A berry big feast for birds
ANY walk through the woods and lanes of the north west exhibits a real gallery of colour at the moment as autumn leaves and berries line your route.
Of course berries are not just there for colour they are a vital source of food for many of the birds that spend winter in the UK.
Butterflies and caterpillars continue to feed on blackberries when summer pushes on into autumn. Butterflies have gone for 2014 as the cold snaps in. Other insects like wasps tend to head for sugary blackberries too. A couple of years ago I got some close-up photographs of a wasp completely ignoring me while it squelched into a blackberry.
If you are picking blackberries you should always leave some because a whole range of birds love them too – robin, thrush, jay, crow and lots of warblers and finches.
Hedgehogs, mice and voles also depend on the fruit of the blackberry bush, so a lot of life surrounds each and every plant.
Don’t be surprised to see angry thrushes around hawthorn bushes as winter goes on. I have seen skirmishes as these wonderfully musical birds roll up their sleeves and get ready to fight off invaders as berries become scarce later in winter. Smaller birds also have to keep out of the way as the thrushes defend their larders.
If you have hawthorns near to your home you will begin to see redwing and fieldfare, which have spent all of spring and summer in open fields coming in a little closer to homes. Redwing look similar to song thrushes while fieldfares have a look of mistle thrushes.
The redwing does have red under its wing and the fieldfare looks more distinctively spotty. They all belong to the same family.
Hawthorns are also popular with blackbirds, starlings and chaffinches.
They are great places to stay in winter with some mammals and amphibians hibernating inside the bushes and birds roosting on the branches.
Some berries, like holly, become harder and less edible providing food for just the birds.
Of course all this eating and surviving through winter is great for the trees and bushes. A bird will eat a seed and pass the seed through its body and dump it somewhere else.
Chemicals attached to juniper seeds are removed by passing through a bird making it then grow better. Look how many bushes grow close to fences where birds have obviously perched.
Over the past few years we have been seeing lots more waxwings coming over from Europe because of the numbers of berries around in the north west.
Retail parks which plant bushes on their car parks for winter colour are prime spots for these beautiful visitors.
In a recent column I mistakenly said that spiders were insects. This was a slip of the pen as they are, obviously, arachnids. Insects have six legs and spiders have eight. Insects have three body segments and spiders have two. To become a member of the Wildlife Trust for Lancashire, Manchester and North Merseyside go to www.lancswt.org. uk or call 01772 324129.
●● Hawthorn bushes are a hive of ac tivity as winter approaches