Thursday, 26 February 2015

Galapagos Wildlife to brighten up the winter!

Quite a few years ago I managed to go on a trip to the Galapagos Islands and being a fan of Darwin and his theory of Evolution, I was in my element. The Galapagos Islands are a collection of islands lying at a latitude that is in line with the Equator and off the coast of Ecuador. Not only is the diversity of wildlife stunning but also the wildlife itself is vibrant in colour and the animals are pretty tame due to being protected from man for so long. Here are some of my favourite pics:

The Sally Lightfoot crab or the Galapagos Island crab is quite common throughout the islands. It just wanders about and doesn't seem that bothered by humans, but it is actually quite a quick mover as it darts about over the rocks.

Sally Lightfoot crab, Galapagos Islands
Sally Lightfoot crab, Galapagos Islands
The other crab I saw darting about was this hermit crab darting across the beach. I particularly like the second picture where you can see his beady eyes!

Hermit Crab - Galapagos Islands
Hermit Crab - Galapagos Islands
The reptiles of the Galapagos are plentiful and entertaining. I loved watching both the land and the marine iguanas which are thought to have diverged through evolution millions of years ago. The land iguanas stroll around looking very tough and very definitely in charge. In addition to this look - they also have very tough mouths as they were feeding on the prickly pair trees - ouch!
Iguana - Galapagos Islands
Iguana - Galapagos Islands
Feeding on prickly pears - Galapagos Islands
The tough mouthed iguana!
The other variety of the iguana is the marine iguanas, which also were plentiful and fun to watch. The way they just jumped off the rocks and into the sea was amazing. Looking at them as they laid on the rocks sunning themselves, they appear quite lazy but when they are swimming they are very agile.

Marine Iguana - Galapagos Islands
Marine Iguana - Galapagos Islands
Other lizards that I saw that inhabit the Galapagos Islands are the Lava Lizards - and they are quick when they dart about on the rocks! They are again brightly coloured and comical to watch. The lizard in the  second pic below was lifting his feet off the hot rocks, I think this is used as a technique to cool them down.

Lava Lizard - Galapagos Islands
Lava Lizard lifting his feet off the rocks - Galapagos
And now for some birds which are also plentiful and vary varied. The first bird I saw was a Galapagos Pelican, a huge bird with a beak nearly as long as its body! I was also please to see some finches. They are not as easy to photograph being agile little birds but I did get to watch a yellow finch flitting about amongst the bushes. The other bird pictured below is the Blue Footed Booby. A few of us were looking forward to seeing these birds - they really do have bright blue feet and we also came across a fluffy booby chick!

Galapagos Pelican
Yellow Finch - Galapagos Islands
Blue Footed Booby - Galapagos Islands
Booby Chick - Galapagos Islands

It has to be said my favourite animal of the Galapagos Islands is the Sea Lion. They are very abundant and they are adorable creatures to watch. Some of the young pups were coming up to us and playing with our bare feet. They appear to spend most of their time lounging around in the sunshine!

Young Sea Lions - Galapagos Islands
Life's tough being a Sea Lion - Galapagos

Just lounging around - Galapagos Islands

We did also get in the water and go snorkelling and the wildlife in the Ocean was just as amazing as it was on the land. It was again very colourful and we did get the opportunity to swim with a large green turtle. The water is crystal clear blue and with the sun shining through the surface it lights up the brightly coloured starfish, anemones, fish and the vast amount of marine creatures. We were also lucky enough to snorkel with some playful sea lions and some rays, which are massive creatures that look like they are flying underwater.
Here's a snapshot pic of a green turtle surfacing for air and some turtle tracks on the beach!

Turtle tracks - coming on land to lay eggs

Green Turtle - Galalpagos

Below is one of my favourite photos that demonstrates both the abundance and the diversity of wildlife to be seen in the Galapagos. And then another favourite is that of the Galapagos Island Giant Tortoises. We also visited the Darwin Institute - a fantastic place which has a breeding programme for Giant Tortoises and a research station.

