Friday, 16 March 2018

7-spot Ladybirds - a Seasonal First

I could feel the warmth of the sun coming through the glass earlier this afternoon, and went outside to find three Ladybirds in the back garden and two more by the front door. I was thinking this was fairly early for them to be scuttling about until I saw that my first sighting two years ago had been on 3 March 2016.

What a beautiful 7-spot! 

Once again, our region here in the 'far east' of the UK 
is expecting heavy snow over the next couple of days, 
so I am not sure when I will see the next Ladybirds on the move. 

Meanwhile, enjoy the weekend, whatever the weather...

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Queen of the Spring

I have been on the look-out for early insects, and feeling the warmth of the sun through a glass panel yesterday afternoon, went outside just in case there were any Ladybirds emerging from the places they tend to over-winter. I guess it is still a bit early and cold, though I see I had come across a Brimstone and a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly by this time last year. However, making her way slowly up the door frame was this beautiful Queen Bumblebee. Queens, I have discovered, hibernate in the earth on their own. When they wake up they need to feed, and find a suitable nesting site. You can read about the Queen bee here on the Bumblebee Conservation Trust site.

I enlarged my photo on Photoshop to see the details. I also lightened it to help me see anything I might have missed. Those little golden speckles on the wing, presumably of pollen, caught my eye. Bees make particularly good pollinators because not only do they have specific pollen sacks, but small particles of pollen are carried on their bodies as a whole.

There are not many flowers in our garden yet. We have a few Polyanthus, a couple of small Iris, a lingering Snowdrop, yellow Viola (like small Pansies), a number of Daffodils and a couple of Daisies. It's a lovely to think that buds are beginning to burst - though I gather we may be due for more snow before the weekend is out, and 'just up the road' in Norfolk, there have been sightings of a magnificent female Snowy Owl.


Looking at the daffodils in this photo makes me feel we should be trying to buy plants in more environmentally-friendly pots next time. What a challenge for garden centres to switch from polystyrene and plastic to recycled, recyclable or biodegradable plant containers. Has anyone come across an outlet that is committed to doing just that? 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Hole for a Vole?

Snowdrops and Crocus, St Mary's churchyard, Martlesham

Sunday afternoon was dark, wet and cold. We decided to go in search of a bit of colour in the form of the spring flowers that we guessed would be peaking in St Mary's churchyard. The area perches above Martlesham Creek and the River Deben, and has lovely views on a sunny day. The snowdrops were just past their best, but still giving a good show. The crocuses were a bit bedraggled by the rain, but the overall picture was one of beauty as you can see.

St Mary's is one of many churches in this area with flint-facings. Grimes Graves, the neolithic flint mine site, is a two-hour drive away or thereabouts, and a place we have often visited. You can read more about the use of flint in East Anglia in this EDP article here

There had been rather a lot of rain. At one point, in among the purple crocus heads...

... we found a single golden flower.

There were a few primroses, looking a bit the worst for wear, but nonetheless a joy to see on a dreary afternoon.

David stopped me in my tracks at this point with a quick nudge. 
I looked and there peeping out of this hole just in front of a gravestone,
30 cm from the church path, was a round rodent head with beady eyes. 
Sadly it retreated the (split-)second it saw us. 

We stood back and waited for a while, but it did not reappear. 
I took a quick photo with my zoom lens and we left the little creature in peace.

I looked up rodent holes on the web once we were back home, 
and I suspect the rodent was a vole.
The churchyard prides itself on its wildlife,
and since the birds were making themselves extremely scarce that day,
it was good to feel that we had seem something truly wild.


P.S. You can see a vole hole here.
For those undertaking a survey, 
a coin certainly helps to give a sense of scale,
if placed without causing a disturbance. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

Mystery pawprints left by the Beast from the East

Although we live in a suburban area, we have seen (largely Muntjac) deer on occasions making their way across the roads or down the footpaths. We have never seen a deer in our garden.

I peered outside on Saturday and saw these strange prints. Reason tells me they belong to visiting cats, but they have a distinctive hoof print feel about them with that rim around the edge. However, when I looked up deer tracks, they did not seem to match. If they are feline paw prints, I guess the snow must have melted in a particular kind of way. I wonder what you think...

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Winter Wonderland for St David's Day

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!
When we lived in Swansea I remember wondering whether our Daffodils would be in flower for 1st March. Sometimes we saw small Daffodil buds at Aberglasney as early as November, a fact I find hard to believe these days. I suspect the milder climate in South Wales has something to do with this, but there may be other factors to consider such as global warming and the species of Daffodil bulb.

Like the Grey Squirrel photo below, the picture above was taken in our Suffolk garden yesterday: I fear today's snow will have covered up the Daffodil stem by now. 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

A Bitterly Cold Afternoon at Alton Water Park, Shotley Peninsula

It felt as though the temperature was several degrees centigrade below freezing: there was an unforgiving wind from Siberia.

However, we wrapped up warm and ventured out for a short time to enjoy the sunshine at Alton Water Park and Anglian Water reservoir on the Shotley Peninsula near Ipswich. There were several pairs of Egyptian Geese (photo above): we find we are seeing more and more of these.  

