Friday, 30 April 2010

North Devon

A couple of days away allowed us to take in a number of wonderful landscapes: mega sand-dunes, huge beaches, bird breeding cliffs and island life (i.e. Lundy), plus woodland and moorland - what a county!

A north Devon beach

The beach always brings back childhood memories, but also opens up the opportunity to see some cracking wildlife.  The sand dunes at Braunton Burrows, for instance, are part of a UNESCO biosphere reserve and display the dynamic nature of this habitat in a stunning way...and some of the dunes are HUGE!  Somehow its always burning hot when we visit, so the place takes on a slightly arabian desert adventure feel.

Not much is flowering at the moment but the field pansies are a treat...

 Field pansy (taken 2009)

I also spotted the rather curious (and edible when cooked) morrel fungus, which is one of the more noticable spring "toadstools", although this ascomycete is very different from the traditional image of a fungus:

Morrel fungus

On our perambulations along the cliff tops around Baggy Point, the bramble, gorse and bracken form corridors in places either side of the path - these seem to be attractive to  the small copper.  This rather beautiful butterfly is one of the species who's adults emerge now from a pupa, rather than over wintering as an adult, hence their colours are quite brilliant.  Here's a rather blurred picture of one:

small copper

The cliffs also support blotches of pink thrift and white sea campion - only just now coming into flower.

Thrift and sea campion

The vast sandy, beaches are very popular thorugh out the summer months and the big rollers bring in surfers by the dozen.  However at this time of the year during the week, not so many visitors are around, and hence it is possible to see some wildlife such as waders that would otherwise probably be disturbed.



The grassland fringe around the coast can be very rich in wild flowers.   This little lot below was on a carpark verge!  Primroses and violets jossle with early-purple orchids.

Wall flowers

Inland Devon takes on  a very different character, though no less special.  Soft rolling fields separated by rich hedgerows, give way to the rugged Exmoor in the north and Dartmoor in the south. This view is looking south towards Exmoor:

Looking out towards Exmoor

To be honest it rains quite a lot in Devon.  Our trip to Lundy did enable us to see razorbills, guillemots, manx shearwaters, kittwakes and other gulls, loads of wonderful wheatears, a black rabbit, my first swift of the year, a peregrin and a single dolphin.  However the island wore a thick cloud hat and therefore as we walked around, the only way that we knew that the sea was there was the noise of the crashing waves!  Oh well - can't have it all.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Bright sunshine, hard rain, repeat throughout the day...

Another visit to the wonderful Somerset Levels, but spent the day dodging the showers, some rather eccentric people and swarms of mozies

One chap sang arias as he walked around the nature reserve - now I appreciate culture, but this does not help when trying to steathiliy spot stuff.  Another group were certainly enjoying themselves - you could hear them miles away; however in the hide they whispered...where's the logic?  Ho hum.

 Rain...really hard rain

Pathway around a peat cutting lake

Whilst sheltering ina hide the main photo opportunities were birds in flight.  A pair of kingfishers proved to be too challenging, but some other species (basically the big birds) were easier and can be seen below.

Heron in flight

Greylag geese in flight



The wetlands support alder carr (wet woodland with alder as the main tree), lots of willows and areas of sedge, rushes and reeds.  The area also supports those ancient species which have not changed much single dinosaurs roamed the earth - namely ferns and horestails.

Unfurling royal ferns


Saturday, 24 April 2010

Dipped out...but not disappointed.

"Yes - she saw an otter".  "Oh yes - the bittern tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a light".  That is how the day felt - I dipped out on the stars of the show, but still it was a great day in the sunshine anyway.

Three common terns and the tor

The Somerset Levels spoil you - you expect too much sometimes.  The bitterns were booming, but I didn't see any inspite of a long vigil.  However I had a fantastic view of a marsh harrier and watched some great hobby aerial acrobatics.

The hobbies are back and that is a sure sign that summer is almost upon us.  One hobby grabbed a butterfly whilst it was busy chasing another.  It made short work of it, ripping off its wings, which fell to the ground, while the bird feasted mid-flight.

A cuckoo was heard for the first time this year also, and could be seen perching a long way off in a willow tree.

Some parents already had young such as the great-crested grebe and the graylag geese.

