Tuesday 16 April 2013

Seasonal Splash: Minsmere, with dabbling ducks!

We had some fine spring sunshine at the weekend. The male Teal in the photo above was almost doing a handstand, as it dabbled! I guess the blue (rather than green) on the head was due to a combination of the glass in the hide and the iridescent fall of light. Teal are on our Amber conservation list.

I mentioned recently that the nesting boxes were looking colourful at Minsmere. Here are a few more des res for birds and bats.

What a plump Greenfinch! His bright flash of yellow-green caught our eye as he flew off before I could take a better photo.

We watched a number of Lapwing at some distance from the North Hide. Again, their iridescent plumage sparkled in the sunlight.

The rabbits are usually very docile, and this one above was no exception. You can see the new Stinging Nettle shoots sprouting up - like the weeds in our garden!

This is a close-up of one of the bat boxes. Unlike the bird boxes, these ones do not have a circular hole in the front.

There were plenty of ducks about on the mere. This is a male Garganey. It is somewhat larger than a Teal, and easily identified by its head stripe.

I always feel it is such a shame that the dome of Sizewell Power Station dominates the landscape of the reserve.

Here is the Garganey again.

The tint of turquoise caught my eye!

This large Mallard was making the most of the Spring sunshine.

I think this is a Chiffchaff or a Willow Warbler, though I always find these birds very hard to identify with accuracy! Please let me know what you think ...
And finally ... back at home a new take on 'coconut cake'! This piece of coconut, emdedded with seeds and mealworms, fell to the ground after some wild trapeze antics from the local Great tits, Blue tits, Long-tailed tits and Robins. Look at the bill marks!

You can read about local migrant 'arrivals' here ... and the Minsmere Bitterns here

Thursday 11 April 2013

Beautiful Birds: Goldcrest at Minsmere

I had never had a definite sighting of a Goldcrest before our move to Suffolk, so it was a thrill to watch two of these fine birds last Saturday at Minsmere. They are very small and skittish, and hard to catch on camera! They love to be in among the twigs; and while Saturday was a beautiful day, the sun brought its accompanying shadows, which added an extra level of difficulty to our photography challenge!

You can just about make out the distinguishing gold crest in the photo above. Apparently the Goldcrest is the smallest European bird.

© David Gill, used with permission!

This photo (above) was taken by David: can you spot the bird?

This is an enlargement of it.

It was lovely to see the pussy-willow buds developing apace ...

... and we thought these coloured nestboxes were really fun, though the only nestbox we saw that seemed to be attracting a bird was a plain brown one. A Blue tit was hovering about and perching on it. 

This lovely Wren was hopping about in the undergrowth. This must be one of the smallest European birds, too!

Several Marsh Harriers were hunting over this bit of marshland.

What a change to have blue skies!

We came home 'via' Southwold, where we ate our chips, watching the starling roost, with its amazing murmuration of corporate flying formations. It was a dazzling performance, set off against a fabulous sunset. Perhaps Spring is here at last. You can watch a similar spectacle here on this video about starlings returning to Israel. And if you would like to read about this murmuration and roost phenomenon, I highly recommend Crow Country by Mark Cocker.

Tuesday 9 April 2013

Ladybird Alert: First Ladybirds (and Gorse Shieldbug) of 2013

*MY FIRST 2013* 7-spot Ladybird, seen on gorse at Minsmere
This is very late for a first sighting. I suspect the cold weather and late Spring has something to do with it! My first 2012 sighting is here for 1 May 2012.
2013: My second 7-Spot

(Coccinella 7-punctata),

seen on the same gorse bush

You can see the proximity of the Ladybird and the Gorse Shieldbug ...

... and here's a close-up of the Gorse Shieldbug.

I spotted a nymph Shieldbug in the same area last year in August; you can see it here. 

I am sending details of the Ladybird sightings to the UK Ladybird Survey. Please do the same if you encounter these insects here in the UK.

