Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A Hide with a View Ends a Frustrating Day

30th June.  Sam and I ended our day in the new Mathew Ridley hide at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  This was our first visit to the hide since it opened and we were very impressed.  My first thought was that there can’t be any better hide in Northumberland, and then my second thought was that there isn’t much in the way of competition really!  Much is owed to the volunteers who built it and of course the donors who paid for it and the architects who designed it (free of charge I believe).  The hide is on two levels and can take forty people so will be ideal for the likes of school parties, a very forward looking investment.  If you’re a member of the Natural History Society of Northumbria you may already have visited and if you haven’t probably will in the near future.  If your not a member I believe there is to be an open day for the public soon, so go a long and take a look when that chance arises and you may be tempted to join what is the best local organisation for anyone interested in natural history, certainly the best in my book anyway.  Just pleased that there wasn’t forty folk in there today as it was stifling in the very high temperatures.  I was almost wishing today that it was cold again!

A hide with a view
We’d begun the day at the Rising Sun Country Park where we began with an excellent sighting of the local grebes.  It wasn’t really a birding day however and we had set our sights on butterflies, dragonflies and plants.  We had little in the way of luck with dragonflies and although finding plenty of orchids we failed in our search for Bee Orchids.  Plenty of butterflies were found, but they were so flighty the frustration set in.  It was almost impossible to get any images, although once again the butterfly that did settle just long enough to give me a chance of macro shots was the Large Skipper.  There was no chance with the numerous Common Blues and Ringlets so I took my chance with some other insects.  By the time we had walked around the park we were done in by the heat and much needed refreshment was sought in the busy café.  A drink and a sit in the shade did the trick and we set off for Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.

Large Skipper
There was more frustration when we found that the Coral Root Orchids had passed us by.  We weren’t the only ones searching.  I did find a couple of stalks, but it was suggested that because they were greenish that could not be what we were after.  I’m still inclined to think it was what we had been searching for, as this orchid does show some green tinge, but there were certainly none in flower anywhere near to the viewing point.  The dragonflies proved illusive too, as a number of them flew over the pond but too distant to identify with any confidence.  I think Sam did eventually pick up what appeared to be a Broad-bodied Chaser and we think the others were chasers too.

The butterflies were just as flighty here, but I did eventually capture an image of a male Common Blue.  We did see lots of butterflies today and the list was Small White, Large White, Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue, Speckled Wood (large numbers of them again, especially in the reserve), Meadow Brown and Ringlets (lots of them).  Quite a bit of botanical interest today too.  We did a bit of tree watching but haven’t gone as far as talking to them yet, but if the temperatures rise anymore you never know what might happen.

Male Common Blue Butterfly on orchid

 So not a day for birding really and we weren’t out at the correct time for photographing insects I know, but quite a few birds seen none the less including our Grebes and a few heard including Blackcap, Reed Warbler, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.  A Grey Squirrel was seen as we left the reserve!

June goes out on yet another very good if frustrating day in the field.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Vulcan and a Chaser

I am the god of hell fire,
And I bring you Fire
Lyrics by Arthur Brown

27th June.  We completed the walk from St Mary’s Island to Holywell Pond today and were thankful for a cooling breeze along the cliffs such was the heat of the day.

Birds were generally scarce, although we found a singing Garden Warbler, Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs along the way and we ended up with a day list in the mid fifties.  It was a flying machine in the form of the Vulcan Bomber that stole the show however and although it was a good way out over the sea when it passed Seaton Sluice on its way to Scotland we had a good sighting through binoculars and telescope.  Sadly the couple stood nearby us on the headland hadn’t even realised that the Vulcan had passed!  The Vulcan Bomber was of course part of our defence system during the Cold War years and this one, the last one still flying over the UK is soon to be grounded later this year.  I’m afraid on this occasion the fourteen Common Scoters flying past were greatly over shadowed by the Vulcan.

