Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Tree Following ~ Silver Birch in October

 Tree Following ~ The Silver Birch in October

This post is the seventh in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to go on a virtual exploration of the arboreal world!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, let's begin with a couple of diary entries ...

________  _  ________


Sunday 21 September
Weather: fair

David had seen a Jay TFb13 in the garden some days before, and this time it was my turn to watch the bird pecking around in the sandy soil for caches of acorns. We have had a Jay in the garden in previous years, but these two sightings constituted the first visits for 2014, as far as we are aware. I expect the underground acorn store in which fresh supplies could be deposited for the winter was the attraction, but since the bird was very close to the Silver Birch, it seems right to record its presence in this post.

Jay in garden a year ago

Wednesday 25 September
Weather: fair after a cold start

A flicker of silver caught my attention as a Grey Squirrel tail disappeared in the foliage, only to re-emerge moments later. I have not seen a Grey Squirrel TFm4 in the garden for quite a while. The creature perched on the trellis, looking towards the coconut feeders that dangle from the Silver Birch. I waited but the Squirrel headed off towards the Local Nature Reserve. I am wondering if it was sniffing out a previous subterranean acorn stash that needed replenishing before the winter.
Postscript: the Grey Squirrel re-emerged on the trellis a couple of days later, but has not been spotted since.

________  _  ________

General round-up

I had anticipated a major change this month, and while it's true that the Silver Birch has been shedding more leaves, it is far from bare. In fact, there are still patches that are still full of green leaves. 

There are other patches in which gold predominates. 

Strangely the 'other Birch', just the width of the house away, is looking far more autumnal. The ground below is a carpet of leaves and the foliage is lacking the green sheen of its near neighbour. 

Below the 'other' birch, Swedish Birch, B. pendula 'Darlecarlica'

The two birches are not identical specimens since my birch is Silver Birch, B. Pendula and the other is B. pendula 'Darlecarlica', but I wonder whether this is the only factor causing the different leaf-shedding rates. 

New Sightings

I have been particularly interested in two new sightings. One involved a shield bug and the other a woodpecker. We were watching the Great Spotted Woodpecker, no longer such a juvenile, as he (the red patch on the back of the head makes me think it is a male) flitted cautiously from the decking to the coconut. 

He pecked away for a few seconds before flying off towards the local nature reserve. No sooner had he departed than a new arrival swept in. It was a Green Woodpecker TFb14, and a 'first sighting' for our garden. The green bird pecked away in the grass, presumably devouring grubs or ants. What a thrill! 

Note eyelid: is this its nictitating membrane ... and if so, why is it showing at this point?

The second newcomer was a strange reddish Shield Bug. I have yet to get a definite ID, but I suspect it may be a late instar Birch Shield Bug TFi24. If my hunch is correct, there are no prizes for guessing why it might have arrived in our garden. I have to say, though, that it looks more (though not exactly) like the Red Shield Bug. My jury on this one is still out. 

PREVIOUS SIGHTINGS of birds (on, in and around the Silver Birch) include ...
  • TFb1 Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2  Great tit (several frequently on feeder) 
  • TFb4  Blackbird (I have not seen the Blackbirds so much this month)
  • TFb6  Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7  Robin (one or two appearances)
  • TFb8  Magpie (about three frequently dive-bombing feeder)
  • TFb9  Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (infrequent appearances of up to three birds)  
Previous birds not seen this month ...
  • TFb3 Long-tailed Tit
  • TFb5 Song Thrush 
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow (on fence at back of Silver Birch) - first seen on 14 May 2014
  • TFb13 Goldfinch
On the mammal front, previous sightings include ...
  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bats
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel
  On the insect front, previous sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybirds [April]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July]
  •  TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June]  
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June] 
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August]
  • TFi23 Ants [August]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August]
 There have also been plenty of moths.


Monday, 6 October 2014

RSPB Minsmere (with Otter and Great White Egret)

Otter in ring of bright water in front of the reeds. Photo Credit: © David Gill 2014

It is always exciting to see what wildlife is out and about at RSPB Minsmere, and our visit this last weekend coincided with that of a Little Crake. The bird had attracted folk from miles away, and we had rarely found the reserve so busy. By the time we arrived, the Little Crake was no longer showing, so we headed on past the Bittern Hide in search of Bearded tits.

