Monday, 15 December 2014

Winter Scenes in Suffolk



The road through the woods that leads to RSPB Minsmere ...

The beach at Minsmere, sunset

Evening Light on the Reserve

A shard of ice, NT Sutton Hoo

Above and below: more frost flowers ...


For more ice and frost flowers, vines and roses ...

Monday, 8 December 2014

Tree Following ~ Silver Birch in December

Tree Following ~ The Silver Birch in November


This post is the eighth in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!



Welcome or welcome back!

I'm sorry this post is a little late, but never mind. The wonderful Green Woodpecker has been vying with the Great Spotted Woodpecker (below) for top place in my Silver Birch list this month. The Green Woodpecker, however, was only seen once this month, on an extraordinary morning when the two birds graced the garden within seconds of each other for the first time. I don't think they actually overlapped, but I have never seen them both there on the same day before. 


The Green Woodpecker (look at those tail feathers!) pecked around among the Silver Birch leaves on the lawn. I don't know whether the leaves provide extra shelter and nourishment for grubs at this time of year, but our sandy soil certainly encourages ants in the summer months. Green Woodpeckers love ants!



It has been a joy to watch the little fellow (I believe he is a male) above on his near-daily visits. He has grown so much since I first noticed him. From my window I can see his ivy-clad tree trunk home at the edge of the Local Nature Reserve, but every so often he swoops over towards my house in his wave-like flight pattern to visit the feeder on my Silver Birch. I am always surprised to find just how much smaller he is than his green cousin. 

* * * 

Time for a diary entry interlude:

Diary
7 November 2014 - this observation was made very shortly after my November TF posting.
Time: 10.34
Weather: windy, damp and grey

Pecking Order
I look out and see an opportunistic Magpie hovering beneath the coconut feeder while the Great Spotted Woodpecker perches on it. The Woodpecker's bill shaves off more slices than he can eat at once, and some land on the ground. The Magpie conserves effort and energy by waiting for these tender morsels to fall at his feet. A second Magpie perches on a fence post, awaiting his lucky moment ...

* * *


The day of the Woodpeckers also brought a new visitor to the edge of the decking, adjacent to the Silver Birch, in the shape of a Wren. Wrens are shy birds, and while I see I recorded one seen in the garden back on 8 January, before we began our Tree Following enterprise, I don't think I have noted one since.



The Starlings have been occasional visitors to the Silver Birch feeders in the last four weeks, but they tend to arrive in a small flock of about five and make their presence felt as they squabble and squawk. 



Tree-wise, there has been a lot of change this month (at last!), probably due to three frosty nights. The Silver Birch leaves have finally fallen, and you can see the difference between the photo above, taken in mid-November and the one below, taken a fortnight later at the start of this month. 


I rather like the effect of the winter sunlight on the leaves in the picture below. I can't quite tell (or remember) whether the white spots were drops of rain or dew. Like the photo two above, this was taken before the frosts. 


The one below was taken at the end of last week, and you can see just how bare the branches have become. BUT you might care to look again, for there on the stems are signs of new growth, reminding us that the new seasons of 2015 are not far away. I find this a lovely thought as we move towards the pivotal moment of the shortest day. It reminds me of our years in South Wales when we would visit Aberglasney, the garden lost in time, and enjoy the tiny early flowering Daffodil buds in November


I mentioned that we had had some frost. You can see the frostflowers on the roof of our car ...



... and on the fallen Silver Birch leaves on the lawn below.



Before I add my sighting update list for this December Tree Following post, I would just like to express my thanks to Lucy, and to add a festive picture of a feisty Christmas Robin.




* * *


Tree Following Sighting Update  . . .

I have marked the 'wild things' seen during this last month in yellow.

Previous avian sightings (on, in and around the Silver Birch) are in pink.


  • TFb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2   Great tit (several frequently on feeder) 
  • TFb3   Long-tailed Tit
  • TFb4   Blackbird (I saw four at once, but no sign of the bald one) 
  • TFb5   Song Thrush   
  • TFb6   Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7   Robin (frequent appearances)
  • TFb8   Magpie (about three frequently around below the feeder)
  • TFb9   Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (several on feeder, noisy!)
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow    
  • TFb13 Goldfinch 
  • TFb14  Jay
  • TFb15  Green Woodpecker
  • TFb16  Wren

Mammal sightings include ...

  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bats
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel

On the insect front, sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybird [April] [October]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July]
  • TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June]  
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June] 
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August] [October]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August]
  • TFi23 Ants [August]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August]
  • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September]
  • TFi26 Lacewing [October] (about fifteen) 
  • TFi27 Harlequin Ladybird [October] 
  • TFi28 Moths (though not so many in December) [November/December]

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Friday, 7 November 2014

Tree Following ~ Silver Birch in November


Tree Following ~ The Silver Birch in November


This post is the seventh (I think!) in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

My Silver Birch in the first week of November ...

