Dear Readers, in my Magic Animals post last week I asked to hear about the animals that you most enjoy when they visit your garden, and today I have two very different sets of critters for your delectation. First up is Mike, who lives in the beautiful Valais area in Switzerland. Mike blogs at Alittlebitoutoffocus and his posts are always full of splendid photos of flowers and butterflies, so when I find myself pining for the mountains (which has been a frequent occurrence this year) I can pop over and cheer myself up.One bird that Mike sees regularly that we don’t get in the UK is the Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris), a bird closely related to our dunnock, and with a similarly intriguing sex life. The birds hang out in groups of 3-4 females and a similar number of males. The females will attempt to mate with all the chaps, and the males will aim for similar success with the ladies. However, one of the males is likely to be more dominant and so will try to prevent the other males from mating if he can. It all sounds a bit ‘Abigail’s Party’ to me, but it just goes to show that even a non-descript little brown bird can have a whole lot of fun.
And then there’s a bird that I’ve never seen in East Finchley: though it’s a British native, it loves the coniferous forests of Scotland. What a cracking photo this is!
Crested tits survive through the winter by winkling out the insects that hide in pine cones and in bark. It’s a very distinctive and talkative little bird (allegedly since I have never been lucky enough to hear one 🙁 ) and apparently it is ‘easily approached’. No chance of finding one in my garden, I fear, but how lucky we all are that Mike is a dab hand with the camera.
And now to the other end of the world: Anne blogs every single day from her home in South Africa, and she has a garden bird list that is easily six times the length of mine. Her blog, Something Over Tea, is a fascinating insight not just into the wildlife of the area, but into the community as a whole. And she has some truly spectacular birds visiting her garden – how about this African Harrier Hawk (Polyboroides typus)?
What a spectacular bird! And apparently it has double-jointed knees, so that it can reach into inaccessible cracks and crannies for prey – it will hang from a weaver bird nest with one foot while searching inside with the other one for nestlings. Its ability to climb and its omnivorous eating habits (it eats the fruit of the oil palm as well as all the usual small creatures) make it a successful and adaptable bird.
I was even more jealous about this visitor, although I can understand that I might be in a minority.
This is a puff adder, responsible for more deaths from snakebite in Africa than any other species. This is for a variety of reasons: it’s a widespread and relatively common snake, it can turn up in heavily populated areas, and apparently it has an ‘aggressive disposition’. When I visited the Kruger, our guide told us that the snake likes to sleep on the paths at night because they’re warmer, which is not good when combined with a local populace who often go barefoot. However, as they have especially long fangs which can penetrate soft leather, even your shoes might not protect you. Nonetheless, like most snakes attacking is a last resort: the snake will puff up and hiss continuously, while deciding whether to strike or to retreat. I love the matter-of-fact way in which Anne describes the encounter:
‘This Puffadder had been seen in our garden for several days in a row and
then one evening decided to venture into our house. Needless to say it
was bundled out forthwith!’
So there we go. Gardens vary so much from place to place, from country to country, and yet we all love to see the wildlife that visits. If you have photos of creatures in your garden, drop me a line on firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll feature you in one of my future posts. In the meantime, do drop in on Mike at Alittlebitoutoffocus and Anne at Something Over Tea for a taste of drops in to visit gardens in other parts of the world.