Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Spring Bouquet

After a long dark, and wet, winter it’s good to see some colour starting to reappear into our countryside as the spring flowers, once again, begin to bloom.

I photographed the following images, in various locations, while out and about  from the beginning of the month.

Spring 1 Bluebell
An early flowering Bluebell

Spring 2 C Dog-violet
Common Dog-violet

Spring 3 E Dog-violet
Early Dog-violet (with attendant Bee-Fly)

Spring 5  H Violet
Hairy Violet

Spring 6  Wall Speed
Wall Speedwell

Spring 7  Com Speed
Common Speedwell

Spring 8  Frit

Spring 9  Wht Frit
Fritillary (white)

Spring 10  G Alk
Green Alkanet

Spring 11  Red Cam
Red Campion

Spring 12  Sh Crane's-bill
Shinning Crane’s-bill

Spring 13  Com Stork's-bill
Common Stork’s-bill

Spring 14  Gr Stitchl
Greater Stitchwort

Spring 15  Mar-marig

Spring 16  Cuck Fl
Cuckooflower or Lady’s-smock

Spring 17  Wood f-m-n
Wood Forget-me-not

Let’s hope this is the beginning of a warm (not too hot!) and colourful summer?

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Moss….beautiful, but a headache!

Back in February I noticed, on a wall, a clump of Moss that appeared to be ‘in flower’, curiosity got the better of me and I had to get out the macro lens and take some photographs. Later that evening while viewing the images on the computer I suddenly realised that Moss is something that can be found in many places all around us, on walls, on trees, along footpaths etc. but how often do we take the time, if we notice them at all, to have a closer look?

So, the next few times that I went ‘out and about’ I made a point of taking some more photographs…then I began to realise how diverse and beautiful these little plants are.

Now this is where the headache part comes in!…once I’d got a few photographs I needed some ID’s to go with them. Needless to say the more I looked, in books and on the internet, the more confused I became…for something so small it sure has a complicated life cycle….

Moss 1  life cycle

…..and some big words!   I ‘borrowed’ this diagram from the internet. (© The Macraw-Hill companies, Inc.)

If you want to learn some more go to the home page of the British Bryological Society website and navigate to learning more > what is a bryophyte?
I’ve just purchased - Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland, a Field Guide - from them, hopefully, when it arrives the headaches should calm down a little??

Here’s where I’ve got to so far…

Moss 2  Cushion
Grey Cushion Moss (grimmia pulvinata) showing the beaked Sporangium. Sometimes referred to as Hedgehog Moss as it forms grey rounded clumps that look similar(?) to Hedgehogs. Grows on walls and rocks and is common in lowland Britain (below 1000m).

Moss 3  Bristly H
Bristly Haircap (polytrichum piliferum) male ‘flowers’. A low growing moss, 4cm or less, common and widespread on acid soils such as dry sandy heathland.

Moss 4 Strict H
Juniper Haircap (polystrichum juniperinum) showing the densely packed sporophytes. Grows to about 4cm tall on free draining grassy heathland, fixed dunes etc.

Moss 5 unknown many
The sporophytes of at least three unknown species of Moss.

Moss 6 Unknown

Moss 7 Unknown
Unknown species

Moss 8 star
Star Moss (tortula ruralis) can grow in many types of soil but most often on calcareous soil. It has the ability to ‘dry out’,turn reddish brown and become dormant. Then, many decades later, rehydrate and become ‘active’ once again.

Not wishing to inflict any headaches on you but I hope this has inspired you to look a mosses a little closer now, I’m sure that you’ll be amazed at the beauty!

If you do want a headache…try looking at and researching Lichen, a subject that’s as equally interesting and confusing as Mosses!……Where are the pills?…I’ve got a really bad headache!!

Hopefully I've got all the ID's correct but if you've spotted something that I've got wrong please let me know.

Friday, 14 March 2014

A new site and……….

……a new ‘tick’.

Today I visited a new site for me, situated on the Greensand Ridge just a few miles to the south of Milton Keynes it consists of mixed woodland surrounding Gorse covered heathland. My original plan was just to explore the area to see what was about. It was pleasing to see that there was a good amount of the ‘commoner’ birds around…Blue Tits in the treetops,Coal Tits feeding on the pine cones, Skylarks singing as they rose up into the blue(ish) sky, at least five Buzzards circling and calling overhead, and sightings of Jay, Jackdaw, Carrion Crow, Magpie, Linnet, Dunnock…the signs were promising that this might be a decent site.

