Thursday, 11 January 2018

Nature Notes 2017


To read older posts (2005 - 2016), now use the 'Older Posts' link at the bottom of the posts. (There used to be a sidebar to navigate, but sadly Blogger has removed it...)

January
Frost wallpaper
Frost wallpaper: Thinly compacted ice and frost on the tarmaced
Frost wallpaper
path behind Easter Compton had laminated dead leaves into fine patterns – a stretch of fallen reed leaves created an elegant wallpaper

Pools up & down: Sadly but probably inevitably, the large informal areas of shallow pools at Dyers Common industrial estates near the Severn Estuary edge, which hosted lapwings and other water birds, have now been almost entirely filled in as the ground is built up for further development – though a small new reedy pool has been created in recent developments at the nearby shopping centre...

Albatross skeleton
by Marco Vinci
Bird bones: I watched a fascinating TV programme on bird bones. Two things that struck me:
- The albatross with its 3m wing span, has a shoulder joint that locks into place when flying, and a rigid bone support at its ‘elbow’, that together mean it needs virtually no actual muscle to glide endlessly as it does throughout its life – almost like being suspended comfortably from an organic hang-glider!
- Birds that hunt underwater like penguins have needed to re-evolve heavier bones - apparently  the guillemot is one of the few birds that truly spans both effective flight and underwater swimming...

Waxwings: There are waxwings feeding in the carpark of a local large supermarket, and a colleague wrote: ‘Still lots of big rowan berries in the car park of the Tesco Extra that they seem to be ignoring at present. I met a chap a few years ago who had been doing research on waxwings & he said they could smell the sugar content of the various berries and went for those with the highest sugar content. So berries that look good to our eyes might not look (or rather smell) so good to waxwings. But as they devour them, I guess their priorities change.’
Birds & Berries
photo by Des Bowring




Birds & Berries: I responded: ‘That is very interesting about waxwings being able to smell the sugar content of berries.
Presumably most foraging birds will have equivalent abilities. Reading that fascinating book on Birds & Berries a few years, ago, it included research on the food content (sugars, proteins, fats) of different berries with their popularity with different bird species, and at different times of the year. Speed was part of the equation - very watery berries that could be gulped quickly were sometimes better value than denser berries the bird couldn't gulp down easily. It was a very tricky, time-consuming piece of work, dealing with wild birds rather than lab animals.’

Charnia masoni
by Smith609
Charnia: I recently joined a geology trip – a pilgrimage! - to Charnwood Forest in Leicestershire, home of the fossils of some of the oldest multi-celled organisms in the world. It’s a higher area amongst the otherwise flat plains of this easterly Midlands county, rugged and full of oaks. Many of its craggy rocks are of ancient volcanic origin, dating back through 600 million years to Precambrian times; and contain the first ever recorded discovery of Charnia masoni, the earliest known large, complex fossilised species on record. (The rocks of Charnwood Forest still remain the only place in Western Europe where these Precambrian fossils have been found.)
As the sun lowered, we visited the elevated sloping outcrop containing the fossils. Some are a few inches long and look like delicate leaves inlaid into the rock surface, hard to find and to see – but easier in low evening light; while their bases look like seaweed holdfasts making circular indentations in the rock. Many have been crudely hammered where people have tried to chip them out. But it felt extraordinary to be able to lay ones hand on this pioneering organism – our almost-ancestor, whose fractal form turned out to be an evolutionary dead-end, but whose close relatives found in Australia were the start of an explosion of the new complex life forms who are our predecessors.

Precious things: There was a small but perfectly-formed exhibition at Bristol Museum called ‘Stone
Ancient gold ingot
by Frank Basford
Age to Iron Age’, displaying some of their choice artefacts - exquisite stone and bronze axe heads, refined jewellery etc. One object was a small ingot of gold: it sat quietly on its shelf just glowing, and I was struck yet again with the power of its imperishability. When people say of gold and diamonds – ‘Oh, they’re only valuable because humans make thems so’ - they misunderstand that some things have an intirinsic value. Gold is the only natural mineral / element that simply won’t tarnish or decay, that taken from deep underground or from the sea floor or a cesspit or an acid bog
after hundreds or thousands of years, comes forth gleaming as brightly and purely as the day nature forged it. And diamonds are the hardest natural substance – treat them as rough as you like, abrade them all their life non-synthetically, and their crystal beauty remains undimmed.

Avant Garde Pigeon: I saw a funny pigeon today in a local car park - I call it Avant Garde pigeon because of its unusual stylish
Avant garde pigeon
asymmetrical markings!

Poured Pewter: Low tide, low sun peering through a murky day. Mud banks south side flowing smoothly down to the water – in this subdued light, shining like sheets of poured pewter. You don’t realise how fast the river is running until a gull lands on the water and is immediately thrust fast downstream...

Running across the sky: Stoke Lodge Estate where I do weekly art classes is full of grey squirrels. Today they were running through the very fine upper branches of some woodland trees – so fine that, outlined against a bright background, the squirrels appeared simply to be running across the sky...

Atmospheric phenomena: Up on the Marshfield hills on this changeable day with cumulus, mist and assorted weathers, we saw rainbows, and ‘sun-dogs’ showing some of their rainbow arc around the
Nacreous clouds
by Thincat
sun. We also saw another  phenomenon that I have not seen before: above the sun, while it had a sun-dog arc to its left, almost overhead was another smaller circle of rainbow light. I quizzed a friend who flies but he hadn’t encountered this. However a recent newspaper showed a beautiful photo of rainbow nacreous clouds above Yorkshire – apparently a phenomenon of ice crystals very high in the atmosphere, probably here a result of a polar vortex encroaching Britian - so the Marshfield phenomenon may be linked...

Cuttlefish magic: My computing friend is working on a light suit for some acrobats which will express their movements through changes in speed, colour and rhythm of the LED strips incorporated. His test LED strip is fastened to
Cuttlefish
by Tongjin
the edge of his desk, and undulating colours run up and down it exactly like those that cuttlefish use on their bodies to woo their mates... I feel humans could learn a trick or two there of a more beautiful way to approach potential partners...

February
Waxwings: I went to watch the waxwings who seem to have made a long-term home of this large supermarket car park with its many tempting rowan trees full of berries. Thirteen of these beautiful birds were sitting in the top of big oak trees behind the park, and coming down at regular
Waxwing at Tesco's
by Rod Holbrook 
intervals to neatly pluck one rowanberry apiece from their chosen tree, then return with it to the oaks to eat...  Funny to see the little group of bird watchers from far and wide, huddled by the car wash to catch the action and rather impervious to the shoppers around them.

Chaffinch & Bramblings: We went on a very local walk into an area that yet was quite unknown to us, and full of secretive surprises. Climbing a hill, about forty bright chaffinches were feeding on a great area of discarded grain which was now sprouting. A little further on, five female bramblings in modest winter plumage sat huddled together in a hedgerow – a pretty finch that I rarely see...

