I've seen what I thought were smooth newts in my garden a few times – usually finding them in hollows beneath slabs when lifting them. In that situation they've always looked exactly like small, brown lizards and I even thought that's what they were when I encountered them the very first time. Actually I'm now reconsidering whether they were even smooth newts, but maybe palmate newts instead.

Either way, above is a newt in a tank having been pond dipped (not by me) at a local nature reserve. I'm thinking it's probably a palmate newt – perhaps a female – but if there are any experts out there who can set me straight once and for all I'd really appreciate it. Then I'll go an update my old posts to try to stop spreading disinformation!

A spot of pond dipping with my daughter, at a local nature reserve's summer event, turned up a great find: a bullhead lurking in the mud. It's perhaps 7cm long and quite chunky with a great big head, hence the name bullhead, and the alternative name miller's thumb.

They tend to live at the bottom of fast flowing stony rivers, feeding on invertebrates at dusk. They are very well camouflaged – unless you stick them in a white tray of course – and swim very well.

There is a chrysalis attached to the cabin in my garden, which this very useful page identifies as most likely a large white. That's the butterfly waiting to emerge, not the cabin! I'm really hoping to catch it in the act and am checking a couple of times a day, though it's been there for a couple of weeks already. Reading up on the matter we might expect 10-15 days to pupate during warm weather (they stay inside for months over winter) so hopefully any day now.

If you look closely at the photo you can see a silk thread tying it down to the surface to its left.

I found this red damselfly in my living room, looking knackered, so I picked it up on my finger and put it on a flower outside. It seems to be missing a leg (three on one side, two on the other) and to be honest I'll be surprised if it livened up, but it made a very willing model.

I've tried looking up damselfly species before and frankly it tends to be a long struggle ending in no great certainty, so this time I'm just going to appreciate it for what it is.

More from my wonderful day at Wicken Fen – this time focussing on hobbies. The bird, not the pastime. When I was there the sky was full of them, which was great as I'd never actually seen one before – at least not such that I was sure it wasn't a kestrel. Now I've been well schooled! Up close the colouring and patterns are completely different to a kestrel, but from afar it's probably the wing shape that gives them away best, being long, thin and slightly sickle-shaped at times – bringing to mind a Swift, at least a little bit. Of course the behaviour is another clue.

Delighting in the Latin name Falco subbuteo, they are small and extremely agile, mostly catching insects and other birds on the wing. In fact I even managed to get a picture of one sampling the in-flight food, albeit from afar. Our guide said that they were flying much higher than usual because the dragonflies were late emerging.


Obscure reference: if you have not yet drunk your weak lemon drink, drink it now, for there will not be time later!

04. June 2013 · 1 comment · Categories: Birds, News

I recently enjoyed a wonderful day at Wicken Fen, a National Trust nature reserve in Cambridgeshire. I saw lots of wonderful things (many pictures stacked up for posting here soon) but one of the biggest highlights was to see a common crane flying overhead.

Given there are just a few breeding pairs in the UK this is quite a sight and apparently all the more exciting to see just one. We were on a boat trip down the lode at the time and our guide explained that there was a local pair, usually seen flying together, but to see only one aloft might indicate that they had settled on a nest successfully, with eggs to be cared for. That said, a recent update of the Wicken Fen sightings blog suggests that the pair may have moved on and this is just a lonesome crane. Either way it's great to see such a big bird in our skies.