Tuesday 26 May 2015

Heard but not Seen - at EWT Fingringhoe Wick and SWT Redgrave and Lopham Fen

I am, I confess, a very visual person. My art tutor taught me to 'see' - to love art - in terms of colour and shape. I have a passion for vibrant colour.

It is a source of sadness to me, however, that (sense of rhythm apart) I am not more musical. Music and mathematics often go hand in hand, and I am absolutely dreadful at mathematics!

I enjoy singing, largely by ear, and I listen to a variety of musical styles for pleasure. However, when it comes to birdsong, I have great difficulty in distinguishing one bird's call from another, with the exception of a few distinctive species such as the Robin, Blackbird, Pheasant, Curlew, Bittern etc.

I am doing my best - little by little - to rectify this situation. Naturally there are bird songs that are practically impossible to miss, and we have been privileged on recent nature reserve visits to enjoy two of these from the iconic songsters of British springtime, the Cuckoo and the Nightingale.

The Cuckoo

I once heard the Cuckoo from my study here in our Suffolk home. I particularly crave Cuckoo song when I am in Scotland and the two note call reverberates like a pebble across the unbroken surface of a loch or a sound. Last year we heard Cuckoo song in an Essex bluebell wood. Only yesterday we experienced it ringing out, woodwind style, across the wide expanses of Redgrave and Lopham Fen, home of the rare Fen-Raft Spider. We thought we saw two Cuckoos as they darted around the fen, but the Cuckoo is generally a bird for the ear rather than for the eye, and it is only the male of the species who utters the distinctive song.

Reed Bunting at Redgrave and Lopham Fen, Suffolk Wildlife Trust

A Fen Raft Spider pool at Redgrave and Lopham Fen

The Nightingale

We visited Fingringhoe Wick Nature Reserve, in the care of Essex Wildlife Trust, some weeks ago. The site is surrounded by superb estuarine views. There are trees, shrubs and gorse for cover. We were told that the Nightingales were singing. We were asked whether we had heard their song before, to which we answered that we were not aware of having done so. The warden tried to describe the song, but said he was sure we could not fail to hear it. He was right! We had hardly reached the first viewpoint when the air filled with the exquisite notes of the bird in question. I think there is little doubt that we shall know it at once on our next encounter.

The entrance to the reserve at Fingringhoe, Essex Wildlife Trust

Did we see the Adders or the the other star species? Well, no - but we came away with the sound of nightingale music in our ears. 

Friday 22 May 2015

The Norfolk Bird and Wildlife Fair

We attended the Norfolk Bird and Wildlife Fair last Saturday. The event takes its format from the larger Rutland Birdfair. It was a sunny afternoon and although the fair was well-supported, we were sorry not to see more people there.

We watched BTO ringers ringing a Great tit, and were able to ask questions about the purpose and process. Tagging has evidently made an immense contribution to our knowledge of migration, life expectancy and other aspects of bird life. I wondered (and was able to ask) how stressful it was for the birds during the actual ringing process and whether some of the tags we see aren't actually rather cumbersome. It seems that most birds accept the tagging process if it is carried out efficiently and under calm conditions.

As we walked along, we past a small watercourse, heaving with tadpoles, the first ones I had seen this year. It seems ages since we spent a bitterly cold afternoon looking for (and at) frogspawn at Landguard, Felixstowe. What a slow spring it seems to have been.

There were plenty of stands, full of friendly and knowledgeable wildlife people, representing organistions such as the local Wildlife Trusts (Suffolk and Norfolk) and the Hawk and Owl Trust (who monitor the Peregrines on Norwich Cathedral).

The main marquee, where we chatted to staff from the Marine Conservation Society and other organisations

Wex Photographic had a large marquee, and we spent a fair bit of time talking cameras and wildlife photography with the staff, who were incredibly helpful. They introduced us to independent wildlife photographer and Wex blogger, Tom Mason, whose photographs of a Waxwing and a flock of Knot were sublime.   

There were refreshments of various kinds on offer in and around the Twitchers' Retreat, and there was plenty of time to relax in the sunshine.

