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Thursday, 20 March 2014

Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May is out

May Blossom
As a child I understood the dialect word for clothes being “clout” but, like most people, thought this meant keep wrapped up against the cold winter and spring weather until early June.

But, “May” refers to May blossom, the white frothy flowers of Hawthorn that appear on the black twigs before the leaves are out.
Each week I travel almost the whole length of Cornwall from Morwenstow in the far north to Truro far to the south and west.  I make good use of the two major roads in Cornwall, the A39 and the A30 both of them are now lined with the froth of May blossom.
Hedgehog 2013
On the other hand, this also gives me plenty of opportunity to observe the incessant road kill. This last week I have been seeing dead hedgehogs.  Hedgehogs that have responded to the spring weather and stumbled from hibernation into the path of uncaring or unseeing traffic.  I remember my first sighting of a newly awaken hedgehog last year.  It was the 11th of April when a bumbling and very slow hedgehog trundled across our grass and allowed me to share our dog’s food with it.  It did try to roll into a ball, but the dog food was too persuasive and it fed well on a couple of occasion before wandering off into the leaf pile.  We saw this or another hedgehog on and off until the 16th of November when it was captured in the night on a trail camera.

If only the hedgehogs would leave it a little later until they were much more alert, with a bit more food inside them before venturing afield we might not see so many of their corpses.

May might be out, but hedgehogs shouldn’t be out this early.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Goodbye Winter migrants – March 2014

Well after the poor weather early this year we have had at last some spring-like weather.

Dark-spotted Sedge
I walked as section of the coastpath in Morwenstow and found invertebrates about – Bloodynose Beetle, and two bees Buff-tailed and Red-tailed.
What I though was a micro-moth turned out to be an adult Caddis-fly – Dark-spotted Sedge Philopotamus montanus.

I also put my moth trap out one night an caught nothing but the following night caught 6 moths of 4 species – Early Thorn, Hebrew Character, Early Grey and Common Quaker.
I keep get glimpses of butterflies, but never close enough to identify and not very many. Being at the 140m contour line a mile from the sea seems to prevent me seeing the butterflies that everyone else is seeing.

I used the trail camera and managed to capture a small video of or our resident Bank Vole although I do get good daytime views and pictures. Other than a grey squirrel at Lower Tamar Lake a couple of day's ago, I have not seen any other mammals.

Last week the quarterly Bude Marsh transect was completed for Spring despite the patchy mist. We did see a mammal there, a rabbit on the west side of the canal. Near Petherick's Mill the mist really thickened up and a passing dog-walker commented on our slender chances of seeing birds in such weather. No sooner had he gone than through a break in the reeds we saw 7 species within a 10metres stretch of water – Grey Heron, Wigeon, Teal, Moorhen, Mallard, Snipe and Goosander. We took great delight in relating this to him when his circuit brought him past us again.

It was good to record two Willow Warblers – early harbingers of spring and during the same week as we saw them last year. Dare I say it – we have said goodby to the Starlings? We saw none on the transect and at hope apart from two that seem to be residents, we have not seen any for a week. We can put our washing back outside again!  And the WeBS survey at Lower Tamar Lake six Swallows were darting in and out of the mist over the water.

Puccinia smyrnia.

Spring flowers are beginning to bloom – Lesser Celandine are everywhere, Primroses are still to be seen and I have seen occasional Creeping Buttercup and Greater Stitchwort in the hedgerows. On the cliffs were Danish Scurvygrass and Violets. Alexanders are beginning to flower everywhere and come complete with a rust Puccinia smyrnia.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

One swallow does not a summer make

We are all aware of Aristotle's remark ... how about half a dozen?
Cormorant Upper Tamar Lake

Today was the date set for the Wetlands Bird Survey organised by the British Ornithological Trust.  So, I dutifully visited Tamar Lakes to record my two sites.  It was a grey and misty morning and the birds had begun to desert the open water for cover and breeding sites.  I saw a very few gulls but no Black-headed Gulls formerly so common.  Although, there was a good number or Cormorants totaling 11 and a species count of 10 at the Upper Lake.

Marsh and Coal Tit - Lower Tamar Lake
It was a similar picture at the Lower Lake although the bird hide feeders, freshly replenished, were in great demand.  I saw all four tits, Marsh, Great, Blue and Long-tailed as well as Reed Bunting, a male Bullfinch and in the trees, a Jay.

But the sighting of the month, just as I was about to call it a day and leave, must go to the half dozen or so Swallows hawking over the lake.

Reed Bunting
The mist, dim light and the fact that none of them had tail streamers made positive identification difficult.  That is, until I was able to see the chestnut band under their chins.

Not quite "Summer is acumin" (Summer is here from a 13th Century song) but certainly a promise of summer in the air over Lower Tamar Lake.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Goosanders in the Mist

In an inversion of the usual weather, Morwenstow was in bright sun this morning but down at sea level in Bude it was patchily misty. We very nearly called of the Bude Marsh and Valley Survey quarterly transect but in the end decided to carry on with it.

We started off with all the usual suspects, on the canal and in the trees and shrubs. However at Peter Trustcott's Bridge, we were fortunate to find two Willow Warblers foraging in the bare trees and a Kingfisher.

