Saturday, 21 July 2012

No pics of Pic-mar in Picardie

 Another quick trip to the Somme estuary is search of foreign butterflies and Mediterranean heat was scotched by unrelenting cloud and cool winds. But never mind, always look on the bright side of life...... there were some interesting bugs in Crecy forest. Top prize goes to bee chafers, above, closely followed by the spectacularly iridescent chafers below.
 In the leaf mould, it was good to find wood crickets (a true cricket, I'm told).

 A few butterflies braved the weather, including some energetically mating white admirals, and a cool green-veined white.
 Floral highlights were limited to strange thistles, of which the lettuce thistle was the strangest, and a fine verge near Saillay Bray of poppies, corn marigolds and a host of other relicts.

 As for birds, well, we saw a middle-spotted woodpecker (pic-mar as the French would say) which flew off when it saw the camera, after reasonable views of it at the edge of the wood. Mel had seen one drinking at a pool earlier, but had not managed to convince me of the ID until we saw this one nearby.

A few marsh warblers gave loud song, but bluethroats were not going to be so easy.

Kittiwakes by the hundred were fledging in Bolougne harbour, on the ferry terminal.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Eel met by sunlight

On a rare warm evening, we did some rock-pooling at Kingsdown, followed by fish and chips in the setting sun. The tide was going out, leaving pools in the chalk platform and among the flint pebbles.

Streams of cold fresh water from the chalk hills flow from the shingle beach, and this had confused an eel that was trying to swim inland.
After a brief discussion on the principles of helping old ladies back across a busy road that they have just crossed (i.e. did the eel actually want to be helped?) it was decided to return it to the sea as otherwise it would have been stranded and left to the mercy of nearby herring gulls.

It's not easy to pick up an eel, by the way.

Browsing the usual Wiki-thing, I see that European eels are declining because of environmental factors, overconsumption and the introduction of parasites from farming stocks [that oft-repeated litany - sigh] and that IUCN have included them in their Red list.

From a personal point of view, I find their taste when jellied to be quite revolting and they may be reassured that I shall never touch them again.

Thanks guys!

There were also some starfish slowly slithering along in the shallows .....

..... and small dogfish dashed; whelks and winkles wandered, while sea anemones angled for food?     

Lovely evening.     Do not take living by the sea for granted.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Wot, no flies to catch?

We visited the three sites where spotted flycatchers have been known to breed in the area, but only one pair was found. More evidence of population crash, as these lovely birds are hard to find these days.
 There's precious little for them to feed their chicks this year as the weather has been cool, damp and decidedly unclement for insects. The records tell us that we've had the wettest (on average across the country) late spring/early summer and to that can be added an almost constant cool north-easterly wind in this corner of the country, so the long-term trends that have done for so much of the insect life have been reinforced by short-term damage.
A comment that I've heard frequently recently is "when was the last time you had to scrape insects off the windscreen?". Perhaps modern cars' improved Cd designs have an effect, but the numbers of insects that peppered our car in the seventies are absent now. How do the birds and other animals that depend on the seasonal harvest of flying protein cope when it doesn't appear?
Or even the plants that need them for pollination?
 I assume that Nottingham catchfly does not feed off the insects that get stuck to its stems, but it may be sticky to stop them crawling up to eat the flowers or drink the nectar, which is to attract nightflying moths. 
Whatever, the swathes of catchfly that grew on Dover cliffs last year have not reappeared, with only a sparse and short-lived growth this year.

While musing on the lack of insects while cycling along Walmer seafront this evening, we were assailed by an emergence of summer chafers, cruising and crashing around hedges and bushes along the path with their languid droning buzz. We saw a couple of hundred in a short distance, many bumping into us and catching in our hair. Examining one more closely, we could see that they have small eyes which seem to serve them poorly.

Elsewhere, an energetic grey wagtail was feeding on insects above a waterfall by Leeds Castle..... did you know that you can walk around the grounds on public footpaths after the paying punters have gone home? Idyllic.

 And near there, at The Larches...... at last I've seen my first ground-pine. And then another 80 were found, equally tiny. 
A gorgeous little plant which has eluded me for a while, probably because I've also got small eyes that serve me poorly.