Nature Notes

by Brin Best, Wharfedale Naturalists' Society

My mum tells me that the first word I uttered as a child was 'birdy', though this is disputed by my dad, who claims my mum mis-heard me say 'daddy' on that spring day in 1969!

What is not in doubt, however, is that I became fascinated by nature at a very early age and used to spend long periods looking at the creatures in the garden of my childhood home, captivated by their colours, shapes, sounds and behaviour.

Over 40 years on from these first observations, I'm still finding new things to enjoy about the natural world and this has been exemplified by some intriguing bird behaviour that I have noticed recently in our Otley garden.

I have observed, for the first time ever, adult carrion crows appearing to repeatedly groom and nuzzle their young - rather like something a primate might do. What I found particularly interesting was that fact that it was the young birds that seemed to initiative this grooming activity, frequently flying up to the adults and pushing their heads softly towards their parents' beaks. It looked like the baby crows were really enjoying their parents' caresses.

Crows are notorious for their intelligence, and researchers do not fully understand the range of behaviours that these often surprising birds carry out - and even more mysteriously, why they engage in them.

The warm nights during August have forced us to sleep with our bedroom windows wide open, which has brought the added bonus of a nocturnal nature soundtrack to help lull us to sleep.

Our semi-rural location on the edge of town means that there are plenty of farm animals in the fields around our house. And the recent apperance of several grazing horses has resulted in an often amusing chorus of bleating, mooing and whinnying as three different animals make their distinctive noises in the dark.

One evening, we were woken by the distinctive screeching of some young tawny owls, which were in constant vocal contact with their parents, no doubt hidden away in the tall oak trees that line the main road.

The tawny owl is one of a select band of species that is reasonably common - even in urban areas - yet their habits mean that many people have never actually cast eyes on one. This is, of course, due principally to their almost exclusively nocturnal habits. Tawny owls use their incredible eyesight as a tool of stealth to swoop down on unsuspecting mice and voles in an attempt to satiate the seemingly endless appetites of their growing young.