Little Beings of Summer Woods

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Sunday July 30th-Bryn Euryn

The Woodland Path

11:00am  It was cooler than I’d anticipated in the woods this morning. The sky was cloudy and gusts of a chilly breeze blustered between the trees of this usually sheltered mid-slope of the Bryn; less than ideal conditions for the insects I was hoping to see. And I wished I’d worn a thicker fleece. But the sun was intermittently winning through the clouds and ever the optimist I assured myself it would get warmer for me and the little creatures. 

There are a few places on my usual trail that I think of as ‘hotspots’ for insects, even on cool days such as this. The first one is an untidy, brambly-nettley spot, where opportunistic plants have filled a gap in the tree line and spread across to the other side of the path too. Dappled sunlight reaches and warms the spot, aphids thrive here, there’s nectar and pollen to be had while the bramble is in flower, followed by its fruits; the perfect ingredients for a hoverfly hangout. If I’m patient and hang around for a few minutes I’m often rewarded with sightings of a few hovering customers and sometimes less expected visitors too.

Hoverfly (syrphus sp) basking on a sunlit hazel leaf

Insects need sunshine to warm up their flight muscles to get them going, so cooler, cloudy days can be surprisingly rewarding for sightings of basking individuals slowed down by the lack of warmth. There were a few hoverflies here today, also other common flies which I’m trying to take notice of and appreciate more; well, at least I’m aiming to put names to some of them. Most of those I saw were common ‘houseflies’, a generic name that covers quite a few different species. I think it’s their habits that most of us dislike; some of them look quite pretty.

A long-bodied black insect with pretty iridescent wings scurried erratically over the surfaces of leaves, a wasp I think, definitely a hunting predator, maybe a Digger wasp.

About to move on I spotted a dot of colour in the shade of some leaves. Sitting motionless was another more recognisable predator, a male Scorpion Fly.

Scorpion Fly-There are 3 species of Scorpion Fly in Britain, apparently difficult to separate other by examining genitalia; the most common being Panorpa germanica. They frequent shady places almost everywhere. All are scavenging insects and completely harmless despite the males’s scorpion-like tail. The female’s body lacks the tail, simply tapers to a point. 

The closed tree canopy excludes most flowers now. An exception is the woodland grass, False Brome, which grows prolifically here and is flowering now.

False Brome-

A splash of colour took me by surprise – a holly tree with red berries!

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Perhaps relics of the days when this path was part of the grounds of a Victorian manor house, are large clumps of two attractive ferns. Both species are evergreen, maintaining their green fronds throughout the seasons, but both look particularly fresh and verdant now and the Polypody has new fronds unfurling.

Polypody fern

Black spleenwort

 

Dwarf Cream Wave-Idaea fuscovenosa

A tiny pale-coloured moth swirled by the breeze spiralled down to land on a bramble leaf low to the ground, settling with wings spread butterfly-like under the shelter of other leaves. It is a Dwarf Cream Wave (photograph probably not far off its actual size)- the lines that show grey-mauve are where its original pale brown scales have been worn, or washed (!) away.

 

A home in a leaf ….

The pale patch on this holly leaf is probably the result of the work of an insect, the Holly leaf miner Phytomyza ilicis. This is a fly whose larvae burrow into leaves of this specific species of tree and leave characteristic pale trails or mines.

Interestingly, I learnt (from Wikipaedia) that “the holly leaf miner has frequently been used in ecological studies as a system to study food webs. Examination of the leaves can show whether the leaf miner has successfully emerged, been killed by a parasitic wasp, or been predated by blue tits.”

I’m not sure what the perfectly round hole in this one indicates. It could just be the original entry point of the egg-laying adult female’s ovipositor, but maybe too big? It looks too small and neat to be an exit hole and blue tits leave a triangular tear when seizing a miner as prey. Maybe it is the mark of the work of a predatory wasp? 

Speaking of wasps, I spotted another on an ivy leaf – a bit more distinctive than the black one I saw earlier due to its long antennae, so I asked the experts at BWARS and they say it’s a member of the Ichneumonidae family. The whole of this family are parasitoides and most species attack the caterpillars of butterflies and moths. It’s a dangerous life being an insect.

The Woodland Trail, Bryn Euryn Nature Reserve 

A big old oak tree marks the junction of my ‘Woodland Path’ and the Woodland Trail that circuits the Nature Reserve. It’s lost a few of its branches and the big lower branch has a split right through it that provided a safe home to nesting Great tits earlier on in the year.

 

 

Happily, the tree seems to be going strong and is currently nurturing some baby acorns. They have stalks, which indicate this is an English, or Pedunculate Oak.

 

 

 

Stepping out from the cover of the trees I realised how windy it had become; windy enough for birds to be able to just hang in the air and ride the air currents with minimum effort. Two buzzards were overhead, mewling and swooping around in the air currents, one being harassed by gulls, poor thing.

The unmistakable bulk of a Buzzard

My second ‘hot-spot’ is almost at the junction of the two tracks. It’s a huge bramble entwined with gorse and over which wild clematis scrambles. That blackberry & wild clematis combination is one of my favourites, even if it is another of the sights that I associate with summer’s approaching end. The clematis is just coming into flower and, the bramble already has ripening fruit, so not much for insects here today.

A lovely Speckled Wood butterfly sat on a smaller bramble nearby which still has flowers. The butterfly let me get very close, hardly moving in the coolness of the day.

There are few flowers along the sides of the Woodland Trail now, due in part I’m sure to their having been strimmed back in June – this part of the path is maintained by the local council who are wont to get these ‘jobs’ done before people complain about paths being overgrown. All kinds of good stuff was cut back, including orchids, and much of the hogweed that would now be giving nectar and pollen to hoverflies et al. I hoped they were finding sustenance nearby.

A few odd plants have survived, or revived, to flower here and others are fruiting. There are a very few hazelnuts that have thus far escaped the jaws of voracious grey squirrels, who usually eat them while they’re still soft and green.

Cool windy days may seem unpromising if you’ve set off hoping to see insects, but if you keep paying attention there is never ‘nothing to see’ (pardon my grammar). I spotted a tiny movement on the surface of a leaf and caught sight of an even tinier leaf hopper. As I got closer with the camera lens I noticed another movement under the leaf; a tiny spider had spotted the leaf hopper and was vibrating her web to try to get its attention. The leaf hopper disappeared under the leaf….. I wonder if the spider got her lunch? Apologies for the less-than-good photo, but I’m sure you get the drift!

