Saturday, 24 August 2019

More Than A Hobby

I suppose I am fortunate, or maybe not so, that all things ecological provide me with my 'bread and butter' as well as being a life long absorbing passion. One thing is certain, and I know I have said this before, that it has been my 'bread and butter' birding that has been providing with my natural history fix. And that has certainly been the case over these past ten days or so!

Anecdotally, it would seem that some bird species have had a good breeding season, and Willow Warblers being one of them. About ten days ago I was at one of my woodland plantation survey sites near Penrith in Cumbria, and I was listening to a Willow Warbler giving a bit of that late summer/autumn sub-song. I decided to 'pish' and see if it responded, and perhaps I would be able to obtain a snap or two. The 'pishing' worked, as five popped out to see what I was, or what I was up to!

Did I obtain the 'snap' I was looking for? I think the series of three pictures below answer that question, and the answer is no!

 The Willow warblers would occasionally forage on the ground on bare
earth, as this individual showing us it's back is demonstrating1

In total I recorded fifteen Willow Warblers during my survey, including three giving that sub-song that I mentioned. I had a Tree Pipit over high, my second of the autumn I think, and the other highlight was the flock of 27 Tree Sparrows that I saw take off from one of the wooded compartments, circle round gaining height, and then heading off south en masse! I have seen this before at this time of year, and I assume it is birds using the plantation to roost before heading off to feeding areas. The 'best of the rest' included three Buzzards, a Raven, 53 Goldfinches and a Song Thrush.

I've mentioned before a piece of woodland locally that I walk to if I am having a day in the office, to stretch my legs and get a breath of fresh air. Being a Naturalist and a habitual keeper of notebooks (I have every notebook back to when I started birding in 1976!), when I do this walk I record everything I see and hear in the woodland. Within the woodland are two ponds, and on the way to the woodland I pass another pond. The ponds contain mainly Mallards, with perhaps a pair or two Moorhens on each of them. There is very little marginal vegetation on either of them, probably as a result of the large number of Mallards and being surrounded by trees.

All of the ponds have Terrapin sp. in them, probably unwanted pets that have been released there, and the most common Terrapin found in UK water-bodies is the Red-eared Terrapin. As one website that I looked at said, originally they were native to Britain around 8,000 years ago and have returned, transported from the USA as pets during the Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles cartoon craze of the 1980s! Anyway, my reason for mentioning them is that they are part of the picture that I am trying to convey that these ponds aren't the best when it comes to biodiversity!

I have recorded the odd Grey Heron, and for a couple of years I had an over-wintering Coot, but over the past week or so there has been a Great Crested Grebe on one of the ponds! This has got me really excited, sad I know, but it just goes to show the pleasure you can get out of watching a local patch!

Yesterday, Gail and I headed to one of my plantation woodland survey sites in north Cumbria near Wigton. Willow Warblers were once again a feature of the morning, but it was an adult Hobby that made the headlines! Whilst walking through the trees counting, recording and mapping we heard some Swallows alarm calling, and I thought "there's a raptor about"! As we approached the southern edge of the trees I thought I saw a larger bird (larger than the Swallows that is) trying to alight on some telegraph wires. I later realised that it was probably the Hobby stooping at some perched Swallows! When we came out of the trees we were greeted with the sight of a 'red trousered' adult Hobby flashing past over our heads! It made a few passes over the trees chasing and stooping in attempt to catch some Swallows. After what was probably just seconds, though it seemed longer, it gained height and we lost it over the trees. Stonking!

I mentioned Willow Warblers again being the feature of the morning, and they were with nine recorded, but otherwise it was quiet with just eight Stock Doves, a singing Chiffchaff, two Great Spotted Woodpeckers, a Blackcap and two Goldcrests making it from my map to the pages of my notebook.

We then had a three-fold mission over the border; a trawl around about a dozen houses in southeast Dumfries and Galloway to see what we could get for our money, a look on the Solway near Rigg and to procure a selection of Orkney Brewery beers!

We drove past and stopped to look at about a dozen houses in various towns and villages around Annan and Gretna, and we even had a larger cousin of the Hobby whilst looking at one particular cottage; a juvenile Peregrine headed low south across some fields and away!

Down on the Solway Gail went off foraging for Blackberries, having already foraged some Hazelnuts during our earlier bird survey. It's certainly been a good year for Hazelnuts, and there's a smashing crop. She only takes a few from different trees to ensure that nearly all of them remain for Red Squirrels, small mammals and other wildlife.

Back to the Solway. A number of waders, although not the usual varied selection, were feeding on the mud at the edge of the merse and I had three Greenshanks, 34 Curlews, 709 Lapwings, five Oystercatchers and nine Redshanks. In addition to the waders on the mud were 217 Black-headed Gulls and three Little Egrets. On the river were 17 Mute Swans (no sign of the over-summering Whooper Swan), nine Mallards, a Wigeon and just four Goosanders.

On the edge of the merse was a patch of mint and it was full of bees, nearly all Buff-tailed Bumblebees. I tried to get a few shots (below), but it was a tad windy and the mint was certainly waving about with the bees clinging on.

 Buff-tailed Bumblebee (above & below)

A successful tub of foraged Blackberries later, and the aforementioned Orkney ales procured, it was time to head home, but I don't think it will be long before we're back on the Solway!

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