Although the Vulcan clearly took the sighting of the day award, it was closely followed in second place not by a bird, but an insect in the form of a Broad Bodied Chaser.  Sam initially got his eye on a dragonfly as we walked inland from Seaton Sluice.  We worked out quickly what it was and watched it at length as it perched for periods before taking to fast flight up and down the area before returning to rest again.  Fully aware of our presence there was no way it was going to give us the opportunity of a close macro image so we took the opportunity when we could to take a record image from a distance.  Despite our failure to be rewarded with a macro image we enjoyed watching this insect at length before deciding to move on.  Despite the sun there was little other odonata species in the area apart from Common Blue and Blue tailed Damselflies.  A calling Common Sandpiper was heard by Sam.

Broad Bodied Chaser Dragonfly

 Butterfly species sightings where today a little more numerous with Small White, Large White, Large Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Speckled Wood (the most numerous), an early Meadow Brown and Ringlet Butterflies all making an appearance.

Our lack of bird sightings ensured we had plenty of time for chatting and catching up on recent experiences.  At Holywell pond we even resorted to checking back over two years at some of our self found birds which have included Black Winged Pratincole, Great White Egret, Marsh Harrier, Woodcocks over the pond, Green Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Little Ringed Plovers et al.  Nothing like that today though so we settled for the flock of Lapwings, Grey Heron, Little Grebes and the other usual pond birds.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Farne Islands...Birds in Close Up

23rd.  Marie, Sam and I had days pencilled on the calendar this week for a trip to the Farne Islands.  As today promised to possibly offer the best of a bad lot of weather we decided to set off.  When we arrived at Seahouses (Brown Hare seen on the journey) at about 8.30am and entered the chill air under darkened skies I had to remind myself that it was summer.  I’d thought perhaps that I had put on far too many layers of clothing, but I needn’t have worried as I was still feeling the cold.  I’ve certainly spent warmer winter days on the coast.  Anyway with uninspiring weather and a rather choppy looking sea I was not at all surprised that on arrival at B Shiels kiosk we were told there were to be no boats going out to the Outer Farnes this morning.  Our all day trip was changed to an afternoon trip to Inner Farne with assurances that we would have plenty of time on the island and be able to view the outer islands by boat.  It sounded a very good deal we altered our booking accordingly and decided to fill the morning in with a trip to the Little Tern Colony at Long Nanny.

Instead of walking from Beadnell we drove to Newton by the Sea and walked from there.  The air was still cold when we set off, but very gradually temperatures lifted, my own temperature being helped by the brisk walk.  We were impressed by the numbers of Skylarks along the way and also the botanical interest.  I know this walk well, but I confess I’ve never visited the Little Tern Colony prior to today.  Redshank and Shelduck were seen along the way.  We were the first visitors of the day, accompanied by a couple who were visiting from Cambridgeshire and who also had been planning to go on the all day Farne Islands trip.  They mentioned that they had visited the Farne Islands yesterday, but had had to get of the island quickly because of deteriorating weather and explained that someone had fallen and injured themselves.  We were soon watching large numbers of Arctic Terns and managing to pick out a few Little Terns in flight and on the nests raised by boxes so as to protect from high tides.  A flock of twenty Red-breasted Mergansers flew north over the sea as we watched.  We had a chance to talk to one of the wardens and use the telescope provided.  Having had great sightings of Little Terns at the Durham colony I had expected much the same here, but it’s different and you really do need the telescope if you want a good sighting of the Little Terns on the nests.

Arctic Tern
When I asked about pair numbers (twenty-one pairs at present) it seemed that the birds have not been doing so well this year and we heard about predation and other problems.  Problems have been caused by Stoats, Foxes and Badgers and then of course you can add too, the poor weather conditions, tides and human disturbance.  I understand that Arctic Terns, thought to have been in a state of anxiety from disturbance had attacked and killed Little Tern chicks.  Although predation from other birds was not discussed I know that too can be a serious problem.  All in all it must be a very frustrating business for the wardens.  I was told that attempts are made to catch the Stoats and remove them to another area but I didn’t get the chance to ask about other control of predators.  Whilst we were at the site we had our sighting of the day, an Otter running along the beach near the Ringed Plovers and eventually entering the sea.