So, I’ve reached the steps leading up to the field now and looking forward to what it has in store….

 

 

Curlews are Back in the Field

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July 17th 

Curlews are back. That is to say I’ve just noticed some in the field as I drove past, I don’t know when they got there exactly. There were just a few for now, a lot of Curlew that return here will have been breeding, or bred in Iceland, but their return here following a few months away each year is one of the signs that summer is rapidly coming to an end.

More used to seeing these wading birds solitarily stalking amongst the rocks of Rhos Point, I was amazed the first time I saw them gathered together in a significant number in this field, although it did go some way to enlighten me as to where birds go when the tide’s in. That initial sighting was was back in 2011 when I came here to live and each year since I’ve looked out for them, hoping they’ve had a successful breeding season and that their numbers will be good. (Not that I know what would be classed as a good number; nowadays the curlew is a threatened species, and I have no idea how present day numbers compare with historical ones for this site.) I’m not confident counting birds, but last year by my reckoning there were somewhere around 80-100 of them here at any one time.

17th July 2017-Curlews and cows

I’ve wondered about the attraction of this particular site as a gathering place. In the present day, as fields go this is not a particularly large one and it probably qualifies as ‘rough pastureland’ having coarse grass, a generous sprinkling of thistles and not too much else. It is farmland, so the birds often have to share the space with large grazing animals; presently it’s cows, earlier in the year it was sheep. It is bounded on one side by the Llandudno Road, by houses on another two with another field fenced off behind it.

February 2017-Sharing with sheep

On the plus side, it’s conveniently close to the shore & a short flight gets them them there in minutes.The ground here is probably rich in invertebrates as the animals keep the ground well manured, and much of it it floods easily and holds the moisture, keeping it soft for probing with their long bills. 

The birds must feel safe here too, when not foraging the flock takes time out  to rest and preen their feathers.

Curlew resting, preening & bathing

They seem to be here during times of high tide when there is no accessible shoreline for foraging. They seem to instinctively know the exact moment the tide is optimally in or out and some trigger suddenly alerts them to take off as one and head back there.

Heading back to the shore

Maybe that’s all there is to their choosing this spot, but it could also be connected to the past history of the land within which the field is located. Going back to the beginning, a clue lies in the meaning of the name of the village, Rhos-on-Sea, or more properly Llandrillo-yn-Rhos: the Welsh word rhos, translating as ‘marsh’. In the distant past, before the construction of sturdy sea defences, high tides would have reached further inland than now and flooded much of the low-lying ground here between it and the hills, forming an extensive salt marsh. The flat area between the Little Orme and Bryn Euryn, from where I took the photograph below is the northern end of the valley of the Afon (river) Ganol, once a significant river which flowed into Penrhyn Bay and also into the tidal river Conwy at its southern end. Along its length several small streams also fed into the river. 

July 2017-Looking down onto the ‘curlew field’ from Bryn Euryn

Looking down onto the well-ordered village of Penrhyn Bay with its network of roads and the modern-day golf course, it’s hard to visualise the wild place this once was, although following sustained heavy rainfall it is easier to see how wet it must have been.

January 2014 -Looking down on the flooded field where curlew, oystercatchers, redshank may be seen feeding amongst sheep

The Afon Ganol was by all accounts a dangerous tidal strait, and it formed a natural barrier rendering the land beyond the valley, then known at the Creuddyn Peninsular far more more isolated. Crossings were difficult; the river could be forded here, although the area was extremely marshy. Then in the 1800s, embankments were built at either end of the valley to allow land reclamation.

The effort and work undertaken to drain the marsh must have been massive, and hugely expensive, but by 1912 the OS map shows the Afon Ganol as being culverted under the Llandudno Road to the golf links, with a culvert going out to sea, but with still a large marshy area remaining. The establishment of the golf links then required further improvements to drainage and a new outlet for the diverted river was constructed. Dug 2′ below the bed of the river and the link’s ornamental lakes, this outlet then enabled the river and the lakes to be emptied during intervals between tides, keeping the golf course dry.

Today the Afon Ganol remains as a culvert with tidal outfall structure, which was updated in 2011 to decrease the risk of flooding.

A section of a remaining water course bends around the back of the rugby field

Interestingly, although the original river is now just a meandering waterway and ditch, in part diverted and culverted, it remains still the county boundary between Conwy and Denbigh.

Welcome back Curlews, the place is not the same without you.

 

 

 

 

 

Parakeets in the Ash Tree

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July 4th – Long Ditton, Surrey

My granddaughter and I were in the garden playing in her new sandpit when we heard raucous calls and squawks coming from somewhere up high in a neighbouring ash tree. Despite the racket they were making it took a minute to visually locate the perfectly camouflaged trio of bright green parakeets that had landed there. I’m not sure what the commotion was about, but they seemed to be a family, I think an adult female with two young ones demanding food.

Nowadays, sightings of these ring-necked, or more prettily named rosy-ringed parakeets, are commonplace throughout the county of Surrey, particularly in those leafy suburbs of Greater London lying closest to the river Thames.

Tales of how they first arrived and set about colonising the area are as colourful and as exotic as the birds themselves. One tells of a small number of the birds escaping from a film set at Shepperton Studios in 1951, during the making of ‘The African Queen.’ (which starred Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, in case you’re way too young to remember that one!).

Another, less likely perhaps, but more appealing to me, is that they were released back in the 60’s by the legendary rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who allegedly brought them to Britain and released them, ‘ to bring some psychedelic colour to London’s skyline’, (perhaps whilst playing ‘Little Wing’?).

Then for our younger viewers, it is rumoured that a pair were released by the Blue Peter cast into the Blue Peter garden as recently as the 1990’s.

The truth of their introduction to British wildlife is likely to be far more prosaic and plausible. Parakeets have been popular pets since Victorian times and inevitably many birds will have escaped or even been deliberately released over the years, although the latter is technically illegal. A number of them are known to have escaped from aviaries across the south of England. During the Great Storm of 1987, some made their getaway from Northdown Park, in Kent, and it is rumoured that a piece of a plane’s fuselage dropped onto an aviary near Gatwick, giving more the chance to fly the coop.

