Monday, 23 April 2012

Closer to home

 Closer to home has many attractions, despite the constant threat of showers.

Ticking off the natural enjoyments of the weekend, I can include:

  • backyard ticks of goldfinch and black redstart (!) both twittering in their inimitable way, surrounded by concrete and roofs, well out of sight of any trees. Presumably the blackstart is the same as recorded by Gerald nearby on the same day;
  •  loafing around the cliffs, a glaucous gull.... the one that has matured by the fishing boats of Dungeness, obviously;
  • floating past the rifle range, an immature male eider;
  • 23 dunlin, 13 ringed plovers and three turnstones roosting on the shingle, en route to the north with various stages of breeding plumage;
  •  a small copper butterfly;
  •  over 100 green-winged orchids on the golf course but not in the paddock; and
  • a tiny flower of spring vetch..... a first for me;
  • the wonderful sight of a short-eared owl flying over the long grass of the Sandwich Bay estate, and in the evening, flushing it from the side of the road, and it landing beside the road. It stayed looking at us as dusk faded to night - a big ball of fluff resembling a long-haired cat more than a bird, but its camouflage among the tussocks was marvellous;
  • a family of five fox-cubs gambolling in the middle of the road towards midnight, all big paws and big ears; and last but not least
  • good company.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Feet on the Ledge

Flamborough Head on the East Yorkshire coast sticks out into the North Sea and makes you feel like you're in the middle of the ocean when the wind blows. This makes it very good for birds.

As an added benefit, a cold current washes down from the north and collides with warmer water coming up from the south, providing a small concentrated area of food which the birds feast upon, a constant stream of them moving across the point..... auks in their 30-50s, gannets in groups of a dozen of so, and gulls and kittiwakes moving on their own.

At any time there were hundreds of birds swimming or flying offshore.

I looked around the edge of an outcrop and got a shock - a small group of guillemots were nesting within close view, and a few of the early settlers had an egg. They look like Easter eggs, all turquoise and brown.

Kittiwakes nearby had colonised an overhang, on the cliffs which are chalk, Jim, but not as we know it - it's much harder than the White Cliffs down south, so much so that local houses were built of chalk rocks.
Guillemots occupy the slightly flatter parts, while razorbills seem to prefer impossibly narrow ledges. Keep those feet on the ledge!
And down below, grey seals patrol and occasionally rise up to take a swimming auk.

A couple of miles along the north coast of Flamborough Head is the RSPB reserve of Bempton Cliffs, nesting ground for thousands of sea birds at this time of the year and one of the most magnificent birding experiences in England.

According to Poysers' Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland, the most recent counts of birds here include:
  • Gannet 2,552 nests
  • Kittiwake 85,095 pairs
  • Guillemot 46,685 birds
  • Razorbill 8,539 birds
  • Puffin 2,615 pairs

That's a lot of birds, especially when many of them leave the cliffs as one of the Peregrine falcons cruises by.

I reckon we saw only about 30 puffins, but having watched one fly in towards the cliff and immediately disappear into a hole that's not surprising. Another one was glimpsed peeping out.

The gannets were far more obvious, gliding and stalling in the strong wind, before dropping onto one of the colonies.There's an egg there, just visible under the parent's feet.

And no report of Bempton is complete without mention of the colony of tree sparrows nesting noisily around the visitor centre.

It's a wonderful area - if you haven't been, please go (in spring, because the nests and cliffs will soon be empty).

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Easter Eggs and a Sweet Tooth

The disappointing Easter weekend was mainly spent searching for that strange, elusive plant, Toothwort, which has been reported up north but not yet seen down here. We tried in local woods where I'd seen it before, but no luck.
But other things were good to see:
Bluebells of course, coming out so there'll be a good show this weekend.
Moschatel seems far more plentiful this year, veritably carpeting the woodland floor, as Alexanders is doing across the local verges. Perhaps the early warmth followed by a cold couple of weeks has held other plants back, giving the early starters a longer time to thrive?
Hops are starting to push through the hedgerow litter, looking like feuding adders with their sinewy shoots.

Inland then to the hazel orchards of the Greensand Ridge of west Kent (I'd never seen hazel orchards and had to look closely before I'd believe that was what they are). A bizarre sight to someone brought up amongst the apple orchards, but sure enough that's what they are.
Surely toothwort should prosper among these trees?
But no. Maybe the pigs had eaten them up.

Once more the habitat gave up other things of interest..... bilberry for instance, providing an understory in the otherwise bleak beechwoods.
This leaf miner trail tells its own story. I started small, and ate and ate until I was big..... then I flew away.
Another sight new to me was female hornbeam flowers. I'd seen the male catkins, but not noticed the adjacent females, with subtle pink in the green world.
No pink toothwort to be seen, so that was the end of the weekend. Fruitless. Or rather, toothless. The Easter eggs were good, though.

Bird-wise the highlights included a short-eared owl hunting over Barrow Mount and the golf course at Kingsdown (thanks to Graham for his photo)
and a couple of raptors that could have been honey buzzards flying north near Northbourne.

Back to work in sunshine(!) on Tuesday, and in a wood that can be seen from my office window.....
Would you believe it?
Although we know that toothwort is innocent of chlorophyll and is a parasite, according to Edward Step "it has been believed that some portion of its nutriment is obtained by pursuing the vocation of a trapper of innocent animalicules, which are done to death and digested by it".

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Very Early Spider Orchids

No, not an April Fool's joke..... there really are Early Spider Orchids flowering at Samphire Hoe.
Very small, just an inch high, but the flowers are starting to show.
I checked the rifle range at Kingsdown but there was no sign even of leaf rosettes, but that's not too surprising as it's in the grip of north winds from the long-established weather system.
Coltsfoot is dotted around brightly, attracting honey bees
and flies:Their identities will, however, remain a secret, as life is too short to track them dowm - sorry.

Brimstones are out, and I saw my first orange tip of the year during the week. This brimstone is considering the new season's fashions - do I look better with yellow, or with violet?
Adders are apparently abundant on the Hoe, but we didn't see any in the chilly morning, but this picture was taken last weekend up-county where the weather has been warmer.