Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Nature Notes 2018

To read older posts (2005 - 2017), 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...)

Starling murmuration
Walter Baxter

Starling murmurations:  There was a quite unforgettable photo in a broadsheet newspaper today, of a starling murmuration in the Costa Brava - in itself forming the image of a giant bird in the sky… Can’t show the original cos of copyright, but here’s another lovely image…

Short-eared Owl
Bex Roth
Short-eared Owl at Aust: Short-eared Owls visit our Severn Estuary salt marshes in winter, and are most often seen at dusk though you can see them any time. Previously I hadn’t made a special dusk trip, but today I waited on the Aust salt marsh as it started to get dark – and fifteen minutes later I saw the elegant owl emerging from the reed beds where it likes to roost (cheeky face poking through the grass) - coming closer – then having a little joust with the local kestrel by a nearby log, before heading off for some serious hunting. And now it was too dark for the human to see so I bade it farewell and good hunting till next time…

Estuary snippets: Along the estuary, a friend had picked up the
carcass of a Snow Bunting which he showed me – just the pretty white-barred wings joined at the breastbone. He said it looked like a young bird taken by a falcon – probably a merlin or peregrine…
As dusk approached at the Aust Motorway Services by the old Severn Bridge, a Song Thrush was
singing, and about eighty Pied Wagtails came in to roost in the five small trees each side of the Services’ entrance – such a pretty sight.
Snow Bunting in Winter

Attitudes to a Migration Watch: Last Autumn’s early morning Migration Watch at New Passage was attended reluctantly by a friend who is an active bird club committee member and who felt duty-bound to show his face on this occasion. How different our attitudes were – him, disliking the early hour, the cold and dark, the standing about – me, thrilled by the early hour, the separation from the hoi polloi, and the sense of being part of this exciting adventure that is a bird’s migration...

The End of the Certain World: Recently a cousin told me that Google’s ‘Doodle of the Day’ had just celebrated my maternal grandfather, the quantum physicist Max Born (1882-1970). A pioneer in quantum mechanics, Born  belatedly won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 for his much earlier
Max Born biography
fundamental research in Quantum Mechanics, especially in the statistical interpretation of the wave function. He is well known for his 'Born Rule,' a quantum theory that uses mathematical probability to predict the location of wave particles in a quantum system. The Born rule provides a link between the mathematical formalism of quantum theory and experiment, and as such is almost single-handedly responsible for practically all predictions of quantum physics. Born, along with fellow German scientist Fritz Haber, formulated the Born–Haber cycle, that calculates lattice energy or the energy needed to form a crystal from infinitely-separated ions. His other notable works include Born–Oppenheimer approximation, the assumption that the motion of atomic nuclei and electrons in a molecule can be separated, and Born-von Karman boundary condition which imposes the restriction that a wave function must be periodic on a certain Bravais lattice.
(Physicas facts from an associated ‘The Hindu’ article) He had a life-long friendship with Einstein and their letters have been published. He also has an excellent biography, ‘The End of the Certain World’ by Nancy Greenspan.

A hedge-full of Robins: At New Passage a roughly 150m length of hedgerow held eight Robins! A
Robin. TtB
bird friend responded:
‘Is a 'hedgeful' of Robins a new collective name? As opposed to this list from 'Bird Lovers': a blush, a bobbin, a breast, a carol, a gift, a reliant, a riot, a rouge, a round, a ruby – of robins.’!

Hidden Cribbs: On the way back from New Passage, I stopped on the side of the busy dual carriageway in the populous Cribbs Causeway retail estate where I had recently been surprised to see moorhens on the grass verge (moorhens are generally quite shy and retiring, and not found in a busy site like this). I wanted to explore further, and found just behind the verge, sunken and hidden by hedgerows and disguised by reeds, a free-flowing small river, presumably culverted both ends but bordered and crossed by paths and ornamental bridges. Two moorhens were happily feeding there – so I must explore further again…

Slow learner… I have been reading through the latest ‘Avon Bird Report’ (the extremely impressive report compiled annually by local expert naturalist groups and members), and finding I get increasingly more from it - for instance from headings like 'Scarce autumn passage migrant’ or
Young Shelduck
‘Common winter visitor’. But it is extraordinary how slow I am to notice or learn quite basic things, such as -that teals are generally only found here in the winter... or that many species are only here in the summer for breeding. And because there can be such a narrow window between the last of the spring migrants and the first of the autumn migrants - I frequently don't realise that some birds just pass briefly through on their way elsewhere…
But contributing… However, to my pleasure, every now and then I could see an ABR entry and think – that was my sighting! – Like the shelducks I reported with their adorable young, pottering along the Severn mud particularly at Oldbury Power Station; which turn out to be quite important sightings as ABR gets relatively few reports of shelduck young…

Hidden Cribbs continued: I returned to the site of the unusual moorhen sighting at Cribbs shopping
Hazel Brook at Cribbs
estate, and found nine Moorhen along a half-kilometre stretch of what I now understand is the Hazel Brook, which rises at the top of Cribbs and enters the River Trym at Blaise Castle Estate. You don’t see the stream running through this commercial area because it is sunken and full of reeds, but it has a fair flow of water down it at this time of year (though it might almost disappear with the reeds in summer). I walked up it along quiet paths besides big superstores, and there were moorhens everywhere - they love it!
I wonder, as I have done before, if their success down to lack of dog walkers? (I sometimes wonder if dogs aren't worse than cats for bird life…) – for though I am a regular retail visitor at Cribbs, I certainly never thought of going for a stroll here after shopping, and presumably that also holds true for dog owners...
The head of the brook, like so many along this area, mysteriously emerges at the highest point of the landscape – presumably because of artesian groundwater pressure…

Pete Rock talk on Urban Gulls: Pete Rock is a recognised international specialist on the habits of urban gulls. I have been communicating with him online for many years with my own gull observations, so it was good to finally meet him in person when he gave a talk to local club. Some of his most striking points included:
Gull. Geoff Sheppard
·         The 1950s Clean Air Act stopped the burning of rubbish at landfill sites, which then left lots of new food for rural gulls. Then these gulls in wild colonies thrived to well, forcing youngsters into towns.
·         However it is the warmth and the good safe nesting sites, rather than the food pickings, that gulls like in towns – and  logistically there isn’t actually nearly enough waste to support the numbers of birds  found, even though most of us seem to think they are here just to scavenge!
Gulls can ignore virtually all measures taken to deter them – they can stand on spikes, ignore fake owls, build nests on cross-wires, build nests under (but also get cruelly tangled in) netting; and if they are deterred they will just move close by. (…my favourite photo in Pete’s talk was of the gull nest actually built on a web of gull-prevention wires which formed the perfect sprung bed for it...) And the ruse of substituting their eggs for inert ones which they still try to hatch, has been found to barely dent the population…
·         Gulls can spend up to half their time just reconnoitring - flying over possible food sources in their chosen patches such as suburban gardens. They know everything about their areas!

Great Northern Diver: A friend and I ended a walk along the Sharpness Canal (which runs close to
Sharpness Docks
Andy Dolman
the Severn Estuary between Gloucester and Sharpness Docks), at the docks themselves. It’s a strange, forgotten-feeling place, oddly informal and with little apparent security, well-kept little houses randomly sitting along greens… Within the docks at the far end we saw a
Great Northern Diver, a magnificent bird with its neck stretched out low in front of it resting on the water – apparently a literal method of keeping a low profile…

St Anne’s Churchyard, Oldland: I made my way to this rural area of Bristol, the church (where hawfinches had been seen) beautifully placed down a lane in a wooded valley and above Siston Brook, The brook has a lovely footbridge, almost like a classic clapper bridge with a flat unguarded footway made of large flags, but proper arched supports below. An older woman was walking her pair of small poodle-cross dogs there: she wore an
St Anne's Church & newer bridge
Gordon James 
iridescent purple puffa jacket, and the dogs had coats to match…!

