Monday 28 October 2013

Post for 'I and the Bird' Blog Carnival: Northern Gannets


I have occasionally participated in these I and the Bird blog carnivals, and have always found them an excellent way of learning something new about a topic I already knew a little about. Blog carnivals offer the opportunity of visiting different blogs to see the most wonderful photographs on a given subject. Do follow the links to see who else has been taking part. The Carnival was delayed, but is now up and running here ...

On this occasion the folk behind I and the Bird put out a call for posts about Sulids, a group of birds including the Booby (which sadly we do not have in the UK) and the Gannet (which can be seen here in the UK in coastal areas and on offshore islands).

I hope you you will enjoy my photos. Do check out the links listed here - and please leave me a message in the Comments section if you would like to do so!

So where do I enjoy watching Gannets (my shorthand from now on for Northern Gannets)?

Well, I have often seen them off the Scottish coast, particularly around the beautiful Inner Hebridean island of Skye, but the site I have visited most often is a reserve run by the RSPB called Bempton Cliffs, on the Yorkshire coast in the north-east of England. This is the only mainland colony.

The coastline at Bempton Cliffs is steep and craggy. However, there is pretty good access to the viewing points via a series of pathways, which means that this site is a popular one, even with those who have certain mobility restrictions.

Look at these sociable birds! The top two are perching on their adjacent nests.

And here (below) you can begin to appreciate the precarious nature of the cliff-face. The diagonal supporting rock looks particularly unstable ...

The photo below shows the majestic line of these cliffs on a sunny day. You can see a couple of gannets in flight out to the right ...

... and here (below) are more Gannets on the wing.

There are sites around the UK where you might spot the occasional Gannet, but RSPB Bempton Cliffs is not one of these! You can see one of the rocks used by the colony in the photo below ...

There is usually one bird flying out ...

... or coming in to land.

I'm not sure what has caused the streaks of blue on the cliff, but you sometimes see bits of coloured twine or netting incorporated into the nests.

The photograph below shows a Guillemot preparing to touch down. The Bempton Gannets share the cliffs with Guillemots, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Razorbills ... and Puffins.

It is not surprising on account of the size of the colony that there are occasional lively exchanges, squabbles and spats!

Enter a Puffin!

Gannets pair for life. Wildlife photographer, Steve Race, took this stunning picture (click here) of an adolescent bird garlanding his mate-to-be with a string of Red Campion flowers.

The photo below shows the wings. The Gannet's wingspan is up to 2 metres.

The birds in the photo below are just three of the 200,000+ nesting seabirds who make their home in these cliffs from April - September.

Sadly the Bempton Puffin colony has been affected by adverse weather conditions, diminishing supplies of sand-eels and other factors. Scores of Puffins were lost earlier this year on the Yorkshire coast in what has been described as one of the worst Puffin disasters for almost half a century. The eventual return of the birds was celebrated with special cappuffinccino drinks that went on sale in 30 local outlets. 

Late spring is a busy time on the cliffs, with Gannets nesting and Puffins seeking out their cliff burrows, which they line with strands of long grass. 

Here I am on the cliff at one of the five Viewing Stations ...

... preparing to take a look at the variety of seabirds on this stunning bit of coast.

Gannets comprise the genus Morus, in the family Sulidae. 70% of Northern Gannets breed around our British shores.

They feed on mackerel and herring by plunge-diving from great heights of up to 40 metres. I love the pale blue eyes, surrounded by bare, black skin, which make this bird so distinctive!

Saturday 19 October 2013

Seasonal Splash ~ Autumn Colour

I have to confess that I am not a huge fan of autumn. I definitely prefer spring, with its sense of promise, but I do love the fiery colours that can be seen at this time of year.

This funny little apple doesn't look very exciting, but I have posted it because (a) apparently it is Apple Day this weekend, possibly tomorrow, and (b) the apple that is no longer on the branch was eaten by a blackbird. These are very small apples, and he pecked away until there was practically nothing left. The female blackbird perched on a branch but did not appear to be eating at all. 

The photos above and below show a splash of autumn colour in our garden. 

The chestnut below was at Sutton Hoo, where I recently saw two ladybirds sheltering in the chestnut prickles. As you can see the case has now burst open. The sight of these chestnuts made me think of my teenage years when we would gather chestnuts and roast them on a toasting fork on the fire. Mmmmm! 

These holly berries were also at Sutton Hoo. I rather think they will have gone long before Christmas! 

And finally ... these three Long-tailed tits graced our feeder earlier in the week. What lovely birds they are! My thanks to David, who grabbed my camera and took this photo before these skittish little fellows flitted off.

Friday 18 October 2013

Lepidoptera ~ Another Fox Moth Caterpillar

I spotted this handsome fellow at Sutton Hoo on one of the paths leading out towards the Anglo-Saxon burial mounds. If you click here, you will see what the caterpillar will become!

Thursday 17 October 2013

Seasonal Splash ~ Hares in Suffolk

We visited Framlingham last Saturday, with its wonderful castle, church, teashop (cake being my 'one' weakness, you understand!) and secondhand bookshop.

As we drove out of the town on our way home, we spotted a couple of hares in a field. They were quite a long way off, but the evening sun was glinting on their fur, and it was a beautiful sight.

You can just about make out the distinctive black tips to the ears in the photo below. This seems to be a good time of year for spotting hares in Suffolk, when the light is low but intense, so I hope I will have the opportunity to take some better photographs.

So what did I buy in the bookshop?

Well, it was about to close, which may have been a good thing, but I bought a copy of A Choice of Anglo-Saxon Verse (Faber, ed. Richard Hamer) and a small copy of Cowper's Olney Hymns. William Willis, the editor of the latter volume writes, 'Cowper's hymns derive much of their beauty from their personal references and tender expressions'. These words resonate for me with Cowper's own writing about his hares, Tiney, Bess and Puss. Of course, I am not advocating the keeping of hares as pets: times have changed. But Cowper, a troubled man, cared deeply care for these fine creatures, and this is surely worthy of note.

Thursday 10 October 2013

Lepidoptera: Furry Caterpillar at Minsmere

I encountered this striking Fox Moth caterpillar at RSPB Minsmere last weekend, almost exactly in the same spot as one I saw at the end of September a year ago.

I always find it strange to see a caterpillar crawling along the sandy scrub beside the beach. I tend to associate caterpillars with meadows and marshland, which of course is the case for some species of caterpillar.

If you turn your back on the shore, this is the view of the scrapes from the hide ... The reedbeds are just beginning to turn golden-brown. 

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Ladybird Alert ~ Two 7-spots at Sutton Hoo

We were taking a quick stroll at Sutton Hoo (good excuse for a National Trust tea!) on our way back from Aldeburgh when we spotted this 7-spot Ladybird in a chestnut tree. I suppose these insects are protected from prickles by their elytra, but what a habitat to choose. The spiky chestnuts would, of course, afford good protection from predators. I hope this won't be my last Ladybird sighting of the year, but strangely, my first 2013 Ladybird was spotted (sorry!) in an equally prickly plant in the form of a gorse bush at Minsmere.
 The photo above shows the same Ladybird. The photo immediately below shows a second 7-spot seen at the same time on Saturday, and also embedded in a chestnut.
For those who may not know the area, Sutton Hoo is the site of one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time, namely the ship-burial of an Anglo-Saxon king, along with his treasures. It is an extraordiary site, and you never quite know who you will encounter in the woods on your way to the mounds ...

Postcript ... if you come across Ladybirds in the UK, do record them here on the UK Ladybird Survey site.