Sunday, 5 January 2020

Nature Notes 2019

To read older posts (2005 - 2018), now use the 'Older Posts' link at the bottom of the posts. (There used to be a sidebar to navigate, but sadly Blogger has removed it...)

River Brue at Burnham
Roger Cornfoot

Competitive Botanising… At the close of last year I attended my first Winter Flower Hunt in and around the seaside town of Burnham, with a ‘team’ of about sixteen other botanists – very competitive! The simple rules set by the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland require the team on foot to search one area for three hours for any plants in flower, and scores of teams ‘compete’ from across the British Isles. With 74 species we were head of the online British and Irish leaderboard by the end of that day… but as subsequent teams surged ahead  we dropped to fifth. One friend wrote, ‘Ah, the curse of the competitive urge, the botanical rollercoaster ride between elation and despair…’; and another, ‘I always prefer what botanist JW White wrote -  “…the keen anticipation of discovery adds zest to the pursuit, and stimulates each fresh generation of workers to outdo those that have gone before…”

Trees, Twigs, Pain… For Xmas I got a copy of the Field Studies Council’s excellent guide to identifying trees in winter, and have been happily plucking twigs to identify them at home
A friend wrote, ‘Excellent - you really are branching out (can't believe I just said that). Must get myself a copy to keep me occupied over the winter months, although there's some new science that suggests trees can feel distress when their twigs are snapped so I will be very gentle with them……’
I replied, ‘Seriously - I was much influenced by hippy bible of 70s, ‘The Secret Life of Plants’, a lot of which I think has newer science now to reinforce its ideas. But the older I get, the more I take issue, scientifically/conceptually, with the idea that stationary beings feel pain for things they can't do anything about, or that must happen routinely to them, like animal and insect damage. Though I still don't discount TSLoP's idea that they feel discomfort if others have bad intentions towards them...? So I can't believe you plucking a twig with good intentions is an issue... I'm probably taking all this much more seriously than you intended...’
Yellow Brain Fungus

Quantocks Moss & Fungi: On a recent geology trip to the Quantock Hills in Somerset, I saw some
Fox-tail Feather-moss
extravagant mosses. A helpful botanist said they were
probably Thamnobryum alopecurum (Fox-tail Feather-moss), ‘a common woodland species and quite noticeable’.
And some lovely fungi – another helpful mycologist identified them as Yellow Brain fungus.

Easter Compton walk: There is a paved lane behind the small village of Easter Compton that makes a lovely quiet but fruitful walk in winter, and is never too muddy underfoot. Today it was full of the bird species I regularly see here, but also of ones I haven’t seen here before - a Sparrowhawk sitting on a gate right in front of my parked car, a Stonechat, and a flock of Linnets…

Short-eared Owl
Jongsun Lee
Northwick Oaze Owls: A beautiful bright winters afternoon. Walking back along the Northwick estuary embankment, a Short-eared Owl suddenly appeared hunting in the fields inland of the embankment; then two more appeared over the salt marsh. I had lovely close views – their light yellow-tan and deep-dark-patterned plumage looking incredibly lush and velvety in the low sun, and those wonderful faces, full of interest and curiosity!

Pussy Willow buds: High in the hedgerows were young glossy-
haired pussy willow buds which glowed in the sunshine like bright pearls…

Glowing Pussy Willows
The riches of Marshfield: On a group walk we saw - big flocks of Lapwing, Common Gull, Jackdaw, Skylark, Fieldfare (and Winter Thrushes flying in hundreds on the drive in), Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit, Goldfinch, Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer; as well as smaller numbers of Red-legged Partridge, Buzzard, Rook, Raven, Chaffinch and Linnet…

‘Improvers’: Our fine bird club, the Bristol Ornithological Club, started running classes for beginners and improvers and asked for suggestions. I wrote from the heart:
 ‘These are the things I would find most valuable to have tutoring on:
·       Small calls! When I do my Breeding Bird and Winter Bird Surveys (for the British Ornithological Trust), more often than not these are the only signs of birds I will have! - often just one or two little mips or cheeps... Blue tits, dunnocks, reed bunting, on and on... and loads that I have never satisfactorily IDd. I think there is a lot more variation in this lot than is sometimes acknowledged...
·       Small calls that can be mistaken for others: I still don't reliably distinguish between and chaffinch and a great tit 'chink'... and there are others.
·       Calls that I have historically wrongly IDd as a 'subset' of a known call: little grebe as a version of moorhen  call; grey plover as a curlew having on off day! 
·       Calls that my hearing is bad/faulty about: for instance, I find it particularly hard to distinguish between a short burst of harsh corvid-type calls - jay, magpie, even pheasant and angry squirrel have got confused in these ears...
A whole other sphere that I think is under-taught is what birds look like as females, juveniles and in eclipse. No use always just showing examples of male teal and wigeons in their glorious breeding plumage, when so much of the time we are looking at females, juveniles and eclipse birds, and feeling thoroughly confused!’

By Avebury: In Wiltshire, a field of gone-to-seed crops attracted big flocks of Chaffinch & Yellowhammer, Wood Pigeons, Rooks & Starlings, and Linnets…

Christophe Parot
Moschatel: A friend asked for local places to see the wonderful plant Moschatel – also known as the ‘Town Hall Clock’ flower because of its extraordinary 'cubic' flower heads!  I had been shown it in local woodland a few years ago, and like my friend was captivated... It is fascinating rather as Snake's-head Fritillary flowers are fascinating with their geometric checks…

Feeling the Bridge: At this time of year I often feel the need to flee seasonal festivities and escape for some time alone, and this year I booked into a nice budget chain hotel that is literally next to the old Severn Bridge by the estuary at Aust… As I walked across the mile-long bridge I experienced  loud songs created where strong wind was blowing through small holes in the bases of the lofty lighting posts… And leaning on the pedestrian balustrade I could feel the whole bridge thrumming and resonating from the wind and traffic…
Old Severn Bridge
Phillip Halling

‘The Nyatts’ below Almondsbury - Another remote-feeling piece of the South Gloucestershire levels above the estuary… a walk included four Little Egrets in a flock with two more by a large rhine with Moorhens, three young Swans together on the rhine meadow bank, and a Sparrowhawk zipping low along another waterway and through hedgerows…
Our birding blog ‘Avon Birds’ said:  Nice to have a report from somewhere less-frequently covered’. I replied: That's me - taking 'The Road Less Frequently Covered'...!’

Derek Harper
Cheeky Turnstones: I enjoyed a television piece on the cheeky Turnstone waders of St Ives (I’ve also seen them being cheeky in Penzance and Newlyn…) But I didn’t know they were the most omnivorous of all our shorebirds – even being seen eating corpses and faeces! Blimey – usually you just see them turning over stones and seaweed for small prey – or begging for a prawn sandwich!

Welsh Cobs: Some years ago I attended the Monmouth Agricultural
Welsh Cob
Amanda Slater
Show, and saw displays of magnificent small strong black horses – Welsh Cobs; I was captivated by their fiery attitude, the hint of Arabian in their heads and gait… Just now I watched more on a TV programme set at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Show and finally read up on them: they are indeed a cross of native wild ponies and Arabian steeds brought back by Crusaders, which created a horse that was extremely strong, fast, fiery, intelligent – but good-natured! What a 

Snow: On the last day of January snow began to fall through the evening and into the next day. I was at a geology course in a neighbouring town and drove the nine miles home late in the evening on empty roads though the falling snow – so peaceful and lovely when normally I wouldn’t have ventured out...

Falling shed
Sheds and Apples: Walking the long lane below Almondsbury, there was a most ‘amusing’ derelict shed - falling but not down yet! It seemed impossible that the building’s blockwork piers could have leaned to such an angle - yet still standing it was.

Looking down a side rhine was the beautiful image of a wild apple tree still holding on to its tiny golden fruit which studded it all over like jewellery. 
'Golden Apples'
by Lois Pryce
I took a photo which has become a painting…

Stace: The newspapers just had an article about the great botanist Clive Stace who more or less single-handedly produced the most definitive Flora of the British Isles, and his Fourth Edition is about to be published. The group of botanist I go out with use his books constantly to key out plants,
Clive Stace
yet till now I hadn't properly registered his name or appreciated the wonders of what he has achieved (though I had actually read with interest some of his work on non-native plants - I liked the non-snobbiness of his approach to including them). He is a shining example of what just one person can achieve...

I print my Blog: Finally I girded my loins and arranged for older numbers of this Blog to be printed off and bound professionally – all the way from the first one in 2005. So even if the InterWeb fails and falls, I will at least have a hard copy to enjoy in my twilight years and to press on other people!
My printed Blog

Ellipsis: I was listening to author Lynn Truss (of ‘Eats Shoots and Leaves’ fame) being interviewed on the radio, and of course talking about grammar. In her rather posh voice she revealed that what I do with  three little dots at the end of a sentence - '...' - is called an ellipsis - it has a name! I use it to enigmatically fade out a sentence so there isn't a hard statement, letting the reader's imagination fill it in...

