Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Warning - gruesome!

The Safari is concerned about the future of our environment particularly with regard to what might happen post Brexit from the EU, that dreadful organsation that gave us some the best wildlife and habitiat protecting directives in the world. OK so some member states flaunted the law, looking at you Malta and closer to home, looking at you England with regard to Hen Harrier (and other raptors) persecution and protected upland habitat destruction. But the law is the law and it is up to the member governments to implement and uphold it and bring criminals who defy it to justice. (Please sign this petition)
Also looming on the horizon are new trade deals, the most scary of which for the environment is the TTIP which brings American corporate profit-making at all costs to our shores at the expense of everyone and everything else. They don't seem to realise that we need to put the ecology before the economy - you can't have an economy without ecology, there's no money to be made on a dying planet!
With that in mind there was a snippet from the Woodland Trust the other day suggesting almost half of the population couldn't identify something as commonplace as Oak leaves.
We sometimes do a quiz for groups based on common birds (and trees if the group is up for it) and the results can be a bit frightening. If we are to have any chance of protecting the environment for our sake and its own intrinsic sake people need to be aware of what other species they share their space with. Here's a few and if you don't know what they are try to find out and leave your answers in the comments section. They're all common British species photographed in the garden at Base Camp.
No 1
No 2 - being a messy eater
No 2 again
No 3
No 4 - a youngster
No 4 - an adult
No 5
So have a go and let us know. Then try learning another five species in your area to make 10, then another 10 to make 20 you know well. After that you'll be well on your way to understanding a little bit more about how they fit into the web of life in the environment around you.
But never get complacent about the common and commonplace. House Sparrows were once far more common and widespread than they are now just a few years ago, their early declines went almost unnoticed until the declines were severe. 
And don't fall into the trap of thinking that the common and widespread are boring and uninteresting - they aren't and there's always the chance of learning something new about them. Take for instance the very common and widespread Woodpigeon we saw with a couple of Feral Pigeons poking about on the lawn at work yesterday morning. nothing unusual about that you might think, but no that was the first Woodpigeon we've seen on Patch 2 (P2 #63) since 2013 and only seen one other, in 2012...so not so common and widespread as you thought! 
This morning we had an early look at a cool, dull and dreary Patch 2. There wasn't a lot going on, nothing out at sea and just a few gulls on the beach with four Oystercatchers. We were about to give it up as a bad job when we had another 'last scan'. Good job we did there was a Little Egret (P2 #64) feeding very close to the wall down at the southern end of the patch. The only other one we've seen here was a fly-past quite a way out to sea last year so it was good to see one close in and grounded.
We didn't have the camera with us so had to run back to the office for it and then walk quickly down to the end of the Prom. When we got there we sneakily peeked our head over the wall to discover it wasn't there. Where had it gone? Carefully we went down the steps for a better view along the beach. There it was right down under our normal watching point...doh! Back we went but as soon as we got near we saw it fly and it didn't give us much of a chance to get any shots off as it went round the corner.
We caught up with it a few hundred yards further north feeding again in the pool at the bottom of the wall.
Minutes later it flew further on again and we had to leave it be and get back to work.
At lunch time we were out again as the rain started to fall. Again there wasn't much out there and again we had one last look this time seeing a dolphin washed up on the beach a long way to the south and down by the low water mark. At first we thought it was a Bottlenose Dolphin, it looked big through the scope. But looks can be deceiving; we drove down to the bottom of the Prom and walked out across the beach to discover it was a five foot long (1.5m) Harbour Porpoise
Some of the following pics aren't too pleasant so if you're squeamish be prepared for a bit of blood.
An unusual wound but made how and by what
We think these are just peck marks from the local gulls
The other side was unharmed
There are some possible rake makes - again from what?
 Sad to see a beautiful animal in a state like this and this wasn't the only one recently. A few nights ago police officers helped rescue a young calf back into the water but unfortunately it washed up dead later that night. Prior to that another dead juvenile had washed up earlier in the day. What's going on? No fish? There's certainly very few Gannets or terns out to sea this week, or could it be that pod of Bottlenose Dolphins that's about from time to time being brutally aggressive. 
Hope there's no more dead on the beach tomorrow.
Where to next? We'll be back on Patch 2 in the rain no doubt.
In the meantime let us know who's got the most colourful socks in your outback.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Always a good day when you learn something new about nature

