Scilly Species Sightings

Last weekend was amazing. One of the best weekends in my life for sure. It was a long weekend, where ten women headed down to the Isles of Scilly to relax, drink wine and watch wildlife. This being a wildlife blog, I shall focus on the latter in this post, but I can reassure you that copious amounts of the first two also occurred. Each day on Scilly deserves its own blog post – in fact, each half of a day! But I shall keep it as short and concise as I can.

It was a false start to begin with, when I got very excited during boarding as I saw an Eider Duck (Somateria mollissima) in the Penzance harbour. The excitement was (a) it is a gorgeous duck, and (b) I thought it was lifer. When I got home, I realised that I have actually seen an Eider Duck before during the Scottish wildlife holiday last year. But still, it was very nice to see it. The sightings continued during the journey on the Scillonian across to the Scilly Isles – Gannet (Morus bassanus), Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), Great Northern Diver (Gavia immer), and most wonderfully – dolphins (Delphinus delphis)! We saw one playing in the waves created by the boat, only briefly mind, but gosh it was superb. Then not long after, I saw a pod of at least 8 in the distance, leaping into the air. There isn’t much in life that beats the thrill of watching wild dolphins.

Once we were on Scilly, I had the pleasant surprise of watching our usual garden birds on the seashore – House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), Robins (Erithacus rubecula) and Blackbirds (Turdus merula), searching amongst the seaweed for food. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was as I had never seen these birds on a sandy beach before! I even saw a Blackbird getting its feet wet – it didn’t seem to enjoy paddling as it quickly jumped out onto a rock!

The timing of our visit worked very well in coinciding with the very low spring tides, and we were able to walk from Tresco to Bryher (after seeing the Iberian Chiffchaff, Phylloscopus ibericus, and feeding crisps to the Golden Pheasants, Chrysolophus pictus). I had great fun rockpooling between the islands, finding the cast-off shells of crabs, peeking in at Hermit Crabs (Pagurus bernhardus) and generally poking around in the seaweed. At one point I almost died (well, not quite, but it makes it more dramatic), as I found a Short-spined Scorpion Fish (Myoxocephalus scorpius) stranded on the sand and moved it back into the water. Fortunately I picked it up by its tail, as it was only afterwards that I found out that they have venomous barbs which can cause swelling and pain! Yikes!

On Bryher, we had one thing in mind. The Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)! And what a beauty it was. Though I have to admit, I didn’t realise where it was at first. When I first looked through my binoculars at it, its face was turned away and honestly, it looked exactly like a big white rock. I felt like such a bad birder when I had to have someone tell me that actually, the big white rock was the Snowy Owl – oops! Once it turned its face back towards us, it definitely looked like an owl again thankfully. I have some awful distance photos of it which don’t really do it justice sadly.

After the Snowy Owl trip, we headed out on the Sapphire boat to find some seabirds (and to drink Prosecco). There were Razorbills (Alca torda), Guillemots (Uria aalge), Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) and more Great Northern Divers and Gannets. My avian highlight had to be the Puffins (Fratercula arctica)! I’ve only ever seen dead ones, having worked on Chesil Beach just after the big winter storms in January / February 2014 and found plenty of dead birds on the beach. So I was overjoyed to actually see a live one, happily bobbing on the water. We also saw Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus), which were great fun to watch as they would pop their heads up out of the water and then disappear again, only to resurface in a different spot.

One of the most hilarious moments of the trip came on Sunday afternoon. We’d had a nice relaxed walk in the drizzle, clambering through muddy woodlands and up hills to find the best apple strudel. By the way, I can confirm that it is the best apple strudel I’ve ever eaten. However, strudel / tea / beer was abandoned mid-bite / drink when Lucy shouted incoherently and ran out the cafe. Beth and I followed, somewhat confused but knowing it must be a good bird. And swooping over the fields, was a Harrier bird. Even distantly and without my binoculars (why didn’t I have my bins?!), I could see a nice white patch on it (ruling out Marsh Harrier, Circus aeruginosus), and very long and pointed elegant wings (apparently ruling out Hen Harrier? C.cyaneus). Lucy called it in as being a Montagu’s Harrier (C.pygargus) – my first!

