A Gaggle of Goslings

I had a rare week off from blogging last week. I try to find different things to talk about each week and sometimes it just so happens that I’ve been unlucky and don’t have much wildlife to share with you. Fortunately though I’ve collected enough to be back today.

I’ve been enjoying keeping an eye on the small field that serves as the nursery area for the local canada geese. As each clutch of goslings hatch they are walked to the nursery field by their parents and all the goslings mix together.

DSCN3678DSCN3752

Last week I counted 45 goslings at one time which seems like even more than usual! By grouping together like a few adults can keep many goslings safe from predators.

I came across a brood of mallard ducklings today sheltering on the shore of the fishing lake.

DSCN3757

Given their size and location I think there’s a likelihood this is the same brood I spotted a few weeks ago when they are very young. There were fifteen ducklings then and were only four today- it’s entirely possible that the missing eleven ducklings were all predated. It shows how hard it is to raise young in the wild and why it’s worth having so many young if over a quarter of them are lost.

This week the first starling fledglings started to arrive in the garden. They are fun to watch as they stagger around, not quite in full control of their limbs yet, and beg their parents for food.

DSCN3709DSCN3723

I haven’t seen much of the Avon roe deer over the last month or so. I suspect that with the arrival of Spring they have more options for places to eat. I did spot several individuals yesterday though they can be difficult to see in the long grass.

DSCN3688

As you can imagine, when this buck had it’s head down and was eating you could barely see it at all. It’s around this time of year that roe deer start to give birth to their young so I shall be looking out for that, though I suspect the fawns will be almost invisible in this sort of foliage.

Apologies to arachnophobes but here’s a magnificent spider I found this week:

DSCN3682

This is a nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis). Like many spiders this species has interesting mating behaviour. Males approach potential females with a gift, a fly or other insect wrapped up ready to eat. When the female bites on the gift the male starts to mate with her. To make sure the job gets done he keeps one leg on the gift in case the female tries to escape with it or attack him. If this does happen the male will pretend to be dead (it’s called ‘thanatosis’) and will be dragged along by the leg touching the gift. When the female stops the male carries on mating.

Here’s another invertebrate I spotted recently:

DSCN3741

I’m not entirely confident on the ID of this one. It certainly looks like a grasshopper or cricket with that leg structure, possible a roesel’s bush cricket. It’s early in the year and this looks really small so I would hypothesise that it’s a nymph. Females are green so this is a male (assuming I’ve managed to identify the right species).

I was disturbed to see in the news recently that Theresa May and other members of the conservative party want to repeal the ban on fox hunting. When polled, 89% of the British public said they agreed with the ban. May has often stressed how she follows the public’s wishes, seeking out a Brexit deal, so it seems hypocritical for her to go against the public on this. Besides, with Brexit and the issues with healthcare and education funding fox hunting doesn’t feel like it ought to be something the government is even thinking about at present.

Owls That!

I spent a lot of time wandering the local countryside. I usually see some wildlife of interest on every walk. Sometimes I get really lucky and see something particularly exciting. Today was one of those days.

I was wandering along a country road when I caught a glimpse of this magnificent bird.

DSCN3669

This is of course a tawny owl. Tawnies are well known for being a bird which is regularly heard but rarely seen. Indeed I regularly here tawnies calling locally but I’ve never seen one until now.

DSCN3676

You would expect to see tawnies at night but I found this one at 2:30PM. This is probably it’s roost site- it’s actually sat on a 4×4 in someone’s garden! It certainly looked sleepy, a little wary of my presence nearby but showing no inclination for flying off. I think this was probably the best wildlife encounter I’ve had so far!

In other news, there’s now quite a few greylag goslings on the nursery field, somewhere in the region of fifteen.

DSCN3639

I was interested to see that two of the goslings were much lighter than all the others. In some domestic geese this can indicate gender but I’ve not been able to find anything online about why greylag goslings look so different- it may simply be natural variation.

DSCN3648

I’ve seen lots of interesting invertebrates recently. A lot of people, even those interested in nature, seem to ignore the smaller animals around them but they are fascinated to find out about.

On one footpath I saw several of these creatures that looked like caterpillars at first. With further investigation I discovered that they were actually glow worm larvae.

