First up, thanks to Mike Bird for sending me these shots of another Harlequin Ladybird, this time from the Muni Golf Course on April 24th.
Always handy seeing images of this brute, as they show so much variation.
Generally the fiercesome temper, tattoos etc are clues when you encounter one....
Not managed much birding recently, as mighty busy along the coast, but Greenland Wheatears coming thro' now, with a few more Whinchats here and there, plus Whimbrel out on Plex Moss.
Swifts have been back around Dempsey Towers for the last three days, with Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell on the wing too, and gazillions of Northern Dune Tiger Beetle on the coast.
Thanks to all my RSPB chums for the press release on those crrrazy Llamas at Marshside, which now follows....(the headline is theirs, not mine, so no jokes about "hairy bouncers" at the back thank you)
Llama Drama: Hairy bouncers to protect wading birds this summer
Bouncers are used to dealing with bouts of spitting, kicking and wrestling, but wouldn't be encouraged to behave this way themselves.
But some new 'security guards' at RSPB Marshside near Southport have been hired for exactly these actions, with territorial behavior an essential part of the job description.
Two llamas have been recruited as an experiment to protect the eggs and chicks of the wading birds that reside there and act as guards during the birds' nesting season.
Local graziers Gill Baker and Lee Booth are normally asked by the RSPB to have cattle grazing on the marsh to keep the habitat in tip-top condition for the important lapwing and redshank populations at the reserve. But this summer, llamas Willy and Jack will join the other cattle to help protect the wading birds.
Gill Baker says: "The 'boy's are a great hit with locals and visitors to the reserve. They will hopefully do a great job looking after the birds and can live quite harmoniously with the cows there."
Llamas are extremely protective creatures and can be quite aggressive, although only if provoked. They can kick, spit and neck wrestle and they move up or down the social ladder by picking small fights. Fights are visually dramatic with the spitting, ramming each other with their chests and kicking, mainly to knock the other off balance.
The sound of the llama making groaning noises or going "mwa" is often a sign of fear or anger and it is hoped that these noises and slightly erratic behavior will be a deterrent to predators like foxes.
Using llamas as livestock guards began in the early 1980s in North America and some sheep producers have used llamas successfully for that entire time. Llamas are ideal guard animals as they protect against predation and are straightforward to look after.
Graham Clarkson, RSPB Marshside warden, says: "Llamas are territorial and should chase away animals like foxes that can eat lapwing and redshank eggs and chicks. We hope it will make a difference to how successful the birds are this year."
"It's particularly important that they do well as the populations of these breeding birds are threatened in the UK so we will be monitoring the outcome of this experiment carefully. We will be helped by volunteers from Edge Hill University who are carrying out intensive lapwing survey work under the guidance of Dr Alan Bedford, the University's Senior Biology Lecturer and his wife Hilary".
"And as well as the potential conservation benefits of having the llamas on site, it will be really interesting for the visitors too and although they can be aggressive if provoked, there are naturally very gentle creatures!"
You can see Willy and Jack and the rest of the wildlife at RSPB Marshside nature reserve for free, seven days a week. For more information visit www.rspb.org.uk/reserves
Right, think I can feel a seawatch coming on, believe Mad Dog Bannon got a Hobby at Marshside in the week, and I also heard third hand reports of a Monty's down there - anyone know anything else?
Finally Graham Clarkson contacted me to let me know he is having to close Nels Hide again in the evenings, which means you may not be able to get in from 5pm to 9am.
"We're going to have to start locking Nel's hide at 5p.m. starting immediately. It's a shame and a pain for the RSPB staff and volunteer team. The hide should be open by 9.a.m. although I can't guarantee this", Graham explains.
"Longer term we'd like to have a viewing screen, just like at Sandgrounders, for use when the hide is locked or crowded, this is some way off though."
He adds: "If any of your blog readers need to contact me re the hide being locked or would like to volunteer to open or lock, they're welcome to contact me; email@example.com
Eyes to the skies everyone, eyes to the skies...