I’ve not yet mentioned insects, and that’s because it wasn’t a good weekend for them. The drizzle and chill meant the only the most industrious were out and about, the bumblebees buzzing about the flowers. I had hauled my moth trap all the way down there, and despite the low numbers of moths caught, I was quite happy. It was better than the (non-existant) hauls I was catching at home, and there were even (at least) two new species for me: Marbled Coronet (Hadena confusa) and Chamomile Shark (Cucullia chamomillae). I say ‘at least’ because there were a couple of micros that I haven’t identified yet, which may turn out to be lifers for me.

It would be wrong to leave out the dipping*. I didn’t manage to see a Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica), and when we got back to Cornwall, we tried to see the Dalmatian Pelican (Pelecanus crispus) but we didn’t see it sadly. The twitchers in the group were rather gripped** by others seeing it earlier in the day. However I have to admit that by that point, I was absolutely shattered and worried about getting home too late, so I was less gripped.

Despite writing over 1000 words, I really have only laid out the bare bones of the trip. I haven’t mentioned the superb glamping experience at Peninnis Farm (really not anything like camping at all!), the stunning landscapes, the scrumptious food, the cute cats and dogs that I met (there were a few in particular that I absolutely fell in love with), and the wildflowers that I have been attempting to identify. But I’m sure you get the gist – it was amazing and wonderful, and I want to go back!

*dipping is when you go to twitch/see a bird (or other wildlife) and don’t see it

*gripped off is when someone has seen a bird and you haven’t, and you get rather jealous/annoyed/frustrated

Bugs For My Birthday

It was my birthday at the beginning of this week – not a big birthday, but a high enough number to make me realise that 30 is creeping closer. Although to be honest, I’m quite excited. They (the mysterious ‘They’!) say that your thirties are better than your twenties!

No matter my age, I was determined to have a nice nature-filled day. Originally I had planned to spend the day at RSPB Minsmere, but then Storm Katie arrived with howling winds and plenty of rain. Instead I had a relaxed morning at home, eating homemade cake (made my Matt) and drinking many cups of tea!

Once the weather had calmed itself down in the afternoon, a few friends and I visited a local nature reserve, Overhall Grove. It was a really sweet reserve, apparently both an Ancient Woodland and a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and I look forward to returning there again over the coming seasons. Some of the friends accompanying me are also into nature, so we got stuck in with trying to find some good species. I’ve added a few more species to my pan-species list – including Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis crispa), a new beetle species (Abax parallelepipedus) and Median Wasp (Dolichovespula media). Although I haven’t identified everything just yet, I am getting there gradually.

In addition to the new species, there were a number of 7-spot Ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) about. I am always thrilled to see them as they are a sign that winter is over! Spring has started and summer is not too far away! There was even a butterfly – but it flew away from us and we couldn’t identify it. It was quite a funny sight, particularly for my friends that aren’t into nature – 4 adults running across the field after a butterfly! Bring on much more butterfly (and moth!) chasing this year.

There’s not so much else to add. I had hoped to hear a Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita), which would’ve been my first of the year. But no luck, and I still haven’t heard one since. As I have said above, I look forward to returning there across the current seasons so I am sure I shall hear one there at some point!

Insects In Unexpected Places

My wildlife adventures this week turned away from the typical ventures at nature reserves, towards indoor exploration. Matt and I spent a day with my family at the Science Museum and then the V&A Museum, to celebrate a birthday. I am always a big fan of museums as they are such excellent places for learning – whether it be about the natural world, the lives of humans long ago or otherwise. I wasn’t expecting much, if any, nature in this trip, after all we weren’t at the Natural History Museum. But as the title suggests, I was pleasantly surprised.

