Saturday, 22 November 2008

Pearson Park and its Wildlife Garden

There is nothing remarkable about the wildlife at Pearson Park: a pond full of mallards and a couple of moorhens, a flock of pigeons that like to sunbathe on the roof of the ice-cream shop, some grey squirrels, a big grassy space that is regularly walked by a pair of crows. A little bit of extra interest in the winter, when common gulls and Canada and Greylag geese add more noise. However, tucked in a corner of the park there is a lovely wildlife garden. There is a little pond - getting more overgrown with vegetation every year- meadows, plenty of native trees, a hedgerow, a dry stone wall, a herb garden, lots of brambles and nettles. Everything is quite small, it is only a reduced area, but it shows how little is needed to attract wildlife to your doorstep. The meadow attracts grasshoppers (Chorthippus brunneus), butterflies (Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Common Blue), cinnabar moths; the pond teems with mating frogs and newts in March and various dragonflies and damselflies, the trees attract birds and Specked Wood butterflies, the herb garden buzzes with bees and bumblebees all summer. Its a great place to visit all year round.
 Here is a selection of photos I've taken in the Wildlife garden.

A very tame robin
Hazel catkins (Corylus avellana)
Mating Common Frogs
Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta) on Blackthorn flowers
Male Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus)
Male Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella)
Cinnabar moth caterpillar (Tyria jacobaea)
Common Field Grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus
For lots more on the Wildlife Garden check these entries on BugBlog. 

If you want to get there, the Wildlife Garden is in the southwestern corner of the park, next to the entrance through Princes Avenue...
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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Donna Nook Seals

It's a bright, mild autumn day. As planned, we set out for Donna Nook, the seal rookery in the Lincolnshire coast, near North Somercotes. We get there after getting to Horseshoe Point in mistake (flushing a pair of  kestrels in the way) about 11:30.
The colours of the autumn make this trip just worth it. Donna Nook is a stretch of low-lying sandy coast on the south bank of the mouth of the Humber, with dunes covered in sea buckthorn and marshes. It is a RAF shooting range, but, apparently, operations do not seem to disturb the seals. The area is protected as it is a grey seal breeding ground during November and December.
There are lots of people today, the overflow car park is quite busy.
We can hear the howling of the seals from behind the artificial sea wall, actually a barrier of sand covered in grasses and sea buckthorn. Their calls are high pitched, ululating cries such as ones somebody would make to scare you ooh,ooh ooh!  There are many seals, scattered on the beach. The visibility is very good and we can see the Spurn lighthouse and the wind turbines of Easington in the low horizon on the north. 
Two bulls threaten each other, open mouthed, on the dunes over a female.
One of them approaches the female, but she threatens him and he stays put.
The bulls have cuts and blood around their scarred necks. Bulls are larger than cows and tend to be darker, chocolate colored, with lighter patches; cows are grey or tawny, with darker spots and blotches, although there is a lot of individual variation. Males and females have very different looking heads. Bulls have bigger muzzles and have a convex profile, the females have an almost flat profile, with a long muzzle. The pups are creamy white, skinny when newborn, but they turn quite round when a few days old (they are weaned at two to three weeks old, and after molting their coats go to sea).
We watched a female and her pup at close range. She nuzzled the pup and then rolled (ouch!) over him, seemingly keen for the pup to nurse, presenting him her belly and then scratching him when the pup reached for her muzzle. They also seem to play together, mock biting and scratching each other.
It is a great day out to see the seals. Real animal behaviour happening right in front of you: bulls chasing and measuring each other up, females fighting them, females interacting with their pups, pups nursing, pups and their mums resting and particularly pups, rolling and 'hand-waving', stretching and just, seemingly enjoying their newly found life on the sand. This one is fanning its flippers:
Evidence of the births the previous night is clear. There are two afterbirths on the sand in the next photo. The rear of the females is still covered in blood and the newborn has its umbilical cord attached.
A dead pup on the beach, half eaten. A magpie walking around looking for fragments of placenta. 
The Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust does a great job keeping the public behind a weak wooden (now double) fence, to reduce impact and contact with the seals, and there is up to date info in the warden's hut on the numbers of seals in the beach: 477 pups have been born so far this year (over a thousand last year). This is a UK wildlife safari at its best!
The following is from the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust  website, which contains maps and info on the reserve and the seals.

