Sunday, 27 December 2009

Winter here and there

Window view of birds snow and hills

The long snowy spell for the last week or so has been beautiful, although a bit treacherous at times. The number of birds outside our kitchen window has increased dramatically, going from 2 blackbirds initially to about 10 once word had got around; there were 4 robins and 10 starlings, some standing on top of each other. We've had to put out prodigious amounts of seeds and peanuts, as well as keep the water bowls free of ice - and bread at times. A red squirrel visited us a couple of times.

Festive StarlingRed SquirrelBlackbird on frozen wireSnowy mounds with tracksBare snowy branches reach skyward

The view towards High Street and Haweswater has been amazing:
Snowy view to Haweswater and High Street

Hazy snowy viewBreak in clouds
Bare snowy branches reach skywardSnow wall

Viv and I made a couple of snow robins, although it looks very bloody:

Sentinel snow robin

On short walks towards Knipe Scar, we've seen lapwings and fieldfares by the small streams nearby, along with a grey wagtail. The stonechat high in the ash tree confused us initially as these aren't normally so high. Further on we saw fallow deer nipping away through the woods, and interesting tracks through the snow.
LapwingGrey WagtailStonechat high in ash treeDeer in woodTracks in snowTracks in snow

Can you suggest a caption for the photo of this wren underneath a large rook's nest?
Is this my nest?

We found time for the odd snowball, but quite powdery snow so it didn't hurt, though cold going down your neck.
Snowball fight

Can you see why this local feature is called "the eyebrows": The Eyebrows

After being out, we've treated ourselves to some pancakes, made using soya milk and no eggs as normal:

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Leighton Moss birds, 8 Dec 2009

Bearded tits Us, the volunteers at the RSPB Haweswater reserve today had an end of year trip down to Leighton Moss, just outside Cumbria, driven and lunched by our knowledgeable RSPB staffers Spike and Dave. OK - it was a Christmas trip.

We got a treat with Bearded tits, a Cetti's warbler, Marsh tits, side-by-side Redshank and Spotted Redshank, and a Kingfisher to finish off - with clear December visibility while the light lasted.


Walking towards the Public Hide, we soon heard Water rails' unusual shrieking, almost like a bird of prey. About 10 Bearded Tits were coming to the grit trays by the footpath. The others identified a Cetti's warbler by the path - I got a glimpse of the cocked tail, a bit like a Wren but much bigger. A pair of reed buntings also came down to the path.

Ear fungus There wasn't a vast array on the water at the Public Hide, but plenty of Coots and Tufted duck, with a cormorant going overhead. The path round through the trees to the Lower Hide was plentiful, with a first for me, Marsh tits, and 3 Treecreepers, Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Robin, Chaffinch, Great tit, Siskin, Blue tit and Long-tailed tit, with some plentiful ear fungus and candle snuff fungus.

At the Lower Hide, we saw Gadwall close up, Teal, Wigeon, Greylag geese, Cormorant and a Black-headed gull. On the way back to some large cakes we picked up some Spindle red fruit.

Spotted and common Redshank Kingfisher In the afternoon we headed round to the "salt water" hides Allen and Eric Morecambe, the latter sloping downwind. There was a ringed Raven but we couldn't get a close view. Lots of Lapwing were a delight. Spike spotted a Spotted Redshank and we were able to see it right beside an ordinary Redshank as a good comparison: longer straighter bill and longer legs. There was also Shelduck, Shoveler, Pintail, Mute Swan, Greenshank and Gray Heron. "It's all about birds of prey" said Dave, unsuccessfully scanning all the visible fenceposts - though we finished off with fine views of a Kingfisher on close-by fence-posts.

Little Egrets On the way back we parked in a nearby layby to view the starlings. Only a few were seen, but we were rewarded with lots of Little Egrets like cotton wool in a distant tree coming into roost - after a while they moved more into the tree undergrowth. I estimated by 30 but Spike insists that flocks are always undercounted, so it could have been more.

Grey heron

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Bracken fiddleheads and fungi

Dried bracken and lake

An email came through recently asking if I had any dried bracken for sale. Did you mean the photo of dried bracken - on the right? No, yer actual dried bracken! And what colour is it after boiling? Stupid here actually went and collected some dead bracken and tried boiling it - made a terrible smell in the kitchen.

After applying a brain cell, I looked up bracken and found that the tightly furled young bracken shoots are called fiddleheads - so called because they each look like the scroll at the top of a fiddle/violin. Now, fiddleheads are edible apparently, provided you boil them long enough - that's a project to try in spring. (Fiddleheads would be a great name for a band - and sure enough, it is the name of a band! Or two...)