Before any insects, we found the DNA model made by Crick and Watson (NB: I feel more should have been said about Franklin in the description). After lots of button-pushing and pointing at shiny things by my nephew (a sign of how the rest of the day would turn out – he loves buttons!), we then stumbled across some bees! From what I remember, the one in the middle is robotic bee whose flight is based on the study of honeybees.

Skip ahead through galleries about atmosphere, household goods and wooden doors, plus some delicious lunch (surrounded by very loud children!), and we get to the Glass Gallery in the V&A Museum. My nephew amused himself, and the family, by running around laughing and looking for buttons to push or stairs to climb. In between being amused by his antics, I took the opportunity to look at the various objects on display. There was plenty of wildlife to be found – as ever, artists being inspired by nature. I think my favourites are the first three – jellyfish, vases and the branch, though I was awed to see work from mosaic tiles from 1-2C AD!

I was intrigued by whether I could find any insects among the collection. There were flowers, trees and birds a-plenty, but I felt certain there must be some insects in there, even if only the usual butterflies found in artwork. I asked the gallery attendant / volunteer, but they didn’t know. So what next? Well, obviously attempt to examine every object in there for insects – a challenge and a half, but I was going to go around and browse anyway, so why not make said browsing a bit more detailed? I was rewarded for my efforts, and many times over. Whilst the insects weren’t normally the main feature on a glassware (or pottery), nonetheless, they were there. Also, a cute snail too.

All in all, a lovely day out with the surprising, but pleasant, appearance of insects and nature within the galleries.

So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part Two

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 12th October

Weekend with the parents over, and my last few days with Dorset Wildlife Trust commenced. However, I didn’t get much time to wander around, especially after work as I needed to dash up to London to attend the launch of the Response For Nature : England report. I was there with two hats on – first, as Matt’s plus one since he was giving one of the speeches in the marketplace, and second, as a member of A Focus On Nature. I have written a full blog post about the event for the AFON blog, but personally I had a fab time meeting people and discussing conservation – particularly with those who are interested in supporting AFON in different ways.

Another mad dash in order to get back to Dorset for my last day! Very saddening, but I have had an excellent time these last few months! After a day at the Sherborne Literary Festival, I had a super yummy leaving dinner in Weymouth where I had to say goodbye to everyone. But I am sure I will see them all again – if only when I’m on holiday in Dorset (bound to happen, how else will I see Lulworth Skipper next year?).

Then suddenly it was the weekend and time to leave Dorset! When did that happen?! Of course, I couldn’t leave without heading over to Portland Bird Observatory for some last minute chilling out and wildlife watching. I got slightly distracted from birding by a male Speckled Bush-Cricket (Leptophyes punctatissima) that was resting on the door. The others weren’t so interested, but I was fascinated. Particularly when he started grooming himself, it was brilliant to watch and learn more about the behaviour of this species.

I was moving to Cambridge via Sussex (of course!), and travelled across to Sussex via a village called Amberley as Matt had read about a juvenile Pallid Harrier (Circus macrourus) being seen there. We didn’t manage to spot it, but we did still have a wander around, and up to the top of the South Downs! In doing so, I managed to get two (birding) lifers – Red-Legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) and Grey Partridge (Perdix perdix)! And whilst we didn’t see the Pallid Harrier, we saw at least three birds of prey – Red Kite (Milvus milvus), Buzzard (Buteo buteo) and Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus). The latter is a particular favourite having spent early summer watching the kestrels at Lorton. But then, I also love Red Kites – having spent many hours watching them in Wales!

It being mid-October now, I’m going to swap into winter mode and write every two weeks. However, there may be the odd extra blog post in between – guest posts, opinion pieces, and who knows what else!

So long and thanks for all the proverbial fish, Part One

Having been visited by my parents, packed up my belongings in Dorset, finished my job, had a mad couple of days getting my car fixed, and finally moved house, I have finally got to the end of a very hectic couple of weeks. Despite being so busy, I have still managed to get out and about to see some wildlife!

w/c 5th October 2015

A great start to week at the Chesil Beach Centre. Despite getting confused by Sophie’s directions to the Starry Smooth-Hound shark (Mustelus asterias) as I thought she meant the other bridge, I had a lovely wander looking at crabs and picking up litter. I also spotted my first Brent Geese (Branta bernicla) of the autumn, though they were pretending to be interior design (flying ducks anyone?).

