Sunday 27 July 2008

Brilliant butterflies

As luck would have it the safari managed to join the Ranger's butterfly and dragonfly walk. A hot and sunny afternoon perfect for looking for these insects.

As we started a Speckled Wood butterfly settled on a patch of Enchanters Nightshade right in front of us. This was to be the first of many of this species.

The woodland gardens were nice and cool. we found the Great Spotted Woodpecker's nest but the young have already fledged. at the pond by the old wartime pillbox a young Moorhen pecked around in the mud. Moving further down the track in to the more open part of the woodland there were several white butterflies but we were unaable to net any - they were too warm and so to quick.

A Common Darter dragonfly was seen perched on a high branch of an Oak tree well out of reach. A Holly Blue zipped through the tree tops.

On the Heron's Reach footpath round the back of the zoo we soon found many Gatekeepers, a few Small Skippers and several Meadow Browns. We weren't keeping a count but I don't think I've ever seen so many Gatekeepers on one afternoon before.

A very clean undamaged Common Blue butterfly was potted. As was a Common Blue Damselfly - look for the 'Barrett Homes' logo on the second abdominal segment. Azure Damselfly also hit the net - 'Honda' logo, but the Blue Tailed Damselflies all evaded capture. A couple of Brown Hawker dragonflies gave us superb fly past views and I mananged to net a Common Darter but in was a teneral specimen - recently emerged - and hadn't coloured up yet.

Several Grass Vetchling plants were found very pretty with their almost flourescent pink solitary flower.

Cinnabar moth caterpillars were found on Ragwort and a 6-Spotted Burnet moth was netted for the obligitory ecology lesson in mimicry.

All in all a great afternoon out - sorry there are no pictures on this post but my camera is packed ready for tomorrows adventure.

In the meantime let us know what you have seen in your 'outback'

See yas next week.

Thursday 24 July 2008

Advance notice of pond dipping event.

On Sunday 3rd August there will be an opportunity to enjoy an afternoon's pond dipping with the rangers at the new Lawson's Road Wetland.

The event starts at 11.00am, bring your wellies and pot and net and find out what wildlife has moved in to this brand new habitat.

Free but booking is essential, call the Parks and Green Environment service on 01253 478478 to confirm your place.

Good hunting - sorry I won't be along to help.

Lawson's Road field before the wetland creation - already quite wet!

Lawson's Road wetland - a habitat waiting to be explored.

Keep looking in your 'outback' and let us know what you find.

Wednesday 23 July 2008

Weekend butterfly and dragonfly event at Woodland Gardens

This coming Sunday the Rangers are giving a guided walk around Woodland Gardens to look for Dragonflies and Butterflies.

Meet at the arched main entrance to the gardens, at the start of the road leading down to the zoo, at 1.00pm. The safari might join you there but I'm 'going bush' to the Tatra Mountains of Poland early the following morning so might have to give it a miss unfortunately. Wolves, bears, boar and lynx here I my dreams....!
These chaps were photographed at the Highland Wildlife Park in Speyside a few years ago. I'd like to think I was going to get this close to the real thing...a howl in the night or even footprints on the forest floor will do me.

In the meantime enjoy these sunset shots from Warbreck Hill the other day. I was lucky to snap these as the show didn't last more than 5 minutes before the colours disappeared. I was reminded of a sunset last summer when I was on the prom looking for the Bispham Mediterranean Gull. As the sun was going down, quite spectacularly, a large group of people of all ages had gathered on the cliff top to eat their fish and chips. Once the last fraction of the glowing sun had disappeared below the horizon and with the sky still full of colour and girl of about 13 or 14 started to clap; almost as one the rest of the hundred or so people who had been drawn to the cliff top by the sunset stood up and clapped with her. A very moving experience.

This sunset was nowhere near as vivid as that one but very welcome after so long with grey skies.

Keep looking and let us know what you have found in your 'outback'.

Sunday 20 July 2008

How many bats? - updated

None! The safari didn't manage to get to the Stanley Park Bat night due to an unexpected emergency. So we don't don't yet know how they got on, pretty well I imagine it was a reasonable evening. One in which, at Base Camp, there was a Swallowtail moth, a species I don't get in the trap all that often. Not that the trap has been out often this summer, once only in fact.

21/07/08 Hold the front page - news is that there were Bats all over the park! Excellent views were had by all who came along - brilliant!

That afternoon at Base Camp I found another seemingly rare species for this year on the Marjoram, a Small Tortoiseshell. I've seen very few so far this year but this
specimen was very fresh and hopefully will be the vanguard of a good summer for them. They are certainly due one, being a tad scarce in recent months.

