Moth (and Mouse) Night

This weekend is Moth Night (it troubles me every year that Moth Night is actually a weekend!). It was supposed to be a fairly windy night and the various moth groups I follow were abuzz with prospects of exciting migrant moths being blown in from the Continent. One of the themes for this year’s Moth Night was the importance of ivy as an autumn food source. I cleared a path to our patch of ivy, so I could get close up for nocturnal photos and out my moth trap went in hope and anticipation. As anyone who reads my blog, or indeed anyone who has ever tried photographing wildlife knows, things rarely go to plan.

So the moth trap attracted just a measly 10 individuals of 8 species. October is getting near the end of moth season, so I was never going to get hundreds of moths, but I had hoped for a bit more of a selection. There are some lovely colourful autumn moth species, but none of them fancied my moth trap last night. I did get two migrants – both Silver Y moths – seen here with their distinctive y or gamma (hence their latin name Autographa gamma) marks on the wings.

The remaining 8 moths were made up of 2 Common Marbled Carpets, 1 Light Brown Apple Moth, 1 Blair’s Shoulder Knot, 1 Lesser Yellow Underwing, 1 Setaceous Hebrew Character, 1 Black Rustic and 1 Shuttle-shaped Dart. All lovely moths in their own right, but not the most exciting selection.

The ivy was also a complete wash out. Although it was in full flower, I didn’t see a single moth on it. Admittedly I didn’t sit in the bushes staring at it all night, but I did pop out for frequent spot checks. Maybe the light from the moth trap was doing too good a job attracting what few moths there were and keeping them away from the ivy? I’ll keep checking the ivy over the next few nights – it will be too late for Moth Night, but I’d like to get a photo of at least one moth on it. I did check out the ivy this morning and it was buzzing with bees (who had clearly got the memo the moths had missed about it being a good source of food in the autumn!). No sign of any Ivy Bees, but plenty of Honey Bees making the most of it.

One surprise find to finish off Moth Night was this mouse. As I was putting the moth trap away in the garage, I saw movement from the box with the birds’ peanuts in. A mouse had got stuck in there and looked just as surprised as me. A quick photo and he was running free in the garden again, although he may have preferred to stay in the garage with the bird food.

Table Manners

Our garden furniture doesn’t seem to have had much use this summer; we normally try and eat outside quite a lot, but the weather just hasn’t been tempting enough. Of course in true Too Lazy style, the garden table is still sitting out on the grass, where we left it a couple of months ago. Various things get dumped on it, including the occasional hedgehog feeding bowl, which fills up every time it rains. The sparrows had taken to using this as an impromptu bird bath, cramming themselves into the small dish with barely room to flap a wing.

Today though I looked out to see that one of the unfortunate sparrows was suffering an altogether different experience on our table – he had become lunch for our local sparrowhawk. My first thought was guilt that I’d encouraged the sparrows, only for this one to become today’s special on the sparrowhawk menu. My second thought was can I get the camera in time? And for once I did. Not the finest set of photos; there was nothing I could do about the bits of grass and weeds obscuring the view, I just had to snap away getting as close as I could before the sparrowhawk spotted me. Thankfully the window cleaner had been literally an hour before, so I could at least see out of the patio door; the photos would have been a lot blurrier otherwise.

The black tripod visible behind the table had the trail camera set up on it. Needless to say, the trailcam was pointing in the opposite direction and missed all the action!

I headed out into the garden a bit later, not really expecting much after the excitement of the sparrowhawk. It may not have been quite so dramatic, but I was chuffed to find a Common Darter resting on the table – in almost the same spot the sparrow had met his unfortunate end. I never find it very easy to get all of a dragonfly in focus, so having failed a bit on the full body angle, I tried focussing on its head and the amazing compound eyes.

The sparrows don’t actually need to be using the tiny terracotta bowl as a bird bath. Having seen them all squashed in there, I had bought them a more spacious bird bath and put it right next to the table. They don’t seem that keen on it and are a bit wary of the slippery sides. I’ve yet to see one bathing in it, although they did have a tentative paddle a few weeks ago.

Bird bath

Our robin however has taken to the new bathing facilities quite happily, maybe because he doesn’t get jostled for space by the sparrows.

