LBJ

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In birder-speak (and, actually, also in mycologist-speak), there’s an oft-used abbreviation for those small brown birds that look very much alike and so can sometimes be difficult to identify: LBJ (Little Brown Job). I think you can see why.

(To be completely honest, not all of these images are from LBJs; some are from BBJs. I won’t ask you to guess what they are.)

Who’s jealous then?

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I wasn’t the only one watching the Great crested grebe fishing at Cardiff Bay wetlands on that sublime autumn day. This juvenile Grey heron flew in half way through the fishing session and settled itself first on one side of the small pool, then on the other.

 

And the heron watched in awe as the grebe caught fish after fish so effortlessly and in such a short space of time.

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I’m sure I detected a look of jealousy, and perhaps hunger, on that wide-eyed face!

Fisher extraordinaire

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It was a lovely late autumn day, with a bit of a nip in the air but gloriously blue skies overhead and still a little heat in the sun. It was the perfect day, in fact, to stand on the boardwalk at Cardiff Bay Wetlands Reserve and watch this Great crested grebe catching itself breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper, all in the space of just 6 minutes (I can tell from the times on my photographs).

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No wonder this successful little fisher-bird was grinning so broadly as it headed into the reeds for a snooze!

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The windhover

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Most of my sightings of Kestrels have been of birds rapidly beating their wings to maintain their incredibly static position in the air as they watch intently for the small mammals they prey on, and this ability to remain almost stationary is the reason for some of their many vernacular names: windhover and windfucker, hoverhawk, wind bivver, wind fanner and stand hawk. (This series of stills was taken recently of a Kestrel doing just that at Lavernock Nature Reserve.)

I was particularly delighted, then, during our recent birding trip to Portland, to do a little hovering of my own – albeit at ground level – as I edged ever closer to a Kestrel that was taking a short break from its almost constant hunting and sheltering from the gusting northerlies on a nearby roof top. What a stunning bird it is!

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Earpick fungus

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During a wander around Cardiff’s Cathays Cemetery last Friday, I found my first Earpick fungi (Auriscalpium vulgare).

Now, you might think Earpick is a very odd name for a fungus – you certainly wouldn’t want to use them to clean your ears out! – but it’s actually quite logical. Auriscalpium is a combination of the Latin words auris, meaning ear, and scalpare, the verb ‘to scratch’. The stem of the fungus certainly does look quite scratchy, as does the underside of the cap, with its mass of tiny cone-shaped rods. And it’s those rods that are the connection to the word ‘ear’ in the fungi’s name – have you ever seen a magnified photo of the sensory hair cells of the human inner ear?

Vulgare just means common, though this fungus is certainly not that – when I checked the biological database for Wales, I found only 10 previous recorded sightings.

These fungi were growing at the base of a conifer but I didn’t realise until I started reading up about them when I got home that the fungi nearly always grow on the rotting cones of pines and other conifers. I didn’t notice any cones but they must have been there, under the moss and grass. Fascinating!

A white-headed Ruff

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The Ruff is another bird I had only seen at a distance, or through the ’scopes of generous birding friends, before our recent birding weekend on Portland, when we got good views of a single Ruff during our stopover at RSPB Lodmoor.

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I have to say this was an odd-looking bird, with a head that seemed far too small for its body – especially on the white-headed winter-plumaged bird we saw – though it did have something of the look of an elegant dandy, with its snowy onesie topped by a splendid brown cape of wings.

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The Ruff (Philomachus pugnax) is a particularly fascinating bird: in the breeding season the males, resplendent in long-feathered collars of red, black or white, perform dance-and-display competitions at specially chosen sites (known as leks) to attract females (known as reeves). And, even more fascinating, there are three different types of male – you can read more about that on the BTO website here. I assume, from its white head that the Lodmoor bird was a ‘satellite’ male but I may be wrong about that. 

Ruffs can look quite hunched much of the time but will stand tall and alert when alarmed about something, as you can from the bird’s stance in the photo on the right above. I hasten to add that it wasn’t alarmed by the birders watching it but something – probably a bird of prey – had caused many of the nearby birds on the reserve to take flight, so the Ruff was keeping an eye on the skies. It also decided at this point that there was safety in numbers and sidled over to stand closer to the other waders nearby.

