Saturday, 10 June 2017

Post 466 - Looking Out for Lovely Little Owls

Stop! Turn round, I think I've just seen an owl!
Hey everyone today is post 466 and I've got a treat today. One of the things I often say in our house is I've never seen enough owls. The whole family loves them, can't get enough of them and everywhere we go we live in hope of spotting one. Well we'd had a lovely walk at the forest one evening after work and school and on our way home my mum yelled “Stop! It's an owl!” and Dad turned the car round to where she was pointing and sure enough on a telephone pole perched on one of the metal struts was the most gorgeous Little Owl I've ever seen! Well to be fair I think it`s only the second Little Owl I've ever seen in the wild! So it was a pretty special occasion. We carefully pulled up as near to it as we could on the little lane we were on and I was able to take a whole load of photos of him (or her) – it was looking right at me but didn't seem to mind the attention!

Anyway here are some facts about Owls and in particular Little Owls:

  • There are about 5,700 breeding pairs of Little Owls in the UK but are said to be in decline. They are seen mostly in England and Wales and parts of Scotland too.
Hurray - it was an owl! A Little Owl eyeing up
what was in the hedges.
  • They can usually be seen out and about during the daytime.  They can be spotted (if you're lucky!) on poles, fence posts, rocks or branches – anywhere where they have a good view of their hunting ground.
  • They have an undulating flight and so can sometimes be mistaken for a Mistlethrush or Green Woodpecker as they are a similar size and colour and found in the same sorts of environment (woods and farmland etc).
  • If you've ever heard a Little Owl at night you`ll know what an amazingly beautiful, haunting sound it is and their voice can carry for several miles on a still quiet night – so they might not actually be as close as you hoped they were!
  • It most commonly hunts at dusk and dawn but is also diurnal, which means it hunts in the daytime too. It`s eyes are an orangey-yellow. It is useful to know about the different coloured eyes and when they tend to hunt, yellow being during the day, orange being dusk and dawn and those with very dark eyes being night-time hunters.
  • Owls are amazing predators, which means they hunt and kill living creatures.  Little Owls mainly eat moths, beetles, earwigs and worms but also when they can small mammals and birds.  They have hooked beaks and sharp claws which make catching, hanging on to and killing their prey easy.  They also have the ability to fly completely silently.
What's that looking at me?
  • Their heart shaped faces not only look beautiful and very appealing – they also have a purpose! They act as a speaker, sounds are directed across their flat faces by short stiff feathers towards their ears, which interestingly are slightly differently positioned so one is higher than the other, which again helps to direct sounds from all around them.  You might be able to see an owl bobbing its head up and down and turning it, and this is why, it`s taking it all in.  Their amazing hearing means they can locate a meal just using this sense alone.  Even in the dark it can then swoop in silently and pick up their prey.
  • Owls don`t actually have a sense of smell, though their hearing and eyesight more than makes up for this!
  • Their amazing ability to hunt is also due to their plumage.  They have incredibly soft feathers that have comb-like fringes on them which deadens the noise the flapping makes.  This does two things, it prevents the prey from being able to hear it approaching and so be able to take cover, but it also enables the owl itself to be able to hear – if its feathers were flapping around its ears it wouldn`t be able to hear tiny movements on ground level!
A slightly gruesome jigsaw!
Field Vole remains from an Owl pellet.
  • Their feathers are also quite well camouflaged so that they blend into their surroundings.
  • Owls tend to swallow their prey whole and then some hours later will regurgitate a pellet which contains all the things it couldn't digest or has no nutritional benefit to it, such as fur, bones or feathers.  We have often found owl pellets and have dissected them, it`s fascinating to try to put back together a tiny skeleton, we have managed it once or twice and have a picture of a little vole…….
  • Pellets are usually found close to where their roost is so finding one gives a clue as to where an owl might be living.
  • Male owls have a territory and tend to live `solitary` lives.  They only let a female into their territory for mating purposes which they do in the spring.
  • Owls don`t build their own nests like many other species of birds do.  They use holes in trees, old nests, holes in barns etc or specially constructed owl houses built by humans who want to attract them!
A Tawny fledgling at Staveley.
  • The female owl tends to lay her clutch of eggs over 2-4 day intervals.  She will incubate the eggs for around 29-35 days. Because there is a delay in between the laying of each egg and so also in the hatching of each chick, there is a huge difference in size between the chicks, with the first being massively more developed and bigger than the last one to hatch. Sometimes when food sources are low, if the weather has been particular wet for some nights running as it has been here recently, the majority of the food will go to the biggest chick, who has the best chance of survival, and unfortunately the smaller ones will be left to starve, it really is survival of the fittest in these situations. But if all is well, and food is a plenty, the chicks will be fed by mum and dad who will tear up small bits of a small mammal and feed the chicks.
  • They will fledge around 7-12 weeks and by this time they will be about the same size as their parent.  Here is a fantastic photo of some fledgling Tawny Owls we saw at Staveley Nature Reserve recently!  Huge balls of fluff! 
Well, as it happens I might have a chance to go to a spot later today where I've seen Barn Owls before so I'll be on the look out again.

