Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A small pond

I've been stuck in pretty much all the time since the Farnes, work deadlines and all that. My friend Imi invited me to her house in Pembury on Sunday and we spent a very pleasant couple of hours in the garden, enjoying sunshine, tea, chocolate brownies and a beautifully designed and maintained little wildlife pond that pretty much blew me away.

The pond has a surface area of not much more than a metre squared. But a lot of thought has gone into its landscaping and planting and a lot of work goes into its maintenance. The rewards include Large Red Damselflies.

They have also had at least one of the blue species but none were about on the day for me to ID, so here's Large Red again.

I didn't manage any water-boatmen pics but here is one of the several pond-skaters doing their walking on water trick. And also the edge of a water-lily pad - these provide resting places and launch-pads for the new generation of tiny froglets that were very much in evidence.

Imi says there were two separate 'spawning events' in the pond in spring, and consequently there is a range of ages, with froglets, froglets with tails, and lots and lots of still legless tadpoles. These are all Common Frogs, which makes them particularly exciting for me as most of the frogs I see and photograph are the introduced (and, frankly, less cute) Marsh Frogs.

A closer look at a fully formed froglet. Fully formed but not fully grown - it was the size of my little fingernail.

This one's hiding. You can't see it, right?

A head-on view. It was tricky getting low enough for eye-level photos, I was running the risk of dipping the BigMac lens in the pond. But that is the nature of ponds.

And finally, some of the many, many tadpoles. As you can see, these are well-grown and several are sporting little hind legs. This one little garden pond looks set to send out really good numbers of new Common Frogs into the world.  Watching the little taddies swimming about was easily as enjoyable as watching a pond full of goldfish - and a lot more environmentally sound. Imi tells me there is a newt in the pond too but he or she didn't want to say hi today.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Farne Islands - part 3 (not actually the Farne Islands)

There was time before the boats sailed (and also on Friday when we drove home) to go for a bit of a walk. On days 1 and 2 I walked a little way along the shore northwards, and on day 3 I headed off down the lanes from the farm and eventually ended up on the beach a bit further along. The countryside around here is lovely,  mostly farmland with a mix of grazing and arable, with the occasional copse and hamlet and lots of photogenic stone walls separating the fields. The beach is rocky at Seahouses but becomes sandy further on with an extensive dune system behind.

First, though, I spent a little time on the balcony of the bunkhouse and photographed the Swallows and House Martins as they flew by.

Like everywhere else, Seahouses is full of noisy young Starlings at the moment, chasing their parents for food or, like this one, making tentative attempts to feed themselves.

More Starlings. A lot more. These were feeding among the dunes.

And over the dunes, this rather marvellous view.

Collared Dove, striking a strange pose as it sets off on its rising and falling display flight.

Linnets were common around the fields, as were Goldfinches, Chaffinches, House Sparrows and Yellowhammers.

There's one of those pretty walls I mentioned, this one adorned with a Meadow Pipit.

And a baby Stonechat, examining the sky for - I don't know what. It was sufficiently occupied that I could get quite close to it.

There were gratifyingly high numbers of Skylarks around here. Other farmland birds present in abundance included Rooks, Pied Wagtails and Common Whitethroats.

Only the last morning was warm and sunny enough for butterflies. I saw several Green-veined Whites, and to my joy a few Wall Browns, which actually posed with wings open. One of them was even on a wall (though that one had virtually a whole wing missing so I have refrained from posting its photo).

One more insect - a Two-spot Ladybird which appears to be engaged in some kind of ladybird extreme sport.

There were plenty of Eiders along the shore. The non-existent crop factor of the D700 obliged me to try to find compositions with the bird not very big in the frame.

I didn't bring the landscape lens on my last walk (a decision I regretted once I reached the beach) but used the 300mm lens for some landscape-ish pics including this one.

On that same day, I was happy to find a Brown Hare in one of the fields opposite the coast road.

There was a Sand Martin colony in the undercliff of the beach. I spent a little while with them but didn't manage any really sharp photos.

