Friday, February 27, 2015

February Hoverflies

I've seen 3 Hoverfly species enjoying the sunshine over the last few weeks, including all 3 earlier today:

Episyrphus balteatus is one of the few hoverfly species with a common English name: the 'Marmalade Hoverfly'. It is the only species with those double black & orange bands reaching across the abdomen. Many of the individuals at this time of year are relatively dark. This is probably our most common hoverfly.

The hoverfly below and to the right of the Episyrphus balteatus on this photo is Meliscaeva auricollis. I have seen good numbers of these in mild weather over the last few weeks. Notice how the orange and black abdominal markings give an appearance of black 'triangles' from above.

Meliscaeva auricollis can also appear very dark at this time of year, like this individual here.

This is the bee mimic, Eristalis tenax. There is also a very similar species around at this time of year: Eristalis pertinax. Eristalis pertinax differs from this species with its pale front and mid-feet/tarsi, and a pale patch on the hind tibia together with other subtle differences.

This is another Eristalis tenax that was enjoying the sunshine whilst perched on the discarded yellow safety vest of a person working on the reserve. You can just about make out the relatively broad facial stripe from this view (narrower on E. pertinax).

This video shows the 3 species feeding on Spring Crocus.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Red Squirrel action

The best public place to see Red Squirrels regularly on the West Wight is probably the nut feeder at the Model Railway Exhibition in the corner of Fort Victoria where they are regular visitors. I have had 4 there at one time in the past. I stopped by on the way home from a meeting this morning and, sure enough, this Red Squirrel was feeding on the nuts, hanging down from the branch above by its back feet. It then ran along the fence next to where I was seated in my car 'hide' and retrieved a hazelnut from where it had been hidden amongst the thick ivy on top of a fence-post - fascinating. It's interesting that, even with a regular supply of peanuts on tap, it still prefers 'one that I prepared earlier'! You can see the video here:

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Swans & Shovelers

This morning I came across these 2 Mute Swans struggling valiantly to get through the pipe in the 'water pit' by 'Off the Rails' in order to access the Thorley Brook. With water pouring through on the ebbing tide it took a bit of determination but, with a run up, they got there in the end!

On the flooded Rofford Marsh field there were 36 Shovelers (20 males & 16 females). This photo was taken by one visitor recently showing the striking green head and red-brown chestnut flank of the male, together with the unique beak which gives it its name.

I've been trying to get some decent video, or even a photo, of these fascinating birds but it's not easy as they don't spend a lot of time close to the footpath. The reason I'd like to get some video is to show their feeding action, spinning in tight circles as they sift the water through a large sieve on the sides of the bill. It really is the avian equivalent of the baleen whale! Hopefully we'll get some better photos, and some video, soon!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Duck of the Day: Wigeon.

The Wigeon is one of our most beautiful ducks. Here's a bit of video of a small group feeding taken a few days ago:

You always know they're around when you hear their distinctive and cheerful whistle. Look at those drakes with their red-chestnut head and the striking yellow flash running from the base of the beak to the top of the head. And then there are those wonderful grey, black & white colours over the rest of the body that sets it apart. I think that the female is a real beauty, too. I like the description of females and immatures as being the colour of autumn leaves: brown, orange and frosty white.

Like the Teal, our relatively small breeding population is joined by droves of winter tourists from places like Iceland, Scandinavia and Arctic Russia enjoying our relatively mild winter conditions!

And now for something completely different:

This gaudy Yellow-brain Fungus (Tremella mesenterica) is growing on a Gorse bush at Golden Hill Country Park. This older specimen doesn't look too much like a brain, but I can imagine it as 'Witche's Butter', it's other colloquial name!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Culprit apprehended!

 Over the last few days I've been giving the garage a springclean. Again and again I came across evidence of the presence of Mice: seed spilling out of holes in their bags and various chewed items including a vileda mop, a beach tent casing and some jelly shoes! Yesterday this was all confirmed when I came across a nest, constructed primarily out of vileda mop, behind some wooden panels. Overnight I put down a couple of Longworth traps.....

One had been tripped this morning and, when I emptied it, I found that the culprit had been - as expected - a Wood Mouse, or Long-tailed Fieldmouse as it is sometimes called, one of our commenest small rodents. This video footage gives a close-up of this wonderful little animal. As you can see, I let it find its own way out of the aquarium!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Teals & Toads!

A walk along the Western Yar Estuary this time of year will inevitably be accompanied by a sound similar to sonar pinging....revealing the presence of good numbers of our smallest duck, the Teal. This video shows a small 'spring' of Teal feeding early on a few days ago:

For such a small bird this species has real pizzazz, the male sporting those wonderful reddish-brown colours on the head, with yellow borders and a splodge of green! Then there's that distinctive triangular yellow patch at the rear. Between the two there's a wonderful example of vermiculation (from the Latin for 'worm') with all of those delicate 'squiggly' lines running down the flanks. Brilliant!!

