Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Berries and Bugs

                                                       Spindle Tree (Euonymus europaea?)

There is something irresistible about bright Autumn mornings, and I've been lucky enough to be able to spend the last few at The Reserve. I find them better than porridge for fuelling up for busy afternoons....

This morning I remembered to take the camera.
I'd noticed the little pink berries of the Spindle Tree on the Butterfly Bank and wanted to capture them digitally before they became a bird's breakfast. I'm fascinated by the way the orange seeds are exposed!

Pictures taken, I turned round to retrieve my bag from where I'd left it open. As I did, I noticed a wood mouse sitting up on it's haunches and eyeing the contents which had spilled onto the grass.
Wood mice have very beady eyes, and it was an extremely endearing pose!
I didn't shout: 'Oi, geroff...' in case I could get a shot of it, and anyway, I'm fond of  rodents and would quite happily have shared my food in return for that photo opportunity.

But it wasn't to be - by the time I'd raised my camera, this largish insect had landed on the lens...
It was much larger than a frog-hopper and much more narrow than a shield bug, and very unconcerned when I moved it onto my finger.

I haven't identified it yet - if you, dear reader, can, then do please leave a comment for me underneath here!
In the meantime I'll send the picture to BMERC with time and place of discovery.....

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Our Second Open Sunday or
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of Furball XL5

It was lovely to welcome both new and familiar faces to our second open Sunday and a big thank you to those that enrolled as new members or supported us with you kind purchases of refreshments, books, gifts and of course FoHESC calendars.

The weather was much kinder than on our first open Sunday and the majority of visitors enjoyed a decent amount of sunshine and blue skies, which contrasted beautifully with the dazzling white of eighty plus mute swans amassed on the main lake.

Substantial numbers of redwings are currently present on the reserve and were inhabiting the trees and bushes along many of the pathways – I fear that our bumper crop of berries will soon be diminishing if these guys hang around for long. Spot of the day, was probably a Goldcrest, close to the woodland hide, which brought a note of joy to a certain Lyrical Lady.

For the observers looking out from the centre viewing gallery and windows a Sparrowhawk was kind enough to perform an aerial duet with a feisty crow and first a fox and then a muntjac promenaded along the rear pathways in full view of the appreciative audience.

The morning session was quiet, but from lunch time onwards visitors started to arrive in earnest. Thanks to his superior deductive powers, our venerable secretary also timed his appearance to coincide with this busier period. Within moments of his arrival Hon Sec had spotted what at first looked like UFOs (Unidentified Faecal Objects) just outside one of the large observation windows. After combined peering through binoculars, the assembled throng concluded they could well be pellets coughed up by an owl or raptor.

The urge to investigate further was irresistible for our super-sleuth and armed with only a small plastic bag, the plucky committee man declared “I’m just going outside – I may be sometime”.
“Best go round from the left” I helpfully advised, “it’s much drier that way”.
As the crowd gathered to watch our hero make his assault on the north face of the centre someone asked, “Do you think it will be much easier and safer if he approaches from the left?”
“No”, I replied, “but there are a lot more stinging nettles that side, so we should have more fun”.
Soon our diminutive detective appeared moving through the nettles and tall grasses in what appeared to be “Supermarionation” – for those of more tender years (or who had better things to do with their lives) this was the technique used by Gerry & Sylvia Anderson in their famous puppet based shows such as Stingray,Thunderbirds etc. Anyway, there he was, gingerly moving towards his target in a series of high knee and elbow motions as if controlled by invisible strings. Guiding hand or not, our very own Chris Packham tribute act, was soon gathering up samples of the mystery substance for analysis back at the mothership.
The North Face
Safely returned, Sherlock deposited the small dark grey pellets into a tray of warm water and started stirring with a plastic spoon. As the highly unappetising pot noodle started to dissolve we discovered that the pellets consisted of about 95% fur with the odd tiny tooth, claw or indistinguishable piece of bone.

“It’s not an owl pellet”, was the first conclusion, I offered the possibility that it was from a Kestrel (having seen one perched above the spot where the pellets were found on several occasions), but my fellow researchers were not convinced. “Why are there so few bones?” was one of the main questions.

“Perhaps Kestrels and raptors are more efficient at digesting their prey and dissolve more of the bones before they produce the pellets” I offered. Having no takers on this theory, I wandered off to talk to some newcomers.

“Hey Tony, guess what” I heard, “these are Kestrel pellets and they contain mostly hair and not much bone, because Kestrels have stronger digestive juices than owls, which dissolves most of the bone before the pellet is produced”. Our state of the art CSI man (Chewed and Spat out Items), had a couple of things at his disposal that poor old Mr Holmes was sadly lacking – his iPhone and an internet connection to Google. Did I get any credit for my previously inspired guess work? - of course not.

