Wintergreens and Birds in the Woods

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January 2nd – Bryn Euryn 

Clear blue skies and frosted grass sparkling in brilliant sunshine were too much to resist, this had to be the perfect day for my first long walk of the New Year. Less than five minutes along my path into the woods I knew this was set to be a slow walk when I stopped to photograph berries on a holly tree. I was surprised to find so many remaining uneaten and noted ripe ones fallen and peppering the ground beneath. If not for that I may well have missed the flock of beautiful redwings that burst from the trees on the steep lower slope of the Bryn, exploding from their cover and rapidly scattering like shot from a gun, targeting branches of trees close by. There were a number of them, but impossible to count as once landed they are really difficult to spot. I was thrilled to see them and to be able to watch them and delighted that I got any photographs at all, so of two, this was the best.

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Redwing – Turdus iliacus

I knew there were redwings around as I’d been fortunate enough to see some from my kitchen window on the morning of New Year’s Eve and one a couple  of days before that, but I had no idea whether they were just passing through or were here to stay. I’m not certain, but I think they were searching through ivy for ripe berries. Now I am hopeful they will stay for a while, at least while they are finding food.

Ivy berries are in varying stages of ripeness

Ivy berries are in varying stages of ripeness

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Polypody fern

The majority of deciduous trees are bare now, but there is much that is green. Here we have our native holly, copious amounts of ivy, yew, a few Scots pines that are a native but that were most probably introduced, and rather a lot of laurel, once much beloved by Victorian gardeners.

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At ground level there are ferns, the polypody in the photograph above, and also hart’s tongue and male ferns.

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Hart’s tongue & a small male fern

And there’s lots of moss.

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Then my reward for wandering slowly and numb fingers on my gloveless right hand, left free to focus and press the shutter button on the camera; suddenly I was surrounded by the joyous energy and excited sounds of a number of small birds. A feeding party, a collective of a variety of species of small woodland birds united in the eternal search for food.

It’s impossible to say who arrived first, I didn’t sense that there were leaders and followers, more that the flock was operating as a single entity arriving at a pre-determined spot with potential for all members. Of course there were blue tits, also great tits and a couple of coal tits.

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Blue tit

An encounter with a feeding party of birds is a magical, uplifting and energising experience. The birds themselves exude excitement and energy, seeming to delight in the thrill of being part of a gang.

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Coal tit

The enchanting long-tailed tits were there too.

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Long-tailed tit

Once arrived they quickly settled to foraging amongst the trees and shrubbery, splitting back into their families or species groups. I would have been happy with the company of just the exuberant tits, but have to admit my attention was stolen from them when I noticed the treecreepers. Often included as members of a feeding party, there were two on a tree in front of me and then another two, closer to the side. What a treat to have that many of these gorgeous little birds so close and not only in range of the camera but with the added bonus of bright sunlight too.

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Treecreeper

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I lost track of time watching the birds, but they gradually moved away and passing people walking a dog and chatting  broke the spell and I too turned to continue my walk. But there was one more little treat to come – two tiny goldcrests, that may or may not have been with the feeding party, were working their way through a small holly bush nearby. I watched them for a good while, but they eluded capture by my camera, they are much too quick especially when trying to contend with foreground vegetation. The shot below was the best one I got!

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Goldcrest

Before heading on to the trail around the Bryn I had a look at the view over the boundary fence. The higher peaks of the Carneddau mountains have snow with clouds above them that look to be holding more. The warming sunshine had them shrouded in a light veil of mist, with more rising from the Conwy river in the valley below.

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Waders v Weather

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Colwyn Bay, on the Irish Sea, has big tides and at some high tides water levels can rise by 8 metres or more. On windy days big waves are driven in and as the tide reaches its highest point they crash dramatically, in places causing spray to rise and splash over the sea defences. Regardless of the weather, for the gulls and wading birds that feed here it is business as usual. For people, walking along the promenade on such days can be hard work and exhilarating, but for the birds that feed here on Rhos Point it has to be business as usual and whatever the weather or state of the tide the birds know instinctively exactly when to arrive and depart to best take advantage of fresh deliveries or deposits of food.

Interested to see how the birds responded to challenging conditions, I took these photographs on an exceptionally windy day when the incoming tide was set to be particularly high.

12:51 – Curlews begin to leave.

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12:52 – Most of the oystercatchers that feed here don’t travel far, passing the time between the tide-turns gathered together on the rocks of the seabreak in Rhos Harbour, a short flight away. Some linger longer than others.

