Saturday, December 17, 2011


2012 is the year I reach a significant birthday. To celebrate this I am trying to see ten times my age of different taxa, which means 700 birds, insects, mammals, fish amphibians etc. This will be in the year 2012 and within UK. Please keep following my progress on this blog If anyone wishes to sponsor me then any money will go to either A Rocha UK or Lancashire Wildlife Trust. The Just Giving links are on the right here >

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Micklepage and Pulborough

Time Out for the A Rocha national team is when we meet together for business and then have a day of reflection and learning what God has to say to us. This year we met in West Sussex at Micklepage. Norman and I had travelled down with David Hughes, our colleague from Eco-Congregation so he could meet with the rest of the management team. Norman and I were there to meet the entire team at dinner ( or tea for Norman and I). We had arrived at 12.30pm so we decided to go to Pulborough Brooks RSPB reserve to see what was around. There had been reports of a Pallid Harrier nearby, but since it was reported to be a juvenile female, and we were uncertain of the exact location, we decided that Pulborough would do more for our physical and spiritual well-being.
It was stock taking day in all RSPB centres so we needed to leave by half past three, which suited us. At the first pool we noted a very busy dragonfly patrolling over much of the surface.
Norman had let me borrow his newer camera for me to try out so above is my first attempt. Just on the far side of the pool were several greenfinches cooling off due to the unseasonal heat. We continued round the reserve in  clockwise direction until we came to the first hide. Although there was a little water the only birds around were corvids. We pressed on to the next hide. Speckled Wood and Red Admiral butterflies tempted me to try my photographic skills, but they did not rest at all. We did however pass a hedgrow that was bursting with willow warblers. Somewhat elusive but they did pose for a short time
The next hide was a little better but we saw only two waders. There was an obliging snipe that thought it was hiding behind a clump of grass and a very elusive green sandpiper. This encouraged us to continue and further round we had several birds in view. Redshanks, lapwings, ruff, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, shovelers, teal and wigeon all present and easy to observe. Another birdwatcher in the hide said I could borrow her telescope. I did and was able to spot a little stint. A great finale to two hours, but we needed to leave and returned to Micklepage.
We did have a task to perform before tea. Norman and I did some weed clearing from the pond at Micklepage. We did have a lot of help from Cat, an A Rocha intern who is working in Sussex. The bonus to this was the sight of common darters both singly and ovipositing in tandem. 
 It was a great start to two days of meeting with colleagues and all of us meeting together with our Creator.
Before we started the business part of our day on Thursday we met in the "Chapel" which used to be a barn. If Jesus was prepared to be born in a stable, why should we not meet him in a barn?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Fungal Foray

We had our annual Cuerden Valley Park fungal foray on Saturday September 24 lead by Dr Irene Ridge. Even before we started someone had brought in a fungus from their garden for Irene to identify which she did with her usual efficiency. We were reminded that fungi come in all sizes, from those the size of a pin head to some which look more like a giant Deep Pan Pizza. Most have Latin names but there is a move to give more of them English names. There was one that was a large white dome shaped mushroom, but my suggestion that it be re-named the " O2 arena" fungus was quickly rejected. Some of the names are self explanatory like  Beechwood Sickener, or Judges Whig. The latter is normally called shaggy ink cap and is pictured above. There are some that can be confusing. The common puff ball looks similar to an earth ball, but the earth ball which has a purple interior is poison. The puff ball, as long as the inside is white can be eaten. I must emphasise that I am no expert so please do not take my word for it that these are safe. Another which sometimes causes confusion is the common inkcap. This contains the drug antabuse which is used for those of us with a drink problem. If you do enjoy alcohol, you will not do so after eating this particular mushroom. Other fungi we found which had interesting names were: Poison Pie; White Saddle; Weeping Widow and then the one which keeps having its name changed for pc reasons, jelly fungus. We did have some non mushroom sightings as well such as self heal, Herb Robert, red campion, Himalayan Balsam and prickly sow thistle but all the foxgloves had passed their best. We had good views of great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch, 16 mistle thrushes and were scolded by innumerable robins. The afternoon ended with a refreshing cup of tea in the Barn 

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bardsey Pt 3 Windy Wednesday to Friday farewell

Wednesday started with another walk to the south. Solvach can just be seen in this picture on the right hand side where the thin crescent of sand is visible. Turnstones, a couple of shags, and for me a single brief glimpse of a curlew sandpiper were an encouraging start to our day. Then a little closer to the lighthouse 9 ringed plover hugged the grass, keeping low out of the wind. As we came to the east side of this part of the island we saw a brand new seal pup. We kept well clear in order not to upset either baby or mother. Once breakfast was out of the way ( more delicious porridge) the group planned a pilgrimage over the mountain, pausing at significant points to remember all those who years ago had journeyed to Bardsey. Unfortunately my heels were starting to chafe so I returned to my accommodation to apply plasters and softer socks. I then went to near the harbour to wait for my friends. Their journey over the mountain had been challenging but inspirational. 

