Monday, 28 February 2011

Another wader slips on

Two Oystercatchers clearly visible from the Plateau at The Lodge. The above shot digiscoped with the mighty power of my Swarovski! Below you can see where Derek's Whites Eggs Pit is as viewed from our spot on the Plateau (its the watery streak in the middle-distance).

Ringed Plover, LRP, and Common Sand will surely be next...

Saturday, 26 February 2011

I had a dream

I woke up in a panic the other day, convinced that Darren had come back from a bout of ill health (BirdTrack-Challenge-stress induced?) to find that his colleagues had recorded another 14 bird species in his absence... and consequently the Lodgers shot into a sizeable lead in the blink of an eye! I guess my nightmare could still come true as I notice Dunlin hasn't made it on to the Lodge list yet (despite being new for the Lodge master list?) ;-)

Back in the real world, Nunnery Lakes uber-lister John Marchant weighed in with his first contribution to the list on Friday: Oystercatcher - right on cue. John is a purist when it comes to Lakes listing - he doesn't live close enough to Thetford for pre-work / weekend visits (a.k.a 'cheating'!); his momentous list of 163 has been amassed almost exclusively in lunch-hours. John's number one Lakes bogey-bird is Peregrine... we could do with that one falling in 2011.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Springing into action

The BTO seem to be monopolising the obscure species count at the moment, so in retaliation here's possibly the smallest species we'll record at the lodge this year, the springtail Entomobrya albocincta (1.5mm long)
Entomobrya albocincta

Thursday, 24 February 2011

I love the smell of garlic in the morning

The instructions were quite clear 'To detect the odour, prod the animal gently...' I duly obliged and was then aware of a pronounced smell of garlic. Who'd have thought it, a snail that comes ready-garlicked!

And so the BTO has started on the land-based molluscs, a new group for me and so it is going to be a slow learning curve. With Cepaea nemoralis and Helix aspersa dealt with, and quickly discovering that you can't key out most juvenile snails, I tackled the small, flattened snail that had come from the old ruin. It quite readily keyed out to an Oxychilus species (one of four), the spire shape and ground colour suggesting it was one of two possibilities. Only one of these produces a pronounced smell of garlic when agitated (one other produces a fainter smell sometimes) and this, together with the development of the whorls, told me it was Oxychilus alliarius - needless to say this is the most widespread of these small snails.

What next? A trout that when prodded smells of orange, a freshwater shrimp that comes ready potted or a lamb that smells of mint (of course, can't count the lamb it isn't a wild animal).

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Derek's kicking off...

Derek White's (huntin', shootin', killin') GP still looks great but sadly, still just as far away from the Lodge. 'Scoping from the plateau revealed some waders - two Redshank and two Dunlin. The latter being new for the challenge. Still waiting for the Oycs though.

Also a Little Egret fly by but nothing among the Greylags today - PF and WF around locally. At the weekend, a Bittern was seen at Warren Villas but that is goning to be hard to find through the pines.


Monday, 21 February 2011

Spidering begins...

Following on from Mike's blog about other less important invertebrates, he also passed over a couple of spiders to get us started on that major group here at the BTO. Tegenaria duellica (female) from a nest box, and Clubiona lutescens (male) from leaf litter in the grounds. Being a northerner and mostly working on upland and agricultural areas, T. duellica was new to me - how exciting!! And it's not even March yet!

Thursday, 10 February 2011

If at first you don't suck seed...

... make your own nyger feeder!

Since the Lodgers' gripping start on the redpoll front, we've been grilling the modest offering of redpolls (among several hundred Siskin) on the Nunnery Lakes reserve at every opportunity, to no avail. That was until today, however, when I blundered in to our ringing site to fill up the feeders, only to be smacked in the face by a monster Mealy Redpoll that was feeding away quite happily on my home-made nyger feeder. Incredibly, considering my complete lack of fieldcraft on this occasion, it stayed put for the next 5 minutes. Fantastic!

That takes the score to 92.

Since writing this post, a bumper ringing session on Saturday
not only landed us the bird in question (above) but a second one as well...

...posing below with one of its Lesser cousins

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

First Lodge Butterfly

A Red Admiral seen today by myself and Ian Dawson. Photograph courtesy of Ian.

 No bird ticks today, but from a personal perspective, my first Lodge Brambling of the year. For the Moran vs Oakley-Martin war-within-a-war, this puts me on 79 for the year.

(Oh and Nick, after recalculating my Lodge Life List, I'm now on 131 after somehow not including Lesser Whitethroat and Linnet!)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011


Ye ha - the BTO has just chalked up its first 3-tick day since 9th January!

Hot on the heels of this morning's Bewick's Swans (which, incidently, were also seen by birders looking for Hawfinches on the nearby Barnham Cross Common, according to a pager message) came the first Curlew of the year, plus a real bonus in the form of a 2nd-winter Great Black-backed Gull on one of the lakes (both OTL courtesy of Chris Gregory).

