Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Pictures of spring: Bovey Tracey

Comma butterfly. Presumably an overwintering adult - the forewings are looking a bit worn and faded, nectaring on Celandines next to the river Bovey.

River Bovey at Wilford Bridge, looking downstream into Parke.

Nice garden-escape anemone species (it grows in our garden too) amongst Celandines on the banks of the river Bovey

Green Alkanet

Magnolia, or: 'Spot the Robin'

Shining Cranesbill - a common hedgerow plant in this part of the world, but one which I really enjoy. The button-like shocking-pink flowers are outstanding amongst the vivid shining green leaves, and it somehow always looks fresh and clean, even in the height of summer.

Primroses and Celandines, splashing yellow along the foot of the hedges

Common Dog-violet, with Yarrow and Ivy-leaved Speedwell, injecting a tint of blue to the vegetation

Barren Strawberry growing amongst Yarrow on a dry bank

Honeybee on Grape-hyacinth in the garden. These flowers are absolutely heaving with honeybees at the moment, whilst the bumblebees seem to be concentrating on Rosemary flowers. The mass of tulips next to these Grape-hyacinths are attracting a large number of hoverflies and tiny beetles, all of which seem to be eating pollen. Nice to do the wildlife-watching the lazy way and sit on the doorstep!

Gratuitous picture of Sabina, to prove that she's doing very well, thankyou, and enjoying her second bird-ringing session on the moors. And that her sunhat's currently too big.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

WeBS; migrants

I spent a while today covering someone's Wetland Bird Survey count on Dawlish Warren - an hour-long snapshot of the waterbirds present on the site, my contribution to the network of surveyors looking at the Exe today, themselves a contribution to the national WeBS survey data collected each month for the British Trust for Ornithology, who use it in part to gauge trends in waterbird populations.

Being a sunny day and a mid-afternoon count in mid-March, I wasn't expecting a great deal out of the survey, and add to the mix the fact that today was Mothering Sunday - and you can see that there was plenty of potential for people to be out and about on the beach. Sure enough, when I arrived the beach was packed to the gills; a few hardy souls even in the water. The northerly wind was keeping the swell down to nothing though, so checking the sea was a cinch - and there were only just more birds than waves. A measly half-dozen Great Crested Grebes was it...

On down to the pond beside the visitor centre, where in addition to a fine drake Teal with three females, a Chiffchaff sang lustily from the high willows, whilst another called quietly in the willows just in front of me. Buoyed by this sign of a rapidly-turning season I headed on to the main wader roost. Nothing much along the seafront - two Knot roosting on a groyne the best of it - and plenty of people walking the beach even this far up. The tide was still some way off the bight, so after a rapid scan of the waders there I headed off to check the end of the sandspit.

Here was another sign of spring arriving: a fine male Wheatear flipped off ahead of me, from behind a mix of stone-grey, black and white, then a rich apricot-buff when he turned to check whether I was still walking his way. The point proved as enduringly birdless as the rest of the beach, and so I headed back towards the main roost along the riverside. An immediate reward came in the shape of a small flock of Sanderling, still in their silver-grey plumage and without any hint of the freckly ginger-rust they will develop soon for their summer plumage, who skimmed along the waterline and landed within a couple of metres of me. Heads bobbing with initial alarm, they soon settled down and began trotting along the water's edge, dipping erratically to grab small invertebrates as the waves washed across the sand.

Sanderling, trotting gently along the sands. Perhaps having wintered in South Africa, and on the way to the high Arctic to breed.
On to check the bight again, where the main wader roost usually occurs on the Warren. Not many birds, as most of them have headed off towards their breeding grounds - but there was a massed pack of Oystercatchers, all black backs spiked through with orange bills, a couple of Curlew sauntering impassively along the edge of the water in search of a tasty crab, and a fringe group of small waders - Knot and Dunlin - silver-grey, picking daintily into the shallow water for crustaceans and molluscs. Lurking on the fringes were a trio of Ringed Plover, all black bands laid across white and brown, a huddle of Turnstone on a fishing boat and a lingering group of Brent Geese - another of the species which has pretty much gone for the summer now.

