Little Bittern at Lower Moors

I was lucky enough yesterday to get a tipoff from Spider, a resident birder on Scilly who told me that there was a Little Bittern at Lower Moors on St Mary’s. Little Bitterns can be very skulking but this adult female was very obliging.

Little Bitterns are very small herons – the Collins Field Guide describes them as being smaller than a Moorhen. They are agile climbers. Here the female is in hunting mode.

She has seen a fish and pounces

Head right up to swallow

Here is a second sequence of her catching a fish



A head on shot

At last she come right out into the open

This is probably my favourite photograph

Until pretty recently Little Bitterns were considered very rare passage migrants in the UK. In 1984 a pair bred in Yorkshire. Then in 2010 they bred in the Somerset Levels for the first time and have bred there again since.

The Somerset Levels have seen a concerted effort by RSPB, The Wildlife Trust and Natural England to create new and extensive wetland areas and this combined with climate change has attracted Little Bitterns to the UK.

It will be interesting to see how their colonisation develops and whether they spread to the large habitat creation projects in the East Anglian Fens at places such as Wicken Fen, Lakenheath Fen and the Great Fen.

A walk to Watern Tor

Went on a brilliant Dartmoor walk yesterday. Started at the end of Fernworthy reservoir and walked up through the Forest to the moor.

The cathedral of Sitka Spruce before the moor begins

Looking across to the abandoned Teignhead Farm. We then walked up to Sittaford Tor. The moor is currently incredibly dry and consists of miles and miles of the dead leaves of Purple Moor Grass.

From Sittaford Tor we headed up to Quintin’s Man – an old cairn. It’s an odd name and the Legendary Dartmoor website suggests what it means – see here. There are several sites on Dartmoor named Man e.g. Beardown Man but all of these possess / consist of a large standing stone. At Quintin’s Man there is no standing stone and no evidence to suggest there was once one there. So a mystery …. Man probable is a corruption of Maen which is an old word for Stone. Quintin may be derived from the French word quintain meaning a post.

Then along the ridge to Watern Tor – one of my favourites. The Tor is spread over a couple of hundred metres.

Here is the next bit – in the distance on the right is Cosdon Hill, with Hound and Little Hound Tor in front of it. The ridge in the centre distance is Belstone Tor.

This gap in part of Watern Tor has its own name – Thirlstone

From the ridge below Watern Tor you can look back to Grey Wethers which consists of two adjacent large stone circles. In this picture you can see some of the individual stone along with a group of walkers visiting them.

We then walked back to Fernworthy Forest through the old fields that made up Teignhead Farm and crossed the River Teign over the old clapper bridge.

Here is a map showing the route – it was around 9 miles long. It is a pretty straightforwards walk – take a map and compass and navigate using the stone walls. Surprisingly there were very few people on the high moor – we saw six people walking to Sittaford Tor and the distant group at Grey Wethers – apart from that – no one!

First insects of the year

The weather has turned mild and for a few hours yesterday the sun shone. I therefore decided it was time to get the moth trap out again. It has been rested for the last couple of months. I gave it a little service which included that now old fashioned technique of re-wiring the old plug which had become loose.

Only one animal in the trap this morning – a Dotted Border. The adults are on the wing from February to April. This is a male, the female is flightless and has tiny stumpy wings. The caterpillars of the Dotted Border feed on a wide range of deciduous tree leaves. The caterpillars will hatch from their eggs in April and feed until June. The caterpillars will then pupate and over winter until emerging as adults next February. An early spring specialist!

The other animal I found yesterday in the garden was a Western Conifer Seed Bug – the first time I have ever seen one. Originally from Western North America it arrived in Italy a few years ago presumably as a result of ‘world trade’ and has now spread throughout the Continent. It first arrived in Britain in 2007. The larvae and adults feed on the flowers, cones and seeds of various conifers including Scots Pine. As of yet it hasn’t turned into a pest in the UK but it can be a problem in seed nurseries.. For more information on it see here.


The moon, the earth and us

Friday night saw two lunar events – a New Moon and a lunar eclipse.

The February Full Moon is known as a Snow Moon as some native American Indians used this term historically as it was the time of the year when snow was most prevalent in their homeland. It is also known as a Hunger Moon – signifying the time of the year (due to the snow) when it was most difficult to hunt animals which often resulted in periods of malnourishment.

The eclipse, known as a ‘penumbral lunar eclipse’ was a rather subtle affair! It is when the Moon travels through the outer part of the Earth’s shadow and it can be mistaken for a normal full moon. What makes this different from a normal full moon is that at least some part of the full moon will be darker than it typically appears. Here are three photos I took.

This was taken on Friday night at 10.18pm – looks like a normal full moon.

At 12.13am – the top left is perhaps a bit darker?

snow-moon-3At 12.43am (the peak of the eclipse), the top half is darker but it is quite subtle and if I hadn’t known about this phenomena in advance I very much doubt I would have noticed it!

Looking at these photos of the moon reminded me of the NASA pictures taken from space of the earth on the Apollo 8 mission in 1968.

the_earth_seen_from_apollo_17Earth from space
By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans, via Wikimedia Commons

Such pictures changed forever the way we see our world. No longer could it be argued that we were at the centre of the Universe – we were now Spaceship Earth floating in deep space – a biophysical unit and a depiction of nature.

But what is nature and what is now natural in the 21st century? Nature used to be all the processes and phenomena that allowed life on Earth for us and our non-human co-habitees.

Historically nature was thought of as divine, then it became seen more as a creature or a machine which was constant and if disturbed returned to a stable equilibrium (see Daniel Botkin’s Discordant Harmonies and Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature for more on this).

Geologists now tell us we have left the Holocene and have now entered the Anthropocene (see here) – a nature no longer natural but one influenced all be it unwittingly by the actions of humans. Our modification of the climate along with the other forms of pollution and habitat destruction has put us on a course which is now unstable and not in equilibrium to an unknown destination.

It really is now time to take some responsibility for the situation.

Beavers – a book and a survey

I’ve been reading a great little book about the return of the beaver to Scotland written by wildlife writer Jim Crumley. I can really recommend it if you are interested in this amazing animal and the role it can play in shaping and creating wetlands whilst also ‘slowing the flow’.


You might also be interested in participating in a survey being carried out by a researcher, Roger Auster, at the University of Exeter ‘Attitudes Towards Beaver Reintroduction in Great Britain: An Evaluation’

If you want to help with this research press here – it will take you about 10 minutes and you might even win an iPad Mini!