In the 17 years that I’ve lived here, I’ve always believed that Northumberland is one of the finest counties for birdwatching in the whole of the UK. That belief played a big part in reaching the decision to launch NEWT, and it’s why we’re such an enthusiastic member of the Birdwatching Northumberland Consortium. We’ll be at the Bird Fair in August (Marquee 1, Stand 53/54) so come along to meet us and find out just how good Northumberland is.
This morning, though, my attention is on mammals. We don’t do too badly for them either; Badger, Red Fox, Grey Seal, Red Squirrel, Roe Deer, Weasel, Stoat and Brown Hare all feature regularly on our safaris and, on our Northern Experience Pelagics, there’s the possibility of Minke Whale, White-beaked Dolphin, Harbour Porpoise and other cetaceans. We’ve had some random sightings as well; a Bank Vole that sat munching on a leaf just a few feet away from us and a Mole that walked into a hide we were sitting in were both bizarre (especially the Mole; I hadn’t seen a live one for a long, long time).
With the exciting news earlier this week of the first confirmed evidence in 16 years of Pine Marten in Northumberland, we’ve got a new challenge We’ve spent some time in the last couple of years checking likely sites and following up reports that we’ve received. Some of those have been very tantalising, and the species may be more widespread than people imagine. Otters and Badgers are fairly difficult, but we’ve developed an excellent track record with those two species. Pine Marten is going to be an altogether different proposition, but we relish a challenge.
Monday was the second classroom session of the NHSN Lichens and Bryophytes course. On Sunday, while I was out with Sarah on a walk through three atlas tetrads in Harwood, we found some interesting colonies of Cladonias lichens on the upturned root edges of some windblown Spruce. As the lichens course is currently looking at Heath and Moorland, and specifically at Cladonias, this was a chance to put the classroom practice into a fieldwork context. The two most frequent species were C. macilenta (‘Devils Matches’), and C.sulphurina (‘Greater Sulphur-cup’). Unfortunately, the weather was a bit on the harsh side, so it wasn’t possible to take any photographs of the lichens in the field. Never mind, that’s just a reason to go back and have another look on a brighter day
The atlassing itself was a bit esoteric. During the entire 9 miles through the forest we only came across 6 different species;
Common Buzzard 3
Great Spotted Woodpecker 2
Common Crossbill 103
With temperatures hovering around freezing and 8″ of snow still covering over a mile of the footpaths and tracks, it was no great surprise that there were so few birds. Also unsurprising, throughout those 9 miles of beautiful, windswept, snow-covered Northumberland we didn’t encounter any other walkers. They don’t know what they were missing
If there’s a prize for worst blogpost title then I must be in the running with this one. What makes it even worse is that I thought of it on Friday night last week and have only just got round to using it now. Perhaps my subconscious was suppressing it?
Anyhow, last Friday I attended one of the Natural History Society of Northumbria’s indoor meetings. The speaker for the evening was Janet Simkin, a lichenologist. Now that’s quite a thing…lichens are widespread, they can be studied all year round and they are fascinating indicators of the cleanliness, or otherwise, of the air around us, yet some of my clients who have deep interests in many branches of natural history have always issued dire warnings about lichenologists; “they’re a bit strange”, “if you have one on one of your trips, you’ll be lucky if they leave the carpark”, “they move in a geological timeframe” are some of the kinder words spoken.
So why am I blogging about lichens? Well, a few weeks ago I was visiting an elderly friend, who has a remarkable personal library, and we were looking through his collection of books on lower plants. Tucked in amongst them was a guide to identifying lichens, which he removed from the shelf, handed to me and said “here, life’s too short…if I’d started 50 years ago this may have been some use”. I’d started to take notice of the lichens report in the excellent British Wildlife as well, some mouth-watering images and tales of rare and remote species stimulating my interest.
Dr Simkin’s talk was fascinating , detailing how lichen species have appeared and then vanished with changes in air quality. There was then a short presentation by Katy Barnard about the OPAL Air Survey. Now this is a bit of fieldwork/research that anyone can participate in. The results can be viewed online, and it gives you an excuse to get outdoors and get some fresh air (assuming that’s what the lichens you find indicate…)