 There was a lone Great Crested Grebe swimming and diving, swimming and diving, and looking very streamlined without an elevated crest.

The sunlight was remarkably bright and there wasn't a cloud to be seen. 

 These are some of the Wigeon who were floating near the shore.

We checked the tree that usually has good bird feeders, but there was only one feeder today with a few nuts in the bottom. However, as we drove out of this part of the car park, we came across a lovely Song Thrush (thank you, Juliet, for your help here: I often have difficulty telling Song and Mistle Thrushes apart!). 

On such a bitter day, it was good to see some early Daisies, and to remember that spring cannot be too far away - despite the forecast!

I was surprised to find molehills so close to the water's edge, 
but perhaps the damp soil makes digging a bit easier...

In the course of some poetry research last week, I learned that these are not seed cases, 
but rather the globose heads that bear the fruit of the Plane Tree. 

An exquisite downy feather.
If I was a duck, I would hang on to feathers like these until the temperatures rise!

The Egyptian Geese took off...

...but the Wigeon and Coots stayed in their rafts near the shore. 

We walked a little way along the reservoir wall (below), but soon retreated for a more sheltered spot. 

 Here is David before we turned for home...

There was a small flock of birds in a tree by the car: they were in shadow and it was hard to photograph them, let alone see what they were. They seemed too rounded for Sparrows and were not the right shape for Chaffinches. David and I separately came to the conclusion that they might be Redpoll. I have lightened my photo considerably since it was almost a silhouette. Do let me know what you think...

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Red Letter Day for White-letter Butterfly

Those of you who follow my blog may recall my excitement at seeing my first White-letter Hairstreak surprisingly close to my Suffolk home last summer. These are the photos I took at the time. I am posting them again in the light of the good news that three White-letter Hairstreak eggs were recently discovered in Scotland where this species had not been known to breed for over a century. You can read the story on the Discover Wildlife site here.

And as for me, well, I shall return to my spot later this year when these pink Bindweed flowers are blooming. White-letter Hairstreaks usually frequent the treetops in areas of elm, but, of course, so many elms have been decimated by disease in recent decades.  

Postscript: I have just ordered a copy of a children's novel, highly recommended by an adult poetry friend. It is called The Island at the End of Everything by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and is about butterflies and leprosy. I will report back in due course...

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Urban Birds (and Mammals) in a Local Park


Inspired by the launch of Nadia Kingsley's new book of art and poetry, DIVERSIFLY, on the theme of urban birds in Britain, we took a short spin around a local park to see what was about before the rain got too heavy.

Having seen the Kingfishers (here and here) on BBC Winterwatch recently, we were thrilled to find not one but two by the lake, presumably a male and a female. Will there be young in due course?

Sadly the birds were at the furthest point from us for much of the time, and since my zoom does not perform well in grey rainy weather, my photo is just a record shot - but it is always a thrill to see these birds, and I have never seen two at the same time before.

Catkins - I think these are birch ones... (whoops, Juliet thins they are hazel. My mistake. Thank you, Juliet!)


Young adult Black-headed Gull

The ice house from the days when the park was part of an estate

We were fascinated to see the small trunks growing vertically out of the horizontal trunk. This was where we saw our first rat. David also noticed a Grey Squirrel.

It's always lovely to see a Robin.

I had hoped there might have been more Snowdrops, but it was good to see the few that there were.
Good weather for ducks... This is largely, but not entirely, Mallard!
Look who's peeping out!

I don't know if our presence startled the rats, but the larger one, presumably the mother, swam off across the lake. The young one (peeping out of the trunk, two photos up) came down and sniffed around the tree trunk.

We also noticed Wood Pigeons, a Carrion Crow, a Bluetit and a Magpie. Not bad for a short visit in the rain...

Saturday, 3 February 2018

The Latecomer

This furry creature arrived after the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch, and evidently found something tasty in the planter. Since the mammal section of the survey requires sightings to have been during the last year rather than during the hour of the watch, I guess the squirrel's lateness is of no real significance!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch 2018 - And my top bird is...

I believe for the first time, the Goldfinch came out top in my 2018 Big Garden Birdwatch survey. As you will guess, the photo above was not taken today (too much sun, too many sorrel seeds)... but I think you will agree that it is a more colourful picture than this morning's record shot, taken in dull grey weather from behind glass, which I have posted below.

The species chart records what I actually saw during the hour...

There were more sightings of these species, but the records requested are for the highest number seen at one time.

Sadly a number of previous Bird Count avian visitors were missing, including the House Sparrow, Dunnock, Robin (who is often around), Greater-spotted Woodpecker and Green Woodpecker. I suspect the weather plays a part, but it would be interesting to know what the other key factors are. We had Greenfinches in the garden when we moved in some five+ years ago, but these have not been seen for a long time. The Song Thrush was here in the run-up to Christmas and the Wren. A score of two for Wood Pigeons is very low for us.

We are also invited to record animal sightings of the last twelve months. We have seen one Hedgehog some months ago (and back in the summer, quite a few hedgehog calling cards...)

Grey Squirrels come to the coconut feeder most days... but there were none during the hour of the count.

If you would like to take part in the count, there is still time as it continues until 29 January 2018. The link is here. Happy watching... and recording!