Arctic Tern

 Once back in Seahouses we visited a café for a hot drink before making for the departure point on Glad Tidings.  No doubt because of lack of boats leaving in the morning, folk were flocking down there in great numbers.

Arctic Tern chick

 As we waited to board the boat I made an error in answering the call for a party of three, as we were squeezed onto the boat like sardines into a can.  I was asked to sit in a space which barely had enough room for a small child!  In short I found the outward boat trip unpleasant and I can’t help feel that there is a growing ‘squeeze ‘em in and rake it in' philosophy.  I realise it is not the done thing to criticise this operation, but I feel strongly that these trips ought to be amazing experiences for folk, some who may only ever visit once and this would be aided by just adopting a bit more thought about the matter.  I’ll certainly give some thought to the firm I use the next time.  That’s my groan over and I have to say, everyone I spoke to seemed to be having a great day and I remember speaking to folk from Kent, Cheshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk as well as some more local people.  Plenty of Grey Seals to watch too.


Kittiwake with chick

 On a positive note we were given almost four hours on Inner Farne, so it was well worth the landing fee and being on Inner Farne is always a great experience if just to watch the different reactions to the Arctic Terns.  Yesterday we had the ‘ah, look at me I don’t need a hat’ type who perhaps changed his mind slightly when dive bombed by an Arctic Tern which crapped on his head, and the folk who react as if they are being targeted by Stuka aircraft.  Then of course there is the occasional photographer, not content to be close to the birds, but who feels the need to constantly harass them by practically having the waving lens down the throat of birds.  

Arctic Tern

 We had a great afternoon watching and photographing the birds, admiring the views over to Bamburgh Castle and Lindisfarne and being warmed up by the sun under now blue skies.  The return journey was rather more pleasant that the outward one and we were met in the harbour by a creche of Eider Ducks.  Not much I can tell you about the birds that isn’t very well known, so I’ll just put up some images.


Customary image of Sam with Arctic Tern on head.
We never did make the outer islands even in the boat because of sea conditions and to be honest that was a blessing to me as I was glad to get off such was the lack of space.  Great day in great company and met some really nice people and ended the day with fish and chips and a ninety-nine.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Sunny Patch after the Rains

20th June.  With the shortest night of the year approaching I took the chance to take a walk on patch.

After having been giving the 'fly' around for sometime  standing up to my knees in long wet grasses and drawing one or two strange looks from a couple out for a stroll, I was pleased to have hung around for this image of the Large Skipper Butterfly.  It was one of a number of flighty ones on my favourite insect patch.

Blue Lacewing

A touch of colour on the lake

This Coot was enjoying the sun surrounded by the now partially flowering Amphibious Bistort

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Philipp Jacob Cretzschmar 1786-1845...What's in a Name?

I wonder how many of those chasing after the Cretzschmar's Bunting on Bardsey Island last week had any knowledge of the man that the bird is named after?

Cretzschmar was born on 11th June 1786 in Sulzbach (Germany).  As a youngster he showed a keen interest in natural history and the exploration of the surrounding countryside.  He kept and tamed animals and started his own zoological collection.  At eighteen he was studying in Wurzburg (incidentally a city very heavily bombed by the Allies during World War Two, but rebuilt and a city I have only been able to view and photograph from a distance from the autobahn).  Cretzschmar moved to Halle to study medicine, but because of the Napoleonic Wars he returned to Wurzburg in 1807, where he finally obtained his medical degree.   He entered medical practice in Frankfurt, but was recruited by the French army and served in military hospitals, and after serving in military hospitals in Germany he performed surgical work in Vienna, Paris and Spain.  Eventually returning to Wurzburg he studied obstetrics and then moved to Frankfurt where he took up medicine again and later a teaching post in anatomy and later zoology at the Senckenberg Medical Institute.