I then met two birders (funny how you can tell a birder from a ‘normal’ person!) and after exchanging the usual pleasantries I was asked if I’d seen the Dartford Warbler and if I hadn’t it was showing really well a couple of hundred yards further down the track. Now, I knew that a Dartford Warbler had been spotted somewhere in the area but I didn’t know that THIS was the exact spot!
I slowly walked down to the indicated area and there…singing it’s little heart out from the top of a small tree was a stunning male Dartford Warbler. I spend an enjoyable twenty or so minutes photographing it as it moved around from bush to bush.

Darty 1

Darty 2

Darty 3

Darty 4

With a brand new ‘life tick’ and some half decent photos I made my way home feeling rather happy.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Goosander and a mimic?

Earlier this week saw me back up to Milton Keynes and another visit and walk around Caldecotte Lake (the ‘boss’ is still away!). The water was almost back down to it’s normal level although the river was still very full and fast flowing. The bird life seemed to be very sparse up at the normal gathering point on the arm behind the pub, the large flock of Wigeon that are usually there were gone, which left just a few Tufted Ducks, two drake Pochard, three Great Crested Grebe, quite a few squabbling Coot and an elusive female Goosander and that was about it.
Further round and the dam wall was covered from end to end with Black-headed Gulls with the odd Common Gull mixing in. The  rest of the main lake seemed to be devoid of any birds at all, save for a couple of Mute Swans ‘upending’ close to the bank. And then I saw the reason why there were so few birds…in the distance coming from under the road bridge, side by side and, causing a large wake were two boats..a speedboat and the RIB from the yacht club! Not much hope of seeing any birds today then?

As I continued on around a large flock of Graylag Geese came flying noisily in from the meadow by the river where I’d seen them grazing earlier.
Mimic3  Graylag
I managed to ‘catch’ these two.

Further on around, in the quieter waters by the houses and the bandstand, I spotted a male Goosander. Taking cover behind a tree I was able to get reasonably close, and for once it hadn’t spotted me. I spent a good half an hour taking photos but with the contrast between the Goosanders dark head and white body I was having difficulty with setting the correct exposure on the camera, either getting blocked in darks or blown highlights!

Here’s two of my best efforts…

Mimic1  Goosander  

Mimic2  Goosander

I almost got the green sheen on it’s head in this one!!

Moving on and my attention was drawn to a funny sounding cooing noise coming from the branches above me, almost like a cooing Wood Pigeon but not as clear or as loud, scanning the branches I soon located the culprit…it wasn’t a Wood Pigeon, but a Carrion Crow attempting a very good impression of one. I tried to get some video but as soon as I got the camera to focus through the branches it flew off, it’s always the way!!
Further on and I met a little old lady out walking her dog ‘have you seen the Heron’ she said ..‘no none yet today’ I replied… ‘there’s one there’ she said pointing to a juvenile Heron on the far side of the water and then we both heard a sound…’Woodpecker’ she said…and that’s what it sounded like to me a bit weak but definitely a drumming Woodpecker. Scanning through the branches and no Woodpecker to be found, and then the drumming sound again…almost above our heads this time, an there doing it’s best to be a Woodpecker was…yep!…a Carrion Crow, the same one that was earlier being a Wood Pigeon! The little old lady went off shaking her head and saying ‘ my husband won’t believe me when I tell him about this’. I’m not sure I believed it either, I knew that Crows were intelligent birds but I didn’t know they went in for mimicry? 

Not much to report from the rest of my walk around the lake, a dozen or so Cormorants loafing in the trees on the island and a small raft of gulls out in the middle of the south lake and the odd Mallard and Tufted ducks. And Keith’s ‘pet’ Robin came zooming in for some food, even before I’d got the bag of seed out of my pocket!
And to finish, showing well in the sunshine, a Carrion Crow…no, not ‘the’ Carrion Crow!

Mimic4  Crow

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Delusions of grandeur…maybe?

Now listen up…without fear of contradiction and with hand on heart I can say that……

Boss Squirrel 1

…..I’m the top honcho..the number one…the boss of this garden

Boss Squirrel 2

and if anyone has anything to say…oh!….er!…

Boss Squirrel 3

…did anybody see where my nuts went?

Taken through my patio window early this morning.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Checking out Keith’s birds

Earlier this week I had occasion to visit Milton Keynes and, as Keith is away sunning(?) himself half way up a Welsh mountain at the moment, I decided to have a quick look to see how ‘his birds’ around Caldecotte Lake were fairing during his absence!
I only had a short time so was only able to have a look at the ‘arm behind the pub’. The lake is now back to it’s normal level after the recent flooding but surprisingly there wasn’t many birds around…perhaps Keith has taken them all away with him?…a few Wigeon and Tufted Ducks, a few Coot and a couple of Mute Swans and in the distance three Grey Herons were having a bit of a set too, with quite a bit of squawking and chasing around going on, watching through the bino’s it appeared to be an adult bird giving grief to a couple of juveniles…time for them to be on their way, I guess?
A pair of Great Crested Grebe appeared not too far away doing some ‘head wagging’ unfortunately they didn’t get into the full ‘weed dance’ routine and seemed to lose interest after a while and drifted away.
K's Birds 8 GCG

I then spotted, close into the far bank, a male and two female Goosanders. I slowly moved down to the waters edge and tried to hide behind a small group of bushes in the hope that they would swim out into more open water. Eventually one of the females ventured a little closer.

