Sunday, 25 August 2013

Dismantling Owl Pellets with the village children.

Great weekend camping with the children up at the village playing fields with many other Ashcott families. Many group activities; BBQ's, rounders, football etc For my contribution I ran a natural history session with the children on the Sunday and we all dismantled owl pellets. 

The children were all really into the activity and spent more than an hour tweaking the pellets apart with tweezers and dissection tools. I gave a prize (*big packet of sweets) to the child who retrieved the most bones and many of the children did a beautiful job cleaning the vole leg bones, shrew skulls and mouse jaws and organising them in their little labelled bags. They became very proficient at identifying the bones in a very short time and it was great to hear them telling each other what they were looking at and sharing particularly interesting finds. Amongst the pellets we found a couple of rat skulls, notably more robust than the mice and voles, and by the end of the session the group of Mum's were left alone focussing intently on their own pellets as the children raced off to play bike zombies, recharged after a quiet sit down.

Note: The swallows that I had previously thought had left for Africa haven't left at all, I have seen them every day this week and in large numbers on the phone lines in the village.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Lyme Regis Rockpools

Great day at Lyme Regis on the Dorset coast. The rock-pools were full of baby prawns, not the shrimps so common on the Essex coast. Many small fish, blenny, shanny and also urchins, anemones and hermit crabs. beautiful clear water and the children snorkelled as the tide came in and we then moved down the beach to hunt under the cliffs for ammonite fossils.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

The summer is waning, the insects are falling.

Grabbed a last few days in Claxton as August creeps on and the quality of light and the departure of the swallows betrays a turning of the seasons and a suggestion that this summer chapter is ending. One of the many small indicators that we have had the best of the season is the number of dead bumblebees I am finding on the ground. In the last week I have found as many as I have found in the rest of the year, just by keeping my eye out, watching the floor and pavement edges. The conservatory at Claxton was littered with dead insects yesterday and I laid out the one day's finds, see beneath. The large white butterflies seem fatally drawn to the warm glass room and lie like fallen blossoms on the windowsills amongst the scattering of flies, moths and bees. Also a possible 'Ringlet Butterfly - Aphantopus hyperanthus (*Third row, far right ?). 

First experiments tonight with my camera extension rings. A lot cheaper than buying a new lens but requiring a lot of light and a steady hand so I will have another go tomorrow in daylight with a tripod. I think this small specimen might be a 'Common carder bee - Bombus pascuorum' and I now plan to photograph all of the bees to help identification and to use as reference for a series of illustrations.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Ted Ellis Norfolk Room - Norwich Castle Museum

Great afternoon in the Norwich Castle Museum with the family. We always spend time spotting animals in the dioramas and then I have to carefully point out the butterflies on the trees and the nightjar hiding on the forest floor. The children then escaped to look at the polar bear, make the stuffed tiger roar and to throw coins down the enormous well in the keep - it's a wonderful museum. I have always loved the dioramas and as a child I used to look closely at them as I walked through the hall on the way to museum club and they haven't changed at all. The quality of the painting is wonderful and the combination of natural history and theatre and the required suspension of disbelief makes them seem familiar and slightly magical, and again I am inspired to paint backdrops within my artwork and to echo this quality.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Vobster Perch - Diving in a flooded quarry.

Great afternoon at Vobster Quay dive centre, nr Shepton Mallet, in Somerset.  I haven't dived here since 2003 when it first opened and I was testing a home-made underwater video camera housing with Ed, who had milled a wonderful and very robust aluminium case. The housing worked and I later I dived with it successfully in St Kilda in the outer Hebrides and got some great footage down to 50m before flooding it, and destroying the camera, at 6m whilst decompressing above the wreck of the Hispania in the sound of Mull later in the same week.

Jason and I explored the flooded quarry workings and man-made artificial wrecks and section of a small ship etc for about 40 minutes. I managed to knock my wide angle lens off the camera and watch it fall into a deep dark pit, but dropping into the gloom I managed to retrieve it from the silt in the very cold water down at 25m. The nicest bit of the dive was towards the end as we explored the flooded quarry slopes in the sunlit, and much warmer, shallow waters at the east end of the site away from the other divers and disturbed silt. The shallows were full of confident and strangely static shoals of perch, mainly young but some large specimens, and fleeting groups of nervous rudd and roach on who's offspring the many perch presumably feast.

Looked hard for the freshwater crayfish that live in the protected quarry, separated from the waterways and the invasive American signal crayfish, but failed to see any. It is small breeding programme, a very large quarry and white clawed crayfish are very small and so my ongoing quest to actually see any UK crayfish anywhere, ever, continues. 'I will find you, you can run but you can't hide', well they can and that's the problem! (Austropotamobius pallipes is an endangered[1] European freshwater crayfish, and the only species of crayfish native to the British Isles. 'white-clawed crayfish' - wikipedia)

Monday, 5 August 2013

The swifts have gone.

We returned from our holiday yesterday and at a BBQ today with Gary he pointed out that the swifts left here a couple of days ago. When We went to Norfolk a week and a half ago there were still groups of swifts still swooping low over the house with their distinctive squeals but sure enough they do seem to be gone. Gary says they arrive each year in the first few days of May and leave on about the 2nd of August. They also seem to have been replaced by wasps.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Cuttlefish Eggs

We found a clump of strange 'weed' on the beach. It was similar to a number of bladder species of seaweed but unusually the bladders were full of water, much like a bunch of grapes. The weed was put in a jam jar to be identified later and then forgotten. A couple of days later I noticed that the jar was full of small white shapes about 10mm long. On close inspection I realised that the grapes must have been cuttlefish eggs as the tiny white forms were miniature cuttlefish but tragically all seemed to be dead. One seemed to possibly be moving so I released them in to the sea with the remaining unhatched eggs. Saddened by this turn of events I can at least recognise that they were probably lost once they washed up on the beach and also learn from this and will know what I am looking at in future if I ever find more.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Shrimpnet finds - Frinton 2013

Things that we found in the sea at Frinton this year : Sand eels, worm pipe-fish, compass jellyfish, sea goosebury, shrimps, prawns, porcelain crabs, shore crabs, cuttlefish eggs, baby dab, shanny, isopods, sea slater, brine shrimps and a dead weever fish on the tideline.