Monday, 30 August 2010

It's a girl!

My pet Vapourer moth caterpillar pupated a couple of weeks ago and today a female moth emerged. Isn't she beautiful. And before you ask, she is meant to be wingless and, as my wife remarked, 'looks like a Wallaby's testicle'.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Whale of a time

Embarked on the Pride of Bilbao on Monday evening in Portsmouth and set sail for Bilbao at 9.30pm hoping to see whales, dolphins and sea birds. We weren't disappointed!

The first morning we woke going around Brittany. The sea watching was fairly quiet with Great and Arctic Skuas sighted along with Manx and Sooty Shearwaters and Gannets. The action was expected to increase as we reached the continental shelf where the depth drops from 150 metres to a whooping 4000 metres!

In the afternoon we spotted our first Whale, just before the deeper water - a 70 tonne Fin Whale.

Fin Whale - the second largest animal on Earth after the Blue Whale.
 Note the two Common Dolphins accompanying this individual.

On our voyage south we fortunately avoided some interesting looking weather. 
We counted five of these vortexes, none of which turned into full blown waterspouts. 
You wouldn't want to be under one that's for sure.

Common Dolphin - once we reached deeper water we saw hundreds
 of these and a few Bottlenose Dolphins........

...........and Tuna...................

...............and Lesser Black-backed Gull.......

....and Manx Shearwater..........

...........and Dutch teenagers.

The first day ended with a beautiful view of the Moon.

On Wednesday we arrived in Bilbao at 7am UK time. The sky was blue and the sunshine warm so it was no easy walk to the local hillside for a spot of birding. But it was worth the effort.

Red-backed Shrike (juvenile)


Clouded Yellow

Jersey Tiger

The hill above the port with good scrub for migrants

The port as seen from the hilltop

Other species seen incuded Griffon Vulture (we counted around 70 from the deck of the ship as we waited to sail), Nightingale, Spotted and Pied Flycatcher, Black Redstart, a dead Quail, Melodious Warbler, Cirl Bunting, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Serin, Whitethroat, Magpie, Buzzard, Raven, Yellow-legged Gull, Stonechat and Cetti's Warbler.

Back on board for midday we sailed at 12.15 am UK time. After an hour we started to cross a deep water canyon called the Capbreton Canyon. The first Whales we saw were Curvier's Beaked Whales. After some early sightings things went very quiet until around 6.30pm when we saw Sperm Whale and a large Whale that was possibly a Bryde's Whale, never recorded in the Bay of Biscay before - the sighting was inconclusive.

On the way back we saw migration in action....................
Willow Warbler on deck - can you spot it?

Willow Warbler (a first year bird)

2 Turtle Doves flew over

Turtle Dove

Sabine's Gull

Comic Tern (Arctic or Common - you decide)

Dunlin landed on deck on the Thursday morning in the English Channel

The Portsmouth to Bilbao route is ending this month but will hopefully resume under a different operator with a suitable vessel (not too fast and with good viewing decks). As and when there is an anouncement on this, it will appear here - Marine Life

And finally, here's something for Tony who I met on the trip ..............

Sunday, 22 August 2010

A Spetchell Place

Pyrausta aurata

By the river Tyne, just south of Prudhoe station is a chalk hill called the "Spetchells". The site was first used by ICI for producing agricultural fertiliser (sulphate and ammonium sulfate). In 1963 this plant closed leaving behind the "Spetchells" chalk hills - heaps of waste product which were subsequently turfed over. Now there aren't many chalk downs in Northumberland but this will do. It's covered in wild flowers, in particular St John's wort and corn mint (Mentha arvensis) , the latter which is the food plant for this rare moth pictured above. This is the only site I'm aware of for them in the county and there were hundreds when I visited. Previously there were only 2 records for the entire county!

The St John's Wort meant I also saw........

Lesser Treble-bar

If you know your plants then this place could hold a few surprises - it needs 'botanising'.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Bright-eyed and bushy tailed!

The Vapourer caterpillar I blogged last week is thriving on it's diet of fresh hawthorn leaves and is looking fantastic - bright-eyed and bushy tailed!

Vapourer caterpillar

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Bay Watch 04/08 - a murder mystery

Along the waggonway the hawthorn is laden with reddening berries and the grass has turned brown. Autumn is just around the corner. The bird song has gone but there's still plenty to see.............

A ripening Waggonway

Along the Waggonway Wood Pigeon feathers shows
some thing enjoyed a good meal. But what exactly?

This photo shows a two Wood Pigeon feathers, one from the above feast (left)
and one found elsewhere (right). The tip on the one on the left shows that it has been bitten through or snapped off - this is typical of a feather that has been removed by a bird of prey with a sharp beak. If it had been bitten through by a weasel then there would be very little quill left. A fox would pluck out the feathers in clumps and the tips would be broken rather than clean cut through. This was most likely a Sparrowhawk kill.

Everything seems to be getting eaten.

My walk took me to Holywell Dene where the dene is little more than a trickle.

Bracket fungi in the dene - dead wood is good wood

A huge privet in flower had well over a thousand bees
collecting pollen from it's flowers.

Here's one of them

An open area in the dene has an excellent profusion
of wild flowers, including loads of..............

Wild Geraniums

Also, Hazel nuts a plenty

Leaving Holywell Dene it was onwards to St Mary's where it was a butterfly fest.......


Small Copper

Common Blue - male

Common Blue - female


Small Tortoiseshell

Small White - male

St Mary's wetland is crammed with thistles attracting 
butterflies and many other nectar feeding insects

View from St Mary's towards Whitley Bay

Verging on the ridiculous. The council at it again, destroying wild flowers 
on the seafront verges at St Mary's. This is an SSSI!

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Caterpillar - quality beast

Vapourer Moth Caterpillar

My wife found this escaping from our brown wheelie bin - presumably it was on some plant trimmings off to the council composter.