Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Redwing and grey squirrel

Our daughter only had a half day at school so I went to meet her at 12.30pm. It was a sunny day (the mornings and evenings are still quite dark and so the birds are usually waking up or getting ready to roost). As I approached the field of the animal sanctuary a big flock of thrush-like birds flew off to the west and disappeared into the trees. As I carried on along the road I saw another flock underneath the trees in Easthill Park feeding in the grass with some blackbirds. This time I got a closer look.

They were Redwing (as I had suspected of the earlier flock). There appeared to be about 12, but it was hard to see as they blended in really well with the leaf litter. Redwing are a winter migrant arriving October to November and leave again about March and April. Most of our winter redwing come from Siberia. Flocks of redwing roam across the UK's countryside, feeding in fields and hedgerows, occasionally visiting large gardens and more frequently observed in parks.

Redwing feed mainly on invertebrates and also berries and windfall fruit. It has been estimated that around 685,000 Redwing visit the UK in the winter months.They occasionally mix with flocks of fieldfare, another winter migrant.

On the way back home we saw this grey squirrel. From a distance we saw it leaping about in the branches. Then a roudy group of people came by and it scampered onto the trunk and pushed itself flat so that it blended with the bark.

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Damselfly larvae and plume moths

A mild day and so I decided to tidy up the garden, including the garden pond. This mainly involved removing the old plant material from the pond. Just in time I noticed a damselfly larvae hanging onto the stem of an old iris. I place it into a small dish to check it was okay before returning it to the pond. I double checked the other plant remains I had pulled out but did not find any other pond life attached.

I turned over the waterlily leaves and most had snail eggs on the underside, two had damselfly larvae so I decided to leave these alone.

In amongst the dry remains of last years pond grasses I noticed a plume moth flutter sluggishly amongst the stems. It appeared to be a brown Plume moth Emmelina monodactyla, I did not want to disturb it too much incase it ended up in the pond. Plume moths are very peculiar looking micro moths especially when their wings are tighly 'rolled' at rest. The brown plume moth hibernates as an adult moth through the winter.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

woodpeckers, squirrels and dancing sea gulls

On the way to taking our daughter to school we passed a thrush siting on a fence post, only a couple of feet away singing. To my surprise it did not fly off when we passed. On the way back I heard a great spotted woodpecker drumming and found it at the top of the usual tree. As I watched, the woodpecker started to forage and it was then I realised this was not the drummer and I soon spotted another woodpecker in the next tree. Like before this one was joined by a third and after much chasing around the branches they both flew off. I did not see what happened to the first woodpecker.
On the way to pick our daughter up from school in the evening I was attracted by the sound of a squirrel on the flint wall of the park. This was a warning call, a bit like a wheezy squeak repeated over and over. I could not tell what the cause of the excitement was, usually a predator nearby. This call may be directed at cats and large birds such as crows and magpies. Occasionally when checking out an irrate squirrel I have found the cause to be a kestrel or a fox. Sometimes the warning call is directed at a sleeping owl but I have not witnessed this yet.

On the corner of the road, where I meet my daughter, two herring gulls were performing a dance. This is done to attract earthworms to the surface which they snatch up and eat. Standing side by side at one point they did look like a double act, but it was definately a free for all when they spotted a worm. It did look rather like Riverdance in flippers. It always amazes me how they can lift up their feet so quickly but keep there body still.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Fox Courtship

About 8.00pm last night I heard the distinctive cry of a fox. Courtship and mating takes place in December to January. I watched from our front window and sure enough there was a fox trotting up the road. It crossed over to our side of the road and up the back alley that starts just past our house. This fox was quickly followed by a second. The street lights did not afford much illumination so we put on our porch light.

One of the foxes came back down the track disappeared up the road and then returned the same way. Up the dark alley way it was difficult to make out much. Lots of blood curdling screams that brought neighbours with torches investigating the source. Another fox trotted up the alley, now there was three. I grabbed my camera and stood at the corner of our house where I could see straight up the track. Occasionally a fox shape would cross the track silhouetted against the street light in the distance. Where I was standing I was about 3 metres from where the foxes passed (my shape was hidden against the house in the gloom). It started to rain and I was not really dressed for it in my slippers and sweatshirt. I stayed close to the house avoiding most of the rain.
After about 3/4 hour a fox came down the track and I took a couple of pictures (this is the best one because of the extra light) before it disappeared down the road. I then went back inside but the calls of the foxes continued for at least another hour.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Roe Deer

Not really a local sighting, but I can't resist including it none the less as it also fits the casual wildife sightings criteria. While teaching a shark course at a school in Crawley on Saturday (19 th January) I came face to face with a roe deer. The deer had been resting in the old overgrown willdife area. During lunch break, while the children were playing on the playground just the other side of the hedge with my fellow Tutor Felicity, I decided to take some photographs for a course I will be running in the summer. This means preparing a habitat map before hand so I took the chance to make a start. As I came round the back of the wildlife area I noticed the deer, infact I think we were both just as surprised to see each other. The deer sprange up and easily leapt the fence before galloping off across the field to the gate that led to the woods. It is not uncommon for roe deer to be solitary. I had been told that deer occasionally come into the grounds but I did not expect to see one in he middle of the day. I mentioned this encounter to the caretaker and he said that one morning last year he arrived at the school to find a mother deer giving birth.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Great spotted woodpecker

On the way to dropping our daughter off to school we heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree truck. I kept an eye out on the way back and noticed a woodpecker flying into the same trees (at the back of Emmaus) opposite Easthill Park (Portslade). Almost straight away the woodpecker started to drum on the trunk at the top of an old tree. This was a male great spotted woodpecker, recognisable by the red patch at the nape (back) of its neck. After about 5 minutes another great spotted woodpecker arrived in the neighbouring tree. This was a female (no red nape). Then a third woodpecker arrived and the female made what sounded like a warning call and looked agitated. This is the first time I have seen three together. After a couple of minutes she chased off the third woodpecker (could not see if this was male or female - possibly female and was considered a rival?). After another few minutes the original woodpecker flew off in the same direction, south west over to trees on the far side of the horse sanctuary.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Woodpecker drumming

This is a late post for Wednesday 9th January. At 8.05am, while returning from taking my daughter to school, I heard the woodpecker drumming in a tree that backs on to Easthill Park. Just as I reached the tree, a second great spotted woodpecker apppeared and after a short chase the first woodpecker flew east to a large tree about 100 metres away. The second woodpecker then commenced drumming. There are three old trees in this area that are used for drumming.

In the evening, while waiting to pick our daughter up from youth choir, we saw a large adult fox cross the road by Carden School in Brighton. I include these explainations to illustrate how wildlife watching often occurs as part of a normal days activities. An enjoyment of wildlife need not be restricted to 'free time'

Monday, 7 January 2008

Mild spell

We had an overripe melon which I put in the front garden for the birds, but was only visited by a few slugs once the weather turned mild.

Yesterdays (Sunday) mild weather was a welcome change. The early frost melted away, or turned to steam as in the image of our garden fence.

This large hoverfly (Myathropa florae I think) is sunbathing on our rockery. It did feel quite warm outside, at least warm enough for me to take this picture wearing a t-shirt.