False Widow and other household spiders – no threat (Video)

Earlier this year I presented at BettaKultcha (an event I’m a big fan of) on spiders. As the video is up, if you really want to see me talking to a darkened room and a small but appreciative audience, now’s your chance:

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Spurn Point in September Part 2 – Waders, Wheatears and more

After posting exclusively on the wryneck yesterday, this post wraps up the rest of what we spotted.

It was a generally lovely, bright and sunny day, as this little panorama I took halfway down the point shows:

Unfortunately the downside of a bright Autumn or Winter day can be, if the sun is in the wrong direction, lots of back-lighting that makes ID tricky. These Meadow Pipits illustrate the problem:

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High tide had been fairly early, so the sea was well out on the Humber by the time we arrived. Most of the waders were visible only as a distant mass:


Fortunately not all the waders were long gone, and many were preferring life on the fringes.

There were several Golden Plovers wandering the flats:


Female Golden Plover

It’s harder to ID Golden Plovers outside their summer finery, but the large eyes, golden colour, and short bill pretty much give it away.

There were also males coming out of their summer plumage:



Male Golden Plover

As usual, there were plenty of Redshanks moving about:


Redshank and two Golden Plover

There were also seven or eight Little Egrets moving along the point:


Little Egret


Little Egrets

The odd distant Little Ringed Plover could be picked up too:


Little Ringed Plover, looking small, lost and alone


Little Ringed Plover on the move

As always, Spurn is one of the best places to see Curlew and there were a good number around the site:



Of course, every now and again you get back and realise you picked up something you didn’t actually spot in the wild. Sure enough, while casually photographing Golden Plover, I’d managed to catch another bird:



While it’s a little distant and obscured against the background, the longer bill, dumpy body, brown back, black belly, all scream ‘Dunlin’. Probably broken off from that massive flock we mentioned earlier.

This was all on the humber estuary side of the point. On the North Sea side, there was plenty more to see.

A wind-swept and interesting bird of prey caught my eye at one point, posing against the sun:



While I initially thought this could be something more interesting, once it took flight it was clearly a female kestrel. She seemed to be following us along the spit in fact, constantly popping up in front of us hovering and hunting in the dunes. There were actually two or three individuals, and we got decent views all afternoon:

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Another regular sight was one of my favourites, the Wheatear. Like robins these birds are pleasingly photogenic and have a tendency to pose obligingly:

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They weren’t the only birds feeling showy. Having initially been hard to spot, walking back with the sun behind us, the Meadow Pipits were enjoying themselves hunting small insects around the tracks, sand and grasses:

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Back at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust hut the Meadow Pipits were also much more identifiable on the wires too:

????????Swallows were also massing and perhaps thinking about leaving:

Young swallows

Young swallows

Goldfinches were enjoying the autumnal bounty of various seed-heavy plants such as thistles:

Spot the goldfinches

Spot the goldfinches

Finally in the car park, a Spotted Flycatcher was taking a breather from all the September insects he’d been predating:

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All in all, a lovely day out as always. I look forward to my spring 2015 trip.

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Spurn Point in September – Part 1 – The Wryneck

On Friday I had a a trip out to Spurn Point. This had been planned for a while, but took on new and exciting potential when we discovered a Wryneck, a bird I’d never seen, had been showing well for around a week.

Of course, migrants can disappear at any moment so it being there the day before certainly didn’t mean it would be there when we arrived! But as we reached the cafe car park near Sandy Beaches, the number of middle aged men with giant cameras told us the bird was still present.

Starlings, bemused at all this fuss

Starlings, bemused at all this fuss

I’d not bothered to read up on Wrynecks in advance, so initially I dismissed the sparrow-like bird sitting on the roof of the holiday camp club house. But as it dropped down to the fence to a sea of clicking camera shutters, it registered that this was indeed the bird we’d come to see.

Wryneck Spurn, September 2014

Spurn, September 2014

Not that it hung around long, before dropping into the yard:

There's just a space where my wryneck used to be...

There’s just a space where my wryneck used to be…

This may make it seem like it was a bit lost or confused, but wrynecks are predominantly ground-dwelling and, like the Green Woodpecker, mainly eat ants. So a yard like this probably held an abundant food supply.

It eventually came back up and posed obligingly, seemingly unfazed by the banks of cameras. No camera-smashing Hollywood starlet of a bird here, perfectly content.