Diversity of Wildlife - Galapagos
Me and the Giant Tortoises - Galapagos Islands
There are not many places that I would go back to visit - simply because there are so many other places that I want to go to. But the Galapagos Islands are the one place I would definitely revisit. There is so much to see and it is a beautiful part of the world. The only down side of this is that tourism may eventually affect this pristine land, but there are regulations which will hopefully ensure the islands are protected whilst still allowing people to visit this great place.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Charcoal Making - Finglandrigg Wood - Solway Wetlands Partnership

Well today was another fun day out in the woods learning more about woodlands and how we as humans have used wood in the past and continue to do so in the present. Today I went to Finglandrigg wood a National Nature Reserve, to an event on charcoal making run by Edward Kyrke who is a commercial hedgelayer and woodsman. It was organised by the Solway Wetlands Partnership who run some fantastic events...and they are free!

The first task after getting the kettle boiling and cracking open the biscuits was to prepare the kiln. We did this with lining the base of the kiln with sods of turf so that air could only get in through the designated intakes. This meant that the kiln would not burn too hot and so produce charcoal rather than embers!

Preparing the kiln
The next stage involved filling the kiln with birch logs around a central pole that is known as a motty peg. The logs were piled above the top of the kiln so that when the lid was placed on there was not an air gap and so a huge bonfire, which then would again result in a fast burn - not good for making charcoal. A fact I learnt today is that charcoal burns at around 400 degrees C, so no wonder it is an effective fuel!

Loading the kiln with log around the motty peg

Once the kiln was full the motty peg can be pulled out - easier said than done! and this leaves a hole for starting the fire. Ed filled the hole with some hot embers and some wood chippings to get it going.

Hole left after removing the motty peg

Getting the fire going
We also filled some socks with sand and these are known as rabbits and are used to fill up the chimney holes according to the wind direction and how well the fire is burning. Once the wood has started to burn down the lid can be placed on fully and sand is packed around the top to create a good seal. After that it is just a waiting game! So that called for more eating and Tony and Toni had brought along some of their fresh eggs and so it was egg butty time. The wood was still quite green and wet so was not burning quickly. It was going to be a while before the charcoal was ready. So for most of us we wouldn't get to see the finished product although Ed did bring along a sample of his fine charcoal to show us.

The kiln slowly burning away turning birch into charcoal!
Whilst waiting for the wood to burn down, Naomi from the Solway Wetlands Partnership took us for a walk around the woods. It was great to see such a big and diverse woodland, including a a mix of broad leaf woodland, peat bog, heathland and a lovely area of Scot's pine. We also saw quite a bit of fungi but I will save that for the next post! It is a great place to visit and I will be going back in the spring and summer- oh and autumn to see what I can spot.

Species of the Week 8 - Grey Heron

The grey heron, Ardea cinerea - a bird that is often not given much credit and one I have seen a lot of lately. I think in the past week or so I have seen a heron nearly every day. They have either been flying nearby or standing on the side of the road looking for food. In flight I have had a chance to get a look at their long legs and their long slow wing beat. In the summer I was lucky enough to have fairly long encounter with a heron as it stood looking for fish in the River Derwent. 

Grey Heron, Ardea cinerea - River Derwent
What is amazing between the picture above and below is the difference in the neck of the heron. When the heron is sat with its head tucked in you would never guess it has such a long neck. With the heron's neck at full stretch it is pretty long and you have to wonder how it tucks it all away! Where does it all go?!

The long neck of the grey heron - River Derwent
When walking on the riverbank, I could watch the very majestic pose and the quiet, long delicate step of the heron. It is quite an easy bird to identify being mainly grey with a white underbelly with black on the neck and a black head crest. It also has an unmistakable bright yellow bill and together with its long neck it can use these to strike at prey such as frogs and fish.

