Monday, 30 May 2016

Bank holiday bees

The Safari didn't have a lot of wildlifey joy yesterday for some reason the garden was very quiet. Not sure why it was good and warm, barely a cloud in the sky with little in the way of a breeze - the weather was so good our shorts found their way out of the draw for the first time in at least 18 months!
We found the exuvium of a Blue Tailed Damselfly in the pond, we saw two adults or the same one twice during the afternoon. Other than those/it the only other entries into the notebook where a few species of bumblebees and the first Ruby Tailed Wasp of the year.
We spent an hour or so with Wifey at the garden centre choosing bedding plants. In a quiet corner where the staff stashed hosepipes, wheelbarrows etc one of the assistants found a fledging Dunnock while overhead a pair of Buzzards took advantage of a thermal.
This morning we went out and straight away heard lots of splashing coming from the pond. Our Goldfish were getting very frisky - the ring leader seemed to be the red one we 'rescued' from the pond at work a few weeks ago.
Even the smaller ones were having a go.
Early on there were a few more birds, the pair of Jackdaws putting in a quick smash and grab raid on the suet blocks, the Blackcap was singing from the nearest its been so far and a well grown juvenile Blackbird were pick of the bunch until a mating flight of three Swifts went over screaming very high up, brilliant to watch them scythe at breakneck speed through the azure sky, shame we see them so infrequently here now. Does make us wonder what we've done to the planet when there are no Swifts to be seen on warm summer days.
We watched a solitary bee go in to the be hotel and decided to try to get some pics. It came and went several times but unpredictably. While we waited other insects caught our eye like these Flesh Flies.

Greenbottles (Lucilla sp) are regulars in the garden during the summer and often allow quite a close approach if you're patient and careful.
The trellis against the sunny garage wall is the favoured place for the Ruby Tailed Wasp to hang out. We saw it many times but it wouldn't stay still in a convenient place. Eventually it investigated a hole for a potential bee victim but out rushed a spider. The wasp was struck at but the spider backed off and left alone but when the wasp tried to fly off it was badly tangled in the web. We tried to rescue it but it dropped to the ground still tangled and we haven't sen it since so we don't know if it managed to free itself or not.
A much small spider was seen while we were waiting for the Ruby Tailed Wasp to reappear, a tiny jumping Zebra Spider. Unfortunately it was running down the trellis so its face is a bit too shadowed. These little chaos are great characters and quite feisty, rearing up at you even though your 'only' a billion times bigger than they are.
Eventually we did get our bee pics.
We hadn't realised that the holes don't go all the way back; we'd assumed (once again never assume anything unless told to in Maths/Physics exam paper) that the drilled woodblock and Bamboo tubes were hard up against the back of the box but they're not, there is a gap so the bee could go down one and come out of another making best guessing it tricky to say the least.
Given the huge number of 'duds' we're pleased we managed this one good shot
Once the sun had gone off the garage wall we turned our attentions to the bumble bees and had a little bit of success with this worker Early Bumblebee.

Isn't digital photography a marvel. We must have taken well over 100 shots to get that last one, how much would that have cost in slide film and all that waiting to get them back from the developers to find 99.9% were total tosh! We'll try again perhaps with the plants in pot where we can set up angles and lighting to best effect rather than try getting the bees at plants in situ.
Where to next? There's an interesting year bird turned up not far away if we can persuade Wifey in to giving us a lift after tea, would be a lifer for her too.
In the meantime let us know who's 'bee'n buzzing around your outback today.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Small victories in the war against ecocide

