Tuesday, February 6, 2018

More Hats than a Milliner - Starting Again

The title was stolen from Stephen Lowe's introduction of me on the BBC Radio Lancashire " Great Outdoors" show. I will be writing several times during the year, but not always with the same organisation each time. Like too many people this winter, I have had a very bad cough and needed to get out in the open air. My first opportunity came on a Winter Bird Walk for the Friends of Cuerden Valley Park. We travelled past our bird feeders where we noted coal tits, nuthatch, robins and chaffinches. Next stop was over the wooden bridge looking and listening for a kingfisher without success. On arrival at the lake it was good to see a great crested grebe in winter plumage alongside some goosanders, mallards, a coot, moorhen and a grey heron. On the return journey a song thrush was belting out his song, a charm of goldfinches added their contribution, a nuthatch's call sounding like the woodwinds and rounded off from a woodpecker drumming away with percussion.

A couple of weeks later, I joined the North Lancashire Bat Group on a survey of hibernating bats. Most of the other members were licensed bat workers and I was there to observe and learn. The damp day had been preceded by a couple of very rainy ones, so extreme caution over the muddy ground was the order of the day. We investigated two caves and a tunnel. The second cave had a very narrow entrance. I did attempt to enter, but my lack of activity over the winter had a negative effect on my flexibility. I therefore chose caution over valour and came out early. I did enter the tunnel and as before took great care to look out for any animals clinging on to the walls. We were rewarded by noting a brown long-eared bat trying to hide behind a snail shell in a cranny in the roof. On our way back for a warming cup of tea, I noted some King Alfred's Cake fungus and Dog Mercury flowering .

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bits, Bats and Bad Memory

Sometimes my additions to my challenge list occur two or three a day on my normal routine. This last weekend was one of those times. I had to lead a couple of guided walks on Cuerden Valley Park and as I walked there I had my first sighting of tree-creeper for the year. On the walks I only had one more addition to my list. Butterbur was seen on the approach to the wooden bridge. Unfortunately for those on the walk, neither kingfisher nor goosander put up an appearance.


The following day I travelled to Southall in London for a staff meeting of A Rocha UK. As I walked down Avenue Road I remembered the London Plane tree not too far from the ARUK centre. It was great to meet with A Rocha colleagues old and new and a little sad to say au revoir to our CEO Mairi Johnstone who moves on to a fresh challenge. On the way to catch my train two days later, I heard the unmistakeable call of ring-necked parakeet. This was good for my biodiversity challenge and reminded me to confirm reports of one in my area for my Patchwork Challenge. During the next week I helped with outdoor education for a school doing river studies and saw my first damselfly nymph. On the Friday of that same week I went on a Health Walk training day and saw coltsfoot on Brockholes.  Why bad memory in this title? In my search for dipper a week or so ago, I had passed two elm trees and just outside my house I pass three poplars at least four times a day but had omitted them in my total. Familiarity really does breed contempt.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

They kept a welcome in the hillside - First long distance trip.

My challenge took a back seat for a while with a family bereavement. My mother-in-law having reached the age of 93, plus a few months passed away at the end of January. To honour her I took a trip to South Wales, she was born in Fishguard and I had promised her to keep visiting both South and West of her native country. The bonus of travelling by rail was being able to see many bunches of mistletoe near Abergavenny, the downside was that the train was travelling too fast for me to photograph any. My friends took me to the coast where I went on a flower twitch. Yellow whitlow-grass is a rare plant and is also the county flower of West Glamorgan. It wasn't in flower but I did recognise it half way up the wall of a ruined castle. The photo is from a previous visit.


I also saw Corsican pine, sea buckthorn, Alexanders, a tamarisk tree and a dipper on a nearby stream.
The following day we went to The WWT reserve at Llanelli. The Bonaparte's gull was nowhere to be seen but I was happy with many of the regular birds. Little egret, redshank, spotted redshank, knot, dunlin, lapwing, reed bunting, shelduck, black-tailed godwit and greenshank were quite close to the hide. One of the birders let me use his scope enabling me to add red breasted merganser to my list. We left that hide and walked to the next one on the other side of the visitor centre. A greenfinch made its distinctive call just above our heads. This is another one I need for my patch list, but am unable to count . I was about 170 miles away from my local patch and even the latest scopes aren't that good. A quick glance at the feeder meant we saw a water rail darting from the reed bed. Our last hide revealed gadwall, pintail and distant views of some Brent geese. It had been a brief but profitable trip to Wales.