K's Birds 3 Goosander

I don’t know what spooked them, perhaps they spotted me?…but all of a sudden they were up and away.

K's Birds 4 Goosander

There were lots of Black-Headed Gulls, some just cruising around….

K's Birds 1 BHG

…and others just loafing on the water.

K's Birds 2 BHG

A good many of them have started to acquire their brown head covering now.

In amongst the Black-Headed Gulls I spotted a couple of 1st. winter Common Gulls and as they flew around I noticed that they both had leg rings, I spent quite a few minutes attempting to get some images of them, I eventually, after almost melting the shutter on the camera!!, got some images where I could read the numbers on the rings. This one has a white ring on it’s right leg with 17EB on it, it also has a metal ring on it’s left leg.

K's Birds 7 C Gull

This one has a green ring on it’s right leg with JO59 on it, it also has a metal ring on it’s other leg.

K's Birds 6 C Gull

The same bird…resting!

K's Birds 5 C Gull

The next day I sent off the ring details to the Euring ring recovery service, the following morning I received an email from a Mr. Morten Helberg in Norway telling me that ‘JO59’ had been rung, presumably as a chick, at Tveitevannet Lake in Bergen Norway on 19th. August 2013 which is 1001Km (622 miles) from Caldecotte Lake although, apart from a few sightings as it travelled south through Norway, we don’t know where it’s been or how far it’s travelled in the interim.
It’s always interesting to get information on how far, and where, a particular bird has traveled from and to and also to know that, now my sighting has been logged, I’ll always be a small part of that bird’s history.
I’m still waiting on any info/news of the travels of  ‘17EB’…I’ll keep you informed if I hear anything.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Not what I was looking for…

…but a couple of nice surprises.
On Friday, but too late to visit, I saw the reports that a pair of Garganey were ‘showing well’ on a lake at a nearby nature reserve. So yesterday, hoping that they had ‘settled in’, I decided to go and have a look. It was a nice sunny/blue sky morning and I was up early and with time on my hands, the reserve doesn’t open till 9.30!!, I decided to stop off at a site where I’ve previously seen Corn Buntings…no luck this time though! I was however treated to the sight of a lovely pair of Stonechat, distant at first but, slowly getting nearer as I tried to make myself as invisible as possible by mingling my 16 stone bulk into a very thorny Hawthorn bush…ouch! But, as is the way of things, just as they were getting into decent camera range they were flushed by a group of walkers who were allowing their two dogs to race, seemingly uncontrolled, around the field where eventually they managed to scatter a flock of sheep with no discernable control or concern from any of their owners. I guess the dogs were just being dogs..but the owners….??

Hill 1 st-ch
A distant male Stonechat.

It was nice to hear the songs of the many Skylarks as, still killing time, I sat in the car with the warm sunshine streaming through the windows and read the newspaper. Now, despondent and fully depressed at all the ‘news’ I decided to have one more look in the field to see if the Stonechats had returned…unfortunately I couldn’t re-locate them but what I did notice were the Skylarks they seemed to be everywhere, and a couple were in camera range…just!

Hill 2 s-l

It was now time to make the five minute drive to find the Garganey. On entering the main hide, which was quite full!, the only conversation that I could hear was…”any luck with the Garganey?”….”have you spotted them?”…”seen ‘em yet?”…to which the replies were a rather subdued…”na”….”nope”….”not been seen this morning”… and then there’s always one smug smart arse who comes up with the most helpful and encouraging answer…” I saw them over in that corner of the lake yesterday and they were showing really well”…!!!
I eventually spent a couple of hours sitting in the, cold and draughty, hide watching the other birds that were on or around the lake…including; Wigeon, Tufties, Gadwall, Mute Swans, Greylag and Canada Geese, Lapwing..busy staking their claims to nest sites on the islands, Shoveler, one Oystercatcher, twelve plus Snipe..they’re good at hiding!! and the bonus of a new ‘tick’ for the year..a ‘bouncing’ Jack Snipe.
Oh!…and I almost forgot…..Saturday morning and half term school holidays = lots of noisy screaming kids…bah, humbug!!!

This notice, spotted on the way out, did manage to raise the mood a little…

Hill 3 notice
…Is it just in case they should get the urge to do something really naughty?

And after all that…still no Garganey!