Thursday, 17 April 2014

Beautiful Birds ~ Eider off the Ayrshire Coast

I love Eider Ducks, and have only seen them in Scotland and Northumbria.

You can just about make out the pink tinge on the front of the male

This time we were based in Ayr in the south-west of Scotland. We saw Eiders at a number of coastal locations - another species for my 2014 list! 

Male Eiders off the Scottish coast
I love the stylish green patch of feathers on the male.

It is always a joy to see these gregarious sea ducks doing what they do best.
Female Eider

The female Eider plucks down from her breast to line her nest. These birds became affectionately known as Cuddy ducks because back in the 7th century a hermit who later became St Cuthbert afforded them protection.

Raft of Eider approaching Girvan Harbour

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Hedgehogs and Hibernation

I saw my first hedgehog of 2014 last week when we were on the beautiful windswept island of Great Cumbrae, a ten minute ferry ride from Largs on the west coast of Scotland. The hedgehog was rootling around in a grassy bank in the grounds of the Cathedral of the Isles in Millport, the smallest cathedral in Britain.

I shall be logging the sighting on the Hedgehog Street site as part of the hibernation survey. The aim of this survey is to see if there are links between climate change and the hedgehog's hibernation patterns.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Tree Following 2: Silver Birch

This post is the second in my Tree Following series, part of a wider project run from the Loose and Leafy blog. 

Since my last 'Tree Following' post I have another bird to add to the list, namely the Starling. The bird visited the feeder on 9 March, missing my first bulletin by two days. It returned on 14 March with a mate. The Great Spotted Woodpecker has only been seen once this month.

Starling and Robin onSilver Birch feeder

I am not sure what variety of Silver Birch I am following. What I do know is that these trees are considered a good choice for small spaces between houses because their root systems rarely interfere with foundations. I recall a song we used to sing round the camp fire at my Brownie pack meetings in about 1970. It was about North America and ran thus,

'Land of the silver birch, home of the beaver,
where still the mighty moose wanders at will ...'

I was surprised to discover much later on that the Silver Birch is also one of our British native species. The Silver Birch is monoecious, meaning that it has male and female flowers (aka catkins) on the same tree. I will hope to post photos of these in due course.

Base of the Silver Birch

And now for a couple of diary entries.

Diary entry for Monday 17 March
I was 'tree watching' when a Blue tit landed under the branches of the Silver Birch in front of me. It pecked around in the soft grass and moss for a moment, and soon its bill emerged full of a large bundle of nesting material. It flew up to the tree, by-passing the coconut halves, and landed on the circular feeder. I was expecting the bird to take the nesting material into the feeder through one of the Blue tit-sized holes, but instead it allowed its nesting material to drop to the ground and began instead to feed off a fatball inside the feeder.

Diary entry for Wednesday 26 March
Was it only yesterday on my blog that I commented on the spring weather, contrasting it with a year ago when the garden was covered in a blanket of snow? Well, this morning put paid to my optimism. A wintry shower arrived out of a sombre sky, sprinkling the undergrowth at the base of the Silver Birch with a dusting of hail. The feisty Robin was the first bird to alight on and flutter around the coconut feeder, and for a few moments it felt like Christmas.

26 March: a sprinkling of hail around the foot of the tree ...


This is my round-up of species seen so far (on, in, under, over or around the Silver Birch):


TFb1:   Great Spotted Woodpecker [March]
TFb2:   Great tit [March]
TFb3:   Long-tailed tit [March]
TFb4:   Blackbird [March]
TFb5:   Song Thrush [March]
TFb6:   Blue tit [March]
TFb7:   Robin [March]
TFb8:   Magpie [March]
TFb9:   Wood Pigeon [March]
TFb10: Dunnock [March]
TFb11: Starling [April]


TFi1: Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March]
TFi2: Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March] 
TFi3: Brimstone Butterfly [April]
TFi4: 7-spot Ladybirds [April]


TFm1: Brown-Lipped Snail  [March]


