Monday, 27 February 2012

Bits and bobs February 2012

I've managed a few trips out this month which bucks the trend of recent months. The truth is that a lot of my time recently has been spent planing a move down to Devon but for reasons that I won't go into here I have decided against a move down south.

In my opinion South Staffs is just as good for wildlife as any other county as long as you take the time to look.

For instance, by keeping my eyes peeled for even the smallest of creatures I managed to find this moth taking shelter on a Silver Birch tree on Highgate Common:

Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia)
I particularly like the name Spring Usher as it aptly describes when this species emerges as an adult, which is anywhere between February and March. The female moth is wingless and the larvae feed mainly on Oak.

Despite early signs of spring there were still plenty of signs of winter.

The work party at Highgate Common could hear a large number of birds causing a very loud commotion just the other side of some trees. They were that loud (the birds not the work party) that the common consensus was that they were probably Starlings.

On closer inspection it turned out to be a flock of Linnet! Although there were probably less than 100 birds it was still the largest group of Linnet I remember seeing.

Although Linnet are known to form large flocks in winter they are rather gregarious birds all year round and will often breed in small colonies of up to 20 individuals.

Talking of birds, a few weekends ago I was lucky enough to take part in some ringing at an orchard in Worcestershire. The cold weather had driven large numbers of Fieldfare to the orchards where there were plenty of apples for them to eat.

Apparently Fieldfare don't actually like eating apples when they have a choice, they only turn to them when more desirable food sources run out.

This is the same for a lot of animal species, even us humans. If you are anything like me, when you have done your weekly shop you will eat your favourite things first and leave less desirable foods until last. Birds are no different.

This is why a lot of the time you will see a bush full of berries until very late in the winter. It is not that the birds are deliberately saving these berries for harder times, it is just that there are other things around that they would rather eat.

As it turned out a lot of the apples had already been decimated by the Fieldfare in preceding weeks and there weren't a lot left so we only managed to catch roughly 60 birds.

For whatever reason I didn't think to take any photos of the Fieldfare but I did take some photos of some personal highlights for me a Jay (ringing tick) and a Sparrowhawk.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Jay (Garrulus glandarius)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)

Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus)
I was also shown an old Dormouse nest which was another personal first.

Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) nest

Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius) nest
Dormice are one of only a select few British mammals that truly hibernate during winter. However it is highly unlikely that one would be hibernating in this nest, they would have found a warmer spot to spend the winter.

February truly has been a month of firsts as just yesterday I had my first garden sighting of Lesser Redpoll (Carduelis cabaret).

I only managed to get some record shots as I couldn't get very close to them, the light was appalling and my hands were shaking from the excitement! I mainly focused on a rather pale individual that I was hoping was a Mealy Redpoll (Carduelis flammea) but the general consensus is that it was just probably a rather pale Lesser Redpoll.

"normal British" Lesser Redpoll 

Pale Lesser Redpoll

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with slightly darker bird on right

Pale Lesser Redpoll, the pink on the breast makes this a male

Pale Lesser Redpoll

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with much darker bird on right

Pale Lesser Redpoll on left with slightly darker bird on right

The Redpoll were feeding with a flock of the loosely related Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis). I am hoping that the Goldfinch will show the Redpoll where my nyjer seed feeder is, then I will be able to get some better photos!

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

RSPB Arne 3rd February 2012

I paid a visit to a very cold Dorset last Friday and thought that I would drop into RSPB Arne for a couple of hours whilst I was down there.

Unfortunately due to restricted time I didn't get to see all that RSPB Arne has to offer but I was very impressed with the limited amount that I saw.

Things got off to a good start when I saw some Sika Deer off the track to the main car park.

From the Car Park I had the choice of taking either the Shipstal Point trail which eventually leads to views over Poole Harbour or the Coombe Heath trail to Middlebere Lake (which is more like a tidal creek than a lake).

Middlebere Lake normally holds good numbers of Avocet so I thought I would take the Coombe Heath trail. I saw little of note over the heath other than a small party of Meadow Pipit and a Kestrel. I expected little else given the intensely cold weather, with most of the small birds preferring to feed in the car park, woodland and probably in the farm area.

However Coombe Heath did offer expansive views of the area which was very beautiful and picturesque. I didn't get many shots of the scenery as I was only sporting my telephoto lens but I did get some less picturesque photos of scrub/forest clearance and burning to the west of the reserve.

There is one hide and a viewing screen looking over Middlemere Lake. In some gorse close to the hide I heard a Dartford Warbler singing quietly away. I also got to see it fleetingly before it turned and flew off to sing from another song post further off. Unfortunately I didn't get any photos. I also didn't get any photos of what greeted me once in the hide - a stunning female Sika Deer very close to the hide. I was making too much noise and it scarpered as quick as a flash.

I was promised by regular visitors to the reserve that Middlemere Lake was normally full of wading birds, but this wasn't to be on my visit as it was almost completely frozen over! Overnight temperatures had approached about -10 degrees Celsius so it is hardly surprising but still ever so slightly disappointing.

The local Brent Geese had a quick wander over the frozen creek...

...but soon took to grazing on a field nearby.

Whilst in the hide I also saw a superb male Marsh Harrier quartering over the reed bed in front of the Brent Geese and a Common Buzzard in the trees behind the Brent Geese.

On my way back to the car park I encountered a mixed flock of winter thrushes in the overflow car park.

So overall a very enjoyable couple of hours spent on a lovely reserve. I dearly hope to visit it again sometime so that I can properly explore all it has to offer.