Tuesday 18 February 2014

Of Storms and Turtles

I remember the excitement as a child when I had the chance to see a live Leatherback Turtle that had been washed up on the shore at Cadgwith Cove in Cornwall. Local fishermen did their best to rescue it, but I'm not sure that the outcome was successful. 

More recently in 2010, as faithful followers may remember, I was thrilled to see a Loggerhead Turtle (Caretta caretta) swimming a few metres from the shore near Pylos in the Peloponnese. Do take a moment to read this fine turtle poem, The Lost Egg of Caretta caretta, by Lynn Woollacott on the Poetry Society pages.

Sea turtle near Pylos, Greece, 2010

I blogged a few days ago about the dubious storm sighting of a Penguin (probably a Guillemot) on the shore at Polkerris in Cornwall. And now, it seems, that two dead turtles have recently been found in Sussex. The one at Splash Point, Worthing, appears to have been a Loggerhead and was discovered a few days before Christmas. You can read about it here on Steve Savage's blog. The more recent find (17 February) was a Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle, the world's rarest sea turtle species, and it was found at Saltdean. There are photos over at The Nature Quest blog and a short news report from The Argus here.

A second Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle was discovered on a beach I know well, Cefn Sidan Sands, near Llanelli in South Wales in mid-January 2014. These turtles from the Gulf of Mexico were close to extinction in the 1980s.

And if you encounter any marine turtles - alive or dead - on our UK beaches, do report them to the Marine Conservation Society.

Thursday 13 February 2014

Meet Mabel the Tawny Owl

I had seen several posts about Mabel the Tawny Owl, but when we visited her tree at the weekend, she was not at home. I returned to the park this afternoon, reckoning that she might be sitting (well, sleeping) out in the sunshine after the stormy nights. And, as you can see, my visit was rewarded. 

Mabel has been in the local news recently, as you can see here

Mabel produced an owlet in 2012, which you can read about here.
Reg Snook has written a book about her.

This is Mabel's fifth season in the park.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

A Penguin at Polkerris?

We would expect some unusual avian arrivals as a result of these persistent and violent storms, but do you think a *penguin* was spotted strutting along the shore at Polkerris Beach in Cornwall?

Take a look at the photo footage here. My own opinion is that a Guillemot or Razorbill ID is more likely, far more likely, but you have to admit that the stance has something distinctly penguin-like about it.

I don't have any penguin photos, but here are some Guillemots from Pembrokeshire in West Wales ...

Tuesday 11 February 2014

A Splash of Mandarin ducks (Aix galericulata, Linnaeus 1758)

I had read that there was a pair of Mandarin ducks in a local pond here in Suffolk, so when we were there on Sunday afternoon, we kept a sharp eye out for these. I had a feeling we were not going to see them, but after a careful survey of the scene, I noticed something bright in the undergrowth on the bank of a small island in the water. I don't know whether the female's beady eye would have caught my attention, but the iridescent shades of the male were unmistakeable.

Aix galericulata, Linnaeus, 1758

I remember these characterful birds from my childhood when we would go to see the ducks at Bradbourne Lakes, designed originally as features in an ornamental landscape. Sadly it looks as though these lakes are now in trouble, but I recall many happy expeditions to see Tufted Duck, Mallard, Shelduck, Moorhen and Black Swan. Tragically Bradbourne Lakes were polluted in 2012 when a company or individual poured a large quantity of oil down a drain.

These fabulous birds are very loyal to their mates. They feature in oriental poetry, such as a poem by the Japanese writer, Tachibana Akemi (橘曙覧, 1812-68), in which the speaker looks out with his partner on a snow scene of these ducks.

You can read more about these birds on the website of the Wildlife Trusts here and on the BirdGuides site here.

The short bill is spatula-shaped. The white tip is called a nail. The male's orange ruff comprises small feathers called auriculars on account of their proximity to the ear. 

I love the seemingly abstract colours and shapes!

This species is not considered under threat, but how tragic that only 1000 pairs now exist in Russia and China due to environmental issues such as deforestation. The ancestors of many of today's Mandarins here in Britain were originally bred in captivity, but became what we might call 'garden escapes'. 

Monday 10 February 2014

A Lull in the Weather ~ a Stroll in the Park

After a stormy night, the weather cleared a little on Sunday afternoon
so we visited one of our local parks.
There were a few Mallard ducks and Moorhens on one of the main ponds.

This Cormorant had deserted the coast or waterfront in favour of easy pickings. 
There were also quite a few Black-headed gulls. 

The sunshine brought the Grey Squirrels out into the open,
foraging for their buried food supplies.

Suddenly we spotted a small flock of Redwing

These winter migrants breed in northern regions of Europe and Asia,
but arrive in the UK in small flocks.

Speaking of winter migrants, we had read reports of Waxwings in our area,
but we failed to find them.

This white bibbed duck (above) may be a hybrid Mallard,
although when I thought I saw one last time, 
hybrid expert Dave Appleton told me
that he felt the duck I had seen on that occasion 
was '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

The Mallard drake above was doing a spot of preening ...

... before setting sail across the pond with his mate.

There was a photographer keeping a close vigil on this corner of the pond,
and if you follow the red arrow above, you will see why.

Every so often a rat would emerge from one hole or another ...
and the one in the photo below took to the water for a swim. 