We then heard reports of a melodious warbler which made then twitcher in me take over. As with most twitches I go on I dipped, but there you go. I did manage to see a wren though. There wasn't a talk that evening but a very enjoyable time learning and singing some new rounds.
Thursday a quick walk to the north end ( no not PNE) proved very quiet and even a quicker walk to Solvach only provided views of a 40 turnstones and 17 chough. Some of these were on the schoolhouse roof
We split the party into two for the morning activities. One group were seeking warblers in the wythies whilst I lead a party on a flower hunt. The two good finds were a very late ragged robin and some sneezewort

There were also sightings of fleabane, spearwort,  rock samphire and Dove's foot cranesbill. I did ask about the autumn lady's tressess, but we were told they had been visible in August and none were now to be found. Thursday was our team's responsibility for evening meal, so we decided to start early. This meant we still had time after preparing and just before tea ( or supper or dinner ) to check out those ringing at Nant. I wanted to get a signal on my mobile, to let my folks know I could be late getting off Bardsey so I walked to Nant valley. There I saw two of the WDCS folk scanning for marine mammals. I walked to them and asked if they had seen any. Their immediate reply was " Not up to now - Oh wait a minute! - some porpoise - thanks for changing our luck!!" I was able to get a good view as well, just no photos. Time for tea and again on the way back I saw three more common blue butterflies. We had guests with us for tea - the Stansfields, ( wardens of the obs) and two of the Porters (the farmer and his son). Ben the farmer's son later gave an illustrated talk on their visit to Kenya which included some time at A Rocha Kenya. After seeing Ben's photos I usually wonder why I try with my camera, since his images are usually fantastic. Check them out on the BBFO blog.
Early Friday we went to Nant to do some ringing. The nets were catching good numbers. On the first round we had 17 birds so decided to furl the nets up and try again after breakfast. 
After breakfast for some reason, all the birds seemed to vanish, so we walked down the west coast to Solvach where some stayed to watch the beach. The remainder walked further and searched the bushes near the lighthouse for more migrants. As we returned to join our friends for our packed lunch, a little egret flew from the harbour area. We then saw Emma, the wife of the warden for the Observatory. She had an important message. " Colin the boatman will take people off the island who need to get off. This will be at 1430 and 1530. If you do not go today (Friday) you could be here until next Thursday" Most decided to accept the offer and later that afternoon we all decided to take Colin's amended offer of a third boat at 1600 ish. A very quick end to a wonderful six days enjoying God's creation in this part of North Wales

Bardsey pt 2 Monday Saxon king, Tuesday seal of approval

I hope I am remembering these in the right order. Monday I was on breakfast duty so was unable to make the early morning trip to the beach at Solvach. I did get lots of compliments about the porridge though.

Our morning expedition was to the north west hide via the two cottages Hendy and Nant. The first bird we saw was a slight puzzle but we eventually decided it was a knot. Once squeezed into the hide we saw several manxies, gannets,  and a few fulmars. I saw a single kittiwake, then a sooty shearwater and a small group of guillemots. We had already decided to walk south down the west coast to Solvach for our lunch. On our way we caught a glimpse of two or three Sandwich terns battling their way against the wind and occasionally diving to catch a snack. During lunch we saw sanderling, turnstone, rock pipit and wheatear. Our afternoons were usually free for us to do as we wished ( as were the mornings) so I decided to go arty and try my hand at pottery. On my walk to the northern part of the island I saw a sparrowhawk and three common blue butterflies.

I started making a whistle type instrument in the shape of a bird. I do know what it is called but I cannot spell it. Monday evening Steve the Observatory warden gave us a talk on observatories in Britain and then Bardsey in particular.
Tuesday early walk was north where from the hide I saw little gull, peregrine, some shags, another sooty shearwater and several manxies. The walk back for breakfast revealed 103 linnet, a raven and another common blue butterfly. We walked south after breakfast noting a dunlin on the beach at Solvach with the expected pipits and wagtails. We also had more manxies and gannets, though two seal pups gave some of our party greater pleasure. A number of wheatears also kept jumping into view as though they wanted to be sure we had seen them. Just before lunch we paused for fifteen minutes or so for reflection on how God had been revealing himself in all the wonderful things we had already seen ( Romans chap 1 v 20). Further sea watching from the north west hide enabled us to see bonxies and common scoter. Late afternoon in the Schoolhouse, Christine Evans gave us a fascinating talk on the history of Bardsey In the evening we had a talk from the WDCS who were also on the island trying to monitor Risso's dolphin.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bardsey pt 1 Delays and Delight