Ring-necked Parakeet or Rosy-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri : Welsh: Paracit torchog

There is no doubt the parakeets are now well established in Britain and are recorded as our only naturalised parrot. In January 2017 the BTO estimate was of 8,600 breeding pairs and their status given as ‘introduced breeder’. The greatest concentration of numbers are in Greater London and Kent, with smaller numbers in Birmingham and Oxford and further north in Manchester. They are especially common in suburban parks, large gardens and orchards, where food supply is more reliable. The birds feed on a wide variety of fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and grain, have discovered bird feeders in gardens and have few natural predators here.

Until recently, the parakeets were generally considered a welcome addition to the county’s wildlife, and though their squawking and squabbling may have caused consternation to some, most people have enjoyed the sight of the colourful birds flying around. However, concerns have arisen about their population explosion and its potentially damaging effects on the country’s indigenous bird species, which has led to calls for stricter control over the colourful newcomers. In 2009, Natural England added the species, the UK’s only naturalised parrot – to its “general license”, meaning it can be culled, in certain circumstances – such as if they are causing damage to crops. The change gives them the same legal status as pigeons, crows and magpies.

As an occasional visitor to London, I love to see and hear them and they’re big, noisy, colourful and pretty to look at – a great way to get my two year old granddaughter to start noticing the local wildlife!

Parakeet spotting: Most likely places

Bushy Park, Richmond; Hampton Court, East Molesey; Kew Gardens, Kew; Nonsuch Park, Ewell; Richmond Park, Richmond; River Thames at Chertsey; River Thames at Staines; River Thames at Walton on Thames; Selsdon Park, Sanderstead 

 

A Warbling Whitethroat

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I saved this treat from the end of my walk on the Little Orme as I thought it would be better enjoyed on its own.

I heard the Whitethroat singing from somewhere in front of me, obscured from immediate view by gorse bushes and a bend in the track. I walked forward slowly and there he was, at the top of another bare stem, this time of Elder. A perfect, close, unrestricted view of him warbling away, declaring himself king of all he could survey, which is a great deal from where he was perched, to whom-so-ever it may concern.

The Whitethroat is a summer visitor and passage migrant to Britain that may be seen in all parts of the country and most frequently choose arable land, scrub and reedbeds as nesting sites.  They arrive during April-May and leaving in late September-early October to winter in Africa, some heading as far south as South Africa.

Whitethroat- Sylvia communis Welsh: Llwydfron

A medium-sized, long-tailed warbler, the male is grey, dusted with rust brown above, with bright chestnut-brown fringes to the wing feathers, the head is a pale grey, the breast pinkish-buff and the throat a bright white. The bill is greyish-brown and the legs are pale brown. The eye is pale brown with a white eye ring. Females are similar but brown on the head and nape where the male is grey.

Whitethroat singing

Warblers in general are often described as ‘skulking’, but the Whitethroat is not quite as secretive as some; the male will perch in full view to deliver its brief song with gusto.

I could see flies in the air around him, but he made no attempt to catch any of them, he was far more intent on singing although he did take a few short breaks to do a bit of preening. I think he had a bit of an itch.

I watched and listened for some time and took a few photographs before risking taking this short video, which is not the most professional you’ll have ever seen, but it gives more of the bird’s personality than a still. It’s better on full screen too.

The song is variously described as sweet, ‘scratchy’  and having a jolty rhythm. They are also very inquisitive birds and will venture to the top of a bush to investigate any intruders, before scolding them with a rapid churring call.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. You even got to share the atmosphere of the sunny, windy day!

 

 

 

Little Orme Level 2 and Higher

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Cormorants flying overhead refocussed my attention and I began the climb up the steep slope to the next level of the cliff.

I didn’t get far before stopping to watch the Whitethroat I had been heading for pre-Chough. He was singing from an old bramble stem close by and was nicely visible apart from being seemingly garotted by a twiggy branch. Song done, he flew across the track into the base of a huge bramble shortly followed in by his mate coming from the other direction, carrying food in her beak. So this is where they are nesting, no doubt tucked low down in the protective thorny thicket.

About half-way up I welcomed the excuse to pause, granted by the sight of another Swollen-thighed Beetle, this time a male sporting a splendid pair of said swollen thighs.

At the top is a reminder that the slope’s purpose was not originally as a walking track. Here stand the remains of supports and cogs for winding gear, once employed to steady trucks full of quarried stone on tracks down the steep slope, then to haul back empty ones.

TGLOVW-Winding gear remains at top of slope

This quarry face accommodates many nesting pairs of Jackdaws, whose cries often echo loudly around the bare stone cliffs. They were quiet today, the only sound made by a sheep bleating from the edge of the wall towering above. Clearly a mother, she may have been calling for her young one; I hoped he hadn’t been hauled off to market to end up as Welsh Spring Lamb in a butcher’s shop.

I took a very quick look at nesting Fulmars, didn’t want to disturb them so stayed well back.

Attractive birds with an elegant stiff-winged flight, it’s hard to believe they produce such a loud, rather harsh cry and that their tube-like nostrils are designed to allow them, inelegantly, to snort out salty water.

From up here you can look down on the flat quarried-out ‘Level 1’ of the site, with the cove of Angel Bay at its edge. The dry grassed areas are already showing signs of wear and tear.

Onwards and upwards, following the track that is both on the routes of the North Wales Coastal Path and the national Wales Coast Path. It is heavily eroded in parts, and bridged by gnarled old roots, (or branches?) of gorse.

Ravens had made me aware of their presence since arriving here today, being more mobile and noisier than usual and as I ambled along this part of the track an outburst of their calls broke out from somewhere ahead of me. I had just seen birds harrassing what I assumed to be a Buzzard and thought that may have escalated into a bit more of an incident. Getting closer I saw three birds having a bit of a to-do; two of them seemed to be attacking a third that was sitting atop a fence. Not a Buzzard.

I was still too far away to see properly, but this may have been a pair of Raven upset with an intruding one. Does it have something in its beak in the first picture, an egg maybe? I have no idea but they took off from here and continued to express their annoyance from the field below for some time.

