Springwatch 2018 – A Retrospective
After the incredible start to Springwatch (catch up on our blog here) we have been hooked for the past two weeks. There’s been plenty of incredible footage to see, a wide-ranging variety of wildlife topics to discuss, and as usual, a great amount of facts to absorb! In fact, there’s been so much fantastic content this year, we’ll be sorry to gloss over some of it – however, we’ll do our best to discuss what stood out to us over the entire series!
Week one ended with an inspiring recap by Gillian Burke, as she looked back on her time in Shetland. It was thrilling to see the Great skua – or Bonxie, which has gained a reputation for hunting those adorable puffins, and of course the landscape provided some breathtaking imagery. Also, while we’re naturally more biased towards the bird coverage, we loved seeing the footage of orca and otters.
Bringing things closer to home, apparently it wasn’t only ourselves who wondered how the Blue tit parents ensured all 11 chicks got enough food. Therefore it was very welcome to hear Chris and Michaela explain how they achieved this! Nest watchers kept their eyes on the Blue tit nest 20 hours a day, and saw how the male accounted for 15 feeds a day, while the female delivered an incredible 33 meals to her young! They also sought out the best quality foods – such as spiders – to provide the optimum nutrition. The perseverance of the parents to provide so adequately for 11 chicks was absolutely inspiring. If you’d like to learn more about the Blue tit, you can find our “All About the Blue tit” feature here.
The Goldcrest Family
We were equally impressed when we saw how Goldcrest males make additional nests after their initial nest. He will feed both broods across nests (up to 3 nests!), feeding chicks even weeks after fledging, and alongside younger nestlings too! Any cold weather means that Goldcrest populations are susceptible to losses due to the species’ small size. This means the multiple nests are a good failsafe, while the extended feeding of fledglings will help them put on weight to hopefully protect against unforeseen environmental factors. Find out more about Goldcrests here.
Week 2 – “Fledge Fest”
Week two got off to a bang with the Springwatch team reporting how not only the Wrens fledged over the weekend, but also that the Mandarin ducklings have hatched in their tree hollow. We were treated to some adorable footage!
It’s always interesting to see the morally ambiguous aspects of nature, and seeing one of our favourites the Woodpecker raiding a nest was quite shocking (though not unexpected.) It’s hard to pick a side to root for in this ancient game of survival!
Possibly our favourite moments of the entire season took place during the “fledge-fest” over the weekend captured by the nest box cameras.
One of the more ragged nests out there belongs to the Raven, a family of which is being followed by the Springwatch team at the Gower peninsula this year. Male and female Ravens pair for life, working together with the male hunting for food while the female incubates the eggs and the young. The first episode this year showed the nest with four tiny chicks inside, blind and helpless but supported by their parents. Sadly, returning to the nest in the second episode, we saw that the smallest of the raven chicks didn’t make it. The largest, loudest chicks are fed first in the pecking order, and so it is often the runt which doesn’t survive. Did you know that only two bird species are known to nest in winter, one of which is the Raven (the other of which is the Crossbill). Some have been known to nest as early as December! Such early nesting is only possible due to a few features of the species which work together: they are monogamous, so no time is lost on courting; they are resourceful, accessing winter food such as carrion, and they are territorial so will already have awareness of suitable nest locations.
(Above: Mandarin ducklings with mother)
Headlining “Fledge Fest”
In a beautiful headline event to “fledge-fest”, we saw the almost unbearable cuteness of the Mandarin ducklings leaving their tree-hollow nest. The twist (as you surely already know) was the massive elevation of the hollow which was 3 and a half metres high! Thankfully, the ducklings landed safely after a dramatic descent!
You can see the footage on the BBC website here – it’s well worth a watch!
As the second week of Springwatch concluded, fledge-fest seemed to come to an end, until those tiny Goldcrests took to the air, flapping their miniscule fluffy wings as they left home. We were thoroughly treated to some beautiful viewing when we saw the footage of fledgling Goldcrests at the start of the final week. This tiny bird is stunning, and petite even when fully grown; you can read more about it HERE.
