Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hedgehogs and Hibernation


I saw my first hedgehog of 2014 last week when we were on the beautiful windswept island of Great Cumbrae, a ten minute ferry ride from Largs on the west coast of Scotland. The hedgehog was rootling around in a grassy bank in the grounds of the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, the smallest cathedral in Britain.

I shall be logging the sighting on the Hedgehog Street site as part of the hibernation survey. The aim of this survey is to see if there are links between climate change and the hedgehog's hibernation patterns.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

Tree Following 2: Silver Birch



This post is the second in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run from the Loose and Leafy blog. 

Since my last 'Tree Following' post I have another bird to add to the list, namely the Starling. The bird visited the feeder on 9 March, missing my first bulletin by two days. It returned on 14 March with a mate. The Great Spotted Woodpecker has only been seen once this month.


Starling and Robin onSilver Birch feeder

I am not sure what variety of Silver Birch I am following. What I do know is that these trees are considered a good choice for small spaces between houses because their root systems rarely interfere with foundations. I recall a song we used to sing round the camp fire at my Brownie pack meetings in about 1970. It was about North America and ran thus,

'Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver,
where still the mighty moose wanders at will ...'

I was surprised to discover much later on that the Silver Birch is also one of our British native species. The Silver Birch is monoecious, meaning that it has male and female flowers (aka catkins) on the same tree. I will hope to post photos of these in due course.

Base of the Silver Birch


And now for a couple of diary entries.

Diary entry for Monday 17 March
I was 'tree watching' when a Blue tit landed under the branches of the Silver Birch in front of me. It pecked around in the soft grass and moss for a moment, and soon its bill emerged full of a large bundle of nesting material. It flew up to the tree, by-passing the coconut halves, and landed on the circular feeder. I was expecting the bird to take the nesting material into the feeder through one of the Blue tit-sized holes, but instead it allowed its nesting material to drop to the ground and began instead to feed off a fatball inside the feeder.

Diary entry for Wednesday 26 March
Was it only yesterday on my blog that I commented on the spring weather, contrasting it with a year ago when the garden was covered in a blanket of snow? Well, this morning put paid to my optimism. A wintry shower arrived out of a sombre sky, sprinkling the undergrowth at the base of the Silver Birch with a dusting of hail. The feisty Robin was the first bird to alight on and flutter around the coconut feeder, and for a few moments it felt like Christmas.

26 March: a sprinkling of hail around the foot of the tree ...

Hailstones

This is my round-up of species seen so far (on, in, under, over or around the Silver Birch):

Birds

TFb1:   Great Spotted Woodpecker [March]
TFb2:   Great tit [March]
TFb3:   Long-tailed tit [March]
TFb4:   Blackbird [March]
TFb5:   Song Thrush [March]
TFb6:   Blue tit [March]
TFb7:   Robin [March]
TFb8:   Magpie [March]
TFb9:   Wood Pigeon [March]
TFb10: Dunnock [March]
TFb11: Starling [April]

Insects

TFi1: Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
TFi2: Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
TFi3: Brimstone Butterfly [April]
TFi4: 7-spot Ladybirds [April]

Molluscs

TFm1: Brown-Lipped Snail  [March]

Flora

TFf1: Snowdrops [March]
TFf2: Daisy [March]
TFf3: Dandelion [March]

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Home patch ~ eye-catching insects


It's lovely to see (most) insects reappearing after the winter. I am not a fan of wasps, having ended up at A&E after my last sting, but I enjoy seeing the different Hoverflies that come into the garden. I find Hoverflies hard to identify but I'm wondering if this is E. Corollae

Small Tortoiseshell, home patch, 24 March 2014

The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, on the other hand, is easy to spot. The only other similar butterfly in the UK is the Large Tortoiseshell, which is extremely rare here, and only seen very occasionally as a migrant.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Shingle Street Birds (and updated 2014 bird list)



Shingle Street is an extraordinary and windswept stretch of the Suffolk coast. It is a a good place for unusual plants, and the Sea Kale is no exception. The plant displays vibrant purple shades early in the season before turning green


The photo above gives a fair impression of the landscape. The beach is very unstable or vulnerable, and these banks of shingle shift in the storms. The building on the extreme right is a martello tower


I looked down at one point and saw this strange cup. It was dry and a bit like paper or parchment, similar in texture to a wasp's nest, but I think it was just a dried-out puffball.  