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Herring gull, Oystercatchers, Turnstones and Redshanks

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12:53 – A group of Turnstones all facing towards the incoming water

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12:54- Big and bulky, Greater Black-backed gulls seem impervious to the rough conditions.

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12:57 – This photograph of an adult and juvenile Great Black-backed gulls cries out for a caption doesn’t it? I’m leaving it to your own imaginations though.

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12:58 – Turnstones on the sea edge, most standing on stones to keep their feet out of the water.

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12:59- Another Curlew leaves, calling to announce its departure.

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12:59- Turnstones and Oystercatchers. Interesting that they are all facing towards the incoming water but weren’t actively foraging for food. I think they are all facing into the wind, which would make them more aerodynamic and streamlined so they don’t get blown over.

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13:00 –

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13:03- Smoothing feathers ruffled by the wind back into place.

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13:05 – A Turnstone takes a bath, or is that a jacuzzi?

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Turnstone rock- hopping to higher ground

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13:07- The Turnstones are more-or-less gathered together now. They are difficult to count as they merge so well into the background of small rocks, but I got up to about 56 individuals and I’m sure there were others behind rocks and one another, so the actual number is probably 60 plus.

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13:08- Some Oystercatchers are getting restless, preparing to go while others seem in no hurry

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13:12

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13:18- As the tide encroaches some begin to leave

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But the turnstones stay put, despite the rising water

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13:21- A Crow arrives and announces his presence loudly

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13:23- Another Oystercatcher is ready for the off.

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Some stay and scrutinise the water for any last-minute tidbits

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13:25: The Turnstones seem unperturbed by the water rising up around their small rock islands

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and are the last birds standing.

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13:45- The water has covered the Point.

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13:46

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Black-headed gulls are the only birds still flying. Low to the surface they seem to positively enjoy the rough conditions.

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13:50

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13:53 – The bigger gulls are unphased by the rush of the incoming tide and rather than fly away simply allowed themselves to be launched onto the water and rode the waves.

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13:54- Wind-driven waves smash onto a flight of concrete steps and shows how high the water would reach if the rip-rap defences were not there; those steps below the middle are worn smooth and their edges rounded by the regular scouring of the waves.

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Ivy Bee update

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October 9th

If you’ve been on the lookout for Ivy bees, the latest updated map of sightings (including mine!), has been published on the BWARS Facebook page today:

More news on Colletes hederae. The total number of records received as we head into the second day of the BWARS AGM weekend stands at 521. Today we received the wonderful news that the bee has been found in Lancashire for the first time, at Heysham. This is by some distance the most northerly record on the west coast. Perhaps a really thorough search at points between the north Wales population and the newly discovered one at Heysham might be possible? I know we have some very keen bee folks in Cheshire and west Lancs. I repeat that we still want records from sites which have had C. hederae in previous years, as well as multiple visits over the 2016 flight period.

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May Bee Appearing on Ivy near You

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I know our native evergreen climbing ivy can be a pain in a garden, but at this time of year when it’s flowering it is a magnet to a wide variety of late-flying insects. To one particular little bee that has set up residency here in Great Britain in recent years, it is vital.

October 6th

It’s always exciting to see a ‘new-to-you (or me)  species on your own patch and this week I had my first sightings of a little solitary bee I have only recently become aware of. It is commonly named the Ivy bee, as its emergence is set to coincide with the flowering time of yes, you guessed, the common but invaluable to late flying insects Ivy or Hedera helix, on which it feeds.

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4/10/16-First ever sighting of an Ivy bee-Colletes hederae

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Ivy bees are found in Austria, Belgium, Channel Islands, Croatia, Cyprus,France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain and Switzerland and are recent arrivals in Great Britain, but spreading and establishing fast.

BWARS – The Bees, Wasps & Ants Recording Society has been mapping the spread of the Ivy bee since its discovery in Britain 15 years ago. They say:

Colletes hederae was recorded as new to Britain in 2001 when Ian Cross discovered specimens at Langton Matravers in Dorset. Since then, the bee has spread across much of southern England (as far north as Shropshire, Staffordshire & Norfolk) and into south Wales. It is now extremely plentiful in some coastal localities, and increasingly, inland. Peak activity matches the flowering period of its key pollen forage plant, Ivy (Hedera helix), and the species is on the wing from early September until early November. This makes it the last solitary bee species to emerge each year. 

