Saturday, 29 September 2012

Nature Reserve Notes (3) Caterpillars at Minsmere

We saw three of these beautiful Fox Moth caterpillars at Minsmere, along the path between the beach and the scrapes. I think my previous sighting of this species was on Raasay in the Inner Hebrides. I see these caterpillars are sometimes found on the beach. You can watch one moving if you follow this link. You can see a photo of the Fox Moth here

Incidentally, if you know your hairy caterpillars, you might be able to help with identification here on the Cabinet of Curiosities blog. 

Home Patch (30): Southern Hawker

© David Gill 2012
I believe this dragonfly is a Southern Hawker. It was resting in the garden on 15 September 2012. It is another species to add to our list of 'home patch' flora and fauna.  

Friday, 28 September 2012

A Flight of Dragonflies

I seem to have an accumulation of dragonfly photos, so here are a few to add a splash of colour to a grey day ... though the sun has now come out. Enjoy! 
Migrant Hawker ... in our Suffolk garden

As above

... the Migrant Hawker again!

First shot at a fidgety Emperor - do they ever stand still?

Male Black-tailed Skimmer (Minsmere)

Pretty sure this is another (rather bedraggled) Emperor.

A Darter - ?Ruddy Darter

?A female Common Darter


Could this be a Red-veined Darter?

An old female Darter, not sure which kind of Darter though


Male ?Ruddy Darter ...

... head on!

Emperor, Britain's largest dragonfly ... these hardly ever stop to rest!

Another male Common Darter, I'm guessing

Male Ruddy Darter ... note the 'twine'

... possibly the female Ruddy Darter

I'm very much a novice at identifying these Odonata, so please correct me if you can! These dragonflies were spotted at Minsmere and Helmingham in Suffolk and at How Hill, Hickling and Titchwell in Norfolk during the summer.

Identification aids consulted ...
  •  The Little Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Minsmere Nature Reserve by Paul Green (2011)

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Art and Landscape (1): 'John Constable' in Ipswich

There has been much excitement over the last couple of days on the Ipswich Waterfront outside UCS (by the Langlands and Bell Question? installation). The 'John Constable', a reconstructed Stour Lighter has taken up a temporary berth in 'dry dock' to enable members of the public to encounter this barge at close range, before it moves on to Sudbury tomorrow. The Lighter forms a key element of the 'Managing a Masterpiece' project.

You may be wondering what this has to do with 'Wild and Wonderful' nature ... John Constable was a relatively local artist: East Bergholt, Constable's birthplace, is only about 12 miles away. Constable painted the rural scenes of his day, scenes such as the 'Hay Wain', 'The Cornfield' and 'Flatford Mill'. I have included a photo by David Gill (see below) of the mill area as it is now. Constable enjoyed incorporating natural phenomena in his creative work. He painted rainbows over Salisbury Cathedral and over the River Stour. He even painted a double rainbow. He liked to paint storm clouds, large trees and running water. A Constable painting of 'The Lock' recently fetched over £22 million. 

Today's activity, however, was not about selling. It was a time to admire the craftsmanship that has gone into the building of the 'John Constable'. The Lighter will eventually have a new life on the River Stour, allowing people to take a boat trip along those waterways that Constable knew so well.

Today was a time to celebrate, and those of us on the Waterfront were able to enjoy listening to boat songs and to tunes from an accordion and harmonica. 

David Gill (ITV news report on the boat - here)

The view below shows Flatford Mill as it looks today. John Constable's father owned a dry-dock, which was the setting for the building of these boats in the artist's day. His painting, 'Boat-building near Flatford Mill' depicts the scene. The small figure gives a sense of scale, and I must admit that it was the sizeable dimensions of the lighter that surprised me most.

The photo below shows the steps needed to climb aboard!

John Constable's approach was considered radical at the time, in terms of his distinctive brushstrokes, his bold application of colour and portrayal of emotion through the natural subjects that he encountered in Dedham Vale and beyond. We may find this hard to appreciate in these post-postmodern days of abstraction, but Constable's work was highly instrumental in pushing 19th century painting towards the contemporary approaches to art that we know today.

