Thursday 25 June 2015

30 Days of PSL

Not new. But lovely.
My 30 days blog posts really slipped. I was tired. Rubbish! But rest assured I have still been doing wild things each day and recently I have been tearing it up with my Pan-species Listing. Here are some of the new things I have added:

Perez's Frog Pelophylax perezi - I found out yesterday that the 'Marsh Frogs' at Ham Wall and Shapwick Heath are actually Perez's (or Iberian Green) Frogs. Which is pretty cool. They sounded exactly the same as Marsh Frog to me but these are my second amphibian in a month and my third new one this spring!

My trip to Ham Wall also added a couple of freshwater gastropods - Great Ramshorn Planobarius corneus and Great Pond Snail Lymnaea stagnalis. I was with my mate Lee looking for Dace amongst the plethora of Roach and Perch when we noticed gallons of these on the bottom.

After the Large Red Damselfly in South-west Scotland earlier in the month there were three new Odonata ticks in Somerset. The first was a freshly emerged female Emerald Damselfly Lestes sponsa struggling to get itself going in the cool morning air in Cannington where we were staying giving lovely views. A second Damsel that was seen hiding on lily-pads were a few Red-eyed Damselflies Erythroma najas which really were beautiful but always a little distant.

Green Shieldbug and Dock Bug
We also visited an unnamed meadow reserve above the levels for insects and we encountered a couple of species of bug on docks which were both new to me. Several pairs of Dock Bug Coreus marginatus were getting jiggy on the path up and trapped by a couples embrace was a vivid Green Shieldbug Palomena prosena.

Broad Centurian
I have also managed to add a few diptera this month including some non-hoverflies. First off was the belated adding of a Marsh Snipefly Rhagio tringarius at Snakeholme Pastures. The rather striking Mesembrina meridiana was basking on hogweed at Steart while the shiny Broad Centurian Chloromyia formosa was doing likewise. I managed a single hover - the widespread Syrphus ribesii was identified from photos by its largely yellow rear femur (it was a girl).

Wasp Beetle

I also had a productive time with the Coleoptera with several being added from both Somerset and South-west Scotland. My favourite is probably the Wasp Beetle Clytus arietis that I found on hogweed at Steart amongst the flies. A brace of Weevils were found in Somerset with Green Nettle Weevils Phyllobius pomaceus mating on nettles with a chubby little Lily Weevil Monoychus punctumalbum on a Lily funnily enough. A soldier beetle from the moors in Dumfries went by the name of Rhagonycha limbata whilst a beautiful and variable click beetle, Ctenifera cuprea was in the same location.

Large Blue
The unnamed meadow in Somerset turned up a brace of new butterflies - firstly the star of the show, up to five Large Blues Phengaris arion were bothering ants around the thyme while fewer in number were the Small Heaths Coenonympha pamphilus with a triumvirate lower down the meadow.

Another triumvirate, this time of hymenoptera were added with a single Sawfly, Bee and Ant added. The Turnip Sawfly Athalia rosae was chilling on a plant at Steart whilst an Ashy Mining Bee Andrena cinerarea was doing the same at the meadow reserve. The ant, Myrmica sabuleti, is the host of the large blue larvae and was seen commonly around the thyme which sheltered most of their nests. 

The last of the fortnights animals were two awesome spiders. We noticed huge tube-webs all over the meadow we were visiting and out popped a massive female Labyrinth Spider Agelena labyrinthica. This lass was super lovely as was another mother to be - a Nursery-Web Spider Pisaura mirabilis which was carrying around its eggs in a ball underneath.

As you can see - quite a haul and thats just the animals. As many plants again all for the next post...

Wednesday 24 June 2015

TV times

My slightly fuzzy footage of the Montagu's Harriers featured on Look North last night as they ran a feature on them. I had the opportunity to go down for an interview but sadly I had to work.

The video is available here until this evening with the feature starting at 21:30.

