Friday, September 28, 2012


I was really pleased to come across this juvenile Sanderling at Yarmouth Harbour this afternoon. It's the first one I've seen on this side of the island, though the beach at Ryde attracts lots of them!

It really is a beauty with that dramatic black & white plumage, and those dark feather centres with 'the three spears' as the Collins' Guide puts it! It may be a juvenile but it's already travelled a long way having been raised in the high Arctic!

Here's a short video clip:

Juvenile Blackbird

I came across this Juvenile Blackbird yesterday alongside the ditch by the Mill Copse Scrape. It looks like it's just had a bath. The spot that it has chosen to dry out is a real sun-trap, and I think that the bird is really enjoying the warmth. I saw it in exactly the same spot earlier this week!

If you look closely, you'll notice that the central toe of the right foot is swollen compared to that on the other side. Chaffinches are particularly susceptible to a disease called viral papilloma which causes swelling and deformed feet but I'm not sure whether that is what is causing this. Maybe it's the result of an injury.

In the video sequence below you can see the Blackbird beginning to preen as it dries. Feather-care is obviously very important in birds, and you can see the way it aligns some of the wing feather barbs, beginning at the base and working towards the tip.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

More rainbows!

I thought it would be a while before I bettered my rainbow experience yesterday....but that was before today! Late this afternoon at Yarmouth, following a heavy shower of rain, the double rainbow above suddenly materialised in The Solent. My camera's not good enough to pick up the intensity of the colours....all I can say is that it was pretty amazing!!

There are 2 sequences on this video...the first one is the best but, because of the rain I'm shielding the lens...not realising that my thumb is in view!! Still, it gives some idea of the scene!

This Little Egret was foraging in one of the side channels. On the video below you can see it shaking its legs. I would be interested to know whether it is stirring up the mud, or else waving its bright yellow feet in the water to attract/disturb fish and other prey?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Swallows & Rainbows!

I cycled along the Western Yar estuary first thing this morning and got caught in some pretty impressive rain showers. But it was worth it to see the rainbows in the following sunshine:

I loved this double rainbow. There was a flock of 50 Lapwings flying around, too - it's a shame that they are just out of shot in this photo.

And this is a rainbow looking the other way that was present this evening. I can't remember having seen a rainbow to the west in the morning, and a rainbow to the east in the evening from about the same place on the same day!

The other treat of the day was the hundreds (thousands?) of migrating hirundines feeding over a stubble field. I tried to get a bit of video which can't begin to do justice to this incredible sight:

The vast majority were Swallows, but there were also a number of Sand Martins and I glimpsed at least one House Martin.

And now for something completely different! A False Widow Spider (Steatoda nobilis) that John found on our kitchen sponge this evening! It has the potential of giving a nasty bite with the reputation of being the UK's most venomous spider.....but I haven't told Carole that!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Freshwater Bay & Western Yar Valley - week beginning 24th September 2012

 After a fortnight in France, it's been great to get back to the local patch though I shall miss the flora & fauna of the Loire!

Monday - rain first thing; very strong winds; sunshine later.
Tuesday - Heavy showers & sunny intervals.
Wednesday - Heavy showers & sunny intervals. 
Thursday - Sunny & warm when not cloudy & cool! :)
Friday - Overcast with warm sunny intervals later on.

Mute Swan - (Family of 2 adults & 5 juveniles at Yarmouth)
Canada Goose
Eurasian Wigeon (3 males) (7) (10 at Kingfisher Bridge)
Eurasian Teal (148)
Mallard (73: 43 males & 30 females)
*Tufted Duck (4 females on Station Pool - NEW RECORD FOR LIST)
Pheasant (27)
Little Grebe (8: 2 on Station Pool; 6 together on estuary)
Grey Heron
Little Egret
Northern Gannet (3 at Freshwater Bay)
Sparrowhawk (Female soaring low over Estuary and putting up various birds)
Buzzard (3)
Peregrine Falcon (Large individual in dead oak opposite Kingfisher Bridge) (1 on yacht yard-arm)
Oystercatcher (2) (4)
Ringed Plover (11) (15) (15)

Grey Plover (2)
Northern Lapwing (50) (25) (31)
Dunlin (2)
* Sanderling (Yarmouth Harbour - NEW RECORD FOR LIST) 
Common Snipe (Flying across Station Pool)
Black-tailed Godwit (122) (100) (107)
Eurasian Curlew (10) (17) (10)
Common Sandpiper
Common Redshank (40)