Hope you enjoyed.

Z.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Post 465 - Magical Mesmerising May Lillies

Hey everyone, post 465 and something a bit special today. Last month I went out for a walk looking for something special, something completely different to what I found but something I've been wanting to see again for a long time. Adders! I saw one quite close up when I was very little, almost too close up, as it was reared up on a path in front of me when I was walking in our local forest. I saw another in Scotland but that was a few years ago too. So our family went looking for them at a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve that's meant to be very good for them but we must have been too late in the day as we didn't see any.

Still we saw some Common Lizards, the first this year, and had a nice walk around the reserve. As I passed a bit of it I noticed a tiny fenced enclosure and wondered why it was like that. There was a plant inside that I didn't recognise so I took a photo and thought I'll look it up when I get home.

I happened to be tweeting for #wildflowerhour a few photos of things I'd found. I'm not much of a botanist so it's just plants I find that look beautiful or unusual. I'm starting to learn a bit more by doing this so then I tweeted about my mystery plant to see if people could help me out.
So I had some botanists on the case (thanks @botanicalmartin, @RubusCaesius3 , @dave_renwick, @BSBIbotany ) and after a while people decided what I had found was in fact a May Lily!

The patch of May Lillies I found
Well, thanks to these botanical friends I knew what it was and I also knew it was very rare. Most of these people haven't seen this plant as it's so rare here in the UK!

Well as this photo was of the plant in bud they hoped I'd get back to take a few photos of it in flower. It's a bit far from me but knowing it was a bit special, well I had too really. So last weekend we managed to get back and thankfully the lily was flowering! I managed a few shots but with the flower being in an enclosure and it being a bit windy they aren't the best shots I've ever got but I hope you like them.

I had to do a bit of research so here's a bit of info on them too:
A shot at flower level

  • The May Lily is also known as False Lily of the Valley. I think that's a bit unfair as I have Lily of the Valley in the garden and I think I prefer the May Lily.
  • I prefer it as it's a small delicate plant. In the patch I found it is quite small but it can be between 2-8" tall
  • It's only found in four locations here in the UK but is more common in mainland Europe.
I love the unusual way they grow.
  • The May Lily is an indicator of ancient woodland and it likes shady places with acidic soils.
  • A big threat to it is the loss of these habitats. it was a lot more common in the 17th Century.
  • Its latin name is Maianthemum bifolum and generally only has two leaves (bifolum), but might have four sometimes.

  • The first bit of its latin name, Maianthemum, refers to its flowering period but it does flower into June as well.
    A flower close up.

    • It is a perennial herb that spreads through its roots.
    • It has lovely white flowers that are mainly pollinated by flies.
    • Once pollinated it can produce sweet red berries which are poisonous in large quantities to us but not to birds, though they don't seem to be too keen on them.
    Well, what a nice find! It more than made up for not finding the Adders I had been looking for but I guess I'll have to keep trying for them, and maybe get up a bit earlier too :-p

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Sunday, 21 May 2017

    Post 464 - Brilliant beginnings of baby birds

    A Starling fledgling on our bird table
    Spring is a fantastic time of year – full of new life! Something that I've been watching closely this year are the fledglings – we get literally dozens of baby Starlings and Sparrows all fighting for attention and some space on our bird table waiting for Mum or Dad to feed them. We have so many because they have taken up residence in the eves and roof of our house! They have a steady supply of treats on the nearby bird table. Quite often when they are being fed we can hear the nestlings chirping away. Dad built a colony box at the side of the house to see if they'd rather live in there or to provide extra room, but no, they're quite happy where they are! It's lovely to watch them flitting about but we do have a bit of a problem with droppings…. hmm, a small price to pay for being so close to nature I guess! 

    We also have Blue Tits nesting in a box on our Apple tree, and some Dunnocks nearby too. But the inspiration for today`s post is thanks to a nest of Blackbird eggs that my Dad came across. He was tying back some clematis on an arch when he flushed a Blackbird which was sat on a nest. There are four beautiful blue eggs in it, and Dad very carefully took this photo of them. He then left it well alone and the parents came straight back to it to keep the eggs warm. The clematis will have to grow a bit wilder this year as we don't want to disturb the birds.
    The Blackbird nest that inspired this blog!

    Dad showed the picture to Mum, who then started raising some very interesting questions, many people may already know the answer to these questions but it made me think if Mum wasn't sure about all the details, maybe other people wouldn't be so sure either, therefore the focus for this post is… “What goes on inside the female bird during the egg making process!?”

