Monthly Archives: January 2018

Save the Spiders!

During a couple of very cold days in early December 2017 I trotted off to Castle Marshes in North Cove along with our Assistant Warden and my fellow volunteers and pals J and R. Our mission: to look for, and rehome in the dykes, fen raft spiders (FRS) that had been displaced by the dredging of the dykes.

Every year, the dykes need to be dredged to recreate a channel of water. A digger moves along the bank and lifts out the mud, sunken water soldiers (that the FRS lives on), and grass and sedge that has begun to encroach on the water. Without the dredging, the dyke would gradually fill, eventually becoming a continuous part of the surrounding land. The aquatic environment would be lost, along with all its denizens.

If the spiders are left in the debris, they risk being crushed by the digger, which flattens the debris the day after the dredging; they also risk being eaten by herons and other hungry predators. Our efforts would have mitigated that risk, even if only a little. Every spider saved means potentially hundreds to hatch the following year.

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The digger starts its work

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Picking through the debris

 

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You can see the massive encroachment onto the dyke beyond the clear water, where the digger has stopped.

R was very clever and found 11 FRSs over the two days. I found not a single one, despite the the cold numbness in my fingers and the developing sciatica in my left leg. Neither did J. Harrumph!I managed to find only minute specimens of probably every other arachnid species in the dyke. I have no idea how R managed it -better eyesight and keener to throw herself into the mud than me I expect. We were not helped by the ambient temperature of 5 Celsius, causing all the insects and spiders to be very torpid -not moving around meant they were harder to spot.

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Finding a FRS in the weeds and mud. You can see its brown legs poking out a little below the pointing index finger.

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One for the pot. But not for cooking -he was put back into the water nearby to live on and, with luck, breed next year.

However I was delighted to find a couple of large and very handsome great diving beetles. Click here for more information on this beautiful insect, Dytiscus marginalis.

 

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Hello! I think I must be having an out-of-water experience. I can see a bright light….

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Beautiful green iridescence on his head

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A formidable and well-equipped hunter

While we were out on Castle Marshes, a Chinese water deer was startled and ran away from us.

 

 

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Big round Mickey Mouse ears and a pair of tusks

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Bounding away

One of the last things we saw that day was the spectacular rise of a flock of Greylag Geese, disturbed by something or someone, wheeling across the sky and cackling en masse. I’ve tried to discover if there is another collective noun for a number of geese in flight, and can’t find agreement amongst different sources. Here is a selection -take your pick: flock, plump, skein, team, wedge, gaggle.

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This video is a little shaky -no time to get my Monopod which was 20 feet away in the mud. Still, I’m pleased with my amateur efforts on a handheld bridge camera.

 

Dogfish, sun dogs, limpets* and limping dogs.

My friend N and I had promised each other a day out in North Norfolk. N lives up that way and knows a thing or two about places to go.  In late November 2017 we finally managed to rip a day out of our breathlessly busy lives to meet and travel up to the coast, for a look around and a spot of marine birdwatching.

N is in the crystal business. Not the kind for telling your future, nor for health-giving vibrations through the ether, but the sort you fill with your favourite poison to enjoy with good food and company. He has a crystal barn. Not, as I had first thought, a magical barn built of crystal, filled with hard-working elves packing his wares in gossamer and feathers, to be delivered to his customers by hummingbirds, but a simple wooden barn housing his stock. I was so disappointed. Especially about the elves.

I had already seen the  crystal barn (I can verify the absence of elves), but on the way to the coast we dropped in on his retail outlet (one elf there). By the time we finally reached the coast it was definitely already time for lunch. We dropped into a lovely pub in Snettisham, the Rose and Crown. It’s a very quirky building where a trip to the gents involves a very long and circuitous walk that seems to never end. I got lost on the way back (not difficult) and had to ask directions from a waitress. What an idiot, I expect she thought.

