Saturday, 29 June 2013

Cumbrian rarity

I thought last Sunday at Branton went OK.  The weather was kind to us and I hope that some of those present felt they had learnt a little bit about botanical identification - and there were some interesting plants.

This Wednesday I went to a site called Hobcarton Crags, about 5 miles west of Keswick.  The plant called Alpine Catchfly (Silene suecica) [which until recently was called Lychnis alpina for anyone who tries to look it up] has only one know site in Scotland, in Perthshire, and one site in England at Hobcarton above the Winlatter Pass in Cumbria.  It's quite closely related to our common Red Campion, but is smaller.

You know how birders feel when they see a very rare migrant - well the feeling is much the same in the botanical world when you see, for the first time, something as rare as this.  At Hobcarton the plants grow in a  narrow rock crack in the sides of a steep gully in the crags.  They are there for three reasons:  they need the wet and harsh Lakeland climate; they need a heavy metal substrate which happens to be present in this very small part of these crags; they need to grow where the sheep can't get at them.

We counted 59 plants in the patch we found and there are some more, but not many, in close-by parts of the crags.  Sorry about the quality of the photo, but you couldn't get at all close and my camera doesn't cope too well with heavy zoom shots.  The flowers are quite a bit pinker than they appear.

The other two plants are not so rare, but you need to be fairly high up in the hills to find them, in places like the Hen Hole on Cheviot (or at Hobcarton Crags!)  One is Parsley Fern (Cryptogramma crispa) and the other is the rather lovely Starry Saxifrage (Saxifraga stellaris).  I've shown a close-up of a flower to show the diagnostic yellow spots at the base of the petals.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Dodging the showers

Today was the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBs) throughout the UK.  This takes place every month on stretches of the coast, estuaries lakes and ponds.  My stretch is on Lindisfarne between Teal Hole (south of Fenham le Moor) and the Cages (north of Fenham Mill).  June is normally a quiet month for ducks, geese and waders.  Below are the highlights of this month; 1 light bellied brent goose, 45 shelduck, 8 mallard, 2 cormorant, 1 grey heron, 48 oystercatchers, 14 grey plover, 28 knot, 243 curlew, 4 redshank and 155 moulting eiders as well as 31 duckling - this was a good count.

Other species include singing sedge warblers, tree sparrows, linnets, arctic and sandwich terns as well as a sand martin (unusual).  Glasswort had started to emerge and thrift was in flower.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Plants at Branton

Wednesday afternoon was spent around Branton Ponds looking mainly at plants rather than birds.  A wide variety of wildflower seed was spread, as well as some specimen plantings, when this reserve was created.  But this was several years ago and those species that have survived 'in the wild' can by now be considered to have become naturalised.

Perhaps most spectacular is the small patch of Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) at the eastern end by the water.  It's not just that it has survived, but that it has flowered reliably every year.  The photo is not taken at Branton, but is very similar to that location.

In the grassy margins of the path on the north side of the east lake was another alien, a native of South East England.  It's well worth looking out for if you are going round the ponds because you are unlikely to find it anywhere else in North Northumberland.  The plant is Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia).  You can see from the leaf shape why it gets its common name.

Who is wagging the tail?

Yesterday morning was spent in a small field in Netherwitton trying to find bugs and beasties for year 1 & 2 children.  The morning was a great success and the highlight was a resplendent cockchafer (May bug) - the first I have seen in Northumberland. 

During the morning there was a small selction of birds.  These include a grey heron, great spotted woodpecker, blackcap and good numbers of tree sparrow.  A number of pied wagtails graced the roof of the neighbouring buildings and a grey wagtail flew up the Ewesley Burn.  A further highlight was at least 2 yellow wagtails - this is in an area where they are not supposed to occur.  It is amazing what you can find in a confined space!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Newton Point 17th june

A quick visit to Newton Point after work to do a spot of sea watching was well worth it . Hundreds of auks flew past, mainly Common Guillemot but also a few Razorbills and Puffins, the real stars were the Manx Shearwaters which were gliding past at quite close range,in total we counted 27 flying north. The other spectacle was the masses of flowers in the hay meadow, including Red Clover, Buttercups, Birds foot Trefoil, Thrift and Pignut, the air was filled with an intense spice like aroma.

All quiet on the Kimmer front

This was a rare treat a trip to Kimmer Lough as part of the moorland survey work for AWG.  The combination of woodland, scrub, open water, moorland and bog provided an enticing backdrop.  There were good numbers of willow warblers, reed buntings, meadow pipits and skylarks.  4 grey herons put in a brief appearance as well as the small numbers of both lesser black-backed and herring gulls.  Other birds of interest included two displaying male snipe, a male curlew, a male cuckoo (being presued by meadow pipits) and a single sedge warbler.