River Frome in central Bristol
by Dr Duncan Pepper
Policing urban wildlife: A friend who lives in the centre of Bristol was walking along the Frome (one of many small rivers that still traverse the city, though often culverted and hidden) where it runs in a deep cutting by industrial buildings. She saw the kingfisher whose regular patch this is, and pointed it out to a policeman who also had his beat along there. He responded by pulling out his smartphone and showing her recent pictures of an otter disporting in the
river... apparently this has been his beat for 20 years and he has seen a lot of wildlife there!

Iconic Bristol: I stopped by the now disused Filton Airfield,
Concorde coming into Filton runway
by John Allan
where the iconic Concorde plane was built and tested and where one plane is still parked and open to visitors. A large fine-looking fox appeared on the far side of the runway and  walked right in front of the parked Concord – I thought that was a fine conjunction of iconic Bristol symbols – the plane, and the urban fox for which Bristol is also famous!

Sardinia: I went on a geology trip in Sardinia – an odd plain-but-interesting island. It grows rice and saffon, flamingos stud its coastal lagoons, huge areas still consist of native maquis
Flamingos in Sardinia
by Jerry Gunner
(Mediterranean scrub) held ancestrally and still now as common land.

March
Walking behind Easter Compton towards Dyers Common industrial estate on this very early Spring
Wild plum
by Rich Tea
day, the drainage rhine banks were covered with flowering celandine, wild plum were in blossom, and birds were out in force. In the hedgerow I inspected a lovely small deep nest of unlined grasses – an unfinished robin’s nest?

Squirrel love: I watched a pair grey squirrels in a tree – first mock-fighting, then snuggling lovingly up together...

Foraging Rooks: On a busy main road out of Bristol, ten  rooks were foraging along the roadside gutters as the vehicles zipped right by them – but what were they looking for? It always seems a surprise to find rooks – often shy birds that only seem to favour the company of other rooks - away from their more rural habitats and in harsher manmade environments. Yet they love to nest by motorways, in service stations and schools, and nesting season in particular seems to find them foraging or scavenging in unusual situations...
Rook
by Andreas Trepte
More ‘scavenging’ rooks? On the main road through the middle of Carbis Bay (a small town just outside St Ives)  I watched rooks on the street lights and power lines, inspecting the road below...
At the Taunton Service Station on the M5 motorway coming home, there were rookeries on both sides of the car park totalling at least fifty nests, including three or more in trees actually arching over the building’s busy main entrances... Ten or more rooks were on the ground outside a parked car where the driver was sitting eating her sandwiches: they were looking up into the car and doing a ‘begging’ routine... so very un-rook-like! But maybe this apparent scavenging behaviour is to do with egg-laying and hungering for some specific nutrients?


Brimstone
by AJC1
A sheltered lane at Pilning Wetlands: Wherever was sheltered from the harsh north-easterly wind held abundant flying insects, including a Brimstone, a Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies...

Smart Wagtail: On the moors I saw an outstandingly  smart grey wagtail: he was a vivid yellow from stem to stern beneath,  with immaculate black and greys above...

Evening Jackdaws: From my loft at 7.30pm last night which is sunset, I watched scores of jackdaws flying north-east across our house to their still-mysterious roost sites... In my head I imagine them going to the high wood of Winterbourne’s Bury Hill which forms a rather magical misty rise a few miles due east from us. But they actually always go north-east – what is there? Perhaps the little
Latteridge
by Jonathan Billinger
hamlet called Latteridge, which actually feels far more remote than its position warrants? Roosts remain mysterious...

April
‘Pimp my tractor’: On a walk on a high hill above Bristol, we watched a local driving a massive new tractor finished in deep metallic purple-red, with the front radiator sculpted in the form of a devilish animal head. It was an unusual example of  pimping a vehicle, and when our walk leader pointed out its 2017 vintage – I thought how loath the owner must be to use it and risk scratching its pristine beauty!

Even bolder Jackdaws: Over the years the jackdaws who have colonised our street have gone slowly from very timid to ever bolder... I was gardening in the small vegetable plot at the end of our back garden, and as I faced it, a jackdaw landed a few metres away at the other end of the plot and calmly strolled towards me... In the early days the jackdaws wouldn’t even come into the garden; considerably later they felt able to play ‘grandmother’s footsteps’ where they would creep closer to me but only as long as I kept facing away – then they would still fly off as soon as I turned round. And look at them now – as bold as brass!

St Mark's Flies: On Solsbury Hill above Bath on the 18 April, the St Mark's Flies were out in numbers - seven days earlier than the day of Saint Mark on 25 April for whom they were named, and whose feast day they often hit with spooky accuracy.... easy to identify as they fly with dangling legs.
Horse Chestnut blossom
by P Caroline
We wondered why, and it seems that they and other ‘danglers’ use the legs to clasp mates and prey.

Is it a late or early Spring? The horse chestnut and hawthorne trees are out in full bountiful leaf and bloom, yet many ash and beech trees are still almost bare – making a strange contrast of lush late spring with only-just-out-of-winter...

May
Handkerchief Tree at Shepperdine
Shepperdine snapshots... On a walk near the estuary north of Bristol, we saw a beautiful Handkerchief Tree in full blossom –its exotic large flowers indeed like fine pieces of gathered cream material...
Along the estuary, shelduck had left their webbed tracks in the mud in an evocative record of their wanderings...
In the distance a little boat was struggling up river hard against the wind and tide – getting soaked as it hit each wave and the north-east wind blew great drafts of
Shelduck tracks at Shepperdine
spray back down its length...

BBS Moan: For the second year running I participated in the British Trust for Ornithology’s Breeding Bird Survey, which entails two 2km walks in Ingst on the South Gloucestershire levels near the estuary with complex recording strategies, early in the morning in April and May. I seemed to have a lot more trouble than my (mostly male) colleagues, and finally I had to vent on the Bristol Wildlife forum:
‘Besides the actual surveys. in total I've now gone round that damn patch a whole load of times - trying to get used to the transects and those damn distances, doing the environment survey, pruning the almost-impassable overgrown stile-bridges, little legs soaked in over-long grass, little boots clotted up like plates from muddy field, getting chased back by bullocks, always carrying stuff that gets wet and dropped and lost..... Too early in the morning for my bird-walking friend to be willing to help me with it...
Every single time I have started with two pens, found one unsuitable (ink runs), dropped the next while going over stile - then lost it in a rhine or deep grass. Then reduced to using a drawing pencil dredged from depths of bag. Oh the clumsiness of juggling clipboard, pens and binoculars. Bins usually hauled up too late and birds have flown. Then the thought of having to enter the data... grudge drudge... But of course I love it really. Just having a moan...’

The Swifts are back! It’s the seventh of May and the Swifts are back – five of them circling joyfully above our Filton patch...

