Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A glorious midsummer afternoon

It was a glorious midsummer afternoon at Hickling yesterday.  Almost devoid of birds but totally gorgeous anyway. Everywhere I went there was the sound of seed pods popping.  There were butterflies and dragonflies in abundance and it was a good chance for me to test my photographic skills.  I came home realising I need a lot more practice both at the photography and the Butterfly ID!  Even with my photos in front of me I am still struggling to ID them.  Were they Gatekeeper or Small Heath?  Was that a Small Skipper?  Sadly there were no Swallowtail about, I can do those!

It really was very hot and I had to rest by the tower hide.  I spotted this poor crow suffering from the heat.  He really does look comical trying to cool off with his wings spread and beak gaping.

Hot Crow

              View from the Observation hide

There has not been much about in the garden recently.  Butterfly is still about although not as much since I stopped him abusing my bird feeders.  The main birds I see now are juvenile Great Tit and Blue Tit.  I have seen the Jay on occasion but he does not come down as much as he did.  I just hope the lack of birds is not due to my moving the feeding station.  That Butterfly has a lot to answer to.

We discovered a wasp nest under the roof yesterday.  This time we are sure they are wasps, they are nowhere near as large as the hornets.  Hairy hubby put his extermination skills to the test again by standing on the wheelie bin and attacking them with fly killer.  I don't know how successful he was but you could hear they did not like it one bit!  When it's a bit cooler he will have to get into the loft and see if there is a nest in there.  At the moment I think anyone who ventured up there would die of heat exposure within minutes.

We did have one new visitor yesterday.  At least I have never seen one in the garden before.  A lovely Comma butterfly down by the Silver Birch where the Hornets nested.  He was having a lovely time winding me up when I was trying to take his portrait.  I wish I had taken more notice of the butterflies in the garden earlier in the year.  I know we had Orange tip and there were some lovely small blue ones which I meant to get around to identifying.  I suppose now I have lost my wood I am focusing more on the garden again.   


Wednesday, 14 July 2010

My delivery did not arrive!

I whizzed over to Rush Hill Scrape this morning to see if the White Tailed Plover that I had ordered had been delivered.  Sadly it is obviously running late and has not arrived yet.  Maybe tomorrow?  Honestly you just cannot rely on delivery services  nowadays.

While waiting for it to drop in I kept myself amused by talking to a local birder.  Yes you did read that right, a LOCAL BIRDER!  It is true they do exist!  I was starting have serious concerns that they had become extinct, only appearing as the stuffed version for twitches.  Anyway this rare breed was happy to chat to me about local paths and access to reserves etc and generally share some local knowledge with me.  What a nice way to spend a morning.

There were some nice waders there too.  No megas (due to the delay) but several Ruff in various stages of moult, Dunlin, Green Sandpiper, Avocet and Greenshank.  Not to mention two lovely Little Gulls, one juvenile and one adult.  There was also a very young fluffy Black Headed Gull chick wandering about on the mud.  Surely he should not have left the nest yet?  There was no way he was going to get back in because the nest is on a platform 3 feet off the ground.  I fear the little fella will be gone by morning.

It was a lovely walk to and from the hide.  The path goes through several different types of habitat, starting with cornfields, then a wood, then the reeds fringing Hickling Broad.  I was amazed how much the vegetation had grown up since I was there last which was only a month ago.  Some of the paths were very overgrown, one was impassable.  Nature amazes me how fast it gets on with the cycle of renewal every year.  No matter what, you can always rely on it.  We all witness it every year and yet people still keep asking to see a miracle.  The true miracle is out there under our very noses and most people don't even see it.  What a criminal waste!

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Not what I wanted to hear

I had a text from The Gamekeeper today.  As of today would I keep out of The Wood till February.  I had to read it twice before it sunk in what I was reading.  I knew I would be asked to keep out for a while but never in a million years thought it would be for seven months!  Words fail me.  I am even more gutted about this than I am about missing out on the White Tailed Plover.  I have been saying all along that it was like a dream and that I couldn't believe my luck.  Well, now I am back to earth with a bump and a big 'no entry' sign.

It's always the way with me.  I always play by the rules and it always backfires.  If I had just gone off wandering in there without permission none of this would have happened.  But typically I had to go and ask permission which has now been withdrawn.  If I just go ahead and walk over there anyway I will doubtlessly find myself banned for life or done for trespassing.  I am sure that the various people I have seen over there who and heard of that go over there will continue to walk over there all through the winter.  They will enjoy all the Autumn leaves and Winter frost and snow that I was looking forward to seeing.  They will no doubt see the Red Deer I have been told go there in the Winter months.  That is because they did not ask permission first.

