Thursday 30 June 2011

The Big Battle of the Blackpool Beach - Brownies v Beavers

The Safari has been in the company of very exciteable children. Last night it was the Brownies, who 'played a blinder' finding plenty of good stuff on the beach and in the rockpools.
After the recent plethora of Lion's Mane Jellyfish it was Moon Jellies that were by far the most abundant this evening.
The purple rings are its gonads - what woudja do for lurid purple gonads ehh?
A single Compass Jellyfish was also found.

Huge handfuls of shells were gathered up amounting to a grand total of 16 species, 50% of the species found along the whole coast and they only searched 100 or so yards worth!

Two finds were particularly noteable. The Wentle Trap Shell (ridged) is only the second we've seen and was found only moments after talking about them after one of the Brownies had come along with the Tower Shell (unridged) - how bizarre was that!

This tiny Oyster Thief (aka Sting Winkle!) is a 1st for the Safari! That's a small child's finger not ours. Tonight it is the turn of the Beavers - a real battle of the sexes!
Plenty of Green Shore Crabs, but then so had the Brownies...

Look at the teeth on that! but what is it??? Brownies didn't get one of these

What is it applies also to that ochorous thing beneath the fish - animal, mineral or vegetable - animal we think! But what?

Brownies v Beavers - An honourable score draw we think - both found something we've never seen before.
Where to next? Still the small matter of the White Letter Hairstreaks to sort out.

In the meantime let us know whose stinging the winkles in your outback

Wednesday 29 June 2011

Blitz that Biodiversity – bio...di-what-lery?

The Safari helped out, along with the Pond Trail Officer, at the local college yesterday whose student Eco-group were holding a Bioblitz – a timed charge around a particular area/habitat with the aim of recording as much of the plant and animal life as possible. And wow did we record some stuff! We started at the college’s own pond and then moved on to the North Blackpool Pond Trail, very conveniently located ‘next door’, where we looked at another pond and a sunny grassy glade.
Before setting off with the students we were shown the area we were to be working in by a couple of the college’s estates team, one of whom surprised us by saying he moved a few pieces of timber that had been lying around for some time a couple of weeks ago and disturbed a Grass Snake about 18 inches to two feet long. Wow, wow and triple wow; there might still be a population left in town after all!!!
Around the first pond the plant life was prolific and eventually several species of lichens – don't ask us which! – found their way on to the list after some hawk-eyed hunting by one of the girls.
In the marshy area along one side of the pond Iris Sawfly caterpillars were busy devouring the leaves of Yellow Flag.

This wet patch also contained a few specimens of Lesser Reedmace (Typha angustifolia) which is the much less frequently found of the two species of Typha.
Cleggs were also added to the invertebrate list, some later succumbed to a violent death but at least one got a good drink of blood...we still have the lump to prove it!
Next up was the pond on the Pond Trail where two very large Ramshorns Snails were dragged out. Despite being heavily overgrazed the surrounding field came up with a good selection of plants especially around the margins which were less heavily grazed or protected by overhanging Brambles. Unfortunately the pond has an infestation of New Zealand Stonecrop which the horses have spread to all the other wet areas in the field, in particular the area which holds the scarce Tubular Water Dropwort; no flowers of which could be seen, they had probably all been grazed off.
The pond was buzzed by a pair of Swallows all the while we were working there, their metallic blue upperparts sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
A piece of long abandoned tent was found at the base of a Bramble thicket – turning it over we were a little disappointed to find only one small Toad – what: no mammals or newts, what's the world coming too?
The sheltered sunny glade gave us a few butterflies including Large Skippers and Meadow Browns.

"Wodda we get mister?..."
"A male Large Skipper lads."

The sweep netting team collected many Common Green Capsids but a little larger and browner was this weird looking thing. "No not her, silly...!"

"This!" When first seen it was tucking into a smaller fly with its long beak. No idea what it was but the suggestion of an Assassin Bug had us flicking through the field guide and we finally settled on it being a species of Damsel Bug. More intensive research this morning had us deciding on ‘probably’ Nabis ferus. Later a real expert came up with the proper IDNabis flavomarginatus. A look on the NBN Gateway suggests it could well be the first record for the Fylde; we don’t suppose anyone else has actually looked that hard at the local heteroptera. To be honest even after 45+ years experience we've never heard of Damsel Bugs until yesterday!
A great couple of hours or so in the company of some very enthusiastic students who hopefully will go on to add more 1sts for the Fylde as their ID skills develop.
Today we had a brief seawatch at Patch 2 in the morning getting nothing more than a couple of very distant Gannets.
At lunchtime we were joined by the youngsters and AB noticed a large flock of gulls fishing at middle distance. After some serious grilling we picked out a Kittiwake which AC missed, would have been a year tick for him. Fortunately another was found which he was able to get on to but it was only a dot in his bins it was that far away. As luck would have it a third was found this time much closer to the shore and he was relieved to be able to get a decent look at it.
We then set about the wildflower garden at work and soon discovered another Campion moth caterpillar rolled up in the safety of the seed pod of a Red Campion flowerhead...they do exactly what it says on the tin!!!
A serious looking Ichneumon Wasp, jet black with red legs hunted around us but we failed miserably with the camera.
AB found a cluster of (possibly) moth eggs laid under a leaf of the Fat Hen we were pulling out. A search of the data-base we have suggested the only species whose larvae feed exclusively on Atriplex and Orache species is Dark Spinach but that probably isn’t on the wing yet so they must be from something with a more catholic taste.

