Tuesday, 31 December 2019

Last Post of 2019

I have been busy busy in the past few months, hence the lack of recent posts. It is a simple fact that those who do most have least time to post on their blogs.

It has been a very dry warm spring in Canberra after a long dry winter. This has resulted in fewer birds breeding and those that have bred have fewer young than in years of more amenable weather. All of the bush in south-east Australia is now either burnt or under threat of fire, millions of animals and plants are being destroyed and the small proportion of unburnt habitat left will be too small to harbour decent sizes of populations from which to restock the wider damaged area. It will take decades if not hundreds of years for the forests to regenerate and their whole ecosystems to recover.

So that is how 2019 is ending here.

I'll leave with a video of the rosellas in my garden enjoying the water I provide for them.

It's good to share and look after friends.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Western Isles textures

This is a follow on from the previous post, showing some detail of the islands of Lewis, Harris, Berneray and North Uist. I've not added any captions, the pictures speak for themselves. If you are inspired to go and visit the islands, please just go and explore, and find your own little details. It is much more fun than following selfie trails.

Find you own life.












A yellow flag to finish - a symbol of island summer.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Hebridean Reflections

This is a set of photographs taken during a couple of weeks I took out in the Western Isles last summer. I have only now had time to go through the shots as I have been in the field non-stop since. Now that I am back in Canberra I am busy monitoring the Tawny Frogmouths in my study area. It is ironic that I seem to upload fewer posts when I am busy out studying wildlife.

This is on the Atlantic shore of Lewis, the wild side, with big waves and a rough coastline.

Dry stone walls, over a metre thick were infilled with turf to isolate the inhabitants from the wild Atlantic wind.

The islands are still clean and rich in wildlife, such a pleasant refuge from so much worldwide human filth and destruction.

The only sounds were the soft sis of the wind through the grass and the distant sis of the waves rolling sand up and down the beach below.

What a site the iron age builders chose for this magnificent stronghold. Location, location, location.

Even older than Dun Carloway, these stones were erected in the Bronze Age. The site they stand on in the quiet western moors of Lewis is so atmospheric with views for miles and miles -  the more famous Stonehenge is surrounded by busy cross-country roads. Location, location.

This was once one the quietest beaches in Harris, but now it is covered by footprints. I went there late in the evening to avoid the heavy traffic out to the end of the twisting single track road during the day.

Loch Mharaig, north Harris.

A quite sheltered inlet of the larger Loch Seaforth. Who once lived in that cottage, was anyone ever born there? Island life has changed, has always changed and will always change.

I have been to this spot many a time and seen it in all types of weather; snow, wind, rain and sunshine, but even I had to stop and take one more photograph this day. The light was so stunning.

Sheep are a vital part of life in the Western Isles, their wool is made into Harris Tweed. And the sheep gates are part of island life too. I will upload a set of photographs of the variety of sheep gates on my ByMyEy blog site soon.

There are scores of islands in the Western Isles archipelago, so boats and ferries are a necessary part of island life. And a great way to see wildlife.

Many of the islands are mere skerries, and a multitude of rocks hide below the surface. So, the ferry takes a long meandering course through the maze, providing me with great views of terns, gannets and guillemots fishing, seals lying up on the rocks and an otter scampering over a skerry.

Open skies, seascapes and miles of open hill to roam over. A true wild place.

These hills, moors and lochs provide habitat for thriving populations of golden eagles, white-tailed sea-eagles, hen harriers, short-eared owls, red-throated divers and otters.

Generations of islanders' remains lie beneath these rows of lichen-clad headstones. A high wall surrounds the ground to keep the sheep out and the grassy sward is speckled with wild flowers. Skylarks fill the air.

The beaches on the eastern, sheltered side, of the islands are calm, shallow-pitched and they form good habitat for waders, such as ringed plover, which nest up between the spring tide-line and the soft machair, the rich sand-based grasslands of the islands.

There were hooded crows nesting on the ramparts; lapwing, redshank, ringed plover, curlew and oystercatcher all had chicks hiding in the grasses and sedges, and a corncrake was calling from the iris beds.

Grey and common seals swim here and lie up on the rocks at low tide. Otters swim by too.

The trill of oystercatchers is the morning chorus.

Thank you Al and Jo for your wonderful hospitality.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Last days in the Highlands - 2019


Two images of Coire an t-Sneachda in the Cairngorms. The shot on the left above was taken in the first week of May this year when I first arrived in Scotland. The second was taken in the first week of July, just before I left. I spent the last few days of my trip counting broods of ptarmigan in various hills in the area, as part of a long-term study of ptarmigan breeding numbers.