‘Wild Herzegovina’
Bee Eater 
by Suk Trippier
I was part of a bird group who spent a week in Herzegovina (Bosnia) in the first half of May. I  had never ‘done’ Mediterranean bird before and it was an extraordinary experience – of the 130-odd species we saw, a third were new to me... (Garganey, ferruginous duck, rock partridge, pygmy cormorant, purple & squacco heron, cattle egret, honey buzzard, short-toed eagle, Montagu’s harrier, Kentish plover, black-winged stilt, collared pratincole (my spot! Tho I didn’t know what I was spotting...), white-winged & whiskered tern, rock dove, turtle dove (seen), scops owl, pallid swift, bee-eater, wryneck, lesser spot & yrian woodpecker, woodchat shrike, golden oriole (proper views), crested lark, crag martin, sombre & penduline tit, rock nuthatch, great reed, icterine (Cavtat), eastern orphean & subalpine warblers, rock & blue rock thrush, black-eared wheatear, black-headed yellow wagtail, cirl, ortolan, rock & black-headed bunting, serin, and Spanish sparrow)
And many lovely butterflies... (Swallowtail. Clouded Apollo. Clouded Yellow. Brimstone. Painted Lady. Queen of Spain Fritillary. Duke of Burgundy. Bath White. Wood White. Green Underside. Common and Chequered Blue. Eastern Baton Blue. Pearl and Small Heath. Brown Argus. Speckled Yellow Moth)
I think what I then understood most forcefully was – that
Sand Martin colony, Herzegovina
by Suk Trippier
birdwatching abroad is not just ticking off names on a list: every new bird is a character who enters and embeds itself in your life full of its unique personality and charm, its habitat, its mannerisms...
Special sights & experiences:
- A nightingale singing at every stop...
- Honey Buzzards migrating across Mostar...
- Seeking the Scops Owls late at night in old Mostar amongst the minarets, and hearing their single-note call all night long...
- Standing on a bridge across the Nervetna River on the industrial outskirts of Mostar, to watch Pallid Swifts nesting beneath, emerge at a million miles an hour and shoot away, strong and pale...
Black-winged Stilts
by Rhyzkov Sergey
- A short distance from Mostar, an extensive sand quarry with a bird-friendly owner, whose rock
faces house literally thousands of sand martin pairs, and hundreds of bee-eater pairs. The noise! The excitement! Like a giant beehive...

- On the Nervetna delta in Croatia – Black-winged Stilts, surely the most exquisite, elegant birds of all with their outrageously long red legs...
...and the shockingly tropical size and exoticness of Bee Eaters – yet so common almost everywhere we went!
- Golden Orioles in quantities enough to see their gorgeous plumage properly -  fighting, resting, jinking through woodland poplars – and hear their gorgeous liquid calls...
- Seeing a Wryneck properly, just sitting on a tree trunk...
- By the willowy banks of the broad Nervetna River, glimpsing a
Pomegranate flowers
Praveen Grao


Cirl Bunting fledgling sitting quietly tucked into undergrowth, waiting for its parent to feed it –
 lovely back patterns already on display...
- ...and adjacent, a Penduline Tit busy sculpting its marvellous nest...
- Wild pomegranate bushes showing their startling flame red flowers, with last year’s fruits dried to
leather...
- Up in the mountains – Sombre Tits, little loves that I initially thought were Blackcaps... Swathes of
Gentians
deep blue gentians...
- On wild limestone uplands – the fabulous blues of Rock and Blue Rock Thrushes... and Ortolan Buntings who had picked a
Blue Rock Thrush
by Suk Trippier
most eccentric bleak spot for their nesting (apparently it is their wont to pick ‘untypical’ spots!). Who doesn’t love a Bunting! – and there were so many species to search for, stout, cheerful and colourful, heads chucked up in song...
- In a Muslim area, a teenage girl in jeans and backpack watching the family flock of sheep with her two massive mountain dogs,  while reading a book...
- Watery wonderlands – limestone-clear rivers large and small, lush wetlands, lakes and reservoirs. Richness of flowers, butterflies, dragonflies, reptiles...
- First views of a male Montagu’s Harrier – the huge grey wings and that unbelievably graceful, balletic flight...
- Wide, flat empty limestone valley bottoms with natural meadows, again full of lovely birds, butterflies, flowers... Old lady making her own sage-flavoured mead... The two-foot bulky bronze Glass Lizards who love to sunbathe on the gravelly road verges (and are prey of the Short-toed Snake Eagles hunting above)... Turtle Doves pottering along the road...
Turtle Dove 'pottering'...
by Suk Trippier
Buna
- BlagajVillage, Buna river and cliffs: A dramatic beauty spot with a Dervish monastery
War-torn: Marks of war were ubiquitous. Up into the Dinaric Alp mountains, ‘Beware Mines’ signs lined the road (mines being kept ‘just in case’), and we were warned not to stray off the road for a pee... Mostar was full of
'Don't Forget 1993'
Mostar Bridge
unrestored buildings whose roofs, doors and windows had been removed leaving just stone shells. Wherever buildings hadn’t been repaired, gun shot marked every surface – and this was true no matter how densely urban or remote the place we visited, or how humble the building. A striking example was a multi-storey block of flats on Mostar’s main street, all surfaces re-plastered except for a full-height flanking wall left disfigured... it was impossible not to think of the women, children and old people who had either fled or had
'Mines!'
cowered within... Apparently there was no international help to rebuild and had to be done entirely by the people themselves, so the general spruceness seems a
Shelled flats
Central Mostar
marvel. But even though there is obviously a massive will to move on from old wounds, we all felt how hard it must be and how much bitterness and unfairness must lurk, winners and losers... But we were fascinated by the ancient integration of Muslim and Christian cultures so we couldn’t tell one apart from the other – we had to be told that our hotel owner and our driver were both Muslims. Old Mostar holds most of the mosques and other traditional buildings; in early mornings the muezzin called...
House Martins
by Des Bowring

House Martins at Sea Mills: The house martins have arrived- about sixteen of them. As usual they
prefer just one particular little hillock of river mud for building purposes ('not too wet, not too dry, not too hard, not too soft...’), and a few nest are already well advanced. And how super-flobbery the Avon mud was today! – the freshest kidneys jostling together on a butcher’s tray wouldn’t beat their glossy, cracked, bulging unctuousness.

Abundant life: Looking out from my loft window, the upper air was full of aerial insect life, and the garden was full of bees...
Starlings
by Des Bowring

Gangs of Starlings: I asked a colleague - when you get small gangs of starlings rushing  about and shrilling at this time of year, but who look black rather than brown - ARE they young, or who or what are  they?
He replied: ‘Could it be relieved parents - glad to be free of their offspring? - just a guess. Normally the noise is generated by juveniles flocking together and being very excited - SO full of joie de vivre!’

Where do Swifts nest? Yesterday along our road in Filton, and today on Severn Beach high street, swifts were persistently flying around below eaves level. I kept a close watch in case I could see them dart into a roof space, but no luck yet...