A group of A Rocha friends were supposed to visit Bardsey (Ynys Enlli) from Sept 3rd to 10th. I had travelled over on Friday in order to meet the others at Ty Newydd in Aberdaron for our evening meal. It was good to meet old friends unexpectedly and welcome new ones as well. We were told that there was only a 60% chance of our getting to the island on Saturday morning but we would know more at 10.00am. I camped just outside the village and soon got to sleep. Waking at 0600 I was glad to find there had not been any rain that night so I dropped the tent whilst it was still dry. Making my way down to the village by 10.00 we found there was another delay. Some of us decided to walk the cliff path to Port Meudwy where we usually catch the boat. Along this path we heard the unmistakeable call of chough. Returning by 2.00pm we were dissapointed to eventually learn that our crossing would not be until 0700 Sunday morning.

Up bright and early to a clear sky and a quiet sea we all left on time on one of the smoothest crossings I have experienced ( Thanks Colin). After unloading all our gear and supplies it was time to prepare a packed lunch and head off to the northern part of the island noticing several gannets out to sea. We had a quick look at the Nant plantation and enjoyed spotted flycatcher and a few other small birds. One of our first and important part of the programme was to have our Sunday service together which included communion. As always on Bardsey this is multi-lingual with often a hymn by Charles Wesley to a wonderful Welsh tune.
This was followed by a walk up the Lord's path to the top of the mountain. A peregrine, several chough and a young shearwater were seen on the summit. The shearwater was a juvenile almost ready to leave. Whilst enjoying our packed lunch three or four Red Admiral butterflies were attracted by the sunshine. Suitably refreshed ( some of us had a quick doze) we descended towards Nant again and returned to our respective residences. Some stayed at Cristin, the observatory and others at one of the Bardsey Island Trust cottages Carreg. Steve our host had arranged to take some of us out later to see if there were any more Manxies around. One of the birds obviously could not wait for us and found its way to the gents (composting) loo

  A delightful end to our first day

Migration at the Moss

I went to Leighton Moss RSPB on the autumnal equinox to lead a walk on migration mysteries. As I arrived on the train I had already seen some little egrets on the Allen Pools as we sped past them. On my walk from the railway station a few greylag flew towards the reserve from across the golf course. I had my refreshing cup of tea before commencing and was pleasantly surprised to see David Hughes and his wife, colleagues from A Rocha UK. The walk proper started in Lilians hide where we had a great view of a juvenile marsh harrier and in the distance a little egret. A single great crested grebe was outnumbered by coot  close to the hide and several pochards. We also had two black tailed godwits doing a flypast.When the coots made a sudden dash for the reeds we suspected otters, but to no avail
The other leader Ken and I shared about ringing as a means of learning more information on migration. We moved on, only pausing to watch a jay looking for food. We did search for bearded tits near the grit trays but a sudden shower encouraged us to head for the public hide. I include a video from a previous year to show we do get them in this location very regularly.

 A mute swan gracefully sailed past with about four cygnets following. The pools did look very full which meant not much room on the small islands for waders to gather. There were a few though. Several greenshanks shared with cormorants and redshanks as they faced the strengthening wind with heads down. At this location we did see a few swallows and house martins heading south. The sun came out in time for us to head back to the centre passing a flock of long-tailed tits on the way. The feeding station was our final point of call with chaffinch, greenfinches, coal tits, nuthatch and marsh tits delighting us at the end of a good morning

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Going Batty

I visited Brereton Heath Country Park near Sandbach on Saturday 17 September. The A Rocha UK Sandbach group had organised a bat walk here. The day had been showery with some thunder but cleared as we gathered at the visitor centre. Just as we were about to leave we had another short cloudburst, which delayed us for 10 minutes. We set off and initially all was quiet until we reached a newly erected screen which overlooked a less dense part of the mixed woodland. We heard one bat, a pipistrelle. Once more detectors were used we heard and saw several soprano pipistrelles. It was the first time I have seen so many 55's. We continued our walk and for a brief three seconds I heard a single noctule. Once the lake had been circumnavigated, we carefully went a little closer to it and were treated to both hearing and seeing a few Daubentons. Finally as we were leaving two males and one female tawny owl bade us a too-woo too-wit farewell. It had been a great evening enjoying God's creation.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