TFf1: Snowdrops [March]
TFf2: Daisy [March]
TFf3: Dandelion [March]

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Home patch ~ eye-catching insects

It's lovely to see (most) insects reappearing after the winter. I am not a fan of wasps, having ended up at A&E after my last sting, but I enjoy seeing the different Hoverflies that come into the garden. I find Hoverflies hard to identify but I'm wondering if this is E. Corollae

Small Tortoiseshell, home patch, 24 March 2014

The Small Tortoiseshell butterfly, on the other hand, is easy to spot. The only other similar butterfly in the UK is the Large Tortoiseshell, which is extremely rare here, and only seen very occasionally as a migrant.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Shingle Street Birds (and updated 2014 bird list)

Shingle Street is an extraordinary and windswept stretch of the Suffolk coast. It is a a good place for unusual plants, and the Sea Kale is no exception. The plant displays vibrant purple shades early in the season before turning green

The photo above gives a fair impression of the landscape. The beach is very unstable or vulnerable, and these banks of shingle shift in the storms. The building on the extreme right is a martello tower

I looked down at one point and saw this strange cup. It was dry and a bit like paper or parchment, similar in texture to a wasp's nest, but I think it was just a dried-out puffball.  

There were several pipits about, soaring up above and diving down into the grass. I think this is a Meadow Pipit, but - as ever - please feel free to put me straight! The birds were very active in the undergrowth and were hard to photograph. 

The first bird I saw on arrival was a Wheatear, another 'first' for 2014. I have seen these at Minsmere, further up the coast, but had not seen them at Shingle Street before.


We also saw a Reed Bunting at Shingle Street yesterday - although the photo below (better than yesterday's) was taken last year at WWT Welney.  

Reed Bunting

And finally, a Little Egret soared past as the sky began to turn from blue to grey.

A year ago Suffolk was under snow. This year the sun is shining although we had one of the few frosts of the winter this morning. The garden is looking spring-like, and the blossom round and about is a joy to behold.

Bird List 2014, updated 24 March 2014

Blue indicates that the bird was seen somewhere other than on my home patch or at Minsmere.
Yellow indicates my home patch.
Purple indicates Minsmere. 

If you click on the bird names in the list immediately below, you will be taken to the RSPB site about the species mentioned.

  1. Bar-tailed Godwit (1 bird, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  2. Barn Owl (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere) 
  3. Blackbird (1 bird, male, leucistic stripe, 8 January, home patch)
  4. Black-headed Gull (about 25, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  5. Blue tit (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  6. Buzzard (1 bird, 11 January, near Eyke)
  7. Canada Goose (small flock, 9 January, Wherstead)
  8. Carrion Crow (about 20, 5 January, field near Leiston)
  9. Chaffinch (2 birds, 5 January, Minsmere)
  10. Collared Dove (1 bird, 5 January, up the lane from Minsmere reserve)
  11. Common Crane (1 bird, probably juvenile, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  12. Common Scoter (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere) - red conservation status
  13. Cormorant (several, 4 and 5 January, Minsmere and Ipswich Waterfront)
  14. Curlew (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  15. Dunnock (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  16. Egyptian Goose (4 birds, 1 February, near Lackford Lakes)
  17. Goldfinch (1 bird, 22 January, home patch)
  18. Great Northern Diver (1 bird, 16 January, Alton Water, Shotley Peninsula) 
  19. Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  20. Great tit (2 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  21. Green Woodpecker (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere)
  22. Greenfinch (7 birds, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  23. Grey Heron (1 bird flying over, 4 February, home patch) 
  24. Greylag Goose (small flock, 16 January, Wherstead)  
  25. House Sparrow (4 birds, 12 January, Minsmere)
  26. Herring Gull (1 bird, 3 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  27. Jackdaw (4 birds, 1 February, Ickworth)
  28. Kestrel (2 birds, 5 January, Rendlesham)
  29. Lapwing (9 birds, 4 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  30. Little Egret (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  31. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January, home patch)
  32. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  33. Mallard (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  34. Mandarin (pair, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  35. Marsh Harrier (2 birds, 12 January, Minsmere) 
  36. Meadow Pipit (small flock, 24 March, Shingle Street)
  37. Moorhen (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  38. Mute Swan (2 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge) 
  39. Oystercatcher (1 bird, 16 January, Wherstead)
  40. Pheasant (1 female bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  41. Pied Wagtail (1 bird, 15 January, Waterfront, Ipswich) 
  42. Redshank (2 birds, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  43. Redwing (about 9 birds, 26 January, local hospital) - red conservation status
  44. Reed Bunting (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  45. Robin (1 bird, 1 January, home patch) 
  46. Rook (flying in roost, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  47. Shelduck (8 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  48. Shoveler (2 birds. 19 Januray, Minsmere)
  49. Song Thrush (1 bird, ringed, 17 January, home patch) - red conservation status
  50. Tawny Owl ('Mabel', Christchurch Park, 13 February)
  51. Teal (about 20 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  52. Turnstone (15 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  53. Wheatear (1 bird, 24 March, Shingle Street)
  54. Wigeon (about 10 birds) 16 January, Wherstead)
  55. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  56. Wren (1 bird, 8 January, home patch) 

