Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Portrait Of Poppy

A year or two ago Em, whose excellent blog about life on Dartmoor is to be found here did a portrait of Teddy for us. She captured him perfectly and we all love the picture, so when Pop came to live with us I decided I would really love a portrait of her too.

We waited until she was fully grown and for the last six months I have been emailing Em various photos which never seemed to quite capture Poppy's character. Finally, I took one that did and this morning the completed portrait arrived.

I love it. It is Poppy to a 'T'. Well done Em, and thank you.

CT xx

Friday, 30 January 2015

Secrets Tales From The Hazel Woods: Catkins, Dormice, Voles and Wood Mice

Shhh, don't tell anyone but I am sneaking off from my essay on Wildlife Law to write a blog post :o)

Spring seemed to be in the air this morning. It was bright and sunny when the dogs and I walked through the woods to the Hazel Coppice. I've been keeping an eye out for female Hazel catkins over the past week. They can be hard to spot as they're much smaller than their male counterpart. The males are evident now they are unraveling and turning yellow, although they've actually been present on the trees since last autumn. 

Hazel (Corylus avellana) is monoecious, meaning it bears both male and female flowers on the same tree. It's also unusual among British nut trees in that it does it's pollinating very early in the year. It is the female flower that produces the nuts. Female catkins are very small but very distinctive, so it's worth keeping an eye out for them if you're out and about this weekend. You'll be able to see what they look like in the pic below which I took this morning. The male is the long yellow one, the female the small round one above it with the bright red spiky hair :o) Sorry it's not the clearest photo as I only had the phone with me. I'll try and pop back with the decent camera tomorrow and replace the pic.

The catkins can't pollinate each other so they rely on pollen coming from another tree. Did you know that wind born pollen is constructed differently from pollen that relies on animals to spread it? It isn't sticky in the same way and this means that bees, for example, can't get much benefit from Hazel pollen.

The other thing I was on the look out for this morning was Hazel Dormice (Muscardinus avellanarius). These tiny and rare mammals are all tucked up in their nests fast asleep at this time of year, and in any case they have such heavy protection in law that you can't handle or disturb them without a special licence from Natural England, but what you can do is try and find signs of them, and the simplest way to do that is to examine the gnawing patterns on fallen hazelnuts.

Small rodents, birds and squirrels all eat hazel nuts, but luckily each leaves a unique pattern on the nut itself. So if you know what to look for you can read the woods and they will tell you who is living in them.

This pic below is a hazel nut I found this morning in the coppice. You can tell from the teeth pattern that has been nibbled by a Vole. They leave a very neat, small circle with even teeth marks all round the inner rim of the hole, but the outer edge is left unmarked....

The next nut has been eaten by a Wood Mouse. You can see that they make a similar sized hole to the Vole and similar incisions on the inner edge but they also leave tooth marks on the outside of the nut....

The third nut has been eaten by a bird or squirrel. Being bigger and stronger than rodents they don't bother with gnawing a small hole; they simply crack the nut in half or prise it open. The resulting hole is large and jagged and it has no tooth marks on it at all.....

Here are all the nuts I found this morning together, so you can compare and see the differences:

 Unfortunately, I didn't find a single hazel nut that showed evidence of Hazel Dormice, but this doesn't mean they aren't there. The hazel area of the wood is perfect habitat for them and they are notoriously shy creatures, most active at night so the likelihood is that they are there, just very adept at keeping out of peoples way (and who can blame them?).

If you do fancy having a look in a local hazel wood for signs this weekend, the Dormouse makes a similar sized hole to the vole and wood mouse, although it can resemble a clog in terms of the shape, and they leave the rim of the hole smooth and tooth-free, while tooth marks run perpendicular around the hole.

This is an excellent guide to the different types of tooth and gnaw pattern different species leave and Here is the place to send your results if you do find any you think might have been made by Dormice.

I'll leave you with a couple of shots I took last night of the Moon, which was all shimmery and haloed in the cold (and we had a teeny weeny bit of snow too!) 