None the wiser as to what I’d witnessed I carried on, scanning the track ahead of me, as I am wont to do at this time of year, checking for sheep poo; you never know when there may be something interesting dining out thereon. I got lucky, a fairly fresh deposit yielded a little male Yellow Dung-fly. In an awkward spot to photograph, I had no option than to kneel down in front of the dung, then almost had my nose in it to get him in close up without using the lens zoom, quietly hoping no-one came along the path to witness my odd behaviour. It was worth it; I realised he hadn’t flown off as he was otherwise occupied with a lady Dung-fly. Females are far fewer in number than males, so there was no chance he was leaving, whatever I was doing.

THE CORMORANT COLONY

Reputedly the largest Cormorant breeding colony in the British Isles, this is an impressive sight, even from this distance and this is only a part of it; it continues around to the other side of the rocky outcrop in the photograph below, where there are even more of them.

I’ve shown this aspect of the Cormorant colony several times before, but this is the first time I’ve visited it at the right time to catch the birds on their nests. I was thrilled to get a glimpse of young birds in some of the nests; Cormorants usually lay 2-3 eggs, and from those I could see most seem to have hatched and grown successfully, so there must be plenty of food available locally to keep offspring and parents well fed.

Some of the young birds seemed a bit more advanced than others and were already out of the nest exercising their wings, but many birds were still sitting.

The bulk of the colony is not as easy to see, and viewing the birds involves a bit of rambling up and down the uneven cliff top, then peering down from cliff edge, but it is well worth the effort. The photograph below shows the colony to be situated well out of reach of nosy people.

Around the rock I was now upwind of the birds, so as well as amazing sights and sounds I was greeted with the equally amazing smell produced by a large number of fish-eating birds confined to a relatively small space. I wish I could share it with you!

But pungent aromas aside,the colony on this side holds another treat; right in its centre is another smaller colony – of smart little penguin-like Guillemots. Surrounded by the much bigger Cormorants I imagine it is a safe haven for them from potential predators such as gulls and the Cormorants seem perfectly accepting of them.

Cormorants and Guillemots sharing fishing space on the rocks below. There were many more birds of both species flying back and forth and hunting and diving in the water too. Cormorants stay separate but Guillemots often join together in ‘rafts’ floating on the surface of the sea.

These two birds, who I fancied were enjoying some fresher air away from the colony, is my favourite Cormorant image from the day. The birds weren’t making a sound; they gape their beaks as a means of cooling down their bodies, but it seems like they’re commenting on something out at sea. Possibly the ever-encroaching turbines of the wind farm, or maybe they were sureying for likely fishing spots. 

It was a sunny day with some cloud and really strongly windy, particularly noticeable up here at the top of the headland on its sea-facing edge, but the elements’ combined effects on the water was breathtaking. I sat for some time watching the ever-changing patterns of light and shade on the surface of the blue sea as the wind rippled across its surface and clouds cast shadows above it. It really was the colour of the photograph below and quite mesmerising.

View from the Little Orme across Llandudno Bay to the Great Orme

Birds flew past the cliff at eye level; mostly Herring Gulls, but one Greater Black-backed gull too, and a Raven gronked a greeting as he passed by; all strong birds gliding effortlessly on the wind and thermals created by the cliff face. A Rock pipit popped up over the edge briefly but popped down again when he spotted me. A Jackdaw also appeared over a ridge, but disregarded me completely and carried on foraging within touching distance, even posing for a portrait.   

THE CLIFFTOP

Returning to the main track I passed a ewe and her lambs who had found a shady and sheltered place to rest with her lambs.

I watched a 7-spot ladybird scrambling through the mossy turf. Grazed by sheep and rabbits, baked by the sun and exposed regularly to strong, salt-laden winds anything that survives here has to be tough, especially the flora. Amongst the toughest of our native flora are the thistles, the two most common species of which thrive here.

The Creeping thistle has already begun flowering and even up here was being visited by bumblebees and a wind-blown Red Admiral butterfly.

The other is the fierce-looking Spear thistle with its aptly-named long sharp spikes protecting its every part, which has flower buds almost on the point of opening now.

On the ledge beneath an overhanging rocky outcrop I was surprised to spot a clump of white-flowered plants. Getting closer I saw they were Sea campion and also Moon (Ox-eye) daisies with one of the best specimens of Salad burnet I’ve seen anywhere so far this Spring. I wonder how they got there?

Sea campion – Silene maritima

Going back down I took a photograph to remind me to say that although fading fast there is still gorse in flower and also hawthorn, but the main blossom plant now is the creamy white elder.

And another to remind myself that I can never tired of looking at this view across Penrhyn and Colwyn Bays, even when on hot days like this one much of the distance is lost in a haze.

 

 

 

Little Orme Level 1

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May 27th

The Little Orme was physically scarred and shaped by human demands and quarrying activities during the first half of the last century. Subsequently handed back to nature and a testiment to its incredible ability to regenerate, an interlocking patchwork of habitats packed into a compact space on varying levels have become a haven for a diversity of wildlife, particularly wildflowers, birds and insects. Now in part a Local Nature Reserve with areas set aside as SSSIs, its wildlife may again be under pressure as the headland is an increasingly popular recreational area for local people and visitors and is also crossed by walkers following the Wales Coastal Path or the North Wales Coast Path. 

I was here today with the intention of taking some photographs of the Cormorant colony in mind. The birds are well into their breeding season now and have well-grown offspring in their nests and I wanted to catch them there before they fledged. I thought I was focussed on the job in hand, but as anyone that has ever been out walking with me would have guessed, it took less than two minutes for me to be distracted from my mission; firstly by a Harlequin ladybird guzzling aphids on the going-to-seed Alexanders, then by a lovely shiny metallic green female Swollen-thighed Beetle – Oedemera nobilis, who confusingly doesn’t have Swollen thighs at all, it’s the males that sport them as emblems of their maleness, the thicker the better in their bid to secure mates. She was perfectly displayed in the cup of a perfect dog rose, like a little jewel.

The cliff path along to Angel Bay took a while to negotiate too. Its sea edge is lined with masses of Red Valerian in all of its shades from deep carmine through pinks to white and it looks lovely.