Cornwall Field Trip:
Cape Cornwall
Andrew Bone
- Hayle Estuary: Mediterranean Gulls - one pair posturing to each other with necks stretched up… Bar-tailed Godwits clearly showing prettily streaked brown-grey winter plumage backs in comparison with the Black-tailed’s plainer backs… a strapping Spoonbill with head plumes.
- Drift Reservoir near St Just: Four Cattle Egret in a field of cattle (my first in this country) - at one point joined by a Herring Gull who followed them in a line, showing its surprisingly larger size… a Black-necked Grebe.
- Dramatic cliffs of Cape Cornwall with south-westerly winds and great breakers rolling in. Pale beige first-year Iceland Gull,
Hugh Venables
amongst rock and beach roosts of mostly Herring Gull; where a descending stream formed beach waterfalls and pools and a delightful ‘gull spa’ was revealed with much splashing and preening in the freshwater – as our leader said, you could almost hear the cries of ‘Pass the soap’!  Up to 16 Choughs calling and airily bouncing in the wind, rafts of Guillemots and Razorbills – the largest at least 500 – around 100 Gannets, Fulmars, Shags, a Great Northern Diver, Kestrels, Ravens and seals.
- Walking down the sheltered road from the exposed Coast Guard station above Porthgwarra, small birds created a wall of twittering sounds in the dense scrub and sycamore woods - Chaffinch, Linnets and Goldfinch.
- Helston public park and boating lake, with a smart pinioned Ferruginous Duck amongst gulls and Tufted Ducks. Hunting for and finding Yellow-browed Warbler in the patchy hedgerow and woodland by the adjacent sewage works, moving restlessly about with Chiffchaff and Goldcrest.
Greenfinch, and Grey Wagtails on the sewage works. Searching for Glossy Ibis in the adjacent valley to the sea…
Purple Sandpipers
- At Penzance’s dockside Jubilee Pool, over 20 delightful Purple Sandpiper scurrying amongst rough waves or jumping up onto the rough granite wall where they nestled in the tiniest indents. Further along the jetties scores of Turnstones scuttled and scavenged amongst the humans with their cheeky air. A first-year male Eider flew fast and low from open water, looking large and heavy with white patches visible on overall dark plumage.
- At the pretty village of Chapel Amble just past Wadebridge, a Temminck’s Stint had settled into the wetlands formed by the little River Amble making its way to the Camel Estuary via the new wetland reserve of Walmsey Sanctuary. We found this
Temmink's Stint
inconspicuous but rare wader in a wet field with the tiny river flowing through it, with Teal, Green Sandpiper, and Meadow Pipits.
Spring is coming: In Cornwall in late February - prunus, blackthorn, camelia, magnolia, primrose and daffodils were all flowering and hawthorn leaves emerging – and returning to Bristol we also saw a sudden cloud of white tree blossoms and green on hawthorns, and wrens & dunnocks starting to sing like lunatics…

Extra-high tide at Aust: The sea came across the salt marsh up to but not over the road; when it was halfway across, the rapidly-moving backs of little mammals could be seen swimming fast to the next piece of grass (‘Probably mostly Short-tailed Field Voles which form 90% of Short-eared Owls' diet…’)... a Water Rail jumped up in reed bed as the tide rose… The Crows were there first, casually picking up small rodents like hors d’oeuvres and flying off with their limp bodies. Two Short-eared Owls and two Kestrels sat on logs and branches and seemed less interested – maybe they’d already had a glut? And unlike the other times I’ve witnessed this phenomenon, only a few Black-headed Gulls arrived and again were less predatory…
This profusion of small mammals only seems to be so prolific at the Aust end - where the salt marsh is ungrazed and leaves cover for the little creatures, and the reed beds are more abundant which the Short-eared Owls like…

I am an Existentialist! Listening to the radio as I drove to my geology course, I heard comedian Rob Newman’s programme on Existentialism, part of his ‘Total eclipse of Descartes’ philosophy series. It’s the first time I have properly understood the concept, and realised – I’ve been an Existentialist all along! My inner life is indeed dedicated to working towards Freedom and Authenticity!

Violets: On the levels below Almondsbury – some wonderfully scented white violets…
White Violets
Evelyn Simak

The tide turns... I viewed a second extra-high tide at Aust, the sea crossing the entire salt marsh and just spilling onto the little coast road at its lowest point. This time I observed a small but extraordinary phenomenon as the water spilled out on the tarmac-ed road edge: usually at sea or up a tidal river there is a lull as the tide turns; here however the water pushed fast up the road for some minutes – then within seconds - started to flow back again… In that gentle spill of water you could see the exact moment of the tidal turn…

Unusual mob: Gulls were mobbing a heron flying over – that’s unusual!

S Rae
Mosses & Liverworts: I did a day’s course on Mosses & Liverworts in Leigh Woods above the Avon Gorge. Liverworts are strange critters – not just those funny slimy things or transparent leafy growths, but the big round patches on trees that are everywhere – and yet one doesn’t notice…

Rookeries: On a drive up to Evesham in Worcestershire and back, along main roads and motorways I noticed a pleasing and hopeful number of rookeries. My rookery survey partner said she’d seen the same on recent trips down to Devon and Cornwall… good!
Tewkesbury water meadows
Stephen McKay
Nesting Curlews: We visited the beautiful little cathedral city of Tewkesbury inland from the Severn. Between the cathedral and the estuary are the Tewkesbury Hams water meadows, popular with local people and dog walkers – yet right in the middle were two curlews, presumably – hopefully - nesting.

Arlingham: On a lovely still, warm clear day we walked round the Arlingham peninsula, formed by a profound bend in the River Severn north of Bristol. Butterflies were out - Peacock, Tortoise and Brimstone. The woods by the river contained great tracts of
Derek Harper
beautiful large white wood anemones…
Tawny Mining Bees: At one point, the landwards slope of the river embankment was covered with scores to hundreds of the small soil-surrounded holes I associate with solitary bees. I sent a photo to our insect expert who identified them as the Tawny Mining Bee, Andrena fulva. It’s a lovely bee which I learnt only flies briefly between March and May. The females make underground brooding chambers, provision them with pollen for the young they lay there, then seal the
Tawny Mining Bee
Gail Hampshire
holes so nothing can be seen on the surface, fly off and die soon after… The young pupate underground, then emerge to finish the cycle… Oh natural wonders - I feel privileged to have touched briefly on their brief lives…

Angle Shades Moth: There was a beautiful moth in my attic bedroom, about 4cm long. I took this  photo with difficulty as it sat on my hand and didn’t want to get off! Our entymologist identified it as an Angle Shades moth - apparently a common moth (for a moth person). What had attracted it to my room?  
Angle Shades Moth
The Gordano Valley Ringing Station: The Bristol Naturalist’s Society newsletter reported that the  local Gordano Valley Bird Ringing Station (where I’d been lucky enough to be taken ringing a year or so before) had to cease its activities when high winds felled a large tree on top of it, with touching photos showing the destruction. However the station volunteers immediately organised a rebuild… and the Phoenix has re-emerged from the ashes (or twigs…) to carry on its valuable work…

Aust embankment trees: The groves of tall trees running behind the Severnside embankment seemed covered in green-white blossom – but no, it was the White Poplars just coming into leaf…
Eye-opener: I have been taking an eye-opening geology course, ‘Advances in Understanding Earth’s Structure & Operation’. We studied the different methods of understanding the inner structure of the Earth – a place more inaccessible than outer space – and the extraordinary recent advances in picturing such things as the mighty plumes that rise from the core/mantle interface that may be almost as old as the planet itself… This might be the only course I’ve taken where after virtually every slide, with their serious-looking graphs and facts, our tutor would say – ‘Of course, hardly any of that is considered correct any more’…

Forest of Dean: A bird walk in the Forest of Dean, up the Severn. It’s mid-April, yet the Forest
Forest of Dean
looked far more wintery than the world outside, with trees remaining leafless and very little new green growth below… probably because it’s rather higher than one thinks. There were Greylag Geese, Swans on nests, Tufted and Mandarin Ducks, Little Grebes, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, gangs of young Jays, Raven, Coal Tits, Marsh Tit, Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Blackcaps, Goldcrest, Nuthatch, Treecreepers, Mistle Thrush (whose song is a mix of Blackbird & Song Thrush, but with only two motif repetitions rather than the three of a Song Thrush…), and Stonechat, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Greenfinch, Linnet, calling Crossbills flying over, and Siskin. And I may have seen a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (a rarity) – our leader thought so after I described what I’d seen – a small pied bird flying low and straight in the sort of habitat it likes…!
And Coltsfoot flowers, Tortoiseshell butterflies, a deer, and a lizard and adders seen by others…

Crossing pylons
at Latteridge
Latteridge: I visted Latteridge, a hamlet in a little-visited area a few miles north of my house. On an adjacent hilltop are three large wind turbines, and across the road two lines of pylons intersect and somehow thread through each other in a way I found quite hard to understand…

Humble Plants: All through autumn and winter, and then into this spring, Red Deadnettle and Ground Ivy have been abundant and flowered continuously… Their bright foliage and purple-red and -blue flowers have cheered these months!
Red Deadnettle
Emoke Denes

‘The beat goes on’: A recent New Scientist review of a book on the evolutionary sources of human musicality says that though animals evince strongly rhythmic beats in their flights or gaits, only strongly social animals, from songbirds and parrots to elephants and humans, have ‘beat perception’, and apparently we are the only primate with a sense of rhythm. And language itself might derive from music…
A colleague said: ‘I’ve been reading a book called ‘A very short Introduction to the Psychology of
Eleonora Cockatoo
Elises Muniz
Music’ and one of the question asked is – are non-human animals musical.  Evidentially the skill of listening, moving and making sounds is shared across a number of lines of animals, the common thing being how the senses and brain are wired up.  But there are two interesting examples of movement: Snowball, an Eleonora cockatoo could dance in different tempos to a number of its favourite songs – matching the different speeds. And for those who appreciate more refined music, apparently Pigeons and Carp can be trained to recognise the difference between Stravinsky and Bach...’

New Passage saltmarsh: It was a lovely to see Yellow and White Wagtails, Wheatears and Little Ringed Plovers all foraging about together in the saltmarsh grass… And the Yellow Wagtails - what colours – if dandelions were
Yellow Wagtail
plumage, that would describe them!

