Friday, 19 January 2018

January moss

Picking up a little bit on my posting yesterday, with the sun still shining, these moss fruiting bodies growing on a brick wall at work caught my eye this morning.  I'm no moss expert (which is a shocking thing to admit to as they are fascinating) but I think this may be a Brachythecium moss, possibly Ordinary Moss Brachythecium rutabulum.

Whatever the moss, it is beautiful and looking at the wall top which is covered, there are at least a dozen different mosses, oh to have a handy plant specialist next to me to identify them. And as mentioned yesterday, every day in January something new comes along to interest me in the natural world.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

January blues fading away each day

It was Monty Don talking last night on Radio 2 which has inspired this short return to the blogging typos-phere. Speaking on the Simon Mayo show Monty discussed amongst other things January, and that while it is a bleak month in many ways, day by day, little by little, things are changing in the garden, and of course the wider countryside.

Monty on Simon Mayo  (about 1 hour and 9 minutes in)

I've just returned from a lunchtime walk - while the northern half of the country is blanketed in snow, here in Clifton, Bristol it is sunny and a balmy 6 degrees. Three weeks ago I lay in my sick bed. Aussie Flu wracking my body into oblivion. Dark by 4pm, I felt the woes of midwinter terribly. This lunchtime however my walk rewarded me with a couple of occasions of wonderful scent from winter shrubs. Where these shubs were I could not say, but their sweet scent filled a small patch of air. Robins sang lustily, at the Cathedral the early daffodils I've mentioned many times on this blog are at their very best (our pot daffodils were out in December). 

In a garden not far from work is a huge magnolia, under planted with spring bulbs, bulbs that are often out a week or so earlier then elsewhere. Snowdrops a plenty, a couple of crocus, and joy of joys a splattering of winter aconite.  Celendines are out in the garden back at at home and the many corvid pairs around the village are in the trees, twigs in beak. And it is still light at 4.30 in the evening.

January can be a bleak month in many ways, however I'm with Monty. Day by day, little by little, things are changing in the garden, and of course the wider countryside. 

Friday, 10 November 2017

Photo a Day # 3

The underground carpark at work today - view from the car. Reason? From next week I wont be parking here as a new member of staff is obtaining my space. I'll be parking off site, so a memory of a summer being able to park at work - it was good while it lasted.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Photo a Day # 2

It was while having a cup of tea in the garden this afternoon, that I spied this earwig clinging to the underside of the mesh table we have on the patio. It's our commonest of 4 species of earwig in the UK (though sources now quote 7 due to new arrivals). It's a female of the species Forficula auricularia - female as its 'pincers' are straight (ish). This image I took underneath appealed to me. Wildlife is out of sight until we see it.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Photo a Day # 1

Back in 2013 I ran a blog called 365-2-50 which documented the year of my fiftieth year via a photo a day. It ended in October 2014, and since then I have done other things, but increasingly I've missed my blogging. Having now left Twitter and Facebook, I toyed with Instagram, but that is just a mobile based package. So a decade after I began blogging, I'm of again capturing an image a day, no connection to all the images other than, this image caught my eye on the day it was taken.

Photo Number 1

Cheddar Reservoir in bright sunshine 08.11.17

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Swifts - well I think that's finally it....