The Safari was a bit disappointed to find so little in the moth trap this morning after recent double whammy NFGs, just 10 individuals, almost half of those were Heart & Darts, of only six species. Riband Wave was the only one new for the year.
Mid-afternoon we were able to meet up with BD to have a look for White Letter Hairstreak butterflies on Patch 1, they'd been reported from a reserve in the nest town so while it was 'early' for them it was worth a look. We heard two Chiffchaffs in the main area of the park and had a look at the bottom lake but other than lots of litter, Duckweed and lots of Poecilobothrus nobilitatus flies dancing there was nothing there. At the butterfly zone there were several Large Skippers and a few Meadow Browns, the first we've seen this year, and a couple of very fresh smart looking Speckled Woods. The butterflies were mostly inactive hiding away as the sunshine turned minute by minute to more cloudy conditions.
With no sign of the White Letter Hairstreaks and the top of their favourite tree being shaken round quite madly by the increasing wind we decided to have a look at what else was on offer then wander down to the rough field.
BD pointed out something we've never heard of before, Sycamore Leaf Aphids spread themselves remarkably evenly across the underside of the leaf, usually we think of aphids as all bunched together at the tip of a plant.
Flitting around the grass nearby and generally refusing to stay still was this colourful Sawfly, Tenthredo sp?
We also found a bee that had made a grave mistake!
Not much nectar there mate!
It had probably got caught out by the sudden much cooler, cloudier and windier weather. 
Down at the far end of tthe field BD showed us something else we've not seen bef ore or certainly not noticed if we have seen it before. After looking at a few Yellow Meadow Ants' nests, one of which was huge, maybe about 3 feet (1m) across, he found some Ragwort plants being sucked by aphids white Black Ants in attendance milking them for their honeydew. A closer look revealed the ants had build their nest around the base of the plant, all the better to defend their 'herd'.
The whole base of the plant is completely encrusted with the ants nest
He also found us the first of this year's Grasshoppers and we showed him the local plant specialty Ploughman's Spikenard although it'll be another week before it comes into flower. As in previous years it was sad and upsetting to see wheelbarrow loads of garden rubbish tipped here, as usual mostly all over the big patch of Birds-foot Trefoil smothering most of it so not so many Common Blue butterflies this year - Yet another reason why basic education about the natural history, ecological relationships and what can be found in your local area is so vital.
With no butterflies on the wing now we walked back through the park to the car as a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past us, the first sighting we've had here since their nesting tree was felled. It flew across the field and landed in the trees at the edge of the park where a Sparrowhawk immediately attacked it and it was lucky to escape - an amazing sequence of events to witness. Going through the wooded edge of the field BD spotted some weird looking fungi growing out of an old felled tree stump.

Later identified by the world famous and font of all knowledge woodland and beyond AB @HesistantWeasel - well if he isn't world famous he should be - as emerging Dead Mens Fingers. The Council's budget cuts have made it necessary to do much less grass cutting and the lower area of the park is no longer a cutting priority and has been left - it looks great, lots of different colours and textures of grass flowing like waves in the gentle breeze under the trees. There were even some kids enjoying playing in it!
Mostly Yorkshire Fog
Just needs a more flowers to make it that little bit more exciting, but after decades of being scalping twice a week through the summer there's probably precious few taller species left in the turf.

From Patch 1 we drove a couple of minutes up the road to a site we've only visited a couple of times before. It has - or at least had - Common Lizards but the area they were last seen in is now perhaps too well vegetated, if they are still there hopefully they'll have been able to move somewhere more suitable. Seeing the Common Lizards would have brilliant but they weren't what we were hoping for, that was something altogether rarer and harder to find and probably hasn't been at this site for tens of the best part of a hundred years - well you can dream! What we were after was a Grass Snake! Earlier in the week PT had told us one had been seen at a pond near here and the lad that found it had somehow tried to drown it??? That pond is very isolated so was the ID good, where had it come from, how many are there, are they anywhere else nearby - questions questions. Apparently the ID was correct but the other questions still stand...was it a pet someone had released - where do you get and how could you keep a pet Grass Snake, maybe they didn't like the smell? Anyway we didn't find it, the weather was against us as it stayed cold and cloudy and the sun didn't come out to encourage any that might be there to bask. The pond had a family of Coots and a family of Moorhens as well as a sinister looking Heron - not good news for any nearby Grass Snakes! It was the longest of long shots and of course we were unsuccessful, but it's a site that warrants closer and more regular inspection. 
In the grassy area we found a Meadow Brown that was far more accommodating than those at Patch 1.
And a Nursery Web Spider 
By the pond as we walked through the bankside vegetation we disturbed many Blue Tailed Damselflies and some bright blue ones all of which that stayed still long enough to ID were Azure Damselflies.
From there we went the couple of hundred yards to where the Grass Snake was seen and had a quick look round but the most exciting thing to be seen in the pond was a bicycle wheel.
All good things come to an end as did our time and we turned for Base Camp after a very enjoyable coupla-three hours out on safari not seeing what we hoped we'd see but seeing other wondrous stuff instead.
Where to next? We'll be out n about on safari somewhere tomorrow - but where, that the $64,000 question and probably weather dependent.
In the meantime let us know who's not slithering around in your outback.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