There were also book-signings (we missed Bill Oddie) and lectures. We arrived in time for the presentation on the NWT Cley Reserve. David North told about the origins of the Cley reserve and about its precarious history on account of flooding and winter shooting. With the new facilities comes a renewed spirit of optimism, and I, for one, look forward to being out on those unique marshes once again. 

So what did I gain from the experience of the Birdfair? Well, apart from a large handful of free (and other) literature, I came away feeling I had a little more wildlife, conservation and photography knowledge under my belt. It had been an enjoyable and informative afternoon in superb surroundings.   

  • You might also like my Adder post about RSPB Minsmere as the reserve prepares for BBC Springwatch.

Thursday 21 May 2015

RSPB Minsmere ... Best of the Rest

Those of you who read my last post will have seen my Adder photographs from RSPB Minsmere, here in Suffolk, UK.

The snakes were undoubtedly a highlight, but there were other wonderful wildlife moments, too. This Robin was singing its heart out near the Visitors' Centre. 

There were more than a few signs that the BBC Springwatch crew
were in the area, such as this red tag. 
I wonder what is special about this particular bramble patch!

The weather improved a bit, but the conditions were not ideal for butterflies. 
This Red Admiral was resting in a sheltered spot.

 We watched the Avocets on the scrapes.
Some were doing what waders do best ...

and others were sitting on their nests. 
There were some chicks, but we failed to see these. 
There were also some stately Little Egret ...

... and a Bittern. 

We saw a second Bittern (above) later on,
flying past Island Mere Hide. 

We came face to face with a couple of well-fed Red-legged Partridges
who were 'hanging out' near the tea room. 

The air was filled with Sand Martins,
and while they took to the skies,
the rabbits scampered about in the sand bank. 

These fluffy goslings commanded a lot of attention, particularly since they were easy to see ...

... unlike the fabulous but elusive Bearded tits,
who kept disappearing in the reedbeds. 
The one above is a male 
(note the 'beard' or moustache).

This is a female, though she is hard to see!

I believe this tiny insect is a grasshopper,
my first one in 2015.
It is hard to tell how long those antennae are!  

Update: 27 May - I now think it is a Groundhopper

The Common Tern
kept us entertained while we waited
for the Bearded tits to emerge. 

While I was watching the Adders, I fell into conversation with an artist-illustrator,
Narisa Togo, who was sketching the snakes.

Narisa gave me details of her wonderful blog here.
Do take a look ...

Tuesday 19 May 2015

RSPB Minsmere - The Adder Trail

Sharing with Eileen at Viewing Nature With Eileen ...

There is certainly a BBC Springwatch buzz at RSPB Minsmere.

We decided to take a look along the Adder trail for signs of snake.

We had a very satisfatory sighting, but it was not only the reptiles who caused a stir.

The Avocets were on their nests. There were several Little Egrets on the scrape.
The Bearded tits were hard to photograph but a delight to watch. 
The Bluebells were a joy to behold. We saw (and heard) two Bitterns.
We heard a Water Rail and were serenaded by a Cuckoo.
The Sand Martins were busy re-claiming their nests.
David saw our first dragonfly of 2015 - a Hairy Dragonfly.
I came across my first Grasshopper of the season.

N.B. Adders are dangerous when they bite.
I took all the photographs below from the path side of the roped-off viewing area.

A seasonal sea of Bluebells

Camouflage! Adders head to head ... (look for the eyes)

Both snakes look right ...

It can be hard to see where one Adder ends and the other begins!

Such fine markings.

Snakes in the grass ...

Close-up. I wonder if the Adder can feel those thorns!

You can see how mottled shade in the undergrowth provides the perfect habitat.

A personal favourite!

Prepare for action ...

I see that the Springwatch team will be following specific Adders this year. 
You can read about the plans if you click here and scroll down 
to the BBC Springwatch paragraph called 'Adders on the Move'. 
It will be fascinating to see what traits are revealed. 