Leisurely Fox: In our back garden at 7.30 this morning, a handsome fox was giving the whole area a leisurely inspection, then sat down for a scratch on my newly-sown spinach bed…

Holly Blues: A pair of Holly Blue butterflies were on the south-facing ivy fencing in our back garden, where they always appear each year at this time, the first of the butterflies…
Holly Blue
Charles J Sharp

Botany at Bentham: I went on a botanising day east of Gloucester, starting in the grounds of an unfeasibly large Greek Orthodox church on the edge of a tiny village, with a large heathy brownfield site behind. I subsequently learnt this site was of remarkable historico-industrial interest, yet is unmarked or commemorated. For this was the design and development site of the Gloster Aircraft Company which did important work in both the first and second world wars; but  more interestingly worked on producing the first successful jet aircraft privately for the great aviation engineer Frank Whittle at the start of World War II, when the Ministry of Defense had refused to support his pioneering work!
Frank Whittle
Imperial War Museum
Now there’s a new housing estate by the church where the actual factory buildings had stood – and not a plaque to be seen! (Perhaps because the MoD are embarrassed?...)

Ouch: I wrote to a friend, ‘Some lucky times birding down on the estuary, I either meet no-one, or meet nice and helpful people whom I already know, or nice, funny, helpful strangers willing to share but also interested in my contribution. Other times like today, every encounter seems to come with its small jellyfish slap-n-sting - generally male birdwatchers jockeying for position on the 'I know more than you' greasy pole... I feel well pin-            cushioned!’
He replied: ‘That's interesting - I was there on Friday and bumped into a few people, mostly nice, but a non-birder annoyed me when he asked me what I'd seen. When I said Little Ringed Plovers and Wheatears, he said he'd never heard of them and actually YAWNED and wandered off as I was talking! SO rude.’ 

New Scope: For years I have put off buying a proper birdwatching telescope - like ‘a real birdwatcher’ should have - as I so hate carrying heavy gear. Finally I bought a second hand spotting scope & tripod as light as I could find them, and a compact canvas bag to carry them. Last week was the first time I took the whole shebang out to try in the field, as the weather was fine though still with a freezing east wind to get in the eyes and vibrate the optics; and with a friend along for morale support. It all worked fine! And it was extremely noticeable how much more respect I got from other male birdwatchers! Honestly…

Leitmotif: Our current resident blackbird’s song leitmotif is the first phrase from The Sweeney’s theme song – ‘Te Dah da…’

Next scope outing: There was big wind without rain, so I went to do a ‘sea watch’ (birdwatching to
Citrine Wagtail
Gary Thoburn
sea during storms) at Severn Beach. It was my first solo outing with my new telescope amongst all the serious twitchers, and I think I didn’t make a fool of myself. I was joined by an expert colleague who encouraged me to carry on to adjacent New Passage where some rare migrants were sheltering – Citrine and Channel Wagtails. Other birdwatchers had spent hours to see just a brief glimpse of these pretty bright-coloured little birds (who can virtually hide behind a grass blade and like popping up and down behind earth clods…) but we strolled up and got great views immediately! Apparently a Citrine Wagtail is considerably rarer than the Temmink’s Stint we made so much of in January!

Sad Fox: On Severn Beach high street in the middle of the day – a pathetically thin, pallid fox was just standing on the pavement…

Clever Fox: Yesterday I’d put chicken carcass remains wrapped in newspaper into our lockable food bin. But I can’t have closed the lid properly, because this morning I found torn newspaper wrappings, the bin on its side – and not a scrap of the chicken left… Nicely and neatly done, Mr/Ms Fox.

Mistle Thrushes: On a large grassed and treed roundabout on our busy local Ring Road, a pair of Mistle Thrushes were chasing off a crow with loud churrs… they probably have a nest in there, protected as if on an island...

My 70th Birthday: It was a very big one this year: my 70th birthday. I'd spent all the previous year thinking (& saying) 'I'm nearly 70', but now it's happened it's actually a bit of a shock - I think my 60s felt like the last bit of middle age, but the 70s definitely feels like the start of Old Age... yikes. Even if it is all just a number / cultural artifact...

Grooming Fox: Seen from my loft at 3am this morning - a fox lying down in the middle of the road, having a little groom…

Brown Argus
Charles J Sharp
Walton Common Invertebrates: I went on an afternoon’s Invertebrate study on Walton Common with our best inverts expert. I saw a Large Red Damselfly - the earliest damselflies to fly each year; a  Hairy Dragonfly - the earliest dragonflies to fly each year; a Brown Argus butterfly – my first – with strong deep brown and bright orange upper wings, and underside like the Common Blue’s ‘fairy dress’. And got a better understanding and recognition of a range of insects families and species… including the ticks which infested the place and were found in every scoop  of the catching nets…

Young Starlings: Young Starlings were racketing across our back gardens…

Stoke Lodge Spring snippets: In the grounds of Stoke Lodge - a Song Thrush having a bath in a car park puddle… two pairs of Mistle Thrush… and more racketing groups of young Starlings…

Geology round Charfield: A geology walk round the gentle landscape of Charfield, a few miles
Basalt lava & Celestine
from Charfield area
north of Bristol, held such wonders as:
- A field full of nodules of bladed crystal Celestine (strontium sulphate) - the mineral that gives fireworks their brightest red, and now is an important catalyst in sugar beet extraction. For a while this modest area produced 90% of the world’s supplies…!
- The tiny disused Cullimore quarry, dug for roadstone from its Silurian basalt lava, from flows dating back 430 million years. With a hot-spot volcanic origin in the Cotswolds, this was the furthest the liquid lava reached…
… Oh Britain, ever full of surprises!

Fox Noises: Looking from my loft windows before 4am, I could see three foxes in the front road area with a pulled-over bin, and two in the back gardens. They made the most extraordinary and unlikely noises: a crooning keening which I think has been waking me and recently made me ask house-members if anyone had been whistling plaintive tunes at 4am…; and a screaming so like a seagull’s that I had to visually check it was foxes not birds…

Wild: I have Common Vetch self-seeded in my back garden! – a first for this lovely wild flower with its small single brilliant magenta flowers…

Abundance: An abundance of birds at New Passage - 90 Shelduck including an apparent 'lek' of
Hairy Dragonfly
about twenty mainly males, posturing and facing up to each other...
, two Coot families with four chicks each, Lapwings calling, display-flying and fighting off a crow, about sixty Starlings including many young -  one youngster begging for and receiving food like a ‘real’ fledgling though generally Starlings seem to fledge straight into noisy, independent adolescence… A female Hairy Dragonfly ‘sunbathing’ on the hedgerow by the pools, its upper wing edges reflecting the sun with a brilliant shine... and Orange-tip and and Peacock butterflies…
And at nearby Severn Beach – my first Swifts of the year…

Paul Bowerman
Severn Beach Waders: On a lovely still warm late afternoon before high tide, I watched a special group of waders with an expert bird friend. We sat very close at the Promenade end of the shingle strand, as small but unafraid flocks of Dunlin, Sanderling* and Ringed Plover settled on the sea edge - these little Arctic-breeding waders migrate through in a small window in May, and stop for a rest and a feed at this favoured spot. As the tide rose they gradually settled closer and closer to us … they would wheel off, then settle again all facing into the east breeze – and suddenly we’d be confronted by scores of their little eyes all apparently staring at us, and by the little bandit masks of the Ringed Plovers… The Dunlins had their smart black breeding chests, and the Sanderlings’ pretty plumage was darkening to its summer tones… They are all very similar in size, between seven and eight inches, and it strikes one profoundly that these little mites will shortly fly hundreds or thousands of miles north to Iceland, Greenland etc. across the cold unforgiving Atlantic, for that incredibly short Arctic Summer window to find a mate and a nest site, and rear young…
(*Previously in the UK I’ve only seen Sanderlings on very clean sand beaches with little or no human activity – on the Gower and South Coast – hurrying along in that endearing rather anxious way - and rarely over the last few years… so this was a great treat!)

Fighting Shelduck: At Severn Beach two Shelduck were having an aerial fight, trying to force each other to the ground… I’ve never seen them fight before, they generally seem a very placid bird!

Pied Flycatcher
Mark Medcalf 
Quantocks: I girded my loins for the long drive down to the Quantock Hills for a bird walk with one of our best local naturalists - and it was so worth it in lovely weather. At last I have seen Pied Flycatchers - something that has eluded me all these years; and Tree Pipits - another first.
The Quantocks are a long ridge of ancient red sandstone, oak-wooded round their bases with moorland on the top and spectacular views down the Bristol Channel, home to red deer and much other beautiful wildlife. In the woods were Wood Warblers, Blackcaps, Garden Warbler, the Pied Flycatchers (striking little black and white birds – but so much smaller than I had thought!), Redstarts, Stock Doves crooning in background, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Green & Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and Cuckoos flying and calling. On the heath tops, a pair of female Sparrowhawks put on a thrilling display of aerial fighting; with a Hobby and Swifts, Stonechats, Whitethroats, Linnets, and Tree Pipits singing & displaying. We found Common Heath Moth, Longhorn Moth, and Small Heath  & Peacock butterflies… and Yellow Pimpernel, Common Cow-wheat, white Heather and Heath
Yellow Pimpernel
Mick Lobb
Milkwort… so many uncommon and beautiful plants and insects…

Bees in Pine: There were many bees busy high up in next door’s tall pine tree...  they are probably collecting resin to make their wonderful propolis (‘bee glue’), which they use to seal small gaps in their hives, as a disinfectant, or to entomb dead creatures there…

