Wednesday, 28 September 2016

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.
My most interesting spot on the lakes themselves was this stunning shoveler. That beak is a whopper!
Also present were most of the usual like this great crested grebe and these cormorants.
I also saw this Pied Wagtail which was doing its best to convince itself it was a freshwater bird.
Things were very quiet in the woodland hide with few birds other than chaffinches and great tits.
There were a few grey squirrels hanging around too.
There were lots of different fungi around Blashford’s woods. I found some Paxillus:
I also found a few milkcaps:
In the garden magpies are starting to become regular visitors:
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.
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.
A more fleeting appearance came from this monster house spider.
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.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Brownsea Island Part II

Last weekend I visited the fantastic island that is Brownsea in Poole Harbour. In my last post I shared my experiences at the Brownsea Lagoon but today’s post covers the wildlife I saw elsewhere on the island.
It may have been the middle of September but there will still some late insects fluttering around the island. One of the latest butterflies of the year is the red admiral and there several around the entrance to one of the hides.
There were also plenty of dragonflies about, all of which were common darters. These are usually the latest flying dragonflies.
I saw common darters in various parts of the Dorset Wildlife Trust reserve but most were near a pond which is actually a WW2 bomb crater. I also spotted a male attempting to mate with a female on the boardwalk.
The other insects I saw clearly on the island were wood ants and I spotted quite a few nests in the woods.
I have discussed wood ants here before; they are the most amazing British insect builders, massing in huge numbers to build these nests which are enormous in comparison to a single ant. It’s so fascinating to stand and look at a wood ants nest for a few minutes and realise just how much is going on when you look closely.
In terms of mammals, there’s one species that Brownsea Island is most notable for: the red squirrel. You probably know the story that red squirrels were native to Britain but became largely extinct thanks to the introduction of the grey squirrel from America. Brownsea is one of the few isolated pockets of reds in England and they have survived largely because of their isolation. It means there are few predators and grey squirrels have never made it across in significant numbers to do them too much harm.
At this point you are probably wondering if I saw any red squirrels and I have to sadly admit that I didn’t. I spent hours in prime red squirrel territory but sadly didn’t spot a single one. A young child even spotted one at the base of a tree a few hundred yards in front of me that I may have spotted if their father hadn’t shouted “IT IS ONE!” at an unnecessary volume.
Not to worry though because Brownsea is home to another more unusual mammal, this one:
This is a Sika deer. Sika are East Asian deer and were introduced to Brownsea Island from Japan in in 1896. It was great to be able to see a deer I’d never usually be able to see- there are populations in the UK, including one on the Isle of Purbeck which has spread from Brownsea, but they are still an unusual sight.
It says on the Brownsea website that the deer are quite shy but I found this individual to be one of the least shy wild deer I’ve ever seen. It allowed me to approach to within ten feet of it and may even have let me come closer if I tried. Perhaps I was able to be especially quiet but it was certainly aware of my presence and seemed content to let me watch it eat away. I think this is one of this year’s fauns so maybe it hasn’t learnt to be wary of humans yet.
Another introduced species on Brownsea Island are the peacocks. These are of course purely ornamental but seem to enjoy pestering tourists for food.
I was surprised at the number of different habitats on such a small island- the lagoon, woodland, reeds, freshwater lake and heathland. I don’t think there was a single part of the island I visited that wasn’t stunningly beautiful either.
That’s all on Brownsea for now but I suspect I will be making a return visit in the not too distant future…

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Brownsea Island Lagoon

At the weekend I crossed over to Brownsea Island. The island is located in Poole Harbour and has an area of about a mile. It’s owned by the National Trust but part of the island is managed by Dorset Wildlife Trust. There’s lots of different habitats in a small area but probably the most exciting is the fantastic lagoon.
I don’t often have the chance to spend time in this sort of habitat and especially not one as special as Brownsea. For a start the lagoon is a fantastic place to see avocets. If Wikipedia is correct then Brownsea is home to around half the UK population of avocets!
Also sporadically spread across the lagoon were lots of little egrets. The island is home to a heronry where both grey herons and little egrets nest.
There were plenty of other waders about too, most of which were redshank.
I also saw a greenshank although this individual caused great excitement in the hide when something suggested it could be a rare Lesser Yellowlegs. On has been spotted recently on the mainland nearby and though this individual does seem to have very yellow legs it’s bill is too heavy.
There were some more unusual ducks on the lagoon as well, like this shoveler and some shelducks.
I also saw what I think was a tufted duck over on the freshwater East Lake but it’s difficult to tell as the hide was so far away from the lake.
The bird which came closest to any of the hides was the ordinary but still wonderful it’s own way moorhen. I enjoyed watching this one making a trail of footprints in the mud.
The lagoon is host over the winter to a group of spoonbills, currently numbering just over 30.
As lovely as it is to see a more unusual bird like the spoonbill sometimes it’s the more common ones that really capture your interest. I sat in one hide and watched in delight as just in front of me a turnstone busily lived up to it’s name.
I really enjoyed the time I spent on the lagoon- it was so lovely to watch a range of birds in a place alive with activity.
There’s more to come from my Brownsea trip but I saw so much I’ve decided to split it into two parts. You will be able to read about my time on the rest of the island on Saturday! See you then!

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

A Warm September

Last week I left out one of my spots of a juvenile bird. Juvenile birds are often challenging to identify and I struggled to match this one with any particular species. Eventually I discovered the bird was a young little grebe, a first for me.
At the weekend I spent a beautiful few hours up in the New Forest.
The heather has mostly lost it’s bright colour now but the weather doesn’t feel too autumnal. Indeed, this week has seen the highest September temperature in the UK since 1911. I very quickly spotted a maturing stonechat enjoying the warm weather.
I disturbed a roe deer amongst the undergrowth which quickly bolted away.
Despite appearances autumn is on the way and there were quite a few fungi around. This Common Earthball is looking in prime condition at the moment.
This is a Blusher (Amanita rubescens) fungus, so called because it gradually turns pink although this one has yet to do it.
I also managed to spot a dock bug sat on a leaf. The species has various nymph stages and this one is apparently a final instar nymph.
The local rabbits are very busy at the moment, all the fields seem to be full of them. I guess they are still pretty much at peak numbers until the colder weather arrives.
Only a few hundred metres on from this rabbit I spotted the young buzzard which I have seen occasionally over the summer. It’s still obviously a juvenile but is now looking more like an adult.
There are still lots of swallows in the area. It’s difficult to show clearly in a photo but there are huge flocks swooping over the river at the moment. You can see lots of black dots in the picture below and they are all swallows.
Every now and then one or two settle on the power lines and you can get a closer look at them.
Lots of birds are visiting the garden at the moment. The starlings appear every now and then in large numbers. In terms of numbers they are probably our most common birds but actually they aren’t present very often.
Usually when it’s a little quieter and the surge of starlings goes away a group of goldfinches arrive to eat the niger seeds we put out for them. They are my favourite birds we get in the garden- they have such fantastic plumage.
There are plenty of rarer visit- not rare birds but ones that don’t visit very often. This week I spotted a blue tit sampling the peanuts.