Goldfinch charms, fly-by kites and mini bait balls - Harry Hog's blog

Photo by Harry Hog

Autumn approaches, and our intrepid Trust promoter makes his way around some of our best seasonal reserves.

It has certainly turned rather autumnal now, after the heat of the ‘Indian’ summer finally gave way to some more seasonal temperatures, and it's been rather wet too!

Before it all changed, it was lovely seeing the last of the remaining dragonflies, butterflies and bees feeding on late flowering plants like ivy. These plants are invaluable and provide much needed nectar sources this time of year. Insects like the wonderful ivy bee were feeding busily at Trumpington Meadows reserve on a recent visit. And whilst intently watching the bees I almost missed the beautiful male migrant hawker that was resting on a leaf, literally under my nose.

I also enjoyed watching a large flock of goldfinches - or ‘charm’ as the collective noun would have it - feeding on seed heads in the meadow. There were at least 30 birds whizzing around the grassland dropping down onto patches of old flower heads, chittering away together. They’d forage briefly on the tops before lifting off en masse and descending to the next patch. It was a great depiction of why it's so important not to over-tidy our gardens in the autumn. Hollow stems, berries, haws and seedheads provide vital food and habitat for many species over the colder months.

I’ve also been back to Waresley Wood, and had a fabulous close encounter in the car park with a stunning red kite. These beauties command the skies with a graceful elegance and even though it was incredibly windy it drifted effortlessly by. As it dropped down from the skies with its huge wing span, it was clearly looking down: maybe it had spotted the large picture of his own species that emblazons my van roof, or perhaps he was just sizing up his next meal . . . Although these birds are now fairly common place, it’s always a magical experience to see them.

Red kite against a blue sky

Photo by Harry Hog

My most recent trip was to Godmanchester nature reserve, a place I hadn’t been since the ‘lockdown’. It was fantastic being back and taking it all in. This is a great place to see kingfishers: I got a fleeting view of one whizzing around Roman lake and heard its distinctive high pitched shrill call first before it quickly disappeared behind the reedbed. There were also lots of tiny fish being corralled into mini bait balls by the perch, causing little silvery showers of fry to spray from the surface. It was like watching my own version of the BBC natural history series Blue Planet: all we needed was Sir David's narration.

And, just like Blue Planet, large numbers of small shoal fish attract predators. Which makes it a great place to see lots of other fish eating birds, like grebes, herons and egrets. I counted two great white and seven little egrets along with a heron round every corner! This included one bird that either had just one leg... or it thought it was a flamingo and had the other tucked up tight in its feathers. Apparently, for many long-legged birds like this, it’s a way to conserve body heat.

One-legged grey heron at Godmanchester

Photo by Harry Hog

Whatever the weather, do get out and immerse yourselves in the natural world, it definitely brings comfort to us all. And if you can, join our local Wildlife Trust, we need your support.

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David Attenborough, President Emeritus of the Wildlife Trusts 

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