Last pic now, taken on the last morning as I returned to the farm, a Willow Warbler which I'd heard singing every day but hadn't managed to see properly until I got the viewing angle through the leaves just right.

Farne Islands part 2 (other birds, and honorary birds)

The most notorious Farnes bird is the Arctic Tern, because of its habit of doing stuff like this. On Inner Farne, protective headwear is a must as they will peck you and their bills are SHARP. There are many pairs nesting on the path up from the jetty, many more around the loos and visitor centre, and others here and there elsewhere on the island. Some nest very close to the path. As you approach, they give you the hard stare, and begin to make their hard clacking alarm call, and then they may lift off and hover around your head, periodically swooping and pecking at the top of your head. They don't seem to go for faces, thankfully. You can't really blame them for taking against the heavy-footed humans stomping along right next to their precious eggs, and naturally people wonder if it is cruel to allow visitors onto the islands as they clearly stress the birds. However, the presence of human visitors does also help the terns, by discouraging gulls. The terns that nest closest to the path have higher breeding productivity, because they suffer lower predation.

This lady seemed to have the knack of tern-appeasing as the bird preferred to use her as a perch rather than savage her. Both she and the tern seemed happy to pose at length for photos.

The terns' aerial skill as they lined up their attacks made it relatively easy to catch flight photos.

Away from the immediate proximity of the nests, the terns were still fearless, but happily engaged in more sedate behaviours.

With no binoculars (I know, I know, I don't deserve to call myself a birder) I would never have found the distant Roseate Terns on the beach. A pair, but apparently not a pair ready to breed, they were keeping company with the Arctics.

I also didn't manage any good photos of the few Sandwich Terns around Inner Farne.

The large gulls are the most predatory things on the islands - one Herring Gull had snatched a chick (any ideas what it was?) from some unguarded nest. The Lesser Black-back was loitering near Puffin burrows.

The most numerous gull here, though, poses no threat to the other seabirds, and in fact this one seems a bit overawed by its Guillemot neighbour. There are Kittiwakes on both islands, fitting into the gaps between the auks. Most pairs still seemed to be at the nesting material-collecting stage.

This Kittiwake is overflying a seemingly endless sea of Guillemots.

In fact Guillemots outnumber Kittiwakes by about 10 to one, but Kittiwakes make a disproportionately large contribution to the noise levels here. A pair reuniting after one has been at sea are particularly vocal, their onomatopoeic calls carrying far above the low growly purrs of the auks.

I could photograph these gulls all day, they are so beautiful. This one is busy making itself even more beautiful.

Another cliff-nester here in good numbers is the Shag. These seemed to be at multiple stages in the breeding process, some tending well-grown chicks and others, like this one, still busily gathering furnishings for their nests.

One of the Shags nearest the path seemed to be sitting tight but then stood up to reveal this naked little frog of a chick. There was also an unhatched egg under her, so this baby may only be a few hours old.

Another proud parent, with two larger though no less gawky offspring.

A pair of Shags, doing some mutual preening and, by the looks of it, also sharing some startling gossip.

Only three passerine species breed on the Farnes. The Pied Wagtail is one of them (the others are Rock Pipit and Swallow).

Eiders nest on both of the islands we visited. The vols also informed me that there's a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers somewhere, and that Shovelers are nesting here for the first time this year. And Mallards are also on the breeding list. But Eiders are the most abundant duck species here and we saw several sitting females, plus these two with their brand-new ducklings.

Gannets, however, do not breed on the Farnes. But we still saw a few from the boats.

Fulmars are here, but in low numbers, just a couple of hundred pairs. I also saw them from the beach at Seahouses.

And now the 'honorary birds' - Grey Seals, which were around all the islands, swimming or chilling out on tiny rocky islets. The lone animal was relaxing on the shore of Inner Farne on both days we visited - what a hard life. The one on the left of the bottom pic though looks like it has had a hard life, going by its scarred muzzle.

I did bring a landscape lens with me and even remembered to use it a few times. Here's a view across Staple island to finish this post - and we'll be back on the mainland for part 3.