Tuesday, 30 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 30 - Marbled White discovery!

For the final day of 30 Days Wild, I was once again pondering what I might do, not having planned anything specific. However I needn't have worried - as so often happens, nature swooped in to inspire me out of the blue!

I've blogged quite a lot during 30 Days Wild about my commute along the canal towpath from Selly Oak to Birmingham University. I've walked this way since August last year so have really enjoyed seeing the seasons unfold along this route day by day. There are some really nice bits of grassland and scrubby habitat, only small fragments, but as far as I can tell they are undisturbed - I don't think they are ever mowed, due to their inaccessibility. One such fragment is this slope beneath the canal where it crosses a road:

Steep grassy slope, viewed from the canal towpath (that's the railway on the other bridge).
I've often thought this slope looked like it might be a good spot for butterflies, and indeed this year have already spotted a few Common Blues and Large Skippers on it. However, when I peered over onto the slope in passing during this morning's commute, I thought I must have been mistaken - there were two Marbled Whites chasing each other through the grass! Throwing all thoughts of punctuality out of the window, I stopped, leaning over the bridge railings to get a good look and make sure my eyes were not deceiving me.Yep - Marbled Whites they were! I knew that there were only a handful of sites in the West Midlands where they had been recorded (the Rowley Hills being the best) so I was pretty excited at the thought that this could potentially be a previously unknown colony. I contacted EcoRecord once I'd got to work, and they confirmed that they had no records of Marbled White from this site previously - the nearest they had was Woodgate Valley. I couldn't wait to get out for a proper look on my lunch break.

At lunchtime I tried to count the Marbled Whites. I saw a maximum of four on the wing at any one time, there were probably a few more hiding in the grass too. As my camera is very old and a bit rubbish, and the slope itself is not accessible, I couldn't get any good photos of the butterflies, and although I did try to see if I could capture them on video, this was unsuccessful! But here is a Marbled White photo that I took on Saturday in the Rowley Hills :o)

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) butterfly.
As well as on the slope, the Marbled Whites were also using the grassland at the top of the slope, behind a fence.

Grassland at the top of the slope.

Grassland at the top of the slope.
I'm going to keep checking back every day - can't believe I can see Marbled Whites five minutes from my office! Hopefully their numbers will increase over the next week or two - their peak flight period is mid-July. I'll try and get some better photos too with my other camera. What a great end to my 30 Days Wild!

Monday, 29 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 29 - botanical art

I was pondering what to do for day 29 of 30 Days Wild at work this morning, when I opened a weekly news email from the University. Inside, among other items, was a bit of information about a small exhibition of botanical art currently on display on campus - just the thing to go and have a look at on my lunch break!

The exhibition showed how botanical art had changed through the centuries, as its purposes and applications had changed alongside. There were some beautiful illustrations and books of various types on display, the books being my favourite.

Although I enjoyed the work on display, I wasn't inspired to try my own botanical illustrations - I'm enjoying learning about plants but they just don't quite hold the same interest for me as birds do, and I can't imagine getting the same pleasure from creating my own images of plants as I do birds. I will stick to enjoying other people's botanical depictions!

Sunday, 28 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 28 - suburban wanderings

On Day 28 of 30 Days Wild, I waited until the weather got good in the late afternoon, then set out for a walk around my neighbourhood. Although we've lived in Bournville (south Birmingham) for a year now, I haven't had as much of a chance as I would have liked to get to know the area - it's a very pleasant place to walk around and I feel lucky to live here.

To start my walk, I walked across Rowheath playing fields where I saw House Martins swooping and feeding over the grass.

Rowheath playing fields.
At the other side of the fields was a part I hadn't seen before, an area of rougher grassland, not mown like the rest of the fields. I was intrigued by this area, although it had obviously been left to grow there wasn't much in the way of amenity grassland species - there were quite a few grasses and loads of clover, but it was sparsely vegetated. Basically it looked like it was crying out for someone to go and chuck a load of grassland wildflower seed over it to increase the species diversity a bit!

Rough grassland at Rowheath playing fields.

Rough grassland at Rowheath playing fields.

From there I headed along the little path to Woodlands Park, which has plenty of fine old mature trees, then across the road to a couple more fields. I don't really like Grey Squirrels normally but there was a young one foraging around under some trees next to the fields and it was pretty cute!

