Sunday, 25 November 2012

November in Little Linford Wood

Following days of heavy rain, I was expecting this post to be something of a dismal mudfest, but a brief window of sunshine appeared and gave everything a pick-me-up.

There's even some water in the pond by the car park
However, getting there wasn't straight forward. The Great Ouse had burst its banks and was happily acquainting itself with the whole of the flood plain, which meant that a few roads were closed as a precaution. Having negotiated this hurdle, we arrived at the wood to find the car park virtually full. Eh? What's all this? It turned out that today was a work party day for the BBOWT volunteers who help to manage and maintain the reserve.

And a brilliant job they do too
Our chosen route didn't take us to the area of the wood where they were working, so the results of their handiwork will have to remain a discovery for a different day.

Plodding on, we found ditches that are usually empty, were full to the brim. The ground amongst the trees was waterlogged and, at the northern end of the wood, a stream had overflowed across the field to the woodland edge.

Left of centre in the above shot can be seen the old buildings where the Little Owl often roosts...

But not today
As we walked along the hedgerows on the west side of the wood, flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare flew overhead and a pair of Grey Partridges sprang up from under our feet and whirred across the field to disappear into a winter crop. Meanwhile, a Fox was busy sunning himself on a ridge in the next field.

Looking back towards the wood, we noticed that the predominantly deciduous nature of the trees had one rather obvious exception.

Now that most of the leaves have fallen from its neighbours' branches, this Pine adds a touch of greenery to proceedings.

Concern continues to grow regarding the impending likelihood of five wind turbines being sited  to the west of Little Linford Wood. Several miles to the east, the existing installation at Petsoe End is clearly visible from the wood's car park, as the following photo shows.

Ugly, alien and unloved. Incessant noise, constant movement and downright unsightly.

Oh, and the wind farm

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Chasing the dragon... again

It's that time of year again, when the northern hemisphere sees less of the Sun, thanks to the obliquity of the ecliptic. Rain clouds unveil their dull grey sheets and heavy curtains of wetness, whilst dreary days of miserable weather merge together like a suffocating blanket. It's the meteorological soft furnishing department from precipitation hell.

Yep, it's time for the annual ode audit, submitting my dragonfly records for 2012.

In the dry.

This has been the final flight season before the British Dragonfly Society publishes its next Atlas in 2013, so it's been my last chance to help add data to build up the national picture regarding the distribution of dragonflies and damselflies within these shores.

Despite the cold damp Summer, through the year I have achieved a reasonable total of twenty eight species, though not all of these were seen in Buckinghamshire, more's the pity.

From the very first damsel of the Spring (a Large Red in Carmarthenshire on April 3rd) to the last dragon of Autumn (a Migrant Hawker in Hertfordshire on November 11th), it has been a roller-coaster of a year. The damsel was the earliest I've seen by several weeks, whilst the Migrant was later than any of my previous Hawkers by five days.

In chasing these dragons, I've covered a fair bit of ground: as well as kicking off the year in Wales, I've ventured to the north west of Scotland to see Azure Hawker and Northern Emerald;  Our Lass and I visited Norfolk and its eponymous Hawker in June; I stumbled upon my sole Beautiful Demoiselle of 2012 whilst working in Surrey; and we visited the English Marches in August for Black Darters. My notebook reckons that, all told, I've recorded Odonata in thirteen different counties this year, but that's still only tracking down about sixty per cent of the British list.

Variable Damselfly, Coenagrion pulchellum, Wicken Fen June 2012
It would seem that I need to try harder. Oh well, next year...

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Is it not written... ?

I don't know, dear reader, if you've ever taken the, er... time to read "Thief of Time" by (Sir) Terry Pratchett? In the Discworld canon, it's my favourite book, though, boy, does it have some stiff competition.

One of its leading characters is Lu Tze, a "little, bald, yellow-toothed man with a wispy beard and a faintly amiable grin". Although he is a senior History Monk, he works as a lowly servant in the Monastery of Oi Dong, from whence comes his other name, Sweeper.

So when I recently found myself with a broom in my hand and a carpet of leaves to sweep, I could barely stifle the little chuckle that surfaced courtesy of Lu Tze. For everything is a test.

It was a glorious Autumn morning at Hanson Environmental Study Centre. Bright sunshine was streaming in on a low trajectory, intent on seeking out the frost which coated the leaves lounging in a thick layer on the boardwalk that crosses several ponds. My task was simple, clear the fallen detritus before the day's visitors ran the risk of going arse over apex on the slippery surface.