* * *
My blog
  • Previous post: Red insects including the Fire Bug and (green and red) Ruby-tailed Wasp ...

The RSPB blog

Monday 18 May 2015

A Flash of Red Insects (Fire Bug, Ruby-tailed Wasp ...)

I love it when the temperature rises and insects begin to emerge in decent numbers. The first UK Swallowtail butterfly has now been spotted, and I hope to see some caterpillars before the summer is out.

Red seems to be the colour of the moment. This Fire Bug (and here) was flitting about near our Silver Birch.

The Kidney-spot Ladybird had rather more black than red, but was a welcome addition to the garden fauna. I have logged it on iRecord via the UK Ladybird Survey.

And now for one of my favourites: my first Ruby-tailed Wasp of the season ...

These wasps are always hard to photograph. They are small, quick, metallic and camera-shy! They are also quite beautiful. 

Saturday 9 May 2015

Lifer ~ Stone Curlew at Weeting Heath

We spent part of the Bank Holiday at Weeting Heath, one of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust's flagship reserves on account of its population of Stone Curlew.

My photos are barely record shots, but at least we saw a Stone Curlew in this distance. If you click on this link, you may begin to realise how camouflaged they can be when lying low

In fact we saw two, but the other kept popping its head below its dusty parapet as I positioned my camera!

It's always a thrill to see a bird for the first time, particularly a species that you have failed to see on a previous occasion. Perhaps next time the photos will be better!

  • RSPB Stone Curlew news
  • Tip: the hides are pretty close to the car park. 
  • You might also like ... my Tree Following post for April to May here

Thursday 7 May 2015

Tree Following - April to May

Welcome to my Tree Following post for May. What a lot of transformations have taken place this month.

But before we take a look, I just want to add that these tree posts form part of a wider project run by Lucy Corrander from the Loose and Leafy blog. I am following a Silver Birch, B. pendula, in Suffolk, UK and what has up to now remained something of a mystery tree. You will find the other Tree Follower links on the Loose and Leafy blog ... so do take the chance to catch up with happenings in the arboreal world!

[1] My new tree for 2015

Words drafted on 1 May: this tree has changed quite significantly in the last few weeks, but I am still (slightly) unsure of its identification. It was suggested to me that it might be a kind of Prunus, but I was not totally convinced. It seems to have some Maple aspects, but I do not think it is totally maple-like either! Please let me know if you have further ideas.

Update of 5 May: my latest thought ... could it be an Ash-leaf Maple (Acer negundo - also known as Box Elder)? If so, these trees are called Junk Trees in Michigan because of their prevalence. Despite the name, these trees are not Elders: they belong to the Sapindaceae group. They are also known as Sugar Ash, Red River Maple and Black Ash.

The shoots are essentially green, but they have a rose-coloured waxy coating in the spring (see two photos down). The leaves are pinnate (good illustration; though remember, this tree is not an Elder!) in arrangement. 

Close-up of new leaf growth, with leaf nodes opposite one another on the stem

Small tresses of double seed-keys

As above

My 'new' 2015 tree

Part of my initial fascination with the new tree (apart from wanting to identify it) was the fact that, unlike the Silver Birch, it did not seem to attract birds. So far I have only spotted a single feathered creature - a Chaffinch - on its boughs. Perhaps the leaf growth will encourage others. There is an insect on the other side of the Atlantic called the Western Boxelder Bug

[2] Silver Birch

The tree has suddenly become a mass of green leaves, but I sense that spring is later at this stage than a year ago - in my home patch at least. This time last year the tiny Flowering Cherry near the Silver Birch was sporting pale pink flowers and the Ceanothus was distinctly blue. This year they are both still green at this point. However, the Silver Birch is striding towards summer, and I feel its fellow trees and shrubs will follow soon.

Intermittent spells of warm sunshine have brought with them some early insects in the area around the Silver Birch. The photo below shows a Hoverfly (perhaps Syrphus?).

The next photo depicts a Green Shieldbug ...

 ... and I think the next photo may be a Cereal Leaf Beetle.