Woodlands Park.

Woodlands Park.
Juvenile Grey Squirrel.
I skirted around the edge of the fields along the slightly sketchy path following a small stream, and was rewarded with a family of Nuthatches feeding in the trees, and a cute juvenile Blue Tit!

Good for Nuthatches.
Emerging at the end of this path I was in the furthermost of two fields, this one another unmowed field with a path around the edge. I'd visited here once before but in the middle of winter, so was excited to see what I'd find in summer. It was pretty good for Birmingham suburbs!

I don't know what these fields are called or if they even have a name, so can't really caption them adequately!

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) butterfly.

Lovely masses of this growing in the grass, I think it is Lesser Stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) butterfly.

As well as the above, I also saw a Blackcap singing his head off, and coming back out of the fields, I saw a Sparrowhawk fly into one of the trees around the field edges. I walked back a quicker way along roads, but still saw a Swift darting around up high. As usual when I go out for walks on my own, this had ended up being longer than planned but that was fine by me! It's got me thinking about other walks to do over summer in the neighbourhood, I might try Kings Norton Nature Reserve next....

Saturday, 27 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 27 - wonderful Rowley Hills

I'd been looking forward to day 27 of 30 Days Wild - I was going on a guided walk around the Rowley Hills organised by the Wildlife Trust for Birmingham & the Black Country, led by plant and butterfly expert Mike Poulton. I'd been plugging the walk too through the Friends of Rowley Hills, the relatively-newly formed group I'm involved with, and it was great to see so many people there - 25 in all. It's important we spread the word about how awesome the Rowley Hills are as they are in fragmented ownership and threatened by development.

Today we were hoping to see plenty of butterflies, including the site speciality Marbled White, and some nice wildflowers - including hopefully rediscovering the Bee Orchid I found last year. The walk more than lived up to our expectations! The weather was great for butterflies - warm, quite still, and mostly sunny. We saw six butterfly species - Ringlet, Large Skipper, Marbled White, Common Blue, Small Heath and Small Tortoiseshell; the Marbled Whites I think had just started to emerge, there were not many but they looked very fresh and smart. We also saw some day-flying moths - Five- and Six-spot Burnets, Burnet Companion and Latticed Heath; and bird-wise there were plenty of Whitethroats singing from the Hawthorn scrub, singing Chiffchaff and Blackcap, a Dunnock feeding its young, lots of House Martins feeding overhead, and a brief Kestrel. Not only did I re-find the Bee Orchid, someone else tracked down another one nearby - result! Here are some photos of the walk!

Small but perfectly formed, Bee Orchid 1 (Ophrys apifera).

Bee Orchid 2 (Ophrys apifera).

The Rowley Hills.

Everyone getting stuck in.

The Rowley Hills.
A very obliging Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus) butterfly.
Glorious Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) butterfly.
A small Common Toad (Bufo bufo)!
Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) butterfly.
The Rowley Hills.

30 Days Wild | Day 26 - relaxing in the garden

Today I was thinking of going for a walk in the evening, but I was feeling tired and a bit under the weather when I got home from work so instead for day 26 of 30 Days Wild I chilled out in the garden. Chris made me a cup of peppermint tea and I sat outside enjoying it, reading a bit more of Hare, and chatting with Chris through the kitchen door while he prepared dinner.

Here are a few things going on in my garden at the moment:

Lots of grasses for me to try and identify, I've ordered a better grass ID book!
There is loads of this in the lawn, I think it is Self-heal (Prunella vulgaris) - if so it's going to look great when it all flowers! Plus apparently it's edible so could be another plant for me to try...

As I was preparing to go back indoors I heard a large group of Long-tailed Tits approaching from a neighbouring garden, so I waited for them to pass through our garden. Sure enough they did and I enjoyed the sight of them bobbling along through the trees, psqueeking constantly to keep in touch with one another. As I tidied the patio chairs away I also noticed this chap on the table:

A caterpillar of some kind, but I know not what species!

I went in for dinner feeling refreshed and relaxed after enjoying the tranquil atmosphere of our garden :o)

Thursday, 25 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 25 - burnet moths, purple pea pals and GIANT hogweed!

