Sri Lanka 2017 Part 2: Kandy & Nuwara Eliya

Kandy is a major Sri Lankan city, known for its tea and also the Temple of the Tooth, one of the most sacred locations for Buddhists. Located in the intermediate zone, between the dry zone and the wet zone, the climate is akin to that of a rainforest. We were staying just outside of the city, at the Tree of Life hotel. All around us was rainforest.

We could tell that the area was going to be great for birdlife on the first afternoon of our stay there. Just walking a little distance from my room, I encountered a bird wave, or more formally a mixed-species foraging flock, that was moving through the hotel gardens. Bird waves often occur during the heat of the day when the flocks result in a higher feeding efficiency. Another reason for these flocks is the increase in the number of pairs of eyes, which makes spotting predators easier.

Usually flocks form around a particular species that initiates it, the so called ‘nuclear species’ and these are usually the centre of the flock and keep its form. Often these are babblers as their obvious vocalisations probably draw in birds from the surrounding area. However, in this flock there did not seem to be a ‘nuclear species’ but more or less equal numbers of each participating species.

As we had just left the dry zone and this was our first stay in the intermediate or wet zones, the birdlife was markedly different. Within the feeding flock we came across our first Jerdon’s Leafbirds, Golden-fronted Leafbirds, Sri Lanka Woodpigeons and Great Tits of the trip. The latter may not sound very exciting however it was distinctly paler than the Great Tits we get back in the UK,  and is treated by a lot of authorities as a separate species, the Cinereous Tit (Parus cinereus).

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Sri Lanka Woodpigeon

The highlight of my stay in Kandy was the session we spent in the hotel gardens during the evening, past nightfall. The hotel gardens are one of the best places to see the Giant Flying Squirrels, a species I was not expecting to see before going on this trip. Giant Flying Squirrels are mainly nocturnal animals, which have to travel from where they spend the day to where they feed at night. For the squirrels here this means crossing a road. However, they don’t do so on foot.

As it got darker, we waited on the road and scanned the canopy with our torches. Despite the tour group being unlucky last year, it wasn’t long until we spotted the eyeshine from the first flying squirrel. We watched it run along the branch right to the edge where it waited and assessed the situation. Soon it simply jumped into the air, splayed open its legs and glided into the trees on the other side of the road. Wow!

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Nuwara Eliya, the coolest town in Sri Lanka, was our next stop on our Sri Lankan tour. The town has a climate very similar to the UK’s, which made it popular with British pioneers looking for a taste of the country they came from. This has influenced several aspects of the town, especially the architecture. This town was very different to every other town we visited or passed through on our journey.

Sitting at quite an altitude, overlooked by Pidurutalagala, the highest mountain in Sri Lanka, its surroundings host lots of special birdlife including some species found solely in the Sri Lankan high hills. During our stay in the town, the first site we visited was Hakgala Botanical Gardens. The gardens were surprisingly good for wildlife, considering that it’s a very popular place for schoolchildren to play in at that time of day, once classes had finished. One of the highlights was the ‘Bear Monkeys’ – a speciality of the area.

Bear Monkeys are a subspecies of the Purple-faced Leaf Monkey, a Sri Lankan endemic. This subspecies was given the name ‘Bear Monkey’ due to their long shaggy coat which keeps them warm in this chilly climate.

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The following day we were out very early for our trip to Horton Plains, the main reason we were staying at Nuwara Eliya. Upon arrival at the national park, the only one in Sri Lanka where you can walk freely and don’t have to stay in a vehicle, we split into two groups. I chose the slower paced group as I thought that it would give me a greater chance of seeing more birds, and I was right!

I had two main targets for this walk, the Sri Lanka Bush Warbler and the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush. I hadn’t very high hopes for the Whistling Thrush as its a very elusive species that usually only shows itself in the open at dusk or dawn, and by the time we had arrived at the park it was a bit too late in the day.

However, we did have luck with the other target, as not long after we set off I heard a short, clear call coming from the dry, scrubby montane forest. A small brown bird hopped into my view, only metres away, and began hopping around on a bank right next to the path. It was highly mobile and in deep cover, but it was a great sighting, especially after another Sri Lanka Bush Warbler joined it.