Where to find them

161006-rosrc-ivy-bee-2Ivy bees like patches of flowering ivy in sunny spots, often in gardens.They look like small honeybees but have an orange-yellow striped abdomen and a furry ginger thorax, so they are quite noticeable as they bustle over the green balls of ivy blossom. If there is a nest site nearby you may see several of them on the flowers at any one time.

161006-rosrc-ivy-bee-4Ivy bee lifecycle

Unlike the larger honeybee, which is a social insect and has queens, drones and workers, the ivy bee is solitary. They are mining bees and after mating, a female Ivy bee digs out a burrow in loose earth or sand, and creates underground chambers. She then lays several eggs which she stocks with pollen to provide food for the larvae when they hatch. Although each female ivy bee digs her own burrow, tens or even hundreds of females nest close together in colonies, usually on sandy banks.

As with many insects, the mating process may be a brutal affair. Male bees wait by the burrows for females to return, then ambush them. Many males may attempt to mate with a single female in their quest to sire the next generation, forming a writhing mass – or mating ball. The female dies a few weeks after mating and laying her eggs, but the larvae pupate and become adults, staying underground until autumn, emerging to repeat the cycle.

 

 

 

Catchers, a Duck and Divers

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September 10th-A brilliant day for birds continued….

As the tide began to return to the shore, every exposed rock in Penrhyn Bay was occupied by beady-eyed Cormorants.

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Black-headed gulls also waited.

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It seemed Rhos Point was the place to be for seabirds and waders today. In the time I have lived here I have never seen as many here all at once. I got there an hour or so before high tide, which is one of the best times to get close views of the birds waiting for their evening meal to be delivered. But as  there were also such a large number of terns and gulls swimming on the sea’s surface and flying low over it, there must have been fish there drawing them in, perhaps a shoal of small fish, sprats or whitebait¹.

The tideline at Rhos Point was crowded with Herring Gulls, Black-headed gulls and Sandwich Terns. A woman arrived with two dogs and stood and watched as they chased along close to the water’s edge, sending many of the birds skywards. I will resist having a rant about that, but it troubles me that people think it’s OK to allow their dogs to do that.

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Whilst waiting to see if the upped birds would return and re-settle I scanned along the sea edge to see what else might be waiting there. There were a whole host of Oystercatchers, trickier to see when their bright orange-red bills are tucked away whilst they rest. A few little Turnstones were dotted amongst them and then a larger bird at the back of this group, fast asleep with its head tucked well down – a duck for sure, maybe a female Red-breasted Merganser? Identifying ducks is not one of my strong points even when I have a good view of them.

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Standing in the shallow water were a good number of Redshanks

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and more Black-headed gulls.

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A few Sandwich Terns were in amongst this group of Redshank, Turnstones & black-headed gulls.

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I found only one Ringed Plover, although there could well have been more.

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A large number of Sandwich Terns occupied a finger of exposed rocks with a few Oystercatchers and gulls, with many more gulls bobbing around on the surrounding sea.

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The Sandwich Terns, here in large number today were noisy and excitable, with groups taking off and settling again in spots a few metres away along the shoreline. Some will remain here for the autumn and winter, but others will move on.

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Their association with Black-headed Gulls is one I’ve seen many times.

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There’s usually a crow or two waiting for the tide’s incoming feeding opportunities too.

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Amongst the multitude of gulls swimming around were several Red-throated Divers – difficult to keep in sight as they dive frequently and disappear just as you think you may have one in focus, but a man close by with a brilliant telescope patiently located them and let me have a close-up look. Still not easy as you can’t predict where they’re going to pop up again, but I managed a couple of spots – what an exciting treat. At one point I thought I may have got lucky with a view of a group of six birds, also swimming and frequently diving and disappearing beneath the surface, but they turned out to be Razorbills, not quite as ‘special’, but still lovely to see.

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They separated and mostly stayed too far out to see well without the aid of binoculars or a telescope, but as the tide progressed inwards, so also did one of the birds, allowing me a much better view of it.

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As I watched the razorbill, the duck also took to the water.

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I’m fairly confident it was  a female Red-breasted Merganser. (The female Goosander looks similar but brown colour of head extends around neck leaving just a white chin). On this bird the white of the throat seems to extend down the front of the neck.

¹ Whitebait is a collective term for the immature fry of fish, typically between 25 and 50 millimetres long. Such young fish often travel together in schools along the coast, and move into estuaries and sometimes up rivers.