Taxonomic banter: For many years I have been sending the list of the birds I see out walking to our wonderful blog, ‘Avon Birds’, a resource entirely staffed by volunteers which daily publishes bird sightings and photos from across the county. Recently they thanked me for always sending my lists in the correct taxonomic species order; I replied how under the stern whip hand of one of our main collators, I have been putting them in correct order for the last few years, while under the whip hand of another mainstay I have been Capitalising bird names for the last year or so – both lessons initially angrily resisted as almost unbearable restrictions, and then knuckled under with a poor grace… but now second nature. So I told them that ‘their wish was my command! - with a certain amount of grumbling thrown in...’ The mainstay subsequently                                                                confessed that he still doesn’t put his own lists in order – I was so 
Avon Birds Blog

More Hazel Brook… My drive to a weekly Pilates class takes me through the northern Bristol suburbs of Henbury by Blaise Castle Estate, where the main road literally runs through what I now know is the Hazel Brook (see above). Here the stream is allowed to run across the road, and a sign tells you how to take a little bridged detour if it’s in spate and too deep to cross. I’ve passed here scores of times over the years, but today with some violent downpours was the first time ever I saw it flooded and took the tiny detour – most exciting! Many cars were still
Hazel Brook ford across main road
in Henbury
ploughing through the main floods and sending out great sprays of water…
…Memories: A birding colleague who used to pass that way as a young aerospace apprentice in the 1960s added: I've been over that stream and you have finally put a name on it. I'm afraid I used to go over it when I had an old Mini, and water used to come in via the various holes in the floor, but great to make a big splash. Always had to go flat out, as that car suffered from water getting into the distributor and stopping the engine. Happy youth!  All the BAC apprentices used to go there to make a                                                                     splash!’

...and in flood...
Des Bowring
Another friend sent recent photos: The piece on Hazel Brook in Henbury was interesting - such nostalgia! The brook seems to symbolise my life coming full circle from callow Henbury Comprehensive School pupil (oddly, Lois also did her A-levels there…) to Bristol Regional Environmental Records Centre volunteer at Blaise Castle up the road! A local landmark from my schooldays was Henbury ford where the Hazel Brook occasionally flooded, inundating the road quite dramatically. I pass this spot on a Monday morning and there was a lot of the wet stuff today. 'Dam' I thought....'

Laubenstein Ronald
Fox silhouette: At a farmyard behind Easter Compton I saw a fox  sneaking its head into view, and the next time I looked it was standing on top of a great pile of tyres in the yard, grandly silhouetted against the sky and watching me for a few minutes before moving away... Like a coyote in those majestic paintings of the Wild West…

Rooks: Today I saw about thirty Rooks in the tiny isolated northern suburb of Charlton adjacent to Filton Airfield, in front gardens along the main road. And I have also seen them throughout this winter on a large local sports field and along the high street in Henbury, all on a similar line along the northerly edge of Bristol. I asked our local Rook expert where their rookeries might be as I’m
unaware of any local ones . He replied, ‘The story of Rookeries within the Bristol city boundary is a
Rooks in winter trees
at Charlton
fascinating one. Last year a new tiny rookery was established next to the Portway in Shirehampton

(on the River Avon as it runs to the Estuary), and a year or two back there were four nesting on Clifton Downs. Some years back there was a rookery in a tree off Fishpool Lane. (adjacent to my sightings). Their key requirement for breeding is access to worm rich grassland.   In winter they often join with Crows and Jackdaws, and will feed anywhere that has a good supply of soil invertebrates, or where they are fed by someone. They move back to rookeries from now on, so keep your eyes skinned for new nests.’

Chirp: Male sparrow on our eaves were making that very loud                                                               chirp – that special territorial, nesting chirp…

Fieldfares in the snow (Marshfield area, Cotswolds uplands): We first saw the large flock of 200
Si Griffiths 
Fieldfare as we were driving past in blowing snow. They were in a field of winter wheat, all facing into the snow, feeding and then scuttling forward more like partridges than winter thrush… On our return, most of the flock was up and wheeling round in tight formation - this time more reminiscent of Golden Plover than winter thrush – so much so we had to stop again and check...

Rock folding: Recently I went on a geology field trip in Devon and Cornwall, an area of extensive but often subtle folding and metamorphosis resulting from near-continental collision and other tectonic activity during the Devonian to Permian some 400 million-plus years ago. One small thing brought home the magnitude of some of the forces involved: east of Plymouth we were looking at a cliff face containing what initially I thought was a small area of very finely-banded rock beds which had been turned sideways so they ran vertically. However our tutor told us that what we were looking at was actually folding – tectonic forces had steadily crushed the land sufficiently to force it into folds, that then got compressed ever tighter and tighter, thinner and thinner – so a hundred miles or even two or three, would be squashed into one mile... and this was the mute record...

Cloudscape: Late last year birding in South Devon, there were some majestic and unusual cloudscapes. Though of the scale of cumuli, these clouds were built of the daintiest substance - as though thistledown had been gently stroked upwards and upwards into towering hammerheads... I should have written about them then, but only remembered their beauty just now…
Jackdaws roosting
Bob Jones 

Jackdaws to roost: Late this afternoon about 200 Jackdaw in pairs were flying north-east over our house - to that mysterious destination that I have watched them travel so often. My best guess is they roost round Latteridge somewhere, but would love to know more...
A friend replied: ‘I'm repairing my daughter’s roof and the Jackdaws come over in the evening - so low, it’s almost hair parting! 200-odd go off to roost in the elm trees up the road - they were still coming over in the dark…’

Snippets from Uphill below Weston: There was a Black Redstart in the same place we’d seen it last year, on a limestone slope - a very light grey female which blended totally with the pale grey rocks… On the salt marsh seen from high above, Teal were swimming and feeding along tiny runnels and inlets... Back in the village, Sparrows were making a ‘wall of sound’ along the high street near the beach…

Oil Beetle
Gail Hampshire
Oil Beetles: Apparently if you find Celandines with chewed petals, it is a sign of the rather rare Oil Beetle feeding - who knew! I must keep an eye out from now on for this rather handsome creature...

March snow... I observed: ‘There have been bitter sub-zero wind-chill easterlies for days now – labelled ‘the Beast from the East’, with some fine snow. However on the first of March it snowed seriously: the snow is  incredibly fine and light (I suppose what they call ‘powder snow’), and drifts erratically with the harsh wind so some areas are totally clear while others are drifted to a couple of feet depth; you can see fine layers building up like the beds in sand dunes or sandstone. However this snow will not make a snowball or a snowman – if you squeeze a handful i
Snowy Filton from a window
t just disintegrates like trying to squeeze dust – and you can watch children frustratedly trying and failing to form it!’
…and banter: Posted on the Bristol Wildlife e-forum, this prompted discussion of seeing cat and fox prints in gardens, other cats avoiding the snow, and pet shops selling extra numbers of cat litter trays for these house-bound felines, as other shops were selling sleds… One friend suggested, ‘A litter tray would make a great sledge for the rare snow-loving cat.’ And another added: 'Also convenient if they lose their nerve part way down...' – thus, we agreed, lowering the tone of the discussion to irretrievable depths…

Catkins. Tony Hisgett
Frozen Severnside: For the first time for heavens knows how long,
there hasn’t been a bone-chilling wind and it is lovely to be out in soft weather again! But the Pilning Wetlands are still almost entirely frozen, so birds that would normally be on the pools were clustered on the wet saltmarsh right up to the embankment – Shoveler, Teal, Lapwing and Dunlin. Coloured plumage - especially iridescent greens - were absolutely FLASHING in the sun, and a large flock of wheeling Dunlin sparkled like a shoal of fish...