Beginning by the Near Hide, I hadn't cleared many yards of path, when I heard an unknown bird call. At a time of year when all the Summer visitors have migrated south and not all the Winter visitors have yet put in an appearance, I would've liked to think that I knew to what I was listening, but no, I did not. It was a bit like a Blackcap alarm call, but slightly more metallic, so I felt sure that it was still an alarm call of some sort. A movement caught my eye in a bush to the right of the boardwalk and a small bird could vaguely be seen hopping from branch to branch. A Robin normally frequents this area, but though the size was correct for that, the shape wasn't.

I leant on my broom, in what I forlornly hoped was a studious and thoughtful way, but no insight was forthcoming. After a while, the bird neared the edge of the bush, still apparently upset at my presence, and revealed a few precious details. Its outline was warbler-ish, a bit like a Blackcap, but the plumage on its upper parts was a rich brown rather than grey/brown. And it had a rounded tail. Ah, Cetti's Warbler! That explained the skulking in the bush, for these wee birds are notoriously difficult to spot. Pity I was without binoculars or camera!

After I had unsuccessfully tried to record the alarm call with my phone, the Cetti's flew off and I returned to my task, happier and more educated. Several yards of leaves later, the bird began calling again, but this time with the more usually heard Cetti's song, an explosive mixture of notes that probably make it the loudest bird in Britain (at least for its size).

I stared at the far side of the pond that was the source of the sound, but not a movement could be seen from the reeds and rushes, just the occasional blast of noise from a very secretive warbler.

Yep, it's in there somewhere...

Saturday, 17 November 2012


When you're married to a health professional, facts tend to come at you from the most unexpected of directions.

So it proved this morning, when Our Lass was reading a magazine article about the fear of childbirth, or tokophobia (from the Greek tokos meaning childbirth).

My interest was piqued by the fact that in my own line of work, Toko are a Japanese company manufacturing inductors i.e. things that induce (in this case, voltage in an electronic circuit). These components should not be confused with anything that happens after, say, 42 weeks of labour. That's a very different form of induction. There's no voltage involved, though the air can be highly charged, apparently.

Photo courtesy of the website of BEC Distribution Ltd (Franchised  distributors of TOKO components)
Returning to electronics, another name for an inductor is a coil. Again, this should not be mistaken for anything with a similar name that may be deployed in the prevention of pregnancy, regardless of whether you suffer from tokophobia or not.

The thought processes involved in the above have made me realise that my brilliant idea for Our Lass and I to swap jobs for 24 hours is probably not one of my better ones.

'F' words

It's not what you're thinking. 

(Actually it is, but this is neither the time nor the place, so you'll have to be patient and hope that some day, one day, I will Find the words to explain)

OK, enough of the cryptic crypticalness.

Our Lass and I decided to have a Foray to The Lodge, aka RSPB headquarters, at Sandy today. The principal reason was to purchase more bird Food to satiate the ravening hordes of birdage (which sadly doesn't include Ravens) that visit the garden of Tense Towers.

On arrival at said centre of ornithological administration, we discovered that they were holding a Christmas Fayre and the place was... I believe the current phrase is... 'rammed'. 

Dodging Santa, his elves, the great and the good (plus, presumably, the less than great and the downright abominable), we nipped into the shop, purchased sunflower hearts, peanuts, wrapping paper and cards, before hastily beating a retreat to the safety of the reserve itself.

It was like stepping into another world. No throng, no maddening crowd, just an Autumnal scent, the occasional 'chacking' of a Fieldfare and the sumptuous yellows of Birch and Oak leaves.


And then Our Lass started to discover Fungi.

Fly Agaric, Amanita muscaria - Found in Birch woodland and on heaths. Most definitely poisonous.

Not a clue what this is. It was about 3cm tall and nestled in a gap between clumps of Heather on the heath...

that it shared with any number of lichen species, including this one From the genus Cladonia.

The RSPB are rather good at standing dead wood. A much overlooked habitat For all manner of invertebrates and Folk of an artistic nature. Herself spotted that this one looked like a hand and arm.

Honestly, it's enough to make you swear.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Water log

Went to Tring Reservoirs today, with Our Lass and the Admiral, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

It was very frosty first thing, when I nipped out to retrieve my wildlife cam, but even without the layer of frozen water crystals, all I had to show for 16 hours of recording were two rabbits. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. 

