Not Just Any Duck

Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are often taken for granted, but I hadn’t seen one for quite sometime. So when I came across several males and females on the local canal they were a pure delight to see as they paddled across the still waters with autumn reflections.

What Lies Under A Piece of Bark

x5 images. Double click to enlarge.

Lifting a piece of bark in a garden border, the last thing I expected to find was a delightful Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris).

It remained where it was, frozen to the spot. I hadn’t got my camera, so I gently placed the bark back and went into the house to get my equipment. Thankfully, when I got back and lifted the bark a second time, he was still there.

It is the first time I have seen a Smooth Newt here, in fact, surpisingly, the first time since I was a boy back home in the 1970s., so this was quite an exciting find for me.

I found him at the opposite end of the garden to where my pond is located, but after their spring mating sessions in ponds they live the rest of the year away from water, hiding under rocks and logs in woodland, hedgerows or gardens, venturing out only at night to hunt inveretbrates.

The Smooth Newt is one of three native species to be found in the UK, and it is the commonest and the most frequently encountered of them all.

The Frogs Are Back!

x4 images. Double click to enlarge.

Back in February I noticed the frogs had did their thing and laid eggs in small clumps initially. Then as the days passed the pond was quite full of eggs!

And there appeared to be no stopping them.

I spotted around 3 frogs amidst the plant growth and frogspawn, appearing quite content.

Common Frog Rana temporaria

I even found one out and about skirting the perimeter. Now the pond is alive with young tadpoles eating algae off the stones.

Not Sure About This Guy?


Around teatime today around a dozen Goldfinches flocked around my bird feeder, something I have never seen before, as I normally get 2 or 3 of them visit. This young one decided to have a look at my pond and came face-to-stony-face with this fellow. In the end it must have thought all was okay and decided to have a brief swim.


Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

Caught Napping


Greenfinch (Chloris chloris) – I caught this one intially taking a few sips of water from my birdbath. I was looking through my patio window, and thought to myself I bet I won’t have time to swap over lenses, will I? I had my macro lens on, and I half expected the bird to fly, but it didn’t. So I swapped over the lenses and took a few shots through the glass. My lens is only 300 mm max, so I needed to get closer, which meant opening the patio door. The bird is surely to fly now! I was slow and quiet, and the bird was still there, perched on the edge of the birdbath, apparently taking a nap? I managed to get within a few feet of it before it finally realised I was there and flew to the back fence.


Greenfinch Chloris chloris

Greenfinch Chloris chloris

Becoming


Common Frog (Rana temporaria) – I found this one hiding under a rock near the garden pond. It was smaller than my little fingernail. As you can see it still has its tail, but its limbs are developing, and it can hop a short distance, although a little clumsily. Early days yet.


Common Frog Rana temporaria tadpole

Common Frog Rana temporaria tadpole

Snake Drama


Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) – Strolling along the canal, the light ever changing as slate grey clouds block the sun, threatening rain again, and seeing me with my camera, a friendly fisherman calls out, “There’s a frog being eaten by a snake over there!” I pass under a nearby canal bridge built during the Industrial Revolution and I see a stirring in the canal water on the opposie bank. And low and behold there is a snake gripping a frog around the throat. I would never have thought that my first encounter with a Grass Snake would be so dramatic. They also hunt and eat fish.


Grass Snake Natrix helvetica

Grass Snake Natrix helvetica

Please double-click images for a closer look.


Amazing Builders


Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) – On a stroll along the local canal I spotted the nest first and the bird second on the opposite side of the bank. I was taken by the construction of woven stems which form this nest, and how it was built on a section of submerged tree. There are jokes about ‘birdbrain’ references, but this one not only had to think of how to construct the nest, what suitable size it should be, and what to line it with, it also had to think of the best place to build it safe from predators and from being washed away by rising water in potential torrential rainfall.

The female lays 5-11 eggs in 2 or 3 broods from April to August.


Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Venturing Onto Land


Common Frog (Rana temporaria) – At 12 mm(1/2 in) long, I just about spotted this little froglet in the garden pond. How quickly it has grown. I spied its younger siblings still with their tails, feeding on algae beneath the water, but this one will now be carniverous as it ventures out onto land for the first time.


Common Frog Rana temporaria froglet

Double-click image for a closer look.


Growing Bigger


Common Frog (Rana temporaria) – I can’t believe what a frenzy of activity is going on in the garden pond at the moment. It is teeming with tadpoles and all of them are scraping algae from the rocks, so much so some of them are virtually picked clean. They have grown so much bigger, too. Double-click images to enlarge.


