Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pond life -weird and wonderful

No - not the chavvy type - the real thing.

Many thanks to the safari's official 'extreme' photographer, Raf. Pictures obtained in arduous conditions - pitch blackness for one.
So what have we got, well this is the Water Scorpion. Totally harmless to us and the 'sting'/tail is actually breathing syphon. See the lower picture where it is raised to the underside of the water surface. They are flattened so that they can sneak betwwen the leaves at the bottom of the pond.

A Water Measurer that just wouldn't keep quite still enough for a perfect shot.

This wee timorous beesty is a Water Hog Louse, very closely related to the terrestrial Woodlice and the littoral Sea Slater. Quite a big one this one.

Very much a bonus find was a Water Cricket. He's well marked for such a tiny critter, obviously in the middle of the night we could really see this patterning. A check on the National Biodiversity Network maps revealed a huge gap in our area; probably not indicating that they are not found or are rare but more likely no other nutters have looked so closely a pond life in the middle of the night. He's less than 10mm long.

Several species of Water Beetles were seen during the safari but this was the only one that was photogenic. Without exception the others did their utmost to avoid the spotlight zooming away from the light like double fast scuba divers.

At least two species of Leeches were found. Some of the bigger ones reached 10cm/4 inches fully stretched out. When I was in Borneo one of the objectives was to get a photo of a huge tropical leech stuck to my leg oozing blood somewhere deep in the rain-forest...sadly/fortunately no Leeches were seen during the entire stay.

Last of all a cute vertebrate... a Frog, croaking at us and not particularly happy at being in the lime light.

Where to next? Holiday weekend coming up but working and more importantly Everton are in the cup final...come on you Blues...the scouse ones not the southern ones!!!!!! (Actually Everton will be the ones in blue having won the toss to keep their first strip)
In the meantime let us know what is out there in your pitch black outback.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Around and about all over

A blast around the county from south to north over a three day weekend - and an apology ...the Setaceous Hebrew Character moth in the last post was mis-identified - it's a common or garden ordinary Hebrew Character...sorry folks.
Anyway on with the story. On Friday I took the Disco to Leyland to have the snorkel fitted to prevent any more watery mishaps caused by driving in to rivers, ponds, ditches, streams, lakes, bath-tubs etc. Looks handsome don't it? Much tastier than the Porsche next door - he might be able to go fast but we can go anywhere!

As it happened I had a couple or three hours to kill and wandered off in the general direction of Farington Moss - an area I have only driven through at breakneck speed on the bypass before, so what would we find on foot. The area is flat black soiled rich farmland and was a formerly a shallow peaty lake. The walk took me right back to my farming roots. Skylarks and Lapwings, the sounds of my youth were singing all around, it was like being in birdsong heaven...ahh the memories of days spent in the fields.

In the absence of bushes for a song perch a Corn Bunting rattled away on the barbed wire around the base of the pylon. Its been quite a while sinceI last came cross this species.

There are far better pictures of Wheatears around on the various blogs at the moment but this was my best effort. Lots of excuses, flighty birds, no cover, a brisk breeze all conspired to keep maximum distance between me and the birds. Best count was thirteen in one fairly small field.

Leaving the moss and venturing in to a moor bushy area I came across a recently emerged Speckled Wood sunning itself in an open glade. Its only a few short years since this species was a real rarity in this neck of the woods - now they are everywhere, one of the most numerous butterflies you will see on a walk anywhere were there are trees.

An hour or so further on and the temperature had picked up a bit I came across my first Red Tailed Bumble Bee of the year. Had to get in quite close for the pic but fortunately she was fairly warm and didn't wave her middle leg in the air as a threat as they do when they are too cold to escape, which is exactly what she did. Bzzzzzzzzz

Eventually I discovered Farington Lodge, a remnant of the former mill industries in this part of Lancashire; again I have never been here before and very pleasant it was too. Cowslips, Primroses and Yellow Archangel were all in flower.
A Robin - to keep Fatbirder happy and Fatbotanist at bay!
Moorhens are one of my favourite birds despite the fact I did my degree thesis on their flocking behaviour and spent too many hours in freezing fields only to discover they like food and don't like being food!
This Jay led me a merry dance. Every time I raised the camera it hopped a few yards further away...just like the Wheatears. But it was concentrating on searching through the grass and everytime its head went down I scuttled forward stopping abruptly as its head re-emerged from the tussocks. Eventually I got just about close enough. Phewww
The River Lostock runs through the area and at a little footbridge I could see these fish waiting for tasty morsels to arrive on the current. On the way out there were a couple of lads fishing but I didn't stop to ask what they were after. I think they are small Chub judging by the size of the scales and width of the mouth. Dace would be the alternative but they are usually fairly small.

No Cuckoos yet but Cuckoo Flower is blooming everywhere - except on Frank's field where the mowers have just been and cut it down. It is one of the food plants for Orange Tip butterflies, which were everywhere - don't think I've ever seen so many in a short afternoon before. Too warm and therefore fast to get anywhere near with the camera unfortunately as I think they are one of the best, brightest butterflies we have round these parts.