I know it’s not a native and crops up anywhere and everywhere, but here it doesn’t look out of place and it is great for insects like the Painted Lady I found nectaring there.

There are native wildflowers on this cliff edge too, including some good sized patches of Wild Thyme and the pretty pale lemon-yellow Mouse-ear which has colonised a large patch of the crumbly downslope of the cliff.

There’s a lot of Horsetail here too, I’m not sure of the species. It also cascades down the cliff where it looks a bit like a new plantation of tiny Christmas trees. A bit further in from the edge was a large patch of what I thought was Ground Ivy, but am now not sure about; very short-stemmed here on the dry exposed cliff and a mass of purple flowers, I will go back and check.

The Little Orme is the place to visit if you love your Corvids as I do. Ravens, Crows, Magpies, Jackdaws and occasionally Chough are all here. Seeing or even hearing ravens early on in a visit here always sets the mood for me, reminding me that despite the fact that this is now a place much used for recreation by people and their pets, it is still clinging on as a wild habitat. A pair flew overhead, ‘gronking’ as they did so and landed high up on the edge of the cliff, in the centre of the image above, one of their habitual lookouts for surveying their Kingdom.

Next a Magpie caught my attention as it landed on a bramble patch on the cliff edge, leaving quickly with an insect in its beak.

Then Jackdaws, great numbers of them nest in close colonies on the quarried-out cliff faces. Once breeding is over they disperse during the day, although plenty stay and forage around the grassy clifftops and it’s a safe haven to head back to and roost at night.

Jackdaw amongst bird’s-foot trefoil

At the sea end of this first flat level there’s a little bit of original rock remaining, separating Angel Bay from Penrhyn Bay and forming one side of the little cove that is the haven of the Grey Seals often mentioned in my posts. The sea-facing ledge behind said rock can be a good place to look out for birds at sea, especially in the autumn and winter, but today it was bees I found there. I have to admit I thought they were wasps as there were several that were flying around, and once or twice, in and out of holes made by mining bees. A quick check with the wise ones at BWARS (Bee,Wasp & Ant Recording Society) though, told me they are nomad bees, Nomada goodeniana, that seek out other bee’s nests in which to lay their eggs. They are apparently quite a common species, but a first for me.

A local speciality (botanically that is, not on menus!), Wild cabbage grows here, there have been bluebells on the cliff slopes and I spotted the bees as I stopped to photograph a pretty Bloody Cranesbill flower.

Looking out over the cove, there were just a couple of seals in the water and a sizeable gang of cormorants perched up at the sea end of the headland.

 

The sight of those Cormorants spurred me on to get back on track towards their nesting site. But first a stop to admire the Thrift, perhaps my favourite coastal wildflower which despite all the hazards is thriving here.

I am finally almost at the bottom of the steep slope up to the next level of the old quarry. I was following the sound of a Whitethroat singing when from close by a black bird took off and flew away from me back in the direction of the site entrance. Something in its gis made me watch carefully to see where it would land; its upturned wingtips showed this wasn’t a crow or a jackdaw and then that distinctive call confirmed I was chasing a Chough.

Chough fly with upturned wing tips

It landed a short distance away and set about digging in the short turfy ground in pursuit of food with its long curved bill. It was a ringed bird, banded on both legs, but perhaps not quite an adult as its beak was a dark orange colour rather than the bright red of a mature adult.

Chough eat worms, caterpillars, ants and are particularly partial to the larvae of dung beetles

The bird had picked a productive spot and was so settled into its feeding it took no notice of me sitting watching it from a conveniently sited bench. But foraging close to the junction of two of the main tracks across the clifftop it was inevitable that it would be disturbed sooner rather than later, and so it was, taking off and flying off over the sea and around the headland. That was definitely my best ever Chough encounter here in North Wales; certainly the closest. And I would have missed it if it wasn’t for my slow- walking meandering habit.

Next Level of this trail to follow shortly…. there will be Cormorants!

 

 

 

 

Tawny Mining Bees & the Bee-fly

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April 1st – Garden, Rhos on Sea

In the late afternoon sunshine a number of little bees were zooming around in a corner of the front garden, pausing frequently but briefly on the warmed surfaces of ivy leaves. I have seen similar ones here each spring for the last five years, so was pretty sure they were male Tawny Mining Bees, but I had to wait a while for a prettier and more distintinctive female to take a breather from her nest-building labours to be sure. Males significantly outnumbered females here this afternoon, probably because they don’t contribute in any way to constructing nests or to raising offspring, so once mating is accomplished by a lucky few, they are free agents.

Tawny Mining Bee – Andrena fulva

The rich fox-brown colour and furry coat of the lovely little Tawny Mining-bee (Andrena fulva) makes it the most distinctive and obvious of all the Spring-flying solitary bee species.  It is a common bee in much of England and Wales, which nests underground and leaves a little volcano-like mound of soil around the mouth of its burrow. Nests can often be seen in lawns and flowerbeds in gardens and parks, or in mown banks and field margins in farmland and orchards.

Description

Size: Females 10 to 12 mm and males 8 to 10 mm long.

The Tawny Mining Bee is a small rich gingery-orange coloured bee that can often be seen visiting its nest in grassy areas such as lawns during the springtime.

Females are larger than males and covered in a dense layer of fox-red/orange hairs. Their underside is black.

The males are quite different to the females. They are much slimmer, covered in less dense orangey brown hair and have a distinguishing pronounced moustache-like tuft of white hairs on the lower face. They play no part in nest building or providing for their offspring.

When to see it

The bee has a single flight period each year and is on the wing from early April until early June; the males emerging well before the females.

Peak activity coincides with the flowering periods of fruit trees such as Pear, Cherry and Apple and also of fruiting shrubs such as currants, gooseberries and other Ribes species and are important pollinators. The female collects pollen and nectar for the larvae which develop underground, each in a single ‘cell’ of the nest, and hibernate as pupae over winter.

Habitat

Tawny Mining Bee feeding on Alexanders

The bee is common in gardens, parks, calcareous grassland, orchards and on the edges of cropped agricultural land.

Andrena fulva nests are constructed in the ground, and the nest entrances are surrounded by a volcano-like mound of excavated spoil. Nests are often in loose aggregations in tended lawns, flower beds, mown banks and in sparsely vegetated field margins. Pollen is collected from a wide range of plants including flowering trees and shrubs, weeds and garden species. 