There were several pipits about, soaring up above and diving down into the grass. I think this is a Meadow Pipit, but - as ever - please feel free to put me straight! The birds were very active in the undergrowth and were hard to photograph. 


The first bird I saw on arrival was a Wheatear, another 'first' for 2014. I have seen these at Minsmere, further up the coast, but had not seen them at Shingle Street before.


Wheatear

We also saw a Reed Bunting at Shingle Street yesterday - although the photo below (better than yesterday's) was taken last year at WWT Welney.  

Reed Bunting

And finally, a Little Egret soared past as the sky began to turn from blue to grey.


A year ago Suffolk was under snow. This year the sun is shining although we had one of the few frosts of the winter this morning. The garden is looking spring-like, and the blossom round and about is a joy to behold.


Bird List 2014, updated 24 March 2014

Blue indicates that the bird was seen somewhere other than on my home patch or at Minsmere.
Yellow indicates my home patch.
Purple indicates Minsmere. 

If you click on the bird names in the list immediately below, you will be taken to the RSPB site about the species mentioned.

  1. Bar-tailed Godwit (1 bird, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  2. Barn Owl (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere) 
  3. Blackbird (1 bird, male, leucistic stripe, 8 January, home patch)
  4. Black-headed Gull (about 25, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  5. Blue tit (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  6. Buzzard (1 bird, 11 January, near Eyke)
  7. Canada Goose (small flock, 9 January, Wherstead)
  8. Carrion Crow (about 20, 5 January, field near Leiston)
  9. Chaffinch (2 birds, 5 January, Minsmere)
  10. Collared Dove (1 bird, 5 January, up the lane from Minsmere reserve)
  11. Common Crane (1 bird, probably juvenile, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  12. Common Scoter (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere) - red conservation status
  13. Cormorant (several, 4 and 5 January, Minsmere and Ipswich Waterfront)
  14. Curlew (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  15. Dunnock (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  16. Egyptian Goose (4 birds, 1 February, near Lackford Lakes)
  17. Goldfinch (1 bird, 22 January, home patch)
  18. Great Northern Diver (1 bird, 16 January, Alton Water, Shotley Peninsula) 
  19. Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  20. Great tit (2 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  21. Green Woodpecker (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere)
  22. Greenfinch (7 birds, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  23. Grey Heron (1 bird flying over, 4 February, home patch) 
  24. Greylag Goose (small flock, 16 January, Wherstead)  
  25. House Sparrow (4 birds, 12 January, Minsmere)
  26. Herring Gull (1 bird, 3 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  27. Jackdaw (4 birds, 1 February, Ickworth)
  28. Kestrel (2 birds, 5 January, Rendlesham)
  29. Lapwing (9 birds, 4 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  30. Little Egret (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  31. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January, home patch)
  32. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  33. Mallard (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  34. Mandarin (pair, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  35. Marsh Harrier (2 birds, 12 January, Minsmere) 
  36. Meadow Pipit (small flock, 24 March, Shingle Street)
  37. Moorhen (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  38. Mute Swan (2 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge) 
  39. Oystercatcher (1 bird, 16 January, Wherstead)
  40. Pheasant (1 female bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  41. Pied Wagtail (1 bird, 15 January, Waterfront, Ipswich) 
  42. Redshank (2 birds, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  43. Redwing (about 9 birds, 26 January, local hospital) - red conservation status
  44. Reed Bunting (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  45. Robin (1 bird, 1 January, home patch) 
  46. Rook (flying in roost, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  47. Shelduck (8 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  48. Shoveler (2 birds. 19 Januray, Minsmere)
  49. Song Thrush (1 bird, ringed, 17 January, home patch) - red conservation status
  50. Tawny Owl ('Mabel', Christchurch Park, 13 February)
  51. Teal (about 20 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  52. Turnstone (15 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  53. Wheatear (1 bird, 24 March, Shingle Street)
  54. Wigeon (about 10 birds) 16 January, Wherstead)
  55. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  56. Wren (1 bird, 8 January, home patch) 

Home Patch list for first sightings ...