‘My Square’: Our bird club asked members to write a short description of their kilometre squares which they survey annually for breeding birds and winter birds. This was mine:
‘Part of the ‘Forgotten Landscape’ levels between Almondsbury & Aust, the M4 & M48 in farmland just east of the tiny hamlet of Ingst – I have been doing this square since 2016. It’s mainly grazing meadows crossed with rhines and hedgerows, with stands of trees and a couple of farms and cottages.
All year round are chiffchaff, skylarks and linnets, robins, wrens and dunnocks, shelduck and mallards, woodpeckers, buzzards, once a snipe, a heron. In Spring – blackcap, whitethroat, sedge warblers.
In Winter – flocks of gulls and corvids including rooks. Rabbits – once a hare. The farmed fields can be arid with more bird activity round human habitation. (A tragic footnote - my square conjoins the frighteningly neglected Ingst Manor Farm, - ‘The Farm from Hell’ – look it up…)
I was 67 when I started and I’m only 5’ with short legs and small hands – it’s often been difficult! The little stile bridges get overgrown with brambles – I have to prune them. The arable field crops grow taller than me and cover the footpath – and are always soaking first thing in the morning. A field of bullocks won’t leave me or my clipboard alone – I have to retreat. And it’s taken me 3 years to find a way to hold and fill in the form and manage my bins while struggling across frozen or soaking fields – without losing my only pens - once into a rhine… It’s a relief to get onto the quiet road I walk for the second transect – and now the day is warming and I can pull off the waterproofs and extra clothing and just enjoy the birds…’

Our Swifts: Swifts have returned to their traditional spot over Filton Millennial Park opposite our house, on 23 May -  incredibly late as usually they are here by 8 May. They did a flyover of four birds yesterday, with six circling this morning. Will they really have time for the full breeding cycle? Will they leave later?

Keith Gallie
Hornet: At the historic Bristol building where I take my art classes, I saw a hornet entering a stone wall crevice – my word, they are BIG!

Extra big: Many plants are growing extra big & lush this year, including flowering Ribbed Plantain, Hawksbeards, and Smooth & Prickly Sow Thistle – with massive straight stems on the Prickly ones…

Brambling? Returning from my survey square, I saw what could only have been a male Brambling in a hedgerow – yet they should all have gone north to Scandinavia to breed long before… (locally the latest seen have been in early April). This is what I reported: ‘From about 3m away: a Chaffinch-appearance bird with pink-orange breast but dark/black head and back, with white wing-bars/marks. I didn't see the beak properly.
Impression of paleness under, but didn't clearly see a coloured shoulder or white rump.’
One of our recorders said: ‘They always say that it's a Scandinavian breeding bird and doesn't NORMALLY breed in the UK; but breeding has occurred  and pairs in breeding plumage are seen. If you are confident of what you saw, stick with it.’ Not confident, but did stick with it – let’s see if it becomes a record!

Bank Vole
Peter Trimming
Back garden snippets: A Sparrow was feeding a youngster sitting on our garden lounger... Jackdaws in the background were rootling in the vegetable plot…

Cute! I was sitting in my car in an out-of-the-way spot when I caught movement in a nearby flowering elder tree. But it wasn’t a small bird as I’d thought - but a little brown Bank Vole daintily eating the elderflowers with its ‘hands’ as though they were the greatest delicacy! It is hard to imagine a sight prettier or cuter than that - apparently they love a nice elderflower snack at this time of year…

Rare Plants at Marshfield: Botanising, we walked from the
Marshfield Pea
Jean Tosti
churchyard through town and down into deep little Cotswolds valleys below. I was shown two genuinely rare flowering plants on the limestone slopes: the Marshfield Pea or Dragon’s Teeth (Tetragonolobus maritimus) – a big patch of striking, strong flowers, acid yellow going paler; and Long-stalked Cranesbill (Geranium columbinum) – another abundant patch of lovely bell-shaped magenta-pink flowers on long slender stems.

Sharpness Canal  by Celuici
Spring on the Sharpness Canal: Walking the Sharpness Canal that runs between Gloucester City and the Severn Estuary, we saw that classic sight - cygnets sailing along whilst sitting on their swan parent’s back… and a Cuckoo called…

Cinnabar Moth
Charles J Sharp
Cinnabar Moth: There was an elegant Cinnabar Moth in our conservatory, with its 'bar' markings clearly visible…

Swifts: In the last two years I have seen swifts rushing shrilling low down in streets in St Andrews, Severn Beach, Marshfield and Chepstow. Yet I’ve been following our local swifts centred on Millennium Green Park in Filton for over 15 years, and never yet seen them low in the streets around, or seamlessly ducking into roof eaves… so where they nest still remains a mystery.
Over that time I have watched their numbers decrease almost every year (they have remained at between 6 and 8 for the last three years), and this year when they didn’t arrive till nearly three weeks late I was fully resigned to them not arriving at all. So it was joyful to see them back on the 23rd May, and I’ve seen them nearly
every day subsequently (often in recent years they would arrive in early May, but then disappear for days and almost weeks on end…). I shall just continue to enjoy them as much as I can while they continue to grace our local area…
A friend said, You've hit the nail on the head! It's like a personal loss to witness the Swift population decline - something to do with those swift-filled childhood summers I guess, as if my memories are equally in danger of fading. Every spring I think of the Ted Hughes poem, but even those lines seem less hopeful and celebratory these days -
'They’ve made it again,
Reed Bunting
Ken Billington
Which means the globe’s still working, the Creation’s
Still waking refreshed, our summer’s
Still all to come'’
Shelduck ducklings
Andrew Morffew

Spring at Aust Wharf: I could just see twelve adult Shelduck with a creche of fourteen adorably
Sea Plantain
Derek Harper
spotted ducklings at the far end of the little tidal creek as it enters the estuary... six Reed Warblers formed a family group in the reeds… three Whitethroats included a youngster being fed... ten Meadow Pipits were singing and parachuting… eight Linnets were bathing in a puddle… and there were three Reed Buntings with one singing, head thrown back in full bunting-style… More Shelducks flew over calling with odd grunty and wittering sounds - they are usually so quiet, but apparently call during courtship… And the salt marsh was studded with Sea 
Plantain with its lovely little circlets of light yellow flowers…

Oxeye Verges: The verges of the M4 motorway intersection at Almondsbury were covered with incredible sheets of Oxeye daisies, subtly mixed with other flowers…
Shelduck eggs
Roger  Culos

Little things at Aust Wharf: - A Reed Warbler was singing close to the boardwalk: it was clinging to a reed stem and though I couldn’t see the bird, I could see the stem shaking to the rhythm of its song!
- A large creamy-neutral Shelduck eggshell…
- Horseradish flowering – handsome tall flower spikes that look as though they form a separate plant…

Little things at Chapel Farm: I walked along the Severn Estuary from Chapel Farm on the Welsh
Dark Roses
side beyond Magor, and saw        these little things: - Another Shelduck eggshell!
Cutleaved Cranesbill
- A blue dragonfly and a large orange-brown furry moth… IDs uncertain…
- Two cute fox cubs peeking out of a hedge and watching the world go by!
- Abundant cutleaved cranesbill with intense little magenta flowers…  abundant wild roses – many flowering a most beautiful deep pink…

Zigzag Clover
J C Svenning
Botany at Wapley Nature Reserve: On the south edge of Yate with all its housing estates and bounded by a railway, is the well-hidden gem of Wapley Nature Reserve.
The gravelly areas at the entrance by the railway line were sown with a wildflower mix, with  Corncockle with its striking bright pink/purple
Yellow Shell Moth
flowers, Corn Marigold & Mignonette, Caper Spurge, Corn Marigold and Fern-grass... Everywhere along edges were bountiful displays of Rough & Beaked Hawk’s-beard…
On the unspoilt damp sloping limestone meadows beyond the railway were fine grasses including Timothy, Meadow Fescue, Tall Fescue, Upright Brome, Quaking, Sweet Vernal and Hair Grass… Common Spotted Orchids leaves showed horizontal spots looking as if they had been strongly stained with dabs of purple watercolour… At the top a a steep meadow were the biggest areas of Zigzag Clover I’ve seen by far – I love this uncommon
Adder’s Tongue Fern
John Wilson
clover with its fluorescent Art-Deco-styled pink-&-white flowers and elegant leaves… 

We were shown one discrete area of rare Adder’s
Tongue Fern, those strange plants with a single leaf enclosing a small but statuesque spore-bearing spike, all in matching bright shiny green (unsurprisingly their closest relative is Moonwort)… and a patch of Spiny Restharrow… one area of Saw-wort whose hard dark round buds were palely latticed… and we looked for the Sneezewort that is there though didn’t find it… This phenomenon of some unusual plants being abundant but only in a limited area, is a strange one!
We found the skeletal remains of a Slow-worm… and a Brown Hairstreak butterfly, pretty Yellow Shell moth, and an Elachista
Meadow Vetchling
biatomella moth like a small silky piece of ermine…

Not Water Dock…Having been shown Water Dock last year with
Water Dock
Henry Brisse
its big horizontally-pleated leaves, I have spent this Spring thinking that young Teasels were a smaller version (as they too have horizontally pleated leaves…) till the flowers started to emerge. Oh dear…

Meadow Vetchling: Along the embankment at New Passage is much lovely clear yellow and green Meadow Vetchling, scrambling through the long grasses…

Starling chattering: It’s a lovely soothing noise, like that of bees – the constant background of young starlings chattering softly to each other…

