Friday, 4 March 2016

A walk in the country

Hello again dear follower, I hope you are well and are beginning to feel the joys of spring that is just beginning to show its head around the corner. Of late, I have taken to going out for a good old morning country walk using the many footpaths I have found around my home. Many of the paths criss-cross the arable fields and although muddy at times, are quite pleasurable to walk along. Everyday, I get to see more and more of the wildlife that inhabits our hedgerows and surprisingly close up too. Often, I see Wrens, Robins and Yellowhammers within feet of where I am standing. On one occasion, a female Sparrowhawk whizzed passed my knee from behind and swooped up to sit on a branch 20ft in front of me. I stood watching her in all her magnificence through my binoculars, knowing that if I made a single move towards my camera that hung at my hip, she would be gone. Sure enough, as I lowered the binoculars, she was gone, leaving in her wake a chorus of alarm calls from the various small birds around that had spotted her presence.

Although I didn't get a photo, I'm not bothered. As I often tell visitors to Lackford Lakes, where I work, who have seen something but failed to get a photo, just being able to sit and watch the creature can be rewarding enough and makes the moment even more special. All too often we can easily get caught up in getting the photo and not actually just taking time to sit and observe and admire the beauty that is siting in front of you.

One of these moments came not so long ago when I had to go on an errand to Stradbroke for the wifey who was at work. Usually, I would jump in the car and be there and back in about 20-30mins, but I looked at my OS Map app on my phone and realised that it wasn't that far to walk, about 2 miles each way. So I donned my walking boots and set off. 

Part of my root takes me down what once used to be a railway line. The line was dismantled many decades ago though, possibly part of Mr Beecham's cuts, who knows? and is now a bridleway. 

Once a railway line.
There are no signs that it used to be a railway, now tall tress swaying in the wind on either side. Anyway, it was on this walk that something most unusual happened. A Barn Owl flew out in front of me, it was most unexpected for her as it was me, but the reason I did not expect it was because it was 10:30am, well past dawn and there was this beautiful creature flying down the path ahead of me. I did think of chasing her to try and get some shots, however, I didn't have the right lens on, I only had a 90mm macro on for some close-up work should the situation arise. My 200mm lens was sitting on the desk at home (no good there I hear you cry). So I just walked and watched as she flew off ahead of me and then over the next hedgerow. About 5 mins later I passed a small meadow enclosed by high hedgerows on all sides and saw the owl quartering the field in search of food. Barn owls can often be forced to feed late into the morning by the weather. If it's been raining the night before or has been a particularly cold night, food can be hard to come by.

I walked into the field and crouched low to watch her hunt. I did manage to grab a couple of shots but she didn't come close enough for anything spectacular.

Barn owl at Stradbroke.
I seem to be seeing rather a lot of Barn owls of late, including a pair at work, whilst driving to work and even in the field outside my front door. I don't think I will ever get tired of seeing them either, such a beautiful bird, such an iconic figure of the British countryside.

One thing I've noticed on my walks are the amount of deer footprints I come across. One for thing for certain is there are lots of Muntjacs around.

Muntjac prints
Occasionally, I come across the odd Roe deer print, which as you can see, is much bigger.

Roe deer print
And one morning I was very lucky. On a walk and less than ½ mile from my house, I saw in the golden morning light what at first I thought was a large dog. But as I peered through my bins, I could see they were deer, Roe deer in fact!

Roe deer.
It was the one on the left that I had first spotted, she was standing up with the sun shining off of her side and when I first looked through the bins the three to the right (a stag and 2 does) were laying down and I would've not known they were there. They heard and saw me from a long way off despite the fact I'm not a noisy walker, you see so much more by being quiet, and they watched me warily as I walked the path that was perpendicular to theirs. Even though I wasn't walking directly towards them, the were taking no chances and decided to head off across the fields.

Heading off to safety

I started a petition 

I know, the world is full of petitions. Everywhere you look there is a petition against some thing or other. But recently, I got chatting to a bloke who claimed to be an ex-gamekeeper, he seemed a nice enough fellow and told me how he had his little quiet hideaway in the woods where he would sit and admire nature. He then went on to tell me how it was his duty to set up the pheasant and grouse shoots for his employer and how he always aimed to miss when given the opportunity to shoot because he thought wildlife "was amazing, except for badgers" he went on. 'Sorry" said I. "There bas*^@$" he went on, "used to set snares for them to protect the pheasants and grouse against them and foxes. Set one snare tied to a fence post once, went to check it and the snare and fence post were gone. Eventually found it much later 500yds away with a dead badger attached to it." I was horrified to say the least, I politely made my excuses and went on my way, I really did not want to listen to another word this man told me. When I got home, I got onto the internet to check whether snare trapping is a legal practice and I was amazed to find that this was true. This barbaric way of animal control can quite legally be carried out. For this of you who do not know what snare trapping is, I will tell you, but don't worry, I won't post any horrific pictures as I feel the description is usually enough.

