If you take a walk on a heath on a warm, still summer evening in southern England, you may hear a very strange sound from above you – a so-called ‘churr’. It has an otherworldly, almost mechanical quality. Centuries ago, people thought this was the sound of witches cackling in the bushes. But it is, in fact, the song of a bird – a male nightjar, to be precise.
Some of the most numerous fossils that have survived into the modern age are those coiled, ridged shells left behind by ammonites. Indeed, many rocks between 66 and 200 million years old seem to comprise little else but the mineralised remains of these prehistoric cephalopods. It seems that for a vast period of time, ammonites were among the most abundant of all marine creatures.
Wherever you are in the UK, you’re probably never far away from a wren. Although many people have never seen a wren, at least not knowingly, it is far more common than other garden birds that we may be more familiar with, such as sparrows and robins. In fact, it is our most common breeding bird, with around 11 million pairs here in Britain. So how come we rarely see them?
The dodo has the unenviable distinction of being a byword for something both dead and stupid. Many people view this big-beaked flightless fruit-eater as an unfortunate evolutionary mistake – a creature so fat, so painfully unintelligent, so useless, that it has no option but to die out. Perhaps because it was apparently so unfit for survival, its extinction seems somewhat acceptable to us, maybe even deserving.
Last week, I heard that someone had been bitten by an adder while examining some movement in the undergrowth around the Clennon Valley Lakes in Paignton – the site of The Nature Nook’s latest wildlife walk, which you can read about here. The person in question, thankfully, was fine (after a night in hospital on anti-venom), but it inspired me to write a post about my favourite British snake.