Sorry no wildlife pictures this week - but it’s a bit difficult to fit in with our open day duties – but why not come down next month and see them for yourself. It’s a very friendly environment, we try to have fun and there’s nearly always something interesting to see on the wildlife front.

Best wishes


The Next Open Sunday is November 18th and the next Sunday morning working party is November 4th.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Penelope’s Pit Stop

Almost overnight it seems that the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness has come upon us, bringing with it a change of colours, a change of faces and a rekindling of old friendships.

The main lake which was the wildfowl equivalent of the Atacama Desert a month ago, now often boasts over a hundred Wigeon, whistling like a range of perky little copper coloured kettles, each coming to the boil at a different time. As each day goes by new arrivals of other familiar HESC species turn up. So far this month, odd numbers of Pochard, Gadwall, Shoveller and Tufted Ducks have been seen mingling in with the Wigeon and the resident Mallards.
Male Wigeon (Anas Penelope) and Friend

Large numbers of Mute Swan have also been present in the last couple of weeks including a group of about 70 gathered at one stage between the Bund and the Far Hide. Although we failed to record a single successful Great Crested Grebes nest this year, young GCGs have arrived from somewhere, they can be distinguished by their telltale humbug striped heads and can often be seen fishing in front of both the main lake hides.
Young Great Crested Grebe

The Woodland Hide, which is probably my favourite, has also started to recover from the virtually bird free state of the summer months, as last Spring’s diners return to their favourite restaurant.
Marsh Tit - a Woodland Hide Favourite
Along with the ever present Blue and Great Tits our pair of Marsh Tits can be seen making regular sorties to the feeders and tables. Robin and Chaffinch take their opportunities to grab some grub from the tables, before the Tits and pesky Grey Squirrels have snaffled it all and chattering Long-tailed Tits flutter in and out of the area in the company of the their blue cousins. A few Siskin have been spotted near the hide and those watchers that have been sitting quietly back from the viewing windows, have enjoyed close views of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and Jays in the last week.
Great Spotted Woodpecker outside Woodland Hide

As the lush growth starts to die back, the Bank Voles can again be seen snatching a few seeds spilt from the tables near the woodpile. But, BV take care, I spotted a Weasel not far from your home a week or so ago and confident young Foxes have been strolling around the meadows.
Young Fox in the Near Meadow

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun”*  - and of the HESC naturalist too maybe.

PS Don't forget this Sunday (Oct 21st) is an Open Sunday, so please come along, new faces are welcome.

*From the opening lines of Autumn by John Keats.

Photographs by and © Tony Bedford

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Saws, seats and sun

Sunday, 7th October 2012 dawned misty and damp, but it wasn't grey enough to take the edge off my enthusiasm as today was the first day of the Winter work party programme.

After a Summer (apparently) patiently waiting for all manner of wildlife to complete their breeding cycles, it felt a little like being let off the leash. As all good natural historians know, the 6 months of October to March are when we can carry out habitat maintenance on the reserve, with minimal disturbance to the residents. And we certainly have a long list of tasks ahead of us.

As advertised on the 'Events and Projects' tab above, today we were tackling numerous trees adjacent to the main path through the site. These were a mixture of standing dead wood or fallen boughs that required some attention.
Bench Test - Neil alias "Tommy Walsh" carries out field trials on his latest creation

A pleasing turnout of volunteers in double figures also meant we had sufficient numbers to  tackle a secondary task, converting the old slopey bum rests into proper flat seats. This project is the brainchild of Neil, our very own "Tommy Walsh". As of this afternoon, there are now three seats converted: at the first track junction along the main path; opposite the gate for the middle paddock; and, new for 2012, along the causeway by St Peter's Lake. We hope that less able visitors will now have the opportunity to rest as they make their way between the hides. To continue the Ground Force theme, by association, Neil's wife, Pauline, must be our very own "Charlie Dimmock". 

Seat of Learning - Steph Kimsey, Countryside Officer (Education)
gives official approval to one of the new FoHESC benches.

As well as removing obstructive trees, we were able to clear parts of the causeway, opening up new views and letting more light onto the path.

Bank Vole Logs On (Thought you needed a Mouse for that?)

The felled wood generated by this work was added to the log pile in front of the Woodland Hide, for the delight and delectation of numerous Bank Voles.

Many hands make paths and ponds lighter as Friends remove overgrowing Willows

And then the sun came out, though by that time, we were already warmed up!

Many thanks to those generous souls who freely gave of their time this morning, to help make the reserve a pleasanter and safer place. 

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword, but perhaps not mightier than the bow saw.