|Natural wild rose arch, Severnside...|
I live in Filton, north Bristol. I regularly visit the Severn Estuary coast, particularly New Passage, Pilning Wetlands and Aust just north of Severn Beach; Oldbury Power Station and Shepperdine further up the estuary; and the Marshfield area of the Cotswolds north of Bath.
Brand new Group: For sixteen years I’d been a member of a wonderful private Yahoo Group called ‘Bristol Wildlife’- somewhere I could post poetic natural descriptions as well as interesting science, wildlife questions, and jokey banter. Sadly Yahoo withdrew its support of its Groups, so I and another loyal member moved us to Facebook to create a ‘Bristol Wildlife-plus’ group called ‘Bristol & Surrounding Areas Wildlife’ (BRISAW) - a private group with a wider remit covering Bristol and the counties round it. It launched a few days ago, and with much trepidation I joined Facebook for the first time and became a BRISAW member. And how great it is – with many of our original BW members but lots of new and often younger members, the ability to post pictures and videos - we can feel the new energy!
Whose Poo? We saw this poo balanced on a large pipe running along the sea embankment from the Oldbury decommissioned nuclear power station. I thought it would be otter spraint marking territory but our otter experts said no. So what animal balanced precariously on this smooth curve to deposit its signature? – a fox? – it conjures a rather risible picture…
Crows in the Frome: Where the small River Frome cuts its way through north Bristol woodland - a bunch of Crows were splashing and washing in the flow – a funny sight!
New Passage – Winter into Spring: In one house’s low-lying orchard, a Fieldfare was enjoying fallen apples with a group of Blackbirds… On the salt marsh some Black-headed Gulls’ heads were just starting to be tinted grey – the forerunner of their full black breeding Spring plumage…
tides have washed large driftwood logs onto the sides of the embankment all
the way from New Passage to Aust - they look like rows of mighty beached creatures…
Jackdaws to roost: Over Filton at dusk, about two hundred Jackdaws wheeling but steadily making their way north-east to their secretive roosts…
Shimmering reeds: At New Passage a southerly wind was blowing and making the reeds along the Chessell Pill rhythmically shimmy and shimmer – mesmerising…
Where do the birds go? At this time of year some bird species seem to abruptly disappear: Lapwings were seen in their hundreds till the 7 Jan and now – none; Black-tailed Godwits disappear in January and February – where to?
Winter / Spring: - At Pilning Wetlands it was warm enough for gnatty insects to be flying in the side lane… Chiffchaffs were flitting about the vegetation on the banks... And a Goldcrest danced round the dense shrubs overhanging the small Pill sluice…
- An expert birding friend said he might have seen four Twite earlier – he could see their yellowish bills, buff throats and very streaky backs, though not their pink rumps as the wings were folded…
Frosty Marshfield: - A bird walk on a lovely frosty, still, cloudless day, with Stock Doves, Winter Thrushes, Skylarks, Linnets, Corn Buntings, Yellowhammers, Stonechats, Kestrels, Buzzard, Common Gulls, Golden Plovers high in the sky…
- We found some Cup fungi on a large dung heap (Pezizaceae – ‘The cup shape typically serves to focus raindrops into splashing spores out of the cup.’). As always I was surprised when fungi thrive in sub-zero temperatures - there was a deep frost last night and it was still freezing in the shade today, but these specimens looked box-fresh with many new ones just peeking out...
Afterlife… An old friend had died on Sunday night down in Cornwall - I was travelling to visit him that following Friday, and was very cut up not to see him one last time. But when I was enclosed in that 'secretive circle' of pearlescent fog at New Passage, a sense of fun and optimism started flowing through me – his fun and optimism – and much of the sadness lifted…
Tea at Down’s Bakery, Severn Beach: This wonderful local bakery/café functions almost as a sociable living room. As I sat there having tea, a stooped-looking older man came in and asked for bread. The assistant said they had white, wholemeal and granary, pointing at the fresh loaves… He looked utterly bewildered and indecisive before saying that ‘he’d leave it for now’! What other choices might he have been expecting?? We wanted to know!
Cornwall at the end of January
- St Erth: A beautiful quiet Cornish village with the River Hayle flowing through it and down to the Hayle Estuary a couple of miles away. The village was full of Rooks and Song Thrushes – every few trees there was another thrush in full song! Walking upriver there were Mistle Thrushes, Greenfinch, Great Spotted Woodpecker… everything singing, calling, hammering…
- Seal song: Walking the coast path north of Zennor, I saw a pair of seals and heard them singing together in the sea below the cliffs – that strange beautiful mournful sound that I’ve only heard once before, in West Wales…
Even more Magpies… In the car park of the riding centre where I currently do my Pilates, in the gloaming of dusk last night – was a group of thirty-four Magpies, all fussing about in the trees and on the ground… a record number for me!
Youngest birdwatcher: Local friends (who aren’t at all birdy themselves) have a small child who’s only just two years’ old. He’s been given a vintage bird book and is memorising all the names and some of the information as it’s read to him: ‘Gannet! Bittern! – they make a booming noise!’ Isn’t it amazing – will he be Bristol’s youngest birdwatcher?
Pheasants in the reeds: In the overgrown upper lagoon of Oldbury Power Station nature reserve, I briefly saw what looked like a female Pheasant flying out of the reeds and back again. This seemed an unusual habitat for Pheasants, but the local birdwatcher said, ‘Yes, pheasants are living in the reeds on Lagoon 3 – there are patches in the middle where shorter sedges grow. I found a female with a brood of well-grown chicks there last year.' Apparently this was new information to our Bristol bird recorders…
- On the embankment, the low sun caught the pale down and spines of Spear Thistle rosettes and turned them as rimed-looking as a real frost would have…
Where do our Jackdaws roost? I went walking round the small village of Gaunts Earthcott, north of
Short-eared Owl: At Pilning Wetlands a Short-eared Owl was hunting low between the pools – my first and by now probably my last of this winter…
Line of birds: At New Passage after Storm Dennis had blown through, it was still strongly blustery
Over: I went walking through the little village of Over, below Almondsbury. For a while my work took me there regularly and I would hum a little song about it: ‘Is that Over as in Rover, or is it Over as in Hover? Is that Over as in Mover or is it Over as in Plover?’ It always amused me! (it is Over as in Rover…) Honestly, the English language, how do foreigners cope!
Scarlet Elfcups: We had some beautiful photos of Scarlet Elfcups on our wildlife site, and I commented, ‘I do love a Scarlet Elfcup – such incredibly vivid things secreted away at ones feet (often in moss like these pictures) at this sometimes drabbest part of the year; and with a name that so poetically describes them...’
Counting birds: At New Passage in the teeth of a storm, trying to roughly count birds with rain, wind and poor visibility – but with only us there, how exhilarating it was! Surprisingly, through it all we could still hear the gentle chiming of Teal calls… When I’d submitted my bird list, the on-duty recorder said, ‘Out in this morning's weather? Mad! But some decent bird numbers though.’ But I had to admit that I was ‘Knackered afterwards...’
|Field Studies Council|
- Mackaw: In the woodland car park, a man had a tame large red, blue and green mackaw. While the owner drove his car up and down the long car park drive, the bird flew alongside to accompany him! Apparently the owner had adopted this bird thirty-three years ago, spent six months bonding with it, and since then had committed to taking it out for a fly here every day! When not flying free, it sat on his arm in the car, or on the car roof. None of us had encountered owner or bird before – yet they must surely be a local legend?
- Sapsuckers: We saw that a woodland tree had been methodically scored with small shallow pits in rings round its trunk. People guessed woodpecker, insects and snails, but the real perpetrator turned out to be Sap Suckers - almost certainly Great Spotted Woodpecker(s) making sap holes! In North America three sapsucker woodpecker species regularly make and maintain such holes in trees like maples which have sweet sap, moving methodically round the tree. In Europe the main species is the
|Great Spotted Woodpecker|
J M Gallery
- In Britain this phenomenon has mainly been recorded in the south, and always carried out by Great Spots. It appears to be an unusual event, with actual sightings even rarer. There was a 1933 paper describing the phenomenon on a lime in Leigh Woods (lime trees seem to be the favoured tree), another one covering recordings from the 1950s through to 70s, a 1980s paper hoping the phenomenon would be followed up further, and one of long-term observations in the Forest of Dean.
