Monday 29 June 2015

Pretty in pink and a lot of jelly

The Safari has been outside almost all day today. First of all with couple of Young Uns in the work's garden and then on the beach with one of the Young Uns and a gang of school children
In the garden we found a few moths while we attacked a small patch of old nettles, no caterpillars this year but any new growth from the roots may attract second generation butterflies. There were singles of Yellow Shell and Small Magpie but several Cinnabars which have been laying their eggs on the Ragwort and they have recent;y hatched so not yet got the signature black and yellow jumpers.
A rather fortunate spot low down at the edge of the patch of Fox and Cubs was a tiny flower of the extremely rare Deptford Pink...Always a relief to see it each year. 
Over on the beach in the afternoon the kids had a great time exploring the rockpools in the warm sunshine. When we were young we seem to remember the oldies saying a very good summer's day was 70C (21C) it was that today and it didn't feel overly hot. 75F (24C) was almost unheard of, it's likely to be close to that tomorrow and 80F (27C) just didn't happen or might have done once, it won't quite make that on Wednesday.

Juvenile flatfish, Sole?

Octopus aka Barrel Jellyfish - a small one

A big one wouldn't fit in this tub, nearly as big as a black bin bag!

Common Prawn with a juvenile Sandeel

Common Prawn with a Brown Shrimp

Common Prawn with a Sandeel

Sandeel and Brown Shrimp


Small Spotted Catshark mermaid's purse
Where to next? More exploration of the work's garden and another evening with the Brownies on the beach
In the meantime let us know who's wobbling like jelly around your outback.

Saturday 27 June 2015

Who's got all our moths?

The Safari was more than a tad disappointed with our mothing this season, there just doesn't seem to be many about at all around here. Last night seemed like it was going to produce the goods, it was warm and muggy but with a moderate wind, however it wasn't really that bad and we had high hopes for a decent catch this morning. 
It wasn't to be, opening the trap this morning we only had three Heart & Darts, the first Dark Arches of the year and a Eudonia mercurella micro along with something that escaped.
Frank had a swimming session this lunchtime and on the way back we stopped at a small town centre supermarket for some odds n sods for lunch. As Wifey was finding a car park space a Brown Hawker dragonfly, our first of the year, whipped over the car bonnet - quite a long way from the nearest suiutable habitat. 
This afternoon we should have done some gardening in the jungle but got too easily sidetracked with the macro lens when we spotted a few Red Spider Mites scuttling about on the lid of the coal bunker. They're tiny and double quick and refuse to keep still so make quite a difficult target for a lens with very little depth of field.
And they have an almost featureless face!
Those little legs don't have cover the ground, they're here there and everywhere and barely stop to draw breath.
Something made us look up and we're glad it did as there was Great Black Backed Gull (Garden #32) flying over which just about gave us time to get the macro lens off. A really scarce bird over Base Camp, this is the first since at least 2010!
A Supermarine Spitfire also flew over but it was traveling a little faster than the gull and we missed it...good garden tick though! It was then that we noticed the enormous Prickly Sowthistles that were in full flower when we were tending to the moths earlier had now gone over and the feathery tips of the pappuses (is that a word?) were showing, one day wonders.
There's three of these impressive beasts and even the smallest towers over us and must be well over two metres tall.
Our Tree Bee colony in the kitchen roof must be coming to an end as there's been quite a few crawling around on the floor in need of rescue. We've gently lifted them up and put them on the jasmine plant with their companions but it was probably in vain. We didn't get a pic in the end. Instead we concentrated on the several Blue Tailed Damselflies that were flitting around the pond.
On the marginal vegetation we found some exuvia
How did the adult clamber out of there?
We had a play with the macro lens.
We're undecided about putting the moth trap out tonight, half the weather websites we've looked at say it's going top rain the half don't. The way our moth luck is going we can guarantee if we put it out it'll pour down and if we don't put it out not a drop will fall.
Where to next? could be a safari out n about somewhere tomorrow.
in the meantime let us know who's whizzing around non-stop in your outback.