Other things of interest included a common lizard, flowering chickweed wintergreen and at least two lattice heath moths.  You could not stand around too long as midges were everywhere!

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Holy Island 16th june 2013

The day dawned warm and sunny, so inspired by our botanical outing with Richard on Saturday we decided to see what we could find on Holy Island. The most obvious thing was the whole Island was covered with Northern Marsh Orchids.
                                                    Northern Marsh Orchid
There was also quite extensive patches of Common Cotton Grass, in the dunes themselves yet more Nortthern Marsh Orchids along with Common Spotted Orchid and Scarlet Pimpernel.
The next area to check was around the old quarry at Snipe Point, here we found more Orchids along with Birds Foot Trefoil and Purple Milk Vetch.

                                           Purple Milk Vetch
Birds and Insects were in short supply but we did find a small group of 7 breeding plumaged Sanderling in Sandon Bay and  couple of Wall Brown Butterflies plus a number of Cinnabar Moths

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Last Sunday (9th) I went botanising with Chris & Hazel Metherell and Ian Filtness from AWG in the dunes at Bamburgh.  My Plant Corner article in the June newsletter shows some of the unusual naturalised garden escapes that we found, but better were the two truly wild species.

Scots Lovage (Ligusticum scoticum) is not dissimilar to Ground Elder in its leaves and flowers, but the only two places it is found in Northumberland are at Cocklawburn south of Spittal and here at Banburgh.  There's been some suggestion that it had disappeared from Bamburgh, but Chris found a single plant among the Marram Grass in the dunes.  The one in the photo is not the specimen we found, but it is at a similar stage before flowering.

Then I found myself standing right by a decent sized patch of Purple Milk Vetch (Astragalus danicus).  This is a well-botanised area and Purple Milk Vetch is uncommon but not rare in Northumbrian dunes, yet the last record for it in this tetrad was in - wait for it -1805!  So I was very pleased to have spotted it.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Birds and Bees

Perhaps following a timeline bees and birds might be more appropriate. It started with an early dog walk around Branton Ponds, as we strode around the east pond we noticed what at first looked like a mouse nest on the path, but it's contents were more interesting, not a family of baby mice but a nest of bumble bees complete with a few grub and a couple of dead adults. The next clue was a site of intense digging a few yards along the path, obviously the original resting place of the nest, a sure sign of foraging badgers which had dug the bees out and feasted.
At the other end of the day yet another dog walk, this time we were at the west end of the west pond when a small group of Redshank flew in, it was obvious straight away that one of them was very dark and on zooming in on the bird with our bins we found we were looking at a lovely breeding plumaged Spotted Redshank, taller than the Common Redshanks, longer legged with from a distance what looked like a pure black plumage but was subtle shades of black and brown, it also had a much longer, thinner bill and when chased off by a Moorhen the white rump really contrasted with the dark plumage. The question is was it a failed breeder heading back or is it on it's way further north to find a mate?.    

Monday, 10 June 2013

A walk along the River Aln

An afternoon stroll along the River Aln, from Lesbury towards Alnwick, threw up  a couple of pleasant  surprises.

I had assumed, having not seen any for a couple of weeks, that the Sawbills had all decamped further north to breed.

 But to my surprise, I  soon found myself in the company of a female Goosander shepherding 3 young  up river.

A little further on, 2 Common Sandpipers, each one
on its own stone, seemed to be in a fairly serious vocal relationship with  each other.

 I look forward to monitoring any further progress in that direction!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

A mothing jolly.....

College Valley at sunrise.
Last night myself, George Dodds, Ian and Keith Davison ventured to the remotest corner of North Northumberland to check out the moth action.

The College Valley is a protected area, but George 'knows people' so we had the privilege of being allowed to drive in. We soon found a tricky place to get the car up, but we set up camp and plonked out 3 traps over a 100 mtr stretch. As this area hasn't got a street light for miles, our three lights were a beacon to every insect in the vicinity, including some undesirable biting midges.

By midnight moths came in thick and fast and we had our work cut out to keep up, then in the first light of dawn emptying and logging the catch took a while too...

To sum up, we caught 251 moths of 42 species including - the ones in bold are noteworthy.

