Monday, 23 November 2015

Black Kite and Barn Owl

I am just recovering from a bout of bronchitis, so have not been out and about very much recently. However, we decided to go for a drive yesterday afternoon in the hope that we might see a Barn Owl near the River Deben.

Just as we were approaching the lay-by that has proved fruitful for bird watching in the past, we drove under some branches and noticed a bit of commotion. There were people with binoculars watching a large sedentary bird of prey over our heads.

We pulled in when it was safe to do so, but by the time we had parked, the bird had flown off. The people with binoculars told us that it was a Black Kite, and that it had made several appearances in the area. We were pretty excited!

Red Kites were under severe threat when I was growing up. By the time we moved to Wales some 25 years ago, the trend was just beginning to swing back in favour of these majestic birds. We even had one flying over our house, high above Swansea Bay.

Black Kite (Milvus migrans)

Back in 2010, I heard that there was a Black Kite over Gigrin Farm in Ceredigion, but I did not have the chance to see it.

I had only ever seen one of these birds in captivity (see photo above), until yesterday. If only I had had my camera poised and ready!

The Kite was not the only bird of prey out and about. I just managed to take a quick photo of this Kestrel who perched for a short time, high up on a bare branch:

We drove on a little, and as we did so, a huge white sweep-of-a-bird flew on ahead of us down the road. It was, of course, a Barn Owl.

We pulled in safely and watched it quartering an expanse of marshy field. The light was fading fast by this time, and the bird stayed at a distance from the road.

David took this photo below, which is definitely the best! 

We may have had wonderful Red Kite sightings in Wales, but we rarely saw owls. Suffolk seems a good place for them: there is a lovely photo of a Short-eared Owl on the shingle at Felixstowe here (scroll to Monday 16 November) on the Suffolk Birding with BINS blog. John Richardson (of Old Man Minsmere blog) has terrific photos of Short-eared owls here. Owls - what magnificent birds! 

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Wonderland White Stuff

I think I can safely say that I have seen my first snowfall of the season! 
No wonder there have been more birds at the feeders. 
It is lovely to have the Long-tailed tits back.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Tree Following - October to November 2015

Welcome to my Tree Following post for October and early November.

These tree posts form part of a wider project initiated 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 by clicking the Mr Linky link on The Squirrel Basket blog, run by Pat English, here ... so do take the chance to have a look!

Perhaps I should begin with my Silver Birch. If we take a flashback to my early November post from a year ago, we can see that the tree still had plenty of green leaves. This year it still has leaves, though for every leaf on the tree there is at least one on the ground below. This year about 97% of the leaves are yellow. I wonder what accounts for this marked difference. I can only speculate: too much rain? too little rain? climate change? too much rain or drought (was there any drought this summer?) at a critical time?

Who knows ... and if you do, please leave a comment!

Silver Birch ... hardly a tint of green left in sight

My Acer negundo has four (green) leaves left. The seed-keys hang from branches that look very bare.

The birds have been very quiet this month. I don't know whether there are better pickings in a neighbouring garden or sufficient berries and grubs in the nearby Nature Reserve, but the only regulars to the coconut feeders on my Silver Birch have been the faithful Blue tits and Great tits. There have been pigeons hanging around, but I wonder what has happened to the feisty Robin, the Long-tailed tits (I miss their chitter-chatter) and the Blackbirds.

On a more positive note, the Jay reappeared, strutting along under the Silver Birch one day, and past the window. I am assuming this is the same bird who has put in occasional appearances, usually to bury or dig up an acorn.

I'm not sure what the Jay has in its mouth here ... Not quite acorn-shaped?

The highlight of this last Tree Following month was a new 'first' for me. The Wren, a semi-regular who hovers in the trellis at the back of the garden, flew over to the wooden feeder that hangs by the coconuts. It flew inside the feeder through one of the holes to find the fat-ball, and after a little while flew out from a different one. It took me by surprise and I was unable to take a photograph, so here is one from an earlier visit to the garden.

Wren near the Silver Birch

Insects have been few on the ground, though there have been sightings of the occasional Ladybirds (largely Harlequins trying to come inside for the winter) and Lacewings. The spiders' webs were superb, particularly on 1 November, but they were draped over the bushes of Box rather than on the trees.