The Safari was able to sit outside in the sunshine on Saturday but for much of the time all we could hear was strimmers, lawnmowers, hedge trimmers and other power tools ripping into the local gardens without a second thought for what might be being destroyed either directly or indirectly like opening up the dense cover around a nest so that predation by eg cats/Magpies becomes inevitable - there's a Robin's nest nearby we've seen an adult skulking unobtrusively to and fro through the undergrowth at the bottom of the garden.
Cat owners please note that putting a bell on your moggie has no effect on reducing their slinkiness what-so-ever. This afternoon we were at peace with the world on the patio when we noticed a movement to our right. A be-belled cat had crossed the yard and climbed the half dozen steps to the patio in absolute silence. It's only when we spotted it and moved that it ran back down the steps that we heard the bell jingling.
All this feline activity didn't wake the sleeping Woodpigeon high and safe on the pergola. He waits up there for smaller birds to visit the feeders and spill crumbs down on the ground as he's not agile enough to reach them himself.
The other day we were thrilled to have a Jackdaw come down and visit the feeders, today we doubled our record count!
And were very pleased with more visits from the now regular but totally unpredictable male House Sparrow. His routine seems to be a quick snack on the feeder before a minute or two's search of the Silver Birch tree before heading off north to north east-ish - wonder where he's going too.
One particular juvenile Starling is another unpredictable visitor, coming in unexpectedly at any time for a quick suet top up or a bathe in the ornamental waterfall. Most of the birds seem to prefer this to the birdbath a yard away which we would think offered a bit more safety being raised up on a pedestal, only the Blue Tits seem to use it. The Starling never brings his parents or siblings.
Meanwhile down in the yard the orchid story in (literally) unfolding in front of our very eyes.
Here's the first fully open flower.
Apparently there are about 120 in flower at the nature reserve this week and no doubt more on the duneland nature reserve we also visit so we're thinking a spore or two may have hitched a ride with us and found the tub to their liking. We've certainly got down close and personal with them for pics at the nature reserve although that would invariably be when they were in full flower and not once they'd gone over and had ripe seed capsules. Maybe it is a one in a billion fluke. It must be almost 100 years since the garden was last farmland and there may have been/probably was orchids in the pastures and/or hay meadows at that time. Definitely one to ponder and enjoy and a very welcome addition to the garden flora wherever it came from. The tub was originally planted with ornamental Alpine plants into recycled peat-free compost, the Thrift is the only surviving original plant, the Cowslips have were seeded in deliberately from others in the garden. The blue Campanula was in the pot bust has 'escaped'.
Warm sunshine meant insects were on the wing and we had brief visits from the first Holly Blue butterfly of the year and a mature Blue Tailed Damselfly which we assume came from someone else's pond as we've not seen any tenerals around our pond at that point. And then a little later there was one right in front of us struggling in a spider's web.
Being soft hearted we did the wrong thing and deprived the spider of an enormous meal.
It soon fluttered off none the worse for wear from its very close shave.
Tree Bees and Early Bumble Bees visited the flowers on offer while a huge queen Bombus terrestris got trapped underthe pond net for a while being too big to fit through the mesh that keeps the Herons out.
Here's the view from our perch on the patio, somewhere to the right behind the garage there was a Blackcap singing very quietly a couple of gardens away. We tried to see where it might be from the back bedroom window. We've not looked out from there for a while and were shocked to see how much shrubbery has been lost from the surrounding gardens - they're mostly bare now almost habitat-free zones.We are very much an island of structural diversity in a sea of monotonous lawns and 'tidy' flower-beds.
But we bet even those tidy gardens have Greenfly and no doubt a futile ecocidal war will be waged against them. They're welcome on our notebook anytime.
All these little things, while barely significant in their own right, give us immense pleasure at a time we're invalided and unable to get further afield but are all little victories against the masses that seem to want rid of wildness for the sake of 'tidy' and in doing so make our world that little bit poorer. They don't seem to realise all species are interconnected including ourselves, we are a part of nature not apart from it and there is no Planet B!
Wifey came back from the shops late afternoon and suggested we have a drive out to the countryside for a bit of fresh air and to help us going stir crazy at Base camp. We felt up to it so in the car we got. We ended up at a favourite riverside walk where we heard a Garden Warbler (161) as soon as we opened the car door and Wifey spotted a Nuthatch on the feeders at the end of the car park.
The woods rang loudy with the songs of Song Thrushes, Blackcaps and Wrens but the river was devoid of birds apart from a family of well grown Mallards.
At the car park another visitor (probably spotting our bins) had told us too look for the pair of Mute Swans on the lake, "there's a bird-hide you know". Yes we knew, we've only been going there since the early 80s and never seen anything out of the ordinary from it! The best sighting we had was a shoal of large Chub when we looked directly down out of the window once many many years ago and we've seen a Roe Deer on the far bank once.
We had a look from the hide anyway not expecting much but as expected the pair of Mute Swans were feeding out in the middle of the lake. On a dead snag at the side of the hide was a Grey Wagtail with a beak stuffed with flies. It was agitated and calling like mad so we thought it might have a nest in or near the hide so we fired off a few shots and left it in peace. As soon as we'd gone the other came and landed on the branch next too it also with a beakful of food - time to leave them well alone.
The woods are undergoing some bizarre coppicing work, not sure by whom, but we did some Alder coppicing in the top corner all those years ago and this looks like an attempt to revisit that work although the trees seems to be chosen at random and some of the stumps have been left very long - all very strange...shoulda taken some pics. We should also have taken some pics of the dense wildwood a little further along the path away from the river. The trees are all shapes as they've competed for light and their boughs are gorgeously festooned with mosses, lichens and ferns. In places trees grow in the path and their roots have become exposed by the passage of countless feet - looks like a giant bonsai display.
Arty canopy shot through a not-so-invasive-here Norway Maple
The last time we were here the Rangers were cutting developing Alder scrub from the extensive meadow areas. We had hoped there would be an awesome display of Marsh Orchids and Cowslips but it wasn't to be, even the Buttercups weren't putting on as good a show as the un-managed area on the other side of the car park. Maybe we're a week to early still, but we did find a Common Twayblade just at the side of the path through the meadow - very vulnerable to being trodden on by the hordes of rampaging dogs that are brought for a 'walk'.
It was great to get out and the day was finished with a huge plate of fish and chips, the perfect end to a perfect day. Wifey added three birds to her year list, Garden Warbler, Nuthatch and Blackcap taking her total to 102, sadly we couldn't find her Kingfisher, Dipper or Little Ringed Plover (on the brand new pool that has been excavated over the road from the car park - looks mint for them).
Where to next? Back on our perch on the patio at Base Camp lapping up the sunshine and the wildlife sights in the garden. A Honey Buzzard will fly over - - plleeeeeeeaaasssse!
In the meantime let us know who's put in a surprise appearance in your outback.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

