Sunday 31 August 2008

Forest, moor and lakes. (Updated 02/09/08)

The safari visited the wilds between Blackburn and Bolton on a warm muggy day this weekend. We had a traipse around one of the many reservoirs in the area before heading back to our temporary Base Camp for a superb full English breakfast...fried bread and all!

There wasn't much around. The forest was very quiet, the only birds calling were Robins, Wrens and a few Coal Tits. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling near the dam.

There almost no fungi to be found under the trees despite the recent warm wet weather, but the wild flowers did not disappoint. A reasonable selection were still flowering. A damp patch had Common Bistort and wild, rather than garden, Yellow Loosestrife while higher up the hill on drier ground was a large patch of Field Scabious.

I've no idea what species this little Weevil is but he looks quite cute.

The pink flower is the very invasive alien Himalayan Balsam. Beautiful but trifid like. It has colonised huge lengths of watersedge in this part of Lancashire to the detriment of the native flora. However the bees like it and smells good but they aren't good enough reasons to keep it. I doubt very much it could be eradicated now even if we wanted to.

A large pile of old quarry stones surrounded by a fair sized patch of Bracken suggested Adders. We had a poke about and turned some of the smaller stones but didn't find anything of note. From research later that evening it transpired that there are no Adders in that whole area. If anyone knows different please pass on the information. There must be one somewhere; there is a huge amount of potential habitat to search through.
Along the side of the paths the Bilberry bushes had been picked clean, the only berries remaining were either very new or just out of reach.

Bilberry is the food plant of the spring flying Green Hairstreak butterfly.

The warm day had butterflies flying. Speckled Woods, Large Whites and a Peacock were seen. The only dragonfly spotted was a Brown Hawker.

The black spots on this Sycamore leaf are Tar Spot Fungus. This species is very intolerant of polluted air and its presence shows that the air quality in this area is very good.

This bumble bee is the Tawny Backed Carder Bee on Rosebay Willowherb. Several years ago I was with a very well known botanist, a large, jolly fellow with a beard, who mis-identified Greater Willowherb as this plant...hmmm..elimentary my dear Watson!

Below is another alien plant, Turkey Oak, however recent studies of lake and peat sediments seem to show that this tree was native beween the last two Ice Ages, about 150,000 years ago and wasn't able to recolonise after the last Ice Age. It is easy to tell from the two native Oaks by its fully cut leaves and the acorns sit in hairy cups.

Sneezewort is one of those humourously named plants. I suppose it was once used to cure colds and sneezing. It looks superficially like the more common Yarrow but has fewer larger flowers.

The Rowan berries aren't a sign of a cold winter to come, but evidence that the weather was fine when the flowers were out in the spring and there were plenty of insects about to pollinate them.

These Mallard ducklings are very late but should survive the winter. There are plenty of people about with bags of bread for them.

And last... some think...the only Heron we saw all day.

And I never realised the Strawberry Duck pub is actually the Strawbury Duck! Would you credit it!!!!!

Where to next? A mid-week jaunt could well on the cards. And there is now the added pressure of getting certain 'target' species on camera...could be a new site or maybe return to a previous haunt.....not sure yet let's see what the weather is going to do.

In the meantime let us know what's in your 'outback.

Tuesday 26 August 2008

Hold the front page!

It now seems that the Porcelain Crab could be a very small Green Shore Crab, which are very common in the rockpools. Incidentally my money was on the latter having seen a few pictures on Google Images, but I have to admit I was far from sure; hence putting it out for others to help with the identification.

We await the final outcome with baited breath....I hand you back over to the experts....
I am also hoping for an identification of this large piece of Whelk shell which has been sitting on my desk for a few weeks now without me realising it could be something the safari hasn't seen before. What struck me as odd was the ridges appear to be longitudinal rather than concentric radiating out from the aperture. I hope there is enough of it there for someone to make a definitive identification....we'll wait and see what comes back...more news tomorrow perhaps.

A mystery solved

Many thanks to Ian and Chris in the Glaucous Yahoo Group for letting the safari know that this is a Long Clawed Porcelain Crab. As far as I am aware this is probably the first record for Blackpool. Congratulations to the finder - she knows who she is!. If anyone knows otherwise please let me know.
I have learnt that the Porcelain Crabs have three pairs of legs instead of the usual four, you can see this (just) in the picture. They are small usually only 1 - 2cm across when adult, this one is smaller than that and must still be a juvenile.

Where to next? Could be anywhere you'll have to wait and see.