    Well with the help of the internet I discovered the following:
    • For birds, their courting process and behaviour takes quite a while and includes many stages.  From claiming territory there follows an elaborate courtship including dancing, calls, spectacular flights (love watching Lapwings do this) and plumage, it is all so that the male can demonstrate to the female how healthy and strong he is, which means that his chicks will be healthy and have the best chance of survival.
    • Some birds mate for life like the Gannet, often travelling unbelievably long journeys to meet up again, while others find a new mate each year, like the Blackbird
    • Birds don't have the usual type of reproduction organs that we are most familiar with.  Instead they both have Cloaca which are little openings.  Through this they do everything, including urination, defecation and mating.
    • During the breeding season, the Cloaca of both male and female birds swells and protrudes slightly, and the male`s Cloaca holds their sperm until such a time as they are able to mate, when it is then deposited into the female and travels to meet the female's egg which is stored in her ovaries.
    A Blackbird fledgling on the bird table
    - this one is feeding itself now
    • If you see a pair of birds mating, keep your distance because if you distract them and interrupt proceedings, it can harm their bond with each other.  It is a very brief interaction where the male balances on the female, and then it is over.
    • Out of all the 9000 species of birds, all of them lay eggs rather than producing a live off-spring.  This is believed to be due to the fact that as birds have such fantastic mobility and agility, they need to maintain their ultra-light anatomy so carrying around a clutch of chicks inside them in the same way a dog carries a litter of puppies inside her, just wouldn't be possible.
    • Female birds carry one single egg at a time and due to its weight impacting on her ability to fly, as soon as it is viable (ready to be laid) it is. A Blackbird for example generally lays 3 or 4 eggs per clutch, laying one egg per day. Each egg has a protective shell around it which has already hardened to keep the precious chick safe.  While we think that eggs are extremely fragile they are actually designed to withstand a huge amount of force, to be able to withstand the parent sitting on it whilst incubating it for example. Eggs are oval and so the same engineering principals of an arched-bridge apply, the convex surface can withstand much more pressure than other shapes.  The shells need to be robust because many, many predators would just love to get their beaks, paws or claws onto the protein-rich contents of the egg.
    Two starling fledglings waiting to be fed - they're not
    feeding themselves yet - there's fat balls in the
    window box they are perched on!
    • One of the vital components of raising healthy chicks to fledgling status is the location and stability of the nest.  This is the task of the male bird and again is to demonstrate to the female his suitability.  A European House Wren is said to build up to 12 nests in varying locations until a female grants her approval and chooses him as her mate. The nest must be well constructed and inconspicuous. Birds have varying techniques for building the perfect nest and some will line them with moss, lichen, leaves and feathers for warmth and comfort, others will produce a sticky substance to help the eggs to stay in place. Some breeds of bird will stay with the eggs throughout the entire incubation period, a Hornbill for example will seal herself into the nest with only a small hole enabling her mate to feed her through.
    • Incubation can take between 13-14 days and then comes a frantic period of feeding the brood, often an ordeal in itself with much success depending on the weather, accessibility to the right insects, etc. If enough food is brought to the chicks, fledging then takes place, usually  about a fortnight later, though this can vary with species, for example the longest incubation period for any bird is 64-67 days with the Emperor Penguin!
    Well we'll be keeping a quiet eye on the nest to see how things go for our new Blackbird pair, and also look forward to seeing more fledglings. One of the things that makes us smile most on the bird table is watching the little Sparrow and Blue Tit chicks sat fluffed up shaking their wings begging for food. They can be sat right next to the food that their parents pick up and feed them but it seems to take a good while for them to realise and to start helping themselves!

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.








    Thursday, 20 April 2017

    Post 463 - Spring Sensations at Nosterfield Nature Reserve

    A carpet of Dogs Mercury and Bluebells
    Hey everyone, today's post is 463 and today as it was such a nice clear mild day we went for a walk around Nosterfield, our local nature reserve, something we haven't done in a while. Whenever we go to Nosterfield we also take a walk around one of the three henges that are adjacent to the reserve, one of them is just over the road from the reserve. But anyway, we started by parking up in the car viewing area to see what was on the main lake. There was actually quite a lot around.


    Dandelions
    For starters, there were the Rabbits that are usually there just seemingly enjoying themselves, but then there were all the birds around, starting with the Lapwings doing their lovely displaying in the air, making their wonderful almost otherworldly calls. The odd Oystercatcher flew over too, shouting shrilly in the sky. The Shovellers were feeding in the water, next to Teal, Canada Geese, Black Headed Gulls and then there was the cacophony of the other birds in the water and in the air, it made a lovely atmosphere.