More Toddler news: I reported a while ago
about the child of friends who is precociously learning bird information. He’s
now two years and a month and was just in a park with his mother. She said,
‘Look, Ash – a pigeon!’ He replied, ‘No, Mummy – Wood Pigeon.’!
|A Spring carpet of flowers...|
Early Spring at New Passage: - A Green Woodpecker was feeding on the sheep’s meadow, displaying its pristine khaki-green and red feathers – its yellow-green rump showing shining bright when it flew into a tree…
- A Buzzard was making a Sparrowhawk-type stealth swoop into the side lane – but was startled as it almost flew into me and had to do a complete about-face back over the hedge…
- A few Dandelions flowering, and Wrens starting to sing…
Below Clevedon Harbour: A rush of two hundred Dunlin flying upstream low over the sea with a Peregrine on their tail… Still a few Redwing in a battered old orchard… But my first singing Blackbird of the year…
Moth names: Two lovely moth photos were posted on our wildlife site – Hebrew Character & Common Quaker. I said, ‘Aren't they exquisite in their modest way. I love these moth names that reek of fusty scholarly Victorian gents' studies...’
Rookeries & Storms? Earlier this year I and a friend with whom I do rookery surveys, drove past the two rookery sites lying between Easter Compton and Pilning and noticed how very early the Rooks seemed to be working on their nests. Then more recently I noticed with dismay that most of the nests seemed to have disappeared. But driving past in the last few days, suddenly a mass of nests has reappeared! I asked - was it storm damage that caused this sudden reversal? A local expert said, ‘Sounds likely - the site is near the coast and two or three big storms passed through in February. I suppose they just picked the sticks off the ground and rebuilt! I've been watching our local pair of ravens flying into their nest with large sticks in their beaks…’
|Botany by Pamela Forey|
Extra-extra-high tide: I went to an extra-extra-high tide at Aust this early morning. The tidal waters came over the salt marshes and flooded deep across the road, pouring down the lane to the old ferry point - the highest I've ever seen it. There were Kestrels and Short-eared Owl, but not the usual feeding frenzy with Crows and Black-headed Gulls; and the escaping small mammals swimming for their lives as the water engulfs the sea marsh were hardly visible today - probably already flushed by previous high tides and waiting it out on the fields at higher ground…
…a subtle phenomenon: An extraordinary subtle phenomenon was visible: watch as the water goes up and up the road surface - then within literally a few seconds it gently stops - then drops a tiny bit - you have witnessed that mighty event, the turning of the tide...
|Turnstones on a wall...|
…at New Passage: Then I drove on to the extra-extra-high tide at New Passage two miles down the coast. The sea came almost to the top of the embankments (and apparently had overtopped it last night in a couple of places) and across the base of the footpath gate closest to the Pill. Sixty Turnstones were sitting on an old stone wall above the Pill that became more and more engulfed…. waves intermittently washing over them but the waders jumping through the water with typical insouciance...
---Severn Beach: At Severn Beach, the waves and spray were punching through the promenade railings…
Drying: A Cormorant was spreading its wings high atop the tall support of a pedestrian suspension bridge near our local ringroad
Lucky at OPS: - Black Redstart: At long last, I saw a Black Redstart that was sitting on a chain-link fence then flying a few metres. It's been many a long year since I last saw one here - though not for the want of trying... As it flew, its tail opened against the sun and lit up with that lovely orange-red colour…- Peregrine: And I saw a Peregrine – again it seems a long time since I last saw one here, though I know they are always around. So a lucky day for me!
- Synchronous: Some of the concrete sea embankment was patterned strangely like a sparrowhawk’s barred plumage.
Walking Lansdowne: On the Cotswold heights above Bath, fifty Golden Plovers were quietly pottering on stubble field, many with their black summer bellies... In the woods, one ash tree only had a strange froth foaming down its trunk – I still have no explanation for it though it is probably fungal?
Covid: This was the start of a full lockdown in Britain lasting until May. We were allowed out to shop and to exercise within limited parameters…
Walking the lagoon: - It was sunny and lovely walking round Oldbury Power Station’s overgrown lagoon, the edges trimmed with cowslips. Multiple Chiffchaffs called constantly, a Cetti’s, a muted Pheasant’s ‘clock’. A Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone butterflies… Coming onto the estuary embankment, I found a beached plastic chair and sat in the warm sun to view the Severn…
- Blue: My very favourite parts of a Small Tortoiseshell are the ‘domes’, of an intense blue, in the elaborate borders to the wing edges...
kill: I walked out early to find a Pigeon freshly killed on our
front lawn, breast meat neatly removed - presumed by a Sparrowhawk. I compared this with a picture of a Pigeon killed at Oldbury Power Station a couple of days
previously – presumed by a Peregrine and a different style...
Sparrowhawk kill: I walked out early to find a Pigeon freshly killed on our front lawn, breast meat neatly removed - presumed by a Sparrowhawk. I compared this with a picture of a Pigeon killed at Oldbury Power Station a couple of days previously – presumed by a Peregrine and a different style...
Some garden weeds: I’ve been in our current garden for over twenty-five years, and it was wondering about the identity of the ‘weeds’
|...and the dreaded Wood|
Avens in the raspberries!
again an adorable, dainty plant in the wild with lovely flowers. But endlessly trying to take over my lawn and the flowerbed edges abutting, dainty in appearance but with ferociously strong retentive roots and invasive runners – another thug! Our wildlife group members gave enthusiastic responses: ‘Creeping Cinquefoil is my DEVIL weed - we get it all over our Allotment site - deep roots, huge numbers of runners and before you know it an impossible mat all over everywhere!’ ‘Wood Avens is a thug with me as well which is annoying as I seem unable to grow cultivated Geums - they obviously have more sophisticated requirements!’
A new Filton rookery: Filton Golf Club has become my main daily exercise area – it’s close enough to walk from home, and golf is currently banned so we have the 18 holes to ourselves! Exploring the area, I serendipitously found what I’ve been seeking for years – the source of the Rooks to be seen in adjacent Charlton village and maybe as far away as Henbury… In a patch of woodland on the edge of Filton Airfield below the mighty Brabazon hangars – about 28 Rooks in 14 nests. I sent the information to our Avon bird survey recorder who replied: ‘Thank you very much for that - it is indeed a new Rookery - or at least one not previously recorded! I've looked right back through the records and the only one anywhere near there was a small one recorded in the 1930's and noted as being 'built on' prior to 1939. Well done! I wonder how long it has been there.’ Thrilling for me!
First Bluebells: Filton Golf Club end of March - my first Bluebells…
Jackdaw Roosts continued... As I’ve described before, I’m curious about where our local Jackdaws go to roost at night – but also about when they stop roosting elsewhere, and start to stay with their nests? Helped by information from a friend who also recommended an excellent BBC radio programme (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01b8yxmRooks and Jackdaws can form huge roosts from November to March, usually in fairly inaccessible woodland. Breeding birds return from their nesting sites to roost in lesser numbers from August, while non-breeding birds will use the same roost all year. Evocatively, the lives of these corvids are still seen as mysterious – so much happening out of sight of humans…
|Brash at Wetlands|
Gulls in lockdown: People are commenting on the decrease of gulls in towns, and surmising it’s related to the closing of takeaways… I contacted our local expert about this and asked, ‘So is this actually an historic opportunity allowing the chance of unprecedented observations of urban gulls in new circumstances?’ He suggested that, looking higher, in the sky and atop tall buildings, gulls still seem to be maintaining their numbers; and to remember that it’s ‘nothing to do with take-away outlets - the gulls are not dependent upon junk food!’ Gulls’ attraction to cities continues to be more to do with safe nesting sites on man-made structures…
Goldfinch song: Sometimes, like a Reed or Sedge Warbler’s multi-layered song, one Goldfinch’s song can sound like a multitude – a complexity of trills, rasps and churrs, whistles, buzzes and chingles…
Dead Fox: Walking Filton Golf Course I came upon a dead Fox – but so recently deceased that I thought it was merely sleeping…
Grrr – changing lists! Those of us who submit bird records are asked to list the species in taxonomic order. Particularly in this age of DNA, that list keeps changing, and the latest one defies common sense even more than usual. I moaned that ‘it’s as though they have torn up the older list and thrown the bits in the air... Are we SURE the powers that be aren't taking the pee (or inflicting a drunken night out) with this new list? To break off in the middle of the water birds to slip in Nightjar, Swift & Cuckoo, and then the Pigeons, before resuming water birds again - surely this is madness?’ – the recording team agreed…
Calm Jackdaw: A Jackdaw sitting on a front garden fence just a few feet from me, calmly continued
|Grey Poplar, Muller Road|
Beautiful Poplars: A local naturalist wrote that ‘I came across this marvelous Grey Poplar on Purdown south, hard by the Muller Road. Bristol City Council had it down as an Aspen, but that cannot be right. If it is a Grey Poplar, it is the only one we have mapped in the city, so a champion!’ I know this stately tree well, as it stands prominent and graceful above my route into town, and replied that it has been a favourite of mine since we moved nearby nearly thirty years ago – though I had no idea it was one of the only Greys in Bristol! I had similar emotions when I lived in the middle of Bath in the 70s and 80s. Another stately Grey Poplar dominated the Pulteney Bridge area nearby and lit up my daily commutes - I felt bereft when it was cut down in the late 80s. Big graceful poplars, cottonwoods in America, their equivalents in India, central Asia - so lovely and so underrated!