 

A Brilliant Day for Birds

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September 10th – Little Orme, Rhiwledyn Nature Reserve

Taking the old cliff path around to Angel Bay, I disturbed a beautiful fresh(ly) Painted Lady butterfly. It circuited round a bit before settling on a stony patch, pressing its wings tightly against small sun-warmed limestone rocks.

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A small crowd of people gathered on the cliff edge above Angel Bay looked promising; maybe there was something exciting to see down there? But alas, no. They were simply chatting and the beach was empty. This convinced me that as I suspected, female seals don’t give birth to their pups here; if they did they would surely be here by now. There were seals here, but only two, both swimming lazily around in the water. On this cool, misty-damp morning I suspect it was warmer in the water than out. One was hanging in the water with just its face above the water, showing off a lovely set of whiskers.

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Another was simply cruising around peacefully.

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There is a thriving breeding population of Cormorants here on the Little Orme, so there is never a shortage of these brilliant birds to see, especially around their nesting site on the cliffs further around the headland. At this time of year and through the winter months, their numbers are boosted greatly and the steeply sloping cliff face that forms one side of Angel Bay is punctuated with a multitude of black dots and dashes. This is now Cormorant Central; the volume and frequency of arrivals and departures of birds rivalling that of aeroplanes into and out of a busy airport.

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I wonder how they work out their perching places? Do early arrivals get the prime spots and do they now have their own patch, or is it up for grabs if they leave to fish for lunch? Do they stick to family or colony groups?

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Whilst pondering on the whys and wherefores of Cormorant society, I was distracted by two little shapes down in the Bay – definitely birds but I was, of course, on the wrong side to see them properly. It’s not uncommon to get the occasional Guillemot or Razorbill here once the breeding season is over, so I didn’t really think further than that. Winter-plumaged Red-throated Divers didn’t enter my head at the time, but that is what they were. Birds we get around this coast during the autumn and winter, but most often much further out that you need powerful optical assistance to spot.

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I must get back into the habit of taking binoculars out with me instead of relying on my camera’s zoom; sometimes it’s not enough. In this instance a glimpse and a snapshot was all I got anyway; these birds are for once aptly named as they do dive – a lot, reappearing nowhere near where they went under. I walked around to the other side of the rocky hump on the Penrhyn Bay side of the headland as from there you get good uninterrupted views of a wide expanse of sea. Birds fly low past here, keeping close in to the cliff, so some good views of whatever is travelling by; mostly Herring gulls and a few Black-headed gulls today.

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Black-headed gullLarus ridibundus

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There was a Cormorant swimming around on the sea’s surface, giving a good view of the strong hooked beak.

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A small black and white bird bobbed into view and this really was a Razorbill Alca torda. It was a good way out to sea, but close enough that I could see, through the camera lens, that it was in the process of changing from summer to winter plumage. The plumage of the throat and sides of the neck change from black to white in the winter – the side of this one’s head is still a mix of the two.

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It was in no hurry to move away and intent on having a good grooming session.

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Members of the Auk family, to which both Razorbills and Puffins belong, look a little like penguins, although they are not closely related. The next few images show some of the similarities between them; species of both have black-and-white colours, an upright posture and share some of their habits.

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‘bye ‘bye little Razorbill, thank you for the photographs. Have a good winter.

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Now a perfect example of how my mind skips around. Although tuned into ‘bird mode’, I spotted a wild cabbage plant and thought ‘maybe there’ll be a Large White butterfly’s caterpillar on those leaves’. And there was, so a gap in my  last-but-one post can be filled in!

I was watching the Razorbill et al for a good half an hour, maybe more, then walked back around the cliff to have a last look around Angel Bay. The seals had gone, but the movement of a smallish bird on the cliff edge caught my eye. Rock Pipit came to mind, but no, it was a much lovelier Northern Wheatear. It was either waiting for the weather to improve or taking in some food before continuing on his long migration back to warmer climes; perhaps both.

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Northern WheatearOenanthe oenanthe

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I’m not certain whether this was a male or female as when males are in their winter plumage both sexes appear similar. I’m edging towards male as there seems to be a slate-grey patch remaining at the top of the wing. The bird’s common name of ‘Wheatear’ has nothing to do with its food preferences or its ears, but refers to its white rump (i.e white a**e)!

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More people arrived at the cliff edge and my bird flew away, down onto the big rocks on the beach.