At one point along the walk, I stopped by a stream and waited a little while to see what turned up. This is the favourite habitat of the Sri Lanka Whistling Thrush, which nests in stream banks and patrols the streams to look for food. Although I predictably had no luck with the thrush, I did sense a movement behind me. I looked around to see, on a log barely a few feet away, a small dark squirrel hopping along. There are several species of squirrel in Sri Lanka, ranging in size from the Grizzled Giant Squirrel, about the size of a monkey, to this, the Dusky Striped Squirrel. An uncommon species, Horton Plains is one of the best places to see it.

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Now that we had explored the mid- and high-hills, we then headed back down into the lowlands. Next stop: Yala NP.

A few other photo-highlights from our stay in the hills:

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Sri Lanka 2017 Part 1: Sigiriya

A few weeks ago I was embarking on a trip I had been looking forward to for quite a while. I was heading on a fortnight-long Naturetrek tour around Sri Lanka with a focus on the nation’s fantastic mammals and vast array of endemic birds. After an afternoon and a morning of familiarising myself with the birdlife around the Airport Hotel gardens, the tour formally began and we were setting off on the long drive from Colombo to Sigiriya.

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A White-breasted Waterhen with a chick, seen at the pond in the hotel gardens.

During our stay in Sigiriya we were based at Hotel Sigiriya, near Sigiriya Rock. On two of the three days we resided here we would do an early morning bird walk in the area around the hotel, including a lotus-filled lake next to the rock itself. It was here where most of the birds were, including Grey-headed Fish-eagle, Black-headed Cuckooshrike and Jungle Prinia.

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Jungle Prinia

However, I think that the highlight of this area was this beautiful bird:

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Sri Lanka Junglefowl

The reason that the photo isn’t excellent is because there was poor light in the strip of waste-ground between the tiny local market and the dry scrub next to it – a favoured site of the Sri Lanka Junglefowl.

Sri Lanka Junglefowl is the national bird of Sri Lanka and as the name suggests, it is an endemic. This means that its global distribution is limited to Sri Lanka. It is one of four species of Junglefowl and one, the Red Junglefowl which is very similar in appearance, is likely to be the ancestor of domestic chickens.

On the second day of the tour, we visited the nearby Minneriya NP. This park is famous for its large gatherings of wildlife and especially elephants. These elephants come from all around to drink at the huge tank at the centre of the park, however they sometimes have a little trouble getting there.

We were taken around the park in Jeeps, and I was surprised at the number of vehicles within the park at one time. Although it was great to see all the elephants congregating in such large numbers (often up to 300), it was hard not to notice that the elephants were getting a little hindered by all the vehicles that would suddenly rush to where the elephants were leaving the forest to go and drink. Although they must be used to the numbers of vehicles, a couple of times their route to the tank was blocked by Jeeps. Once, an elephant got quite aggravated and rammed into a Jeep, damaging the vehicle and pushing it many metres away. I personally think that limiting the number of Jeeps entering the park per day might be a good idea, perhaps by making pre-booking compulsory, however I understand that the logistics behind this must be complicated.

Otherwise, the birding was excellent especially around the quieter sections of the tank. Huge numbers of Painted Storks, Spot-billed Pelicans and Spoonbills congregated around the edge, with a Lesser Adjutant mixed-in and loads of Black-winged Stilts a bit more spread-out. Other waders were also present with species including Kentish Plover and the bizarre-looking Great Thick-knee. Meanwhile, on the open grasslands of the park it was enjoyable to watch and listen to the display flight of Oriental Skylarks, and to see the Paddyfield Pipits attending to their nests.

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A small group of Painted Storks. There was a huge group just behind these ones!

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The Paddyfield Pipits would often allow close approach in the Jeeps

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We came across a number of Indian Peacocks and Peahens in the park, the first of the trip.

The following day, after a morning of birding around the hotel, we had lunch at a great local restaurant on the banks of a small river. Immediately after our arrival, the chefs threw some fish onto the bank of the river, although it wasn’t clear what they were for. However, we soon found out when a huge Water Monitor, which must have been at least 5 feet long, lumbered out of the water and swallowed the fish. It wasn’t long before others arrived, however the first monitor was the largest and fiercely protected its lunch. The smaller monitors got a few scraps but the largest one wouldn’t budge. It even tried to whip the chef with its very powerful tail every time it was given more fish, which was incredibly dangerous!