A Holly Blue is back - in our rear garden ivy, the spot where it annually reappears…
Above Aust Cliffs: Ploughed fields which only four days ago had just bare earth, now have a green mist of newly-sprouted leaves across them; hawthorne is suddenly out, oxeye and ragwort… For four days it has been perfect warm-to-hot still Spring weather…
Spring at Shepperdine: A pair of Buzzards were performing one of those exquisite pairing-and -mirroring aerial dances… A big bushy fox was fossicking in meadow grass… It was a perfect still, sunny day and I couldn’t believe that I didn’t hear a Cuckoo – I was willing one to call!
Boom boom boom – from one day to the next – rapeseed fields and horse chestnut, pear, apple, hawthorn and lilac trees – are in full flower…
Going over: There’s a tricky time in the garden, when the shining yellow Lesser Celandine flowers which have formed exuberant ground cover for weeks, transition into frail beige litter…
Marking nest sites: Another Jackdaw fact I have learnt is that pairs will mark out and protect more than one nest site in case another one fails or is taken over by a stronger pair. I’ve observed this behaviour on our local roofs for years without understanding it, wondering why couples seem to be nesting in so many spots with no results! This year they were marking one of our own house chimneys but didn’t nest there in the end… They lay their eggs in the middle of April – so that’s right now…
1) Eight nests in woods below Cadbury Camp overlooking the golf course. We think this has replaced the failing rookery in the woods on the other side of the golf course, which was down to just three nests five years ago (and doesn't exist now), and where locals reported some persecution by the golf club.
2) Eight nests in tall trees in the back garden of a house south side Tickenham High Street. We think this has replaced a small new but temporary rookery established in a eucalyptus overhanging the main road about three years ago, but since disappeared.
Looking for early Odonata... On a beautiful day we walked Moor Lane and along the Land Yeo beyond, where my friend had previously seen two Lapwings looking like a nesting pair near to four Canada Goose on river edge - looking for early Odonata. We saw a frog, two Roe Deer, Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Brimstone, Speckled Wood and my first Red Admiral butterflies - but no dragonflies today!
wherever I visited I didn’t hear them… Now it’s Wood Warblers being seen locally, which is such a rare occurrence for our area - but they are in places I’m not allowed to visit! The frustration!
|Large Red Damselflies|
Large Red Damsleflies: My friends who live in central Bristol have an enclosed back garden with old ponds, always fruitful for frogs - and
now they have a whole crowd of Large Red Damsleflies hatching out…
Intimate views: A London-based family member living near Hampton Park, sent me a series of extraordinary photos taken by a London Parks volunteer. They include pictures of a swan’s egg hatching – I have never felt so close to a newborn cygnet. And pictures where you can see the parent's webbed foot actually resting on the eggs - they must understand so exactly what weight they can bring to bear on these precious items...
Biting Stonecrop: A lovely display of Biting Stonecrop, along the edge of the busy A38 dual carriageway… I put it to a taste-test it – and it was indeed mustard-biting!
Aust cracked mud: there’s something elementally satisfying about the patterns of cracked mud…
First Swifts: I saw my first Swifts today the 5th of May - bang on schedule!
More new Rookeries: My friend sent me details of yet another rookery, new within the last couple of years, in adjacent trees on Nailsea Moor inland of Clevedon.
Falling tree: As I sat with a friend in their woodland, there was a huge unexpected sound – the crash of a falling tree. It’s the first time I’ve ever heard a tree falling naturally and close by – about a hundred metres away - and it was an awe-inspiring noise. The tree was one of their ageing ninety-foot-high Corsican Pines, weighed down with dense honeysuckle climbers that had helped to bring it down…
Starling plumage: I’ve spent too many years vaguely seeing that Starlings’ plumage differs at different ages and different times of year, but I’ve finally been given a more rational understanding. Starlings moult post-breeding and their new feathers come up white-tipped, giving them their winter ‘silver-spotted’ appearance. Also their yellow ‘breeding’ bills and reddish legs give way to darker or duller winter tones. However over winter the white tips get worn away to reveal the inky iridescent feathers we see as their breeding Springtime colour, and their bills turn yellow again and legs go redder… clever!
Marsh Harrier at Oldbury Power Station? - Walking the OPS lagoon I had a brief glimpse of a large, dark, long-winged raptor flying low over the reeds, so I asked the patch birder if Marsh Harriers hunted there - or might it have been one of the Red Kites that were seen just a few miles south a couple of days ago? He thought it was most likely a female Marsh Harrier as one was seen here that same day, and four have been seen this year. I find this quite thrilling, as Marsh Harriers are birds I’m used to seeing much further east (East Anglia), south (Somerset Levels) or west (Wales) but to have these magnificent birds so close to home is amazing!
|Water Rail feathers|
- The ‘real’ Ragged Robin: There’s a small pool north of the main OPS buildings, that is rich in interesting plants including Ragged Robin and Bogbean. It also highlighted a botany trap I often fall into – when plant identifications given by adults in my childhood turn out to be wrong! Thus all Campions were said to be Ragged Robin, while in actuality I’ve barely seen the real – and rare - Ragged Robin, let alone
understood its habitat… I didn’t realise it’s a marsh plant, thin and dainty, capable as here of growing directly from water, and very different from its more robust cousins – so I thought it must be some sort of lily! Our botanist put me right (to my metaphorical blushes…)
Flowers: Crepis Biennis (Rough Hawksbeard) are wonderful this this year... Elsewhere – my first poppies and dog roses.
Complex configurations: It is a marvel how two Odonata conjoined when mating swiftly on the wing, can fly so perfectly together, and in so many different and complex configurations…
Back to New Passage: I’m back! After the longest gap in 17 years of once- or twice-weekly visits – I was able to legally revisit New Passage and Pilning Wetlands at the end of full lockdown! Family bird life was much in evidence, with a Mallard family with young, about fifty Starling families with young being fed, and four Dunnock young in the side lane.
Morning Fox: A Fox in our back lane at 9am
Chirring Starlings: The ‘new crop’ of young starlings are chirring loudly in the back garden trees…
Strawberry Line, Yatton to Sandford: Lovely birds and so many warblers – Cetti’s, Chiffchaffs, Sedge Warblers (including fine close views of one singing…), Reed Warblers and Whitethroats...
Our Lianas: It’s been a great Spring for climbing, scrambling and twining plants. At Sharpness
|Old Man's Beard at|
Garden centre re-opens! Our very good local garden centre re-opened after eight weeks of lockdown through the busiest time of the growing year… and one hundred people (including me) queued for one and a half hours to get in - but what a good-humoured crowd! And the joy of finally being allowed in to browse through the Spring flowers was amazing...!
Hornet: My friend found the impressive dead body of this Hornet in her woodland chalet - it must have emerged during their recent absence and been unable to escape…
A full bird list from New Passage/Pilning Wetlands: I very rarely include my full ‘of note’ bird lists in this Blog. To me, they bring back the beauty of the original experience – but to others they’d just be boring! But I include one here to give a flavour, and because it's an interesting example of how, while there were really very few numbers of birds at NP/PW this day, the species numbers built up steadily if one was patient… It also includes one of the standout sightings of the year – a Collared Pratincole… 2 Canada Goose,1 Mute Swan, 16 Shelduck, 6 Gadwall, 10 Tufted Duck, 2 Swift, 5 Moorhen, 12 Coot, 2 Little Grebe, 11 Oystercatcher, 4 Avocet, 3 Lapwing, 1 LR Plover (by its nest on bare earth by pool), 2 Black-tailed Godwit (summer plumage but presumed non-breeders), 1 Collared Pratincole (later properly IDd from photos showing white trailing edge and chestnut armpits) hawking over the pools, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 10 House Martin, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Sedge Warbler (one singing on the wing!), 1 Reed Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, c.60 Starling, 1 Song Thrush, 1 Pied Wagtail, 2 Greenfinch, 1 Reed Bunting.