Bird Bath
Bird Bath
Bird Bath

While I was gathering together these clips and photos of goings on around the table, I remembered that last year I’d videoed a wasp eating chicken on the table – not a chicken with an appetite for wasps, but a wasp tucking into some cooked chicken that we’d left out. I’d never got round to adding this to the blog before, so here are a few clips now:

Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken
Wasp eating chicken

So our garden table may not have seen much of me and Chris this year, but it’s still getting plenty of use from an assortment of winged wildlife!

Rehab Time

Yesterday must be right up there as one of the most interesting days this year. I got to spend the whole day at Vale Wildlife Hospital & Rehabilitation Centre near Tewkesbury. It was a one day course learning about hedgehog first aid, care & rehabilitation and the whole thing was fascinating!

The day started in the classroom with introductions – the other participants on the course included some experienced hedgehog carers, some planning on starting hedgehog rehabilitation and some who just loved the hedgehogs in their gardens and wanted to learn more.

Caroline, the charity founder, started with an overview of the legal issues surrounding wildlife rescue, which were much more complicated than I had realised. Then we had an introduction to some of the diseases/parasites that hedgehogs can suffer from; many of which can be transferred to humans, so careful hygiene is essential when handling hedgehogs (as it is with any animal).

We then ran through everything associated with the successful care and rehabilitation of hedgehogs. This covered everything from initial “is the rescue really necessary”, to examination & diagnosis, first aid, rehydration of dehydrated animals, feeding, care of hoglets,  treatments of parasites and other diseases, common injuries, record keeping, rehabilitation & release and sadly euthanasia.

In the afternoon we had two practical sessions. First looking down a microscope to examine hedgehog poo for signs of parasites. Not as easy as it sounds and it must take a while to get your eye in with this. Second was practising giving subcutaneous fluids to a hedgehog. Obviously we couldn’t practise on a live animal, but we all got to have a go on a deceased individual (sad to think that not all the hedgehogs could be saved, but at least we got to learn something from a couple of those that didn’t make it). Dehydration is a major problem for many rescued hedgehogs, so learning to do this properly is vital for anyone considering their rehabilitation, but not something that should be tried without proper instruction.

The Vale Centre cares for all manner of wildlife, not just hedgehogs. As part of the course we got a guided tour of their facilities. Just seeing the scale of simple things like food prep or laundry (an awful lot of dirty animal bedding) really brought it home how much work they do. There is of course a lot of much more technical equipment, like this heated x-ray table.

Warmth is often a critical factor in the survival of the rescued animals, particularly for baby ones. Brooders such as this one, allow them to be kept constantly warm, until they are big enough to regulate their own body temperatures.

The small mammal and hedgehog wards are fitted out with row upon row of cages, each with their own patient records on clipboards, just as you would find in a human hospital.

Each animal patient has a unique identifying number and the staff record daily weights and observations, flagging up any that are cause for concern. Colour coded tabs allow instant identification of those needing fluids, or medication, or assessment, or samples etc.

While we were getting our tour a young squirrel was being syringe fed (although we were supposed to all be objective and unsentimental, a collective “awwh” went up in the room).

A more adult looking squirrel was either interested in the syringe food, or interested in us – not sure which.

Hedgehogs account for a large proportion of the animals admitted to Vale. Last year of the approximate 4500 animals admitted, over 1000 were hedgehogs. This year they look to be getting similar numbers and the wards certainly had plenty of hoggy patients. Of course being nocturnal animals most of them were fast asleep in their cages, burrowed into nests of shredded newspaper. But I did spot one venturing out of his sleeping chamber. The hedgehog cages are split into two connecting “rooms”, one a sleeping chamber and one for the food and water.

Birds account for about 70% of Vale’s admissions, many of them baby ones. A young sparrowhawk and a duck were admitted while we were there. These baby pigeons were just two in the indoor bird ward yesterday.

Outdoors there were yet more birds, from small birds like sparrows and pigeons, up to swans and gulls. All waiting to be strong enough to be rehabilitated – it is vital that they regain the strength in their flight muscles before being released.

Vale’s ethos is very much about rehabilitation. Animals are nursed back to health so that they can not only be released again, but be released with quality of life equivalent to what they would have naturally.  If this can’t be achieved, then sadly euthanasia may be the only option.

There are one or two exceptions, such as this stunning European Eagle Owl. This bird is not native to Britain so cannot be released into the wild here.

