Sunday, 31 August 2014

Faxfleet and Whitton Sands

Faxfleet is a little village sited on fenland where the rivers Ouse and Trent meet to form the Humber. From the path on the bank, there are sweeping views to the Wolds (above), and across to RSPB Blacktoft Sands nature reserve, Alkborough Flats and the largest sand bank in the Humber, Whitton Sands. I was looking forward to the visit today, as last time I saw Bearded Tits and heard a Cuckoo. I had an early morning visit with Robert Jaques, high fluffy clouds and a little bit of a breeze, cool, but warming up towards the end, when the sun shone a bit more. The small car park by Faxfleet was busy with Goldfinches, Greenfinches, Reed Buntings, Tree Sparrows, Great and Blue Tits and a bright, very yellow Willow Warbler, which were either feeding on the ground or on the trees. Swallows circled around. We walked west towards the ponds, in which we watched a family of Coots, a Moorhen and a Little Grebe with a young one in tow.
We turned our sights over the reedbeds across the estuary. Flocks of Greylag sat on the mudflats of Blacktoft Sands, with some Shelduck, Lapwings and Black-Headed gulls. Robert noticed a couple of large white birds, with dark legs, resting with their heads under their wings amongst the Greylags. We concluded they should be Spoonbills, a lifer for me. It would have been a bit disappointing to meet the Spoonbill and not see its 'spoon', so we hung around wishing for them to wake up from their slumber. Fortunately, a quartering Marsh Harrier caused a bit of a commotion on ducks and gulls, and finally, the mystery birds woke up, confirming that they were indeed Spoonbills. They preened a bit and walked about and, satisfied with this, we turned east toward Whitton Sands. In the way, we tried to make sense of a strange assemblage of warblers: Reed, Whitethroat and a Blackcap on a hawthorn hedge.
 Along the bank we were nicely surprised by three Yellow Wagtails. We made a stop by a drinking trough, by a bit of a spit, where the reedbed was narrower, allowing us to watch Whitton Sands. The sandbank is covered on an extensive reedbed, matching the one by Faxfleet foreshore, but there was a grassy bank on the east end, exposed during high tide. Two young Grey Herons, each sat by its muddy gully. A Marsh Harrier made a brief appearance. Greylags and Canada Geese sat on the grass.
 On the way back the clouds parted a bit and a few invertebrates were evident. Common Carder bees fed on the Red Clover, a Small Tortoiseshell was about and a Furrow Spider, Larinioides cornutus, hid in her silky retreat.
Distant shot of the slumbering Spoonbills
One woke up...
...and joined the other one for a little preen
Reed Warbler preening
A strange, grey-headed young Goldfinch
Pair of Reed Buntings on the car park
Yellow Wagtail
A view of the Humber with Whitton Sands on the background
Geese on Whitton Sands, with the Wolds on the background
Small White
Larinioides cornutus

Bird list
  1. Black-headed Gull
  2. Blackbird
  3. Blackcap
  4. Blue Tit
  5. Canada Goose
  6. Carrion Crow
  7. Collared Dove
  8. Coot
  9. Cormorant
  10. Dunnock
  11. Feral Pigeon
  12. Goldfinch
  13. Great Black-backed Gull
  14. Great Tit
  15. Greenfinch
  16. Grey Heron
  17. Greylag Goose
  18. House Martin
  19. Jackdaw
  20. Linnet
  21. Little Grebe
  22. Magpie
  23. Marsh Harrier
  24. Moorhen
  25. Pheasant
  26. Reed Bunting
  27. Reed Warbler
  28. Robin
  29. Shelduck
  30. Song Thrush
  31. Spoonbill
  32. Starling
  33. Swallow
  34. Tree Sparrow
  35. Whitethroat
  36. Willow Warbler
  37. Woodpigeon
  38. Wren
  39. Yellow Wagtail

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Dusk at Noddle Hill

Having experienced a dawn chorus at Noddle Hill, I looked forward to the field visit with Hull Natural History Society to this gem in the Hull City outskirts. An early walk around the lake failed to yield Water Voles, and was accompanied by the persistent calls of possibly Chiffchaffs, or maybe Willow Warblers. As the small group gathered and enthusiastically discussed the likely ID of a dead cricket, I watched the poplars by the entrance and saw a small bird fly between trees. It turned out to be a Treecreeper, which was my first and others for the reserve, a good start for the trip. The clouds had cleared a bit after a gloomy day with a couple of showers, and the light levels were good in comparison with previous trips.
 We ticked a few mollusks and as Dick showed us a horseradish plant - much loved by snails - I looked around for a Four-spotted orb spider, Araneus quadratus, which I have found near this plant in a few occasions. Soon, I spotted an old web ending in a curled leaf and looked underneath: there it was, a fattening spider, which was briefly relocated to the bug pot for a record shot.
 As we moved around the reserve in a clock-wise fashion groups of swallows flied over us. It appeared that they were gathering for their night roost, but their wandering movements did not reveal where this might be.
 We saw at least three Roe Deer and Robert pointed at a fox by the drain, which you might find in a photo below if you squint.
 In the distant pylons, with the background of an atmospheric sunset, a large roost of orderly corvids, likely rooks, was assembling.
Bat o'clock came and went with no trace of flying bats, despite the still, clear, if chilli, night. I had brought a bat detector, and I made a token effort of pointing it out to the lake, with no success.
 Just before getting back in the car park, a Tawny owl hooted a couple of times, putting an end to the trip.
Araneus quadratus
Gipsywort, Lycopus europaeus, by the fishing lake
Pylon roost
Male roe deer
Silhouette of a Kestrel