Proud and protective parents

Another sign of the new season was the warblers: chiff-chaff, willow, reed and Cetti's warblers and whitethroats singing their various songs all day long.

  White-throat showing where its name comes from...

Who's shell is this...?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Fantastic spring

Gotta love it.  Although it was a cool evening I was not disappointed with my wanderings after work this week.  Its been lovely and sunny (to coin a phrase) and hence everything has been brought on suddenly.

The trees are really greening up and the hedgerows are blotched with the white of the blackthorn.


In the woodlands the primroses, wood anemone and lesser celandines have been joined by the star attraction - the bluebells - everyone's favourite and rightly so.  We are very lucky to have such a spectacle of amazing blue in our ancient woodlands.

Bluebells and the yellow of lesser celandine in evening light

Wood anemone

The old grasslands, where the plough or the fertiliser has not reeked its havoc, host a myriad of special plants.  On the limestone, where I was visiting, the violets provide the first purple of the year, with the proud cowslips dotted across sward in clumps or singly.



Where the woodland edge meets the unimproved grassland, and the  capricious primrose can mix with the cowslip, the false-oxslip can sometimes be found.  This is different to the true ox-slip which is a species in itself.

False oxslip

Of course the grassland owes its existance to the hungry sheep which keep it short and this grazing in turn encourages the fabulous diversity of flowers.

I'll leave the last words to the singing robin...

Monday, 19 April 2010

Thames treats: Red kites and fritillaries

We visited some friends this weekend in Marlow.  This lovely town sits on the famous Thames and, although near to London, retains a real village-like feel.  As the sun shone, it was a day for a river-side walk and an ice-cream.  We were not alone as the river was busy with sailing boats.

Thames sailing

A number of years ago the red kite was reintroduced near there by English Nature and is now doing really well.  I counted around two dozen circling above a housing estate riding the thermals and occasionally clashing in mid air.  Apparently they are fed by some people.  Kites eat a wide variety of food including rabbits, voles, rats, mice, birds and earthworms, but many of these are taken as carrion following road collisions or pest control.

Red kites

Further up the Thames lies a precious gem - North Meadow., Cricklade  As we returned home (hot and tired) we could not resist making a quick visit.  This is a National Nature Reserve and home to the majority of England's remaining snake's-head fritillary flowers.  This is a delicate inverted tulip-like flower, which appears each spring before the more agressive grasses and other meadow flowers crowd it out.  It is a stunner...

Snake's-head fritillary flowers

The flowers have a pretty chequered pattern and occur in a purple form and a less common white form.  For more information go to the following web site from Natural England:

If you get a chance to go don't miss it.  In summer this meadow is also spectacular for its other plants and insects...but get there before it's cut for hay!

Saturday, 10 April 2010

A wonderful spring day

Even though the biggest horse race of the year was run today, that was not enough to stop every dog owner in the area going out - I suppose its selfish to think that we should have this glorious countryside to ourselves.

It has been the warmest day in 2010 so far, and we chose a walk in the Cotswolds near Uley.  Here the majestic beech woodlands tower over deep, lush limestone valleys.  The countryside was a picture with limestone villages bursting with blossom and daffodils.
Primroses and lesser celandine


The sun also bought out the woodland flowers (wood anemone, wood sorrel, violets, primroses and lesser celandine) and the butterflies (such as commas, peacocks and brimstones), as well as some birds, such as chiff-chaffs singing heartily.

The primroses love the woodland edge and creep out into the fields.  They shine out like blobs of yellow-gold against the starkness of the bare trees, and can be seen from a considerable distance in their spreading clumps.

We also came across a couple of roe deer (with a buzzard gliding low over their heads for scenic effect) which regarded us suspiciously through the trees, but were reassured as we walked on without disturbing them.


Peacocks getting jiggy (These are tatty individuals that have overwintered as adults)

 Woodland floor carpetted in ramsons - aka wild garlic

Last year at this time I the woodland floor was a mass of bluebells - no sign of them yet apart from a few buds here and there.  Apparently we have to wait till mid-May this year for the peak - I can wait.

Not wildlife - just a typical village scene...

A good day to be in England - and we haven't even won the 2010 world cup yet!