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16 Jul 2018

Butterflies

The warm weather has certainly helped our local butterfly population. A couple of years ago I found my first Ringlets locally as part of the species continued expansion into Cheshire. See here.

This year there are more than ever and a walk along the cycle path adjacent to the railway line a few hundred metres from the house was rewarded with good numbers of Ringlets along with Comma, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Large White, Small White, Speckled Wood, Small Skipper, large Skipper and 2nd generation Holly Blues.

There are also more Grasshoppers than I can ever remember finding locally.


9 Jul 2018

Frog Orchids

After missing out on seeing these little beauties last year, as they'd already flowered by the time we got our act together, I was keen to see them this year as I'd never seen Frog Orchid before. Mark P arranged to meet me near work and we set off to explore a couple of sites. Firstly a well known site near Wrexham for Dune Helleborine. We found plenty of plants but they were not yet in flower so we quickly moved up into the hills to an old lead mining site where Frog Orchids are relatively easy to find............

Unfortunately the dry weather has had an impact on all wild flowers at the moment and although we did find three Frog Orchids they were past their best already. It took awhile to get your eye in to find these diminutive plants as they're only a few centimetres tall.



There were also Common Spotted And Fragrant Orchids on site but finding one in good condition was difficult - we think these are Heath Fragrants.

The site also had Quaking Grass which looks stunning when viewed close up and large areas of Wild Thyme. Last year we saw lots of Greyling and Dark Green Fritillaries but this year there were none but we did see plenty of Ringlets, Small Heath & Meadow Browns.


Returning home I took the opportunity to use the macro on the Figwort thats growing in our ditch.




27 Jun 2018

Hedgehog!

We know we've got Hedgehogs in the garden as I've seen them before and we regularly see their poo. Indy, the labrador pup belonging to our son and daughter in law, loves nothing better than eating hedgehog poo she finds on our lawn!

I was up really early this morning dropping jan of at Manchester airport as she's visiting our daughter in Australia for 2 weeks. Getting home around 6.30 I saw this Hedgehog feeding on spilt food beneath the bird feeders. It was unconcerned by my presence merely freezing rather than rolling up in a ball. Once  I got a few photos I retreated and within a minute or so it started mooching around and feeding again before trundling off into the hedge at the bottom of the garden.




Its great to know they're still around as Hedgehog numbers have plummeted in recent years and the nearest many people get to one is seeing one squashed on the road. The use of insecticides and slug pellets has resulted in many Hedgehog deaths and their only known predator are badgers that can easily open them up when they're curled into a ball.

Proof again that our policy of keeping the garden fairly wild and natural without using chemicals is helping the local wildlife.

Even the lawn is kept fairly wild even though its regularly mown (apart from a couple of areas we've planted up with wildflowers. Its full of white clover, black meddick, selfheal and buttercups - a pollinators paradise and with the mover set at a high setting the flowers remain and aren't crowded out by the grass.


Hedgehogs eye view of the lawn.

18 Jun 2018

Common Spotted Orchids.

A small over grown footpath alongside a railway embankment near where we live is a good local spot for Common Spotted orchids.  I took a mosquito filled walk along it one night last week. Its very overgrown in parts but on the more open areas its filled with these beautiful flowers.

We seem to have lost our local colony of Bee Orchids though as this is the 2nd consecutive year I haven't found any. It may have something to do with the farmer continuing to spray herbicide on the field margin where they're usually found.............









11 Jun 2018

Hares.

I love Brown Hares. One of my favourite UK mammals and sadly declining in many areas. Before we moved int our current house a couple of years ago I rarely saw them in our part of Cheshire but we are now lucky enough to have them  nearby. Last year we only saw two in the field opposite the house but recently we've seen three. From the interaction I assume there are a male and female and a spare male - he keeps getting chased off by the other one.

