Sunday, 24 September 2017

RSPB Weymouth Reserves

For the first time in a little while I went on a wildlife expedition today. I headed over to Weymouth, a seaside town on the Dorset coast which is home to two small RSPB reserves.

First up was Radipole Lake, a reedy lake in central Weymouth. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite nature reserves, Winnall Moors in Winchester, but this is even more urban. You can see just how close it is to the town in this photo.

My first sightings were members of the heron family, a grey heron and a little egret. Both are always welcome sights. 

There were also plenty of ducks around including tufted ducks and mallards

You can see a mallard here who looks a little different. It's possible that this individual is still undergoing losing it's eclipse plumage. Male mallards moult between June and September and look very similar to females during this time. It's also possible that this individual might be a cross breed, the result of a mallard breeding with a domestic duck or another species. 

I spotted a few cormorants sat on a pile of rocks near these ducks. 

Whilst some cormorants are resident in the UK, the numbers vastly increase over the winter months. I've started to notice cormorant numbers increasing significantly everywhere I've been over the last few weeks. 

It wasn't just birds that I saw at Radipole. It may be late September but there were still plenty of butterflies and dragonflies around including this peacock butterfly and common darter

Though not as glamourous, I also saw a large slug. 

Then it was on to Lodmoor, which houses another large reedbed. It too is located very close to the town centre. 

It was something of a feeding frenzy at Lodmoor with every bird I saw intent only on finding food. I saw my third species of duck of the day, a teal

This individual is almost certainly a wintering bird from Europe, probably having come from the Baltic or Siberia. 

Nearby was a moorhen with two juveniles still sticking close to it. 

Moorhen chicks can feed themselves within a few days of birth but clearly stick near their mother for some time. Moorhens lay between four to twelve eggs but it's common that only the two eldest survive as had probably happened here.

I was pleased to be able to get closer than I ever had before to black-tailed godwits at Lodmoor. There were good numbers Lodmoor and a few at Radipole too.

Most appeared to still be in their browny-orange breeding plumage but the odd one, like the last photo here, were already in their winter plumage- it may be that this was a juvenile. 

Another, much smaller wader that was present at Lodmoor were dunlins

Dunlins are the most common wintering waders with around 360,000 birds feeding on our shores.

I'll leave you with a few more photos of the lovely Weymouth reserves. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

September Sightings

Sometimes wildlife sneaks it's way into the house. One evening a moth fluttered in through the front door and then happily sat at the top of the living room wall.

This is a brimstone moth, one the UK's brightest. Who said all moths are dull looking? This species is attracted to light which is likely why I headed straight for our doorway. It has a complicated ecology with anything from one brood a year to three broods over two years

There are also still a few butterflies around but with the temperature getting colder the number is getting lower every day. I've mostly seen large whites and red admirals on the wing but I have also seen the occasional comma

I spotted this harvestman this weekend, really obvious against the leaf. 

These arachnids are omnivores and eat everything from squashed slugs, bird droppings and fruit to small invertebrates they catch. Now is the best time to see these creatures- there name comes because they are usually mature by the Autumn, around harvest time. 

There's a lot of spider around at the moment leading to loads of really beautiful webs.

The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Webs are also electrically conductive which causes the silk threads to spring out to trap their quarry, as flying insects gain a static charge which attracts the silk.

The small birds appear to be a little more obvious again now, likely because they need to spend more time looking for food. There will be very few caterpillars and other invertebrates for them to find unlike the abundance over the summer. 

Robins are starting to begin their autumn song which is subdued and melancholy compared to the powerful and upbeat spring song.

I was lucky to get this shot of a blue tit which looks like it was jumping in the air. Despite the breeding season being over, blue tits are often seen around nest boxes at this time of year. There are several possible explanations for this- blue tits often start looking at nest boxes ahead of the breeding season before making the final decision in the spring. It may also be as they are looking for somewhere relatively warm to roost in the colder weather. 