DSCN3627

Despite the name glow worms are actually beetles, hence the larvae stage. Larvae and even eggs can emit light but generally it’s the females who do so. They emit a greeny or orange light to attract males which have large, photosensitive eyes.

I recently saw this large fly which is apparently a yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria).

DSCN3638

As the name suggests, this fly is often found on the faeces of large mammals where they go to breed. They are actually really important to the animal kingdom due to helping dung to decompose and useful to humans to as they have been used for many experiments.

Another insect find was this dock bug (Coreus marginatus).

DSCN3645

Dock bugs have a more pleasant diet being herbivorous, particularly liking raspberries and gooseberries. Like other members of their family, they can release strong-smelling defensive chemicals if they are disturbed.

I’ve discussed some oak galls here before but never the most famous, oak apples.

DSCN3584

Like other galls, there are not fruit but growths caused by a wasp (probably Biorhiza pallida in this case) chemically inducing them. The larvae feed on the gall tissue and everyone’s a winner as it has no long-term effect on the oak tree.

Well that was an interesting dip into the miniature world around us! I’ll be back next week with much more, including an update on the peregrine falcon chicks.

Baby Birds

I’ve been eagerly awaiting the first young birds of 2017 and this week I finally saw some. Get ready for the cuteness!

My first young birds of the year were two of these gorgeous lapwing chicks.

DSCN3515

There are currently a mother and two chicks right outside one of the hides at Blashford Lakes. This one chick came right up to the edge of the hide allowing for unprecedented views and photos! As well as agricultural land lapwings nest in areas of wetland with short vegetation. The team at Blashford have been working to create this sort of habitat and it certainly appears to be working.

DSCN3500

Lapwings are on the RSPB’s red list, meaning there has been a severe decline of numbers in the UK, so work like this is vital to support the species.

This morning I spotted this mallard parading with her ducklings.

DSCN3562

If I’ve counted correctly there are 15 ducklings there. Mallards usually have clutches of 8-12 eggs so this was a particularly large one. Of course ducklings are extremely vulnerable to predators so it’s unlikely that more than a handful of these will make it to adulthood.

In other bird news, blackcaps have now arrived in the country in time for the breeding season.

DSCN3468

These birds migrate from Southern Europe and Northern Africa to breed in the UK in the summer. However, increasing numbers are actually staying in the UK over the winter and the RSPB suspects this is due to the good source of food put out in gardens.

Today I saw a grey wagtail on the river Avon.

DSCN3554

This individual is a female as it has more white on it’s head then a male would. Whilst these birds don’t migrate a such they do move from lowland streams in the winter to fast flowing rivers in the summer.

Whilst at Blashford Lakes yesterday I saw thousands of these sizeable St Mark’s Flies (Bibio marci).

DSCN3541

Their name comes from the fact that they usually emerge around the 25th April which is St. Mark’s Day.  Their long legs dangle underneath them as they hover and look around for females. They will only be in flight for about a week but they are important pollinators as they feed on nectar.

Another insect sighting this week was this harlequin ladybird.

DSCN3568

Harlequins are an invasive species and frankly they appear to be have completed their invasion around here. It’s been a good few years since I last saw a native British ladybird around my patch but I see a lot of harlequins now. They eat other ladybirds and pass diseases to them. They have now colonised most of England and are quickly spreading into Wales and Scotland.

That’s all for today but I’ll see you next week when hopefully some peregrine eggs may have hatched!

Spring Sunshine

It’s been a glorious Spring week here. The temperatures are creeping over 20°C but there is still a pleasant breeze meaning it’s ideal for getting out and watching wildlife. I haven’t seen any clouds for days- here’s a blue tit to show off the blue sky.

DSCN3307

And another bird surrounded by blue sky is my local great spotted woodpecker.

DSCN3321

I’ve seen and heard woodpeckers a lot in this small patch of trees over the last few weeks. It’s the time of year of their drumming display. Both sexes drum at trees as a way of making first contact with potential mates. An unpaired male can drum as many as 600 times a day! Interestingly these woodpeckers have a gender equal society with both sexes drumming, excavating a nest, incubating eggs and looking after young after fledging.

This week has seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of butterflies around. I’ve so far seen brimstones, peacocks, large whites, orange tips, red admirals and speckled woods.