    Ramsons, or Wild Garlic
    We parked up in the main car park and then walked on up the reserve and it was quite quiet until we got to the dipping pond, where we always stop to have a look at what's in there, and this time, there was quite a lot of algae, but some bags of barley straw have been added to try to stop it spreading. But the main thing that was in the pond were all the tadpoles! These are the first tadpoles I have seen this year, which is unusual as I usually see them this early at my local forest, but I haven't yet.


    Opposite of the dipping pond is another pool and this had a lovely Great Crested Grebe on it, along with a few Tufted Ducks, Mallards and a Moorhen.
    Probably my favourite Beetle - Bloody Nosed Beetle


    As we moved on further we saw a lot of small flies on two of the fence posts, these two posts were covered with them, but all the others didn't have any on them, which was kind of strange as we couldn't see any difference in the posts. So if anybody has any suggestions as to why this was, feel free to tell me! But anyway, on the most crowded post, there was something we were quite surprised to see this early in the year, but it was a lovely surprise - a Bloody Nosed Beetle! I had just been discussing with Mum & Dad when we thought we'd be seeing them here, as we couldn't remember when they emerged, just before my Mum spotted this one! They aren't an uncommon Beetle in the South but as far as I know Nosterfield is the only place in North Yorkshire you can find then so I always enjoy seeing them.
    Red Campion


    When we had finished photographing this we went round to the henge and we were treated to a carpet of thousands and thousands Dog's Mercury plants coating the floor, with Blue Bells and Ramsons in between them all. It was a wonderful sight that stayed with us all the way round, travelling up and down the dips in the ground and over the mounds, something that I have never seen in such big quantities.


    Fern unfurling
    Seeing all of the flowers in the wood I was watching out for more on the way back to the car. There really is a lot of colour now starting to emerge. I saw Cowslips, Forget-me-nots, Coltsfoot, Dandelion, Blackthorn, Wild Strawberry and many more as well as a very tiny green flowered plant that I don't know.


    When I'm at Nosterfield I usually focus on the birds and the insects so it was really nice to see so many flowers and focus on those for a change. Anyway, it was a lovely walk, and an amazing reminder that Spring is now out in full force.




    Not sure what this is, some of the tiniest
    flowers I've seen!

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Wednesday, 29 March 2017

    Post 462 - It's Baffling Brexit time!

    Hey everyone, today's post 462 and today is the day that Theresa May triggers article 50, and takes the UK out of Europe. It's confusing to say the least. But, everybody understands what's going to happen in terms of immigration and things more towards the human side of it, but how many times have you seen anything about what's going to happen with nature after Brexit in the media? I personally haven't seen anything positive at all, but I don't check the media often. I have covered this in previous posts, but that was way back around the referendum. It's been months since that, and I've been thinking quite a bit about it, but I thought as we're here at this pretty important point in our history, I need to push the message out that the government needs to make better laws for nature.

    Anyway, I thought I'd start with the obvious stuff, so, what you'll probably know is that the EU has a load of laws that they've made that are used in all the countries that are in the EU. We have gone by those laws for decades now, so we don't have many of our own, which means that we now have to create our own laws again. Like all votes, laws and other things along these lines, there will be some great decisions, and some bad ones. The EU had some great laws about things such as animal testing. That law was something that I paid particular attention, especially since we actually did two lessons on it at school...

    I found this to be very interesting, the fact being that if the school didn't have to cover any part of Brexit at all, but they chose to give up two of my drama lessons to teach us the basics of it, they gave us essentially a reading comprehension of it. We were given a news article about what will happen after Brexit in terms of the laws. It went over that we will have to create our own laws, and that the ones they already have will be scrapped, unless we choose to go with them. There are some great laws about it, such as rabbits cannot be used to test makeup and other products.

    Well from what I've read elsewhere I know that's not entirely how things are. Now Article 50 has been triggered the Government will be working on something call the Great Repeal Bill. If I have understood things right that means we will take all of the EU laws and make them UK laws. So things like the Birds and Habitats Directive and other nature laws will be UK laws. This is so we don't have to start writing a whole new set of laws from scratch.

    That sounds ok doesn't it?

    Well, maybe but there are some laws that will need a bit of a rewrite to make sure they work for the UK so there's one chance for things to change. A group called the Environmental Audit Committee has been looking at this to help make sure the Government does look after the environment properly and they were asking for a new Environment Act before Article 50 was triggered.

    The other worrying thing is that all of the laws will be looked at after Brexit and if the Government doesn't think we need them they might get rid of them. If the Government keeps its promise to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”. Then we might get even better laws?

    Well I hope so but it seems not all of the government agrees. I saw this tweet about and article which made me worry..