I swapped locations and spent a few days at Lorton Meadows, managing to spot two Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) from the office! They can often be seen grazing in the play / picnic / pond area. Whilst a bit cautious, they spent a fair bit of time there before disappearing into other fields.

A new experience for me when our wildlife camera person came to check that the Barn Owl (Tyto alba) box and camera were still in good condition (they are), and I got to go up into the loft. Ignoring the anxious voice inside me muttering about heights, I went up and looked at the box for the first time – in which we found seven Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae) hibernating!

As the name suggests, at the end of the week came the weekend! Sadly it was my last full weekend in Dorset but I made the most of it! My parents came down to see me and amongst visiting awesome places, we also went out to local restaurants and watched a sunset over the Fleet. Our first location of awesomeness was RSPB Arne Nature Reserve in the Purbeck area of Dorset. I have been meaning to visit for ages and despite a touch of chill in the day, it was fantastic – dragonflies, birds, fungi, deer and more!

The weekend wasn’t over yet though! Oh no, we also went to watch Motor X on Weymouth Beach followed by a visit to Portland Castle! Naturally, I was most interested in seeing what wildlife was about, but I did enjoy reading about the castle’s history, using their interpretation and playing (well, winning) a game of Nine Men’s Morris with my dad. The game is basically a big version of Noughts and Crosses, and was good fun to play. I am tempted to make my own set!

Crossing the bridge to see the rest of the gardens, I found a ladybird wandering around on a bush. The proceeded to find another 100+ ladybirds – some in larvae form, some as pupae and some as adults. I found three different species, but also a couple of different versions of some species. For example, the Ten-Spot Ladybird (Adalia 10-punctata) has a few possible colour variations. Flick through the photos below for the identifications, or you can look at my Twitter thread on them.

The larvae look like they are quite evil, don’t you think?

I couldn’t let my parents without taking them to Lorton of course! Neither had been before, so a late evening walk across the meadows was perfect. As well as pointing out the birds, we ate blackberries and I showed them oak galls. In the pond area I found an Elephant Hawk-Moth caterpillar (Deilephila elpenor), which was rather small so presumably one of the earlier instars (stages of being a larva). It looks like it is plotting world domination!

And the aforementioned sunset, such beauty to finish off my penultimate week in Dorset.

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

A bewildering start to the week, as I awoke in the east side of Dorset. Not by magic mind, I had travelled over on Sunday evening to visit a friend who has just started a Masters at Bournemouth University. Watch out Bournemouth! A lovely start to the week, due to seeing both my friend and also a Red Admiral first thing in the morning. As she (my friend, not the butterfly) went off to her first lectures of the term, I wondered how to pass the time for the rest of my day off. There was no question of course – at a nature reserve! But which one …

I settled upon Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Upton Heath Nature Reserve, as it had been over a year since I had visited, and I haven’t wandered around heathland much. Naturally I popped my head around the door at the Beacon Hill Urban Wildlife Centre to say hello, then headed out to see what I could discover.

Ah, heathland … still purple in autumn, with the bright splashes of other colours, plus the more subdued oranges and browns of drooping leaves and partially hidden fungi. The quick glimpse of a snake as it is startled by my footsteps and slides away into the gorse and heather. (I think it was a Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), but not 100% sure as I haven’t got much experience with snakes).

I was drawn to examine the stems of the plants as I could hear the singing of a cricket … it took me a while, but I finally spotted a male singing away. It was a Bog Bush-Cricket (Metrioptera brachyptera), a new species for me and my eighth Orthopteran. I soon found a couple more, including one with the green patterning.