A couple of weekends ago  I saw them all together in a field about  3-400 m away but the other day they turned up in 'our' field but were distant. One of the first things I do each morning is check the field and pond for any new arrivals during the night. The other morning I was awake at 05.30 and sure enough the Hares were much closer.  Unfortunately I had to up the ISO on the camera because of the poor light so the pictures are grainy.

 The pair - traditionally a male Hare is a Jack and the female a Jill.
 The paired male keeping a close eye on the presumed 2nd male interloper.








Unfortunately Brown Hares can still be shot and unbelievably there is no close season for them in England so they're not even safe during the breeding season.

4 Jun 2018

Garden wildlife

The warm weather has meant I've spent lots of time in the garden trying to maintain some semblance of control over the areas that aren't left to go wild! The wildflower patch in the back garden is attracting a few butterflies in and we've had Orange Tip, Small Tortosieshell, Peackock, Large White, Speckled Wood & Holly Blue regularly but no Red Admirals yet. A new butterfly for the garden was Common Blue that I spotted whilst leaving for work Friday morning and stopped to get photos. Well worth being 15 minutes late for work!



Common Blue above and Speckled Wood below.



The ponds in the fields around us are full of Great-crested Newts but although we've regularly found Smooth Newts in the garden in the garden we'd never had Great -crested - until now! I found these two whilst cutting the grass and moved them to our rockery where they'd be safer. I also found a very skinny looking Smooth Newt in the wood pile as I was moving some logs.



As well as the butterflies theres bee na few other insects around. A Grey Dagger roosting on the garage wall and a Red - headed Cardinal Beetle soaking up the warmth.



Mammals have also been well represented with Short-tailed Field Vole & Wood Mouse being seen in the garden whilst in the field opposite we've seen Brown Hare (3) and Fox.

It appears that the nesting Blue Tits and Great Tits are finally catching up with their breeding season after a poor start to the year. Four broods were ringed last week totalling 28 chicks with the Blue Tits having broods of 10 & 8 whilst the Great Tits only had broods of 4 & 6. I've seen the Hobby again so I'm assuming they've gone quiet as the females on eggs somewhere nearby. We can't see the Little Owls at the moment as their nest hole is obscured by leaves but I heard the male calling during the day yesterday. Our local Ravens have fledged 2 young and all 4 birds are happily feeding o na dead sheep in the field opposite the house.

29 May 2018

Puffin Island 2018.Part 1.

I recently went across to Puffin Island, Anglesey with seabird researchers from Bangor & Liverpool University and the SCAN ringing team. Meeting at Penmon point we were ferried across on a beautiful warm may morning. My job on this first visit was to photograph as manny Razorbill rings as possible for the re-trapping adults for survival project (RAS). Often the ring numbers are difficult to read and we've found its best to photograph them and read them on the screen rather than relying on checking with binoculars and writing down.

With a bit of patience, by sitting quietly on the cliffs, the Razorbills get used to your presence and you can get good close up photos with a telephoto lens. We generally try to get around 50 re-sightings this way.

Its not all about the Razorbills though and I usually sneak a few other photos in - especially of  the Puffins.





The breeding season is a couple of weeks behind previous years and most of the species were on eggs. Unfortunately it looks as if Kittiwakes are really declining here and we didn't find any that had started nest building yet. Fulmars appear to be doing well though with several pairs seen.

Shags are way behind with their breeding season and most nests had eggs or very small young.


The gull colonies seem to be doing well with a few small Herring Gull chicks around and lots of nests with 'chipping' eggs. Many other birds were still incubating.

Razorbills and Guillemots were all incubating and it was fascinating to see the variety in colour between the predominantly blue Guillemot eggs and the white Razorbill eggs.


Historically it was thought the eggs of these species were pear shaped so that they would spin on their axis rather than rolling off the ledges. New research suggests that this isn't the case and that the real reason maybe to keep as little of the egg in contact with the substrate to stop the developing embryo being starved of air. The nesting ledges can get horribly messy with guano and the shape of the eggs ensures there is minimal contact.

A great day and a tiring one  - my Fitbit told me I'd climbed the equivalent of a 147 flights of stairs!