It's not entirely clear what species bird is but I think the streak of yellow in the tail feathers indicate it is a goldfinch. While goldfinches are resident to the UK plenty more arrive for the winter from North West Europe and Scandinavia to escape the colder weather. 

I've also captured a few good shots of mute swans over the last few weeks. 

Whilst mute swans do not migrate they do tend to move to a different area over the winter. Some young swans are driven off the breeding territory by their parents at this time of year too, when their plumage become predominantly white.

Over the last few weeks a bird has taken up resident on the island in the middle of the fishing lake. 

It's really hard to spot in this photo but it's the tiny white speck in the centre. This just shows how far away from humans and land-based predators the bird is. 

This is as close as my camera allows. This grey heron has been sat on this log every time I've been passed over the last fortnight. I rarely saw a heron here over the summer so I suspect this individual has moved to the area, either having migrated here or separated from a breeding colony.

Grey Squirrels are well known for collecting acorns at this time of year but you rarely catch them in the act. I did however manage to spot this one running off with it's find. 

I shall end with one more mammal, the world's longest roe deer

OK, it's really two deer in long grass but it makes for an amusing image!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tremendous Trees

I've been planning to do today's post for months and this week I finally decided it was time. Yesterday I did my usual walk around my patch and tried to photograph as many different species of tree that I could find. I discounted trees in gardens, only counting 'wild' trees that haven't been obviously planted by humans (though it's likely some probably were).

My first find were some pine trees. Though there are large pine forests on the Western side of the town there are very few pine trees within the town itself. I think these trees are probably black pines which is the non-native species. In the Spring lots of rooks nest in this row of trees and you can hear them cawing away when you walk past. 

This was perhaps the easiest tree to identify, an English Oak. I'm pleased to say there are a lot of oaks in my area and this was by far the most common large tree I saw on my walk. This is fantastic for wildlife as oaks support more life form than any other native trees including hundreds of insects as well as plenty of birds and even a few mammals with they fallen acorns.

This is a silver birch, named after it's very pale bark. These trees can be used to improve soil quality- their deep roots bring inaccessible nutrients into the tree which are recycled onto the surface of the soil when the leaves are shed. These trees also support many insects- they attract aphids which are food for ladybirds and are a food plants for many species of moth caterpillar.

Mainly from the leaf shape I think this is a lime tree, probably a common lime. Similarly to the silver birch, these trees attract aphids and moth caterpillars. I found these trees very close together so it's likely this area is good for moths. 

The leaves and berries make this a quick one to identify- it's a rowan. These berries are a rich source of food for birds in the autumn, particularly members of the thrush family. Birds are the main way this tree disperses it's seeds- the seeds themselves pass through the bird and are excreted in a different location, potentially a long way from the tree.

This is one of my favorite trees, mainly due to childhood memories of collecting conkers- it's a horse chestnut. Apparently it's not actually a native species and was introduced to the UK from Turkey in the late 16th century. Horse chestnuts are a rich source of nectar when they are in flower and the leaves support triangle moth caterpillars, one of the blue tit's favorite foods.

This is an ash tree- they have very distinctive leave structures. Ash's are the third most common tree in Britain though of course they are being affected by ash dieback disease. Incredibly, the leaves can move in the direction of sunlight and sometimes the whole crown of the tree will lean in the direction of the sun. 

This is buddleia- I'm not sure it's usually classified as a tree but it certainly has a woody stem. Since being introduced in the 1880s buddleia is now classified as an invasive species- it grows all over the UK's railway network (indeed, this plant is situated on a former railway line) and causes lots of damage to buildings and structures. But it is good for wildlife, providing a source of nectar and is a favorite of butterflies. 

A really obvious one this, holly. It's berries make it popular with birds and small mammals who are not put off by the spiky leaves. If you see a holly tree take a look at the highest leaves and you will notice most aren't spiky. The spikes have evolved to protect the berries from large mammals who can't reach the tops of the trees. To save energy, the holly tree grows simpler leaves at the top.

This is just a small portion of the local trees but it was an interesting exercise to look closely at things I look at constantly.