Catkins: Catkins are abundant and spectacular this winter/spring, showing ‘heather mixture’ colours
going all the way from burnt orange to dark and lighter mauve...

Spring Courtship: At Pilning Wetlands, four pairs of Shoveler adjacent to each other in the water were each performing a dance with their other half, created of tightly turned circles  - apparently a feeding strategy adapted to form part of their courtship ritual.
And I heard my first full-on blackbird song - Spring!

Rookeries turnaround: Literally within a week or so from the start of March there has been a complete turnaround in the two rookeries along the main road to Severn Beach from Easter Compton to Pilning. Earlier there was so little activity that I thought the rooks must have moved their nesting sites elsewhere - though the flocks themselves are nearly always in evidence walking the lanes behind the road. However in just a few extra days, a whole clutch of fresh nests has appeared in the trees... thank goodness! Our rookeries expert commented: ‘There is a long history of rookeries in various places around Pilning. And nesting activity is influenced by temperature (which is why a warm October often sees a lot of activity at rookeries). But day length is almost certainly another key factor into bringing birds into breeding condition, and it is also surprising how rapidly Rooks can build nests.’

Anne Burgess 
Spring or Winter? On the thirteenth of March, Spring was sufficiently advanced to find flowering bittercress, primroses, violets, celandine and Bumblebees. Yet four days later, snow and bitter cold struck again…
…Muntjak? Apparent small ungulate footprints in the snow in our back garden – could it possibly have been a muntjak??!!

New Moon
Andrew MacMillan
New Moons: On the 19th March was the most delicate outline of 
a New Moon, low in the dusk sky to the west. The next evening it was still most dainty, a lovely pale apricot against a deep clear night sky…

Severnside north of Shepperdine: The wind ostensibly from the south-west still felt very cold. There had been an exceptionally high tide recently with a tide line running to within just two foot of the embankment top, and looking inland made one envisage how very far the sea would pour over the flat fields there should the embankment ever be breached…
Walking back inland, pools had formed round huge mounds of manure, of a deep black colour and quite opaque – like the waters of Hades! With hedgehog prints in the adjacent mud…
Driving back, we saw a sign by a donkey sanctuary on the main road advertising: 'Donkey Easter Egg Hunt' - I can just imagine their little hooves stamping on creme eggs and the fondant yolks running out...
A friend commented: ‘Equines and eggs do not go together. I was always puzzled when all the King's horses and all the King's men couldn't put Humpty together again. Horses are not known for their manual dexterity and probably made the situation far                                                                       worse…’

Silence of the Plants: A depressing recent New Scientist article (‘Silence of the Plants’ 17.2.18)
Dog Rose. SuperJew
discussed how virtually all modern human air pollutants destroy or disrupt the natural communicating chemicals of the plant world – whether scents to communicate and attract insects or warnings about predators broadcast to other same-species plants. ‘Scents that could once be picked up kilometres away now travel only metres.’ From a human aesthetic point of view this means that roses truly don’t smell as sweet or as strong. But for the natural kingdom as a whole this has massive repercussions on the plant and insect world in particular, and on all the other creatures dependent on them – including birds of course.

The Underdog: I was in a shop queue in front of a little girl and her parents. She held a soft-toy
Soft Chicken
Aukland Museum
chicken, cuddly but very realistic with a beak and legs hanging down. I admired it and was allowed to stroke it, and said I’d never seen a cuddly chicken before. He parents said, ‘She always supports the underdog. When she saw none of the other children wanted Henny she decided that was the one for her...’ Gotta love that!

Bee backlash: My friend wrote: ‘For many years, various environmental groups have been championing the honey-bee to the point where it is now a 'green' icon, singlehandedly saving the planet from starvation and providing us with wonderful honey as a sweet by-product of its pollinating power. Hardly a day goes by on Facebook without some well-meaning eco-warrior posting apocalyptic warnings of honey-bee declines and the end of honey-loving human life as we know it. Thankfully, some entomologists on
Solitary Bee
Facebook - including leading lights in the Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society - are starting to question the naïve assumptions of the green lobby when it comes to honey-bees. They assert the importance of bumblebees and solitary bees (not to mention hoverflies and beetles) in the pollination process and perhaps more importantly warn of the possible impact honey-bees might be having on wild bee populations through competition for food resources. 
It would be great to have some recognition for less fashionable pollinators among 'green' campaigners. Instead of being fixated on 'farmed' honey-bees, perhaps we should be celebrating their Earth-saving wild cousins more.’

Parakeet: We were surprised to find a Ring-necked Parakeet  in urban St Andrews Park today – on April Fools’ day!

Oldbury Power Station to Shepperdine: The Oldbury Naite Rhine was fuller than I’ve ever seen it
Oldbury Power Station
Sharon Loxton 
– almost to the top of the banks… as were all the smaller ditches…
Walking back from Shepperdine along the estuary, I thought I could see a porpoise stranded and struggling on gravel on a falling tide, just below the upper tidal reservoir wall. I reported it to the OPS guard who sounded doubtful as apparently there is debris there that gets mistaken for animals; but said they would check and report as necessary. I never heard more, but felt suspicious of the guards who didn’t seem that aware of events outside their immediate territory…

Ancient plants: I did a geology field trip to Lower Writhlington Colliery Tip just outside Radstock where spoil from local coal mining was dumped. This was mainly from the late Carbonifereous ‘Farrington Formation’ about 300 million years ago, which turned out to contain a huge amount of important plant fossils - mainly giant clubmoss and horsetail trees, and ferns - and some uniquely important insect fossils including the world’s earliest known damselfly,
Lower Writhlington Fossils
- my collection
and Britain’s largest collection of Carboniferous insects including cockroaches, spiders, millipedes and crustaceans. The site is a Site of Special Scientific Interest open to the public, and the spoil heaps are occasionally re-turned by involved organisations to expose fresh material.
I know it's not for everybody, but if you use your imagination it is extraordinarily exciting to split a soft piece of mudstone and find beautiful fresh impressions of parts of these huge early plants which have never seen the light of day since they were immersed in an ancient delta lagoon...

Nesting behaviours: A pair of flying calling ravens (very unusual round here!) were being chased away by other crows and jackdaws. And the jackdaws are fighting like demons for nesting material: for instance, some are doing their best to steal the ultra-tough roofing felt left marginally  exposed above my big loft rooflight – inside the room it sounds like workmen violently jackhammering a pavement!
Shepperdine way
Ken Wilkins 

Shepperdine way: I spent the last three days painting ‘plein air’ between Shepperdine and Hill, just northeast of Oldbury Power Station. If you don't know it, this is a stunningly unspoiled area forming part of our 'South Gloucestershire Levels'. Probably partly because of the influence of the nuclear power stations as well as being so low-lying, there seem to be no buildings younger than about a hundred years, and the many small farms are old-fashioned-looking, many organic. There is  virtually no traffic and what there is usually agricultural; and the whole area so quiet... As a result there are many lovely birds - yesterday I saw 3 Pheasant, 3 Buzzard, 2 Moorhen, 1 GS Woodpecker, 1 Green
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Jason Thompson
Woodpecker, 1 Kestrel, 3 Skylark, 15 Swallow, 5 Chiffchaff, 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Pied Wagtail, flock c.30 Meadow Pipit, flock 12 Linnet, 1 Yellowhammer.
In the back garden beyond the room where I was staying, a Great Spotted Woodpecker was hammering on timber telegraph poles supporting a small metal substation – intentionally to obtain an excellent metallic reverberation!

