Sunday, 18 June 2017

The trouble with barn owls

The Safari was out early on the hunt for a scarcish bird to hopefully add to our Year Bird Challenge. We were at the site with the scope set up only a few minutes after 07.00. All was peaceful, the sun was already warm on our back and almost all of the sounds were the sounds of nature. It was good to be out almost like being in a scene that might have been painted by John Constable.
We had a good scan for our intended quarry but to no avail. There were plenty of other waders and waterfowl but not the one we wanted...yet.
 Overhead Skylarks serenaded us and from the hedge behind us a Whitethroat sang incessantly but the most obvious sound was the calls from the group of about four dozen Black Tailed Godwits feeding and resting in the pool right in front of us.

Further down the lane there was a Gypsy lad with a lovely modern horse-drawn caravan - we say Gypsy, he might have been any old bod just escaping the rat race - He came over to see what we were looking at before hitching up his horse and leaving. His caravan had metal cartwheels and made a serious drumming and rumbling noise on the road causing the cattle closest to us to stampede through the pool putting the Black Tailed Godwits to flight.
He also said he'd seen a big pale brown owl earlier which we expected would be back asleep in its barn by now. 
We kept on looking for the Little Ringed Plover that's been reported regularly recently but still had no luck so started to occupy ourselves while the birds moved around a bit by watching a family of Coots.
As luck would have it a Barn Owl flew overhead with prey heading back to its nest - where had that come from surely if it had been hunting in the cattle field we'd have seen it! As it disappeared in to the distance we didn't bother raising the camera to get a pic of its backside. And that was the end of that we thought as it was now nearly 08.00. But no, it snuck up on us again while we were engrossed in watching the tiny Shelduck chicks and the numerous mostly well grown Shoveler chicks. It didn't hunt 'our' field but skipped over the hedge and crossed the normally very busy dual carriageway.
Well what goes out a-hunting must come back and after a good length of time come back it did carrying a vole. Trouble is we very nearly missed it. You see that's the trouble with owls they fly silently and this one came back behind us and we were lucky to catch it in the corner of our eye but being behind us and that meant it was now on the wrong side of the light. We swung the camera round and fired away hopefully. Got it - just!!!

So really good to get a Barn Owl (YBC 139) on our our Year Bird Challenge. Unfortunately the Little Ringed Plover didn't show by the time we had to leave to get Wifey's breakfast on the go.
Later we were out again to try to find out if the local White Letter Hairstreak butterflies were on the wing as they'd been reported from the Southside yesterday, very close to where we'd been on our family duties. being a sunny Sunday morning the pollinator killers were out with their lawnmowers and hedge trimmers, we saw a lawn full of White Clover and Self Heal being scalped followed by a large Santolina bush losing its flowers - why on earth cut the colourful bit off? - and then a Buddleia bush having its unopened flowerbuds removed. We also saw the large grassy area behind the fence has been mown, at the end of last week it was a sea of yellow Buttercups. It really is no wonder the bees, butterflies, moths etc  are struggling. Why are we so terrified of flowers and colour?
It was already hot on Patch 1 and there were a few butterflies about. Most were Large Skippers and they weren't for stopping at all. We also had a few Speckled Woods, a similar number of Common Blues and singles of Red Admiral and Small White, no Meadow Browns yet and although we hung around 'the' tree we didn't see any White Letter Hairstreaks.
Also out n about was a rare 7-spot Ladybird, we've hardly seen any ladybirds this year.
Of more interest was this parasitic wasp
We've got a couple of possibles but are waiting for those clever iSpotters for a definitive ID.
On the way back we bumped into a dead Long Tailed Field Mouse lying on the pavement that wasn't there on the way out. Cat or heat? Or a mixture of both?
Where to next? Back to work tomorrow and we have another Brownie group in the evening so there might be something exciting they've found to show you later in the week. 
In the meantime let us know who's sneaking up behind you in your outback.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Some you know some you don't - always something new to learn

