick up tinier specimens. Or simply get down on the ground with a hand lens and see what you can find. There are lots of great field guides that will help you to identify your specimens. FSC guides, such as the Woodland Name Trail and Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland provide a great starting point. Or, for a more in-depth investigation, the Guide to Garden Wildlife covers not only insects and bugs, but also birds, mammals and amphibians. It also provides suggestions for some great nature-related activities.

  1. Install a nest box (and watch the eggs hatch from the comfort of your home)
Image by gordon.milligan

It’s never too late to install a nest box. Even in late spring you may manage to entice a breeding pair of birds in time to lay a late clutch of eggs. At the very least, you will provide a useful winter roost space and the box will be ready for the breeding birds next year. You can even equip your nest box with a tiny camera which will allow you to watch all the nesting, rearing and fledging action from the comfort of your home. Kits are available which contain everything you need to get started; choose from wired, wireless or Wi-Fi options. See our blog post on nest box cameras for more information.

  1. Learn to identify plants

Rummage around in the wilder parts of your garden and you’re likely to find a wide range of plants that your little ones can study and try to identify. Even in the most manicured of outdoor spaces, you’re sure to find some ‘weeds’ that will provide a useful starting place. This is a great way to learn about common and Latin names and to study the different parts of flowers. The Pocket Guide to Wildflower Families will help you to identify the family to which your flower belongs, and the Collins Wild Flower Guide is a beautifully illustrated guide for those wanting a more in-depth look.

  1. Watch (and listen to) the birds
Image by Airwolfhound

Get to know the birds in your garden by installing a feeder. During the spring there should be plenty of wild food sources for them to use, but protein-rich foods such as black sunflower seeds, mealworm and high-quality seed mixes will provide a valuable addition to their diet. (Avoid feeding fat balls and peanuts at this time of year, as they can be harmful to young birds.) If you’re not sure what kind of bird you’re looking at, the RSPB website has a great identifier tool which includes information on 408 species found in the UK. Once you’ve identified your bird, the website also allows you to listen to its song, helping you to further improve your identification skills.

For a fun garden game, why not play bird bingo? Simply draw a 3×3 grid on a piece of paper, and write the name of a common garden bird in each square. Put a cross in the square when you spot the bird – the winner is the first to cross off all nine squares.

  1. Grow something pretty or edible

If you have space, now is a great time to sow some seeds. Sunflowers and sweet peas provide a great splash of colour in the summer and will provide food for birds (sunflower heads) and pollinators (sweet peas). Peas and beans are both easy to grow in a small space and are happy in pots. Strawberries and bush varieties of tomatoes can be grown in hanging baskets.

Making seed bombs is another excellent activity to do with children and, when planted in the garden, will provide much needed flowers for pollinating insects. The Wildlife Trusts have a recipe that’s simple to make, along with a list of recommended flower seeds to include.

  1. Be a weather watcher
Image by Paper of Light

In most temperate countries (and particularly in the UK), the weather is constantly changing, making it a fascinating thing to track and record. A weather diary is a great way to do this. You can include as much information as you like, or keep it simple with just pictures for the younger children. You could even make a weather board, where the day’s weather is displayed every day. Wind speed, temperature and humidity can be easily measured using an anemometer, and rainfall with a simple rain gauge. (For more economical options, use a large yoghurt container with measurements marked on the side as a rain gauge and a piece of lightweight fabric tied to a pole to track the direction of the wind).

Clouds are also endlessly interesting – learn about the different types with Weather WizKids which has lots of information and explains how they are formed, why they look the way they do and how we can use them to predict the weather. Why not also investigate some of the old-wives tales pertaining to the weather? For example, is it really true that ‘swallows high, staying dry; swallows low, wet will blow’, or ‘Red sky at night, shepherds’ delight, red sky in the morning, shepherds’ warning’?

  1. Make a pond
Image by Alex Thomson

Recent surveys have shown that some amphibians, such as frogs, are now more common in garden ponds than they are in the wild. When planted with a variety of submerged and emergent plants, a pond will provide a complex environment with a variety of micro-habitats, and is also an attractive feature for the garden. Even in a small space it’s easy to use a bucket or other container to create a small aquatic environment which will provide valuable habitat for amphibians, insects and lots of other species. Take a look at the Wildlife Trusts website for a step-by-step guide to making a garden pond (including a handy list of suitable aquatic plants) or this RSPB page for advice on making a mini pond from an old washing-up bowl. Always ensure that younger children are supervised around water.

  1. Weave with nature

Weaving with natural materials is a fun activity and a great choice for several reasons: it is cheap to do and the results, while temporarily beautiful, can be composted, making it the ultimate in sustainable art. To begin, make a simple frame from four twigs, held together at the corners with a small amount of natural twine. Wind more twine from side to side around the frame leaving gaps between each winding, and then repeat in the other direction. Collect a wide selection of leaves, twigs, weeds, flowers, feathers and grass and weave into your frame in a pattern of your choice. For the best results, try and include as many different colours and textures as possible. Hang your masterpiece inside or in the garden to enjoy until the colours fade, and then throw it on the compost heap or in your garden waste bin.

