Saturday, 27 August 2011

Passing time with Passage Waders at Titchwell

Little Stint, Titchwell Marsh

Ruff, Titchwell Marsh

Curlew Sandpiper, Titchwell Marsh

Real feel of autumn in the air the past week or so. This morning saw me taking our toddler to Home beech for a play and a chance for me to have a very quick squint at the sea where couple of young Gannets could be seen feeding way offshore.

This afternoon I managed an hour at Titchwell on my own. The Fresh Marsh was looking pretty good and absolutely hooching with waders, In the time I spent there I saw 13 species and dipped on Wood Sandpiper. Perhaps the highlights were the juvenile Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers and the mixed winter and summer plumage Spotted Redshanks.

After Titchwell back to the father in laws in Titchwell where we watched a Weasel work its way along one of the flower beds.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Top wildlife moments from Asturias July 2010

Marbled White, Asturias, July 2011.

A little top seven wildlife moments from our recent family holiday in Asturias.

Evening and two Honey Buzzards fly by at eye level, wonderful profile view with lots of lovely plumage detail visible. A brief but classic view and a wonderful moment with nature.

Knowing that there should be raptors somewhere over the distant 'Turbine Ridge' and eventually scoring distant but distinctive views of Griffon's.

The first afternoon butterflying. Warm sunshine, a meadow splashed with purple, yellow, pink white and blue flowers. So much promise and so many Marbled Whites, Clouded Yellows and Meadow Browns.

The first evenings unsuccessful Salamander patrol but the discovery of Glow Worms and churring Nightjars.

A montage memory of rock pools and sea anemones, crabs and shrimps, sandy beaches and jagged rocks, all with our toddlers excited screams and shouts.

Fire Salamanders and then more Fire Salamanders. The relief of finally getting them and then their abundance on that first damp night, followed by time spent photographing them and learning more of their lives by following them on succeeding nights and in chats with our hosts.

West Iberian Painted Frog. The joy of the unexpected. The joy of plunging my hand into a warm, muddy ditch and pulling out a gem of a frog. The rain and wet adding to the experience and then later the buzz of identifying it from photos.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

West Iberian Painted Frog

West Iberian Painted Frog, Asturias, Spain, July 2011

Lets keep the Amphibian vibe going a little longer. Towards the end our holiday I went for a walk along the road that runs beneath La Cumbre and up towards a small chapel. I had a few days before noticed some tadpoles living in a ditch that ran alongside the road. On this evening other than a short burst of Nightjar churring, it was very quiet.

On this evening as I walked past the ditch I flushed one or two frogs, these dived into the mess of overgrown herbs and grass that had been flooded out by the rising muddy water levels in the ditch. Moving quickly I plunged my right hand into the murky water and located one of the frogs pulling it out for a closer look and to take its picture with the small digital compact camera that I had in my pocket. It posed on the tarmac for a few pictures before disappearing back into the ditch.

Looking in Arnold & Ovenden I am pretty certain that this is a West Iberian Painted Frog Disclogossus galganoi. This is based on range, its pointy head shape, patterning and lack of a visible ear drum. A frog lifer!

Monday, 1 August 2011

Fire Salamanders by torchlight

Fire Salamander, Asturias, July 2011.

Before I got into birds I was into Amphibians. As a kid I used to love exploring marshy corners and ponds in search of frogs and newts. Finding these was no mean feat in the concreted over corner of north London where I grew up, but find them I did. I've never lost this love of searching for Herps and on the rare occasions these days that I manage to get somewhere with a less impoverished Reptile and Amphibian than population than the UK's I enjoy the challenge of finding, identifying and photographing the local Herps.

I had a chance to do just this recently on a two week family holiday to the Asturias region of northern Spain [we stayed at ]. The big draw here was Fire Salamander, an amphibian that I had never seen in the wild and which I was told occurred in good numbers around the farm buildings 'after rain'.

So for the first week of our stay I patrolled the bone dry gardens and fields around the farm by torchlight in a fruitless search for Fire Salamanders, turning over every movable stone, log, plank and piece of plastic in the hope of finding a hiding beast. Then it rained and rained some more and out came an army of slugs and snails. But still on my first torchlit circuit no Fire Salamanders. Then half way through my second damp walk round the grounds, just as I was resigning myself to never seeing one of these little black and gold gems, there one was in my torch beam in the middle of the grassy path.

I got down on my hands and knees to get a closer look and to take its photo and spent a happy ten minutes in its company. When I got back to the buildings Fire Salamanders seemed to be everywhere and I watched bemused as two squeezed out of a narrow gap [narrow even for a Salamander] between the stone steps and wall of one of the outbuildings. For the next two or three nights I encountered Salamanders on my nightly patrols, enjoying their company to the sound of cow bells and churring nightjars as a light rain fell on my back.

These Salamanders were of the Asturian race Salamandra salamandra bernardezi which tend to be smaller than other European Fire Salamanders and have adapted to giving birth to a handful of live young.

I was asked by our helpful host Lynn, whether they were poisonous to people and I still think my gut instinct that they would only cause you harm if you rubbed their mucus in your eyes or mouth [an unlikely scenario] is true, I can though find very little online about their toxicology.

Lynn felt that numbers had perhaps declined around the farm and certainly elsewhere on the mountain where chemicals were used on the land and I suspect this allied to the stands of Eucalyptus and Pine where once there would have been native deciduous forest has probably reduced their numbers.

I'll put some more pictures on my Flickr page shortly .