A safari back to the old days

The Safari had another moth trapping session at Base Camp the other night and what a cracker it turned out to be. The quantity wasn't over exciting but the quality was.18 moths of only six species doesn't sound exciting especially when almost half of them were Heart & Darts. A nice bright green Common Emerald was shown to Wifey, we didn't get this species last year.
And a very pale one we didn't recognise at all had us reaching for the field guide. Wow; a Miller, totally New For The Garden.
One overly well marked Heart & Dart look alike had us wondering enough to put it out for ID and it came back as a Sand Dart, another New For The Garden, two in one night is amazing!, and a wanderer well away from its normal sand dune habitat.
Later we were able to get a trip out a little further afield and headed to the Southside on the hunt for some specialties. We didn't find the Yellow Wagtails where we saw them last year but as time was short we probably didn't give it long enough.We then went onto the big wetland reserve where we hoped the recently reported Wood Sandpipers were still around, they weren't they'd shipped out buzzed off by the ever so aggressive local Avocets the day before. Nor did we find the Little Ringed Plovers there. That's not to say it wasn't a very enjoyable hour, there was loads to see, best of all was the peace, it was noisy but all the noise was natural sounds we heard virtually no intrusive human noise pollution at all - brilliant.
Black Headed Gull picking up hatching midges
They're BIG!
Little Grebe
Next stop was a short drive up the road to the coastal marshes. Here it was great to see cattle acting as wild cattle being graze extensively and allowed to roam the whole marsh
The one at the front took a dislike to a Tufted Duck and did a full blown charge at it - comical and very splashy
There were plenty of other ducks around too, a few Teal, lots of Shelducks, several Mallards, a lone Wigeon and this Shoveler which had just been charged by one of those super-aggressive Avocets.
Although the Avocets are a very welcome addition to the local avifauna it wasn't those we'd come to see, nor the Little Egrets, it was a Glossy Ibis (165) - it's getting more like the Mediterranean of old round here every passing year, how long before Cattle Egrets along with Purple and Squacco Herons are breeding in Safari-land?
Take yer arm off as soon as look at yer they would!
Doesn't look vicious does it - - - - yet!
A thin patch of reeds close to the hide was were the interest was focused. A couple of nice breeding plumaged Black Tailed Godwits stood nicely in view...
...however the Glossy Ibis  resolutely refused to show itself well prefering to stay feeding at a huge rate of knots in the densest of the not so dense vegetation...and it was on the 'wrong' side of the light to show its super-Starling-like colours to best advantage.
We've only seen Glossy Ibis once since 2010, in 2014, and it brought our Year List to 165 so we're still well behind Monika in this year's challenge. Not only that we're well behind our tally for last year when we reached 165 about a month earlier, on 26th May.
Missing this off the list so far this year are some whoppers; Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Yellow Wagtail, Little Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Glaucous Gull, Bewick's Swan, Garganey, Great Northern Diver, Bar Tailed Godwit, Razorbill, Little Owl, Twite and Black Redstart could all be reasonably be expected to have made it into the notebook by now.
But you see what you see when you see it and if you don't get out you won't see nowt!
Our trip to the Southside also took us to one of our favourite teenage wildlife haunts. We've hardly been there much in the last 40 years and we only had about half an hour to explore. It was a lot lot wilder back then and certainly no dodging cyclists was necessary the only bile was ours and that was usually propped upon a lump of long gone old rubble - the ground was too rough and full of potential punctures to ride a bike over.
Still busy as it was we had a look and meandering on the off piste 'dog-walking' paths - why can they never stay ON the paths? - we came across some cracking wildlife.
Perennial Sweet Pea
Small Heath butterfly a species we don't see very often now
Common Broomrape a parasitic plant with no chlorophyll
Linnet - good to see lots of these still flying around here
We had hoped to see some Bar Tailed Godwits on the beach, it used to be a good site for them and probably still is but they were always much more of a winter bird than mid-summer although there was always the possibility of a straggler that hadn't migrated. Again it was peaceful here with the only human noises the swish of passing cyclists and the quiet hum of heavy diesel engines in the ships  navigating the outer reaches of the river, other than those it was just gently lapping waves, the light wind rustling the grasses and the songs and calls of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits, Reed Buntings and of course the Linnets. One species we saw that we wouldn't even have dreamed of in the mid 70s was a Sparrowhawk, at that time any that had survived the depredations of DDT were 'removed' on sight by the local gamekeepers.
We couldn't go far as we had to pick up Pops from the dentist so turned back to 'enjoy' a much more urban view but again following a 'dog-walkers' track to spot the best wildlife, there were loads of freshly hatched Six-spot Burnet moths mostly in flight wit hone thing one their mind to our left and we were unable to get a pic - they looked positively resplendent in the bright sunshine.
Family duties done it was the long haul back to the northside and Base Camp. We had just enough time to strike out to the Prom for a quick look for the Bottlenose Dolphins on the dropping tide. No luck but we did managed a pic of a Starling today. A juvenile but you can see the white arrows heads of its adult winter plumage just beginning to poke through.

Where to next? We're back at work now so Patch 2 comes into play again.
In the meantime let us what who's poking around for memories in your childhood outback.