The stalking walk of the grey heron - River Derwent

The other recent sightings I have had of the grey heron was up on the Moray Coast on a beautiful frosty morning and I have also seen one recently perched high up in a treetop. That was a first for me but it is not unknown for them to do this. Unfortunately I didn't get a pic as I was driving at the time!

Grey Heron in the snow - Findhorn

The other very recent sighting I have had was when out walking and one flew across in front of me and down the field. Another brilliant close encounter, where I could clearly see the black wing tips and the long legs outstretched to the back. When in flight the heron also tucks its head in which can make it a bit harder to identify. Another amazing winter survivor battling the cold weather looking for food.

Grey heron in flight - Local neighbourhood

Willow Planting and Dam Building at RSPB Campfield Marsh

A productive day at RSPB Campfield Marsh. There was a good turnout of volunteers this week so we managed to get quite a few jobs done...
Roger and I set about laying some cobbles to construct a small 'weir' for the water to trickle over as it runs down into the main pond. After the initial layer of stones, Stephen who works for the RSPB was quite impressed with our work and went to get some more stone so that we could work on phase 2!

Phase one of weir building - Campfield Marsh
Phase 2 involved putting more stone around the edges and making the 'weir' a little more stable. It was pretty interesting work and made much more fun due to the fact the mud in the stream bed was quite slimy and slippy - huge potential for falling over but we both managed to stay upright with a few near misses!

Phase 2 - more cobbles
Phase 3 involved putting some turf around the cobbles to set them in place. The weir was a success, but we are not sure how it will withstand the effects of children if they decide to wander along it like stepping stones!

Roger and I were very pleased with our construction. However the 'weir' did seem to end up like a dam, effectively stopping nearly all of the water upstream. However, it is very dry at the moment and we are due some rain so hopefully in a few days time the water will be 'trickling' over the weir with a relaxing wave effect!

The finished weir waiting for more rain
Roger and Brian on the Troll Bridge - Campfield Marsh
Meanwhile the rest of the volunteers were busy planting willow around the seating area to provide a screen. As the willow takes hold it will grow and become a great form of shelter. The willow was placed in a semi circle with another round put in at 45 degree angles to produce a kriss-cross effect. Lets hope it takes hold soon and doesn't get battered by the winds forecast!

 The finished screen set in place and reading to grow. 

Meanwhile some other hardy volunteers were busy continuing with path reinforcement repairs. This basically involves digging up sods of mud and turf and banking them along the side of the walkway to prevent the sides from collapsing and the path subsiding. 

After a morning cuppa, most of us had finished our allocated jobs and so we gathered some more willow and together we headed to the pond. We reinforced the screen that was already there by interspersing it with more willow. The plan is for this willow is to strengthen the bank and help to prevent erosion. The prevailing wind often blows down the lake and the willow should help protect the bank from the lapping waves.

On the way back we stopped to admire the new construction that has been put in place at Campfield Marsh by contractors - a task too big for the volunteer crew! The new construction, the badger sett and is designed for children to have a bit of interactive fun and see what it is like to live underground. However the volunteer crew seemed to think it was more like a hobbit hole!

The enormous badger sett - Campfield Marsh

Or is it a hobbit hole? Campfield Marsh
On our walk back to base it was nice to see some wildlife. There was a lot of chaffinches around and then a greater spotted woodpecker flew in to mark his territory. So it's not all hard work and no play...we do get to see some wildlife as well!

Greater spotted woodpecker - Campfield Marsh

And then out on the Solway there was a particularly high tide today and we saw oyster catchers and curlews. 

Oyster catchers on the Solway Coast

Another fun and productive day out on the Solway. An amazing place that is not that well known but with a vast diversity of habitat and wildlife. I'm next off to Finglandrigg Wood - a National Nature Reserve that I didn't even know existed. It's amazing what green and wild spaces we do actually have out there.