Doing the right thing does not always pay.  In fact most of the time I have found it does not pay at all but still I always have to do it.  Bah I am fed up!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Out of my hands!

Eventually the outcome of the Hornet dilemma was out of my hands.  Yesterday afternoon Hairy Hubby was spotted at the bottom of the garden with a can of fly spray and some duck tape.  I was sad but it was the practical solution really, especially because the Grandkids are here.  As he said the nest could have and probably would have got much bigger and become a problem.  The workers kept arriving back at the box with food but could not get in.  Eventually they gave up and must have moved off somewhere else.

"I'm sure there was a door here somewhere"

Once the terrible deed was done, I could not wait to see inside the box, after giving them overnight to die off.  There is only a small door at the back of the box so the view inside was limited but there was the beginning of an amazing structure inside.  It made me realise that if they could construct this much in just a few days,  just how much they would have built if left to their own devices.

The hole at the bottom is the nestbox entrance

When we emptied it all out there were several dead Hornets although not as many as I imagined, plus the Queen who was huge, much larger than the workers.  She must have been about 3 cm long and the workers about 1.5 - 2 cm. 

What a big girl she is!

The structure itself was amazingly full of grubs which were still alive and wriggling despite the fly spray killing their parents.  It looked like something out of a horror film, they were really fat!  It was a shame we do not still have our Koi pond, the fish would have enjoyed them.  Then I noticed something else moving.  There was a fully grown Hornet about to hatch out of one of the cells.  You could see its jaws chomping away to make its escape.  Then a leg appeared, thrashing around, trying to climb out.  Hairy Hubby dispatched the lot humanely (according to him) with a boiling kettle.

Wriggly grubs and a Hornet leg trying to get out!

It made me feel quite ill, although looking back I wonder why because really I should have been fascinated by the wonder of nature. I can only put it down to the images portrayed by horror films which make it all seem so gruesome and preconditioning us to think that insects are horrible. I must try harder not to be such a girl next time.  Although I hope they don't come back because I feel terribly guilty even though none of it was my decision.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Hornet investigations

I sent my mystery visitor picture to my friend 'who knows'  and the verdict has come back as Hornet (thanks Sam!)  This was a bit of a surprise to me but thinking about it they are rather huge.  I always thought Hornets were very aggressive but Sam sent me a very interesting link which tells a very different story.  I love the idea that they eat my sworn enemy the gnat, midge, mosquito whatever you want to call the horrible little bitey things.  They must be lending their support every night to the Bats in the battle of the skies.  With the amount of nasty bitey things I get in the garden it must be ideal for Hornets here.  It was also interesting to read that Hornets often bump into windows because this has been happening here.  You will be sitting in the study working away when BANG something crashes into the glass.  Now I know what it is.

As a nature lover I would really like to allow the Hornets to live in peace in the garden although I suspect Hairy Hubby has already put in his order for an industrial size box of fly killer.  I am still wary of the Grand kids being stung even after reading the information in the Hornet article and would not like to think of my prettiest nest box being swamped all over by a huge monstrosity of a nest.  This one requires careful thought...and negotiations with Hairy Hubby.

It seems that Rainham's White Tailed Plover has flown to Slimbridge.   What's more it has stayed overnight.  I think this was very unfair of it, the least it could have done was flown to Hickling so I could see it.  But no, it had to fly west not east and get totally out of reach for me.  All I can hope is that it remembers its manners and has a hasty rethink overnight.  A couple of convenient hours at Rush Hill Scrape would do me nicely.  Drat the bird, I have seen pictures and it was gorgeous.  I would love to see it.

The fields locally are all turning golden now.  Everywhere you go there are nodding heads of corn ripening in the sun.  It is lovely to see the crops I remember being tiny sprouts getting ready for harvest.  We are also able to buy local grown potatoes, carrots, strawberries etc from the farm shops.  More crops we have seen grow day by day and now we can eat them!  I love this living in the country lark. 

Friday, 9 July 2010

Buzz off in more ways than one!

An interesting few days.  Firstly I got a call from Auntie Allison at Rainham telling me Sam had found a White Tailed Plover.  There were two things wrong with this.  One I was waiting for my mother to arrive from London for her first visit here and two hubby had just driven down there to get her, spending tons of dosh on fuel to do it.  This meaning that if I jumped into my car and hot footed it down there I would have two very annoyed relatives to deal with.  Oh the frustration!  White Tailed Plover is one of those birds you look at in The Collins Guide and dream that you may see one day.  I love waders and this one is so striking.  I crossed everything that maybe it would hang around a few days so I could see it when I took her home.  Thus avoiding an international incident indoors. 

