Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Sandwell Valley - October 2014

On Sunday I was back at RSPB Sandwell Valley, volunteering in the hide once again. Apart from the singing Chiffchaff by the temporary visitor centre (wonder if he'll stick around over winter?), it felt very autumnal when I arrived, with lots of atmospheric mist swirling around, but that soon burned off in the bright sunlight. However it left all the spiders' webs covered with water droplets for a good while!

Spiders' webs after the mist had cleared.
Autumnal vibes!
Down in the hide, things were feeling distinctly autumnal too - all the hirundines had departed, and wildfowl numbers had increased, with good numbers of Gadwall, Goosander, Pochard, a few Teal and Shoveler, and quite excitingly 2 Pintail (not a regular winter inhabitant), around. No sign of any Wigeon today but I'm sure they'll be back soon too. We also had very nice views of a few Snipe feeding and resting on the islands and shore of Forge Mill Lake, and we heard but did not see a fair bit of Water Rail activity. The clear skies seemed to be conducive to hunting raptors, we had multiple sightings of Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard. Raptor-like visual acuity would have assisted us too in getting a better look at the Kingfisher that whizzed past the hide a few times!

I, er, completely forgot about looking out for new plants to try and ID, doh! I blame sleepiness brought on by enjoying myself over the past few evenings since my exam, I fell asleep on the bus on the way home from Sandwell :oD I did however at least remember to attempt some drawings. Since mid/late summer, the Cormorants have been gathering and now there are usually between 15 and 20 to be seen most days fishing in Forge Mill Lake and drying off and preening on the boom marking the reserve boundary.

Cormorants on the boom.
I think Cormorants are very charismatic and fun to draw! In particular they have beautiful dark aquamarine eyes! Here are my attempts:

Cormorant sketches.
Cormorant sketches.
I also played around trying to digiscope the Cormorants too, these were probably the best/least vignette-y results:

Digiscoped Cormorant.
Digiscoped Cormorant.
Back at the temporary visitor centre, Alex (Sandwell Valley Visitor Officer) gave me an awesome chunk of fossils! She'd found it at Winnats Pass in the Peak District when she used to work there. The pass is formed of Carboniferous limestone, which long ago was coral reefs, and consequently is full of fossilised wee beasties. Alex had brought it in for me knowing my interest in geology, cheers Alex! :o)

Fossils from Winnats Pass....I think this is part of a bivalve shell.
Fossils from Winnats Pass.....bits of bivalve shell, crinoid stem pieces, and some nice quartz.

Friday, 10 October 2014

Quiet but pleasant day at Spurn

It's been a while since I last did any bloggage! I had another exam a couple of days ago so the weeks leading up to that were spend cramming my brain with as much knowledge about evolution (the subject of the module I had been studying) as I could. Now that's out of the way I am very much enjoying being able to relax for a bit before I start studying my next module (oceanography!) towards the end of this month. Only that and one other module, my final project, to go then I will have finished the whole degree by this time next year, EXCITEMENT!!!!! It will have taken in total just under 6 years, I am going to feel pretty pleased with myself when the end finally comes :oD

In less exciting news (to me at least) my thumb affliction is no better - for a while it really seemed to be improving but then for some reason it got worse again. So I am still unable to recommence my daily drawing/painting, grump. Looks like I am probably going to have to head back to the doctors and get that steroid injection.

Anyway, last Sunday I decided to join the West Midland Bird Club's trip to Spurn Point, as my revision had been going well so I could afford to take a day off (well most of the day - I did take a bunch of revision notes to read on the coach). Most of the rarities of the previous few weeks had cleared off, although apparently there was a Richard's Pipit knocking around somewhere - however we didn't fancy our chances with that skulker! As our time there was limited instead we headed off to see whatever we might find. As soon as we got off the coach we saw a few Swallows, and Linnets in the hedgerows. Soon we were enjoying waders galore in the estuary - Ringed Plover, Knot, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew, Sanderling, Oystercatcher and Dunlin, along with many Shelducks and a few gulls. Closer in, a Red Admiral butterfly fluttered past too.

The Humber estuary.

We decided to stop for lunch sitting on the rock armour overlooking the estuary; just before we sat down we spotted a lovely Wheatear on the rocks a bit further down from us. As we sat eating our lunches quietly watching the Wheatear, it slowly came closer and closer giving us excellent views, before a bunch of overenthusiastic photographers appeared and spooked it away back down the bank. Blah!

Nice spot for a Wheatear.
As usual I was on the lookout for new plants to try and learn, here are a couple:

Couldn't work out what this one was - some member of the daisy family? Suggestions welcome!
Not 100% sure but I think this might be Spear-leaved Orache (Atriplex prostata)?
We continued onwards, taking in Skylarks, Reed Buntings, a Stonechat and looooads of Little Egrets. Although the sea had been quiet when we first arrived, we stopped at the seawatching hide to give it another go and saw a lot more - I spotted Wigeon, Razorbill, Gannet, Red-throated Diver and Common Gull, along with plenty of Grey Seals! As the weather was so nice though everything was far out, and I think I have mentioned previously that I lack patience/skill when it comes to seawatching. I could make out distant skuas and terns, but of what species I could not ascertain!