Our unexpected emergency took us to a far flung corner of the county - Liverpool. We returned to Base Camp via a circuitous route in to the Burscough area of west Lancashire and there we had a very pleasant surprise. On the edge of a horse paddock grazing at the side of the road was a young male Fallow Deer, with his little antlers in velvet. Mid afternoon, broad daylight, as bold as!

Further down the road and almost back at Base Camp we found a Brown Hare sitting in a field near Singleton enjoying a bit of evening sunshine, and I don't blame it, it has been thin on the ground so far this summer. Anyway the Hare has been duly recorded - see link on right hand side of page to record any you find in Lancashire, it's a really easy web site to follow.

Where to next? Not sure about the weather for the coming week but if it's windy then you can be sure of some obsessing about Storm Petrels. But rumour has it sunshine and warmth are coming this week so more butterflying could well be on the cards.

In the meantime let us know what you've found in your 'outback'.

Friday 18 July 2008

Well - did I get lucky?

What do you think?

No, of course. Those little white rumped beasties are proving to be my bogey bird. Not a Storm Petrel in sight. But oh yes they've got me surrounded, being seen all along the local coast from Rossall in the north to Southport in the south; that one obviously wanting to get blown inland and watch a bit of golf.

This lunchtime I ignored my butties and had forgotten my coat and stood for a little over 35 minutes in the freezing cold watching the rain storm getting closer all the time. Other than cold and hungry I got about 100 Dunlins going past in about 5 flocks, 13 Sandwich Terns including a well marked juvenile. There must have been a shoal of fish around the low water mark as these were diving in a loose flock. I didn't see any come up carrying a fish though. A Common Tern was a bonus. That was it apart from a couple of very young Herring Gulls practicing their flying skills on the updraught from the sea wall and 3 Oystercatchers, not a sniff of the intended quarry.

Where to next? See you at the Stanley Park Bat night tomorrow 9.30pm at the visitor centre.

In the meantime let us know what you've seen in your 'outback'. I have got my fingers 'crossed' for some interesting news from the Isle of Man.

Thursday 17 July 2008

Needles in haystacks.

High tide backed by a strong westerly wind at lunchtime means only one thing – there is a chance of Storm Petrels. So it’s time to brave the elements and get out on the sea wall. Yes that’s right, it’s only 14C, there’s a 25 mph gale blowing and it’s the middle of July.

I had 20 minutes to get myself a lifer. It’s like looking for feathered needle in a huge haystack of white horses.

A small flock of 5 Dunlin raced past about 6 or 7 waves out. They looked tiny and spent most of their time above the waves. In fact they are a little bigger than a Storm Petrel which ‘live’ out of sight in the troughs between the waves.

After 20 minutes still no sign of any Petrels. I did, however, manage to spot the grand total of 2 Herring Gulls, 2 Lesser Black Backed Gulls, a Black Headed Gull, and a Great Black Backed Gull which headed out to sea against the wind as if only a slight breeze was blowing.

Was it worth getting soaked by the waves coming over the wall for – yes it’s always worth it! You never know what you might find. The wind is still forecast strong for tomorrow so we’ll have to try again then.

Where to next? Prom again tomorrow lunchtime with fingers crossed. After that I’m looking forward to the Bat night at Stanley Park on Saturday night. Meet at the Visitor Centre at 9.30pm. The weather is expected to have improved by then so there should be plenty of hungry bats flying about.

In the meantime keep looking in your ‘outback‘ and let us know what wildlife you see.

Tuesday 15 July 2008

Back to the old haunts

A brief trip to my old stomping ground, Marton Mere, this afternoon was a welcome change. As was meeting up with an old friend and having a bit of an off piste explore.

I even got a year tick not that I'm listing anymore, but it is quite late to get Grasshopper Warbler for the first time in the year.

The Clegs, aka Horse Flies, were biting feroc
iously. These are my least favourite creature on the planet. Nowhere else I've ever been has anything quite as horrid as these. The Western Australian March Fly is bad but not as bad. The Scottish mighty midgee is more numerous but less painful. Horse flies do have one redeeeming feature. Their eyes are the most stunning colours and patterns, similar to the patterns you get when oil gets spilt on water. Unfortunately they have to be close enough for you to see those colours.

This little devil with the long blood sucking beak is an Australian March Fly - they come out near enough all year round and apparently are attracted to blue clothing - you have been warned.
A bright lemon yellow butterfly was only a Small White in the end. We did see a very fresh and well marked Green Veined White.