Sadly it was not to be, the dratted bird flew overnight.  That I could deal with but the rotten thing flew west not east and ended up at Slimbridge.  How damn inconsiderate of it not to come to Norfolk.  The cheek of the bird!  However I am so happy for Sam that he found the bird, and also thrilled for Howard and Rainham.  Rainham will always be home to me, nothing will or could ever replace it for me.

The second event was an encounter with The Gamekeeper while I was walking Action Dog out at the lake.  She told me she would be getting some new birds soon and that I would have to stay out of the wood for a while whilst they settle in.  Oh drat!  What a sinking feeling that caused.  There I was saying 'oh yes of course, yes I understand' while thinking 'shit shit shit'.  I am going to miss it soooo much.  Still it IS private land and I know I am really fortunate that I am allowed to walk there.  But ohhhh I don't want to stay away.

This morning I noticed that something has taken up residence in my pretty nestbox which my friend Gill gave me.  I had hung it in a tree temporarily until I could get Hairy Hubby to put it up properly.  I think they are wasps.  I hope they are bees.  I used to think I knew a wasp from a bee until I started hanging around with people who know all sorts of stuff about insects.  Then I found out I actually knew nothing.  Unless its a fat bee that is, I can do fat bees. 

They are clearly building a nest in there, you can see it blocking part of the entrance.  It's quite exciting really, knowing something is setting up home in your garden.  I would like to watch the comings and goings.  Sadly Hairy Hubby (who is usually right about these things) has ideas about a couple of cans of fly spray and a bit of mass murder.  I suppose he is right because if one of the Grandkids gets stung I will feel terrible but I really would like to keep it there.  I am hoping they are bees so I can gain moral high ground and hope for the best.  I am going to email  a friend and get confirmation later.

It's a wasp isn't it?

Monday, 5 July 2010

A River Adventure

Yesterday afternoon news broke of a River Warbler somewhere near Norwich.  Naturally as I am now a local I was eagerly waiting for news of the exact site.  After waiting what seemed like ages I decided to go get a healthy dinner.  One leisurely bag of chips and curry sauce later, enjoyed next to the bridge at Potter Heigham, I returned home and checked Birdguides.  Access was sorted and details published so I quickly got out my trusty Satnav 'Betty' to see if I could get there in time.  Great it was only half an hour away. 

I grabbed scope bins and the £2 fee to get into the private field and headed off with 'Betty' to grab a tick.  Feeling very smug I sped along country lanes directed by Betty thinking to myself that this twitching lark was a breeze and what did I used to think was so stressful about it.  Until that was Betty announced 'In half a mile board ferry'  WHAT????  Screech to a halt.  What bloomin' ferry?  Oh God the Reedham River ferry.  Oops, here I was ten minutes away from the twitch and on the wrong side of the river with no money apart from my gate money.  I had a look at my A-Z and could not see another crossing apart from Great Yarmouth which would basically mean me going home and starting again.  I drove down to the ferry point hoping to find someone to give me advice and spotted a pub.  You can't beat a good pub I always say.

I dashed panting into the main bar and announced 'Is anyone here local and can help me with some directions'  Luckily two guys volunteered to assist.  I was almost tearing my hair out when they told me I would have to do a 45 minute diversion to get accross the river.  I could have screamed!  One of them even reprogrammed Betty not to take me over ferrys again.  A bit like closing the stable door etc but it was kind of him.  Their faces were a picture when I told them what I was going to Thorpe for.  Then one of them said the immortal words 'Hold on love, let me see who is on the ferry tonight'.  Talk about cross everything and pray to the god of birding.  He came back 5 mins later with a smile and said 'Drive onto the ferry and tell them you are a friend of Mark's'.  I could have kissed him.  But I didn't!

So I blagged my way onto the ferry for free.  The guy running it gave me a strange knowing look.  He must have been thinking 'bloody lunatic twitchers'  I have always wanted to go over the Reedham Ferry but never quite thought it would be under those circumstances!  I was whooping with joy when I drove off.  With hindsight I really should have closed the car window, they could probably hear me in the pub!