‘Our’ Blackbirds - update: Over the last few years I gradually realised that our original blackbird
with the distinctive refrain and amazing repertoire who had graced our local area for years, had been replaced by another bird. Why this had been so difficult to understand was because I still heard snatches of his refrain between a louder new refrain – one of those cheeky-chappy ‘dooby-doo’ calls. After two or three years of this I finally decided that the new bird had actually copied the older bird’s refrain and incorporated it in his own repertoire – but sadly musically he is a far inferior composer and improviser...
A friend replied: ‘Great stuff. I love the fact that Blackbirds are 'open-ended learners' and add song phrases from their parents when they are juveniles (which might be the case in your individual). Even 'old' birds learn phrases from younger birds and add them to their repertoire making them irresistible to the ladies!’
Blackbird song is remarkable in its complexity and richness and ability to incorporate new phrases throughout its life.....ain't nature wonderful!’

Young Robin
by Peter Trimming
The robins have fledged! Robins have been nesting in the large but dilapidated shed at the bottom of our garden. Today on entering, a gapey little critter faced me from a nearby shelf, and two others fluttered about in corners... so the youngsters have fledged!
A colleague responded, ‘Yes we had  two fledge back in April in our shed. Robins in sheds are the tops!’

June
Robins continued: A few days later... though we think the young robins and their parents have left our shed as far as nesting is concerned - they have now  returned and are using it for flying practice! – a nice safe sheltered space to hone their skills I suppose...
Sparrows are nesting in the front eaves – a first for us.
Next day: The young robins are now hopping about outside – their tails just stubs...

Arne Reserve: We visited the Arne RSPB Reserve in Poole Harbour, an area of rough heath, piny woodland and lagoonal shores. Among the things I learnt are:
- The reserve holds slow-worms, smooth snakes and sand lizards – I have never seen the last two. Apparently smooth snakes eat slow-worms...
Silver-studded Blue
by Gail Hampshire
- The rough heath is full of the large hillocks of wood ants’ nests – and the snakes eat the ants. The rare and lovely Silver-studded Blue butterflies with their striking strong bright white wing borders lay their eggs on the nests, cunningly disguised as the ants’ eggs – who  then take them down and hatch them!
- Meadow pipits replace skylarks here in that ecological niche, and they are the local hosts for cuckoos.
- The local deer include Sika deer, medium-sized exotic ornamental escapes, now naturalised.
- Delightful hairy Hungarian Mangalitza pigs are allowed to graze the heath.
- There are high nesting poles for ospreys.
But we were unlucky! Here’s what we didn’t see that we ‘should’ve’: Any terns at all – almost an impossibility in Poole Harbour! Nightjars, which have been so open and abundant that they were roosting in the trees round the cafe in the daytime! Mediterranean gull, wood lark or osprey... and only a brief glimpse of Dartford warblers though they are so abundant here...

New Passage today: A very young pied wagtail was sitting on the low front wall of a house – fluffy, gapey, striped tail a mere stub. Time – and a cat – passed without a parent appearing, but finally the parent flew in and encouraged the youngster off the wall. They flew off together - the youngster so very much more capable in the air than its innocently foolish demeanour whilst perched would suggest...
Meanwhile five adjacent sparrows were having a delicious-looking dust bath on the ground nearby...
Peacock caterpillars
by Gail Hampshire
And down the side lane of the Wetlands, there were masses of squirming spiky black Peacock butterfly caterpillars on the nettles.

Botany at Bigsweir to find Wood Stitchwort: Stitchwort found – unobtrusively along the wooded Wye path, larger and downier leaves than most stitchworts. Other nice plants new to me: Three-veined sandwort, round-leaved mint, meadow rue, common valerian, marsh yellowcress. Also white-legged damselfly, scorpion fly, & straw dot & longhorn moths – the latter with enormously long antennae. A hobby attacked a crowd of house martins
Longhorn Moth
by Bj.schoenmakers
Walking back up the Wye we saw families of mallards about every 50m along the opposite bank with young of various ages, feeding and swimming - they found a big swirl of froth particularly delicious... I noticed that one duck family moving very slowly against the strongly-flowing river, still moved faster than this group of botanists at work on the other side...!

Little engineers: Today, the house martins’ selected mud-gathering patch ignored the Avon’s ample tidal banks and was a meagre puddle on the tow path, much grittier and less unctuous than the river mud they usually use. I used to be an architect – how I’d like to know what criteria these little engineers are using to select their construction material of the day!

Fox hole: I had just dug over a vegetable bed and covered it with fabric weighted with stones, preparatory to planting. This morning a quarter of the fabric was pushed aside and a large hole dug, soil scattered everywhere. It presumably was a fox (though the scale of the excavation was more like a badger) - was it just after worms or other invertebrates? Or was it chasing something else?
A colleague repliedl: ‘Hard to say Lois, but with the baked earth conditions at the moment any pliable soil would be welcome to both species.’

Tree Mallow
by Meneerke Bloem
Tree Mallows: the group of tree mallows which have been left to grow undisturbed at the side of our back lane for a couple of years, now form a stately grove with about eleven ‘trees’ over 3m in height – a pretty sight.

Hot, early: Very hot weather. Viewed very early in the morning from my loft – a nice snapshot of busy bird life: A heron flying south west. A very newly-fledged jackdaw – its red under skin showing through the thin head feathers. A young crow looking rather smaller than its parent – presumably thinner feathers and crouching posture contributing. A gull flying past carrying a whole sandwich in its mouth! A young sparrow on our eaves by their nest site.

July
Tidenham Chase: A botany trip between the rivers Wye & Severn, to study grasses over an area alternating in bands between acid Carboniferous pale grey micaceous sandstones and alkali limestones; with old woodlands, heath & grasslands, and many interesting and
Lesser Spearwort
by Aiwok
beautiful plants on one or other side or spanning the acid/calcareous soil divide, including hard fern, lesser spearwort, bog pimpernel, yellow pimpernel, flea sedge, lousewort, cross-leaved heather, common spotted, heath spotted and pyramidal orchid.
A goshawk flew with a buzzard (always helpful for size comparison), and then rapidly ascended to a great height apparently effortlessly... a hobby flew off with prey...
Hummingbird Hawk-moth
by Jerzystrzelecki
Hummingbird Hawk-moth: At the far end of the car park I saw a massive insect zooming about that looked like a giant hornet or even a tiny man-made drone... of course it was a Hummingbird Hawk-moth which I had never seen before. What an extraordinary animal it is! - I hope I get a closer look when I am lucky enough to see another. We also saw beautiful a Scarlet Tiger Moth up the lane.

...& yet more foraging Rooks... On the way to new Pilates classes through Henbury (considered quite a rough edge of town though bordered by lovely woods and parks), I have started seeing rooks foraging on the main shopping street – which is Crow Lane, appropriately corvid-themed...

Marbled White on thistle
by Ian Kirk
Sea Mills salt marsh: On the banks of the River Avon just west of Sea Mills station were cormorant, buzzard, lapwing and chiffchaff. The salt marsh rippled with graceful Sea Couch Grass which looks like fields of wild wheat, now flowering with pale yellow strands; Sonchus Arvensis was just opening its great raggy sunny flowers, and a patch of Asparagus fern added more grace. The strong purple blooms of Spear Thistle were full of feeding Marbled White butterflies, who do love a nice thistle...