And so to Tring. We breakfasted at the Bluebell Cafe, each consuming a hugely delicious, if predictably unhealthy, Full English (veggie, in the case of the Admiral). In fact, I haven't eaten anything else all day, and as I write this, at 8pm, I'm just about able to look at a little mince pie with a small amount of desire.

We then decided that we had better make an attempt to walk off the calories, so took the path across the dam of Startops reservoir, around to Tringford reservoir, along a section of the Wendover arm of the Grand Union Canal, before stopping for a rest in the bird hide at Wilstone reservoir.

As well as the usual suspects of gulls and ducks, we spotted half a dozen Snipe, a Kingfisher, a Buzzard, an unidentified butterfly and a Migrant Hawker dragonfly. This latter fact will immensely  please my fellow blogger at Nature ID, as I only recently conceded defeat in the "Who will record the latest dragonfly sighting in 2012?" challenge. It serves me right. But to be fair, we have had some poor weather, the afore-mentioned frost and, if I look back through my notes for 2006 to 2011, no Migrant Hawkers recorded this late in the year. Doh!

From the hide, we continued on around Wilstone reservoir, tarrying briefly for a cuppa at a convenient tea shop, and then followed our outward route in reverse to return to the car.

Sorry, no photos today, I was only carrying bins.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Norfolk fudge and Ely pasta

Our Lass and I had a day trip to Welney this week, ostensibly to see how the Winter wildfowl flocks are building up at the WWT reserve, but also with eyes open for a possible rarity in the form of a Ferruginous Duck.

The Ouse Washes were... er... awash, with the road to Welney village closed to traffic due to flooding. This didn't immediately dissuade several articulated lorry drivers, who must've had fun reversing to a suitable place to turn around. Our day was punctuated with the distant mournful 'beep, beep, beep' of large vehicles going backwards.

So, yeah, there was plenty of water filling the meadows of the Hundred Foot Washes between the Old and New Bedford Rivers and the River Delph. The many five-barred gates in the fields were only visible by their top rung, whilst the occasional fence post was home to a Cormorant or a duck of some sort.

In fact, there was so much water, the only hide that was accessible was the large one nearest the Visitor Centre. The paths to all the others were submerged and unusable unless you had a wet suit. This brought a few challenges for the staff too, as the wheelbarrow used to carry the grain for the swan feeds had a large inner tube strapped to it as a floatation device.

And as for the procedure in case of a fire...

Looking out from the main hide across the watery vista, there were a few Mute Swans and recently-arrived Whooper Swans to be seen, a Marsh Harrier glided serenely by, small flocks of Wigeon and Teal bobbed about in the distance, but the most abundant species was Pochard.

Pleasing to look at though these diving ducks are, the fact that they hybridise with Ferruginous Ducks made me wonder whether we'd be able to identify the latter if we were fortunate enough to see it. Our ID book pointed out the salient features: Head is chestnut (male) or dark brown (female); pure white under tail; dark eye; and plumage darkest on back and palest on flanks.

After much scanning of the assembled Pochard flock, we spotted the odd lady out, tucked away in the reeds some distance to the left of the hide. Indeed, we needn't have worried, there wasn't much chance of confusion with either a male or female Pochard.

As the cloud cover became heavier and there was no sign of the Ferruginous Duck leaving cover, we repaired to the cafe for lunch. Ham, egg and chips, washed down with copious amounts of tea. Just the ticket.

During the early afternoon, Froo (as she became known in Tenseworld) dozed fitfully in the reeds, but by 3pm she had roused herself sufficiently to put in an appearance in front of the main hide.

As the WWT staff readied for the first of the day's swan feeding sessions, the number of folk in the hide steadily grew. We took this as our cue to return to the cafe for afternoon tea and were pleasantly surprised to find there wasn't a queue or even another customer. So, free choice of tables too. Marvellous.

With the setting of the sun, we headed into the nearby city of Ely, a place that we had always intended to visit, but never quite managed. We wandered around the streets as night fell, through the market place, down to the marina on the river, then back up the hill to the cathedral and finally to Prezzo, a rather decent Italian restaurant in a period building on the High Street. As Our Lass remarked, "We'll have to come back to Ely when it's light!"

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

OK... Rest of the world... breathe out and

                                                         ... relax