Life History

Having hibernated through the Winter, Tawny Mining Bees emerge in Spring as adults; the males emerging well before the females. After mating, the female seeks a place to make a nest. The bees’ tunnelling throws up small heaps of waste soil, that look like tiny molehills or volcanos with the entrance/exit hole at its summit. You may notice these little heaps in your lawn without associating them with the bees. They won’t spoil your lawn! The nests are short lived and do not damage plants or harm earthworms. 

The bee’s mining throws up small ‘volcano-like’ heaps of soil with an entrance at the summit

Nests will often consist of one small, main tunnel, with perhaps 5 or so branches, each containing an egg cell. The nest is a vertical shaft 200 to 300 mm (8 to 12 in) with several brood cells branching off it. The female fills these cells with a mixture of nectar and pollen, on which she lays one egg in each cell. The larva hatches within a few days, grows quickly and pupates within a few weeks to repeat the cycle as new adults emerging the following spring after hibernation.

 

Sometimes more than a hundred females build nests in a few square metres but the Tawny Mining Bee normally does not create a colony: each female has her own nest. 

Distribution in Europe

According to BWARS, the Tawny Mining Bee is common across most of England and Wales, there is only a single confirmed Scottish record, and only old, tantalizing records from Co. Kilkenny in Ireland. On continental Europe, the species is widespread and common from Britain eastwards across central Europe. It is not found in Scandinavia and is restricted in the Mediterranean region. 

April 7th

Checking up on the Tawny Mining Bees today I noticed a number of the diagnostic little ‘volcanos’ have appeared in the bare line of earth between the lawn edge and the ivy-covered front wall.

Female Tawny Mining Bee covered with dusty earth from her nest

I spotted females going in a few times and there are still males hanging around close to the nest sites. I photographed one female as she had emerged from her nest, her legs, head and furry body coated with a layer of dusty earth.

As this garden is having a bit of an overhaul at the moment, there are very few flowering plants for the bees to nectar on, so they are having to seek food elsewhere. Poor things must be worn out, all that digging, producing eggs and having to fly across the road to find food.

An Enemy in the Camp

The bees carried on industriously, seemingly unaware they were being watched by a potential murderer of their offspring. The sinister character, a Bee-mimic, looks a little strange; it has a long rigid proboscis at the front of its head which it uses to tke nectar from flowers while hovering over them and long trailing legs. They are also quite cute, furry, lovely to see and entertaining to watch – this was a Bee-fly Bombylius major.

 

Bombylius major has several host species, including beetle larvae and the brood of solitary wasps and bees particularly digging bees such as Andrena, like our Tawny Mining Bees.

The Bee-flies mimic bees to allow them to get close to the bees nest entrance. When close enough, the female will flick her eggs into or near the nests of the host insects. The larvae will then hatch in the nest and feed on the food stored, as well as on the young solitary bees or wasps.

I knew this is how Bee-flies behaved, but hadn’t witnessed their egg-flicking behaviour before today. I have to admit it is fascinating, while feeling a bit sad about the possible outcome for some of the poor hard-working Miners. But then I like to see the Bee-flies too…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lonely Purple Sandpiper

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February 17th

Rhos Point will soon become a quieter place as the wading birds that arrived during last late Summer and the Autumn leave us and head back to their more northerly breeding grounds. Each year Turnstones come in a fairly consistently sized flock of about 60 birds and I think it’s likely that a more unusual visitor – one that draws birdwatchers here to search for it – arrives amongst them; the Purple Sandpiper. I’d met people claiming to have seen them here earlier in the winter, but I hadn’t had even a glimpse. Until today. Taking my baby granddaughter out for some very fresh air on the Promenade, as always with one eye scanning the shoreline and one watching where I was steering the pushchair, I’d noted the tide was on the turn. Only a strip of the rocky shore below us was exposed and yet there were two people walking along it, chatting and following behind their loose and randomly wandering dog. I wasn’t thinking kindly about this as a) I don’t understand why anyone would risk their dog injuring itself on the slippery uneven surface and b) why they don’t notice or seem to care about the disturbance to any feeding birds. But in this instance they were quickly forgiven as the dog flushed a single elusive Purple Sandpiper from where it had probably been resting on the lower rocks of the rip-rap sea break.

It didn’t go far, just across to the smaller rocks on the edge ot the water where it stayed.March 1st

Having now seen where the Purple Sandpiper had been lurking during high tides I went back to try to see it again and whether there may be more of them. I’d waited until the tide was at its highest and soon spotted the Turnstone flock quite high up on the rocks

I enjoyed the lovely close sighting of these gorgeous little birds, but really wanted to see Purple Sandpipers. And there he was, on the edge of the group and still apparently alone.

A lonely little Purple Sandpiper. I stayed and watched for a while in case any others popped up, but no. He was the only one. I walked a little further on, still searching, but found only two Redshanks. Again, lovely close up view of great birds, but not the colour I was looking for.

PURPLE SANDPIPER – Calidris maritima; Welsh: Pibydd Du

The Purple Sandpiper is a winter visitor to almost any rocky coast in Britain and Ireland. They are widely distributed around the coast though they are most abundant in the northern isles – Orkney and Shetland and along the east coast of Scotland, north-eastern England and Devon and Cornwall and scarce elsewhere.

The Purple Sandpiper is a medium-sized wading bird, slightly larger, stockier and darker than a Dunlin. It is mainly dark grey above and whitish below. It has a slight down-curved beak and distinctive short bright orange legs. In flight it shows a thin white wing-stripe on otherwise dark wings.

Above photo: January 28th 2012-Purple Sandpiper with Dunlin – Rhos on Sea

World Distribution: BREEDS Arctic & Subarctic Eurasia & North America, WINTERS: south to S Europe and Southern US.

Diet: Invertebrates, also some plant material, often feeds on rocks near tide edge.

March 2nd

Back again for another look. I didn’t even have to search for myself as a serious photographer, in full camouflage kit and sporting a super-long lens had him in his sights, saving me the effort. Today he was completely alone, with not even a Turnstone for company. He was quite lively though, having a good preen then skipping around the rocks, splashed by sea spray and totally in his element. Still sad to see him all alone though.

