Nature and Her Battles of Life or Death
Notes from a Lancashire Countryman.
During a recent hot spell I spent many hours in secluded woodland which incorporates a large pool with lush vegetation. Savouring the ambience of this pastoral location, I gave myself time to observe the comings and goings as nature's alchemy of creatures went about their business. In this peaceful seclusion, watching dappled sunlight shimmering on the water, enhanced by a backdrop of bird song, it was hard to believe that all around me life and death struggles were taking place.
Caterpillars were being gleaned from the trees, their development towards adulthood aborted by the ever searching beaks of birds with young of their own to feed. A heron that that had stood so long motionless belied its lethargic stance by striking suddenly with its dagger like beak, depriving an unsuspecting frog of his life. Lady birds and alser flies were devouring aphids that had congregated in large masses upon the stems of emerging water side plants. Fish regularly came to the surface to feed on any hapless insect unfortunate to be found struggling for release from the water's grip. Over head a fight was occurring between two carrion crows and a sparrowhawk, which eventually conceded to the relentless harassment.
I was witnessing both sides of natures' character. On one hand its apparent peaceful serenity, on the other seeing its uncompromising savagery.However, nature on the whole keeps the balance right. The countless number of caterpillars produced are such that avian offspring can be fed while others will be transformed into the colourful butterfly or moth that we admire so much. If aphids were not culled by a great number of insects and birds, the damage they would inflict on the stems would attain plague proportions.
The frog that provided the heron with its meal will have many brethren to ensure the survival of their like and to maintain the balance of nature. It is harder still, as I sit in this leafy serenity that men are killing each other in far away lands.
During one of my forays to this location I happened upon two school boys who had been partaking in the ancient past time of pond dipping. They had in a jar a fine specimen of the male great diving beetle. Care should be taken when handling this creature, for injury can be caused by the sharp spines on their undersides. Luckily they had not touched the creature with their hands and promised to return the creature by lowering the jar back into the water.
The wood warbler, willow warbler and the chiffchaff are summer visitors to our shores. They enhance the woodland by adding diversity to the range of songs performed by a plethora of singers. The wood warbler, willow warbler and chiffchaff are small birds, more heard than seen, as they spend most of their time concealed within the woodland canopy. Because of their arboreal lifestyle it is somewhat surprising that they choose to build their nests on or close to the ground.
The willow warbler chooses a nest site in the hollow of a bank or in long grass, or less commonly in a bush or wall, but hardly ever more than a metre above the ground. In contrast to the builders neat appearance, the nest of this bird is large and roughly constructed. It utilises hay, moss and other similar dry vegetation woven together and furnished with a loosely domed roof. However, the interior is much tidier, well insulated by softer materials such as feathers. The nest may be located in large gardens,woodland, shrubberies or on commons which also provide good ground over. Despite its common name it shows no preference for willow trees. The eggs usually between five and seven, can first be found towards the end of April, but a second clutch is not uncommon by the end of June.
The wood warbler also makes a nest of a similar style using similar materials. It differs from that of the willow warbler in that the feathers are rarely found in the interior. Egg laying begins from May onwards. The nest site will be confined exclusively to woodlands. The wood warbler is the least common of the three in the North west of England. It is recorded in three regions of Cheshire, throughout Cumbria, six regions of Greater Manchester and ten regions of Lancashire, but this does not include my region of West Lancashire. This species is also a species of conservation concern due to a decline in population numbers.
The smallest of the three, the chiffchaff, builds a nest like that of the willow warbler domed and lined with feathers, but does not place the nest directly on the ground. Instead it is usually located a little way above, in a shrub or bush such as a bramble. The eggs are laid from April until June. The habitat requirements of this charming little bird are well timbered places with trees of at least three metres high and a good range of under growth in which to nest.
The nest of all three species are very hard to locate, which may explain their choice of nesting near the ground which is in contrast to their tree top life style. They also share another similarity in that they have all been included on the green list of conservation concern. This classification means that they are not thought to be in any immediate danger but there are concerns over their population declines.