We failed to see any this week, but were delighted to see an Otter. It was a fair distance from us, but we could see it clearly through binoculars.

It swam to and fro below the dome of Sizewell Power Station ...

... and then it turned towards us (photo below). You can just about make out the characteristic 'V' emanating from the otter and receding in the weed.

There was a measure of excitement in the hide over the appearance of a Great White Egret. I have seen this bird in the western Peloponnese, but it was my first sighting in the UK. The egret was right over on the far side, and as you can see, I was shooting into the sun. You may have to take my word for the yellow on the bill! 

On our way back to the car we caught a glimpse of this Muntjac deer ...

There were plenty of rabbits and grey squirrels out and about in the autumn sunshine.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Lifer ~ the Bearded Tit

Bearded tit at Minsmere - a gentle flapping of feathers

We have visited RSPB Minsmere many times and have longed to see the Bearded tit. It is an elusive bird and one on the orange conservation list. 

There are probably good numbers of this bird at Minsmere, but it is an elusive creature, despite the distinctive 'ping ping' of its voice. As you can see from the photos, it prefers to hang out in the reedbeds. 

We were in the Island Mere Hide over the weekend when a man moved at speed in the direction of our corner, camera poised. It transpired that he was on the case and had located a female. 

After a gentle flapping of feathers, the bird rose to the top of a reed ...

... and launched into the air. I had a feeling that that was all we were going to see.

However, that was not the end of the story. The RSPB volunteer got us up to speed on our Bearded tit fieldcraft, and soon we were waiting for the reeds to twitch. The twitching was almost invariably followed by a movement up the stem until a secretive face appeared.  

We had some good views of the female and now that we know a little more about these beautiful birds and their habitat, I hope we will have the chance to see the male before long. There is a magnificent photo of one here. You will notice that the male bird actually has markings more akin to a long moustache than a beard!

The RSPB Minsmere blog for 29 September (today), written by Ian Barthorpe, mentions the imminent irruption of this species. You can read about this aspect of Bearded tit ecology here.

Bearded tits, also known as Bearded reedlings, are apparently no longer included in the tit family.

Such poise!

It was a pleasure and a privilege to see this bird at very close quarters, thanks to the protection of the hide. Our 'audience' with the little creature was soon over and we watched as a small pair of wings flapped gently away.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Tree Following ~ The Silver Birch in September

This post is the seventh in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch in Suffolk, UK. You will find the other Tree Follower links for September 2014 here ... so do take the chance to go on a virtual exploration of the arboreal world!

to my Tree Following post for September. 

I'm sorry it is a bit late but I've been a busy bee recently. As you can see, the Bluetits are still enjoying the coconut feeders that hang from my Silver Birch. I hope to return to my usual posting for October, but meanwhile, here is a round-up of life in, on, under, over and around my chosen tree.  

The Silver Birch itself is showing a few autumnal signs, with small tinges of brown and yellow on the leaves. However, my tree seems to be changing slowly compared with the Horse Chestnuts and Virginia Creeper in the locality.

The usual pair of Dunnocks have continued to rootle around below the branches. They are very elusive most of the time.

The Starlings continue to visit and seem to enjoy the chance of a bit of friendly rivalry. They certainly make their presence felt with displays of wing-flapping and squawking!

The Blue tits hold back a bit when the Starlings are on the rampage. The Blue tit in this photo is dangling from a Silver Birch frond and as you can see if you follow the arrow, the tree is still sporting its catkins.

The Robin, Woodpecker, Great tits, Magpies and Wood Pigeons have continued to visit. The (other) silver birch to the front of the house had a Chaffinch perched in its branches one morning. As you can see in the photo above, there have been at least two female Blackbirds.

The scruffy fellow in the photo above is probably the most regular Blackbird visitor to the Silver Birch. He pecks at the coconut on occasions but is more often to be found underneath the tree. I have been rather concerned about him and began to wonder whether he was showing signs of disease or infestation. However (and this is sad), it seems he may be manifesting an avian form of 'relationship stress' that causes blackbirds to lose their head feathers. If this is the case, at least it means that he is not suffering from an infection or infestation that could spread.

