coquet nature lover

Friday, 27 October 2017

European bee-eater visits the Northumberland coast

Spectacular, stunning... but sadly off-course 

European bee-eater ready to take off to catch another dragonfly

Northumberland is probably one of the least likely places to see a bee-eater but, with the storm Ophelia lashing the country, one of these beautiful birds ended up on our awesome coast a couple of weeks ago. In fact, two European bee-eaters were spotted on the 15th October, one of which stayed in the area for a week! The last reported sighting was on the 22nd which is the day the southerly winds changed to W-N-W. Perhaps it was an opportunity to get on its way to the continent.

More interested in insects than berries!

The bee-eater moved between Druridge Pools and East Chevington to the north. I first saw it sitting on a fence in the pasture land north of Druridge Pools. It then took off, flying high in the air before settling much closer to the welcoming crowd, next to the outlet ditch leading from the largest pool to the sea.  We watched its gliding flight numerous times, each time returning to the same perch - rather like a fly-catcher. The bee-eater appeared to like hunting over the ditch, perhaps because there were still some late autumn damselflies and dragonflies in flight. There certainly weren't many bees about but this particular bird spent a lot of time hunting for food, over the ditch and in between the pools, so hopefully it was able to refuel before continuing its journey to warmer southerly climes.

Late visitors to the garden - Butterflies

The late flowering plants such as this echinacea and white buddleja provided a late nectar source in the garden for butterlies such as the Peacock and Red Admiral below. 
Peacock with its unmistakable eyespots

Red Admiral with its velvety black wings and red bands

This species below (Speckled Wood) is often found in woodlands but can also be spotted in hedgerows and shady spots in the garden. This is especially the case, early and late in the year, when there are less aphids about. Over the last decade or so, their range has expanded northwards in a direct response to impacts on climate change so now we can enjoy spotting them in Northumberland.

Speckled Wood with its brown wings and creamy-yellow spots

I read the following interesting snippet on the North East England branch of the Butterfly Conservation website. It doesn't give any reasons but it would make interesting research. 
"The Comma, for example, was common in the nineteenth century but was then extinct in the region for much of the twentieth century before returning in the 1990s"
Comma with its ragged wing edges
Small Tortoiseshell sunning itself on the garden steps

More from the garden - but this time edible!

The veg didn't do too well this year, largely due to the wildlife in the garden. The deer may be sweet to see but they munch through the fruit and veg as if there were no tomorrow! Luckily, the deer don't attempt to enter the greenhouse so the vine has produced a good supply of grapes.

The lemon tree has quite a few fruits which are steadily ripening and should be ready for New Years Day, providing they don't dropoff. 

Although the figs weren't particularly large this year, they did ripen and were quite scrumptious. The tree has recently produced a lot more fruit but, at this time of year, you need to remove them.... Well, that's what Monty says!
I have the 'Brown Turkey' variety which is reliable - especially as it is planted in a large pot in the greenhouse so has a little winter warmth and protection from the elements. 

The Victoria plum tree I planted in the orchard a few years ago is now starting to produce fruit. This spring, the tree had quite a lot of blossom but, despite a very mild winter, there was a late frost which caused a lot of the blossom to drop.

last of the tomatoes and french beans

Late departure from Alnmouth station!

Swallows tend to breed quite late into the season compared to most birds. These four fellas were sitting in their nest, just above the public WC at Alnmouth station (27/08).  Now, I'm quite used to seeing late trains there but it's the first time I've seen such a late brood of swallows!  Fortunately, when I was at the station a few days later, they had fledged. Hopefully they were strong enough to migrate south as somehow, I don't think they will be happy on our chilly eastern coast this winter!

Baby swallows waiting to be fed
Here's Mum on the left with a few tasty insects!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Bringing you the beauty of the bog

On a recent trip to Carlisle, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit the the southern shore of the Solway in Cumbria. The Solway Plain is a great place to visit if you are in the Lake District and you will find this northern stretch much quieter than the major tourist attractions of Windermere, Keswick and William Wordsworth's first home near Grasmere.

Following a meander along the coast listening to the cries of curlews and oystercatchers, I decided to pay a visit to RSPB Campfield Marsh to take a walk along the boardwalk across Bowness Common. Well, after all, it is August, and the wintering flocks of geese which this reserve is famous for, had certainly not arrived!