Turnstone (25) (2)
Black-headed Gull (404 in evening roost in Yarmouth Mill Pool)
Mediterranean Gull (4 with Black-headed Gulls) 
Great Black-backed Gull (3)
Herring Gull
Sandwich Tern (2 roosting with Black-headed Gulls) (1)
* Guillemot (On water off Norton Spit - NEW RECORD FOR LIST)
Rock Dove
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Kingfisher (Mill Copse scrape)
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker 
Carrion Crow
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Sand Martin
House Martin (Significant numbers in Estuary)
Long-tailed Tit
Common Chiffchaff (singing in Mill Copse)
Sedge Warbler
Wheatear (Norton Spit)
House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail
Meadow Pipit (2)
Rock Pipit (2 at Freshwater Bay)

71 species.


Mammals - Common Shrew; Rabbit.
Dragonflies - Migrant Hawker; Common Darter.
Butterflies - Red Admiral; Small White; Comma.
Hoverflies - Helophilus pendulus; Helophilus trivittatus.


Well, we're back home and I'm watching the rain lashing against the window as I write....!!

I thought I'd share one more animal memory of our last few weeks in France. I came across this lively little mole early one morning a few days ago on my way to the bridge at Beaumont to pick up the Trailcam. It looks quite small next to my size 11s! I was trying to stop it crossing the road and getting squished by a lorry, but it was determined to go as you can see from the video:

Home was obviously in the verge on the other side of the road. The fact that moles regularly turn up in Owl pellets & outside Fox dens seems to suggest that they're around on the surface more than we probably realise, but I feel it's a real privilege to catch up with one, especially during the day!

Sunday, September 23, 2012


We're off back to the UK in an hour or so - just time to post a few clips of a Badger from yesterday evening. I set up the camera on a Badger path in a field next to the bridge at Beaumont:

You can see that he, or she, is quite shy of the light.

At this spot over the last few days I've recorded Wood Mouse, Brown Rat, Water Vole, Coypu, Beech Marten, Brown Hare & Badger. Not bad....but I still can't believe that I've not come across a Red Fox right through the holiday!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Playful Coypu Cubs!

The animal that I've really wanted to see on the Trailcam is Monsieur le Sanglier....the Wild Boar! I've had a couple of exciting encounters with them during our trips to France over the years but it looks like this holiday is not going to be one of them. I've been told that they are present in the wood behind the village where we're staying and, yesterday evening, I set up the Trailcam on a well-used track, but the only animal recorded was a Beech Marten that briefly ran through the field of view. I was surprised that I didn't record any Roe Deer here, either, having seen two on this track soon after we arrived here.

But I did return to Glenay Bridge at dusk yesterday, and got even more cracking views of the Coypu there...I saw at least 9, most likely 13, comprising 5 adults and 8 cubs.

When a Mallard took off in alarm, the 9 (who had been feeding on vegetation in a meadow) shot into the water with an amazing turn of speed for such an ungainly looking animal - it made quite a splash! Later I watched 3 of the youngsters play-fighting, and one which seemed quite hyper, jumping up and down in the water. They were almost like young Otter cubs! It's certainly behaviour that I hadn't been expecting. Here's a one and a half minute clip: A little while later, another female with 3 cubs swam along the bank underneath where I was standing - there are so many around here and they really put on a show!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Coypu family

Having had a few up-close and brief encounters with Coypu on the Trailcam over the last few days, it was good to catch up with some 'in the flesh' yesterday evening. I had driven down to the impressive bridge at Glenay at dusk and, looking down from the parapet, realised that I was looking at a whole family. I've only ever seen individuals in the past. I've never noticed before just how much Coypu enjoy a good scratch - it's actually quite comical to watch! A Facebook friend shared last night how, in France, he and his wife had been given some meat of the Ragondin. It's reckoned to be lean and low in cholesterol, though the main reason they have been introduced to various places across the globe from their original home in South America was for their soft underfur, or nutria.

This hasn't been without problems. A number escaped from fur farms in East Anglia after their introduction in the late 1920s, and subsequently caused a real hoohaa as their massive holes did a lot of damage to the area, a fact that led to them being declared persona non grata and being exterminated until none remained (although, like the Beast of Bodmin, there are persistent reports of sightings in a few areas!).