Closer views of the active bird today better show the purplish tint to the plumage that gives the species its name.

Maybe next year he’ll bring some friends.

Purple Sandpiper is currently AMBER listed in the Birds of Conservation list based on a Non-breeding Population decline by more than 25% but less than 50% and a UK breeding population of less than 300 pairs.

 

Keeping up with the Herring Gulls

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January 9th – Chimney Pots, Rhos-on-Sea

After a few months of being relatively quiet and peaceful, our Herring gull neighbours are back and making their presence heard and seen throughout the village. Pairs stake out their territories early in the year and will defend them vigorously and vociferously from now until nesting begins, continuing to do so until this year’s offspring have grown and are mature enough to leave the site. It all looks and sounds like a lot of effort and hard work, but that is the price this pair are prepared to pay for a prime high-rise site.

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These particular chimney pots are atop my daughter’s 3 storey house, offering well-elevated accommodation and boasting unrivalled 360° views extending over rooftops and the surrounding landscape, which includes the sea. It is a mere two-minute, maybe less, flight to the seashore. Both the male and female of the pair take responsibility for defending the site, sometimes together and sometimes on their own. They must need to take frequent breaks to restore their energy levels after a bout of meaningful squawking at the sky.

10: 29 – Female flies to roof edge, has a quick look around then takes off,

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leaving the male in charge. I didn’t notice while I was taking these photographs, but he was not left entirely alone. To my amusement, a male Starling had his back. He has located his family home in the eaves of the adjoining property.

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He seemed to have his work cut out, although from where I was standing in the garden I couldn’t see what or who he was directing his attention towards.

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I couldn’t quite catch him in full squawk this morning, but he was making plenty of noise. He is still sporting his winter plumage and appears to be in pretty good shape, but he’s not a young bird. When I looked at my images I recognised him by his eyes, or rather by the lack of feathers around his eyes as the male of a pair I spent a lot of time watching back in the spring and summer of 2012.

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As you can tell from the next couple of images he is looking a bit scrawny around the neck area, not as plump and well-filled out as he was back in the day.

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Herring gulls breed for the first time at age 4 and a typical lifespan is 12 years. The oldest recorded Herring gull (from ringing records) was  32 years 9 months and 25 days old. This record was set in 2013. 

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10.39am – the female arrives back with a flourish and lends her voice to the warning-off aria.

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he may be older, but clearly still has got what it takes to attract a mate and this one appears younger. It must be something to do with the status of his domain.

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10.40 – She’s a bit on edge though and leaves again a minute later, I think she was chasing off another gull from their airspace, perhaps a rival female. It started to rain quite heavily then and he left shortly afterwards too.

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Then and now

This is a head shot of the male showing his ‘scabby’ eyes taken this January

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and below is one I took on July 24th 2012. He’s in his brighter summer/breeding plumage here, but had the ‘scabby’ eyes even then. It’s too much of a coincidence for it not to be the same bird isn’t it? He was considerably better-padded then too. If 2012 was his first year of breeding he would have been 4 plus the 5 years from then till now would make him 9, but I think he could be older.

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This was him and his mate in full squawk back then, after they had successfully reared a chick that had fallen out of the chimneypot nest and landed on the flat roof below. More about that here:   https://theresagreen.me/2013/06/20/theres-a-new-gull-on-the-roof

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He was and I’m sure, still is a brilliant and attentive parent, bringing regular and diverse meals back to his hungry youngster. Including a starfish and regurgitated chips.

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January 24th 2017

Back to the present. I was out taking my baby granddaughter for a walk along the prom and spotted this chap paddling for worms on the grass embankment. Old scabby eyes himself.

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The Herring gull remains on the RED list of European threatened birds and it is illegal to harm them or damage or remove their eggs from nests.

 

Sights & Sounds of the Little Orme (2)

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January 20th – Little Orme – Upper reaches

I‘d spent longer watching the seals than I had intended, so almost talked myself out of doing some proper walking and heading up to the summit. It was cold, the sun was already sinking lower in the sky and I knew the upward tracks were going to be muddy. But one of my aims for this outing had been to check to see whether or not the cormorants had begun nesting yet, so onwards and upwards it was.

At the bottom of the steep upward slope, Rabbit Hill to locals, a bird sat perfectly still at the top of a smallish ash tree. The sun in my eyes was so bright I could only see it as a black shape, so made another assumption that as this is about the highest point on this windswept clifftop and a favoured perch for crows, magpies and jackdaws, that it was a corvid. Only when I lightened up the photograph I took did I realise it had been a Kestrel.

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The bracken and brambles that covered the slope to the landward side of the track have been cut back hard; this vegetation provides cover for a variety of small birds, including resident Stonechats and Whitethroats that come here for the breeding season. I’m sure it will have grown up again by the time they arrive.

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I was right about the mud! It was almost take one step forward and slide back two. I pictured my walking pole lying uselessly in the boot of my car. I should use it more often, but it gets in the way when I want to stop and take a photograph. I took a breather to turn and photograph the view; no matter the number of times I have done it, it’s just so amazing I can’t resist. The spit of land projecting finger-like into the sea is Rhos Point and despite the hefty sea defences I know it has in place, it looks so vulnerable from here, perhaps more so to me because it’s where my daughter and her family lives and I can pick their house out from here!

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At the top of the slippery slope is a levelled area where much of the stone was quarried out. The cliff wall at the back of this now grassy area is Jackdaw city, with many pairs of birds nesting in its nooks and crannies. You realise how many of them there are when the Buzzards glide into the airspace above and numbers of them suddenly zoom up and surround them, determinedly driving it away while making a heck of a racket.

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(click on image to enlarge)

Herring gulls often join in the mobbing party too; it may seem that they prefer roofs and chimneys to nest on, but some do prefer the more traditional option of a bit of cliff. It’s interesting that although they may rob other birds of their eggs and chicks, they’ll join forces to drive off  any potential predators of theirs. It’s not too clear from my photograph who’s who, but one Buzzard is very slightly left of centre  and the other approaching the far left, with defending birds approaching mainly from the right. Poor old Buzzards, every other bird picks on them, even much smaller Starlings!