'The sky is the source of light in Nature and it governs everything.'
John Constable

Islands & Islets (10): An Inner Hebridean Odyssey ... Caterpillars

The churchyard at Trumpan, Waternish, Skye, where we saw ...

... a Knot Grass Caterpillar (earlier sighting here). 

We spotted this (?White/Buff Ermine or Clouded Buff) caterpillar near ...

... the wonderful Abbey on Iona.
Do let me know in the Comments section if you can help with the identification of the caterpillar on Iona! Thank you.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Islands and Islets (9): Damselfly on Inchmahome

Probably a Common Blue Damselfly. Inchmahome is often a good place for damsels, but we only saw this one!

The Island Priory on Inchmahome in the Lake of Menteith (Scotland's only 'lake'!)

Waiting for the ferry back to the mainland ...

Friday, 21 September 2012

Islands and Islets (8): An Inner Hebridean Odyssey - Wildlife on Mull and Iona

Iona - as you approach by sea (or leave)

Approaching Iona from Mull

We spent three nights on Mull and one day on Iona. The weather wasn't brilliant, although the sun came out for a few hours during the afternoon of our last day (which we spent on Iona, where the colours of the kelp, the silver sand and the pure azure water were amazing).

We did not see many vertebrates during this leg of our journey - though we enjoyed watching the bats (not sure what species) at Uisken Beach on the Ross of Mull and a few rabbits here and there. We also saw four red deer on the wonderful road between Duart and Pennyghael, a toad in Bunessan and a seal in the strait between Lochaline and Fishnish.

Waiting for the ferry ...

My (separate)  Bird list is a little longer, though due to the wild weather, we didn't come across half the birds we had hoped to see. Needless to say, we thoroughly enjoyed watching the following (in order of sightings) ...

  • Herring Gull - Uisken
  • Hooded Crows - ditto
  • Buzzards - not quite on every telegraph post!
  • Pied Wagtails - Castle Duart
  • Chaffinches - ditto
  • Gannets - off the cliffs, not far from Bunessan
  • Skylarks - Duart Castle
  • Grey Herons - Pennyghael, Tobermory and elsewhere
  • Swallows - (are these Swallows?) on Iona, taking shelter in the Abbey cloister rafters (photo below)
  • Cormorant - Pennyghael
  • Eiders - sea loch near Pennyghael
  • Oystercatchers - ditto
  • Curlew - ditto
  • Golden Eagles (2) - back road or 'scenic route' to Salen
  • Pheasant - Aros
  • (Query) White-tailed Eagle - a rather distant sighting in the Craignure/Duart area ... I see one has been spotted in this area from the Treshnish (B)log of wildlife here
  • ENORMOUS 'tidal wave' of Greylag at sunset rolling up the Sound of Iona
  • White doves on the Abbey (do these count as wild? - 'Columba', of course, means 'dove')
  • Song Thrush - Iona, near Abbey
  • House Sparrows (2) - ditto (enjoying the fresh soil of an archaeological dig - photo at end of post)
  • Robin - ditto
  • Blackbirds - Iona
  • Kestrels (2) - Ross of Mull
  • Mallard (8) - Loch Spelve, Mull 
  • Owls (2 unidentified) - Ross of Mull 

Taking shelter in the cloister in preparation for a LONG journey south

We loved the cloister, with its carvings by Chris Hall of Scottish birds and Holy Land plants

Do stone monkeys count as 'wild and wonderful'?

Almost time to touchdown ...

The Iona Community has the 'Wild Goose' as its symbol. Many associate the Community's worship with the liturgical compositions of John Bell. You can read about the background to the Community here in a book review by Dr Josh Sweden. The fascinating history of Iona, the island, is tied in with the MacDonald Lords of the Isles, and it was one of these, Reginald, who sent monks to found a Benedictine community in this out-of-the-way island that had been occupied by Columba. 

... and now it's time for a flypast
Looking out from Iona - I loved those volcanic tump-like rocks

We did not see many invertebrates during this leg of our journey. There was a wonderful striped caterpillar near St Oran's Chapel on Iona (photo for a future post), and plenty of craneflies in Bunessan on Mull. I also noted some bees and snails. There were a few sea anemones (these belong to the group of Cnidarians - like jellyfish) in the rock pools near the ferry on Iona.