And of course the Obligatory pics of T and P who are tired after helping me hunt for hazel nuts :o)

Hope you all have a lovely weekend. We are Eagerly Anticipating a beautiful portrait Em over at Dartmoor Ramblings has done for us of Poppy. I will of course give it a Blog Post Of Honour when it arrives (hopefully this weekend). She is Very Clever Indeed.

CT x


Thursday, 29 January 2015

RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch & The Winner Of The Smartie....

The Winner of the Smartie is...... everyone who guessed it was a Dormouse Box. Sorry this is a little later than anticipated as the post it relates to was a few days back :o) The boxes are put up in the woods to monitor dormouse activity. As far as I'm aware they don't have a high hit rate- perhaps the dormice are wise to it? Anyway, if you would like to claim your winning smartie please leave me a message in the comments and I'll post one to you :o)

Over the weekend I did the RSPB garden bird watch. I do it every year and numbers seem to be down this year, both my own and those of friends who've been recording in their gardens for years as well. I wonder whether the mild winter weather and good summer means there's still food outside the gardens which may be preferable?

We have, on one occasion, had a Kingfisher sitting on our fence, not during the birdwatch weekend sadly because I would love to add him to my list- how cool would that be?! I watched for him this time but he didn't show up. Here is my list so you can compare with your own:

16 Sparrows
2 Blue tits
2 Great tits
4 Blackbirds
1 Coal tit
1 Wren
1 Marsh Tit
1 Great Spotted Woody
2 Nuthatches
1 Chaffinch
2 Collared Doves
2 Wood pigeon
1 Magpie
4 Long Tailed tits 

A total of 15 species. The weather wasn't great for photos, so here are a few birdy pics from my own library, starting with Apple, the little blackbird chick we raised in 2011. For a few weeks after she'd fledged out into the woods around the house she would come when I whistled her. It was magical, having a wild bird appear out of a nearby tree, fly down and land on the fence beside me. The first few times she actually flew into me because she hadn't quite worked out her flying agility.

She would also fly in through our bedroom window at 6am and land on my pillow and sing to me for some meal worms. The interesting thing about this was that when I was away for a weekend she didn't come in at all and no one saw her around the garden, but the window was still open and M was home. He thought she might have died, which upset me greatly as they found a dead blackbird on the lawn (although L said it didn't look like her). Anyway, I got home on the Sunday night and no one had seen her since the Thursday morning when she'd last come in for breakfast, and then I woke up on Monday morning with a blackbird on my pillow chirruping and cocking her head from side to side as she looked at me. She never landed on M's side (although she would quite happily ride about on his head or shoulder), and she wouldn't come to anyone else when they whistled for her. She was my baby.

I used to take her into L's bedroom where she would sing him awake too. He was probably the only child in the UK being woken up for school by a wild blackbird chirping busily at him!

Most summers here we have fledglings who get into trouble and need assistance. On the whole we  leave them for nature to work things out. It is illegal to take a wild bird into captivity; they have very precise needs so you really need to know what you're doing. We only intervene if it would mean the baby bird dying without help. More often than not they don't survive, but every now and then they make it and fledge properly into the wild and independence. Apple was one of our success stories.

Blue tit

Male chaffinch and blue tit

great tit

Marsh tit


Long tailed tit baby

Male green finch

long tailed tit

male black cap

female black cap

male siskin


GSW baby


Poppet (our Dunnock)

Wishing you all a good day,

CT :o)

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Sea, The Sea

You'll be glad to hear that normal service has been resumed. Phew!

It's a small miracle what sleep, drinking plenty of hot water and spending a day outdoors in the (very bracing as it happens) fresh air can do for you :o)

Thank you SO MUCH for all your kind comments yesterday- what marvellous folks you truly are. I can't tell you how much you all cheered me up. I appreciate you all SO MUCH, and here is a slightly-out-of-focus bunch of flowers for you by way of thanks:

I've spent today by the sea, here.....