  1. Blackbird (1 bird, male, leucistic stripe, 8 January)
  2. Blue tit (2 birds, 2 January)
  3. Chaffinch (1 bird, 8 January)
  4. Dunnock (1 bird, 8 January) 
  5. Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 bird, 27 January)
  6. Great tit (2 birds, 4 January)
  7. Greenfinch (1 bird, 8 January) 
  8. Grey Heron (1 bird flying over, 4 February)
  9. Little Egret (1 bird flying over, 27 January) 
  10. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January)
  11. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January)
  12. Robin (1 bird, 1 January) 
  13. Song Thrush (1 bird, 17 January, home patch, ringed) - red conservation status
  14. Starling (1 bird, 10 January)
  15. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January)
  16. Wren (1 bird, 8 January)

First wild mammals of 2014 ...
  1. Grey Squirrel (1, 12 January, Minsmere) 1st squirrel in home patch seen on 13 Jan.
  2. Fox (1, 1 February 2014, Lakenheath) 
  3. Hare (2, 1 April 2014, near Bury St Edmunds)
  4. Muntjac Deer (1 doe, 11 January, Rendlesham Forest) 
  5. Otter (2, 12 January, Minsmere)  
  6. Rabbit (several, 5 January, Minsmere)  
  7. Rat (2, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  8. Red Deer (2 does, 12 January, Minsmere)
  9. Stoat (1 fleetingly, 12 January, Minsmere)

First amphibians of 2014 ...
  1. Common Frog and spawn (73 frogs, 10 March, Felixstowe)

First Ladybirds of 2014 ...
  1. 7-spot (3, 10 March, home patch)

First Lepidoptera of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified moths on window (home patch)
  2. Small Tortoiseshell (5 March, home patch)
  3. Brimstone butterfly (2 April, home patch)

First gastropods of 2014 ... 
  1. Brown-lipped Snail (7 March, home patch)

First arachnids of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified spider (8 January, home patch)  

First insects (other than lepidoptera, odonata and ladybirds) of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified flies, ?Blue bottles (25 January, home patch)   
  2. Buff-tailed Bumblebee (5 March, home patch)
  3. Ant (20 March, home patch) 
  4. Early Bumblebee (20 March, home patch) 
  5. Unidentified Hoverfly (24 March, home patch)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Lighthouse (Blog) Award



My thanks to Juliet Wilson aka Crafty Green Poet for nominating me for The Lighthouse Award for this blog. Juliet blogs about the environment, about poetry and about her craft projects that involve recycled material. Juliet has edited the online poetry magazine, Bolts of Silk, since 2006.

The award was created by Coach Muller at ‘Good Times Stories’ who says this is “an award to recognize the people who have created beautiful, heartwarming, and inspirational blogs. Their blogs bring us happiness, enlighten our hearts, and bring a little joy to our lives when we visit their pages. The work that these people have done has truly given us rays of light in a gloomy world."


Mabel the Tawny Owl


And now it falls to me to nominate others for the Award. I have chosen a variety of bloggers from the USA to the Philippines, with interests largely in the realms of poetry, photography and the natural world. Do visit the listed blogs and enjoy the variety!

So in the hope that one or two of the following blog friends will accept the award and pass it on to other bloggers, I nominate (in no particular order) ...