Here is a fun picture hanging in the gents -charming and innocent. No doubt in our stiflingly regulated and PC age all these men would nowadays be arrested for indecent exposure as a minimum (“I was only cleaning the mud off me balls, your Honour” -concluding the evidence for the defence).

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The food was excellent and I feel compelled to share the place with you here.

Replete and refreshed, we made our way to Hunstanton beach, where, N confidently assured me, there would be flocks and flocks of interesting birds to see. On that day we were experiencing the first really cold snap of winter 2017, and a freezing steady Arctic wind blew directly at us from the North, with nothing to break its flow between the North Pole and us. You could smell the polar bears on the breeze. The car park was sheltered, but as we topped the bank between the car park and the beach, the blast hit us. I am not a cold weather creature. I am a Mediterranean mammal and really dislike the cold.

Just to make things worse, it was high tide, and other than one oyster-catcher, which N saw but I missed, and a few shivering gulls in the distance, there were no birds whatsover. Not a tweet. There wasn’t really much of a beach either -the long languorous sand flats were all submerged. I just had to imagine it all. N was really very disappointed, and I felt quite sorry for him. He had been keen to share this place that he loves with me.

It was far from a wasted day though. Apart from N’s excellent company (he never runs short of stories and anecdotes which warmed me on that day better than a St Bernard with a barrel of brandy), there were some really unusual things to see.

First I’ll share some images of the landscape which may give you an inkling of the weather that day. The tall building is the old lighthouse -now a holiday cottage for hire.

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A panorama of where the flocks of birds should have been

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An egg case -a dogfish or possibly a ray egg case.

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I spotted a startling pattern of circles in the sand:

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What could have made them? Small alien spaceships? The devil and his family out for a stroll? Very light horses? I stood and observed for a few minutes and then the penny dropped: the steady wind was blowing the stiff grass leaves towards the land, and with slight variations in its direction from time to time, the grass leaves were swinging round, causing the tips to describe an arc in the sand. Perfect circles were drawn by the wind using grass as a compass and pencil.

The most spectacular sight of the day was an apparent double sun in the sky. I blinked and for a moment wondered if N and I had been transported to a planet around a binary  star in a parallel universe. Maybe it was such a lovely day that we had died and gone to heaven. But blinking several times confirmed that Hunstanton, after all, was still there, and so were we.

Which one is the real sun? Answer below…

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The real sun is on the left

This meteorological phenomenon is a sun dog -also known as a parhelion (not to be confused with parahelion or perihelion). It’s an illusion created only in very special weather conditions, by ice crystals in the atmosphere refracting sunlight. A very simple Google search reveals loads of information about them.

The day was rounded off by a phone call from my friend B who was looking after our dogs for the day. One of our dachshunds regularly subluxes (partially dislocates) a joint in one of her legs. By adapting a technique I used to use for treating a similar problem in the arms of toddlers, (pulled elbow, or slipped radial head), I have discovered how to fix the dog’s leg, and the adapted technique works.

Pooch just had to have this problem on a very rare day without me around. B noticed she was limping and unable to use one leg. The last time she did this we had just arrived at a hotel in Crete at midnight. On that occasion I had a Whatsapp video teleconsultation with our house sitter, managed to explain the technique, and Pooch was successfully treated -after 20 attempts. On this occasion I was driving at dusk on winding B roads in North Norfolk -conversation strictly on hands-free of course.  It happens that B is a radiographer so she is familiar with techniques of reducing a joint dislocation. Luckily for me, and luckier still for Pooch, instructing her was a breeze and success came on the second attempt. Much to B’s relief, and mine.

We had our fun dog back again,  after seeing a possible dogfish egg case and a sun dog -all in Sunny Hunny**. Ever get the feeling there is a theme to your day?

 

*”Limpets” is in the title because it kind of works there. In fact we didn’t see a single limpet that day. Keep it quiet.

**Hunstanton -the only East Coast resort that faces West.