Most of the ptarmigan chicks were about three weeks old, like the one above. It looks well feathered, although there is still a lot of downy feathers beneath the newly grown body and flight feathers. They grow a set of juvenile wing feathers in their first week, which enables them to fly short distances away from predators, even at such a young age. The feathers on their back help to keep them waterproof; hence warm and dry.

This adult female was watching over her brood as I approached. Three of the chicks flew about 100m around the hillside, three remained hiding in the herbage. Different adoption of tactics, which in itself is a good strategy for at least some of a brood to escape a predator. Once I moved on, she began calling them up and the whole brood were soon gathered together again and carried on feeding.

This was one of the chicks that stayed in hiding. It was only two metres from me, and so were the other two. They were very difficult to pick out as they lay motionless, watching me all the time, ready to fly if they had to.

Watching, relying on camouflage, seemingly casual, but underneath its legs would have been ready to jump and its wings ready to burst into rapid flight.

So I left them all to carry on as they were. They seldom wander more than a few metres from rocks. Such is their well-adapted lifestyle. By sitting close to rocks they blend in so well, looking like just another moss-covered rock.

And there are lots of moss-covered rocks in the hills.

Like those in this high spring above a corrie. The mosses drape down the waterline for over 100m, creating a rich wet flush of plant growth. This is a good feeding habitat for ptarmigan chicks which eat the moss capsules, the flower and leaf buds of waterside herbs and insects that live in the rich ground and water cover. There are two dominant colours in this spring, green and red.

The lush green cushions are of Philonotis fontana, the well-named Apple Fountain Moss.

The bright green of this moss stands out bright on the hillsides, always attracting my eye. Yet when looked at more closely, the details of the moss leaves and capules are even more enchanting.

And its partner, the red liverwort, Scapania undulata, Water Earwort. Such a wonderful name. Those folds of lobes are full of water and the whole, both the green and red cushions, are very spongy.

There were lots of cranefly, Tipula monata, walking over the mosses and liverworts; excellent food for young ptarmigan.

A wonderful little piece of specialist habitat in a special place, the Cairngorms.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Miscellaneous Finnmark wildlife

Following on from the previous post, here is a selection of other wildlife bits and pieces that I photographed while wandering about Finnmark. This opening shot is a general one of the landscape. There is a mosaic of large and small lakes nestled in glaciated hollows. These lakes are fringed with various types of mire, or the basins can be entirely filled by mire. The lakes are used by diving ducks such as Tufted Duck and Goldeneye and the mires are used by breeding waders such as Wood Sandpiper, Reeve and Broad-billed Sandpiper. The hills and ridges are clothed with Birch woods and are typically used by breeding Willow Warblers, Red-spotted Bluethroats and Willow Grouse.

The Birches, Mountain Birch Betula pubescens ssp. tortuosa, are twisted and grow as if coppiced at the base. They are well spaced with dwarf birch and willow, and lichen-rich heath between.

Some of the birches have grown into marvellous shapes, and they must be very old. Perhaps it is hundreds of years since the seeds germinated.

There were lots of these Cranberry Fritillary Bolaria aquilonaris butterflies sunning themselves on the lichen covered gaps between the trees. Or I think that is what they are, if anyone knows better, please advise.

The butterfly's body was covered with long hairs, an adaptation to life in high northern forests, where it can be cold at any time of year.

Another butterfly that was flying at the same time was this Arctic Ringlet Erebia disa. Several of these were flitting over and landing on the mires, the type which was dominated by a carpet of sphagnum moss with abundant stems of Hare's Tail Cotton Grass Eriphorum vaginatum, a food plant for the larvae.

Another plant that grows in the woodland is Juniper Juniperus communis. These small trees are probably as old as the birches if not older, but not all those grey stems are juniper, there is a Greenshank Tringa nebularia sitting on its nest at the base of this one.

Down in the valleys there are hay meadows, and most have a rich yellow cast of buttercups. And some also have stands of Globeflower Trollus europaeus. They like the rich wet soils on the flat open fields.

And next to one field rich with Globeflower, I found a large stand of Tall Jacob's Ladder Polemonium acutiflorum, a stunning plant of wet rich soil, and typically found in old hay meadows in northen Scandinavia. It reminded me of Himalayan Blue Poppy.

Simple beauty.