Oldbury Power Station Spring bird abundance: Two Shelduck with six well-grown young, two
Rough Hawksbeard
Tufted Duck with 3 small young, Green Woodpecker, Swallows, Linnets, Cetti’s Warbler, Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warbler and Reed Warblers, two Whitethroat families with three or four young each, and a Bullfinch family with four young…
Tufted Vetch
…and flowers: Along the paths and embankment - much Grass Vetchling, that exquisite uncommon vetchling with thin grass-like leaves, and a single small but stunning magenta flower at the end of an elegant long stem. Masses of Pyramidal Orchids – dark magenta solid ice-lolly heads in many different shapes, and Common Spotted with pale lilac spikes. Luminous fine purple-blue Tufted Vetch just out. Enormous amounts of yellow Rough Hawksbeard. Lovely natural ‘bouquets’ of all of these flowers with Umbellifas, Oxeye, Mallow and Meadow Vetchling… And a big spread of yellow BitingStonecrop on a masonry slope of the embankment…

‘My Square’ by Des Bowring: A friend was one of the first to have his ‘My Square’ piece published in our bird club newsletter, and he's allowed me reprint it here as I found it so poignant:
   ‘It’s 6.30am on a Sunday morning and eerily quiet. I walk to the start of my first transect. A homeless guy carrying a blanket shuffles past. I feel hopelessly out of place, standing on the street corner with bins round my neck and clipboard in hand while the world sleeps. What am I doing here? Then I spot the first Feral Pigeon of the morning and feel a surge of enthusiasm - bring on the birds! Square ST5974 covers Montpelier, St Andrews and St Pauls. Habitat is easy to assess - mainly large
Footbridge in Montpelier
Des Bowring
and small gardens - but I also pass railway land, the edge of a park, a tiny school playing-field and a few allotments so it’s quite diverse. There have been big changes in the 22 years since I started doing this square. I don’t see or hear a Greenfinch or Chaffinch these days. Starlings were plentiful in 1997 but I’m lucky to see any now, just a pair or two in Ashley Road. Worst of all, Swifts are almost a rarity - gone are the roof-level screaming parties I once took for granted. On the plus side, Goldfinches twitter and twinkle among the street trees and Jays and Ravens have moved into the area. Mercifully, House Sparrows are still doing OK, chirping cheerfully from sprawling privet hedges. The only rarity I’ve recorded was a Wood Warbler singing in Montpelier Park in 2004. Mammals? Although my first transect takes me past a Badger sett I only see domestic cat, Grey Squirrel and once, a pair of Foxes. I end my second transect in City Road. Putting my bins and clipboard away, I wander home as the city wakes.’
I wrote: ‘That is lovely – though I wish it wasn't so sad (having only done mine for three years, there’s been no time yet to log disappearing species...). I particularly like the opening with its vivid evocation of a very urban setting with the homeless man... I expect many of these pieces will have that compelling story arc - of starting so early, with very different dawn weather, atmosphere, other-worldly quiet - through to the warming, the lightening, the intrusion of the everyday world...’

More massive plants: Down the sheltered side lane at Pilning Wetlands, plant growth has become enormous – there’s a prickly sow thistle over five feet tall with a stem like a tree trunk, and mighty hedge parsley and spear thistle…

Pool of Perfume: Down the access road to New Passage there’s a big spread of honeysuckle tangled into the hedge – and as you walk by you literally enter a pool of its perfume…

Swifts flying
Red Arrows: Swifts – truly the Red Arrows* of the avian world… 
(* ‘One of the world’s premier aerobatic display teams, the Royal Air Force’s elite team flies Hawk-jets in close-formation and precision displays…’)
Timothy Grass
Timothy grass: Lovely Timothy grass, with heads that are both firm and dainty…

First Swim: We had a mini heatwave so I went for a swim in the River Avon at Sea Mills a couple of miles above its mouth to the Severn Estuary. Over the last few years I have swum there a few times at high tide, but always with friends; however this time I felt sufficiently confident to go it alone, and had my first swim of the year – lovely, though I could feel the chill of the water still un-warmed beneath the surface… My friends at home assumed there would be crowds of people because of the hot weather - but of course there weren’t, not even on this Saturday afternoon, because it is such a deeply eccentric and potentially dangerous site if you’re not very sensible...

Young Starlings: There were twenty or so very young starlings clattering about on our roof and rooflights, and in the garden with sparrows…

Grey Wagtails in town: There were two Grey Wagtails on the roof of the petrol station on the busy corner of the main Gloucester and Berkeley Roads. Where had they come from? - possibly the Cran Brook of which an unculverted but very hidden length runs behind the houses between the lower end of Cranbrook & Elton Roads… Our bird expert who lives there said, I know of a breeding pair in the Cran Brook. I think it's in the wall that holds up the garden from falling into the brook by No 54.’ I walked the block, peering through gaps in the houses – and seeing subdued traces of a watercourse but little more…

Hillend, Rhossili
John Duckfield
Hillend behind Rhossili Beach, the Gower: The huge dune areas of this spectacular part of South Wales, had these marvellous flowers in profusion: Pyramidal Orchid, Sea Stock (lovely furled furry frosted leaves with a spike of lilac-pink 4-petalled flowers), Bloody Geranium, Vipers Bugloss, bright Hawkweeds, Kidney Vetch & Bird’s-foot Trefoil, all tangled through with a carpet of dark-pink-striped prostrate Sea Bindweed… And two Turnstone waders on the four mile length of  beach…
Sea Stock

Bird Lures: A colleague wrote about the use of recorded bird calls to lure live birds (usually abroard). I replied, ‘Since I first saw the use of bird calls as lures I felt it was wrong, and thought it showed a great lack of common empathy not to realise why. It’s as though a man came back to his family home and walked in to find a big beefy bloke lounging on the sofa, saying – ‘F**k of mate – this is my gaff now’. To then subsequently realise it’s just a dummy with a voice recording wouldn’t lessen the initial shock – and birds will never understand that the call and the threat weren’t real…. And I think it's a vicious circle to treat nature like some sort of product, charge lots of money to get the wrong sort of visitors – and then manipulate nature to conform to their erroneous expectations...’

Nosy Foxes: A fox in our back lane at 9pm last night; and another coming right up to back door at 6am this morning  to investigate our compost bins…
Enchanter's Nightshade

Evocative: Many common – and modest - wild plants have incredibly evocative names, two of my favourites being Pellitory of the Wall and Enchanter’s Nightshade… (apparently older herbalists thought the latter was the herb Circe used to turn Odysseus’ shipmates into pigs…!)

Odd Places! Botany can take one to some odd places! Our group rendezvoused at the large sewage works on the edge of salt marsh south of Weston-super-Mare, which includes a visitor centre and has a conservation policy – including encouraging Oystercatchers to nest on its green roof! There are water vole burrow holes in the rhine banks, and brown hares are seen…

Avonmouth ‘hedge’: Along the main Severnside road down to Avonmouth are fantastic eccentric natural ‘hedgerows’, comprising five-foot tall flowering blue chicory and yellow hedge mustard…

Mediterranean  Gulls
Ian Kirk

Bits at New Passage:
Four Shelduck with two young – the parent pairs swimming along the sea edge, whilst the youngsters trotted along the mud beside them! One Mediterranean Gull amongst Black-headed Gulls in a field – this being the first time I have ever identified one on my own – smug! And a Comma butterfly…

Rarities: Recently we’ve had local reports of some very rare bird sightings –a Nightingale on Severnside, a Dotterel, and a Golden
Golden Oriole in Leigh Woods, Bristol
Dave Hanks
Oriole – birds I never thought to see here…

The Gully: Down ‘The Gully’, the steep limestone valley cutting down from the Clifton Downs to the Avon Gorge below – were  Yellow-wort, and carpets of wild marjoram studded with valerian…

Young Jackdaw: In the back garden today, a young jackdaw was noisily begging and being fed by its parents…

More Oldbury Power Station abundance… Walking through Oldbury Power Station and along the Severn downriver  to Oldbury, were many lovely sights - including twenty five Shelduck with thirteen spotted young, a Song Thrush bashing a snail on the path, a Bullfinch, abundant Meadow Brown and Marbled White butterflies, and a pretty feather which I correctly identified as Green Woodpecker - a lucky punt just because of the subtle khaki green colour tinting one half.  But in particular I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the flowering verges, hedgerows and embankments:
- A field of curled dock, massive flower spikes red to crimson…
- Lushly coloured embankment meadows displaying a bounty of pea family species – pink and white clovers and restharrow, yolk-yellow bird’s-foot trefoil, lovely clear green-&-yellow meadow vetchling still twining through big soft grasses with the beautiful purple-blue of tufted vetch…
Frothing clouds of pale yellow lady’s bedstraw and white hedgerow bedstraw. Plumes of cream meadowsweet…carpets of self-heal…
Sonchus arvensis
Carl Hansen
- A ribbon of massive sonchus arvensis plants 5’ to 6’ tall at the top of the salt marsh with great swags of big raggy sunny flowers…
- Another long row of lovely light purple flower plumes – from a distance we thought they were lush sea asters – but they were creeping thistles!
- Apparently endless species of the ‘hawk’ tribe (-bits, -beards, -weeds…) and their ilk, ringing the yellow changes on the ‘dandelion/thistle’ format from the neat and petite to the big, spiky and rangy…
- The deep magenta-purple of purple loosestrife flower spikes, some so dense they outrivalled the pyramid orchids…
- Extensive hedgerows of flowering blackberries, many of a deep ornamental pink…
- And all set off by a backdrop of tall frothing white umbels of umbelifera species and studs of bright purple marsh thistle and knapweed, purple-pink mallow and willowherb …

Orchard Pools
Orchard Pools abundance: In this quiet semi-industrial site but with rhines, pools, thickets and woods, everything was huge and flowering abundantly: meadow cranesbill, melilot, prickly ox-tongue, great & lesser knapweed with betony coming up through, meadowsweet, lady’s and hedge bedstraw. And a welcome Reed Warbler – which used to be so common here but seemed to disappear for a while… After submitting my bird records to our ‘Avon Birds’ blogsite, they told me I was now almost the only person sending records from there - though previously much superior birders than I had frequented it…

