Sunday, 8 June 2014

Walsworth Common 3

After the rain yesterday, today had dawned bright and sunny with a cheerful blue sky greeting me when I woke up. By lunchtime it had clouded over a little and there was a light breeze but I decided that a trip over to the Common to see how the meadow was progressing would be a good activity, rather than the housework.

As I crossed a bridge over the River Purwell I noticed some Sparrows darting around, in and out, of the trees and bushes on either side of the river. On closer inspection I noticed they had reddish-chestnut colouring on the top of their heads and realised they were Tree Sparrows (as opposed to the House Sparrows which have grey tops to their heads). The Tree Sparrows appeared to be looking for insects and were hopping from branch to branch. When they found something interesting, presumably edible, they would disappear off and another one would take it's place. I spent a pleasant 10 minutes watching all their activity.

The grass on one half of the common was now up to about knee height and seemed to be mainly grasses at the moment. There were quite a lot of Dandelions around the edge and they were losing their seed heads in the wind – to the point where there was a good coverage of Dandelion seeds on the shorter grass. Underneath a Sycamore tree there were also some Sycamore seeds.
In the hedgerow at the far side of the Common a Dog Rose was adding a splash of pink to the greenery, as were the Buttercups. Everything looked fresh and alive, quite different to how it had looked when I'd come down in March. There was also a faint smell of plants that added to the sense of vegetation growing as well as lots of sounds from humming insects, leaves and branches rustling and bird song. It felt like everything was now definitely getting on with life!

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Walsworth Common 2

On Saturday evening I set my alarm for 5.00 am and the next morning at that time dragged myself out of bed. I always hate the thought of getting out of bed so early, especially at the weekend, but the reason I did it was that I knew from experience it would be worth it.

Walking onto Walsworth Common just over half an hour later, the weather was sunny and fresh (some people might say cold but it was invigorating so we'll go with fresh). It was also noisy. There was a cacophony coming from all around. Robins, Chaffinches and Blackbirds were all doing their best to make themselves heard, as well as an occasional Pigeon. The bushes were alive with sound. I felt like there was a whole other world out of sight amongst the leaves that I was missing out on and wasn't aware of normally.

After a very enjoyable walk around the Common peering into the bushes and looking up into the trees trying to pinpoint the birds singing the songs, I decided it was now time for breakfast. Going back home, I felt cheerful, alive and ready to contend with whatever the day decided to throw at me. The early wake up was definitely worth it!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Peacehaven beach

Last week I went to the south coast for a few days and on a particularly fine day I went fossil hunting on Peacehaven beach. I'd heard there were fossil ammonites up to a metre in diameter on the beach. The beach itself is protected I think, so rocks can't be removed, although someone would do well to walk off with a piece of rock a metre in diameter!
There were a couple of giant ammonites (Parapuzosia species) that I saw (the modern relatives of ammonites beong nautili). It was quite easy to spot the fossils, I just walked along the tide line and looked for the shape of snail shells. The fossils were all in the chalk and were between 0.5 and 1m in diameter.
It was a lovely morning – bright and sunny with a breeze. As well as the fossils there were limpets and marks on the rocks where limpets had been attached to the rock, clinging on and waiting for high tide so they could feed. There were also a large number of sea gulls – mainly Herring gulls – sat on the rocks just out of reach of the waves or soaring on the breeze. I had a great time scrambling around amongst the rocks and will have to get round to visiting some of the other south coast beaches to see if I can find any more fossils!

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Wrest Park

Today I went to Wrest Park to explore the Gardens and see what wildlife it was home to. As it turned out I saw lots of interesting creatures and plants. The Irises were starting to grow and sprout new leaves in the ponds ready to produce a colourful display in a few weeks time all being well. There were a couple of species of pond weed growing in abundance (I couldn't say which species, I'm not very good at pond weed). There was no frog spawn as yet but then I didn't see any frogs either!

A bit further along there was a Red Kite soaring over some fields. It was quite far away but it's pale head could just be made out and it's forked tale was clear. There were a few pairs of lapwing in the field that the Red Kite kept worrying and they would fly up calling 'Peewit, peewit' before coming back down to the ground again. A couple of skylarks were also up in the air and their song was falling down on the breeze to be heard from where I was stood. I'd only gone a couple of hundred metres and seen lots already.

There were sticky buds on the Horse Chestnuts, empty Beech nuts next to the new buds on the Beech trees and old seeds still hanging on the Sycamore trees. There were birds singing – Robins, Wrens, Great tits, Blackbirds to name just a few more, as well as Bumble Bees making zig-zagging flights over the grass.

In some ponds there were signs of life with some silver fish gliding along the water before disappearing back underneath the surface – I don't know what they were or what they were doing. It could have been feeding or some sort of display. Fish behaviour is something else I need to find out about!

