Little egrets, again


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It seems Little egrets (Egretta garzetta) are rather partial to southern England as I saw several during my holiday in East Sussex last week, at Rye Harbour Nature Reserve and in the fields behind Winchelsea Beach.

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We also get Little egrets in Wales, of course, and I’ve blogged about them before, when there were two visiting a Cardiff lake last July, but I was delighted to get much closer to one particular bird last Saturday at Cuckmere Haven. The weather was glorious, and people were out in droves to enjoy the almost-summery day, but this lovely little bird simply moved slightly further away as they passed, then returned to the well-trodden grassy path to continue probing for earthworms and miscellaneous insects.

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Wild words: chalk


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Chalk: noun; ‘a white soft earthy limestone (calcium carbonate) formed from the skeletal remains of sea creatures’, according to the Oxford Dictionary, though that seems a relatively simplistic explanation to me. I chose chalk as this week’s word as I was in East Sussex last week and had occasion twice to see the magnificent chalk cliffs known as the Seven Sisters, once at Birling Gap in a howling gale and again, at Cuckmere Haven, on a day that felt like summer had come early to southern England.

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The Discovering Fossils website has this to say about the chalk at the Seven Sisters:

The Chalk at Seven Sisters belongs to the Upper Chalk, and was deposited during the Coniacian and Santonian stages of the Late Cretaceous epoch between 87-84 million years ago (mya). At this time Seven Sisters and much of Great Britain, along with Europe, lay beneath a relatively shallow sea around 40°N of the equator, on an equivalent latitude to the Mediterranean Sea today.

And you can read more about the fascinating process of chalk formation here.

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Drake domination


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So it’s not just in the world of human beings that males dominate females. No, I’m not climbing on my soapbox – I’m referring to the recently published results of surveys of European and North African populations of Pochard (Aythya ferina), which have indicated that, over a 16-year period, the proportion of males to females has increased significantly in favour of the males. You can read more about the research here.

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Goosie, goosie, goosander


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Officially Mergus merganser – the name merganser is a hybrid eighteenth-century word obtained from the Latin root merg-, meaning ‘diving’, and anser, meaning ‘goose’, this beautiful bird is the Goosander. It used to be known as the Common merganser, and I’ve noticed some birders still call it that – old habits…. The bird has a ton of other vernacular names, like, from Sussex, dun diver; green-headed goosander, harle, and jacksaw, in Yorkshire; land cormorant (in Dublin); in Shropshire, pied wigeon; and, in Orkney, rantock. And then there are the understandable references to that long serrated ‘all the better to catch fish with’ bill: sawbill, in Stirlingshire; sawneb, from Aberdeenshire; and, from Suffolk, sawyer.

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Female above, male below

Their fish-catching habit is why Goosanders have often been persecuted, particularly by the fishermen who think the birds are theirs for the catching. Fortunately, the bird’s population has, thus far, not suffered unduly from this persecution and, from 1871, the year they were first known to have bred in Britain, the Goosander has gradually colonised most of Scotland and spread through much of England and Wales.

Britain has another merganser, Mergus serrator, the Red-breasted merganser, and the two species can be hard to tell apart. But the main thing to note is location – Goosanders are mostly freshwater birds and can be seen year round on rivers and lakes in many parts of Britain, whereas Red-breasted mergansers, although equally at home in fresh- and salt-water locations, are mostly seen in the winter months in coastal areas.

Spring messenger


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Not only was it the favourite flower of William Wordsworth (who wrote three poems about it) and considered to be a herbal remedy for haemorrhoids (due to the shape of its roots), but the pretty Lesser celandine (was Ranunculus ficaria, now Ficaria verna) is one of the first floral heralds of spring.

The flowers are supposed to appear around the same time that the Swallows arrive back in Britain (hence the name Celandine, which comes from the Greek chelidon, meaning Swallow) (flower and bird are out of sync this year, though) so we need to keep our eyes on the skies, as well as on the ground.

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