Meadow yellow

Meadow yellow
Bulbous Buttercup (Ranunculus bulbosus) in a Devon meadow

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


There was an excited call from my wife the other day when she spotted from our upstairs skylight a large bird in our neighbour’s garden. It turned out to be a Buzzard (Buteo buteo) standing slightly hunched and initially motionless in the grass. After a while it walked slowly to perch on a bench. On closer inspection with the neighbour it seemed unwilling or unable to fly even in the presence of two sizable Tom cats. Sadly a few hours later it died.
So what could have been the cause of death? My immediate thought was that it had hit the ground too hard whilst chasing prey or had taken a glancing blow from a car on the nearby A road, before coming to rest in the garden. However a friend informed me that there would appear to be a lot of poisoning of birds of prey occurring in Devon. There are certainly a lot of young pheasants to protect in our area and an over-zealous gamekeeper might be tempted to break the law. This is supported by the RSPB’s latest Birdcrime Report (RSPB, 2012), which shows Devon to be one of the worst areas in the UK for confirmed persecution of birds of prey. On this basis I rang the 'Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme' (PBMS), who take in suspected cases of poisoning for analysis. However the chap I spoke to felt our Buzzard’s was more likely to be the result of injuries from a collision that had enabled the bird to initially fly away but later suffer from internal bleeding. He said this was supported by a number of specimens that had been sent into them and that without circumstantial evidence it would be hard to prove anything.

This is clearly an awful tragedy for the individual bird and we will never know now what caused its death. However the backdrop is of a bird species that has been very successful over recent years expanding into/returning to many areas of Britain. We appear to have a very strong local population and are lucky to have daily experiences of them perched or soaring over the landscape.

Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme – See
RSPB (2012) BIRDCRIME 2011 - Offences against wild bird legislation in 2011[Online]. [Accessed 20/02/13] 

Saturday, 9 February 2013


Strawberry anemone with tentacles retracted

For me rock-pooling transcends age and maturity. I get as much joy and excitement poking under rocks and in crevices as I did as a kid. In contrast I often find sandy beaches boring. Rocky seashores provide opportunities for startling discoveries and a glimpse into life under water. There was the time I came across a dogfish trapped in a rock pool and another when I first discovered blue-rayed limpets adorning kelp like miniature landing strips for alien sea craft.
Last week I was indulging in such activity at Ness beach near Shaldon, a hidden treasure only accessible by an original smugglers tunnel cut through the cliff (Smuggler’s Britain, 2013). The red cliffs enclose a mainly shingle beach, but at either end are large areas of rocky seashore. It was amongst these rocks that I found a real treasure clinging limply – A Strawberry anemone (Actinia fragacea), a large relative of the commoner Beadlet anemone (Actinia equina). These fruity creatures, strawberry red flecked with pip like greeny-yellow spots, can grow up to 10cm long (excluding tentacles). These are primitive carnivorous animals using stinging cells in their tentacles to capture prey (including small fish) that then pass the food into a simple stomach (Oakley, 2010).

Like its namesake this anemone enjoys a warm climate, being a southern species  present in the Channel as far east as Brighton, but is expected to respond to climate change in UK waters (Kendall, et al., 2004) – it otherwise commonly occurs in Mediterranean and West Africa. So as global temperatures rise we are likely to see more of these gems smuggling onto our rocky shores - happy hunting.

Kendall, M.A. , Burrows, M.T., Southward, A.J & Hawkins, S (2004). Predicting the effects of marine climate change on the invertebrate prey of the birds of rocky shores. Ibis (146): 40-47
Oakley, J. (2010) Seashore Safaris. Cardiff: Graffeg Books

Smugglers Britain (2013) The South Devon Coast [Online]. [Accessed 9/02/13]