It involves tying a stiff wire in the form of a crude noose and then attaching that to a stake or fence post. The snare is usually placed on a well worn animal track, which are easy to see to the trained eye, and are totally indiscriminate. The animal whether it is fox, rabbit, hare, badger or even otter or household pets will usually run along the track and its head will go through the noose. The noose is designed in such a way that it only tightens and will not loosen, so as the animal struggles the noose tightens even more, cutting into the skin and eventually (sometimes it may take hours) strangling the poor creature within.

I think that is descriptive enough to warrant not posting a photo of the outcome and to think that this practice is still legal in this day and age I find mind boggling. So I decided to set up a government petition to outlaw the use of these traps. You can sign the petition here and please pass this link onto your friends and family using social media or any other way you see fit. I thank you greatly in advance.

Camera gremlins everywhere!

I seem to be having some problems with my cameras on the home front at the moment. Two cameras I have, suddenly without warning ceased to work within two weeks of each other. Why I have no idea, but thankfully the nice guys at have looked at them and found one was faulty and replaced it, but found the other one to be working fine, strangely. So hopefully, over the weekend I'll get these back in to position and I'll get some nesting activity on the camera. Bizarrely, whilst the two cameras were away being looked at, another camera of mine in a nest box stopped working, yet, 3 days later, it's back to normal with no problems at all. 

Right, I better be off, gotta get ready for my radio piece with the wonderful Lesley Dolphin on BBC Radio Suffolk. We're talking bumblebees today.

Till next time dear follower, keep safe, keep smiling.

Monday, 8 February 2016

It's a bit late, but Happy new year!

Yes, amazingly, I'm still here. Unfortunately, I just haven't had much time to do the blog. So as this is the first post since April last year, the first thing I must say to you my poor followers is Happy New Year and all the other holiday celebrations I've missed out on, sorry.

So where do I begin? Lets time shift back to April 2015 where I was having trouble with some unwelcome visitors in the shape of a rat or two and a Heron. I'm happy to say that since then, they really haven't been much trouble and I've only ever caught two more since, which have been released into the middle of nowhere to continue their lives in peace. I made the pond unaccessible for the heron for a few months and it hasn't been back since, fingers crossed.

We often hear mice scurrying back and forth in the roof of the workshop, but they're not a big issue as yet. Again, I catch these in humane mouse traps and take them to the hedgerow a few hundred metres outside our house and release them there. Unlike rats, which have to be taken a couple of miles from a property to be effectively lost, mice only need a few hundred metres.

Although recently, I caught not one, but two mice in the trap. One was a baby and the other was its mother. I took them down the road and released them into the deep grass. However, next day, Trousers our cat popped into the workshop where the metes were caught and he strangely sat next to my wifey's kiln, which had been running in the night, so was nice and warm. I laid down on the floor to see why he was sitting next to the kiln, but behind it and saw that beneath the kiln were 3 baby mice.
3 baby mice close to death huddle together whilst Trousers stands next to them to alert me to their presence.
These obviously belonged to the mother that I released the day before and they were not in a good way. I could release them in the same place as their mother, but mother would not return as she would be busy looking after her one remaining baby. So, I gently picked them up, placed them into one of my old bat care containers and brought them in. I hand fed them some lactose free milk and got them to lick some crushed suet pellets, lots of high energy. I then tore up some J-cloths for bedding and placed them near a radiator, but not too close. I felt that my actions were going to be futile as they were so weak and that they would be dead by the end of the day. I felt very guilty that I had took their mother away from them.
Crushed peanuts and suet pellets...

...and some lactose free milk.

However, by the next morning, they were scurrying around and full of energy having ate all the crushed suet pellets and peanuts I had left for them. Despite all of this energy, they were still to young to be released into the wild. I would have to rear them on a bit so they would have some chance at least of survival when the time came.

Looking much perkier the next day.
A few weeks down the line and they began to get big and were quite ready to be released, much to the disappointment of my wifey who had become rather attached to them as she would watch them scurry around their little tank.

We're ready to leave now thanks.
So, the time came and I knew a nice little area where there were bramble bushes about with plenty of food and hide holes for them. I out their tank in my car and all three of them looked out of the window as we sped down the road (honestly) and when we got to the new location, they sat y the entrance to their tank and just peered out. I was in the area for the day, so left them be, knowing that when I returned, they would be gone and sure enough, when it was time to leave, they were. It was a pleasure raising these little ones and made me feel less guilty about taking their mother away from them, albeit, unknowingly.