    So I've been wondering what to do. I've been thinking about re-starting my petition but I think I'll wait a little while until some more information comes out like the 25 year Environment and Farming plans that are due to be published.

    I've seen a great initiative called GreenerUK which a lot of the UK's big nature organisations support. It has a list of all the MP's that have signed to support this call to make our environmental laws better. I'll be writing to my MP to ask if he will sign it.

    I thought that a quick thing I could do is start a Thunderclap to ask people to support Greener UK and try to get more MP's supporting it. I've set it up so that it launches on Earth Day on the 22nd April. I hope that you can support the Thunderclap and tell your MP that we all want stronger protection for wildlife after Brexit.
    Hope you enjoyed.

    Z.

    Monday, 20 March 2017

    Post 461 - Simply Beautiful, Slightly Breathtaking, Snow Buntings!

    Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) at Redcar beach
    Hey everyone, today's post is 461. It's been a while since I've done a species post like I focused on in my original year of nature so I thought it was time I did that sort of thing again.  I also wanted to cover a lovely species that I've seen over the Winter before they depart as the spring migrations get
    underway. These birds are, or well were, still here this weekend as I saw another at the weekend.

    Recently, I've been using Rare Bird Alert quite a bit, and trying to see if I can get my list to 200. There hasn't been an 'official' update of my count yet, but I'm sure I must be almost there. Anyway, you may have heard in other posts that I've been doing a lot of 'Bunting Hunting', and I thought I'd do a post on one of the Buntings I'd hunted, but of course only with my camera. If only that was the case across the rest of North Yorkshire :-(

    Hopped up on to a groyne post
    Well Rare Bird Alert told me that there were some interesting birds on the coast not too far from me at Redcar and I just had to make the trip to see if I could find them. This one is probably one of the cutest birds I've seen yet, and I was able to get really close to them! I was surprised by how easy they were to photograph, they lined up perfectly for me! They were quite used to all the people milling about too and sat tight in their spots until people got quite close. I spent about an hour watching these lovely birds. I am of course talking today about the simply beautiful Snow Bunting!

    Here are some facts:

    • They are small birds (even for Bunting size) with their tiny length of about 16cm, and a wingspan about double that at around 35cm.
    • Sexual dimorphism can be seen in these birds, with the males weighing 42 grams and the Females a tiny 35!
    • They have an amber status in the UK, probably as there are so few here, and are of least concern in Europe, and globally.
    As , very kindly, did its friends!
    • In 2007, there were 60 breeding pairs in the Summer, so this backs up my statement of them being so few, and they are described as being 'resident breeders'.
    • Their European size can be between about 700,000 to 1.7 million pairs, so this shows that we only get a tiny percentage of them.
    • Their egg size is 22 x 16 mm on average, and it only weighs 3.1g (only 6% of this is shell).
    • From the egg being laid to the bird fledging is actually a very quick process in this bird, incubation lasts literally 2 weeks, and then fledging happens 12 days after that!
    • Their clutch size is usually about 5, but can range to 4 or 6 as well, and sometimes the bird will have two broods, depending on how late in the year they have the first one.
    Lovely birds set against a slightly stormy sea (Doris was on the way!)
    • They live about 3 years, so they have to start breeding the first year they can, but the longest a Snow Bunting has lived (that we know about) is almost 9 years! Exactly 8 years 11 months and 2 days.
    • It also has one of the prettiest common names I have ever come across, it can be called, the 'Snowflake'


    Thanks to BTO & RSPB for the facts.

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Thursday, 2 March 2017

    Post 460 - Wonderful World Wildlife Day

    World Wildlife Day - This Earth is precious
    Hey everyone, Post 460 today and it's the UN World Wildlife Day tomorrow. I was asked by another young wildlife blogger, Thomas (@EWblog) to contribute to a post on young naturalists' hopes for the future. You can read that post here. There are some great thoughts from young people about the future.

    Well it's a really important day so I thought I ought to do a post too to help spread the word.

    There are a lot of people I admire that have made powerful statements about the world, the environment, our wildlife, about how precious it is, how we must treasure it, care for it and pass that message on to future generations. One of the loveliest, most moving statements I have ever read about this I covered in my Post 404 for Earth Day was by a Chief Seattle - please click through and read the whole message as it is an amazing, beautiful statement about the planet and just as important now as when it was written in the 1850's. A key message from it is:

    Chief Seattle 
    "You must teach your children that the ground beneath their feet is the ashes of your grandfathers. So that they will respect the land, tell your children that the earth is rich with the lives of our kin. Teach your children what we have taught our children, that the earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth."

    As many of you know, and the message in my piece for Thomas, is that I have been thinking a lot about Brexit and how it will affect nature. This is most of what I wrote:

    Like it or not the UK will be exiting the EU.
    One thing I thought a lot about about before the referendum and after it, is how little focus nature has got in the discussions. Most of the talk seems to be about the economy and immigration. I was so concerned I started a petition to try and keep EU nature laws. 

