Wednesday, 29 April 2020

26th April - An evening ramble to Bodham church

This is one of our favourite walks from the front door - a circular wander that takes you down country lanes through arable fields and a thin strip of woodland. We left the house as dusk was descending.
Dusk descending
Insect and bird life were largely absent, the only bird of note being the distinctive silhouette of a hovering Kestrel.
    Mammals however were emerging from their lying up places. We saw two different Red foxes: the first a large grizzled and greying old dog fox, then a much more svelte and younger vixen. Three Brown hares were next to reveal themselves, moving around having left their forms. (A form is a shallow scrape made in the ground.)
    Then we saw three species of deer in good numbers: 4x Roe, 4x Muntjac and 2x Chinese water deer. One mixed group of species was unusual 2x Roe and 1 each of Muntjac and Chinese water deer all within a few feet of each other feeding happily. This provided a great opportunity to observe the features that differentiate the species.
A poor record shot of a Roe deer
   Out of all the deer to be seen locally my personal favourite is the Chinese water deer. The male of this species sports a large pair of tusks protruding from his upper mouth (should have been called the sabre toothed deer).  These are instead of antlers and used in the same way to impress or fight with if necessary. Despite these fearsome gnashers they do look friendly with their shiny, button like black eyes and nose plus large rounded ears which cause a teddy bear like appearance.
   Chinese water deer were first introduced to the UK in 1929 after escaping from Whipsnade Zoo. Later escapes and deliberate releases saw their numbers begin to increase steadily with the greatest numbers in East Anglia due to the abundance of their favoured wet and marshy habitat. They are in sharp decline in their native China and it's now thought that the UK has over 10% of the world population.
Bodham church (taken in daytime)

24th April - A white arse at last

Every spring most birdwatchers look forward to reacquainting themselves with certain species which have been absent during the winter months.  The first Chiffchaff, the first Swallow heralds the sunnier months and longer days to come.
   For me personally my favourite herald is the Wheatear.  A fairly common passage migrant along our now out of bounds coastline, they are much harder to find in inland areas.  Walking to the castle carefully scanning the surrounding fields finally paid off with a sighting of 2 male Wheatears.  The large size, bold upright stance and richly coloured underparts all pointed to them being of the Greenland race. I spent some time drinking in the views of these lovely birds.
A Greenland Wheatear (picture from Collins Bird Guide)
     The name Wheatear has nothing to do with wheat or indeed ears. It is actually a corruption of the old English 'whit ers' or white arse which refers to the prominent colouring of the bird's rump and tail feathers.
Curled fern frond 
       Other notable sightings on the walk included: Sand martin x14, Blackcap x2, Common whitethroat x4, Mistle thrush and a Red admiral butterfly.
Red admiral

23rd April - Another Tawny encounter

A lovely sunny evening prompted a stroll around the local lanes. The golden yellow blaze of oil seed rape is dominating many fields and its distinctive aroma filled our nostrils for the majority of our walk.
Oil seed rape field 

The field edges and hedgerows were buzzing with insect life while Skylarks filled the air with their joyous songs.
Hairy shield bug

Yellow-legged nomad bee

The highlight of the walk came in the woodland strip near Tuppeney Grove. We had both stopped to observe a female Chaffinch sat calling, when completely unseen by us a Tawny owl flew from its daytime roosting spot about a metre away from the Chaffinch.  I had a rough idea where the Tawny had landed further down the lane.  It was now time to let other birds do the work of finding it for us.  Most birds have an inbuilt fear of owls and upon locating one they will scold and sometimes mob them, and so it was the case on this occasion: Great tit, Blackbird and Chaffinch all started alarm calling in the same small patch of the woods.  A careful scan (with binoculars) of the area soon had us looking at a lovely Tawny owl. The Tawny was equally interested in us staring down at us with those big black forward facing eyes.

Friday, 24 April 2020

22nd April - The first Small copper

A couple of hours spent on the allotment wasn't as productive as it should have been as I spent at least half my time looking at butterflies and birds.  Butterflies that graced the plot included Red admiral, Brimstone, Comma, Holly blue and a lovely Small copper - the first of year for me and one of my personal favourites.
Holly blue
Small copper

Overhead in a cloudless blue sky a regular stream of raptors provided extra distractions to actual work: Common buzzard, Red kites, Kestrels and a single Sparrowhawk were seen.

