No bird can stay in the air permanently. At the very least, they must come down to earth to nest. But the common swift, with a streamlined body that is honed to aerodynamic perfection and narrow, sickle-shaped wings, spends more of its life in flight than any other bird. Its habitat is the sky itself.
On The Nature Nook’s last walk, searching for seals around Berry Head, we heard the call of a great-spotted woodpecker in a small thicket, though we sadly didn’t see the bird itself. This time, we decided to set out to look specifically for these delightful head bangers. Tor Bay has so much beautiful coastline that it is easy to neglect the woodland that is also practically on our doorstep. So Alex and I headed inland for a change, to a place called Occombe Woods, nestled in a valley between Paignton and Torquay.
The European eel is a surprisingly enigmatic creature. Its breeding behaviour in particular has confounded people for over 2,000 years. To some, its proliferation seemed inexplicable. The great Greek thinker Aristotle, for example, believed that eels spontaneously emerged from mud. A few hundred years later, Pliny the Elder had his own imaginative ideas about eel reproduction – he thought they bred by rubbing their bellies against rocks.
A couple of years back, Alex and I went to London for a few days. The trip was planned around a book-signing event (where I finally got to meet Sir David Attenborough in person), but we also found time to go to the theatre, the Tower of London, the Natural History Museum and, of course, the London Zoo. Perhaps the greatest highlight, however, was going into Kensington Gardens with some seeds and chopped-up apples and hand-feeding the flock of ring-necked parakeets (and a few cheeky squirrels) that live there.
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.