    Can farmers help wildlife - yes they can! 
    Why did I do this? Well,  The State of Nature report told us that a lot (56%) of species in the UK are in decline. Europe has developed a lot of strong laws around nature, such as the EU Birds and Habitats Directive. We have a choice now when we exit of what to do about our laws. The plan is initially to adopt all EU regulations and then decide which we need and which we don’t. Is that good? Well reading about this I’m not sure. Farmers want the Government to look after them, and that could be a good thing, as they produce a lot of our food. But some of the current practices are not good for wildlife. Pesticides and Bees is one example. There is evidence though you can farm and improve things for nature without farmers suffering

    A seasonal treat :-) 
    Are the current laws strong enough? Well they are good but at the moment there is a debate about hedge cutting. Birds are protected by only allowing hedge cutting outside of the nesting season but some farmers want to cut earlier which might put some struggling species under more pressure like Yellow Hammers and Turtledoves. And, dare I mention it, there are the issues of Grouse Shooting and raptor persecution, badger culling and the potential of a vote on Fox Hunting all of which I feel very strongly about! So, I’d say we definitely don’t need these laws to be weakened.

    The Environmental Audit Committee recommended a new Environment Act. They considered all these issues and made a great set of recommendations.  I’d like the Government to act on this and keep to one of its pledges nicely summed up in the first recommendation:

    "In order to meet its manifesto commitment to “be the first generation to leave the environment in a better state than it found it”, the Government must, before triggering Article 50, commit to legislating for a new Environmental Protection Act, ensuring that the UK has an equivalent or better level of environmental protection as in the EU."


    On World Wildlife Day I’d like to see Government deliver this recommendation and make sure it is enforced!

    I think all nature lovers need to keep a close eye on things though. I asked Caroline Lucas a little question about the Government paper on Brexit, I got a simple but worrying reply (Thanks so much Caroline).
    On World Wildlife Day I hope you will enjoy nature, go for a walk, see wonderful species and connect with our wonderful wildlife.

     At the same time I hope you treasure it so much that you will stand up for nature and keep an eye on what happens as we part ways with Europe.

    I hope very much we keep the strong nature laws and maybe even get much better ones!

    #Doonethingtoday on #worldwildlifeday. Listen to the young voices and #standupfornature
    Hope you enjoyed,

    Zach.


    Saturday, 25 February 2017

    Post 459 - A Happy Half Term Bunting Hunting :-)

    Quite a way to start the day - a wonderful
    view of Waxwings
    Hey everyone, post 459 today and a little run down of what has been a great half term. It's always interesting to see how the weather turns out this half term. Sometimes I've been able to go sledging. Sometimes I've been able to go paddling in the sea at Whitby in t-shirt and shorts. It can be very varied but I particularly remember that about this time of year as it was my birthday this week. It was a relatively big birthday too as I'm now a teenager!

    Well it's always nice to have time to spend going for walks and exploring. I managed to fit in quite a bit already this week and I've still got another day tomorrow to see what else I can see. So where have I been this week?
    Russian White Fronted Geese peeking out of a ditch.

    As you may have seen I did a little post about my first trip out to to Upper Teesdale on the first day of the holidays.

    After that we stayed with the area north of me as there were some reports of birds that I hoped to see. On Monday we headed to RSPB Saltholme. There were quite a few reports of things I haven't seen including a Long Eared Owl,  Russian White Fronted Geese and some other things we hoped to pick up on the coast on the way home.

    A wonderful view of a gorgeous bird - Snow Bunting!
     Arriving in the car park at RSPB Saltholme the day got off to a promising start. As soon as I got out of the car I caught sight of 5 Waxwings. The light was great as well so I got a few nice photos of them (for a change!). Going into the reserve we heard that the Long Eared Owl had been driven from its usual roost further into the scrub probably as lots of people were very pleased to see it and photograph it. Still Dad and I had a great walk and saw lots of great birds including Pintails. Teal, Wigeon, Curlews, Lapwings, Reed Buntings and more Shovelors and Shelducks than I've ever seen in one place before.

    A Rock Pippet at Skinningrove
    On the way back we looked along the road for another bird we knew was hanging around. When we saw a few Greylags we pulled over and had a look around. It was the right decision as we soon picked out the heads at least of a few of the Russian White Fronted Geese that had been reported. Not the best views I've had of a goose but still nice to see.

    Another stop off point on the way home was to Redcar where we knew there were reports of Snow Buntings. After parking up and having a short walk towards where we'd spotted someone with a telescope we soon saw them. What a lovely bird! One of the prettiest little birds I've seen for a while. They were very happy flitting about, perching on the posts of the groynes and generally hunting for things to eat and posing for photos.