Scenes from the Loft – about half an hour’s viewing front and back...
- Small flock after flock of starlings flew low northeast across the house – towards the ‘roosting’ conifers up the back lane?...
- A gull fiercely mobbed a sparrowhawk...
- Young crows around the place – their heads still looking so small with beak/skull junction proportionally clunky, making their pterodactyl-type ancestry very clear...
- I thought the sparrows nesting on our front eaves had finished and gone – but the missis just flew up to the gutter carrying a feather, with mister joining her... will they have another brood?

Swifts update: A few years back when our local group of swifts (centred on Filton’s Millennium Park) was still a sizeable number, I could look out my loft window pretty much any day, any time and see them flying. However in the last few years numbers have been dropping (to eight this year), and often they are not around at all for many days at a time. So perhaps below a certain group number, they go off and join with another group for hunting etc? Three days ago was that event that happens every year, when the group suddenly enlarges – up to fourteen this year – with youngsters.

Emperor Dragonfly
by Ian Kirk
Gloucester Motorway Services lake: This is one of just two such service stations which are built ecologically, serve artisan food, and have a delightful sitting-out area with a lake about 30m long, hosting a surprising number of birds, damsel- and dragonflies. Yesterday these included a moorhen pair with some very small chicks tottering on floating edge vegetation; dozens of swallows and house martins hunting over and drinking from the water; many Common Blue damselflies; and numbers of Emperor, Blacktailed Skimmer and Common Darter dragonflies. The Emperor males were fighting over the water – every now and then they collided with a loud, electrical zizzing sound as presumably their vibrating wings caught together! The lake perimeter has many lovely plants, currently including meadowsweet, a red mimulus, mints, purple loosestrife, bullrush and flowering rush; and I would heartily recommend a stop here not just for the fine architecture, good food and chilled atmosphere, but for the meditative pleasure of observing the lake and its wildlife.

August
Whitethroat
by Andreas Trepte 
Whitethroat beauty: It’s funny how you can see a bird repeatedly yet not fully appreciate its beauty. Today I saw a male and female Whitethroat pair nestled in hedgerow- modest little brown warblers though with handsome white throats and perky crest - but for the first time I fully saw, studied and appreciated their beautiful finely-patterned chestnut lower wings neatly folded back and glowing almost orange ...was it the light or their position that illuminated this to me?...

Rainbow: The sun was nearly setting and the sky almost clear with a few high clouds, when we saw an extraordinary rainbow outside: enormously high – because the sun was so low - with an unusual darker orange-tinted cast to it, and an enigmatic quality because absolutely no rain was evident!

Last Swifts: The ninth of August and I thought our local swifts were long gone, but last night six of them returned to dance together over the park at sunset. A colleague wrote: ‘You're not the only one to have this experience, I wonder what it means! I wonder if it is parents coming back to persuade the remaining juveniles out of the nest and once out, off they go? Fascinating.’
Chesil Beach from Portland
sketch by Lois 2009

August trip to Chesil Beach
My annual car-camping trip this year was to Chesil Beach west of Weymouth in Dorset. Chesil Beach is a massive curving, continuous, dark gold, mainly flint shingle bank 29k long and up to 12m high, separated from the mainland for 13k along its easterly end by the shallow Fleet Lagoon; starting near Bridport and ending where it curves up to form the land bridge between Weymouth and the Isle of Portland.
Chesil Beach
by Brian Robert Marshall
Its geological history is complex, finalising in post-glacial pebble outwashes – a one-off construction fining from east to west, but now without sufficient further pebble material to sustain it. So now you aren’t supposed to remove any of the billions of tempting and often unusual pebbles at your feet...
- Ferrybridge: I walked a mile or so west along the Chesil bank to the first of many lonely fishing shacks facing the Fleet, and so had my first experience of how tough it is to walk the loose, sinking shingle: if you commit to continuing you have 13 non-stop exposed kilometres to trudge, great only if you are training for the Foreign Legion...
- The Swannery: I camped for three nights in the Swannery car park, which has the generosity to be
Abbotsbury Swannery
by John E Lamper
free and unrestricted with adjacent toilets and cafe. In gratitude I finally paid the £12 to enter Swannery proper, which turned out to be far more interesting historically, scientifically, artistically than I expected. It is the only swan-breeding establishment in the world, started 700 years ago by the Abbotsbury monks, and then run continuously by the same local family for the next 500 years, since the Reformation that destroyed the abbey (...remnants of the abbey are scattered throughout the adjacent village of Abbotsbury...). Using swanherds, the establishment learnt how to overcome the swans’ natural territorial behaviour so the birds will agree to nest in very close proximity.
   Some delightful Swannery snippets: - A display of a Gladstone bag the size of a swan (with a toy swan’s neck hanging out...) – lift it to feel how heavy a real swan is. The sign warns you to brace your knees, you mock and then try - it’s over two stone weight (30lb +)! A swan skeleton shows how
Bouncing bomb
by Whaley Tim
extremely robust the birds’ bones are compared with most birds.
- A photo shows how the famous English ballerina Anna Pavlova’s dance troupe came to the Swannery in the 1920s to practice ‘Swan Lake’ on the spot! I imagine the swan poo on their points...
- The Fleet was used for early trials of the Dambusters’ Bouncing Bomb, and there is a broken example on display – a huge black golf ball...
- A swan-shaped maze of living willows was recently created. Often willow structures are rather disappointing, but these consisted of majestic high arched tunnels, like walking through a magnificent building.
- Rooks: There were over 300 rooks feeding on the adjacent hills and roosting in the woods above the car park. In the evenings they made that lovely crooning sound that is so soothing - if you’re not too close!
- Walking: One way and another I ended up walking almost the full length of Chesil Beach, from the Swannery to West Bexington to Burton Bradstock near Bridport on the bank itself, and along the Fleet Lagoon. Twice I swam off lonely stretches of  the bank’s seaward side, where it drops in steep terraces to the waves and feels elemental...
Fleet Lagoon - 'Langton Herring Boats'
- The Fleet Lagoon is shallow brackish waters full of the fine grassy threads of marine plant Eel Grass which is a nourishing food for many creatures including swans. As you walk along there are occasional fishing shacks on the high Chesil bank opposite, accessed from the mainland by the few small fishing boats that are licensed to fish for the bass, eels, and other specialist fish in these waters. Starting at East Fleet, I visited the lovely little church by the coast path, now just the nave of the village’s original church which was otherwise destroyed by the catastrophic storm surge of 1824 which flooding over Chesil bank, submerged the church in water
East Fleet Church
by Ian Hall
9m high, destroyed many other buildings, ships and lives, and reduced the height of the bank itself by many metres. Further west is Moonfleet Manor Hotel, famous from the Victorian smuggling novel ‘Moonfleet’ which brings many tourists here. It’s one of those kindly establishments that though smart, welcomes sweaty walkers and treats them like royalty – kind Eastern European staff, homemade biscuits with your coffee, apple sorbet garnished with watermelon eaten on the hot patio with a broadsheet newspaper and a fashion magazine... and no signs as at the West Bexington and Burton Bradstock (tho very nice) beach cafes to tell you ‘No shoes, no shirt – no service!’ Then at Herbury there’s a little headland into the Fleet that’s almost an island. Apparently in the past the Weymouth beach donkeys were brought here every winter to graze peacefully... The Fleet itself is home to much rare and strange marine life, described in a fine Dorset County Council pamphlet, ‘The Fleet Lagoon: Wild, weird and wonderful – Our Top 10’!
Knatchbull Arms, Stoke St Michael
by Maurice Pullin
- Way back: I broke my return  journey at the tiny village of Stoke St Michael  north of Shepton Mallet and deep in Mendip quarrying country. I had a drink at the Knatchbull Arms pub, which astonished with its wall boards describing an apparently true episode in 1942 when it hosted a top-secret meeting of WW11’s top military, including Mountbatten, Eisenhower and Patton, to discuss strategy! The then landlord revealed it a decade later, saying he served them ‘tea and sandwiches’!
   My last camp was planned for the adjacent Moon Hill Quarry science centre car park, which I’d visited a few weeks earlier on a geology field trip and thought – there’s a peaceful spot. What I hadn’t realised was that this area of car park wasn’t just for the Science Centre in its peaceful grounds, but part of the full-on adjacent working quarry. So I woke at 6am surrounded by lights, action, quarrymen – scrambled from my duvet into the front seat and drove off hell for leather in my sleep shirt... If you camp ‘wild’ then a certain amount of indignity is all part of the experience...

