Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Full scale emergence

I had decided that in order to capture some images of the so far rather elusive Mr/Mrs Water Vole that perhaps an overnight stay on site would be in order. With my pitch selected and all kit stowed I took a recce around the site to see what was about.
The delicate blooms of Field Vetch (Vicia sepium) were in abundance in amongst verges as I passed. Having walked some of the paths a detour around Borrow it was called for.
A visit to my favourite spot - the pond dipping pontoon, allowed me some shots of the numerous blue tailed damselflies (Ischnura elegans), on closer inspection many exuviae were present of damselflies as well as a few Emperor Dragonflies (Anax imperator), though none were seen in flight!
On returning to the tent I found this little chap chewing away on Sea Club Rush (Bolboschoenus maritimus), no idea, (yet) what he is but he seemed happy! After much waiting alongside promising looking grazing I eventually turned in for the night, fully expectant for an early morning.
Despite much searching, sitting and waiting I was still unable to lay eyeball on a Water Vole (Arvicola terrestris), there were many signs from the darker hours with many a trail being visible amongst the duck weed but sadly still no sight! So a decamped to the Pit again and was greeted by a Pyrochora serraticornis going about his morning business.
A wander amongst the numerous runnunculus revealed an Oedemera nobilis, this handsome green chap didn't like hanging around for some random photographer to take his picture and so was followed through a couple of plants!
The Oxeye Daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare) looked splendid and having settled in to photograph one a Damselfly decided that it would rather like to be part of the picture and so quickly plonked itself on top of the target bloom, so not one to pass up an opportunity I continued to click away.
A walk around the pit revealed many more pleasures several Speckled Wood butterflies (Pararge aegeria) rose up before me as I intruded on their territory, before resuming there sunbathing upon open ground.
Further into my amble I wold come across clouds of damselflies rising before me as I disturbed them from the deep Rush and Reed Mace stems, it was amongst these clouds I noted several tandems amongst them, where the male clasps a female atop the thorax to encourage her to raise her abdomen to his end of thorax in order to mate and thus complete the "wheel"
It was not only Blue Tailed Damselflies engaged in this mating orgy but also Azure Damselflies (Coenagrion puella) were found in good numbers adding to the plethora of insects finally found amongst the mass emergence of the site.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Spring is here?

So is it? The signs seem to be there! One of the Phenological measures is Cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis) this has appeared in abundance this year in hitherto unseen patches - well by me anyway. Hawthorn blossom was bunched tight for much of April before it decided to flourish. 
The Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) have suddenly awakened and great swathes of blue through the local woods, they popped up in fits and starts not really knowing they were supposed to be there and then with the onset of some warm April sunshine suddenly all at once took their part in the great spring spectacle.
My earlier find of signs of Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula), have now sprouted into the beautiful and stunning Wild Orchid that they are, their appearance heralding the start of my personal Orchid Voyage through the countryside. Is it me or has the harsh winter led to a greater amount of flowers this year, I seem to have found more of everything this year, late as it may have been.
Joining in with this symphony of colour are the ferns unfurling there exquisite fronds standing to attention bolt upright before later gently leaning over.
The trees have also been joining in their canopies seemingly full of flower and splendour, Horse Chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) has been found blooming in earnest near to me which will do wonders for the conker players! Please also not that the flowers are two distinct colours I'd never notice before!
To complete my springtime collection I found a most unusual looking plant hiding under my mother Laurel hedge, Toothwort (Lathraea squamaria) a member of the Broomrape family this bizarre looking plant is entirely parasitic on the roots of woody shrubs especially Hazel.
So to answer the question "Spring is here?" I reckon, yes it is, is it late, not really just we seem to be more aware of the timing of the seasons of late. What I can tell you is that it has been one of the best so far for flowering plants in quite a while!

Monday, 5 April 2010

If you go down to the woods today.....

Well you may not see any Teddy Bears picnicing, but there are plenty of surprises to be found if you look hard enough. Spring may be a little slow this year but it is certainly gaining pace offering plenty of opportunities to to find little gems hidden in the remnants of winter. The fantastically named Goat Willow - (Salix caprea), known to us better perhaps as Pussy Willow is beginning to flower in earnest.
Blackthorn  - (Prunus spinosa) blossom buds are coating the hedgrows which will soon burst forth with there delicate white flowers covering the tree. Remember, blackthorn flowers before producing leaves and Hawthorn - (Crataegus monogyna) flowers after producing leaves. Bumblebees are busy taking there first feeds after winter and searching for new accommadation. Hazel - (Corylus avellana) trees are bursting forth into leaf, there understorey status requiring them to leaf before the larger hardwoods who will later shade them from much of the energy providing rays of sun.
Then for my first exciting spot, the first rosettes of Early Purple Orchid - (Orchis mascula)  leaves in a most unexpected site but with of 75 of them being found they should provide a fantastic display in a few weeks time. This is made even more exciting as they are situated in amongst a thriving Bluebell - (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) community that look likely to flower simultaneously a fine opportunity for my camera and I!
With a little more foraging, particuarly amongst the moss - (Homalothecium sericeum) coverded trunks and logs I came across little glimpses of scarlet colour contrasting against the rich green of the moss, a little further delving at low level brought about the discovery of a fungi - I know fungi in April, whatever next!. They are in fact Scarlet Elfcups - (Sarcoscypha austriaca) delicate little fungi that stand out with their bright colour.
It is also possible to find in a couple of my favourite locations at this time of year the Wood Anemone - (Anemone nemorosa). It is said that they are a sign of ancient woodland as they rarely germinate from seed in the UK and so spread at a mere 2 metres per 100 years, I can honestly say that the patches I have found have not changed much in size over the last 5 years so perhaps they are right!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Hello Meloe