It's raining it's pouring

The Safari's Base Camp twilight bat bonanza came to nought last night, no self respecting bat was going to come out and fly round in heavy rain like that and we didn't fancy standing out on the patio for the best part of an hour waiting for it not to show. Still, there's always tonight. 
This morning there was unexpected excitement when a Jackdaw came down to feed on the fat block. This is the first time in 13 years at Base camp we've seen one actually within the confines of the garden rather than flying over or occasionally hopping round on the garage roof.
Taken from across the length of the sitting room through a double glazed window in the gloom at ISO stupid
It was flushed by an lone adult Starling dropping in for a beakful which in turn was flushed by a Magpie which didn't visit the feeder in the end.
Minutes later the male House Sparrow was on the other feeder. WOW it's all go here!
Before long the Magpie was back.
And so was the House Sparrow but this time it didn't drop on to the feeder just linger briefly on the top of the pergola from which the feeders hang and then flew off over the garage roof.
A well grown fledgling Blackbird disappeared into our log store by the back kitchen door for several minutes, perhaps sheltering from the rain and/or hunting for spiders/
Later in the afternoon after a very quiet spell there was a little flurry of activity with a very brief return of the Jackdaw, a Blue Tit with a wing fluttering fledgling on the suet block and this rather unexpected Long Tailed Tit. Just shows you what could be about that you miss by being at work or out on safari elsewhere.
Apologies for the poor pic, it's mid afternoon at the end of May and as gloomy as gloomy gets, it's almost dark out there and only 11C - should be about 17C!
Very late, while tea was cooking, the ringed Greenfinch came in for a while and then the male House Sparrow came in for some supper. Not much sign of many invertebrates today, hardly surprising given the weather! The mystery orchid hasn't opened any further either.
Where to next? We're really hoping for better weather tomorrow so we can sit out and get some fresh air. Stitches come out tomorrow afternoon which is good.
In the meantime let us know who's providing all the excitement in your outback.