Brent Geese - the last few lingering on the Exe will soon be heading off to the tundra of Arctic Russia, via the Waddensee - a massive area of intertidal mud between Germany and Denmark.
Most of the waders and almost all the wildfowl have now gone north, perhaps to Scotland and northern England or to staging posts on their way to the Arctic, but for a month or six weeks yet we'll see a gradual turnover of birds which wintered further south still: Ringed Plover, Turnstone and Sanderling, Bar-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel which have avoided our gloomy winter and lived it up on the sandy beaches of western and southern Africa.

True to spring weather form, the rain began as I headed back to the car, so only a cursory check for interesting plants on the way back - one day I will spend  little more time looking through the dune grassland to see what I can find lurking...

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Spring is springing well and truly here in Devon. We've been up to our eyeballs and beyond in learning how to cope with an infant, and consequently not been out and about as much as once we would. Funny that.

Anyway, after a shockingly bad night's sleep, I left Na to sleep off her cold this afternoon and took young Sabina up through the woods to see what was happening in the world around us. After a bit of a cold snap over the past couple of days, it was nice to be out in warm weather. The birds have been triggered by the rising temperatures and longer days, so even though it was early afternoon the air was sweet with the songs of Blackbird, Robin, Mistle Thrush and Chaffinch, whilst Great and Blue Tits chucked in their two-pennorth (I just can't bring myself to describe their songs as 'sweet', though they're undeniably pleasant to hear).

Along the river we managed to find a  Dipper singing and feeding in the riffles, so spent some time enjoying the sight of him wading energetically into the water, ducking down to search for invertebrates, then shrugging under the surface for a moment, only to reappear close by - either bobbing along the stones in the same unhurried fashion, or, in the deeper patches, popping to the surface like a cork and swimming along for a brief moment before flying to a nearby rock.

Argh! Not another walk! Why do you do this to me?

The river Bovey at Parke
The floor of the woods is a rapidly burgeoning carpet of green, as Pignut, Celandine, Dog's-mercury and Primrose surge into leaf, with the arrowhead leaves of Cuckoo-pint emerging in glossy, spiky clumps here and there. You could generally be forgiven for wondering why they are called Arum maculatum, until every so often you come across an absolute beauty with deep purple blotches sprayed across the rich green gloss of the leaves. It won't be long before the flowers emerge with their pale greenish-white bracts hooding the flower-spike.

Pignut (feathery leaves), Wild Strawberry (trefoil leaves), Lesser Celandine (heart-shaped leaves) claiming the open soil for the early part of the season.

Beech trunk covered with mosses (mainly Hypnum andoi) and lichens

The bulk of the green in the ground layer is still found in the ferns and mosses though; it's still somewhat surprising to realise how many species are involved in a reasonably varied bit of woodland here: testament to the generally moist climate we live in here.

Primroses; a splash of delicate colour to welcome the warmer weather in.

Another of the species making up the carpet: Wild Garlic, or Ramsons

Cuckoo-pint deserving the name 'maculatum'

Red-flushed ivy leaves on a post along the old railway line

Polypody, one of the commoner ferns in this part of the world; but which species? Difficult without a microscope, but perhaps Polypodium interjectum and P. vulgare - or more likely a hybrid between the two!

Polypody doing a semi-passable impression of Hard Fern
Above the green field layer the Hazels are already flowering, sprays of catkins covering most of the trees, and the first of the young Sycamores and Elders are bursting into leaf. Above these shrubby trees, the canopy trees proper are still tightly bound into bud, and we spent a while looking at the various patterns and colours of the shoot tips (reassuring myself that I can still identify them in their dormant state!).

The old railway line through Parke, glowing in the afternoon sun with Dog's-mercury along the sides of the track.