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!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Out of Hibernation

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.