Thursday, 21 May 2015

Adder in the woods

I opened my eyes.

A morning sleep after a full breakfast and the previous night's adventures at Bempton had been just the ticket, the quiet wood I had found seemingly the perfect spot.
I sat up, climbed out of the bedroll and looked around, reaching out to retrieve first one, then the other of my shoes. Heaving myself up, each middle aged movement accompanied by it's own growning sound effect, I took a step, and as my foot touched the ground ......


Primeval muscle memory pulled me away and I jumped back, eyes frantically searching the ground for the source of the noise. Rationality fought to regain control after this rude awakening.
Perpetrator spotted I grabbed up my phone and stepped away as the stunning grey and black adder uncurled from a striking position and slid quickly through rusty brown bracken stalks.


I struggle to recall the last time I had a view this good of an adder in the wild. 20 years ago maybe on Dartmoor, or perhaps in captivity at the Reptile Centre in the New Forest. However long it had been it was too long. This encounter had been a fantastic thrill and I'm chuffed to bits I caught it on video for posterity. As I gingerly carried bedding back to the car I noticed a number of large mats positioned in a clearing close to the wood entrance, indicating that perhaps I shouldn't have been quite so surprised to wake in the company of a snake!

Monday, 18 May 2015

Clifftop dawn

I pulled open the bivy bag cover
and light flooded my consciousness.

Sunlight, sound and birds battered the senses.
No more the gentle calls of midnight,
that crept through the dark to whisper in straining ears.
This was full on, in your face, high volume cacophony.
Gulls, gannets, puffins, and guillemots filled the sky,
swirling out from the ledges and down to the sea below,
calling out into the spring morning that they were alive
and ready for the new day.

Lost to the horizon I was brought back to reality by the foghorn at Bridlington Lighthouse which heralded the arrival of a bank of sea fog. It drifted in from the south, turning the cliffs to steaming waterfalls before finally enveloping the view in a clammy white blanket, bringing an end to the recording of nesting site productivity being carried out by a couple of ornithological researchers who had joined me on the cliffs.
Packing up my kit I wandered back to the still deserted car park.
Breakfast was calling, as was the urge to go north - College Valley and The Cheviots awaited.
First though food and a sleep - thoughts turned to find a spot to doze the morning away.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A night on the cliffs at Bempton

Equipment set and bedded down in my bivy by midnight, I hit the record button and settled in. Cocooned in my sleeping bag, I clamped headphones tight to my ears and slipped away into the sounds of the night.
I had travelled up from Hertfordshire during the afternoon, arriving in the low warm sunshine of an early May evening. My final destination was to be College Valley, near Wooler in Northumberland for a weekend of sound recording, so I had taken the chance to the break the journey at Bempton Cliffs near Bridlington to record the sounds of a seabird colony overnight.
The moon was still to rise and my eyes taking time to fully adjust to the darkness as I waited for a late visiting couple to return to their car and slip away before walking down to the cliffs, carefully following the paths to find my way.
I had decided that one of the viewing decks built as part of major new investment in facilities at Bempton by the RSPB would be my destination for the night. Once arrived I set down my rucsac and began to set up my microphones and bed roll, eyes now picking out the ribbons of stars above me. Cables laid and photographs taken, I unzipped my bed and slipped in, pulling the outer cover over my head to close out the elements.

The wind and the gentle call of kittiwake filled my head, senses reduced and expanded, ears leading me on a journey. I disappeared into the night, born on the winds swirling across the cliffs below, the viewing deck slipping anchor and sliding out into the North Sea on waves flecked by the first light of the rising moon.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Ancient Lamprey

Lampreys are ancient.
450 million years ago ancient, fossils of them having been discovered from the late Silurian and Devonian periods. On Saturday, whilst paddling in the river with the local archaeology group I quite unexpectedly came across some in the shallows.

They belong to a small group of stone suckers called Agnatha (meaning jawless) that are the most primitive of all living vertebrates. Eel-like in appearance, the seven gill pores behind each eye are useful identifiers, along with the distinct, sucker like mouth with strong, horny, rasping teeth.

 Further information on these fascinating creatures and their life-cycle can be found in this excellent PDF from English Nature.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Les Deux Moulins

Moulin de la Galette

Moulin Rouge

Monday, 26 January 2015

BGBW 2015

Blue Tit - 15
Great Tit - 3
Wood Pigeon - 50
Robin - 2
Chaffinch - 2
Blackbird - 2
Carrion Crow - 1
Dunnock - 1
Collared Dove - 1
Magpie - 1

1453 hours, Sunday 25th January 2015

Monday, 24 November 2014

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Northern Lights

The Tyne River, Newcastle, looking north-east

Photographing the bridges of Newcastle on Saturday night provided sharp contrast to experiencing nightfall at Chris Watson and Ian Paite's sound installation, Hrafn: In Conversation with Odin in the Kielder Forest. 
A terrific whistle stop visit.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Scorpion fly