Later on that evening back at Base Camp the moth trap came out on a nice pleasant evening. Lo and behold...success...the grand total of four what a haul!

Clouded Drab was a first for base camp

Hebrew Character! Not Setaceous Hebrew Character.

And the fairly scarce and local Golden-Rod Pug...another first for base camp.
The following day was a day of DIY but a during walk out past the store to stretch Frank's legs we came across this gi-normous fungus - as big as a dinner plate - growing out of a rotten Sycamore stump. I ought to know the name of this species but fungi baffle my brain.

Next evening saw the Disco on the motorway going north again. chance, Deer plenty. Acroos the moss as the light faded nine Fallow Deer came out of the woodland and started browsing on the fresh hedgerow growth. By the time the light had practically gone altogther two Roe Deer were also in the field - 11 deer in the binocs at once - not bad away from Scotland's Red Deer havens.

Talking of Red Deer; a crashing in the dark had us shining the spotlight into the trees - eyeshine gave its presence away. But was it a Red or a Roe?? A Red would have given us three species for the evening.
Other stuff about included a Marsh Harrier, not so many Little Egrets coming in to roost this evening and a few more than plenty Sand Martins. A Bittern boomed repeatedly all the time we were there; either that or some-one was blowing over the top of a Newcastle Brown bottle deep in the reed bed...not very likely; and a Water Rail squealed from time to time.
All in all a good weekends safari-ing.
Where to next? Sea watching is looking good at the moment.
In the meantime let us know what your outback was like this weekend.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Moth trap comes out

At last the moth trap at base camp is finally dusted down and given the once over. The night before last...nothing...last night a single, solitary, lonely Setaceous Hebrew least there was something to record; thank you St George.

Where to next? Well the run of fine weather is set to continue if a little breezy...always is at this time of year just to knock the cherry blossom off the the moth trap will probably get lots of practice...lets hope we haven't caught the only 'moth in the village'.
In the meantime let us know what is flying at night in your outback.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

What is British?

There seems to be some debate at the moment about 'Britishness'. What, if anything, is, or defines 'British'? Could it be fish & chips, the English language, the Royal Family, bad weather...? My money is on a Bluebell wood in spring...nothing is more typically beautifully British than that. Found nowhere else in the world it is British through and through and ours alone...enjoy!!!

The safari had an impromptu trip out east as a pre-arranged engagement had to be postponed at the last minute. very few birds were about although the walk was accompagnied at various times by the drumming of at least two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Mistle Thrush and from time to time the uniquely haunting bubbling song of Curlews.
We'd better post this pic of a Great Tit at the feeding station before Fatbirder kicks us out and suggests we go over to Fatbotanists instead!
Along the riverbank Butterbur was coming into flower. An interesting name pertaining to the old habit of using the large leaves to wrap pats of butter before burying them in the cool streamside earth.

Wood Anenomes were everywhere at the start of the walk.

I didn't see the fly on the petal until I downloaded the pic on to the computer, by the way it is sitting it looks like a Yellow Dung Fly but I could be wrong by a mile.

Disturbed ground everywhere is covered with the golden yellow flowers of Dandelions at this time of year, brilliant nectaring plants for a myriad of insects.

The name comes from the French for Lion's teeth i.e the leaves Dents - de - lion. However the French call them Wet - the - beds from their effective diuretic qualities.

Plenty of Violets were to be found on the drier ground under the trees; it's a shame there are no Fritillary butterflies to take advantage of them.

The wettest ares held good sized patches of Marsh Marigolds,

the whole woodland had the sweet smell of garlic from the Ramsons (aka Wild Garlic), it was just coming into flower.

Garlic Mustard, or Hedge Mustard as it is sometimes known, was already in flower but we didn't see any Orange Tip butterflies whose caterpillars feed on it.

In wet flushes along the path side the tiny but enormously named Opposite Leaved Golden Saxifrage was flowering.

I didn't study this Stitchwort closely enough to determine which species it is.

Nor am I a sufficiently knowledgeable botanist to be able to tell you what species of tall Sedge this is

This Wild Cherry, or Gean, tree must have slid down the slope some time ago as the branches are all now pointing skywards again.

The bunches of flowers are stunning.

This is another smaller Wild Cherry tree - I was with the group that planted this quite a few years ago now, nice to see it and its mates doing well.

What a weird fungus growing on/out of a long dead Alder tree.

The path gows through a lovely Blackthorn tunnel. If you stop a moment and smell the air there is the faint scent of almonds,

and opens out onto a beautiful riverside view. A lovely spring scene with the fresh greens of newly sprouting leaves. The water level is low as, strangely for this part of Britain, it hasn't rained much lately.

Enjoy the carpets of truly British Bluebells...

Frank was more interested in sticks than the Bluebells.
Where to next? Perhaps somewhere uncharted by the safari.......
In the meantime let us know what makes your outback unique.