Basin Notes - June 2010

How to Watch Wildlife

The recent lovely summer weather has, no doubt, induced many of you to get out into the countryside for a relaxing walk and see some wildlife. The lovely weather has been good for the wildlife as well as the human population so how much did you see?

The problem is that most wildlife will see or hear you well before you can see or hear them. This gives them plenty of time to hide or flee and so you may see very little. Birds, of course, are more forgiving as they can use their flying skills to quickly move out of danger and perch in a tree, so it is not really surprising that birdwatching is the most popular wildlife activity.

So how to see more on your wildlife walk? Think about the walk as the way to get you to the prime site where you can find a comfortable place to sit or stand and wait for the wildlife to come to you.

After a short wait, the wildlife that hid, out of sight, as you approached, will now venture out again and get on with their life. So watch carefully as some beetles walk across the path you were walking along. There are more species of beetle in the world than any other family of insects, so keep watching and see how many different ones you can see.

Look carefully at the foliage round you for a variety of flies, aphids, crane-flies and spiders as they look for food. In this case, of course, they are all possible prey items for other creatures. Unfortunately, there are some insects that will view you as a valid source of nourishment, so the application of some insect repellent before leaving home would be a good move.

Look carefully around any flowers nearby as hover-flies and bees try to gather nectar and pollen from any open blooms. Again, it is the variety of different species of those two families that should grab your attention. Hover-flies look like small wasps but have no sting and demonstrate amazing flying skills by being able to hover absolutely still on whirring wings and move to a new hover with lightning speed. Look for the different patterns of stripes on their backs and the different colours of those stripes. From wasp-yellow, through orange to black, these small insect helicopters are fascinating to watch.

The flowers themselves are not going to be as showy as those in your garden, and the less charitable might just say they are just weeds. The old saying that "a weed is just a flower in the wrong place" applies here, but all these flowers are in the right place. The situation is slightly muddied by garden escapes that find a niche in the wild, but insects and animals might welcome the extra resources. The problem of rampant species such as rhododendron, giant hogweed and others is, however, another story.

Now that you are still and quiet, the birds that flew away on your approach are back and confidently flitting about the branches above your head. They will even come quite close, especially the juveniles, who haven't learned to be quite as cautious as their parents. Time to appreciate the small details of plumage and

If there is some water nearby no matter how small, then have a careful look and see if there are pond skaters, whirligig beetles or water boatmen about. Be careful not to fall into any larger water bodies and if you can 't see anything then use binoculars and in the right position you will be able to see below the surface. A whole new world of wild activity will be revealed.

So now you have seen lots of wildlife and are ready to move on and perhaps find another good spot to wait and watch, or perhaps make your way home and look at the super photos you have taken of predators and prey in the natural world. Remember to go back and revisit your favourite sites at different times of day and different times of year to see the full range of species and behaviour.