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Base Camp update

The Safari hasn't had the most exciting of times these last couple of days. The weather  has taken a turn for the worse, we've lost the sun and gained a strong and chilly breeze, not really conducive to sitting outside. However it hasn't been all bad it's just that the highlights have been fewer and we've had to wait for them!
The sun was still shining yesterday morning bringing a Large White butterfly into the garden and then another and another, or possibly the same one doing a circuit. Eventually one/it settled to nectar on an Aubretia flower growing in one of Wifey's tubs. It was away withing seconds so no chance of a pic.
One of the pressies we received for Christmas was a year's subs to Birdwatch magazine, every month they have a competition which we don't normally enter. April's competition was different, it was for a Hawke telescope and seeing how Wifey has  been enjoying using her Hawke EDs we entered. After being away for well over a week and then going into hossy we thought we'd best check and delete some emails. One was from Heather, at first we thought it was someone we knew wanting to meet up for an exiting safari somewhere or other; but no  it wasn't that Heather it was Heather from the magazine - we'd WON!!! We never win anything ever, so much so that we probably paid for the 2012 Olympics alone with all our failed lottery tickets...And this was her second email as we'd not responded to the first seeing as how we were mostly incommunicado down in Cornwall. 
Mid-mornig there was a knock on the door we answered to see a cheery chappy holding a reasonably sized parcel...Unpacking it one handed took a good while but we got there in the end.
Thank you Birdwatch mag and Hawke optics
We have a cunning plan for it...
Just about the last of the sunshine brought a dragonfly racing over the fence and hovering far too briefly over the pond before shooting off into the clear blue sky beyond the garage roof. The action happened so fast we didn't get a really good look at it but it was probably a 4-Spotted Chaser, an extremely rare visitor to Base Camp - we haven't even had sight nor sign of any damselflies yet.  
That was the end of the sunshine and any further excitement until the male House Sparrow put in  a similarly brief appearance although he did  land on the mixed seed feeder and grab a beakful so hopefully he'll be back more regularly in the near future...with wife n kids in tow???
While pottering around in the garden with Wifey inspecting her pot plants after tea we heard a Swift screaming nearby but didn't see it. More thrilling was seeing the first bat of the year at Base Camp as darkness fell and we were out inspecting Wifey's multi-coloured forever-changing LED garden lamps. We're not certain but think it might well have come from the bat box our Extreme Photographer put up a couple of years ago.
Tonight's job will be to test our hypothesis...provided the bat(s?) play ball and decide to show themselves - it's pretty darned cold out there today!
So darned cold in fact that we've seen virtually nothing through the window, far too cold to sit outside. Early morning provided the bulk of today's interest when a pair of Greenfinches turned up at the feeders, the male sporting a BTO type metal ring. Getting the number off it could be a project for the 150-600mm lens when we can lift the flippin thing. It might not be as easy it it sounds as half an hour later three more Greenfinches appeared, two males and a female, and none of these were blinged up.
With nothing happening we had  quick mooch round with the macro lens mid-afternoon
Common Speedwell, each flower is no more than 5mm across
The garden's first Ox-Eye Daisy of the summer - we'll get a better pic of the
Fibonacci Sequence as the disc flowers open fully in due course
There's little other news other than the Starlings haven't been back so probably can't smell, or don't like the smell of, the fat blocks we've put out for them. The only one that has returned is a juvenile that came to bathe in our ornamental waterfall.
Not from Base Camp but something that concerns us greatly was recent news of yet another Red Kite being shot in Yorkshire. What are these people on? They're a worm, beetle and dead Rabbit eating scavenger, no threat to anything...apart from worms, beetles and dead Rabbits. We'd love to see them in Lancashire but they seem incapable of crossing the moorland separating the two counties - we wonder why. 
Hall Lane is the short lane the poor bird was found crashing around under a hedge. What a shame - What a foul crime. The by far the most likely culprits are the Neanderthals involved in grouse shooting - ohh look there's lots and lots of ruined upland habitat nearby. For those that don't know rectangular strips of Heather (No, not our friend or the nice lady from the magazine) are burned in rotation to provide new growth for the Red Grouse to eat so there are many more of them to shoot than the habitat could normally hold. 
Nothing with a hooky beak or sharp claws must get in the way of those 'grice'. How can you help stop this carnage, not only of Red Kites but Peregrines, Goshawks, Hen Harriers, Buzzards, Ospreys, Golden and White Tailed Eagles (in Scotland), Foxes, Stoats, Weasels, Badgers, Pine Martens (in Scotland), Wild Cats (in Scotland - yes they even kill the rarest cat on the planet!!!) even seemingly innocuous Mountain Hares suffer horrendous and probably unsustainable slaughters (they carry ticks which could spread disease to the grouse). 
If you haven't already please sign this petition and pass it on - if you have get a friend or two to sign; lets get beyond the 100,000 signatures required to bring about a debate in Parliament and please everyone spread the word to your non-wildlifey friends, it affects them too through higher water bills (peat stained water has to be cleaned before it gets to our taps), higher home insurance (through increased flood risk) and increased carbon emissions (through burning on what should be active wet peat bogs) and more!
If an industry can't operate without the need for regular illegal activities it needs to be shut down ASAP. The more people who know how bad it is and how it affects them directly and indirectly the better. Our uplands deserve better than this shower of sh*tes!
Where to next? More sitting at Base Camp staring through the window - unless the sun comes out of course.
In the meantime let us know who's got the best numbers in your outback.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Do starlings smell?