Redbrook: I attended a botany walk starting from the small village of Redbrook on the River Wye below Monmouth. This was once a dirty, noisy centre of industry with massive copper and tin-plating works eating up the valleys; yet now it is a quiet hamlet with virtually no signs of this industrial heritage…
We found some ‘real’ wild English daffodils – they are bigger than I
Pauline Eccles
expected and quite pale, spilling down the valley meadows from the woods above. There were Scarlet Elf-cap fungi, Lady’s Smock in woods and on the banks of the fast stream, and Golden Saxifrage.

Rooftop squirrel: For the second time recently, there was a grey squirrel on the rooftops of the two-storey terrace houses opposite our Filton house - I hadn’t trusted my eyes the first time, especially as it was dusk. To my knowledge there aren’t eaves-height trees near these houses, so the squirrel must have climbed vertically up the walls and over the eaves… clever devil.

Peter Fiskestrand
Dandelions: Dandelions are out in an explosion. The narrow central reservation of road from the ring road to Sainsburys is one solid flow of brilliant yellow flowers.
Apparently 1.00pm on St George’s Day (23rd April) was traditionally the best time to pick dandelions for dandelion wine. I’d just talked to a friend who was the first person I've met who'd actually made dandelion wine, but had found it unpleasantly bitter. So yesterday I experimentally sipped a flower face - nice, sweet nectar; and then chewed the petals - not nice and as bitter as the leaves or stem…

Song recognition problems on my Ingst Breeding Bird Survey: I will never be good at birdsong recognition (I started too late and now my memory and my hearing are deteriorating…) but so many birds just don’t make it easy! I had enough problems distinguishing a Dunnock from a Whitethroat song; and then I actually watched a Great Tit  produce a perfect replica of the Yellowhammer’s metallic little ‘chank....chank’ call…

Spring snapshots, Charlton Common: In this urban fringe scrubland by Filton airport -  Brimstone,  Orange Tip, Holly Blue and Speckled Wood butterflies. St Mark’s Flies (unsurprisingly late – 25th April is their expected date). A fox. The first year I have known apple and lilac blossom to
Juvenile Tawny Owl
Hugh Venables
be barely out by the start of May.

Spring at Conham: We walked along the River Avon from Conham Park where it leaves Bristol going east through woodland to Bath. The willows were shedding such abundant seed fluff that it was like a snow storm for metres around, with the ground covered with a foamy film.
A fluffy juvenile Tawny Owl sat placidly on top of a ten-foot tree stump just feet away from us; and
Brian Robert Marshall
just below it bees were emerging from a nest hole in the stump. Upriver, juvenile Herons sat tall and gawky in their big stick nests in the trees in a riverside heronry. A Mallard couple swam by with their four young; a Comma butterfly sunbathed.

Water Crowsfoot
Hans Hillewaert 
New Passage snippets: A large brown rat crossed the road by Caroline Cottage where I park…
Graceful white and yellow Water Crowsfoot runs abundantly in the wet pools along the base of the embankment.
At Severn Beach, House Martin were returning to their nesting sites.

Nupdown Farm: When I was painting ‘plein air’ near Shepperdine in April, my second picture was a long view of farm buildings in the distance. Parked on the verge, I attracted the attention of a young man who turned out to be the son of the farmer of what I was painting – Nupdown Farm. He was interested and asked to
see my painting when finished, so a couple of weeks late we met and subsequently he and his sister decided to buy the painting for their father. Just one proviso – could I add in the large pear tree in front of the farmhouse where their grandparents’ ashes were buried (which had been almost invisible when I was painting but was now in full blossom)? John sent me photos and I added the tree, just 15mm high on the picture... now I’ve just handed it over and it is all quite emotional – as John said, ‘It’s as though it was meant to be’. I asked two favours – that he tell me what his father’s reaction is, and that he asks me over to the farm when the picture is in place so I can see it in situ... But if John hadn’t had the interest and the imagination, none of this would have happened, I am so impressed...

White-flowering trees: ‘Tis this season of white-flowering trees – mainly hawthorn, then rowan,
Guelder Rose
Wouter Hagens
horse chestnut, guelder rose, white lilac... and flowering hedge parsley just starting to erupt along all the verges...

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle: Along the sheltered side lane at Pilning Wetlands, I found a handsome insect that I managed to identify as a Red-headed Cardinal Beetle – a friend said ‘widespread but always good to see, with a black-headed version which is more local.’
An eaten-out rabbit was another lane inhabitant…
Red-headed Cardinal Beetle
Sharp Photography

Fledgling calls: The fledglings of many small birds make a wonderful particular soft bright call, and today the back garden trees were full of it – probably blue or great tits...

‘Sullen’: From a learned Botany article I learnt that Vita Sackville-West (of Bloomsbury group and garden design fame) thought that Fritillary flowers appeared ‘sullen and foreign-looking’. I fear that for me, this throws her whole plant judgement into question: I love Fritillaries with a passion – Nature’s only checked flower! – nodding their heads with a mien too gay to call sombre or 'sullen'. And one senses that 'foreign' is xenophobic rather than exotic?
Snake's-head Fritillaries
David Short

Shiny Buttercups: Truly, is there a single flower that can vie with buttercups for shiniest petals? We are blasé about it partly because of the childhood ‘Do you like butter?’ trick of reflecting a blossom under the chin - but it has a hard, brilliant gloss equal to a ceramic glaze that may be unrivalled in the plant kingdom... Recent research by Casper van der Kooi & colleagues shows that:
‘Buttercup (Ranunculus spp.) flowers are exceptional because they feature a distinct gloss (mirror-like reflection) in addition to their matte-yellow coloration. We investigated the optical properties of yellow petals of several Ranunculus and related species using (micro)spectrophotometry and anatomical methods. The contribution of different petal structures to the overall visual signal was quantified using a recently developed optical model. We show that the coloration of glossy
Buttercup flower
Arne Nordman 
buttercup flowers is due to a rare combination of structural and pigmentary coloration. A very flat, pigment-filled upper epidermis acts as a thin-film reflector yielding the gloss, and additionally serves as a filter for light backscattered by the strongly scattering starch and mesophyll layers, which yields the matte-yellow colour. We discuss the evolution of the gloss and its two likely functions: it provides a strong visual signal to insect pollinators and increases the reflection of sunlight to the centre of the flower in order to heat the reproductive organs.’

Young Coots: On the Pilning Wetlands pools were sixteen adult Coots and their many young, the latter showing their delightful red beaks and orange head-fluff...
Young Coots
Barry Skeates

Delicious: Our neighbour put out some breadcrumbs soaked in oil and the neighbourhood birds went crazy with pleasure, including three adult starlings with about twelve young who swooped down to feed -  the adults eating a bit themselves, then  feeding some to the youngsters with great chirrings before they scattered into the trees…

Aust Warth salt marshes: Many Meadow Pipits out and about, some displaying with their ‘parachute’ flights – dropping from a height with wings and tail outspread, others bringing food down into the grass where there must be youngsters in nests…
Meadow Pipit
Ian Grieg
It was low tide and the steep mud banks of the tidal creek were embossed from top to bottom with the imprints of many webbed feet...

