Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Alpine Marmots - cute and furry creatures!!


I had a recent short trip to France for a wedding and there was no way I was travelling to the French Alps without going looking for marmots......

The alpine marmot, Marmota marmota has to be one of my favourite mammals - marmots  are classed as rodents but they are just so cute and I would liken them to giant guinea pigs. I could sit and watch marmots foraging and lolloping around for hours. Marmots are found in high mountain meadows and pastures. They are omnivores and eat grasses, herbs but will also eat worms, insects and spiders.

Alpine Marmot, Marmota marmota

Steve and I headed off for a walk the morning after the wedding and to be honest I wasn't expecting to see any marmots as we were on a pretty popular trail. However we decided to head off the beaten track and we hadn't been walking for long when I caught a glimpse of a marmot. At first the marmot was a little wary of us and headed into his burrow, but we sat quietly for a moment enjoying the sunshine until he came back out to investigate...

Entrance to a marmot burrow
Watching a marmot is pretty relaxing and I didn't really want to I just sat and then another marmot appeared....and then another. I found it all pretty mesmerizing. One of them lolloped away up the hillside but they didn't appear too worried by our presence or too startled.

Alpine Marmot, Marmota marmota

Although the marmots didn't seem too bothered by a couple of tourists they can be quite defensive and they will try and warn off intruders in their territory by beating their tails or chattering their teeth. Marmots can often be seen standing up tall to look out for predators and when they feel in real danger they will whistle a warning call to their fellow marmots.

Spot the marmots - there are two in this pic!
We had a bit more of a wander around and left the marmots to it. I found plenty more burrows and signs of marmot life. Marmots will dig out a burrow with both their forepaws and hindfeet and will also use their teeth to remove stones and pebbles. They make their bed at the end of the burrow out of grass and other herbs.

Stunning scenery in marmot land!

Further along the trail that day we met a group of hunters. They were out shooting grouse and ptarmigan. I asked if they were shooting marmots and they said they weren't today but that they do shoot marmots as they are classed a pests in some areas. 

As we approached the hunters, I heard the marmots whistling out a warning call high up on the mountainside. I am guessing they could smell, see or hear the dogs and they alerted each other. 

Alpine Marmot, Marmota marmota
So if you do ever get a chance to see marmots, stop and be quiet for a while and just enjoy being around these lovely creatures.

Friday, 25 September 2015

A Bit of Natural History mixed with Roman History!

It was a sunny day and I decided I would like to head out and explore a section of the Hadrian's Wall Path. Since opening in 2002 it has become very popular and I haven't been to Vindolanda since I was a child. So off I went to explore some ancient history of World Heritage status and to see what flora and fauna I could find a long the way....

Heather in bloom
Ling Heather, Calluna vulgaris
Roxy on the way to our first Mile Castle
I set off along the wall from Once Brewed up a small climb to Steel Rigg, accompanied by my faithful labrador Roxy. We passed plenty of heather which has been stunning this year and there is a lot of patches of purple all over the hills. We continued along the wall and headed down to the famous sycamore tree that has been a Robin Hood film. I love the fact this lone tree stands strong in an otherwise fairly grazed landscape.

The lone Sycamore Tree on Hadrian's Wall
Along the way I met a group of walkers raising money for various charities and enjoying the sunny weather after yesterday's downpours.

I saw some beautiful patches of harebells and yarrow, still hanging on to their flowers. The harebells looked lovely against the grey stone of the wall.
Harebells and Yarrow
Onwards we marched and came to a small section of woodland, where we pondered for a while and I looked for signs of birds and mammals, whilst Roxy swam in the tarn. I found some great fungi and patches of wood sorrel.

Fungi and Wood Sorrel
After our little break Roxy and I sauntered along more sections of Hadrian's Wall until we finally arrived at Housesteads, where there are some amazing ruins of the Roman buildings that once stood there.

19th Century Well
And so next, I headed off the wall path and back through the fields and along some minor roads to see what I could find along the way....and I was treated to peacock butterflies and what I think were house martins or swifts flying all over above my head.