Yellow Horned-poppy
by Des Bowring
- Shingle plants on Chesil Beach: On the sheltered landward side of this great shingle bank are a fascinating and often unexpected selection of generally prostrate plants, including Woody Nightshade ‘marinum’, Sea Pea, Yellow Horned-poppy, Sea Campion and Convolvulus. I saw great swathes of flowering Sea Pea by the Swannery – a robust member of the clover/pea family with lovely strong magenta-purple flowers and large pinnate leaves which I’d only seen before in Iceland and then we struggled to find just a couple of plants. Further west was a similar abundance of spectacular flowering Yellow Horned-poppy which I’d  never seen before; the seeds forming extremely long curving pods which must be the ‘horns’. And similarly Woody Nightshade ‘marinum’ - who knew it as a successful prostrate plant in this testing environment, the purple flowers and red translucent berries showing brightly against the shingle?
Sea Pea
by Mike Pennington
I observed the following strategies of clinging/advancing for prostrate plants on shingle:
·         Tendrils: the Sea Pea’s sturdy leaves end in short but powerful tendril that bind round a pebble to anchor the plant as it grows outwards/onwards.
·         Rooting: Many of the prostrate plants here push down anchoring roots from their stems as they advance across the shingle.
·         Weight: the ‘marinum’ variety of Woody Nightshade looks just like its woodland cousin, except it is prostrate with fleshier (presumably succulent) leaves. Its stems are sturdy and woody, and I assume it is the pure weight of its parts that keeps it grounded in high winds and lets it sprawl onwards in large mats across the shingle.
A friend wrote, Re the Woody Nightshade, following a recent course on Scottish coastal plants, I too was amazed that so many familiar woodland, field and hedgerow species have a 'maritime' version battling the elements on our beaches and saltmarshes in a positively Churchillian fashion.’

- Why Car Camp? I’m 68 and still car-camping – why? Logistically this means that I put down the back seats of my Fiesta and insert sofa cushions to make a bed, as at around 5 foot I’m small enough to lie full length in this space. In the passenger footwell go a big bowl plus plate, mug, cutlery, and big bottle of water. Food is tucked in the gap under the seat. I wash in the bowl and pretty much eat cold picnic food and drink water for 4 days. Mostly I park ‘wild’ in small lay-by’s or rough parking areas without restrictions, but then I need to be up at about 5.30 to beat the dog walkers and have the privacy to wash, brush and dress – sometimes I’ll go back for a snooze once I’m ‘respectablised’. Finding early-opening loos is important, but otherwise peeing au plein air is fine. I sort out my backpack requirements and am off for the day walking – I live all day outdoors. (If I’d been tough enough I’d have loved to have carried all my gear and slept in the open, but I’ve never liked feeling like a packhorse (even my binoculars have to be ultra lightweight), and now I’m older I’ve found I’m not hardy enough to sleep on the ground even with a mat. And I do like the car with its waterproofness, warmth, light, door locks). People wonder if I’m scared – mostly no, alert more like, there are often strange sounds and interruptions at night when the adrenaline courses for a while.
   So why not get a little camper van? Or park in camp sites? Or rent a little chalet? Because I’ve realised the fundamental things I want, are to be off the radar, and beholden to no-one. When my car is parked it attracts nobody’s interest, and when I lie down in it, passers-by can’t even see there is anyone in it. In a ‘wild’ spot I feel unnoticed – off the radar – but in an orthodox camp site I am very visible again; and a proper camper van also immediately makes you noticed. And renting a place, though lovely and something I’ve often done,  means I am beholden – to the owners to keep it nice, and all that psychological palaver. It is a mental thing – to have rest and relief from the persistent pressure of other people’s eyes and expectations. I love a little chat and interchange with others while I’m walking, but mostly I spend hours on my own ‘off the radar’, and that’s what I yearn for.

Sea Mills - from Trym out to Avon
by William Avery 
Swimming at Sea Mills: One way and another I managed to get in quite a lot of swimming this summer in various, sometimes odd, places. The strangest has been in the Avon at Sea Mills where the River Trym comes out, a couple of miles above the Avon’s entry into the Bristol Channel. Both Trym and Avon are still tidal here and at low tide enormously steep banks of soft mud are revealed that could pretty much swallow you up. Tides are swift, there is quite a lot of shipping, and if you were swept downstream there is nowhere to safely climb out, so it is dangerous any time except just before and at high tide, and then only accompanied by someone else. I have a friend who is into this sort of mad stuff and I knew the little jetty poking into the Trym which allows you to enter the water easily and mud-free, but from the bank it all still looked both scary and grubby. However we rendezvoused, waited till all the boats needing to get in and out of the high-tide lock gates upstream had passed by, and climbed down into the water... What a difference! Immediately it felt extraordinarily peaceful, beautiful, serene, clean-feeling and looking... But beware - the tide turns with secretive swiftness and start tugging you downstream, so then there was a quick race back to the jetty and land...
Starling murmuration
by Walter Baxter

Mini-murmuration: Mid-afternoon down on the salt marshes a flock of about 250 starlings were doing full-on shape-shifting murmurations between rests along the hedgerows – creating the classic beautiful streaming clouds and swirling patterns... To see this in broad daylight in such a relatively small group is unusual.

September
Urban Fox: At midday a fox stood for some time on the pavement up the road from our house before turning and heading into a front garden... it looked very thin and rather pathetic, a youngster I think. Although foxes are common round here, it is still surprising to see one out in the street in the middle of the day except in hard winters…
Bird on hay bale
by Viault

A Tickenham bird walk: On the meadow lowlands swallow and house martin flew, including pairs apparently kissing in midair – probably parents food-passing to young; buzzards, kestrel and wheatear all using the big cylindirical hay bales as lookout perching spots... High up on the ridge with its great views down the Bristol Channel six ravens rolled and displayed, a hobby and a kestrel fought in mid-air and the hobby then did a long shallow stoop to catch a dragonflies...