People might think I'm a bit mad for rescuing 'vermin', but I don't see them as that. They are another creature that play an important role in our fragile ecosystems. Yes, when they intrude into our living space they can be a problem, but can you really blame them? They have found a weakness, flaw in your cosy nest and whether it's a nest site or food or both that they have found in your home, you have to ask yourself, if you were them, wouldn't you do the same? Every creature will utilise whatever it can to benefit its survival, if you don't want these creatures getting into your home, then you need to find out how they're getting in and stop them by repairing the weakness in your defences.  Yes, we have them in our workshop, we hear them scurrying around the roof area, which is corrugated iron on top of thick polystyrene then plywood. We have now put ultrasonic devices in the workshop area that have now stopped the mice coming down to visit us, yet they still run around above the polystyrene and we're OK with that. We live in the countryside and we expect the wildlife to be just that bit closer than when we lived in the town.

Among many other things, me and the wifey made a new bird feeder for the front garden. We wanted something a little different than your average feeder and using some wood I recycled from an old cable drum and an old tree trunk we came up with this feeder.

The box holds a huge amount of seed.
The box on top holds a bucket full of seed and each side has a design representing each of the four elements air, fire, water and earth. Thankfully, the birds love it, so much so, I was getting so many Goldfinches coming to the feeders, we had to buy a bigger nyger seed feeder that measure just under a metre long.

Just some of the 25+ Goldfinches visiting the new nyger feeder.
Visits were getting more and more frequent with over 40 House Sparrows visiting every day. Then we started getting a female woodpecker turning up a couple of times a day, which was a real treat.

Female Great Spotted Woodpecker, a daily visitor.

House sparrows a plenty.
Some of you may remember me telling you about Flash, our leucistic male Blackbird. Leucistic birds have a lack of pigmentation in their feathers that in some cases, covers the whole bird. But Flash just has a patch on his left underside. Well he is still a regular visitor here to our garden and is often seen chasing off other males from his patch.

Flash, our leucistic Blackbird.
Another visitor that was a surprise for us, were Yellowhammers. We often hear them calling in the summer from the hedgerows and trees around, but we've never had them come to our feeders before.

Male Yellowhammer in the garden.
Now I'm not a birder, but I do feel I should have a bird species list for the garden, so here it goes:

  1. House Sparrow
  2. Dunnock
  3. Chaffinch
  4. Goldfinch
  5. Greenfinch
  6. Bullfinch
  7. Blue tit
  8. Great tit
  9. Coal tit
  10. Long-tailed tit
  11. Wren
  12. Robin
  13. Yellowhammer
  14. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  15. Green Woodpecker
  16. Wood pigeon
  17. Stock Dove
  18. Collared Dove
  19. Turtle Dove (oh yes)
  20. Blackbird
  21. Redwing
  22. Fieldfare
  23. Sparrowhawk
  24. Goldcrest
  25. Starling
  26. Jay
  27. Pheasant
  28. Heron (not wanted)
  29. Pied wagtail
  30. Tawny owl
  31. Little owl
  32. Buzzard (fly over)
  33. Kestrel
  34. Blackcap
  35. Chiffchaff
So there you have it, a rather impressive list if I do say so myself. Despite all these wonderful birds, I still do miss the Siskins. Thankfully, I do get to see these at work, but it would be lovely to have them back in the garden again. Who knows what the future may bring though? I recently done a little count of how many visits I get to my feeders and it works out on average, I get 2,000 visits per hour! 

On the radio!

Yes, I am now on the radio believe it or not! Working for Suffolk Wildlife Trust and being their main bug person, any bug related queries usually get pointed in my direction and after a recent radio interview about some bugs for the trust, Lesley Dolphin of BBC Radio Suffolk asked me if I would like to do a once a month slot on Insect of the Month. This is where I pick a particular insect and tell the listeners lots about it, of course I was more than happy to oblige. Strangely, we started this just before Xmas when there isn't many bugs about and we've covered overwintering moths and butterflies, harlequin ladybirds and silverfish. Next week I'm talking about that much hated creepy crawly earwigs. Is it true they like to burrow into your ear and nibble your brains? You'll just have to wait and see next Thursday 11th at 4:10pm on the Lesley Dolphin show.

A chance encounter!

Last Xmas, I was a very lucky boy who got a lovely new camera from his wifey. I was planning to buy a new camera as my much loved D2x was getting on a bit and coupled with my back injury from 2013 (which is not spondylitis, as some idiots seem to think), was quite a weight to lug about. The body alone weighed over 1kg. One of the benefits of my job being front of house at Lackford is that many photographers want to show me their photos from the backs of their cameras, so I can ID what they've seen. Doing this I noticed and was surprised to find just how light camera bodies had become as well as the increase in pixels they have obtained. So I decided to sell my camera and buy a new one, which thanks to my wifey, I didn't have to as she bought one for me as a Xmas present.

