Sunday, December 29, 2013

North and South part Two

North in this post means the north of England. Each year I receive an invitation from the A Rocha group in Sandbach, Cheshire to lead a bat walk. This is part of their community engagement activities and takes place in Brereton Heath Country Park. This year it was held a little earlier in the year than previous so we did have a slightly longer time before it became dark enough. We did notice some late flying dragonflies, but it was not light enough for good identification. We did a circular walk of the lake and saw and heard both soprano and common pipistrelle. Our bat detectors also enabled us to hear at least one noctule. Once we arrived at the spot in the photograph below we were treated to some excellent views of Daubenton's hunting over the water. Seeing the wildlife and making new friends made this annual event worthwhile.

In August, after missing the Rutland Bird Fair due to ill health, I returned to Southall to help with the second play-scheme. Called Dragon Detectives it takes place on Elsdale II, the largest electric wide-beam barge operating on UK waterways. She can take a full class of pupils for education purposes. We use it in partnership with Groundwork. Cruising up and down the Grand Union canal, we learned about dragonflies and damselflies. Each day involved games and crafts as well as a few songs. We made some bricks and created an early form of animation. Notable sightings were common terns, Banded Demoiselles, several hawkers and darters and the raucous ring-necked parakeet. The excitement for me was noting some frogbit.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

North and South part one

It didn't take me long to head back north. At the end of June, A Rocha were asked to help at an event in Glasgow. A Rocha has been working with Clay Community Church in Possil who have been focusing on community engagement and education at the Clay Pits site. I went along to assist with bug hunting safaris and flower walks. These proved very popular with the local people, who hadn't realised what was on their doorstep. We caught some spiders, butterflies and the occasional damselfly. On one of our walks we disturbed a browsing roe deer. I hope to help with something similar next year. The advantage of having a senior citizens rail card means I can often travel to Glasgow and return for £13.00

In July, I travelled to Southall to help with the first of two week long summer play schemes on Minet Country Park. We had a combination of exploring the park and also indoor craft sessions. A little rain failed to dampen the children's enthusiasm. We had a good pond dipping session finding tadpoles, damselfly nymphs, water beetles, a ramshorn snail, a stickleback, some water mites and three water scorpions. One day we had set some small mammal traps earlier in the morning but didn't catch anything. We did find various samples of poo but only I examined them closely. On our return to the Lodge we made models of different mammals. There were bats, hedgehogs, squirrels and for some reason an elephant, even though we never saw one on Minet.

One day after the session with the children I completed a butterfly survey. I recorded commas, gatekeepers, small whites, large whites, common blues, loads of meadow browns and some six spot burnets. I did get somewhat distracted watching an emperor dragonfly being harassed by two broad bodied chasers. 

It was a very enjoyable week for me and also the kids ( so they said). I returned home looking forward to my next visit later in August

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A few months in a nutshell

I have arrived at December and noted that my last blog was in March. I have not been idle but been doing all sorts of things. In A Rocha UK we have been having a time of reflection and consolidation of our mission.
In April I started a new area of work with the education department of the rspb. This has been at a location Cobble Hey Farm just north of Preston. Children come in order to explore food and farming in a number of ways. Noting the route from farm to fork and how the countryside has changed. They also discover how the farmer manages the habitats in partnership with the RSPB. This is a wetland bird hotspot.

     Photo courtesy of RSPB    Poppy Poppy
This coincided with that very cold March which had slowed everything down. We noticed plants were late flowering and migrants later in arriving at their nesting grounds.
In May I took a trip north to visit some friends in Scotland. My first point of call was near Aberfoyle where I surveyed a field used by Glendrick Roost Animal Welfare Centre. A few of us on the ARUK holiday last year has promised to pray they would get the land. When I was asked to help on a survey I couldn't refuse. I do confess I enjoy surveys anyway. The highlight happened as I was trying to identify a plant at the river edge. I heard a splash upstream, and when I looked, there was an otter playing in the river less than 200 metres away. I almost stopped breathing. The other thing that has stayed in my memory was the sight and bouquet of the bluebells.. breathtaking!


The next few days were spent at Kincraig at the northern end of Loch Insh. Here I mainly rested and saw my first game of shinty. This was at the home of the most successful sporting team in the world, Kingussie Camanachd. In the years from1996 to 2004 they only lost two games. These were against their near neighbours and arch rivals Newtonmore. It seems to be a game with few rules. A bit like ice hockey on grass, with the physicality but without excess padding.

Further north to my friends in Spinningdale, near Bonar Bridge, Sutherland. Jim has been slowly building his own eco-house. I had gone to try to see two special flowers, single flowered wintergreen and twinflower. Both these usually flower in late May early June in a nearby wood. Sadly they copied all the other flora this year and were not yet in bloom. I did however see chickweed wintergreen, another life tick for my botany list. There is always something special to see in this area. Ospreys, crested tits, dolphins, red squirrels, Slavonian Grebes, divers, ptarmigans, pine martens and much more, so I couldn't be too disappointed.

My trips to the north of Scotland are always a delight. This is not only for the wonderful wildlife but also  so many fantastic friends. I shall be back there soon

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Marshside and Mere Sands

A small group from the A Rocha friends in the North West met at Southport to enjoy the predicted high tide. As we arrived at the car park, a pair of oystercatchers soon let us know where they were and overhead skylarks were bursting their lungs announcing that spring was really here. In contrast to that lovely sound, the cacophony of black headed gull calls threatened to drown out everything else. We called in at the Sandgrounders hide for five minutes and noticed the blackthorn bushes coming into bloom.
Walking down the footpath we headed towards Nell's Hide  where at the entrance one of our party noticed Ivy-leaved toadflax just coming into flower. Once in the hide we managed to see in the middle distance, pintail, wigeon, shoveler, several Canada geese, some mute swans and a couple of moorhens. Then closer to the hide several more pintail were roosting on a small island. Then, in the mainly dead vegetation we were just able to see a snipe foraging in the mud. The camouflage effect of its plumage was amazing. It was then time to check how high the tide was getting. Unfortunately the persistent east wind was preventing the tide coming as high as the tables had promised. We scanned the marsh and found scores of pink footed geese with a few greylags as well. The sea was still a long way off making identification of the thousands of waders almost impossible so we decided to set off to go to the former sand plant area. Two robins were in their seasonable aggressive state and the skylarks and meadow pipits were singing and displaying in the slightly sheltered area close to the RSPB car park. Walking carefully round this area to the river side of it enabled us to see two reed buntings and a lone blackbird. Another member of our party stopped and asked us to use our telescopes to look at a branch sticking out of the mud some distance away. A merlin was using this as a vantage point so we stopped for a time to enjoy this small raptor. As we did its larger cousin, a peregrine, swiftly flew past.Beyond the merlin we could see the waders but with the exception of some curlews, still too far for reliable identification. We were also looking for short eared owls but this time success eluded us

. Back to Sandgrounders hide where another birder said he had seen a spoonbill. We noticed about 20 avocets, more wigeon, shovelers, black-tailed godwits, and coots. A large white bird in the distance tried to fool us for a while, but its black pointed bill and yellow feet confirmed it as a little egret rather than a spoonbill.  It was nearly time for some of our party to head for home and one of them mentioned he had never seen a water rail. Mere Sands Wood was on their way home so I guided them to that Lancs Wildlife Trust reserve. On our way to reception a few tree sparrows were busy at the feeders along with chaffinches dunnocks and more robins. We made our way quickly into Lancaster Hide and within two minutes the water rail put in its appearance along with its entourage of more reed buntings and dunnocks. All the party left for home after a very enjoyable morning.