I was doing some work in my bedroom when I glanced out of the window and noticed a butterfly fluttering outside. Nothing unusual in that, you might think – but it’s still January and butterflies don’t do winter, do they? So I emailed the charity Butterfly Conservation and had an unusually interesting response. It’s all down to global warming, apparently, and this insect is a clear indicator:
Many thanks for your message and your sighting. We’ve received quite a few Red Admiral sightings during January from across southern Britain. It is normal to see Red Admirals in the winter nowadays, but your surprise is justified because 10 or 20 years ago it would have been extraordinarily astonishing to see one.
The status of the Red Admiral butterfly in the UK has changed over that time from being just a summer visitor and breeding species, which arrived from southern Europe in the spring and departed in the autumn, to being a year-round resident. Some still migrate of course, but there is now a substantial permanent population that stays here during the winter. It is now our most commonly seen winter butterfly, by far. What’s more, Red Admirals continue to breed here during the winter, so there are also Red Admiral caterpillars around right now.
Unlike our other butterflies, which are tucked away in hibernation during the winter, Red Admirals do not go into a proper hibernation. They simply roost on days of bad weather and then wake and fly around when the conditions are better.
The other astonishing thing about this is the realisation that these flimsy wings could migrate hundreds of miles…
Goosanders remain amongst my favourite birds, so when I read that there were half a dozen at Woorgreens Lake in the Forest of Dean a couple of weeks ago, I decided to go to see them. Goosanders are like mallards in being ducks in the way that Beethoven is like Kylie in being musicians: none of this tame quacking on the lake shore, goosanders are majestic birds that generally don’t like humans and for food prefer to dive for fish. I arrived at Woorgreens and to my surprise saw a whole flock of them on the far side of the lake – 23 in all, and 19 in the picture below.
Now I admit my limitations as a wildlife photographer, but just once in a while some creature poses to have its picture taken. What better place than Slimbridge, you might think, with lots of unusual bird species. A pity that the animal in question is a mammal which lacks any rarity value at all…
I don’t often get too excited by video clips on the Internet, but the Russian crow tobogganing down a roof on a jamjar lid is a major exception. Crows are known for clever examples of tool use… but this is a crow using a tool just to have fun. This blows away any notion that birds are concerned only about the grim realities of survival. It’s possible that, when a bird sings, it’s not just trying to attract a mate, or just defending a territory – but actually enjoying itself at the same time…