Friday 26 June 2015

What goes round comes round

The Safari has been explaining to the youngsters for many years now that all life on this planet is interconnected, usually as part of the food chains and webs they have to study. We have told them that making one species extinct is like cutting a  thread that holds us up and if we're not careful and we send more species to extinction then another thread is broken and another...until the rope snaps and we along with everything else comes tumbling down. Last week it was announced that the planet is in the midst of the 6th great extinction with background rates far in excess of what would be predicted and it looks like it's humans causing the problems.
A cartoon spotted on Twitter illustrates our metaphor in a slightly and maybe more dramatic way.
Gratuitously nicked from Twitter - apologies to the original artist

The Extinction Symbol below very quickly needs to become as widely seen and as instantly recognised as the Coke or Nike logos. You can download it free for non-commercial use from their Flickr site
How many of you have seen it before?
One of the problems facing wildlife is invasive non-native species which get a foothold and out-compete or predate the natural flora and fauna, there are countless examples from all around the world but we found one with the children recently, Wireweed, the seaweed from the Pacific Ocean. One way to perhaps control these invasive species to reduce their impact may be to find a use for them and over-harvest them like we do with many other species. Not sure if Wireweed grass skirts are the way forward though.
Yesterday we were able to have a late start at work due to an evening meeting so we had a look at the sea at Patch 2 for much longer than normal finding a bit of a feeding frenzy which had attracted a good number of gulls about 20 Manx Shearwaters and a few Gannets, best of all was a Harbour Porpoise which was very active and hard to spot, second guessing where it was going to surface next was nigh on impossible so we only got a few fleeting glimpses as it rolled but fleeting glimpses are much better than no glimpses at all.
We then had the plan of visiting two or three sites we've not really had time to visit properly for a while to check them out more thoroughly. First up was the nature reserve but not the orchid end, we've not been down the east end for a while so gave that a go after a good chat with AH in the new Visitor Centre which is looking very smart and will be 'officially' opened amid much pomp and ceremony very soon.
We set off for the bridge and once across it hadn't gone more than a few paces when we heard a Water Rail screaming from the reedbed. Not a sound you hear often here during the summer months, we wonder if they have bred again...'twud be nice! The warm sun and lack of wind meant we were well overdressed but we persevered. There weren't many folk out and the bird song was surrounding us as sweetly as Sedge and Reed Warblers can sound sweet. We were on a mission to find Hop Trefoil and a few other species of plants we didn't see at the other end of the reserve on our last visit and had a tip off. Before we got to the location we had yet another look for Bee Orchids on their 'usual' place but hadn't been seen there yet after the winter construction works. And there was one poking its pink flowers through the denser vegetation a little further from the path than we'd been looking on earlier visits.
A search for any others proved fruitless but a call from BD later after we'd told him of our success said there were several others too. There was a good bit of our favourite meadow 'tool; too; Yellow Rattle a hemi-parasite that does o great job of weakening the grasses which allows more 'interesting' wildflowers to flourish.
From there we had a wander down the brand new path to the Panoramic Hide where a screen is about to be constructed for viewing when the hide is locked. A recently predated Pigeon probably abandoned by a disturbed Sparrowhawk, lay close to the path but we not seen any raptors at all.
Then we had a mooch across the new plateau made from the scrape excavations. The ground was dry but we thought there must be some wetland species coming up from the seed bank and it wasn't long before we'd found a few that we've not seen for a good while. In recent years the generally persistent wet weather has kept water levels high so there haven't been prolonged drop down margins for the marshy plants to appear. We'd already been 'warned' about Celery Leaved Buttercup and it didn't take long to find plenty of it.