There be dragons

I recently visited a friend on my way from Lee Abbey and had seen an interesting looking large pool nearby. I asked if we could investigate one morning. As you can see, we couldn't. We returned later once the sun had burned off the mist. Several cobwebs had been turned into works of art glistening in the newly emerged sun
We were here for odonata not pearls. Swallows were feeding over the surface of the water, and two men with cameras were busy trying to photograph a dragonfly. I eventually managed to get a passable shot 

There were a few different dragonflies around and we saw Black Darter as well as Black tailed Skimmer. I saw a pair of blue tailed damselflies mating and then a single emerald. There was also a migrant hawker close by, but never close enough to take his portrait. Other avian neighbours were some young buzzards mewing all the time, a young male kestrel and a stonechat

I hope to return here to obtain better shots than these

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Lee Abbey

Not much blogging due to lots of away time. Went to Lee Abbey in Devon to help with some kids activities where we got involved with looking at God's creation. On my way down I called in at Slimbridge WWT but it was very quiet on the birding front. Once in Devon things were not much better but there were loads of other things to marvel at. Saturday night we waited outside a door to the cellar which was securely locked. The door did have a large space between the top of the door and the the door frame. Our curiosity was soon satisfied when we heard a very unique sound on our bat detectors. Horseshoe bats sound like no other, and there seemed to be several of these emerging from the cellar. No wonder nobody is allowed down there.
Sunday morning was  great day as I walked to the top of the hill to try to get a decent signal on my mobile. House martins, herring gulls, a spotted flycatcher and some goldfinch flew past. There was also a great spotted woodpecker shouting its alarm call to all and sundry. On my way back for breakfast I spotted some Scarlet Pimpernel  amongst the speedwells and lesser trefoil
There was a talk in the morning but after lunch we walked down to the beach to prepare for later in the week.
A peregrine falcon scared all the other birds away until a buzzard decided to fly from the south. It was being harassed by two ravens. I was pleasantly surprised to see a violet still in bloom but not once someone had seen and identified a Silver Washed Fritillary. Another thrill awaited us later that evening. As we walked down to the campsite at the bottom of the hill, a badger ambled past, oblivious to our presence.
Tuesday was pond dipping time which proved very successful. Despite being mid August we still found one or two tadpoles. I was more thrilled to see a darter dragonfly larva. Great diving beetle, fresh water shrimps, lesser water boatmen and a very small bullhead drew expressions of excitement from the kids.
Wednesday is usually a day when no activities are planned so folks can do their own thing. We had however organised a trip out in a boat for those interested. The weather was very kind as the sea was almost flat calm. We managed to see fulmars, gannets, cormorants, a seal and a dolphin.
Using sweep nets and pooters, Thursday we searched for more minibeasts. We saw the usual suspects, millipedes, centipedes, wood lice, ground beetles, spiders, harvestmen, slugs and worms, but our best find was a fantastic bright green grasshopper. Rock pooling was left until Friday partly due to the tide being right. Lots of crabs, limpets, winkles and a blenny.
Once dried off, a visit to the Tea Shop for cake and ginger beer was a perfect way to end our exploring. It also seemed that once we were relaxing, several butterflies came to visit us including these beauties

 Throughout the week we learned a lot about the problems our planet is facing, but more important, how we can get involved in our communities working and praying together as we endeavour to be good stewards of God's creation

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Badgers Galore

.A group of Friends of A Rocha UK met in Chorley to share  transport to the farm where the badger hide is situated. After parking in the farmyard, we walked up a small hill, over a short footbridge and then towards a hide. This was in a small, steep, wooded valley. Some of the group had never seen badgers before. With emotions telling our feet to rush, and our logic and age (for me at least) telling them to slow down, we made our way into the hide. It was just large enough for eight people and had large viewing windows. It also seemed to take on the atmosphere of a cathedral, with the trees resembling pillars, the leaf canopy shielding the evening sunlight, creating shadows and mysterious dark corners, and everyone whispering.

I had prepared the area in front of the hide by putting down some peanuts at the entrance to a number of holes. Suddenly some activity, but sadly only from a grey squirrel. After a short period of waiting, we saw the nose and then the head of a wood mouse. He continued to taunt us for a while. Then, with a great deal of snuffling and chomping, one, then another  badger ambled into view. As we watched, the supporting cast added to our evening show. A song thrush declared his territory to all and sundry, with great tits and wrens also making their contribution. Eventually a male tawny owl proclaimed to any passing interloper that this was his wood. The first two badgers were joined by four more, two of which got involved in a rough and tumble. We watched with a mixture of joy and awe. Here were wild badgers, completely at home, relaxed and healthy. After about an hour or so all the badgers drifted away and we took our leave of the hide. Driving away with an almost full moon visible through high wispy clouds, a little owl stood to attention, saluting us as we departed grateful for a fantastic evening