DSCN3322

It’s amazing what a difference a week can make- last weekend there were no speckled woods to be found whereas this weekend they seem to be everywhere. These butterflies have interesting mating behaviour. Male speckled woods either find a sunny spot and defend it from other males, waiting for a female to come along or patrol the forest actively looking for females. The females are monandrous, meaning they only mate once in their lifetime, and have to make the decision to mate with either a defender or a patroller.

Today I ventured up into the New Forest where I was treated with some magnificent views.

DSCN3338

I mainly hoped to see some reptiles and eventually I got lucky and found this slow worm.

DSCN3347

I thought at the time that this was a particularly long individual. In hindsight I should have placed an item near it for scale. These legless lizards are supposed to grow up to 50cm long but I am convinced this one was longer.

DSCN3349

It’s frustratingly impossible to know quite how long it was but it’s clear this was a particularly long individual. It was calm and basking in the sun to warm up and was happy for me to have a close look at it.

There were lots of birds hopping around on the gorse and under the heather and eventually I managed to get a good look at one and discover they were meadow pipits.

DSCN3335

Meadow pipits are the main host bird for cuckoos in the New Forest. Interestingly I heard a cuckoo calling today which seems remarkably early. I’ve been keeping an eye on the BTO tagged Cuckoos (see here) and Selborne, who was tagged in Hampshire, is only in the North of Spain whilst all the others are still South of the Sahara! That all suggests that the cuckoo I heard today is a really early arrival and likely hasn’t been in the forest for more than a few days.

I was saddened to learn this week of the extreme plight of New Forest curlews. Over the last 12 years the numbers of Forest curlews have fallen by two-thirds, from about 100 breeding pairs in 2004 to just 40 in 2016. At this rate they could become extinct in Southern England in as little as twenty years (Full story).

The main reason being attributed to this decline is nest disturbance. Curlews are ground-nesting birds and it’s likely that nests are being disturbed by runners, walkers and dogs who are not keeping to the main tracks. People seem to think they have a right to go anywhere on the Forest and this is the impact of it.

Anyway, let’s hope the good weather continues into this week and I’ll see you again soon for more.

Top Birds

The results to the RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch 2017 came out this week and as always, make for interesting reading.

top_10_3

This isn’t too far off for our garden, though we have considerably more starlings than house sparrows. We regularly have as many as thirty starlings descend on the garden, squawking and fighting for access to the food. It’s easy to imagine that starlings are doing well when we see that many around but numbers have decreased 79% since the first birdwatch in 1979.

DSCN3029

It’s also bad news for greenfinches whose numbers have fallen 59% in the same year. This is much more noticeable here as they were one of our most common birds and now we never see them at all. They have fallen victim to Trichomonosis disease which is why cleaning bird feeders is so important.

Still, at least it’s better news for other species. Since 2007 goldfinch numbers have risen 44% and robins have gone up by 24% in the same time. Both are regular visitors to our garden and I’ve particularly noticed a large number of robins in the area at the moment.

DSCN1948

The bushes around my patch are teeming with birds at the moment and it’s delightful. A couple of my favorites have been this pied wagtail sat on dead wood in the middle of the River Avon and the long-tailed tit hopping around the brambles nearby.

DSCN3258

DSCN3267

One day this week the great crested grebe came unusually close to the shore of the fishing lake giving me a clear view of the beautiful bird.

DSCN3229

I’ve spotted my third butterfly species of 2017 this week, the lovely comma.

DSCN3239

When they close their wings commas look a lot like dead leaves and with only early growth on bushes I found it tricky to watch the two I saw. There are actually two forms of commas. This form has a darker underside so as to survive the winter in the dead leaf disguise. The other form develops directly to sexual maturity and has a lighter underside as it has no need to survive the winter.

An invertebrate I’ve seen a lot this week is the Melanostoma scalare hoverfly. You can see it here at the top of a dandelion flower.

DSCN3247

This species is very common, found in most of the ‘palearctic zone’ (that’s essentially Europe, Northern Asia and Northern Africa) and even as far South as Zimbabwe and New Guinea. Despite how common this species is hardly anything is known about it! It visits a large variety of flowers which suggests it’s probably an important pollinator and is thought to be a predator of small insects in leaf litter. It’s amazing that something can be so common yet we know so little about it.