Cretzschmar was one of the founders of the Senckenberg Natural History Society in 1817 and presided over it for the next twenty-eight years until his death in Frankfurt in 1845.  During this time he had worked hard to augment its collections.  Another founder member of the society was Eduard Ruppell, and it was he who contributed many of the society’s early exotic specimens.  The two men initially worked closely together, but Ruppell later disassociated himself from the society after disharmony between the two men.

The Atlas of Ruppell’s Travels in Northern Africa 1826-30 contained a forward by Cretzschmar.  The ornithological section of this work contains descriptions of more than thirty of Ruppell’s newly discovered birds, including Meyer’s Parrot, Nubian Bustard, Goliath Heron, Scrub Warbler and a grey and rufus bunting that now commemorates the name of Cretzschmar.  The type specimen of Cretzschmar’s Bunting was a wintering bird obtained in the region of the Kurgos Islands on the Nile, just south of Khartoum.  Cretzschmar had speculated that the breeding grounds for this bird would be found in Ethiopia, but he was wrong as the bird breeds in the area of Greece and Turkey.  The descriptions of the birds in Ruppell’s Atlas were the most significant ornithological writings from Crezschmar and were written whilst Ruppel was still in Africa and it is thought that they were the initial reason for disharmony between the two men.

The Cretzschmar medal is still awarded to deserving naturalists by the Senckenberg Foundation in Frankfurt.  

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Brimstone Moth

17th June.  Whilst I'm not into trapping moths and my knowledge of them would struggle to fill the back of a postage stamp I do take an interest in anything wild in my garden and on patch.  Last night as I sprinkled water on one of the plants in the garden a moth took exception to having a shower and flew off, but not very far, allowing me to get this image in rather poor light.  I note that it is a Brimstone Moth Opisthogaptis luteollata (try saying that after you've had a pint).

Any thoughts of having a moth twitch within my small garden were immediately dashed when I checked and found that there are 4,578 records for Northumberland of 10,389 individuals from 392 different sites.  A nice moth anyway and my 'moth list' will be hitting double figures soon if I'm not careful.

I've also come to the conclusion that I now need to take the macro photography forward, I've probably said this before.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

St Abbs Trip

13th June.  I am now inclined to join any group trip only if the venue offers something special and I have to say St Abbs, or more precisely the sea bird colonies and cliffs of St Abbs Head are one of my favoured visits.  Thankfully the heavy rains of other areas did not touch us throughout the day and temperatures varied from cool on the open cliff tops to warm in more sheltered areas.  Although overcast it was a perfect day for walking, watching and listening.  I soon made a determined effort to disengage form the main group and headed towards the cliffs with a small group of keen participants.  St Abbs Head is a National Nature Reserve and was formed by a series of volcanic eruptions.

St Abbs

 The overcast conditions suggested that butterfly viewing would be limited and so it proved, although I did get my eye on a Common Blue Butterfly at an early point of the walk and I only managed to add Green-veined White Butterfly to a rather sparse list today, although I understand another participant had what from the description appeared to be a Small Copper Butterfly and a Red Admiral Butterfly.  Brown Hare was seen before we began to a climb towards the cliffs, along with the like of Goldfinch and a Coal Tit.  I had seen amongst other species, four Kestrels, Common Buzzard, Shelduck and Lapwing on the journey north.

I was soon high enough to look southwards and admire the picturesque village of St Abbs, formerly known as Coldringham Shore.  The present name is derived from St Abbs Head, the rocky promontory north of the village that we were heading towards.  The name St Abbs is itself derived from St Aebbe.  The area off shore of the village is a very popular diving spot as it provides clear water and spectacular underwater scenery.  There is a double archway just 50 metres from shore known as Cathedral Rock.  The area became the first Voluntary Marine Reserve in Britain in 1984 with input from David Bellamy…now that’s a name from the past.  David Bellamy was once a TV regular, but I understand some of his views concerning climate change do not go down well.  I’m never the less grateful that he led me into exploring some natural history issues many years ago and I have his book Botanic Man from 1978.  Perhaps his views are contrary to those general held, but I have no problem with a person who sticks to  views that are earnestly held and who doesn’t court popularity by altering them so as to follow the majority view, as there is far too much of the latter in life.

