Thursday, 5 March 2015

7-spot Ladybird in Suffolk

This 7-spot Ladybird was very close to our Suffolk home. I imagine a bit of sunshine had caused the insect to arise from its overwintering state. You can see the early signs of new spring growth on the shrub.

I have just added this sighting to iRecord so that the information can be used by the UK Ladybird Survey

Monday, 2 March 2015

Norfolk Festival of Nature - From Acorns to Fen Raft Spiders

I have just returned from two stimulating days at the Norfolk Festival of Nature.

We arrived at The Auden Theatre at Gresham's on Friday evening in time for an excellent talk on the rare (IUCN Red Listed) Fen Raft Spider, which is the subject of my ZSL poem.

Fen Raft Spider Trail sign at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

The speakers were Dr Helen Smith, a plant ecologist and spare-time conservationist, and Sheila Tilmouth, Artist in Residence to the Fen Raft Spider, a position that was initially funded by Arts Council England. Dr Helen Smith has headed Natural England’s conservation programme for the Fen Raft species and has carried out successful work by establishing new populations in Broadland. She is currently president of the British Arachnological Society. Helen and Sheila gave a first-rate presentation on this large spider's life cycle, sharing aspects of its struggle for survival on SWT Redgrave and Lopham Fen. You can read about their book, On the Margins: the Fen Raft Spiders of Redgrave and Lopham Fen, here and here. It comes highly recommended.   

SWT information board at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

Then on Saturday afternoon I attended a Writing Workshop in the Woods, led by Gresham's English Master, Dr Jonathan Ward. This proved a fascinating experience as we encountered rain, graffiti, smoke, an open-air theatre, strong gusts of wind and a press photographer from the local paper as we made our 'way through the woods'.

We were given stimulating writing assignments and I much look forward to honing my scribbles. What a privilege to read an early woodland poem by Auden in the grounds of his old school! The workshop reading list included Harriet Tarlo's challenging anthology of radical landscape poetry, The Ground Aslant, which accompanied me on our trip.

Capturing detail: a scrap of bark, subject of my draft poem

We attended the Festival Launch with Mark Cocker, whose work I have long admired. Mark's Crow Country has to be one of my top books on the natural world on account of his precise and compelling descriptions of corvids gathering in the Yare Valley, prior to their evening roost. I am currently reading Claxton: Field Notes from a Small Planet, which is an equally stimulating read, packed with exquisite observations about a part of the world (home of my teenage years) that is close to my heart.

There were rumours that Margaret Atwood and her partner, Graeme Gibson, were going to appear on the podium to address the audience, and these proved to be true. Margaret and the panel discussed the emotive subject of losing nature words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary. The thought that the word 'acorn' could be dropped from an English dictionary caused a particularly noticeable ripple. If you are on Twitter take a look at #naturewords.

The Norfolk Festival of Nature is rapidly gaining ground. There are vast hopes, dreams and plans afoot for residencies and the like in a bid to bring the wonders - and fragility - of the natural world before the county. Dr Al Cormack is Director of the Festival of Nature and Head of English at Gresham’s. He is the author of Yeats and Joyce and several articles on contemporary literature. Before coming to Gresham’s he taught the literary modules on the MA Creative Writing at UEA.

There was a brief discussion about ways of engaging the public, perhaps particularly with the future of the Festival and the younger generation in mind. I shall watch this space with great interest. Meanwhile, I would like to express sincere thanks to all who have helped to make this year's Festival activities so thought-provoking, enjoyable and worthwhile. 

Festival Themes
Fen Raft Spider

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Swan Feed at WWT Welney

Last Saturday was cold day, teetering on the brink of spring,
but with one foot definitely still in winter. 
We headed off to Norfolk (UK) in search of swans at WWT Welney
This is the migrating season,
so we were not sure how many would still be there ...

We left Ely and Littleport and drove through the fens, 
between dykes and wide fields of black soil. 
You can see which way leads to the swans! 

A hare-spotting walk was in progress when we arrived,
and while we were too late for this,
we kept an eye out for these lovely animals.
We were rewarded with a couple of fairly distant sightings.

The wind was brisk at times,
and there were bursts of activity on the marsh
during the calmer spells. 
We enjoyed keeping an eye open for Reed Buntings. 

We love looking out over the Ouse Washes,
and enjoying the sense of space.
East Anglia is renowned for its wide skies.

Almost all of the Bewick's Swans had already departed 
for their breeding grounds in Russia.
However there were some stunning birds left, 
like the Whooper above and the Mute swan below. 

We watched two swan feeds during our time on the reserve,
each accompanied by a commentary.
I found it particularly helpful to learn
that Whooper swans have a yellow wedge 
(beginning with 'w' for Whooper) on their bill, 
while Bewick's swans have a distinguishing yellow blob
('b', of course, for Bewick's).
Mute swans are easy to recognise
with their orange bills - no mnemonic necessary!
There is a useful swan ID chart here.

The swans were surrounded by male Pochard. 
Most of the females are currently in Spain.

Whooper swans are so elegant ...

... and so are the Wigeon.

How's this for waterfront camouflage?

Pochard have bright eyes,
but the camera seems to have enhanced this particular one a bit! 

There was a bit of feather ruffling going on ...

... and a bit of sleeping. I love the feathers. 

I'm guessing that this duck
 is probably a domestic variant of the Mallard. 

The hares were not very active - but just wait until March arrives!

As the daylight began to fade,
we noticed a Kestrel hovering above the water. 

The sun began to set as huge flocks took to the sky. 
We particularly enjoyed watching the Lapwing. 

A sense of peace pervaded the reserve
in between the frantic bursts of activity.

The sunset was stunning ...

... and the Shelduck were still going about their business.

Welney - what a place!

Every so often it got very stormy. 
This was the view from the the hide
as the dark clouds tried to get the upper hand.

It was soon time
for the evening swan-feed ...

... which was a popular event for birds and humans alike ...

... in bitter temperatures beneath the February moon.



This was the car roof the following morning.

Monday, 16 February 2015

My First Ladybird of 2015

We saw our first Ladybird of 2015 in the garden on Saturday 14 February. I hope there will be many more.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Spring comes to Ickworth in Geraldine's Walk

Some of you may have read my two previous posts about our recent visit to NT Ickworth. I mentioned that we were on a quest to see snowdrops ...

We took the path that snakes its way through the wood that straddles Geraldine's Walk.

It was not long before we saw some catkins (below). I was keen to observe the tiny flowers. You can see one in the photo above. The photo below shows the position of the flower on the branch.

Catkins are always a sign that spring is on the way, but there were other signs, too ...

... such as my first primrose of 2015. The flowers were a bit ragged, but they were there.

The photo below shows a tiny Treecreeper on a huge trunk!

This view of Geraldine's Walk shows fallen leaves and beechmast from autumn, bare branches from winter and a glimmer of spring sunlight.

And here are the snowdrops!

I suspect the Snowdrops below had been decimated by some creature,
but mice and most rodents are not usually attracted to these flowers. 
There were quite a few petals strewn about and a few flower heads and stalks. 

What a perfect place to spend an afternoon in early spring!

There were quite a few Aconites ...

... still wet with dew drops ...

There was a clump of daffodils ...

... and high up in the treetops a rook was busy making a nest.

You can read a littler more about Lady Geraldine's Walk here.

Ickworth is a lovely place to visit in all four seasons.