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Ruff, on the left, with a Lesser yellowlegs and two Greenshanks

The Ruff used to breed quite extensively in Britain but now seldom does. We mostly see these birds as they migrate from their breeding grounds in Scandinavia to their wintering locations in Africa and vice versa, which is a great pity, as I’d certainly like to witness one of their leks some day.

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I’m following a tree: November 2018

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At the end of September, various circumstances combined to prevent me from visiting my Mono (Acer pictum ssp. mono), the tree I’m following this year, but I did manage to pay it a visit on 19 October. And I’m so glad I did, as I managed to get some photos of it in all its autumn glory, before last weekend’s storm-force winds blew most of its leaves off.

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So, here it is on 19 October, a blaze of orange loveliness …

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A closer shot of the leaves still on the tree, and another looking up through the canopy from underneath.

Some close-ups of the leaves on the ground. I love the variety of colours in these.

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And here’s Mono on 2 November, a shadow of its former gloriousness, though what remains is a lighter, more yellow colour than before. It’s interesting to note, too, how more leaves remain on the left side of the tree, presumably because that side is a little more shaded and sheltered.

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Soon, all that will remain will be this carpet of leaves below the tree and skeletal branches above.

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The doubly muddy godwits

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This is the Black-tailed godwit in its winter plumage, a delicate combination of white below and pale beige and grey above, with just a hint of pink from the soft autumn light.

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The Black-tailed godwit used to be much more numerous in Britain, with a strong breeding population. But not any more. Now, although as many as 40,000 birds come from Iceland to over-winter on these isles, just 60 pairs breed here.

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The Back from the Brink project is trying to change that terrifying statistic. By monitoring the nests of existing birds, by protecting them from predators through the installation of electric fences, by providing more areas where the birds can breed, by collecting eggs from at-risk nests and hand-rearing them, the project hopes to ensure Black-tailed godwits have a future in Britain.

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The birds I saw recently at RSPB Lodmoor are almost certainly birds that have bred in Iceland but they all look the same. They are large wading birds, with long beaks they use to probe the mud for snails, worms and insects – the birds I was watching must’ve been hungry as I managed to take a lot of photos with their heads under water! Their scientific name, Limosa limosa, reflects their love of mud – limosa comes from the Latin limus, meaning mud, so these godwits are doubly muddy.

Interestingly, when researching this post I found out that the female Black-tailed godwits have longer beaks than the males, which means they don’t compete for food – a fascinating evolutionary adaption.

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Greenshanks

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As they breed in Scotland and mostly migrate to Africa for the winter (some birds do over-winter in coastal estuaries in Britain), I don’t get to see Greenshanks very often in my part of south Wales. So, it was particularly nice to get quite close, prolonged views of this pair at RSPB Lodmoor recently.

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Tringa nebularia is the Greenshank’s scientific name, which Wikipedia explains as follows:

The genus name Tringa is … based on [the] Ancient Greek trungas, a thrush-sized, white-rumped, tail-bobbing wading bird mentioned by Aristotle. The specific nebularia is from [the] Latin nebula “mist” [which] … refers to the greenshank’s damp marshy habitat.

I’d like to think nebularia also refers to its winter appearance, a ghostly grey-and-white bird wading through mist-wreathed waterways on a chilly winter morning, uttering its short but evocative teu-teu-teu call, or, as Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss more elegantly write in their treasury of daily wildlife encounters, Wonderland:

… on a misty September morning, they have a pale luminosity, white beneath and lichen-grey above with a longish, slightly retroussé bill and greenish legs.

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The greenish legs are, of course, the origin of its common name Greenshank and, though the colour is not always very apparent, you can see the obvious contrast between the Greenshanks’ legs and those of the Lesser yellowlegs in the photo below.

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You can also get a good idea of the Greenshanks’ comparative size in this next photo, which shows, from left to right, a Ruff, the Lesser yellowlegs, two Greenshanks and a Dunlin.

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