Common Frog Rana temporaria tadpole

Common Frog Rana temporaria tadpole

© Peter Hillman ♦ 24th April 2020 ♦ Rear garden, South Staffordshire ♦ Nikon D7200


Frogs Are Coming


Common Frog (Rana temporaria) – This is an early stage tadpole, and I appear to have zillions of these teeming in my small garden pond at the moment. Note the branch-like appendages either side of the head … these are external gills, which as the tadpole develops will become wrapped in a pocket of skin to become internal. Amazing to think that this little fellow, if all goes well, will become a frog! Double-click for a closer peek.


Common Frog Rana temporaria early stage tadpole

Copyright: Peter Hillman
Camera used: Nikon D7200
Date taken: 16th March 2020
Place: Rear garden, Staffordshire


Something Cheesy

House Mouse Mus musculus

Now … where did I put that cheese?

House Mouse Mus musculus

Ah-ha … I have sniffed it and now I spy it!

House Mouse Mus musculus

Yum-yum in my tum …

House Mouse Mus musculus

… but I think I prefer the seed the feathered things drop from above …. squeak!


Here I have tried to capture a few moments in the life of a House Mouse (Mus musculus) … or mice … as I have seen a few of them under my birdfeeder where they have been grabbing the white heart sunflower seeds the finches drop.

They were quite funny to watch. I sat in a garden chair barely a couple of arms lengths away, and every time they appeared from beneath the flora I tried to snap them they ran for cover! They knew I was there, watching them, but I think they were curious about me and it became a bit of a game with them. Eventually they appeared in the open and they did their thing … which was eat … and eat some more …

September 2019 © Pete Hillman.

Turnstone

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Also called the Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres), this was another first for me. There were many of these little birds on the seashore bulldozing the seaweed out of their way with their heads in search of invertebrates hiding underneath it.

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Turnstone Arenaria interpres

Feel free to click the images to enlarge and click again to get even closer …


East Cowes, Isle of Wight. September 2019 © Pete Hillman.

 

When The Tide Goes Out

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

When the tide goes out to reveal shallow pools and masses of clumped seaweed it is time for the waders to come and feed.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

This Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) does an odd little dance to agitate the water to stir up small fish and invertebrates on which it feeds.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Little Egret Egretta garzetta

Feel free to click the images to enlarge and click again to get even closer …


East Cowes, Isle of Wight. September 2019 © Pete Hillman.

Getting Bigger

Common Frog Rana temporaria

I have noticed how big the young frogs are now growing in the garden pond. I spied four of them amongst the Water Mint and pond weed poking their heads out the water.

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Feel free to click the images to enlarge and click again to get even closer …


© Pete Hillman August 2019

Staying Alive

Common Frog Rana temporaria juvenile

I wondered where all my tadpoles had gone. Spotted a couple of little juvenile frogs today hiding under a piece of bark in my back yard. Below how it began life feeding on algae in the pond into the carnivorous creature above. It is one way to keep the slugs down. Nature is trully a wonderful thing!

July 2019, rear garden, South Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

On The Bird Feeder

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus

The garden bird feeder is quite busy at the moment. These Blue Tits Cyanistes caeruleus are certainly taking advantage of it and they are welcome too.

Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus


May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Underwater Grazing

Back in March I discovered clumps of frogspawn in my garden pond which was built 3 years ago in the spring of 2016. You can imagine my excitement as this was the first time I might have my first tadpole nursery!

Before I knew it the tadpoles were appearing, and as they grew I noticed how they would graze on the algae growing on the stones in the shallows. I like how they have gradually turned from black blobs to these rather beautiful bronze speckled creatures. I was also quite surprised by how their eyes are so pronounced. They not only feed on algae but water fleas. It will take 16 weeks for them to grow their back legs, then their front legs, and eventually they will absorb their tails to emerge from the water as froglets. It will take them 2 to 3 years to reach breeding maturity. Rinse and repeat.

Click and click again on the image to get that little bit closer …


May 2019, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Coming In To Land

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Juvenille

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Juvenille

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Juvenille

Herring Gull Larus argentatus Juvenille

Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) juvenille, Shanklin Beach, Isle of White, England, August 2018 © Pete Hillman.

Spot The Little Fishy

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

I believe these are Shanny (Lipophrys pholis), also called Blenny. As the tide pulled out it left these crystal clear pools of water and in them they teemed with these young fish which moved nimbly through the shallow water. They are so well adapted to their environment you would hardly notice them until they moved.

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

Shanny Lipophrys pholis

Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


Shanklin Beach, Isle of White, England, August 2018 © Pete Hillman.