Jonathan Bull, Dean Reeves
A sea watch at a stormy Severn Beach: While others saw Auks, Gannets and Fulmars I only saw a mixed flock of Dunlin and Sanderling - part of the same lovely annual Dunlin-Sanderling-Little Ringed Plover movement that had charmed me as we watched them on the beach in May last year… And Lesser Black Backed Gulls moved as steeply and agilely over the waves as a Gannet would…
|Ruby tailed Wasp|
Ruby-tailed Wasp: A BRISAW member posted this picture of the almost unbelievably beautiful Ruby-tailed Wasp. They are kleptoparasites and ‘have metallic, armored bodies, and can roll up into balls to protect themselves from harm when infiltrating the nests of host bees and wasps...'
|Latticed Heath Moth|
Cinnabar Moth: A Cinnabar Moth in our Filton back garden just now. We seem to get one or two
C J Sharp
most years - I think so many of the back gardens and lanes here are neglected, with ragwort and other ‘weeds’, that they constitute the suitable 'waste ground' habitat that these moths prefer...
Early Fox: Early morning, a Fox in our front road and gardens…
Early Squirrel: 5am – a Grey Squirrel running down our front road…
Marshfield: - Another list to capture the atmosphere: 6 Pheasant, 1 Swift, 1 Red Kite (scavenging over fields with Lesser Black Backed and Herring Gulls & Crows where a farmer was turning hay…), 3 Buzzard, 6 Skylark, 1 Swallow, 3 Chiffchaff, 2 Whitethroat, 12 scattered Chaffinch, 2 Yellowhammer. Lots of young bird calls heard but not seen… Small White, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, and...
- Chimney Sweeper: ...I also found a black-and-charcoal-grey moth with white wingtips that was identified as a Chimney Sweeper (those evocative moth names!) Our expert said, ‘It occurs in meadows where the plant Pignut grows.’ And a BRISAW member had found them on hills above Bath…
Pasque Flower: A botanist friend sent me this photo of a gone-over Pasque Flower, saying: ‘You might like this photo which looks like something out of Midsummer Night’s Dream… I went up to Rodborough Common (near Stroud) where it grows in small quantity on a few places…’
Self-seeded: Here is the current total of ornamental wild plants that have made their own way into my back garden and that I welcome: This year – Cat’s-ear. Last year – Greater Plantain (but slugs liked it too much!), Tutsan. Recently – Feverfew, Common Vetch, both still going. Some years’ ago – Purple Loosestrife (not invasive here and makes a lovely display each year). And always Self-heal in my lawns…
Between Yatton & the M5: We picked out an obscure and lonely place to walk, where the little River
|River Yeo wiggles...|
Avocets and Emperors: At Pilning Wetlands today I watched three adult Avocets with a brood of three delightful youngsters… There were lots of Emperor dragonflies – the males fighting over the water and females oviposting…
Shelduck young: At Oldbury Power Station I watched fourteen adult Shelduck, two with families of five and six ducklings respectively - my first view of their young this year…
Early evening Fox: A fox in our back garden at 6pm…
A Gull’s lucky escape: Driving down the busy dual-carriageway road near home, I saw a large lump of something obviously tasty on the road, with Herring Gulls hovering over it... One bird got its beak round the food and didn’t let go even as my car was upon it – I braked as much as was safe, but the gull still got caught up in the front of the car and was dragged over the windscreen and roof… However I heard no horrid thump, and I think it must have escaped unscathed – with the food! My gull friend responded, ‘Tough as old boots is the conclusion!’
|Little Ringed Plover chick|
Sharpness Canal: - We walked the Sharpness Canal from Sharpness Docks on the Severn estuary up to Purton, passing beautiful lush spreads of Yellow Waterlilies in the water… - I found another intriguing ‘mystery’ plant, a large single patch in wasteland by the path. This turned out to be Erigeron philadelphicus, Philadelphian Fleabane or Robin’s Plantain – showier than other conyza/fleabanes and not so common?
Another dead Gull: I saw another gull dead on a road edge. Combined with the close encounter described above (‘A Gull’s lucky escape’), I wondered – is this a hungry time for gulls when they have to feed themselves and their young? So might they take more risks on roads? Our gull expert replied: ‘Road casualties are not uncommon, I’m afraid, and once the young start fledging in town we see a decided increase in ‘flat earth’ (his phrase for road-kill!) gulls … Accidents like those you’ve described are more likely to do with inexperience - i.e. not paying enough attention.’
Morning Fox: A fox in our back garden at 8am…
At New Passage - a big raft of nearly a hundred Mallards were strung out along the tideline… A Kestrel flew low over the shallow pool – and the nesting Little Ringed Plover immediately dashed out from cover and mobbed it… Big flocks of Starlings were emerging from the hedgerow tops… A Meadow Pipit was parachuting & singing loudly… And two skinny young stripy Linnets sat on the hedge top…
|King’s Sedgemoor Drain|
Reed Bunting Song: I’d been puzzled by a clear
|Reed Bunting singing|
Adjacent Warblers: At Oldbury Power Station, as along the Strawberry Line and Nailsea Moor this year, Reed & Sedge Warblers are singing and breeding next to or near to each other – though usually I have only found them on separate sites…
Emperors on the Parrett: Along the Parrett we saw a number of Emperor dragonflies patrolling the banks of this muddy, presumably brackish, tidal river, which has steep muddy banks, grassy mown embankments, and some reedy patches. I told our invertebrate expert that I didn't expect this to be their sort of environment - can he shed some light on the issue? He replied, ‘There are some Odonata which can breed in brackish and estuarine habitats, even saltmarsh, but not species found in the UK. I would suspect you have witnessed that Emperors will visit places where there is abundant food which may be some distance from suitable breeding locations. Teneral (juvenile) Hawkers (the dragonfly group to which the Emperor belongs) of course do this routinely after emergence before returning to breeding habitats. Emperors are a species which can be found in newly created ponds and so are probably pretty mobile and able to travel distances to find new habitat. So a combination of seeking food and dispersal would be my guess.’
Swimming the River Yeo: This was an exceptionally hot day so I drove to the River Yeo on the outskirts of Congresbury. Running through the Somerset levels but hidden by tall embankments each side, this small lively river was full of Flowering Rush, Banded Demoiselles and Black-tailed Skimmers - amongst which I swam… I’m building up ‘new’ river swims this summer – the Yeo was another first after King Sedgemoor’s Drain! There’s a special pleasure in swimming up or down rivers, however large or small – a sense of exploration, of travel…
Fooled by Field Madder: Growing from cracks in the New Passage esplanade concrete were small mounds of a plant I couldn’t identify - quite fleshy-looking tiny bright leaves with tiny pale blue four-petalled flowers. Our botanist said: ‘It is Sherardia arvensis, Field madder. If you look how the leaves join in a ring you can tell it is in the bedstraw family. It seems to flower throughout the year, more so in the Spring and late summer than at this time of year, I think. It likes over-cut grass by roadsides as well as arable and waste ground in general.’ I’ve been fooled by this plant before – I need to widen my idea of what a bedstraw looks like!
Dancing Swifts: Somehow I felt sure the weather last night was Swift-like (having not seen our local group for days), and I was wishing they’d fly over my rooflight which they rarely do. Lo and behold - they appeared from ‘nowhere’ and flew exquisitely above: Swifts flying in the daytime when catching prey move very differently from their evening parties when they dance together…
Wild wind: Just eager to be out, I went birdwatching along the sea embankment south of Clevedon and back inland along the Blind Yeo river. It was VERY VERY windy – I couldn’t keep my peaked visor or sunglasses on walking along the sea wall… and not surprisingly, barely any birds except gulls and corvids were visible or able to fly! But masses of Sea Lavender along the embankment, and yellow Melilot along the Yeo…
Sea Watches: Going for an early-morning stormy sea watch at Severn Beach, I saw nothing pelagic (of open ocean). A more experienced birder responded: ‘I have to admit that majority of my attempts at sea-watching at Severn Beach also turn up 'nothing pelagic.’' And another – whose father was a trawlerman - said: ‘I always get too cold doing seawatches - never last more than an hour. How (names two dedicated local birders who sea-watch from a high exposed headland) spend 4 of 5 hours from first light at Sand Point I'll never know.’ I replied, ‘I don't think of you - son of a trawlerman, wearer of shorts before anyone else - as feeling the cold!’ But the truth is - I am just get exhilarated by being out in the elements, the wind lashing sea spray over me, the sense of wildness and freedom... the birds are an extra
A botany walk at Lower Woods, Gloucestershire: Lower Woods is a 700 acre expanse consisting of 23 small, named woodlands separated by grassy tracks, or trenches, in use for many centuries. The woods lie on heavy, clayish, poorly-draining lias soils. Most trees in the woods are oak, mixed with some conifers, and other deciduous species including ash, alder, hazel and field maple. Over 70 wildflower species grow here, more than at any other southwestern wooded site
- Flies: On a small area of water in the damp woods – these small faintly iridescent flies (about 1cm or less long) kept landing and flying off – but somehow left
the water surface completely unmarked with not a ripple. How?! Our insect expert said: ‘It’s Poecilobothrus nobilitatus (Semaphore fly), using the surface tension of the water to land on, and no doubt flicking their wings in display at each other.’ ‘This is an attractive fly with a lime green thorax. The male has conspicuous white wing tips and is easy to identify, the female lacks these white wing tips.'