Bird list
  1. Black-headed Gull
  2. Blackbird
  3. Carrion Crow
  4. Chaffinch
  5. Chiffchaff
  6. Collared Dove
  7. Goldfinch
  8. Kestrel
  9. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  10. Linnet
  11. Magpie
  12. Mallard
  13. Moorhen
  14. Reed Bunting
  15. Robin
  16. Rook
  17. Swallow
  18. Tawny Owl
  19. Treecreeper
  20. Woodpigeon
  21. Wren

Monday, 18 August 2014

Fraisthorpe beach

I can't believe is already three years since we last went to Fraisthorpe! Today, we saw the effects of last winter storms: the top cliff path, previously less than 2 m to the edge of the cliff is now practically gone. A cow looked at us from the fence just on the edge of the cliff as we had our picnic, and we had a look at the path and decided it just wasn't safe enough to try. Sand martins are used to erosion, they dig their nest anew if needed and are quick to colonise new sites, and they are still going strong. There were some occupied nests, with young ones ready to fledge, and many newly fledged ones following their parents about.
We thought this nest had three young ones...
...until a fourth head squeezed out, all with a hopeful look for parents with beak fulls of food
A distant shot of a Sandwich tern. There were several passing about.
We found this one at the base of the cliff. It could fly, but seemed not strong enough to fly onto the cliff. It called a few times and we let it go. It was incredibly tiny!
It settled on a stem, and then flew off for good.
a view of the low, crumbling cliffs
A flock of Oystercatchers passed back and forth a few times.
This fledgling managed to cling to the cliff by a nest hole.
Another youngster, ready to fledge.
We watched a Grey Seal swimming close to the beach, emerging a few times in between waves
This youngster settled on the sand briefly, and then flew off.
A poor shot trying to show the swarm of st mark flies over our heads, which the sand martins were feeding on
Aphodius fossor, a dung beetle, probably blown onto the beach from the cow field above
Juvenile Yellow Wagtail on the farm roof
Cows getting closer to the sea
This spider, found by my son hiding in a crack on the cliff, is a new species for me and goes by the lovely name of Nuctenea umbratica, also known as Walnut Orb-weaver.
Another view of the spider
There was a patch of late flowering Hedge Woundwort busy with Carder bees, Red-tailed bumblebees and the hoverfly Rhingia campestris nectaring on it. 

Bird list
  1. Black-headed Gull
  2. Blackbird
  3. Blue Tit
  4. Feral Pigeon
  5. Great Black-backed Gull
  6. Herring Gull
  7. House Sparrow
  8. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  9. Linnet
  10. Oystercatcher
  11. Pied Wagtail (yarrellii)
  12. Robin
  13. Rook
  14. Sand Martin
  15. Sandwich Tern
  16. Shag
  17. Starling
  18. Swallow
  19. Tree Sparrow
  20. Woodpigeon

Friday, 15 August 2014

Walking with cows at Figham Common

I had a pleasant outing to Figham Common with the Hull Natural History Society on Tuesday evening. Figham is one of the three commons of Beverley, which I had never visited before. As I arrived at 7 pm, a double rainbow glowed bright on the horizon and a group of swallows flew low over the fields. The weather was mixed, and we managed to avoid the rain for most of the time, except for a good shower at the end. There were good numbers of bullocks of various breeds in the common, and we were object of their attention (above) in between curious and nervous. What more obvious thing than looking for dung beetles in a common? After all, dung is one of the most abundant microhabitats there. I quickly armed myself with a suitable poo-stick and started poking into cow pats of a range of sizes and consistencies, while Robert Jaques predicted our chances of success remarkably well. These efforts were quickly rewarded with several beetles, which ended in the bug pot for later ID and photos. What!? dung beetles? I hear you say, in the UK!? but yes, not the large African dung ball-rolling beetle, but awesome little critters regardless, the largest about 2 cm long, which are involved in the processing of the tons of dung produced by cattle, horses and other mammals. Dung beetles, some aquatic beetles and their larvae live in the moist, rich environment of the cow pat, feeding on bacteria, fungi and decomposing vegetable matter. We also came across Yellow Dung Flies, early colonisers of fresh cowpats (below).
Robert brought me the beetles back today, nicely IDd and I had a session on them on white background. The first beetle, Aphodius fossor, a true dung beetle of the family scarabeidae, walks slowly, and when surprised in the dung, they played dead and were easy to collect. During the photo session they were quite obliging and after a few shots in the white bowl, I ended up placing it on a white sheet of paper as background, as it allowed me to get the right angle and try to portray its lovely shovel-shaped head.
Aphodius fossor, a dung beetle. The shovel-shaped head allows them to dig easily into the dung. Its species name 'fossor' means digger in latin.
a front view of A. fossor

The second species is a smaller, water scavenger beetle, Sphaeridium sp., I tried to use the same technique with this species, but it was a much more lively, fast beetle, and as shortly after coming out of the pot, it lifted the front of the body, antennae spread, like smelling the air, and it just flew off vertically, carrying its mite with it.
Water scavenger beetle, Sphaeridium sp. with mite
Sphaeridium sp. stretching its wings.
A Lesser Marsh Grasshopper
You can see the bird and plant list of this and other field visits at the Hull Natural History Society website.