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Our next stop on our tour around Sri Lanka was Kandy, nearer to the hills and within the wet zone. There would be quite a change in landscape and wildlife! I’ll end this post with a slideshow of some of the highlights of our stay in Sigiriya.

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Teifi Marshes, home to the Welsh Wildlife Centre

The week of 13th to the 17th of July, I went to Teifi Marshes, the home of the Welsh Wildlife Centre. It’s owned by the fourth largest Wildlife Trust in the UK, the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales. Nestled on the banks of the River Teifi between the town of Cardigan and the village of Cilgerran, Teifi Marshes is known for its Otters. We stayed in a tiny but cosy cottage near the visitor’s centre, with access to the reserve well after all the other guests had left. That meant we stood an even better chance of spotting Otters as they’re a nocturnal mammal, but we didn’t have much luck.

We arrived at our cottage at 5 in the afternoon and began the process of unpacking. But we didn’t get very far before I spotted two Scarlet Tiger moths sitting right in the open in a flower bed! They are classed as a ‘local’ species in my moth book, which means they are only found in less than 300 sites across the whole of the UK! They are called Scarlet Tiger because of the beautiful red hindwings, visible in the second photo. Scarlet Tiger is also a new species for my pan-species list, which I am hoping to expand this holiday.

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

Scarlet Tiger, showing hind wings.

A pan-species list is a list of species which covers all groups (fungi, plants, invertebrates, mammals, birds, reptiles, fish and amphibians) found in a certain place. My list is of all species found in Britain and I only started putting together my list this spring. It had 781 species at the beginning of this trip but we’ll see how it expands.

After everything was unpacked, I decided to explore the area close to the cottage. The visitor centre closes at 5pm, so I already almost had the whole place to myself! Right next to the cottage is a play area for small children. I found that it was full of wildlife too! Two small Toads were found but were hard to get a good look at as they hopped into a tussock of long grass as soon as I spotted them. I also found a lot of wildlife on the umbellifer-like plants around the play area, mostly Meadowsweet and Hogweed. A large larva had made itself a tunnel of silk from which it fed on the flowers of a Meadowsweet and when I disturbed it it quickly retreated into its tunnel. Lots of Hoverflies were enjoying the sweet nectar of the umbellifers, and there were especially large numbers of Marmalade Hoverfly darting about. Also, annoyingly, Horseflies, or Cleg Flies, were aplenty. I managed to fight them off for most of the duration of my walk, but their persistence paid off when one managed to bite my hand when I was looking at a Brown-lipped Snail!

The following morning it was still drizzly as it had been for the whole journey. I did manage an early morning walk to the river viewpoint though, with the hope of finding Otters. Unsuccessfully.

Both male and female Blackcaps were present, the male singing its socks off in a tree a metre away from me. Males and females are similar apart from one striking feature: the colour of their cap. The female’s and juvenile’s cap isn’t black at all, but in fact brown. The male’s cap is a glossy black though! During my adventures with bird ringing in southern England, I was fooled by a juvenile Blackcap. We had caught a brown-capped Blackcap in the net during a ringing demonstration, and my trainer asked me whether it was male or female. I confidently said “female!”, but had forgotten about juveniles. My trainer didn’t hesitate to point out a few minuscule black feathers in the cap, therefore making it a male!

Moving on from the Blackcaps, I was surprised to see a group of 5 Curlew fly over the river. I had first mistaken the silhouettes of the birds for those of gulls, which are abundant over the river. But their long, curved bills were the stand out feature when I looked through my binoculars! But then, out of the corner of my eye, a spotted a shape. It was swimming downstream, low in the water and diving regularly. Otter? Unfortunately, no. It was in fact a Cormorant, but it fooled me! It was the only Cormorant we saw on the trip which is surprising, I was thinking we’d see a lot more due to the abundance of large water bodies.