Lodgers, read and weep: 91

REAL large white birds... opposed to plastic ones were the reward for a pre-work ringing session on the Nunnery Lakes reserve this morning. 29 Bewick's Swans did us proud (and got me a personal Lakes tick - that's 129 now, Darren!) by flying right overhead whilst we were processing Lesser Redpolls and Bramblings, calling as they went. Fortunately nobody had a bird in their hand at the crucial moment so bins were raised in unison... before we all turned to former Slimbridge volunteer Lucy Wright for confirmation we'd made the right call.

No need for dodgy plastic imitations here!

Lodge Mega!

Walking into work on a beautiful, crisp winter morning failled to yield any year ticks, until that is, I arrived in the gardens and was greeted by these. Pinching myself to ensure that I wasn't dreaming and a quick mental review of the previous night's activities told me I was not suffering an alcohol-induced hallucination!

During the recent freezing conditions, we received many reports of unusual birds in gardens, including Jack Snipe, Bittern, Little Egret and Oystercatcher, but this is one species we did not expect to see.

Luckily, Steve had also arrived early, so was able to obtain evidence of the record, albeit from a distance. As Lodge staff began to arrive, the birds were spooked and soon disappeared. 

Monday, 7 February 2011

Tracking down the big six

A couple of hours over the weekend opened up an opportunity for the BTO to start on the 'Big Six' - the isopod big six that is. Over the course of the year we would expect to turn up the six most commonly recorded and widely distributed woodlice species with, fingers crossed, one or two of the less common ones found as well.

The piece of damp woodland and fen at the top of the BTO reserve was the starting point. Despite the high winds and freshly fallen timber, valour won the day over discretion and a start was made. Working over loose-barked fallen logs I soon had several pots of woodlice, plus a few myriapods, a couple of ground beetles and one specimen of the Black Snail Beetle (Silpha atrata - which, despite its name, also has a red form).

Back at home, radio on and the Saturday afternoon footie for company, I worked through the woodlice, keying them out. Three of the big six were represented in the sample: Porcello scaber, Oniscus asellus and Philoscia muscorum. Also present were two other species. Trichoniscus pusillus agg. and the rather local Ligidium hypnorum. The latter has a SE distribution and is most common SE of a line from the Wash to the Isle of Wight, with a more W distribution S of a line from the Thames to the Severn. RSPB could struggle to get this one but it might well be lurking somewhere around Sandy. If it is then that could be a really good record. It is a species of waterlogged habitats like damp meadows and riverine woodlands, and is surface active.

Trichoniscus pusillus is known to occur in two distinct races, the sexual provisorius and the parthenogenic pusillus. Most authors treat these two races as forms (but Schmalfus (2004) elevates them to full species status) and they are lumped together as T. pusillus agg. by Gregory (2006). Given that Gregory is the Isopod Guru, we'll go with him.

Plans are now afoot to find the remaining three species of the big six!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Can I have a P. please, Bob?

Actually that should read "Can I have a P. please, Chris?" as BTO Reserve Manager Chris Gregory has come up trumps again, this time with 2 Grey Partridge (BTO 2-letter code = P.) heard calling from farmland adjacent to the reserve at dusk today.

Grey Partridge is still reasonably well distributed in the Brecks, albeit at low density... and our neighbouring estate managers swear blind that they don't stock 'English partridge'! Had we had to wait until autumn (I saw 39 !! the day before a big shoot in early October last year) this might have been a dodgy tick but a pair in late winter/early spring is as good as they come!

That pushes the list to 'two fat ladies' - if I'm still allowed to use that bingo call?! - and makes up for me wasting the best part of two hours failing to relocate the 'interesting' white-faced redpoll with clean UTCs that I found yesterday ;-)


No bird ticks at The Lodge today, although the third Red Kite at the reserve this year was nice. Two moths though: Indian Meal Moth, Plodia interpunctella and Pale Brindled Beauty, Phigalia pilosaria have both been seen by Lodge staff.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

I don't suppose we can count....

Gazing out of my window, looking for inspiration on the question of waterbird estimates, my attention was drawn to a corvid mobbing a raptor but disappearing behind some trees. With baited breath I waited for it to emerge - it did.... it was a Buteo .... it had a pale uppertail.... but then it became clear it was far too short-winged for a Rough-legged, and also very pale on the under-carpals. Darn, it's the resident Thetford forest Red-tailed Hawk come to mock us on our year-listing efforts. This goes on Category E (along with Muscovy Duck), to be saved up and used in the case of a draw at the end of the year.

Back to work...

What did I say yesterday?

Having mentioned yesterday the species I thought we may struggle to grip back from the BTO, my colleague Dave Spivack has just been over to my desk to report a flock of 30+ Pink-footed Geese flying over the reserve!

Then at lunchtime, Messrs Bashford, Blain and Oakley-Martin nailed Meadow Pipit at Biggleswade Sewage Works from the plateau at The Lodge, (but no hoped for Grey Wagtail).Steve then had a Yellowhammer over the meadow this afernoon, taking the Lodge total to 84. 

A great start to the month - The Lodge list moves to 84.