If you believe what some sources report, these massive rodents (1m long and 7 kgs plus!) can give birth up to 13 offspring in one go (with 3 litters just about feasible over a season). The young stay with the mother for 7-8 weeks. The mother has teats high up on her flanks which allows for feeding whilst in the water! They really are fascinating creatures and I will try to spend some more time watching them in the few days we have left before the end of the holiday!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Water Vole: the good, the bad & the ugly!

When I picked up the Trailcam from alongside the River Thouaret on Tuesday morning I was really encouraged to encounter a Water Vole swimming across the river. On the Isle of Wight I've really struggled to see Water Voles in the thick reed habitat, so it was wonderful to see this one in the open - a sequence which includes a nifty bit of underwater swimming:
That's the good news. When it is eating on the side of the bank it looks to be grappling with a big walnut, or something similar, but it looks like this may not be its favourite food around here, and that's the bad news:
An area of maize next to the riverbank that had been decimated by something...notice the remains of the plants that have been pulled towards the water's edge on the right-hand side. A closer examination revealed what had caused the maize stalks to collapse:
Hmmm...and further evidence, if needed, was provided by the Water Vole feeding platform on this tree that had fallen into the water:
The thin white object is the empty remains of a sweetcorn husk. I think that the local farmer is also convinced of the identity of the varmits eating his corn. And this is the ugly bit:
Monsieur Fermier is obviously trying to trap Water Voles here, the trap opening out onto a run that leads down to the river's edge. The trap had been sprung but, fortunately, there was nothing inside it. Coming from the UK, where Water Voles - and even their habitat - are strongly protected, this was a bit of a shock. This morning I watched another Water Vole on the river, and then checked the traps. All empty bar one, which contained this Brown Rat:


I set up the Trailcam on a mud bar at the water's edge yesterday evening. The result was an array of ever bigger rodents: a lively Wood Mouse, an inquisitive Brown Rat, and something big right next to the camera that eventually heads for the water revealing its identity as a Coypu!
Over the last few days at this spot the mammal-list is building: Brown Rat; Beech Marten; Water Vole; Wood Mouse; Coypu. I also found this next to the bridge:
It's a fresh dung pit - which means that a Badger passes by regularly, too!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

2 Beech Martens

I've been really pleased with the Beech Marten footage I'm getting from the Trailcam. Yesterday evening I left a variety of bait out on the concrete footway across the Thouaret River at Glenay. The only animal that appeared on camera through the night was the Beech Marten...and this time he/she brought a friend as you will see from the second clip:
Catfood comprising 'au poulet' (duck & chicken) is obviously preferable to dinde (turkey)!! They also liked the apple pieces, running off with them to consume them out of shot. Brilliant!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Beech Marten

Yesterday evening I set the Trailcam out close to the Thouaret River north of Boussais. I baited the area with a tin of cat food (turkey-flavoured!), apple and peanuts:
I had held high hopes of this spot, so I was a bit disappointed this morning when the food looked like it hadn't been touched all night. However, on examining the memory card, I discovered that I had a couple of sequences of a Beech Marten and one of the ubiquitous Brown Rat:

The Beech Marten is very wary of the infra-red beam from the camera but does have a nibble of the food. The two sequences are actually 3 hours apart. In the actual footage the Brown Rat - which I've placed at the end - was present between the visits of the Beech Marten.

Beech Martens are widespread in France and often den in buildings: attics and the like. They are more popularly known as Stone Martens, but I prefer Beech Marten as a name, distinguishing them from the Pine Marten which, as the name suggests, is usually associated with more coniferous woodland. That's not always the case in France.

The animals are similar but this is definitely a Beech Marten with its less bushy tail, smaller ears and - more obviously here compared with the brief footage from the rear view a few days ago - the pale patch on the breast continues down each leg. I've only had a brief view of a Beech Marten in the past whilst driving through the countryside in the middle of the night, so it's nice to get some half-decent footage on the Trailcam!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Roe Deer

We've now moved south-west of Samur to spend the second week of our holiday at the little hamlet of Marigny, south of Thouars. I'm hoping to catch up with some of the wildlife here. On a walk alongside the local foret at dusk I was amazed at the number of small mammals rustling about in the undergrowth.
In the meantime, here is a video sequence of a pair of Roe Deer that Carole and I caught up with at Chinon Forest a few days ago. Being the height of the rutting season I had been hoping to catch up with some Red Deer but much of the forest had been shut off for that reason. I was really pleased to catch up with this pair, though, peering through the trees. The male had been lying down and stands up after a while.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Beech Marten & Coypu

Yesterday evening I searched along the Thouet River for signs of Beaver. Although it was getting dark - and I didn't have a torch - I thought I had finally found some signs in a channel several hundred metres long at right angles to the river. I set up the camera on a fallen log. This is a photo taken the next morning showing the log on the far bank of the channel:
I'm always excited with the anticipation of seeing what the Trailcam has recorded. No Beavers yesterday evening, but some interesting footage:
The Brown Rat was around on and off for most of the evening. I've started the footage with this individual because it emphasizes just how bit the next rodent is that turns up. It's only a brief sighting as the Coypu - giant by comparison - is spooked and shoots off.