Well I think that's definitely it. 2017 will go down in my memory as the summer of swifts. For you see we have had them nesting for the first time in the roof space of our house. On August 11th I heard the last screaming's of three around the house and on August 16th after not seeing a swift for a few days a solitary swift could be observed feeding over the garden amongst the chit chattering house martins. Since then, nothing.
For a few years now there have always been swifts around the house in summer. Screaming by but I always thought their nests were elsewhere. In early June however I found myself being attacked from all sides in the garden. So low and fast were these avian bullets travelling that I could easily hear their flup-flup-flup wing beats as they scudded by. Then as if an illusion (or one too many ciders) one flew in only 8 feet above then ground before rising like a jet fighter under the ridge tile and gone, out of sight, silence. 
Swifts usually arrive here on May 3rd, this year however it was lunchtime on May 4th. I keep a keen eye and ear open for their return around May Day and so it was that as I looked up from my pasty that anchor shape scudded across the sky. Then to my amazement few minutes later my first scream...from a swift I may add, not me. Unusual as they normally only scream around the nest site but I guess these African travellers were joys joyous on their return to Somerset.
Over the intervening four months I've learnt much about swifts (and realised for such a common bird I knew little). They go in for banging, not in some death metal stupor, but aerial stalling, used as anti predation defence. I learnt that kestrels are their main predator in Europe, as they sit and wait for the swifts to arrive at the nest. Clumsy of foot, the swift is at its most vulnerable as it lands before waddling into the hole or cavity where it's most rudimentary nest is housed. I saw no kestrel predation in Somerset, but did witness the resident sparrowhawk repeatedly flying off to the nest with fledgling house martins. But that's for another day, swiftly moving on then...
What I witnessed in Somerset was swift routine. Around mid summer I could set my watch to them. Between 6am and 10am they'd leave the roof and circle endlessly around the house, flying not more than half a mile away. My house is close by the neighbours (also with nests I discovered) with a 10 feet gap. I'd stand at the bedroom window before work and watch the swifts fly in like fighter bombers one after another at eye level. Then seemingly about to hit the window they'd sharply veer left and scream through the gap between the houses and away.
In the evening likewise. During the day the swifts disappeared, presumably to forage over the farmland or head up high into the air for a spot of sleep. Then at 8 pm sharp they'd be back screaming around and around the house in ever decreasing circles. The highest count was 17, so not a huge colony. Around 9pm they'd begin to do their low level practice runs. Over the shrubs of next door, swoop down over our lawn and then swish up onto the gable end of the house. For half an hour I could stand on the lawn and repeatedly have swifts pass just feet above me on these reconnaissance missions. Each time they'd stall in flight as they grabbed onto the wall, only for a second later to drop like a stone, pick up speed and fly back the way they came, this time though only 3 or 4 feet above ground in the opposite direction.
It became a magical evening each day to witness this.  But then the finale (and I'd read this happens), two swifts would come in together, just half a body apart. Research estimates they fly together only 0.25 seconds apart. As in the dummy runs before, the leading swift would come into the gable end, stall  (the banging)  and cling to the wall, for then a millisecond later its partner stalled but this time up and into the roof. A few noisy chattering's from the pair before the first bird then dropped off the wall and away. This happened between 9.30pm and 9.35pm for over 2 weeks. Astonishing repetition and presumably why in Europe the kestrel has worked out how to obtain a light supper before bed.
Most times when the bird had entered the roof, its mate would fly by one more time screaming (often accompanied by screams form within the roof) before I'd watch it fly off and up into the clouds. As both sexes share the natal duties, I have absolutely no idea which was male, or female.
This all went on for around a month until one evening in late July I came home from work and ventured outdoors. What a commotion from roof tile 5 as I'd christened it. Swifts were agitatedly flying back and forth, screaming encouragement and then silence, they'd be back, silence before then more screaming. But then a wing tip appeared from under the tile, then a bit of body, a foot, a wriggle and a squeeze, all the while the adults flying noisily overhead. Before like a stone the bird dropped out of the roof, gathered speed and flew off to be joined by screaming birds. I watched it's progress as it joined three others, the now four swifts flying in very close formation in a direct line. A family group almost touching wing tips as they flew in a tight group, higher and higher out of sight. I'd witnessed a fledge and stood there in the now silent garden, mesmerised. I can't put into words how exciting that was to witness a swift take its first wing beats, on wings that will never stop beating for three years or so. Astonishing.
While writing this I've been glancing out of the window over the fields (the aesthete in me says it was to gather thoughts by gazing into the distance in a melancholy. The naturalist in me says it was just to try and glimpse a swift one more time in 2017). But no. House martins and swallows a plenty, a noisy carrion crow and the ever present sparrows hoovering up seed like its going out of fashion, but no swifts. There are still reports of the odd swift locally, but in late August they'll be well on their way to Africa. As it should be.
Adieu then until next May my lovelies, it's been a blast.
....with the last word going to Richard Jefferies, from his book Field and Hedgerow,
"Dark specks beneath the white summer clouds, the swifts, the black albatross of our skies, moved on their unwearied wings"

