Kestrels: Once our most numerous bird of prey, Kestrels have declined and Buzzards have increased and are now number one! Yesterday when, taking our van out for a run, it broke down (sorted by rescue). We were therefore delighted when this one flew in near the lane we parked up on. Kestrels use high perches to hunt from, especially in winter when they need to preserve energy, as their characteristic hovering uses far more energy. This one didn’t stay long, so we occupied ourselves waiting for roadside rescue by playing scrabble we had in the van, but it was lovely to watch this one, probably looking out for a small rodent, like a vole, by far their most frequent food source, though they will eat earthworms, large insects, even sparrows in cities. Kestrels were
Beady eyed Kestrel
reserved for the lower status Knaves in medieval falconry, larger hawks being reserved for Knights. Hieararchies have been around for a very long time! Conditions: Another frosty, bright, dray day. Temperature: Max 2 Min 0C.
We are out on the extreme East coast, at Spurn Point Nature Reserve and it is wild, windy and wet, so here are some Dark-bellied Brent Geese that we have been watching and listening to over the last few days, days which have see-sawed between wild and wet, and calm and bright. These beautiful, small geese (a little larger than Mallard) have migrated here, in family groups, from the boggy arctic tundra of Russia, where they breed. 91,000 Dark-bellied Brent geese migrate to marshes and coastal farmland along our East and South coasts before making their way back, via the Baltic coasts, to the arctic by June, as the ice begins to thaw. Whether this pattern will be sustained as global warming changes the nature of the tundra and the shapes of our coasts is in question-walking the land-edge yesterday there were many places where the low ‘cliff’ had been recently eroded by several metres, and Spurn Point itself now gets partially underwater at high tide. It is also an irony that The Brent Goose ‘gave’ its name to the vast ‘Brent System’ oilfield that extracts
Dark-bellied Brent Goose
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
Dark-bellied Brent Geese
oil from the North Sea and pipes it ashore in Shetland. Conditions: Torrential rain, and high NE winds. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.
This wet weather is benefitting the fungi, if not much else. Fly Agaric, surely the one toadstool that everyone recognises, if not from nature, then from children’s books, was always described to us as kids as highly dangerous. Though there are few records of it being fatal, it is probably best to view it as toxic. It was used for centuries in different cultures, especially in the East, as an hallucinogenic drug, by shamans and
Fly Agaric, showing its gills and ring (it had been knocked over by an animal, not me!)
others- whether ‘Fly’ comes from that or, as most people think, from its use in the past as an insecticide, a piece left in a saucer of milk, it is best to enjoy looking at its beauty than to meddle with its dangers. It is at least unmistakable, unlike many fungi. Conditions: Rain arriving, heavier to come. Temperature: Max 14 Min 8C.
Parasol Mushroom– This very distinctive mushroom, fairly common up until November in well-drained meadows and grassland but less common in the North and Scotland, can grow up to 40 cm high and in diameter. Its scaly top has led to it being called Snakes Hat in parts of Europe, where it is prized for its nutty smell and flavour. This fungus emerges in an egg-shape and becomes flatter as it matures, leaving a fleshy
ring where the base splits from the stalk (see photos). It has a very distinctive ‘umbo’ (a raised knob) in the centre.
Mature Parasol Mushroom
Parasol mushroom showing umbo in centre.
It is hard to confuse with any other fungi but always be careful when trying something you aren’t sure of, and leave a piece uncooked so that it can be identified if anything goes wrong!- the flesh sometimes turns pink when cut. Conditions: Breezy with light showers. Temperature: Max 16 Min 10C.
Meadow Brown Butterfly- This brown butterfly is worth looking out for, between June and September, in any grassy patch, or feeding on summer flowers like Knapweed, Bramble, Lavender, Marjoram, Rudbeckia or Buddleia. It is probably the Butterfly you are most likely to see wherever you are in Britain, except the high mountains (and Shetland!). One reason for its success is that the caterpillars feed on a wide range of grasses, which is another excuse to leave a patch of your garden with long grass all summer. It can be separated from other brown butterflies by its spot pattern which is almost always one white spot in a dark circle, in a brown wing with orange patches. (Gatekeepers have two white spots and more strongly orange wings, while Ringlets have brown wings and several ringed spots). The orange patching is more extensive in females than males (see photo’s)
Meadow Brown on Knapweed
Male Meadow Brown scaring an intruder on its Knapweed
Female Meadow Brown
. Conditions: Cloud with sunny intervals. Temperature: Max 18 Min 9C.
The nature of nature-watching. Being able to watch, and in this case photograph, this healthy young Fox epitomises a key aspect of watching nature, for me. I went up to the top field where I am lucky to stay in Sussex, with the aim of watching Green Woodpeckers. I had heard them regularly and know from other years that, if I hide in a sheltered corner and wait, I may see them working the anthills at the crest of the field. After twenty minutes standing stock-still and quiet as a mouse there were no Green Woodpeckers at all, but what paced silently across the damp field-bottom and then steadily up the hill towards me was this beautiful Fox, listening in the undergrowth for small rodents to prey on before sloping off to another possible food-source! The guideline is, watch if you can- you may see nothing and you probably won’t see what you went for but with a bit of luck, you might see something else! Conditions: Disturbed weather across the country- storms, rain and sun. Temperature: Max 21 Min 13C.
Reed Bunting- These lovely long-tailed, sparrow-sized birds traditionally nest in damp areas and reed beds but lately have spread to drier habitats, probably due to the loss of wetlands, and are becoming pretty successful nesting in the shelter of Oil Seed Rape fields, although these are usually cut before they can get a second brood in. The strikingly bold patterned male finds a suitable nest site and the more muted female builds the nest. This female was finding plenty of insects, which the young and adults eat in spring, before adding seeds to their diet in summer. She was dropping down into the nest in the bottom of the grasses, but if a predator is around, as with some other birds, including the Lapwing, the Reed Bunting will feign injury and move away from the nest to draw the danger away.
Male Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting with insects for her young
Female Reed Bunting with insects fro her brood, down in the grasses