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Sadly I didn’t get a great pic, but that’s never the point. Just seeing the bird is the thing. I’d love to have a photo that emphasised its tremendous cryptic camouflage. If you want that, I suggest you look at Ellis’ pics of the same bird from earlier in the week.

That’s it on the Wryneck. I’ll have a post up tomorrow with more from the trip.

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Video: Fighting Moorhens

Watched these two fighting for about 5 minutes, and they’d probably been going for a further 5 minutes beforehand. I genuinely thought there would be a fatality.

Feel free to add your comments, especially on what the third bird is doing. I figure it’s either egging them on, or telling the fighters “come on, it’s not worth it, just leave it”


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A Migrant Hawker… And a couple of valuable lessons

I love it when you get lucky with wildlife. I often talk about the good stuff you can see in your garden, and I had a good example this morning when I spotted a dragonfly posing beautifully on a Sea Holly.

I grabbed a couple of photos on my mobile phone just so I had something, then went in and grabbed my camera. I came out, took twenty odd photos, and went in happy I had some good shots.

Now, a couple of times the camera had frozen claiming it hadn’t written to the card properly. But as most seemed to have worked fine I hadn’t worried about it. So I was very unhappy when every picture just gave me this screen:


Not a dragonfly…

Every picture… gone. Two possibilities went through my mind. The card was corrupt, or the camera was broken. One annoying but fairly insignificant, the other expensive and worrisome.

I loaded up my spare memory card and went back outside; the dragonfly was still there. Quietly crossing my fingers I got back in position and took more photos…

A dragonfly!

A dragonfly!

Happily, it was just the card, not the camera.

The dragonfly sat there a while as I took a few more photos:


When I finished, I found myself drawn to actually say “thanks for hanging on” to the dragonfly, who promptly flew away! But I had my photos.

I then tweeted an image stating it was an Azure Hawker, without bothering to check. As soon as I did turn to a reference book, I realised it was a Migrant Hawker, and had to delete the original tweet.

So, the lessons that can be taken from this story:

  1. Don’t ignore error messages on your equipment
  2. Always have a spare memory card
  3. Always check your IDs unless you are 100% certain, and…
  4. Always thank the subjects when you are done!
"I'm ready for my close-up Mr De Mille..."

“I’m ready for my close-up Mr De Mille…”

With a tiny frog last weekend and more dragonflies this, I’m quite certain it would be valuable building a pond in the garden next year. So that’ll add a fun task to blog about!

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Fen Bog and Little Beck Wood

Having finally sorted myself out to join Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, I decided to visit a couple of their reserves; Fen Bog, and Little Beck Wood.

A view south across Fen Bog

A view south across Fen Bog

Unfortunately, the incredibly windy conditions made things a little inhospitable at Fen Bog and most of the birds were keeping a low profile. Plenty could be heard, but nothing seen bar quick low movement. Nor was there any sign of a site speciality, the Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene).

About the only wildlife that made a good showing were the dragonflies, specifically the Keeled Skimmers (Orthetrum coerulescens):

Male Keeled Skimmer, sadly out-of-focus Fen Bog, August 2014

Male Keeled Skimmer, sadly out-of-focus
Fen Bog, August 2014

Female Keeled Skimmer, posing on a rock

Female Keeled Skimmer, posing on a rock


You can learn more about this species via the British Dragonfly Society website.

There was one final sighting at Fen Bog. If you are a trainspotter, it’s a great place to see the steam trains heading to Whitby:


So we moved on to Little Beck Wood, a few miles along the Whitby road. Here the problem wasn’t spotting birds, it was getting them to stay still for photos!

It’s a classic English woodland, and Blue Tit, Great Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Coal Tit, and Great Spotted Woodpecker are all in abundance. Jays were heard but not seen.

Also seen and heard frequently through the woodland was this little bird:


Marsh Tit? Willow Tit? Marsh. No Willow. No Marsh. No...

Marsh Tit? Willow Tit? Marsh. No Willow. No Marsh. No…

This was genuinely the best photo I managed of this active little tit. It was constantly on the move, pausing only once in perfect light and clarity when I had put my camera down!

It’d be easy to assume this was a Coal Tit, but the lack of a white stripe breaking the cap at the back of the neck tells us we are in Marsh/Willow Tit territory.

