Monday 25 February 2013

Seasonal Splash: Anglesey Abbey and Rendlesham Forest

We saw quite a few birds over the weekend, despite bitterly cold weather. The Blue tits continued to enjoy the coconut fat-ball in the garden, and were joined or pushed out by Robins and Great tits.

We ventured out through light snow to Anglesey Abbey, where we saw a Redwing among the snowdrops, but it was too well covered in the undergrowth for my camera to 'catch' it. We also noticed this Fieldfare, seen initially through binoculars, as it was a good distance away. 

The birch wood was magical, with snowflakes falling and the occasional clump of snowdrops underground, set off by the silver shimmer of bark.

This is the mill. Folk were hard at work, packaging wholewheat flour ... and on a cold afternoon, the smell of was most compelling!
While I was looking for Fieldfare, we suddenly saw a green and yellow bird shoot past at speed. It landed on the grass, quite a long way from us, but near enough to see that it was indeed a Green Woodpecker, our first of the season. 
The thrush was also a good distance away, but here's a photo for the record.

It is always a joy to see the first wildflowers of a new year, and this small Violet was peeping out from the undergrowth.

I was astonished to see such an early periwinkle, but it may have been a 'garden escape'.

Then yesterday we took a chilly afternoon walk in the opposite direction, at Rendlesham Forest, near Orford. The light was very poor and once again samll flakes of snow were falling. We came across a single clump of Snowdrops. I wonder whether someone or some creature had (trans)planted them.

Rendlesham Forest in administered by the Forestry Commission, and I always like their signs. We were glad that there were coloured trails to follow as the forest is extensive.

There were small circles of ice on the water, but it was the reflected trees that caught my eye.
We drove home 'via' Orford, where I caught my first glimpse of the wildlife haven, Havergate Island, in the River Ore. We saw a Barn Owl (our second in about as many weeks) swooping low over the field and in front of our car. The light was fading and my photo didn't come out, but we enjoyed the sighting. I'm always amazed at just how pale, almost luminescent, these birds are.

2013 Bird list to date ...

1] Blue tit (HP = home patch)
2] Chaffinch (HP)
3] Wood Pigeon (HP)
4] Magpie (HP)
5] Mute Swans (Mistley and Flatford)
6] Blackbird (HP)
7] Goldfinch (HP)
8] Great tit (HP)
9] Greenfinch (HP)
10] Robin (HP)
11] Marsh harrier (Minsmere)
12] Black-headed gull (Minsmere)
13] Bullfinch (Minsmere)
14] Song Thrush (HP)
15] Wren (HP)
16] Canada Goose (Needham Market)
17] Great Crested Grebe (Needham Market)
18] Mallard (Needham Market and Flatford)
19] White ?'garden escape' Pekin duck (Needham Market)
20] Moorhen (Needham Market)
21] Jay (HP)
22] Long-tailed tit (Minsmere)
23] Cormorant (Needham Market)
24] Turnstone (Southwold, Shotley)
25] Herring Gull (Southwold and Felixstowe)
26] Shelduck (Minsmere)
27] Pheasant (Minsmere and Flatford)
28] Barn Owl (Flatford and Rendlesham)
29] Carrion Crow (HP)
30] Starling (HP)
31] Pied Wagtail (Ipswich) 

32] Redwing (Anglesey Abbey)
33] Fieldfare (Anglesey Abbey)
34] Green Woodpecker (Anglesey Abbey)
35] Egyptian Goose (Ickworth)
36] Grey Heron (flying overhead)
37] Coot 
38] Dunnock (HP)

Wildflowers, 2013
1] Violet
2] Aconite
3] Snowdrop (not sure how 'wild'!)
4] Periwinkle (ditto)
5] Daisy (March, HP)
6] Dog's Mercury (March, Kentwell)

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Beautiful Birds: Egyptian Goose at Ickworth

We noticed an unusual goose in a Suffolk field adjoining the Ickworth Estate. It was a good distance away and the light was poor, but from these record shots I have been able to identify it as an Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus).

Ickworth (taken March 2012)

This species was brought in to Britain to grace the ponds and parks of our estates. A number of these 'ornamental' geese escaped and bred successfully in the wild, particularly in Norfolk.

Egyptian Geese are now considered a feral species, and in this respect I am reminded of the white farmyard-escape ducks that I saw last month at Needham Market. The white (?Pekin) ducks were interacting with Mallards, and I have just read that Egyptian Geese also interbreed - or hybridise - with Mallards.

I am surprised to find that in certain circumstances (or so it seems) ducks and geese pair with one another. Do take a look at the Hybrid Duck page on the Go Birding site for a photo of an Egyptian Goose x Mallard. You might care to look here for as more detailed page on these hybrids.

I am reminded of Nobel Prize-winner, Konrad Lorenz, and his discoveries of imprinting (also a short YouTube here), the way in which a creature - and the duck and goose apparently are particularly good examples - follows the actions of the first other creature it sees after its birth. You may remember the recent TV footage of the Greylag geese flying after their human surrogate ('imprinted') father.

The Egyptian Goose is apparently related to the Shelduck.

Shelduck (taken in 2010 at WWT Llanelli)

Monday 11 February 2013

Nature Reserves: Minsmere

Grey Squirrel, posing for a 'quick pic'

These are a few photos from our most wintry walk yet. We were at Minsmere on the Suffolk coast. The windchill factor made us feel that we were back in Philadelphia, where we spent some time a year ago last January. There was an onshore gale blowing, and it was bitter!

