Friday, 31 October 2008

Friday 31st.October 2008

After two days hedgelaying on the Greensand Ridge and yesterday doing heathland management work on the Common , it was nice to get out and see some wildlife this morning .
The monthly Bird Survey at Down House was due , so off I set . It was only 3C. when I arrived , and a cold wind was blowing down the valley below the grounds . Having seen the Redwings squabbling with the Mistle Thrushes on my last visit , I was quite expecting to see them again today , but it wasn't to be . In fact , the garden/orchard area was much quieter than usual , until I entered the walled vegetable garden , when the unmistakable 'chak-chak' call of Fieldfares broke the almost silence . A flock of 27 flew in from the direction of the cricket field , and seemed to be heading for West Kent Golf Course , an area abounding with Hawthorn and other berried shrubs . It was my first sighting of Fieldfares this season , and it probably heralds a period of colder weather . I have noticed in previous years , that when the Scandinavian Thrushes come in , at first they strip out the hedgerows of berries , before they can be found on the ground feeding on worms etc. Nothing fantastic to report , but a species count of 22 was quite respectable , but several expected species did not show . Of interest , along the Sandwalk , where Charles Darwin did a lot of his thinking , there was a flock of Long Tailed Tits numbering 15+ , it being very difficult to count as they were constantly calling and on the move .
As usual , Rose Ringed Parakeets were obvious from their continual screeching , and a conservative reording of 11 was made . Both Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also recorded . Apart from a flock of 50/75 Starlings flying in the same direction as the Fieldfares , the only other bird of interest was a single Yellowhammer .
For anyone who hasn't visited Down House , this is the seat , at the end of the Sandwalk , where Charles Darwin actually used to sit , contemplating his theories . Not the exact seat , but you know what I mean .
In the adjacent woodland , tree surgeons had felled a very dead tree , with a very large amount of Honey Fungus around the base of the trunk . The felling cut revealed how the rhizomorphs of the fungus had spread throughout the tree . It would have been nice to leave it as standing deadwood , but as members of the public are allowed to walk the Sandwalk , the dead tree had to go . Also in the same woodland was a good example of Xylaria hypoxylon-Candle-snuff or Stag's Horn Fungus .
By the time I got back to the house and garden , I was chilled through , but warmed by the show of Waxcaps on the main lawn . The large number of Hygrocybe calyptraeformis , the rare pink species , had reduced from 30 to just 2 , one on it's last legs , and this one , just starting it's time . Also showing well were Hygrocybe coccinea-Scarlet Hood
Hygrocybe punicea-Crimson Wax Cap and Hygrocybe nivea-Snowy Wax Cap
After lunch , a couple of shots out of the back bedroom window . The first , a strange pigeon type bird that has been around for a few days now . It doesn't have the white or green roundels on the neck that one would expect with a Wood Pigeon , nor the green roundel and dark outline of a Stock Dove , but it does have the white wing bars of the Wood Pigeon , one of those strange ones . Not the best of shots because of the sunlight .
The last shot , a Carrion Crow , on top of the garage roof , looking more like a Starling with the
bright sunlight reflecting off it's breast .