Pond skaters were darting around on the surface of the water. I just caught sight of them moving out of the corner of my eye as I was looking at some pond weed. Coot were feeding and swimming around, seemingly trying to pick fights with each other. A Grey Heron flew over, there were Mute Swans and Greylag Geese walking around paying very little attention to anything else.

In the two hours I spent walking around I saw loads of species of plants, birds and insects as well as a few fish. I think that was two hours well spent!

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Walsworth Common

Last weekend there was a brief sunny spell which I decided to take advantage of and visit Walsworth Common. The weather was a bit breezy and not as warm as it had been, but the sunshine was warm.

The River Purwell runs along the north and east of the Common and there is often a Little Egret on the river first thing in the morning. It wasn't there this time but I was there a bit later than usual and quite a few people had been out and probably scared it off.

To the east of the Common, the River Purwell is quite shallow with lots of underwater plants growing in it. I need to try and find out what they might be. It looked like the sort of river that might have little fish in it later in the year. That's something I'll have to keep an eye on!

There were rabbits out along the railway embankment to the west of the Common and quite a few burrow entrances were visible along the edge of the Common. I also saw some Blackbirds, Magpies, Robins and Blue-tits. A lot of the trees had new leaves on them and looked bright and cheerful in the sunshine. By this time dark clouds were looming into view and I decided to head home. Wildlife takes shelter during bad weather and so do I!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Signs of Spring.

Today was a lovely day – sunny with a gentle breeze and the warmest day of the year so far (17 ยบC on my thermometer at home). To celebrate I went for a stroll round part of the Letchworth Garden City Greenway path from the Willian Arboretum west to the A505.

As I walked through the arboretum I saw Long-tailed tits, Robins, Blue-tits, Great-tits, Chaffinches, Magpies and Crows. They all seemed to be busy defending territories or looking for food, one blue-tit in particular spent a few minutes looking for insect grubs on a tree branch. There was also a Green woodpecker in the vicinity. I didn't see it but I heard their distinctive 'yaffling' call a couple of times.

As well as the birds getting out and about with breeding and feeding in mind, the trees are also coming into bud – a lot of them had new leaves sprouting and the beautiful, white flowers were out on the Blackthorn bushes. I spotted Celandines, Speedwell and Daisies and sticky buds on the horse chestnut trees as well as hazel catkins.

Insects too were making the most of the lovely weather. I saw a Brimstone butterfly and a whole host of Tortoiseshells. A couple were sunning themselves by the side of the path as it went round the edge of a field.

Towards the end of the walk I heard the Green woodpecker again and looking up was just in time to see it land on a tree briefly before dropping down into a field out of sight, scaring a Crow out of the tree as it did so.

It was lovely being able to get out and about in the sunshine and see so much wildlife with relatively little effort. Heading home for a cup of tea and a piece of cake I was already trying to decide where to go next week.

Monday, 24 February 2014

3 grouse in a day!

 Last week I went on a trip to the Cairngorns, they're not local to Hertfordshire I know, but I felt I deserved a holiday. It was great! When I arrived on Monday the weather wasn't at it's best – a bit drizzly – but by the time it got to Wednesday it dawned bright and sunny. This was fortunate because at the time I was stood out on a windswept bit of moor with three other people waiting to see if the black grouse would come out and do battle on their lek site. They did! We saw seven grouse in all put on a fine display of posturing and flutter fighting.
After watching the black grouse for an hour (they keep time very accurately and disappear pretty much after 60 minutes) we went and found some breakfast: a bacon bun and some tea to warm us up.
Then it was on to the Caledonian forests in search of the Capercaillies. After 30 minutes or so of wandering round a wood there was a clacking sound of wooden blocks being smacked together and a black, turkey-sized bird appeared out of the heather on a ridge in front of us. We were being challenged by a Capercaillie! This was a 'rogue' bird – one that is more aggressive and doesn't back down. The guide we were with said it was important for the bird's psychology that it dominated this patch of forest so we should slowly back away and let the bird feel as though it was winning. This we did and as it slowly advanced we all managed to take some photos as well.

Next we went to a different part of the forest to find to see if we could find some Crested Tits. These are lovely little birds with a call that sounds like they're chuckling about something. They are very flighty though and don't stay still for very long. They're also don't like moving very far from home so they have quite a small range in the UK. They also have red eyes which I noted with a bit of a surprise.

During the afternoon we stopped on the moors again. This time to see if we could spot some Red Grouse. In amongst some heather we soon found our quarries who very kindly posed for us. They were quite easy to spot – their heads bobbing up and down, in and out of the heather – and their copper colour was stunning.

In all we spotted 38 bird species and five mammal species (including red squirrels, mountain goats and red deer) on our day of wildlife watching. A pretty good count and a very enjoyable day out in the early spring sunshine!