    And an Eastern Black Redstart!
    Well after that we headed home only to find out if we'd checked our phones that we could have walked a bit further up the beach and seen a Lapland Bunting too! Never mind, that's for another day.

    A colour ringed Herring Gull
    After some successful bunting hunting we decided to head out on Thursday, in spite of storm Doris, to see if we could see a few birds that were hanging around York. The first was the Pine Bunting. It was quite easy to find the site where it had been seen. It was quite easy to see the flock of Yellow Hammers it was hanging around with and thanks to someone close by doing a bit of drilling now and again it was quite easy to see the Pine Bunting as I had a good few chances to see the flock moving backwards and forwards to the scrub. Sadly all my photos were too blurry to make anything out due to the wind and rain :-(

    Next up was the Great Grey Shrike that was on the other side of York. Well, sadly I am going to have to find one another day as it was seemingly taking shelter as I had a good look with no luck.

    A very accommodating Turnstone
    Friday saw us return to the coast, really just as the weather was much brighter and also as it was still a bit stormy and it's a fantastic coast to see when the waters quite rough. Our first stop was Skinningrove to see the Eastern Black Redstart. It's been there all winter but last time I went to see it the weather was terrible, but it was New Years Eve. So it was nice to see it in better light at least and I managed to get some nice photos. Hoping around the rocks too were Rock Pippets as well as a few Robins and a Wren. The cliffs had more birds along it than last time I visited too and Fulmars are starting to fill up all the nooks and crannies.

    And a few more!
    From Skinningrove to Whitby is a lovely coastal route with some fantastic views. The sea was still quite wild even after Doris had done her worst and the waves were crashing in and spraying the road. Whitby was our dinner stop for Fish and Chips, which were fantastic as usual. A little walk around the pier was well worth it too. Apart from many Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Cormorants I came across a flock of very accommodating Turnstones. I love watching these birds patrolling the tideline, exploring all the stones and debris for food. As the tide was in though and as there was nowhere to go they decided to sit up on the pier wall and scavenge crumbs dropped by all the visitors, great for me as I had my camera.

    So, it's been a great half term so far and I've still another day to go. Not sure where I'll go tomorrow but hopefully I'll find something else interesting!

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Wednesday, 22 February 2017

    Post 458 - Nature-filled, Picturesque North Pennines AONB

    If you look closely there are lots of Black Grouse
    in the green field
    Hey everyone, post 458 today and a little write up of a great day I had on Saturday. It was the first day of the holidays so our family decided it would be nice to have a bit of a trip out. It only takes us about an hour to get there but it's a fabulous journey.

    Here's one up close
    It's always a great drive to Teesdale, we have a route that is along lots of lovely country roads where we pass lots of farmland and woods. As we wind our way up into upper Teesdale you start to get into the moors, you're so high up that you can see over all the valley and see the river meandering along the valley floor between the hills, sometimes snow covered, and other times just lush green mats draped over the hilly landscape. It's a lovely dramatic landscape.

    We decided to head up past where we normally start our day and go to a site that we were told about. In one of those lovely but spooky co-incidences on that Friday, Chris the Director the North Pennines AONB followed me on twitter (@NorthPennChief). He gave us a few ideas of things to look out for, thanks Chris.

    Low Force - without canoes!
    On the way up to Bowlees, we saw huge flocks of waders, mostly lapwings and golden plover, but we also saw a very large amount of crows. We passed thorough Bowlees and headed further up the dale and we went for our lunch. We went to a place called Langdon Beck, which I thought was quite authentic, as it was a lovely place, friendly people and log fires in each room, so going into this place out of the cold and wind was a really nice feeling.

    Amazing lichens
    A great thing we didn't expect to see was a fabulous geology room, where there was a load of rocks and minerals which were fascinating to look at. They had examples of crystals, minerals and ores that you can find in the North Pennines. There were lots of types of Flurospar, some haematite and lots more besides. The whole area is designated a European Geopark. I think I'll be back on the look out for some of the lovely crystals I saw!

    After we left there, we decided to go to a spot Chris @NorthPennChief  told us about, and look for some Black Grouse, which we succeeded in very quickly! After about 2 minutes of heading towards Bowlees, I looked at a field and immediately saw 32 of them! I'm hoping to see them when they lek so it's nice to find good sites for them.
    Moss covered trees

    After this we headed back and had a really nice walk around Bowlees and down by the Tees. Around the visitor centre were usual garden birds such as Chaffinches, Coal tits, etc, but a first for the year was a nice group of Siskins chattering high up in a tree. The woods around Bowlees are lovely. It's higher up than we are at home so there's not much green or flowers around yet but with the lovely clean fresh air there are huge amounts of lichen and moss!