In bitterly cold winds and driving rain :o) We got soaked, then freeze-dried, then soaked (this time by needle-sharp darts of rain that were chucked at us by a ferociously furious wind that tried to blow us all off the sea wall and into the mudflats) then freeze-dried again.

As has been said before though (mainly by me), ecologists are a hardy bunch and we did keep going through some pretty grotty conditions...


And it was worth it because we saw....drum roll please...... TWO Spoonbills! Here they are....

Well, yes, OK. Could be almost anything, right? So you'll have to take my word for it because I was with ace birding chum Dave and ace lecturer Des and both had very powerful scopes with them and recognised the tell-tale swish swish from side to side head movement that Spoonbills characteristically do when searching for food, PLUS the local birders networks were alive in a Jolly Excitable Way with the news they'd been spotted here yesterday AND the warden confirmed it. VERY exciting - I've never seen one before, let alone two. They are pretty rare in the UK so that's a Giant Yippee then :o)

Here's a pic off the web so you can see just how wonderful they really are....

Farlington Marsh is a hugely important site for water birds, especially geese and waders. It's one of only a very few places that you can see hundreds of dark-bellied Brent geese at this time of year. These birds have amber conservation status due to their low distribution levels. They breed in Arctic Tundra and over-winter in GB, Ireland and the Low Countries. There is a pale form which comes from Greenland. These dark ones come from Siberia.



The reserve also boasts Bearded Tits thanks to all the Reeds, but alas we didn't see any today. I am still chasing them as have yet to see one :o(


As I was looking through the bins for the Tits (you have to be careful how you say that), I heard the unmistakeable eerie haunting call of a Curlew, and turned to see two flying over the flats. I love Curlews and it is always a pleasure to see them....

There was a Redshank not far from the Curlew, and although I see these quite often I never tire of admiring them...


Old Eagle Eyes Dave then spotted a Ginormous flock of Avocet (emblem of the RSPB), again at a distance. Here they are, all 68 of them! (they are the white blur along the back edge of the pic with a Shelduck in the foreground). You're probably working out for yourselves by now that the more interesting birds were, for the most part, miles away cross the mudflats :o)

Farlington is a strange place, slap bang next to the Motorway and not far from the City of Portsmouth, so you get this strange mix of desolate mudflat expanse filled with wild birds with the busy hum of the M27 right next to it.

Wigeon were present in large numbers...

As were Teal  (loving that bright green splodge on the wing of the male)...

And a flock of Lapwing were  being buffeted about by the wind against which they were making very little headway...

The Dunlin were having more luck. They chose not to fly about but instead spread out right across the estuary eating everything they could find :o)

We stopped and had lunch in the cover of the sea wall. You can perhaps tell from our cheerful expressions that this is not the first time we have all eaten together outside in less than clement conditions and are therefore Used To It (although I notice Rich has all but disappeared inside his coat and hood and only a tiny little piece of face is left exposed to the air) :o)

The weather decided to close in again dramatically at this point, so sandwiches were stuffed down throats hastily and hot tea gulped in hurried fashion before we all got drenched again with a side order of frostbite....

After the cloud had tipped its entire contents out on us, the weather appeared to decide it had given us enough of a hard ride and the sun came out, just as we were heading for home....of course....


As we headed back to the relative warmth of the minibus with bright blue lips and bright pink faces, Dave spotted this group of Black-Tailed Godwit, another bird I had never seen before and one that is also confined to a few narrow estuaries. These birds have lots of rings on their legs which is probably down to their relative scarcity and the need to monitor them. Smashing, aren't they?

I thought you might like to see how the majority of my blog posts are written. With 'help' from a certain small, determined Miss Poppy who likes Very Much to go to sleep on my lap while I am typing and won't take NO, I AM BUSY POPPY for an answer :o)...

Incidentally, that horrid Stats essay is finished and handed in, and now I have one to write on Countryside Law. Oh, Happy Days......

Hope everyone is well and I wish you all a peaceful evening, and thanks again for being Such Chums. If ever you need cheering up I will return the favour with interest :o)

CT xx