Thursday 24 April 2014

Great Cumbrae ~ Crocodile Rock

I love visiting Scottish islands, and Great Cumbrae was a new one for me to explore. I had read about the 'local wildlife' in the form of this crocodile, but was not quite prepared for his size and gaping jaw! The rock apparently morphed into this iconic reptile during Victorian days.

Great Cumbrae is only a short CalMac ferry ride from Wemyss Bay on the mainland. We arrived at the ferry terminal, having just missed the boat - as you can see. Fortunately the next sailing was only 30 minutes later, which gave us a chance to finish our takeaway coffees before embarking on the ten minute crossing. 

We had a glorious day on Great Cumbrae. I spotted a couple of Tysties (or Black Guillemots), birds of the auk family that we rarely see. I'm not quite sure what the one in the photo below had found to eat! The favoured Scottish name of 'tystie' is Norse in origin.

In breeding plumage

Tysties are easily identified by their flame coloured feet ... when they dive, that is!

You can see the red sandstone and the stark beauty of this peaceful island.

It proved to be a haven for birds, and the curlew's call in the wind was, as ever, an irresistible and compelling sound.

We had a splendid tea in Millport, the island's town. I can recommend the tiffin and the Mars Bar cake ... and am glad to report that we failed to see (or feel) any of the wee beasties on the cafe sign!

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Scotland - and my 2014 Wildlife List

I returned from a few days in Ayr and Galloway just before Easter. We saw some wonderful birds on our Scottish travels, so it seems the right moment to update my 2014 wildlife list.  

Female Red-breasted Merganser, Isle of Bute, Scotland, April 2014

Bird List 2014, updated 23 April 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. Barnacle Goose (flock, April, WWT Caerlaverock) 
  4. Black Guillemot / Tystie (2, April, on Great Cumbrae) 
  5. Blackbird (1 bird, male, leucistic stripe, 8 January, home patch)
  6. Black-headed Gull (about 25, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  7. Blue tit (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  8. Buzzard (1 bird, 11 January, near Eyke)
  9. Canada Goose (small flock, 9 January, Wherstead)
  10. Carrion Crow (about 20, 5 January, field near Leiston)
  11. Chaffinch (2 birds, 5 January, Minsmere)
  12. Collared Dove (1 bird, 5 January, up the lane from Minsmere reserve)
  13. Common Crane (1 bird, probably juvenile, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen) 
  14. Common Gull (several, April, Great Cumbrae)
  15. Common Scoter (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere) - red conservation status
  16. Coot (1 bird plus brood, 3 May, Pakenham Mill)
  17. Cormorant (several, 4 and 5 January, Minsmere and Ipswich Waterfront)
  18. Cuckoo (1 bird, 4 May, Pakenham, a 'hearing' rather than a sighting!) - red conservation status
  19. Curlew (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  20. Dunnock (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  21. Egyptian Goose (4 birds, 1 February, near Lackford Lakes) 
  22. Eider duck (numerous birds, Ayrshire, Bute and Great Cumbrae, April 2014) 
  23. Gannet (numerous birds from Ailsa Craig, seen from Girvan, Scotland, April 2014) 
  24. Golden Plover (flock, April, WWT Caerlaverock, Scotland)
  25. Goldfinch (1 bird, 22 January, home patch)
  26. Great Northern Diver (1 bird, 16 January, Alton Water, Shotley Peninsula) 
  27. Great Spotted Woodpecker (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  28. Great tit (2 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  29. Green Woodpecker (1 bird, 12 January, Minsmere)
  30. Greenfinch (7 birds, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  31. Grey Heron (1 bird flying over, 4 February, home patch) 
  32. Greylag Goose (small flock, 16 January, Wherstead)  
  33. Guillemot (1 off the coast at Girvan, looking out to Ailsa Craig, Scotland, April 2014)
  34. House Sparrow (4 birds, 12 January, Minsmere)
  35. Herring Gull (1 bird, 3 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  36. Jay (1 bird, 3 May, Pakenham Mill)
  37. Jackdaw (4 birds, 1 February, Ickworth)
  38. Kestrel (2 birds, 5 January, Rendlesham)
  39. Lapwing (9 birds, 4 January, Woodbridge) - red conservation status
  40. Lesser Black-backed Gull (2 birds, 6 May, home patch)
  41. Little Egret (1 bird, 27 January, home patch) 
  42. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January, home patch)
  43. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January, home patch) 
  44. Mallard (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere) 
  45. Mandarin (pair, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  46. Marsh Harrier (2 birds, 12 January, Minsmere) 
  47. Meadow Pipit (small flock, 24 March, Shingle Street)
  48. Moorhen (1 bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  49. Mute Swan (2 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge) 
  50. Oystercatcher (1 bird, 16 January, Wherstead)
  51. Pheasant (1 female bird, 5 January, Minsmere)
  52. Pied Wagtail (1 bird, 15 January, Waterfront, Ipswich) 
  53. Redshank (2 birds, 9 January, Pin Mill) 
  54. Redwing (about 9 birds, 26 January, local hospital) - red conservation status
  55. Red-breasted Merganser (several pairs, off the Scottish island of Bute, April 2014)
  56. Reed Bunting (2 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  57. Robin (1 bird, 1 January, home patch) 
  58. Rock Pipit (2 birds, April, Great Cumbrae)
  59. Rook (flying in roost, 1 February, RSPB Lakenheath Fen)
  60. Shelduck (8 birds, 19 January, Minsmere) 
  61. Shoveler (2 birds, 19 Januray, Minsmere) 
  62. Siskin (2 birds, April, WWT Caerlaverock) 
  63. Song Thrush (1 bird, ringed, 17 January, home patch) - red conservation status
  64. Tawny Owl ('Mabel', Christchurch Park, 13 February)
  65. Teal (about 20 birds, 19 January, Minsmere)
  66. Tufted Duck (about 15, April, WWT Caerlaverock) 
  67. Turnstone (15 birds, 3 January, Woodbridge)
  68. Wheatear (1 bird, 24 March, Shingle Street) 
  69. White-fronted Geese, (a flock, April, Wigtown)
  70. Whooper Swan (2 birds, April, WWT Caerlaverock) 
  71. Whitethroat (1 bird, 5 May, Carlton Marshes)
  72. Wigeon (about 10 birds) 16 January, Wherstead)
  73. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January, home patch)
  74. 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. Lesser Black-backed Gull (2 birds, 6 May) 
  10. Little Egret (1 bird flying over, 27 January) 
  11. Long-tailed tit (3 birds, 2 January)
  12. Magpie (2 birds, 2 January)
  13. Robin (1 bird, 1 January) 
  14. Song Thrush (1 bird, 17 January, home patch, ringed) - red conservation status
  15. Starling (1 bird, 10 January)
  16. Wood Pigeon (11 birds, 4 January)
  17. Wren (1 bird, 8 January)