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I began heading in the general direction of the ‘way out’, but hearing a Stonechat nearby diverted to see if I could find it. They’re one of my favourite birds and are often obliging in terms of appearing in the open. I wasn’t disappointed; as I passed by one perched up on top of a bramble, within whose tangled depths a pair have regularly nested.

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At first I thought this was an adult female , but as I got a closer look I could see it still has a speckled head, so it’s probably a juvenile of this year’s brood.

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Robins were out singing all around the site today, but more wary now of being seen than when they sing in the spring. The one I finally got close enough to photograph was perched on a bracken frond keeping a beady eye out for movements on the ground below, ready to pounce.

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Grey Seals on the rocks

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In UK waters Grey Seals breed during the autumn. Although the entire breeding season spans approximately 8 weeks, individual females will spend 18-20 days ashore, during which time they each bear and suckle one pup. Towards the end of lactation they come into oestrus, as soon as 16 days after giving birth, and are mated.

August 28th

Another windy day on the headland of the Little Orme, but sunny too and the tide was out. Perfect conditions for seeing Grey Seals hauled out on the small pebbly beach of Angel Bay.

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Angel Bay is an inlet on the Little Orme’s Headland on the North Wales Coast. Known locally as Angel Bay, on Ordnance Survey maps it is named in Welsh as Porth Dyniewaid.

Spotting one a short distance offshore in Penrhyn Bay was encouraging. The seal was suspended in the water with just it head above the surface facing towards the shore. They do this often and I’m sure they are ‘people watching’, as curious about us as we are about them.

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There were boys in the bay, enjoying themselves greatly by jumping off rocks into the calm sea. I’m sure they were unaware of the seals not far away from them, hidden from their view as they were by an outcrop of rock . Unwilling to risk venturing ashore as they would normally have done, some were making the best of small islands of rock uncovered by the low tide, hauling out their bulky bodies to enjoy the warmth of the sun. Unfortunately there wasn’t room for all of them and some were left to drift around keeping a watchful eye out for a space to become available. Grey Seals are the largest breeding seals we have in the UK and those on view were definitely large, quite possibly pregnant females as they do congregate at traditional pupping sites in the autumn.

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One had secured a rock of her own. She was rather beautiful, wearing a mantle of silvery grey velvet.

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These three were more sociable and had left room for another.

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After a bit of heaving and hauling the smaller one squeezed in, but there was no room left for more boarders.

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There are nine seals in this picture – 6 on rocks and three swimming around hopefully.

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The driver of one of the jet boats that take out sightseers from Llandudno pier spotted the seals and pulled in so people could have a closer look and take photographs of the seals. He must have passed the info on to other drivers as another boatload arrived a few minutes later. Then another who was a bit more intrusive and that I felt got a little too close. As I said before, seals are naturally curious themselves and are probably used to being observed from the clifftop, so they didn’t seem too bothered by the boats.

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As the boat was leaving I took a short video as it is unusual to see the seals awake and moving, although they still weren’t doing much. Perhaps because they were rather put out about their lack of space the seals were quite vocal too, although most of the noise here was made by the departing boat & the wind!

An hour or so later the smaller rock had been taken over by a much larger seal; poor thing looks like she’s about to burst!

160826-LORC43-One large (pregnant) seal left

 

Of Cabbages and Butterflies

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In these days of declining numbers of many, if not most of our butterfly species, I wonder if we will ever be persuaded to look more fondly, or at least a little more appreciatively upon our more common White ones? Might it have helped if those early entymologists and pioneer collectors had bestowed them with pretty common names, rather than the functional ones of Large or Small Whites?

160807-LTLORME (45)-Large White female nectaring

160807-LTLORME (36)-Large White flyingThe truth is, probably not. The butterflies downfall from our grace, supposing they were once in that state, coincided with our cultivation of cabbages and other related members of the brassiceae family for our own consumption. Plants that contain the stuff essential to the health and well-being of these butterflies’ larvae, as decreed by their evolution. The plants became abundant and readily accessible to the opportunistic butterflies and why would they not take advantage? They dared to invade our space though and became a serious pest, even an enemy. This is why many of us have grown up still calling both Large and Small Whites ‘Cabbage Whites’, especially if our parents grew our family’s veg. And why school cabbage often had a boiled green caterpillar in it.