Friday, July 8, 2011

Water and woodland

Visiting a friend recently we went a walk in a nearby woodland. It was noticable that birdsong had diminished though there was still lots of activity. Most of the birds were common and juvenile. We approached a pond which had a lot of flag iris on one side but also a lot of clear water. I started looking for odonata but was initially frustrated. My friend suddenly pointed across the water at a large red damselfly. It was the opening of the floodgates with several large reds and azures patrolling the area. A few of these were in tandem and two pairs were ovipositing. I then heard the buzz of wings which turned out to be a male emperor. We enjoyed watching this energetic dragonfly as he protected his territory. Then a little closer to us was another dragonfly with what seemed to be an almost golden body. It was soon joined by its partner who had a powder blue body. It was a pair of broad-bodied chasers. The female did a lot of ovipositing near the edge of the pond. We decided to amble back home keeping our eyes open for butterflies. We were overwhelmed by the number of speckled wood butterflies.Others seen were small whites, small tortoiseshell, meadow brown and Red Admiral. I then was puzzled by a butterfly I did not recognise so I took a photo. Once home I discovered it was a ringlet - a first for me. I have not published the location of this woodland since we also saw signs of badger, and the decision should be made soon, by our greenest government ever? to start culling this lovely creature.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bugs, Bees and Beavers

Another typical day for me today. We had a group visit us on Cuerden for "Exploring Habitats." This means comparing two sorts of habitat, woodland and grassland to find out what lives there. We search or an animal, identify it, and then see if we can tell which job they do. Then look for different plants and do the same with them. They could be population controllers - beetles; transporters - bees; oxygen makers - all plants;stone crumblers - lichens; or carbon dioxide makers. We found a very tiny toad, a similarly tiny frog, several butterflies, centipedes. millipedes, woodlice, goose grass, balsam and red campion.
 After lunch I went to Brockholes to meet my colleagues from A Rocha UK, who were conducting an hymenoptera survey. We had  bombus lucorum, bombus terrestris, bombus pascuorum   and tree bee.We seemed to see honey bees all over the place as well as azure and  blue tailed damselfly. Botanywise, I saw lots of meadow cranesbill, meadow sweet, lady's bedstraw and hogweed.
The Beavers we saw on Brockholes, were of the juvenile homo sapiens variety. Lots of noise and enthusiasm, but great fun as well. They discovered the diffrence between dragonfly and damselfly, saw a buzzard, looked at a high rise sparrow tenement, learned a flower called " bee's bum" and found out how reedbeds clean up waste liquid.  Rain had threatened throughout the evening but thankfully no precipitation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A little rain, a lot of records

After a good start last night we went to Brockholes with anticipation of a good day. On arrival we saw Zach who had had a cuckoo before 0700. For us the first task was to empty the moth traps. Clinging to both the outside of the trap and the gazebo were two examples of what turned out to be the moth of the day, - Eyed hawk moth. It was a stunner.

 We also had barred straw, dark arches and an ermine. From here we then went to check our mammal traps. A slightly dissapointing start was soon forgotten when we found a wood mouse, a bank vole and a common shrew. Setting the traps again we proceeded to help folk set up a variety of gazebos. There were representatives from the Lancashire Badger Group, The newly formed Mammal Group, The Preston Society, OPAL and folk who were from Brockholes itself helping with moths, bugs, flowers and birds. The most important one as far as the day itself was concerned was the Lancashire Environmental Recording Network. The Bioblitz was all about gaining lots of records for Brockholes.
I accompanied David Earle, BSBI recorder for VC59 on a trip to find vascular plants.We walked along the river for a short distance and for me the good finds were welted thistle and cuckoo flower still in bloom. I then had to leave David to return to the Badger stall. He carried on round the reserve. I then heard about the best flower of the day - Climbing Corydalis. The constant gentle rain seemed to put off many visitors, but for those who attended it was a superb day. We also had worm catching, more wildflower walks, bug hunts, bird watching and small mammal trapping. The second time we emptied the traps we had two more common shrews, which I felt were the mammals of the day. Most of the birders said that the bird of the day (1600 on Friday to 1600 on Saturday) was a grey partiridge seen Friday evening. Thanks to Lorraine for organising this. Can we have another one please? but not on Glastonbury weekend, it always rains.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Brockholes Bioblitz Begins