Monday, 27 October 2008

Monday 27th.October 2008

Nice to see the sun this morning after a really drab Sunday . I thought I would have a look around Sevenoaks Wildfowl Reserve , Kent Wildlife Trust site today . It was sunny but much cooler than of late , with a cool breeze off the water . I went to the first hide looking out on the main lake first . Large numbers of Grey Lag and a few Canada Geese were in the shallows and on the raised islands , many of them preening and washing . A few Cormorants were drying their wings , and a few Teal were feeding on the edge . There was also a large flock of Black Headed Gulls lounging and preening .
I made my way to Willow Hide on the other side of the River Darenth . My hope was that I might get a shot or two of Kingfisher , as there are branches placed for them to fish from . There was no sign of Kingfishers , and although the sun was behind the hide , a cool breeze was blowing through the observation slots . Once again , Grey Lag and Canada Geese were in good numbers , and once again , making lots of noise . Just before getting to the hide , a family of Mute Swans were feeding in the shallows , with the cygnets as big as the adults , but still showing that grey/brown juvenile colour . A single cob was patrolling in front of the hide . In front of the small island , two male Gadwall were following each other , with a couple of females some way off . The Grey Lag and Canada Geese were very restless and swimming left , arguing , then swimming back right before arguing again . Then , from behind the reeds on the right , swam , what I think is a Snow Goose , probably a juvenile . It followed the general ebb and flow of the other geese
and at one point stopped to preen just beyond one of the Canada Geese , which gives a size comparison . Then the cob Mute Swan came into the picture behind it . Eventually , it came quite close to feed and then preen in the shallow water just in front of the hide .
If it turns out not to be a Snow Goose , I apologise , but I'm sure there will be confirmation , or not , from some of the experts . One of the Canada Geese also posed in almost the same spot a little later .
All the time this was going on , a Cormorant was continually fishing , and by the look of it , having a pretty good strike rate , with most dives providing a small fish . No sooner had it resurfaced , then it was 'bottoms up' , and down into the depths again . I left the hide without my hoped for Kingfisher pictures , perhaps next time .
Before leaving the site , I had a look in at Grebe Hide , just behind the Visitor Centre . Just one Black Headed Gull below on the water , but as I went to leave , I caught sight of a Nuthatch on the feeders , just outside a fixed , glazed , observation slot . Also giving the seeds a real hammering were Great and Blue Tits , and below , under the feeders , Chaffinches and Blackbirds , picking up the spill . I settled down off centre and waited . It wasn't long before the Nuthatch was back , and it seemed that having left the feeder , it was back between 20/30 seconds . You could almost set your watch to it's timing . It's speed coming in , getting the seed and flying off again was incredible . There was no way it could be eating the quantity it was taking , and a couple of times I caught sight of it 'stashing' the seed into the bark of the Willow that the feeders were suspended in . As I said , there were also lots of Blue and Great Tits , and most seemed to have been ringed . Eventually , I tore myself away and headed off to Bough Beech .
Cloud was starting to build by the time I arrived , and a quick look from the Causeway did not show much . So I parked at the Visitor Centre and walked back to the scrape . A lady had been standing on the bridge as I drove in and she kindly informed me that half a dozen Redpoll along with several Tits were bathing in the shallows , and sure enough there they were , but not close enough for a photo . . What a great start . Looking across the scrape , a Grey Heron lokked like it was dozing on a fallen tree . Below on the water it was mainly Mallard , Coot and Moorhen , with a few Teal and a pair of Shovellor . In the orchard feeding station , there were loads of Finches and Tits , the odd Robin and another Nuthatch , which came to the nearest feeder . The Tits moved about constantly , but at times posed for a picture . A Goldcrest almost landed in front of me , but diverted to an adjacent Hawthorn Bush . I must have spent 20 minutes , just to get this one shot , so frustrating .

I had to cross the Greensand Ridge to get home , so had to stop briefly and turn a few refugia . There was no sign of the Great Crested Newt where it was found last week , but the Grass Snake was still in it's place , but ready this time , and was gone in a flash . I did find another Grass Snake , that also raced off , but I did get the going of him .
The next two days is hedgelaying on the Greensand Ridge and Thursday is working on the Common , so will have to see if anything comes along .

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Saturday 25th.October 2008

As I suggested yesterday , today was a day of hedgelaying and Buzzards . It didn't help that a shoot was taking place locally , and some of the beaters were actually in the field where we were hedgelaying . I had one good Buzzard sighting before the shooters got going , when it flew in and landed on the dead tree again . Must be one of it's favourite perches . Unfortunately , one of the beaters spooked it almost immediately , and off it flew . Another bird was heard calling just before we left , but it was not sighted .
Last Saturday , I said that one of the Corvids I saw when they all got up in the air , was larger , and could have been a Raven . Well , today I was talking to another birder at the hedge who lives within sight of Leith Hill tower , and he told me that there have been a pair of Ravens in the area for the last 2/3 years , so it could have been one of them last week .
He also mentioned that for the last couple of weeks , there has been an Osprey seen regularly in the area . I asked if there were any lakes around , and he confirmed that there was a trout fishery the other side of the tower , and that was where most sightings occurred .
Needlessly to say , I didn't get a sighting today , but perhaps next week ?