Bogs are often considered to be rather dull, barren, wet and swamp-like - in fact a place to avoid for fear of drowning... Of course, there are potential dangers but with the boardwalk at this RSPB site, my perception certainly changed as, from this safe path, the beauty of the bog was clear to see.

The plants in the next two photos are both members of the sedge family. The first photo is of cotton grass which is common in Northumberland. For once, the wind enhanced my photo which I'm really pleased with and certainly makes a change!

This next photo is of white beak sedge, a species quite rare in Northumberland. On the Solway however, it was one of the most abundant plants to be found on the bog.

White beak sedge

Peat bogs form when the rate of decomposition of vegetation is slowed down due to waterlogged conditions which leads to plant remains building up. Peat bogs typically grow slowly - in fact less than one millimetre a year, but over thousands of years this builds up into a layer several metres thick. Now, how amazing is that!

Bogs host a wide range of specialist plants and animals, specially adapted to the waterlogged, acidic habitat.
The most important peat-forming plants are various species of Sphagnum mosses. These are very unusual plants which can soak up water like a sponge, holding it in specially adapted cells. They are also very resistant to decay, and have anti-microbial properties. This led to the use of Sphagnum as a wound dressing in the first world war. Unfortunately the water retaining properties of Sphagnum moss also made it useful for hanging baskets, while peat has been used as a soil conditioner by gardeners for many years, adding organic matter and improving the structure of clay soils.  
Sphagnum cuspidatum
The moss in the above photo grows in the wettest part of the bog, submerged in pools. It is sometimes known as the 'drowned kitten' sphagnum because of its slighty shaggy appearance.

With its distinctive reddish colour, the moss in the next photo is characteristic of slightly drier parts of the bog surface.

Sphagnum capillifolium
Polytrichum strictum moss
Peat has also been burnt as a fuel in the west of Scotland and particularly Ireland. This has led to the loss of many bogs through commercial exploitation. However, intact peat bogs are now recognised as very valuable habitats, and those that remain are protected under UK and European law. With their important stores of carbon, bogs play a part in regulating global CO2 levels and combat climate change.

The bog featured in this blog post at Campfield Marsh forms part of South Solway Mosses Special Area of Conservation, and is one of the largest raised bogs remaining in the UK.
Mountain view from the boardwalk through the bog
Bog myrtle
Heather grows on drier parts of the bog, but another member of the heather family is much more tolerant of wetter conditions – cross-leaved heath.  This starts to flower a little earlier than heather, and can be recognised by its hairy stems and leaves which form a whorl, grouped in four – forming a series of crosses up the stem.
Cross leaved heath

One of the insects which specialise in bog habitats is the black darter dragonfly.  They breed in acidic bog pools. Eggs are laid in summer then overwinter in the pools, and hatch the following spring. The larvae develop very quickly, emerging as adults by June. They are on the wing from June to October. The male is the only British dragonfly which is all black; the female pictured here looks very different – it has a yellow abdomen with black markings, and a brown thorax.

Near the edge of the bog there was a flooded forest of what had been downy birch trees.  Water levels will have been raised in order to help preserve the bog vegetation.  
The decaying trees are now home to some large bracket fungi, which feed on dead wood.

Around the edge of the bog, there were hedgerows and drier fields which is where you will find flocks of geese in winter. Hedgerow flowers included the common ragwort, which was being visited by this hoverfly.
Eristalis tenax hoverfly
This is also known as the common drone-fly, so-called because they mimic the appearance of male hive bees (drones).  Unlike the black darter dragonfly, they are not at all fussy about where they grow up – the larvae, called ‘rat-tailed maggots’, can happily live in polluted, organically enriched water around manure heaps.

Green-veined white butterfly
I didn't manage to spot a green-veined white when I did the butterfly count but at least I finally have a decent photo. I find it really difficult to take photos of these beautiful creatures as they are constantly moving from flower to flower in search of sweet nectar!

I hope you enjoyed the post and that perhaps you too will get the opportunity to visit this very special habitat!

And don't forget, next year when you are off to buy a liner for your hanging basket, please consider an environmentally friendly alternative such as coconut fibre or coir. You can even use dried leaves or leaf compost from your garden. We need to protect our valuable bogs so, remember, sphagnum gathered from the wild is a big no-no!

Thank you for visiting my blog - hope to see you next time!