I was to have been surveying for bats in Penwortham but a drizzly evening made us decide to postpone for 24hrs. I went to Brockholes to assist in putting out some Longworth traps for small mammals. As I drove towards the barrier I saw my first mammal. This was not a small one. A brown hare decided to committ suicide by running in front of my car. I refused to cooperate and braked hard. I then waited in the office for my colleagues to arrive. We set off after being joined by my brother Jim who came to help with moth trapping. As we approached the area where we would set up our traps a Barn Owl flew past in hunting mode. We watched the bird for a few minutes and realised if it was hunting there, then there could be small mammals in that area. Two more hares shot past as well as a fleeting glimpse of a grey partridge. We set 24 traps up, marked with small canes so we could find them in the morning. As the mammal folk departed we were joined by lepidopterists who came to set up two or three moth traps. Another hare showed up and song thrush, curlew, oystercatcher, sand martin and whitethroat were also heard. The constant light rain meant definitely no bats. We look forward with anticipation to opening both mammal and moth traps in the morning

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Delight to disappointment in 24 minutes

The longest day, Tuesday 21 june started out brilliantly. 14 kids from a church group in Leyland came to Cuerden to enjoy pond dipping. It was a fun evening. We finished at 8.00pm after finding scores of tadpoles, a few minnows, one leech and a stickleback. Straight on then with Lancashire Mammal Group to setting some Longworth traps to see which small mammals we might catch on Cuerden. As we were completing our setting the traps, a gentle misty rain started to fall. Home to bed so we could be up early Wednesday. 0740 start as we inspected our traps. The first one - empty; the second had been tripped and felt quite heavy-ish. We had caught a woodmouse. After checking all 24 traps we had caught 10 woodmice, which we then freed. We felt it had been a good evening/morning's work. Traps then had to be cleaned and the canes used to re-find the traps, collected.
I then prepared for another pond dipping session. This was with some kids from Belarus who were victims of the Chenobyl disaster. Despite my having no Russian and all the kids no English we got along fine. This was mainly due to a wonderful lady who translated everything. Back to the Barn for handwashing and lunch. I then rang Cuerden Birds of Prey to check they would be coming. I was told at 1245 they would be on Cuerden at 1300 to 1310. We went to the pineatum and waited... and waited....and waited. By 1340 I rang again only to be told they had to take a bird to the Vet. So we had 16 very disappointed Belarussian children in our pineatum. I managed to play a couple of games and then they left for their hosts' homes. They had had a good morning but not so good an afternoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three ringers, three rookies

Thursday morning and the alarm went off at 0500. A quick wash, cup of coffee, porridge and brush of teeth  made me ready for a 0550 start helping with some bird ringing. Three regular ringers, Dave Bookless, Bill Haines and Helen Demopoulos were accompanied by Thomas our French volunteer, Marc a German volunteer and myself. As we approached the site whitethroats, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and parakeets taunted us to catch them, so we erected six lots of mist nets.This meant that one of us had to endure thistles, brambles and nettles just to put the guy ropes in.
 Once up it did not take long for our first bird - a juvenile robin - to offer itself up for stardom. We had to wait a little longer for subsequent customers to do the same. I noted lots of stitchwort, teasel, vetch, various rurnuculii, goats beard and speedwells in the area in which we were ringing. The previous two days without seeing a single parakeet were overshadowed in what became almost a surfeit of this noisy but beautiful bird. Time to check the nets again meant we caught whitethroat, blackcap and a garden warbler.

 Another robin made it difficult for us to weigh, due to its grabbing the edge of the weighing cup with its beak. Offering it a finger enabled us to complete our task. Other birds recorded throughout the morning included blue tit, great tit, dunnock, long-tailed tit and a stunning male bullfinch. Then in an oak quite close to us, a male kestrel landed to have his mid morning snack. In what appeared to be no time at all it was 11.30 and time to take our nets down, A slight shower helped us to do this fairly quickly. As we got to the last net the rain ceased. We had this set up in the shape of a V so two of us could not see round the corner. Thomas our French apprentice was jumping up and down excitedly. We briskly joined him and saw the object of his joy. It was a green woodpecker. Carefully extracting the bird then taking the nets down, we called our other colleagues back to the recording area. It proved to be a mature female.

 What a stunning bird to end our six hour activity. Returning home to the A Rocha Centre another pleasant surprise greeted us - apple crumble. It was the Centre staff thanking me for bringing a local ( to me) cheese, Blacksticks Blue.
ps I will add some pics when I get home

