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Showing posts from May, 2014

Swallows and Badgers

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I’m back on my own ‘local patch’ in East Yorkshire now, after a superb holiday in Shetland. Since I left, the swallows have built a nest in my porch. I put up an artificial nest to help them out. In the past they have nested in it, but this time they’ve just used it as a support and built their own complete nest on top.

The swallows' nest
On Monday, when I got home, the nest looked finished, but there were no eggs in it. Now there are two eggs. But where are the birds? They don’t seem to be spending much time on the nest and I fear the eggs may be getting chilled. I’m doing my best to avoid disturbing them.

Just two eggs so far
When I went away, there was still no sign of any badger cubs at the sett in badger wood. They are usually above ground at the end of April, but a week into May there were none. When I got back, I put a camera trap outside the sett. Yesterday I went back to check it at about 6:30pm and was disappointed to find no pictures at all. I was just resetting the camera …

Sumburgh and Toft

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I went to Sumburgh Head RSPB reserve, on the southern tip of the Shetland mainland. The day had started out bright and clear, but by the time I reached Sumburgh a bank of cloud had rolled in and there was a thick fog. Walking from the car park up to the lighthouse, there are great views over the cliffs of guillemots, fulmars and puffins. The puffins, nesting in their burrows on the cliff tops, are evidently quite used to humans watching them over a dry-stone wall, from just a few metres away. It’s still early in their nesting season, so the numbers are relatively low. A new visitor centre has just opened around the lighthouse, which includes an excellent marine life centre.

Puffin pair with nesting material
Puffin on the cliff top
Not so graceful in flight
I’ve had another brief sighting of an otter – the fourth in my trip. I drove to Toft, where the ferry leaves for the island of Yell. I’d read that it’s a good place to see otters. After five minutes there, I saw one in the bay, right ne…

Snipe and Otter

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I was walking along the shore of Sullom Voe, when I came across an injured snipe on the beach. It appeared to have a broken wing. I decided it might be worth capturing it and taking it to the Hillswick Wildlife Sanctuary. Left where it was, it had no hope of survival. However, it was a feisty little bird and when I tried to catch it, it fled into the water. I had to leave it and continue my walk. On my return I saw it again and this time I caught it and wrapped it in an old towel.

The snipe on the beach
At the wildlife sanctuary they told me it was impossible to keep such a wild creature in captivity, so the best thing to do was release it into a wetland area next to the sanctuary, where they’d be able to keep an eye on it. I went with Jan and Pete, who run the sanctuary, and two French volunteers, to the wetland where we released the snipe. It would certainly be safer from predation there than if I’d left it on the beach. If it can feed itself, it might just pull through.

Pete about to …

Another Otter

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I had a walk around an almost circular island, about 2km across, connected to the Shetland mainland by a ‘tombolo’ – a narrow spit of sand. It’s a feature of several islands in the group. Newly arrived Arctic terns were here to breed, noisily complaining at my intrusion.

The tombolo
As I walked around the island, I found otter feeding sites littered with the remains of crabs, and lots of otter spraint, although none of it looked fresh. I saw a seal, a great black-backed gull, a pair of red-throated divers and some oystercatchers but couldn’t find an otter. The area looked perfect for them, so I was feeling disappointed as I neared the end of my circuit.

Otter sprainting site
Then suddenly I saw one! It was feeding in the kelp along the narrowest part of the voe. I was sure it must have seen me, but it didn’t seem concerned. I tried to film it, but it kept diving as soon as I’d got the tripod levelled, then reappearing further along the shore, so I had to move again before getting my shot …

Otters and Seabirds

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Sullom Voe by moonlight
The dawn chorus here is provided by lapwings and curlews – very different from home! I’ve been back to Muckle Roe to look for the otter again. After waiting for half an hour, I saw it coming out of the water in the same place as before. It climbed up the rocks and disappeared behind a boulder. I expected it to reappear at the grassy knoll above, but this time it didn’t.

Looking for otters in glorious sunshine
It was another 20 minutes before it came out. Once again it groomed itself and rolled in the grass to dry its fur. I now know it’s a male. After five minutes, he went back into the rocks and again failed to reappear below. I decided he must have a holt in a crevice in those rocks. A good half hour later, while I was having my sandwiches, he came out and went back into the sea. I waited another three hours, but he didn’t come back. I spent the time watching eider ducks on the beach, fulmars soaring over the cliffs and a pair of red throated divers that appeare…

A Change of Local Patch

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I spent Friday night on a boat. I’d stocked up on sea-sickness tablets, but didn’t need them. The sea was flat calm, there was no wind and I went out on deck to watch the sun go down over the northern tip of Scotland. I was sailing to Shetland, which will be my ‘local patch’ for the next two weeks. Even miles out to sea, there were lots of birds, both on the water and flying over – gannets, fulmars, guillemots, puffins, eider ducks and lots of silhouettes I couldn’t identify.

Sunset over the northern tip of Scotland
Next morning, the sea was only slightly choppier. We docked on time at Lerwick and I left the ship at 8am, parked the car, then walked back on board for breakfast – this is a civilised place after all! By about nine, I was on the road heading north, over moorland that looked at first remarkably like the North York Moors. Spring is later here and the daffodils are still flowering. There are primroses on the verges and marsh marigolds in the ditches. I stopped at a small fishi…

Fulford Ings

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I had a walk along the banks of the river Ouse at Fulford Ings, on the south side of York. The Tansy beetles are mostly paired up now and there are a few clusters of eggs appearing. Eggs are not always laid on tansy. One beetle will eat another’s eggs, so they often lay them on a different plant, where they are safer from predation. The down side is that the emerging larvae have to find a tansy plant to feed on – they have a few days to do so before they starve to death!

I found a beetle on one of the clumps of tansy which we planted last summer, which was great to see. Bizarrely, British Tansy beetles don’t fly, although continental ones do! Ours disperse by walking between clumps of tansy which seems rather ridiculous. They can’t cover more than 100m, so are slow to occupy new habitat.

A pair of Tansy beetles
Tansy beetle eggs on a tansy leaf
As well as the Tansy beetles I found a few other insects – nothing rare, but they’re always interesting. It was a windy day and not good for macro…

Dawn Chorus Day

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North Cliffe Wood, near Market Weighton is a mix of birch, oak, hazel and about 20 other tree species, together with an area of heathland. It was clear felled in the 1920’s, so none of it is ancient, but it does support a wide range of plant life, lots of insects (including the most ferocious mosquitoes), lots of birds, some reptiles and a few mammals too. During the summer we cut back areas of bracken and in the autumn we control the brambles, but large areas of the woodland remain untouched and have a very wild feel to them.

At this time of year the woodland is looking at its best, with great carpets of bluebells and other wild flowers which are quite spectacular. The dawn chorus here is equally spectacular, with a host of migrant warblers competing for attention with our resident woodland birds. Owls, woodpeckers and pheasants complete the ensemble.

I’ve made two early morning trips this week, arriving at 5am. Tuesday was misty and calm and great for filming, while Thursday was damp …