Tuesday, 25 December 2012

That's it for 2012!

Well what a year 2012 was, and to be honest, I think it was pretty abysmal to say the least. The weather played merry hell with absolutely everything that even now, as I write this post, floods are playing havoc across the UK with the Environment Agency issuing 141 flood warnings and 346 flood alerts. In the Anglian region there are 12 flood warnings and 45 flood alerts. Our summer never really happened due to the poor weather and even the Mayan calendar foretelling the ending of the world failed too (although I’m not too sure you can blame the weather for that).
No, 2012 wasn’t good all round really. Although we had a mini heat-wave in March panicking the water companies to declare a drought and hosepipe ban, which I feel was really tempting fate. Not long after this declaration, the heavens opened and it stayed that way for pretty much of the year. This miserable weather was not good for our wildlife either. The insects failed to materialise, which had a huge knock on affect for the rest of the wildlife which fed upon the insects. Anyone who watched BBC’s Springwatch may remember seeing Chris Packham show the results of a small survey of Blue tits visiting the nest to feed their young some much needed insects. At one point the visits during the dry weather was around 70 times a hour, yet when the rain set in, and boy did it set in, flooding the whole Springwatch set causing an evacuation, the visits diminished greatly as finding food become much harder. Bats were also affected by the wet weather. Bats mate in Autumn, the females receiving a packet of sperm from a lucky male bat. Then they hibernate during winter, the females feeding the little packet of sperm, protein during the cold winter months to keep it alive, then come spring they ovulate. However, the weather was rubbish, the food was in short supply and the bats held off ovulating for as long as they could and this was seen by the amount of calls bat carers had to rescue baby bats. These calls were coming in much later in the year than normal, also, when a female bat is struggling to find enough food to feed both herself and her young, she will abandon the pup. I know this sounds harsh, but it’s all down to survival of the species. A bat will only ever have one bat in a year (and not every year), why risk putting both the lives of mother and pup at risk, when it would be wiser for the species to sacrifice the life of one young and try again next season. This is also why you must NEVER disturb roosting bats, because if it’s a maternity roost, the adults will abandon the young and if it’s a large roost you could be talking 100’s of baby bats facing a death sentence.
So this is just a couple of examples of how the weather had affected our wildlife. Yet, it still continues and families and businesses up and down our fair land are facing an utter miserable Xmas with property, presents, stock and much more ruined in the run up in to what is supposed to be one of our most joyous season of the year. My thoughts are with you all and I can only hope 2013 holds much better times ahead for all of you.


As the year comes to a close, it’s time to submit our records of the wildlife seen in the area to your local Biodiversity Recording Centre. SBRC (Suffolk Biodiversity Records Centre) is obviously the place where I sent mine to. You can download a excel spreadsheet from their website, fill it in and email it back to them, simples. Records are important. From our submitting of records we can monitor how well or bad species are doing in the local environment. A decline in invertebrate populations is usually the first indicator to something going wrong in the local environment. For example, the decline in the Silver-studded blue butterfly Plebejus argus from Purdis Heath was attributed to the changing habitat caused by human habitat encroachment which led to the increase in deciduous trees to a sand heathland environment. These trees over time were slowing changing this heathland environment into forest, a habitat that did not suit the Silver-studded blue. In 1998, over 300 individual Silver-studded blues were recorded at the site, in 2011 only 4 SSB’s were recorded.
You can see from the Google Earth images below the change in habitat from 1945 – 2008 is remarkable.

Purdis Heath 1945

Purdis Heath 2008. Notice the trees and gorse.

Around the edge of the heath in 2008, you can see the deciduous trees encroaching upon the heath, whereas in 1945, the only tree like object visible are a few bushes around the boundary of the heath. You will also notice the field to the left of the heath in 1945 has houses in it in 2008. You will also notice in the 2008 picture, paths weaving in and out and around dark patches. These dark patches are gorse which wasn’t present in 1945.
So there you have it, environment change happens and it can occur within your lifetime.
What can be done? Purdis Heath is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the Butterfly Conservation organisation regularly hold volunteer work parties there to help cut back the encroaching woodland and gorse to help encourage the bell and ling heather which the SSB’s like in the hope of turning the tide and preserving this heathland in Suffolk. So if you want to work off those extra calories gained over the festive period with a bit of manual labour (nothing to heavy, so don’t worry), then you can contact  Matt Berry who’s in charge of the work parties at the email: matt.berry1@sky.com

I think that’s enough for now, so I wish you all a very merry Xmas and a happy new year.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

I'm back!

