Monday, 3 August 2015

My Words on the Latest RSPB Minsmere Leaflet ...

It came as quite a surprise today to discover that my words had been included on a new visitor leaflet at RSPB Minsmere. Some months ago I responded to a mini Facebook challenge from the RSPB to describe in a few words what it was that made me think of the site as such a special place.

This is what appeared on my Facebook wall this afternoon:

RSPB Suffolk 'We asked for snappy quotes right here on Facebook - and yours was the one we chose!'

You can see the online brochure here, but if you would like one that is entirely the right way up, well, you might just have to pay a visit to the reserve!

We have seen a number of 'firsts' at Minsmere over the years; perhaps notably the Bittern, a bird I never managed to see (or hear) during my Norfolk childhood.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

2015 Scottish Odyssey (4) Toad in the Road

© David Gill (who got out of the car to take the photo and to ensure that the toad was safe!)
I couldn't resist posting this photo of a Common Toad! Isn't it a magnificent creature?

We saw the toad, along with a number of others, in the Kilmartin area, not far from Lochgilphead. It was a wet night. I love the contrasting and complementary speckles of the toad and the road!

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

2015 Scottish Odyssey (3) Birds

Goosander on Loch Lomond (2015) ... time for a ride

It is time I composed my bird list from my 2015 holiday diary!

The weather (with a couple of exceptions) was not ideal for bird photography on our holiday this year, so I have taken the liberty of re-posting the Eider and Bullfinch pictures I took in 2014.

Those of you who visit my monthly Tree Following posts will know that I love lists. So here goes ... and, incidentally, the location mentioned is the place where I saw a species on this holiday for the first time. It may not be the only place. Birds are posted in the order in which they were spotted. You can find pictures and information about them all on the RSPB site here.

  1. Swallow (Loch Lomond)
  2. Swift (Loch Lomond)
  3. Goldfinch (Loch Lomond)
  4. Greenfinch (Loch Lomond)
  5. Oystercatcher (Loch Lomond)
  6. Goosander (Loch Lomond)
  7. House Sparrow (Loch Lomond)
  8. Lesser Black-back Gull (Loch Lomond)
  9. Skylark (Rannoch Moor)
  10. Buzzard (Glengarry)
  11. Grey Heron (Eilean Donan)
  12. Rock Pipit (Eilean Donan)
  13. Pied Wagtail (Broadford, Skye)
  14. Blackbird (Broadford, Skye)
  15. Hooded Crow (Broadford, Skye)
  16. Starling (Broadford, Skye)
  17. Robin (Broadford, Skye)
  18. Bullfinch (Dunvegan)
  19. Cuckoo (Dunvegan - no sighting but David heard it calling)
  20. Arctic Tern (Loch Dunvegan)
  21. Dunlin (Braes, Skye)
  22. Eider Duck (Applecross)
  23. Curlew (Applecross)
  24. Mallard (Applecross)
  25. Wheatear (Waternish, Skye) 
  26. Gannet (Waternish, Skye)
  27. Golden Eagle (Cuillin, Skye)
  28. Lapwing (Staffin, Skye)
  29. Stonechat (Quairaing, Skye) 
  30. Chiffchaff (Kylerhea, Skye)
  31. Ringed Plover (Sleat, Skye)
  32. White-tailed Eagle, with salmon! (Skye) Red status conservation
  33. Tystie/Black Guillemot (Elgol, Skye)
  34. Corncrake (Skye - only the call this year, no sighting) Red status conservation
  35. Reed Bunting (South Shian, near Oban)
  36. Mute Swan (near Tayvallich)
  37. Garganey (near Tayvallich)
  38. Moorhen (Lochgilphead)
  39. Barn Owl (Kilmartin)
  40. Little Owl (Kilmartin)
  41. Sand Martin (between Kilmartin and Loch Awe)
  42. Razorbill (from Arran ferry)
  43. Pheasant (Arran)
  44. Treecreeper (Brodick Castle, Arran)
  45. Kestrel (Arran)
  46. Chaffinch (Dunadd)
  47. Herring gull (Oban) Red status conservation
Plus an assortment of geese and gulls, which would probably bring the total up to around 50. I need to brush up on my ID skills for these. Oh, and we also saw a peacock on Skye!

I was surprised to find that while the Herring Gull is still afforded Red Status, the Golden Eagle is listed as Amber. Have you found any unusual birds this summer?