Red Deer, lying low (we also saw one tiny Muntjac deer)

The Squirrel again ...

The cold Suffolk sea!

These Mute Swans had the right idea, sheltering in the reedbed at the edge of the scrape.

It is very chilly, so we have added another coconut fatball to our feeder in the garden. Needless to say, a plump Blue tit appeared and headed straight for the old one, which I suppose was tried and trusted. The bird may have preferred it because he could almost get inside the shell as so much of the fat had already been eaten. Perhaps this added to a feeling of safety from predators or shelter from the elements.

We also saw a few other species of bird earlier while we were at Minsmere, which I will list below, along with the ones I have seen elsewhere in February ...


Mute Swan
Marsh Harrier
Coal tit
Black-backed Gull


Home patch

Blue tit
Song Thrush
Wood Pigeon
Great tit



Collared Dove
Carrion Crow




Saturday 9 February 2013

Beside the Seaside: Sunshine and Shells

Sir David Attenborough has spoken at some length about climate change and global warming over the course of his stunning BBC series on Africa. We have had some pretty cold winter weather this year (or is it just that I had become accustomed to the mild winters of Wales?); but after a frosty start, today could have been May rather than early February. I drove to Costa del ... Felixstowe, and wandered about in spring sunshine without a coat. Last Saturday I was in pretty much the same spot, and grateful for a scarf, a hat and a pair of gloves.

I assume the shell in the photo is a kind of oyster shell. I have just discovered that oyster shells were buried in middens by the Roman settlers towards the present area of the docks. These mounds now lie beneath the sea, but become disturbed occasionally by shifting sand and end up on the shore. 

I don't know whether your birds have been largely 'heard' but not 'seen' recently. There were birds about in the area behind the palm trees. The sound of birdsong was wonderful, but the songsters were keeping a very low profile. I checked the Landguard Observatory sightings in Felixstowe, but all had been pretty quiet at the point on the bird-front.  

The pebbles are beautiful here, and I enjoyed walking along the tideline. This bit of beach fronts the promenade, where there were a few other people about. I wonder why I was the only one on the sand. 

I drove home, noticing the pheasants digging in the freshly ploughed fields. It was time for a mug of tea ... and (just a small piece of) a Fitzbilly bun, thanks to David, who had been in Cambridge yesterday!

Friday 8 February 2013

Seasonal Splash: January Bird Count

This is my Wordle, listing birds I saw in January 2013. 
These were spotted in Suffolk and Essex. 
The white Pekin Ducks (which were swimming with Mallards) were probably 'farmyard escapes'.

Bird of the Month ~ Barn Owl near Flatford

Thursday 7 February 2013

Beautiful Birds: Goldfinch and Collared Doves

I am running behind with my bird list for January, but I hope to post it tomorrow! I have paid more attention to species than to numbers thus far, with the exception of the Great Garden Birdwatch survey. We never saw Goldfinches in our last garden, so it is a particular thrill to watch these brightly coloured birds swooping down in their flocks to alight on the bare branches of our trees.

All these photos were taken through glass; the one above from my study at home and the ones below from the car in the car park of the local Community Library.

The Collared Doves (all four of them) were the first ones I have seen this year. You can just about make out their beady deep red eyes. These birds have only been in the UK since the 1950s.   

Wednesday 6 February 2013

Conservation Matters: A Question of Fish(ing)

I hope you like my fish!

I 'painted' it on the WWF site and sent it on via that site to my MEPS, who have been involved in the over-fishing debate. I hope it made them smile! You can see the fish that have been animated in this short clip here.

I am glad to report that The European Parliament has just voted in favour of rescuing our fish stocks. This may not go far enough, but it is a move in the right direction. 

The Paint a Fish campaign will continue in the following months leading up to the next step of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, currently scheduled to take place in June 2013.

You can visit to learn more, see all the fish in the ‘virtual fish stock’ and continue to support the campaign.

Monday 4 February 2013

Beautiful Birds (and a Couple of Lighthouses!)

We have been out and about on the estuaries of the rivers Stour and Orwell. We went for a walk on Saturday in the vicinity of the (Roman-built) Saxon Shore fortification known as Walton Castle, which stood on the coast at what is now known as Felixstowe. You can read about the site here. You can only - possibly - see remains at a very low tide, which is why I was not able to take a photograph. I must wait patiently for the right time of the year ...

Then yesterday afternoon we turned our attention to the banks of the Stour. We had hoped to see waders in the form of winter migrants, but our path did not take us close enough to the water's edge for any decent pictures. However, I took a couple of record shots of Brent Geese in a scrubby field which you see below. These were a first for my 2013 bird-list, along with five Curlews that flew overhead. The Brent Geese in the photo above are small creatures. Adult birds have the distinctive white stripe on their necks. They will have been here on our coast since the autumn, and will probably leave Britain in about a month's time. You can find out more about them here - and what happened back in 1930.

We had actually been looking for the Stour Estuary RSPB Reserve, which we found later in the afternoon, but we ended up initially at the Wrabness Nature Reserve, run by the Essex Wildlife Trust.  

The Wrabness Reserve boasts a rich collection of fauna and flora, so perhaps we will head back there in butterfly and damselfly season. We heard fabulous birdsong, but only caught sight few of the songsters, such as a Blackbird and a Blue tit.

We drove on to Harwich, a town I had never visited before. By this time the light was fading, but we were able to see three lighthouses. I particularly liked the one known (appropriately) as the High Light (here). You can see Constable's painting of the Low Light (as it was in his day) here