Coleridge and a murmuration of starlings

After escaping to the Lake District to visit his friends the Wordsworths, Samuel T. Coleridge was on the overnight coach to London, preparing to face family responsibilities and the reality of earning a living.  At dawn, he was mesmerised by a sight over the wintry fields:

Starlings on a vast flight drove along like smoke, mist, or any thing misty without volition – now a circular area inclined in an Arc – now a Globe – now from complete Orb into an Elipse & Oblong – now a balloon with the car suspended, now a concaved Semicircle – & still it expands & condenses, some moments glimmering & shivering, dim & shadowy, now thickening, deepening and blackening!

In his fascinating biography Coleridge: Early Visions Richard Holmes notes how this vision would haunt the poet long after.  It was

some sort of self image for Coleridge, both stimulating in its sense of freedom, of “vast flight”; and menacing in its sense of threatening chaos or implosion, “Thickening, deepening, blackening”.

This excellent video shot at Otmoor, near Oxford, captures the display before the starlings settle in their roost, building up to an astonishing climax, when the flock becomes almost impossibly dense.

The photograph is taken from a Guardian gallery of starling photographs.

Borrowdale’s rainfall record

Flooding in Cumbria as bad weather sweeps across the UK
It’s official. Scientists at the Met have just annouced that the downpour that fell last November 2009 on Seathwaite Farm in Borrowdale saw 316.4mm of rain fall – statistically a once in 1,800 years event. The previous heaviest rainfall in the UK was at Martinstown, in Dorset, when 279.4mm fell in 24 hours in 1955. More from The Guardian

GDT wildlife photography award for Leeds photo

Among this year’s GDT wildlife photography awards, winner of the “Man and Nature” category is this photograph of Leeds city centre, taken by Paul Hodson.  So where’s the nature, you might ask.  If you look at the traffic light, a small silhouette is visible against the amber: it’s a Mistle Thrush sitting on a nest.

Are foxes dangerous to cats?

On a recent BBC wildlife podcast, fox expert Professor Steve Harris, Bristol University stated that the average urban fox will kill a cat every 6 years, and that some 500 cats live in every fox territory. So the risk is tiny.

A Bristol City Council leaflet writen by Professor Harris gives the follwoing advice:

This is very rare; a survey in northwest Bristol, where foxes were particularly common, showed that they killed 0.7% of the cats each year and these were predominantly young kittens. This means your cat is far more likely to be run over, stray or die from a variety of other causes.

Foxes are only a little bit bigger than a cat (males average about 5.5 kilograms) and are equipped with a set of sharp teeth. Cats have an equally sharp set of teeth, plus some pretty unpleasant sharp claws. If a fox tackles a cat, it risks severe injuries and that is the last thing it wants. Every night a single fox will meet many, perhaps dozens of cats and most encounters are either indifferent or amicable.

Cats and foxes will usually ignore each other. However, some cats are aggressive animals and will go for a fox, sometimes to drive it away from their garden or food bowl. Usually a fox will flee but if this is not practical and particularly if it is cornered, it may defend itself against the cat. Then both animals may be injured.

Finally, although foxes live in family groups and meet up periodically to play or socialise, they hunt alone. So stories of “packs of foxes” roaming the streets killing pet cats are totally fictitious.

Above photo from Wiki Commons of fox and pet rabbit by Oosoom.

Spindle webs

web across nettles

Remarkable photo from the BBC’s Autumnwatch a few years back of spindle trees and bushes (Euonymus europaeus) in a Dorset hedgerow infested with the silk webs of the spindle moth or spindle ermine (Yponomeuta cagnagella). More here with a video.

Spindle ermines weave silk webs to protect themselves from birds and wasps, allowing them to gorge on leaves for six weeks before transforming into the moth. Not known for being bright sparks, they sometimes mistake other objects  for spindle trees such as this car in Rotterdam (Image: Daily Mail).
Moth attack: spindle ermines moth caterpillars covered this car with a giant silk web in Rotterdam

The Peregrine by J.A. Baker

The Peregrine by J. A. Baker
is much more than a detailed observation of the falcon of the title.  The author roams his patch of the Essex countryside, evoking the landscape, the changing light and other wild species he comes across.  As he walks through winter, he notes the cruel impact of an unrelenting freeze, finding a dying heron, “its wings . . .  stuck to the ground by frost”.  He witnesses scenes like the following:

Above the brook a kingfisher hovered.  . . .   It half dived, half fell, and its bill hit ice with a loud click like a bone breaking.  It could see a fish below the ice but it did not know what ice was.  It lay on its belly, stunned or dead, sprawling like a brilliantly coloured toad.

In trying to break free of a human perspective, Baker found a haunting, unsentimental style to describe the natural world on his doorstep. More information on The Peregrine

Fen Raft Spider breeding project

Spider expert Helen Smith has been raising thousands of Fen Raft Spiders in her kitchen, feeding them flies in their test tube nurseries.  But now the surrogate mother has broken the bond and the spiderlings have to go it alone, after being set free in a Suffolk nature reserve.  The Fen Raft spider is a seriously endangered species, one of only two protected spiders in Britain, living in isolated enclaves.  The parents of this new generation of spiderlings were picked from separate populations to enhance their genetic diversity.

Nature and wildlife of Britain