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Corvid moments on the Mendips

My nature blogging has been a bit lapse recently. I say lapse, I really mean non existent. Increasingly I've felt the pull of blogger.com and so todays observational nature experiences prompted me to once again put finger to keyboard.
I found myself on the Mendip Hills in Somerset this afternoon, a sunny and clear blue skies day, marred somewhat with the strong winds blowing off the sea, not quite gale force, but lively. I had four hours to spend up there between chauffeuring the current Mrs Dawes for a horse trek to the pub and back. Ample time for a bit of a nature ramble myself. Or so I thought.
Birds were on the wing, but that wing was an rocket in the making with the strong wind. Time after time I observed little brown jobs clinging to posts, wobbling like fruit jellies, before exhausted they flew off in an pirouetting arc. The swallows loved it in the wind, as did this buzzard.
I've seen buzzards hover like kestrels many times, but this one using the strong winds blowing in from sea level to 1000 feet was a superb hoverer. Can't really show what mastery it had of the air in stills photographs but the passing swallow helps show its immoveable position. Great to see. 


It was while watching and attempting to photograph the buzzard that about half a mile away in a Forestry Commission plantation I heard the unmistakable jack-a-jack-jack of alighting massed jackdaws. A quick count revealed around 100 jackdaws hurling themselves into the air, wheeling and jack-a-jack-jacking, family groups of adults and this years young, bonding, learning where the land lies and knowing corvids, just having a nice bit of fun. They rose and then landed back in the conifers twice, before the whole flock roe and flew overhead at speed in the wind. I never saw them again. Given corvids penchant for being site faithful this new area for me bodes well for winter corvid-roost-at-dusk dusk soirees.

But that wasn't the end of it. Jackdaws may be my favourite corvid, but they are closely followed by the raven. Or as todays treat became, 4 ravens, a pair and two juvenile. How I wished I'd been closer than about half a mile as through the binoculars their behaviour was fabulous, sadly the imagery less so.  At first all I heard was a buzzard 'mewing' and that familiar cronk cronk somewhere in the same trees as the jackdaws. But then four ravens flew out. Their typical languid flap and glide interspersed with dangling legs postures and wheeling in the wind , calling.  Nearby was a huge beech which all four flew into separately. I could hear their contact calls, a sort of muted carrion crow caw is my only way of describing it. I had some recording equipment with me but it was too windy and they were too far away to record.

Eventually the two younger birds flew out and landed on the fence posts splitting the field. One flew off almost immediately and back into the tree, but one stayed around for a while, allowing a long shot or two.  The adults flopped down onto fence posts under the beech tree, and at this point had little interest in the younger birds. All the while I could hear their contact calls, though not able to see which bird was making them to which bird. It's such a pleasure to watch ravens, possibly our most intelligent native wild bird. Their communication vocabulary has been estimated at over 100 different calls, many so subtle they are heard only in captive birds.

Eventually through boredom, change of location, fancied a change, I don't know but the two adult birds flew off and for around 10 minutes flew around, over and wing touching branches flyby the beech tree. Still calling their subtle contact calls, never the cronk cronk, I watched mesmerised through the binoculars - they were definitely enjoying the strong wind, but a bit of family bonding behaviour was adhered to the joy.

All too soon all the ravens departed and that was that, I was left with the chittering swallows and jelly wobbling sparrows on the gate.
A brilliant afternoon waiting for the horses to return.