Friday, 24 October 2008

Friday 24th.October 2008

Firstly , an update on the spider posted yesterday . With the help of a very useful website , thanks Steve , I think that it is a Labyrinth Spider-Agelena labyrinthica . Not rare or anything , but an interesting fact is that after laying her eggs , the female stays with her young until they are ready to leave home . But , sometimes , she dies before the youngsters are ready to leave , in which case , they eat her . They are called Labyrinth spiders because the web they spin is like a labyrinth , with the egg sac at the end of the tunnels .
Once things brightened up this afternoon , I went for a walk over West Wickham and Hayes Commons , primarily to check the fire site was OK after yesterdays burn , and it was . Birdwise , it was very quiet , if you took out the Corvids and Tits , the only birds seen/heard were Green and Greater Spotted Woodpecker , Ring Necked Parakeet , Nuthatch , Goldfinch , Chaffinch ,Pheasant and Robin , and most of them were singletons . I did catch sight of two Vapourer moths , males , busily zig-zagging between trees , but no butterflies .
A couple of days ago , I posted a picture of Helvella lacunosa-Black helvella , well today I came across the other member of the family H.crispa-White Helvella , only the second that I have found this year .
Also found , the early stages of Ascocoryne sarcoides , which sounds as if it should be a polititian in France , rather than looking like purple jelly on a tree stump .
I have mentioned Armillaria mellea-Honey Fungus , also known as Boot-lace Fungus , a couple of times recently , and this is how it gets it's second common name . The fungus spreads by rhizomorphs , looking like boot laces , under the bark of the infected tree and also under the ground , to infect further trees . This is a very dangerous parasite , and there is no cure , so once it is in a tree , that's it .
The last fungi is one of the brackets , Coriolus polypore-Many-zoned Polypore , and basically , you get what it says on the packet .
About the only other thing I found on the wing was this fly , resting on a Russula . Normally , you wouldn't get anywhere near it , but I think it was cold , and just sat . I can't work out which one it is , it just looked very sorry for itself .
And finally , it's official . Following the visit to High Elms , which I was asked to lead , by Butterfly Conservation , Kent Branch , I quote from their Autumn/Winter 2008 Newsletter , talking about Silver Washed Fritillaries - " this was probably the best Kent site for this rather local butterfly , and certainly the best that I had visited " , and that was written by Peter Kirby , the Conservation Officer and Reserve Manager .
Tomorrow it's back to Leith Hill hedgelaying , anything more than Buzzards ?

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Thursday 23rd.October 2008

No post yesterday , as hedgelaying along a reasonably busy road up on the Greensand Ridge , produced absolutley no wildlife at all . Today could well have been the same , as I was working on the Common with a chainsaw in my hands most of the day . However , before I set off this morning , I noticed from an upstairs back window , quite a feeding frenzy on the bird feeders . From the window I managed a few shots .
Coal Tit
Chaffinch imitating a Humming Bird .
A Wren came to see what all the fuss was about .
Coal Tit grabs another seed , whilst Goldfinch and Chaffinch argue .Goldfinches win and take over .

I left for the Common , and decided to pop into Keston Ponds on the way . Many more Mallards on the ponds now , but just one pair of Mandarins on view . Two Canada Geese , who have been missing on the last couple of visits , have returned . In the morning sunshine , one female Mallard had her head down , but one eye on me at the same time .

We met up in one of the car parks , and as we got ready , one of the lads took out of the boot of his car , a wax jacket he keeps in the shed at home . He was just about to put his arm into the sleeve , when this spider lazily came out of it . I haven't bee able to ID it yet , any ideas ? We got to work , clearing more Hawthorn scrub and burning it off . Always the opportunist , I was followed by a Robin who didn't seemed phased by the chainsaw . As soon as I switched off to move material , he was in there . I think he thought it was his birthday and Christmas all rolled into one . I don't think he wanted to see us leave . Before doing so , we had another look for Broad Leaved Helleborines , and found 10/15 that we had not seen last week , making the running total about 70 . On the walk back to the car park , a bit of colour caught my eye on a log by the side of the path . It turned out to be a fungi that used to be quite rare , but since Dutch Elm Disease , it only grows on Elm , it has become quite frequent , according to the books , but I have only found it twice before in the last 8/10 years . It is Rhodotus palmatus , pink at the moment , but will turn peach/apricot as it gets older .