Asphalt works
Industrial Raven: There is a firm of asphalt processors with impressive towering buildings on the edge of industrial Avonmouth. Today a juvenile Raven was sitting atop the towers, softly cronking… while I painted below…

Crash: Gardening in the back - a fluffy young sparrow just crashed into a soft fruit bush beside me…

Camel Estuary
Tony Atkin

A Cornwall trip
Camel Estuary: Exploring the muddy River Camel estuary at Wadebridge on the opposite bank from the cycleway – what a funny scruffy place of semi-industrial and maritime plots, without the exciting waders I had hoped for! So it seemed extra odd to see a group of Red-legged Partridges on the salt marsh estuary edge under the A39 bridge over the Camel… I’m much more used to seeing them on the upland Costwold fields…
Porthilly (south of Rock opposite Padstow): Sand Martins were nesting in the glacial sediments
Black-tailed Skimmer
Charles J Sharp
atop low cliffs along the estuary… very long-stemmed scabious atop the cliffettes… Ravens calling…
Nature Reserve on the River Amble: a medium-sized dragonfly, khaki-green eyes, light-green frons, black legs, black pterostigma, shiny silvery-khaki body and sitting on low vegetation – probably a female Black-tailed Skimmer…
‘Bouquets’: huge high swathes of meadowsweet, great willowherb & marsh woundwort… and bright dark-pink candy-striped field bindweed twining through the ground…
Chapel Amble north of Wadebridge: Walking in the warm pouring rain! Bullfinch, yellowhammer singing, linnets, chaffinches, buzzards on poles…
The mighty Brahmaputra River...
Memories: The lane was finished with those pale blue-grey chippings, lovely in the rain, like our Bristol road always was in my childhood – presumably from igneous Cornish rock now superseded by more local Mendip limestone... Sheets of clear water sluiced down the slopes, and the verge edges held the mighty flowing rivers of childhood imagination – braided Brahmaputras that I would let myself be carried down…

Casper the Cat: My Cornwall friend’s neighbour has a large deaf white cat, Casper – notorious for his love of climbing into vehicles for a snooze without the owners realising… His fur is long and dense with a pronounced leonine ruff, and the story goes that in centuries gone by, these cats came from exotic foreign parts with raiding pirates and then made Cornwall their new home…
Field Bindweed
Paul Glazzard

Bindweed barriers: Where chain-link fencing borders a bridge over a small river in Bristol, flowering Hedge Bindweed has woven itself entirely through, to form an extravagant barrier studded with large white flowers. Elsewhere I saw the same effect but with the smaller pink-&-white candy-striped flowers of Field Bindweed…

So many butterflies: A bird walk north of Bristol – on a hot hot day – and so many butterflies, including Small Tortoiseshell, Comma, Red Admiral, Peacock, Silver-washed Fritillary, Meadow Brown, Marbled White and Brimstone…
Silver-washed Fritillary
Gail Hampshire

Five Ravens: Five Ravens were flying into and through the large pine next door and putting up the local birds. One was making that strange high ‘I haven’t got the hang of this cronking’ sound… was it a young family party? Over the last few years we've definitely had more Raven flyovers here, but what was unusual was having five - something I'm not used to seeing anywhere!
A colleague wrote: There must be nest sites within your area, and the family group is most likely. On a walk at Hawksbury Upton in August 2016 - there were 29 in one gathering - like a ribbon!’

Scarlet Pimpernel
Scarlet flowers: It is surprising how few truly scarlet or crimson wild flowers there are in this country. Pink, purple, magenta -yes. Scarlet/crimson stems, leaves and berries – yes, showing that these pigment compounds aren’t apparently that energy-expensive for plants to produce. But of flowers I can only immediately think of Poppies, Scarlet Pimpernel, Pheasant’s Eye and Fuschia…
A colleague commented: ‘I think it is to do with the lack of bird pollinators in N. Europe. In Western  North America you have a lot of red tubular flowers Ipomopsis spp., Castilleja spp., Penstemon spp.  etc. which are Humming bird pollinated, in S. America Fuchsia spp., Desfontania, all the hardy bromeliads with red bracts, Gesnerids etc. In S. Africa Gladiolus spp. and "Montbretia" etc are Sunbird pollinated.’

Dragonflies: This year I determined to learn more and better about Odonata (Damsel- and Dragonflies), and was lucky enough to find a good course (rare as hen’s teeth) quite locally. So I have just attended a one-day Field Studies Council workshop in Worcester with Sue Rees Evans. It rained so was all classroom based, meaning we didn't get the chance to net, hold and inspect a dragonfly in the hand as planned; but it was very good and I learnt a lot. Hopefully I will now be better at giving the sort of supporting evidence that recorders want, rather than those things that I find striking...  

Moorhen legs at Gloucester Services: Stopping at the posh Gloucester Services’ lake area at the
Adrian Pingstone
rear, on the way back from the dragonfly course, I observed two generations of Moorhen young tottering unafraid amongst the customers’ tables. They all showed their wonderful long green snakeskin legs with enormously elongated toes - but the youngest’s are darkest green, the adolescent’s a bright mid-green, and the adults have almost neon hues…

Tickenham Odonata: A friend had guided me to an excellent dragonfly-hunting spot, a lane just off the main road through the Tickenham levels, with rhines and the little Land Yeo river running through. I parked at the end of the lane and established a ‘viewing post’ on the arch of one of the little rhine bridges – picnic chair, field guides, bins, water all to hand, and sat and watched the many Odonata in comfort! But I realised how little I yet know… Ruddy Darter dragonflies are only a bit longer than Azure damselflies, while the Beautiful Demoiselle is much longer than either – and I thought all dragonflies must be bigger than damselflies! And I have been mistaking female Beautiful and female Banded Demoiselle for years – now was the time to learn the differences! I managed to pin down some crucial identifying features, but as usual struggled with the ‘blue’ damselflies (Azure, Common etc)… they are so small, their ID-ing features miniscule for me now with poor  vision, and they just won’t perch where I can peer closely at them! But courage, mon brave – onwards!
- The Land Yeo was full of lovely Pink Water-speedwell…

Train Café: I finished my Tickenham odonata session with fishcakes at a nearby garden centre, which has a whole steam train and station on its premises converted to café use. I sat in luxury on the plush old-fashioned train banquettes, little table in front – something I’ve been meaning to do for years!

New Passage – more youngsters & families: - One Little Grebe with a minute chick, one juvenile Sparrowhawk standing on earth bank on skinny long legs, 1 juvenile Moorhen…
- I’ve been following the fate of a single female Mallard in the Pill who has been rearing just one duckling – it seemed a precarious situation for them, but the youngster looks almost adult now so well done them!
- And one Kingfisher up & down the Pill, calling loudly, then perched on the sluice ironwork where I could look directly down on it…
- Nice butterflies - Peacock, Painted Lady, Comma, Green-veined White, Gatekeeper and Meadow Browns. A male Black-tailed Skimmer dragonfly with ‘gripper’ mating marks on its abdomen…
- Calves: There were two delightfully decorative little calves with the herd on the salt marsh. One was pure ‘red’ except for white socks on its disproportionately long back legs; the other was pure donkey brown except for a perfectly symmetrical triangular white forehead blaze from its poll to its nostrils…

Female Migrant Hawker
Christian Fischer
Magor Reserve: Just across the Severn Bridge at Magor Reserve - a female Migrant Hawker dragonfly with dull yellow & brown stripes…. Painted Lady, Gatekeeper, Comma and Holly  Blue butterflies... lush-flowering Hemp Agrimony, Meadowsweet, Great Willowherb, Thistles… Frogbit in the rhines… and on the estuary foreshore - juvenile Shelducks still with no chestnut in their plumage, just plain brownish-grey backs…

Frog Pond, Portbury Wharf: Continuing my dragonfly education, I visited another recommended local dragonfly hot-spot on a nature reserve by the Severn, to see Emperors over the ponds, and Common & Ruddy Darters sunbathing on the boardwalks – constantly disturbed by those annoying cyclists, dog walkers and and parents with
Ruddy Darter
Gail Hampshire
buggies pushing through…

Arctic Terns: I’d never seen Terns in this part of the world before (though others do of course) – but a high tide and  powerful southerly winds had a lot of birds sheltering and hunkered down at Pilning Wetlands… including my first ever local Terns – eight short-legged birds on the side of the wetlands pools. They were Arctic Terns that I correctly identified and flagged up, confirmed by other birders’ photos. I wrote Oh that's fantastic, I feel so proud of myself! I try my best to give definite IDs, while so often feeling out of my depth and doing so much on my own...  it's
Arctic Terns at Pilning
P Waug
lovely to get it right! And those are the first Terns I have EVER seen in the west / southwest - sightings for me have always started on a longitudial ‘midway point, like the Thames at Reading, or down at Poole...’