The photo above was taken about a month ago. I think it is the same bird, which suggests that he has become even more bald in recent weeks. I wonder if he will recover now that the 2014 mating season must be drawing to a close. Do let me know in the Comments if you find any more literature on this condition ... or if you have a different diagnosis.

And finally, there have been a few dragonflies swarming around, but few have landed. The Shieldbug below was looking up from a fence post near the Silver Birch. I think it is probably a 4th instar.


Thursday, 28 August 2014

Pewet Island, Bradwell-on-Sea and Othona

Bradwell Marina - a good place for a picnic

We checked the weather forecast carefully on Saturday and headed south along the coast, into Essex. Many moons ago I did my A Level History project on the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore, but had never visited the scanty remains of the fort at Bradwell, which shares a site with the historic church of St Peter at Othona.

The strip of land straddling both ends of the photo above is Pewet Island. I was intrigued by the name, assuming that it was after the Lapwing or 'Peewit'. More research needed here!

The first butterfly of the day was a rather pale Clouded Yellow. It is not a species we see very often, though I have seen these  butterflies on a bank at Minsmere on occasions.

We called in at the church of St Thomas, which, as you can see, was built and re-built at different times. We reckoned we found some Roman tiles in amongst the masonry. 
Window in the church of St Thomas

It was time to head on out to Othona to see the church founded by St Cedd. You can see him holding a small version of it in the stained glass window above. 

Our first sight of the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Muram
We made our way down the track, looking across to the sunny shores of Mersea Island.

The footpath bordered farm land, and it was a joy to see Scabious heads popping up here and there. 

The church is the earliest existing one in Essex, built in AD 653

St Peter's was built on the west wall of the Roman fort of Othona. We could make out a rise in the turf and we found signs of masonry but there was not much to be seen of the fort. 

St Peter's is used as a regular place of worship by the Othona Community

I thought you would like to see inside! There was a leaflet of poems by Trevor Thorn: you can read some of his pieces here

My constant refrain recently has been that August has felt like October! You can see the wealth of autumn berries in the photo below. Walkers are requested to avoid the Cocklespit Nature Reserve and saltmarsh you see in the picture to preserve its delicate ecological balance. The area, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). It is apparently one of only eight places in the country where the rare jumping spider, Euophrys browningi, has been recorded (but see also this Essex Field Club report as to the identity of the spider in question).

I may have known about the Saxon Shore since my school days but I first encountered the estuary a decade ago through a poem called 'Blackwater' by Lavinia Greenlaw in her collection, Minsk (Faber and Faber 2003). Greenlaw's evocation of the scene came to life in a new way as I stood on the shoreline of this strangely silent corner of Essex.   

The water may have been a deep blue but the mudflats beyond the bank of shells had a distinctly dark tinge to them! 

The banks of broken shell reflected the light. We were standing on the footpath when a stoat popped out. It retreated pretty quickly and I failed to get a photograph, but it was good to catch a glimpse of this animal at relatively close quarters. 

The shore is lined with unusual flora. White butterflies were plentiful and every so often they would alight on these yellow marsh plants.   

The photo below shows what I assume are - in part, at least - the wooden remains of Saxon fish traps or later substitutes. The Saxon traps were huge contraptions as this extraordinary reconstruction shows. 

It was soon time to return to the marina for a cup of tea, but I couldn't resist a last look back ...

Sites of archaeological interest are very often good locations for wildlife. We had almost completed our expedition when I spotted a Painted Lady, the first specimen I have seen this year - and a rather faded one at that, but lovely to see. 

We also saw a couple of damselflies on the brambles. This is a Common Blue ...

And finally, I noticed this bee alighting on a teasel. 

Teasel ... used for carding wool?
The Othona area is a fascinating place to visit with its wide skies and long stretches of coast inhabited by Whimbrel and other waders. I particularly like the fact that the Roman fort was replaced by a church under Cedd, with his Lindisfarne connections.  

Previous mentions of the Saxon Shore ...
David's posts