Round here, bracken is viewed as bit of a pain, as it is poisonous to some animals - and tends to squash the small saplings that the RSPB have planted out round Haweswater. However it is harvested commercially by the local Dalefoot Composts to make various composts - I added their use and link to the bracken wikipedia entry.

Golden Spindles fungus On my stomp to get some bracken, I came across some nice fungi on Knipe Scar, in particular what I think is Golden Spindles Clavulinopsis fusiformis. Here are some others I photographed but not identified:

img10793a img10791a

Earlier in the week in the Naddle oak woods, I saw a nice Hen of the Woods fungus and what I think is Moasaic Puffball as we collected acorns:
Hen of the Woods fungus Mosaic Puffball fungus Collected acorns

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Westmorland Damsons for sale

Westmorland DamsonsWe have limited supplied of Westmorland Damsons for sale at our gate for £1.50 per lb.

These damsons make excellent jam, though it is hard work de-stoning the mixture. 5 or 6 lb of damsons makes about 12 standard jars of jam.

Westmorland DamsonsWe were given suckers from Lyth Valley damsons several years ago. We have tended our five trees without chemicals, with occasional pruning. The trees suffer from Pocket Plum disease (also known as Bent Banana!) so we pick this infected fruit off mid-summer and now in Autumn during picking. Some view this disease as a useful means of reducing the load on the tree so the crop quality is better. We may have some spare suckers.

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Monday, 17 August 2009

Nature update: moths, beetles and wasp

The first moth reports are in our back garden, near trees, wild areas and grassland. * means new for here
Various other moths still need to be identified from these nights.
Will add photos at some point.

1 August 2009 overnight
Yellow underwings, Muslin footman, 2 x ?wainscot*, 2x Map-winged swift, Gold spot, Burnished brass, Clay, Common plume, Antler, Twin-spot carpet*, Riband wave*, Scalloped Oak*

5 August 2009 late evening
Brimstone, Antler, Yellow underwings, Dark arches, Silver Y, Muslin footman, Snout, Flame carpet, Common footman, Riband wave

7 August 2009 overnight
Sexton beetle (Nicrophorous investigator)*
Yellow underwings, 3 x Antler, Dark arches, Burnished brass, Common footman, Barred straw, Muslin footman, Barred red*, Rosy minor*, Tawny speckled pug*, Twin-spot carpet*

16 August 2009 briefly late evening
Sexton beetle
Large yellow underwing, Silver Y, Flame carpet, 4 x Common carpet, micro: possibly Eudonia mercurella*

Tarn Hows moth evening, 12 August 2009 late evening
At the Butterfly Conservation Society event at the National Trust visitor centre car park at Tarn Hows, quite a few carpets were identified, including (provisionally?) the rare Yellow-ringed carpet. Also nice Phoenix and Small phoenix, Square spot rustic, Green carpet, Common carpet, Flame carpet, Snout and Dark marbled carpet. Unfortunately we didn't see the rare Netted carpet which might have been nearby.

Burnbanks, 12 August 2009
We saw a digger wasp in a picnic table, carrying in paralysed flies. The only one that we could find listed that digs in wood is Ectemnis cavifran.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Lewis Outer Hebrides species report

We've just had a good 11 day family holiday on Lewis, Outer Hebrides, staying for a week at Port Nis (Ness) near the Butt of Lewis, and then camping for the remainder at Cnip campsite near Valtos/Riof/Uig.

Our arrival was delayed as the Isle of Lewis ferry had suffered mechanical difficulties the previous day. CalMac got it fixed during the Saturday and we finally got away at 1:30am on the Sunday. We were slightly surprised to be filmed and waved at when we arrived at 4:30am, but this was the day of the first scheduled Sunday sailing from Stornoway; going by the TV news later, this seemed to be be widely welcomed with only a few dissenting souls.

We had been on the look out for dolphins, propoises and whales all week, but only saw a few seals and possible hint of an otter. Apart that is, from the dead pilot whale calf washed up at Europie beach. On the way back from Stornoway to Ullapool, we were pleasantly surprised to find that there was a wildlife watching event on board, various helpers from SNH, MCS, RSPB etc looking for dolphins, propoises, whales and birds. A useful new SNH booklet was launched: Marine Life from Boat and Coast: a sightings guide for North-west Scotland. I saw Manx shearwater and Puffin, and a floating deceased cetacean. It would have been helpful if all the helpers had prominent badges on so we could identify them. We did not see any publicity for the event at Ullapool or Stornoway terminals, nor on the CalMac web site when we booked. It was good to chat to someone from the MCS about our plastic bag free campaigns.