Peacock Butterfly
House Martins or Swifts - they were just too quick for me to identify!
As I continued along my way, I eventually turned a corner and saw some very large and eye catching ruins and then it dawned on me that it was actually Vindolanda. It is an amazing sight from afar. I saw a marker stone up on the hillside and decided to climb up to it to get a better birds eye view back down on Vindolanda. I tried to imagine myself as a Roman Soldier looking out over the landscape....

Roxy and the longstone
Vindolanda from above
Rosebay Willowherb with a bit of Vindolanda!

Dogs are not allowed on the Vindolanda site - which is fair enough, so Roxy and I walked up the minor road beside it - enjoying the countryside and the first signs of autumn - berries! I also noticed a pellet or was it some scat on a stone wall. I now really have an eye for noticing this stuff - which some may find a bit odd! I am still not sure what this came from as it contained a lot of fibrous material - I still need to do some research on this one.

Unidentified poop or pellet!
Mountain Ash

The final walk back along the road had lots of interesting things to see such as a sapling growing out of the base of a tree and a meadow like flurry of flowers just on the side of the road. It was just a different way to enjoy a walk - stroll and you really do see more........!!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Dancing Dragonflies and Darting Damselflies


I had a little jaunt to Arran in August despite breaking my own rules of never visiting Scotland during midge season!! The midges weren't too bad and it was worth it for some amazing walking and some great wildlife. The video above is of a Golden Ringed dragonfly laying eggs - a fantastic sight and pretty amazing. A female dragonfly can lay hundreds of eggs and it does this over a period of days or weeks.

Having seen the female dragonfly laying eggs when I got home I had a look through some of my old photos of damsels and dragons as I have quite a selection! So lets take a step back from laying eggs. Pictured below is a pair of common blue damselflies mating. I love the heart shape they have formed! The male is actually gripping the back of the female's head with the bottom of his tail....hmmm!

Common Blue Damselflies mating
And I also have a picture of a pair of Black Darter's mating and below that is a pair of Emerald damselflies. It can be pretty busy during the summer months - make hay while the sun shines as the saying goes! In all of the pictures it is the female that is the more dull colour of the pair with the male being the brighter one.

Black Darter Dragonflies mating
Emerald damselflies mating
Once the dragons or damsels have mated and laid their eggs as shown in the video clip - out hatches the nymph. The nymphs can be quite ferocious little hunters and as they grow they moult up to 15 times before metamorphosing into an adult. They have a hinged jaw like the adults, which can shoot out to capture prey. (Please note the photos below of the nymphs were taken at a workshop and a bioblitz where experts had taken them out of the water and they were safely returned to their homes after they had identified them.)
Dragonfly nymph - species unknown
Once the dragonfly or damselfly is ready to emerge they crawl out of the water and cling onto a reed or other nearby vegetation. And then something pretty amazing happens as they crawl out of their skin....

Damselfly nymph emerging from its larval skin
Damselfly emerging
Dragonfly emerging from larval skin
Dragonfly emerging
Once the dragonfly has emerged from its skin (leaving behind the case that is known as an exuvia) they pump themselves up and redistribute their bodily fluids. The result being the wings and the body are expanded.

Newly emerged Black Darter before hardening and looking very fragile
The newly emerged dragonfly can take about 3 hours to harden and is pretty fragile at this stage. Eventually they are strong enough to spread their wings and fly away. Pretty amazing!

And to finish here are few more of my favourite damsel and dragon photos...I have quite a few as there is something that just draws me to these creatures and I just can't help photographing them. Get out there if you can before the summer is over to see if you can see some of these wonderful creatures!

Female Four Spotted Chaser
Large Red Damselfly
Southern Hawker Dragonfly
The most amazing eyes ever - male four spotted chaser
Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Thursday, 3 September 2015

Funky Fungi

I was driving home last night and caught this fungi out of the corner of my eye and I just had to stop and take some photos.....

Humungous Fungus
I have now confirmed that this is a Giant Polypore fungus, Meripilus giganteus. It definitely lives up to its name! The giant polypore produces big rosettes of fan like brackets and grows around the on the ground close to the base of trees.

Hopefully the photo above will give some indication of scale. It was one huge fungi!!
So I guess there is some advantage to all the wet weather we have been might be a good season for fungus!