Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Add an Adder

First, let me apologise for my absence. This was due to an under the influence cable engineer disconnecting my internet connection for no apparent reason (other than being stoned). 
Anyhoo, I'm back, yay and as you may guess from the title, snakes (well, more like snake) are the topic. Sunday saw me in the depths of Rendlesham Forest (Suffolk's Roswell) on Adder training organised by the wonderful people at Suffolk Amphibian and Reptile Group (SARG). This project is aimed at mapping the whereabouts of Adders across the UK through citizen science. We were given a talk by Duncan Sweeting and Trudy Seagon who explained how the project works, how to identify Adders from Grass snakes and most importantly of all, where and when to find them. We were then taken into the woods to sites where Adders had been recorded before and it wasn't too long before one was found basking in the sun. However, there were many there who hadn't seen an Adder before and they all went tramping through the undergrowth to see this one Adder. He didn't sit around for long before making a slow retreat, but before it slunk off, I did manage to get a glimpse, so number 87 is our first reptile on the list. You might notice that I've left the grid reference as undisclosed in the list below. There's a good reason for that, Adders are having a hard time of it of late and me openly publishing their exact location won't help. So for the purposes of their conservation their exact location will remain a secret.
It was a nice day Sunday and whilst wandering through the forest we had a close encounter with 4 Fallow deer (3 female, 1 male) who popped up out of nowhere and then quickly disappeared again. My friend and fellow bat enthusiast Trudy then pointed out to me a Woodlark. This is a bird that I've never heard of before and she told me that you can tell a Woodlark by its song, apparently it descends down the scale. I say apparently, because I am totally tone deaf and bird song is definitely not my strong point. 

86 Woodlark Lullula arborea TM361476 26/02/2012
87 Adder Vipera berus Undisclosed 26/02/2012

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Forgotten photos.

Yes, I must be getting old. Here are some pics I took at Nacton Shores that I forgot to post, sorry.

Nacton Shores.

There be fossils in them cliffs, mainly lizards. And plenty of geologising
to do to.

Looking towards Ipswich and a setting sun.

Plenty of twisted bark to fire the

More bark shots.

And plenty of twisted, photogenic trees.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Spring is here! (Maybe?)

Could it be true? The temperature today was 19oC, my friends were tweeting to me that they had spotted Brimestone's, Comma's and Small Tortiseshell's and I was stuck in smokey noisey old London. A barren place for wildlife compared to Suffolk. However, with all this beautiful weather about, I wasn't to be outdone and thought that now would be a good idea to roll out my secret weapon to see how it fares, and as soon as I got home I set to work to get the weapon ready.
After about an hour it was more or less, not finished exactly, more 'ready for a trial run' if anything. I laid out a white sheet bought for me by the wifey from a charity shop, stood some egg trays up like upside down 'v's and placed my weapon in the middle. Can you guess what it is yet? It was my moth trap that I have spent some of the winter months building. The first thing I noticed was that I had measured the amount of cable wrong, I need more, about another 10 meters more. So I wasn't going to be able to leave it out over night as I had to connect it with an extension lead, which wasn't weather proof.

Moth trap at work.
So did it work? Yes it did and I am happy to report that although it is only February, I got 3 moths Yay!
The first was a March Moth which was the only one I actually found in the trap, strangely. Then a little while later I found the Spring Usher on the outside side of the box and just as I had packed every thing away, I went back to collect the sheet to find that the Small Brindled Beauty had landed on it. Great, hat-trick. 

March Moth

Spring Usher
Small Brindled Beauty

So, after reading all my friends 'tweets' on Twitter, I can hold my head up high and stand proud, they might of got 3 butterflies, but I got 3 moths and for a bonus, my moth trap works! Joy.

And one more to add to the list as I packed away tonight, I took a quick look in the pond to find a rather emaciated male toad awaiting for the females to join him. So Bufo bufo joins the list at No:85 and is also the first amphibian on the list.

You can find me on twitter as @SuffolkNature, please follow and spread the word if you like this blog and I always look forward to reading your positive comments, thank you.