[Later: more suggestions for wildlife watching event. This is a great idea, even though it will be very hard to point things out to people as everything whizzes by very fast on a ferry - and things are usually at a distance. For the same reason, there might not be many occasions when it is possible to announce something to spot over the tannoy, except when near port. So, tell people to shout quickly to one of the observers if they spot something. Have a waterproof white board on deck to list all things spotted - this will act as a focal point. Talking to punters and having spare binoculars to help spot more common occurrences such as birds was good. Have wildlife posters up permanently inside would be good, eg the Lewis&Harris SNH poster. I'd suggest setting up watch stations on land on good view points with telescopes, eg run by volunteers, would be useful and would raise awareness (we didn't go to Tiumpan Head - what's there?) Ideally there should always be someone on longer summer ferry crossing (during day time) to spot wildlife, with permanent telescopes fixed onto the deck; I know that the ferry to North Spain over the Bay of Biscay is used for special whale watching trips, with special access to high decks. ]

The gannets were amazing, visible from our cottage windows fishing at Port Nis and all along the coast. Plenty of arctic terns said hello - Caz here seemed to want to be attacked. The machair on the west coast was amazing. Elsewhere there was lots of horsetail around. Hearing my first corncrakes was great, as well as seeing a red throated diver family on an inland lochan, with one parent bringing in a fish. The hare bells at Cnip were the largest we've ever seen, three headed monsters.

Birds: Gannet, Fulmar, Razorbill, Arctic Tern, Shag, Cormorant, Herring gull, Pied wagtail, Oyster catcher, Greylag goose, Arctic skua (pale+dark morphs), Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Great black-backed gull, Rock dove, Blackbird, Great skua, Rock pipit, Black headed gull, House sparrow, Ringed plover, Raven, Lesser black-backed gull, Corncrake, Curlew, Starling, Buzzard, Mute swan, Eider, Dunlin, Shelduck, Redshank, Hooded crow, Sanderling, Meadow pipit, Wren, Golden plover, Snipe, Stonechat, Red throated diver, Common gull, Lapwing and Gray heron.

Flowers: Bog asphodel, Sundew, Birds foot trefoil, Butterwort, Lousewort, Eyebright, Ragged robin, Meadow Cranesbill, Heath spotted-orchid, Horsetail, Bog pimpernel, Red clover, Ragwort, White clover, Field gentian, Sea mayweed, Tufted vetch, Sea sandwort, Thrift, Red bartsia, Brooklime, Self-heal, Crowberry, Marsh marigold, Yellow rattle, Milkwort, Wild carrot, Devil's bit scabious, Kidney vetch, Sea campion, Yarrow, Bistort, Silverweed, Primrose, Knapweed, Lesser meadow-rue, Spearwort, Bogbean, Scots lovage, Cross-leaved heath, Ling, Bell heather, Hare bell, Rose root, Hawksbeard, Stone crop and Moss campion.

There were probably more types of orchid, but we aren't experts on their id. There was possibly another sort of gentian.

We also saw several butterflies (painted lady, tortoiseshell and meadow brown), moths (antler, dark arches, northern rustic) and lots of rabbits (several very black coloured).

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Golden eagle viewpoint 11 July 2009

Caz, Angela and Phil were the volunteers on duty at the RSPB Haweswater golden eagle viewpoint yesterday.

Eagle spotted at lunchtime on lower Short Stile near crag-fast sheep. Flew to top nest crag and perched for a couple of hours, in a rocky alcove to the right of nest, barely visible. At 2:30pm, flew towards middle nest and perched on a tree very close to the nest. Clearly visible - preening loose feathers - mobbed by a male ring ouzel which bravely perched on the same tree for a while. Eagle flew again at 3:30pm and was lost to sight.

One of the visitors thought that it was incredible they'd gone for a short stroll and seen two rare birds in one go - on the same branch!

Weather: clear and bright, clouding over after lunch. Visitors: 20

Friday, 10 July 2009

Moths in trap on 9 July 2009

Here's the moths found in our Skinner trap last night - light only on for about an hour. Some ids still needed.

Snout x 4
Flame-shouldered x 2
Silver-ground carpet x 1
Large yellow underwing x 1
Muslin footman x 1
The Flame x 2
Brimstone x 1
Green carpet x 1
Barred yellow x 1
Barred straw x 2
Double square spot x 1
Unknown Common Carpet x 1
Unknown x 1
Ghost moth - female x 1
Silver Y x 1
Unknown Coronet x 1
Flame carpet x 1
Unknown x 1
Unknown (?Chrysoteuchia culmella) x 1
Antler x 1
Unknown (?Ingrailed Clay) x 1
Dark arches x 2
Unknown x 1