Sunday 25 June 2017

Rewilding in action or is it just abandonment

The Safari was out on a jaunt to the big smoke on an errand with Wifey the other day. As we were leaving we noticed something seriously odd in the town centre - the row of Rowan and Whitebeam berry-laden trees that attract Waxwings when they appear had been replaced by a length of green hoarding - we should be able to see the trees showing over the top of the boards so it looks like they've all been disposed of. Not good!
Once out of town we took Monty for a run on the dunes where he had fun and we enjoyed the plethora of wild-flowers. But where were the orchids we couldn't find a single one!
After a bit of lunch we went out to Patch 1 to see if we could find any butterflies. The wind was strong and cold so not at all conducive to butterfly counting.We found a few but not as many as we would have Large Skippers, a 'possible' Small Skipper - had we been able to confirm this one it would have been the first of the year for us - three Meadow Browns, our first here but beaten by Monty's favourite field by a day and three Speckled Woods, no photos and no White Letter Hairstreaks either...yet.
We did find a medium sized dark solitary bee that we don't think we've ever noticed there before. If anyone has any clues as to what it might be we'd be grateful.
Unfortunately we only had our phone with us and this was the only pic of several that was in focus not being able to see the screen in the bright sunshine and all that.
This morning we had hoped to get to the nature reserve for the first time in a good while but when we got out of bad at 06.00 it was raining and blowing a bit. We did get out by lunchtime when the sun came out. We had a few targets in mind with one in particular. It was now warm but still breezy and keeping most birds in cover but some young birds were about including a family of Long Tailed Tits.

At the platform we heard our quarry but couldn't see it deep in the reeds. Moving down to the next hide we had a very fleeting glimpse so waited and waited a bit more before it, in fact they as there was a bit of argy-bargy going on,  came out again. Reed Warblers having a bit of a spat are tricky beasts to get a pic of.
Eventually, it was only a couple of minutes, we got a half decent shot for our Year Bird Challenge - Reed Warbler (YBC #141).   
One job done we set our sights on the other two targets. No such luck there though, one we saw briefly and the other we only heard singing briefly from deep in cover.
Other bits and pieces included the colourful Goldfinch.
and boisterous Reed Bunting.
As for the rewilding mentioned in the title we've got an interesting little bit going on. A while ago a development has changed the ground conditions making the Wet Fields drier and the lack of fencing not replaced by the developer has meant grazing by ponies (or anything else for that matter) has had to cease so that the vegetation is now left to its own devices...what will happen next, who will colonise?
It might have been Willows but the drier conditions my preclude them, it may be seed from the old Hawthorns but the tall False Oat Grass and Reed Canary Grass might stop any seedlings reaching the light.
It'll be interesting to watch what happens next and how long that will take.
Where to next? Back to work but we have school groups and Brownies in the pond and on the beach so there should be something to let you know about later in the week.
In the meantime let us know who's rewildling your outback.

Saturday 24 June 2017

Some you lose and then you win big time

The Safari had a good start to the week with some decent weather and a flat calm sea giving us an early morning Harbour Porpoise and a couple of Grey Seals. The tide was out and what we wanted to photograph was well out of range. 
Back in the office we had an email from SD telling us he'd had at least one Bottlenose Dolphin too. 
The following day we were out with the camera again to try to photograph our target species for the Year Bird Challenge but a scan of the sea didn't reveal any at all but there was a flock of lively gulls away to our north. A good look at those was called for in case any of our quarry were with them although they were too far away to even think about aiming the camera in that direction.
There was a reason for the commotion - a big splash and a dark shape burst through the water's surface. Still too far away but we fired the shutter off anyway.
We'd got Bottlenose Dolphins...but how many?
For the next half hour they came closer parallel to the shoreline but not much closer inshore. The best count we could get three, one in the lead and two following a good way behind.
The following shots are in the order they were taken. Right on the limit of our small lens.
Missed - not quick enough on the shutter button!
They were tricky to get pics off as they weren't doing any big leaps but let's just say we were grinning from ear to ear when we hot back into the office. Still no additions to our Year Bird Challenge though. That would happen at lunchtime when the tide was in - not the best pic though so we'll try to get another but at least Sandwich Tern (YBC #140) has been added to our photo album at last.
There'll be loads roosting on the beach in a few weeks time, big flocks of them, but by then they'll be in their winter garb.
This week we've played host to a young lad on his Work Experience week. One of the tasks we've being doing with him has been a lot of weeding in the Dementia Friendly Garden. The earlier part of the week was very hot and humid. On Wednesday morning we didn't notice any Ladybirds but as the temperature climbed and the humuditity increased there must have been a big influx around lunchtime as we spotted hundreds of  7-Spot Ladybirds returning to our thistle pulling after our break.

There was also a notable influx of Red Admirals flying through the works garden and on Patch 1 as well. 
Our first Swift (P2 #52) of the year here was heard screaming then seen overhead on Wednesday too.
Our young lad was a geography student and interested in climate change and all that goes with it so we took him to the nature reserve to show him how it is involved with the drainage system of the town and if sea-level rises too much then we could become an island. At the end of June 27 years ago we came for a job interview and before going in thought we'd have a wander around the reserve to familiarise ourselves with it as we'd only visited once or twice previously. That day was like this day with warm sunshine and we remember hearing a Grasshopper Warbler reeling away in the rough lower ground to the right of the track and thinking "Hey that's not bad, I could work work here" or at least something like that. Could it have been a descendant of that Grasshopper Warbler that was reeling away from almost the same spot today??? Little did we know way back then that a few years later we'd be instrumental in getting that patch of rough ground included within the Local Nature Reserve.
As well as the Work Experience lad during the day we've entertained Rainbows and Brownies in the evening. They've both had the nets out and ransacked the pond. The Rainbows pulled out a big surprise. Our pond is raised for safety reasons so we would never expect to find tadpoles in there as Frogs and Toads wouldn't be able to jump or climb the wall to reach the water so seeing three of these was a bit of a shock.
We can only imagine that some well meaning person with a pond at home, possibly one that was in danger of drying up in the hot weather has affected a jam-jar rescue and put them in our pond.
The Rainbows found several damselfly nymphs and a fair few dragonfly nymphs but just a couple of days later the Brownies only managed a single damselfly nymph but a great many dragonfly nymphs.
Probably Common Darter dragonfly nymph
All exciting stuff and then the weather changed from a lovely hot and humid, 28C must be one of the hottest June days ever recorded here but the following day was cold wet and windy back down to, a well below average for the end of June, 15C - it felt like 5C in the wind!
Wit the wet and windy weather coming the wildlife seemed to went and the last couple of days have been a bit sparse for sightings although it has grounded the 7-Spot Ladybirds and forced them to pause their journey to who-knows-where as we were still seeing plenty during our last bout of weeding yesterday afternoon.
Where to next? It's the weekend so there might well be a safari somewhere and next week we will be entertaining more Brownies, this time they'll be rockpooling on the beach so watch out for their super finds.
In the meantime let us know who's mysteriously appeared in your outback

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.