So my new camera weighs less than half of my old D2x and has twice as many pixels and my photography has become a joy again that I'm now taking my camera to work with me every time I go. This paid off for me last weekend when I decided to get into work an hour early. I chose to do this, as it is really the only time I get to get out onto the reserve. It might sound a bit strange that I don't get to get out onto the reserve I work on, but as soon as I arrive at work, I'm usually busy getting the place ready to open, then my main job is to greet and welcome the visitors, which kind of means I'm in the centre all day. By the time I've finished and the centre is closed up I'm either too tired to go wandering around the reserve or it's too dark, especially in winter. So, with the mornings getting brighter earlier, I decided to get in an hour early. As I drove through the country lanes, I just turned onto the A143 at Wortham when I noticed something white flying over the common by the side of the road. At first I thought it was a gull (the word seagull is frowned upon by birders apparently), but then I looked again and I saw it was actually a Barn Owl out hunting. It was a Sunday morning, just gone 7am and very little traffic on the road, I immediately swung my car into a turning grabbed my camera, which was sitting on the seat next to me with the right lens on (for a change), and jumped out of the car to get some shots. 

The bird began to fly away from me at first, but I know how Barn Owls hunt and they usually zig-zag back and forth across an area of grassland listening for that squeak of a vole or shrew from the grass below. So I knew I just had to bide my time and then she turned and began coming back towards me but further up the road from which I had come. I watched and walked slowly in her direction, so as not to scare her. I then saw her turn and swoop up to land on the pitched roof of the bus shelter 400yds ahead of me. She was now out of sight on the roof and as quietly as I could, I sprinted up the road towards to bus shelter. Reaching the shelter, I crept slowly around it, camera poised to get a grab shot of her on the roof. I swung round the corner camera pointed to the roof only to see her not on the roof, but 4 foot in front of my face hovering above the long grass behind the shelter. All too quickly before I could re-adjust my camera, she saw me and was off.

I persevered however and she was not too perturbed by my presence as she carried on with her hunting moving further back up the road. Suddenly, she hovered then dived, feet outstretched. I could just see the top of her head in the long grass and using this as cover again, I sprinted as fast as I could towards her. I came across a large stone structure that holds the Wortham village sign aloft and crept up behind this, again out of sight of the owl. Here I managed to get some good shots without it bothering her too much.

Take off with captured Shrew.
When a Barn Owl lands on its prey, the very first thing it usually does is dispatch it by breaking its neck with its beak. I know this sounds rather gruesome, but it's quick for the captured animal and it ensures the food does not escape leaving the owl hungry nor is the prey likely to bite the owl leaving a cut that could get infected leading to the death of the owl. I knew she had caught something because when I got a view of her she was 'mantling'. This is where a bird of prey will stretch its wings out to hide the fact that it has caught something from other predators such as kestrels and the like who might swoop down and try to steal her prize.

Suddenly, she picked the prey (a shrew in this case) and launched into the air to fly to a nearby signpost, where she could position the food into a better carrying position. Again, owls don't want to spend to long on the ground as this leaves them vulnerable to attack too from foxes, stoats etc.

A nearby signpost makes an ideal perch.
It felt really good to get these shots and made for a lovely start to the day. It was only after I had processed the photos on my computer that I thought I should actually be putting these on my blog, not just social media and the like. So here they are and it makes me wonder, did this happen for me to reawaken the blog? I haven't heard too many (if any in fact) complaints to the absence of the blog, so we will see. Of late, I have been extremely busy with not only work work, but also DIY work and there is still a lot of that to do, however, I have learnt of late that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. So I intend to make more time for myself away from all the work occasionally, at least once a week if possible, and enjoy the things I like doing. Hopefully, this will lead to a blog from me at least once a month.

So till next time dear followers, keep happy, keep smiling.

P.S. It's good to be back!

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Where does the time go?

Blimey, been a while hasn't it?  As you know, moved house of late and as you can imagine, been rather inundated with DIY and if not DIY, very busy with work, which I hasten to add is going rather well.

So what has happened in my world that has dragged me back here to enlighten you dear reader, well, lots actually. So lets begin.

Unwelcome guests

So, we live in the country now and things are a little different here, especially the wildlife. One species in particular, is the rat. Now I have no problem with rats, I grew up seeing them on debris sites next to the railway line where I lived in London. From what I can remember, they were huge beasts, the size of a cat, but then that could be my childhood memory playing tricks. Everything seemed bigger when we were kids. The rats here though are different, they are after all, wild animals that are living in the countryside, like mice, voles, shrews, etc. The rats in London lived in the sewers, the filth and squalor of an urban population. Yet, there's something that the very word 'rat' brings out in people. An immediate disgust, filthy, viscous creatures are words coupled with revulsion upon peoples faces. I must admit, I too am not too happy to see them in my garden, especially at 11am under the bird table whilst sparrows and dunnocks hop around it without a care in the world.