Nettles are really important for insects and have just started going into flower recently. This is a red-dead nettle, an important species for many moths and is a prominent source of pollen for bees at this time of year.

DSCN3234

I’ve also seen white-dead nettle, which is also very good for bees. Neither of this nettles sting, hence the ‘dead’ part of their names.

DSCN3243

That’s all for today, see you next week!

The Egg Thief

I will start today’s post with an update on the nests I have been following. Last week I introduced you to the collared dove that is nesting on the bracket of our satellite dish. It had laid two eggs.

DSCN3181

Yesterday there the mother was not sat on the nest which has been very unusual over the past week. I went and had a closer look at the nest from an upstairs window and discovered it was empty. Something had taken the eggs.

We have a magpie who is a regular visitor to our garden and it is likely it found the nest and ate the eggs. It’s easy to feel sad about this but it’s nature. The magpies will be laying eggs soon so this meal can help to give them the energy to build their nest and look after their young. Our collared doves will likely try again elsewhere and maybe they will have learnt their lesson about building a nest in such an obvious place. Only a few hundred yards down the road is this nest which is harder to reach.

DSCN3179

Having better luck are the Bournemouth peregrines who this week managed to lay another two eggs, bringing the batch up to four (the same as last year).

C7vrdS4XQAAYFNr

The eggs should start hatching around the 20th April. At the moment the eggs are being incubated virtually 24/7- this experienced pair certainly know what they are doing.

With Spring well and truly underway, the early butterflies are now fluttering around. I’ve seen a fair few brimstones around and also some peacocks which look absolutely stunning in the Spring sunlight.

DSCN3206

I have also noticed plenty of early bees and hoverflies buzzing around too. You would have thought pollen was limited at this time of year but this Tapered Drone Fly (Eristalis pertinax)  is covered in it!

DSCN3210

Fortunately I saw this adult rather than the maggot form as they sound really unpleasant. Tapered drone flies have ‘rat-tailed maggots’, the long tail acting like a snorkel as the organism breathes underwater. These larvae prefer water badly polluted with organic matter such as drainage ditches and pools around manure piles and sewage.

Not far away I saw some roe deer in a field.

DSCN3192

There were six deer here, five does and one buck. I can’t work out where these deer come from. There is the herd I usually see by the Avon not too far away and the lower New Forest deer are even closer but from either direction the deer would have to walk through built-up areas.

These deer will lose this site soon. A large development is being built on this site, at least sixty homes and likely more if the next phase of planning permission is granted. This is green belt land where I’ve also seen a kestrel hunting and a flock of meadow pipits. Then there’s the other environmental effects, like how this will affect the water drainage and adding even more cars to the local roads. In their wisdom New Forest District Council have decided none of that matters.

Let’s end on a happier note shall we? Here’s one more nest I’ve seen this week, a mute swan.

DSCN3222

Walter White

I just have to open today with what my well be my bird of the year, a Great White Egret!

dscn1577

dscn1574

Now usually I can’t tell you too much about an individual bird but this one has a full history. He’s affectionately known as Walter White, after the character from Breaking Bad. I saw him over at Blashford Lakes where he has been a Winter visitor every year since 2003. He was ringed as a chick in a nest in Lac de Grand-Lieu near Nantes in France that year. This makes him 13 which is a ripe old age for a great white egret but he is still looking magnificent.

I’ve found myself at Blashford Lakes more and more often recently. It’s a fantastic nature reserve and at this time of year there is always something to see. Here’s a grey heron which was perched only a little way in front of one of the hides.

dscn1479

Although the Woodland Hide is perhaps less exciting at this time of year you sometimes get lucky and see some more unusual visitors. This nuthatch was feeding on and off for the whole time I was in the hide on my last visit.

dscn1460

I was also lucky to see a jay on one of the feeders. Jays are one of the birds which I have personally noticed the decline of. They were a relatively common bird a few years ago but now you hardly ever see them which is a shame as they are the most beautiful corvid we have.