  1. Eat some weeds

Did you know that lots of the weeds in your garden are actually edible? And what’s more, many contain higher amounts of trace elements like iron than their supermarket equivalents such as spinach and kale. Nettles are extremely common, very easy to identify, and can be made into a tasty soup (don’t worry, they lose their sting as soon as they are cooked). Similarly, dandelion leaves, fat hen, hairy bittercress and chickweed are prevalent in most gardens and can be used as salad greens. Children will love knowing that they have picked some of their meal for free, and that they are eating the garden weeds. If you’re unsure about what you’re picking, there are lots of helpful guides and images on the internet. Or you can invest in a book such as Food for Free, Foraging, or the compact and economical FSC’s Guide to Foraging.

  1. Draw from nature
Image from the Biodiversity Heritage Library

Sketching from nature was once a vital part of the naturalist’s skill set. Accurate drawings of specimens, alive or dead, played a vital part in classifying and sharing information about new species. Although this process has largely been replaced by photography, the act of putting pencil to paper and studying a specimen closely enough to draw it accurately can provide an excellent opportunity to study its structure and finer details. Flowers, plants and feathers are ideal starting points as they won’t fly or scuttle away; but insects, birds and other animals can also be fun to try. Keep notes of when and where your drawings were made and, over time, they can form the basis of a wonderful nature journal.

During these troubling times, we hope you can find inspiration in nature and we wish you all the best of health.

For a great selection of garden wildlife books and ID guides, take a look at the Garden Activities for Children collection at nhbs.com.

NHBS Guide to Reptile Survey Equipment

Reptiles play an important role in the function of ecosystems, whether as predators controlling prey populations, or as a source of prey for both birds and mammals. There are eleven species of reptile in the UK, of which six are native and all are protected under UK legislation, with the extremely rare smooth snake and sand lizard protected by additional EU legislation.

Sand lizard Lacerta agilis – Photo: xulescu_g, www.flckr.com

At this time of year reptiles are emerging from hibernation and ecologists are beginning to prepare for the survey season. Reptiles are active between March and October and surveys are carried out in April, May and September when the reptiles are at their most visible. In the main summer months (June – August) reptiles tend to bask less and are unlikely to use any artificial refugia, therefore surveys are not undertaken during this time .

The most common survey methods for reptiles include searching for basking animals on banks, piles of wood and edges of woodland, or laying out artificial refuges like corrugated iron sheets and carpet tiles or roofing felt, which are bedded down well into the vegetation. A wide range of reptile surveying equipment is available to buy on the NHBS website. For any advice please contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team who would be happy to help.

Corrugated Reptile Survey Refugia

Corrugated reptile refugia are often used in reptile surveys as they absorb heat and provide shelter from predators, making them an ideal basking spot, especially for slow worms or smooth snakes. The refugia are made from corrugated roofing material (bitumen soaked organic fibres) which is lightweight and waterproof. The material is free from asbestos,non-toxic and is both waterproof and long lasting. The sheets are 2.6mm thick and measure either 500mm x 500mm or 500mm x 1000mm, both with a corrugation depth of 40mm.

Reptile Survey Felt Squares

As with the corrugated refugia above, felt squares also create favourable conditions beneath them for reptiles and are commonly used for surveys, as they are light and will roll up for transport. These tiles are made from bitumen felt and are available in two sizes: 50 x 50cm or 100 x 50cm. 

Snake Hooks 

A snake hook is useful for catching and managing snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two snake hooks available, both made from aluminium which provides a tool which is both strong and lightweight. The standard snake hook comes in two sizes: 100cm or 130cm and has a wooden handle. The telescopic snake hook can be extended from 95cm to a total length of 140cm and the end of the handle has a comfortable rubber grip.

Snake Tongs

Snake tongs are also useful for handling snakes for inspection or translocation. There are two lengths of tongs available: 92cm or 122cm. They are made from an anodized aluminum shaft with a pistol grip handle to provide a lightweight yet strong tool enabling maximum holding pressure with minimal risk to the handler or the snake. 

Snake Handling Gloves

Snake handling gloves are designed to give you protection when handling snakes and to protect you when conducting snake surveys. The gloves are made from leather to minimise the risk of injury from bites and will also help mask your scent. They are available separately for the left or right hand.

N.B. These gloves are not suitable for handling venomous species!

Pesola Light-Line Spring Scale

Native reptile species in the UK range on average from 5 to 100g. Pesola scales are universally acclaimed precision scales which are reliable and durable. The Light-Line range features a transparent tube for panoramic reading and a long, clear double display with coloured marker ring. They are adjusted by hand with a guaranteed accuracy of +/- 0.3% the precision spring is made of corrosion-free, fatigue-resistant alloy, and the scales are impervious to humidity. 

Recommended accessories:

Silva Classic Compass

 

 

 

Rite in the Rain Spiral Bound Notebook

 

 

 

Reptile Holding Bag

 

 

 

dialMax Vernier Dial Caliper

 

 

 

Lifesystems Light & Dry Micro First Aid Kit

 

 

 

WeatherWriter A4 Portrait

 

 

 

A note on licensing

Please note that reptiles in the UK are protected by law. Any reptile survey work must be undertaken by a licensed ecologist. Different levels of license are required for different survey and mitigation methods. For more information, please visit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/reptiles-protection-surveys-and-licences

If you have any quieries you can contact our Wildlife Equipment Specialist team on 01803 865913 or via email at customer.services@nhbs.com.