... and by contrast, the 'other' birch!


General Observations

I had been holding out for major changes this month, and while the 'other' birch (B. pendula 'Darlecarlica') in my patch has lost all its leaves in the past four weeks or so, my Silver Birch (B. Pendula) is still a mass of green. Admittedly there are more shades of yellow than there were in early October, but there is still a good show of green. There are a few more leaves on the lawn beneath, but generally the changes have been much slower than anticipated. It would be interesting to know whether the variation in leaf loss between the two birches (some 20 metres apart) is largely due to the variety of birch or to the environment. The 'other' birch has concrete in close proximity to its roots, which presumably interferes with water supplies. I am writing this on 6 November, the night after Bonfire Night, and although friends on Facebook in the Midlands are reporting their first frost of the winter (night of 5th-6th November), autumn is still very much in control here in sunny Suffolk (or was at the initial time of posting. It's windy and wet today!).

Greater Spotted Woodpecker

I don't have any new sightings to report this month on the bird front, but the shorter days have been graced with visits from many of my usual suspects, particularly the male Great Spotted Woodpecker, who makes a beeline most days around lunchtime for the coconut feeder on the Silver Birch. Sadly the Green Woodpecker has not been seen since my last post.

Toadstools under the 'other' birch ...

I have marked the 'wild things' seen in the last month in yellow.

Previous sightings (on, in and around the Silver Birch) are in pink.

  • TFb1 Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2  Great tit (several frequently on feeder) 
  • TFb3 Long-tailed Tit (we saw several, two days after I posted the October TF post)
  • TFb4  Blackbird (I saw four at once, but no sign of the bald one) 
  • TFb5 Song Thrush (one brief appearance)  
  • TFb6  Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7  Robin (frequent appearances)
  • TFb8  Magpie (about three frequently around below the feeder)
  • TFb9  Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (only one noted this month)
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow    
  • TFb13 Goldfinch 
  • TFb14  Jay
  • TFb15  Green Woodpecker

 No mammals were noted this month. Previous sightings include ...

  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bats
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel

On the insect front, sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybird [April] [October]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July]
  •  TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June]  
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June] 
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August] [October]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August]
  • TFi23 Ants [August]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August]
  • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September]
  • TFi26 Lacewing [October] (about fifteen) 
  • TFi27 Harlequin Ladybird [October] 
 

seen on 4 November 2014

There have also been plenty of moths ... and a few of their maggot-like caterpillars!

Next month will bring the shortest day, and I for one, always look forward to lighter evenings, so until December, may your trees flourish in their winter glory!  


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Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tree Following ~ Silver Birch in October


 Tree Following ~ The Silver Birch in October

This post is the seventh in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to go on a virtual exploration of the arboreal world!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let's begin with a couple of diary entries ...

________  _  ________

Diary

Sunday 21 September
Noon
Weather: fair

David had seen a Jay TFb13 in the garden some days before, and this time it was my turn to watch the bird pecking around in the sandy soil for caches of acorns. We have had a Jay in the garden in previous years, but these two sightings constituted the first visits for 2014, as far as we are aware. I expect the underground acorn store in which fresh supplies could be deposited for the winter was the attraction, but since the bird was very close to the Silver Birch, it seems right to record its presence in this post.

Jay in garden a year ago


Wednesday 25 September
Mid-morning
Weather: fair after a cold start

A flicker of silver caught my attention as a Grey Squirrel tail disappeared in the foliage, only to re-emerge moments later. I have not seen a Grey Squirrel TFm4 in the garden for quite a while. The creature perched on the trellis, looking towards the coconut feeders that dangle from the Silver Birch. I waited but the Squirrel headed off towards the Local Nature Reserve. I am wondering if it was sniffing out a previous subterranean acorn stash that needed replenishing before the winter.
Postscript: the Grey Squirrel re-emerged on the trellis a couple of days later, but has not been spotted since.

________  _  ________


General round-up

I had anticipated a major change this month, and while it's true that the Silver Birch has been shedding more leaves, it is far from bare. In fact, there are still patches that are still full of green leaves. 



There are other patches in which gold predominates. 

Strangely the 'other Birch', just the width of the house away, is looking far more autumnal. The ground below is a carpet of leaves and the foliage is lacking the green sheen of its near neighbour. 

Below the 'other' birch, Swedish Birch, B. pendula 'Darlecarlica'

The two birches are not identical specimens since my birch is Silver Birch, B. Pendula and the other is B. pendula 'Darlecarlica', but I wonder whether this is the only factor causing the different leaf-shedding rates. 