After breakfast, we embarked on another walk, longer this time. We went on the Wetland Trail, one of the most popular trails for wildlife spotting. It was marked as 2.8km on the map, but it was tiring after visiting all the hides. Throughout the walk we were spurred on by the soundtrack of Sedge Warbler song – the reedbeds punctuated by small shrubs are perfect for them! However the drizzle which was still coming down beckoned the snails onto the path. We had to watch our step the entire way as Brown-lipped, Garden and other snails saw this as an opportunity to cross to the other side. Sadly we saw nearly as many crushed shells as intact ones, other people didn’t seem to be paying attention. From then on I moved every snail I could to safety!

Most of the snails were crossing over the tarmacked path where most of the hides were. From the tarmacked path we spotted an Oystercatcher piping as it flew over the reedbeds and five more Curlew from a hide.

I must say that Eurasian Oystercatchers are currently my favourite waders. They often nest near human habitation, they have been known to nest in flower pots on patios and are sometimes approachable. They are an unmistakable wader with the mix of black and white and a bright red bill. They are found all over the country, inland and coastal, so they are seen more often than strictly coastal birds like Sanderlings. Also 12 species of Oystercatcher (genus Haematopus) are spread over the whole world, so it’s not only Europe which can enjoy them!

We had lunch at the Glasshouse Cafe in the visitor centre, from which you could see the nearby village of Cilgerran, which we walked to afterwards. The village was certainly different to the rural setting around our cottage but it was a chance to find some suburban wildlife: House Sparrows which were absent in the reserve. Also the loose stone walls harboured a lot of plants, including Maidenhair Spleenwort, Wall-rue and some hardy Herb Roberts.

The following morning got off to a good start. My dad found a moth in the sink when he got up, put it in one of my pots and showed me when I had breakfast. It was a Dark Arches moth which I have caught in the moth trap before at home. It may just be a coincidence but I think it is often found indoors more than other species. I think this because I have found another one at home, but not in the trap. It was in fact on one of our towels! Maybe they like the warmth of human habitation?

Today’s walk was to Poppit Sands, the closest patch of coastline to the reserve. It was near enough to low tide, and there were lots of shells on the beach. Many of them unidentified, I have little experience with shore life as we live far from the coast. We did see a few Compass Jellies though, which were spectacular:

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

Compass Jellyfish washed up on the beach

There were lots of birds down by the beach. When we were just about to walk onto the beach I spotted a Red Kite circle over ‘the last pub before Ireland’ before heading west (in the direction of Ireland). The Red Kite was being mobbed by Corvids, namely Jackdaws and Carrion Crows, of which there were a lot. On the way back to the reserve I saw a Buzzard being mobbed by around a hundred Jackdaws! None, apart from one or two, were very persistent and gave up after a few minutes. Also from that pub we had a great view of a feeding Whimbrel, with a huge flock of Canada Geese. I was hoping to spot some dune fungi by the beach, but unfortunately none were to be seen.

I got up at 4:45 am the next morning because I had set the moth trap and was anxious to see what we’d caught.

  • 2 Brussels Laces. These were the only scarce moth we caught in the trap, and a new species for me. They’re quite a drab moth, similar to the Willow Beauty, but much smaller.
  • 2 Scalloped Oaks. I’ve caught their similar cousin, Scalloped Hazel, in the trap at home. Scalloped Hazels are browner and fly earlier in the year. The Scalloped Oaks look ‘fresher’:
Scalloped Oak

Scalloped Oak

  • 1 Elephant Hawk-moth. I was really pleased when I caught an Elephant Hawk-moth in the trap, as they seem to avoid me. It’s the first ever one I’ve caught in my trap, whereas other people have caught 22 in one night!
  • 2 Clouded Borders. I was really thinking we would catch more as I catch numbers in excess of 10 at home. They’re related to the magpies, Clouded Magpie and Magpie.
  • 1 Magpie. The Magpie we caught in the trap was the first I’ve ever seen and it was also the second largest moth in the trap, after the Elephant Hawk-moth. They’re larger than Clouded Borders and covered in spots instead of black patches.
  • 7 Uncertains. These are the common LBJs (Little Brown Jobs) of the moth world, but they have a great name!
  • 2 Riband Waves. There are two forms of the Riband Wave: the banded and non-banded. I find that they are both abundant but some nights I catch more of one than the other. Both Riband Waves we caught were non-banded.
  • 2 Buff-Tips. I am always amazed by their camouflage. When I discovered one on the bug house next to the moth trap in the morning I actually thought it was a twig!
  • 1 Buff Ermine. These are common moths and I never fail to catch them when I put the trap out at the right time of year.
  • 1 Buff Arches. This concluded the buff moths of the night, but it’s the prettiest of the three.
Buff Arches

