Sunday, 8 May 2016

Bempton birds

Today I was at the Bempton Cliffs 'bioblitz' for small mammal trapping and (supposedly) cetacean spotting. Our Longworth traps caught several bank voles and wood mice, but persistent sea mist meant that spotting marine mammals from the cliff top was quite a challenge - all we saw was one grey seal.

We were surrounded by thousands of seabirds of various species (the cliffs from Bempton to Flamborough are home to 250,000 birds during the breeding season), but people were queuing up to get a look at this little puffin.

Getting nowhere near as much attention but almost as photogenic, a pair of razorbills was nesting close to our lookout point.

 

Monday, 25 April 2016

Boss Hogg

I've been putting food out for the resident hedgehog but, having also caught foxes and cats on camera, I wasn't sure who was getting the food. Last night's photos and footage suggest the hog is boss.


Saturday, 15 August 2015

Elusive dolphins

Today I headed out on a small RIB from Seahouses in Northumberland in search of white-beaked dolphins. I briefly saw a small group of these robust, cold-water dolphins off Iceland back in 2001 and have wanted to see them in UK waters ever since.

Whilst waiting for a couple of people who were stuck in traffic, we made a quick sortie to visit the resident grey seals who were bobbing around like huge corks in the waves. These animals are always curious about boats and came to investigate us.


Having collected the latecomers, we headed back out to sea. White-beaked dolphins are a pelagic or open-ocean species, so you have to work hard to see them and we expected to travel some 20 miles offshore. However even 25 miles out the dolphins were proving elusive and we eventually had to turn back.

Thankfully, even though we couldn't find the dolphins, they found us. We were joined by a pod of maybe 10 or 12 (judging by the numbers we could see above the surface at any one time) and the animals spent time with us, just zipping underneath and around the boat, until we had to head back to shore before it got dark. It just goes to show that you don't need to leave the UK to have great cetacean encounters (but you do have to be persistent and willing to spend several hours crashing around at sea!).


Thursday, 23 July 2015

More Gentle Giants in Mexico

Over 11 years after a trip to the Baja Peninsular where I had close encounters with friendly grey whales, I returned to the other side of Mexico in search of another group of gentle giants - the whale sharks that arrive here each year in May to feast on huge concentrations of tuna eggs. In the past, hundreds of whale sharks used to aggregate in the waters around Isla Holbox to the north of the Yucatán Peninsular, but then the tuna spawning must have moved south around the coast and Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy are currently the best bases from which to see the sharks.

We flew into Cancún and because some of the people in our group weren't arriving until well into the evening we had a night in a huge, all-inclusive hotel outside the city and close to the terminal for the Isla Mujeres ferry. Although the hotel was busy, it wasn't devoid of wildlife and on my way back from breakfast the next morning I spotted an iguana (which later turned out to be a common black or spiny-tailed iguana). After carefully stalking the creature for a few minutes to get a photo, I realised that it lived right next to the children's swimming pool and therefore wasn't the slightest bit bothered about people.


Later that day, we travelled across to Isla Mujeres on the ferry, arriving on the last day of the annual whale shark festival - the people of the island are clearly proud of 'their' whale sharks.


We settled into our hotel, the gardens of which were home to a couple of dozen more iguanas, and we were treated to a lovely sunset before dinner.



Over the next few days, I went out on four boat trips with researchers from the Marine Megafauna Foundation and Mexican NGO Ch’ooj Ajauil AC and had amazing encounters with the whale sharks. The animals grow to 12 metres in length (although there are several anecdotal reports of individuals as large as 18 metres) but they attain that enormous size purely through filter-feeding, cruising steadily with their massive mouths open wide through clouds of fish eggs, tiny crustaceans such as krill and copepods, and other plankton.




Despite being such enormous creatures, whale sharks are elusive and much of their life cycle is still a mystery – for example the largest individuals, especially the mature females, are rarely encountered. The largest animals we saw in Mexico were ‘only’ about 9 metres long, but even the smaller individuals (which looked rather tubby and cute) were still 5 metres long – 3 times my height!



I did attempt to take some underwater photos of the whale sharks with my compact camera in a waterproof bag, but the results were not great so I decided to just enjoy the swims and took surface shots of the sharks from the boat instead. Here's my best underwater effort.


Ch’ooj Ajauil AC conducted the whale shark watching in a responsible manner and I had many prolonged swims alongside these beautiful ocean giants - often having the shark all to myself - without ever feeling that we were disturbing their vital feeding behaviour.
However the same sadly couldn’t be said for the activities of many of the other boat operators, and I hope that the research supported by our trip will enable Ch’ooj Ajauil AC to secure more effective regulation of the whale shark boat trips around Cancún.