Also mothy - the youngsters told us they'd seen Blackneck at a couple of locations in town - 1st records as they aren't on this up-to-date map - Thanks to SP for the info.

Where to next? A beachy safari or two coming up.

In the meantime let us know whose sucking the lifeblood out of what in your outback.

Monday 27 June 2011

Hot n cold

The Safari’s day dawned very warm and our early morning Patch 1 visit was done in tee-shirt sleeves and we still managed to get a sweat on after not too many minutes.
Blackbirds were the most notable species with a couple on the grass by the Golden Triangle followed by another singing in the Butterfly Zone and then even allowing for a little double counting, over twenty in the park proper, many of which were well grown juveniles.
Patch 2 was a flat calm with the tide just about full although today’s tide was about as low as a high tide gets if that makes sense. Visibility wasn’t brilliant but at least there was no shimmer and the sea wall was very comfortably warm to lean on – unlike the depths of winter when many insulating layers are needed to keep out the icy cold of the concrete. We didn’t see the Bottle Nosed Dolphins which were seen across the bay at Hilbre Island yesterday...we live in hope. A distant Grey Seal grappled with a large fish while closer in an early sign of autumn was a Great Crested Grebe still in full summer garb.
By lunchtime the tide was well on its way out but day-trippers and fishermen kept any birds at bay. Two of the tourists found a small Lion’s Mane jellyfish but risked life and limb in blissful ignorance as they prodded it with their flip-flopped feet – didn’t they realise it could have leapt off the sand and gone for their throats!!!
In the afternoon we had a school group come down for lightening raid on the habitats and ransack the pond. The remains of a Herring Gull were found stashed under the hedge, our local Fox must have been sneaking around recently. The bit of Herring Gull we found was the left primaries viz: P8,9 & 10 and number 10 showed the slightly unusual all white tip with just the tiniest fraction of black on the inner web above the tip. Beginning to think full white tips to P10 in Herring Gulls isn’t actually that unusual, wonder what percentage of the local population actually have it.
The most unusual thing they hauled from the depths of the pond was a small Common Darter nymph, probably a year old, unusual in that the pond is so isolated from other waters it’s surprising a dragonfly could find it to lay her eggs in.

By the end of the school's vsit the clouds had rolled in and the wind changed to northerly so while parts of East Anglia and the East Midlands basked in steamy tropical 30+C here it plummeted to a more normal 16C...brrrr
Where to next? Blitz blitz Bioblitz tomorrow at a previously unexplored location.
In the meantime can anyone help with these micros from base Camp the night before last – many thanks. The forst two pics are the same individual and could well be the same species as the next one down on the blue background.





Sunday 26 June 2011

Crikey mate, we're going tropo!

The Safari likes hot and humid weather, many others don't, but doubt if we could tolerate it for months at a time like Darwin, Northern Territory (not Darwen, east Lancashire where it might have been hot n humid once). The thermometer showing 25 and a half C mid afternoon is at the front of Base Camp the sun goes off it mid morning, a full fiver hours earlier! Lovely stuff!!

A warm and still night gave us a decent haul of moths in the trap including a few micros for you to help ID tomorrow.

Amongst the hoardes of Heart & Darts were this Marbled Beauty

A Dusky Brocade

The Poecilobothrus nobilitatus that flirt with each other on the Lily leaves were going for it big style

One of these horrid 'blood drinkers of the rains' was found - look at those evil eyes! They were a feature of the whole day...

Also around the pond were a good number of Blue Tailed Large Red Damsels for us yet though

At lunchtime we met up with our Extreme Photographer and set off on that regular (NOT) Lancashire pastime of hunt the reptile

Quality litter was found at the parking area - at least that was one bird on the list

We had to lift the six stones (40+kg) of Frank over a particularly high and tricky stile but it was worth it for the Chamomile on the other side - the scent was stunning in the sticky air.

We've never ever seen so much Wild Strawberry - little taste explosions but only a few were ripe enuogh to snaffle unfortunately.

A Wasp - anyone any good at IDing these?

We turned over countless rocks, timbers, sheets etc but only found two Toads, and those under one sheet of cardboard. This one wasa full grown adult and is trying to rebury himself using his big back feet as shovels.