The Safari has had a busy week. We've been entertaining the Brownies on the beach and doing a bit of exploring around and about for ourselves too.
We always find it amazing that the beach can change so much in such a short space of time. On Tuesday evening the Brownies found loads of shells
but only one live Green Shore Crab - and that came out of the sand close to where they were standing probably in response to their pattering feet. It wasn't for want of trying either as we had well over a dozen nets being wielded in the rockpools and runnels. They did pull out a huge number of Brown Shrimps including many large ones and a solitary Common Prawn. We found them half a Compass Jellyfish floating in a pool, much more likely battered on the rocks by the previous day's storm than bitten by a hungry Leatherback Turtle. While gently caressing it to turn it over to show its 'compass points' we managed to get stung and had a very itchy thin red wheal on our hand all the following day. The also found something far more dangerous than a jellyfish - lostfishing tackle with a couple of hooks still attached.
In contrast a similar number of Guides found a rather different suite of creatures. They found a smaller Compass Jellyfish lying on the sand and close by were the first of many Sea Gooseberries, something we didn't see at all the previous evening. Like the Brownies they found prodigious numbers of Brown Shrimps but all but one were very small, where had all the big ones gone? They didn't find a single Common Prawn either but did manage four species of fish with neither group seeing any of the very common Sand Gobies in the runnels which would normally be expected. Four species of fish caught in one rockpooling session is good but not including Sand Goby is remarkable.
Despite the rough weather there were no Common Starfish or Brittle Stars to be found nor any of the giant Octopus Jellyfish which had been a feature on the beach only last week. That's why wildlife is so brill - you just can't predict what's going to be about.
Once the winds had subsided the rest of the week turned out nice and there was a selection of invertebrates to be found in the work's garden. A week or so ago when the sun was out we'd spotted a species of spider hunting wasp but were unable to get a photo. and now a bit of sunshine had us out looking again. We didn't see any but did find a rather tall specimen of the rare Deptford Pink and only an hour after telling someone they hadn't come up yet...dohhh prove us a liar!
To be fair we were looking where they've appeared in the past in mown grass and consequently much smaller although this large specimen was only a few feet away so perhaps we should have noticed it.
Around and about flying through the long grass were hundreds of the lovely Broad Centurion soldierflies
So far this year we've not seen many hoverflies anywhere we've been out on safari but the work's garden seems singularly devoid of them so seeing this big dobber was a bit of a treat. We think it's one of the Helophilus species.
 Also present as a single individual was this quite unusually shaped fly. We're sure we've seen it before but can't put a name to it yet - can you help?
Still on the look out for any spider hunting wasps we saw some tiny Cinnabar moth caterpillars. Unusually they weren't on their foodplant but at the tip of a Yorkshire Fog grass stem. What on earth were they doing up there? Basking to get more heat?
Lower down, still deep in the grass were their friends, these were on the right plant - Ragwort - and had made serious inroads into it. Maybe the others had done an early bunk to find a bigger Ragwort plant to start chomping on.
A big movement very low in the grass nearby caught our eye, we'd disturbed something fairly large and brown and out fluttered our first Silver Y moth of the year. You can make out the silver Y on it's fast moving wings as it scrambled to get clear of the grasses to make an escape.
By the picnic area there are a couple of old logs we used to use as seats but which are now in the later stages of rotting away. The furthest gone will be nothing more than a pile of dust soon but interestingly we noticed a few red blobs 'growing' at the most rotten end.
 We gave them a gentle prod with a finger to find out if they might have been candle wax or not, they weren't, deffo well attached to the wood. Could they be young Scarlet Elf Cap fungi? It's a very odd place for that species though, out in the open and very exposed to the most severe elements such as gale force winds, salt spray, direct sunlight. Or could it be a slime mould of some sort? We're going to be keeping an eye on it but if anyone has any ideas let us know.
We did eventually see one of the wasps and after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing managed to get a few snaps of it. We're pretty sure it's Amblyteles armatorius which would mean that despite it being on a spider's web and us thinking those fast waving antennae were searching out the web's owner tucked beneath the prickles of the Creeping Thistle leaves it wasn't hunting for spiders at all. Reading the books it appears that this species parasitises Noctuid moths. That's why wildlife is so brill - you just know you'll learn something new before too long. It might have been this one hiding in the seedpods of the Red Campion
Here's a Red Campion pod still full of seeds - when the wind blows it acts like a shaker and the seeds are scattered.
And so what does the non-spider hunting wasp look like - well fortunately we got a few pics that are juts about in focus.
It's certainly a beauty - unless you're a moth caterpillar that is in which case it's your worst nightmare!
Where to next? It''s the weekend and the weather is fine so there might be a safari once family duties are done to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's on the prowl in your outback.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Wet in the rain and the hope for a boar