New Sightings

I have been particularly interested in two new sightings. One involved a shield bug and the other a woodpecker. We were watching the Great Spotted Woodpecker, no longer such a juvenile, as he (the red patch on the back of the head makes me think it is a male) flitted cautiously from the decking to the coconut. 


He pecked away for a few seconds before flying off towards the local nature reserve. No sooner had he departed than a new arrival swept in. It was a Green Woodpecker TFb14, and a 'first sighting' for our garden. The green bird pecked away in the grass, presumably devouring grubs or ants. What a thrill! 

Note eyelid: is this its nictitating membrane ... and if so, why is it showing at this point?




The second newcomer was a strange reddish Shield Bug. I have yet to get a definite ID, but I suspect it may be a late instar Birch Shield Bug TFi24. If my hunch is correct, there are no prizes for guessing why it might have arrived in our garden. I have to say, though, that it looks more (though not exactly) like the Red Shield Bug. My jury on this one is still out. 




PREVIOUS SIGHTINGS of birds (on, in and around the Silver Birch) include ...
  • TFb1 Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2  Great tit (several frequently on feeder) 
  • TFb4  Blackbird (I have not seen the Blackbirds so much this month)
  • TFb6  Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7  Robin (one or two appearances)
  • TFb8  Magpie (about three frequently dive-bombing feeder)
  • TFb9  Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (infrequent appearances of up to three birds)  
Previous birds not seen this month ...
  • TFb3 Long-tailed Tit
  • TFb5 Song Thrush 
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow (on fence at back of Silver Birch) - first seen on 14 May 2014
  • TFb13 Goldfinch
On the mammal front, previous sightings include ...
  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bats
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel
  On the insect front, previous sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybirds [April]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July]
  •  TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June]  
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June] 
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August]
  • TFi23 Ants [August]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August]
 There have also been plenty of moths.


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Monday, 6 October 2014

RSPB Minsmere (with Otter and Great White Egret)


Otter in ring of bright water in front of the reeds. Photo Credit: © David Gill 2014

It is always exciting to see what wildlife is out and about at RSPB Minsmere, and our visit this last weekend coincided with that of a Little Crake. The bird had attracted folk from miles away, and we had rarely found the reserve so busy. By the time we arrived, the Little Crake was no longer showing, so we headed on past the Bittern Hide in search of Bearded tits.

We failed to see any this week, but were delighted to see an Otter. It was a fair distance from us, but we could see it clearly through binoculars.



It swam to and fro below the dome of Sizewell Power Station ...


... and then it turned towards us (photo below). You can just about make out the characteristic 'V' emanating from the otter and receding in the weed.


There was a measure of excitement in the hide over the appearance of a Great White Egret. I have seen this bird in the western Peloponnese, but it was my first sighting in the UK. The egret was right over on the far side, and as you can see, I was shooting into the sun. You may have to take my word for the yellow on the bill! 


On our way back to the car we caught a glimpse of this Muntjac deer ...


There were plenty of rabbits and grey squirrels out and about in the autumn sunshine.




Monday, 29 September 2014

Lifer ~ the Bearded Tit


Bearded tit at Minsmere - a gentle flapping of feathers

We have visited RSPB Minsmere many times and have longed to see the Bearded tit. It is an elusive bird and one on the orange conservation list. 

There are probably good numbers of this bird at Minsmere, but it is an elusive creature, despite the distinctive 'ping ping' of its voice. As you can see from the photos, it prefers to hang out in the reedbeds. 

We were in the Island Mere Hide over the weekend when a man moved at speed in the direction of our corner, camera poised. It transpired that he was on the case and had located a female. 

After a gentle flapping of feathers, the bird rose to the top of a reed ...


... and launched into the air. I had a feeling that that was all we were going to see.


However, that was not the end of the story. The RSPB volunteer got us up to speed on our Bearded tit fieldcraft, and soon we were waiting for the reeds to twitch. The twitching was almost invariably followed by a movement up the stem until a secretive face appeared.  


We had some good views of the female and now that we know a little more about these beautiful birds and their habitat, I hope we will have the chance to see the male before long. There is a magnificent photo of one here. You will notice that the male bird actually has markings more akin to a long moustache than a beard!


The RSPB Minsmere blog for 29 September (today), written by Ian Barthorpe, mentions the imminent irruption of this species. You can read about this aspect of Bearded tit ecology here.


Bearded tits, also known as Bearded reedlings, are apparently no longer included in the tit family.


Such poise!


It was a pleasure and a privilege to see this bird at very close quarters, thanks to the protection of the hide. Our 'audience' with the little creature was soon over and we watched as a small pair of wings flapped gently away.