I got the the twitch site at about 7.45.  There were several hundred people there already.  I paid my £2 fee to the sweet little girl holding a bucket, thinking that her Mummy and Daddy were going to become rich that night.  Maybe they are giving it all to charity, I did not stop to ask to be honest.  I quickly parked up and joined the throng to find that not only was the bird not showing but views were very limited by bushes but mostly by very tall men with very tall scopes.  Maybe I should have worn my 6" heels, at least if they did not help me see over heads I could have stamped on a few people to get closer!  No, not really, I could never turn up to a twitch in heels, it would ruin what little credibility I gain as a lady birder by having decent bins and scope. 

I desperately scanned the crowd for an even vaguely familiar face but drew a blank.  I really hate being totally alone in a huge crowd of twitchers, it is not only boring but so much harder to see the bird when you are alone.  More pairs of eyes are always better.  I also feel that as a woman I stick out like a sore thumb when I am alone.  I managed to get talking to a couple of local birders so that helped a bit.  I am not totally sure they really wanted to talk to me but it was better than the alternative!  It did prove to me that there are Norfolk birders out there, you just have to go on a twitch to find them because they are never in evidence any other time.  All I ever find when I am out in the field are Yorkshiremen on holiday.

At 8.50, almost at the time predicted by my new best friends for the evening, the bird started to sing.  The tall men at the front could all see it in their scopes.  I could not even see the bush.  After about 10 mins of cursing and muttering to myself, while standing on tiptoes with my scope as high as I could get it, a very nice man in front of me took pity on me and offered to let me see in his scope.  Result!  I love that feeling of relief when you finally see the bird.  It makes all the drama worth it.  They were not stunning views, the bird was inside the bush but I saw the supercillium and most other body parts although not all at once.

It became apparent that even if the bird came out in plain view there was no way I was going to see it over all the shoulders and baseball caps so I decided to head for home.  As I walked away there was a fantastic sunset which was a great way to top off the adventure.  I was quite glad I left when I did because the roads home were mostly unlit so it was better to have a little daylight.  Plus I got home before 10pm thus not pushing my strained luck too far.

Looking back I can't beleive how much I pushed my luck, bursting into the pub, blagging the ferry and then attaching myself to some poor unsuspecting locals.  I should really be blushing with shame.  But I'm not...I am writing the tick in my book and grinning from ear to ear!

Ps if I can find a picture of the bird I will post it here but I will be amazed if anyone got one!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

New Obsessions

It looks like I have won the Butterfly battle.  He is still visiting but has not been seen looking smug on top of the feeding station for a few days.  He just has to content himself with the seed I scatter on the ground.  I have also noticed the feeder seed does not go down as fast now too which is a big bonus!

The new battle is the gnats, midges, mozzies, whatever you want to call them.  I have every flying insect known to these shores in my garden.  Keeping them away is becoming my new obsession.  Massive amounts my time is currently being spent spraying rooms and myself and treating bites.  It's not a lot of fun and I am considering buying a beekeepers outfit to wear for the whole summer.

I can't think where all the mozzies come from......

I went for a boat ride on the Broad with a friend this week.  While we were waiting to cast off I spotted a Bittern flying past.  Naturally the birder in me took over and forgetting I was in non-birder company I jumped up and loudly stated 'Bittern flying left!'  Not only did the people around me look at me like I was a loony but the guy who was going to do the tour looked doubtful and said 'I think it was a Marsh Harrier'  Still in birding mode I dug an even deeper hole for myself by telling him far too forcefully that no it was most certainly a Bittern, it was barrel chested and was not flying right for a Harrier.  I did not mention that at that short distance you would have to blind to mistake a Bittern for a Harrier!  Later in the tour he told us how Common Terns dive for dragonflies and misidentified a coot as a grebe, saying the chicks looked like baby Coots.  Probably because they were Coots but what he meant was Moorhens.  So he could not tell a Coot from a Grebe or a Moorhen from a Coot...hmmm.....no wonder he could not tell a Bittern from a Harrier!  I was very well behaved and kept very quiet.  My friend said she knew he must be wrong cos I wasn't saying anything!

On the way out of the place I spotted some tiny chicks running along the hedge line.  They must have been Partridge or Pheasant, I have not discovered which yet but they were tiny, perhaps two thirds of the size of a newly hatched duckling. There were about 8 or more of them all running along and trying to get into the long grass and under the Beech hedge.  So sweet, I have never seen such tiny chicks before.  They were only about 10 feet away from us but I could not get my friend onto them, probably because she is not used to getting her eye into things like that.  We ended up on our hands and knees peering under the hedge trying to see them.  Lets hope no one was looking.  Especially anyone who heard my 'Bittern' outburst!

"Gentleman Jim"  aka the scene of the crime!