On day 25 of 30 Days Wild I once again went for a lunch break stroll. The opportunities for finding and photographing wildflowers along the canal near my office have been drastically curtailed since the verges were BRUTALLY STRIMMED a couple of days ago (I'm still upset about this), so I went elsewhere instead. There is a large fairly newly-built road (Aston Webb Boulevard) round the corner from where I work which leads towards Selly Oak, which has some nice scrubby grassland at the edges, especially between the road and the railway track, so I went to have a look at that. Firstly though I took a quick photo of this small cute fern which grows on the railway bridge. I'm not able to identify many ferns but this one is quite easy:

Wall-rue (Asplenium ruta-muraria).
Down along the roadside, there were loads of very fresh-looking burnet moths, I'd spotted a small swarm of them yesterday so had hoped they'd still be around! I'm not very good at identifiying moths, UK Moths says that Six-spot Burnet is the most common, these definitely look to me as though they have five spots though - maybe someone better versed in moths would care to comment?

Possible Five-Spot Burnet (Zygaena trifolii) moths?
They were on a rather washed-out looking Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense).
As well as the burnet moths, I also spotted on my walk a Burnet Companion moth, and Ringlet and Large Skipper butterflies. Not bad for a busy roadside!

I continued onwards and came across clouds of purple, for the most part courtesy of the pea family! Tufted Vetch and Hairy Tare were scrambling all over the place, and there were Garden Lupins galore, just passing their best now but still with a few nice flower spikes.

Purple pea pals.
Garden Lupins (Lupinus polyphyllus agg.) and Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca).
Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca). The bees love it!

Hairy Tare (Vicia hirsuta), a delicate vetch with tiny flowers!
Further on past all the purple, the view from the roadside opened out, looking across a very small valley towards the railway track which is built up on a tall embankment. Down in the valley was a monster! It looked like Cow Parsley but was about twice my height, it could only have been Giant Hogweed. It's difficult to get a sense of scale from the photos below but I can assure you that it was gigantic!

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).

Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
I love that I can find all this stuff only a minute's walk from my workplace :o)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

30 Days Wild | Day 24 - breeding bird survey at RSPB Sandwell Valley

On day 24 of 30 Days Wild I was back at RSPB Sandwell Valley again, this time bright and early to help with the breeding bird survey. I started volunteering for this last year; we walk on a set route around the reserve once a month between March and June (sometimes July too) and record all the birds we see and/or hear, making a special note of any activity that is indicative of breeding, e.g. adults carrying food, nesting, juveniles etc. We don't follow the exact methodology laid out by the BTO as I think the records we collect are mainly for internal use at the reserve, so our method is adapted to that purpose.

The breeding bird survey trips we'd carried out so far this year had all been characterised by rather cold weather, so the warmer temperatures we experienced today were most welcome! Also volunteering on the survey was Alf, Colin, Katie and Alasdair, good to have many skilled sets of ears and eyes!

Heading off on the survey.
The reserve was looking lovely in the sunshine. We had nice close views of a Jay down near the hide, and the resident Rose-ringed Parakeets greeted us when we first arrived - they are very easy to see these days, perhaps due to increasing numbers or perhaps increasing boldness - maybe both. The highlights of the morning were probably the elusive Willow Tit Katie and I caught a brief glimpse of, a family of Reed Warblers being fed by their parents, a Whitethroat carrying a MASSIVE caterpillar for its hungry chicks, and not one but two Garden Warblers, hurrah! The hysterical Blackcap we'd heard on Sunday was still around too, along with slightly ridiculous numbers of his brethren - the reserve was teeming with Blackcaps! We also saw juvenile Robins, Long-tailed Tits, Mute Swans and Great Tits among others, so it's obviously been a good breeding season for some species at least. The chicks of some others are yet to emerge e.g. the Tufted Ducks, and maybe the Common Terns if their latest attempts prove successful - fingers crossed.

The marsh.
Forge Mill Lake.
Nice display of cornfield annuals by the new visitor centre.
The completed survey sheet.
On the sheet above, each species has its own two-character code - e.g. RW is Reed Warbler. Different annotations mean different things, e.g. the code in a circle means the bird was heard but not seen, an arrow shows that it was flying and the direction; things like food, chicks and juv are fairly self-explanatory!