Of Nadders and Noranges

Especially early start today, with the clocks going forward. I was most impressed on my journey here, to see that the public clock in Burley had been re-set correctly. Did someone get up specially to put it forward or, being fairly new, is it adjusted automatically from a radio signal, like the clock in my car???

Given the clock change, I was expecting a fairly quiet morning, but the fine weather encouraged a goodly supply of visitors. it appears that many were here to see and photograph our adders.  Several were seen throughout the morning although by the time I got up to the Lapwing Hide only one was partially visible. There have been several good images on earlier postings so I’ve resisted the temptation to adder nother.

The early start meant that a few animals were ‘caught-out’ by my sudden appearance,  they get used to having the reserve to themselves earlier in the day. Of particular note were the pair of mandarin on the settlement pond near Ivy South Hide.

 

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

Pair of mandarin on settlement pond

 

They get their name from the fine costume of the drake and the fact that they were imported from China. Originally in a collection at Virginia Water, in Surrey, some escaped and found the U.K. to their liking, to such an extent that there are now more here than in China.   A more common connotation of the name is with a small fruit of the orange family, and as these ducks nest in holes in trees, like the fruit they also grow on trees!!!

Regular readers will recall that I have a slightly quirky take on language – hence the title above which refers to the fact that in English both adders and oranges have changed their names over the years. They each used to be preceded with an ‘n’ as  ‘a nadder’ and ‘a norange’ , but the ‘n’ migrated across the gap to what we have today.

Spring is really sprung now and everywhere there is bird song. The sheer ebullience of the males in securing a territory and attracting a mate has made them extremely vocal and quite bold. In my early morning tour round I managed to see at least four of the many wrens, whereas normally I would only hear them. Later on, one of the three  blackcaps I heard was obliging enough to show itself well enough for me to take a halfway decent picture.

P1470972 Blackcap

an obliging blackcap

The, now, long staying red-crested pochard was causing some kerfuffle among a group of other ducks, trying to impress them with its magnificence, probably a testosterone fuelled aggression generated by the lack of females of its own species.

P1470923 Red crested pochard

red-crested pochard chasing anything in feathers

Across the lakes there are still considerable numbers of duck, although we may have local breeding populations of mallard, teal, tufted duck, goosander and others we will loose pintail, goldeneye, wigeon and shoveler for the summer. Running to their own timetable there is still a little time before they push off to regions northwards. We can only marvel at the strength of purpose that drives them on their travels several hundreds or even thousands of miles to their northerly breeding grounds.

The lovely sunshine of late encourages one to look around, sometimes spotting things that have been around all the time, but just weren’t so obvious. Such a view was the abundance of witch’s broom festooning a tree near Docken’s water.

P1470877 which's broom

witch’s broom on tree by Docken’s Water

The power of the life force in humble seeds is well demonstrated by the emergence of this small tree (sycamore?) growing out of one of the drain covers on the tarmacked drive near the reserve entrance.

P1470881 sycamore

sycamore(?) growing in a roadside drain

This burgeoning abundance of life provides us with some beautiful sights like these willow catkins just outside the Lapwing Hide.

P1470920 catkins

catkins in sunshine

Even a very primitive plant, mare’s tail, presents us with a startling image in its young stage.

P1470956 mare'stail

dramatic looking shoot of mare’s tail

Mare’s tail are truly ancient plants – related to the ferns that formed the backdrop to forests at the time (or even earlier) when dinosaurs ruled.  A plant of damp or even wet places they have survived  the millennia and are nowadays a bit of a nuisance, being quite difficult to eradicate if they pop up in your garden.  It’s also  difficult to ignore another gardeners’  ‘problem’ plant, celandine, its cheerful bright yellow flowers adorning the woodland areas of the reserve.

P1470980 celendine

the cheerful flower of celandine – like a beacon on the forest floor

Talking of ‘problems’, I remember being out on a wild flower walk many years ago,  with an extremely knowledgeable  local botanist, but who admitted that field identification of a lot of the little ‘dandelion like’ flowering plants was nigh on impossible at times. There are, however, a few that have such distinctive features making identification fairly easy. One such plant is the colt’s foot which is one of our earliest flowers and has a distinctive, stout stem.

P1470959 coltsfoot

Colt’s foot with its distinctive stems

A lot of the later yellow flowers in this style are a bit of a nightmare to separate.

Talking of nightmares of this sort, for me and I believe a lot of other’s interested in moths, members of the pug family can be quite difficult to identify accurately. Many of them are on the wing in the middle months of the year, so at the momenta lot of species can be  eliminated from the possibilities. Working on this principle I think the pug which turned up in the light trap this morning is a brindled pug.

P1470857 brindled pug

brindled pug

From the smallest to the largest and another brindled specimen was this strikingly patterned brindled beauty.