Crow’s nest: From my loft room I can peek into the foliage of a large ash in the park behind the houses opposite – where I can see a crows’ nest with the youngsters visible and moving about...

Norway – plants & geology: I went on a geology trip to Norway, staying on the coast north-west of Trondheim.
Plants: Being so far north and on an Atlantic coast (albeit protected by endless islands and peninsulas) we were all rather stunned by the beauty, softness and delicacy of the vegetation without the apparent wind damage you’d expect... Though we roughly
Cloudberry flower
Rob Burke
recognised many plant families and species, some like their violets and dandelions had extra size and oomph as though on steroids, while there were much greater varieties of other groups – something my borrowed
Norway Gneiss
book on Norwegian wild plants confirmed. Some lovely plants were strange to our eyes - Dwarf Cornus, Fir Clubmoss, Trientialis europaea, and Cloudberries in flower.
Geology – is often serendipitous... as when we drove to a small town still further west of our very westerly guest house, just a ferry and a Co-op... and backing the yard behind the shop we found an incredible outcrop of marbled gneisses that neatly summarised many important geological issues... Or unexpected – in a quiet little outpost of suburban houses on the Trondheim fjord we looked at one home’s garden walls consisting of rocks from an ophiolite – that rare phenomenon when the forces of subduction scrape ocean crust and mantle onto the adjacent continent for future humans to discover…

We had a heat wave that lasted almost the whole of June and July…

Fledgling Jackdaw: Three fluffy jackdaw fledgling fussing about a chimney stack with their parents, across the street from us...

Ken Billington 
New Swifts: Though our Filton Swifts decrease in numbers year by year, I have been seeing new groups elsewhere. Today in Severn Beach’s modest high street just behind the Estuary, a ‘screaming party’ of seven were rushing up and down the road with their lovely shrilling cries, meaning they were nesting close by – and I’ve not seen Swifts here before. And plenty of the House Martins who do favour Severn Beach (lots of mud for nest building!) going to their new ones under the house – and public toilets eaves!

Small Eggar Moth: A couple of days ago in the side lane by Pilning Wetland, I saw a very large
Small Eggar Moth Cacoon
cocoon. It must have been about a foot wide maximum and somewhat nightmarish in appearance as it seemed to have a lot of structure in it like some alien object. Initially misidentified as the similar Brown-tail Moth which can be invasive and irritating, our local expert named it the Small Eggar Moth which also form ‘nests’ of caterpillars with silk protecting the larvae from birds. The
UK Moths site says, 'Formerly quite common, this is now a scarce and local species, due mainly to the gradual destruction of its favourite habitat, hedgerows. The adults, which fly in February and March, are seldom seen, but the larvae, when present, live gregariously in silken webs on the foodplant, hawthorn and blackthorn. It is now restricted to a few scattered colonies in England and Ireland, and a few localities in Wales.'  Our expert said, 'We are a national stronghold for the species in Somerset and along the coastal strip in ‘Avon’.' – so I felt pleased to have found it.

More Swift groups: Today I saw four low-flying Swifts come screaming along an inner-city residential road near St Andrew’s Park – another encouraging sign of Swift groups establishing nesting where they may not have been before…
Young Jackdaw

Confiding young Jackdaw: I was watering our back garden early in the morning, with a very young fledgling jackdaw sitting on the fence adjacent - less than two foot away at my closest approach. Fluffy, with a bit of a baby gape, it sat there placidly the whole time looking on with curiosity and giving a hoarse little practice ‘chack’ every now and then. Its parents were watching from trees above but didn’t seem agitated, and eventually called it to a neighbouring shed roof to be fed…

Birding in Anglesey:
Mary Jessop
Islands: Anglesey is an island off the north-west of Wales; we stayed on Holy Island at its far north-west end - which is technically another island as you cross a dividing estuary to reach it. And when we visited Southstack just north of our hotel, we saw that its precipitous cliffs and stacks with a lighthouse on one, reached by a flimsy bridge - is a final island, full of nesting Guillemots and Razorbills, with Shearwaters cutting by. We went there in a dramatic storm, and slowly descended the cliff path to the bridge, becoming more and more as one with the birds wildly swirling all about us as they fished… the Razorbills have a particular quality of electric energy, enthusiasm, daring - that I find irresistible…
Holyhead Harbour
Joe Jones
In Holyhead (where the Irish ferry comes in) at the scruffy back end of the harbour – were charming Black Guillemots, rotund and jolly, enjoying this haven, with one nesting in a small drainage pipe discharging from the harbour wall... and a glimpse of a Merganser in the sea beyond.

Westbury on Severn: We visited Westbury Court on the west side of the Severn Estuary, with its delightfully domestic-formal Dutch-style gardens dating from the 17th century. We found scarlet-flowered Pheasant’s Eye – a rare old-fashioned cornfield ‘weed’; and many other old plants and trees like Wild and True Service Trees and Medlar. By a stream in fields towards the Severn were fine tall Black Poplars – dark, curved and rugged with diagnostic galls forming green
Pheasant's Eye
Krzysztof Ziarnek
lumps where the stem joins the leaves...
On the Severn as we climbed the Garden Cliff (a lower version of the famous Aust Cliffs on the other side of the estuary) – an obviously distressed female peregrine continued to hover above us, calling, so we agreed to turn back… (I later learnt there is a well-known nesting site here...)

Echolocation: There was an interesting programme on Radio 4 about echolocation in animals, particularly bats. Their calls, translated into human-range decibels, go far into painful-to-damaging loudness; and I had never before considered the problem of protecting yourself from your own calls while still being able to hear the responding echo. Elegantly, bats produce these calls by using their flight muscles to help power air through the vocal cords; while using an ear bone structure to block their ears at the moment of emission, reopening microseconds later to hear the response.
Bats evolved after insects, so most insects have no sonic hearing and are still at the mercy of the bats’ stealth attacks. However it has been an arms war ever since, and some have evolved an insect version of ears which can hear bat calls; and toxic tiger moths can produce their own sonic calls which may warn or jam the echolocations systems of their hunters…
Moon Moth
Dinesh Valke 
A local expert added: ‘University of Bristol research is also demonstrating that the scales on moth bodies and on wings can act as sonar absorbing or reflecting so as to deflect bats away from the body towards the wing extremities.  The long tails of tropical Moon Moths for example result in bats being fooled into aiming to the tips of the tails whereas their fluffy bodies absorb the sonar like a stealth aeroplane.  Recent discoveries in the small ermine moths (common in the UK) have shown wing structures which create noise which, combined with white wings (another warning signal to bats), indicate they are unpalatable to eat.’  Nature at its most inventive!

‘Insect Pollinators’ field walk, Wills Hall, with entomologist Richard Comont:
We learnt that a multitude of flying insects are significant plant pollinators besides the honey bee; and of the  UK’s roughly 27,000 insect species, about 1500 are considered significant - in fact, the honey bee is a poor pollinator as it gathers and retains pollen too efficiently! In contrast, solitary bees are generally about 30 times more efficient as they zigzag more to reach more varied plants and leave more pollen on the flowers, and the red miner bee is about 300 times more efficient! Also honey bees can’t reach into long-tubed flowers whereas many other bees and insects can.