And finally an unlikely looking trio of a fallow deer, an emu and a rhea, all of which will be living out their natural days at Vale.

Although our course was aimed primarily at hedgehogs, it was great to see some of the other work the centre does too. I would recommend this course to anyone considering caring for one or more hedgehogs. This and of course getting some practical volunteering experience with an already established hedgehog rescuer if you can.

When I was a little girl I wanted to be a vet, but was probably way too lazy to study hard enough. I realise now with hindsight that I probably wouldn’t have had the emotional strength to make a very good vet, even if I had worked hard enough. People who work with animals, like the amazing staff at Vale, have to care for the animals whilst at the same time making really difficult decisions on a day to day basis. It would be so easy to make choices for an animal to make the person choosing feel better, rather than thinking what is really right for the animal. The staff at Vale always put the interests of the animals first and I have huge respect for them.

To find out more about Vale Wildlife Hospital and the work they do, check out their website: http://www.valewildlife.org.uk/     Charities like this cost a fortune to run, but do such an amazing job – any and all donations would be very welcome.

Grafton Wood

Lovely day yesterday out and about at Grafton Wood, one of our favourite butterfly hunting spots. Forecast was for sunny spells in the morning so we headed over, hopeful of a good day’s butterfly spotting. The sunny spells were slow to materialise and for the first hour we hardly saw a butterfly. Nor did we see anyone else, it was as if everyone else knew the butterflies were having a day off! Eventually though the butterflies started to appear – a slightly dopey Common Blue was the first to pose for us.

After the initial dozy one, more blues arrived plus Green-Veined Whites and our first Painted Lady of the year.  All in all we tallied up 11 species – not bad after such an unpromising start.

The one butterfly we’d particularly hoped to see though, the Brown Hairstreak, eluded us. They are notoriously tricky to find and we’ve only ever seen one, right here at Grafton Wood in 2015. So it was no great surprise not to find one yesterday. We did however meet  a very helpful gentleman who gave us some top tips for spotting them and showed us some new areas of the wood to look for them in future.  So butterfly-wise we were very happy.

But Grafton Wood is buzzing with more than just butterflies, there are plenty of other insects to enjoy. We kept seeing beautiful big hornets – either Grafton has lots of them or we were being stalked by the same one everywhere we went.

There were lots of small moths flying about in the grass, but the mothy highlight was spotting a group of Buff Tip moth caterpillars that had almost stripped a young tree bare.

We also saw a few shieldbugs, including this nice specimen of a Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes).

In the sunnier periods we could hear crickets chirruping in the grass. We saw several of these particularly large ones, which turned out to be a new species for us  – the Long-winged Conehead (Conocephalus discolour).

Grafton is also a great place to go for dragonflies and damselflies. Darters (like this female Common Darter (thanks to Neil for ID)) were reasonably common all over the wood.

We also saw several of the much larger Southern Hawker dragonflies, particularly around the small pond. They seemed to be inexhaustible though and never once did we see one land. Both of us spent ages trying to get a photo of one in flight over the pond; this blurry shot was the best we managed.

Damselflies were also common around the pond – again another new species for us – the White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes), which has, as the name suggests, white legs! (although to be honest the legs look more like pale blue to me)

I found one individual sitting on a flower, seemingly staring straight at me. It stayed so long and I spent so long trying to get the perfect photo, it ended up feeling like we were having a bit of a staring contest – if we were then he won!

One insect we’d been trying to get a photo of all summer, was a scorpion fly.  These are seriously weird looking insects, with a long beak like structure on the head and a scorpion style tail on the males. We’d seen lots of them at Trench Wood a few months ago, but then only the females which don’t have the scorpion bit. Grafton Wood however was buzzing with males. It still wasn’t easy to get a photo of the tail as the wings kept getting in the way, but here are our best efforts.

Final surprise of the day was a cheeky little deer face, peeking at us over the wheat field as we walked back to the car.

Grafton Wood has never disappointed us and this weekend was no exception.

Out and About – Lea Quarry, Wenlock Edge

One of the goals for 2017 was to see some new butterfly species. So yesterday we set out for Lea Quarry at Wenlock Edge, in search of the Wall butterfly. The excellent “Butterflies of the West Midlands” book recommended Lea Quarry as a hotspot for Walls in August, so off we went. As usual we nearly managed to get lost as soon as we left the carpark, thanks to someone removing an arrow sign from the path trail! Fortunately while we puzzled over which way to go, a very helpful butterfly spotter Roger (and his gorgeous Malamut dog), showed us the correct path and in fact led us straight to our targets.