I also saw a couple of different grasshoppers and a groundhopper, but I haven’t yet worked out which species they are. With the grasshoppers, I think one of them was a Meadow Grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus), and the others are Field Grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus). The groundhopper is most likely a Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata).  I also took a video of the bush-crickets/grasshoppers singing, but haven’t uploaded it yet.

And then the fungi … no idea what they were, but they look rather cool!

A few days of working at Lorton, and I made sure to eat my lunch outdoors. I had allowed myself to get into the bad habit of eating at my computer, which is not at all healthy. I even sat in the sunshine by the pond for my lunch, which was just lovely – and still warm despite being the beginning of October! I enjoyed watching the dragonflies zooming about – and even managed to get a few shots of one in flight. A tad blurry, but the best I’ve ever got! This particular one was very curious and kept flying over to see what I was doing (or to work out what I was?).

At one point, I was rather startled as suddenly a bird appeared suddenly overhead and splashed into the pond. A duck! Rather surprisingly, this is actually the first duck I’ve seen at Lorton! I wonder if she was hiding from a bird of prey?

A few more photos from lunchtime outside, including a slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) who was really chilled out and let me take lots of photos!

A post-work weekend walk with Sean took us down to Two Mile Coppice as we peered into the undergrowth attempting to find fungi. However, it has been rather dry recently so we weren’t expecting much. We found a few scattered about though and Sean managed to identify a few (I got one too, wahey!).

End of the week, I was sleepy and wanting my bed. But I headed up to Portland to show Christina and Amy (two of the trainees) where the Portland Bird Observatory is. We saw a Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) in the PBO garden, plus the Little Owl (Athene noctua) in the quarry, ate plenty of blackberries, saw some tiny caterpillars and listened to Great Green Bush-Crickets (Tettigonia viridissima). All in all, a very nice Sunday evening.

As I finish writing up this post, I can hear the wind howling outside. Looks like our spell of good weather is over for now! I wonder if there will be any more decent periods of weather before I leave Dorset? There’s still so much to see and do!

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).

 

Our hands were peppered With thorn pricks, our palms sticky as Bluebeard’s.

As the title suggests, I went blackberry picking this week! If you attended school in the UK you are likely to have read the poem from which I’ve taken my title – Blackberry Picking by Seamus Heaney. If not, do go and read it – it’s one of my favourites. Anyway, the blackberry picking was late in the week, so shall come onto that in a bit!

Earlier in the week, I was based down at the Chesil Beach Centre. A mixed bag in terms of weather, but I managed to take some nice photos after work. Sadly I can’t get out much during work as the centre tends to be quite hectic, and I usually end up gulping down my lunch!

A day at Lorton mid-week, no groups in so I was getting on with work in the office. Thought had a stroll had to be taken of course.

This week was a bit topsy turvy, as I was then back at Chesil again! As before, busy during the day. I had an unplanned wander after work – the weather was very calm, with no wind for once, and the sunshine was glorious. I popped across the road to Hamm Beach and photographed the Turnstones (Arenaria interpres) for a while. They are such wonderful birds, and as the name suggests, they turn stones!

I also filmed them for a bit as their stone-turning is brilliant to watch, plus they call – I think to each other. Using an educated guess, I would say they are contact calls? I.e. letting the other(s) know they are still there?

I also saw this massive bumblebee – I think it may be a queen? She really was huge!

Despite being the end of September, I literally took the plunge and went paddling. The water was actually a decent temperature, once I got used to it!

Some others photos from the evening:

Back to Lorton again for the weekend and the theme of Pond Life, which means … pond dipping! Woohoo! One of my favourite activities! We discovered a myriad of insects, molluscs and other invertebrates within the pond, as well as seeing some adult dragonflies zooming about above it.

Saturday evening I went blackberry picking – even though the freezer is already full of fruit thanks to Matt’s foraging efforts. And on both days, I had someone else at the centre with me (membership recruiter, then a volunteer) so we peered at wildlife together during a couple of quiet moments.

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dorset Wildlife Trust’s positions, strategies or opinions (or any other organisation or individuals for that matter).