- Butterflies: Meadow Browns, Gatekeeper, Speckled Woods, Ringlets, Commas, Silver-washed Fritillary, Marbled White, Red Admiral… but sadly not the White Admiral which can be seen here (as can Purple Hairstreak…).
|Long Winged Cone-head|
- Grasshopper: We saw some grasshopper-type insects with browny backs but green stomachs: an expert suggested Long Winged Cone-head, Conocephalus fuscus which looked right… He said, ‘I've seen a few this year, which means there must be a lot of them, because they are quite elusive. You often hear them in long grass, they have a distinctive quiet stridulation, just sort of tick, tick, tick.’
Confiding Skipper: At my friend’s chalet, a confiding Small or Essex Skipper butterfly landed on my arm and stayed there for some time…! This was the first time that I wondered if my insect repellent is actually ATTRACTING some insects!
Young Foxes: Two young-looking foxes were chasing and fighting each other furiously in our back gardens and lane this evening. We regularly see foxes here all year round, and quite often in twos when they will forage amicably together, but this is the first time I've seen them fighting – more like cats with lots of hissy squealing!
Birds, insects, animals and plants at Oldbury Power Station:
- Birds A Blue Tit and a young Reed Bunting were bathing with abandon in the spongy water plants fringing the small pond – the Bunting in up to its neck!
|Female Southern Hawker|
- Dragonfly: A female Southern Hawker was oviposting on the pond: she landed on a thick chunk of floating reed, and with her abdomen underwater and her wings vibrating strongly, she and her reed ‘boat’ were pushed forward through the water! – a mixture of wings beating but also catching the wind…
- Lepidoptera: A beautiful Latticed Heath Moth, and Peacock, Red Admiral, Gatekeeper and Holly Blue butterflies.
- Plants: Wild Parsnip, Hoary Ragwort, and a lovely Wild Carrot cup…
Haytor: We drove into the eastern edge of Dartmoor to visit dramatic Haytor national park with its granite peaks and granite tramway! The latter was built in 1820 to carry quarried construction granite the ten miles and 1300-foot vertical drop to the Stover Canal, and on to the Teign estuary for transport out to sea. What’s unusual is the tram tracks are themselves made of granite – the only ones in the world! You can follow them, half-restored, as they drop gently down the gradients through the moorland gorses and rushes… where lots of young Whinchats, Stonechats and Yellowhammers perched… Sadly by 1858 the works closed, undercut by cheaper Cornish granite…
East Cornwall: Friends used to camp with their children on this most easterly length of the Cornish coast between Looe and Plymouth. I thought I’d visit too, and car-camp… it’s a length of coast I didn’t know.
- Comet Neowise: I walked, swam, and camped above the cliffs east of Portwrinkle. Waking in the middle of the night, I got out to look at the brilliant clear night sky. And behold – there was Comet Neowise prominent to the west, low in the sky below Orion, faint and fuzzy yet majestic and noticeable with its tail streaming straight down – an unforgettable sight…
- Rame Head: I walked the coast path east onto the great Rame Head headland that separates Plymouth in Devon from Cornwall by mighty estuaries – also famous to me for its part in the sea shanty ‘Spanish Ladies’ where eighteenth-century British sailors ordered to leave Spain for home, list the coastal landmarks back to Plymouth… I was assaulted by a most persistent Rosechafer - the second time I’ve wondered if my insect repellent is actually ATTRACTING some
Blind Yeo above Clevedon Harbour: Hot again – we drove to the Blind Yeo river inland from Clevedon Harbour, to swim.
Swifts on 25 July: Our Swifts were still flying here this evening – but I see them so erratically now that that each time may be the last before they migrate back to Africa…
Leopard Moth: A BRISAW member posted this regal photo of a Leopard Moth.
Bar-headed Goose: There was a Bar-headed Goose amongst a flock of Canada Geese at New Passage today. The wild birds breed in central Asia and winter in south Asia, but the ones in Europe are all escapes who have formed feral breeding communities in places like the Netherlands; individuals will then sometimes travel here. They are beautiful decorative birds, and famed for their specialist physique that give them the high-altitude endurance to migrate over the Himalayas at heights of 21,000 feet or more…
Breeding Waders: A friend had to show me the newest young Little Ringed Plovers along the edge of the Wetlands front pool – so well camouflaged that they are virtually invisible until they move. like Turnstones, though bright and noticeable in movement, when the LRPs stand still they blend in surprisingly well to a muddy stony background! Apparently the Avocets, Lapwings and Little Ringed Plovers here this year have all had multiple goes at breeding, having all suffered badly from predation of their young…
Screaming Swifts: There was a screaming group of Swifts flying west over our garden today… Their song has such a harsh name, but is actually a beautiful silvery shrilling, so evocative of summer days and evenings, but that sadly we hear less and less…
Porlock Bay car camping:
- I went car-camping for three days in and around Porlock Bay. Porlock Bay is a 5km long curved shingle-ridge beach facing due north, between Minehead and Lynmouth, formed of steep steps of grey pebbles (from the Devonian rocks of Exmoor incorporated into post-glacial ‘head’ sediments). This natural defensive wall, gradually weakening as the natural supply of fresh pebbles has lessened, was badly breached by a hurricane in 1996, and subsequently finally left unrepaired so that seawater has been flooding the freshwater marsh and lakes behind to form salt marshes. Beyond is Porlock village, and rearing up behind again are the massive hills and sloping cliffs running from Minehead and forming the edge of Exmoor down past Lynmouth – the highest cliffs in England and Wales, though most people don’t realise this as these cliffs aren’t vertical. Looking at the east end of the bay, the hills that hide Minehead could be mountains from the Brecon Beacons, so grand is their scale coming straight up from sea level. If you take the toll road west out of Porlock, it chicanes up through beautiful woods as steeply as an Italian road up the Alps, with jaw-dropping, vertiginously squeak-inducing views, ascending over 1400 feet (436m) in barely any distance inland… The view from the top is extraordinary – you can see 70 miles up the Severn Estuary past Oldbury Power Station, and 45 miles across the estuary past Swansea Bay to the Gower.
- To complement these hills are beautiful steep and narrow wooded valley combes, like Hawkcombe which I walked, cutting from the heather-and -bracken moorland top of Exmoor through ancient oak woodland full of beautiful plants, birds and animals, down to Porlock. And just inland is the highest point on Exmoor – Dunkery Beacon at 519m. It was extraordinary to drop down from the wide-viewed exposed moorland top, into the start of the Hawkcombe valley. Utter stillness and privacy – not a manmade sound, steeply enclosed by heather and bracken, the little stream just starting and dropping ever lower below the path. Then into the lush oak woods, home to great rarities of fern and lichen… I met one other person in five hours of walking...
- Nettle smoke: Where Nettles were growing tall and flowering by a stream in the woods, I saw a phenomenon I’ve only seen once before (by the Brecon Canal): I thought there must be someone smoking, lurking in the weeds – but no, it was the Nettle flowers releasing puffs of pollen ‘smoke’ every few seconds… a phenomenon quite unrelated to the wind, but probably related to hot weather…
- Plants: From the cliffs – a lovely darker pink Yarrow flower. Bravely on the pebble shingle – Toadflax. Porlock Weir saltmarsh: Sea Plantain and Sea Blite. Above the saltmarsh – a fine Greater Plantain with its tough, scaly flower spikes like rats’ tails! In a deep wooded comb plunging from the moors to near sea level: drifts of delicate Common Cow-wheat, here showing a pretty white and yellow variant (apparently different colours depend on rock types…); Hard Fern; Common Valerian. Where woodland ends and bracken and heather starts – almost impossibly tiny mats of Heath Bedstraw – sunglasses give the scale!