Wenlock Edge is a narrow limestone escarpment and Lea Quarry is just as it sounds – a quarry.  From the path there are lovely views out over the Shropshire countryside.

The path runs along the Edge with the quarry to one side.

The butterflies congregated on a small rocky slope at the side of the path. The area may not have been very big, but it was full of butterflies – we counted 11 species. Most were common ones like Gatekeepers, Speckled Wood, Comma, Holly Blue, Meadow Browns and Whites.

There were a couple of large and fresh looking Peacocks which were jostling for position over the same flowers.

There was also one Small Heath, which was more unusual to us. It skulked about in the undergrowth a bit though and looked generally a bit tired, so we only managed this poor photo.

A Small Skipper was much more obliging, posing happily right in front of us.

Common Blues were reasonably common and the males were very blue! The poor female is of course the dowdier of the pair, but still very beautiful.

But the main attraction were the Walls. They’re medium sized butterflies and quite strikingly marked, yet were surprisingly difficult to spot unless they took off. They fly most when it’s sunny, so we were lucky the weather was kind to us and the sun shone down on the righteous! Roger pointed out our first ever one, but after that we were up and running.

We saw several basking on the bare rocks. Unfortunately they do have a tendency to take off as soon as you approach with a camera, but we did eventually get a few decent shots of them like this.

I did eventually manage to get a few photos of a Wall on a flower – only because I was trying to photograph something else and the Wall landed on the flower right next to me though – but hey, you take what you can get! I didn’t realise until I looked back at the photos, just how beautiful the undersides of the wings are too.

The stony bank was busy with insects of all kinds besides the butterflies. Common Blue damselflies were drifting about all over the place – even photobombing one of our Wall photos.

Chris also spotted this much larger Darter dragonfly (Common or Ruddy – I can never remember which is which?)

Bees and hoverflies were making the most of the summer flowers. The hoverflies were particularly numerous and included this striking Large Pied Hoverfly (Volucella pellucens).

We could hear grasshoppers/crickets almost constantly – chirruping away enthusiastically in the sunshine. It was towards the end of our visit though before we actually saw one, when it hopped out onto the path. The relatively short and thick antennae indicate it was a grasshopper rather than a cricket, and that’s about as far as my ID got. But thanks to Neil, it has now been identified as a male Meadow Grasshopper.

So the Wall takes our lifetime tally of butterflies to 43! Very happy with that, but already looking forward to adding to this. We’re probably too late to bag any other new ones this year, as we’d need to travel serious distances probably. But with a bit of luck next summer, we might manage to creep a bit closer to the magic total of 59 – the generally recognised number of British species. It’s almost certainly going to get harder and we’ll have to travel further, but it’s nice to have a goal and a great way to get out and about, so we’re not complaining.

Profusion of Pollinators

It has been a mixed week for us, but one thing that is definitely doing well is the population of pollinators in our garden. I’ve been meaning to do an update on our “Plant a Pot for Pollinators” pot for a while now. I started this post yesterday morning, but it’s taken until this afternoon to finish, as I keep spotting things buzzing round the garden and dash out to take more photos!

When I planted the pot for pollinators back in June, the plants were all small and everything was neat and tidy (the only things in our whole garden that could be described thus). Now, just a month or so later, everything has gone a little bit wild and crazy and to  be honest is fitting in with the rest of the garden much better for it. The flowers are all overflowing the pot, but the main thing is that it is buzzing with life – result! Being organic and unkempt our garden is generally not short of a pollinator or two, but it’s nice having a pot specifically planted with colourful flowers for them. The hoverflies in particular seem to be making good use of the pot. I am very much a beginner when it comes to hoverfly identification and there are an awful lot of species. Fortunately with a helpful guide book and the even more helpful people on the hoverfly Facebook group, I’ve managed to establish that we’ve had at least 6 species visiting the pot over the last week. No doubt there have been more and hopefully I can add to that tally eventually.  But here, in no particular order, are the 6 hoverflies.

