Redstart Family Fledging

Most years we notice Redstarts arriving in spring and successfully raising a family. This year I have been particularly happy because a pair chose to nest in the double hedgerow that I renovated & planted a few years ago. This has meant that we’ve had the pleasure of watching at least 3 youngsters fledge; quite literally flitting across the hedged walkway that we created. The featured title image above shows the male calling out the fledglings with one vociferous fledgling close by.

Redstarts (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) are members of the Family Muscicapidae or Old World Flycatchers, a group that is well represented locally. In summer the male has quite striking plumage as shown below:

A male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) calling to encourage his fledglings to explore.
A male Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) calling to encourage his fledglings to explore.

They arrive in the UK during April with the males often being a few days in advance of the females. Once paired up, about 5 or 6 blue eggs are laid in a nest. It will take 2 weeks for them to hatch & another 2 to 3 weeks before they fledge.

The female does not have quite such a bright plumage as the male, but she can be seen to flick her warm coloured tail on a regular basis:

Female Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)
Female Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus)

After the parental collection of many spiders, flies & worms (with maybe a few berries too), the young chicks will have grown sufficiently to fledge. The male has certainly been giving encouragement and guidance to the nestlings that we’ve seen. Sitting very quietly in long grass at the side of our walkway, I watched as first one & then all three tried a first short flight of about 7 or 8 feet across to some young hedgerow trees. Here’s a picture of one of the fledglings perched in his new found tree:

A young fledgling Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) takes perches in a hedgerow tree.
A young fledgling Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) perches in a hedgerow tree.

Were there more than 3 fledglings? Possibly, I couldn’t clearly see the nest exit, there was definitely much chirping! Will this year be good enough for these little amber listed passerines to attempt a second brood before leaving for Africa this autumn? They should have the time available, I shall certainly keep a watch. It’s very pleasing to know that our hard work does seem to be helping at least some of the wildlife.

Achieving top speed – Land Animals

There are various mechanical methods of running / galloping along the ground and various physiological developments that can aid this. I was wondering how some of nature’s speed merchants achieve their top speed.

As many an athletics coach will tell you, there are two variables concerned with running quickly – the rate at which one can repeat a stride and the length of that stride. We can represent this by the equation below:

Stride Frequency x Stride Length = Speed

There are many adaptations that have evolved to enable animals to run faster, be they the hunter or the hunted. Let’s briefly consider some of the more significant ones.

  • Skeletal / structural adaptation
      – longer legs allows for a longer stride but requires more co-ordination & effort to control & maintain
      – quadruped vs biped, being quadrupedal has many advantages, including longer stride length, shared muscle effort, potential spinal flexibility in gait
      – increased number of pivot points; running on toes, extension of shoulder in gait – these adaptations can both increase stride length & increase the number of muscle groups that can add to the effort
      – how close to the joint a muscle is connected to the bone, varies the offset between power & rate of stride
  • Physiological adaptation
      – muscle structure; all muscle fibres are not the same, a greater proportion of fast twitch fibres allows for more rapid contraction & repetition of a muscle
      – alimentary canal structure & position; the more energy dense diet of a carnivore, allows for a smaller, simpler gut which in turn can be positioned in a less hindersome point of the body cavity
      – advanced mitochondrial function that enable a greater & more rapid release of ATP to power the muscle contractions

    Animal Locomotion

    SpeciesStride FreqStride LengthTheoretical SpeedTheoretical SpeedReputed Max Spd
    strides / secmetresm/smphmph
    Horse (TB & QH)2.57.518.754250
    Dog (Greyhound)3.5517.53943
    Table showing examples of how creatures achieve their highest speed of travel, with calculated theoretical speed by data given and generally accepted max speed.

    In the table above, I have included sample data for:

      Cheetah – the supreme land speed merchant. Capable of incredible bursts of speed, if only for short distances (typically no more than 400m). This beautiful cat has it all when it comes to peak speed. Extended shoulder & limb flexion, a compact carnivore’s gut placed high & to the rear, significant back flexion, specialised muscles with unique mitochondria.
      Horse – bred for speed by mankind. These equine athlete’s real stand out feature is their ability to provide much of their speed for very long durations. Figures quoted are an average between Quarter-horses and Thoroughbreds.
      Dog – more specifically the Greyhound. Again bred for speed my mankind, the greyhound is the speediest of the canids. Moving in a rotary gallop, the same as a Cheetah (not the same as an equine gallop) they can achieve significant pace along with mediocre stamina.
      Ostrich – fastest of all bipeds. The Ostrich can achieve horse like speed, with good stamina – helped significantly by a long 5m bipedal stride length.
      Human – included here for reference. Humans are not the most efficient of runners, being more of a ‘jack of all trades’, reasonably capable of various other actions too, like climbing trees or swimming.

    Credit: Much of the work on this area was carried out by Hildebrand in the late 1950s – early 1960s. Of course there have been various useful studies since then that are available to view on the internet; try searches like ‘ Animal Locomotion’ or ‘Gait of animals’.

