I spent a very productive few hours watching a couple of Robins toiling backwards and forwards to their nest with food for their nestlings. Then I realised they were picking up a white object and carrying it from the nest. I had no idea what they were doing or what it was so when in doubt "Google It". This is what I found:
A faecal sac is a mucous membrane, generally white or clear with a dark end, that surrounds the faeces of some species of nesting birds. It allows parent birds to more easily remove faecal material from the nest. As well as the outer casing (faecal sac), bird droppings have two parts: brown faecal matter (the food waste from their intestines) and white urine. Urine is produced by the kidneys as they filter the blood, and much of the waste is poisonous nitrogen-based molecules. The nitrogen in our urine is in the form of urea, which is clear and yellowish, so toxic that it must be diluted with a lot of water. The nitrogen in bird (and most reptile) urine is in the form of uric acid, which is white. Uric acid is toxic, too. But if it is very concentrated, it turns into a solid, or precipitates, becoming chalky. Producing uric acid is one way that bird bodies conserve water. The nestling usually produces a faecal sac within seconds of being fed; if not, a waiting adult may prod around the youngster's cloaca to stimulate excretion. Young birds of some species adopt specific postures or engage in specific behaviours to signal that they are producing faecal sacs. For example, nestling curve-billed thrashers raise their posteriors in the air, while young cactus wrens shake their bodies. Other species deposit the sacs on the rim of the nest, where they are likely to be seen (and removed) by parent birds. In some species, the faecal sacs of small nestlings are eaten by their parents. The parents can take advantage of the food still in the droppings. Eating from the droppings allows the parents to give more of the worms and insects they find to the nestlings rather than eating this food themselves but once the droppings contain more bacteria, the parents will stop eating them! In other species, and when nestlings are older, sacs are typically taken some distance from the nest and discarded. Nestlings generally stop producing faecal sacs shortly before they fledge. Removal of faecal material helps to improve nest sanitation, which in turn helps to increase the likelihood that nestlings will remain healthy. It also helps to reduce the chance that predators will see it or smell it and thereby find the nest.
I had no idea! Did you?
8 March 2019
Furry, fast, occasionally chubby. Small, whiskered, bushy-tailed. An expert climber. A nut eater. And grey.
For those in the UK, everything was going great until the mention of Grey. You were probably thinking “cute” and “cuddly”, and feeling positive about this mystery mammal. Until you discover it is the grey and not the red squirrel.
Grey squirrels are a contradiction. They have all the characteristics of animals that people tend to love, and yet they are actively persecuted by humankind
So why such a bad press for grey squirrels?
Greys were deliberately introduced from North America in the late 19th century as an exotic addition to country estates. They soon spread across the UK, however, and today the invaders are the dominant squirrel across almost all of England and Wales and much of Scotland and Ireland.
But hostility towards invasive animals can’t explain the grey squirrel’s unpopularity – as other non-native species don’t get the same negative attention. The UK’s naturalised mammals include the brown hare, the edible dormouse, and sika deer. Even the much-loved rabbit is a Roman import.
Instead, grey squirrels are disliked because of the harm they cause to their native relatives, red squirrels. Studies have shown that greys can outcompete reds – the two species do not directly fight for resources, it is just that the greys are better at gathering the nuts and berries that both live off.
Grey squirrels are also unknowingly the carrier of a disease, squirrel pox, to which they are immune, but sadly the red is not. For red squirrels, the pox means painful scabs, ulcers and almost certain death (although some are finally developing resistance). The pox itself may actually be the chief “evil immigrant” in this eco-relationship, with the grey squirrel simply moving into vacant habitat following an epidemic among local red squirrels.
What to look for
As its name suggests, this squirrel typically has a grey coat with white undersides, though the coat colour can also be quite brown. It is up to 30cm long with a bushy tail almost as long as the body. The hind legs are bigger and more powerful than the front legs.
When and where to see
The grey squirrel can be found in a wide range of habitats, including deciduous, mixed deciduous/coniferous woodland, suburban parks and domestic gardens. It is active during the day, spending most of its time in the trees, but often coming down to the ground to search for food. It is a superb climber, moving rapidly through the trees and leaping between them with ease. It is one of the few mammals which can climb head first down a tree.
Grey squirrels do not hibernate, so may be seen at all times of the year. However, in winter they are far less active, sleeping for long periods, sometimes several days at a time, and they are less frequently spotted during this season.
Did you know?
- Grey squirrels are mainly herbivorous, eating acorns, hazelnuts, berries, fungi, buds and shoots, and even bark. However, on rare occasions when plant food is very scarce they will eat insects, smaller rodents, bird eggs and nestlings.
- Grey squirrels breed twice a year, December to February and May to June. The first litter of 2-6 pups is born in February to March, the second in June to July. The gestation period is about 44 days. The young are weaned at 7 weeks and leave the nest after 10 weeks.
- Grey squirrels build a large, untidy looking nest (drey), in the treetops or hollow tree trunks. The drey is usually lined with moss, thistledown, dried grass, and feathers.
- Squirrels collect nuts and seeds in the autumn and bury them in many scattered hiding places or caches around the wood. They have a highly-developed spatial memory and acute sense of smell, which aid them in finding the caches even weeks or months later. Even so, many caches remain uneaten each year allowing the seeds and nuts to grow, so helping to disperse the tree’s seeds through the woodland.
Facts Courtesy of Urban Wildlife and Napier University
13 December 2018
I recently returned from a 3 day visit to Edinburgh (December 2 - 5) and was surprised at a distinct lack of Xmas decorations especially at The Royal Yacht, Holyrood Palace, and the main shopping area Princess Street. However the Xmas market was in full swing complete with funfair. It was a spectacle of lights,sounds, and aromas of a large selection of foods and mulled wines and of course the hub bub of the crowds. Hear are some of the pics I took including, The Royal Yacht,Holyrood Palace (very dissappointing), Forth Bridges, Royal Mile and night views of the Xmas Market and Fun Fair. As we travelled by air I didn't take a tripod/monopod so all pics are hand held with the new Fuji XT3. Hope you enjoy.
13 October 2018
To be successful in photography you need to be in the right place at the right time. Sometimes this is due to careful planning but nine times out of ten it is a matter of pure luck. Luck was with me on this day. I was planning an early morning foray on a misty morning at dawn with the intention of getting some deer rutting pics. I didn't want to go blundering around in the dark disturbing the wildlife I intended to photograph, so I decided to do a recce in daylight. It was a very wet blustery afternoon so off I go with camera in hand just in case. It wasn't long before I spotted deer but a long way away. I mentally marked a couple of likely spots that were accessible in the dark without having to use lights. Just getting ready to return to the car feeling quite pleased that a plan was hatched when I spotted deer a long way away but on the move and heading in my direction. I hunkered down behind the fence which would also act as a support for the camera and waited. Imagine my excitement when they continued straight towards me oblivious of my presence. I knew the minute they sensed me they would be off so there was only going to be one chance at getting any pics.... here are some of them.....