First up Britain’s most common hoverfly – Episyrphus balteatus aka the Marmalade Fly. The stripes on its abdomen are supposed to look like the orange shreds in marmalade!

Next up is one of the Syrphus species – difficult to get to species level without a microscope, so I’ll have to stick with the genus.

Another common one next – Eristalis tenax, one of the bumblebee mimics. Their larvae live in water and are commonly known as rat-tailed maggots. 

A much smaller more subtle one next Syritta pipiens – identifiable by the swollen segment on its hind legs.

The next one is colourful but delicate one – Sphaerophoria scripta.

And finally my favourite of this set of 6 – Chrysotoxum festivum. I love the markings on this one – they are known as wasp mimics for obvious reasons.

Of course lots of other things besides hoverflies have been using the pot. I couldn’t resist a photo of this cute little juvenile shieldbug sitting pretty in the middle of the flower.

Not everything is all sweetness and light though – this crab spider may have been tiny but it was definitely lying in wait for any unsuspecting pollinator to come close enough for lunch.

The star prize for visiting my pollinator pot goes to this Common Blue butterfly. We’ve never knowingly had them in the garden before, so I was thrilled that the pot had attracted one. It didn’t hang around –  hence the hastily grabbed photo, but just seeing this one insect alone makes it all worthwhile for me!

While on the subject of butterflies – it is Big Butterfly Count time of year. I’ve been doing counts both in the garden and down at the allotment, plus one at my Dad’s house. There’s still time to do a count if you haven’t already done so. Besides the one-off sighting of the Common Blue, we have also been getting Meadow Browns (in the meadow that’s supposed to be a lawn!) and Gatekeepers, plus the usual Whites, Holly Blues and the occasional Comma or Red Admiral.

Last time I checked the Big Butterfly Count website they’d received over 40,000 counts. Here’s a snapshot of their map for the Malvern area – good to see I’m not the only one who’s been counting around here.

Enthused by the pollinator pot, I went hunting round the garden for other insect attracting plants. We’ve got a fair sized patch of Knapweed which seems to have seeded itself in one corner. The bees were loving it. There were quite a few leaf-cutter bees which was great to see, but almost impossible to photograph. So I gave up and concentrated on bigger bees that were more slower and more obliging.

Aside from the usual bees, butterflies and hoverflies, I found this unusual looking insect. I had no idea even what group it belonged to, but turns out it was a Thick-headed Fly (Sicus ferrugineus). Unfortunately for our bees it parasitizes them, so not such a welcome visitor to the garden.

While stumbling around the garden chasing bees and flies, I came very close to treading on a frog. Fortunately his reflexes were quicker than mine and he hopped out of the way into our feral strawberry plot, but not before I managed to grab a photo.

At the beginning of this post, I said it had been a mixed week for us. The good news was that Too Lazy To Weed has been shortlisted for the 30 Days Wild Blogger Awards 2017. I’ve read quite a lot of the other blogs and there are some great ones out there, so I’m really chuffed that Too Lazy was shortlisted. It’s nice to think that this means there are other people who are interested in the same things that we are. Good luck to all the other nominees – just participating in 30 Days Wild was a win-win thing, so none of us can really lose.

The very sad news for us this week though was that we had to say goodbye to our beautiful old boy Bertie. He was the factory cat at Chris’s work for many years, but came to live with us (his retirement home) two years ago. A great big cat with an even bigger personality and we miss him terribly. xxx

 

Scilly Isles – Annet and St Agnes

So this is the final blog post from our trip to the Scilly Isles – this time visiting both Annet and St Agnes. In terms of wildlife, this is maybe saving the best until last – that is if you like puffins! If you’re not into puffins, maybe better to stop reading now. There are a lot of photos in this post, but it could have been worse. We took over 600 that day alone, but I’ve managed to whittle them down to 24!

This was a two island trip – we spent an hour or so boating around Annet before being dropped off on St Agnes to be picked up again a few hours later. The whole island of Annet is a bird sanctuary and an important breeding ground for seabirds. Because of this we were not allowed to land on Annet, so we could only view the birds from the boat. This wasn’t a problem, as in many ways, watching the birds from the boat was the best way to see them.

As befits a bird reserve, there were birds everywhere. One of the prettiest species we saw was the Common Tern. When you see them flying it’s fairly obvious why they are also sometimes known as the Sea Swallow.