    And more lichen!
    Carrying on our walk we went across a suspension bridge held about 40ft over a river, which was a little scary. We ended at Low Force, which was an amazing sight as ever, but didn`t go quite to plan from a nature hunting point of view because there was a group of people cliff jumping into it! ;) Very brave  - and not something I`ll be trying anytime soon!

    And a Dipper!
    One of the reasons we went, was to look for Dippers, but we didn't see any due to the cliff jumpers and loads of people in canoes. But, on the way back to the car, while on the bridge between the visitor centre and the car park, (exactly where we saw the Crossbills last year!) we looked down... and Mum saw one! We didn't get many pictures though, but we were to fascinated by this little fella! Stay tuned for a blog post on this.

    Spotting a Peregrine and a Buzzard on the way home, it was a lovely day, as it always is when we go up to Teesdale, but the Dipper was definitely the icing on the cake!

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Sunday, 12 February 2017

    Post 457 - Great Garden views of Wonderful Waxwings and a probable Ring Necked Duck!

    What are those up there?
    Hey everyone today's Post 457 and a bit of a mixed post today. It's been a busy time for us so we haven't been out and about as much of late, which is probably as well as the weather hasn't been great! Well this weekend we've managed to get out for a couple of nice walks. Yesterday, as we were on our way out to go for a walk, Dad spotted some quite big birds in the a tree opposite our garden, we thought we knew what they were but we got some binoculars to check and yes, they turned out to be Waxwings! So that's another bird for our garden list, and probably the rarest so far. It was nice to see them and to get on the garden list as I saw a flock of birds when doing the big garden bird watch that were probably Waxwings but they didn't stop and were too quick and far away to be sure.One day I will see these birds on a sunny day and get some better shots!

    Waxwings!
    Today we went on a short trip to Nosterfield, a Crane had been spotted near my town so we went on a route that took in the fields where it had been seen but, sadly, with no luck. We'd heard reports of a different bird though, which was another lifer. The Ring Necked Duck!

    We didn't really go just for this, we stopped by Nosterfield Nature Reserve for a walk and just in case we could see it.  We started off with our usual walk around the reserve and the nearby henge. It's a lovely place. The call of Curlews and Lapwing are the main things I hear at the reserve. We also saw masses of Wigeon and quite a few Osystercatchers. A lovely Grey Heron came in but didn't settle and it was nice to watch it with its big slow wingbeats fly right across our view and off to a neighbouring lake. No Ring Necked Duck though.

    The forest floor is coming to life again!
    Dogs Mercury almost in flower
    After the reserve is a henge we like to walk around as it's covered with trees. It must have been for quite a while as it's got plants like Dogs Mercury growing in it. This is now starting to grow again and have its turn in the sun before the trees get going again, it won't be long before this is flowering. The Snowdrops are out though and it was nice to see them today. The main sounds to hear in the wood were the calls of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Great Tits and Blue Tits.

    After we'd done that we got back to the car and drove to Lingham Lake, which is next to the working quarry. We wondered if the Ring Necked Duck would be there. Well it turned up almost immediately! Well, at least we think it was but both it was quite far away and a struggle to see clearly even with binoculars so sorry the photo is pretty ropey.
    But the snowdrops are out in force - beautiful flowers!

    This bird had no cheek patches, no tuft and the plumage patterns looked quite good for the Ring Necked Duck. Sadly it wasn't close enough to make out its bill, not helped by the fact it was diving of course!  Well only being about 80-90% certain I'm not sure if I can put this on my list but anyway I thought it was worth learning more about these birds so here are some facts:
    • Seeing as these aren't native to the UK, just a rare vagrant, it was hard to find many facts on them, so sorry again if there isn't as many as usual.
    • As I have just said, the Ring Necked Duck is not native to the UK, and is a visitor sometimes seen resting here in England.
    • They breed and usually live in North America, spending the hotter parts of the year in Canada and going South in the Winter months.
    • They are easily confused with the Tufted Duck and Goldeneye, with mostly the same patterns all along its body. 
    The best shot I could get with my camera :-(
    (but it was a very grey day !)
    • The way to tell the Male apart is to luck at its cheek, it doesn't have a white patch, and it also doesn't have a tuft on its head, and you can easily tell the Female from other birds.
    • They are omnivorous and so will eat Worms, Leeches, Snails and plant matter such as pondweed.
    • They find all this by either diving or dabbling. We found that they preferred to dive making them very hard to spot!
    • When the Female is laying her eggs, she will actually lay one a day until there are about 8 - 10 ready to be incubated.
    • They are then incubated for just less than a month, and the mother will stay with them until they are able to fly.
    Half term is coming soon though, I'm looking forward to having a few more days out, I'll be sure to let you know what I see!

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.