The otters and cetaceans may have eluded me, but we saw many wonderful creatures nonetheless!

The archaeological dig ... has the dinosaur been excavated ... or was the Loch Ness Monster on holiday in the Hebrides?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Islands and Islets (7): An Inner Hebridean Odyssey - Wildlife Count

The beach at Ord, Sleat, Isle of Skye
While I was away I tried to make a list of (somewhere between all and most) of my wildlife sightings. I am no expert (as you will soon realise!), just a keen observer who likes to know what is about. I decided not to be too strict about numbers as I am so bad at calculating birds in a flock - so bad at calculating fullstop!

The first list here refers to the first leg of our journey to Skye (our most northerly destination), and includes sightings from Glasgow to the north of Trotternish ... I will only 'count' each species once.

Species of Bird
Mainland Scotland

31 August 2012

1]    Mallard - Loch Lomond
2]    Cormorant - Arrochar
3]    Carrion Crow - Rest-and-be-Thankful
4]    House Sparrow - Inveraray
5]    Pigeon (very black) - ditto
6]    Goldfinches - Glen Orchy
7]    Swifts - ditto
8]    Pied Wagtail - Glencoe
9]    Hooded Crow (2) - Glencoe and Onich
10]  Chaffinch - Onich
11]  Unidentified Owl - Glenfinnan

1 September 2012

12]  Sparrowhawk - Ardnamurchen
**]   Goldfinch - ditto
13]  Oystercatcher - ditto
**]   Cormorant - ditto
14]  Eiders (6) - ditto
15]  Grey Heron - ditto
16]  Greater Black-backed Gull - ditto
17]  (?Sky)larks (3) - ditto
18]  Gannet - near Mallaig
19]  White-tailed Eagle - ditto

Nature's paintbrush at work!

Species of Bird
Isle of Skye and Environs

1 September 2012

**]    Pied Wagtail - Broadford
20]   Herring Gull - ditto

2 September 2012

21]   Golden Eagle - Cuillin area
**]    Eiders - Dunvegan area

3 September 2012

22]  Buzzard - Cuillin area
23]  ?Dabchick - Trotternish
**]   Hooded Crows (6) - ditto
**]   Gannets (4) - viewed from Staffin area
**]   Pied Wagtails (6) - ditto

4 September 2012

24]  Starlings - Broadford area
**]   Pigeons - ditto
25]  Goosander?? - photo to follow - Loch Carron area (just off Skye, but trip from Skye)
26]  Rock Pipit - Loch Duich area (just off Skye, but trip from Skye)
**]   Pied Wagtail in first winter plumage - Loch Duich area (just off Skye, but trip from Skye)
27]  Robin - ditto
28]  Goldfinches (6) - ditto
**]   Rock Pipit - Armadale

5 September 2012

**]  Carrion Crows (2) - Portree
**]  Hooded Crows (3) - ditto
**]  Pied Wagtails (2) - Broadford area
29] Wheatears (4) - Waternish area
**]  Carrion Crow - ditto
30] Ringed Plovers (31) - Cuillin area
**]  Oystercatchers (2) - ditto

6 September 2012

**] Swifts (5) - Staffin
**]  Cormorant - ditto
**]  Buzzard - Bernisdale
**]  Grey Heron - Edinbane
**]  Pied Wagtail - Neist Point
**]  Gannets (5) - ditto
**]  Cormorant - ditto
31] Fulmars (2) - ditto
32] Greylag Geese (small flock) - Glendale area

7 September 2012

**] Ring Plover (3) - Sleat area
**] Herring Gull - Broadford area

8 September 2012

**] Grey Heron - Broadford area

Total of 32 (largely identified) species of bird for this leg of the journey (Glasgow to Trotternish)

Other Vertebrates
Mainland Scotland

31 August 2012

1]  Common Toad (query due to dark night!) - Glenfinnan
2]  Bats (5) - (species not identified) - ditto