Further on we disturbed a Buzzard which dropped in to the ditch and may have been hunting for invertebrates. The hedgerow was the hunting ground for a tatty looking Blue Tit still feeding young.

Only an hour or so out of the office on a windy afternoon, but a good hour nonetheless.

Where to next? Still the Bat walk in Stanley Park, meet at the visitor centre at 9.30pm

In the meantime have a look around your 'outback' and let us know what you find.

Sunday 13 July 2008

Rule 1 - Always check your camera batteries.

At last the sun has decided to come out for the day. By mid morning the mercury had hit the giddy heights of 20C.

Eager to follow up the recent sightings of White Letter Hairstreaks today's safari headed out in to the near outback, aka the Rock Gardens, in search of butterflies.
But there are no pictures today because someone forgot to take the spare batteries!

Arriving at the site there were Grasshoppers
chirruping allover the place, taking advantage of the warm sunshine. Almost immediately the first butterfly, a Meadow Brown, was seen.

Above is a male Meadow Brown - dark chocolate, the females are milk chocolate coloured when seen in the field.

It was to become a day of 'firsts'. The first first was the first ripe Blackberry to be tasted this year. Within a few minutes we had seen another first for the season, a Gatekeeper.
A male Whitethroat sang from his usual Bramble bush and the meadow held good numbers of Small Skippers, some bright and fresh others faded with age. Large Skippers were much harder to come by a
nd the safari's final count of this species was only 3.

Photos - - Large Skipper (above - note the chequer pattern on the wings) and Small Skipper (clean wings) by Jenna.

Walking up to the copse a Blackcap could be heard singing from deep within the bushes and the first Brown Hawker dragonfly for this years safaris.

In the glade 3 Large Whites were milling around the Bramble flowers and a solitary Holly Blue nipped briefly about
the tree tops. Also seen here were, somewhat surprisingly, the trips first Speckled Woods, and there were only 5 of them.
The grassland here had two different types of Spider's nest. One was neatly constructed from folded grass leaves bound internally by silk, the other an umbrella of silk covering a few stems of grass.

We stood quietly under the elm trees patiently looking up. The hum and murmur of summer insects was all around, Bees and Hoverflies jostling for position on favoured Bramble flowers.

Patience is a virtue and we were virtuous. After scanning the tree tops with binoculars for only a few minutes we were rewarded with the sight of two male White Letter Hairstreaks doing their territorial display, spinning around each other as each tried to fly higher than the other. Eventually one broke off the 'dance' and returned to a sunny perch on a Sycamore leaf. There we had a good view of the fine white letter W and tiny tail on his hindwing. The W looks as though it has been drawn with the finest of an artist's brushes.
All the while we were accompanied by the rus
tle of unseen Blackbirds searching through the dry leaf litter under the trees. A Dunnock was spotted carrying food to what must be a third brood by this time of the summer.

Back in the meadow we continued the search for grassland butterflies and were very pleased to see large numbers of both Meadow Brown and Small Skipper.
The sun was drying the seed pods of Gorse bushes
in the middle of the field and they were splitting with a loud 'crack'; the seeds inside being flung some considerable distance, over 2 metres in some cases.
Large long legged Spider Hunting Wasps were seen prowling around the perimeter of the Gorse looking for victims on which to lay their eggs. The picture below is of a very similar wasp I found at a different site but which was also searching around Gorse bushes.

With the safari drawing to a close we managed to disturb a couple of Silver Y moths from the grassland and watched a Burnet moth arguing with a Meadow Brown. We think the butterfly won as the Burnet shot off like a fluorescent red and black bullet into the distance. We were unable to see which of the two possible species of Burnet it was.

A very bright Emperor dragonfly hunting in the lee of one of the mounds was a welcome surprise, and we also came across the last 'first' of the day; ripe and juicy Wild Raspberries.
We ended the safari with a Small White butterfly. This species seems to be in short supply this summer. But the Nasturtiums are flowering at Base Camp and if the weather improves they may well attract Small and Large Whites to lay their eggs.

Talking of Base camp there were 3 Swifts screaming around the roof tops as the kettle was put on for a well earned cup of tea.

The safari's total butterfly count was;
Meadow Brown 85
Small Skipper 55
Gatekeeper 2
Large White 3
Large Skipper 3
Holly Blue 1
Speckled Wood 5
White Letter Hairstreak 2
Small White 1

A minimum of 157 butterflies of 9 species.

Where to next? Saturday (19th) is Bat night in Stanley Park. Meet at the visitor centre 9.30pm. After that I am looking forward to a safari a bit further afield.

In the meantime keep looking and let us know what you find in your 'outback'.