Saturday 13 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Days 11 and 12

 A second day of wader surveys on the 11th had me marching around rough pasture and white moorland in Dumfries and Galloway. A more gentle 21km included a pleasant 500m hill which was climbed albeit slowly! The mercury hit 24c as I sweated but the pastures revealed at least three pairs of breeding Curlew although little else. A couple of pairs of Wheatear were seen on screes and posts. Some delightful wild flowers were also noted including Heath Milkwort, Tormentil and Round-leaves Water Crowfoot.

Yesterday, day 12 was a quiet morning of raptor watches in the same location. Sadly aside from a couple of Grey Wagtails all I saw were clouds of midges. I currently have clouds of pimples on my forehead and neck thanks to these. It is definitely time for the jungle formula and midge net!

On the way back to East Yorkshire I passed a field with hay cutting near Loch Ken and circling above this were 25 (twenty five) Red Kites and 2 Buzzards who have obviously been making a killing on the small mammals which had been exposed. A superb site and not something I have seen before.

30 Days Wild #Day 10

Too tired to blog. Wader survey in Dumfries. Red Kite. 24km+. Hot. Sleep now.

Tuesday 9 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 9

Today has been the most fun! I have been doing an education day at Seascale Primary School where we took them down to the beach for some wildlife and nature based activities. My role has been to do some 'bird spotting' with them so I set up and easy survey and a short walk and the kids aged 7-8 were all exceptional fun. We didn't manage to see a huge diversity but we did manage to get them all using some binoculars and showed some of the cool species that live on their doorsteps (and split seagull into at least 4...)

The best bit was the three Curlews heading south and then asking the kids to look for the adaptations and the colouring, explaining their ecology and also playing them some calls to show them where the name comes from. I also managed to find plenty of lugworm casts to highlight what they eat and what the huge bill is for. No photos of the day as it was a school class but later...

Tonight I did a bat survey and managed to see 6 species of bat including my first Nathusias's Pippistrelle. Additionally I saw my first Natterjack Toads and Water Scorpions.

Monday 8 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 8

Today's wild efforts were considerably less engaged than previously. Day 7 started with an empty Swallow nest and finished with soaring Buzzards

No pictures today as I have spent the majority behind the wheel of a car. Early on I had to check that a nest wasn't active and identify the species. What I found was a dry, old and obviously successful Swallow nest from last year. Plenty of House Martins were about but not a lot else.

I drove through the lakes this afternoon specifically around Bassenthwaite and I had a detour around Dodd Wood on the East side. As I got round to the West Lakes there were loads of Buzzards soaring and generally being bothered by crows. Currently I am sat in a beer garden contemplating the education day I'm doing tomorrow...

Sunday 7 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 7

Today to give my wife a little peace and quiet, Izzy, Abby and myself headed off to join my friends Graham and Will Scott, ringing at Tophill Low. The girls were really excited and that went up a notch as we saw Lapwings and a young Hare on the way. We quickly decamped to see a rather steady catch but as we were approaching the ringing site another friend, John Sadler wandered by casually dropping into conversation that a Pacific Swift had just gone through my patch at Barmston. I felt a little sick but a Red Kite lifting out of South Scrub soon put paid to that. It was a Tophill tick for me which come few and far between, largely due to not heading up there often enough!

We waved our goodbyes to John and met up with Will and Graham. A sparse catch was interrupted by a very fine male Bullfinch and a rather grand Blackcap. A sprinkling of retraps were where the interest will lie and whilst I dont know the stories just yet we did say hello to a Willow Warbler that was ringed as an adult in 2013. Attention soon wandered to plants and insects and we managed a fine Cardinal Beetle and several orchid species including Common Spotted and Twayblade. Izzy enjoyed ringing so much she was busy trying to sex her cuddly toys by wing length this evening... On a trip to the toilet with Abby we were kindly shown the baby Tawny Owls in the car park and after telling Izzy we had to go back on the way home.


30 Days Wild #Day 6

After a wild week at work it was time for some down time today and I can't think of anything better than spending some time in my own special piece of the countryside, my patch at Barmston. Here I indulge my Patchwork Challenge efforts on the interface between East Yorkshire and the North Sea.

The wind whipped the sand into the air but I was looking for something else entirely - Bee-eaters. Five had been seen by Martin Garner early on at Flamborough and the same birds roosted in a Bridlington garden for half an hour mid-morning. Alas despite a heavy southerly passage of Swifts it was not to be with the highlight half a dozen House Martins hawking over 'big hill'.