Also there was the bluey grey Marsh Cudweed
and the very pretty but not really a wetland plant Common Fumitory.
This plant is more of an arable weed than a wetland species but it was good to see it in some numbers. If the area doesn't vegetate up too thickly too quickly then it should be around setting lots of seeds for a year or two more yet.
We did find our Hop Trefoil, only to discover once photographed that it's Lesser Trefoil, the former has a more Pineapple shaped cylindrical flower than this. Ah well an excuse for another visit!
By now it really was summer and we were  totally over dressed and sweating cobs. Butterflies fluttered and damselflies flitted as we checked the track edge for more Bee Orchids and Hop Trefoil without success. We looked for Yellow rattle alongside the path to the Viewing Platform but couldn't see any although the wildflower display there is going to be awesome in a week or so when the Hardheads open. Looking down the mere from here we could see the far end was a mass of pink from the flowers of Amphibious Bistort so we went on a mission to get a pic. By now we realised we were running short of time and wouldn't get to the other two sites and might not even get to work on time! Putting on a bit of a shimmy we reluctantly bypassed the Marsh Orchids and butterfly zone and didn't stop at the hide to look over the water but did notice the Snake's Head Fritillary meadow had grown up like a jungle.
At the bottom corner we couldn't see the lovely Amphibious Bistort through the reeds where the kiddies feed the ducks but were relieved when we got to the small platform which s just high enough and the reeds less dense to give a bit of a view...not the full monty we'd hoped for but still impressive.
Almost all the bottom fifth of the mere is covered with a pink haze, it's worth the visit just to see that!
Some of the joggers get round the circuit in a few minutes we had taken a little over two hours and still not had time to do the site justice we missed so much in our mad dash round the second half. So slow down take your time and look closely, the wonders and the beauty are right there in front of you.
Back at work we spotted a small solitary bee on a patch of Sea Campion but haven't a clue which species it is so we've asked all round bee-meister and jolly good fellow @RyanClarkNature for help.
Where to next? nothing planned for the weekend but anything could happen.
In the meantime let us know who's put in a welcome reappearance in your outback.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Invasion of the killer jellyfish

The Safari is exaggerating slightly. The day dawned bright warm and calm, actually it was well past dawn by the time we got out of our pit. Looking at the sea on our commute we were eager to get out but for the second day in a row it wasn't possible which was a tad annoying to say the least - it was just about perfect out there. Not to worry we would be out on the beach exploring with a group of youngsters soon enough.
Today we were near the pier rather than at our usual temporary rockpooling site so it was all a bit new to us. There wasn't much standing water near the new steps but a bit of a shingle bank that had been thrown up had a few strandlines on it which looked promising. We started off there looking for pebbles, one's with stripes in them, round ones, flat ones, ones that looked like a marble; the children were only very young. All the while keeping our eyes peeled for shells and other items of interest.
Once we'd looked at this small section and not found a great lot although the kids did like the seaweed with 'armbands' to help it float - Spiral Wrack and Bladderwrack - we wandered a fair way down the beach to the nearest pool of water. A decent amount of shells had been washed up here including all the favourites, Banded Wedge  Shells, Striped Venus, Common Otter, Prickly Cockles, Common Cockles, Mussels, Pod Razors, Bean Razors, Curved Razors, Telins, Tower Shells, Whelks, Rayed Trough Shells along with lots of Masked Crab carapaces. All of which found their way into the tubs.
In the pool lots of tiny young Brown Shrimps skittered away from the nets, many weren't quick enough and found themselves in the tubs too.
Fish catcher extraodinaire from last week RC found another flat fish, not a tiny juvenile this time but a full grown whopper, dead though.
Looks like the remains of a Dab
We'd already seen quite a few mostly small jellyfish stranded on the beach but were quite unprepared for the mass of them in one corner of the pool. Lets just say there were a few more than plenty.
Almost all appeared to be dead, we didn't see any pulsating trying to swim off. The great majority were the harmless Moon Jellyfish but scattered here and there were a few orangy Lion's Manes.
At the nend of the session we gathered together to show everyone what each other had found. There's a nice big Thornback Ray mermaid's purse in the middle and a 'modern' lump of limestone that's sheared in the shape of what is almost definitely some kind of largish fossil.
The seaweed bottom left is a piece of the invasive non-native Wireweed originating from the Pacific Ocean.
Back at the office at lunchtime the sun was still strong and bright and had brought a few insects out in the wild garden. There were some Tree Bees collecting pollen and our first Large White butterfly of the year here. There's still nont that many hoverflies about although there were several of this shiny metallic Broad Centurion Flies (Chloroyia formosa).
A pair of bee mimicking Narcissus Bulb Flies were really making the most of the sunshine.
A quick look at the sea at lunchtime revealed it was very poor - other than a handful of Herring Gulls there was nothing to be seen at all.
Where to next?Back in the rockpools tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know who likes jelly in your outback.

