Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

WELL...I had to write it on one forum\website\tweet\via email\text, banner behind a light aircraft, so why not here?

Thanks to all those who have read my blog offering over the last 12 months.  Also a special thanks to those who have left comments; I can't tell you how much I appreciate them...well I could but I don't want you to shed a tear of pity!

Just so that there is an element of wildlife in this blog, here are a few of my favourite photos of the year:

Roll on 2012 and more wildlife adventures.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A song thrush sings

WE live on a main road, so the chances of hearing bird "song" are confined to tawny owls in the middle of the night and a passing gull.  However staying at my parents' over Christmas, I was not sorry to be woken at dawn by the flutely tones of a song thrush.  Joining it was a robin and a wood-pigeon.

The song thrush has had a hard time of late.  I have heard the theory that this may be due to the reduction of snails through the use of slug pellets in our gardens.  This seems somewhat unlikely to me, as I sometimes use pellets and our snail population is still overwhelming...maybe we have a particularity tasty garden.

The song thrushes song is half way between a blackbird (clear, tuneful, structured and strident) and a mistlethrush (melancholy, high pitched, unstructured and strident).  The song thrush repeats every phrase that it sings, and this is the big give away that helps you to identify it, even when half a sleep!

Robert Browning wrote:

That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!*

(*Copied from British Garden Birds)

The mistle thrush seems to love singing in the worst of wild and gusty weather, and hence has acquired the name "storm cock".

Anyway, hearing the song of this song thrush certainly fills me with optimism for a spring that is just round the corner, however we all know what February and March can be like and I do want that snow shovel that I bought my dad to have some use this year!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Shaking off some early Christmas excess

I have already reached a point where exercise is critical for survival now its the party season.  A short walk in the southern extremities of the Cotswolds was enjoyed by the boss and me on Sunday last.  There is little wildlife to see at this time of year, but tramping up and down hills does you the world of good and helps justify that extra mince pie.

The frost had all but gone by the time we ventured out, but this mushroom was still capped with a thin layer of melting ice:

We have taken walks through these valleys many times.  There is flower rich grasslands, a wonderful stream with crayfish, dippers and even lampreys apparently.  Many of the slopes support beech woodland - in the winter sunshine the trunks of the trees literally shone:

Its very rare nowadays that we don't see buzzards as they nest locally - this time was no exception.

There are a number of small villages which are straight out of a fairy tale - this house nestling in the valley was not too shabby either!

One new feature were on the walk was a small holding, where some saddleback pigs have made a home - they were happy pigs...

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Westonbirt late fungi & Somerset Mistletoe

THE National Arboretum at Westonbirt (Gloucestershire) was surprisingly quiet last weekend, except for people (like us) buying a Christmas tree, or partaking of the hot soup in the restaurant.

The recent mildness and wetness has meant that there was a good show of toadstools, in spite of the time of the year.  We were impressed by some super large fairy rings surrounding a number of trees.  The fungus in these cases probably has a close (ecto or endo-mychorizzal) association with the trees, where the fungus gains a free home and the tree gains nutrients obtained through the fungus's hypha.

Wood blewit


As its getting towards Christmas I thought that the mistletoe found on Saturday on the Somerset Levels would be worth sharing:

Kiss anyone?

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Exmoor, North Devon

THIS weekend we spent a couple of days staying at the Stag Hunter's Inn near Exmoor. I think that the word for the weather was "feisty".  There are some amazing deeply cut valleys, supporting beech and oak woodland, to the north of Exmoor; as both these tree species hang onto their leaves, even now, the colours were breathtaking - at least when the sun was out!

Mist hangs in the valleys as the sheep go to their breakfast
On Saturday we did a circular walk of about eight miles onto the soggy moors.  This was a real test of our boots - well done left boot - bad right boot!  The locals seemed pretty relaxed about the wetness...

This old laid hedge, long since left unmanaged ran along the edge of the open moor.

We did manage to lose our exact location at one point, but soon found our way into a beautiful valley as planned.

The air is very clean and the lichens on this hawthorn were the proof.


Towards the end of the walk we passed through this quite magical woodland, with tall oaks and moss covered boulders.


Once back to the start, the sun shone upon us...