II bracket them together like that as it was a long time before people realised they are separate species, and identifying which is which is incredibly tricky. There are lots of variations, but all subtle enough to be covered by tricks of the light, normal intra-species variation, and moults, juveniles, male/female differences etc. Fortunately one diagnostic feature that isn’t indistinct is voice. That told us these were undoubtedly Marsh Tits (Poecile palustris). You can listen to recordings HERE.

I’ve written before about the value of listening for birds, and nearly every species I encountered in Little Beck Wood was heard first. It helps you know what sort of movements and locations to look out for.

A nuthatch is another distinctive sounding bird, and it’s a good thing too. They climb about on trees and can be hard to spot at times:


The other really exciting spot in the wood was this magnificent caterpillar:

One hairy caterpillar

One hairy caterpillar


Look! No hands!

Look! No hands!

This hairy little adventurer is the caterpillar of the Vapourer Moth. It’s one I haven’t seen in a long time, so it was a pleasure to find it here.

If you do visit Little Beck Wood it’s worth walking all the way on to Falling Foss, and the lovely cafe by the falls:

Falling Foss

Falling Foss

It’s not  long walk, but it’s got some decent steep hills to negotiate, so good footwear is in order. You can just park near the falls, but that would deny you the excellent woodland walk. Tea and food at Falling Foss Tea Garden will soon revitalise you!

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Pied Wagtails in the garden

I had a little surprise the other day when a Pied Wagtail with a single juvenile dropped briefly into the garden. As common as these birds are today, I still find them quite rare in gardens.

Sadly the weather made it difficult to get a good picture, but you can see them here:


We’re now seeing plenty of baby birds, with the previously mentioned bullfinches, plus Goldfinches, Sparrows and Starlings.


Our bold blackbird with the damaged foot is still around and thriving.


His rival isn’t in great shape either now, having had some form of accident either with a rival or with a predator meaning he now carries his right wing slightly by his side. But he’s alive and can still fly, so he’s doing okay.

The bullfinch males have become tamer than I’ve ever encountered before, and with a little patience it’s possible to watch them from mere feet away. I say patience is required, but sometimes they arrive next to you when you are not looking!

The garden is in great shape, so later this week I’m going to post flowers and bees.

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Baby grebes begging

Yesterday I shared a video of the juvenile grebe hunting for food. He wasn’t getting on that well, but he better learn quickly as his parents now have their hands full with three new chicks, as you see here:

You can just about hear them peeping away. While it’s not visible here, their bare red crown patch is prominent. You can also see that one of the three is much smaller than the other two, which often happens in nests of three hatchlings. Actually there was a size difference in the other two chicks, but that’s not really clear here. Whether all three make it to adulthood we’ll see.

Interestingly one of the adults was later spotted sitting back on the nest. They will at times have three clutches, so it’s not impossible that they are going to breed again.

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Young grebe snorkeling

The grebe family I mentioned on Monday is already progressing. The three new chicks are off Mum’s back, physically if not metaphorically! The result of this is that the older chick is now fending for himself, as you can see in this little video clip. He was so oblivious that he swam up within a foot of me.

You may want to keep the volume low as there was a coot chick next to me calling at a very high pitch and high volume. Ear-piercing.

The behaviour here is one he’d have seen from his parents a lot, and it’s called ‘snorkelling’. The grebe is just keeping an eye out for fish and will dive at any opportunity. Given some of his splashier moments, he may not have quite mastered it yet. He has, since hatching, been one of the splashiest and least competent swimmers I’ve seen for a waterbird. But he’ll learn, and our grebe family seem to have raised at least one chick successfully.

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Derby Cathedral Peregrines

As I was in Derby I decided to have a quick look at the Peregrine Falcons on Derby Cathedral. Sadly I didn’t have my big camera with me, so these are all snapped with a compact. You can see far better images, and video, on their own blog: Derby Cathedral Peregrine Project

So, there is a nest platform that helped encourage the birds to settle, but nothing was visible from ground level:

Nest platform

Nest platform

But we soon spotted one of the adult birds up above:

Distant falcon, ringed for guidance!

Distant falcon, ringed for guidance!

When he later took off (for the neighbouring Jury’s Inn hotel), we realised he actually had prey with him there, a pigeon. You may just make it out in this blurry zoomed image:


We moved a little closer, soon spotting the other adult higher up:

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IMG_0445 IMG_0441

I heartily recommend you go check these wonderful birds out if in Derby. If not, at least check the webcams on their blog.


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