  • Matt for his blog, Polyolbion, which blends poetry matters and reviews with birding.
  • Em for her blog, Dartmoor Ramblings, with art and stunning photographs of Dartmoor.
  • Adam for his detailed blog, My Life Outside, about wildlife in South Wales (and sometimes on Mull).
  • Lucy at Loose and Leafy, hosting the 2014 blog initiative, 'Tree Following'.
  • Marc for his innovative Folding Mirror Poetry.
  • Naquillity for her natural-world based poesaics and fototudes. 
  • Andrea for her blog, Pure Oxygen Generators, from the Philippines
  • Mary for her USA-based Faith, Fabric and Photos ... wonderful quilts and stunning birds! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Beautiful Birds ~ Barn Owl



I have spotted quite a few owls since we moved to Suffolk, and this is the latest. 
We were driving along a road in the Bawdsey area over the weekend 
when this fine creature caught our attention. 


I was expecting a Short-eared Owl, since I know that this species has been seen not far away, 
but I'm pretty sure this creature is a Barn Owl
The heart-shaped face is quite prominent.



As you can see, the light was fading fast. 
We were a good distance from the bird, so my zoom lens was sorely tested!


The owl spent a few minutes quartering the large expanse of open field, 
between the road and a wooded area.


You can just make out the barred colouring on the wings in the photo below.
I suspect this may suggest that the bird was a female. 


The owl disappeared from view after a few minutes,
and we reached Bawdsey just in time to watch the sun setting over Felixstowe. 


I have logged the sighting on the iSpy a Barn Owl page of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

For some wonderful photography of owls in Suffolk, see ...


------------


N.B. My 'Tree Following 2014' post is HERE. The Loose and Leafy page about the project is HERE.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Amphibian Alert ~ Frogs Galore

N.B. My 'Tree Following 2014' post is HERE. The Loose and Leafy page about the project is HERE.



After a tip-off from the Landguard Bird Observatory, we went in search of frogs. I failed to see an amphibian at all last year, but this sighting more than made up for that fact.


This marshy area was apparently part of Horse Shoe Creek up until 1867 when it was brought into use by HM War Department for rifle practice. The pond was dug in 1993 and is now a haven for wildlife.


We counted 73 Common Frogs, and there were probably more in among the spawn and the weed. Leeches, Hemiclepsis marginata, were noted in the pond back in 2011. 



Frogs tend to emerge from hibernation in late February. The females spawn almost immediately. 


There are frequently 300-400 eggs in a clump! 


Spawn was noted here from 29 March in 2013, so our milder winter has brought things forward. 


The pond is part of a Nature Reserve, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the rarity of vegetated shingle habitat nearby. 


I was fascinated by the lighter colour of the frog on the left. The sunlight was low and it was hard to get a crisp photo. Females tend to be a lighter colour than than the males, though frogs have a certain ability to change the tone of their skin to match the light or shade of their environment. Common Frogs come in a surprising range of shades, stripes and speckles.



Common frogs can live up to eight years.


Females tend to be larger than their mates.


Female frogs begin producing spawn once they reach their third year. 








The photo above shows the wide windswept beach at Felixstowe's Landguard Point.



 And finally ... a photo showing conservation work in action, protecting the habitat of the rare Stinking Goosefoot.

Ladybird Alert ~ 7-spots on home patch

N.B. My 'Tree Following 2014' post is HERE. The Loose and Leafy page about the project is HERE.



It was good to see my first Ladybirds of 2014 in the garden today. There were three 7-spots in close proximity. The other two were skittish and kept running under the leaves, so I only have the one half-decent photo!  

I have logged the Ladybirds on the UK Ladybird Survey website ... where you can also log your sightings. 



Friday, 7 March 2014

'I'm Following a Tree' Project ... and you can join in, too



I have chosen a Silver Birch as my tree and will be taking part in the new project, 'I'm Following a Tree', run from the wonderful Loose and Leafy blog. If you would like to join in with a tree of your choice, you will find the contact details here and here



My tree is nothing very special in terms of outward appearance. It was probably part of a mass order of trees planted by contractors when new houses were built some twenty years ago. Since then it has been pruned back because space is limited. A bird feeder and a couple of fat-filled coconuts (one with mealworms) hang from the tree.



Over the course of the following weeks and months, I shall hope to explore some of the following aspects, listed in no particular order (though I may get sidetracked by other tree-things as we go along) ...

