Monday, 28 September 2009

Not a Bird ? Sparsholt College reptile sp.

Anguis fragilis

Anguis fragilis

Taking a short (and much needed?) break from blogging recent avifauna spp. sightings, it is time to include the photo record of a slow worm Anguis fragilis found under felt in the shelter-belt at Sparsholt College on 22nd September 2009 Given the size and colouration of the slow worm (iridescent gold, with black / brown sides and a central dorsal stripe), I would identify it as a juvenile. This slow worm was not the only specimen to be found. However, the first was to swift (!) to be caught when the tin was lifted. The juv. reptile showed its contempt for disturbance by defecating in the hand.

ARKive provides a brief guide to the biology of this reptile, along with some stunning video footage of the sp. Although any information the website provides regarding the slow worms legal status needs to be double-checked against both Natural England and UK Biodiversity Action Plan websites.

The slow worm is protected under Schedule 9 Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981).

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Rare passage migrant, Hayling Island

A juv. pectoral sandpiper Calidris melanotos has showed confidingly on a small pool beside the Hayling Billy coastal path (Hayling Island) for the last three days, whilst these photographs are not the best, they do show the key ID feat. a set of streaks starting at the throat and ending in a sharp cut-off point at the centre of the breast, the belly is unstreaked and noticeably whiter in appearance; legs are yellowish to grey green. This N. American bird is a rare passage migrant in Hampshire, a second bird has also been reported this week at Keyhaven (New Forest).

Friday, 18 September 2009

Random birds of the Orkney Isles

Carduelis flavoristris
A flock of around 40 twite Carduelis flavirostris were seen feeding along the roadside leading down to Savieskaill Bay, Rousay on the 10th September 2009. When flushed the birds would disappear into the sward of neighbouring pasture or hide behind the stone walls, perched on the barbed wire fencing. A resident breeding but declining species on the Orkney Isles - the bird is a UK Red List species.
Carduelis flavirostris
Gavia stellata
The red throated diver Gavia stellata is a SPEC 3 and UK Amber List species. On the Orkney Isles it is a fairly common resident breeding bird, over-wintering in small numbers. Five birds were seen on Peerie Water, Rousay on 11th September 2009 a single bird was also seen fishing on the nearby Muckle Water.
Both Muckle Water and Peerie Water are located within the boundaries of the Rousay SSSI designated area. According to the SSSI citation listed by Scottish Natural Heritage (available via Muckle Water is unusual in that it is a mesotrophic loch of moderate nutrient content located within a nutrient poor landscape of blanket bog. On the other hand Peerie Water is oligotrophic.
The SSSI is also cited for ornithologial importance with regards to the aggregate of breeding birds it hosts, including the red throated diver.
Gavia stellata

Fulmaris glacialis
The Orkney Bird Report 2008 describes the (Northern) Fulmar Fulmaris glacialis as both an "abundant breeding resident and passage visitor" to the islands. This bird was photographed roosting on the cliffs adjacent to the Old Man of Man of Hoy. It is a UK Amber List species.

Pluvialis apricaria
The (European) Golden Plover Pluvialis apricaria is a common winter and passage visitor to Orkney. A very small breeding population (10 pairs) was recorded in the Orkney Bird Report 2008.

Crustaceans ! Cetaceans ! More Orkney wildlife ... and a culinary diversion

Pagurus bernhardus
Common hermit crabs Pagurus bernhardus are not true crabs being more closely related to lobsters: Order Decapoda, Infraorder Anomura (Campbell A., 2005 Philip's Guide to Seashores and Shallow Seas of Britain and Northern Europe. China. Octopus Publishing Group Ltd.).
This hive of hermit crab activity was witnessed from the causeway leading to the Broch of Birsay, West Mainland on the 9th September - the broch itself situated on a sea bound mount and containing fine examples of both Pictish and Norse archaeology as well as a modern automated lighthouse.

Halichoerus grypus

Halichoerus grypus
These grey seals Halichoerus grypus were seen basking on skerries at the Southern end of Linklet Bay on North Ronaldsey on 16th September. Both video's were digi'scoped. I value the "Aaah" factor of both video's at a miminum £5 Sterling! Any higher offers?
A culinary diversion: The island of North Ronaldsey is renowned for the quality of both it's lamb and mutton, the taste of the meat is unique. The sheep of the island closely related to the Soay sheep roam the beaches and skerries at low tide feeding exclusively upon sea weed. A 13 mile stone wall has been long maintained around the coastline of North Ronaldsey, by a committee of farmers - to ensure that the sheep do not advance inland and feed on pasture.
North Ronaldsey sheep feeding on seaweed, note the ringed plover Charadrius hiaticula in the bottom left hand corner at the start of the video. Apologies for the wayward moments at the end.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Rousay, Orkney - seal sp. dilemmas

When I see a seal head bobbing about offshore in UK waters, I generally feel confident in calling the species; after all there are only two seal species found around the coast of Britain aren't there: the grey seal Halichoerus grypus and the common seal Phoco vitulina?

The fact that the grey seal has a distinct "Roman nose" profile and "W" shaped nostrils as opposed to the common seal which has a more rounded head, shorter muzzle and "V" shaped nostrils - should enable reasonable ID certainty in good visibility, shouldn't it?

The seal above, seen swimming offshore of Rousay is obviously a grey seal - the "Roman nose" profile an easily observed and prominent feature.
However, my confidence at ID is instantly undermined when a group of seals are hauled out on distant skerries, basking in the relative warmth of the overcast afternoon sun such as these beasts photographed at Savieskaill Bay, Rousay (photo left).

After all the colour variation appears somewhat wider than the palette described in my crib book - Butler J. Levin A., 1999 2nd Edition. Was it a whale? A handy guide to the marine mammals of the Hebrides. Isle of Mull. Brown and Whittaker.
The seal to the right of the picture shows what appears to be a fairly obvious "Roman profile" whilst the head position of the whiter individual to the left, seems more rounded? And just exactly how are those nostrils set - is that a "V" or a "W"? With the wind blowing both the 'scope and camera the subsequent shake blurs the finer detail. They simply are grey seals aren't they?

Monday, 7 September 2009

Skua drama ! Hamnavoe Bay, Orkney

In Hamnavoe Bay via the ferry crossing (Scrabster, Caithness - Stromness, West Mainland, Orkney) the drama and spectacle unfolded as great skuas Stercorarius skua chased, harassed and bullied the (Northern) gannets Morus bassanus in an attempt to induce the latter into disgorging their crops.
Morus Bassanus
Stercorarius skua
With a big nod to The Lizard Naturally Blog 15th June 2009
Photographs courtesy Alison Hogan

Sunday, 6 September 2009

gannet (Morus Bassanus L.); Dunnet Bay, Scotland

This stunning juvenile (Northern) gannet stood alone on the sands at Dunnet Bay, Dunnet Head, Caithness, Scotland - we watched as it remained unperturbed by closely passing walkers as well as a lone runner with his dog. The bird allowed me to approach within feet of it.

Adds: This seemingly odd behavior of a juv. gannet was witnessed for a second time at Skiall Bay, West Mainland, Orkney a few days later. Neither of the birds appeared distressed in manner or by the proximity of human or dog activity.

Photographs courtesy Alison Hogan