Monday, 19 October 2009

Allotment sightings

During Sunday’s trip to the allotment I heard a tell-tale screech & turned suddenly to catch a glimpse of a Kestrel flying directly overhead & out of sight. It reappeared a few minutes later with a second Kestrel & the pair soared high above the far allotments on the opposite side of the path. The pair continued to fly in & out of view, occasionally mobbed by Crows. Then one of the birds descended to a height above the tallest poplar, hovering repeatedly whilst scanning for prey before heading Westwards. Perhaps one of these was the bird that Andrea spotted a few months ago in a hedgerow near the entrance of the allotment having enjoyed a more successful hunting outcome.

An inquisitive Robin settled within a spades distance whilst Andrea weeded the vegetable bed. It eagerly hopped down from its perch amongst the gooseberries to collect worms from recently turned soil. It’s a regular autumn visitor & this year I’ll try to get some pics. The hedgerow running one side of the plot is well established & consists of Hawthorn, Poplar, Field Maple, Climbing Rose & some pretty ferocious brambles. It provides food & shelter for a number of visitors, today a squirrel scurried acrobatically from branch to branch, feathered inhabitants included Blue Tits, Long Tailed Tits, Goldfinch, Blackbird & Wood Pigeon.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Beckett Park woodland

We stayed close to home this weekend and went on a wander through Beckett Park woodland. Under the beech & oak canopies wood pigeon and squirrels busied themselves. Stepping into the woodland our first spot was this Treecreeper.

Not such a good pic but its characteristic outline is more apparent here.

Other bird sightings included a pair of Jays on the edges of the woodland, and in the wooded area just behind Queenswood Drive we caught the side profile of the Great Spotted Woodpecker on its favourite tree trunk, no pics of either birds though.
Plenty more fungi at this time of year. On this fallen deciduous trunk was an abundance of what I think is Honey Fungus, Armillaria medea. Growing in clusters & individually.

Here's one found lying on the ground nearby, you can see the fruitbodies are joined together at the base.
Wavy mature caps & well spaced gills.

Another illustration of the joined fruitbodies.

A second cluster growing at the top of the trunk.
A third cluster growing under the trunk.

Elsewhere in the woods, I found these small black fungi. I wonder whether this is Urnula craterium before it opens, it has a black coal-like exterior & was growing at the base of this dead deciduous tree.

Common Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum growing amongst deciduous leaf litter.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Rodley Nature Reserve

Rodley Nature Reserve, Leeds is holding a Fungi Foray on Sunday 18th October. The reserve is also holding a series of fundraising events after 2 hides were targeted by arsonists twice in two days. £2,000 is needed to pay for the damage, donations from regular visitors & the local community have so far raised £950.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Goldenacre Park butterflies

I enjoyed a sunny Saturday afternoon up at Goldenacre Park, Leeds. The tall stems and nectar filled flowerheads of Echinops ritro (Globe Thistle) and Verbena bonariensis attracted three different species of butterfly all from the Nymphalidae family.

My first spot was this Comma on the round heads of the Globe Thistle, one of my favourite plants. I didn't expect much butterfly action today, so was delighted with this one & pleased with myself to have caught it backlit with mid afternoon sunshine. Although this one looks as if its been heavily edited its pretty much as it came out of the camera.

Then moving onto a larger border of Verbena situated just behind the cafe I noticed more butterflies. 4 Commas, what fantastic outlines.

This one really stood out against a darker background, both bee and butterfly appeared happy to share the flowerhead.

Then I noticed 4 Painted Ladies in pretty good nick. The orange ground colour more subtle than the Comma. How well they pose.

And the third species of the day Red Admirals, 4 of them, what striking colours. I saw one last weekend on Kirkstall Lane near the leisure centre and then another earlier in the day on Kirkstall Lane near the train station. Previously I'd only seen two all year, up in the North East, so I was really pleased to have the time to observe these ones. An unexpected butterfly bonanza!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Catalan Birding

During our stay in Sitges we enjoyed a day trip with Catalan Bird Tours to the Lleida Steppes. Steppe is unirrigated farmland, a habitat that is rapidly disappearing in Europe.

After seeing a number of raptors on route as the sun came up, we stopped to look for Dotterel, which our guide told us were definitely in the area. After searching a number of fields one of our companions spotted this group as we drove past - brakes slammed on and we got out to take a
closer look. The dotterel didn't seem too bothered by our presence and we got close enough to get some decent pics.

We saw a number of other species in a comparatively small area at the start of the day - kestrel, marsh harriers, a hobby, a pair of shrike and green woodpecker, but sadly not close enough for photos.

The next major find was a group of Pin Tailed Sand Grouse, hiding in long grass. We watched them for a few minutes from the car before they finally realised we were looking at them and half the group took to the skies.

Flocks of Callandra Larks and Corn Bunting were up early too.

We then had a half hour drive to the next location where we were expecting to see Great Bustard, and we did - a pair feeding in a barren field just off the main road. Unfortunately we could only really see them with a scope, but worth seeing nontheless.

Driving around the area as the sun got higher, the raptors came out in force and we saw countless Buzzards, griffon vultures, marsh harriers and kestrels as we were on the road. The habitat ranged from fields of sunflowers to fields of not very much at all, and it was very hot and dry.

No wonder that one of the few pools of water in the area attracted so many dragonflies. There were hundreds of these flying through the air - we think they are Scarlet dragonflies (Crocothemis erythraea), which are rare visitors to the UK but were certainly not rare at this pond. The females are bright yellow, and one posed very nicely for us.

When driving through a plantation of almond trees - another regular feature of the landscape - we saw a couple of Stone Curlew resting in the shade. Again, it was scope only, unfortunately . Butterflies included Large White and Long Tailed Blue.

We saw these Little Bustard feeding in a field.

Another scope only highlight was a young Golden Eagle, soaring around an arid valley and taking advantage of the thermals to give quite an exhibition. Whilst trying to locate him again we came across the find of the day - a whole flock of Griffon Vultures.

One of our party spotted a couple of vultures flying around a ridge in the distance. This wasn't unusual for the day, but what was unusual was that they seemed to have landed behind this ridge. Our guide felt that this was worth investigating, and he was right. We drove along the dusty tracks towards the ridge where we thought the vultures had landed. Before we got chance to get that far, a couple of vultures flew from just behind it, over our heads, landing in a nearby field. As we got out of the car to take a closer look, the vultures just kept coming...

By the time they had all come out, there were around 60 of them. They were in the fields, flying over our heads, and one cheeky chap decided to land on the derelict farm buildings just yards from where we stood, just to mark his territory. The consensus was that there had to be some pretty large source of food the other side of the ridge to have attracted that many birds to this point. We never got to find out what it was, as our guide felt we had disturbed their lunch for long enough, and we moved on.

Having seen a solitary White stork in the early light as we started our trip, we were surprised not to have seen any more during the day. We needn't have worried. It seems the reason we hadn't seen any was that they were all too busy scavenging at the local dump. Dozens of them sorted through the rubbish as the workmen took a siesta, leaving the tip to the birds. Cattle Egret, seagulls, a heron and a number of other species took the opportunity to have a free feed.

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