    Note. Cheetah data from captive Cheetahs has so far been unable to repeat the extremes observed in the wild, hardly surprising really.

    Trivia: Did you know that a Cheetah can almost reach top speed in 3 strides, perhaps around 3 seconds. That’s a feat of acceleration to 60mph that few supercars can match.

    A couple of fun & interesting video links: BBC Earth – Greyhound slomo and Bryan Habana & the Cheetah’s struggle for survival.

  • Missed Reflections

    Missed Reflections

    Missed Reflections

    I stand quietly, soaking in my heart-warming surroundings. A thought crosses my mind.

    As we’re whisked, by modern travel & busy lives, from one business or social connection to another; what reflection do we miss?
    Do we lose a valuable perspective, an engaging encounter here, a fulfilling experience there?
    Or do these things simply not matter in our modern world of searching for artificial creatures on our smartphones, for artificial fulfilments in artificial lives.

    I continue to ruminate upon the thought whilst enjoying the sensory inputs around me.

    The bouncing strides of a female Wheatear flashing her pied tail feathers as she goes.
    The gentle caress of a shrimp as it swims across one’s digits.
    A warm sweet petrichor wafting across my nostrils affirming the life giving rains that recently blessed the land.
    The gentle lap of waves, twitter of birds, sigh of breeze.
    Before it is all briefly shattered by the cacophony of a productive unit delivery system whooshing another canned group of humans to their inevitable expedited destinies.

    The thought forms sharp focus in my brain.

    How can we remain connected to nature, rooted in earthy reality; when the only reflection we have time for is our own. The mask we check, the aurora we hope to maintain whilst facing this media centric, image obsessed human sphere that we have created for ourselves.

    Perhaps we would do well to make room for a more natural type of reflection. A reflective consciousness that tethers us to base earth. That feels nature, breathes it, lives within her bounds. How else shall we know the answer to questions like that a wise person once posed …

    “When the last tree is felled, the last river is poisoned …”
    What good will all your money do you as you gasp your last oxygen starved breath through dry parched mouth, hunger pangs in belly?

    I’ve only ever heard one convincing answer… no good whatsoever!

    So how else shall we learn to save ourselves – the greatest conservation challenge that we face.

    We move ever further towards valuing that which we do not need, at the expense of that which we do. In doing so we give ourselves no time to recognise the folly of our own ways.

    Conservation is for People too

    Tamsin & I are very fortunate, we live in a superb part of the world and we only have to walk out of the front door to feel in touch with nature; actually it’s not unusual to find nature coming in to see us! However, not everyone has that availability; yet it is widely recognised that we humans benefit from staying in touch with nature.

    In the poster below, each photo was taken by me, at home, within the last few weeks. The young buzzard on the post was taken from our front doorstep. Another time I was watching him perched in an oak tree, when the locally tagged 2008 Red Kite flew overhead. The wild flowers are growing in the meadow that we have targeted for this purpose; it’s teeming with grasshoppers, spiders, frogs, small birds, etc. Whilst it takes some effort & cost, we are convinced that it is all well worthwhile.

    Image with flowers & birds of prey
    Wildlife at Foel Friog

    Yes I’m very interested in saving the environment for all the creatures that live in it but that includes us humans too. The world will be such a poorer place for the generations that follow us, if we cannot or do not take the trouble to preserve the amazing variety of natural beauty around us.

    Everyone can play their part, there are so many things we can do – I personally would encourage people to actually do something directly positive; actions speak so much louder than words and besides it’s so very much more rewarding than simply evangelising like I am here! 😉

    Here’s a few ideas (one or two may be controversial, but hey this is me writing):

    – In the garden: make a wildlife pond, plant berry bearing shrubs, plant bee friendly nectar rich flowers, leave some of the grass longer.

    – In your neighbourhood: volunteer at your local wildlife reserve or with a local wildlife trust, keep your pets supervised & under control.

    – In life: make a commitment that the balance of your life will be a positive impact on this planet, consider only having a small family.

    – After life: consider leaving a small donation to an environmental charity of your choice.

    But, perhaps above all, keep in touch with nature and have FUN doing it.

    “Pied FlyCatchers” On this rather wet #songbirdsaturday  (we’ve recorded 4.75 inches of rain in t…

    "Pied FlyCatchers"

    On this rather wet #songbirdsaturday  (we've recorded 4.75 inches of rain in the last 24 hours) I'd like to spare a thought for all the birds trying to safely rear a family. 

    We're lucky enough to have Pied Flycatcher's breeding on the farm and with some help their numbers seem to be improving. I am however rather concerned about the riverside brood today, the river is very swollen and the brood must have been near to fledging.

    Here are 3 photos:
    1] Male perched in tree, with caterpillar
    2] A different male returning to one of our nest boxes
    3] A female anxiously looking out of her riverside nest (I spent almost an hour chest deep in the river for that photo!)

    Hope you enjoy them.

    #wales   #conservation   #wildlifephotography