During the day we came across the local "hunt".  Whilst I am not in favour of hunting, I enjoyed seeing the hounds and riders, especially the chaps in their bowler hats.  One or two hounds became distracted and missed the pack ride is one particular tardy...

I have have decided not to publish the images of the riders and other hounds, as I did not ask their permission to take their photos.
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + 

On Sunday the weather was much more overcast and dramatic...

Darkening skies over Exmoor
Now homeward bound via Dunster, we drove through a stunning National Nature Reserve woodland.


 Finally one last view of the moody moors...couldn't resist it:

A really fab weekend in a stunning place.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Dyrham Park, North of Bath, UK

AN afternoon out last Sunday:  although bitterly cold in the wind, the sun shone and the landscape was a picture.  The oaks and horse-chestnuts were still holding onto their leaves:

I'm not a great fan of grey squirrels particularly, but I was really pleased to actually get anything in shot as these two chased each other quite manically at my feet.  The one on the left seems to have something in its mouth...

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Catcott Lows, Somerset

The sun eventually shone on us yesterday in Somerset - although it remained cold (as you would expect in November).

The water levels at the Lows are starting to rise, and with it, the many wintering wildfowl and other birds arrive.  There were good numbers of teal, wigeon, pintail, lapwing, golden plover (200+) [these guys looked amazing in the sun and this is the best view I've ever had of this spp in the Levels], 100s of startlings, snipe, plus an egret and buzzard.  There was no appearances of any more exotic raptors however, which normally raise the birds into wielding flocks.  However they did occasionally get spooked by nothing in particular.

starlings, lapwings, golden plovers and some ducks

Mostly lapwings and golden plovers

I also managed to get a nice view of the Sabine's gull at another site up the road (Noah's hide).  This was a lifer for me - yipee!  Thank you to the generous chap who allowed me to look through his scope just before the bird flew off..

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Lower Woods, South Gloucestershire

THERE is a fabulous ancient, semi-natural woodland owned by the Gloucester Wildlife Trust called Lower Woods, which we paid a visit to last weekend.  It never ceases to amaze me how few people make use of a place like this...ho hum.

In the spring time the ground flora is breath taking, and now of course the colours take on their mellow autumn hues.  There is a healthy stream that works its way through the woodland, cutting through the often muddy clay.  Along with a few huge, open, broad rides, there are many way-marked paths to wander along, without getting lost.  Along the edges of the rides, which are managed by cutting, the devil's bit scabious flowers were still doing well.  This is butterfly heaven for the marsh fritillaries...

The bright sunshine on Saturday meant that it was perfect day for our visit.

The leaves are of course in full swing of their annual change.  The ash trees have largely lost their leaves, which is a bit of a cheek as they are also last to unfurl their leaves in spring.  However, the oak trees hang onto theirs' for much longer, turning brown and golden yellow.

Nature can also create its own art - such as in the autumn leaves making this pattern in the stream.

There were a few fungi - this was a fine example of a puffball species, possibly Lycoperdon perlatum:

Oyster mushrooms too...

Generally it was very peaceful...

The uncommon Wild Service Tree is a sign of a truly ancient woodland (or at least a woodland that has been around since the 1600s, i.e. a place that has naturally grown up as woodland rather than been planted).   I had not noticed this species here before, but the leaves on the ground helped me to spot it before I looked up to confirm its presence.

The leaves take on a range of autumn colours, and with their jagged edges look splendid in the canopy.

A highly recommended nature reserve at any time of the year.

On the edge of the site there is a glade where the blackthorn was heavy with sloes and the red rose hips were plentiful:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The start of the fungi season

Last week we paid a visit to the New Forest in Hampshire, to get away for a day or two.  During our walks around the woodland and heathlands I was particularly on the look out for fungi and deer.  Saw a fair few of the former, but very few of the later unfortunately.  However another important grazer was abundant - the new forest ponies.  They can give you quite a surprise if you are not expecting them.

A rare moment of sunshine

Honey fungus
The wood ants in the forest make some pretty impressive nests:

There's one particular group of fungi that you often smell before you see them - they attract flies to the sticky top where the spores are - this one is called Phallus impudicus...can't think where it gets its name from...?

Last years visit around the same time was a bit sunnier and I found a few more interesting characters: