May 2017: Wildlife Blog

April 28 2017

Last month I took a flight of fancy with the wild daffodil but this month my feet are firmly back on our city streets. I decided to consider your plight if your smart shoes never taste mud and you don’t even own a pair of binoculars. Do not despair – everything described here can be seen without specialist equipment and without even leaving the pavement!

Last month I took a flight of fancy with the wild daffodil but this month my feet are firmly back on our city streets. I decided to consider your plight if your smart shoes never taste mud and you don’t even own a pair of binoculars. Do not despair – everything described here can be seen without specialist equipment and without even leaving the pavement!

Once, many years ago, we stood at the top of Park Street gazing up at a peregrine soaring around the Wills Tower. When it had disappeared from view we looked down to find that we had collected quite a crowd, craning their necks. Not one of them asked what we were looking at! Nowadays the peregrines are joined by ravens and you can see both throughout the city. Listen out for the raven’s doom-laden croak (or cronk) but the best trick is to notice when there is a sudden aerial disturbance.  The crows will fly up to chase off the intruders, the pigeons will scatter. A sparrowhawk has the same effect as it describes elegant circles in the air above our parks and gardens, easily visible from the street. 

There is also plenty to see when you look down –the walls that line our pavements provide a distinctive wildlife habitat. Native species living on damp, shady walls include several ferns, such as the well-named wall rue, and dog violets, usually a woodland flower, somehow scrape a living in that crack between wall and pavement. In some streets this crack is lined with a jumble of plants including native weeds (plants of open ground such as poppies and dandelions), garden plants gone feral (such as those opulent purple bellflowers) and other woodland species, such as pendulous sedge, all elbowing for space in an odd mix that occurs nowhere else.  

Where there are plants, there are animals: you can often see a butterfly perched on a sunny surface, particularly red admirals and small tortoiseshells, warming up before flying away again. Moths can spend the day camouflaged on a rough wall - once you are tuned in to the outline you’ll be surprised how many you can spot.  

Actually living on the wall, lion of this miniature vertical savannah, is the zebra spider. It likes a warm wall, stalking its planes, the predator of very small insects. It may only be half a centimetre long but it can leap distances of several centimetres and defy gravity by landing safely back on its vertical surface. There are even a few rarities - most obvious is the strange brownish pink flower spike of the ivy broomrape. This parasitic plant, completely without leaves, dispensing altogether with chlorophyll, grows on the roots of ivy, taking all its sustenance directly from that plant. It is nationally scarce, but is relatively common in our area; look for it on the ground wherever you see ivy. Happy city hunting!