Friday, 27 May 2011

David and the Owl

A cold and almost frosty morning is a good time to be up at the crack of dawn, especially at this time of year. The world is devoid of human life, at least in our neck of the woods, and the only sounds are birds getting on with the business of the season, which is - well - doing the business.

The latest visit to our shared ringing site paid off with a spectacularly unexpected Tawny Owl in the net. He seemed a little out of sorts, as was only to be expected, but that's all part of the fun of it. Interestingly I've been seeing day-active Tawnies a lot recently, perhaps because food's been hard to come by for them and they have a growing family to feed.

More exciting still than the owl, though, was an unexpected mist-net catch: a Narrow-bordered Bee Hawkmoth. Despite being well tangled in the net, we eventually extracted it without major harm - some scales rubbed off the abdomen - brought it back for a quick photoshoot and watched it warm up, and head off into the blue.

Despite the lack of rain in this part of the UK - seems more like the southeast than the southwest - there is plenty going on. Our 'lawn' has come out with a spectacular show of Yellow Rattle. This is a semi-parasitic plant which is often found in good quality hay-meadows, and was a component of the green hay we spread across scarified ground last autumn, hoping for something a bit more interesting than the dog-muck-fertilised Perennial Rye-grass that we then had. The lack of rain hasn't helped much, but a bit of diligent watering and some luck has produced a nice selection of species, including Hairy Tare, Black Knapweed and a handful of eyebrights.

Since this last ringing trip I've been out on the moors doing site assessments, which haven't necessarily resulted in a lot of interesting things to write about. A draggled-looking Pale Tussock caterpillar (I think) on some Soft Rush was a nice find, though I have a sneaking suspicion that it is in fact dead...

...some spectacularly warty lichens growing on the granite...

and some atmospheric Hare's-tail Cottongrass waving in the wind.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

What... the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?

Desperate to get out of Devon, we shot up the M5 like scalded cats last weekend. We threw ourselves out of the car, clapped on various bits of kit and trotted smartly into the Avalon Marshes, where we were greeted by a dodgy-looking geezer with a tunic and horse who asked if we'd seen Merlin. Na gave him her Paddington-Bear-stare, and we shunted on into the wetland, past a watery tart waving a sword around (shouldn't be allowed) and into the relative safety of a nice quiet hide.

The memorable page about the sexual proclivities of otters was no longer there in the logbook (shame) - I couldn't find it anyway - and true to form we missed seeing one by about 20 minutes, but the sound of a booming Bittern and the sight of a Hobby or two elegantly drifting over the waters took the edge off the disappointment. I was slightly stunned by the number and variety of dragonflies already out - Large Red, Azure, Blue-tailed, Red-eyed and Variable Damselflies all in numbers, and Hairy Dragonflies and Four-spotted Chasers like you wouldn't believe. We must have hit a major emergence of the latter, actually, as they were literally everywhere: clouds of them lifting from sheltered spots. Surprised the Hobbies could still fly, to be honest.

A prolonged stroll through the reserve produced no fewer than five booming Bitterns - one of which we saw briefly - and a couple of Marsh Harriers, as well as perhaps the most pompous photographer it's been my pleasure to listen to for a long time. Maybe the lens was compensating... We also bumped into a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits, all gingerbread-red and ready for Iceland, as well as a trio of Bar-taileds, though sadly they were all pretty much in winter duds. And a final treat: our first Swifts of the year drifted over amongst the Hobby flock. Mmmm. Nice.

Just to prove that summer's on the way, plenty of nice invertebrates have been out and about locally...

Hoverfly. Species.

Green Tiger-beetle.

Brown Silver-lines. This one has an unfortunate disability: one hindwing has somehow become twisted and now sticks up over it's back like an aeroplane's tailfin. Don't think it's a survivor.

Small Purple-barred moth. Now flying on a heathland near me.

Common Redstart. Having serenaded us from the roof of the office, he sat nicely in the neighbouring Rowan so I could take some distant photos.

White Rock-rose Helianthemum apenninum. For no other reason than they're pretty.