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

Monday 25 August 2008

Exploring Bispham beach and cliffs

The safari had an very pleasant morning at the seaside. A walk along the cliff top found us studying a patch of 'new' vegetation. The grasslands are registered as a County Biological Heritage Site for their soft cliff grassland vegetation. This patch must have been used a depot for the recent tram track works. The original perennial grassland had been destroyed and in its place was a marvelous patch of wildflowers whose seeds have been waiting in the soil for just such an opportunity to germinate and bloom.

Above is Greater Knapweed, a very scarce plant in the Fylde area. There were a few specimens.
Common Toadflax was quite numerous.

The bee visiting the Borage flowers is Buff Tailed Bumble Bee.

This bee is (I think) a male Red Tailed Bumble Bee - I will check in the field guide and confirm later. It is on Black Knapweed, the much more common of the two Knapweeds in this area. An alternative name for it is Hardheads. They are related to Thistles but do not have spines on the leaves. Both species are visited by bees, butterflies and other nectar seeking insects - as are Thistles which are much more important than their generally held status as 'weeds' suggests.

Below is Birds Foot Trefoil, a common plant of dryish soils and a member of the Pea family. This plant is also known as Eggs and Bacon on account of the red flashes of colour (not shown on this late summer photo) on the yellow flowers. Maybe it should be renamed 'Eggs and Tomato Ketchup'! The 'proper' name comes from the shape of the seed pod - which is like a birds foot - and the clover like leaves which have three leaflets - or foils (Latin/French for leaf). This plant is the foodplant of the beautiful Common Blue butterfly's caterpillars and without it there would be no Common Blues. To tell a Common Blue from a Holly Blue have a look at the underside - patterned - Common Blue; silvery blue with a few spots - Holly Blue. Where did you see it? Low over open grassland with wildflowers including Birds Foot Trefoil - Common Blue; High around the trees and shrubs in parks and gardens - Holly Blue - - usually these rules will hold true.

Coming down off the cliff top and on to the beach we started to look in the pools left behind by the tide. Bispham is unusual along Blackpool's beach as it has large area of pebbles mid beach. We soon found this Common (Edible) Whelk and Common Winkle. The hole in the Whelk is probably where an Oystercatcher or Gull has stabbed through it.

A close up look at the 'mouth' of the Whelk reveals there are no teeth - grooves on the upper (thicker) side of the aperture so it is not Dog Whelk. Things with the name 'Dog' were deemed as useless, e.g Dog Whelk is inedible, Dog Rose has no smell, Dog Wood is not a usable wood - Dogfish is an exception.

These two are Baltic Tellins, a very numerous shell on the beach. One is 'right handed' the other 'left handed'.

Above is a Striped Venus shell. Some shells can be aged, like trees, from annual growth rings. I'm not sure if this is one of those species but it looks like it could be. Anyone fancy counting for us?

An Iceland Cyprina shell was counted to be over 400 years old and thus the world oldest known animal when it was dredged from the seabed.

Amongst the gulls was a lovely adult Mediterranean Gull. Not this one, it had started to moult and lost its black head. It did have a large white ring on its right leg which unfortunately we were unable to read. We could quite get close but not close enough, once we were nearly in range it would, infuriatingly, fly another 20 yards or so down the beach.

You've got to admit they are one of the best looking birds in the book!

We also saw 8 Ringed Plovers scampering about on the beach and three Turnstones picking Barnacles off the rocks. The previous day there had been a Grey Seal reported close in shore but today the wind was stronger making the sea much choppier and we couldn't find him.

Turning back to Base Camp the weather looked like it was going to take a turn for the worse but it did give the opportunity for this rather arty shot of the sun catching the fisherman's lines, glinting green, red and silver.

Where to next?....Could be anywhere!

In the meantime let us know what's in your 'outback'.

The wild Wyre outback

Before we start the main news I have managed to identify the small fish mentioned in the blog of 10th August as a Sand Smelt....on with the show....

The safari ventured up in to the wild headwaters of the river Wyre this weekend. There were some specific target species in mind. The path winds its way along the river bank through an interesting damp woodland, although there is a massive invasion of the pernicious Japanese Knotweed which shades out the native wild flowers. Keeping our eyes glued to the floor due to the rough nature of the path we saw a good number of deer slots (footprints) probably from Roe Deer, but although it was early evening and very quiet unfortunately we didn't see any of them.
Some of the trees are real old beauts. Many are multi-stemmed from being coppiced in the past. Coppicing means trees are cut down and allowed to grow again. The timber being used for all sorts of things such as fencing, tool handles, furniture making, building. Allowing the trees to regrow meant that in a few years time another crop was available. The length of time between cuts depending on the species of tree and the size of wood required. The word coppice comes from the French 'couper' - to cut.
The tree below is a Beech, a good wood for burning and chopping boards and wooden spoons.