Here's the list:

82 March Moth Alsophila aescularia TM188434 23/02/2012
83 Spring Usher Agriopis leucophaeria TM188434 23/02/2012
84 Small Brindled Beauty Apocheima hispidaria TM188434 23/02/2012
85 Common Toad Bufo bufo TM188434 23/02/2012

Nacton Shores

It's a cold Sunday afternoon when on the spur of the moment we decide to jump in the car and head off somewhere close and nice for a little stroll. The car took us to Nacton Shores on the the banks of the river Orwell. This place is a little bit of a haven for photographers with twisted, weather worn trees littering the shores after toppling from the eroding bank. The tide was out and the sun was low in the sky making looking at wading birds hard to identify.
So me and the wifey took a stroll a little further up the bank amongst the trees to see what we could find. I came across an old fallen branch of what was once, substantial size, but now just crumbling away. I gingerly lifted up the trunk to find a centipede quickly scurrying for cover. I managed to pick it up so I could get a picture of it, rather than take it away to ID it, then have to come back to release it again. It is important that any species you find are released back in the same spot you found them. Otherwise, the new place you release it in may not have the same food for it, might be full of predators waiting for your offering or you could even be introducing a new predator to a  little ecosystem which could endanger other insects. Who said ecology was easy???
My wife was on hand and quite happily handled the little wriggler, which was quite surprising as she will run a mile if she sees a spider! This centipede had 14 pairs of legs, not 4, I don't get it. Anyhoo, the photo I got as it run down my wife's sleeve was about the best one I could get as it was quite a mover. When I got home I found that there were two similar species and thankfully one of the other pictures I took showed the subtle difference I was looking for, a small line down the middle of the head, which my centipede didn't have, making it a Lithobius variegatus.

Lithiobius variegatus
Then I had a look at a few more rotting trunks and branches and found a woodlouse, which again, there are many types of and popping this one into a specimen tube along with a beetle which I had no idea of its ID either. Now the reason I popped these into the tube was because they were dead. So taking them home to ID was going to be much easier, or so I thought.

The woodlouse turned out to be Porcellio scaber which I was able to pin down its ID by its tail.

The tail of Porcellio scaber magnified.
The beetle however still sits on my desk awaiting for identification. This is because I'm still not really sure what this is. I suspect it to be a type flea beetle, but need to do some more research before I can definitely say that.
After getting home from our little stroll I get into my office to find a little moth fluttering around. Again, I have no idea what moth this is, but I am going to try and find a good guide to micro and macro moths to help me, or failing that, there's always iSpot!

The little moth that was fluttering around my office.

Magnified section of the head showing the delicate detail
of it's 'plumage'. The eye is the dark patch top right.
So, although I haven't got ID's for two of the four species I found, they're still going on the list and in time they will be identified.

78 Centipede Lithobius variegatus TM226386 19/02/2012
79 Woodlouse Porcellio scaber TM226387 19/02/2012
80 Beetle UNKNOWN TM226387 19/02/2012
81 Unknown moth UNKNOWN TM188434 19/02/2012

Saturday, 18 February 2012


Well that was the news spreading across East Anglia this week after two bird spotters on the north Norfolk coast, saw the large (usually about 7ft) dorsal fin of a Killer Whale break the surface of the North Sea near Cromer Killer whale sighting report.
Unfortunately, I was nowhere near Norfolk this week, so no chance of me adding that to my list of species. However, the whale was reported to heading in an easterly direction, so I'll keep the bins to hand when I'm sitting on the port at Felixstowe. Talking of which, again this week I found myself at the far end of the port looking through the bins and the caged fencing for new species and I'm happy to report new species I found!!!!
First this week making it's appearance on the list is the Redshank, feeding on the mudflats next to the Shelduck I spotted last week. Wonder if it's the same Shelduck???
Then almost like it felt my disappointment in not seeing what I had hope to see, it suddenly appeared out of nowhere flying 10ft on the other side of the fence. The Little Egret! Over the last few years on my travels I've begun to see more and more of these pure white miniature Heron's, and I feel that this is a sign of climate change in itself as over the last 20 years or so, these birds have moved further and further north and are now an almost common sight in southern England.
The next species I spotted was a species I've only ever spotted once before, the Little Owl. I spotted it as I was driving to work and it came swooping down from the darkness to land on its unfortunate prey.
So YAY! Another 3 species this week, at this rate I will fail dismally with about 200 species at the end of the year, not good. But, even though it don't feel quite right, I'm beginning to think that spring might have already be underway. Last night in fact, a largish moth hit the windscreen of my truck. Unfortunately, there was nowhere available for me to pull over to collect the remains so I could identify it (I know, I'm beginning to sound desperate). But as far as I know, and please feel free to correct me on this, we only have one species of winter moth in Britain and this moth wasn't that one, it was to big. Time to get my secret weapon completed and ready for action me thinks!!