Members of the public have been asked to refrain
from feeding the ducks in this pond
because the scraps of bread and suchlike
prove particularly attractive to the rat population.


Postscript ...

Having checked out the photos on Dave's Domestic Mallard pages here, I'm pretty sure that the bibbed duck above is much the same as the one on his site from South Creake, Norfolk.

Thursday 6 February 2014

Wet Weather on the Shotley Peninsula

It has been a very dark, wet day, as you can see. My photographs have suffered not only from the lashing rain but from a graininess that occurs in these conditions. I still haven't worked out which setting to use for wintry pictures or for photos taken through the car window, so yet again I'm sorry that these are little more than record shots. 

The photo above shows the view from Shotley Gate, at the end of the Shotley Peninsula which straddles the rivers Orwell and Stour on the east coast of England. I was looking across the Stour towards Harwich.

Eurasian Wigeon

There was a small flock of Wigeon on the foreshore.
You will find some stunning photos of these birds here.
Wigeon were named Anas penelope by Linnaeus. 
They are dabbling ducks.

Every so often there was a sudden flutter as birds came in to land. 

A single Redshank touched down rather gracefully ...

... and surveyed the scene.

You can make out the red legs!

A couple of Turnstone were foraging. You may have to take my word for these! 

I had visited this spot once or twice before, and it is a place I shall return to in better weather!

Wednesday 5 February 2014

Update on 2014 Species Lists

The Common Crane (these two seen in 2013, one seen in 2014 ... thus far!)

I have now passed my first fifty species of bird for 2014, so it seemed the moment to post my updated lists. I am (at present) only listing my first sighting of the year. Wild flowers are just beginning to appear, so I must decide soon whether or not to log these, too. 

Bird List

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. Moorhen (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  37. Mute Swan (2 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge) 
  38. Oystercatcher (1 bird, 16 January, Wherstead)
  39. Pheasant (1 female bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  40. Pied Wagtail (1 bird, 15 January, Waterfront, Ipswich) 
  41. Redshank (2 birds, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  42. Redwing (about 9 birds, 26 January, local hospital) - red conservation status
  43. Reed Bunting (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  44. Robin (1 bird, 1 January, home patch) 
  45. Rook (flying in roost, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  46. Shelduck (8 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  47. Shoveler (2 birds. 19 Januray, Minsmere)
  48. Song Thrush (1 bird, ringed, 17 January, home patch) - red conservation status
  49. Tawny Owl ('Mabel', Christchurch Park, 13 February)
  50. Teal (about 20 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  51. Turnstone (15 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  52. Wigeon (about 10 birds) 16 January, Wherstead)
  53. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  54. 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. Muntjac Deer (1 doe, 11 January, Rendlesham Forest) 
  4. Otter (2, 12 January, Minsmere)  
  5. Rabbit (several, 5 January, Minsmere)  
  6. Rat (2, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  7. Red Deer (2 does, 12 January, Minsmere)
  8. Stoat (1 fleetingly, 12 January, Minsmere)

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

First flies of 2014 ...
  1. Unidentified flies, ?Blue bottles (25 January, home patch)  

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Ickworth ~ a Woodland Wander

This is Ickworth on the edge of Bury St Edmunds ...

I associate toadstools with autumn ...

... and the singing of birds (Goldfinches) with spring.

It is always a joy to see the early Snowdrops ...

... 'naturalised' in the Ickworth woods.

... and to spot a carpet of these little white flowers through the trees.

Two Grey Squirrels were chasing one another's tails ...

... while the Aconites ...

... glowed in the low light of evening.
There were plenty of catkins dangling from the trees ...
... and a variety of different leaves sprouting in the undergrowth.

Saturday 1 February 2014

RSPB Lakenheath Fen - Crane Sighting

We visited RSPB Lakenheath Fen for the first time on Saturday ...

... and enjoyed exploring the wetland landscape.

This Little Egret caught me off-guard, but it's always good to have a record shot!

There was a new boardwalk ...

... leading to the new Mere Hide.

I loved the textures and patterns of the reeds in the dyke.

Apparently you can occasionally see the Golden Oriole in the poplar woods in the summer.

The reserve runs along the railway - there were plenty of trains!

We always enjoy seeing Greylag geese overhead ...

... and listening to the wind in the reedbeds.

This murmuration began at dusk, and continued for about forty minutes.

This is a close-up of the silhouettes.
We were about to make tracks when I noticed this fine bird ...

... flapping gently away from us.

It was the first time we had seen a Crane in Suffolk (though the Norfolk border was almost in sight!)

The light was fading fast, so my photos are very grainy ...

... but at least we could make out the shape of the Crane ...

...as it floated off ...

... into the sunset.

The warden said he thought the Crane was probably a juvenile from last year's brood since most cranes fly in pairs. The only other Common Cranes I have seen in the UK were in Norfolk.

Other highlights of our visit included this verdant patch of star-shaped moss ...

... plus a Coot ...
... or two ...
... and a few pairs of Mute Swans.

Happy World Wetlands Day everybody!

Postscript: The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen involves about 3,000 birds.
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf
The Rook and Jackdaw roost at Lakenheath Fen in Suffolk involves around 3,000 birds but is still an impressive sight. - See more at: http://www.ramblers.org.uk/what-we-do/blogs/2012/december/ps-a-waxwing-winter.aspx#sthash.ZqPPZR19.dpuf