First wild mammals of 2014 ...
  1. Fox (1, 1 February 2014, Lakenheath) 
  2. Grey Seal (1off Girvan; 2 off Bute; 1 off Great Cumbrae, Scotland, April 2014)
  3. Grey Squirrel (1, 12 January, Minsmere) 1st squirrel in home patch seen on 13 Jan.
  4. Hare (2, 1 April 2014, near Bury St Edmunds)
  5. Muntjac Deer (1 doe, 11 January, Rendlesham Forest) 
  6. Otter (2, 12 January, Minsmere)  
  7. Rabbit (several, 5 January, Minsmere)  
  8. Rat (2, 9 February, Wilderness Pond, Ipswich)
  9. Red Deer (2 does, 12 January, Minsmere)
  10. 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. 2-spot (1, 5 May, Carlton Marshes)  
  2. 7-spot (3, 10 March, home patch) 
  3. Harlequin (1, April, home patch)

First Lepidoptera of 2014 ...
  1. Brimstone butterfly (2 April, home patch)
  2. Green-veined White butterfly (5 May, Carlton Marshes)
  3. Orange Tip butterfly (3 May, home patch)
  4. Peacock butterfly (March, home patch) 
  5. Small Tortoiseshell (5 March, home patch)
  6. Small White butterfly (a few, 5 Mat, Carlton Marshes)
  7. Unidentified moths on window (March, home patch)

First Odonata of 2014 ...
  1. Damselfly, to be identified (5 May, Carlton Marshes)
  2. Hairy hawker dragonfly (two, 5 May, Carlton Marshes)

First insects (other than lepidoptera, odonata and ladybirds) of 2014 ...
  1. Ant (20 March, home patch) 
  2. Buff-tailed Bumblebee (5 March, home patch)
  3. Common cranefly (5 May, Carlton Marshes) 
  4. Early Bumblebee (20 March, home patch)
  5. Lacewing (3 May, home patch) 
  6. Mortar Bee (3 May, home patch)
  7. Red-and-black Froghopper (three, 5 may, Carlton Marshes)
  8. Unidentified flies, ?Blue bottles (25 January, home patch)  
  9. Unidentified Hoverfly (24 March, 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 fungi of 2014
  1. Bracket Fungus (as yet unidentified, April, Caerlaverock, Scotland) 
  2. Scarlet Elf Cup (April, Caerlaverock, Scotland)

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]