Large White butterfly (male)

Large White butterfly (male)

In 1717 James Petiver published the first book devoted exclusively to British butterflies, entitled Papilionum Brittaniae Icones. In it  Petiver gave English names to a number of species, some that he made up himself. Others were taken from existing common useage, including Pieris rapis (brassicae), which he called the ‘Great White Cabbage Butterfly’ and/or the ‘Great Female Cabbage Butterfly’.

August 7th

160807-LTLORME (43)-Large White front view2016 has not been the best year for butterflies in general and my collection of species photographed so far had several gaps in it compared to last year’s, two of which were reserved for the Large and Small White. A walk on the Little Orme today filled one of those gaps. I was walking around the base of the cliffs, mostly looking up as I had spotted a Raven perched on a ledge and was trying to get close without disturbing it. It flew off of course, but below where it had been was a large bramble bush smothered in late blossom. Only as I got close to it did I realise it was attracting a crowd of White butterflies; so well camouflaged against the pale flowers in bright sunlight that I hadn’t noticed them.

Most of the butterflies were females, newly emerged, in need of food and clearly available to male interest. It took a few minutes for me to realise why there were so many here and where they had come from: until I spotted one fluttering around the leaf of a Wild Cabbage plant in fact! I couldn’t believe it had taken me till now to make such an obvious connection; the amount of times I have seen White butterflies here before, have noticed (and blogged about) the abundance of Wild Cabbage plants …… Oh well, I got there in the end!

160807-LTLORME (34)-Wild Cabbage plant

The Wild Cabbage (Brassica oleracea), sometimes known as Sea Cabbage,  is regarded as scarce by botanists as it is found in only 100 x 10km squares in the UK.  The Little Orme and Great Orme in North Wales and the Gower Peninsular in South Wales are strongholds of the plant. Where it does occur, the plant is found on maritime cliffs, usually of limestone or chalk, typically growing on or near to cliff tops or cliff bases, often on ledges containing other mixed herb communities.

160807-LTLORME (62)-Large White (f) nectaring on bramble

The Large White Pieris brassicae is a strong-flying butterfly. It is indeed large; males have a wingspan of up to 63mm & females of up to 70mm. Both have bright white wings with black tips to the forewings that extend down the wing edges. Females have two large black spots and a dash on both sides of each forewing that are absent from the upper surface of the males. The 160807-LTLORME (37a)-Lage White nectaring on brambleundersides are creamy-yellow.

In the British Isles the Large White is double brooded and females lay eggs any time from March to October. Most are laid during July and August when the numbers of resident butterflies may be increased significantly by migrants arriving from Europe. This also happens to coincide with maturing brassica crops.

Plants and insects have evolved together: plants needed butterflies for pollination and in return plants provided foliage for their caterpillars. The plants chosen as egg-laying sites by the Large White typically contain mustard oil glucosides, whose primary function when subsequently eaten by the larvae, is to make them distasteful to predators such as birds and protect them from attack. The preferred larval food plants are primarily various Crucifers, but they will also use Wild Mignonette and in parks and gardens Nasturtiums may be targeted.

August 26th

Back on the Little Orme to see if I could find Large White eggs and/or caterpillars on any of the plants around the bramble bush.

The butterflies avoid putting too many eggs on one plant to prevent the caterpillars running out of food and it took me a while to find an intact leaf that had an egg cluster beneath it. I only managed to find one caterpillar in a very early stage of its development, and as Small Whites also use the plants I can’t be sure which species it belongs to.

I finally found a well-grown Large White caterpillar on 10th September on a Wild cabbage leaf on an exposed part of the cliff directly overlooking the sea. It was a sunny day but with a chilly breeze and it wasn’t moving much. Clearly confident nothing would try to eat it.

160910-lorc31a-large-white-bfly-caterpillar

160826-LORC85-Wild cabbage plants on cliff

The Butterfly’s Status as a Pest species

In the present day, areas such as Great Britain, P. brassicae are now less threatening as pests because of natural and chemical control reasons. However, it is still considered a pest in other European countries, in China, India, Nepal, and Russia.

The most susceptible crops to P. brassicae damage in areas in Europe include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, Kohlrabi, rape, swede, and turnip. The attacks to crops tend to be localised, but can lead to 100% crop loss in a certain area. In addition, because of its strong inclination to migrate, adults may infest new areas that were previously free from attack.   It is estimated to cause over 40% yield loss annually on different crop vegetables in India and Turkey.

