I went for a pleasant meander around the RSPB's Rye Meads nature reserve today and though it was dull (as in grey and dreary weather) and there weren't many birds to be seen, I did get this photo of a pair of Mallards, which I rather like.


A couple of pleasant and typically autumnal scenes for you, in case the darkening days are starting to get you down. Both of these are in UKNB's home town of St Albans, so if you're local you might recognise the first one at least.



A few things I've noticed of late:

  • Lots of ladybirds about, especially 7-spot.
  • Garden full of Gatekeeper butterflies all of a sudden, often in pairs. This is their time of year apparently.
  • Slugs and snails living it up in the recent boughts of wetness (and eaten all our courgette plants) though it's still fundamentally dry out there and some plants are struggling.
  • I have a large wasp's nest in the hedge – about the size of a football. I think they're Median wasps, so not the usual sort: bigger but much less agressive and bothersome. I blogged about them once before when I saw a single wasp before I discovered the nest.
  • I saw a Red kite circling above the garden lower than I've seen it before – probably just 50 feet up or so. Their successful comeback seems to continue apace.
  • Smooth newts are easily terrified and they just freeze. They also looks just like little lizards. I found one crawling across my decking the other night – frozen stiff at my sudden appearance. The picture above is a pair I found on a previous occasion.
  • Wasps of all sorts are particularly evident now. Presumably their numbers have swelled as they built up the size of their colonies over recent months. August is traditionally a waspy time of year and before long they'll be drunk on rotten apples.

Excuse the title, but I'm confused. This picture bears many major similarities to a Ruddy duck, but it also displays some jarring not-quite-rightnesses: the beak shape doesn't seem entirely correct, the head not chunky enough and the body plumage doesn't match. But there surely aren't many ducks with a blue bill and black and white head? Perhaps it's a non-UK exotic, since I saw it at Pensthorpe, which might mean all bets are off! Is it a cross-breed, e.g. a Ruddy Mallard? Is that even possible? Answers on a postcard please (or in the comments below).

I figure that the one at the back is a Merganser of some sort.

Answer: no – it's not a Ruddy duck. It is in fact a Puna Teal, native to South America. Thanks to Blackbird for enlightening us all in the comments!

You may have seen the striking male Mandarin duck on a visit to a park, as they are successful in the wild here in the UK, though they are originally from Asia as you might have guessed, with the UK population having grown from escapees. That said, according to Wikipedia and the RSPB (whose numbers don't tally but suggest 1,000 – 7,000 pairs) the UK population may be similar to those in their native homelands, due to exports and loss of habitat.

The BBC doesn't say much about them, but it does have a particularly interesting factoid: they're one of the few ducks that isn't hunted for food, as apparently it tastes really bad!

A Greylag goose specifically, which I learn is the ancestor of most domestic geese, though the RSPB seems a bit sniffy about the majority of them that you find in the UK, apparently being "semi-tame and uninspiring". I suppose that's what made them good as domestic animals.

It's the time of year when damselflies are everywhere, even in my garden with no pond. The one above is a male Red-eyed damselfly that was just one amongst clouds of the things around a lake I recently visited in Norfolk. I had to study my picture closely to check that it wasn't a Small red-eyed damselfly, but I think that the shape and colour pattern of the tail is the giveaway, not to mention I don't remember it being tiny.

I spotted this quite large freshwater mussel in the shallow waters at the edge of a lake in Norfolk. Beneath the gunk it looks like it's probably quite a rich mixture of yellow/green/brown and I suspect it's a member of the Unionidae family as they look very similar. I don't see them very often, though apparently they're very common, especially in canals, though I remember finding a very large shell (perhaps 15cm) at the edge of a lake as a boy.

Update: thanks to Matt/Matthew who comments that it could be a Painter's Mussel (Unio pictorum) and I think he's absolutely right. Apparently the Painter's Mussel is so called because it made a perfect receptable for artists' paint!


At my favourite watery wildlife spot I saw a new critter yesterday, though I knew what they were the minute I saw them: whirligig beetles. There are some great close-up photos and facts on that linked page – well worth a look. My photo above shows how metallic they appear on the surface – seedlike blobs of mercury almost.

I recognised them instantly because they were clearly beetles, and were whizzing around in circles and figures on eight on the surface in a fairly hectic manner. Particularly notable is that they have eyes split into two, for seeing above and below the water (the link above has a particularly good picture of this).


A few things I've noticed of late:

  • Butterflies abound, of many species, but orange tips are particularly noticeable.
  • The cherry blossom has been and gone in a scant couple of weeks. It was blowing down the road today like snow as strong winds whipped in ahead of the storms (which never actually came).
  • Wasps are bigger than I remember. Or is it just queens building their new nests?
  • It's been ridiculously hot and dry and looks set to stay that way for a little while.
  • I've seen lots of frogspawn but that's gone and I don't see any tadpoles.
  • Spiders are everywhere in the last couple of weeks – in the house, in the garden, many varieties, big and small.
  • A lot of the birdlife in the garden has faded away in favour of quarrelling sparrows.