The Safari was back at the hospital this morning to get our wound checked over and fresh, and very much reduced, dressings - what a relief, much more comfortable and mobile now, so much so we are able to wield the camera almost effectively for short periods at least.
The stitches come out at the end of the week, then it'll throb a bit!
Before we went into hospital we did the newt/amphibian survey during which we saw our first Yellow Flags in flower.

A little more interesting were these tiny beetles we found on many of the leaves in the gathering gloom.
We'd had the pics on the phone since then and yesterday we were able to put them on iSpot. By morning those clever iSpotters had come up with an ID. A fairly obvious ID but very welcome, so what are they? Iris Flea Beetles was the answer.
Back at Base Camp the other day we discovered that the only used cell in our little bug hotel was open, its occupant having pupated successfully over winter, metamorphosed into an adult and cut its way out - will it bring some friends this summer?
Also spotted, this time in our old Belfast sink which used to have alpines in it but is now mostly self-sown Cowslips. At first we thought the flat bladed leaves were from perhaps a miniature Tulip but over the last couple of days we're now certain its a Marsh Orchid of some description. We'll have to wait a few more days to find out which species when the flowers open fully.
We've been enjoying sitting in the sunshine in the garden listening to the birds once the dire noise pollution from the rush-hour traffic has died down. There's always a Woodpigeon or two hanging around hoping for some more scram.
There are two rival Blackbirds who sing at each other almost all day long. This one is in the Rowan tree at the end of next door's garden behind our garage. His rival was singing from a nearby chimney pot, less than 50 yards away, small territories it would seem so they must be of good quality.
While we were listening to those two with the local Song Thrush giving his four-penneth too we heard our first Blackcap (Garden #26) at Base Camp this year. Interestingly we've had a few Starlings visit today, very scarce here. We had, with somewhat of a struggle, put out some fat squares and within minutes we had visitors. How did they know it was there? We'd seen none flying over so could they smell the new food source. How nosey is a Starling?

It wasn't just the Starlings that made an appearance on the Scarce List. We also had a visit from a male House Sparrow that shot over the garden and landed briefly on the other next door's feeders before returning the way it came over our garden again. Bizarrre, we didn't know there were any sparrows locally in that direction. Luckily it came back and spent no more than a couple of minutes in our garden hopping around our pot plants. 
With no further bird action we turned our attention to the plants. We tried some macro shots but it was too windy with most of the flowers shaking around like Whirling Dervishes. The Thrift in the same tub as the orchid was just about the only robust and sheltered enough specimen for a decent pic.
Later we just about managed to get the new beast out of its box but weren't able to attach it too the camera; there's no way we'll be able to use it for at least a week yet - sooooooo frustrating.

