Tuesday, 15 June 2010
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Monday, 5 April 2010
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.
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.
Tuesday, 30 March 2010
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
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
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
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!
Sunday, 14 February 2010
So now that the snowdrops have put in an appearance and the winter chores are done my camera and I have been reacquainted - we have had a period of unforced separation!
EDDC were running their 'Wet and Wild Weekend' winter edition. So of we popped to Seaton. A stop at Borrow Pit on the way was a must following a hot tip regarding endless photo opportunities of Otters, they were not in the mood and so did not turn up - next time maybe? Still we were greeted with a cacophony of birdsong and the sight of Grey Heron, Great Egret, numerous Coots, a pair of Diving Ducks and a pair of swans.
Following a few snaps we made our way further down road to the "very" welcome tent nestling next to a man made lagoon which has been constructed with great care to give rise to a ecosystem perfect for the many wetland birds passing through and staying in the area. Spotting scopes revealed Little Egrets, more Grey Herons, a Kingfisher or two, Shel ducks and some Mallards.
Our next step was the highly informative and interesting "history of the Axe Estuary" walk and talk given by Kate Tobin, this was punctuated with points of wildlife interest, a hovering Kestrel, Water Vole Holes, flight of the Kingfisher amongst others. They have many plans for the future and much to benefit the local wildlife, local involvement and awareness will play a key part. One such plan is to link parts of the reserve together which revealed an unexpected jewel. A little brook that in a month or so will look stunning - I shall be sure to return and confirm my suspicions.
Our walk terminated at the bird ringing tent, a highly valuable resource of information both to us on the day and for the records showing the state of the various populations of passerine birds. First we met an adult Dunnock and watched the process of ringing,
measuring and weighing. Once all the data has been collected the bird can then be released.
Certain species were approved for release by young volunteers, the Robin below was ably released by my daughter who as can be seen was entranced by the process. Getting youngsters this close the to nature and management there of is a must for the continued success of such projects and nature as a whole.
The recorders are out every other week and allow the public to view and get involved several days across the year - if you are able it is well worth a visit.