Buff Arches

  • 1 Common Wainscot. This is quite a drab, pale moth which is average sized. It flies earlier in the year than other wainscots.
  • 1 Snout. Snouts are a large, odd moth. They actually look like the have a snout which gives them a comical appearance.
  • 1 Drinker. After catching one in the trap in Wales, the Drinker became my favourite moth. It also has a snout like the Snout, but when I saw it wiggle its nose it looked like it had just sneezed!
  • 2 Shaded Broad-bars. These confused me for a while as I have never caught them before. Their colour can be quite variable, ranging from yellow to brown.
  • 1 Spectacle. These moths are distinctive as they have marks at the front of their head resembling white-rimmed spectacles!
  • 1 Southern Wainscot. It was great to catch one of these as they are a localised species and a reedbed specialist, so this reserve is a great place for them!
  • 3 Lackeys. Two males and a female caught in a trap. The females are larger than the males and usually paler, but the colour is variable.

So not as many as I thought I would catch. But there were still a few new species for my list: Southern Wainscot, Shaded Broad-bar, Magpie, Lackey, and Brussels Lace.

For today’s walk we went to Cardigan Castle. Good for history but not so good for wildlife! The walk there was quite good though, as we followed the river most of the way. One of the highlights was when I spotted a lone Sand Martin fly upstream, had to pick out from the 100+ Swallows and House Martins also hawking above the river. It’s my first one this year! I also managed to find a Small Tortoiseshell flitting between buildings,  which I expect is one of the few I’m going to see this year as sadly they don’t seem to be doing well.

Unfortunately that was the end of our incredible holiday. Sadly no Otters, but that doesn’t matter as I was amazed by the amount of wildlife we saw in less than a week!

At the beginning of this post, I said that I was hoping to expand my pan-species list this week. I was very successful! I added around 50 new species, including 18 plants!

In Search of the Polar Bear

For our summer holiday we decided to go on a circumnavigation of Svalbard, mostly for Polar Bears. Fortunately for us we were in luck, we saw 13!
Our first Bear came on day one, certainly a nice start to the voyage! The Polar Bear was on an island, feeding on Arctic Tern and Arctic Skua eggs. It was constantly being mobbed by the defensive parents and it was very nervous. That meant that when we went out on zodiacs to get a closer look, it moved to the other side of the (small) island. We saw a few family parties of Common Eiders next to the island too as they choose to nest with the Arctic Terns for their protective nature.
Day two brought our second Polar Bear, spotted by someone in our zodiac on a cruise around a glaciated bay. We saw it before we had even entered the bay, which meant that we didn’t have much time for the rest of the excursion! It was a very dirty specimen, easy to see when it walked in front of a patch of snow or ice, though it wasn’t in bad condition.
On day three we came across no less than three bears on a single slope, showing absolutely no interest in each other! They were also a mile inland which is unusual in its own right!
Day five heralded the best Bear sighting of the whole trip, at somewhere where we would never have dreamed of seeing a Polar Bear! We were cruising a bird cliff, full of nesting Brunnich’s Guillemots (Thick-Billed Murres), Black Guillemots and Kittiwakes, when someone spotted a Polar Bear halfway up! Glaucous Gulls were continuously mobbing the Bear, even drawing blood! The Polar Bear got his revenge however, and swiped at one of the gulls and killed it! All of the staff said they had never seen this kind of behaviour in their life and that I probably would never see it again!
Day six had the same number of Polar Bears as day three, but a little bit different. We were zodiac cruising Duck Island, a nature reserve known for its breeding wildfowl, when we found a collared female Polar Bear with a cub! It was obvious that it was a female guarding the cub and not a male eating the cub (they often do) because it is not possible to put a collar on a male as a male’s neck is thicker than its head! However, we did find a male Polar Bear on the island opposite the one the mother and cub were on, just patrolling the stretch of coast.
I would say that would be target achieved!