The Safari wasn't able to do the dolphin watch we'd hoped to do for World Environment Day due to bad (= atrocious) weather, nor was there any chance to move it World Oceans Day a few days later due to solemn family duties. The following day we had a bit of a chill out day with Wifey to clear our heads and have a bit of a walk out with Monty somewhere he's not been before.
We had a walk along the river listening to mostly Blackcaps, Robins and Song Thrushes. We had to listen as we didn't see any birds at all in the dense woodland. There was a bird we did want to see and photograph, a Dipper or two, but arriving on site mid-afternoon the amount of doggy disturbance so far, which we added to to be honest, probably put paid to any chance of seeing them. 
Almost at the end of the woodland section of the circular walk we eventually came a across a real live bird, a Robin sat preening on a low twig possibly after having a bathe in one of the many puddles just off the edge of the track.
Once out of the woods the meadow was a picture of glowing gold from the myriad of Meadow Buttercups. Last time we were at this site was last year with BD (or was it the year before? - time flies when you're on safari) there was a team out with a heavy duty motorised scrub cutter clearing away the Alder and Willow scrub that was developing and beginning to over-run the meadow. Now we're all for reforestation and rewilding but there are limits. This work was being done to ensure the scrub didn't totally over-shadow the orchids that grew on the meadow.
The work had been a success as it didn't take long to find the first Southern? Marsh Orchid, nor the second or third, once you'd got your eye in there were thousands scattered among the buttercups.

 A wonderful sight!
Back at the car Monty was being cleaned off and we had a quick look at the apparently empty feeders in the corner of the car park. There was some food and there was a bird there in the deep dark shadows. We edged closer very carefully and fired off a few shots as we went.

Those stripes down the back and the buff wing bar gave the ID away, a Lesser Redpoll (162, YBC #138).
Sneaking a little closer and changing the settings on the camera we ended up with an almost decent pic showing it's lovely red head which gives the bird its name.
Once home we had a txt from CR saying he'd had a Blue Tailed Damselfly close to his pond which he didn't think had emerged from there but flown in from elsewhere. We took advantage of a bit of sunshine and went into the garden at Base Camp to find the same species almost immediately.
This one could well have emerged from our pond.
Later our Extreme Photographer sent us some very interesting pics. His neighbour had been at a friend's and she had brought back a bit of a specimen that her friend, knowing of our Extreme's interest in wildlife, had kept for him. 
The recently shed skin of a very large Grass Snake.
It's a big one, well over 1m long
The ventral scales were about 4 cm across!
What a great addition to his collection of wildlife bits n pieces.
We'd love to see one that big in Safari-land, we like to see one any size in Safari-land!!!
Last night on Twitter we saw a post about wildflowers and lawn-mowers that reminded us very much of Patch 1. So while we were out with Monty after the rain we took the opportunity to recreate the post. Here's today's pic. The field looks like this every day.
But it used to be cut less frequently until a couple of years ago and often looked like this, or white with White Clover and buzzing with bees.
Why do the 'Tidy Brigade' hate wildflowers and all their associated invertebrate life, especially pollinators, so much?
Most of the field isn't played on by the local kids and could easily be left uncut for longer, if absolutely necessary the margin against the paths could be cut to no more than a metre in. We're beginning to think all public green spaces, including, and perhaps especially, the roadside verges should be manged for pollinators and other insects and sod the 'Tidy Brigade'; sports fields would obviously be exempt but less tidy doesn't mean un-managed or uncared for and should be the norm. If people want tidy let them scalp their own lawns and leave the rest alone. What is it that they/we are so afraid of?
On the way back we saw a garden that had recently had some bedding plants put in. There were scattered plants surrounded by what seemed like acres of bare soil. Now the gardener obviously meant it to look like that and will spend ages all summer hoeing and weeding to keep it so. But we thought it just looked like a sounder of Wild Boars had had a rummage and accidentally missed or deliberately avoided a few plants - we can imaging the chaps absolute terror if a flock of Wild Boars had done that to his garden no doubt he'd be calling for a cull!!! They're a species that would do well at the riverside site we visited yesterday provided they could avoid all the doggy would Beavers up the river...heaven forbid!!! BUT the river managers had felled some trees directly into the river to reduce and deflect the flow in certain areas just as Beavers would do...
Come on Britain, pull your fingers out and lets get some wildlife back in our land, urban and rural!
Where to next? Back to the real world of work tomorrow but we do have an event on the beach in the evening to tell you about.
In the meantime let us know who's tidying up in your outback.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