1 September 2012

3]  Common Seals (small colony) - Ardnamurchen, not far from Corran Ferry
4]  Red deer doe - Bay of the Flies area, Ardnamurchen

Other Vertebrates
Isle of Skye and Environs

1 September 2012

5] Rabbits (3) - Broadford and Elgol areas

2 September 2012 

6] Common Seals (colony) - Dunvegan
7] Grey Seal (1) - ditto

4 September 2012

**] Rabbits (2) - Broadford area

6 September 2012

**] Rabbit - Glendale


Mainland Scotland

31 August 2012  

1] Midge - Loch Lomond
2] Black Beetle (still to be identified) - Glencoe

1 September 2012

3] Buff-tailed Bumblebee - Ardnamurchen
4] Hoverfly - ditto

Isle of Skye and Environs

2 September 2012

5] Dragonfly, unidentified (flew off too fast!) - Dunvegan area

3 September 2012

**] Dragonfly, unidentified (flew off too fast!) - Staffin 
6]  Cranefly - Broadford area

5 September 2012

7] Caterpillar - Trumpan area
**] Dragonfly, unidentified (flew off too fast!) - ditto 

6 September 2012

8] Lion's Mane Jellyfish - Bracadale 


Flora etc.
Mainland Scotland, Isle of Skye and Environs 

1]    Ragwort - Loch Lomond area (widespread)
2]    Rose Bay Willowherb - ditto (widespread)
3]    Bell Heather - ditto (widespread)
4]    Ling - ditto
5]    Montbretia - ditto (widespread)
6]    Meadowsweet - Tarbet
7]    Buttercup - ditto
8]    Conolvulus - Arrochar
9]    Sorrel
10]  Thistle - Rest-and-be-Thankful
11]   Feverfew - ditto
12]   Lesser Scabious - ditto

Also: large brown unidentified toadstool at Inveraray and ?sphagnum moss. Ist lichen on trees spotted at Cladich on way to Kilchurn.  

13]  Figwort - Dunvegan, Skye
14]  Foxglove - ditto
15]  Yellow/Ladies' Bedstraw - ditto
16]  Clover - St Columba's Island, Skye
17]  Yarrow - ditto
18]  Groundsel - ditto
19]  Tormentil - Waternish
20]   English Stonecrop, Sedum anglicum - Sleat, Skye
21]  Water mint - ditto

These observations are obviously of more interest to me than to others, but I hope you may find something in this post that catches your eye! I shall be logging my wildlife sightings for Mull and Iona soon ...

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Islands and Islets (6): An Inner Hebridean Odyssey - Mystery Bird of Ardnamurchen

We left Fort William after breakfast, and were soon aboard the Corran Ferry bound for the unspoilt peninsula of Ardnamurchen, en route to Skye. Due to adverse weather conditions, it proved to be a very long route to the island, but that's another story! The grey-blue bird of prey above was practically my first avian sighting of the day.

We stopped off briefly at this lovely beach to watch the seals on their skerries and the rafts (or perhaps streamlined 'canoes') of Eiders.

Here are two more hasty views of the bird before it flew off. What fine banding on the tail feathers!

I would be very grateful for an identification: I thought it might have been a Buzzard (too blue?) or a Peregrine (not dark enough round the 'cheek'?). I don't think it was a Merlin ...

You might like to see my previous 2012 Scottish posts, which are here (miscellany) and here (jellyfish).

Later: Thank you to Heather Williams for her comment below. Yes, I think Sparrowhawk may well fit the bill (no pun intended), especially on account of the bird's size and the white stripe above the eye. We have had one of these in the garden in Suffolk, so I suppose I didn't really have to travel so far for a sighting, but who would have missed the chance to see the swathes of Scottish heather and golden bracken at this time of year?  
* * * 

Postscript . . . off-topic (we didn't see any Badgers in Scotland), but of great concern . . . the plight of Badgers in the face of Bovine TB. I thought this press release from the RSPB (here) was well worth reading, and would commend it to you. For more on Badgers in blogs (as it happens, from my old home area in South Wales - no bias, naturally!), you might like to see 'My Life Outside' (Adam Tilt) for a very informative post, and Jeremy Inglis Photography, for more details of the petition.