We’d had drama on a previous boat trip when a gull killed a cormorant. This time we saw a gull meet its match with a crow. I don’t know if the gull was trying to catch the crow or the crow was mobbing the gull, but in the end they both gave up and flew off.

Of course the birds we all really wanted to see were the puffins. We’d feared we might be too late in the season, as they move away from the coast after breeding and head out to sea. But we were in luck and we saw puffins – loads of them! Chris and I got a bit carried away taking photographs, but who could resist with puffins all around.

At first we saw them near their burrows on the low cliffs of Annet.

Seeing them by their burrows was great, but then they started flying and it just got better and better.  They flew all around the boat, up to a dozen at any one time. When trying to take a photo you realise just how small and how fast they really are – it’s not easy focussing from a bobbing boat, but take enough photos and at least some turn out OK!

At first we only managed fairly distant shots, but then Chris must have got his eye in and started getting better close up ones.

Like a lot of iconic wildlife, when you see them close up they can seem almost too good to be true – but they are absolutely beautiful birds and it was a dream come true to see them like this.

After flying around for a bit they started to land on the water. So again after many, many fuzzy attempts, here are a few of the best ones of them bobbing about.

Puffins rely extensively on sandeels for much of their diet and one of the classic images of them is with a mouthful of fish. At first I thought we’d not got a photo of this, but after a second trawl through our pics, I found I’d got one – and it was actually one of my photos for a change – hence the slightly blurry effect! Still I was very happy to get a picture of a puffin with his lunch.

After watching them fly and swim around for a bit, our guide spotted some on a rocky outcrop and we managed to get close enough (without disturbing them) to get some more photos.

I did try and cut back on these photos (honest), but in the end they were just too adorable to watch – so here’s a few more.

We could happily have spent the whole day watching the puffins, but our boat eventually took us on to St Agnes. Not that this was a bad thing either, because St Agnes was lovely too. The Turks Head pub was just as I remembered it from childhood (I started young!) and we had an excellent lunch there sitting out by the sea. The pub is in the perfect location, just a few yards from the quay.

As with all the islands, there are beautiful views in all directions.

After an excellent pub lunch, we took a stroll across the sandbar to Gugh island, which is only accessible on foot at low tide. I’ve always fancied staying on an island like that, where you are completely cut off when the tide comes in. There weren’t many houses on Gugh, but plenty of wildlife. This male stonechat was a nice addition to the day’s photos.

We headed back to St Agnes (thankfully we’d judged the tide OK and not got cut off) and continued round the island. We found a lovely café (Coastguard Café) with yet more amazing views and equally good cream teas. We had one very delightful teatime companion – a particularly inquisitive (i.e. greedy) thrush. I think it was a Song Thrush. We saw loads of thrushes on the Scilly Isles – way more than we ever see at home, there must be something about the islands that agrees with them (besides the scones).

So that’s it for our trip to the Scilly Isles. 1 week, 5 boat trips, half a dozen pubs, loads of seals, butterflies, birds and beaches and 1 beautiful wasp. And it still felt like we’d only scratched the surface of what there was to see and do. I know I’m probably sounding like an advert for the Scillies, but I can’t recommend the islands enough. If you are into wildlife like us, then they are heaven, but even if you’re not so nature obsessed, the stunning scenery, sunny weather and friendly people still make them a great place to visit. We are already looking forward to going back.

The final photo from our whole Scilly Isles trip has to be this little ornamental duck, which was sitting on the wall outside our accommodation. Although it looks nothing like a real bird, every time we walked passed it, we all did a double take. Maybe we’ve spent too long looking for wildlife everywhere, or maybe we just want to believe there is wildlife everywhere. Either way, I grew quite fond of this Iittle duck and it will always remind me of a very happy holiday.

Scilly Isles – St Martin’s

The penultimate blog from our trip to the Scilly Isles – this time a splendid day out on St Martin’s. We caught the 10:15 boat from St Mary’s which dropped us off at Higher Town. We then had most of the day to meander our way up St Martin’s to Lower Town where the boat picked us up for the return journey.

Rather than heading straight for Lower Town we decided to explore the eastern side of the island a bit, partly because this beach (Par Beach) looked so fantastic.

The beach was so tempting in fact that I did something I haven’t done for years – went for a swim in the sea! Admittedly it was a very short swim as it was damn cold, but my feet left the bottom and I was afloat, so it definitely counts as a swim!