And so I’m back from outta space. My first foray in to the world of blogging came to a somewhat abrupt halt. There were several reasons for this, one of which was the fact that my wife’s new iPad wiped out a posting that took 3, yes 3 days to write. That kinda took the wind out of my sails a bit and trying to find my mojo again became a fruitless task. Time rolled on, the weather failed to kick into summer and my social duties and life in general got pretty hectic. I also feel I had given myself quite a mammoth task of trying to find 3 organisms a day when I only have weekends free to do anything, and as I said previously, my weekends weren’t really free as I had many other things that needed doing.
So, in future, I’ll just try to record what species I find and not try to meet a target. However, one of the questions I have is, do I just record the species from Suffolk, or what I find from my travels around the UK? Maybe you can help me decide? Please post your thoughts in the comment section below.
I will also not type my blogs direct to the blog website, I will type them on the ‘puter first then copy & paste them to the blog.
For those of you on Twitter, I’m still there tweeting away and you can follow me @SuffolkNature.

The big question now is: What do I do for the rest of the year on the blog? Can’t really report on the stuff I’m finding, which is a shame as I think if I had been recording everything I would be in the 700-800’s by now. So I think I’ll just take it easy for now by just addressing any issues that pop up from time to time in the environment sector. One topic that has been in the news of late is the arrival of Ash die-back disease to the UK.
This is a very serious threat to our Ash trees and the organisms that rely upon them. At the moment, all the news seems to be reporting is what a devastating affect this disease can have upon our ash tree population. Very true, however, like most living organisms in any ecosystem, ash trees are not a separate independent entity. Everything in the environment is part of a very complex interrelationship with other organisms. Part of this interrelationship is the invertebrates that feed upon the ash in their larval stages. These provide a very important and rich source of food for larger organisms such as birds, bats and other mammals. With thanks to Buglife entomologist Alan Stubbs, a list has been compiled of the invertebrates that rely upon the ash tree and therefore would be affected by it’s decline.
The list can be seen here: http://www.buglife.org.uk/Resources/Buglife/Invertebrates%20associated%20with%20Ash%20.pdf

But for now, here’s the low down.
The ash tree supports 45 insects which include Mites, aphids, plant lice, scales, het bugs, sawflies, moths (micro and macro) & flies. Of these, 27 species are solely dependent upon the ash. If the ash tree is made extinct, these invertebrates will become extinct with it too. The other insects can survive on other plants by using them as a food source instead. But still, this isn’t good as there would still be a population decrease in these remaining species.
Now, if these insects were to disappear or decline in their numbers the knock effect will hit the secondary consumers (birds, bats, etc) hard. The larval stages of some of these insects become the staple diets of spring chicks in the nests. Our bird population took a real big hit this year with our appaling rainy weather that saw caterpillars and the like being washed off leaves and out of the reach of doting parents causing many broods to fail. Can our bird population withstand another bad year?
The same for our bat populations too. Last years bad weather saw many pups (baby bats) being abandoned due to the lack of insects flying because of the incessant rain. Insects don’t fly when it’s raining. With bats, there’s also another problem. All UK bats are known as crevice dwellers and bats such as Noctules, Serotines & Brown Long-ears like to roost in the cracks and crevices of old trees such as oak and ash. As a large proportion of our trees are ash, this could also have a devastating effect on our bats.
So, the outlook doesn’t look good and it is down to us, yes, all of us to stop this disease in its tracks. What can we do? First look here: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara
Then when your out and about strolling through the countryside, or even in our towns and cities, every time you see an ash tree, have a look at it. See if it’s showing any of the symptoms described and if it is REPORT IT! Don’t leave it for someone else to report.
For those of you who have smartphones, whether they are android or iPhone there’s an app for reporting ash die-back and it can be found here: http://ashtag.org
So there you go, you have no excuse (unlike our politicians), get out and get looking. Our wildlife will be grateful.

