10 ways to be­come an all-round nat­u­ral­ist

Bri­tain’s love of bird­watch­ing may be partly down to the fact that birds are the most wide­spread, eas­ily seen and iden­ti­fied wild crea­tures in these is­lands. But there are many good rea­sons to widen your in­ter­ests be­yond the purely avian, and be­come an al

Bird Watching (UK) - - Other Wildlife: Expand Your Knowledge - By Matt Mer­ritt

1 Bug-watch­ing

We’re not sure there’s re­ally such a thing as a ‘quiet time’ for bird­watch­ing in the UK, but there’s no harm in hav­ing some­thing else to look for if the birds re­ally are tem­po­rar­ily out of sight (this can hap­pen to an ex­tent in late sum­mer, when many birds moult). That’s when in­sect ac­tiv­ity can be at its peak, though. Drag­on­flies and dam­sel­flies are per­haps the most ob­vi­ous, but you can also start to learn more about soli­tary bees, shield bugs, or all sorts of other in­sects.

6 Mam­mals

For many of us, Rab­bits, Grey Squir­rels, Foxes and deer are the wild mam­mals most of­ten seen, but turn to page 13, and you can find out how to track down a wider range of species, such as Weasels, Stoats, Badgers and Ot­ters, as well as marine mam­mals such as whales.

2 But­ter­flies and moths

Although we’re group­ing these to­gether, there’s a big dif­fer­ence – but­ter­flies are ac­tive dur­ing the day, and are of­ten larger and brightly coloured, while most moths are ac­tive by night, and are of­ten cryp­ti­cally pat­terned and coloured. But that doesn’t mean you can’t watch them – turn to page 10 of this guide to learn more.

7 Wild flow­ers

The loss of mead­ows rich in wild flow­ers has had an im­pact on birds, too, with species such as Tur­tle Dove that rely on wild flow­ers and weeds for seed food suf­fer­ing, as well as those (like Curlews), that nest on mead­ows. Learn to iden­tify wild flow­ers, start­ing with the eas­i­est and grad­u­ally mov­ing onto rarer species such as Pasque­flower and Fly Orchid, and you’ll also be able to iden­tify an­cient mead­ows in need of pre­serv­ing.

3 Pond dip­ping

This is a par­tic­u­lar favourite with young­sters, with many re­serves run­ning events to let them get their hands wet and dirty. Al­ter­na­tively, you could try it your­self - blog.nhbs.com/sub­ject/ecol­ogy/the-nhb­s­guide-to-pond-dip­ping/ is a great on­line re­source to get­ting started.

8 Trees

It’s a cu­ri­ous thing that many bird­ers don’t pay enough at­ten­tion to the types of trees to be found in their area, but this has a huge bear­ing on which birds you’ll find. Alders and wil­lows at­tract red­polls and Siskins, for ex­am­ple, and large tracts of an­cient oak wood­land are the home of Red­starts, Pied Fly­catch­ers and Wood War­blers. But even a few Horn­beams could at­tract Hawfinches. Know your trees, and you’ll know which birds to look for.

4 Rep­tiles and am­phib­ians

If you have a pond your­self, or one that you can eas­ily visit reg­u­larly, then you’ll have the chance to look for frogs, toads, newts and maybe even a Grass Snake or two. But rep­tiles can be found else­where, too – check sunny ar­eas with dry, sandy soils for the likes of Slow Worms and Com­mon Lizards, or heath­land and old quar­ries for Ad­ders.

9 Set up a cam­era trap

As we sug­gested above, birds are rel­a­tively easy to watch be­cause they make them­selves ob­vi­ous. But use a cam­era trap in your gar­den, and you’ll re­alise that there’s more go­ing on there than you think – it will help you iden­tify the vis­i­tors that you get by night, or while you’re out dur­ing the day. Once you know what’s there, you can start tak­ing ac­tion to make sure it re­turns again and again.

5 Bats

Glimps­ing a bat flut­ter­ing around the gar­den at dusk isn’t too dif­fi­cult dur­ing the sum­mer months, but to iden­tify them and learn more about these noc­tur­nal in­sect-eaters, you’ll need a bat de­tec­tor, which uses the sounds emit­ted by the bats (in­audi­ble to us), to work out which species is which. And if you find you do have bats, why not put up some bat boxes for them to roost in?

10 Do a bio blitz

If you’ve en­joyed the chal­lenge of #My200birdyear, try a bio blitz. Es­sen­tially, you see how many species of all wildlife that you can find in a given area in a given time. You can start small – your own gar­den is as good as any­where. And there’s a se­ri­ous side to it all, be­cause again know­ing what’s present is cru­cial if you’re go­ing to con­serve the wildlife that’s there.

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