Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Plant ID by torchlight

The Safari and Little Chris (who ain’t so little) joined a group of enthusiastic moffers on the dunes close to work as dusk fell last night.
The plan was to torch – not with matches n petrol; Silly! – the Sea Couch grass on the embryo frontal dunes to see if the mythical Sandhill Rustic has at last leapt across the river from the much larger dune system on the South-side. To help us search and point us to the most likely spots we were led by County macro recorder GP and, to cover all bases and possibilities, County micro recorder SP.
With torches blazing we headed off in to the dunes where we immediately came across a few moths nectaring on Ragwort flowers. A couple were duly potted and ‘saved for later’.

On the seaward edge of the dunes we split up into small groups and walking along the beach gave each patch of Sea Couch we came across a good grilling, looking low down amongst the stems for thee tell-tale glint of eye-shine. This is probably where we went wrong last year as we were chasing airborne moths in the pitch black across the dunes with flailing nets like demented cartoon characters.
The beach has a row of stout posts set about 10 yards away from the toe of the dunes to keep the mechanical beach cleaner out, the result has been a spectacular increase in embryo dune vegetation. Along with patches of developing Marram Grass, Sea Couch and Sea Lyme grass we found some very prickly Prickly Saltwort.

A few patches of this Atriplex sp

And copious mounds of the very attractive Sea Rocket.

None of these would have stood a chance of growing much beyond germination had the beach cleaning machine still been able to operate in this area. Now a team of volunteers remove all the man-made litter by hand leaving the natural flotsam where the tide or wind dropped it. Have to say it has made the beach much more attractive although we’d happily bet the ‘tidy brigade’ don’t like it...flowers on the beach! Who ever heard of such nonsense???

We reached the northern end of the beach and it was time for us to head for bed; the others started a new search south from the original starting point but enquiries today revealed they didn’t have any success and although a Red Sword Grass moth was a good find it wasn’t a Sandhill Rustic.

Under the light from the streetlights we delved in to upr pockets for the potted moths and tried to get some pics by the light from LC’s mobile, one stayed still(ish) the other was quick off the mark and was soon running up our sleeve in true Kate Bush style

(Met her briefly before she was famous and got a signed pic of what was soon to become the cover of her first LP – a 12 inch disc of black vinyl plastic containing vibration induced analogue music for younger readers – cracking lass! Brilliant artist without her innovative stage style there would probably have been no Madonna etc – ahh well can’t have everything!)

Both are probably White Line Darts.

Little on the sea today and what there was can’t compete with yesterday’s highlight – a Hawker sp way way offshore! Was it migrating? If so would it have been a Migrant Hawker ;-) ?

This morning we had two trios of Dunlins and five Gannets fly south counted by two Great Crested Grebes going the other way...hardly breath-taking.
Our lunchtime session was worse following shortly after a deluge of either biblical or monsoonal proportions – take your pick but it was flippin heavy and all went dark.
Apart from a couple of flocks of Cormorants heading out of the estuary to the favoured fishing grounds nothing much seemed to be happening.
We looked beyond the Cormorant in to the face of another dirty black cloud and wondered if that was going to land on us too. As we stared we began to notice little white pixels that were terns fishing in the far distance. Concentrating harder we realised there were quite a few, may be as many as 20, and where there are terns feeding there are often skuas at this time of year. We watched and waited.
As time ticked by the flock grew in size and got perceptively closer. By now there must have been at least 100 terns and several dozen gulls including a couple of Great Black Backs.
At last we saw what we were searching for the unmistakable jizz of a harrying skua – a pale phased bird. In the end we might have seen as many as three skuas but they were very hard to follow at that range. The final score of terns as the first splats of rain fell was about 150 joined now by half a dozen Gannets too.
With the rain threatening to be double torrential again it was time to beat a hasty retreat – in the end we only copped for the edge of the storm and had a heavy shower quite unlike the cloud burst earlier.
Where to next? The beach beckons again tomorrow as we entertain the final family group of the summer holidays.
In the meantime let us know if the puddles became lakes in your outback.
This arrived in the post this morning. 

Not going to open it just yet – got a cunning plan for reading it but we will be giving it a bit of review in due course...seems to be selling like hot cakes, certain more than our own missive.Says he's been in the conservation business for 25 years, that's nearly as long as us...wonder if he's any good!
If you’ve already delved in to its pages please keep schtum...bags n cats etc...wonder if cats get a mention; we know their not the favourite of the chap who penned the Forward!

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