Centaury
by BjornS
Still flowering & singing: Pilning Wetlands - Amphibious Bistort still flowering brightly along a pool edge. Severn Beach - Many chiffchaff still singing, and pink Centaury and blue Chicory flowering brightly.

Last Swift? On the 13 September we saw a swift flying over our house – the latest I have seen a swift, though the record dates are rather later.

Cassini in test
NASA
From Cassini: Last week I watched a wonderful Horizon programme on the Cassini space mission to Saturn, and its final hours on 15 September as it plunged into Saturn’s atmosphere after 27 years of faithful reporting on the planet, its moons and its rings. One of the most heart-stopping moments was a picture Cassini had taken looking back at Earth through a Saturnian landscape – just a tiny bright dot so far away, but oh – the significance of it.
On another note – it was marvellous to see an almost equal mix of men and women scientists making up the international teams whose life this
Saturn from Cassini
NASA
had been for three decades and more, including women heads of photography and engineering – the latter the people who brought us the reams of astonishing pictures, and who kept Cassini on track through thick and thin, including guiding it to new and unexpected tasks like close the exploration of moon Enceladus. But when Cassini finally disappeared, it wasn’t only the women in tears...

Abundance: Today the salt marsh was alive with scores, probably hundreds of meadow pipits, as well as abundant linnets, pied wagtails and starlings, and single whinchats, wheatears, chiffchaff and skylarks... There is something so wonderful about abundance in Nature, and it is definitely something we feel is threatened...

Half loving it, half not...
October
Bird Ringing at Walton Moor, 2.10: A colleague invited me to a morning’s bird ringing at Walton Moor Reserve just inland from Clevedon and Portishead, with another ringer who has done this work weekly for decades. They have a hut deep in the heart of the reserve, and a round of about seven net sites to be patrolled every  45 minutes of so (we were there for six hours and went round about seven times). The little birds are carefully untangled, put in cloth bags like old-fashioned gym bags, and brought back to the hut to be weighed, sexed, wing-measured, and fat stores noted. We gathered 58 in total including tree creeper, lesser redpoll, bullfinch and goldcrest, and I was allowed to hold them at the end and release them. And I saw the ringers’ nemesis – the flat fly parasites that resist crushing...
I felt a dichotomy of emotions that is probably not unusual: on the one hand tremendous privilege and excitement to be allowed so close to these beautiful creatures. But as someone who doesn’t like zoos or animals kept in any sort of captivity –even fish in aquaria – I had an visceral repugnance for the birds entangled and sometimes struggling in the nets, the need to unravel them and bag them, all the handling... Dave gave me a long talk about the scientific value of ringing, but how many birders disapprove of it even though they value the knowledge it gives. I know it gives vital information, and I could see how apparently fragile but actually incredibly robust the birds were – after all they are built to survive predator attacks and all sorts of accidents and mishaps. So I shall just live with this conflict of feelings...

Rackety Magpies: Early evening and ten magpies were racketing about together through the treetops... youngsters I expect like rowdy teenagers.

Starling bath: At Pilning Wetlands a crew of about 30 starlings settled onto a shallow pool’s edge in a line amongst the lapwings and ruff, and started the most vigorous bout of splashing and washing – water flying everywhere, a delightful sight.

Cornwall:  - I was by the sea in St Ives as the major Storm Ophelia approached. It was quite strange
St Ives Harbour
by Mike Crowe
– the sky remained cheerfully blue as the wind grew and grew till it was completely slicing off the tops of the waves and hurling them in horizontal slabs of spray...
- In the evening from the top floor of our rented house, we could watch two grey seals come in to feed in the harbour at high tide. Big crowds came out to watch them under the harbour lights as they swam up to the quay and begged by a fishing boat...
- At the Hayle estuary I watched a sparrowhawk neatly turn completely sideways, wings outstretched, to fly through a narrow hedgerow gap...

My First Sea Watch: I did my first ever ‘sea watch’ with about ten other people today, on the Severn Beach esplanade facing the Bristol Channel. This is when bird watchers gather during storms at known lookouts, to watch for ocean birds like petrels, gannets, shearwaters and this time a tiny grey phalarope, driven closer to land by powerful winds. (To put this another way: nutters seek out the most exposed places they know in the worst weather of the year, to stand in violent wind and rain for some hours with telescopes glued to their eyes) Storm Brian was
Leach’s Petrel
by Richard Crossley
approaching – another storm with lots of powerful south-to-south-westerly wind but no rain, so a relatively ‘fair-weather’ experience for a newbie like me. Others let me use their telescopes to follow the action out at sea, and I finally managed to see a Leach’s Petrel with just my binoculars as it flew in close to shore. This little bird, just six inches long but adapted for a constant life on the ocean, was so diminutive it would disappear behind each wave crest as it skimmed close to the sea’s surface.... It was an exciting and addictive experience!

Generous Ivy Blossom: At Marshfield on this warm and still day, Red Admiral butterflies were out
Red Admiral on Ivy blossom
by Dave Dunford
in force, particularly on ‘selected’ flowering ivy bushes – some bushes being much more popular than others in Nature’s mysterious way; and the numbers of Red Admirals I counted rapidly climbed from scores to hundreds. The blossom was also being enjoyed by Brimstone butterflies, bees and  hoverflies: ivy is a generous plant for birds and insects with its late-flowering blooms, and the resulting black berries that feed creatures right through to Spring.

More late flowers: At Clevedon, south of the harbour – bristly ox-tongue and wild mustard still flowered brightly.

Siskin
by Estormiz
Siskin Squadron: At Aust Warth a small flock of four siskins shot away from the mud-and-reed bank of the river inlet, little birds flying in neat formation like a squadron with the lovely black-&-yellow pattern of their wing uppers on display. This was a most odd place to find them – but I’d noticed that the seed heads of the salt-marsh reed beds must have been unusually tasty that day, because reed buntings were munching on them in a way I hadn't seen before - as though they were really delicious - and were joined by blue tits and sparrows who  rarely feed out there. So maybe the siskins, probably on migration, came down for a tasty reed-seed-feed too...

Ballroom dancing...
by Che
Strictly Birdwatching: I recently took up Pilates exercise, as well as becoming a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ fan, and have been intrigued by how closely dance technique mirrors Pilates, including the ‘relaxed shoulders, long neck, strong core’ aspects. But also the instructions for the ‘firm frame’ for arms in ballroom hold - supported from the back muscles not the shoulders - could as well apply to birdwatchers lifting and holding binoculars... I am now consciously practicing this technique in the field!

November
Winter Heliotrope
by Dave Hitchborne
Late Autumn colours& flowers... At this late date there is still an unusual amount of gorgeous
Autumn tree colour including in maple, beech, oak and birch. Down the Avon Gorge, hazels held catkins and pretty pink winter heliotrope lined the path in profusion.