Thursday 10 July 2008

Beachcombing for every shell in the book!

Whilst one group of school children headed for the pond to search out the usual suspects; Sticklebacks, Pond Snails, Water Boatmen and Leeches, their classmates hit the beach with gusto.

They returned with pockets and bags full of sea shells. Their eagle eyes had searched out a huge variety. The full list consis
ted of...Edible Whelk, Tower Shell, Dog Whelk, Pod Razor, Small Razorshell, Edible Mussel, Common Otter Shell, Banded Wedge Shell, Edible Oyster, Striped Venus, White Piddock, Masked Crab, Common Cockle, Prickly Cockle, Rayed Trough Shell, Shore Crab, and a small number of unidentified and unidentifiable bits.

Above - Sea Heart and Prickly Cockle

Above - Pod Razor, bottom, Sea Heart top left, Prickly Cockle and Barnacle encrusted Edible Mussel

Above - Rayed Trough Shell

Above - Unidentified prickly winkle type shell.

Whilst the children were on their beach safari, there were reports coming in from the Rangers that White Letter Hairstreaks had been seen at the Rock Gardens. A little bit of sunshine was all that was needed.

Where to next? Back to the Rock Gardens after work if it's sunny.

Monday 7 July 2008

Butterfly blues?

An hour before we started the rain was torrential. Undeterred we arrived at the meeting point and the weather seemed to improve. To the south and west there was a hint of blue skies and a bit of sunshine. A Large White flew past, a good omen? However within a few minutes the sky to the east had blackened and we could hear the rumblings of thunder.
Where are the worst places to be i
n a thunder storm? On the highest point for twenty miles under a small group of trees or out on an open field? We were at the first and going to the second.

I have never done a butterfly safari in full waterproofs before.

But the rain hadn't started so we set off through the Rock Gardens to the field at the bottom of the hill. Once at the field it was only a matter of minutes before we had a lovely fresh male Large Skipper in the net. Shortly after a Meadow Brown found itself being swept up. There were butterflies everywhere. Small Skipper was next on the list. As we walked along the track there were butterflies coming up in front of us all the time. A migratory Large Yellow Underwing moth was next for the net. Eventually we came across a Silver Y moth. Rather unusually we also found a Buff Arches moth sunning itself on a Bramble leaf. Making our way back up the field a Sparrowhawk dashed in to the trees in front of us and a Whitethroat sang from the top of a Bramble thicket.
All the while thunder rumbled ever closer. It was hot and humid. There were
Frogs out in numbers in the long grass from tiny little yearlings to absolute whoppers.

Within the thicket we could hear a singing
Blackcap and along the dense part of the track the musty scent of Fox hung in the air. Amongst the trees we found a small number of Speckled Woods, but a binocular search of the Brambles, Mock Orange bush and the tops of the Elm trees revealed no White Letter Hairstreaks. Not overly surprising considering the weather. These little butterflies are suffering from the effects of Dutch Elm Disease as the Elm tree is the foodplant of their caterpillars. The Elms in the park are all showing signs of the disease and it might not be too long before the colony of butterflies is lost.

Abandoning our search for the
Hairstreaks we went to the ponds where either a Common Blue or Azure Damselfly successfully avoided the net. The top pond was covered in a morass of Duckweed. On this stage there were hundreds of the dancing 'Lily Flies' I have in my garden pond.

Walking back towards the park gates there were two Grey Squirrels chasing about in the top of a large tree and the surprise of two more butterflies. A Holly Blue whizzed past high up quickly followed by a slightly lower but no less speedy Red Admiral. A good end to a good afternoon.

In the end we had counted over a hundred butterflies of seven species...and not got wet!

Below are three pics of the sunset the other evening. The first two are as the camera saw them, the last one is slightly doctored to try to get rid of the glare as it was taken through a window. Not wildlife but still stunning examples of the natural beauty all around us if we take the time to look.

Where to next? Don't know yet but it'll be an adventure.

Saturday 5 July 2008

Another school group ransacks the pond

The sun is shining and the Solaris Centre plays host to more budding wildlife safari-ists. Armed with pots and nets they set about the pond and wildlflower meadow with gusto.

Looking around the flower beds revealed several secies of bees, including the lovely Red Tailed Bumble Bee

and some rather large White Tailed Bumble Bees. All duly potted and inspected.

A Ruby Tailed Wasp found a school shirt
more interesting than its normal hunting grounds of brick walls.

Not the best picture of a Ruby Tailed Wasp, but you can see where they get their name. Their Latin name is Chrysis ignita which seems rather apt to me.
The abundance of Ragwort is due to the fact our Rabbits won't eat it. But it does mean that there are plenty of Cinnabar Moths to be seen. In fact this group was the first to find their caterpillars this year.