Twin and triplet

Wednesday 9 June I was helping at Minet with education. The School was called Dr Tripletts and we were looking at habitats. After the usual H&S talk we went out on the Park where I was leading the part of the programme that investigated ponds. On arrival at the first small area we spotted a large red damselfly on the reeds near the edge. We soon got ourselves organised with trays and dipping nets and most of the children had the opportunity to experience sweep netting. It will not surprise most of my readers that the predominant animals found were tadpoles. They were at various stages of their development some without legs, some with two legs and one individual with four legs. A minnow swam amongst them and we also found a weird collection of detritus. As we watched we suddenly saw some feelers then a head emerge. It was a cased caddis fly larva. Everyone was thrilled to bits. As ever lunch time came far too quickly so we headed back to the Lodge for our lunch. In the afternoon I changed to looking at grassland. Sweep netting in the meadow was energetically practised and the findings checked with a key. These included crickets, ladybirds, beetles, spiders and a variety of flies of various shapes and colours. Some of the children seemed disgusted when they saw some "spit" on some of the dock leaves. I was able to explain that these were hibernation chambers or "nests" for the frog hopper. Then the rain came. It was rather heavy so we retreated to the lodge. We were able to continue our lesson with the contingency programme and since rain had been in very short supply here in the South East we did not complain too  much. It had been a brilliant if  exhausting day

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Helping out at HQ

I came to Southall to do a variety of surveying on Minet Country Park. The first day we decided to look for fresh water macroinvertibrates. Thomas, an EVS volunteer from France accompanied me and we walked the 30 minute journey with Sarah Leedham. Suitably equipped with waders, trays, nets, keys and a camera we started at the southern section of the Park in the Yeading Brook. Our walk disturbed a few linnets feeding amongst the various flowers in the meadow and innumerable whitethroats sang throughout the Park. Chiffchaffs, blackbirds and a skylark joined in. A bullfinch was also heard deep in the scrub but we were surprised not to either see, nor hear ring necked parakeets.We did both kick and sweep sampling in this section of  the brook and found a few creatures. Most of these were fresh water shrimps with the usual selection of snails. We had three small damselfly nymphs and a wonderful example of Banded Demoiselle nymph.

 Thomas and I then checked out two sections of the small stream that runs south from the pond into Yeading Brook. We did see one large red damselfly, a very large pond snail and several tadpoles but that was all in this section of the Park. They had just endured a very long dry spell so that could have contributed to the sparsity of findings. We then decided to check out the large pond but as we approached a broad bodied chaser flew right past our noses. Rucksacks were ditched and cameras readied to see if we could photograph this stunning pale blue male. He was not for having his image taken, especially when joined by a female. She then started ovipositing at the edge of the pond, so we left them to it. However an emperor decided not to and invaded their personal space. We had just put our cameras away when our chaser male rested on the edge of the pond no more than 5 metres away. Isn't it always the case? Lunchtime beckoned and a rumbling tummy succumbed to the call.
We then decided to try some bat surveying that evening. Thomas, our French guest and Bill Haines, a local bird ringer had never been surveying for bats previously so they accompanied me to Minet. A 2050 start meant we were on site just before sunset.Starting again at the southern end of Minet we waited, bat detectors at the ready for our first sighting/echo locating. A green woodpecker shouted its warning to us so we stayed away from what might be the nest site. At least two song thrushes sang a musical duel and a heron flew down the canal. To our surprise we saw our first bat rather than heard it. It proved to be a common pipistrelle. It made several passes and after five minutes was joined by a second animal. From here a slower journey to our starting point  revealed two more common pipistrelles and two soprano pipistrelles. By 2300 it was getting cooler so we returned home to a warm shower and warmer beds.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Choughed to bits

I went on a few days relaxation to South Wales recently and managed to have some great birding days.On the Tuesday we went to Port Eynon. Walking along the beach we had a good view of the bay with two wheatears, several swallows and whitethroats all over. Very few gulls except for three Herring Gulls and one lesser black-backed. As we watched a common blue butterfly, a whitethroat seemed to grab for it yet somehow missed. three more butterflies joined the first in a dazzling blue dance.
 Several blackbirds, a skylark and two displaying meadow pipits were an added bonus. Then we heard a slightly different pipit song. It was a rock pipit. On our way back to the car rabbits were in abundance as were jackdaws so we were delighted to spot a speckled wood butterfly.   Worms Head was our next destination. More jackdaws, gulls and whitethroats, as well as a curlew, and the view was awesome. I was checking every smallish black crow to see if they were choughs, but up to then no avail. We sat down to take in the view and as we did, we heard the unmistakable call of our rarest corvid. They were right over our heads giving us easy views of their scarlet bills. We decided to return to our vehicle by a slightly different route. A stone chat family feeding was our reward for this on-the-spot change of plan. A visit to Oxwich Bay Hotel for a warm drink encouraged us to come the following morning for an early walk.

