Monday, 30 September 2013

Nature Notes 2007

'Your boys'
(This was in response to Bristol's gull expert Pete Rock, whose reports on their doings continue to surprise the Bristol Wildlife group) Hi Pete, a friend whom I occasionally update on the doings of your gulls calls them 'the Chavs', as they live in not always the most salubrious places (refuse sites are favourites), they like to holiday on the Spanish Costas; but if they can afford it - it's sun, sand and sea in Gambia for preference!

Another Banksian* moment 
by Narking

(Note - nothing to do with wildlife!) This morning I was at a meeting at a local Parish Hall, looking out on their children's play area. There was an elaborate climbing frame with a mini climbing wall with 'peekaboo' cutouts, and some decoration at which I was staring vacantly. Then I suddenly thought, 'Hammers and sickles? Hammers and sickles??? That's a very odd motif for a playground...' Someone had neatly spray-painted a symetrical series of these revolutionary symbols up the wall... (unless they truly had been a part of the original concept?)
*(A reference to Banksy, Bristol's favourite graffiti artist)

Spring signs
For signs of early spring (botanically) it's all about flowers. But for middle spring, what is more indicative and evocative than the first bloom of leaf on the hawthorne bushes, when at last the hedgerows start to blush with green...

Early morning walk
On a very cold early morning walk along the River Avon west of Sea Mills, I saw:
- A pair of shelducks swimming and flying in rivetingly brilliant breeding plumage, red beaks blazing in the sunshine.
- About 6 redshank. I was very struck this time by the contrast between their strength and boldness in flight -
by Ken Billington
the strong black and white wing patterns, the bold voices, the forceful flight - and their quietness on the mud - small, modestly camouflaged, gentle movements.
- A tortoiseshell and brimstone butterflies, as well as curlews, dunlin, mallard and herons.
On climbing back up through woodland to the Portway I had an odd experience: I was under some large oaks surrounded with birdsong when suddenly all these little birds came flying into the branches to make a ring above my head full of alarm calls - three bluetits, two great tits, two long-tailed tits and a chaffinch pair! So odd to have them fly towards, not away from one! (A member suggested a sparrowhawk hunting - I became the lesser threat!)

I just spent four days camping solo in my car, in South Pembrokeshire around Tenby.  There were few birds about, though loads of whitethroats and stonechats; some nice butterflies; and some exquisite combinations of flowers of which alas mostly I don't know the names - some I hadn't even seen before.
Of some more unusual things seen:
The wind had come up very strongly off the sea for two days, and created a mass of sea foam. (Literary aside: I believe the poetic word for this is 'spindrift'. I seem to remember this word being made mock of in 'Cold Comfort Farm' - wasn't it the title of a slim book of poems by Mr Mybug?) Down the long boulder beach at Marros, for some reason the masses of foam were strongly iridescent, and the bubbles glowed blue, green, purple, orange, pink as one walked along.
The next day at Skrinkle Haven, masses of foam were being blown into a sea gulley. They must have been feet deep, and formed a huge trembling, wallowing mattress, with occasional bits being blown off as high into the sky as the gulls were flying.
The geology is interesting as the strata has been so compressed into folds that it stands completely vertically for scores of miles, often parallel to the sea which is carving it into tall caves, arches and bridges, and impressive Lord of the Rings-type turrets.
I saw one lone chough pottering about. In an inland pond a tiny moorhen chick was pushing its way through waterlily leaves, while blue dragonflies rather bigger than it was, whizzed past it!

Taunton Canal; Durdle Dor.
On Friday late afternoon I was on the banks of the Taunton-Bridgewater canal when I saw a snake
by Matt Fascione
swimming towards me. It slithered out and rested about a foot from my feet, and I could observe it as closely as I wished: about two foot long, yellowy slender body with little dark marks down it, broad viperish head, distinctive light yellow collar. Although I was brought up to be adder-aware, I have never actually seen one (though annoyingly someone running on the Gower coast path recently told me, 'I've just had to jump over an adder!'); and the only grass snake I've seen was a dead one in Corsica which was large, smooth olive green, and I thought had a smaller head in relation to a plumper body. So this was very exciting, but I didn't feel 100% about its classification and so moved nervously away! Now I've researched a bit more I realise it's grass snakes that like the water, and they do have a broad head; anyway, a magical experience.
On Saturday I was on the beautiful coastal chalk flower meadows above Durdle Dor, Dorset. As well as an
Rose chafer. by Wilder Kaiser
incredible variety of butterflies some rose chafers were roaming the fields. They seemed very attracted to humans and followed and settled on me and another walker, one sitting on my shoe for minutes as I walked. I was told they are attracted to sweet smells, so maybe it was the sun lotion they liked!
Also on my walk from Durdle Dor back to Weymouth, partly at night, I saw a glow worm at Ringstead - I picked the little fellow up. What a strong light it cast - neon green!

Spiders’ webs
Yesterday morning we had the most fantastic diplay of autumn web-making I've ever seen. It was misty high-pressure weather with lots of damp in the air, and the spiders had gone completely mad, building classic webs across every possible (and some seemingly imposssible) spaces. Our timber lattice fence had a web in almost every 6" square, the clothes line was festooned, with some daredevil constructions across to the greenhouse, and in front there was a web with the initial line strung from the end of a virginia creeper tendril 10' up, across to a low rose bush 7' away. And all the webs hung with droplets glowing in the early morning sun.

Dead pigeon
I saw a rare sight in Southmead yesterday - a pigeon squashed dead on the road. So of these maestros of the last-second casual flap out of the way, this one misjudged and is no more...

South Pembrokeshire
Over last five days on the South Pembrokeshire coast: 
- 5 choughs feeding on the sward atop Stackpole Cliffs.
- On Bosherton Lakes: 4 pairs of goosander. Very beautiful to see these 'matched pairs' with the glowing
Goosanders, by Tony Hisgett
chestnut female heads and dark male heads, almost luminous white breasts. In the woods round the lakes, quantities of robins, blackbirds, tits and wrens - the first three so tame or forward (or hungry?) that I was practically treading on robins, and even blackbirds and tits came and sat by the path as I passed and didn't move away.
- Manorbier beach: A cormorant fishing in the shallows of the breaking stormy surf; like a buoyancy device, it seemed completely impervious to being dunked, dumped and submerged by the breakers. A dead badger on its back on the beach, with a big hole in its stomach and rib ends broken. Had it died on this beach or been washed in from another? Corvids were feeding on it - did they make the hole or something else?

I went out to enjoy yesterday's sunshine but it turned to fog below the higher ground. Orchard Pools was half-frozen, with mallards and coots on the lake ice and swans in the water. I returned to the Downs where I finally re-entered sunshine, but the Avon Gorge was full to the brim of fog right up to the Sea Walls parapet, the fog made luminous by the sun and actually visibly spilling through the railings - a fascinating effect!

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