 

 

 

A Secluded Spot for Sunbathers

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“The perfect spot for sunbathing, in a peaceful woodland edge location, offers privacy and safety in which to relax or indulge in some leisurely grooming  preening. No charge for use of facilities”. 

160718-KW (3)-Blackbird sunning

This summer this ideal location, set conveniently for me just a few metres from my kitchen and bedroom windows, has been a popular spot with some of the local birds, particularly some of the younger ones.They come to make the most of this sheltered sun-trap to sunbathe, also known as ‘sunning’ in application to birds. Sunning birds may become so absorbed in the activity that they are easily approached, which can make them vulnerable to predators. They are safer here; there is no easy access to this spot from any angle, although a savvy Sparrowhawk may possibly be able to make a strike if it got its timing right so as not to cast a shadow.

160803-KW (3)-Blackbird & dunnock sunning

Dunnock and Blackbird sunning together

Most commonly we see Blackbirds and sometimes Robins sunning in gardens , but other species indulge too in slightly different ways.

160617-KW (17)-Blackbird 'sunning'

Sunbathing Blackbirds are a fairly common sight in parks and gardens

To begin sunning, birds orient themselves to expose the maximum amount of their plumage to the sun. The classic sunning posture is thus: head and body feathers are fluffed up and out and depending on available space and/or sense of security felt, one or both wings are held out from the body with feathers spread; the tail is sometimes fanned out too. The bird may keep the same position throughout a sunning session, or it may change positions to expose different parts of its body to the sun.

160718-KW (6)-Blackbird wing feathers

Sunning is often a precursor to preening, vital to a bird’s feather maintenance, and in this instance it is thought this has two effects; one is that the sun’s heat helps to spread preening oil across the feathers. The other is that it drives out parasites from within the plumage that can then be more easily dislodged as the bird preens.

Sunning and Preening demonstrated by a Dunnock

I’m fairly sure this session was more concerned with pest control than anything else.

Firstly, adopt the sunning pose: fluff out feathers and spread tail and wing feathers. Well, alright just the tail feathers will do for now.

160701-KW (4)-Dunnock sunning

Secondly, begin preening with any particularly itchy spots caused by unwelcome hitchhikers.

160701-KW (9)-Dunnock preening

Pay attention to armpits

160701-KW (5)-Dunnock preening

Some areas such as the head and around the eyes and bill can only be serviced by extending and lifting the leg and having a good old scratch.

160701-KW (13)-Dunnock scratching

It helps to have a flexible neck.

160701-KW (15)-Dunnock preening

That will have to do for now, it’s getting a bit shady here.Time to go.

160701-KW (28)-Young dunnock

The young Robin in the following sequence of images seems to be similarly afflicted with ‘lumps’ apparent on its neck.

160713-KW (7)-Young robin sunning

160713-KW (19)-Robin preening

160713-KW (29)-robin preening

The head and neck are areas birds are unable to reach with their bills and have to scratch with a foot.

160713-KW (10)-Robin preening-with ticks

The other side needs attention too.

160713-KW (34)-robin preening

160713-KW (33)-robin preening

It looks as though the bird’s frantic scratching has created a bald spot. And is that another lump under its eye?

160713-KW (22)-Robin preening

During sunning sessions birds often have their bills open. This is because the warmth of the sun raises their body temperature and as they can’t release heat by perspiration, they have to regulate it some other way, so will gape and sometimes pant in order to lose heat.

160617-KW (1)-Robin 'sunning'

To sum up, no-one knows for certain the reasons birds sunbathe, although several theories have been proposed.

  • To maintain the bird’s feathers in good condition. Exactly how sunning assists with this is not known, despite being widely studied. All birds have a gland on the rump, called an oil gland. The ‘preen-oil’ that this gland produces helps to keep the feathers flexible and hygienic. As preening usually occurs directly after sunning, it has been suggested that the sun affects the preen-oil in the feathers in some beneficial manner, or that it helps to synthesize the Vitamin D  and helping to regulate it’s temperature.
  • The heat from the sun may stimulate activity in parasites within the feathers, making them more accessible when the bird starts to preen.
  • Birds also make use of the sun’s heat to increase their body temperature or prevent heat loss. This form of ‘sunning’ is also used when the bird dries itself after bathing.
  • They do it simply because they enjoy it.
160803-KW (12)-Wren sunbathing 2

A tiny Wren enjoying a quick sunbathe on a laurel leaf

 

 

 

 

 

More Signs of Summer Passing

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August 3rd

Did I mention the strong west wind that was pushing the rain clouds across the mountains towards us? Only once I’d left the shelter of the trees to continue upwards did I realise how strong it was, with sustained gusts forcing the long grasses and wildflowers to bend to its will.