As well as the whale sharks, we had some close encounters with giant manta rays, spotted a few bottlenose dolphins, and took a night time walk to a beach where green turtles were laboriously hauling themselves overland to dig a nest. Unfortunately we didn’t see any actual egg-laying, but we did get stopped and questioned by some police officers who were evidently either bored or didn't have the imagination to understand why someone would want to watch turtles.


Back at the hotel on our last day I took some final pictures of the resident iguanas and said farewell to Isla Mujeres and its amazing wildlife. I’m already thinking about where else I can go to see whale sharks again!

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Singing for his supper

Here's the resident blackbird again, this time drawing attention to himself by singing noisily from the ivy-covered fence.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Waiting to be served

The resident blackbird male has got me well-trained.  When he spots me in the kitchen, he alights on the fence close to the back door and waits until I go out and feed him a few dried mealworms.  It also works in reverse - I can call him in by shaking the glass jar of worms.
Today he was obviously feeling quite relaxed in the summer warmth and decided to sunbathe on the patio table whilst he was waiting for his human to appear.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Bad news for barn owls

Tonight I went to a barn owl ringing demonstration at Lower Derwent Valley NNR. We were supposed to see barn owl chicks being ringed, but it's bad news for the owls so far in 2015.  The vole cycle is at a low and the adult birds cannot get enough food to raise a brood - 30 nest boxes had been checked but there wasn't a single chick.

It may be that the owls breed later in 2015 when the vole population hopefully goes into an upward phase of its cycle, but in the meantime a pair of adult barn owls without leg rings had been carefully 'bagged' and we watched them being ringed instead (the birds are much calmer when laid on their backs).
When the ringing was all done the owls were released to fly off silently over the fields.

Friday, 5 June 2015

A quick roe down the River Humber


Today I visited Spurn Point National Nature Reserve at the mouth of the Humber, with the other volunteers from Pearson Park Wildlife Garden in Hull.

We used the Unimog off-roader to drive down to the tip of the Point, and en route spotted some of the reserve's roe deer.


 
The reserve is home to a huge range of wildlife, and later on I saw this bluetail damselfly near one of Spurn's brackish ponds.
 

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Disgruntled field vole

Today I helped out with a small mammal survey at Filey Dams Nature Reserve in North Yorkshire. This field vole looked rather disgruntled at being caught in a live-trap, but it still sat calmly to have its photo taken (as field voles usually do).

Thursday, 15 May 2014

On a roll with voles

A couple of weeks ago I was walking to work and spotted another water vole at a different location more than a mile from last month's Ratty. Today I took my camera with me and snapped the vole munching on the bankside vegetation.  It's amazing to see such an elusive and threatened animal on my 'commute' to work.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Ratty in danger

This morning I was delighted to see a water vole in the ditch alongside which I've walked various dogs for over 20 years without a single such sighting.
My delight turned to sadness later today when I learned that this ditch will be disturbed by the construction of part of a huge flood alleviation scheme - undoubtedly necessary, but I'm off to investigate what mitigation measures will be put in place for my little Ratty friend (and his/her descendants)!

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Rings on the wings

The UK's Big Butterfly Count 2012 is on!  'Spotted' this ringlet today near High Hunsley in East Yorkshire.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

A newt under the wheelie bin

Found this cute newt under the wheelie bin in my garden today.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Splendid toad

Walking along Riccal Dale in North Yorkshire today, we saw roe deer and grey squirrels disappearing through the trees, but this splendid common toad was more obliging as it warmed itself in the sun.


Sunday, 6 November 2011

Seeing the sites

This morning we did the conventional touristy bit and drove out of the city through the smog and crazy traffic to visit the Terracotta Army (impressive, but I haven't posted any pictures because there are zillions on the web that all look the same). Unfortunately my most enduring memory of the visit to the Army was the dogs skins for sale at several market stalls on the site - some of the stall holders claimed they were wolf skins (which wouldn't have made it any better), but the larger ones were clearly from German shepherd dogs.
We then went back to Xi'an and visited the Wild Goose Pagoda which is a focal point for Buddhists and was very atmospheric but quite crowded. This lovely elephant statue graced one of the many courtyards.
The drizzly rain cleared and we walked around part of the old city wall, then meandered back to the hotel via narrow streets full of small shops. We bought gifts and I did my best to turn a blind eye to a trussed-up sheep being wheelbarrowed of to some no doubt grisly end.
Our trip ended this evening with a dumpling banquet.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Farewell to Foping

Today we bid farewell to Sanguanmiao Research Station and walked the 8km back out of the Reserve, taking in the atmosphere of the forest for the last time. We then continued our journey by road back to Xi'an, hot showers and softer beds! Although it's 5th November and the Chinese did invent fireworks, it wasn't their parliament that someone tried to blow up in 1605 so there'll be no celebrations in Xi'an tonight.