A large hatch of St Mark's flies has also occurred over the last few days.  They have a distinctive profile when flying with long legs dangling beneath their black bodies.  They are so called as the adults usually emerge around St Marks day 25th April.
St Mark's fly

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

20th April - A tour of the castle

A nice warm sunny day induced me to stir my stumps and have a walk to and around the castle.  On the way down there are now several territories of both Common whitethroat and Blackcaps, and for the first time this year a Lesser whitethroat was heard.  Many tadpoles were evident in the castle moat as were a colony of Green dock beetles at the edge of the mere. I counted 18 in total.
Green dock beetle

The castle beckons
   Down by the castle moat I noticed the delicate pink blooms of Lady's smock also known as cuckoo flower, as it tends to flower at about the same time as the cuckoo's arrival.  In days gone by it was thought that the picking of it would result in a thunderstorm.  It is also the main larval food plant for the Orange-tip butterfly.
Lady's smock or cuckoo flower
    Walking back from the castle a flash of red flew past me at speed and landed in the grass 5 metres ahead of me.  After a few minutes searching I finally found a lovely Ruby Tiger moth, one of the day flying moths.
Ruby-tiger moth
  Another sighting of note was 2 Red deer hinds. Out of the 4 species of deer to be seen in and around the village, they are by far the rarest and most elusive.
Water droplets on a Mute swan feather

Sunset at the castle

Saturday, 18 April 2020

18th April - Do you have superhero powers?

Who hasn't at some point wished that they had superpowers?
To run as fast as a cheetah?
To hear so well you can listen to moles thinking deep underground?
To have the eyesight of a hawk?
A few of my binoculars
Never going to happen you may be thinking, and you'd be right for most of it.  However the eyesight of a hawk is within your grasp through the use of binoculars.  Raise them to your eyes and the world becomes 8x or 10x bigger.  The distant black blob on the hedge turns into a lovely bright yellowhammer while that tiny dark speck in the sky resolves itself into the familiar shape of a kestrel.
     Many people feel self-conscious wearing binoculars.  You really shouldn't.  Personally I feel naked without them.
     So dust off those binoculars which are sitting unloved in the cupboard.  Get up in the attic and dig out grandad's old binoculars or get online and order a new pair.
     You will be amazed at the difference they can make and the enjoyment you can get from your daily walk when you have the eyes of a hawk.
Swift Areolite (my first pair - I've had these since I was 5 years old)
Ross Steptron (these are 60 years old but still provide a clear sharp view)
My Swarovski

Friday, 17 April 2020

17th April - A ramble to Barningham Winter

Today we left the front door and headed towards Barningham Winter.  It was decidedly chilly and overcast for most of the walk so insect life was thin on the ground.  Luckily there were lots of flowers and birds to look at.
A carpet of Bluebells
White Bluebell

Birds of note:
Red kite x3
Common buzzard x6
Treecreeper x4
Nuthatch x2 (heard only)
Great-spotted woodpecker
Swallow x3
Barningham Winter church 

As we neared Barningham Winter church a sad and worrying sight greeted us - a very poorly blue tit on a bird table.  Only yesterday I'd read an article about a mystery illness hitting blue tits in Germany.  The bird I saw today was displaying all the symptoms: eyes closed, beak open,  disorientated and showing no fear of man. I alerted the house owner to the situation and advised them to stop feeding the birds for a week and to clean all their feeders and tables etc, which is the current advice.
Poorly blue tit

Wednesday, 15 April 2020

14th April - Dawn chorus walk

A dull and cold start to the day turning warm and sunny in the afternoon.

A bout of insomnia meant I was out and about walking down to the castle at 5am. The songs of Blackbird, Song thrush, Wren, Robin, Chiffchaff and Blackcap accompanied me on my way.
A pleasant but cold walk produced some good birds and a nice selection of mammals.

Tawny owl x1
Barn owl x1
Common buzzard x7
Kestrel x1
Green woodpecker x1
Great-spotted woodpecker x2
Bullfinch x3
Common whitethroat x2 (1st of year)
Blackcap x7
Willow warbler x1 (1st of year)
Chiffchaff x9+
Fieldfare x1

Primrose (garden variant)

   Although Tawny owls are the most common of our 6 resident species of owl they are also the most nocturnal and thus difficult to see.  It was great therefore to see one well in daylight.
  Also nice to hear and see were 2 returning Warbler species (Common whitethroat and Willow warbler).
   One of the 3 Bullfinches seen was a lovely male who looked all the more gaudy as his backdrop was the pure white blossom of a Blackthorn tree.
Lesser celandine

Red fox x1
Brown hare x1
Roe deer x1
Muntjac deer x2
Chinese water deer x1

Later in the day I was told of a stunning looking male Black redstart in a neighbour's garden.  This was only my 3rd in the village, the 2nd being a female I found in the allotments on 1st April this year.