- Birds: Peregrine and Ravens on top with Whinchat, Wheatear and Stonechats on the moors; and Nuthatches and Spotted Flycatchers in the woods.
- - Butterflies: Silver-washed Fritillaries, Speckled Wood, Gatekeeper and Common Blue.
-Car Camping update: A friend asked how I camped in my car. I said, ‘I sleep in my Fiesta - a benefit of being short. I make it very comfy with thick sofa cushions. I can park very inconspicuously, stay a night and then be away leaving no traces. Wash in a bowl, eat cold food, drink water - 3 days is usually my limit, but getting up at 5pm and off and out not much later, each day holds a huge amount... It's that un-fakeable feeling of being off the radar and on my own... Pilates has kept me supple enough to keep on doing this (though with much awkward squirming in the car to reach and do things), but each year I wonder - is this the last time I will manage?’
Magpie feather… The inky oil-slick rainbow of a found magpie tail feather…
Botany at Marshfield: We wandered through the village itself, identifying Willowherbs and Comfrey; and then into the Cotswold upland arable field to the north.
|Ringed Field Bindweed|
.- A sign of old grassland was - Red Fescue
. - Other interesting species included Whorled Clary, Shining Cranesbill, Black Mullein, Broomrape in a clover field (which it parasitises), and Upright Brome Grass.
Tall Mint: Tall Mint is a cross between Corn, Water & Spearmints, and there is a large clump growing on the banks of Chessell Pill
inland from New Passage, which I sought out. It is quite tall! - the biggest spike I measured was over a metre high… It was first found by distinguished naturalist John Martin in about 2007, who showed it to a local birdwatcher who's been following its fortunes ever since. It is intriguing that a three-way cross seems so stable but as it spreads by rhizomes, perhaps that is inevitable? It flowers quite late – July to early October, and is ‘widespread but occasional, probably under-recorded’. Our botanist wrote: ‘It had not been found anywhere in the Bristol Region Flora survey 2000, and the last record was given as 1973.’
Wasps: A friend in an inner-city top-floor flat wrote: ‘Common Wasps are nesting above my kitchen dormer window and it's great to watch them coming and going in little 'flocks'. They seem oblivious of weather conditions, flying around even in the teeth of yesterday's storm. Rain seems just a minor inconvenience to them. They fly late into the evening in little murmurations and through the night when my moth trap is on, so much so I have had to stop trapping. Indomitable beasts!’
Rose-coloured Starling: At New Passage today we got caught up in the hunt for a young Rose- coloured Starling amongst hundreds of ordinary Starlings flying between the hedgerows and the salt marsh… Serendipitously we saw it sitting and then conspicuously pale in flight – my efforts in previous years having always been foiled!
Conyzas: Conyzas have sprung up along my local pavement edges. I initially ignorantly assumed they
Identifications: When I thanked our botanist for his patience in helping me with the Conyza IDs, he said at least I had a go and was trying to be systematic - ‘I'm not so good with people who drop images on me without much attempt to work them out.’ Interestingly our wildlife group is currently having exactly this discussion, and one friend is currently 'Grrr-ing' because on his wildflower Facebook group members keep posting pictures of Himalayan Balsam and asking, 'What is this lovely flower?' But at the opposite end of the spectrum he also wrote: ‘I'm in a 'Botanical Keys' Facebook group and when people post things like 'I've reached couplet 46 (in the famous botanical keying guide by Stace) but feel I may have gone astray on couplet 29' I just think thank God for Rose (a more accessible guide) and the nice pictures...’
Spaniorum Hill: - We walked Spaniorum Hill on the west edge of Bristol – a strange name with unknown but probably ancient roots… We saw Buzzards, a Kestrel, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Rooks on a line, House Martins & Swallows, Chiffchaffs, and a Blackcap making its idiosyncratic tapping alarm call…
- Poo: Who knows their poo? – we found this sample full of blackberry and larger round seeds – probably hawthorn. Wondering if it was fox, I said: ‘I know foxes like their fruit (I saw one in my garden once, pinching my strawberries…), but not sure about hawthorn – the berries are quite tasteless! I tried my new ‘Seek’ phone ID app on the photo and it bravely came back: ‘We think this is Animal’… marvellous!’ But the general consensus was: Badger.
|Light Emerald Moth|
The eeriness of Rupert Bear: My jokey friend’s punning comment on the poo discussion above was: ‘I agree with Badger (as Rupert Bear often said).' (Rupert Bear with his scarf and natty checked trousers, went on many strange cartoon adventures with his friend Badger – all beautifully illustrated and described in rhyming couplets. Unbelievably, though it started in 1920, the strip continues in the Daily Express newspaper to the present day, with annuals still published…) I replied: ‘How strangely evocative - it was only a short while ago that I was leafing through an original Rupert Bear annual. They were a staple of my childhood but I hadn't laid hands on one for maybe fifty years or more? They still had that very eery quality I remember well. And the rhymes so neat…’ He said, ‘Amazing! I was only just talking to someone else about the 'eeriness' of the Rupert stories a few weeks ago - and they didn't get that at all so I thought it was just me!’
Buzzard feathers: A friend gave me this large Buzzard primary feather where you can see the distinctive ‘finger’ displayed at the end, as you can see them in flight at the ends of a soaring Buzzard’s wings… I did a little research on ‘The influence of flight style on the aerodynamic properties of avian wings: Wing shape evolution is driven by a combination of aerodynamic and ecological selection pressures, modified by the constraints of phylogeny. Flapping flight involves complex conformational changes in the wing, in which pitch and span are continuously varying and the wing tip travels faster than the root. The different kinematic and aerodynamic demands of flapping and gliding mean that wings cannot be optimised for both. Wings may therefore be ‘tuned’ towards optimal performance in one flight style or the other. ‘Slotting’ is associated with primary feathers that are separated both horizontally and vertically in flight, spreading vorticity and reducing induced drag.’ (J J Lees 2016) So now you know!
|Sparrow dust bath|
Dust bath: Eight Sparrows were
enjoying a dust bath in the Aust Motorway Services car park. I always envy them
– they make this ‘spa experience’ look so enjoyable!
Ragworts and Conyzas at Aust Services: I toured the areas above Aust Services off the M48 motorway (where you can look out across the old Severn Bridge) - I was hoping to identify some ragworts and conyzas. Our botanist confirmed that I’d correctly IDd Oxford Ragwort, saying, ‘Oxford Ragwort, Senecio squalidus, comes as a hybrid from Mount Etna, Sicily, and its rough volcanic origins means it favours wasteland-type sites (hence 'squalidus' I suppose). There's something distinctively elegant about its leaves and general form, its foliage colour is brighter than most ragworts, and it has diagnostic black tips to the flower bracts.’ I also managed to see the ‘eyelash’ hairs along the leaf edges of what was therefore, Conyza canadensis…
|Oviposting in tandem|
Oviposting ‘in tandem’: At the small pool at Oldbury Power Station, I watched a pair of Common Darter dragonflies oviposting ‘in tandem’: hovering stretched out one behind the other, the end of the redder male’s abdomen gripped the head of the yellower female behind, and rhythmically ‘dunked’ her so her abdomen tip entered the water…
Purple Loosestrife-plus: I sent our botanist a photo of Purple Loosestrife we saw at Oldbury Sailing Club. It was scattered through a close-mown meadow and adjacent hedgerow, flower heads very full, fat and brilliant, and it took us a long time to decide what it was. I’m more used to seeing it in thinner spikes tangled in with thick waterside vegetation, but here it looked strangely like an overgrown Self-heal or a Willowherb... Of course the Loosestrife has 6 petals which I should have checked straight away – but I am only belatedly starting to check such things early when identifying, instead of so lazily going by a general impression of size and shape! I added that I probably shouldn't admit these sort of faux pas to him, and he graciously admittedd: ‘Well yesterday I saw some leaves as you describe on a bank of a brook, and put it on my card (as Purple Loosestrife), and then I saw the purple flowers were Marsh Woundwort. It happens to us all!’
|Common Storksbill seed|
- I recently went to explore the Polden Hills, are a ridge of Jurassic hills running south of the Carboniferous Mendips. They run west - east from Bridgewater towards Glastonbury before turning south below Street; the latter steep and heavily wooded seven kilometer section having something of the majesty and mystery of the South Downs... Two ‘mighty rivers’ run each side through the Somerset levels –the Brue and the Huntspill to the north, and King Sedgemoor’s Drain and the Parrett to the south.
south Poldens are big drifts of Devil’s-bit Scabious, another wet-lover… and along the sides are spectacular rows of anthills which are now home to the beautiful internationally rare Large Blue butterfly. (The Large Blue’s extraordinary relationship is with the Red Ant which has a small nest-hill – I don’t know which species these nests are but am told in a recent report on this ecology that 'There are only a handful of people in Britain who can accurately identify ants in the field'…!)