dscn1454

It’s a big time of year for deer as the males are rutting, fighting off competitors in order to breed with the females. My experience of this is limited but I did see a few roe deer by the Avon recently. I suspect this is a young stag with a small harem, separate from the main harem which is likely to be held by a larger, older stag. There’s also the possibility that the stag and the two hinds are very young and therefore not concerned about breeding yet. You can see the relatively large antler for a roe deer and the real strength in the stag’s muscles.

dscn1544

dscn1549

A couple of birds I somehow haven’t yet mentioned here now. On my visit to Stanpit in Christchurch last week I saw plenty of oystercatchers feeding on the shoreline.

dscn1529

Not too far away from here, on a small stream passing through woodland, was this Grey Wagtail.

dscn1535

I actually see a grey wagtail quite regularly at a stream on the entrance to Blashford Lakes. I’ve never been able to capture that one clearly though because it flutters away as soon as I spot it and because they like covered streams it’s so dark it’s hard to get a photo from any distance.

I’ve seen some fantastic spider webs covered in the morning dew recently- it really makes you appreciate their intricacy when you can see them this clearly.

dscn1551

Here’s what I suspect might well be my last butterfly sighting of the year, a red admiral. This was on the 30th October but I haven’t seen any this week and we had our first frost on Wednesday night so it now seems unlikely, though not impossible, that I’ll see any in November.

dscn1555

Finally, here’s a red slug.

dscn1483

You can clearly see a large hole in the side of this individual. At first I thought it was damage caused by a predator but after some research I discovered it is actually it’s pneumostome. It’s a breathing pore which air goes through and into the slug’s single lung, a mantle cavity. I like to think of it as the slug equivalent of blow hole in a whale. It’s an interesting piece of biology which I had no idea about until I saw this slug!

Bird Bonanza

Last weekend I visited Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve and was delighted to find it teeming with bird life. There were a few species I see all the time but are still lovely to watch like black headed gulls and little egrets.

dscn1366

dscn1365

But actually the majority of species I saw were ones which I don’t usually get to see. First up were some little plovers plodding around looking for food.

dscn1363

In the same area were lots of sanderlings, also having a feed.

dscn1370

There were a few lapwings around too, though most of them were looking pretty sleepy.

dscn1386

I took that photo for the lapwing but it was only upon closer inspection that I realised the ducks were more interesting than they appeared from a distance. It’s difficult to see when they are so tucked up but you can just make out that they are in fact teals.

The most magnificent bird of the day was this stunning bar-tailed godwit. It’s a really beautiful bird.

dscn1383

Even that though wasn’t the most exciting spot of the day- that accolade goes to this wheatear.

dscn1374

I’ve never seen one before and was lucky to see several on what may well have been one of the last days they were around before migrating South.

Whilst I’m on the subject of birds I don’t usually see, we had an unheard of visitor to our garden this week. We’ve lived in this house for 19 years now so getting new bird species these days is extremely unusual. I was surprised to see this female pheasant poking around the garden when I came home from work one day.

20161017_162406

It was a surprise because we live in quite a built-up suburban area and even in the farmland not too far away pheasants are pretty unusual. We had some really heavy rain earlier in the day so I am theorising that this pheasant was driven to go somewhere more sheltered and perhaps was struggling to feed on water-logged land where it usually goes.

Something else which has also appeared in our garden recently are these great Sulphur Tuft mushrooms. We’ve had fairy ring mushrooms on the lawn before but these are new and they look great. They also seem to be proving popular with our resident slugs which is why some of them look a little chewed.

dscn1388

It still seems plausible that I may see a butterfly in November this year. There’s still plenty around- I saw both speckled woods and a large white today and a rather battered looking red admiral at Lymington-Keyhaven last weekend.

dscn1387

I even saw a dragonfly today which goes to show that the weather is still proving fairly mild. This is a very dark female common darter.

dscn1401

It’s interesting to see that Autumn is so late this year. The leaves have taken long to start to change colour and drop off too. Other than a couple of days of very heavy rain it’s been very dry and though it is certainly colder now it’s actually relatively mild- I don’t think it has dropped below 4° at night yet. A longer summer must be a good thing for the majority of wildlife- the shorter the winter the higher number of individual animals will survive.

dscn1408

dscn1397

Arne in Autumn

Last weekend I visited RSPB’s Arne Reserve, located on the West side of Poole Harbour. It was a gloriously sunny day and really busy on the reserve- I suspect due to the fact that it has been announced the reserve will be the location of the BBC’s Autumnwatch later this month.

