Monday, 27 March 2017

March 27th Titchwell

This morning, Mum and I travelled to Cley for our monthly visit. However, we weren't there for very long. It was a bit foggy and from what we could see from the visitor centre, not a lot out on the pools. So after a bacon butty, we decided to drive all the way along the north Norfolk coastline to Titchwell. A red-flanked bluetail had been reported there over the weekend and I was considering going in the first place. The only reason I decided to go to Cley was because my history with so called 'mega birds' like red-flanked bluetails is full of frustration and disappointment. I didn't want history to repeat itself. But as Cley seemed like a waste of time, our decision to find this mega was final.

Red-flanked Bluetail watching!
Once we arrived at Titchwell, we found out that the bird was still around somewhere along the meadow trail (which is more of a woodland if you asked me). Of course, we weren't the only ones looking for it (another reason why I wanted to avoid this reserve originally). A large crowd lined up the whole length of the trail and around the pond at the other end. Plenty of eyes to help me find it, though the bird had other ideas and was nowhere to be seen. No bluetail, but at least there were chiffchaffs, Cetti's warblers, long-tailed tits and robins to keep us occupied while waiting for it to hopefully turn up.

The crowd continues further beyond this path too!
Goat Willow Catkin

Bearded Tit
After a lunch break, I had another quick scan, but still no sign. A walk along the Sea Wall trail was a lot more productive and satisfying. A flock of bearded tits kept us entertained as I tried my best to keep up with them as I attempted to get some shots of them. This was not an easy task to do as they were moving to quick for me. My struggle just amused everyone around me, including my mum. I had so many directions given to me of each individual bird's whereabouts at once whenever one pops out from within the reeds. Gradually, I managed to get the hang of things and I eventually got some good photos of them.


From the hides overlooking the pools, we saw avocets, knots, ruffs, brent geese, oystercatchers, redshanks, shelducks, a curlew, teal, shovelers, gadwalls, Canada geese, greylag geese, mallards, herring gulls and black-headed gulls.
Brent Goose
Oystercatcher with a muddy bill
Knot and Teal
Red-flanked Bluetail
We were making our way back from the hides, when a volunteer told us that he had been informed via his radio that the bluetail was now showing well at the pond at the other end of the meadow trail. I made my way over there as fast as I could walk and when I got there... it was gone again! The crowd around the pond was massive than it was earlier. Some of them told me they saw it just five minutes ago and that it was still around, though deep within some willow trees. We waited with the crowd for about 5-10 more minutes before it finally showed up and I had a few good views of it between its movements from branch to branch.

What a bird! You can clearly see that blue tail and the orange-red patches on it's flanks that give the bird its name. It looks very robin-like but more exotic. This is a species that breeds in Siberia and winters in South-east Asia, though occasionally the odd one flies in the wrong direction and ends up here in the UK now and then. Just a couple of years ago, I tried to locate the one that appeared at Wells Woods, but it was not a successful search and it actually made me feel like I should never twitch for mega birds ever again. So to see this one here has put a smile on my face and I can finally put those memories of two years ago behind me.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

March 25th Colchester Zoo

Mum and a Lion at Colchester Zoo
Today, I went to Colchester Zoo with Mum as a pre-Mother's Day outing. It was a lovely day and the zoo was packed with families making the most of it. If you have never been, Colchester Zoo is a large zoo in Essex full of the classic zoo animals such as lions, tigers, elephants and many other things you can think of or didn't know existed. It is a great place to play around with my camera. Here are some of the best that I took today...

Komodo Dragon
Sea Lion
Black-footed Penguin
Squirrel Monkey
Rainbow Lorikeet
Ruppell's Griffon Vulture
Crowned Crane
White Rhino with calf
African Elephant
Chilean Flamingo
Short-clawed Otter
Red Panda
King Vulture
Andean Condor
Harris Hawk
Barn Owl

Two-spotted Assassin Bug
While I was here, I thought it would be a great time to discover what the zoo has to offer in it's collection of invertebrates from around the world. Though there weren't an awful lot to see in this category compared to the selection of mammals, birds and even reptiles, it did have a few tarantulas and the odd scorpion, which preferred to hide away from prying eyes, and there was even a colony of leaf-cutter ants, but they were too tiny for my camera to detect. So I have to settle with things that were more obliging and didn't move so much like these two-spotted assassin bugs from West Africa. Assassin bugs may seem really small, but they are deadly predators. They sit and wait for their prey to crawl by, before pouncing at them and stabbing them with their mouthparts that injects powerful enzymes into them, making it easier for the bug to suck them dry. Yuck!

Emperor Scorpion
Sahara Thorny Stick Insect
Macleay's Spectre Stick Insect

Owl Butterflies
There is also a small butterfly house at the zoo. I have to be honest though, I was a little bit disappointed as they had only one species here to look at. Still, owl butterflies are not one species to turn your nose up at. They come from Mexico and down into the Amazon rainforest and are easy to recognise with those owl-like eye spots on the hind wing. They lay their eggs on the leaves of banana and coffee plants and I could see some here in this butterfly house. When they hatch, they become hairy, hungry caterpillars, which I saw on a nearby leaf to the one with the eggs on.

Owl Butterfly eggs
Owl Butterfly caterpillars
Giant African Land Snail
Of course, I wouldn't go to a zoo to discover more about invertebrates without holding a few. There were three to test my nerve, though sadly, not a spider among them. My mum took these photos for me, so if you want more proof that I held them than a hand shot, then I apologize. You just have to take my word for it. First up was the world's largest land snail, the giant African land snail. It is twice the size of any snail you will find here in the UK. This individual was rather shy as it retreated into it's shell, but you could still see part of it at the shell's entrance. It was surprisingly light and not that slimy as expected. It felt more earthy from the soil stuck to it with a hint of something cold and damp. Nothing unpleasant at all. Easy peasy!

Giant Spiny Stick Insect
Next up, a giant spiny stick insect. This guy needed two hands to hold it. It was definitely a step up from the snail. Stick insects don't move very fast, so there was little fear of it running off my hands any time soon. I felt the odd slight prickle of a leg moving against my palms and it was actually rather pleasant experience. Not bad at all!

Madagascan Hissy Cockroach
Finally, the most unpredictable of the three, a Madagascan hissing cockroach! I don't know what to think about this one. This an insect that has the potential to run off at short notice. I'm not a fan of cockroaches not since waking up one morning while I was in Texas in 2010 and found one staring at me on the loo from the sink before dashing onto the towel next to me. I couldn't help but let out a manly scream during that encounter. Thankfully, this hissing cockroach was well behaved and only moved about a little bit on my hand. Piece of cake! Bring on the tarantulas I say!