Trouble with Wigeons: The retired regional bird recorder queried a sighting of 25 Wigeon in eclipse on the
Wigeon (not eclipse!). Estormez 
Severn foreshore, that I had innocently sent to our Avon bird blog: ‘Are you sure about this?  In most years they are quite scarce in summer as they do not breed in the area.  If it is right then it would be a very unusual record.'
I replied with some corroborating details (as well as wondering if the extreme hot weather had driven them here) which satisfied him – ‘This does all seem OK, so a good record and as I said an unusual one.’ But the whole experience was stressful and nerve-wracking, as it has been every time I have had sightings queried! Much of my problem is, that the gap between the last winterers or migrants of a species that can be seen at the end of Spring, and the first 'Autumn' arrivals of the same species, can be so small that they practically overlap; so there are many species that in my ignorance I never even realised left in summer  - I thought they were here all the time and I just hadn't seen them! Furthermore, many a bird's 'Autumn' starts in what we experience as high summer, making the potential confusion even greater…

River Thames at Datchet
Darren Smith
The River Thames at Windsor: I spent a morning swimming and bird watching on the River Thames, before my namesake niece’s boat-warming party to celebrate her new houseboat moorings at Datchet just downriver. Idly sitting on one spot on the river bank with cornfields behind, I spotted kestrel, sparrowhawk, buzzards and red kite – and two hobbies. I’d heard their call and thought it was a green woodpecker! I saw them and thought, ‘What large swifts’!! Oh dear, I can be stupid… One of the hobbies mobbed a buzzard with really vicious attacks…

Solitary wasps: We have just taken down an old wooden shed, and removed what I thought were
Wasps' Nest
three beautiful solitary wasps' nest from the ceiling. The best was 35mm across, a double-walled sphere with an 18mm diameter opening showing a group of hexagonal cells within, all made of pale paper (picture). Our local invertebrate expert suggested that ‘r
ather than solitary wasps these sound like queen social wasp nests which have been abandoned. The queen has to start the colony off each year but if killed or disturbed for some reason the initial nest she makes often gets abandoned.’

Hedgehog Surprise: A friend was in the garden late at night a couple of nights ago. In the dark he brushed against something prickly - a hedgehog! The first we have seen here for many a year.

Walking the Stroud Canal behind Thrupp (the village that sounds like an ailment?), in its full July glory of land and water plants in flower, and young birds – abundant tender-leaved Pellitory of the Wall; Moorhens with babies trotting across the water plants; dipping Grey Wagtails giving that splash of bright yellow; the young of some Mallard / farmyard duck cross, with odd white ‘spectacle’ lines round their eyes; Blue-tailed Damselflies zipping about
Blue-tailed Damselfly - rufescens
Charles J Sharp
including some of the orangey ‘Rufescens’ form...

More belated learning: I wrote with some frustration to a birdy friend that - ‘It's taken me long enough to realise that I can check the unusualness of seeing a species by month and place, from the Avon Bird Report - I am such a slow learner sometimes, but I will do this more often. Yesterday I became all anxious that the relatively large flocks of Lapwing and Linnet I’d reported from New Passage would turn out to be another anomaly like the Wigeon I reported in June. But I checked local blogs and the latest Avon Bird Report, and such flocks now are perfectly                                                                     common. So it would be sensible if I did this before rather than                                                             after sending in reports...’

Peachy young: Juvenile Black-headed Gulls at Sea Mills showed pretty patterning, and a touch of peachiness on some...

Linnet song at Aust: It seems to me that one rarely hears a proper song from Linnets, rather than
Bj Shoenmakers
their many smaller calls – to such an extent that the couple of times I have heard full songs this year I’ve been completely temporarily flummoxed! – what was that bird?! Today at Aust Warth was one of those times, until the penny suddenly dropped - and then I could see the Linnet itself performing on a hedge... Yet the expectation is of abundant lyrical song from this bird that used to be caged for its singing as well as its beauty…

Bleached: Early this morning I looked out to the far hills of Dundry on the southerly skyline. The fields of grain (cut or uncut) are now so bleached with weeks of heatwave that they are parched to paleness and glowed a pale pink...

Stone Parsley
John Curtis 
Stone Parsley: The Pilning Wetland side lane has swathes of Stone Parsley along it – the umbellifer with dainty leaves and tiny white flowers that smells interestingly of petrol when squeezed…

Car-camping in the Somerset Levels
I went car-camping in the Somerset Levels east of Burnham on Sea, starting at the Huntspill River. It was still powerful heatwave weather, becoming overwhelmingly hot by midday each day…
The Huntspill River from the sea to eight kilometres inland, has been artificially straightened, and widened to nearly 60 metres. I camped in the little fishermen’s carpark just below the Gold Corner pumping station; upriver from here the Huntspill narrows to its end near Glasonbury (the Tor visible in the distance…) It’s very quiet and remote, full of watery interest and wonderful for swimming…
Dragonfly studies: I used this riverine opportunity to study dragonflies with my field guides: I saw my first Brown Hawker, interacting with a Southern Hawker on a small rhine-
Brown Hawker
Tony Hisgett 
end pool next to the big river. Both species patrolled up and down, and once they collided and their wings made that sinister electrical 'zzzz' noise... There was a Black-tailed Skimmer low on the reeds of the river –  it’s so dry that the banks were indeed quite bare as I understand this species prefers. And abundant Demoiselles and blue Damsels.
There were so many water boatmen and other water-walking insects that they freckled the river surface into intricate patterns... Water plants: Arrowhead, Frogbit, Lesser Water Parsnip
The huge willow on the river bank had high pendant branches that bounced and undulated in the breeze, strangely evoking images of jellyfish and elephants...
A Magic swim: In the evening the sun hung low directly above the north-westerly line of the river,
Huntspill River
Roger Cornfoot 
flooding it with liquid gold. There was a single fisherman out of sight upstream but otherwise it was completely quiet and solitary. The water was deliciously warm, no swans were bothering me with aggressive intentions, and it felt like there was infinite room to just strike out into the gold and swim and swim...
The River Brue inland – looked and felt older, winding, lined with tall trees, the water surface covered with pondweed and moving almost imperceptibly slowly ...
Highbridge and Brue Estuary to Huntspill Estuary:
An embankment bouquet: pale purple sea lavender, darker purple teasel, white-green wild carrot, dark green rock samphire...
Raven size: Theoretically I know that ravens are considerably larger than other corvids, but seen on their own this doesn’t really register, and even flying near other corvids the difference isn’t necessarily that noticeable. But on the embankment a raven sat on a stile post with a crow perched just below it – and oh it was noticeable there! What a brute, and that bulky down-tipped bill...
Cow rescued from mud: Standing on the River Brue’s final sluice gate before its small tidal estuary
Brue Estuary
Ken Grainger
into the Bristol Channel, I and other watchers saw a cow stauck fast low down in the tidal mud, only head and shoulders visible, and many of us phoned the fire service. I carried on walking round the coastal embankment to the Huntspill Estuary – I met the farmer who said this cow was probably one who’d done it before! Gradually we could see emergency vehicles arriving... Two hour later I arrived back – there were eight emergency vehicles on the salt marsh, four more in a meadow behind, and the farmer’s tractor pulling out the limp-looking cow. She looked half-dead, yet as soon as her hooves got a grip she scrambled up and trotted up the grass as though nothing had happened – so tough animals are! If the tide had been rising not falling she would have been dead...