I saw plenty of Sika Deer on the reserve. You may remember I saw the same species on my recent visit to Brownsea Island and these deer actually originate from that population, having swam/walked across the shallow harbour.

dscn1283

dscn1277

You can see that the latter has an ear tag and what I think is a radio collar, presumably to keep track of the population and how far it has spread.

I saw plenty of butterflies on the reserve, mostly speckled woods and red admirals but also a peacock.

dscn1278

I also saw both the first two today, the 15th October! It seems that butterflies are flying very late this year and with little sign that the temperature will drop significantly over the next week or so I suspect we may even get the odd butterfly still flying in November but we will have to see!

On the bird front Arne was a little disappointing I have to say. I saw this Little Egret near one of the beaches amongst a bunch of gulls.

dscn1280

Arne has a two-level hide which I was most excited by. On entering the higher level I quickly concluded that the reason it was so high is that the birds are a long way from the hide. I spotted a few spoonbills around and a shelduck.

dscn1286

Today I visited Blashford Lakes and had a great time. Two weeks I was over the moon that I had finally managed to photograph a kingfisher. I was lucky to manage that feat again today as a kingfisher obligingly sat on the edge of the lake cleaning for a good half an hour.

dscn1300

dscn1311

It kept diving into the water and then kept cleaning itself which was really enjoyable to watch.

dscn1302

A few other spots on the lakes: a pochard, a little grebe and some lapwings.

dscn1309

dscn1355

dscn1341

In terms of fungus I saw some stunning Shaggy Ink Caps.

dscn1294

dscn1326

I managed to see a demonstration of just some of the natural variation of Harlequin Ladybirds.

dscn1360

dscn1350

I have seen lots of hornets lately, mostly on ivy flowers. Frustratingly they always seem to visit the flowers at the top of the bush, away from most of the wasps, bees and flies, and are therefore very tricky to photograph. I saw one today on some leaf litter so got a clear view. They are remarkable creatures so watch.

dscn1327

Spider Season

This blog was filled with my adventures on Brownsea Island last week so I’ve got plenty to catch up with!

I visited the nearby Blashford Lakes reserve last week which is starting to liven up now Autumn has begun. The highlight was the huge flock of house martins stopping for a feed on their way South.

dscn0961

DSCN0966.JPG

My most interesting spot on the lakes themselves was this stunning shoveler. That beak is a whopper!

dscn0996

Also present were most of the usual like this great crested grebe and these cormorants.

dscn0959

dscn0998

I also saw this Pied Wagtail which was doing its best to convince itself it was a freshwater bird.

dscn0955

Things were very quiet in the woodland hide with few birds other than chaffinches and great tits.

dscn0979

dscn0981

There were a few grey squirrels hanging around too.

DSCN0980.JPG

There were lots of different fungi around Blashford’s woods. I found some Paxillus:

dscn0944

I also found a few milkcaps:

dscn0939

In the garden magpies are starting to become regular visitors:

dscn1006

Whilst magpies have always been occasional visitors to the garden it is only within the last few months that they have started to appear more regularly. Generally they seem to arrive when the garden is otherwise empty. I’ve seen up to four at one time and it’s now become a common sound to hear them chattering away somewhere in the vicinity of the house.

Another regular visitor is our solo feral pigeon.

dscn1010

I have discussed the feral pigeon here before- it’s something of an enigma. In a suburban area it is the only feral pigeon around and often spends time with collared doves and woodpigeons. It has been absent for most of the summer but over the last weeks has reappeared again.

Spider season is well under way and our house is home to many. They come out at this time of year to look for mates. A recent resident in my bathroom is this Steatoda nobilis, the Noble False Widow.

dscn1138

A more fleeting appearance came from this monster house spider.

dscn1144

I know a lot of people really dislike spiders but I find them incredible photos. The house spider was big for a British spider but it’s completely harmless to humans. The false widows are the ones that the tabloids often go a bit crazy about at the time of year saying they are dangerous. Compared to other British spiders they are more dangerous and can bite you but there is no evidence to suggest that these bites will do you any real damage. Besides, who ever heard of someone being bitten by one?

That’s all for today but I’ll be back soon to share more.