Monday 8 April 2013

2013 Wordle 1: Summary of Wildlife Sightings So Far

Wordle of Birds I have seen (UK, largely Suffolk) so far in 2013

I have seen Egyptian Geese, a new species for me, in two locations, Lackford Lakes and Ickworth. This quarter represents my best sighting to date of Goldcrests (at Minsmere) and Barn Owl (Orford and Flatford). 

My early sightings have included a number of strange, possibly hybrid, Mallards, including largely white ones. The Egyptian Goose is really a 'garden escape' as this species was brought to Britain as an ornamental bird for parks and estates.  

Egyptian Goose

Mammals seen to date: Red Deer, Muntjac, Rabbit, Hare, Grey Squirrel ... and Rat. 

Insects seen to date: Ladybirds (two Seven-spots at Minsmere), Gorse Shield Bug (two at Minsmere), Bumblebee (on the wing) ... and a few unidentified beetles and moths.

Wild Flowers to date: Daisy, Coltsfoot, Violet, Aconites, Periwinkle, Dog's Mercury 

'Fishy' things: Skate Eggs, Cuttlefish cuttle bones

Thursday 4 April 2013

Home Patch: Pecking Order at the Feeder

We are thrilled to have these Long-tailed tits at our feeder, especially during these cold snowy days.

First there was just one, but now there at at least two, which seems more normal, since these birds often go about in little flocks. They are a delight to watch.
 The Blue tits have continued to perch on the coconut ...

 ... and although the Robins are pretty territorially-minded ...

... one of them seemed quite happy to feed alongside the Blue tit. I was actually more surprised in a way to find that the Blue tit was prepared to hang around; but as you see, the bird was keeping a constant eye out for himself. All these photos were taken through double-glazing, so the quality is somewhat compromised, but at least the birds were unaware of my presence and I was able to keep warm!

The phrase, 'pecking order', was coined, it seems, in the 1920s by scientists like Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe who studied the feeding patterns of domestic poultry. Hens used their beaks and roosters tended to use their feet to keep lesser rivals at bay. The term began to be applied to human beings in the 1950s. Dominance hierarchy is an alternative expression and has given rise to other expressions such as 'top dog'.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Seasonal Splash: Spring is in the Air (we hope ...)

We have just returned from Salisbury. We didn't have any rain, but there was still a lot of snow banked up on the field edges. It was bitterly cold, but bright at times. The Mallard drake above was heading on downstream in the beautiful clear waters of the River Loddon

I am trying to recall the name of this waterside plant (above) ...

Do drop a line in the comments if you know! It grows in large clumps along the banks of a river or in marshland. 
 It is always a joy at Easter to see a clump of Primroses. This clump was gracing the walls of Old Basing.
What a luxurious des-res above for the Basing ladybirds and mini-beasts! I have yet to see my first Ladybird of 2013, but hope that I will not have to wait too much longer.

Just as we were leaving the site, a familiar shape flew over our heads. I grabbed my camera, and the resulting record shot will show you our first 2013 sighting of a Red Kite. By the time we returned home, we had seen at least one other.

The clump of Coltsfoot above was in Wilton, on the river Wylie. if you know Wilton and Wilton House, you might enjoy Arcadia by Adam Nicolson, which pays tribute to the landscape and its literary figures like Sir Philip Sydney.  
On our journey home, we stopped at Audley End, where I saw what I took to be a hybrid Mallard (above) among the ducks and geese. Dave Appleton tells me that he feels 'it’s simply a domestic variant of Mallard, not a hybrid between a Mallard and any other species. Domestic Mallards come in a bewildering variety of sizes, shapes and plumages.' So many thanks to Dave, whose 'hybrid duck' photos can be viewed here.

It was lovely to see some Tufted Ducks. These are classed Amber in the Conservation Status ranks. The dark duck on the left is a female.
It seems the staining on the swan's head above may be due iron or tannin in the water. Thanks to Martin Aldous for this information, which you can find here. I had assumed it was probably a kind of breeding or adolescent plumage.
 This was a lovely Easter Bank Holiday scene ... though the photo fails to say how chilly it felt!
Not everyone wanted tranquillity, however: this Coot had to hop away from the glare of the Canada Goose! 

Safe landing ...
 ... then time for a snooze.
Audley End