Sunday, 28 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Days 27 and 28 - Keeping it Local

30 Days Wild is drawing to a close. I wondered about trying to do something special for this weekend but, in the end, I had too much stuff that just had to be dealt with so I just kept it local.

Saturday, 27th June

For some reason I decided it would be a really good idea to go butterfly hunting before I was properly up, so apologies to early bird neighbours 'treated' to the sight of me chasing butterflies round garden while still in my dressing gown.

Um. Sorry.
All I can say in my defence is that it is from the excellent Carvills in our town, so I'm supporting local independent shops. Also I managed to get my first sighting of a meadow brown this year, 2 weeks later than in 2014.

Meadow Brown.
Once I was properly up (and dressed) I went across the road for a newspaper and enjoyed the sight of the Brighter Uckfield/The Uckfield Singers Community Choir planter in full bloom. Even better, there were two white-tailed bumble bees feasting on the flowers.

Planter outside Tesco Express on Manor Park, Uckfield.
White-tailed bumble bee on begonia.
One of the big treats of the weekend was opening up my Trail Camera to find out who has been visiting.
Another day-time visit - this time in good light.
Two young foxes have visited 3 times in the last 2 weeks.
It was particularly nice to see the young foxes visiting as, on Saturday afternoon, I found some soft, almost downy, brown fur. My guess is that the young foxes are beginning to shed their baby fluff.

Sunday, 28th June

Since we replaced the back window, we've had some birds hit it, including the unfortunate blackbird that I mentioned in 30 Days Wild - Days 7 to 12 - Travelling. I've added some stickers (from Allsorts in Uckfield) to try and prevent collisions.

Butterfly stickers on our back window.
After arranging my stickers, I did a little potting up and was amazed and delighted to see the tail-end of a bee disappearing into a small volcano-like hole in the earth between some paving slabs. I've seen various mining and leafcutter bees around the garden so it is good to see them making nests.

I spent most of the day editing the wild-life friendly part of the garden at the front. There is a fine line between a fairly natural-looking space and a mess. Part of that is keeping paths passable. The red-valerian is now more-or-less upright rather than sprawled over the paving, the forsythia will no longer whack tall people when they walk to our door and the lilac is now tree-shaped. While I was doing all this, I found an assortment of insects - so I'll leave you with some love bugs.

Mating Hawthorn Sheildbugs.

Friday, 26 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Days 22 to 26 - Bee Orchids and Fledging House Martins

For this run of days through the working week, I expected a quiet run of everyday nature spotting. It started that way, but after dutifully noting snails and foxes, all I can say is "That escalated quickly."

Monday, 22nd June

Who knew that common garden snails were this colourful in the rain?

Deep colours and intricate patterns on snail shells.
Tuesday, 23rd June

Looking out of the train window on the way to Birmingham, I noticed that haymaking has started. Just a couple of days after the solstice it feels like the year is turning. As I was gazing at ripening wheat, there was a roe deer up to it's chestnut coloured back in the crop. A few miles on, just before Hever, a fox nimbly scaled a steep bank. On the other side of the track, as the train was pulling into South Croydon, I saw another nosing round the trackside brambles.

Once in Trinity Park business park, I momentarily startled a bunny, which soon went back to the important business of eating the local greenery.

After, I checked into the Arden hotel I was pleased to get a room with a good view of the house martins nest I photographed a couple of weeks ago. I was happy to see that they were still visiting the nest. Before I headed down to dinner, I was treated to a fabulous flying display by these incredible little birds.

Wednesday, 24th June

I left the hotel early, intending to walk round the area for a bit and glanced rather casually at a piece of waste ground in the business park where I work. I was stunned by what I saw. 

Bee orchids in Trinity Business Park, in sight of Birmingham NEC.
There were 14 lovely flower spikes. I may spend much of my life in Sussex, looking at the local nature reserves and other beauty spots but I have never seen bee orchids before. At lunch time, I took some colleagues out to see them.

In the evening, I went exploring. The footpath I had intended to follow was trapped between high security fences and rather too intimidating to tackle by myself. Instead, I meandered along some of the cycle/walkways by the main roads. As I was coming back I surprised an adorable family of young bunnies and just managed to get a photo on my phone as they hid under a privet bush. 

Family of rabbits hiding in bushes, just below flyover.
As I passed the tunnel that leads to the NEC's Genting arena, a colourful pair of bullfinches caught my eye. Approaching the disused ground in Trinity Park, I alarmed a green woodpecker, which shot into the trees between the empty area and the Arden Hotel. When I say empty, I really mean full of wild plants and inhabited by a family of rabbits.  I looked across hoping to see them. There were a couple of good-sized bunnies but, even better, there were dozens more orchids, taking the number of flower spikes up to 50.
Detail of a bee orchid.
After the important business of dinner, I flopped back into my room and watched the house martins flying in the fading evening light.

Clouds in fading, evening light.
Thursday, 25 June

It was before seven when I checked what 'my' house martins were doing. There seemed to be a small group of birds going between the nest and the main group, which was now about 10 birds strong. My house martins had fledged! I breakfasted and checked out as quickly as I could and spent some time watching and photographing the birds.