So there you go, my first real posting in a while and I hope it won’t be too long before my next posting. I hope to be covering many more subjects in the near future and I will keep you posted via Twitter to any new blogs that arise. For those who ‘don’t do’ twitter, just put your email in the box below and click the submit button.

Last but not least

Please feel free to comment on any of my postings, active participation is welcomed. All I ask is that you follow these simple rules.
1.    Keep it friendly, I’m not going to get into any slanging matches, what I write about is supposed to be friendly and informative.
2.    Please feel free to correct me if you feel I have given any wrong or misleading information.
3.    Please feel free to ask any questions regardless of how stupid you may think they sound. We all have to learn somehow.

Till next time peeps  

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I'm so sorry dear followers, I know it's been a while. Due to many things including being a little off kilter, things have kinda got away from me. I will try and get back into the swing of things soon.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

April fools day!

Well the weather was looking good again even so a stroll over Purdis Heath was on the cards, but not before a spot of gardening and finding pollinator from my local garden centre wasn't easy. It seems like B&Q are more about the 'Cha ching, cha ching' rather than the 'Buzz, buzz'. However, we found a couple of little plants for our newly built flower bed in the garden and I set to work. I had just dug a little hole to drop a plant into and was about to fill it up with water when I spotted this little fella in the bottom of the hole.

A bee with a very hairy nose!
It turns out, it was a male Tawny Mining Bee Andrena fulva. How do I know it was a male? My research told me that the males have this typically hairy face and the species gets its name from the female which is almost orange/red in colour (I know, not tawny, but don't ask me why). But hey, it's another species to the list and as there are approximately 250 species of bee in the UK, I can still add a lot more. Interesting fact here is that the Honeybee Apis mellifera is the only bee that produces honey!
So, with another species under my belt, off I went to wander round my local nature area, Purdis Heath. Although the sun was shining and it was warm in the sun, there was a chill in the air and I was hoping to see some butterflies, but at the same time, thought it would be unlikely. I done my usual wandering off the beaten track deep into the dead bracken scanning ahead with my bins in the hope of spotting an Adder Vipera berus, which haven't been recorded here before, but it is likely habitat for them. Then, whilst scanning, I spotted a small, what at first I thought was a bee. As I moved in I kept snapping away until I could get pretty close in to snap my first ever Drone Fly Eristalis tenax.

E tenax looking very much like a bee.
These are so called because of their resemblance to the drone worker bees of the Honeybee A mellifera. A very good reason for this would be defence, frogs, toads and other fly eating predators are not so keen on eating something that stings.
The yellow flowers of the surrounding gorse bushes were quite brilliant, yet a butterfly could not be seen. However, I could see glimmering in the sunshine the fine silky threads of spider silk. This silk is known also as gossamer and is not only used for catching their prey. It is also used for something called ballooning and the next time you find a little money spider on you, and you are outdoors and it's a bit windy, you might see this ballooning in action. Let the little spider climb up your skyward pointing finger and if the conditions are right the little fellow will reach the top, do a little circle to make sure he's at the top then he will face into the wind, point his tail in the air and release a long line of gossamer. As soon as enough has been released the spider will let go and be carried off by the wind. beats walking even when you do have eight legs. Little money spiders have been found floating at around 10,000ft above sea level, so it's an efficient way of getting around by any standards. Another fact is that spider silk is also comparable in strength to high grade alloy steel!
So, with all this gossamer floating around it wasn't long before I found my first spider of the day (don't worry, photos later as per usual). It was an unusual spider called a Crab Spider Misumena vatea. This spider is about the size of a 5p piece and is usually found on white or yellow flowered plants like gorse. It waits just under the flower head and when an insect such as a butterfly lands on the flower to nectar, the spider pounces and dinner is captured. The spider is also able to change its colour over a few days, but only to different shades of light green to white to help them camouflage themselves. When you see the picture at the bottom of this blog (after the list), you will see just how good the camouflage is.
On the subject of spiders, a little later, amongst the spongy dry moss near the heather I came across my first wolf spider! A Common Fox-spider, I know, I called it a wolf spider and that's exactly what it is. No, not a spider that hunts wolves or howls at the moon, they were called wolf spiders because it was believed that they hunted in packs. They do not, but wouldn't it be cool if they did, but they don't. Anyhoo, it was still a wonderful looking spider which you will see at the end. Whilst I was examining this spider I had one of those moments where you wish that your eyes were video cameras. I caught in the corner of my eye a Crab Spider M vatea  crawl out of the undergrowth sideways like a crab emerging from a hole on the beach. Absolutely amazing and the reason why they're called Crab Spiders.