  • The Silver Birch - its history, habitats, features, appearance.
  • Seasonal changes.
  • Flora - plants that grows on the tree (lichen) and around it.
  • Fauna - particularly birds, and I already have a cast of 'usual suspects' in mind.
  • Insect life - my personal preferences here are butterflies, ladybirds and dragonflies ... but who knows what I will find.
  • 'X' the unknown factor(s) ...

All my posts linked to the project will be labelled 'Tree Following 2014'.

I took part in a similar project called 'The Tree Year' when I lived in Wales back in 2011, so know already just how rewarding these observational schemes can be!

I can't resist beginning this journey with the birds who visit this tree. I will give each species a number with the 'Tree Following' prefix, TF.

I watch these birds every day and find great enjoyment in observing their habits.


TF1 Great Spotted Woodpecker

The Great Spotted Woodpecker is to my eye the most striking. She feeds on the fat-filled coconuts that dangle from the Silver Birch and has been known to perch on the tree itself. She is an occasional visitor, who comes with stealth when she feels no one is looking. The photos below were taken through my 'hide' of double-glazing!


TF1 on the Silver Birch

The Great tit below seems to come high up in the pecking order! It will be interesting to see whether the Great tits or the feisty Robins win out. The Great tit below was investigating the feeder.

TF2 Great tit

This photo below was also taken through glass. You can see the catkins, which I will try to shoot again in better conditions.


TF2 Great tit

This handsome little fellow (TF3) is a Long-tailed tit. I have never knowingly shared a home patch with these wonderful birds before. The Silver Birch is visited regularly by a blitz of five Long-tailed tits. The one in the photo was perching a metre away from the tree, preparing to fly towards the feeder. I am still trying to decide what constitutes a suitable 'boundary' for the purposes of this project.

TF3 Long-tailed tit

I am aware of four Blackbirds, two male, two female, who perch on the tree and rootle around in the undergrowth. The one below is a male, with his yellow bill.

TF4 Blackbird

I have a regular (?Song) Thrush who loves the dead leaves at the base of the tree. It has a silver ring on its left leg, which you can probably make out in the photo below. A piece of bark had fallen off the feeder, and I guess it may have had some grubs on it or earthworms under it. I have seen a second Thrush, but these are shy birds and I have yet to photograph it.

TF5 Thrush - Mistle or Song? Do leave a comment!

The Bluetits have been particularly active in the spring sunshine. This one is surveying the scene among the catkins on the Silver Birch.

TF6 Bluetit

And next I come to the feisty Robins. Most of the birds perch of the coconuts to feed, but the Robins often flutter their wings frantically as they try to extract a piece of fat with their bills. I shall have to try to take a picture of the fluttering!

TF7 Robin

There are other visitors, such as the Magpies who bomb in at full speed, grab a mouthful of fat in their bills and retreat. There are also plenty of Wood Pigeons who come into the garden from larger trees in the local nature reserve nearby. They tend to huddle under the Silver Birch, waiting for the smaller birds to drop scraps on the leaf litter below.

TF6 and TF7: share and share alike ...

Most of these photos were taken through glass. I hope that as the weather gets warmer and the birds get a little more used to my presence that I will be able to take photos outdoors. Meanwhile the first Bumblebee and Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly visited the garden yesterday and it will not be long before more insects appear.


TF(Gastropod)1: Brown-Lipped Snail

I found the Grove - or Brown-Lipped Snail - in the photo above ambling along in the undergrowth. It is the first snail I have seen on the move this season. You can make out the distinctive brown lip. These snail shells come in a remarkable range of colour (yellow, pink, brown) and stripe design. Song Thrushes are particularly fond of these molluscs and demolish the shell on a thrush anvil (this link may take a second to 'settle' once clicked) which may be a favoured stone. The shell damage has possibly been caused by one of these birds, perhaps by TF5, the ringed Thrush above.


TF(Flora)1 Snowdrops

There are a few Snowdrops, which lie almost hidden in the undergrowth below the Silver Birch, close to an early Daisy that I noticed yesterday, heralding all the good spring things that lie ahead.

TF(Flora)2: Daisy