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The edge of the cliff is crumbly and eroding but is a favourite spot for Jackdaws to sit and look down on the lower levels of the headland. There were several pairs sitting doing just that this afternoon, probably ones with nest sites nearby on the cliffs of the lower level.

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I took a photograph looking down into Angel Bay from up here; it looked as though quite a number had moved off.

170120-lo-73-a-higher-view-into-the-bayOne of my favourite sights is golden gorse flowering against the background of a blue sea.

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It’s always sad when a tree dies, but the skeleton of this Elder is now beautifully adorned with lichens and a fungus, which I’m sure is now past its peak. I’m not great on fungi, but I do know the one most closely associated with the Elder is Jew’s ear or jelly ear Auricularia auricular-judae; is it that Annie? I wish I’d seen it earlier.

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The grass up here is grazed by sheep and further nibbled by rabbits, so is always neat and well-groomed. The path curves into this small clearing that looks almost like a cleverly landscaped wild garden designed to lead you to the stunning vista.

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click on image to enlarge

The nearest rounded hill is Bryn Euryn which I’ve walked you around many times and shown views from there to here, but you can see they would be a fairly short flight away from one another for Buzzards, which nest on Bryn Euryn, and Ravens which regularly overfly both.

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Some of the hawthorns here still have good crops of berries.

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And there is lots of glorious golden fragrant gorse.

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Another wider view from higher up over Colwyn Bay and towards the Clwydian Range of mountains where Offa’s Dyke begins.

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click to enlarge

The low sun gives a wonderful texture to the rough grass and rocks. I always wonder how rocks such as this one arrived where they are, but this one I use this one to recognise the point where I leave the path and approach the cliff edge, extremely cautiously, to get a better view of the site of the cormorants’ colonial nesting site.

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They don’t appear to be doing much yet, in fact there were just two there when I first looked, although a few more did fly in to join them as I watched.

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The Great Orme – click to enlarge

I climbed up a bit higher to admire the view across Llandudno Bay to the Great Orme. The pier looks toy-like against its great bulk.

The sun had dropped further and was almost hidden by the highest part of this headland to my left. The view from here is across Llandudno town to Anglesey and the bulky headland of Penmaenmawr. If you were looking at this as a walker of the Wales Coast Path travelling in this westerly direction, you could roughly trace your onward path and see where you would be in a day or so’s time.

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Llandudno Bay, town and beyond – click to enlarge

Low light lends a different atmosphere to this place, especially when you’re alone and have an imagination such as mine. Rocks cast shadows and a solidity not as apparent in bright sunlight. I wonder how it looked before its bulk was reduced by quarrying? Are these squared off rocks remnants from that time or were they deliberately placed before then for some other purpose.

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The remnants of  a dry stone wall lead the eye to the wonderful view.

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click to enlarge

Then  there are Hawthorn trees, contorted into wonderful shapes by the strong prevailing winds and features long associated with tales of witches and magic……

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Even in broad daylight I wonder about the spot in the image below. I can easily imagine as some kind of mystical meeting place guarded by the trees and I know that as a child I’d have found a way around the fencing and sat on the top of that little hummock letting my imagination run riot, most probably giving myself nightmares.

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I fancy other mystical markers – a  hawthorn branch heavily covered with lichen that reaches out over the track and frames the view.

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and a little tree well covered with lichens and further embellished with sheep’s wool.

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The atmosphere is further enhanced by a pair of Ravens, companions of witches and wizards,  ‘gronking’ as they passed overhead.

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And a rabbit, moving strangely slowly around behind the wire fence. It didn’t bounce away from me like rabbits usually do and I wasn’t sure if it was just old or not well; its eyes looked strange and it may not have been seeing properly, if at all. It put me in mind of rabbits we used to see years ago with Mixomatosis, but is that still around? (see footnote)

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A chaffinch foraging around in the gorse and blackthorn scrub led my eye to this sunlit spider’s web and distracted me from further over-imaginative thoughts!

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Had a bit of a slithery walk down Rabbit Hill then headed back to leave the site. I took the path closest to the cliff edge to avoid oncoming late afternoon dog-walkers and spotted this bird sitting on the top of a gorse bush seemingly looking out to sea. Once again the sun was obscuring it from proper view but there was no mistaking this was a Kestrel, a young one I think. It was very cold now but the bird was sitting perfectly still with its feathers fluffed out.

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I risked walking back around to get some better lighting, expecting it to fly off, but although I think it was aware of me it stayed put. I did get to a point with a better view – and the camera battery died! Time to go.

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More about Myxomatosis

When I wrote this post and mentioned the ‘poorly’ rabbit I had seen, I hadn’t realised that the horrible disease,  Myxomatosis, was still present and affecting rabbit populations in the UK. As a country-bred child back in the ’60s, I remember seeing many affected rabbits which I found distressing, and as the poor rabbits were sick they were easily caught by our cats, who didn’t kill them, but did bring them home. I also didn’t know then that it could be passed on to pet rabbits; now they must be vaccinated against the disease.

The disease called Myxomatosis reached the UK in 1953, where the first outbreak to be officially confirmed was in Bough Beech, Kent in September 1953. It was encouraged in the UK as an effective rabbit bio-control measure; this was done by placing sick rabbits in burrows, though this is now illegal. As a result, it is understood that more than 99% of rabbits in the UK were killed by the outbreak. However, by 2005 – fifty years later – a survey of 16,000 ha (40,000 acres) reported that the rabbit populations had increased three-fold every two years, likely as a result of increasing genetic resistance, or acquired immunity to the Myxomatosis virus. Despite this, it still appears regularly at rabbit warrens.

If you’ve never seen an affected rabbit, I can’t stress how awful it is. Initially the disease may be is visible as lumps (myxomata) and puffiness around the head and genitals, which progresses to acute conjunctivitis and possibly blindness; this also may be the first visible symptom of the disease. The rabbits become listless, lose appetite, and develop a fever. Secondary bacterial infections occur in most cases, which cause pneumonia and purulent inflammation of the lungs. In cases where the rabbit has little or no resistance, death may take place rapidly, often in as little as 48 hours; most cases result in death within 14 days. Not a good way to die.

Wild rabbits tend to recover quickly once the disease has passed; a certain density of rabbits is needed to keep the disease going and once the number of rabbits drops below that level the disease will disappear until the rabbit numbers increase again.