Car-camping trip in Devon:
- I first visited Stover Country Park, a large estate near Teignmouth noted for its dragonflies (more of my drive to improve my Odonata knowledge…).  It comprises lakes and streams, woodland and heathland.
- I saw my first lovely male Red-eyed Damselfly sitting on water leaves on a large pool, and my first equally lovely male Emerald Damselfly on a small pool nearby, Whirlygig beetles whirling. Emperor dragonflies were flying, patrolling and asserting high in the
Emerald Damselfly
Charles J Sharp
surrounding trees…
- There’s a colony of Mandarin Ducks across the main lake, in eclipse or juveniles but still with ‘spectacle eyes’, in an area of stately Pickerel plants with blue poker flowers…
- On the verges of the heathy ‘droves’ were masses of flowering Cornish Heath, Eyebright and Hawksbeards…
- The River Teign above Teigngrace: A Sand Martin colony in the high sandy vertical river banks… A solitary Mandarin Duck and a Dipper... A chilly swim – the river formed of rainwater straight off Dartmoor… Banded & Beautiful Demoiselles in profusion...
Wall Brown
- The path upriver is lined with quarries secretively mining the rare and valuable Bovey Basin ball
Mandarin Duck - juv or eclipse
Gail Hampshire
clay - formed from rotted granite ground up within the geological Sticklepath Fault, thus creating  much finer particles than the famous adjacent Cornish china clay, and making it perfect for the finest ceramics, and sold worldwide…
- Labrador Bay: Just south of Teignmouth on the coast – the protected reserve for rare Cirl Buntings, but also the first place I have seen the beautiful and now sadly rare butterflies - Wall Brown (richly orange and brown with wings bordered with eyes), and Grayling (subtly, ‘barkily’ beautiful, also with many eyes)…
River Teign
David Smith

Bar-headed Goose

New Passage: The Severn foreshore on a rising tide was full of Dunlins, Turnstone & Ringed Plover… Two  Bar-headed Geese were amongst Canada Geese – Bar-heads are the magical geese that can cross high mountains at tremendous altitude, particularly because their blood has special oxygen adaptations... A Kingfisher flashed down from the inland to the tidal Pill. On the salt marsh was a Wheatear, and  young Yellow Wagtails foraging amidst the grazing cows – almost into their mouths! They look like young Grey Wagtails but have olive backs, not grey... a Hobby was flying high, looking for dragonflies... and a pair of Peregrines were hunting together, with the lower one putting up Crows…

Wildlife along Tickenham Moor: - Amongst Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell, Painted Ladies and
Painted Lady
Small White butterflies - one Painted Lady must have just emerged, with its colouring so brightly unfaded, and a beautiful rosy heart and bright patterned buff tips to its forewing underside…
Male banded Demoiselle
- The male Banded Demoiselles were in midnight-metallic Atlantic blue-greens, the females in green-bronze, orange-bronze and abdomens and iridescent wing-veins reflecting blue sky… I watched a mating pair: with what frightening force did the male appear to grip the female’s neck…
- Migrant Hawkers were mating on the wing, and Blue-tailed Damsels mating too, Southern Hawkers patrolling the lane, and Common Darters settling in sunny patches on the tarmac.
- One of the larger rhines was a luminous alley of yellow-flowering Fringed Water-lily…

Fringed Water Lily
Teun Spaans

Sensing life into death: As I was pruning an overgrown fuchsia in our back garden that was full of bees, from the moment I cut a stem it seemed the bees then wouldn’t touch those flowers. There must be a sense, which I expect all creatures have in some form, that can detect when an organism passes from life to death… I imagine organisms of all the kingdoms – plant, animal, fungal etc – pulse with circulating fluids and electrical impulses that can be ‘seen’ externally and stop immediately on death…
A colleague pointed out that bees are sensitive to the electrical field of a plant, which must change when cut, and cease to be attractive…
Fuchsia & Bee
Mike Pennington

Grey Plovers
John Martin
High tide at New Passage: High tide over the salt marsh - two pretty Grey Plovers stood right by the path, showing the remains of their summer plumage, with Ringed Plovers and Yellow Wagstails… and a young Peregrine stooped to attack near ground level – very close to us!

Staying still! A Southern Hawker dragonfly sat conveniently still for me, so I could inspect some of its technical identification characteristics – the anti-humeral ‘shoulder straps’, the abdomen patterns of green and blue domes, and the blue eyes…

Long-tailed Tits: Seventeen Long-Tailed Tits came one - after another - after another - out of next door’s big pine tree…

House Martins: Under the eaves of a large house in inner Bristol, were a group of House Martin  nests - and birds still feeding their young this late in the year!

Highlights: New Passage highlights included my first Wigeons of the autumn… a group of Pintails shown to me out at sea – in eclipse but showing long greyish necks and dainty bills… Teal down in the creek mud… lots of  Blacktailed Godwits on the sea edge with Knot round their feet… a young Peregrine scaring everything into the air with its lunges… two Wheatear – amazingly well camouflaged by their pink-buff fronts against pinky bare earth behind… a young Yellow Wagtail...  Linnets bathing on the edge of the pools... and my first Great White Egret on this site – or in this country (though I could easily see them on the Somerset Levels…) – standing magnificently tall and proud before it was spooked and rose to drop into the little river next door…
Great White Egret at Pilning
Paul Bowerman
Abundant Southern Hawker dragonflies, and five Ruddy Darters with their wings going to gold…

The virtues of Canada Geese: A colleague put a different spin on my knee-jerk dislike of Canada Geese coming here in ever-larger numbers. He pointed out that these big groups can confer natural advantages – especially when rarer geese or waders see Canadas contentedly settled, they feel safer to come down to settle themselves…

Spotted Flycatcher
Ron Knight
Chipping Sodbury Common & Horton: I and a friend visited this extensive area of common land north of Bristol, which is beloved by small migrant birds and hosts many rarities. I’d avoided going there recently as it was often miserably boggy – but today was firm underfoot and the weather radiant. The heathy scrubland was full of marvellous birds, including Chiffchaffs, Lesser Whitethroats, Spotted Flycatchers (one we could see very clearly had that pretty rayed bib effect on its front…), Redstarts, Whinchats, Wheatear, and Bullfinches and a Yellowhammer.
   But the biggest display was the Yellow Wagtails. There’s a large herd of cows on the Common that can wander freely over an extensive area, and we passed through them on our return to the car. Almost every one had a Yellow Wagtail by its feet or mouth, and some had two or three! - we counted at least thirty, including many juveniles, but there must have been many many more…
   Afterwards we climbed up to the nearby escarpment to meadow uplands east of Horton, where
House Martins
Juan de Vohnikov
more than three hundred House Martins were hunting… We lay on the grass and let the birds rush across and between us… settling on lengths of power line, a hundred to two hundred at a go… We stayed for almost an hour, immersing ourselves in their world with migration on their minds…

Southern Hawkers shopping? As well as seeing many Southern Hawker dragonflies in predictable spots like the Pilning Wetlands, I’ve been seeing singletons in more unusual places – for instance, yesterday at a huge edge-of-town shopping mall; and the day before, one down a bustling inner-city street. Our invertebrates expert suggested these latter may have been migrating – rather than shopping as I had postulated…

Back to the Neolithic… A friend wrote that he had been on a weekend course on the historical ecology of grazed meadows and woodland – ‘a heady mix of natural history, geology, social history, agriculture, archaeology and habitat management.’ It must have been fascinating - if people have been grazing and coppicing since the Neolithic, then these are most ancient practices that have consistently marked our landscape...

Arnstein Ronning
Magpie colours: A Magpie foraging in the roof gutter across the road revealed extraordinary iridescence as it rotated in the strong sunlight – wings turquoise, tail cabbage green down the length to oily purple and blue at the tip…

Visiting North Norfolk: I and a friend attended a short art course in North Norfolk, but took a cottage for a week so we could walk, cycle and explore – particularly the north coast which I had last visited many years before but not traversed much of its length…
- The local stone was a richly iron-banded rusty-ginger Cretaceous sandstone called Carrstone or Gingerbread… Sometimes hard and sometimes disintegrating, its eccentricities made the character of many local
- From our cottage one evening – a view of hundreds – then thousands - of Jackdaws and Rooks flying north-west to roost…
- Our art ‘plein air’ day was set in the drove road and rhines of the Norfolk/ Lincolnshire/ Cambridgeshire fens – my first experience of these extraordinary landscapes – so plain yet so beautiful, and amazingly bird-rich…
- I visited Snettisham, the shingle beach bird reserve forming the south side of the Wash, with its lengths of ramshackle holiday cottages (unimproved because of constant flooding risk…).  Knot, Pink-footed & Barnacle Geese on the lakes; yellow-horned poppies
Fen landscape
by Lois Pryce

and brilliant tiny Storks-bill Geranium on the shingle banks….
Snettisham Beach

- North Norfolk coast path: The rhythm of this landscape is of great depths of saltmarsh (yet often completely covered at high tide) running seawards from the man-made embankments, the sea visible in the distance as just a line of breakers often a mile or more away, glimpsed between the lines of dunes
Andy Peacock
or pine-covered islands that back the endless beaches with Knot, Ringed Plover and Sanderling running along them… Here is marked the site of ‘Seahenge’, the buried Bronze Age timber circle with a huge upside-down tree stump at its centre – now displayed in King’s Lynn… In one little harbour, Black-tailed Godwits ambled in the harbour carpark… In another, Starlings sat and chattered atop the rigging of an old sailing vessel like naughty cabin boys… Out in the salt marsh, flocks of Starlings started performing ‘mini-murmurations’… and a Black-headed Gull descended into a small pool, wings aloft, like a nymph into her bath… Whilst overhead great skeins of Brent Geese formed themselves into ever-changing undulating ribbons…
Black-headed Gull 'nymph'
Rob Hargreaves
But sadly (for me), this coast has been greatly developed for tourism and flood protection since I first started visiting and has lost much of its remote scruffy charm…
- Naturalists: As I was walking some of the coast path south of Wells, I met two naturalists foraging in the salt marsh strand line left from the recent very high tides, looking for invertebrates. One of them was an ecologist, Steve, who said he had worked with our expert Bristol entymologist Ray, twenty five years previously! – and his companion was the North Norfolk coleoptera  county recorder. Ray confirmed that Steve is ‘one of the very best beetle experts in the country…’ – so I was keeping illustrious company with those two, who were yet typically kind and helpful…

Willow Emerald
Thomas Bresson
Willow Emerald: A dragonfly friend sent a photo of a rare Willow Emerald dragonfly he had recently found on the North Norfolk coast - a fairly new arrival to UK which has colonised most of East Anglia. I noted that in my older 1997 dragonfly guide it was noted as so rare there hadn't even been a confirmed sighting - yet now look! We live in swiftly changing times…

‘Tick Bird’: In a field at New Passage, Jackdaws were foraging amongst Jacobs sheep grazing there. One was acting like a Tick Bird – picking off edible material from around and within a chewing sheep’s mouth, as well as from its fleece and the ground below. The sheep seemed utterly relaxed and unconcerned - even when its mouth was closed and the bird actually prised its lips apart to poke within!