0228  Monopis weaverella  1
1301  Crambus lathoniellus  1
1722  Flame Carpet (Xanthorhoe designata)  7
1753  Striped Twin-spot Carpet (Nebula salicata)  6
Striped Twin spot Carpet
1759  Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)  11
1760  Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)  1
1761  Autumn Green Carpet (Chloroclysta miata)  1
Autumn Green Carpet

1773  Broken-barred Carpet (Electrophaes corylata)  3

Broken barred Carpet
1778  May Highflyer (Hydriomena impluviata)  55
1817  Foxglove Pug (Eupithecia pulchellata)  1
1834  Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata)  6
1846  Narrow-winged Pug (Eupithecia nanata)  2
1851  Golden-rod Pug (Eupithecia virgaureata)  1
1857  Dwarf Pug (Eupithecia tantillaria)  2
1887  Clouded Border (Lomaspilis marginata)  2
1902  Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata)  39
1903  Barred Umber (Plagodis pulveraria)  8 (only 5 previous county records, last recorded 1971)

Barred Umber
1906  Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata)  9
1917  Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria)  7
1918  Lunar Thorn (Selenia lunularia)  6
1920  Scalloped Hazel (Odontopera bidentata)  6
1931  Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)  2
1951  Grey Birch (Aethalura punctulata)  1

Grey Birch
1955  Common White Wave (Cabera pusaria)  2
1981  Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi)  4
2000  Iron Prominent (Notodonta dromedarius)  1
2003  Pebble Prominent (Notodonta ziczac)  1
2006  Lesser Swallow Prominent (Pheosia gnoma)  2
2008  Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)  3
2011  Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)  4
2060  White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda)  10
2102  Flame Shoulder (Ochropleura plecta)  7
2158  Pale-shouldered Brocade (Lacanobia thalassina)  3
2162  Glaucous Shears (Papestra biren)  6

Glaucous Shears
2250  Dark Brocade (Blepharita adusta)  2
2289  Knot Grass (Acronicta rumicis)  4
2302  Brown Rustic (Rusina ferruginea)  1
2305  Small Angle Shades (Euplexia lucipara)  11
2326  Clouded-bordered Brindle (Apamea crenata)  4
2425  Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli)  4
2434  Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis)  1
2450  Spectacle (Abrostola tripartita)  3

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Crepuscular Birding

After an unsuccessful late night expedition to Thrunton Woods on Monday looking for Nightjars, we decided to go back to more familiar ground where we had seen them in the past. It was with this in mind on Tuesday evening we headed for Holburn Moss, unusually the midges were almost non existent,was this a bad omen?. As we stood next to the moss Tawny Owls could be heard along with a very noisy Cuckoo , then suddenly, very distantly at first we could hear the churring call of a Nightjar, after some careful scanning we could make out his distinctive silhouette on a dead piece of conifer, it got better when at that moment another bird glided right past us and banked to reveal it's long pointed wings with white flashes on them, what a fantastic bird at a site which yet again came up trumps.


Hi all, I have removed the spring daffs and chiffchaff background from the blog as I felt that despite the cool wind it must be summer now! The header image is a Common Blue butterfly and the back ground ( for those with wide screen monitors) is Howick pond field wild flower meadow in all its glory. If you wait a couple of weeks it should be just like this, as it is a bit behind....

Gary Woodburn sent me a better pic of the Golden Oriole John and I found t'other day at Low Newton, and what better bird to bring in the summer...please click on it for a better size...

Regards Stewart
Round the farm today and we came across this specimen of the large bracket fungus, Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus).  Not rare, but this one was in excellent condition and about 40cm across.

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Golden Oriole.

Happened upon one of these today! It flew over Newton Pool early morning and showed for half an hour before flying off high to the west never to be seen again...poor photo, superb bird!

Golden Oriole

Out of area 2nd June

The last day of my holidays so we decided to have an early start and visit Allenbanks near Bardon Mill. The early start was justified as we were the only car in the carpark, as we wandered along the riverbank we soon picked out the lovely tones of a Pied Flycatcher,another one was added later. The only problem with Allenbanks is the volume of the noise coming from the river,even this could not stop us from locating the instantly recognisable call of a Wood Warbler and soon the little songster was located,we came across two more further on along with a very shy Redstart.
As the day was still young for our final visit we called in at the Derwent Valley and even though it was extremely busy with what seemed like all of Gateshead, we were soon enjoying  views of four Red Kites as they moved effortlessly across the clear blue sky,it just goes to show the huge variety of both wildlife and sites we have in our area.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Branton Ponds 1st June

Amazing, a second sunny day,and a walk around Branton Ponds showed that the breeding season is in full swing,both Greylags and Canada Geese with their goslings and a gaggle of 20 little "mint humbugs"otherwise known as Shelducks with their parents. The air is still full of the calls of Blackcaps, Willow Warblers, Garden Warblers and Sedge Warblers, long may this weather last.