Monday, January 29, 2007

Big Garden Birdwatch

Another year, another big garden birdwatch, the annual RSPB survey of garden birds. For those who don't know participants watch their garden for 1 hour and count the maximum number of each species that can be seen at any one time. Last year 470,000 people took part.
I have done this for the last 4 or 5 years, although I've never bothered to keep a record of what I saw in past years, so I'm not sure exactly how this year compares. I know the 10 house sparrows this year was a record, and hopefully this is due at least in part to our own breeding birds (see my very first post).

Blue tits were second at 5 and again this is, I'm sure, an improvement. Also reassuring to see greenfinch still there despite the trichomoniasis outbreaks last year, although I'm sure 4 is down on past years. For me the highlight was our blackcaps - I'm getting nearer some decent pic's, especially of the male who has taken up residence in a euphorbia, but so far they've largely been shots though the window which isn't great (even though it did prompt me to clean the windows!)

Meanwhile a trip back to seek hawfinch proved unsuccessful, although I did get my best ever scope views of a green woodpecker - albeit to brief to get any snaps.
It was good to see the first signs of new growth in the woods with cuckoo pint shoots emerging, including a few of the spotted brand.

Also delighted that my new fungi book allowed me to name these colourful little chaps as scarlet elfcups. What evocative names some of these things have (even if a little cutesy).

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Groundbreaking Fungi

In the Q&A section of the January BBC Wildlife magazine there is a piece about the 'power' different fungi can exert when the fruiting bodies are developing. They take up water which enables amazing pressures to develop. Mushrooms can generate 10lbs per square inch. The common stinkhorn can expand rapidly and can lift over 100 kg (that's what it says). In 1991 a potato earthball pushed its way onto a tennis court through a layer of fly ash, 75mm of packed gravel and 20mm of rolled tarmac. And I bet some spotty herbert came along and kicked it away before it ripened!

Got me thinking about fungi again. I now have a book (see previous post!) and so I went back over some of the snaps from last autumn to see what I had. It's not so easy retrospectively, as they do tend to look a bit like each other, and you can't look underneath a picture to check the colour of the gills!
A few were interesting though:
I had some snaps of earthballs, although theses weren't lifting paving slabs.

The hoof fungus has different forms according to it's host. No doubting that this one blends in with the birch it is growing on.

This is a Lycoperdon species - better known as a puffball. They were a bit soggy, so the spores weren't so much exploding out as sort of slopping. The childish part of my humour was tickled last year when someone on a tv programme pointed out that the latin name translates as 'wolf's fart'.

And it turned out that my oddity under a pine tree at work was a wood cauliflower (not the easiest thing to photograph).

About 10" across some spotty herbert had kicked it over, but it was still impressive. Mind you my book says they can be up to 14kg in weight! Although the distribution is described as 'widespread throughout temperate N. Europe' it also says they are 'rare', which makes me feel chuffed for some reason (it's not as though I tracked it, waited patiently in a hide or anything- it was just there when I escaped for some fresh air). It's just nice to collect something unusual.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Surely not?

The promise of a dry day prompted me to head for the Forest of Dean again. I tried Woorgeens Lake for the first time, in the hope of finding some lesser redpoll or goosander. Wading along the rivers of mud that passed for paths - thank God I bought some wellies - I reached the Lake and was aware of a strange sensation affecting my eyes. Dredging back through my memory I realised with a start what it was. I was squinting because the SUN was shining. There were SHADOWS on the ground and the sky was visible and BLUE. And it felt good.

Other than the swans there were nine goosander and a kingfisher, but all out of range. No redpoll yet though. Back at the car I had some more good views of a nuthatch, but I think we've had enough pictures of them by now.

A tip from a local birder took me to the Church at Parkend.

Looking over the rather quaint graveyard, scanning the tops of the hornbeams (with a little help from a couple of very friendly GOS members) I found them. Sadly a long way off, and out of digiscoping range, but there was no doubting that bull neck and huge bill. Half a dozen Hawfinch - one of my target birds for this year.

I did get some reasonable views last year, given how shy they are, but these shots are heavily cropped and not the frame fillers I want this time.

(Did you notice the brambling peeking over the horizon? That's another I'm after in 2007.)

Three things you didn't know about hawfinch (unless you also have Birds Britannica)

  1. The nominate race, scientific name is the longest for any British bird - Coccothraustes coccothraustes coccothraustes
  2. Its ability to crack cherry stones with that stunning bill means that it is is delivering a pressure more than a thousand times its own weight - a load of up to 95 lbs. The equivalent force in a human would be more than 60 ton(ne)s.
  3. They eat peas

The good news is I think I know where they might be ground feeding and there was loads of cover, so maybe, just maybe, I'll snap them.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Bedroom Predators

Well OK not so much predators in the bedroom as from it. Or to be more specific raptors. I have to admit that this first shot is pretty desperate but it is a handheld digiscoped snap at maximum magnification through double glazing, and the only chance I had before the buzzard flew. This pole is quite often used by our local buzzards, but I've included this shot only because it is (sadly) the only real shot I have yet of our local 'pale form' bird. The head was mainly white, and at first glance it looked more like an osprey. In fact until it turned to show the wings the whole bird looked white. I've seen it around a few times, so hopefully will eventually get a better shot, but they are a pretty shy and have excellent eyesight!

Shortly afterwards I looked out again to see another of our recent regulars.

Don't you just love those eyes! I presume this is a young male sparrowhawk - he has the brown barred breast, but not the grey head yet. We see him on this bench at least once a day. If you look at his feet you will see that he has also used this as an eating perch, although neither Kay nor I have seen him dining yet.

The next shot shows why he comes.

The bench is under one of our feeding stations, but he never seems to be actively hunting when sitting there. Even the local blue tits do still move around in nearby trees ...... then again I guess that is just what he is looking for!

Still seeing the male blackcap and a few glimpses of a female, but if we don't get some proper bloody daylight soon (well more than the hour or so we've had in the last week) I don't think I'll ever get any decent photos!