 Thank you Freda for giving me the reason to visit the land of your fathers. My species challenge is now 152.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Two types of Quarry

I have set myself two challenges this year. My main one is to see as many species of everything in a year in the United Kingdom. The other one is being involved with the Patch Birding Challenge. The latter will be within a three mile radius of the centre of Whittle, which would then include Cuerden and Brindle. At the end of January, I set off walking from my home where already snowdrops and crocus were flowering on a field close by. My intention was to search for raven about a mile and a half away. It was a frosty day so I had ensured my fingers and ears were protected. Since I was walking the rest of me would be warm enough. A siskin feeding in my garden gave me a good send off, but a mistle thrush, practising his song early, was disturbed by my cough. I continued walking briskly and got to the quarry in a half hour.Several corvids were flying round, jackdaws shouting their name and a number of crows also making their presence heard. Then the "cronk" for which I had been listening. A pair of raven, their distinctive tails easily seen, seemed unhappy about an interloper. I scanned the clifftop with my binoculars and saw a solitary peregrine. That was a bonus ( including two points on the Patch Birding Challenge). I returned home a different way and apart from the usual common tits and finches, managed to see a kingfisher, heard a great spotted woodpecker and surprised a stoat too focussed on stalking a small mammal. I was surprised to see a single lesser celandine in flower. This is a little early for this flower, but it did get my total of botanical and zoological species seen to 80


Sunday, January 4, 2015

No Place like Home

I start 2015 by not being at large, despite my deciding to challenge myself to see how many species of everything I could record in 2015. I had a cold just before Christmas which developed into a chest infection. This means my wildlife spotting is from my living room or my kitchen. It also means my getting some good practice for the Big Garden Birdwatch happening at the end of the month. I do tend to overlook the delights of the wildlife visiting my garden. This morning my alarm was the sound of about 200 jackdaws passing over my house on their way from their roost on Cuerden Valley Park. Often I get about 60 or so pausing in an alder in my front garden ensuring I don't stay in bed too long. Today as I looked through the window a winter scene opened up before me. I managed to persuade my daughter to change the ice in the drinking trough for clean water before re-filling the seed feeders. Above you can see one of my first visitors, a lovely male bullfinch. He was not alone for too long as my usual avian guests, robins, blue tits, great tits, chaffinches and coal tits came along to have their breakfast. A single wood pigeon was cautiously watched by two collared doves and when he moved off, they moved in. I have noted that since the collared doves started visiting, I have not had any magpies. Is this evidence of the former discouraging the latter? Two dunnocks flitted around under my small hazel trees, a couple of goldcrests were just visible in my neighbour's Leylandii and a wren exploded into song on our fence. The other noisy visitors were a couple of grey squirrels. Perhaps they were expressing dismay at the efficiency of the baffle I have on the bird feeder pole. Below you should be able to see what it looks like.  A single lesser black-backed gull flew high above my garden bringing an end to a rather enjoyable hour's nature watch. 

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A Dee- lightful time on the Wirral

What do a former member of “The Scaffold”, Esther McVeigh, a Barn Owl called Eric and Eco-Congregation have in common? They all were in West Kirby on the edge of the Dee estuary, at St Bridget’s Church Fields to celebrate the second Wirral Earth Fest. Designed to raise awareness about sustainable living, protection of the environment and the health and well-being of communities, it started on Friday 12th September.. I found that West Kirby has good rail links to Preston except on a Sunday, so I only went to the Saturday event. This was in two fields by the church and school. There was music from a variety of artists, storytelling and delicious food. This ranged from vegetarian paella, Indian ‘thali’ real ale and the inevitable BBQ. I liked the apple press and the bee hive. Despite craft activities, bike powered smoothies and crazy eco-golf, the star of the show for most was Eric, a rescued Barn Owl with Wirral Barn Owl Trust. He attracted a lot of folk to the A Rocha stand since we were next to him. It meant we were able to talk to lots of people including some from St Mary’s in Upton. I had to leave at 4.00pm and unfortunately missed the church service the following morning. I also missed Esther McVeigh. Already I am planning for next year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Mellow Yellow on St David's Day

Daffodils reminded me it was the day for Wales' Patron Saint while I visited the Lancashire Wildlife Trust reserve at Brockholes. It was a dry chilly morning, some skylarks were already practising their singing above the car park and a couple of hares seemed surprised at seeing visitors so early. I resisted the temptation to twitch the long staying bittern because I was looking for early flowers. In this I was not disappointed. Craving for attention alongside the daffodils were some primroses, cowslips, golden saxifrage and lesser celandine. I am told the reason all these early flowers display yellow is to try to attract the few insects that are around this early in the year. More yellow was noticed on one of the trees where a glorious fungus could not be missed. It was good to see my first yellowhammer of the year especially since this is not a common sight here at Brockholes. Nearby a bird which was losing some yellow on its bill. It was a grey heron, its bill changing to that slight pinkish tinge it has at this time of year. The most important yellow? The sun, encouraging more life to wake up from its winter slumber.