Froggy Has A Close Call

Common Frog Rana temporaria

… with the green waste recycling bin. Whenever I wheel my green waste bin I am now cautious. For the little frogs and toads take to hiding under a little recess beneath the bin during the day, and if I don’t tilt the bin forward I would most likely squish them, or drag them with the bin. This evening I found two toads under the bin which quickly vanished under the shed. This is a Common Frog (Rana temporaria), I took the other day, which was also discovered hiding under the bin. They must gather beneath the bin in readiness for those all night pool parties they have! 🙂

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


July 2018, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

A Happy Ending

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

This evening I heard a bang whilst watching some tv. It sounded like a bird had hit the patio window, and when I went to investigate I found this little fella lying sprawled on the decking. I feared the worst, but it had its head held up and looked dazed. I kept my distance for I didn’t want to frighten it to death, which can happen with wild birds. But as I stood and watched his little head slowly slumped to the wooden deck, and I thought he had gone.

Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis

However his tail was still twitching and I thought he may have passed out. I couldn’t leave him out there for fear of cats getting hold of him, so I gathered him up in my hands where it lifted its head up. I placed him in a cardboard box and took him into the house to let him recover a while. When I went to check on him not too long after he suddenly flew out the box to my delight! It flew a short distance in my living room, now all I had to do was catch it and set it on its merry way.

Eventually I caught it and took it outside, and it flew away at speed, apparently unharmed.


Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis), July 2018, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Watching The Geese

Greylag goose Anser anser

I think this goose was actually watching me! It was a beautiful start to the day again down by the lake. An easier day beckoned after walking up and down Walla Crag the day before, so what better way to spend but down by the shimmering waters of Derwentwater.

Greylag goose Anser anser

The Greylag geese were certainly enjoying themselves and cooling down.

Derwentwater

This was beautiful stretch of shoreline, looking down the length of the lake, the humpy Catbells to the side.

Derwentwater

Along with the geese folk were out on the water, all having some fun in the morning sun.


Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


July 2018, Derwentwater, Keswick, Cumbria, England. © Pete Hillman.

Frogs Partying In The Night Pool

Common Frog Rana temporaria

The other night I caught a couple of frogs in and around the garden pond. With temperatures in the high twenties amd touching thirty who can blame them? 🙂

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Common Frog Rana temporaria

Click once to expand view, click again to get that little bit closer


Common Frog Rana temporaria, , July 2018, rear garden pond, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

Catching The Moon

Rook Corvus frugilegus


The crow black
dropped his sack
at my dusty feet

As the sun beat down
on the dying ground
even the desert had to shy away

A single hooded eye
that told no lie
pierced my very soul!

And a cracked voice spoke
a riddle to evoke
from the haze of a distant dream

“Catch the Moon!
Catch it soon!
Before thine end …”


Something a little different from the norm, I know … © Pete Hillman 2017

Toad In A Watering Can

Common Toad Bufo bufo

It is as the title states but after the event. This fairly large toad was found in one of my garden watering cans, and I can only guess it hopped in there when the can was on its side at some stage. Thankfully it was released unharmed near my garden pond where it hopped away and swam for cover.

Common Toad Bufo bufo

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Common Toad Bufo bufo, June 2018, rear garden, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman.

A Proud And Beautiful Family

Canada Goose Branta canadensis goslings

Afloat in the water heading with purpose to the bank …

Canada Goose Branta canadensis goslings

Single file in a line they go …

Finding lush green to feed upon.

Canada Goose Branta canadensis gosling

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Canada Goose Branta canadensis adults and goslings, May 2018, the pond, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England. © Pete Hillman

Living Amongst The Trees

Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis

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Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis, June 2018, local field, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman. Sigma 18-300mm lens.

Pleasant Pheasant

Pheasant Phasianus colchicus male

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I always hear these birds on my walks through the local fields or the woods, but rarely see them. On the two occasions I have seen them they have flapped out of nowhere before my eyes and have scared me half to death! Plodding through a very wet meadow chasing Cinnabar moths (a future blog), this one came screeching and flapping out of tall grass right before my eyes. He only flew a short distance before landing and vanishing. How an earth a bright red-faced bird of this size can vanish in a sea of green is beyond me. But then he bobbed his distinctive head up and I  managed to get one decent shot before it took off again. Despite my best efforts and very soggy trousers I could not find him again.


June 2018, local field, Staffordshire, England. © Pete Hillman. Sigma 18-300mm lens.

The Bird’s Got The Worm

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

I had been watching this Song Thrush Turdus philomelos making its way along the bank of the river hunting and looking for worms and grubs for a while until it flew up into a tree with its beak quite full of dinner.

Song Thrush Turdus philomelos

May 2018, banks of the River Severn, Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire, England. © Pete Hillman Sigma 18-300mm.