P1470863 brindled beauty

brindled beauty

Sitting more like a butterfly than most moths, the group known as ‘thorns’ can also exercise observational skills – fortunately this one is one of the more distinctive types and its appearance at this time of year chimes in well with the name – early thorn.

P1470854 early thorn

early thorn

As Jim reported earlier in the week, our overnight light trap has attracted the attention of avian predators, probably the robin which waited in attendance when I was emptying the trap last week. Nevertheless, last night Jim had crammed the trap full of egg boxes so that any bird would find it difficult to move around inside. I did find one pair of wings this morning and any moths that had settled around the outside of the trap had been eaten, but  there were over 100 moths in the trap.  A fitting result for Mother’s (Moth-er’s) Day!!!

The most numerous were common quakers , nearly fifty of them.

P1470851 common quaker

common quaker

Our avian predator may well be from the pair of robins  who, in an indefatigable effort are striving to create a nest in the roof of the outside shelter by the Education Centre.

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

A spectacular piece of avian engineering!!!

 

P.S. If anyone has lost a rather smart looking monopod on the reserve, it has been handed in – please ‘phone to identify and arrange collection.

 

 

 

 

 

Animal, Vegetable, Mineral? ( or Fungus?)

Those of a certain age may remember a TV programme , having (nearly) the same title as this posting, in which a panel of ‘experts’ were challenged to identify an object from a museum collection.   It sometimes feels like I’m on the panel when a visitor asks questions about something they have seen on the Reserve.  Fortunately, for the most part, I’m usually able to give a plausible (if not invariably correct) answer or direct them to somewhere or someone who can.  I don’t pretend to be an oracle and mis-identifications are always possible. (Thanks to those who pointed out that the long-tailed tit’s nest of last week is almost certainly that of a wren)

For the most part these questions concern the animal or vegetable (fauna and flora) on the reserve, not too many people are concerned with the minerals,  the extraction of which (sand and gravel) created what we have today.   One such question, from a conservation volunteer the other day, concerned a plant/fungus that he’d seen. From the description given both Jim and I concluded that he’d been looking at the young, emergent stage of the Horsetail or Marestail. Just like these on the reserve…

Horsetail - looking rather like an alien invader

Horsetail – looking rather like an alien invader

 I believe these are variously known as Common Horsetail, Giant Horsetail or Field Horsetail or sometimes Marestail – probably Equisetum arvense ( or perhaps you know different??).  More interesting than the name is that they are among the few remaining species of a genus which for more than 100 million years was the predominant type of land based plant life, some of which reached over 30 metres tall and eventually formed the coal measures.  So they certainly have ‘staying power’ which is probably why they are a persistent weed and are much un-loved by gardeners .

Talking of strange organisms, I’m sure many of you will have spotted strange excrescences, often white or yellow though sometimes pink, on logs and tree trunks in the woods. One such caught our eyes the other day and we went back to investigate, and take a picture of this rather magnificent slime mould   

Slime mould

Slime mould

Looking superficially like a fungal growth, I’d always bracketed them in with this group of organisms.  I did, however, know that the lump you see is really a sort of super ‘love-in’ where millions ( billions?) of single-celled organisms had grouped together to form this fruiting body.  They normally live thinly spread in the forest floor and at some signal migrate to one spot to swap DNA and reproduce via spores.  Quite how this is organised or triggered is still a bit of a mystery and the things themselves are, I believe, no longer classified as fungi – probably more like amoeba, feeding on algae and bacteria in the soil.   Also nearby was one of the resultant spore masses ….

Slimemould spore mass

Slime mould spore mass

Truly the more one sees the more mysterious are some of the things around us and just to round off this section I’ll include a picture of an outgrowth on the branches of a tree close to the small car-park near the entrance. I think they’re called ‘Witch’s Broom‘ and I believe they’re caused by insects or a virus – but perhaps someone out there knows better.

Witch's Broom - just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

Witch’s Broom – just one of many such clusters of tiny twigs growing on one tree

 On a more prosaic level the warblers reported last week have been augmented by at least two garden warblers, one of which was bold enough to perch out on the side of  a bush, giving reasonable views and a so-so image was possible at extreme range..

Garden warbler

Garden warbler

Although not a spectacular breeding site for wading birds we do get our fair share through the winter and it’s always nice to see some at this time of year. From the Tern Hide there were little ringed plover, redshank common sandpiper,  lapwing  and  a snipe has been seen. 

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

Redshank on edge of Ibsley Water

As well as many black-headed gulls, tufted duck  and thirteen mute swan , Ibsley Water was hosting at least six common tern and little grebe nesting close by the Goosander Hide.   At the Woodland Hide a lone brambling (doesn;t he know it’s time to go?)  was still in evidence  and we still have some magnificent siskin on display.

Two fine male siskin - getting food for their mates?

Two fine male siskin – getting food for their mates?