Across the canal near the 1-mile marker was that rare species of mammal – a rabbit!

Spring flowers were out too – Lesser Celandine, Primroses – lots of “Pussy” Willow in bud and Alexanders starting to flower. Their leaves were host to a rust fungus Puccinia smyrnii.  As were fungi, we spotted quite a few Blushing Brackets Daedaleopsis confragosa as well as a dead Elder sporting Jelly Ear Fungus Auricularia auricula-judae.

Alexander rust fungus Puccinia smyrnii 
We were almost at the end of our walk near Petherick's Mill when a passer-by walking his dog jokingly referred to our ability to see birds in the thickening mist. As he move on, we all focussed through a break in the Typha where a small pool was visible and were able vastly to increase our species count. In a 20m stretch were, Snipe, Mallard, Moorhen, Grey Heron, Wigeon, Teal and a Goosander.


Well worth turning out for and a sight not to be missed.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Walk the South West Coastal Footpath

We decided that after many years of promising ourselves we would make a start on walking the Southwest Coastal Footpath.  Not necessarily from Minehead to Poole, but certainly the local bits and perhaps more besides.  So, we started on the most difficult stretch, the piece that runs from Marsland on the Cornwall/Devon border to Morwenstow Church.
Red-tailed Bumble Bee

So, today we completed the first leg with determination to continue as and when we can.  Next stop the church to Stanbury Mouth we think.
And on what a glorious day!  We were one of the few places in the South West to have clear sunny skies albeit with a cool easterly wind which was welcome enough on the uphill sections.

Bloody-nose Beetle
Many birds were about.  In particular, we saw two separate male Stonechats.  New flowers out in the parish were Danish Scurvygrass and wild Violets.

We were quite taken with two species of bees on the south facing slopes on the north side of Westcott Wattle – a Buff-tailed and two Red-tailed Bumble Bees.  And, on the south facing slope of Hennacliff, a Bloodynose Beetle not too far from where we saw one on the Intertidal Survey last year.

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Week when Spring arrived

On February 4th, I paid my first visit of the year to the Tidna Valley just below the Bush Inn in Morwenstow and the last natural home of the Large Blue butterfly.

The woods looked very open without there being much foliage and the stream was full but running clear. My first delight was to see a pair of Grey Wagtails flushed from a swirling pool in the stream running through a deeply cut section.

Many spring flowers were blooming thanks to the open aspect of the leafless trees – Dog's Mercury, Lesser Celandines, Alternate-leaved Saxifrage and a few late Primroses.

Tripe Fungus (Auricularia mesenterica)
Fungi were abundant and highly visible – Turkey tail (Trametes versicolor) ascending dying trees, King Alfred's Cakes (Daldinia concentrica ) on fallen branches and a new one for me on a piece of cut and trimmed sycamore trunk lining the footpath, Tripe Fungus (Auricularia mesenterica)

Out on the cliffs I was treated to a display of two soaring and circling Buzzards and near Hawker's Hut, a swift visit from a Peregrine Falcon. Herring Gulls, Jackdaws, Dunnocks and Magpies were all seen in pairs and at St Morwenna's and St John's Church, the Rookery was busy with 17 rooks repairing their old nests.

Buff-tailed Bumble Bee
Yesterday, the 9th, was glorious with the thermometer showing 15ยบC bringing more evidence of the promise of Spring. Newly opened flowers were apparent, Creeping Buttercup, Greater Stitchwort and Germander Speedwell all represented with a few early blooms. It also brought out a couple of moths, two Buff-tailed Bumble Bees, various flies and the ever-present 7-spot ladybird.

It was tempted to put out my moth trap for the first time overnight but with a negative result. All the moths had stayed in bed.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Duckpool – Low tide, no sand

Today, this lunchtime, is the lowest tide of the year forecast to be chart datum 0.0m. I have been anticipating this since I bought my tide table late last year so a visit to Duckpool has been in the diary for some months.

Duckpool - no sand
Duckpool has completely changed. The stream that enters the sea has moved northwards and is deep and fierce where it crosses the pebble ridge. New archaeological features – hearths and flues are revealed, the former upper beach comprised of large boulders is now small boulders and shingle. But, the biggest change is the lack of sand. Up to 2 metres of sand has been stripped off the beach leaving bare rock ridges running to the Atlantic Ocean.

My plan to walk under Steeple Point and look at the Honeycomb worm (Sabellaria alveolata) and the remains of the SS Nettleton were thwarted. The beach is now so much lower that the tide is able to reach further up the beach cutting off the both features. The rocks are almost bare, showing hardly any seaweed and the rock pools are empty. Some Keelworms (Pomatoceros triqueter) and Purple Top Shells (Gibbula umbilicalis), Barnacle sp and a few Limpets were visible.  
Honeycomb worm

I heard Rock Pipits and Oystercatchers and saw a handful of Herring Gulls, but the Fulmars were selecting nest sites under Steeple Point with up to 16 birds on 10 sites.

It will be interesting to see when the sand returns and how the re-colonisation of the beach progresses.