Wednesday 0445 setting off in woodland to the sound of chiffchaff and song thrush was a great start. Lots of usual woodland birds, willow warbler, tree-creeper, great spotted woodpecker, goldcrest and the ever present song of blackbirds was terrific. In the distance, quietly at first, but closer and louder we heard cuckoo. this continued for about an hour. We were very close to the reed bed by now so sedge and reed warblers were also adding their two pennyworth. We ended our circuit on the edge of sand dunes and next to a large pond. A cacophony of sound helped us find a heron's nest and just below the top of the reeds a reed bunting said hello. It had been a superb morning, and all before eight-o-clock. A late breakfast, followed by a catch-up on lost sleep was the order of the day. After a reasonable time of refreshment another walk took us into a nearby woodland. More birds added to our list were garden warbler greenfinch and long tailed tit. We paused by a pond surrounded by yellow flag iris and scanned the surface. Here it was odonata that held our interest. Large red and azure damselflies were outdone by two stunning emperor dragonflies. However the sighting of the day left it to almost the last moment. Swimming across the pond was a grass snake. They are beautiful . It must be seven years since I saw my last, and first, one. I continue to be gob smacked by the variety of life in creation. This was another tremendous day.
My final day was curtailed outside by rain but we were able to add nuthatch and swift to our list. I am sure I will return again to South Wales

Friday, May 20, 2011

Delight at dusk

A few Friends of ARUK in the North West met together to view badgers. We shared transport and as we approached the farm on the river bank, scores of sand martins were feeding close-by. We paid the farmer for parking and then made our way up the hill in anticipation of a good evening. Swallows gave us an aerial display and we all started to speak in hushed tones. Once everyone was in the small hide, I scattered some peanuts around the sett entrances, retreated to be with all the others and waited. The quiet glade, illuminated by four lamps and surrounded by huge trees had the appearance of a small cathedral. The woodland choir of chaffinch, song thrush, chiffchaff, blackbird and the occasional tawny owl added to the atmosphere. We did not have to wait for too long as our first badger appeared, shortly followed by a second. We could hear them chomping on the peanuts just in front of us. After about twenty minutes they disappeared but soon returned with two smaller badgers following. The way these were jumping around and generally having a good time made us decide they were juveniles. We had just as much delight watching them, as they obviously did playing. We managed to see three adults and these two young all together. Suddenly a pheasant started calling very loudly which made the cubs shoot back in the sett. It did not take long for the others to join them. By this time it was 2150 and since some had to get up for work the following morning we decided to call it a day. Everyone was thrilled at the good views they had, and I look forward to our next visit in July

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Great weekend in Gower - Friday to Sunday 13 to 15 May 2011

It took me seven hours instead of four and a half to get to the St Madoc's Christian Camp on Gower, because of a crash on the M5 so I was a little tired on the first night. We had a welcome evening meal followed by a talk by Sir Ghillian Prance. He shared some of his experiences in the Amazon in which his study and discoveries demonstrated again the wonderful and interdependent world that God created and sustains. Some of us then went out to set small mammal traps and also some moth traps.
An early-ish start (0630) to check the moth traps and set up the nets for bird ringing. Moths found included cinnabar clinging to the vanes of the trap, heart and dart, triple lines and this wonderful Ermine
   A quick trip to the headland meant a short walk through hundreds of bloody cranesbills growing amongst bluebells and burnet rose. We counted over a thousand oystercatchers leaving a high tide roost to go off to feed. It was then time for breakfast.

 After this different teams were then off for various surveys. We had marine biologists, bird ringers, botanists, folk checking butterflies, surveying transects for non marine birds and  some of us scanning the beach and sea for marine birds. On the beach whilst looking for the birds we discovered some fascinating and some gruesome finds. I understand that the skeleton was a common dolphin.

 After lunch we repeated the exercise and for me it was good to see some shearwaters and a small flock of dunlin. We did have to mess our feet up as we walked along the beach

 On our way back to base, some of us took the easier, if longer route. It meant we missed seeing a grass snake, but were able to find a song thrush anvil and an orchid. Foolishly I had not brought my "Francis Rose" so I was unable to identify the specimen. After tea ( or dinner if you live in the south) we shared many of our findings then out again to check mammal traps, light up moth traps and armed with detectors, search for bats. We did hear common and soprano pipistrelle as well as lesser horseshoe.
First thing Sunday was a repeat of our Saturday net unfurling, moth trap emptying and mammal trap checking. Another quick sea scan revealed little movement. Due to this I decided to follow the botanists who were also examining the underside of various bits of tin or rugs for reptiles. Success !! I saw slow worms, common lizards and the larvae of a glow worm.

 Lunch was followed by a short service where we all thanked God for His amazing creation. More thanks to the Centre staff who had looked after us so well, then homeward bound after a tremendous weekend.
An official report will be published later this year