My interest today was really as much pointed towards taking in the rock formations as it was the sea birds, although we were soon watching groups of Gannets, generally flying south, from Bass Rock, and the colonies of Fulmar, Shag, Cormorant, Kittiwake, Fulmar Guillemot and Razorbill.  The colonies did not look to be as busy as on past visits and others agreed, although I accept the memory plays strange tricks.  I certainly believe that there were far fewer Kittiwakes.  The occasional Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Yellowhammer and Linnet were seen on our walk towards the lighthouse.  No Peregrine Falcons were seen, but a pair of Kestrels entertained as we had lunch.  No Puffins either.  The forms and hues of the rock formations took my attention as I ate my sandwiches and also watched the nearby Fulmars and Kittiwakes continually taking to the air.  As we moved off after lunch a Stoat was seen running along the cliff top.

The Rabbit on steroids took up as much attention as the Stoat and Brown Hare had done.  It seemed to be a massive beast and we decided that it may have been a cross between a domestic and wild rabbit such was its strange look.

Texture and colour
We walked back via Mire Loch which is a man made freshwater Loch in an area that had once been marsh lying along the fault between the volcanic rock of St Abbs Head and the sedimentary rock of the inner mainland.  To be honest I could have spent a whole day in this interesting little area.  I did have time to search for Northern Brown Argus, but without success.  I do think we were in an early period for this butterfly to be on the wing so perhaps this and the fact it was so over cast didn’t help.  I am surprised that we saw none at all.  We did have song from Sedge Warbler (a snatch only), Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, numerous Song Thrushes, Chaffinch, Dunnock, Goldfinch and Linnet.  Birds on the loch included little Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot.  Botanical interest included Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Northern Marsh Orchid.  There was plenty of Thrift along the walk.  The sun almost broke through the clouds as we relaxed in this area and there was enough brightness to show off a stunning Yellowhammer at its best.

At the loch
The return walk was done at pace, I think because by now some were smelling the aroma of tea and coffee!  The pace was slowed somewhat by the climb we faced.  I’m sure this climb is getting steeper on each visit.  We had seen no Puffins but there was certainly plenty of ‘puffing’.  A Common Seal was spotted close to the foot of the cliffs whilst Swallows and House Martins flew overhead.  Only two Large Black-backed Gulls were seen all day and I wondered if they were controlled in this area.

Cliffs north of St Abbs Head
We were back in plenty of time and I admit I headed to the village for a reviving drink.  The café was doing a roaring trade and no sooner had we placed our order and found a seat outside when the place was closed owing to a shortage of crockery.

It began to turn very cold now and I wasn’t the only one feeling the drop in temperature.  As I awaited my tea and crispy mars cake we watched a Herring Gull come to the next table and swallow at least two plastic sachets before getting stuck into what appeared to be remains of jam or perhaps tomato sauce.  This particular bird seemed to be thriving and perhaps challenging the giant Rabbit for sheer muscle, but I can’t imagine that its liking for the plastic sachets were going to do it anything but harm in the long run.  On a serious note, the plastic waste on this planet is doing great harm to our wildlife.

Refreshed we walked back to the coach and heard Blackcap song along the way.  Another excellent day in excellent surroundings with some interesting chat.  Perhaps a bit too much chat in my opinion, as I like to remind folk that listening is a skill too!  Someone had checked something on their mobile phone which suggested that we had walked over seven miles.  It didn’t seem to be that far to me, but I didn’t bother to argue with modern technology.