Super Bear!

Super Bear!

A New Sighting for Hedgecourt Lake

A leisurely trip down to Hedgecourt was turned into one of the most exciting visits ever, when my dad said he spotted a Mink run across the road away from the lake. That was something I really wanted to see because I’ve never seen a Mink before and one of my main interests is mammals. So I situated myself a few metres away from where the mink crossed the road and waited patiently for the Mink to reappear. I wasn’t certain that the Mink would cross over the road again, though luckily about ten minutes after my dad first spotted it, the Mink emerged from the shrubs that line the edge of the road. I watched it cross, though it was too quick for a photo. Once it had slipped into the water I decided to come a little closer and as I stepped onto one of the fishing pontoons, a cute weasel-like face emerged from the water. It was so startled that it immediately submerged and swam to the next pontoon. Upon reaching the pontoon it clambered into a hole in the stone wall that lined the bank of the river. After about ten minutes of waiting for it to poke its face out of the hole, it finally emerged and crossed the road again with a Signal Crayfish in its mouth. Signal Crayfish is one of the key species in a Mink’s diet, which is great because they are introduced too!
The species of Mink I saw there was almost certainly an American Mink for one very clear reason: they are the only species of Mink in Britain and the only other species of Mink in Europe is the European Mink of which the closest population is in Spain. American Mink were imported to Britain for use in fur farms, though in the 1950s and 60s they escaped and now breed in the wild. They don’t have such a good reputation in the British wildlife society as they kill Water Voles and many other native and introduced wildlife.
Today I tried to see one again, and I staked out the same place. I was doubtful that it would reveal itself again at the same spot because American Mink have home ranges or around 10 hectares, so that’s a lot of land to explore. Thankfully it did show again, though it wasn’t as exciting as the first time it appeared yesterday because it crossed at exactly the same point, went under the same pontoon, clambered into the same hole and caught another crayfish. But this time it was much more outgoing than yesterday, so I was able to get some ok photos:

Peekaboo!

Peekaboo!

Going for a swim

Going for a swim

Yum!

Yum!

 

Mink

Mink

Oh, Hello!

Oh, Hello!

I'm Coming Up...

I’m Coming Up…

 

Look Both Ways...

Look Both Ways…

And Cross!

And Cross!

 

 

Northumberland: 24th – 30th May 2014

This week we decided to stay in a self-catering cottage near Bamburgh, Northumberland, so that we could enjoy the surrounding scenery and the nearby Farne Islands to see Puffins and the other auks and seabirds.

24th May

We arrived at our self-catering cottage at around 4:00 PM as it was a seven hour drive from our home in West Sussex. We found that the cottage is about 1/2 a mile from the sea and a lovely sandy beach. There were a few colourful meadows in the way though, so we went on a quick walk down to the coast to familiarise ourselves with the area. There were Rooks and one Raven on the fence posts; and as I was focusing on a Rook with my binoculars I heard a beautiful song arise from behind me. I turned around and searched for the bird that was creating the sweet melody on the fence posts and on the gorse bushes, and when I eventually found it, it was high up in the sky still singing wonderfully. It was obvious what it was, the size, the song and the habitat all led to one bird: a Skylark. We discovered that there were lots of Skylarks in the area, and I was able to get close to some of them:

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Skylark

 

Skylark

Skylark

When we did get to the beach, the first thing I noticed was a pair of Eiders swimming in the sea. Just behind the Eiders were seven Little Gulls fishing in the shallow low-tide water. Today was a great first day but I’m sure the rest of the week will bring more surprises!