Sunday 21 June 2015

There's an invertebrate or two about

The Safari is going to start with a rant, don't worry it won't last long and then we'll be on to the important wildlife stuff. The local area is expecting a decision from the authorities about franking for shale gas, a very controversial issue. As might be expected we're not too keen on it. Before we get into anything other issues the eco-systems on our planet just can't afford the extra carbon. Rather than continuing giving subsidies to the fossil fuel lobby we should be going all out for energy efficiency and well suited and sited renewables.
The map below shows our local area with a screenshot of the Waco area of Texas super-imposed over it at the same scale. Each white dot on the Texas map is a fracking wellhead! OK you shouldn't really compare the two areas because the geology will be different but it gives an indication of how industrialised our green and pleasant 'desert' could become. What little wildlife that's found in those fields and hedgerows now won't be there long if it all comes to pass like this - keep it in the ground please!

Rant over - let's hope the authorities see senses and don't permit it...can/will the company involved guarantee the finished sealed weels wil stay sealed for maybe up to 1000 years or more to prevent gas leakage? Didn't think so.
Let's crack on with the good stuff. We weren't able to get out with the new Friends of Marton Mere group and had to make do with bobbing down after lunch and meeting up with BD to have a look at the Northern Marsh Orchids. The summer might be cold but it's sure looking lush, the vegetation hasn't half grown up since we were last there. We had a look for a couple of locally scarce plants, Hop Trefoil and Hare's Foot Clover but had no success. Nearby there was a multitude of Hogweed in the scrub area that was strimmed in the winter - absolutely hoverfly heaven! 
Looking in our special place there was a female Great Crested Newt and a Toad.
The soundtrack was all the warblers, Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, Cetti's Warbler with Blackbird and Song Thrush singing too, not a bad accompaniment for the time of day. Better was our first grasshoppers singing we've heard this year but could we find one to get a pic of?
After a good wander round we mooched over to the orchid patch where BD was already camera in hand.
So it's not the biggest orchid patch in the world but it's impressive for these parts. Common Blue butterflies flitted around and our first Large Skipper of the year, neither were keeping particularly still
Although the Blue Tailed Damselflies are out at Base Camp we've not seen any others so the bright blue Common Blue Damsels were well worth pointing the camera at.
BD's keen eyes saw all sorts of fancy invertebrates but one that really stood out was a tiny snail on a Hedge Bindweed leaf. When we looked closely to photograph it we saw there were more, all on the bindweed.
BD has been able to identify it as Succinea putris...gotta be a new record for the reserve. We like the red margin to the bindweed leaves. Years ago we were 'frightened' of the bindweed as it does tend to be rampant but now we've seen so many years there we've come to realise it does little if any harm to the plants it climbs over and provides cover for the nesting birds and food for a whole host of invertebrates.
We enjoyed a good look round the top fields where we rarely tread but should do so more often. Back on the reserve proper we had a look at the meadow aka Reedbed now but there's going to back super show of Agrimony soon. From the hide we heard but didn't see a very close Cetti's Warbler and Reed Warbler. The Swifts tear-arsing around low over the water were spectacular though.
With time running out we took BD to see if the Great Crested Newt was still there as he's never seen one in the flesh. As we approached the area we heard the grasshoppers again and this time one kindly leapt in to the open. It's a Common Green Grasshopper with only one back leg.
Also about were more butterflies than we've seen so far this season. several whites, a couple of Small Tortoiseshells, several Speckled Woods and another Large Skipper that avoided the lens.
Our walk ended with Reed Buntings and Ragged Robin.
We've said it before and we'll say it again - this is a cracking little reserve with always something new to see if you look closely enough.
Where to next? Back to Patch 2 tomorrow.
In the meantime let us know looking all pretty in pink in your outback.
PS - we feel privileged to have been asked to contribute to FW's 13 Years Wilde blog series and so far have had the same birdwatching jumpers as all the other contributors except Lucy.