The Teal is a dabbling duck that needs shallow water to feed, like this one, on the weed just below the surface. This is the reason why large numbers of Teal head to our relatively mild Gulf Stream-affected shores in the winter from as far away as Scandinavia, and even north-west Siberia!

Just how mild it is at the moment was emphasized this afternoon with the arrival of a couple of Toads slowly making their way across the front lawn and road to some local pool to breed.

I love those them a reputation in times past of having the 'evil eye'. Look at that wonderful red-gold colour of the iris with the darker markings. This was no doubt the reason for the ancient stories of a mysterious 'golden pebble' with miraculous powers found in the Toad's skull

The harm caused by the 'evil eye' may be fanciful, but the glands in the skin can certainly do you a bit of damage with several toxins including powerful hallucinogens, which is why it's a good idea to have a swill under the tap after handling them!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Western Yar birds

The last few mornings have been absolutely glorious with sunshine bathing everything in a soft light first thing. Yesterday morning I came across this Peregrine Falcon perched on the branches of the large dead branch opposite the Mill Copse pool:

It's a shame that the photo is so poor at that distance. I watched it through the 'scope for a good half hour or so as it preened and watched the various goings-on of the Estuary. At one point an early morning kayaker passed within metres but the Peregrine just sat and watched. It was still there when I left to go back home and get on with some work!

Paul Swain has been out and about, too, and has taken these photos in the last week or so:

A Curlew whose beak looks even longer than usual due to the worm that it has just caught!

A great photo of an Oystercatcher in flight - I regularly count 3 on the Estuary, but I'm sure that there must be 4!

And this is one of my favourite birds: the Turnstone. These are very confiding birds that often allow you to sit or stand right next to where they are feeding.

Finally....another poor photo from me! Great Crested Grebes are regularly seen offshore during the winter, but they're usually too far out to see well without binoculars or a 'scope. This one was fishing quite close to Norton Spit first thing yesterday:

Monday, February 16, 2015

Black-tailed Godwits

A few days ago, Margaret Scott took this photo of a small flock of Black-tailed Godwits on the Western Yar:

We have about 130 or so Black-tailed Godwits that spend the winter with us before heading back to Iceland to breed. 'Godwit' comes from the Anglo-Saxon 'god wiht' meaning 'good creature', which probably refers to their popularity on the dinner plate! A few years ago I filmed these birds feeding from the Freshwater Causeway:

I love the way in which they use their bills like pneumatic drills. It's recently been discovered that another wader that feeds in a similar way - the Knot - builds up a 3D image of what is below the mud by using the pressure waves generated by this technique, which bounce off solid objects like crustaceans and shells. I suspect the same is possibly true of the Godwit!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Busy times at a local sett

Last night I left the Trailcam out at a local sett for the first time this year, and I was really pleased with all of the things going on in the footage.

Several Badgers turn up, enjoying the nuts and seed that I had put out. One enjoys a good scratch, and the camera also catches some brief mutual grooming. There's also a short section featuring one of the Badgers backing up the steep hill to the sett dragging along a bundle of dry grass to act as bedding. A Brown Rat appears but scurries away, probably because of the presence of a very healthy looking Red Fox. The Badger in the last section, though, does not look quite so good, being unable to put any weight on what is obviously a very tender front left paw. I think that it's one of last year's cubs.

Paul Swain has been out and about. I love this photo of one of the Little Grebes, or Dabchicks, in the Yarmouth Mill area. On a good day during the winter you can spot 20-30 of these fascinating little birds on the Estuary. If you hear what you think is a little horse whinnying in the background, chances are that this bird is what you're actually hearing!

If you want to get a good idea of what birds are around at the moment, you can go to the British Trust for Ornithology's Bird Track website where you can find the West Wight on the map and then see lists of what local birders are recording. You can even sign up and enter your own sightings!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Having focused most of my energies on various wildlife Facebook Groups over the past year, I'm really excited to be able to announce the re-launch of this Blog following discussions with people representing the Yarmouth Town Council and Shalfleet Parish Council.

These two local Councils want to be proactive in highlighting the wonderful flora and fauna that we are privileged to experience here on the West Wight.

One way of doing that will be by a link to this Blog and, over the coming months, the observations of myself and others will be shared here for the benefit of everyone. If you live, work or walk on the West Wight and have any interesting observations or photos to share, then please do get in touch with me via my e-mail address.

We will be looking to announce further activities as part of this initiative in due course. So, the Trail Camera will be set out again very soon to see what the local Badgers are up to, the small mammal traps and moth traps will be readied for the new season, I'll be buying some fresh batteries for the Bat Detector....and I can't wait to get the net out to see what special insects are going to turn up in 2015!

This Blog is accessible to anyone with a computer and, for those of you on Facebook, there is a West Wight Wild Group that covers the same area. We're looking forward to learning so much more about the wildlife of this special place and hope you'll be a part of it!