25th May

Today was an action packed day, beginning with an early morning walk in the meadow in front of our cottage. I saw the usual Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Rooks; and a Shelduck flew low over the moor. Later on we went down to the beach again and on the way we saw Linnets and Goldfinches, while the high-pitched song of a Grasshopper Warbler haunted us. Eventually we saw it, a streaky Warbler creeping through the undergrowth on the sand dunes. The song of a Grasshopper Warbler is so high-pitched that it isn’t audible to elderly people! There was also a Reed Warbler in the Red Campions and some Swallows collecting mud for their nest in a ruin of a building. We went to a seaside town called  Seahouses next. Next to the road on the way there, there was a bird-filled lake. There were Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Common Terns, Little Grebes, Black-Headed Gulls, Moorhens and Coots. We had a surprise in Seahouses though, because there was a flock of Eiders that came really close to you in the harbour. They breed in the Farne Islands and then come down to the harbour when the chicks have hatched. Some people fed them bread and it was amazing to see the detail of the male’s plumage on its head so up-close!

Eider

Eider

 

After lunch we set out on a long walk to Bamburgh, our nearest village. On nearly every gorse bush there was a bird: Blue Tits, Whitethroats, Linnets, Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Whinchats and even an unseasonal Stonechat! When we got to Bamburgh golf course we were surprised to see Fulmars nesting on a cliff overlooking the golf course – inland! Then my dad spotted some more unseasonal birds, ten turnstones in a rockpool! While we were watching the Turnstones fifteen Ringed Plovers flew in! Further on down the path we saw several Sandwich Terns fishing like Kingfishers in the sea, and a Rock Pipit perching on some cow parsley. Another great day!

26th May

Today was our day out to the Farne Islands. Our boat – Glad Tidings IV – left at 10:00 AM from the harbour in Seahouses. Once we got going the first sea bird we saw was a Fulmar gliding effortlessly over the ocean. Then we started seeing rafts of auks: Razorbills, Guillemots and Puffins. At the first island we went past we saw 15+ Atlantic, or Grey, Seals on the rocks. When they saw us they slid off the rocks and into the water around us and looked at us for a few minutes. When we got to Staple Island, which was the first island that we were going to land on, we found that we couldn’t land because the swell was a tiny bit too big. I was quite upset because that meant we missed seeing the biggest colony of Guillemots and Puffins. We were able to land on Inner Farne though; the island with the bird sanctuary. These are the photos I took:

Razorbill

Razorbill

Puffins

Puffins

Shag

Shag

Kittiwake

Kittiwake

Arctic Tern

Arctic Tern

There were loads of breeding birds on the island: Puffins, Great Black-Backed Gulls, Lesser Black-Backed Gulls, Black-Headed Gulls, Eiders, Ringed Plovers, Red-Breasted Merganser (supposedly), Rock Pipits, Razorbills, Guillemots, Shags, Cormorants, Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns and Sandwich Terns. When I sat down on a bench to have my snack under a building Puffin poo nearly landed on my head!

27th May

Today was the day we planned to go to Holy Island. To get there you have to drive over the causeway which is only accessible at low tide. The village was a nice place where we saw Goldfinches and Collared Doves. We then went up a tower where you could see the whole of Holy Island, including the mainland and the Farne Islands. From the tower we saw Rock Pipits, Lesser Whitethroats, literally a thousand Grey Seals and Canada Geese. As we walked along the path around the island I spotted Shelducks, Mallards, Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. We soon came to  a small hide overlooking a lake where we saw washing Fulmars, Mute Swans, Coots, Moorhens, Reed Warblers and Tufted Ducks. Before I knew it I had reached the sand dunes. This was the start of the last leg of the walk. I heard a beautiful song that sounded like it was coming from beneath my feet, but in fact it was a handsome male Reed Bunting singing its heart out a whole 15 metres away! Then I spotted a silhouette of a raptor flying over our heads. It was too small for a Peregrine and there are no Hobbies or Kestrels on the island, it had to be a Merlin! It hovered for a short while before speeding off over the sand dunes and towards the sea.

Later in the day we spotted a Ringed Plover on the beach near our cottage. On closer inspection we found that it had a mate and, best of all, two chicks! The chicks were like mini ostriches, running around clumsily, trying to follow their mum. We watched as the father feigned a broken wing while the mother herded the chicks away from the danger: us!

