Sunday, 6 November 2016

Ravens and Choughs

The penultimate raven count of 2016 was completed this morning, with a total of 146. Not the largest November total, by any means, but respectable enough.
The count began in very poor light, so was quite difficult at first; but eventually the light improved and I was able to relax and enjoy the second half of the hour long count.
As well as Redwings and Fieldfares passing overhead, in the near darkness, there were lots calling from the bracken surrounding my counting spot and as the sun came up, they began leaving in mixed flocks.
The undoubted highlight occurred at around 06:35, when a Short-eared Owl appeared close to me, hunting over the bracken and heather covered slope. Not long after, a female Sparrowhawk glided past me, within a couple of metres, just a foot above the ground and then landed on a fence post about thirty metres away.
No Woodcock were seen flying to roost, but it is early days yet.

What I Did On My Holidays

Last week was spent in Cornwall and as usual for me, I kept a trip list, but was only casually birding. There were a few rarities knocking about, but I only went for two. The first was just down the road from where I was staying. It was an Hudsonian Whimbrel, at Perranuthnoe and had been there a few days before I plodded down there to see it. I only saw one other birder there and he was leaving, when I arrived at just after eight. He told me where he'd seen it last and when I arrived and set up the scope, I soon found it. I had been led to believe that the head markings would be more contrasty than those of a Whimbrel, but to my eyes, they looked just the same. As it didn't fly, while I was there, I didn't see its rump. As Mr Bevan will confirm; I am not a great fan of waders, in general, except when they form large flocks, but I like Whimbrels and this one gave me good views as it picked its way over the rocks.
The only other rarity I tried for was a Red-breasted Flycatcher, in Kenidjack valley. I failed to see it and it wasn't reported again, so must have moved on. Chiff Chaffs were everywhere and at Kenidjack, I was compensated for the lack of the flycatcher, by a lovely pair of Blackcap and my seventh Chough of the holiday. I was lucky with Black Redstart; finding one at Land's End and another at Cape Cornwall.
I only managed one afternoon of what I think of as a wildlife walk. After I had seen the Hudsinian Whimbrel in the morning, I spent the afternoon exploring the valley of the River Hayle, between Relubbus (where I was staying) and St Erth. Again, loads of Chiff Chaffs and so many Goldcrests that I felt sure I must connect with a Firecrest or Yellow-browed Warbler, but alas, that wasn't to be.

I took every opportunity to duck into the wet woodlands surrounding the river and was rewarded by a few interesting (to me, anyway) finds, starting with this Cobalt Crust, just starting to emerge on a dead Willow trunk.

Terana caerulea on dead willow trunk. The trunk is
around 20cm in diameter

Terana caerulea (Cobalt Crust) emerging from dead willow and engulfing a
Honeysuckly stem.

On the same willow (Sallow type) I found this little character wandering about.

I had no idea what it was and even wondered whether it might be some sort of early instar cricket nymph. My question was answered on the next willow, when I came across several clusters of them; large and small, on the bark of living branches. I have since found out that they are the Giant Willow Aphid (Tuberolachnus salignus). The largest of them were pretty big for aphids, the bodies being around 7-8mm long.

Giant Willow Aphid

Not far from St Erth, I almost stepped on this young Newt, which was crossing the path. I think it is a Smooth Newt, but I'm not sure about that.

By the time I was approaching St Erth, dusk was not far off, so I crossed the river and made my way back south towards Relubbus, through a dense ribbon of damp woodland. I came across several species of fungi in there, including this nice clump glowing on a rotting log. I haven't a clue what it is, but it looks good.

A little further along, a sudden explosion in the undergrowth, almost at my feet and a Woodcock shot out and away through the trees. It might have all ended there, but luckily and against all the odds, my heart kept going and I was able to stagger on.
As the path passed another rotting stump, I noticed a tiny flash of pink on it and was delighted to find this Acyria slime mould, in its sporulating stage. The sporangia look great in close up, with the loofa-like tangle of threads, called capillitium, clogged up with the pink spores. I think this might be Acyria denudata, but it would need microscopic examination to be absolutely sure, so I really wish I had collected one of the sporangia, so that I could do just that, but by now, it was getting quite dark and I wasn't sure where the path would end up, so I took the photos and hurried on.

Acyria Sp. Sporangia.

I took my Heath trap with me and ran it twice. Although the  nights were mild, the catches were low and most of the species were what I would expect here. The highlight amongst the moth catch was this Large Ranunculus: it is there; honest.


  1. Good stuff Mark, we were wondering where you were.

  2. Sound like you had a good time Mark and I like the acyria slime mold looks cracking and i get jackdaw flock over aberdare park to and great to watch

  3. Those aphids are big - I found a "herd" last year. Love the slime mold

    1. Apparently, they can be a serious pest in willow biomass plantations. Despite their size, they are easily overlooked, so I will have to keep an eye out for them locally.
      According to the NBN Gateway (hardly an infallible guide) there are no records of it in Cornwall, so I will have to try and find a way of entering the record in a way that it gets onto the national database. MapMate hasn't got aphids and SEWBReCORD is only for South Wales.

  4. A week is too short; but at least I have Norfolk to look forward to, at the end of February.
    I've had what looks like that same Acyria slime mould at Ysguborwen and in that case, I did take a specimen, but haven't looked at it yet.

  5. Amazing stuff and will check willow to