Catching The Bug

Galls on leaves, both as yet unidentified!

Galls on leaves, both as yet unidentified!

They say* that it’s been a mild winter so far, warm even. And whilst I suppose I can’t dispute that, it hasn’t been quite consistently warm enough to prevent the necessity of scraping the car in the frozen murk of 7am on a Monday morning. When I can’t feel my fingers and there is a fragile smear of ice crystals even on the inside of the windscreen, I almost sympathise with those scientific illiterates who are ready to dismiss the notion of global ‘warming’ at the first whiff of snow. “Mild winter?!”, I exclaim, shivering. “What mild winter?!”

 

Presuming that they lack the capacity even for unreasoned thought, the insects know better than I. For whilst the weather is, with some notable flood-related exceptions, for the most part a matter of inconvenience for us, for our invertebrate friends it is the difference between thriving and annihilation. This year they seem to be tending toward the former, provided most have been able to ride out the floods. In Reading, at least, even a few bumblebee colonies, grateful for the exotic winter blooms laid on for them by the university grounds staff, are keeping busy, even through the darkest months. The first speckled wood of spring was seen days ago, and I daresay other butterflies are emerging from their slumber in good numbers. Every passing moment of warm sunlight is snatched upon by small delicate flies, which leap out to join the jostling ranks of rival males in midwinter leks.

Continue reading

First Frost

Even though it’s not been that much of an unusually mild autumn, this morning’s first frost took me by surprise. I glanced out the window at a bright, fresh day and at first hardly noticed that the rooftops opposite were dusted matte white, that the outline of each blade of grass in our front garden had a new, contrasting glassiness, or that a number of our neighbours were having to scrape frantically away at their car windscreens before setting off for work.

Then, it hit me. It’s November! Cold nights are here! Frost inevitably follows.

It can’t have been long since I was chasing the tail end of summer’s insects or wildflowers – warm afternoons amid blooming ivy and late umbellifers – yet suddenly we are cantering towards the end of the year and the depths of winter, full climatological speed ahead.

Continue reading

Birder At Sea

The relative calm after the storm. Still slightly wonky.

The relative calm after the storm. Still slightly wonky.

Saturday morning found me somewhere that, as a birder, I really like to be: Poole harbour. One of the country’s best birding areas at any time of year, Poole harbour is especially good from mid-autumn into spring, when myriad migrant waterfowl and waders pass through or stop off for the winter, including an impressive 1,000 avocets and usually a dozen or so spoonbills.

But, alas, I was not in Poole harbour expressly and solely to bird. Instead, I was perched nervously on the deck of the ‘Condor Vitesse’, a high speed catamaran ferry of surprisingly (and alarmingly) small size that was due to carry us across the Channel to the island of Jersey. Though Monday’s storm was still at least a day and a half away, the weather had been fairly wild the previous night, wild enough to send a storm petrel fluttering into the harbour. It veered between our anchor and Brownsea Island before the ship had even departed. A pleasing sighting which I should instead have viewed as rather ominous.

Continue reading