Daytime Fox: Once again, a fox came right up to our back garden patio – but this time it was 10 in the morning - much later in the day than usual…

A bird trip to Kent
Avocets in flight
Day 1: Oare Marshes – 81 hectares of grazing marsh with freshwater dykes, open water scrapes, reedbed, saltmarsh and seawall, on the north Kent coast facing the Isle of Sheppey across The Swale.
We concentrated on the modest pools next to the access road, that yet had a full selection of waders in close view, including eight Spoonbill standing together with heads tucked, 180 Avocet who took off to wheel in a magnificent show of flashing white and black, some large flocks of Lapwing, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Curlew, Bar- and Black-tailed Godwit who could be heard ‘muttering’ together, Turnstone, Knot, Ruff, Sanderling, Dunlin, Snipe, Common and Spotted Redshank, and Greenshank. We heard Bearded Tit and Cetti’s Warbler in the reed beds, and saw Marsh Harrier and Swallows
Ed Webster
Day 2: Dungeness – On Kent’s south coast, Europe’s largest area of shingle habitat, with miles of
beachline and extensive areas of scrub and gravel extraction pits behind, including the large RSPB
reserve. Our sea watch by the nuclear power station produced Gannet, Sandwich Tern, Great Crested
Grebe, auks, Mediterranean Gull – and ‘bird of the day’ if not ‘of the trip’ – a close-up juvenile Sabine’s Gull flying low along the surf line and showing how small it was when sitting in the waves. Further along at the power station’s warm water outfall ‘Patch’, gulls fished in a frenzy or gathered in species groups on the beach – including the extraordinary sight of about a hundred Great Black-backed Gulls all together with Cormorants (Leader’s factoid: GBB Gulls are only found in the North Atlantic, unlike many other gull species which have a much more extensive range). Again we saw a few Swallows – mild weather and plenty of insects probably keeping them here.
Sabine's Gull
A Reago, C McClaren
The RSPB reserve has a large circle of hides overlooking a series of pools surrounded by dunes and
scrubland. Our watches there produced Greylag and Egyptian Goose; a selection of Ducks including
Pintail, Pochard and Long-tailed; a Red-throated Diver in close view clearly showing its fine uptilted bill; Common Tern; Little and Great Crested Grebes; Cattle and Great White Egret; majestic views of Marsh Harriers - particularly a boldly-patterned female; a Little Stint in a small woodland pool; a flying flock of forty Stock Dove, and lots of Cetti’s Warblers. Another birdwatcher surprised a Short-eared Owl literally outside one of our hides, while in the distance the local one-third scale steam engine (‘the world’s smallest public railway’) chuffed away…
Day 3: Cliffe Pools Reserve on the south bank of the Thames estuary below Tilbury, is an extensive area of semi-industrial gravel extraction lakes and scrubland, with ponies and huge cranes and ships
Andreas Weith
visible in the distance. The large lakes held scattered treasures, including large flocks of Lapwing; Golden Plover, Ruff and Greenshank; Greylag Goose; many Little Grebe; Pintail and Pochard; a charming flock of Avocet running to keep closely together as they fed; and Common Gull, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker and Marsh Harrier. As we’d seen elsewhere, groups of Starlings were gathering into larger flocks to perform ‘mini- murmurations’.

Magpies & Sparrows: It’s the time of year when I see magpies performing extraordinary acrobatics, as they scavenge house gutters and facias for edibles – hanging upside down, or balancing awkwardly on thin phone wires…
It is also the time when the Sparrow flocks’ winter chorus strikes up – that inimitable dense cheeping ‘wall of sound’ emerging lustily yet tunefully from pavement-side bushes or walls of creepers…

Golden Plover
Sylvan Haye
Golden Plover at Marshfield: I and a friend walked a lesser-known part of the beautiful ‘Marshfield triangle’ – upland Cotswold hills north of Bath, farmed in a bird-friendly way and famous for its Corn Bunting, Yellowhammer, Quail, Red-legged Partridge and much more… It was wintery and I was hoping we might see migrating Golden Plover… And almost immediately we saw great clouds of birds in the sky – the deeper we looked with our binoculars the more skeins we could see - and then in the field right by the road we were traversing, scores – no, hundreds of inquisitive long-necked heads - were poking above the battered winter grasses. These were certainly Golden Plover – and now more poured down from a skein above, and we could see that the birds above were all Golden Plover too, stretching far into the distance. There must have been over a thousand – far more than I have ever seen together before… And scores of Linnets, Skylarks and Rooks…
Fieldfare & apples
Gail Hampshire

Oldbury Power Station: The orchards at OPS held the first large group of Winter Thrushes I have seen this season – about fifty Redwing and Fieldfare busy amongst the apples – and a family group of six glowing Bullfinches. These are some of the birdy joys of winter…

Unpopular Berries? I watched a Magpie taking berries from a low-growing pyracantha bush. It reminded me that though we have both pyracantha and cotoneaster in our garden, I have rarely seen a bird actually eat them – and even this Magpie didn’t seem that delighted and soon moved on…

Pigeons at Sea Mills: At Sea Mills on the tidal River Avon below Bristol, a train and a road bridge cross the little Trym river where it debouches muddily into its bigger sister. The train bridge in particular with its complex iron lattices, is the favourite roost of local pigeons who often gather there in large numbers. But today a Sparrowhawk swooped past, putting up all two hundred residents who fled to the less welcoming stone road bridge upstream…
Field Maple leaves
Anemone Projectors

Maples: The Field Maples had dropped their bright dainty leaves all at once, to fall in a golden pool at their feet…

‘Viz’ goes birding: ‘Viz’ is a fabulously scatological comic magazine, found on the top shelves of newsagents, and bringing us shock, idiocy, scathing parody and social comment. It looks like something the cat dragged in, but has consistently been one of Britain’s best-selling mags since its inception in a bedroom in 1979, with characters quoted as widely as Harry Enfield’s. I was surreptitiously scanning the Xmas edition in a shop just now - and found an ornithological item. The Fat Slags (two mature Tyneside ladies usually out for a good time) had discovered that birds need feeding through the winter, and went and bought fat balls at a pound shop. As they were stringing them up in the garden they got curious about the ingredients, and found they were full of yummy nuts and seeds. They nibbled a bit – ‘This is better than Nutribars, Shaz’ – and ended up on the sofa, scoffing the lot… This is the closest to altruism I’ve seen them practice yet!

Wentwood Forest: We visited Wentwood Forest in South Wales - 'part of the largest area of ancient woodland in Wales', covering a long high ridge of old red sandstone rising to a thousand feet beyond the Severn Estuary. It has many of the rarer birds also seen in the nearby Forest of Dean upriver, plus some other rarities like Turtle Dove; yet oddly I never saw it mentioned until recently, and don’t know anyone who has visited or birdwatched there. Some areas are cleared with lovely acidic regrowth – broom, gorse, whinberries – and spectacular views up and down the Severn Estuary eastwards, and to the winding River Usk below a violently steep escarpment to the north-west…

A P Williams
Uphill below Weston-super-Mare: At the shore and river mouth, two Avocets were swimming and looking strangely different from their wader personas with a boat-like profile almost like a larger Phalarope… A magnificent Marsh Harrier was putting up the other birds - and even hunting out to sea which is unusual... A female Redstart on the quarry meadows was being harshly harassed by a Robin till driven to perch on the sheer quarry face… Then a startling flash of blue – was ‘just’ a Blue Tit flying onto the rocks next door! Over fifty Swans camped on a field beyond
a very blue - Blue Tit
Gary Zambonini
the winding river... and a Kingfisher on the lake bank plunged smartly in and out for fish…

Rookery Activity: Along the Easter Compton Road, we noticed that rook nests were already appearing in the rookeries – whether new or refurbished we didn’t know – with rooks busy around them… A colleague wrote, ‘Though we think of spring as the time for birds to nest etc, I'm sure the resident birds do look after their nesting sites and their mates, and pair bonding seems to go on all winter. The Mallards on (Bristol’s) Henleaze Lake were copulating last month, Goldcrests were displaying, and a Long-tailed Duck is displaying to all the Tufted Duck females... I guess Rooks have to guard their nests from their pilfering relations too!’

Gabions: Where the lane behind Easter Compton used to cross the M49 into the Dyers Common industrial estate, there are now some very large new flyovers and tunnels with almost vertical embankments up to 40’ high (you can’t turn your back on this area for a day without some huge new development appearing…). These have been finished with gabions with grassed faces – it will be interesting to see how those mature, plant-&-wildlife-wise…

Aust on Xmas morning: I went down to the coast very early on Christmas morning, with the
Ian Stapp
sun just over the horizon and the day completely still and clear… A male Bullfinch brilliant in the sun, glowing persimmon…

Hares: On a Cotswold walk near Marshfield, in fields full of Red-legged Partridge, Linnets and Corn Buntings, we saw a pair of hares. It’s been a long time since I last saw these fabulous animals – looking so much larger and more athletic than rabbits, their imposing tall ears tipped with black. They were lolloping across the field - having a little lie-down - having a peer into the road - before disappearing
B R M Marshall
into the woods…

Anglers at New Passage