I recently accepted the task of producing an image per month with which to demonstrate the hidden wonders of Seaton Marshes in order to promote the area and encourage people to look more closely at the site. I immediately set about attempting to take numerous shots of the visiting waders to the estuary, I previously had not spent much time at the hides and so was able to make the excuse to do so. I found that getting the image I wanted was going to be quite a task and so following another disappointing session I wandered dejectedly back along the path to see if I might find the elusive Otters at Borrow pit, that all and sundry seemed to have observed other than me!

Staring at the ground to ensure my footing, my eye was caught by a flash of dark black against the somewhat bland light green bank - a Beetle. This would need my Macro lens, so kit dumped to the ground, lens changed, I was now in my element. I set about taking a series of shots of this fantastic beetle.

Now happier I moved on only to find more examples of this beetle, many of them in a mating frenzy. A full head count revealed 41 specimens, I later ratified this with another 2 counts with my children on visits over the next 2 days - see previous blog. What I did not know at the time was that I had stumbled across an Oil Beetle which due to severe decline in numbers are fairly rare. Oil beetles are from family of beetles that share a fascinating life-cycle in which the larvae are nest parasites of certain bees . This species, Meloe proscarabeus is bluish black in colour with a long swollen abdomen, which is particularly pronounced in females when they are producing eggs. Females are usually much bigger than males as can be seen above.

Only four of the nine oil beetle species native to Britain remain, and the number of locations where these species can be found has declined drastically. They were once common, but are now limited in their distribution and abundance. South West England is a stronghold but even here their numbers are in decline. Oil beetles have an amazing life-cycle. The larvae are parasites of the ground-nesting solitary bee. They emerge in early spring as adults and begin the job of mating. The females dig burrows in the ground , into which they lay batches of 100's eggs, ( a single female can lay 1000 eggs). The eggs then hatch and the beetle larvae (known as tringulins due to the 3 claws at the end of their legs which enable them to climb) climb up onto flowers where they wait for a host bee. They attach themselves to the bee whilst it collects nectar they will then be flown to the host’s burrow, where the tringulin turns into a grub-like larva, and develops by feeding upon the pollen stores and eggs of the host. The larva will then pupate and the resulting adult beetle will spend the winter inside the host’s burrow before emerging the following spring to start the cycle again

Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, is currently running the Oil Beetle Conservation Project, which aims to establish the current range of Britain’s remaining oil beetles and to carry out research into their life-cycles and ecology in order to guide conservation actions targeted at these beetles.

For more on the Buglife Oil Beetle Project and for details of how to help see:

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Pond Dipping - Too early?

Responding to the barmy pre spring sunshine I decided to chance my arm and take the kids pond dipping - Too early I hear you cry however what else do you do with two inqusitive kids on such a cracking day, surely it's worth a try? And so nets, pot's, binoculars, books and tray off we set to Seaton Marshes and my now rather favourite spot of Borrow Pit.
A visit to the bird hide allowed us an impromptu viewing of the many waders currently feeding on the Estuary mudflats, Black Tailed Godwits, Common Sandpipers, Redshank, Dunlin, Little Egret and Curlew were all apparent, whilst the feeders when not being attacked by the rats had gangs of Greenfinches fightng over the goodies. Wigeon, Teal, Grebes and Shelduck rested upon the flooded marshes whilst Buzzards soared overhead.
So a short walk, that was interupted by some important counting,(more of that to come later!), off to Borrow Pit so we could break out the nets. I must admit I was not expecting much and the first few sweeps brought up no more than a handful of Water Snails and the odd Water Hog Louse or Water Slater as it is also known. Patience and I suspect practice paid off though as we started to pull in Nymphs, then Water Boatmen and then Great Diving Beetles. We also caught a couple of Sticklebacks and even a Caddis Fly larvae the case of which can be seen under the Water Boatman illustrated. The larvae constructs a home of tiny stones, shell fragments and other detritus glued together to give it protection from predators
I suspect that my summer will be spent visiting the site many times with my children to repeat the excercise, though I hope to catch up with Grass snakes and Water Voles as well. The Dragonflies, Damselflies and other pond dwellers will be well documented also, I can assure you!