Swift Song: Swifts are declining, so local enthusiasts are encouraging us to install nest boxes, and play Swift calls to encourage them to new nest sites. Last year I got some expert advice on an installation for my attic room, and this year my electronics friend helped my put it together – so early and late each day since May, a half-hour recording of screaming Swifts has burst into my room…

Llansabbath memorial
I went car-camping in the upper Brecon Canal & Usk Valley areas from Abergavenny towards Brecon. The canal becomes tamer and tamer while the Usk becomes wilder and wilder…
The little church by Llansabbath, on the Usk below Upper Llanover where I had started re-walking the Brecon Canal - held some fine eccentric and grandiose grave monuments – especially this turned granite memorial straight out of an Alice in Wonderland chess game! (pic)
I slept over in Mynnydd Llanganidr, the less-frequented Brecons above Bryn Mawr – spartan and wild, crossed only with sheep trails, pocked with quarries, blueberries ripe for eating... On a natural limestone pavement was an odd accidental display of animal droppings in neat groups: one group small and dark and close together, an adjacent group paler and more separated, then larger and paler still – like a crazy board game...
The Usk at
Llangynidr Bridge
Phillip Halling 
Knowing nothing about it, I targeted the little village of Llanganydir for its access to the River Usk. My first view of the magnificent eighteenth century stone bridge that crosses the wide, wild, rocky,  untouched river – was so beautiful I could have cried - somehow the river appearing bigger here than lower down, with more volume of water. It has carved a wide flat valley with steep wooded sides that prevent access by roads or other human development, and once within, it is intensely private, a symphony of carved Devonian sandstone rocks, flumes, deep pools, powerful falls, shallows and willows... With dippers, grey wagtails, kingfisher, herons, a pair of goosanders snoozing on a rock... and a mink hunting on the bank and river...
Black Darter
Charles J Sharp 
River glimpses: Along the path – those perfectly squared-off paviors are nature’s work, not humans... and that big splash of white paint on the rock above, a foot across - is lichen!
A riverside glade: under the tall overarching oaks and ashes, spotted wood butterfly pairs danced in the sun dapples...
Talybont Reservoir
Owen Herby 
Talybont Reservoir: Climbing into the Brecon Beacons from the Usk Valley is Talybont Reservoir, one of those superb 1930s pieces of grand civil engineering. By the road - a glimpse of red tail – a Redstart. At the top end of the reservoir where I was sneaking down towards the water’s edge to view water birds – I saw a Black Darter dragonfly patrolling in rapid short lengths at head height – a ‘first’ to add to my dragonfly list…

Rock Samphire
at Clevedon
Rock Samphire at Clevedon: A flowering Rock Samphire plant is growing out of the stones of Clevedon Harbour wall - as perfectly formed as a William Morris wallpaper pattern... 

Red-veined Darter: Online I wrote that I was fairly confident I had just seen a (scarce) Red-veined Darter in the red male form, in the side lane at Pilning Wetlands; with its striking blue-yellow thoracic spiracle. I didn’t catch the diagnostic red wing-veins, yellow basal wing patches or the yellow pterostigma; but hopefully the reddish eye tops over blue undersides were diagnostic too. Also the place and habitat seemed correct – close to the coast, and some of the newly-remodelled pools surely qualify as the ‘shallow open pools in early successional stages’ that the ‘Dragonflies & Damselflies of the Bristol Region’ describes as favoured habitat.
Our expert said, I have seen them there a couple of times before (although not this year, yet!) so quite
Red-veined Darter
Peter Nijland 
likely - and the eye colour is a very good feature. Nice find!’

Froglet: Today – a very small frog in our front garden, notable because of the gradual disappearance of amphibians locally when they used to be abundant…

Tiny larvae: At Northwick Ouse saltmarsh were a couple of shallow pools (presumably brackish) containing hundreds of tiny larvae. They were slim, brownish, about 3-4mm long,  and hung near the surface with tail up and head down, and every now and then giving a powerful wiggle to propel themselves elsewhere. ID suggestions were for mosquito, midge, hoverfly – but I wondered whether all or any of these hatch in salty water?

Unexpected Colours: Bringing an unexpected note of frivolous colour to the industrial Avonmouth road between Wainwrights Asphalt and Veolia: sky blue Chicory flowering abundantly along the verge, and satin orange Californian Poppies further north…
Water Dock

Snapshots from the Stroud Canal: Doing botany at Stroudwater Canal & Eastington, west of Stroud – we saw a wasps’ nest constructed in a pile of dead leaves lying under a grove of trees… a ‘genuine’ Small Copper butterfly shining bright  on the verge along a stretch of unrestored canal (as opposed to  the extra-bright Gatekeepers that I so often try and turn into Small Coppers…)… and where the natural stream wound along the canal bottom - huge Water Docks with leaves pleated at right angles to the central rib...

Close-ups: I saw six Southern Hawker and four Ruddy Darter dragonflies at New Passage/Pilning
Ruddy Darter
Wetlands today. Up close, the Ruddy Darter’s dark-red pterostigma patterns on the wings, outlined in black, are as lovely as stained glass; while its rounded frons ‘nose’ area is tinted pink, giving it a comically clownish look at the right angle...
On the saltmarsh, a juvenile pied wagtail showed a black crescent breast band and pale yellow throat…

Durdham Downs: Ivy ‘trees’ are taking over some of the isolated shrubby islands on the Downs. One striking example has encapsulated a struggling low ‘real’ tree, creating a flowering mound about eight foot high and ten foot across, covered with feeding insects on the sheltered side.
Autumn Lady’s-tresses
Ian Capper 
There were two Nuthatches there, one in the pines near the Wills buildings, the other in hawthorns near the ivy mound – an unusual place for such a woodland bird? The first bird was hammering so fiercely on a soft area of branch that I think they must have insulated head structures like a Woodpecker…
The Autumn Lady’s-tresses orchids are still pushing through conspicuous new stems with their inconspicuous pale flowers spiralling slightly upwards, in the cut hay-area of grassland. Adjacent, the abundantly-fruiting whitebeams by Peregrine Point are a beautiful sight – the stems of both leaves
Whitebeam on the Downs
and fruit the same pale green-white as the leaf undersides, with the fruits merging from cream to light orange...

Majestic Rainbow: Early this morning, looking due west from my loft window there was a magnificent huge rainbow – very wide  and majestically high as they are when the sun is low...

Sheltering Pigeons: It was a wildly stormy day as I stopped at Sea Mills for a quick bird watch. The metal railway bridge crossing the River Trym where it enters the Avon, is always home to many feral pigeons; but today there were over a hundred and fifty of them, all sheltering on the leeward side and huddled and pushed as close together as possible with not a bit of room between them!
Sea Mills Railway Bridge

Natural energy: In one of her books the self-sufficient solitary and wild wanderer Hope Bourne of Exmoor wrote that every day she awoke ‘full of boundless energy and zest for the day ahead’, words that have been an aspirational shock-wave to me since I read them. But I am also sure this is how all natural creatures live and experience their lives...

Unlikely bird-lovers? I was drawing in the  small St Andrews Road train station car park just north of Avonmouth today.
St Andrews Road station car park
& bird feeders
There’s a tea hut there, closed on previous visits but open this morning, and oblivious or uncaring of my presence, the air was blue with non-stop swearing from owner and customers. Yet someone involved is obviously a bird lover as the car park is ringed with well-stocked and -visited feeders and water bowls... it never does to stereotype...