Home Patch list for first sightings ...

  1. Blackbird (1 bird, male, leucistic stripe, 8 January)
  2. Blue tit (2 birds, 2 January)
  3. Chaffinch (1 bird, 8 January)
  4. Dunnock (1 bird, 8 January) 
  5. Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 bird, 27 January)
  6. Great tit (2 birds, 4 January)
  7. Greenfinch (1 bird, 8 January) 
  8. Grey Heron (1 bird flying over, 4 February)
  9. Little Egret (1 bird flying over, 27 January) 
  10. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January)
  11. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January)
  12. Robin (1 bird, 1 January) 
  13. Song Thrush (1 bird, 17 January, home patch, ringed) - red conservation status
  14. Starling (1 bird, 10 January)
  15. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January)
  16. Wren (1 bird, 8 January)

First wild mammals of 2014 ...
  1. Grey Squirrel (1, 12 January, Minsmere) 1st squirrel in home patch seen on 13 Jan.
  2. Fox (1, 1 February 2014, Lakenheath) 
  3. Hare (2, 1 April 2014, near Bury St Edmunds)
  4. Muntjac Deer (1 doe, 11 January, Rendlesham Forest) 
  5. Otter (2, 12 January, Minsmere)  
  6. Rabbit (several, 5 January, Minsmere)  
  7. Rat (2, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  8. Red Deer (2 does, 12 January, Minsmere)
  9. Stoat (1 fleetingly, 12 January, Minsmere)

First amphibians of 2014 ...
  1. Common Frog and spawn (73 frogs, 10 March, Felixstowe)

First Ladybirds of 2014 ...
  1. 7-spot (3, 10 March, home patch)

First Lepidoptera of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified moths on window (home patch)
  2. Small Tortoiseshell (5 March, home patch)
  3. Brimstone butterfly (2 April, home patch)

First gastropods of 2014 ... 
  1. Brown-lipped Snail (7 March, home patch)

First arachnids of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified spider (8 January, home patch)  

First insects (other than lepidoptera, odonata and ladybirds) of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified flies, ?Blue bottles (25 January, home patch)   
  2. Buff-tailed Bumblebee (5 March, home patch)
  3. Ant (20 March, home patch) 
  4. Early Bumblebee (20 March, home patch) 
  5. Unidentified Hoverfly (24 March, home patch)

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Lighthouse (Blog) Award

My thanks to Juliet Wilson aka Crafty Green Poet for nominating me for The Lighthouse Award for this blog. Juliet blogs about the environment, about poetry and about her craft projects that involve recycled material. Juliet has edited the online poetry magazine, Bolts of Silk, since 2006.