I was unable to pot a Flesh Fly, all big red eyes and white 'trainers'.

And what of the pond dippers - they did't manage to find the two big Sticklebacks. A bright green Dragonfly nymph was their most exciting find.

I apologise for the lack of pictures and all the lnks, if I get a chance I'll find some photos and replace the links.

Where to next? I'm still looking forward to the Devonshire Road Rock Gardens butterfly walk...despite the weather will be sunny...please!

Thursday 3 July 2008

An empty sea

Nowt much about today. Only had a very short watch off the prom and got a Grey Seal and an adult Gannet going south both of which I managed to get a colleague on to.

I mentioned Lytham St Annes Local Nature Reserve in an earlier post as a potential safari. Well I've been beaten to it by Fylde Bird Club's Nick Patel who has hit the botanical jackpot. His photos are far superior to those I would have taken. Enjoy his blog from 23rd June.

Where to next? Another school visit tomorrow let's see what they pull out of the pond. Then Sunday is the Devonshire Road Rock Gardens, Bispham butterfly walk at 2.00pm

Wednesday 2 July 2008

No more National Whale and Dolphin Watch any more!

A quite day today. I tried to do a sea watch for half an hour just after the high tide but, unlike yesterday, it was too cold...There wasn't much about. A Collared Dove appeared from over the sea wall. Very strange, can't remember ever seeing one in the garden at work before, its all Feral Pigeons. It flew behind the hotels and a couple of minutes later it, or another one, flew over the sea wall (from the sea side) again...weird. But that's the thing with watching wildlife; the ordinary can do some unexpected things. You just never know what is going to happen next.

Another school group visited the Solaris Centre today and managed to find this Emperor Dragonfly emerging from its nymphal skin...fantastic.

They also had a couple of Cinnabar Moths, and two 7 spot Ladybirds. The cold wind after yesterdays heat meant that insects were in short supply.

Got home and watched the Lily Flies doing their thing but they are very camera shy when it comes to performing. I can't get near enough. Have to ask one of the Springwatch cameramen to come and do it for me.

Below are a couple of pictures of yeserday evening's brewing storm - it didn't quite live up to expectations - one heavy downpour and no thunder - very disappointing. Nearly got the sea on the horizon level!

Where to next? Butterfly walk at Devonshire Road Rock Gardens, Bispham, 2pm Sunday...pray for some sunshine please.

Tuesday 1 July 2008

National Whale and Dolphin Watch - Part X - or The Final Chapter or Things Beginning with C & G

The last hour's watch sadly produced no Cetaceans again. The wind had changed to southerly but was still too strong and roughing up the sea.

We did get 2 single Curlews and a flock of 3 Common Terns - the Cs. The Gs were a Grey Seal, 2 Gannets and a Great Crested Grebe. All except
the Seal were going south, that just disappeared.

Many thanks to the Friends of Marton Mere for the loan of their telescopes and binoculars. A big thank you also to all those hardy souls who turned up to help, or just stopped to chat and find out about the marine wildlife along the Fylde coast.

In the meantime keep looking, just because the NWD
W has finished it doesn't mean we have to to stop. If you do see any Cetaceans please report them to myself and/or the Sea Watch Foundation

It would be great if you could also make a note of the time as I am conducting a simple study which might help Lancashire and Cumbria watchers pin th
e little blighters down.

Also on todays blog...the little 'Lily Flies' are back in my pond. There were a few of them last night doing their dancing thing. Any ideas as to the species anyone?

This morning was the years first Ruby Tailed Wasp buzzing about my brickwork. I couldn't get a shot but thought i might have had a stock one for you but if I have I can't find it. It might even have been an old fashioned slide.

Bizarrest of all - and not unexpected - not 6 hours after the end of my final stint on NWDW the sea was as calm flat you could almost walk on it...typical...but about 3/4 mile off Gynn Square (Gynn = cleft in cliff/narrow valley for anyone following the Vikings on the Ramsey Daily Photo Blog) was a solitary Mute Swan just sat calm as you like on the sea.

Where to next? A butterfly safari around Devonshire Road Rock Gardens in Bispham. 2pm Sunday 6th July - meet at the main gate. Hopefully the very scarce White Letter Hairstreaks will be on the wing.

I'm just sitting here waiting for the storm to break. It's been 26C here in Blackpool this arvo and now its as 'black as the 'obs' of 'ell', whatever they are!

Don't believe me? See Marton's weather site.