The wildflowers were superb - this is Rest Harrow

40+ Common Spotted Orchids lined a dry ditch at the edge of a field

As the sun broke through the hazy cloud the Meadow Grasshoppers began to stridulate

Not the rare Purple Rampling Fumitory but just common or garden Common Fumitory.

Field Scabious is a scarce plant in Safari-land this one is probably here due to the huge amount of limestone clinker on these old railway sidings.

Tiny Eyebright, stunning but hard on the eyesight!

Common Centaury just coming into flower

Narrow Bordered 5-spot Burnets, one of them has just come out of the chrysalis.

A Caspid Bug, ID anyone, don't think its the 4-spotted yellow one which actually has six spots?

Cinnabar moths in the making

Back home his solitary Mining Bee was probably from a neighbour's garden who have a dry stone wall, with a few bee holes, on one side of their garden.

This is their very Bee friendly lawn - unfortunately an hour after this pic was taken it had been mown.

On Patch 1 we had a half hour look for White Letter Hairstreaks, just in case the sun had brought them out. Didn't find any but did find a weirdly dead Bumble Bee still clinging to a Bramble flower.

Peacocks or Small Tortoiseshells?

We got several butterflies including some Large Skippers, one of which was kind enough to stay still enough to allow close approach.

Got plenty more pics from today - took over 150 without using the motor drive! - will post over the week as gonna be busy and possibly not get many pics.

Not a sniff of anything scaly though - well what do expect in Lancashire!

Where to next? Busy busy busy but the patches will still get a look in.

In the meantime let us know if there is high humuditity in your outback. Now 9.15pm and still 23C!!! How hot???

Friday 24 June 2011

Was that a different seal?

The Safari’s Patch 1 visit was a fair bit louder than of recent. There was a Song Thrush singing which was a pleasant surprise and hopping around on the lawns there were ‘some’ Blackbirds which when we finally got round to thinking about counting we got nine so there will have been well in to double figures. A couple each of Robins, Wrens and Dunnocks sang from the shrubbery as did a Blackcap with another in the Butterfly Zone and a third from the Golden Triangle – amazing what a little bit of early morning sunshine can do to lift the spirits.
The Sparrowhawk’s tail was yet again peeking out over the edge of the nest. Walking down the hill we noticed a number of Starlings pecking around on the grass verge on the other side of the road and from somewhere not too far from them the happy sounds of several House Sparrows chirruping was heard...what is it about that side of the road? Both those species are so rare on our side, although a pair of Starlings did manage to nest in the house opposite Base Camp this year.
Out on Patch 2 little was happening, a Grey Seal caught our eye close in but all too soon dropped below the waves an out of sight. A distant Gannet wandered aimlessly around and a small flock of Common Scoters was seen in the shimmery far distance.
Another seal was found away to the south and appeared to be struggling with a large flatfish. It too disappeared beneath the waves taking its flapping prey with it, but as it went below the waves it really looked as though it had a pronounced concave face, was it a Common Seal? If so it would be a good record for Patch 2...but not enough seen on it for a conclusive ID.
Meanwhile still on the beachy theme it would seem that the Lion’s Mane Jellyfish have caused a stir amongst the general public by having the temerity to ‘invade’ the local beaches on the look-out for unwary dogs and small children to zap to a horrible and no doubt painful lingering death.
Or to quote a friend (hope she doesn’t mind the theft but it made us titter) ... It’s awful that the ‘authorities’ allow wildlife on the beach!!! How dare nature come onto our beautiful amenity beaches. Why won’t someone do something to prevent this?? We are all going to die!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Nice one A...can’t wait to see what the headlines in the paper will say, could well be your sensationalist “INVASION OF THE KILLER JELLYFISH, - WE’LL FIGHT THEM OFF THE BEACHES!!!”
On a more sensible tack we popped out on an work’s errand at lunchtime which just happened to coincide with CR’s lunch so we arranged to meet up at the Bee Orchids. Last time out at a Bee Orchid site we didn’t take any pics of the gorgeous things but today we did.

As we were on site anyway we suggested a further 50 yard walk to have a look under the sheet of wood we found at the weekend. Walking through the grassland we disturbed a few Meadow Browns but no skippers. Lifting the wood; lo-and-behold no Smooth Newts masquerading as Palmate Newts, but we did get two of their big brothers (sisters actually). An adult and a well grown immature Great Crested Newt – yeh hey!!! A few Toads of various sizes were under there too, including the largest one we’ve seen for some time.

Not a bad few minute’s impromptu escape from the desk.
Where to next? Looks like it’s gonna be too wet overnight to risk putting the mothy out...certainly won’t be going on the beach unless armed to the teeth with anti-jellyfish rockets...
In the meantime let us know who’s hiding under what in your outback.