The award was created by Coach Muller at ‘Good Times Stories’ who says this is “an award to recognize the people who have created beautiful, heartwarming, and inspirational blogs. Their blogs bring us happiness, enlighten our hearts, and bring a little joy to our lives when we visit their pages. The work that these people have done has truly given us rays of light in a gloomy world."

Mabel the Tawny Owl

And now it falls to me to nominate others for the Award. I have chosen a variety of bloggers from the USA to the Philippines, with interests largely in the realms of poetry, photography and the natural world. Do visit the listed blogs and enjoy the variety!

So in the hope that one or two of the following blog friends will accept the award and pass it on to other bloggers, I nominate (in no particular order) ...

  • Matt for his blog, Polyolbion, which blends poetry matters and reviews with birding.
  • Em for her blog, Dartmoor Ramblings, with art and stunning photographs of Dartmoor.
  • Adam for his detailed blog, My Life Outside, about wildlife in South Wales (and sometimes on Mull).
  • Lucy at Loose and Leafy, hosting the 2014 blog initiative, 'Tree Following'.
  • Marc for his innovative Folding Mirror Poetry.
  • Naquillity for her natural-world based poesaics and fototudes. 
  • Andrea for her blog, Pure Oxygen Generators, from the Philippines
  • Mary for her USA-based Faith, Fabric and Photos ... wonderful quilts and stunning birds! 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Beautiful Birds ~ Barn Owl

I have spotted quite a few owls since we moved to Suffolk, and this is the latest. 
We were driving along a road in the Bawdsey area over the weekend 
when this fine creature caught our attention. 

I was expecting a Short-eared Owl, since I know that this species has been seen not far away, 
but I'm pretty sure this creature is a Barn Owl
The heart-shaped face is quite prominent.

As you can see, the light was fading fast. 
We were a good distance from the bird, so my zoom lens was sorely tested!

The owl spent a few minutes quartering the large expanse of open field, 
between the road and a wooded area.

You can just make out the barred colouring on the wings in the photo below.
I suspect this may suggest that the bird was a female. 

The owl disappeared from view after a few minutes,
and we reached Bawdsey just in time to watch the sun setting over Felixstowe. 

I have logged the sighting on the iSpy a Barn Owl page of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.

For some wonderful photography of owls in Suffolk, see ...


N.B. My 'Tree Following 2014' post is HERE. The Loose and Leafy page about the project is HERE.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Amphibian Alert ~ Frogs Galore

N.B. My 'Tree Following 2014' post is HERE. The Loose and Leafy page about the project is HERE.

After a tip-off from the Landguard Bird Observatory, we went in search of frogs. I failed to see an amphibian at all last year, but this sighting more than made up for that fact.

This marshy area was apparently part of Horse Shoe Creek up until 1867 when it was brought into use by HM War Department for rifle practice. The pond was dug in 1993 and is now a haven for wildlife.

We counted 73 Common Frogs, and there were probably more in among the spawn and the weed. Leeches, Hemiclepsis marginata, were noted in the pond back in 2011. 

Frogs tend to emerge from hibernation in late February. The females spawn almost immediately. 

There are frequently 300-400 eggs in a clump! 

Spawn was noted here from 29 March in 2013, so our milder winter has brought things forward. 

The pond is part of a Nature Reserve, designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to the rarity of vegetated shingle habitat nearby. 

I was fascinated by the lighter colour of the frog on the left. The sunlight was low and it was hard to get a crisp photo. Females tend to be a lighter colour than than the males, though frogs have a certain ability to change the tone of their skin to match the light or shade of their environment. Common Frogs come in a surprising range of shades, stripes and speckles.

Common frogs can live up to eight years.

Females tend to be larger than their mates.

Female frogs begin producing spawn once they reach their third year. 

The photo above shows the wide windswept beach at Felixstowe's Landguard Point.

 And finally ... a photo showing conservation work in action, protecting the habitat of the rare Stinking Goosefoot.