Monday 17 November
285 bulls, 673 cows, 477 pups.
With an estimate of between 9,000 and 10,000 visitors over the weekend.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

East Park Birding

The largest park of Hull, and, after the recent revamp, by far the most beautiful, East Park is a wonderful bird-watching site. The large lake has deep and shallow areas and islands. I have seen nesting Great Crested grebes bringing little fish to their young in the lake. Swans, geese and coots also breed in the lake. Wildfowl is abundant in winter, with Canada Geese, Greylags, Barnacle geese, Pochard, Tufted ducks, Mallard, Moorhen and coot usually around. Occasionally there are whooper swans, lesser white fronted geese, Goosander, red-footed geese, pintails and red-crested pochard. Wildfowl is quite used to people and allow close approach, so if you want photos close-ups are guaranteed.

There is a large, new aviary which could do with a few more birds - and a zoo with goats, guinea pigs, alpacas, wallabies, fallow deer, peacocks and rheas. The zoo has an educational building with some tanks with millipedes, stick insects, tarantulas and snakes. A visit to East Park is for the whole family, and especially in the summer when there are rowing boats and a splash slide. More info in the Hull City Council and the Hull Valley Wildlife Group websites.

Today it was cold, 5-7 oC, but no wind - it can be really chilly in the winter here if there is the least breeze - so we had a long walk around the park, walking up the tree lined promenade, watching squirrels burying acorns (and ignoring our conkers) and stopping by the model boat lake, and the walking around the large lake, the Zoo, across the bridge and back round the north side of the lake.

These are some of my favourite photos from East Park, all taken with a Powershot G6:
Two Coots
Geese pair with goslings (13/05/07)
Mute Swans and cygnets
Bold Crow
Tufted duck drake (22/03/06)
Pochard drake (22/03/06)
Black-headed gulls like to rest on the wall next to the lake
Lesser white-fronted goose (10/12/05)
Birds of the day:

1. Canada Geese
2. Greylags
3. 2 Mute swans with red rings (Y329, Y330)
4. Coots
5. Moorhens
6. Pied Wagtails
7. Great Tit
8. Crows
9. Magpie
10. Dunnock
11. Blackbird
12. Mallards
13. Common Pochard
14. Great Crested Grebe
15. Tufted Duck
16. wader with broad white trailing edge, pigeon size or slightly smaller (redshank?)
17. Black-Headed Gulls
18. Starlings