Friday, 4 November 2011

A last search for pandas

Today was our last opportunity for panda tracking, and thankfully the rain stopped. The paths were still streams as the rainwater continued to drain off the steep mountain sides. We bushwacked through the wet bamboo (tip - go near the back of the group so the people in front get the worst soaking!) to a beautiful wooded valley where there are resident red and white giant flying squirrels. They are pretty much guaranteed to put in an appearance when the guides bang on the bottom of their nest tree - fortunately there are still so few visitors to Foping that the squirrels don't get disturbed too often.I didn't manage to get any photos 'in flight' (which is impressive because at full stretch these animals are more than a metre across), but we climbed a steep slope to get on a level with the squirrels' home. Here is one showing neither its red and white coat nor its 'flying' abilities.In the meantime the trackers had had no luck with pandas, so we had lunch in the valley and headed home. One last Foping picture of some random moss (actually it did have takin hair caught on the underside, but not visible here).

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Will we get out of the forest?!

By this morning the rain was absolutely torrential. Definitely no tracking today, in fact the river was now so swollen I was starting to wonder how much of the path through the forest was still intact and whether we would be able to get out! By this afternoon we were getting cabin fever stuck at the Research Station, so headed out in ones and twos for a walk in the rain, which eased off a little. The paths had turned into streams, but I did have a brief encounter with a rock squirrel on the way back to base.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

The river swells

After a night of continuous rain which was getting heavier by the hour, the panda trackers didn't go out today. After waiting all morning to see if the weather improved (it didn't!) we attempted a walk in the afternoon towards the golden takin area. The rain got worse and the river was swollen - where we had walked across the exposed rocks two days earlier these had disappeared and there was now nowhere to negotiate the river safely.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

More mist, rain, fungi & leaves

The mist and rain persisted today. We did attempt panda tracking, but the rain got heavier and the trackers went home early, soaked from walking through the wet bamboo.
The forest was still picturesque even in the rain, so I went for a longish walk and took some more pictures of leaves, fungi and anything that didn't move and looked vaguely photogenic!

Monday, 31 October 2011

The mists descend

There was only light rain at the Research Station this morning, but it was misty higher up the mountains and this apparently means that the trackers don't go out in case they unintentionally get too close to a panda and disturb it. The rain stopped and we waited for the mist to clear but it didn't, so eventually we went for a general walk in the forest. I enjoyed photographing the leaves and fungi - which looked lovely in the clear light after the rain - and a spider's web 'decorated' with dew.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Takin tracking

This morning, with our guides feeling rather confident about panda sightings, we headed off in another direction in search of golden takins. We saw lots of signs, but no animals. Early clouds burned off and it was warm and sunny - with hindsight, perfect weather for panda-tracking:-/

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Panda tracking day 2 - pandas but no photos:-(

Today it was another crisp sunny morning, and I decided to head out on my own before breakfast. I didn't spot any mammals but the autumnal scenery looked fantastic in the early sunlight.
At breakfast we got fresh home-made flatbreads which were scrummy. At mealtimes we are always joined by a variety of dogs including our favourite who we have named 'Stumpy'. She was evidently at the back of the queue when they were giving out legs, and there were only half-size ones left. We walked 5km into the forest and then got word from the trackers that they had found a mother panda and her youngster. We climbed up an impossibly steep mountainside (or I would have said it was if there wasn't a panda somewhere at the top of it), with the aim of getting ahead of where the trackers anticipated the pandas would emerge. It was extremely warm climbing, and the local guide offered to carry my camera-containing rucksack. Our group had got strung out negotiating the steep slope when the mother panda (who evidently was not familiar with the trackers' tactics for delighting tourists) suddenly appeared not far below me and cut across the path of our group - a clear view for me if only for about 10 seconds, but the local guide had disappeared with my camera - no photos even if I had been quick enough! We all regrouped and waited quietly, and eventually the cub (about 12 months old) came bumbling along looking for its mother. It was slightly obscured by the vegetation but close enough to see how cute it was.