The eyes have it.
Now those of a fearing nature, especially spiders, look away now. That's because, tonight, I went to go and check on my little furry inpatients (the bats), a little Earwig fell down from above the door, yes, another species. Then that was quickly followed by a nicely patterned Garden Spider, which just hung there. Luckily, I had in my pocket a small vial of just about the right size. I popped the cap off, placed it under the spider and in she popped, bonus!
We have many species of Arachnid in the UK and I wanted to make sure I could get the right ID for this one, hence the capturing of said spider. She (apparently, only the females have a particular type of marking on the back) was the perfect model and sat patiently for whilst I snapped away from all angles.
As you can see from the following photos, she has some lovely markings and 6 eyes (spiders have between 2-8 eyes). Now I thought that getting the ID spot on for this spider would not be so easy because they (Garden spiders) vary in many ways pattern wise. Now The Natural History Museum lists the species as Araneus diadematus, and I thought that they were just being a bit generic about it. Yet, this fantastic little website The Spiders of North-West Europe (if you have a serious phobia of spiders DON'T GO THERE!) shows many photos of this species and you will see the differences in the Family Araneidae. Then I noticed a little bit of text under the many pictures of various forms of the spider which states "Araneus diadematus can vary a lot in colouring and appearance.". 

So, here are some pictures of my little specimen (which has now been released back to the same spot I found it).

Araneus diadematus

The eyes have it!

Top markings

Markings from the underneath. Can you see the
scary face markings?

The list:

73 Redshank Tringa totanus TM257349 13/02/2012
74 Little Egret Egretta garzetta TM257349 13/02/2012
75 Little Owl Athene noctua TM288357 15/02/2012
76 Earwig Forficula auricularia TM188434 18/02/2012
77 Garden Spider Araneus diadematus TM188434 18/02/2012

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Rats, ravens and rooks.

Well, from 3 a day to 3 a week and I can only apologise for the lack of input coming on here. But like I said before, I'm not going to bore you with suff, if I'm not seeing stuff. 
So as you can guess from the opening line, I spotted 3 things. However, I actually spotted four, problem was when I got home I found that one of the species I spotted I had already spotted just over a month before. The species was a Long-tailed tit and I must admit, I thought I'd spotted it before when I saw it. But this time when I spotted it, it was pretty close to me and I think I was just awed by its subtle beauty. The varying subtle pinks in the plumage of this bird really are quite beautiful. This time I spotted it whilst walking around a small lake in Milton Keynes, and the first sign of these birds I find is the high pitched 'peep peep' whistle as they move in groups from tree to tree searching for insects, their tail is as long as their body and they look almost lollipop like. If you are interested in attracting these little birds to your garden, they are quite partial to fat balls, preferable hanging from a tree. I've had up to 6 birds hanging from a bunch of these fat balls with more waiting on surrounding branches awaiting their turn.
Again, I must also apologise for the lack of photo's, but I rarely get the opportunity to use my camera whilst at work and the majority of wildlife I spot is when I'm driving from one place to another, which isn't a good time to be taking photos. 
I can see it now, "But officer, I was just focusing my camera on a Buzzard sitting on the upcoming bridge and the next thing I new I was piling into the back of stationary traffic. It wasn't my fault they had all stopped."
So on with my little walk and out on the frozen lake was an area of unfrozen water with more Coots in it than you could shake a broom at. Why you would want to shake a broom at a bunch of Coots is anybodies guess. But then there, in the middle of the lake I spotted something that wasn't a coot, it was a Great Crested Grebe, yay! Species number 70 in the bag, so to speak.