A Winter Bird Trip to Devon, including:
Cirl Bunting
by Paco Gomez
- Cirls at Labrador Bay, a coastal farmland  reserve high on the cliffs just south of Teignmouth, dedicated to reviving the rare Cirl Bunting, which suffered dramatically from modern farming practices. For the last few years they have regularly fed the birds, and we visited this spot where about twenty Cirls were sunning on sheltered hedgerow and waiting for the grain to arrive! It was many people’s (including mine) first view of these lovely birds, with their striped heads with olive surround.
- Clennon Valley Reserve, Torbay, a modest urban-fringe reserve with woodland, stream and lake to look for a Yellow-
Yellow-browed Warbler
by Hugh Venable
browed Warbler. We didn’t find it - though it had been there earlier and would be seen later - but we did find a Firecrest and Kingfisher. I like these modest reserves, and I like looking for particular species even if they’re not found because you get to understand their habits and habitats... or to guess anyway – for instance, why is this rare little foreign visitor so often found in this particular spot...?
- South Molton Reserve, Thurlstone –where a large rock stack out to sea had Cormorants and Shags sitting together for useful comparison, and a Heron unusually huddled high on the sheltered side.
Wood Blewit
by Gail Hapmshire
- The long flat stretch of shingle beach at Slapton Ley, with Shags and  Red-throated Diver, and surprisingly close inshore – a raft of 25 female and two male Common Scoters bobbing on calm waters and so easy to view (usually they are but specks out to sea...) and a dolphin diving further out...
- Then into the reserve round the Ley (lagoon) behind the beach – strikingly calmer and warmer, full of birds. Along the path were pale purple Wood Blewit fungi, and abundant rows of spiky Butcher’s Broom bushes full of red berries. Black-headed Gulls on the lagoon were washing with great splashings – the spray flying silver against the bright low sun...
- Steps Bridge and Dunsford Nature Reserve on Dartmoor’s
Butcher's Broom
by Bernard Dupont
north-east edge: ancient woodland along the River Teign where a lucky few saw the rare Lesser Spotted Woodpecker showing fleetingly in low tree growth...
- Matford Marsh, wetlands unobtrusively tucked between big roads on the commercial fringes of Exeter, where kind locals pointed out an American Wigeon on the banks of a stream, its
American Wigeon
by Tony Hisgett
dark green face pattern almost black against a greyish face.

Starry Starry Nights: In my life I have been to some remote and far-flung places. Having read other travellers’ descriptions of seeing wonderful starry night skies I looked forward to experiencing them myself in such places - but ended up being quite disappointed when the reality was much less dazzling than expectation... Yet strangely the most beautiful starry skies I have ever seen - have been on the Lizard in Cornwall about seven years ago, and during the two nights we just spent birding at Hope Cove in Devon. Both these seaside places were deeply quiet at night, their skies profoundly dark, and the heavens truly were a rich, deep wonderland of gem brilliance, flung with an extravagant hand...

‘Faces’:  There was an article in the latest Bristol Naturalists’ Society magazine on how genetic study of British tits shows their bills are getting longer as they adapt to pecking food from garden feeders. It added:  'Changes in specific gene sequences in the British birds were found to closely match human genes that determine face shape.' There’s something strangely pleasing about this relationship of a bird’s ‘face’ to our own...
Hawfinch
by Francesco Veronesi

Hawfinch banter: An article in the Bristol Naturalists’ Society magazine included a reference to
hawfinches as ‘chunky’. I indulged in some banter with the esteemed author with an email: ‘Oy, who are you calling 'chunky'? We prefer 'well built'... Yours, A Hawfinch.’
He replied: ‘Very funny! The portly Hawfinch needs all the support it can get (quite a strong twig anyway...).’ 

December
Snowy Marshfield
December 2017
Snowy Marshfield: Today it was snowing properly, so I went up to Marshfield (a great birding area on nearby Cotswold uplands) to experience the full winter wonderland. Plenty of birds near and far, but the little tits, robins and bullfinches, seen from close up, were small hearts of colour in an otherwise powerfully monochromatic world...

Shepperdine View: Snow on the Welsh side, soft pearly light, estuary as still as we’d ever seen it with floating birds leaving delicate wakes of light on dark or dark on light ripples...

Cribbs Moorhens: At Cribbs Causeway, our large nearby out-of-town retail centre, three moorhens were browsing on grassy verges in the middle of the dual carriageways and superstores . Though I frequently drive through this area I haven't seen moorhens or anything similar there before, and wondered where they could be based – they need their water and aren’t known for random searches. One colleague said there were a variety of small hidden wet areas within the Cribbs complex, and another replied, That Cribbs spot has produced some strange sightings. Osprey over Apr 2015, a mini murmuration of Starling in Oct the same year. A Merlin in Jan 14 and a Red Kite in April.’

New Passage reeds:  The stand of tall dried reeds along the tidal river shimmied stiffly in the breeze...

View from Aust Wharf
Sociology at Aust roadside:  At Aust Wharf on the Severn Estuary (site of the discontinued ferry crossing to Wales and in the shadow of the first Severn bridge), the small access road loops out to run parallel to the sea shore for about a kilometre behind the salt marsh, with magnificent views of the estuary, Wales and both Estuary bridges. A two-three mile walk down-river takes you to Pilning Wetlands, New Passage and Severn Beach; upriver is access to a rough beach and the geologically famous stripy Aust Cliffs. I come here regularly to bird watch, walk, sketch... and always there are people parked up. It’s not just camper vans, cyclists, dog walkers, older couples: by far the majority are working men in their firms’ cars and vans, here to get away, eat lunch, have a snooze, have a fag, listen to the radio... I like their good taste, that they choose to come to a place of such beauty and peacefulness. (though I imagine if they articulated this at work they might get mocked?)
Blackbird on crabtree
Dec 2017

New Passage Blackbird and Wagtail: On the little road up to New Passage is a small ornamental
crab apple right by the path, still bearing red-orange fruits now soft and ‘bletted’. The last two times I’ve walked by, a blackbird has been gorging on the crabs and taking no notice of me even when I was less than a metre away.
On the inland side of the sluice that blocks a small river from the tidal estuary, very fine algal particles were floating down and gathering in a green scum, on which a grey wagtail was happily pottering and feeding...

Like the Rings of Saturn: On the salt marshes today was a pool of water coloured clear brown from the peat, with a beige frothy scum just like the head on a pint of Guiness. Persistent winds had blown line after fine line of froth to one side where they had frozen into an area of clear ice, where the lines built up into curved striations as fine, refined and defined as the rings of Saturn, or growth lines on a bracket fungus...

Moonbow: We were sitting in my friends’ chalet high in the woods looking down across the moors to the Bristol Channel, when a rainbow appeared stretching from the bottom to the top of our view. It made my friend remember some years before when he had been sailing up the Channel at night with a full moon behind. Suddenly a moonbow appeared in front – the full height of a rainbow, but the bands picked out only in shades of silver greys... a rare phenomenon.

END


Severn Estuary