The eleven Blue tit chicks also fledged over the weekend, with four leaving the nest on Friday morning, and the final seven slightly behind their siblings on Saturday. Marsh tit families and Willow warbler chicks departed their respective nests too!
Over on the Shetland Isles, presenter Gillian Burke pointed out how these 300 small islands are home to only 20,000 people, versus over a million sea birds. The beautiful beaks of Puffins made an appearance of course, and these birds are known to travel an impressive 800km in round trips for food. Another bird local to the isles is the Fulmar, which is even more impressive in its own round-trips of 5000km! Gillian also sadly pointed out the serious problem of plastic pollution for marine birds, with some graphic imagery of dead sea birds tangled in plastic.
The Penultimate Episode
On the penultimate episode, Michaela called this year’s series a “Wildlife World Cup” due to it being so action packed! In the Little owls VS the blackbirds. We saw the Great tits very nearly ready to fledge.
Scruffy looking Chaffinch nestlings poked their scraggly heads out of their nest, and we heard how some birds feed feathers to their birds to help with their digestion!
The Reed bunting nest camera showed that the number of chicks in the nest decreased from 4 to 1! The nest looked like it was leaning so that chicks seemed to be falling out of it, but it was fairly likely that three of the chicks successfully fledged, hence leaving the final one.
We saw the elegant Blackcap (with the female having a brown cap) sitting on its tiny nestlings in a beautiful nest. The young birds were nowhere near to fledgling yet, but seemed healthy and promising for a future successful fledge once Springwatch is over. Find out more about the Blackcap here!
Michaela talked about how ducks digest hard shells and mussels using their gizzards (they don’t have teeth for chewing), showing a diagram which highlighted the muscular walls which allow for digestion in a kind of grinding mechanism. Chris demonstrated this with a duck head model and pistachio nuts representing a mussel. (Did you know we stock specialist duck and swan food? – Available here)
At the isle of May, we saw the adorable Eider ducklings against some stunning scenery, though it was sad to see a gull make off with one! 50% of the chicks survived so far – which is actually a great result. They made their way to the ocean – to take up their title of Britain’s largest sea duck.
The Springwatch team highlighted some of the trends from the Big Garden Birdwatch over the years. Goldfinch sightings have increased 4% over the last 10 years, rising from 30%-34%, while Starlings saw a reduction of 50%-42% over the same period. Chris Packham suggested this decline may be due to a reduction of invertebrate prey caused by intensive farming. Woodpigeons on the other hand are doing magnificently (this may be controversial!), with recorded sightings up from 57%-75% in the last 10 years of the Big Garden Birdwatch.
The show went on to mention how ancient woodlands provide essential habitats for wildlife, showing how the Major Oak in Sherwood forest is dated at between 800 and 1000 years old! We need to protect our trees as wildlife requires aspects such as the natural hollowing out and positive decay which can take hundreds of years to form.
The Major Oak is actually relatively young! It’s thought that the Fortingall Yew tree in Perthshire could be up to 9000 years old, which would make it the oldest living organism in the UK. Such concepts can be baffling, and show how fleeting our existence is in relation to the natural order of things.
In Sherborne, from where the Springwatch team hosted Springwatch 2018, there are 459 old trees which are all vital for wildlife. The birds certainly seemed to enjoy them!
Springwatch also showed how sheep have been seen eating Curlew eggs (while Fallow Deer have surprisingly been spotted raiding Nightjar nests!) Sheep are herbivores, so rather than searching for nests, maybe they just incidentally discover them and simply need the calcium from the shells due to a deficiency. It’s as yet unknown what impact sheep have on the population of wading birds, if any!
It’s been such a stunning year for Springwatch, and we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did. We’re proud to support British wildlife through the bird food, feeders and wildlife products we provide, so if you’re feeling inspired to help birds and wildlife after seeing a wonderful season of Springwatch, please do head over to our website (click here) where you’ll surely treat both yourself and your garden birds! We offer some fantastic solutions for making your garden attractive, while also being welcoming and nurturing to nature’s creatures.
Written by Andrew Jolly