Eider (male)

Eider (female)

Bullfinch (female)

Bullfinch (male)

Saturday, 25 July 2015

2015 Scottish Odyssey (2) Amphibians at Culzean

The view from Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Scotland

In my previous post I mentioned some of the mammals we encountered on our recent Scottish odyssey. This time I thought I would add a couple of amphibian sightings. We saw several toads (and a batch of tadpoles) during our time away, and I may post other photos in due course. 

You never know who may be lurking in a woodland garden ...

We knew the castle, lake and walled garden at NTS Culzean from a previous visit, but had not been to the designated wildlife garden before.

There were several signs about the place. I was particularly heartened to read the one below. 

The first creature we encountered was this Common Toad. I know that skin colours can differ in toads, but I had never seen one like this before. It was large and utterly magnificent. Stuart Babbs on Flicka suggests that a peaty environment may account for dark pigments in toads.

Has anyone else seen toads like this one? Alison Davies posted about black toads on iSpot and it was suggested that a dark colour absorbs more heat. The colour can be an advantage in dark surroundings ... like the frog box.

The photo below shows a newt (or is it still a large eft?). I have not been able to identify the exact species. 

I mentioned signs, and here in the photo below you can see another one, this time on the lid of the frog box. I have to confess at this point that both the black toad and the newt were in the box. We took a quick look and replaced the lid with great care. This kind of wildlife spotting felt a bit too easy - it was a bit like walking into the RSPB Minsmere Bittern Hide and seeing ... a Bittern!

You can see why we like the view from the castle! 

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

2015 Scottish Odyssey (1) Mammals

We had a wonderful 'summer' holiday in Scotland. The weather was particularly mixed this year; but despite the cool temperatures, we had not expected to find spring primroses and bluebells and quite so much snow around in mid-June. It might even have been good weather for penguins!

Sign on the lovely Scottish island of Gigha

Snow around Kintail

Heading north through Glencoe

Insects were rather thin on the ground this time, but we saw quite a few birds (like the Arctic Terns in the photo below) and an interesting selection of animals.

Dunvegan, Skye      © David Gill 2015

I shall begin with my 2015 mammal list:
  • Bottlenose Dolphin (from the ferry to Lochranza on Arran)
  • Common/Harbour Seal (largely at Dunvegan on Skye)
  • Grey Squirrel (Culzean)
  • Hare (particularly at Kilmartin and on the way to the Mull of Kintyre)
  • Otter (Skye and Argyll)
  • Pine Marten (sadly no photograph, but a first for us)
  • Rabbit (Skye)
  • Red Deer (several locations)
  • Red Squirrel (just one ... adjacent to Loch Awe)
  • Roe Deer (several locations)
  • Shrew (a nest, Attadale) 
Sadly we failed to see any of the Knapdale Beavers (the weather was particularly deluge-like that day), but we enjoyed looking. Their watery realm was straight out of a fairytale!

Beavers may have eluded us in 2015, but (despite a week on Mull last year), we had our best Otter sightings ever ...

First view: was it an Otter?

Last view before it disappeared into the water ...

Bluebells (and Primroses) on Midsummer's Day

Monday, 20 July 2015

Des Res Insect Houses, Marmalade Hoverflies and a Burst of Summer Colour

I am longing to add some photos of our recent Scottish Highland and Island holiday, but we have had a particularly demanding spell since our return (and I could have done without a week on antibiotics for an ear infection!).

Anyway, I have had a small ladybird house (insect hotel seems too grand a term for this small edifice) in our garden for some years, but it has become old and shabby. Small creatures like the Ruby-tailed wasp seem to head for it, but I don't actually know whether it is being used as an insect 'nest' or 'home'.

Ladybird house ... as it started out

When I read about Amanda's purchases on on her blog, The Quiet Walker, I decided the time had come to follow suit. Our (relatively) local Morrison supermarket had two insect houses on offer. They were made of wood and the roofs had been painted green. I decided to jazz them up a bit since I love messing about with paint in bright colours. I will let you know if I notice any new residents moving in!

My new insect houses (or are they hotels or beach huts?)

Speaking of bright colours, I love Gazanias - also called Treasure flowers. These South African plants may not be a native species, but the Marmalade Hoverfly seems to make a beeline (sorry!) for them. 

Caught on camera ... the hover of the hoverfly!

Yes, you could be forgiven for thinking that I love a riot of bright colours!

Friday, 10 July 2015

Tree Following - June to July

Welcome to my Tree Following post for June and early July. I have been away so am running late with this post. Consequently I have not had much time for observations this month, but I look forward to sharing the few things I have noticed.