- In a glade a pair of Speckled Wood were circling high up. A Large White flew close by – and instantly one of the Woods gave fierce chase and drove it from the area. It always seems surprising that invertebrates exhibit complex territorial behaviour…
- The west sides of the hills have been strongly and smoothly eroded in places to look from a distance like Arizona red-and-white-banded sandstone formations - something I’d been much struck by years ago when driving through this area. This time I had the chance to actually climb those slopes – revealing only soft pale Lias rocks and iron staining…
- Twice I swam in the River Brue just a couple of miles from my hotel…
- On the high street opposite my hotel was a proper traditional bag lady – older, dressed in layer after layer of long clothes and a woolly hat though the weather was so hot, trolley full of bags… but as she stood there looking down, I realised she was consulting her mobile phone!
Shapwick Heath: Shapwick Heath nature reserve lies just north-west of the Poldens in the Somerset
An unexpected high tide: At New Passage and Pilning Wetlands an unexpectedly high tide with strong winds flooded the salt marsh. A young Teal hiding its green flash with its wing feathers, let us think it was the young Garganey that has been spotted here… Ringed Plover and Dunlin were settled on the salt marsh with a pretty Sanderling, and Wheatears, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and large flocks of Linnets... Five elegant Ruffs stood together in the first pool, showing the size difference between males and females… a Kestrel hunted above… and the whole area hummed with life and excitement…
Breeding Rock Pipits & other rarities: At Clevedon Harbour we saw two Rock Pipits, which I
Adders: - A friend found a young adder on Cadbury Camp. I told the tale of how a few years ago I was walking the coast path on the Welsh Gower peninsular towards Caswell Bay, when I met a runner who said he'd literally just jumped over an adder on the path! I
scare them away – he obviously did too good a job!
- It was also on the Gower coast some years ago there was a report of a young boy being bitten - then it transpired his father had been encouraging the boy to poke at the adder with a stick!
More early flowering: I was just at Aust Warth again, walking the new footpath diversion behind the new embankment works. I passed a small area where sloes were flowering… Our botanist said he just saw hawthorn flowering on the Clifton Down the other day… He added, ‘I’ve always wondered if plants exhaust themselves by flowering early so there are no baby buds left for next year.’ I answered, ‘I realise I have a semantic problem: I was considering these prunus as 'late' flowering, in the same way that birds will go on to have second and even third broods if circumstances allow. But obviously what we are looking at is ‘early’ flowering!’
HRT: I saw another striking artic lorry this one with ‘HRT’ writ huge on its side. This stood for Howel Richards Transport of South Wales – but to us ladies it’s Hormone Replacement Therapy that keep post-menopausal women’s symptoms at bay! Though the hauliers are a long-established family firm and their acronym probably much predates medical HRT and all its controversies…
- Lots of Common Darters on the moors below, many still coupling in flight. A Kingfisher and Grey Wagtail on the Land Yeo which was in full spate, and around 350 mixed Gulls on flooded fields. Still plenty of Swallows and House Martins hunting the abundant insect life. And a seasonal touch - a pumpkin patch...
Beautiful sky… Look at this beautiful mackerel sky, seen from my skylight today…
Moth, Fungus, Herb: On Walton Common – a Yellow Shell Moth, an Artist's Bracket Fungus - you
|Artist's Bracket Fungus|
Hidden hollows: A walk between Easton-in-Gordano & Failand village (inland from Portishead) goes through lovely hidden hollow fields, woods, and a deeply-cut and richly-ferned stream… Buzzards being mobbed by Ravens, Green and Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, Chaffinch, Bullfinch and Greenfinches... Speckled Wood and Red Admirals butterflies and Common Darter dragonflies… (our insect expert commented ‘A few brave Lepidoptera still struggling on, then…’)
b l murch
big population somewhere in the Severn…'
Autumn life: Along the side lane at Pilning Wetland, insects were enjoying the brilliant almost-lemon flowers of Bristly Ox-tongue. A Ruddy Darter, with its red waisted abdomen, black legs, red pterostigma and pink ‘nose’, persistently inspected me just inches from my face… A Cherry Plum prunus (Prunus cerasifera) was flowering with new leaf shoots…
More early flowering: A wildlife member posted: 'I noticed that one of the spindle trees at Blaise was simultaneously flowering whilst it had berries on it. I’ve never seen spindle flowering at this time of year. Has anyone else? ' Our botanist replied that Spindle had been seen flowering near Taunton in the middle of this September. ‘It seems to be quite a year for autumn flowering in the hedgerows, and it is the native or old ones as well as the new ‘foreign look-alikes’.’
High tide: I went down early to New Passage for an extra-high tide, and joined in with a friend doing a migration watch - including Chaffinches and scattered Linnets, Bramblings, Greenfinches, Siskins and Long-tailed Tits. The tidal waters were up to the embankment and everything was incredibly still…
has just been snuffed… -Ascomycete Purple Jellydisc (in its anamorphic stage): where fallen timber is allowed to rot away naturally.
- There's an apparently unnamed stream that starts as a spring near the Lower Failand church and flows north through woodland, forming a deep and dramatic ferny gorge till it disappears at the main A369 road. There's a house right before the path along it, which has a lot of feeders attracting interesting birds - and yesterday included (besides the many Great and Blue Tits) - Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit and a Nuthatch...
Sand Point: - On this big rocky headland north of Weston-s-Mare - a Bar-tailed Godwit on the sea
rocks... Redwings, Goldcrests, Stonechats and Meadow Pipits in the thickets... On big areas of flooded fields looking like rice paddies below the headland – hundreds of gulls & two Egyptian Geese…
- As I’d promised my botanist friend, I searched for Eel Grass on the beaches but without success…
Older learning: I had been thinking a lot on this subject: why bother learning new stuff when you are older or old? What good is it going to do you? Taking classes in your seventies - is it just an indulgence or done for the company? I think these negative thoughts come partly from the era of Bristol’s first mayor, when I was first taking art lessons at a Bristol City Council-run centre. He wanted to close us down, do away with all that middle class nonsense, and more or less just teach computing to people on benefits... as though creative activity and socialising was a bad thing, especially for older people often on their own! But what I decided was this: It doesn't matter if I'm old: everything new that I learn I will have with me for the rest of my life, deepening my understanding and outlook. There cannot be a better reason, can there?
Waders Talk: Our bird club put out a very thought-provoking online talk on waders by ecologist Matt Collis. The two things that struck me most were:
- Waders’ bills: not only can they be hinged and flexible, but they are so sensitive they could best be imagined as our tongues made firm – as sensitive to temperature, texture, taste and movement, as the waders probe and skim water, mud or sand…
- Waders’ mating strategies: a number of wader species practice variations on female-‘dominant’ behaviour like polyandry – for instance, females mating with successive males and laying eggs in successive nests before moving on, leaving the male to rear the chicks. But would you know this from the literature or field guides? A lot of the time – no, it’s rather well disguised or subtly glossed over…
Pears & Wasp: I went scrumping for semi-wild pears near Bristol – the pears still sound where they lay in a grass verge - and host to a Common Wasp still enjoying its fruit while out and about…
More Conyza: I walked along our local railway where many fresh-looking plants of Conyza
Beautiful Portbury Wharf: We did a walk round Portbury Wharf Nature Reserve (just upstream of Portishead). The abandoned railway line viewed from its bridge near the M5, was abuzz with birds – winter thrushes, migrating chaffinches and other small birds, kestrel, buzzard, sparrowhawk…
- We found a Velvet Shank fungus, and I was able to stroke the stalk - both in feel and colour (the cream deepening into purple-brown) so very velvety!
- A Grey Squirrel overhead leapt across the path – ALMOST missing its next handhold yet making an insouciant recovery…
- A Pussy Willow was flowering…
- In the South Pool hide, wasps were buzzing round the open windows with one mining the frame for wood: so - like the plants, do the wasps also think it’s Spring already?