On the trail of the lonesome bee orchid

The Safari was out yesterday morning joining a guided wildflower walk just a few hundred yards from Base Camp. The sun shone and the small group wandered around the Community Orchard to begin with before moving further afield.
After ticking off the obvious species like Nettles, Cow Parsley, Cleavers and Cock'sfoot grass in the orchard we spent time looking at Red Clover, Ox-eye Daisies, Lesser Trefoil and Crested Dog's Tail grass out in the open. On the hard clay of the open plateau is where the Bee Orchids can be found. Indeed we knew there were at least half a dozen or so lurking on the edge of the denser vegetation as we;'d found them earlier in the spring. But today try as we might we couldn't relocate them and it should have been easier as they ought to be in flower by now. Eventually we did find one and it took some serious tracking down as it was looking very much worse for wear. Perhaps the long dry spell had put paid to them.
All was not lost though as we did come across three spikes of the chlorophyll lacking parasitic Common Broomrape, we've seen it here before but not for a few years. We're pretty sure it parasitises the Red Clover here. It is very local and only ever appears in the same few square yards despite the Red Clover occurring across the whole area. 
With family duties to attend to we had to leave the group early so we went back today for another look this time without Monty so we were less hindered for taking some pics.
Before that, in the morning, we'd taken him round Patch 1 where we heard a couple of Chiffchaffs, one of the Blackcaps and saw the Whitethroat which although we couldn't see if it was carrying food must surely be nesting by now.
The highlight of our visit wasn't the birds though as we spotted four Common Blues
Heavily cropped phone pic
and our first Large Skipper of the year.
As well as this cheeky three-some
Not entirely sure what #3 is up to here, the other two are probably not impressed
Back at the wildflower area after lunch we heard a Whitethroat and two Chiffchaffs there too as we walked in. The first thing we wanted to check was the dyke that we noticed yesterday had been cleaned out recently - right at the worst time of year, we're not sure if that would have been legal, certainly the bush with the breeding Reed Buntings is no longer there!
Surely everyone knows work like that should be done in the winter and certainly by March at the very latest. The waste is piled up on the edge of the County Biological Heritage Site which is a long way from Best Practice too although it would have allowed any aquatic animals to get back into the water but buried much off the local patch of Meadowsweet/ It's hardly as if it was essential work as it's barely rained a drop for the best part of a month or more. Fortunately the other end of the dyke which is far more floristically diverse than this section hasn't been touched - - - yet??? 
Back at the Broomrapes we were able to get a few pics in the sunshine.
Despite its weirdness it's deffo a proper job flowering plant
The third one, unopened
Although it was sunny there weren't very many butterflies on the wing just a couple of Common Blues and this Speckled Wood in the Community Orchard
Pick of the afternoon's fimds was this mating wheel of Blue Tailed Damselflies.
A very pleasant fourth day (already!!!) of #30DaysWild out finding wild stuff and none of it more than a short walk from Base Camp
Where to next? Looks like torrential rain and strong winds are going to put the kibosh on tomorrows planned whale and dolphin watch for World Environment Day
In the meantime let us know who's doing what they perhaps shouldn't be in your outback