We walked back along the estuary path again, where by now the tide had come in, bringing the waders much closer - we added Grey Plover, Snipe and Bar-tailed Godwit to our lists, and also Brent Goose and a distant Raven flying down the estuary.

The Humber estuary, now full of water with some Brent Geese.
We bumped into another member of our group who told us he'd seen a Whinchat nearby, so Andy M and I followed his directions to the spot - Whinchat isn't a bird I get to see often and it would be a year tick. Sure enough the Whinchat was exactly where we were told it would be and very fine it looked too in the late afternoon sun.

Although we hadn't really seen anything out of the ordinary, it was nonetheless an enjoyable day in nice weather at Spurn......it had been too long since I last went out birding, and it was just nice to be ourdoors in nature having a break from working/studying/revising. Nature is the best for restoring zen-like calm and happiness if you've been feeling a bit stressed out!

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Sandwell Valley - August 2014

On Sunday I was back volunteering at RSPB Sandwell Valley once again. Alf and I started with our usual walk around the reserve as there were plenty of volunteers in the hide. Very soon we were enjoying a most excellent surprise! As we made our way along the bank of the River Tame at the bend known to some as Kingfisher corner, Alf spotted a pair of Spotted Flycatchers in the trees above the path! It was a year tick for Alf and the first time I had seen this species on the reserve - they are infrequent visitors.

Here be Spotted Flycatchers!
We continued on our way feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves, and before long were enjoying another pleasing sight - a Small Copper butterfly, which eventually settled on the grass long enough for me to get a photo.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).
There were definite autumn vibes in the air, with many colourful berries ripening up nicely!

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus).
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus).
Lovely shiny Elderberries (Sambucus nigra).

There were still plenty of flowers to be found though, this was a new one to me to try and identify:

I think it might be Red Bartsia (Odontites vernus).

On the way down to the hide at lunchtime, we spotted the Greenshank that had been loitering in the marsh for a few days now. From the hide, the autumnal feelings persisted - there were a fair few House and Sand Martins, Swallows and late Swifts feeding up preceding their migration, a pair of Shoveler still in eclipse had appeared, and we had superb views of a Snipe feeding right next to the hide. Alas my attempts at digiscoping it proved pitiful, but I did get a few OK (if very vignetted) shots of a nice Lapwing:

Digiscoped Lapwing.
Digiscoped Lapwing.
I also messed around digiscoping the foliage on the bank, I like the resultant shallow depth of field:

Digiscoped wildflowers growing on the bank.
An obliging family of Mute Swans came and had a good splash around in front of the hide, before settling on one of the islands for some serious preening. I had a go at drawing them, I really enjoyed this - their large size and close proximity meant I didn't even have to look through my scope and I was quite pleased with the results.

Mute Swan family chillaxin'.
Preening Mute Swans sketches.

Preening Mute Swans sketches.
Preening Mute Swans sketches.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Devon fun!

Over the weekend, we went to north Devon to visit friends - we'd been around the same time last year and were super-excited to see our friends again, enjoy the beautiful surroundings, and stuff our faces with delicious food!

I was as always on the lookout for birds, butterflies, geology and new plants to learn too, and I was not disappointed. Here's some of the stuff I found:

The first place we visited was Watermouth Bay. Several Fulmars were gliding around the cliffs the whole time while we were there.
I think this is Betony (Stachys officinalis).
Part of a mystery sea creature, we found various bits of its shell. Anyone know what it is?
Cepaea nemoralis, been a bit obsessed with these and their sibling species C. hortensis of late as I'm doing an Open University project about them.
Lovely fissile slates with nice alignment of mica, giving bright shiny surfaces!
Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis).
Great quartz veins in the slate.
Rock Samphire (Crithmum maritimum) looks great against the shiny surface of the slate!
Fossils (I think) in the slate - not sure what of though, maybe trace fossils?
The next place we visited was the Valley of the Rocks. Bird sightings here included Gannet, Redstart and Raven.
Sheep's-bit (Jasione montana).
One of the wild goats that live at Valley of the Rocks.
I think this is the caterpillar of the Knot Grass moth (Acronicta rumicis).
Dodder (Cuscata epithymum).
The next day we went to Saunton Sands. While everyone else went in the sea, I went to explore Braunton Burrows! Bird-wise it was pretty quiet apart from some Linnets and Stonechats. Also spotted a Common Lizard!
Sea Stock (Matthiola sinuata).
Yellow-wort (Blackstonia perfoliata).
Common Restharrow (Ononis repens).
Sea-holly (Erynium maritimum).
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) butterflies were everywhere!
Male Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) on Traveller's-joy (Clematis vitalba).
A new butterfly for me, Wall (Lasiommata megera)! Yippee!
I think this is a Dor Beetle (Geotrupes stercorarius).
Another new butterfly for me, Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)! I can't handle the excitement!

Sea Rocket (Cakile maritima).
I could wander Braunton Burrows for days, what an awesome place!