Patchwork Challenge is a birdwatching competition which I help to run. The aim is to see as many species as you can in a year on your patch - 3km2 shaped and located wherever you want. I chose my closest coastal strip and today as well as adding House Martin I also got my first Greylag and Canada Geese of the year. I've been watching Barmston for about three years with many occasional trips beforehand so I have amassed a reasonable list of birds seen there and have seen a handful of scarce and rare birds. One of the best things about patch watching is raising the ordinary to extraordinary through context and today I managed to see a small white heron called a Little Egret on the drain that marks the northern boundary. This species has over 1000 breeding pairs in the UK and is relatively common but this individual was my first at the site. And very special it was too. Less than 20 years ago Little Egrets didn't breed in the UK and in the interim their population has exploded after colonising from Brittany. Plus ca change in my opinion.

Less special for my patch but far more important on a national level were 8 (eight) male Corn Buntings holding territory  dotted around the north of the patch.  These rambunctious, fat and chirpy characters have had somewhat different fortunes to the Little Egret with the population crashing at an alarming rate due to changes in agricultural practice so it was great to hear their song rattling out from a number of vantage points.

2015 has been an average year so far with a productive late winter but poor spring and I find myself on 95 species. Not too bad, not particularly good. A Four-spotted Chaser may not have added to my score but was the first dragonfly of the year for me.

Friday 5 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 5

Today was a fantastic day in Cumbria and North Yorkshire. A mild and still morning greeted me at 4.30am as I headed out to do a breeding bird survey. Now we are so far through the breeding season, song is more muted but I still got a superb variety recorded on this pleasant site.

The best bird was definitely the Spotted Flycatcher that was flying around the top of a Scots Pine. It was my first of the year and a species in a steep decline so it's always good to find them on territory. Aside from this two pairs of breeding Buzzards were great to watch as the crows chased them over the meadows. I also found a small heronry which gives the incongruous views of these gangly hunters perched in treetops.

The CBC methodology for surveying birds involves lots of walking and today I managed to crank out 15 miles. I felt great and made quick progress. I was able to enjoy the wild flowers of the meadows thanks to getting ahead of schedule and noted lots of Early Purple Orchids and Yellow Rattle amongst the endless Buttercups, Red Campion and Herb Robert. The warm air also brought with it my first Painted Lady of 2015. These gorgeous orange and black butterflies can be elusive or commonplace. What sort of year will 2015 be for them? I'm going to be doing the butterfly survey on my bbs tetrad so maybe we shall see!

After I finished I headed home and I staged at Sutton Bank for a rest. A stroll to the viewpoint gave me amazing views of the vale of York and the dales looking hazy in the distance. Gliders circled on thermals like giant raptors in silence except for the wind whipping over their wings. Siskins called and several warblers sang but my heart lifted truely at the brief site of two doves. Two special doves, fresh in from Africa. Two Turtle Doves which have a relative stronghold in the area flew over the visitor centre. These guys are heading for extinction in the UK with massive declines over my lifetime and they have gone missing from swathes of the countryside thanks to a combination of changed agricultural practises, hunting pressure and less food in wintering areas. Forest edges like Sutton Bank are proving valuable enclaves for this beautiful dove with the distinctive purring call.

The final perk of the day was a gravid female Common Lizard which shot across the path toward me and his in plain sight before scurrying away. What a way to round off the day and the first 5 days of 30 days wild.

30 Days Wild #Day 4

I'm sure I should be posting some of the outstanding seascapes I saw today from the bird and marine mammal survey in the Irish Sea or perhaps the dramatic choppy water with flocks of Manx Shearwaters zipping about or even the diminutive fin of a Harbour Porpoise disappearing into the blue. But no, I was too busy counting, recording, chivvying and generally being busy. An early start (pre-5am should be banned) and the buffeting of the sea as a mild swell catching us on the corner made life uncomfortable and a number of those less experienced with this sort of thing turned decidedly green.