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Spurn, spurn

One of my favourite places in Yorkshire is Spurn Head.  If the Holderness Peninsula is an elephant's head, Spurn would be the trunk. Geologically, Spurn Head is a spit: is a narrow belt of land made of sand and mud at the North end of the Humber estuary. Often, the road that leads to the lighthouse and lifeboat station has to be repositioned after winter storms, as the dunes move and cover it, it shows how dynamic this coast is, constantly subject to erosion and deposition. On a sunny day is absolutely dazzling. The contrast between the colors on the estuary side, bright green and pink-grey, and in the seaward side, sandy and blue is amazing. It also feels wild and exposed, this more markedly in the winter. Spurn is very popular with bird watchers, specially during the migratory season, as it is one of the most important places in the country to see migratory birds.
 Spurn has a variety of habitats: mudflats, saltmarshes, ponds, dunes, scrub, beaches...
On the Humber side of the spit there are mudflats and near the shore marshes where you can find samphire and sedum.
Mudflats and marsh
 The beach on the North Sea side is mostly sandy, with scattered pebbles and fossils. Beachcombing is always fun. One day we were surprised by hundreds of dead pipefish washed ashore.
In between both beaches, a narrow line of dunes. 
Dune ripples
The dunes are stabilised by sea buckthorn, often covered by tents made by caterpillars of the Brown Tailed Moth.
Tent of Brown Tailed Moth caterpillars
Sea holly
Sea holly is common and in between the buckthorn there are brambles, lesser celandines, orchids and many other flowers.
North of the reserve information point there is a beautiful pond called Canal Scrape. This explains the many dragonflies and even newts that can be seen in Spurn.
Canal Scrape
Spurn Head is a wildlife reserve of the Yorshire Wildlife Trust, and cars have to pay a small entrance fee. You can park in the Blue Bell Cafe and walk if you wish, but you will miss something if you don't get to the lighthouse and walk on the beach around the point.
 Today we are welcome by a wonderful sight: over the bright green marsh, two Little Egrets fly past gracefully. It's the first time I see egrets in this country and what a perfect place to do it. 
 In the fields just before getting to Kilnsea, a roe deer, at midday and in the middle of the field.
 There are swallows everywhere.
In the dunes, I watch a few interesting invertebrates.
A dune wolf-spider, Arctosa perita, beautifully camouflaged.
A female grasshopper, Chorthippus brunneus, trying to feed while males do some competitive singing and one of them manages to mate with her.
A scary-looking robber fly, Philonicus albiceps.
Also, several butterflies: Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Small White.
How to get there:

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Spurn Bird Observatory. Full of info with daily sightings. Map and also checklists of moths, butterflies and dragonflies.
Spurn Head Nature Reserve. Page of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Oppy Wood

A beautiful sunny day, we head for Oppy Wood. This young wood was created 10 years ago by the Woodland Trust as part of their Woods on your Doorstep campaign. The site is nestled in between Cottingham and Hull, and trees are steadily growing. After a visit to the site you would probably would not call it 'a wood', as it's mostly an open wet meadow with young trees, but it has a wild feel to it nevertheless. The wood is not too large, so you can walk around it in less than an hour, and there are two circular paths which are regularly mowed. There are old drainage ditches which can overflow and add to the diversity of habitats. Today there were lots of berries: hawthorn, gelder rose, blackberries and dog rose, and acorns, some covered in an interesting gall. In the spring the site has lots of wildflowers. We see a hawker dragonfly hunting, see grasshoppers and a beautiful iridescent stinkbug nymph (Troilus luridus). And the presence of a Speckled Wood butterfly population is a good omen for the site becoming a woodland with time. I look forward to see this wood mature.
 You can find more info on the site here.
These are some pictures I've taken in our visits to Oppy Wood.
Troilus luridus
Female grasshopper
Speckled wood (Pararge aegeria)
Silk button spangle galls on the underside of oak leaves caused by the gall wasp Neuroterus numismalis
Knopper galls on acorns. Gall wasp Andricus quercuscalicis
Sloes. Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)
To help you get there:

There are parking spaces in Dane Park Lane, at the west side of the site.
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Saturday, 10 May 2008

Humber Bridge Country Park

A sunny day, we head for the Humber Bridge Country Park in the morning. This is a site claimed back by nature after being a chalk quarry for centuries. Now is is nicely wooded, with areas kept as meadows, rocky cliffs and ponds. Today we see several Orange Tip butterflies, a Peacock and a Holly Blue. There are many wildflowers in the meadows: garlic mustard, lords and ladies, hawthorn, buttercups and daisies.
 There are three marked nature trails in the park, each with an habitat theme, the Meadow Trail, the Pond Trail and the Cliff trail. A highlight of the Park is the willow viewing tunnel next to the bird feeder station, its just like a living hide, what a great idea. Birds are quite tame and if you are lucky you might even see the bullfinches!
A few photos from the park.

Flowering hawthorn


Lords and Ladies (Arum maculatum)

A wood carving of a rabbit signaling one of the trails.
A map with trails can be downloaded from here.
The Friends of Humber Bridge Country Park website is packed with information on the history, geology and wildlife of this now an East Riding of Yorkshire Local Nature Reserve.
How to get there:

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