Thursday 28 August 2014

Pewet Island, Bradwell-on-Sea and Othona

Bradwell Marina - a good place for a picnic

We checked the weather forecast carefully on Saturday and headed south along the coast, into Essex. Many moons ago I did my A Level History project on the Roman forts of the Saxon Shore, but had never visited the scanty remains of the fort at Bradwell, which shares a site with the historic church of St Peter at Othona.

The strip of land straddling both ends of the photo above is Pewet Island. I was intrigued by the name, assuming that it was after the Lapwing or 'Peewit'. More research needed here!

The first butterfly of the day was a rather pale Clouded Yellow. It is not a species we see very often, though I have seen these  butterflies on a bank at Minsmere on occasions.

We called in at the church of St Thomas, which, as you can see, was built and re-built at different times. We reckoned we found some Roman tiles in amongst the masonry. 
Window in the church of St Thomas

It was time to head on out to Othona to see the church founded by St Cedd. You can see him holding a small version of it in the stained glass window above. 

Our first sight of the Chapel of St Peter-ad-Muram
We made our way down the track, looking across to the sunny shores of Mersea Island.

The footpath bordered farm land, and it was a joy to see Scabious heads popping up here and there. 

The church is the earliest existing one in Essex, built in AD 653

St Peter's was built on the west wall of the Roman fort of Othona. We could make out a rise in the turf and we found signs of masonry but there was not much to be seen of the fort. 

St Peter's is used as a regular place of worship by the Othona Community

I thought you would like to see inside! There was a leaflet of poems by Trevor Thorn: you can read some of his pieces here

My constant refrain recently has been that August has felt like October! You can see the wealth of autumn berries in the photo below. Walkers are requested to avoid the Cocklespit Nature Reserve and saltmarsh you see in the picture to preserve its delicate ecological balance. The area, managed by the Essex Wildlife Trust, is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). It is apparently one of only eight places in the country where the rare jumping spider, Euophrys browningi, has been recorded (but see also this Essex Field Club report as to the identity of the spider in question).

I may have known about the Saxon Shore since my school days but I first encountered the estuary a decade ago through a poem called 'Blackwater' by Lavinia Greenlaw in her collection, Minsk (Faber and Faber 2003). Greenlaw's evocation of the scene came to life in a new way as I stood on the shoreline of this strangely silent corner of Essex.   

The water may have been a deep blue but the mudflats beyond the bank of shells had a distinctly dark tinge to them! 

The banks of broken shell reflected the light. We were standing on the footpath when a stoat popped out. It retreated pretty quickly and I failed to get a photograph, but it was good to catch a glimpse of this animal at relatively close quarters. 

The shore is lined with unusual flora. White butterflies were plentiful and every so often they would alight on these yellow marsh plants.   

The photo below shows what I assume are - in part, at least - the wooden remains of Saxon fish traps or later substitutes. The Saxon traps were huge contraptions as this extraordinary reconstruction shows. 

It was soon time to return to the marina for a cup of tea, but I couldn't resist a last look back ...

Sites of archaeological interest are very often good locations for wildlife. We had almost completed our expedition when I spotted a Painted Lady, the first specimen I have seen this year - and a rather faded one at that, but lovely to see. 

We also saw a couple of damselflies on the brambles. This is a Common Blue ...

And finally, I noticed this bee alighting on a teasel. 

Teasel ... used for carding wool?
The Othona area is a fascinating place to visit with its wide skies and long stretches of coast inhabited by Whimbrel and other waders. I particularly like the fact that the Roman fort was replaced by a church under Cedd, with his Lindisfarne connections.  

Previous mentions of the Saxon Shore ...
David's posts

Tuesday 19 August 2014

Wicken Fen Nature Reserve ~ Common Lizards, Dragonflies, Butterflies and More

We were just finishing our lunch in the grassy Wicken Fen car park and picnic area (National Trust) on Saturday when David noticed that this grasshopper was also eating its midday meal. 

It was an indifferent day weatherwise, with rare bursts of sunshine in between grey cloud. I was surprised to see so many tiny Common Lizards - some smaller than my little finger - on the edge of the boardwalk. There must have been about thirty, but we weren't actually counting. I expect some had just been born. The photos that appear below were taken with a zoom lens. Common Lizards are protected here in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is illegal to kill, injure or sell them. 

 I only noticed these head markings (below) for the first time when I uploaded my photographs.

It looks as though the lizard below had lost the end part of its tail ...

This next lizard (below) had a long tail, but there was a particularly scaly patch or fracture plane towards the end where perhaps the tail had re-grown. I don't know whether this applies to all species of lizard, but when a lizard sheds part of its tail in a bid to escape a predator, the lost section moves about for a while, distracting the hunter, thereby giving the lizard time to escape. The ability to a shed (and re-grow) the tail is called 'autonomy'. Re-grown sections of tail have cartilage rather than bone and cannot be shed in the same way. The mere threat of predation can cause sufficient alarm in the creature to trigger tail loss. 

The lizard in the photo below clung to the edge of the boardwalk ... Once again, the photo was taken with my zoom lens.

Ticks on lizards are rarely seen with the naked eye, but they often show up in photographs. Unlike the lizards I have occasionally spotted on Dunwich Heath, where there are animals grazing nearby and swathes of heather and bracken, the Wicken Fen lizards in my photographs do not appear to have ticks.

Much to my delight in this year when I have seen few ladybirds, we noticed two native 7-spots ...

I have added these to the UK Ladybird Survey.

Unfortunately we also noticed this Harlequin ... The thumb is to give a rough sense of scale.

We thoroughly enjoyed the chance to learn about some of the butterflies on the reserve, thanks to the knowledge and enthusiasm of Alison, a NT volunteer who leads butterfly walks.

We failed to see any Skippers this time, but we noticed a few Small Tortoiseshells ...

 ... and quite a number of Common Blues. These are exquisite little creatures.

I was keen to photograph a male and female Common Blue together, but had difficulty knowing where to focus the camera ...

 We spotted a couple of Brown Argus ...

 ... and Speckled Woods.

We are now moving on to the insects that I find hard to identify with accuracy! Please leave a comment if you spot a mistake or can help with identification. There were good numbers of Hoverfly ...

I think the one above may be the Striped hoverfly (Syrphidae).

To be identified ... slightly different from the one above, perhaps a Sunfly?

The breezy conditions probably accounted for the fact that there were few dragonfly on the wing. However, we found a few in the more sheltered spots. Here is a (?young) Common Darter ...

... and another.

I think this may be a male Ruddy Darter ... There seems to be a red tinge to the pterostigma.

There were several spiders - my photos are as yet unidentified. Do let me know if you recognise these arachnids!

The creature below seems to be a Short-winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis), which is a species of Bush Cricket.

The photo below shows the length of the antennae! 

I am guessing that this is Roesel's Bush Cricket from the yellow markings ...

There were plenty of House Sparrows around the visitors' centre, but we saw surprisingly few birds on this occasion. We even failed to see a Marsh Harrier. However, the abundant insect life made up for any shortcomings on the avian front.

You may feel miles from nowhere (and indeed the nearest hostelry is called the Five Miles From Anywhere No Hurry Inn), but you know for sure that you are on a nature reserve when you come across a reed with its own number! 

There was one last surprise in store when we got back to the car ... I particularly love the pattern made by the creature's shadow! 

Is this a Speckled Bush Cricket? I'm not sure ...