These tree posts form part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am based in Suffolk, UK, where I am following an Acer Negundo (aka a Box-leaf Maple). I am also continuing to keep an eye on my Silver Birch, B. pendula.

You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

The Box-leaf Maple (Acer negundo) is in full leaf, adding a bright splash of lime-green to the view from my window. It contrasts beautifully with the deep magenta of two other acer specimens that sit either side. You can see the large winged seeds (so unlike the tiny Silver Birch seeds, which resemble midges!) in the photo below. The birds still seem to show little interest in this tree and I continue to wonder why that should be the case.

Acer negundo in early July

The Silver Birch (like the nearby Downy Birch) is also big and bushy at present. The Downy Birch has been shedding leaf after leaf - not to mention vast quantities of a sticky sap. You could be forgiven for guessing that my car had been parked under a lime tree ... I have no recollection of the copious amounts of sap at this time last year, so perhaps it is due to the extremely high temperatures that we had a few days ago.

A year ago I wrote the following words:

'The Silver Birch is still a mass of green leaves, though shades of brown have crept in among them, reminding me that the longest day is now well and truly behind us. I keep reminding myself that most schools in England have yet to break up for their summer vacation!'

When I read these old observations this morning, I took them at face value and assumed that the brown referred to the dead leaves that I see all around (there was even one on the stair carpet!). But when I read on, I discovered that last year's 'brown' referred to the female catkins. It seems that (some) early leaf fall is earlier than usual in 2015.

A fallen leaf. I wonder about the mottled appearance ...

The catkins are largely green at this point, but I can see at least one brown one ...

The photo below shows what I found on the ground about a metre away from the Silver Birch yesterday. It is a male Stag Beetle, and unfortunately it was dead and lying upside down with its legs at the top. You can read about Stag Beetles here.

Apparently the south-east is the UK's stronghold for this species and most records submitted (about two-thirds) are from suburban or urban gardens. High temperatures in this part of the UK are thought to play a part, and there is a theory that these beetles can feed off sap runs.
The male Stag Beetle appears to have 'antlers', which are in fact the lower mandibles. The larvae feed off dead or decaying wood. I suspect this male had climbed up the Silver Birch trunk before launching itself into the air and flying around the leaves. It probably crashed into our french window. These beetles are protected by law and classed as 'Nationally Scarce'.

A Stag Beetle survey (1998, carried out under the auspices of the University of Kent) found that these insects were associated with 103 species of 'tree and shrub', so while I have learned through my observations that these creatures operate around my Silver Birch, I now know that this is only one of many, many leafy plants that they favour (unlike my Acer negundo). The Silver Birch is one of the trees, according to the survey, that is associated with every stage of the Stag Beetle's life.

We have had a lot of recent Magpie activity around the Silver Birch, and it is possible that this could be linked to the beetles, which they like to eat. Do beetles eat ants, I wonder? There has been a steady stream of large black ants climbing the trunk. They were very lively, but here's one I caught on camera.

Last night we kept the curtains open until it was completely dark. We have had quite a few moths (including a magnificent pale yellow Swallow-tailed Moth), but the Silver Birch was attracting something rather different. There was a constant flurry of slightly slow, stilted fluttery things, too small even for a pipistrelle. My first hunch was that they were more male Stag Beetles, but they returned in good numbers at about 9 pm this evening, flying in their clumsy manner around the Silver Birch (yes, just the Silver Birch), and I am pretty sure they are Cockchafers, which feed on the leaves as they zoom around.

A Cockchafer on the carpet (one I saw earlier, in mid-July 2013!)

Next month I hope to return to my usual lists, but it has been fun and rewarding to learn about the Stag Beetle! And I shall, of course, be submitting my record to the Survey for Stag Beetle Distribution in Suffolk.

* * *



Monday, 8 June 2015

Tree Following - May to June

Welcome to my Tree Following post for May and early June. Even more transformations have taken place this month.

These tree posts form 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, and what has up to now remained something of a mystery tree. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

Having had a tree surgeon in the garden this month to deal with a couple of dead trees, I can now reveal that my mystery tree is indeed a Box Elder, or a Box-leaf Maple (Acer negundo), as we tend to call these trees in the UK. I feel pleased that I got there in the end - before the intervention of the expert!

Both the Silver Birch and the Acer negundo have continued to respond to the stimulus that is spring, and, of course, this month sees us marking the longest day. Can it be June already?

An abundance of catkins on the Silver Birch

Silver Birch

Acer negundo

The chief excitement in a strange kind of way has been the arrival of two ... House Sparrows!

