Elizabeth Mills 2015-10-25 15:18:00

Most of the trees still have their leaves though a big gust brings down lots of golden "pennies from heaven". The young cock pheasants are perfectly colour co-ordinated with the season in their rich new plumage and spend their days squaring up to each other or displaying to the drabber females. We still have plenty of bright nasturtiums cascading over the drystone wall and colourful little cyclamens and cheerful winter pansies and violas brighten up the patio now the geraniums have all been tucked up in the greenhouse. The cats refusing to go out unless the suns shining and mice have learnt that we sometimes forget to put the lids back on the big tubs of birdseed we keep in the shed. In the morning we have to put a big stick in for them to climb up and out which they do very sheepishly. In the picture of the cyclamen you can see a pot full of cowslip seedlings. We just put a pot of compost under a tub with cowslips in and let them self seed as they always seem to come up better from fresh seed.






Blog Post: Meet Holly and Chance

Today, we are proud to introduce to you Holly and Chance, two satellite tagged hen harriers that you can now follow online! Our new ‘Meet the Hen Harriers’ feature on the LIFE Project website ( www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife ) has been set up to feature some of the birds that we are satellite tagging through the project. We are tracking as many hen harriers as we can in order to gain a better understanding of the threats they face and identify the places they are most at risk since numbers have declined dramatically, due to intensive moorland management for grouse shooting and illegal persecution. Satellite tagging also allows us to locate and recover dead harriers in a timely manner which will assist the police and our Investigations Team in cases where the cause of death is suspicious.   More and more individuals will be added as the project progresses, and we hope the public will get involved in their life stories. Already Holly and Chance have been displaying some fascinating migration behaviour! “Holly”, the first female harrier, had her satellite tag fitted in June this year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, assisted by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Police, and was one of three chicks from a nest located on high security MOD land at Coulport. She was named after a member of the production crew from BBC Scotland’s Landward programme, after appearing in a special feature about hen harriers and the threats these birds face from illegal killing. Holly fledged in August and has since left her nest area, moving east into the uplands by Loch Lomond and central Scotland. Holly on tagging day. Photo credit: John Simpson. “Chance” is the second female hen harrier, named by RSPB Scotland, who was tagged in June last year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Chance has provided a wonderful example of how young birds spend their first year. She travelled south from her nest in south west Scotland to the RSPB Wallasea reserve in Essex at the end of October (2014), before crossing the Channel to spend the winter months in the Pays de la Loire region of western France. Chance came back to the UK in spring this year and spent most of the summer in north east England. She has now embarked on her second migration to France, stopping in Wales en route! Chance - photographed at Wallasea last October by Trevor Oakley The maps will be updated every two weeks, showing data two weeks in arrears so that the birds’ exact locations cannot be determined for their safety. Keep tuned!

Leighton Moss

We had a lovely day out at Leighton Moss. We haven't been for ages so it was interesting seeing the improvements being made which were highlighted on Countryfile. Its easy when you are surrounded on all sides by the dense reedbeds to not quite be able to picture what the sight looks like for a bird looking for a good place to overwinter. From the skytower you really realise how big and how attractive the site is to birds, with a variety of feeding and roosting opportunites. Its also just really cool.  Areas of reed have also been cleared and drained temporarily to encourage regeneration and a more open habitat for bitterns to fish in.

Skytower

View from Skytower

Regeneration in reedbed

Pear Rust

I noticed these bright red blotches on a Conference Pear and a William Pear in a friends garden, when I turned over the leaves there were gall like outgrowths on the underside. A quick web search identified it as pear rust caused by the fungus Gymnosporangium sabinae which has spread from the continent in recent years. It lives on pears over summer releasing its spores in autumn and then overwinters on junipers which produce an orange spongy outgrowth from cankers in the bark in spring which reinfect pears. It is most common in humid conditions and seriously affects pear yield on the continent.



Marsh side Field Trip

Picture


Sixteen members and friends met at the RSPB carpark, Marshside, from where the group encamped to Hesketh Road about 1km to the south-west to begin an exploration of the recently developed tidal saltmarsh at the mouth of the Ribble Estuary. The leaders, Phil Smith and Patricia Lockwood, first pointed out a number of young willow bushes growing out of cracks in the concrete seawall. These included the nationally rare Salix×friesiana, as well as a much more frequent hybrid, thought to be Salix ×holosericea (Silky-leaved Osier). 
Descending to the saltmarsh, we were soon trying to unravel the complexities of Salicornia (Glasswort) identification. Four reasonably distinct taxa were quickly found – the red-tinged Purple Glasswort S. ramosissima, bright-green Common Glasswort S. europaea, dull-green Long-stalked Glasswort S. dolichostachya and the golden Yellow Glasswort S. fragilis. A little more searching revealed Common and Lax-flowered Sea-lavenders Limonium vulgare and L. humile, though both had finished flowering. A short walk fortuitously brought us to a specimen of the rare hybrid sea-lavender L. ×neumanii, which still retained many of its distinctive magenta flowers. Phil described his researches with Patricia into the sea-lavenders since 2008, when only a handful of plants were found. This summer, over 230 individuals of the three taxa were recorded. 
Other typical species of the saltmarsh included scattered plants of Sea Purslane Atriplex portulacoides, the ubiquitous Sea Aster Aster tripolium now mainly in seed, Annual Sea-blite Suaeda maritima, Sea Plantain Plantago maritima and the superficially similar Sea Arrow-grass Triglochin maritima. These were growing out of a dense sward of Common Saltmarsh-grass Puccinellia maritima, interspersed with scattered Common Cord-grass Spartina anglica
Returning towards the seawall, we spent some time exploring an accumulation of shell-rich sand where a well-developed strandline supported several plants of Babington’s Orache Atriplex glabriuscula as well as masses of the more usual Spear-leaved Orache A. prostrata and occasional plants of Grass-leaved Orache A. littoralis. Sea Sandwort Honckenya peploides was also a feature of this bank. Closer examination eventually revealed a few specimens of the uncommon hybrid Kattegat Orache Atriplex ×gustafssoniana. Being a plant that most participants had not seen before, this was one of the highlights of the trip. All the target species having been found, the group headed back well pleased with the afternoon’s entertainment.


Philip H. Smith

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Pseudoscorpions

While I was sketching some pine cones something scuttled out and went between the leaves of my sketchbook. It was a tiny pseudoscorpion. They live in leaf litter and inject other tiny creatures with paralyzing venom delivered from their tiny pincers and then cover them with a liquid that soupifys them prior to ingestion. When they think they are under attack they pull everything in and look like a tiny speck of leaf litter. They are incredibly beautiful and its just amazing to watch something so tiny.