As with all the islands there were stunning views aplenty. I love the mixture of sandy beaches and rocky shores – something for everyone and everything as the variety must be great for wildlife.

For much of our walk we didn’t see anyone, just picturesque country lanes to saunter down at our own pace.

Almost every point on the island gives wonderful vistas of other islands. I tried doing one of my shaky video clips to try and convey it – not sure it does the view justice though.

St Martin's Scilly

St Martin’s has an interesting Daymark at its highest point that can be seen from the mainland. Although it looks quite modern it was apparently erected in 1683 (thanks to Wikipedia for that fact of the day!)

One of the highlights for us wherever we go is always finding a good pub and in the Seven Stones Inn we found a cracker! A cold beer, a huge sandwich and friendly staff – what more could you want?

Actually you could want  a stunning view too – and I don’t think we’ve ever had a better pub view than this one looking out to sea.!

And as if all that wasn’t perfect enough, an insect landed on our table that I’ve been wanting to photograph for ages – a ruby-tailed wasp. These wasps are tiny and are almost too beautiful to be real.

As usual I couldn’t resist taking photos of Small Copper butterflies – this time a pair that landed right in front of me on the path.

It was nice also though to get a bit of a moth fix in the form of a Silver Y. This is an immigrant moth, possibly arriving in Scilly on the winds from the continent.

Although there were of course plenty of seabirds on St Martin, it was nice to take some pics of more familiar garden birds. The flock of goldfinches we saw remained out of camera range, but a couple of Great Tits came close enough for a quick pic.

At one point there was a bit of a commotion amongst the small birds and they seemed to be trying to drive off a larger one. We thought at first it must have been some kind of bird of prey, but it was hard to tell from a distance. So it was a bit of a surprise when we zoomed in on the photos later to discover it was a cuckoo! The photos aren’t great, because it was quite a long way off, but they are still the best cuckoo photos we’ve ever taken! I thought from the first photo that there was perhaps something wrong with its wings as they seemed at a strange angle to the rest of the body, but apparently they do perch slightly oddly like this. There was certainly nothing wrong with its wings when it took off.

 

So that was St Martin’s – a really beautiful island that was possibly our favourite out of all of them. With a surprise cuckoo and ruby-tailed wasp after a perfect pub lunch, we headed back to St Mary’s very happy indeed.

Scilly Isles – Bryher

Continuing with our tour of the Scilly Isles, here’s the latest instalment – Bryher. Bryher is the smallest of the inhabited islands and has a special meaning to our family. My parents used to stay in the same guesthouse there every year for many years and absolutely loved the place.

Like all the Scilly Isles you can’t move for beautiful beaches and picturesque views. Bryher is perhaps quieter and less developed than some of the other islands and has a lovely peaceful quality (not that the other islands are exactly noisy!)

Like the other islands too, most of the fields tend to be small with high hedges to provide protection against the wind. It makes for very attractive views compared to high intensity large farms on the mainland.

Someone on the island must have been into a bit of rock art as there were lots of these neat piles of stones balanced around the Porth bays (one of which is delightfully named Stinking Porth!)

Birds were of course plentiful everywhere. It was nice to add the Herring Gull to our tally of seabirds for the trip. I’m sure we were seeing these everywhere, but this was the first time we’d got decent enough photos to get a positive ID.

Nice also to catch a photo of a Lesser Black-Backed Gull – distinguished from the Greater version by his yellow legs. (I’m learning!)

I missed the next one, but Chris spotted a Heron flying across the bay in the distance.

The ubiquitous Shags were also present (unless these are cormorants?) I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for these gawky gangly looking birds.

One bird we love and always try to photograph, although usually with limited success, is the wren.  This Bryher wren though was quite obliging and posed beautifully on some lichens.

As well as getting to grips with gull identification, I was getting in a bit of a muddle with some of the smaller birds. But I’m reasonably confident that these are linnets – with a brighter coloured male (top) and a pair of females (below). Linnets have a supposedly melodious song which unfortunately meant they used to fall victim to the caged bird trade. Hopefully that is no longer the case.

I can never resist including a butterfly photo. Although Meadow Browns were by far the most common species we saw on the Scilly Isles, we also saw quite a lot of Small Coppers. We don’t get many around us in Malvern any more (we’ve only recorded them twice in our own garden), so it was lovely to see them here in decent numbers.

