Sunday 30 January 2011

Swanning around

I was only wondering yesterday where the seven Bewick's Swans, which disappeared from Stithians Reservoir a week ago, might have moved on to. The answer came in a text from a friend early evening: he had found them on Ruan Pool (our best wildfowl pond on the reserve).

Bewick's are the rarest of our three native species of swan to occur in Cornwall. After breeding in Siberia, the majority of those coming to the UK for the winter spend it in eastern England, around the Severn estuary and in Lancashire. The last time I saw some down here was over 20 years ago, so I was very keen to catch up with these today. With high hopes we arrived down there at 9.30 on a beautiful, frosty morning - alas, it was too frosty as the pool was frozen and devoid of any birds. We had a quick look round, seeing a nice ringtail Hen Harrier, 28 Golden Plover, a couple of Lapwings, some Snipe and a few assorted thrushes, then decided to look further afield.

After checking some other likely spots in the vicinity we were just about to head home when we had another message to say the swans were now on the pool! We hurried back to the north hide and there they were in all their glory, standing around on the ice and sharing the small patch of open water with 50 Wigeon.

We now have two of the three British species of swan on the reserve list - believe it or not, the outstanding one is Mute Swan!

Friday 14 January 2011

The Jelly Chronicles, Part 2.

My quest to identify the mysterious jelly-like material I found at the farm recently (see last Blog entry) has led me into some very interesting territory. A correspondent on the Natural History Museum's identification forum, who goes by the user i.d. bombusleucorum, reckons that it looks suspiciously like the expanded crystal gel found in nappies. They are super absorbent sodium polyacrylate crystals which hold several hundred times their own weight in water and when fully saturated turn to a gooey gel. It's the same stuff sold in garden centres to add to compost to hold water. I suppose it's possible that a gull scavenging on a tip has managed to get a soiled nappy tangled in its feet and then kindly discarded it on the reserve, but I think this is unlikely, especially as there isn't a tip within miles of us.

Then we have the possibility that it's "Star Jelly", which according to folklore is believed to be deposited during meteor showers and has been widely reported since the 14th Century. More information on this can be found here.

At the moment I'm leaning towards agreeing with the 18th Century Welsh naturalist Thomas Pennant, who was of the opinion that it is something vomited by animals or birds. That something is semi-digested frog- or toad-spawn. There has been masses of frog-spawn all over the farm lately. Today I even found a great clump of it on top of a fencepost. If this was not dumped by a bird, then we have some exceptionally agile frogs!

Lots of duck on site today, 104 of them to be precise: 51 Wigeon, 23 Teal, 13 each of Shoveler and Mallard and four Gadwall. I also saw the first Mediterranean Gull I have ever seen on the reserve, a nice adult, and a good flock of Fieldfares numbering around 200 birds. And the sun was out :-)

Monday 3 January 2011

Anyone for jelly?

We've seen plenty of birds on the reserve these first few days of the new year. There are still around 250 Golden Plovers, with 50 or so Lapwings, 10 Dunlin and 50 Snipe out on the pasture. On Ruan Pool, there have been 24 Wigeon, 11 Shoveler, 9 Teal and 2 Gadwall. There are many more duck in the area, unfortunately attracted on to pools on nearby land by shooters putting out corn.

Whilst we were checking Ruan yesterday, we heard a loud splash. Looking round we saw a large female Peregrine zooming away across the pool and ripples of water on the surface. It must have been at least 10 seconds before a drake Teal bobbed to the surface, looking somewhat stunned but no doubt relieved at his very lucky escape.

There is masses of frog-spawn, in even the smallest puddles, all over the farm.

On the heathland near the pool I found this stuff on the grass (thanks to Dougy for the photos), which I think may be a species of jelly fungus. The largest pieces were about two inches long. It was odourless. According to Wikipedia:

"A number of the jelly fungi can be eaten raw; poisonous jelly fungi are rare. However, many species have an unpalatable texture or taste, which is described as similar to that of soil. However, some species, Tremella fuciformis for example, are not only edible but prized for use in soup and vegetable dishes."

I'm still trying to find out exactly what it is, but if anyone has any ideas (or would like to volunteer to taste it!) please let me know.