Sunday, 28 February 2010

Hide and Seek at the Axe Estuary

This weekend I treated myself to something new, a visit to the Seaton Marshes bird hide. Now I'm not much of a birder as you may have noted from earlier blogs, I specialise in insects, small mammals and flora. So in the interests of my educational aspirations I have to take the leap and explore more aspects of the natural environment and it's contents, first learning for myself and then passing this knowledge on.
Well I can quite confidently say that this was a particuarly good decision, on entering the hide I was greeted by plenty of seating and viewing ports as well as a highly informative wall of images and information about the likely birds I would see. First up was a Curlew foraging in the mud flats exposed by the receding tide, I did not need the ID wall for this one as it has a particuarly unique bill shape giving rise to its name no doubt! surrounding the Curlew were several Dunlin - I did need to refer to the ID wall for this one!, a Redshank, then  a Little Egret made and appearance as well as a host of Gulls, Mallards, Grebes, Sandpipers and Widgeon, whilst overhead, flocks of Lapwings scooted across the sky.
One particular species absent, though normally numerable on the site was Shelduck, this was due to, as I discovered later, that 53 had been ringed in the morning session by local ringers, this done the ducks obviously went of to sulk for a while and did not reappear until I was at the point of leaving. The site has much to offer as well as two purpose built hides it is possible to watch the estuay from the roadside leading from Axemouth to Seaton. There are also some bird feeders nearby to attract the large passerine bird population as well, with gangs of Greenfinches and Goldfinches, pairs of Blue Tits, Great Tits also troops of Long Tailed Tits feeding reguarly by the hide, but also feeding there, as any good opportunist would, was a rather plump Brown Rat!
So having had my time filled with many observations of a whole host of birds, some entirely new to me, some rather more common to my own garden feeder, I left the hide sated and happy, I will of course be going back reguarly now - with a thermos of Tea! On the way back to the car, Springs upcoming arrival was being signalled by the onset of flowers on the trees such as Birch, the greening up of the surroundings and the warmth of the sun beating upon my back.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Rockpooling Heaven

What a week! Bags, family and camera all crammed into the car, off we headed for a weeks break in Cornwall's Looe Bay. Cornwall has rocky shores in abundance and rocky shores mean.......... rockpools - playground enough for any kid (especially the big ones!!!) The first location was in fact Polpero, and my mountain goat like eldest daughter soon found a Spiny Starfish languishing in a pool several feet up the side of the rock cliffs. A stunning blue variation it was to.

The following day and subsequent days thereafter we stayed closer to home at Millendreath and Looe Bay. The Mussel and Star Barnacle encrusted rocks were well and truly explored by all of us, remember to be careful if you follow in our footsteps, barnacle shells are sharp, as my not so Mountain Goat like younger daughter found out to her cost!

The rocks were also covered in an array of seaweed, Channel, Bladder, Egg and Serrated Wrack as well as an abundance of Coral Weed to be found within the pools themselves. The odd piece of Kelp could be found that had been ripped from it's moorings during a stormy sea. Again take care across those rocks - green means slippery

We found an abundance of Rock Gobies and several varieties of Crab, Velvet Swimmers with there flattened rear pair of legs and red eyes, Edible Crabs who have large pincers and hairy legs and of course shore crabs. Common Prawns were seen darting across the pool - a net is a must for catching them. Generally lifting rocks carefully will reveal most of these inhabitants, remember to take care and replace them afterwards as well. We also came across large amounts of red jelly blobs plastered to the sides of rocks.

On closer inspection into the pools we found these to be the jewel in the crown of the day, Sea Anemones! These beautiful creatures are related to Jellyfish. They have a sucker that attaches them to the rocks or sometimes a mollusc. They have stinging tentacles that can even poison small fish.

These were Beadlet Anemones, when they are out of water they have he ability to fully retract their tentacles and trap some water to prevent them drying out. They also have, as can be seen 24 bright blue spots at the top of the body.

There are 3 forms of Beadlet, Red as above, Green as can be seen above above and the stunning looking Strawberry as seen below. These are truly wonderful creatures and I'm afraid I spent most of my time looking for and photographing them!
Then during the "hunt" I found an absolute beauty, then another and another, this was the Snakelocks Anemone named by the snaking attitude of it's tentacles, the below is the green variant with purple tips, like the beadlet it has another variant which is a bland green/brown colour. Snakelocks Anemones can be identified by their long tentacles and the fact that they can not fully retract them.
Rock Pooling Do's and Dont's;
Do take a net and bucket (largish)
Don't run on the rocks
Do wear something grippy on your feet
Don't hold things in your bucket for too long - the water has little oxygen and heats up too much
Do replace things you find in the pool you found them
Don't let your children wander off - rockpooling is a family activity
Do keep your eyes peeled, you never know whats in the next pool
Don't let your parents wander off either!
Do keep an eye on the tide - check with locals for info if necessary
Dont take anything home - except photo's, notes and memories
Do have fun!