Fiery: Our house in Filton is on a plateau forming some of the highest ground in the area, and my loft room gives an extra-high viewpoint. However this evening when the sun was already below the horizon in Filton, new university buildings a mile or so eastwards were still catching the light, windows glowing with an intense copper fire as though from an incandescent blaze within. Strangely, this radiant vision was not ephemeral but lasted for many minutes...
A Shy Albatross - far from land
Ed Dunens 

Far from Land: I have just read ‘Far from Land – the mysterious life of Seabirds’ by Michael Brook (a curator of ornithology at Cambridge) 2018, which describes the flood of new information about pelagic (ocean-dwelling) birds resulting from modern miniturised tracking devices - in the past these creatures being almost impossible to study. Very thought-provoking…

A line of Shelduck: In the sea along the embankment south of Clevedon were about 130 Shelduck in one continuous single-file line, running parallel to the shore a hundred metres out and for over half a kilometre. The local patch expert had seen the same phenomenon the day before but had no explanation for it…

Bryony: Translucent red bryony berries wreathed through yellowish flowering ivy – bees busy, pollen sacs heavy on their legs...

New Passage migration watch:
I felt privileged to be invited for a migration watch on the Severn Estuary with two noteworthy birdwatchers, meeting at first light on a clear morning but with a very cold north-westerly wind. As usual, to be out so early sharing the elements just with travelling birds felt  a privilege in itself… As day broke and migration lessened,
Grey Plover
Zeynel Cebeci 
we walked up to the wetland pools where hundreds of Dunlin, Knot and Blacktailed Godwits were packed close together snoozing in the shallow water. Briefly disturbed, flocks of Knot rose just a few

feet into the air and hovered, before settling again...
A Grey Plover landed nearby, showing its lovely grey spangled back plumage and legs that also looked chicly pearly-grey. My companions had earlier been alerted to its presence by its cry – like a Curlew having an off day - and tried to lure it closer with imitations for better photo-opportunities...

Common Gull
‘Mirrors’: Visiting Marshfield, we saw about forty Common Gulls wheeling and settling on upland farmland. For the first time I noticed their strikingly lovely wing-tip patterns - a strong slash of black with large white circular spots called ‘mirrors’. Only gulls’ spots have this name, and expert birders can apparently make fine species distinctions from subtle differences in these spots…

Kingfisher hovering
Tony French 
Kingfisher: A Kingfisher sitting on a pole on the edge of the Avon at Saltford’s Shallows, took off and hovered like a Hummingbird above the water before diving in vertically like a tiny Gannet - it did this twice before catching its prey. A beautiful sight!

Black-tailed Godwit
Ian Stapp 

Close-ups: As usual, the Pilning Wetlands side lane is a sheltered oasis of tranquillity compared with the exposed Severnside coast, where insects love to come right into the winter. The furthest pool has been flooded so it comes to within metres of the lane; crowds of Black-tailed Godwits mingled with Wigeon there, allowing me privileged close views of their natty half-pink bills…

Variegated Thistle rosette
Graham Horn 
Geology in the Quantocks, early December: At Woolston Quarry just south of Williton, we explored the striking south-facing red cliff face of Triassic conglomerates, rising from meadows sloping smoothly and steeply down to the steam railway line. Disturbed, a large pale barn owl flew from a recess in the cliff and drifted off… The sheltered south-facing meadow was patched with the large shiny ornamental rosettes of Variegated Thistle, which I’d previously only seen in Sardinia.
Rotting logs in nearby woods held the soft little suedy yellow fungus Tremella mesenterica or Yellow Brain. I like the no-nonsense descriptive accuracy of such fungi common names - Yellow? Check! Looks like a brain? Check! And effusively shaggy moss…
Yellow Brain fungus
Metamorphism: I sometimes have to revert to asking really basic, ‘stupid’ questions (in fact one needs to do this in all fields of enquiry, as the human default is to take things as given without asking WHY…). This time I asked – had I missed something? – did all folding processes like the Variscan cause some form of metamorphism? (This was triggered by learning that virtually all of Devon and Cornwall, and considerable areas of Exmoor and the Quantocks, have low-grade regional metamorphism from the Variscan Orogeny (mountain-building folding resulting from the collision of tectonic plates); while further north to Bristol and beyond, there is still terrific folding but without such alteration) Our tutor gave this simple answer: only when rocks are taken down sufficiently deeply for temperature and pressure to alter them. This paints a vivid picture of the profound scale of Variscan forces…
Lush verge at Easter 
Compton this 

Lush verges: Generally in spite of some cold snaps, there seems to be much lush soft fresh green growth in hedgerows and verges all about... Noticeable today were plants of the geranium, bedstraw and sow thistles tribes, hogweeds, and deadnettles and veronicas flowering prettily…

Gnats: Clouds of gnats along the sheltered wetlands side lane, thought the south-easterly wind was sharp up on the salt marsh.

The farm of Hell:It was my first return to Ingst (a tiny hamlet in the isolated South Gloucestershire levels) since I learned of the full background to Ingst Manor Farm – ‘the farm of hell’. It always looked frighteningly disordered and run down as one drove past to access the start of my bird survey square, and an ecologist friend had been traumatised having to survey across it and coming on half-buried animal heads some years ago. But the full story emerged recently when the owner and her collaborator were finally being brought to justice – look it up if you need to know more. This time attempts had obviously been made to tidy up the perimeter, yet there were still suspect looking characters hanging around… What must it have been like to be a neighbour in the village and see the owner return over years and decades to perpetrate the same horrors again?
Almondsbury arched
rhine bridge

Below Almondsbury – the rhines on Christmas Day: Winter quiet, Christmas day quiet… I was charmed as ever by the tiny arched stone bridges that span the small rhines beside the lane – just two metres long, and mostly no longer in use…
Tiny golden apples still clinging to a tree above a rhine…
The beauty of bare oak silhouettes above another rhine…

Marshfield Gossamer: Under a low sun you could see the landscape was covered with a layer of gossamer spider silk; particularly visible on short grass looking directly towards the sun, which lit up this dainty white silken coverlet, shuddering gently with any small air movements. It would be easy to take this phenomenon for granted, yet the logistics seem staggering: if the silk comes from spiderlings, what sort of hatchings could cover kilometres of ground so completely and so evenly?
Gossamer at Marshfield

Winter Flower Hunt: I attended a Winter Flower Hunt at Burnham with about sixteen other botanists – very competitive! Started by the Botany Society of Britain & Ireland eight years ago, the simple rules require a team of people on foot to search one area for three hours for any plants in flower. With 74 species found, we were head of the British and Irish leaderboard by the end of that day! Even with so many expert botanists it still seems an extraordinary count for the depths of winter, and it was eye-opening to see the tiny plants with tinier flowers that were discovered…
Yet counts were expected to be lower than previous years – one expert suggesting that flowers were scarcer because brightness of light may have as much influence as warmth of temperature. So we’ve had a mild month, but some very gloomy days…
Black Poplar trunk
Competitive: A couple of days later I updated a friend on how we were now 'only' fifth in the BSBI flower hunt league table (South Wales surging ahead...), and he said: Ah, the curse of the competitive urge, the botanical rollercoaster ride between elation and despair. Repent!
Throw away your Stace and your Rose! You will find no comfort in Hieracium and no consolation in the Umbelliferae. Alas I fear it may be too late for you.... ' 

Black Poplar: As we drove through Burnham, my colleague pointed out the third Black Poplar specimen I’ve now seen – a magnificent roadside tree with the distinctive powerful rugged outline, deeply fissured dark bark, and heavy boles.


The Severn Estuary