Rats become sexually mature at 5 weeks old! They are capable of having large litters of up to 12 young! So it doesn't take a genius to do the math that a pregnant female with access to a regular supply of food beneath my bird table, could mean, that in no time at all, I could be overrun with them, not good.

So they must be got rid of and I'm not reaching for my gun, because I don't have one, neither am I looking for the rat poison or the deadly rat trap. No, call me soppy, but I really do believe there's plenty of room for everything on our little planet, however, I don't want a breeding colony of rats to live with. So I purchased a Humane rat trap that captures them alive. So far, it's caught 4 (2 males, 2 females) and I have moved them to an even more rural location than where I live now. With mice, you need to remove them at least 100yds from where they were captured to ensure they don't return. Rats however, is 2 miles. So each morning, I check the trap and each one I find goes into the back of the car and is driven way out into the countryside. I always make sure that I find somewhere away from any human habitation, I'm not going to dump my rats onto someone else. Then I flip open the cage and rat runs off into the hedgerow with a squeak to chance its legs somewhere else.

The other unwelcome visitor came as bit of a surprise. My fish pond, which I forgot to show you a picture of last time, here it is:

A work in progress.
Has been up and running for a few months now and I wanted to get some of the fish from my original pond, that have been staying at my Father-in-laws pond during the move, into it. So I managed to catch 3 Koi and two goldfish, one of which came from our very first pond in Dagenham back in the early 90's.

By adding these hardy fish, they will help get the filter going and get the pond ready for the rest of the fish. I would check on them from time to time to make sure all was well, then one day I noticed something rather odd. Instead of my usual 5 fish, there were only 3! The two goldfish were missing, a bit odd I thought, maybe they're hiding. But after a couple of days, still no goldfish. So I set up my trail cam next to the pond and on the first night it caught what I had secretly been dreading.

Heron by the pond.
It seems my lovely goldfish were sushi for this pesky bird. So annoying. The pond is new, it's not an established pond, and it's the only garden pond for quite some distance. So this really was pot luck for this bird who must have spotted whilst flying over. Needless to say, that day, I went out and bought netting and it hasn't been back since, fingers crossed. I just can't wait now to get some plants growing in the pond to give the fish some much needed cover.

Welcome guests

There's been a few of these, with an array of birds at the bird table all day long, a Robin nesting in my soffit boards, a Dunnock singing at his post at the bottom of the garden, a field full of Fieldfares all winter long, Skylarks singing in the skies above the house, Yellowhammers calling from the hedgerows around us, the Sparrowhawk trying his luck at the feeders, Hares and Fallow deer running across the fields outside and the odd buzzard floating over the garden. Yes, the welcome guests completely outnumber the unwelcome.

This week, not far from our house, whilst driving into town, I could not believe my eyes. As I drove into the little village of Denham (or the outskirts of) a Hawk swopped past in front of me on the gusty wind. It was being followed by three rooks and I was so amazed I pulled the car over to a stop immediately. Thankfully, I decided on not leaving my binoculars at work the day before and they were still in the car, I picked them up and focused and there drift lazily on the wind was a Red Kite! 

I've seen plenty of these birds in my time as a trucker and over the years I slowly watched these beautiful birds slowly spread east across the country from Devon and Wales. One place where you was almost guaranteed a good show was on the M40 driving into Oxfordshire. Here they would hang on the wind that blew over the Chilterns like they were hanging from the sky itself and here, in my little part of rural Suffolk, was one of these birds. this is the most furthest east I have seen a Red Kite and I can only hope that I will get to see more of them around these parts in the future.


I've got a new camera control set up as I was impressed with the camera last year and now have a whole host of projects I want to get started on. So I now have a way of recording several cameras at the same time via a DVR.

Still room for another camera!
Last year, I had one camera in the nest box, which happily saw the Blue tits raise their young. I brought that camera with me from our old home and replaced the box I took away with another non-camera box. I've set the camera up here and for the last month, the Blue tits have been in it every single day for a good couple of hours pecking away at the hole and checking it out. However, two days ago, all activity stopped and they haven't been back. Coincidentally, the strong winds started about two days ago too,, so maybe they are just taking cover from the storm at the moment. Strangely though, Facebook sent me a reminder this morning from what was happening this time last year.

The first eggs were laid this time last year!
Despite all the attention the Blue tits have been giving this nest box this year, they are somewhat lagging a bit!

The view today, a bit sparse me thinks.
On the Sparrow box, no action whatsoever, except for the occasional look in from the Blue tits, the Sparrows have paid it no attention. Might need to move it into a new place. 