12th April - A newt in my kitchen

You don't have to go outside to find interesting nature - quite often it will come into our homes to find us.   On the night in question I discovered a Palmate newt on our kitchen floor.  This is the 3rd year on the trot they have come into the house at this time of year.
Palmate newt

Looking around the house I soon discovered a couple more intriguing beasties.  First up is this Ichneumon wasp species, harmless to you and I but bad news for caterpillars as female Ichneumons will hunt down then paralyze them before injecting their eggs into the still living caterpillar.  The caterpillar is then buried in a pre-prepared underground chamber until the newly emerging wasp grubs begin to devour the caterpillar from the inside out.

Ichneumon wasp

Next up was a Green lacewing which will often overwinter in people's homes and outbuildings.  A true friend to the gardener they are voracious predators of Greenfly and other aphids.  Some species of lacewing having sucked an aphid dry will then stick the carcass to their bodies in an attempt to smell (and look?) more like their prey, thereby enabling closer approach.
Green lacewing

11th April - Night-time flight

The daylight hours produced a few avian highlights.  However the real action kicked off under the cover of darkness.

Birds seen:
Red kite x2
Common buzzard x7
Sparrowhawk x1
Kestrel x2
Grey heron x1
Redwing x6
Swallow x3
House Martin x1

Nice to have a crossover of wintering birds (Redwing) with incoming Summer migrants (House Martin & Swallows).

As dusk descended I decided it was time to dust off the moth-trap and give it a go for the first time this year.  Results were surprisingly good as overnight conditions were far from ideal.

Moths caught:
Nut tree tussock x1
Water carpet x3
Hebrew character x2
Streamer x2
Clouded drab x3
Brindled beauty x1
Small quaker x1
Waved umber x1
March moth X1
Early grey x1
Frosted green x1
Water carpet

Waved umber

(When freshly emerged they have a lovely purple sheen)

Early grey

Frosted green
March moth

Surprise of the night for me happened at 11.10pm when a large flock of Common scoter were heard calling right over the back garden.  They will be on their way back to Northern Europe to breed.
    There are only 50 pairs of these all-black sea ducks breeding in the UK but they are a common enough sight off our shores in Winter with around 100,000 birds spending it here.

10th April - A hummingbird in Baconsthorpe

A lovely hot and sunny day which encouraged many butterflies to take flight.   Those seen were:
Speckled wood x2 ( 1st of year )
Holly blue x6
Peacock x4
Small tortoiseshell x3
Comma x2
Large white x1 (1st of year )

Sighting of the day for me however was a very brief encounter with a Hummingbird hawkmoth opposite the old post office.  Usually their flight season is May - September so it was great to see one early.
Dandelion gone to seed
Close up

Birdwatching today produced the following:
Little egret x1
Tufted duck x2
Red kite x1
Common buzzard x9
Blackcap x3
Chiffchaff x7
Green woodpecker x1
Yellowhammer x2

Also today finally got round to getting a Swift box installed underneath our eaves.  Swift populations in the UK have declined dramatically in the last 25 years with breeding pairs estimated to be 60% down.  Some of this decrease is down to the loss of suitable nest sites.  So hopefully when Swifts return to our village in the next few weeks they will make use of this new des-res.

Swift box
Lambs enjoying the  sunshine

9th April- The first Swallow

Hello and welcome to Baconsthorpe nature diaries.  The aim of this blog is to inform and hopefully inspire you to observe and listen to the nature living on your doorstep.
     I aim to update the blog every few days, giving you an idea as to what flora and fauna can be seen based on our daily rambles.
     All photos are taken using the camera on my phone, so my subjects will be mainly close targets and landscapes.

Birds of note seen today                 
Swallow (1st of the year)
Sand martin x3
Redwing x6
Buzzard x8
Remains of a Song thrush's lunch

Jay feathers: the remains of a Sparrowhawk kill 

Butterflies seen
Green-veined white (1st of the year)
Holly blue x2

Also of note were 3 Roe deer and a Common shrew.

Red deadnettle