As I write, a storm is on the way, which will doubtless shift some of the remaining leaves. The initial squalls have arrived and I hope that leaves will be the only things to be 'shifted'!  

I will keep my sighting lists for the next Tree Following update (they are becoming rather long and a little unwieldy!). I will leave you instead with the links to my earlier Tree Following posts. Enjoy your arboreal encounters as we race on (here in the UK) through the short days towards December.

STOP PRESS: Within an hour of posting this, the feisty Robin was back on the coconuts after an absence of some weeks! Perhaps s/he is stocking up before the storm.


Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Tree Following - September to October 2015

Welcome to my Tree Following post for September and early October.

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 have a look!

I predicted last month that there would be more seasonal changes occurring this time around, and this has indeed been the case, but most of the changes have only happened in recent days.

[1] The Silver Birch

There are brown leaves on the ground below my Silver birch, but this is what the tree looked like on 16 September ...

Silver birch

To my surprise this is what the Swedish birch, mere metres away from the Silver birch, looked like on the same date. How strange! 

Swedish birch (B. pendula 'Darlecarlica' )

I have no idea why the two trees should be turning at such different rates. The Swedish birch reminds me of a Klimt painting, though perhaps the shades are more gold than copper.

As you will note from my updated list at the end of this post, there have been few birds to report. The usual suspects, namely the Long-tailed tits, Blue tits, Great tits, Robins, Magpies and Pigeons have been around. I have heard the yaffle of the Woodpecker, but have not seen the bird. I see from last year's October post that we had visits from a Jay and from both the Green and Great spotted woodpeckers. 

We introduced a new fat feeder, impregnated with berries, in the hope that it might attract some different species. It has only proved popular with the regular Blue tits and Long-tailed tits to date.

You can see the Long-tailed tit tucking in from the top ...

... while the Blue tit preferred to perch on the cylinder feeder ...

... and stretch up.

I mentioned toadstools last month, and we have had more of these. I have a hunch that some are growing along the line of the tree roots.

Query: Purple Brittlegill

(Russula atropurpurea)

 I am inexperienced when it comes to identifying fungi: do let me know if you recognise them! 

The last four weeks have been good for spiders. Please look away now (or scroll down a bit) if you do not like these creatures!

The spiders above and below had both been successful in trapping their food. The one below not only has a parcel of prey but also has a fly (possibly three) in the top left corner of the web.

Shades of Frodo and Shelob?

The photo below shows a large web on a sunny morning ... The intricate design is extraordinary. I wonder if two webs are ever the same! There is a fascinating article here about spiders plucking their webs guitar-style!

The bug in the photo below was new to me, and appears to be the Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes), an insect associated with habitats of Oak, Elder and fruit trees. I have no idea why it was in the vicinity of the Silver Birch as we do not have the listed trees in our garden. If you click the link, you will need to scroll down just a little.

Pentatoma rufipes, I think

There have been a number of moths and Lacewing on the window most evenings. In terms of flowers, the Dandelions have gone to seed and are looking rather beautiful.

 [1] The Acer negundo 

It would be wrong to say that I was tiring of the Acer negundo last month, but I was beginning to be a bit frustrated and disappointed that there were so few signs of life on or around the tree. 

Patience has paid off, and today there were two Ladybirds and an ant!

Unfortunately this is a Harlequin ladybird. I shall report it to the UK Ladybird Survey. I suspect the brown on the leaves is due to Acer Leaf Scorch

When the Ladybird saw my camera coming, it turned tail, allowing me a different view. 

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis succinea)

I was delighted to find a native 7-spot Ladybird.

The photo above shows the patterned bark ... and the ant!

* * *

At the start of this post I showed a photo of the Silver birch taken about two weeks ago. This photo was taken today, and you can see that the leaves are beginning to turn yellow.  

The base of the Silver birch is draped in the crimson and amber hues of Russian vine: autumn has arrived!

 * * *


I mentioned last month that I would update my species list of living things found in, on or around my trees ...

(Largely) Silver Birch Sighting Update
The few Acer negundo entries have been marked as such.    