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Tuesday 21st.October 2008

Already , it was time for the monthly Dormice and Reptile survey , up on the Greensand Ridge near Westerham . Dependant on night temperatures , this could be the last one until next Spring . The hope is always that the Dormice found , have , or will have acheived a good weight , which will enable them to live off body fat , especially hard for late families . Under normal circumstances , if the animal has reached a weight of 15-18 grams before hibernating , it should stand a good chance of seeing next year . Now that most of the berries are finished , it will be down to nuts and seeds .
The first 50 boxes produced 4 Dormice , well let's call it 4 and a half . Having seen nesting materials in the box , I went through the usual procedure of opening the box inside a large plastic bag . As I lifted the lid , this is was I saw .
The green leaves are Hazel and the brown strands are Honeysuckle bark . As the animal seemed torpid , like in half hibernation , I attempted to remove it from it's nest . This was easier said than done , but eventually I managed it , and it was happy to sit on my hand .
I sexed it , it was a male , and then weighed it . Remembering the weight needed to survive the Winter , he weighed in at 35.5 grams . Twice the hoped for weight , I don't think he will have any trouble surviving , I just hope he left enough food for the others . Also found in one of the boxes was another of the Mouse family . We find Wood Mice quite regularly , but this was a Yellow Necked Mouse .
These animals can give a good nip , so I carry a plastic jar with me , the type you get mixed nuts in at Christmas , and I photographed it inside the jar . It gets it,s name from the yellow collar on it's throat . I tried to get a shot form underneath , but it wasn't very successful , as the jar was
steeming up with it's acrobatics . Just before finishing at the first site , the stench of rotting flesh could only mean Stinkhorn-Phallus impudicus . The head covered with the foul smelling slime , but already the slugs have started feeding on the stalk . Just one Slow Worm was all that was found at the first site .

The second site containing 20 boxes produced 10 Dormice , including a family of five . The three youngsters weighed in at 11,12 and 13 grams , but I think and hope they will put on some more weight before hibernation . All others found were of good weight , including another rotund specimen , weighing in at 25.5 grams . In a box that contained a Dormouse last month , I was worried when I slipped the roof and spotted a Pigmy Shrew inside . The trouble being that these Shrews have been known to enter nests of torpid Dormice , and eat into their head . Fortunately , the Dormouse had moved on and there was nothing nasty to find . The mixed nut jar came in handy again to get a few shots of the Pigmy Shrew . Reptilewise , things were very quiet with just one Grass Snake found .
Under another pair of refugia , another Pigmy Shrew was found , but this one did three laps at top speed and then disappeared into the distance . I was about to replace the tin when I noticed , what I mistakenly thought was a black Common Lizard , having found a black Slow Worm a little while ago , but it looked wrong . Eventually the grey matter started working properly , and I was pretty sure it was a Great Crested Newt . As I tried to photograph it , the batteries in the camera gave out and my spares had not been recharged . So I had to try the old trick of warming the batteries , then by using the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen on the back of the camera , managed the odd shot .I have since emailed a couple of shots to a herpatologist friend , who has confirmed that it was indeed a Great Crested Newt . This is only the second or third one that I have seen in the wild , and the first out of water . The rest of the visit was uneventful , but 14 Dormice , a Grass Snake , two Pigmy Shrews , a Yellow Necked Mouse and a Great Crested Newt wasn't a bad day's finds . On the way back to the yard , we did a repair to a broken stile , and on the outfield of a cricket ground nearby , was this show of a Wax Cap , Hygrocybe coccinea-Scarlet Hood .

This is just one small area of the outfield which must contain hundreds and hundreds of Wax Caps .