I am however blessed with a reasonable constitution and haven't yet had issues with mal de mer. Because of this I was able to enjoy a bevy of common seabirds including Gannets, Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Common Scoter and my first Arctic Tern of the year along with those sights noted above. Great fun but now I'm a little tired!

Tomorrow I am off to undertake a breeding bird survey in the North-west. Fingers crossed for a nice morning and some decent sightings.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 3

Today I visited Burton Mere RSPB to see my friend Ray. He hasn't been so well so it was great to see him looking good and even better there was a summer plumaged Red-necked Phalarope spinning around like Kylie amongst the Black-tailed Godwits. There was loads of Hemlock Water Dropwort aside the reedbed which was a new plant for me. Additionally there was a Willow Warbler which is apparently a very good record for the site.

Aside from visiting Ray I was working on the fringes of the Peak District this morning undertaking wader and raptor surveys on the moorland farmland interface. 

Despite early rain the soundtrack of Curlew and Lapwing soon echoed around the valley as Crows were sent packing presumably to protect chicks hiding in the long sward of the meadows. My first Cuckoo of the year sang it's repetitive di-syllable from wires away to the north. 

Moving to another site above a reservoir and the slightly ropey weather managed to keep activity to a low level but a pair of foraging Buzzards induced an angry reaction from a nesting Kestrel on a cliff. The Buzzards escaped with all their tail feathers still attached but only just. More prosaic but higher in the cute stakes were the troupes of lambs which were at that cute and chubby stage. 

A great day and fab to catch up with Ray for the first time in a couple of years. Day 4 should feature seabirds and perhaps porpoises as I work off the Cumbrian coast.

Tuesday 2 June 2015

30 Days Wild #Day 2

This afternoon the rain abated and the temperature shot up so I decided to take 40 minutes away from my work data and head a mile down the road to Snakeholme Pastures YWT. This seemingly unremarkable and small nature reserve is a little gem and one which I am just scratching the surface on. It is a couple of meadows with small pools set between chalk streams and the Driffield Canal and holds a surprising array of wildlife.

One of the biggest surprises was my first sighting of an adult Marsh Frog. This species is introduced and has spread along the river from Tophill Low but it is very impressive with its belching call from its twin airsacs. It is larger than our native Frog and is more uniform green with a lime stripe down its back. I was investigating the Ragged Robin pictured above when a frog started belching at my feet. I had marvellous views but disappointingly it decided to submerge as I attempted to capture it for posterity on film.

By this time I had given up on the special fish which are present in the chalk streams due to the high winds riffling the surface and making spotting them impossible. I am yet to see the Brook Lampreys here but I am assured they do occur. This species has no jaw and is one of the most prehistoric of fish, foraging by  attaching themselves with their sucker like mouth to a fish and then eating lumps from its victim. Next time...

I did find this rather cute Sawfly, Arge pagana or similar hanging onto the Meadow Buttercups. Plenty of small invertebrates including the golden micro-moth Glyphipteryx simpliciella were about. These guys are out en masse and I suggest you google them as close up they are stunning jewels despite only being 1-2mm long. I also turned up a Downlooker Fly, Rhagio scolopaceus on a Dandelion.

Aside from the invertebrates there were also plenty of flowers out and aside from the common umbellifers and Red Campion there was plenty of Charlock and a presently mysterious umbellifer which resembled Pig-nut. We shall see.

That was Day 2 and Day 3 sees me doing wader and raptor surveys in the Peak District.

30 Days Wild #Day 1

I have signed up to 30 Days Wild to do something Wild everyday in June. Not too hard for an enthusiastic amateur Naturalist and jobbing Ornithologist you may say. Perhaps but it reminds me to engage all the time and to get my girls to engage as well.

Day one had me monitoring a schedule one breeding bird. I just hadn't been told what it was! Imagine my delight when a pair of Peregrines saw off a Buzzard and circled over their nest site in the East Midlands. Away from here I managed to find this gorgeous Malachite Beetle Malachius bipustulatus. It was hiding on a Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare. The beetle is a mini-predator, hunting amongst the flowers and has a decent pair of jaws that can be seen in the photo. Sadly the planned afternoon looking for inverts disappeared thanks to the weather. If the rain ever stops then I will do that today!

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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