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 (large family, including juveniles)
  • 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
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow 
  • TFb13 Goldfinch (a small charm)
  • TFb14 Jay
  • TFb15  Green Woodpecker
  • TFb16  Wren 
  • TFb17  Bullfinch (a pair)
  • TFb18  Sparrowhawk
  • TFb19  Mallard
  • TFb20  House Sparrow
  • TFb19  Chaffinch
No new bird species this month.

Mammal sightings include ...

  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bat ... first 2015 garden sighting 7 May 2015 [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel
  • TFm5 Stoat
 No new mammals this month.

Insect 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] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July 2014]
  • TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May 2014] [Apr/May 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015 - caterpillars]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May 2014]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird  [May 2014] [October 2014] [Sept/Oct 2015 - on three on Acer negundo!]
  • 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] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • 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] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August 2014] [Jul/Aug 2015]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014] [May/June 2015]
  • TFi23 Ants [August 2014] [Apr/May 2015]  [May/June 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015 Acer negundo]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August 2014]
  • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September 2014]
  • TFi26 Lacewing [October 2014] [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • TFi27 Cereal Leaf Beetle [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi28 Moths [Nov/Dec 2014] [Feb/Mar 2015] [Jul/Aug 2015] [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • TFi29 Rosemary Beetle [Sept/Oct 2015]
  • TFi30 Hawthorn Shieldbug [May/June 2015] 
  • TFi31 Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes) [Sept/Oct 2015] 


And finally ...


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

A Minsmere Medley

7-spot Ladybird, a native species. I have logged it on the UK Ladybird Survey.
We spent a sunny afternoon at RSPB Minsmere on Saturday. We may not have seen many birds (and indeed we looked in vain for Bearded tits on this occasion), but there were some lovely insects out and about. Our visit gave me the chance to pick up a copy of the site leaflet (previous post) that contains my Minsmere soundbite.

A small Hoverfly

A Darter (?Common Darter) perching in the sunshine

Poisonous toadstool, Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Another Common Darter (?female)

Emerald Damselfly

Migrant Hawker Dragonfly

Close-up, showing yellow 'golf tee' mark on S2

A magnificent Fox Moth caterpillar

The windswept beach that adjoins the Minsmere reserve

Friday, 25 September 2015

Rosemary Beetle ... not such good news!

Rosemary Beetle (Chrysolina americana)
Those of you who have read my recent posts will know that I have been keeping an eye on a clump of Nasturtiums. I was examining the plants this morning when my eye alighted on a small Ladybird-like beetle on the post above. I took a closer look and noticed some iridescent stripes of red. The creature looked most unusual.

The Rosemary Beetle was centimetres away from our old Ladybird house. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, this is the season for feeding, mating and the laying of eggs. Perhaps the insect was checking out the shelter we had provided.

These non-native beetles were first recorded in Britain in 1994. I have added this sighting to the RHS Rosemary Beetle Survey. I note that others have been found in Suffolk.

We do not actually have any Rosemary in our garden, but these creatures also eat Lavender.

This flaboyant beetle reminds me of the young Gerald Durrell's magical encounters with the Rose-beetle Man. I wonder what I will find in, on or around my Nasturtium patch next. 

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Nasturtiums (again) ... snail, trail and butterfly eggs

You can see the snail's slime trail lower right.

I took another look at the Nasturtiums yesterday. In fact I positioned a garden chair next to them so that I could have a proper look. Unlike the day before, there were no Small White caterpillars in sight, but there were a few snail trails. It was not long before I noticed the tiny snail in the photo above. Its shall was considerably smaller than my little fingernail.

I know incredibly little about snail identification. Certainly the spire was very flattened (a contradiction in terms, it seems to me!), which might suggest a species similar to Oxychilus cellarius, though the body is not the typical blue-grey.

There was also a cluster of yellow eggs, which I imagined would belong to the Small Whites ... I flipped the leaf over gently for a couple of photographs and let go afterwards.

... however, a bit of research showed that Small Whites lay single eggs. Large Whites lay clusters at the rate of four eggs a minute, so I think these are Large White butterfly eggs. 

As I made my way back to the house, I noticed this Cranefly checking out (or perhaps 'checking in to') one of our insect hotels ...

... I'm not sure how well it would fit through the bamboo holes!