Where to next? We're hoping the sunny weather will last all week so we can sit out and soak up the wild outside.
In the meantime let us know who smells in your outback.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Up on the hill down by the river

The Safari is currently incapacitated after yet another hand op. This disease/condition is really starting to wear a bit thin now!
Last weekend we had a couple of days freedom before going in to hospital and was able to have a good mooch round the garden and a safari further afield. While we were away on holiday the Great Tits have been busy

Today we were thrilled to see that at least one youngster has fledged. Much better than last spring when all the chicks died due to the terrible weather.
We also saw the first Goldfinch juveniles feeding in the garden, over a month earlier than last year when we assume early nests failed.
The Cowslips are still flowering
and our Clematis montana is a joy to behold, trouble is it's even better on the neighbour's (south) side of the fence!
One of our favourite wild flowers, Herb Robert, is just coming in to flower. There's lots in the garden which is good cos the bees love it.
On Sunday we picked up BD and had a drive out east and up hill. We went to the popular country park with a particular target species in mind. Although the sun was out it wasn't as busy as we'd expected we had the trails mostly to our selves save for the odd family out for a dog walk and/or picnic. 
In the peaty wetter areas off-piste where the conifer trees have been felled Cotton Grass was coming into flower.
It took a while before we heard the Guinea-Pig-like last few notes of our quarry's song. Once we heard it we soon located the singer and a rival! Tree Pipits (159), they gave great views as the made their song flights around the tree tops.
After enjoying the Tree Pipits for a good while BD suggested we take the lower path along the edge of the trees back to the car park. It turned out to be decision of the day when we came across two dark moths spiraling around each other. Unsure of their ID we waited for them to settle. It was then we saw they weren't moths at all but Green Hairstreak butterflies, a species we've not seen at this site for about 30 years - obviously we've missed them as we don't visit anything like as often as we did in the old days.

Before returning to the car we had a look round the pond where Bog Bean was in flower.
What weird and intriguing petals it has - what is all that fluffy stuff for? Does it help trap/direct pollinating insects?
One pollinator had a lucky escape when spotted it struggling in the water. A leafy stick was found to bring it to safety where it could dry out in the sun.
The main reason for visiting the pond was to see if we could find any dragons or damsels. We briefly saw a damsel and luckily (or should that be skilfully) BD was able to keep his eye on it when it went in to the trees and refound it several minutes later on a dead twig half way up a bush.
Back at the car a 'probable' Garden Warbler kept us entertained and guessing for ages but refused to show itself unlike the several Blackcaps singing in the same patches of bushes.
Footling round the sunny and sheltered car park gave us the opportunity to have a close look at some butterflies too, like this female Orange Tip.
Our Garden Warbler quest was abandoned and we headed to a nearby woodland. By now it was mid afternoon and the birds had gone quiet. Apart from the noisy Robins we only saw a Blue Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker. The scent coming from the carpet of Bluebells was delicious and worth the visit alone!
Time was passing now but we were still able to visit the river a mile or two downstream. Two women and their dog set off along the path ahead of us and probably flushed the Kingfisher (160) that whizzed past us in a hurry. That was our target bird here and we had hoped for perched views not the 100mph flight view we just had. We turned back hoping it would have stooped at the weir by the bridge. It hadn't, or at least wasn't there by the time we got there. Crossing the road we walked upstream. Still no sign of the Kingfisher but Chaffinches, a Pied Wagtail and several unseen fish were making the most of a Mayfly hatch.
Along the riverbank a male Orange Tip teased us by settling for minutes at a time but never very near and when it was closer it didn't settle for more than a few seconds not allowing a decent shot at it.
We had enough time left before returning to Base Camp to call in briefly at another site to look for Little Ringed Plovers. None were found on the pool but the Common Terns fishing along the canal were a joy to watch.
And so endeth our last excursion for at least a couple of weeks or so.
Where to next? It can only be garden news from Base Camp for a while and it could be a few days or more until we can hold the camera again.
In the meantime let us know who's been fluttering by in your outback.