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Nature Notes March 2019

 Nature Notes

Like many birds, I have migrated south for at least part of the winter. I am at Latitude 440 N and if you are reading this in Sussex, you are at about Latitude 500 N. Just for reference the arctic circle is at about 70oN Yes, I am in France again. It is February 13th today and I have been busy mowing the lawn and scaring the sunbathing wall lizards. The occasional brimstone and peacock butterfly was fluttering by as I worked. Yesterday we watched a flock of about 50 common cranes fly over the house on their way north to their breeding grounds. I also watched a black carpenter bee visit the Aubretia flowers on the verandah. However, it has not been all like this, proximity to the Bay of Biscay means that we had about 2 weeks of almost continuous rain until recently. The ditches and rivers are all full and the frogs have been filling them even fuller with their spawn.

The tilting of the earth means that the days are lengthening by a few minutes with each one. I suspect we are all looking forward to the “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”. Barn owls and mistle thrushes will be preparing nests as I write. Blackbirds, blue tits and robins will also be showing themselves in pairs as they court and test each other’s credentials as a prospective breeding mate.

Until spring really gets going, finding food is a real problem for any animal in the wild. Diurnal animals will have short days for hunting, long cold nights to get through and many will die leaving only the resilient to pass on another generation.

In ecology, we often say there is no such thing as a disaster, only change. What we humans see as a disastrous storm or cold spell is simply a change in the environment leading to opportunities for some organisms and challenging conditions for others. Cold winters generate cold resilient animals such as polar bears, arctic foxes and reindeer. Hurricane force winds lead to many fallen trees and plenty of dead wood leading to a population explosion of wood boring beetles an increase in woodpeckers that eat them and so on. Even hot weather leads to the generation of heat resilient plants and animals such as cacti and camels. The result is a world full of variety and change.

Dr.Martyn Stenning