What a strange sentence to write when through my childhood these small LBJs were, as the song says, 'two a penny'. But the UK Sparrow population declined rapidly, falling by 60%, according to the RSPB, between 1994 and 2004. The reason in urban environments seems to be linked to a lack of suitable invertebrates during the birds' breeding season. The Sparrows have flitted between the two trees, showing a distinct preference for the Silver Birch. Is the Acer less popular with wildlife because it is not a native species, I wonder? Or have I failed to look hard enough for signs of life and biodiversity?

It has been exciting to watch a family of young Starlings feeding from the coconut that dangles from the Silver Birch. The mother was very helpful at times, and at others she seemed to hang back to encourage her brood to gain a little independence and nourishment of their own.


Feeding time again!

Base of Silver Birch on right

On the insect front, there have been few butterflies. However there have been three partially red insects, all in the area around the Silver Birch. You can read about them here. I am fascinated by the Ruby-tailed Wasp, which is really a 'cuckoo' species of Solitary Bee. It may look stunning, but it lays its eggs in nests that were made by another insect, and then when the larvae hatch out, they feed on the larvae of the host insect.

The native Kidney-spot Ladybird below was found on the same garden post as the Ruby-tailed Wasp above, pretty close to both Silver Birch and Acer negundo. Its identification has been verified by the UK Ladybird Survey, and its photo has been posted on my iRecord pages.

You can read about the Fire bug below in a previous post here. The pansy is close to the Silver Birch, but, of course, I cannot claim with any certainty that there is a tree-insect link! 

I have mentioned from time to time that there is also a similar but slightly different Birch tree, a Downy Birch in the vicinity. Individuals in the cluster of Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) spiderlings below were beginning to emerge from their creche by this tree. My understanding is that they begin to disperse if they are disturbed, then quickly move back to the safety of the crèche.

The Acer negundo finally had some bird and insect life about it. A charm of Goldfinches arrived, and there seemed to be birds trying to pair up prior to breeding. One of the Goldfinches seemed to have a taste for some tiny Forget-me-not type flowers in the grass.

I saw a cloud of flies and then this rather secretive insect, which is proving hard to identify on account of the poor quality of my two record shots below! It may be a Hawthorn Shieldbug, which is not always found on Hawthorn. And, incidentally, there is a very attractive deep pink and white blossomed hawthorn nearby. 

Had the Shieldbug hopped across to the Acer from this Hawthorn 'Crimson Cloud'?

Silver Birch Sighting Update

Avian sightings (on, in and around the Silver Birch, seen at any time since I began Lucy's Tree Following project over a year ago) are shown in pink.

I have marked the 'wild things' seen during this last month in yellow.

To date, the only birds seen on the Acer negundo are TFb13 Goldfinch and  TFb19  Chaffinch .   
  • TFb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2   Great tit (several, often on feeder) 
  • TFb3   Long-tailed Tit
  • TFb4   Blackbird
  • TFb5   Song Thrush   
  • TFb6   Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7   Robin (frequent appearances)
  • TFb8   Magpie (about three frequently around below the feeder)
  • TFb9   Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (several on feeder, noisy - and with young!)
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow (one every so often, once with nesting material in bill)  
  • TFb13 Goldfinch (a small charm, and a particularly active pair)
  • TFb14 Jay - seen after a long absence on 10 June (it may not be the same bird!)
  • TFb15  Green Woodpecker
  • TFb16  Wren 
  • TFb17  Bullfinch (a pair)
  • TFb18  Sparrowhawk
  • TFb19  Mallard (three overhead) 
  • TFb18  House Sparrow (about four sightings. We think there are two birds.)
  • TFb19  Chaffinch

Mammal sightings include ...

  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bat ... first 2015 garden sighting 7 May 2015 [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel

On the insect front, sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March 2014]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March 2014] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April 2014]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybird [April 2014] [October 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July 2014]
  • TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May 2014]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May 2014]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June 2014] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June 2014] [May/June 2015]
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June 2014
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July 2014]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July 2014]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August 2014]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August 2014]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August 2014] [October 2014]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August 2014]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014] [May/June 2015]
  • TFi23 Ants [August 2014] [Apr/May 2015]  [May/June 2015]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August 2014]
  • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September 2014]
  • TFi26 Lacewing [October 2014] (about fifteen) 
  • TFi27 Harlequin Ladybird [October 2014] 
  • TFi28 Moths (though not so many in December) [Nov/Dec 2014] [Feb/Mar 2015]
  • TFi29 Cereal Leaf Beetle [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi30 Hawthorn Shieldbug [May/June 2015]