29th May

Today we headed to the Northumberland National Park, more precisely the River Alwin, to look for Dippers. The whole family really wanted to see Dippers, for it was a bird not on my or my dad’s life list! There was quite a long walk to the river though, up hills and through the moors. There were many Skylarks and Meadow Pipits singing along the walk, and some Tormentils lined the edge of the track. I saw a Kestrel zooming through the valley. Immediately all the Meadow Pipits and Skylarks fell silent. As soon as it left they resumed their song. When we did eventually reach the river the first thing we noticed was the number of House Martins and Sand Martins slicing through the air. Next we saw three creepy sheep bones: a pelvis and two femurs. We also saw a family of Wheatears lined up along the fence on the side of the road, though sadly we passed the main part of the river without seeing any Dippers. Thankfully my mum asked a local farmer whether he had seen any dippers along the river and to our surprise he said there was a nest under a bridge about 1/2 mile back! Though as the farmer was still talking I saw a Dipper whizzing along the river on whirring wings, I couldn’t believe I had spotted it! A glimpse like that though wasn’t enough for me so I set out towards the bridge we had already crossed. When I got there I crept down to the bank just past the bridge and I saw the nest: a ball of grass placed inside a small wooden cradle. About two minutes later I finally noticed a dipper perched on a rock jutting out of the river bed . The Dipper had been there the whole time! As soon as I tried to get closer it flew off. It did return though, and this time I got a few photographs:

Dipper at Last!

Dipper at Last!

After a while of just bobbing up and down it finally went into the nest and it never came out…

30th May

Today is sadly our last full day in Northumberland, though we saw lots of nice wildlife! As it was our last day we decided to go on a long walk to the beach, further than we’d ever been before. We saw the two adult Ringed Plovers but not the chicks. We hoped that they were just too well camouflaged…

Past the Ringed Plovers we spotted two Tree Sparrows, a new bird for my Northumberland list. We found two Shelducks mingling with a large flock of Mallards and sprinkled around were around eight Teal, another new species. Further on down the coast we saw two Mute Swans on a stream and we started to hear the calls of curlews. We had a short walk through a field where we saw Green-Veined White and Orange Tip Butterflies and a Garden Carpet moth, but soon it was time to head back. After lunch we went to Annstead Dunes, a small nature reserve between the towns of the Seahouses and Beadnell. We saw quite a few birds on the Dunes: Meadow Pipits, Goldfinches and a male Linnet my dad described as ‘the nicest Linnet he’s ever seen’! On the walk back to the car along the beach we saw 20+ Turnstones (one of which I got within twenty metres of), 15+ Ringed Plovers, and a flock of mystery waders, which we later identified as a flock of Dunlins.

Turnstone

Turnstone

We saw lots of really nice wildlife and plants on this trip, and we built up a number of 75 bird species! The only discouraging thing was that we didn’t see a single Robin!

 

The Small Mammal Project: Part 3

So far all I’ve caught in my Longworth Trap are Bank Voles, though I wasn’t surprised because up to Monday morning, the only place that I’ve set it at is beneath the feeder, where Bank Voles live. Though on Monday morning, I was shocked to find that a Wood Mouse was in our Longworth Trap! I think Wood Mice are probably the most mobile of the small mammals because one evening I spotted one running across our front lawn!
The Wood Mouse that we caught was very active, and it was hard to get a grip on her. We did eventually though, but I really didn’t want to mark her. I found that I didn’t have to, because there was already a split in her right ear! Then I got another surprise, because when we released her, she went into the Bank Vole hole.

Stay Still!

Stay Still!

The next weekend I decided that I would move the Longworth Trap for the first time, to where I found holes that I thought belonged to Wood Mice. The next morning I found a Wood Mouse in the trap, like I’d expected.

Cheeky

Cheeky

Though when we released this Wood Mouse, it didn’t go into ‘its’ hole. It went in the opposite direction, towards a Red Campion, where it stood still for a while and I was able to take some photos of it in the wild.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

About two hours later, when I checked the trap again, I found that the door was closed again. I opened it up, expecting to find a Wood Mouse, though I saw a mammal that I haven’t seen in my garden before, a Field Vole. This led me to believe that the holes were actually made by a Field Vole.

The Culprit

The Culprit