This final photo isn’t me going all nationalistic and flag waving, but the latest chapter in a long running bit of fun between my Dad and his Austrian friend. My parents used to holiday on Bryher for many years and made friends with another regular visitor from Austria. According to my Dad, his Austrian friend used to enjoy sitting on the same flat rock every day enjoying the scenery of Bryher. One year my  Dad planted a small flag and sent a photo to his Austrian friend saying he had “claimed” the rock for Britain. The following year his friend sent another photo back with an Austrian flag, “claiming” it back for Austria. My sister and I thought it would be fun to claim it back again. Unfortunately we only had a rough description of where the rock was – and there are a lot of flat rocks around Bryher! So we’ve no idea whether we’ve reclaimed the right rock, but hopefully our Austrian friend will appreciate the effort and perhaps send us a photo back?

Scilly Isles – Eastern Isles

Next instalment on our recent trip to the Scilly Isles. This time we were out on a glass bottom boat tour of the Eastern Isles – small uninhabited islands with unusual names like Little Arthur and Great Ganilly. There were lots of interesting rock formations around, all covered with lichens, which provided sufficient interest until we got to the wildlife.

As it turned out we didn’t actually see very much through the glass bottom (a few jellyfish and a lot of seaweed), but what we saw all around more than made up for it. Most of our time was spent watching seals – Grey Seals to be precise. The Scilly Isles have a large and nationally important colony of grey seals and we were lucky enough to see quite a few on our trip. At first we just glimpsed them bobbing about in the water, watching us as much as we were watching them.

But our guide (and skipper) soon spotted one hauled out on a rock. He identified it as a fully grown adult male grey seal. Unfortunately it seemed to have got something stuck around its neck – perhaps old fishing gear. It didn’t seem to be causing him any problems and hopefully as he was already an adult he won’t grow any more to cause it to tighten around his neck. Chris and I both took loads of photos – he seems to have got the knack of taking photos from a moving boat, I don’t and most of mine were very blurry. So most if not all of these photos are his!

We continued round the various rocky outcrops that make up the Eastern Isles and eventually spotted another seal hauled out. All the seals seemed to be quite used to the boat and tourists and look unfazed by our visit.

We had seen photos online of seals swimming under the boat so you could see them through the glass bottom. One of the reasons why we were maybe not lucky enough to see this was the presence of a group of snorkelers. The snorkelers were also there to see the seals and the seals in turn were much more interested in the people in the water than coming over to our boat. They were swimming all around the snorkelers – spot the odd one out in the photo below!

Maybe next time we go to Scilly we could try the snorkelling thing ourselves – it must be amazing to swim with them and they clearly weren’t bothered, just curious.

As you’d expect of a boat tour around any part of the Scilly Isles – seabirds were abundant. Fairly early on a flock of oystercatchers took off over the boat. Not easy to get decent photos of moving birds from a moving boat!

We got one of our few sightings of Fulmars while on this trip, beautiful birds albeit with slightly odd looking beaks.

There were quite a few Great Black-Backed Gulls around. I must admit before this trip I’d never been able to tell the different gull species apart. While still far from expert, I am starting to learn a few things. So I’m fairly sure this is the Great Black-Backed, since it was a large gull with pink legs, a yellow beak with red dot and of course a black back! (As always though happy to be corrected if I’ve got it wrong!)

While we were there, one of these gulls caught and killed a shag. Chris managed to get a photo of the gull with its victim and another shag looking on (hope it wasn’t his or her mate). The gulls of course have to eat too, so although it was a bit sad to witness, it is all part and parcel of life. The unfortunate final outcome though was that the gull then managed to drop the dead shag down amongst the rocks, where it didn’t seem to be able to reach it. So the poor thing died for nothing – although I suppose something else probably ate it in the end.

The biggest surprise of this boat trip came in the shape of birds I’d never associated with the sea – Peregrine Falcons! Our guide mentioned that there was a pair nesting with chicks on one of the islands, but we hadn’t really expected to see them. But sure enough they were there. We couldn’t get a proper look at the adults but the two chicks were clearly visible sitting on rocks waiting for the next feed. They were quite high up and we couldn’t get very close, but it was still lovely to see.