Scorpion fly panorpa germanica

Friday, 29 August 2014

Smooth Newt in the garden

A gently lifted flint boulder in the garden this evening revealed this sandy brown Smooth Newt. Mostly likely a female or immature male, she remained relatively still during exposure to our peering gaze.
Smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris; formerly Triturus vulgaris
Outside of the breeding season they are nocturnal, taking refuge under stones, in burrows or compost heaps, emerging to feed on slugs and snails. They will soon be looking for hibernation sites, before emerging again in February and March to return to ponds for breeding.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Sexing a hoverfly

As mentioned in the previous post, differentiating between sexes of insects can often be tricky but in the case of hoverflies and the Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus in particular, it is relatively straightforward, especially with two similar photographs to refer to. 
In males the area covered by their compound eyes is significantly larger, with the left and right 'eyes' meeting at the central dorsal line. The scientific term for this eye arrangement is holoptic and is typical of several male members of the diptera (true fly) family.
Females eye clusters are smaller and don't meet; instead an obvious separation is clear.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The time of the hoverflies

On the still hot days of late June and early July, the hoverflies cover the flowerbeds, hanging from invisible threads before settling on flower landing pads to feed. This seems to be their time in the garden, just as the bee fly seemed to dominate the scene back in April.
A female Episyrphus balteatus Marmalade Hoverfly

These were Marmalade Hoverflies (flower flies in the US), common across the palearctic of Europe, Asia and Northern Africa. Though it mimics solitary wasps it is harmless, one of very few species that crush flower pollen to feed.
Sexing a hover fly is straight forward. Males have 'larger' holoptic eyes, meaning that they meet along the dorsal length of their head. Females don't, as can be seen clearly in the top photo.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Setting up an outdoor aquarium

This spring an outdoor aquarium has provided quite literally hours of entertainment as we have been able to watch the development and metamorphosis of pond-life right in front of our noses.
The experiment began with the purchase of a tank. Almost anything will do. In the end I bought a small starter tank from a local pet shop, though now I'm on the look out for something larger and I'm sure second-hand or home-made will be fine.
Filling the tank was the next task, so armed with a lidded bucket I headed for a local pond back in March and came home with a good quantity of rather cloudy water, the pond having been disturbed by recent heavy rain.
Over the ensuing days the water gradually settled out to leave a good centimetre of sediment in the base. The water was also full of life. Tiny water fleas, fly larvae and other microscopic ameoba started to become apparent, suspended in the water or roaming the sediment at the base. We dropped in some stones, an apple tree branch and a bit of weed to provide some oxygenation and left it alone. In retrospect this was an important stage as it allowed populations of the lower life-forms to establish and provided a base for later introductions.
Stage two was the collection of specimens so we made a return to the same pond at the end of April. The pond was teeming with tiny wriggling black tadpoles and one swoop of the net brought a hundred or more into the bucket. We came home with twenty or so, as well as a caddice fly larvae, complete with its portable home - the jewel in our pond-dipping crown and a greater waterboatmen who has previously appeared on this blog.
Carefully released into the tank, the newly arrived creatures quickly appeared at home, the tadpoles feeding on the algae that was forming on the glass or the leaves of the pondweed that was now starting to sprout roots.
And so our stage was set. The tank sat on a chair on the patio, partly in shade. A stool quickly found a permanent home in front of it and after a day in the office the aquarium was the first port of call when returning home, to see what had developed during that day. The Caddice fly larvae marched regularly around the tank, initially apparently hanging on for dear life until it's floating equilibrium became reset after it's brief time in the air whilst leaving the pond. The tadpoles continued to munch on algae, sucker mouths like lampreys rasping repeatedly at the glass, the first vestiges of back legs slowly appearing across the population.

No further maintenance has been needed, bar topping up with harvested rainwater after a few warm days had reduced the water levels. A fine pond weed did require some removal in the latter stages of tadpole development, but more on that in a later post. That aside, the tank had become a fascinating, life-sustaining environment over these past few weeks and is an experiment I look forward to repeating.

Water flea

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Tawnies in the treetops

An adult Tawny Owl Strix aluco perches on a telegraph pole. 
Over the last few nights we have been visited by a family group of Tawny Owls, made up of three fledged owlets and at least one adult. They have taken to perching in our tall garden Ash tree or call in the trees that line the lane whilst the parent bird goes off to hunt in the fields around us.

Last night I recorded the sound of the owlets calling. One can only imagine that the adults travel some distance if silence is a pre-requisite for a successful hunt. 

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The breast is yet to come

This fledgling robin, like many of the young birds in the garden, is more tolerant of human curiosity than its adult counterparts. Perched less than two feet away in the apple tree it posed for some time before hopping off into the branches.