I do have a new camera though and this one is currently placed by the small wildlife pond I've dug in the front garden. 
The small wildlife pond in the front garden.
Apparently, there used to be a larger one here years ago that crossed into both properties, but they were filled in due to the neighbours concerns over their young children. I've decided to re-instate it, although much smaller than the original, this is not a problem. My old neighbour (Hi Mick & Lisa, we miss you) used to have a sunken flower tub in his back garden that actually had newts in it and this year has even got frog spawn in it! So every little helps and I'm pretty sure that in no time at all, wildlife will find it beneficial to them. 

The wildlife pond cam in place
Already I've watched my tribe of Sparrows and Flash the Blackbird having a good old wash in it. Build it and they will come!

So just a small blog this time to keep you in the loop as it were, bear with me during this time of transition in our lives, the blog will get back on track soon, promise.

Till next time, keep safe, keep smiling. 

Friday, 16 January 2015

Happy new year one and all

Happy New Year everybody, I hope you all had a enjoyable time and I wish you all good things for the coming year ahead. Things have been slowly improving here in the sticks despite the cold and windy weather of late. The pond is now up and running and a couple of the Koi from my original pond in Ipswich, which have been holidaying in my Father-in-laws pond during the move, have now been moved into the new pond. At the moment, they're looking a bit lost in the pond as there isn't much vegetation for them to hide under. But plants have been added, including some fast growers, so hopefully, it won't be too long before they get settled. As you can see, I still need to trim the liner in places, but I just need to make a few more minor alterations before any final cuts are made.

Thankfully, the website I bought the liner from have a few issues with their measurement charts and despite giving them the correct pond dimensions, they still managed to sell me more liner than I actually needed. But it's not all bad, as the excess liner will come in handy for lining the wildlife pond in my front garden, which despite me lining with clay from the bottom of the big pond I excavated, still won't hold water for very long. My neighbour, who works as a landscape gardener, reckons the clay needs to be much thicker. I guess he's right, but most of the clay I have is now inaccessible (beneath the liner of the big pond) and it killed my back just moving the small amount of clay I've already placed in there. So when the water drains out of the little pond, I'll place a liner in it instead, much easier.

Early arrivals

Got an email from my boss last week asking me what's this? The email contained a picture of an insect, possibly a bee in a jar.

What's this?
Apparently, during the end of 2014, one of the managers was splitting some wood when he came across some cocoons inside the wood.

Concealed cocoons. note the visible entrance tunnel through the wood.
These he thought, and quite rightly so, would make good education tools. However, what he didn't realise was, the cocoons were still occupied. Bringing them into the warm indoors, fooled the developing insects inside to think it was late spring and begin to emerge. Needless to say, I popped into the office to collect said bee for a proper identification. On closer inspection, I could see that the cocoons were that of the leaf cutter bee, something I videoed in action last year.

However, thanks to the experts on Twitter (Martin Harvey and Ian Beavis) I got a family ID of Coelioxys sp. When I got home, I was able to look at the specimen in greater detail and thanks to the key on the BWARS website, I was able to ascertain that it was in fact Coelioxys inermis, a cuckoo bee of leaf-cutter bees.

The female Coelioxys inermis cuckoo bee.

This bee will sit nearby to where a leaf-cutter is making her cocoons and whilst the leaf-cutter goes off to find more leaves, the Coelioxys will pop inside and lay an egg without the host bee knowing. The leaf-cutter comes back, lays her egg with a store of pollen and seals the chamber before creating the next chamber. However, the cuckoo bee's egg hatches and eats the store of pollen and even the host bee larvae, so that come spring, a new parasitic bee will emerge instead of a leaf-cutter bee.

Nesting time

It's around this time of year, that the birdies start to look for new nest sites for the coming year ahead, so now's the time to clean out your old nest boxes of last years nesting material and get any new nest boxes up ready. It really is important to remove old nesting material from a nest box as these harbour a host of parasitic mites that have spent all winter tucked up asleep waiting for some fresh warm blood from a little Blue tit and her young to feed on. Studies have also proven that most small birds will choose a clean empty box over an old box with last years nest still in it. The birds know what's best and a flea bitten chick won't have a good chance of survival if it's anaemic through being a parasites dinner.

The last week or so, I've watched Blue tit's, Sparrows and Robin's in groups chasing females, so I got busy with the nest boxes. The first box I put up is the Blue tit box which was used successfully last year in Ipswich. I also noticed that I have a lovely flock of House Sparrows outside my office window  sitting on top of the hedge. So using some bits of scrap wood from various DIY jobs around the house, I made a Sparrow nest box. So what's difference between a Sparrow nest box and one for Blue tits? Sparrows are communal birds and like to nest as a community, whereas Blue tit's are the complete opposite and are very territorial, to the point I've even seen one trying to fight itself in the wing mirror of a parked tractor near the nest.

So a Blue tit nest box is a singular affair and the Sparrow nest box comprises of three nest boxes in a row like this one I built.

