Saturday 6 December 2014

Week 46: Winter Sun & Ravens Over Dellfield

Unlike this morning, a number of days this week really have been the epitome of Dickensian, winter gloom. Headlight days, I call them, where, even at midday, cars run on dipped beams. On Monday, in the dusk-like milieu, I walked the length of the moors (from Bulbourne Moor, west, all the way to Dellfield). It was not a day for nice photographs unfortunately, but the bird life was cheerful and absorbing. One of the two regular Little Egrets was in the river on Harding’s Moor; 3 Jays were squabbling with Magpies; Crows fought over some bread one of them had found, and the two young Kingfishers were perched over the river on Bulbourne Meadow, eyes trained on the shallows. Close to the Two Waters Road bridge, a Little Grebe bobbed and dived in the company of a pair of Mallards; flocks of Blackbirds stripped berries from Hawthorns along the canal, and a charm of at least 30 Goldfinches was feeding in Alder trees. The two young Herons were doing their best to look like statues at odd locations on the moors; Robins flitted in and out of bushes, and a Grey Wagtail chirped and flew overhead.

On Wednesday, with clear skies forecast, I rose early, hoping to catch the Oak in the first light of day. With dawning realisation (pun intended), it became apparent that at this time of the year, the Oak doesn’t even glimpse sunlight until at least 11am and, in fact, stands cold, mostly in the shade, until, I’d guess, around 1pm. By 3pm, it is back in full shade. The sun skirts its way around, behind Hay Wood, and then dips behind Westbrook Hay school. So, this week’s Oak photographs are a little different. The first was taken at 10:30am, when the Oak was in full shade but the sun was breaking through the tree tops of Hay Wood, casting long shadows across Dellfield. With some tinkering in photoshop, I came up with this (the original is here)...

Photo-art. Into the Sun. The Oak and Scots Pine with the low Winter sun blazing through from behind Hay Wood

Up on Preston Hill, a Mistle Thrush was bathing in the pond and 2 pairs of Bullfinches and a handful of Redwing darted through the scrub. Into Hay Wood and I found some lovely fungi. New ones to add to the list were a coral-like growth. I think the genus is Ramaria, the species is likely Ramaria Stricta (Upright Coral)? The other was a tiny, delicate but beautiful sessile “cap” of the genus Crepidotus. Both species were growing on dead wood and likely saprobic.

Coral-like fungus (Ramaria Stricta) growing on rotting wood. Max height approx 11cm.

Tiny "caps" growing on dead wood. Approx diameter 7mm
Genus: Crepidotus

As I walked onto Bovingdon Reach, a Red Kite flew up from the grass and lazily rose into the blue skies. By midday, I was walking down through Barnfield meadow and on into Ryders. As I was standing amongst the Limes and furtive bunnies, photographing the view across Dellfield, a pair of large birds caught my eye. I then heard the distinctive “kronk, kronk, kronk” of Ravens (Corvus corax). Through binoculars, it was easy to see the diamond-shaped tail and their sizeable wing-span (similar to a Buzzard’s). Unfortunately, by the time I’d changed lenses, both birds had flown behind the Limes and I failed to get even a decent record shot, much to my annoyance. Still, a great way to end the morning and my first sighting of this species in Hemel or over Trust land.

From Ryders, looking north-east across Dellfield at 12:10pm. Off to my right, a pair of Ravens kronk'ed and drifted west.

On Tuesday 18th November, I'd collected a fresh Barn Owl pellet from Trust land. It was a lot smaller than previous pellets, just 3cm long and about 1.5-2cm wide, which made it ideal for dissection one dark, dank afternoon this week. Interestingly, it contained the fur and bones of just one mammal. A Field Vole (typically 13cm long + tail of 4cm). It provided the perfect opportunity to get an idea of exactly what one of these little fellas consists of...

Frankenstein's Field Vole

From one small Barn Owl pellet (3cm long): the remains of a single Field Vole, crudely and likely inaccurately(!) reconstructed. Scale in mm 

I have no idea how many ribs or vertebrae a Field Vole (Microtus agrestis) is meant to have. Nor do I know which way around the various bones go (i.e. which is left and which is right) but above is my “artisitic impression” of a Field Vole skeleton. It’s not a good sign when you have bones left over (top right hand corner) but my excuse is that you can’t really place damaged and crushed bones very easily (especially when you barely know what you’re doing to begin with!). I'm missing a humerus and the bones of the feet/toes are “absent” or unidentifiable. Anyway, it was an interesting exercise and well worth the time and patience required. (For more detailed info on pellet dissection and bone identification see my previous post).

Field Vole (Microtus agrestis): Jaws & Teeth


If you’d like to see photographs of these little mammals before they get snaffled by Barn Owls, Biodiversity Gatwick were involved in a small mammal survey recently. The relevant post is here and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and browsing their images.

I'll finish off with a photo from my Monday walk and Wednesday's Oak in the shade.

Black-headed Gull on Station Moor footbridge

The Oak in shade at 11:20am


Martin Parr said...

Great work as ever Lucy! Evocative stuff, you are good at this writing lark! Great to hear that the ravens are still about, had them over my house a couple of years back, and over Berko common before that! Excellent work on the reconstruction too, a great job! I like that photoshopped image of the Oak too - did you add the halo or was that free when you filtered the colours? I wouldn't know where to start to do that!

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

Thanks Martin :o)! The photoshopped Oak didn't require too much work. I just applied a gradient filter with the colours I wanted to use and then, yes, had to add the light source/halo effect at the end. Unfortunately, in filtering the colours, I lost the sun so had to put it back in, as it were.
I hope you and your crew are wrapping up warm now down at Maple Lodge!

Martin Parr said...

Many thanks Lucy -I'll have to give that a go on some of my skyed out CR pics!

Yup, got the thermals out this Saturday for the first time. Brrrr!

Anonymous said...

Brilliant skeleton work. You have the patience of a saint and amazing perseverance. Wow! I love the clever picture at the top too. Great work as ever. This is a fantastic blog filled with interesting facts and evidence of your love of nature. From ARF

Lucy @ A Natural Interlude said...

You're very generous, ARF, thank you.