A few days later in the week saw me in the wilds of Northamptonshire next to an open field waiting to be unloaded. During this time I got another first for me, a Corn Bunting Emberiza calandra. Not long after this I saw another bird of the same family E citrinella, the Yellowhammer, a bird whose song goes 'a little bread and butter no cheeeeeeeese'. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get close enough to get any pictures of the birdies, sorry.

Good Friday found me visiting friends and family but not before a visit to the Ipswich Museum, which has been on the cards for a good few years now. It was my first visit to this place and Wow! What a place. You might not believe me when I say this, but wifey agreed too, it's even better than the Natural History Museum in London. Yes, it's true I tell you. Me and wifey went there a couple of years ago, my first time since my childhood. I remember from my school visit many moons ago of loads of display cabinets full of different specimens. Rows upon rows of cabinets with insects of all shapes and sizes were displayed. I was just too young to take it all in at the time, so when I visted the NHM, I was quite excited to get a proper look at all the cabinets again. What a let down! Gone were the cabinets, replaced with vast open spaces and electronic dumbed down story boards. Such a shame.
However, walking into the Ipswich Museum to be greeted by a full size replica Wooly Mammoth, surrounded by, you guessed it, cabinets full of specimens caught and stuffed a long time ago (Victorian in fact), filled me with that school boy wonderment again. Such a wonderful place that is so much smaller than NHM, yet sooooooooooooooooooooo much better. Alas, their insect collection wasn't on display, but I was informed that they still have it in storage, so there is hope that one day they will get it out again for people like me to browse and drool over it. Unfortunately, due to a dodgy car parking ticket machine that tried to nick our money, we was only able to get a hours car parking. But fear not, I will be back Ipswich Museum, I will be back.

On to visiting relatives and this particular relative had the same ornamental raspberry bush in their garden that I have in mine and like mine it was always busy with visiting bumblers and like I promised you last week, I have the photo of the Red-tailed Bumblebee B lapidarius.

B lapidarius feeding on an ornamental raspberry bush.
There was also another visitor to this bush that I hadn't got before and it was the Early Bumblebee B pratorum.

B pratorum feeding.

Coming into land.

B pratorum.

B pratorum.

I'm sure if I had stayed a little longer I would've recorded many more bees as this was quite a busy bush that was twice the size of my one at home. At one point there were 3 Red-tailed Bumblers B lapidarius.

As you may have noticed, there are no moths here today and that's because it was raining last night, which isn't good for moths. But have no fear as the moth trap will be getting an airing tonight, so watch this space.
Whilst the moths will be flocking to my back garden, I will be out having a little wander with the bat detector looking for, guess what, bats!
I hope to record the sounds for inclusion to my next blog post, that's the plan.

Websites of the week!

With bees out and about doing their thang and last weeks news report on how pesticides are causing the decline of our beloved bumblers, this blog  from Bee Strawbridge is worth looking at.

Still on bees, the other site is from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and is really good in helping to id those bumblers around your bush!

Don't forget to check out the spider pics after the list. Here's the list:

Drone Fly
Eristalis tenax
Common Fox-spider
Alopecosa pulverulenta
Tawny Mining Bee
Andrena fulva
Crab Spider
Misumena vatia
Corn Bunting
Emberiza calandra
Emberiza citrinella
 Early Bumblebee
Bombus pratorum


M vatia.

M vatia hiding near flower on gorse. Can you spot it?

A pulverulenta the Common Fox-spider that's a wolf spider. Notice the eyes on top of the head.

A pulverulenta captured for a better picture to show its beautiful patterning.

For those still with us, Happy Easter!