Homemade shabby chic Sparrow nest box from upcycled wood.
The middle chamber does have a camera inside, so hopefully, if the Sparrow's like it, we'll get to see what they're up to.

The following day, with the nest boxes up, I got round to setting up the cameras inside them and my new Xmas pressies from santa, a 4 channel Digital Video Recorder. This is a simple device which monitors and records any activity from any of the cameras connected. Whilst I was dong this, a Blue tit actually came and inspected the box. Unfortunately, as I had only just connected the DVR up and was still trying to work it all out, I didn't record it, I did however grab this quick pic from my phone.

Blue tit checking out the nest box.
I'm also sorting out some wildlife cameras for work and have just built a critter cam that will attract and record the antics of some of our smaller mammals. I also connected this up to my DVR to try it out and it seems quite successful so far.

Indoor wildlife

Things have been busy indoors too, we've removed some panelling to reveal the original wattle and daub wall of the original dwelling which goes back over 300 years.

The thick part at the bottom was originally an outside wall.

Look closely and you'll see the twisted horse hair which helps to bind it all together.

As you will see from the photos, the wooden branches packed out with muck and hay and bound together with twisted horse hair. they really don't build houses like this anymore, certainly not in the UK anyway. 

We also noticed that there were a few exit holes from wood boring beetles and it was decided to get these checked out, along with the rest of the house. Turns out we actually have Death Watch beetle present in a couple of the old beams. This was confirmed by the man actually finding a tiny and minute beetle known as a Steely Blue. This beetle is a parasite of the Death Watch beetle and therefore is only present where its food can be found. Unfortunately, the tiny Steely Blue was lost by yours truly whilst trying to collect it into a specimen pot, D'oh!

Death Watch beetle exit holes.

Anyway, it isn't as bad as it sounds and there's no huge infestation. The house isn't about to collapse into a pile of rubble yet.

So it's been quite busy here of late and there are still more projects on the agenda, so don't be a stranger, keep popping in from time to time, you never know what might be happening next!

Till next time, Keep safe, Keep smiling

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Last moth of the year

Well, what a year it’s been. I could never imagine at the beginning of 2014 that I would be looking back at the end of it going Wow!

2014 start

The started with me still of work with a ripped levator scapula muscle in my back. The chances of me going back to driving were slim, very slim. However, I had taken up a voluntary role with Suffolk Wildlife Trust as a Education and Events Volunteer. This would involve me working for Angela Jones under a Heritage Lottery Funded project called Networking Nature, teaching people and children about their local wildlife, how to find it, encourage it and enjoy it. It was a real eye opener and such an enjoyable job, even if I wasn’t getting paid for it.

I built a new moth trap as my original moth trap was beginning to warp out of shape and release the moths I was catching.

The new Mk 2 moth trap
I also came across an entomological cabinet for sale from the Natural History Museum. It was an historic piece too that used to house a moth collection by a French lepidopterist, Charles Oberthur.

20 drawers to restore and fill.
In February, Blue tits started to use my camera nest box for the first time and I looked forward to seeing the daily routines of this favourite little bird.

Checking out the potential property ladder.
I got a few new projects underway, including me trying to find a use for the tumble dryer fluff as nesting material, which failed and was never touched.

Not suitable nesting material.
Also, Plan Bee, which saw mr trying to encourage bumblebees to nest in a box in my office with a camera inside. Again, despite me finding several queens, none adopted the box and they flew away to find better nesting sites. But as a famous man once said, “Those who have never made a mistake, have never tried anything new” Einstien.

One project that did work however, was my footprint tunnel that I made from a cardboard tube from a carpet shop, some ink pads from eBay and some paper. The result was, I had mice at the end of my garden.

The footprints of mice.

March saw the spring start kicking into action with various moths coming to the moth trap and butterflies in the garden. Things were getting busy indoors too with the emergence of my Emperor moths which I grew last year and overwintered at the bottom of my garden.

Newly emerged female and male emperor moths
You can see a time-lapse film here

The new moths promptly mated and gave me even more eggs!

Eggs from the freshly emerged moths.
The Blue tit’s nest building was coming on well too

Then in April, I managed to convert an old hornets nest I found last year into an educational tool for Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
The original Blue tit nest box which had been converted by Hornets in 2013.
The newly converted nest box by me in 2014
The Blue tits had laid 9 eggs which were beginning to hatch.

By the end of May, the Blue tits were beginning to fledge and I had compiled a time-lapse from start to finish of the Blue tits.

Unfortunately, of the 9 eggs laid, only 4 made it out to the big wide world. But that’s the reality of nature, by having as many offspring that you can manage to feed, you get a much higher chance of some, no matter how few, through to adulthood to carry on the genes. Survival of the fittest.

I also had two new finds during May and both on the same day. It was a Butterfly Conservation members day and the weather really wasn’t good for butterflies, but walk we did despite the weather and I came across this lovely little beetle.

Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle
The nest new find was a skull outside a fox den. Guess what? It was the skull of a fox, which had most probably died from traffic collision injuries as the site was right next to the busy A12.

Fox skull
My emperor caterpillars were also getting quite big and eating leaves at a phenomenal rate.

Emperor moth caterpillar.
June saw fame come knocking on my door when I was asked to appear on BBC Radio Suffolk with Etholle George. Spring watch was in town (Minsmere) and everyone in Suffolk had Springwatch fever. I had to be at Minsmere early for the radio interview, which was sited in the Springwatch media village. Whilst waiting to do my bit, I was approached by BBC Springwatch Red Button Extra asking if they could interview me afterwards.

So, here’s the radio interview if you haven’t heard it already.

And here’s the TV appearance (sorry about the sound quality)

Some caterpillars that I raised last year and overwintered in my fridge began to emerge and gave me a surprise too. I thought all along that they were Poplar Hawkmoths and it was only when they emerged that I found out they were Eyed Hawkmoths instead! Still very pleased though, loved rearing these fellas.

Beautiful Eyed Hawkmoth freshly emerged.
Also emerging was a Privet Hawkmoth whose large caterpillar I found on my Lilac tree in 2013. Once emerged, I placed him back on the very same tree.

An impressive looking Privet Hawkmoth
It was also time for the Yearly Suffolk Show to take place at the Trimely Showground and I was to be there for the first time working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust helping kids build a huge bug hotel and do some moth trapping. It was a great couple of days despite the overnight downpours and everyone had a great time, myself included.

Helping build bug hotels (c) Samantha Gay

Releasing the moths
I also got to see the Silver-studded Blue butterfly for the first time at Purdis Heath. This is a small, yet beautiful butterfly that is in decline at this site, however, important habitat management being carried out by volunteers of Butterfly Conservation are helping to bring back this beauty from being lost from Ipswich altogether. Keep up the great work guys and gals.

July saw me with SWT at the Latitude Festival helping kids with bug hunting.

Need I say more?

The weather was grand and again, everyone had a great time.

I also managed to record my first Barbastelle bat whilst our bat hunting in SWT’s Newbourne Springs Nature Reserve.

The unmistakable call of a Barbastelle bat
August came the Bioblitz at SWT’s Foxburrow farm which was a great event with lots found, including some rarities such as this Gasteruption jaculator wasp which was preying on the nests of a rare bee (RDB2) Heriades truncorum) which was also found be me (big smile).

Gasteruption jaculator
I was also part of an event at Christchurch Park in Ipswich, again for SWT, helping kids with a bug hunt. One child by the name of Helen came running back to me with a bug in a pot wanting to know what it was and to my surprise, it was a rare bug that I found in my garden (not the exact same individual, don’t start) last year, Rhyparochromus vulgaris.

Rhyparochromus vulgaris
Turns out Helen, who was doing her nature badge for the Brownies, was the second person to find it in Suffolk. Well done Helen.

One exciting piece of news was that after nearly a year out of work due to a back injury, I got a job with Suffolk Wildlife Trust as a Visitor Officer at their Lackford Lakes Nature Reserve. Beats driving a truck any day.

On the nature front, not much happened for me through much of September and October and this was because of some very exciting news, we were moving! Yes, Wifey Jo had found a lovely house in the middle of nowhere, but still in Suffolk, and although there were 3 other offers on the property, we were the first to sell (within 24hrs surprisingly) and so we got it!

The view from our new pad.
So, as you can imagine, much of winter November and December has seen me busy with DIY and settling in. However, the wildlife is already great with Sparrowhawk’s outside my window, Pygmy shrews in the loft and rats in the workshop and owls calling through the night. The New Year has some exciting projects in the making and I look forward to sharing them all with you.

This year really has been a great year for us, despite some serious  health issues with my poor Wifey, but all the same, we know we are very lucky people and every day is bliss for us in our new house.

Thanks you to all my followers, here and on Twitter, I’m glad you like my nature musings and although this year has been a bit sketchy on the blog side of things due to my busy work and volunteer schedule, I hope to improve this in 2015.

I also hope you all have a lovely, safe and pleasant New Year and may you get everything you wish for in 2015.

Oh yes, nearly forgot. As the title suggested ‘Last moth of the year’ and yet I haven’t shown you it. I found it on Christmas day, on the back wall of my house enjoying some sunshine.

A Grey Shoulder-knot
Turns out, it’s a Grey Shoulder-knot. I only found this out by using iSpot, as my moth books are still packed away in a box somewhere. One of the exciting bits of news was that this Christmas the family bought me a Robinson Moth trap, which is the best of of all moth traps. So next year, it will be interesting to see what moths I catch here compared to an urban environment.

Till then, keep safe, keep smiling.