- Across the field, a fine fox sat facing us relaxed and aglow in the bright sun – a smile on its face…
Gnawed Nuts: A friend gave me two gnawed hazel nuts to identify: the left looks like Wood Mouse (chiselled inner edge and gnaw marks to surface); the right like Hazel Dormouse (smooth, scraped-out inner edge to circular hole, gnaw marks on surface, hole passing through nut scar)…
|Gnawed Hazel nuts|
November Poem: A friend posted this beautiful poem by Edward Thomas:
Few care for the mixture of
earth and water,
Twig, leaf, flint, thorn,
Straw, feather, all that men scorn,
Pounded up and sodden by flood,
Condemned as mud.
Edward Thomas extracts a passion, majesty, grandeur from minutiae…
Viz: Continuing the poetic theme - in the latest edition of Viz (a scurrilous comic magazine that is still funny after forty years) was this epistle from their ‘Letters’ page:
' 'April is the cruellest month...' writes T S Eliot in his epic poem The Waste Land. Well, I actually quite like April. The weather gets warmer and that's when my birthday is too. Do any readers have other suggestions as to what they think the cruellest month is, because these 'so-called' poets don't have a clue'. Hear hear I say!!!
(photo: Norbet 1)
(photo: Norbet 1)
Unusual Pheasant: On a grass verge at our large local retail centre – a Pheasant!
Remembrance: In fields round Kington Down Farm – Common Poppies flowering brightly, touching somehow in this Remembrance week…
Long-tailed Tits: There was a flock twelve Long-tailed Tits passing through our back garden today - my first and only sightings of this species here in nearly thirty years! I do like the way there's always a rear guard that waits to follow after all the others have flown...
Clapton Moor: - A large rhine crosses this moor – un-named yet as spacious as the broad and deep Blind Yeo nearby, that flows into Clevedon harbour…
- In a field sloping up to Tickenham Ridge lay a bright red bloody ribcage (the remnants of a deer?), being picked over by a group of magpies… They could have been vultures and the meadow the Serengeti!
- In the woods on the Ridge, a fungus under beech trees formed a fairy ring about four metres across - Clitocybe nebularis, Cloud Funnel mushroom…
Birds’ nests revealed: I am fascinated by this time of year when trees lose all their leaves to reveal birds' nests - often in places extremely close to human activity but that would have been quite hidden when the leaves were on...
Beautiful Waxcaps: A friend found this beautiful collection of Waxcap fungi at Stoke Park in Bristol...
Chingling: One of the loveliest phenomena - about twenty Linnets sitting high in a huge ash in woods above the Broadmead Brook and making a constant gentle chingling – initially invisible to my eyes by ‘hiding in plain sight’ and singing without moving so their little bodies just merged with the twigs… I’ve experienced something similar twice before, both also in wintertime and in full sunshine: years ago on the Wiltshire Downs – a single tree packed to bursting with Corn Buntings ‘chingling’ in unison. And a few years ago just round the corner from me on a busy, harshly urban main road, in a small pink-berried Rowan in a small front garden – a flock of Waxwings (my first ever!) ‘chingling’. I expect there’s a proper ornithological word for that gentle sound of many birds all softly singing in unison, but that’s my word for it…
|Spear Thistle rosette|
Rosette: On a quiet lane - this massive fresh Spear Thistle rosette… (my glasses give the scale…)
Marshfield Triangle: About three hundred Fieldfare with Starlings. Redwings, Chaffinches, Bullfinches... Two Roe Deer lurked shyly at the top of a field…
Wasp update! Our wasp-watcher reported on the wasp nest above his flat: ‘I counted them all out and I counted them all back in again and there are at least half a dozen wasps still around the nest. I'm hoping they can last into December, only days away, so hang on in there guys!
To roost… Over our local park at dusk - about 130 Jackdaws flying north-east to their mystery roosts…
Marshfield: - In the Marshfield Shire Valley yesterday where the Broadmead Brook flows through, we saw a 'kill' scattering of large, raggy, dark grey and black feathers with some bones. They were heron feathers and we think it looked like a fox kill – bones and feathers bitten clean through. I imagined a fox attacking a live heron – but was reminded that most likely it would have attacked an ailing or already dead bird…
- Seven Golden Plover in an upland field looked like Partridge from a distance – because they were sitting down close together and snoozing! I’ve never seen them not ‘on the go’ before…
Back-lane Ducks: Where I live, the roads have wide but unpaved back lanes behind the houses, mostly gated nowadays. Looking up one just now - was a small flock of ducks, splashing about in the puddles!
rotting fungi of the Peniophora genus.’
Ingst: On my first of this winter’s bird survey at Ingst below Almondsbury - a flock of fifteen Common Gulls in a meadow, showing their greenish bills and legs and gentle eyes…
Dogwood: On the footpath to the old Severn bridge, I spotted a very red-stemmed Dogwood flowering. Knowing no better I assumed it would be the common Cornus sanguinea, but our botanist gave this complex response:‘Your dogwood is making quite a show. With all the red bark on the twigs I thought it might have been Cornus sericea which has big leaves. It is planted with the yellow bark form on the motorway interchanges just north of Avonmouth, and creeps underground to form a dense thicket. But yours is clearly a bush and with the dense flower heads and the situation where it is probably planted a few decades ago, it is likely to be the introduced subspecies australis, which has flat hairs under the leaf, joined to the leaf in the middle of the hairs.’ Plants so often aren’t straightforward!
|Beautiful Plume moth|
on kitchen cupboard
Plume Moths: Recently I’ve been finding different varieties of Plume Moths sitting on walls, cupboards and mirrors in our house. (I understand they have a second hatching in September and can be active or hibernating inside…) This one was identified as the Beautiful Plume moth, Amblyptilia acanthodactyla…
Yet more diaphanous Clouds… Take the finest flossy yarn with a natural wave in pearlescent colours – tease it up – up – up into the sky, up and out – higher than the cumuli – then that’s the dramatically beautiful cloud formations this morning… My flying friend suggests it is icy cirrus teased up by ascending currents round the cumuli. But is climate change somehow creating new weather conditions that are forming these type of clouds?
Knowing Gulls: A friend sent me a card with a funny drawing of a very crafty-looking gull, and asked if I thought it knew something we didn’t? I said I definitely thought Gulls know things we don't - they spend such a high proportion of their lives cruising over their extensive 'patches' and marking absolutely everything of use or interest to them!
Swans: On a narrow rhine running beside the road to the coast, a fine family of Swans with parents and four youngsters was squashed into that narrow width of water, yet still sailing along regally as they do!
|Old man's beard|
Marshfield: - Old Man’s Beard clambering along upland walls and backlit by the sun...
|Wasp on jam|
Frost & mud… A very frozen, sparkly yet muddy six-mile tramp from Oldbury to Littleton-on-Severn and back, gave us some Common Gulls flying with Black-headed, 24 Lapwings in a field, 250-plus Dunlin flashing along the foreshore, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Blackcap, about 40 Rooks, hundreds of Fieldfare, dozens of Redwing, a Mistle Thrush, lots of Blue Tits and Robins – but no finches except for three Goldfinch...Squadron: At the base of the steep way down the end of Aust cliffs towards Littleton embankment, the corner field was flooded. Suddenly a squadron of small black and white birds flew in – I thought for a second they were waders, but no – it was a flock of Pied Wagtail settling on the edge of the water…
Moth names: I’ve been collecting the common names of the moths mentioned on our new wildlife group and I list them here - all local and recent – just because they are so lovely!
Iron Prominent, Hebrew Character, Clouded Drab, Nut-tree Tussock, Brindled Beauty, Streamer, Buttoned Snout, Least Black Arches, Red Chestnut, Pale Tussock, Chocolate-tip, Flame Shoulder, White Ermine, Swallow Prominent, Broad-barred White, Freyer's Pug, Latticed Heath, Common Marbled Carpet, Grey-pine Carpet, Spruce Carpets, Willow Beauty, Muslin Moth, Lime Hawk, Coronet, Heart & Dart, Water Carpet, Devon Carpet, Sharp-angled Peacock, Large Nutmeg, Knot Grass, Yellow Shell, Currant Clearwing, Old Lady, Small Magpie, Large Tabby, Small Yellow Wave, Common Footman, Leopard, Four-spotted Footman, Dark Turnip, Orange Swift, Oak Eggar, Maiden's Blush, Iron Prominent, Dagger, Checkered Fruit-tree Tortrix, Black Arches, Square-spot Rustic, Magpie, Light Emerald, Rosy Rustic, Grass Rivulet, Scalloped Oak, Feathered Thorn…
|Winter at Aust|