3 house martins close to the nest.
I was a bit puzzled about what was happening. There was clearly a bird still in the nest - you could just see a head looking out. But who were the other birds? Were they prospective mates? Birds wanting to take over the nearly empty nest? 

A "House Martin Diary" BTO newsletter from 2011 explained what was going on. "First group ... has fledged today, taking short flights in and out of nests ... [A few days later, after bad weather] the recent fledglings have remained secure in their nests relying on parents to continue feeding them."

So that was the answer, the young birds had fledged but were still using the nest as a base.

Friday, 26 June

First thing in the morning after getting home, I had to get a young magpie out of the conservatory. Third time in a couple of weeks. This is getting silly

Finally, to round off the working week, a sunny display of birds-foot-trefoil from a no mow area of our - ahem - lawn.


Sunday, 21 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 21 - Working Horses at Chailey Common

Day 21 gave me a chance to see some old friends. Monty, Ellie-May and Hamish are three Ardennes horses that I have previously seen logging in Wilderness Wood. They belong to the Working Horse Trust and can be seen doing various types of work around the area. This weekend they were bracken rolling at Chailey Common.  The Uckfield FM article, Working horses join the fight against invasive bracken, explains this conservation work.

Saturday, 21st June

I parked on the road just below Chailey Memorial Common and enjoyed seeing the wild flowers along this peaceful stretch of road.

Foxglove by huge oak trunk.
 Swinging off the road, I encountered a dampish patch full of lush ferns and red campion and caught a glimpse of a female blackcap.

Ferns and red campion.
I followed a little path through some woodland and up a slope covered in bracken and heather. I was just beginning to wonder where the horses were, when I saw them. The people from the Trust were putting their harnesses on, ready for work.

Monty - nearly ready.
I enjoyed watching the whole patient process sheltered from the wind by a sturdy oak. While I waited, I could hear a family of blue-tits calling to each other from within its welcoming branches.

Monty (Nearest) and Ellie May - Chailey Heritage in the background.
Monty and Ellie May (Nearest) rolling bracken.
The teams walked up and down, pulling the rollers that crush the bracken stems and weaken its growth. The drivers exert amazing control over these powerful creatures using just a few words and gentle touches on the reins. I was briefly distracted when I heard a shrill cry overhead and saw three buzzards overhead.

Hamish with the other team in the background.
Hamish up to his knees in bracken.
I managed to get a bit lost on the way back to the car but fortunately the Working Horse Trust people are as patient with daft, stray humans as they are with their horses and they got me back on course.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 20 - Where are all my Hoverflies?

Day 20 was about trying to track down some insect life, specifically hoverflies.

Saturday, 20 June

This morning, I had an online conversation, in the Facebook group UK Hoverflies about how few hoverflies we have been seeing recently. Until today, I had been assuming it was just me seeing so few of these insects. So I decided to keep my eyes peeled for insect life throughout the day.

Ichneumon Wasp
First thing, when I went to get the newspaper, I saw a gangly black and yellow creature in the wild flower patch I mentioned at the end of yesterday's post. I just managed to snap a rather iffy photo with my phone - I though it was a field digger wasp.  However, a verifier on iRecord kindly pointed out that it was an  Ichneumon wasp - possibly Ambylytes.

On the way back from the town, I went through the Hempstead Fields nature reserve. 

Hemlock water dropwort - alive with honey bees.
The reserve was full of hemlock water dropwort, which was alive with honey bees. For a while, I followed a small tortoiseshell butterfly. It looked very fresh and bright but, encumbered by shopping, I couldn't get a photo. Butterfly 1 : Wendy 0.

Back at home, I had some clearing up to do in the garden and looked out for insects. There was one early and a few white-tailed bumblebees. There were also 3 honeybees on the borage. I had another look round and found a distinctive black and yellow sawfly on a rose bush.

Sawfly - probably Allantus cingulatus
Finally, I found some hoverflies. There were four of the wonderfully named marmalade hoverflies stationed round the garden and a Syrphus ribesii.

Syrphus ribesii
Otherwise the insects I saw were too tiny or too fast to photograph. The last creature I found was a hawthorn shield bug, which fell into my hand while I was tidying our hop and refused to let go when I was trying to put it back where I found it.

Hawthorn shield bug.
Oh, and earlier on, I bought this bee house when I was shopping . The green token went in the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue and Ambulance Service section. These were the people who took in an injured wood pigeon from our garden.
So, not a huge number of insects but a fair amount of fun and interest.

30 Days Wild - Days 17 to 19 - At our Feet and in the Skies

The last few days have been about looking down at what can be found by our feet and up in the skies.

Wednesday, 17 June

I found this zingy coloured lichen in the rubble by a car park a few yards from the office.

Lichen on wayside rubble.
The closed flowers of poor-man's weatherglass (scarlet pimpernel) nearby told me to expect a dull day. 

It was, indeed, a cloudy day. After some good food, fun cocktails and great wine at Marco's at Birmingham Airport Holiday Inn, I enjoyed a wonderful sunset. In spite of the fun evening, the picture isn't too wobbly!

