Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Wild goose chase....

Greylag Geese
The Isle of Arran becomes home to around 400 - 500 of geese over the winter particularly around Shiskine although there is a small resident population of geese in Lamlash and Brodick, although they are known to move around. The migrant geese tend to arrive around the end of October and leave again at the end of March.

Even small flocks can make a considerable noise in flight
The geese tend to advertise their presence when flying with the familiar honking sound we can all recognise, however they are quiet and shy when in the fields.

Waddling away from the camera!
Most of the geese are Greylags and arrive from Iceland but mixed in amongst the flock, Pink-footed and Barnacle geese can often be seen. The Greylag is a direct ancestor of domestic geese and is semi tame in large parts of England.  However the visitors to Arran are of the wilder and more shy variety; they take flight at the slightest hint of danger, always at the sight of a camera and as a minimum turn their backs and waddle off in the opposite direction!

In flight
The geese on Arran are tolerated by the farmers which is not the case in many places where they are considered a nuisance, and in fact cause considerable damage and financial loses to the agricultural economy through grazing. But to balance this down side there are a large number of ‘goose tourists’ that bring wider benefits to communities.

Synchronised flying!
The Isle of Islay is invaded by around 35 000 Barnacle geese each year;  with these sorts of numbers arriving yearly, it should not be a surprise that there is a National GooseManagement group and associated policies!

Pink footed geese 
It is legal to shoot Greylag and Pink footed geese at certain times of the year but not Barnacle geese.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Through the window!

Long tailed tits and Blue tit share a feeder

Well the weather truly is horrible today wet, windy and slushy snow, not to mention freezing temperatures.  So the first hour of the day was sat at the kitchen table watching the garden birds whilst hugging a mug of hot coffee.  I have feeders all around my garden, some in more secluded places but the birds actually empty the ones nearest my window first, apparently unperturbed by my presence.

My fat wood pigeon - one of four
The truth of the matter is I spend more on wild bird food in a year than I do feeding my two dogs!  Peanuts are so expensive! The feeding seems to come in waves, often with over 30 birds at a time vying for space, and queuing on the fence. The fat balls are going down well at the moment and I really do need to make some more – another job for the list.

Dunnock picks seed off the snow
The snow makes it more difficult for the ground feeders, so I braved the slushy snow and went out to throw some seed about for them, although most also use the trays I have dotted about.  

Green finch waits on the fence
The green finches were also in abundance today, and the long tailed tits looked decidedly wet!  

Long tailed tit having a bad feather day!
There is much high drama around the feeders and it can get quite vicious as birds protect their food.

Protecting their feeder from any other takers!
Meanwhile, as the snow falls, one of my regular chaffinches snacks from a tray, he's easy to recognise as he has extra white in his feathers, particularly around his eyes.

A regular Chaffinch  comes for lunch.
Chaffinches are my most abundant bird, arriving in large flocks and feeding from the ground, seed and nut feeders.  There is quite a variation in the feathers making some quite easy to recognise.

And then of course there are always the ones that got away!!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Snowdrops - the flower of hope

Snowdrops in woodland on Arran
The scientific name is Galanthus nivalis, which means snowy milk white flowers This very delicate little flower is the harbinger of spring across Europe and is found both in the wild, and in gardens.  Its wild habitat is mainly woodland, but it can also be found in meadows, pastures, on stony ground and near water. 

A new Snowdrop 
One of the reasons the snowdrop is popular in gardens is its ability to survive most environments without any interference from the gardener!

Snowdrop - The head emerges and initially stands upright
Now I have to admit being a little confused by the literature on this little plant as it is described in some texts as being ‘near threatened’, yet it is easy to find in most locations and there are millions of plants sold each year in garden centres, but these are of the ‘non threatened’ variety. Overall there are 19 types of snowdrop.

Snowdrop - Drooping into the classic pendant
All snowdrops are found in CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna).  Under this convention, restrictions are put on trade to prevent over harvesting particularly from the wild. 
Snowdrop - The flower head starts to open
In most countries it is illegal to collect bulbs from the wild, although there are a few minor exceptions with a CITES permit. Horticultural nurseries tend to use stock from bulb offsets or seeds with many collected from estates around the UK in a managed way to ensure sustainability. Like most species at risk, it is due to loss of habitat from building and recreational ground.

Now I may have been confused by how threatened, or not, the snowdrop is, but that is nothing compared to trying to decipher the technical description of the flower.  Apparently it does not have petals! 

A Snowdrop has tepals and not petals
So just what are those white things that look just like petals (to me). The flower head is made of 6 perianth segments or tepals. Whatever the bits are called, it is truly beautiful inside.

The leaves are smooth and slender and nearly as tall as the flowering stalk.  Each bulb produces one single flower which initially stands tall before drooping to the classic pendant we all recognise. 

Snowdrops have an attractive centre
These little white pearls hide a beautiful centre which can only be seen if you take the time to grovel on the ground and gently lift the drooping head.  

Snowdrop - the beautiful centre is often missed
The common snowdrop does have some medicinal uses as it contains galanthamine which can be used to treat traumatic injury to the nervous system and Alzheimer’s.  But it also contains lectin which can be used as an insecticide.  So although it may have medicinal properties if large quantities of the plant and bulb were eaten it is poisonous to humans, causing vomiting and diarrhoea. But lets not dwell on unpleasant subjects.  

Gorse bush
Other plants coming into flower include the gorse bush and wild raspberry canes.

Wild raspberry cane
Oh and in doing my research I found out that some places in Scotland do starlight snowdrop walks - how lovely.