And then there's a fascinating glimpse of a Stone/Beech Marten that jumps down and sniffs where the Brown Rat has been foraging before marking the area and bounding off. Only a rear view, but it highlights that wonderful bushy tail! When collecting the camera this morning I found even more signs of Beaver activity higher up the channel, so I'll set the Trailcam there this evening...and put food that's a bit more enticing down for the Beech Marten!!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Montagu's Harrier

Carole was very understanding today as we spent a few hours parked up in the middle of nowhere surrounded by rank grassland. We were in the vicinity of the village of Meron, south-east of Saumur, which is well-known for its populations of Little Bustards and Montagu's Harriers.

Unfortunately, the closest I came to seeing Little Bustard was a gaggle of 8 inquisitive Grey Partridges, but the Montagu's Harriers were showing constantly while we were there with at least 3 individuals, maybe 4.

This video sequence gives an idea of the sort of action we were witnessing. I would have loved to get the juvenile Harrier with its beautiful red plumage, but when I finally attempted to get a bit of video it was too distant.

There were birds of prey everywhere. At one point I had Montagu's Harrier, Marsh Harrier, Buzzard & Kestrel close together and all in the 'scope at the same time!

There was also a lot of small bird activity, including 5 Whinchats together in a line on the barbed wire!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Off to France!

Our son, John, is going to hold the fort here while we journey to France this evening for our annual fortnight's holiday. We're off to the Loire, spending a week on an island in the middle of the river at Saumur, and another week about 30 miles to the south-west.

Half the car is packed out with wildlife paraphenalia: insect nets, river nets, small mammal traps, scope & bins, various food items (nuts, seed & dogfood!)....and I could go on! The Trailcam's packed, too, with hopes of Wild Boar and other larger nocturnal mammals. Otters and Beavers would be a bonus.

Bird-wise, I've been researching the area and I'm hoping to catch up with Little Bustard, Montagu's Harrier, Rock Sparrow and various warblers & buntings.

Of course, I will be enjoying spending quality time with Carole exploring the fact, that will be the best thing of all!

I'm really looking forward to it but, having said all that, I'm so enjoying my local patch here along the Western Yar that I can't wait to get back, too...I've really got the best of both worlds!!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Local Western Yar Patch List - Week beginning 3rd September

When I was out along the Western Yar Estuary today, several people stopped to ask me what species were around. As a result, I'm going to have a go at making a weekly species list for this, my local patch. I hope it will encourage non-birders visiting this popular area to have a go at seeing what's around. The main focus will be the birds, and it will be interesting to see how the list changes over the year. I'm giving it a go this week, updating it daily....then I'll be away for a fortnight in France!


Mute Swan - Group of 9, plus family of 2 adults & 5 juveniles at Yarmouth doing well.
Canada Goose - Large flock regularly dropping in to feed. (69)
Eurasian Wigeon - eclipse male north of Causeway; first of season.
Eurasian Teal (115 - numbers building up!).
Mallard - 5 juveniles by Yarmouth Station.
Little Grebe - including families of 2 & 3 juveniles and 2 & 2 juveniles at Station Pond. (15 including 4 juveniles)
Grey Heron - 2.
Little Egret - 7.
Common Buzzard - 7 soaring together over wood on west side of estuary.
Peregrine Falcon - one over Rofford Marsh.
Water Rail - squealing south of Freshwater Causeway.
Oystercatcher (3 - Mill Basin)
Grey Plover - 2. (3) (3)
Northern Lapwing (14)
Dunlin - 1 regular individual feeding at Yarmouth Mill Basin at low tide. (1) (2)
Common Snipe - Station Pool.
Black-tailed Godwit - 100; (100) (94) (92)
Eurasian Whimbrel - 1 at Yarmouth Mill Basin.
Eurasian Curlew - (15) (19)
Common Sandpiper - 3. (3) (1)
Greenshank - (3) (2)
Common Redshank - 34. (35)
Turnstone - 12 feeding amongst seaweed close to Yarmouth bridge.
Black-headed Gull
Mediterranean Gull
Great Black-backed Gull
Herring Gull
Sandwich Tern
Rock Dove
Stock Dove
Collared Dove
Kingfisher - 1 at Yarmouth Station River. (1 - as previously)
Green Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Carrion Crow
Raven - 3 over estuary calling.
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Skylark - Rofford Marsh area.
Swallow - good numbers heading south.
House Martin
Cetti's Warbler - Calling south of Freshwater Causeway.
Long-tailed Tit
Common Chiffchaff
Willow Warbler
Sedge Warbler
Blackcap (1)
Common Whitethroat (2)
Goldcrest - Mill Copse.
Starling (35)
Mistle Thrush - 7 flying over.
Spotted Flycatcher - 2 on dead tree south of Freshwater Causeway; 1 Gasworks Lane.
Common Redstart - 1 female in Scrape hedge; 1 female western footpath.
House Sparrow
Pied Wagtail