Birmingham Airport Holiday Inn and sunset.
Thursday, 18 June

On my way back home, stole time to enjoy the wayside flowers between the office and Birmingham International station.

A colourful display of wayside flowers.
One particularly intriguing plant was Weld, which once-upon-a-time was grown for the yellow dye that could be extracted from it.

Weld, in sight of the main line.
At the other end of my journey, while waiting for a taxi at Uckfield station, I appreciated the exhilarating air show put on by about 10 screaming swifts as they wheeled and dived over the Station Pub. When I got home, I had a less pleasing experience with a bird. I was slightly exasperated by having to remove a youngish magpie from our conservatory. This is the second time in about a week I've had to do this.

Friday, 19 June

In the garden, our wildflower patch is looking splendid and is attracting plenty of insects.
Orange fox and cubs with bloody Cranesbill.
I am particularly pleased with the fox and cubs, which were revelling in the afternoon sunshine. These were amongst a batch of plants I got from British Wild Flower Plants and planted last September. In my post about Taming the Wild Patch I looked forward to the show, which has now well and truly started. I feel very satisfied with this exuberant little slice of nature that I created.

At about 10pm, I was gazing at the lovely combination of Venus and Jupiter, together with the moon, in the West when a bat flitted by.

Friday, 19 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 16 - An Evening Visit to Elmdon Nature Park

So my plan more-or-less came together. I left work promptly and scuttled off the station where I picked up the shuttle bus to my hotel, the Birmingham Airport Holiday Inn. Wanting to find somewhere to explore for 30 Days Wild, I had checked the map a few days previously and discovered Solihull Council's Elmdon Nature Park.

Tuesday Evening, June 16

The park is just across the dual carriage way from the hotel. I crossed the iron bridge, passed the wonderfully eccentric old lodge and followed a narrow path through a strip of woodland. I came out into glorious meadow land full of long grass and buttercups.

Buttercup meadow.
I followed the path and a small road past the Grange, swung left onto a little road and then walked through the church yard of St Nicholas.

St Nicholas.
On the other side of the church there is a car park, then an enormous sweep of classic park land full of winding paths and tall trees.  Before World War II, this was the grounds of Elmdon Hall. Now it's a public park.

Monkey puzzle tree.
It was great to see that, where a tree had fallen, that it had been left in place and a group of teenagers were enjoying climbing on it. I followed the paths to the lake and was amazed by its size. The first water bird I saw was a moorhen collecting twigs from a tree.

Moorhen collecting twigs.
Further down, there was a clamour from ducks, swans and geese as a youngster fed them scraps.

Mute swan on the lake.
Further still, a mum was telling her young son to walk quietly as they might see some baby ducks and geese. The fluffy goslings were tucked up on a far bank with the adults. Then I followed a boardwalk through wildflowers and admired the buttercups under the horse chestnut.

Red horse chestnut and buttercups.
Climbing the open grassland, I looked back and, for the first time, saw the huge Land Rover works, previously well hidden by the tall trees.

Land Rover works.
Coming nearly full circle, just below the church there is a huge chestnut tree that must already have been well grown when Elizabeth the First was queen.

500-year old Chestnut tree.
I noticed that time was running short, so I would have to leave the walled garden and nature reserve  for another day. On the way back, the buttercup fields were full of rabbits and the pale, wild roses seemed to sing out of the fading light.

Wild roses and buttercups.
Then back to Marcos in the hotel for my evening meal. I was certainly ready for it after all that walking!

Thursday, 18 June 2015

30 Days Wild - Day 15 and 16 - Zooming in on familiar places

Days 15 and most of 16 were about revisiting familiar places and zooming in. In my own garden and on my Uckfield to Birmingham run, I am getting to know the best places to find wildlife. Sometimes experience tells me where to look but often I've been able to see something special because someone was generous with their knowledge.

Monday, June 15

Monday was a working at home day and, as I had another phone conference, I took my note book and a pen and tiptoed outside hoping that the loudly buzzing bees on the flowers wouldn't give me away. One of the others commented on the birdsong, and our client confessed that he'd taken the call in the garden. Emboldened I 'fessed up to being outside too. While I was outside, I saw white-tailed and early bumble bees, a carder bee and a pair of speckled wood butterflies.

Tuesday, June 16

Heading to Birmingham again. In a previous post, I said that a fellow commuter had showed me where to see some grey wagtails. So I looked over the River Uck, where it flows under the platform.
The River Uck from the station platform.

There were swifts screaming overhead and then ... there they were. I was delighted to see a pair of grey wagtails courting on the ledge, partly hidden by the leaves of the tree on the right of the photo.
Grey wagtails
Just before Buxted, where I had previously seen some fallow deer, I saw a fallow doe and her fawn. Then, at Ashurst, a joyous romp of moon daisies.

Moon daisies at Ashurst.
One I got to Birmingham, I took a few moments to check out the wayside flowers, on my way into the office. There are quite a few roses, including both cultivated and wild varieties.

Wild roses between the road and main-line railway.
I paused for a moment by the white roses and noticed an iridescent green beetle.

Fat thighed beetle.
Then straight in to the office. I wanted to get into work as quickly as possible - I had a plan ...