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
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.
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.
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.
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.