76 species. (Green Sandpiper & Garden Warbler also reported on Tuesday by Derek)
This week has seen lots of evidence of migrants passing through as the migration season heads towards its peak. The bushes have been chockful of Chiffchaffs, Willow Warblers & Whitethroats! Where are the Song Thrushes?


Mammals - Rabbit; Red Squirrel ('Squirrel Copse'); 2 south of Squirrel Copse; 1 Mill Copse; Common Pipistrelle; Common Shrew.
Dragonflies - Southern Hawker; Migrant Hawker; Common Darter.
Butterflies - Common Blue; Red Admiral; Speckled Wood; Meadow Brown; Small White; Green-veined White; Holly Blue; Comma.
Hoverflies - Baccha elongata; Episyrphus balteatus; Cheilosia pagana; Eristalis pertinax; E. tenax; E. arbustorum; E. intricaria; Helophilus pendulus; H. trivittatus. (these were basically noted from the bike, mainly on Sea Aster).


Late yesterday afternoon above Mill Copse Pool a few hundred Black-headed Gulls were feeding on flying Ants that were rising on the thermals. Watching this display was fascinating. Even as I watched, a constant stream of Ants slowly flew up into the skies in front of me on their nuptial flight!

So, what is the biology behind this spectacle? Below is the helpful explanation given by the BBC news site back in July:

For the ants it is the first step in founding new colonies. So how do they know which day it will happen?

Scientists don't fully understand how the ritual works but do know weather is important. Ants pick a day by sensing temperature, humidity and day length, says Dr Mark Downs, of the Society of Biology. Warm, humid conditions are perfect. Heat makes it easier for them to fly and humidity makes the ground softer for mated queens to dig nests. How flights are synchronised between nests is still not fully understood, some suggest once ants begin to fly they give off a chemical smell that others detect. 

"Ants are not the strongest fliers and they mate on the wing, so their chances of mating are greatly reduced if they come out in the rain," says Downs. "Humidity and wet weather prior to the flight also means that the ground is soft, which makes it easier for the queens to burrow down and make a nest once they have mated.

Flights are synchronised between nests because the flying ants need to maximise their chances of meeting ants from other colonies to mate with. Downs says scientists still don't fully understand how this "extraordinary" synchronisation happens, with more research being done.
Queens mate with males during flight, after which the female will lose her wings and attempt to start her own colony by burrowing into the soil. Males die shortly after mating but queens can live for up to 15 years.

"The queens themselves, once they have gone down to burrow, will not eat for six to eight weeks," says Downs. "They will live off the vestige of their wings for energy while they raise their first larvae."

The usual time for flying ants is July, so I reckon these must be a different species!

Other bird news:
At Kingfisher Bridge, 50 metres away, there were 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Greenshank, a Redshank, several Black-tailed Godwits, and a Little Egret!

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Wood Mouse pays a visit

One of the things that I love doing, but which I don't seem to have got around to, is small-mammal trapping. Part of the reason is the lack of a local shop selling castors (maggot pupae!) which I put in the trap to feed any shrews that wander in (a legal requirement). Here on the West Wight the tackle shops only sell ragworms and lugworms which look like they might eat any shrews! :-)

A week or so ago, I found evidence of rodent activity in our garage: seed eaten, cardboard chewed, and things knocked off a shelf onto the floor. I set up a couple of Sherman traps and, on Saturday, found this leggy Wood Mouse in the trap I'd set half-way up a bookcase!