This next tree is a Small Leaved Lime and the single straight trunk shows that it has not been coppiced.

The following picture shows a Hazel coppice. Hazel was very important. The thin branches grow quickly and are very springy. It was used for hedging stakes when hedges were laid to keep animals in the fields, it was woven in to hurdles, ie fencing panels, pegs for the washing line, tool handles, and fighting sticks such as those used by Little John, Robin Hood's right hand man.

Below is a Rowan, or somewhat incorrectly Mountain Ash. It has Ash like leaves but is not related, so Rowan is the better name for this tree. Amongst its most important properties is its ability to keep witches, ghosts and ghouls at bay. If you are troubled by any of those be sure to plant one in your garden. Not being a very large tree they are suited to urban situations. This one is a particularly large and venerable specimen as can be seen from the size of the two rotten stumps on either side. I would not like to guess how old this tree might be.

Finally we have an Alder, not to be confused with Elder from which Elderberry wine is made. Alder is the typical tree of Lancashire river valleys and wet areas, and supplied the clog soles for the millions of mill workers in the Victorian factories of industrial Lancashire. When freshly cut the wood turns a beautiful orange colour. Alder is one of the few deciduous trees which has cones but these aren't quite the same as the cones from a conifer tree.

The last tree picture is of a small species of fungus growing out of the moss which is gowing on a Sycamore. I am no expert on fungi nor mosses so can't tell you what they are. Over to you readers, can anyone out there help?

Sycamore has been maligned over the years by conservationists as not being a native species and having the tendancy to overrun native woodland. Its 'helicopter' seeds spread easily and germinate and grow quickly when light is available on the woodland floor, for example when large trees are cut or blown down. It also supports far fewer insect species than native trees such as Oak, Hawthorn, or Willow. However, a single tree can have a population of Greenfly numbering tens of thousands, an important food item for a large variety of predatory insects including Ladybirds. It does have one very impressive saving grace though, because it does not splinter it was traditionally used for loo seats!

At the end of our safari is this spectacular weir. Here we had brief views of two of Britain's most colourful birds, Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker. To the side of the dam is a Salmon ladder to allow the king of fish to pass upstream to the spawning 'redds', shallow gravel patches in the small mountainside tributaries. We watched from the bridge but did not see any Salmon jumping up the rapids or starting the long exhausting climb up the ladder.

The recent heavy rain and high water levels shouldn't have posed any problems for the Salmon but the water is very peat stained as you can see. If the upland drains were stopped up the peat bogs would absorb more water and there would be less erosion preventing this heavy colouration from happening. It also makes the water acidic which can have an adverse effect on the invetebrate life downstream which obviously has consequences for fish and the rest of the food chain.
Enough of the ecology lesson, what were the target species mentioned at the start, and did we see them? Well one was the Salmon, which we didn't see. neither did we see any of the very elusive Otters known to be present in the area. despite not getting the target species we saw huge selection of interesting wildlife culminating in the Kingfisher and had a trip to one of Lancashire's (almost) hidden gems.
Where to next? I can feel a beach safari coming on.
In the meantime please let us know what you have found in your 'outback'.

Tuesday 19 August 2008

Salt and fresh today

The safari was dipping in the sea and a pond with pots and nets today - and a good day it was too. First up was the rock pools on the beach where in the upper pools there were several Common Sand Stars.

The lower pools had plenty of Common Prawns and Gobies. The Gobies are able to change their colour. Against the stony background they appear dark and mottled but once they have been potted they turn almost transparent.

Much bigger than the Gobies was this rather splendid Blennie. Handsome chap isn't he?

There were a lot of Green Shore Crabs many of them mating.

Some of them were a substantial size.

I've never looked closely at these Common Prawns before and have just noticed that they have the most amazing blue segments on their legs.

Back at the 'lab' I put together this collage from the shell collection. Clockwise from the top left they are Common Cockle, a piece of 'beach' coal. Tower Shell, Alder Necklace Shell, and a Baltic Tellin. The coal gets washed up after storms as there is a seam which comes out on the seabed about a mile or so off shore.

Part two of today's safari was in the freshwater pond.

The safari pulled out a great many Sticklebacks of all sizes from very tiny to about 1 1/2 inches long. But the trophy fish was this superb male. He's bright enough to grace any tropical reef.

And at last I have managed to get a photo of a bloodsucking Leech. It's only a little one and hardly likely to suck my blood, fish or worms yes, me no!

The video attempts to show the largest Water Boatman caught in the pond so far - it was a bit quick.

Where to next? Watch this space! I can feel some exciting stuff coming your way.

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