Wednesday, 27 May 2020

21st May - Banjo bill pays a visit

It was 8.30pm on Thursday and I'd forgotten about the clap for NHS. Opening the front door I heard "Is this the way to Amarillo?" coming from Mr Cooper's music system. Looking up I was amazed to see two Spoonbills flying low over the cottage, a first in the village for me. Their distinctive spatulate shaped black and yellow tipped bills were clearly visible along with the rich ochre blaze across their chests indicating breeding adults.
Spoonbills at nest 
 Spoonbills were lost as a breeding bird in the UK in the 1660s due to habitat loss and due to the youngsters (known as branches) being eaten. In 1521 on a visit to King's Lynn Thomas Wolsey dined on a feast containing several Spoonbills along with three Bitterns, ten cygnets, twelve Capons, thirteen Plovers, eight Pike and three Tench. All that before the invention of Gaviscon.
  Breeding was confirmed at a secret location in East Anglia in 1998 ending a 330 year absence. Today there is a healthy breeding population at Holkham.
Painting by John Gould


Monday, 18 May 2020

14th-17th May - Stuff with wings and crawly things

Recent walks around local lanes have provided me with sightings of some day flying moths and butterflies galore. Also encountered were the caterpillars of two moth species.
Life cycle of a moth (from Lewington's Butterfly guide)

First up is a Drinker moth caterpillar.  The adult moth is a rather drab looking brown affair, while the large caterpillar is a stunning beastie. Drinker moths are so named because of the caterpillar's habit of drinking dew drops.
Drinker moth caterpillar
Close up

Lesser yellow underwing Caterpillar

Cinnabar moths are very distinctive with the gaudy red and black colouring providing a warning to potential predators that they are poisonous.
Cinnarbar moth

The first Wall brown butterfly of the year for me was a welcome sight. A common butterfly in my youth, sadly rare these days.
Wall brown

In recent days I've been delighting in several large gatherings of the green longhorn moth. Watching them dancing in the sunlight has been a real pleasure, the metallic greens and burnished bronzes only visible close up. The females have extremely long antennae (often as long as the rest of the body).
Green longhorn moth

Look at those antennae

13th-May - A tail of two Blackbirds

Many of you have no doubt been witnessing the industrious efforts of your resident Blackbirds trying to cram as much food as possible into the ever expectant beaks of their young.
     I've been enjoying watching the pair that use our garden. The male of this pair is most distinctive having lost his tail, probably as a result of of a close encounter with felis catus (the domestic moggy). Despite lacking this most useful of appendages he is still able to feed his hungry brood.
The tailless male

The Female of this pair is lacking none of her appendages, but possibly lacking in common sense. I watched her looking into our open back door the other day and was surprised to see her boldly hop into the kitchen. I entered slowly scanning the room. No sign, then I heard a commotion in the front room and there she was flying around and landing all over the place. A few ornaments were knocked to the ground. I managed to get her back in the kitchen and grab her as she tried to bash herself senseless against the window. As I held her I could feel her heart beating strongly obviously scared. It was great to release her back into the garden unharmed.
    All that was left for me to do was to clean up the several small presents she'd left around the house.
Sat on the chair

Flying around

Enjoying the view

Inspecting the (burnt) oven gloves

Monday, 11 May 2020

8th-9th May - A compendium of curiosities

Lichens, mosses and most fungi have always been an enigma to me. I have never felt the need to learn their names or how to identify them, however I always like to look at and am fascinated by them.
Lichen covered stone head carving, Baconsthorpe Church

I stumbled upon this strange maple leaf. It was the only one affected among hundreds. I am unable to decide if it's a rust fungus or the eggs of a mite, both of which will parasitise the maple (Acer) family.
Rust or mite eggs on a maple leaf

Close up

I'm fairly certain that this pretty little fungus is known as Turkeytail.
Turkeytail fungus

The greatest of curiosities is the moon. A full moon has been brightening up our skies for the last few nights. Controller of the tides and possibly also ourselves (our bodies are made up of 60% water), the moon may influence us in more ways than we know. Police forces around the world can provide figures that show murder rates go up during a full moon. The ancients were also well aware of the moon's effect, giving rise to the terms lunatic and lunacy among others.
The full moon

5th-7th May - Wild flower medley

The hedgerows in May improve by the day. Here are a few of my favourites seen on recent rambles.
Wood avens
Wood avens is known by many names. Others include: Colewort, Herb Bennet & St Benedict's herb. The latter two names probably arose from the medieval Latin name Herba Benedicta meaning the blessed herb. It was widely used in herbal medicine at this time. Today it is still used by herbalists to treat a wide range of conditions including gout, diarrhoea, heart disease & ulcers.

Herb robert
Herb robert is a delicate pink wild geranium is thought to be named after the 11th century French saint Abbot Robert of Molesme. In days gone by its leaves were used to make a tea that boosted the immune system or were rubbed on the skin as an insect repellent.

Red campion
Red campion is also known as Adder's flower. Herbalists of yore would use its seeds to treat snakebites.

A carpet of Red campion

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

3rd-4th May - The merits of patch watching

The start of May is a peak time for the migration of birds, and in normal times I would be on the coast in search of them. The lockdown has put a stop to this, but it means my patch (the village) is getting a lot more attention. Easy to see species at the coast are elevated to heart thumping levels here in the village.
   On the 3rd of May having finished on the allotment and about to stroll to the castle I looked up and was amazed to see a Short-eared owl flying low south then gaining height and heading west as a Crow started to mob it.
   Arriving at the Castle amid swarms of St Mark's flies I observed one different looking fly. Closer inspection revealed an Alder fly, its delicate lace like wings stunning when viewed close up. Alder flies are typically found near to water.  This is no surprise as they spend two years of their lives as nymphs underwater, emerging as adults at this time of year to mate and lay eggs on aquatic vegetation. The adult flies only live for a few days.
Alder fly
   Also down by the Castle I discovered a new flower for me. Nestled in the cracks and crevices of the walls the Rue-leaved saxifrage had made its home.
Rue-leaved saxifrage
   The 4th of May started and ended well. On awaking at 6am the first birds I saw as I opened the front door were two Arctic terns flying south over the cottage.  Three Common swifts lingering over the street and two Grey herons heading west were the other avian highlights of the day.
   The good ending came at 9.30pm with the sights and sounds of three Tawny owls perched on telegraph poles opposite the cottage.
Sun burst through the clouds

27th April-2nd May - Tri-milchi

May has arrived. The Anglo-Saxons called this month Tri-milchi, the month when better weather and an extra flush of grass enabled cows to be milked three times a day.
   Let's take a step back to the end of April. On the 27th a shouty 'PSIT' call alerted my attention to a Yellow wagtail flying over Castle Road. On the 28th I observed my first Swift of the year, very high going west over the village - surely a harbinger of their mass arrival and the air around our village streets vibrating with the Swift's loud screeches.
   A moth trap ran on the 2nd May proved to be rather fruitless. The night was warm and cloudy (ideal conditions) when I set it up, however by 10pm the clouds had cleared and it felt distinctly chilly. The results were only 6 moths of 4 species: Hebrew character x3, Muslin moth x1, Pebble prominent x1 and Poplar hawkmoth x1.
Poplar hawk-moth
Close up of Poplar hawk-moth wing
Pebble prominent
Muslin moth