160805-Bryn Euryn (78a)-View

The grassy edges of the lower summit are full of wildflowers. On the exposed side there is mostly Knapweed, with touches of Ragwort and a white umbellifer I think is Upright Hedge Parsley. There was more Red Bartsia, just one plant as far as I could see, but a better one to see properly than the one lower down. On the other side, sheltered by a belt of Blackthorn, the red berries of Lords and Ladies, Cuckoo Pint if you prefer or plain old Wild Arum.

I didn’t take this exposed path to the summit today, but ‘turned left’ to continue into the sheltered hollow where I thought there may be more insect activity.

160805-Bryn Euryn (84a)-Summit Trail

A  wasp clung on to a lone Hogweed flowerhead swaying in the wind amidst a sea of waving long grass.

160805-Bryn Euryn (103)-Hogweed in a sea of grass

There was a sizeable patch of  the umbellifer that may be Upright Hedge Parsley amongst dry  long grass, but as I photographed the flower it was visited only by a single, quite faded Sun Fly hoverfly.

There were a few Meadow Brown butterflies doing what they do – suddenly flying up in front of you from where they had been basking on the warm earth of the track and heading into the safety of the grass. There were a couple of Gatekeepers too, sheltering from the wind to bask low in the brambles. The one  I photographed had a wing-tip missing; maybe a narrow escape from a predator, but such damage can be one of the hazards of territorial scraps and of frequenting thorny brambles.

And just for some colour, Rosebay willowherb, which I always think is quite out of context here, even if it does look pretty. Today at least it was giving nectar to a few little bumblebees.

160805-Bryn Euryn (94)-Rosebay willowherb flower

From the summit the views are always spectacular and today you could clearly see the low clouds skimming the tops of the higher Carneddau mountains to the west and heading our way.

160805-Bryn Euryn (101)-Incoming weather

The effect on the seascape was strangely beautiful too. Looking to what is roughly the south-east across Colwyn Bay, the  distant hills were obscured by a mist hazeand although the sea appears to be flat calm; the wind was rippling back the surface, giving it texture, while the moving clouds created dynamic areas of light and shade. Mesmerising.

160805-Bryn Euryn (99)-View-Colwyn Bay

160805-Bryn Euryn (102)-Shaded sea

Back to earth I headed across the hilltop to make my way back down the other side. Mushrooms continue to pop up from the short turf and are still being nibbled. I’ve done a bit of research and from their shape I think they are a species of Boletus. This one was encircled by another of my favourite wildflowers of late summer, the lovely and semi-parasitic Eyebright. There are two variations here – plants with flowers blotched wih purple and others the more usual white with yellow centres.

160805-Bryn Euryn (110a)-Mushroom with Eyebright-Euphrasia micrantha

Further down the slope where Knapweed grows in the longer grass, there were a few nectaring insects. A Common Carder bumblebee, a male Red-tailed Bumblebee and a few hoverflies. There was also a badly-damaged Burnet moth that had somehow managed to haul itself up a flower stem to feed, despite having lost at least half of all of its wings.

As I reached the bottom of the hill I stopped by a patch of Hogweed growing right on the edge of the woodland. The clouds finally cleared the way for some sun to shine through, which encouraged out a little flush of hoverflies. There was a lovely fresh female Myathropa florea – mentioned in a previous post as having the memorable and distinguishing ‘batman logo’ marking on its thorax. It was extremely mobile, but clearly hungry and from a distance I managed to get some images showing it from several angles.

Then a treat to end the walk – a petite and dainty hoverfly with black and white markings, another new-to-me species.

160805-Bryn Euryn (184)-Leucozona on Hogweed

This insect was tiny, highly mobile and flying frequently between adjacent flowerheads, so my photo opportunities were few and some of the images I did get were a bit blurry. I’m not sure if its a Leucozona glaucia or similar looking Leucozona laternaria. My book tells me the former are ‘abundant’ in this part of the country and the latter more so here than further east.

If you are interested in finding out more about Eyebright, I have posted more info and pictures of it in my new blog which will be dedicated mostly to wild flora in their habitats, called, funnily enough ‘where the wildflowers are’.