Perhaps most exciting (to me) was the discovery of the Zebra Spider on the decking posts near the Silver Birch. I was keeping a careful look-out as I have occasionally seen Ruby-tailed wasps (see post for last June - and scroll down a bit) on these posts. I think it is still a bit soon for these 'metallic' insects. However, it was not long before I noticed signs of movement from what appeared at first to be striped ant-like insects. It was only when I blew up the photos that I realised that they were not insects but arachnids on account of their eight legs. You can read about these jumping spiders on the Suffolk Wildlife Trust site here.

Two spiders attacking prey?

Happy tree watching! 

As ever, please feel free to comment or correct. I am very much feeling my way as I go. Meanwhile I will leave you with my latest list ...

Silver Birch Sighting Update

I have marked the 'wild things' seen during this last month in yellow.

Avian sightings (on, in and around the Silver Birch, seen at any time since I began Lucy's Tree Following project over a year ago) are shown in pink.

  • TFb1   Great Spotted Woodpecker 
  • TFb2   Great tit (several, often on feeder) 
  • TFb3   Long-tailed Tit
  • TFb4   Blackbird (I saw four at once, but no sign of the bald one) 
  • TFb5   Song Thrush   
  • TFb6   Blue tit (several frequently on feeder)
  • TFb7   Robin (frequent appearances)
  • TFb8   Magpie (about three frequently around below the feeder)
  • TFb9   Wood Pigeon (up to ten perching around the feeder area)
  • TFb10 Dunnock (two frequently below feeder)  
  • TFb11 Starling (several on feeder, noisy!)
  • TFb12 Carrion Crow (one every so often, once with nesting material in bill)  
  • TFb13 Goldfinch (a small charm on a couple of occasions)
  • TFb14  Jay
  • TFb15  Green Woodpecker
  • TFb16  Wren 
  • TFb17  Bullfinch (a pair)
  • TFb18  Sparrowhawk
  • TFb19  Mallard (two pairs overhead - or was it the same pair twice?)

Mammal sightings include ...

  • TFm1 (?Wood) Mouse
  • TFm2 Bat ... STOP PRESS first 2015 garden sighting 7 May 2015 [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFm3 Shrew
  • TFm4 Grey Squirrel

On the insect front, sightings include ...

  • TFi1 Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly [March 2014]
  • TFi2 Buff-tailed Bumblebee [March 2014] 
  • TFi3 Brimstone Butterfly [April 2014]
  • TFi4 7-spot Ladybird [April 2014] [October 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi5 Skipper Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi6 Meadow Brown Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi7 Large White Butterfly [July 2014]
  • TFi8 14-spot Yellow Ladybirds [July 2014]
  • TFi9 Small White Butterfly [May 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi10 Orange tip Butterfly [May 2014]
  • TFi11 Harlequin ladybird [May 2014]
  • TFi12 Garden Chafer (Phyllopertha horticola) [June 2014] 
  • TFi13 Ruby-tail Wasp [June 2014 
  • TFi14 Blackfly [June 2014
  • TFi15 Marmalade Hoverfly [July 2014]
  • TFi16 Shield bug [July 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi17 Migrant Hawker dragonflies [July 2014]
  • TFi18 Unidentified Damselfly [August 2014]
  • TFi19 Comma butterfly [August 2014]
  • TFi20 Red Admiral butterfly [August 2014] [October 2014]
  • TFi21 Peacock butterfly [August 2014]
  • TFi22 Green bottle flies [August 2014]
  • TFi23 Ants [August 2014] [Apr/May 2015]
  • TFi24 Squashbug aka Dock Bug, Coreus marginatus [August 2014]
  • TFi25 Birch Shieldbug (late instar?) [September 2014]
  • TFi26 Lacewing [October 2014] (about fifteen) 
  • TFi27 Harlequin Ladybird [October 2014] 
  • TFi28 Moths (though not so many in December) [Nov/Dec 2014] [Feb/Mar 2015]
  • TFi29 Cereal Leaf Beetle [Apr/May 2015]