Spot the Great Crested Grebe.
A little bit further round the lake I saw a sudden movement in the undergrowth under a crab apple tree. Was it a rat or a vole? I quickly run around to get a better and closer look and identified it as a rat, but not just one rat. As I got my 'eye in', I began to see more and as they saw me they quickly picked up a fallen apple and run off with it. In total, I must have spotted about 10 rats all getting fat, or drunk on fermenting apples. As a point of interest, a group of rats are known as a 'mischief of rats'.
Next on the list was a Raven. Another beautiful bird but in a completely different way, with its deep black feathers and large black bill, which is the simplest way for me to tell the difference between them and a crow which has a much smaller bill and the difference between a crow and a rook is the rook has a large white-ish bill and white-ish face and also struts its stuff like it owns the place. I find rooks to be a very intelligent bird that I've seen many times wandering down the motorway beside the white line of the hard shoulder knowing that if they stay on the hard shoulder side of the line, they're OK regardless of the speed of the passing traffic. In fact many experiments/studies involving bird intelligence have usually involved rooks and some of the stuff they have done has proved to be mind boggling. One of their feats can be seen here
So, that only leaves one more species to report on and that was spotted running across the brilliant white snow of a Cambridgeshire field, the Hare. An interesting fact about the difference between hares and rabbits is that hares, unlike rabbits, give birth to their young above ground in a nest made of flattened grass called a form. The young of a hare are born covered in fur and with their eyes open allowing them to be able to fend for themselves from the moment of birth, whereas rabbits have their young underground in a warren and the young are bald and blind and therefore defenceless. 

70 Great Crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus SP877349 08/02/2012
71 Raven Corvus corax SP944588 10/02/2012
72 Hare Lepus europaeus TL267700 10/02/2012

Monday, 6 February 2012

Like London buses

Just like London buses, you wait ages for one to come along then three turn up all at once! That's what happened today, 5 days of seeing nothing, then it snows to really dampen my chances and then whilst on the dock at Felixstowe on the mouth of the river Orwell, I get sent to the top end to collect my load. This end backs onto a place called Trimley Marshes and is known as Fagbury Point, here the tide was halfway between doing what it was doing (not in or out). I grabbed the bins and looked out across the exposed mudflat and straight away saw a lone Shelduck sifting through the mud, then not 100 yards from that I saw some Avocets (lovely looking bird) and in between them both was a pair of Oystercatchers. If I had stayed there a little bit longer, I would've most probably seen a few more for the list, but time was of the essence and I had to get a move on. Hopefully, I'll get to go up there again soon.
If you ever get a chance to get down there, it's quite a nice walk, Trimley Marshes not Felixstowe docks that is. I hope to get down there sometime this year to do some exploring.
So here's the updated list:

67 Avocet Recurvirostra avosetta TM257350 06/02/2012
68 Shelduck Tadorna tadorna TM257350 06/02/2012
69 Oystercatcher Haernatopus ostralegus TM257350 06/02/2012

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Day 36

Sorry for the delay in service. Been so busy of late, but still not much to report.
So I'll start with last weekend and the RSPB's Big Garden Watch and no, it's not about looking at, or for big gardens. No, you sit for one hour looking into your garden/park or other place of wilderness and count what birds you see, simples. I had much planned for the weekend and I decided to do my hour's stint on sunday afternoon. So lets get Saturday out of the way first.
Saturday saw me in Holywells Park in Ipswich after a friend of mine had been boasting of his spotting triumphs where in the last week he had spotted a Little Egret, Kingfisher, Mandarin duck and an escaped Harris Hawk still wearing it's anklets. Thankfully, the jesses (the removable leather straps that attach to the anklets that allow the falconer to hold onto the bird) have been removed, otherwise the bird could get caught up in a tree or something and die a horrible death. Apparently, it's been on the loose for a couple of months now, so it is obviously doing well feeding off the local wildlife which isn't good the the local wildlife. This sort of thing can upset a local ecosystem as it is an introduction of an alien species that in itself has no predators and the poor wildlife are not expecting to be attacked by a large-ish raptor.
As can be seen by the National Biodiversity Network's Gateway records for Harris Hawk, they are becoming quite widespread. Each red dot represents a 10km square where they've been spotted.

© Crown copyright and database rights 2011 Ordnance Survey [100017955]

Grid map of records on the Gateway for Harris?s Hawk (Parabuteo unicinctus)

So armed with binoculars, me and the wifey went off for a wander around the park to see what we could find. T'was a sunny, yet very cold day over the park and my intention was to seek these species that my good friend had spotted to add to the list. A wander round the ponds in the hope of spotting a Little Egret or Kingfisher was my main plan with an eye looking up for the Harris Hawk. All the usual suspects already spotted were milling about being fed by eager children practicing their bread throwing skills. So we went over to some of the less visited ponds and I immediately spotted a Mandarin Duck, another non-native species that was introduced in the last century.
Male Mandarin spotted at Holywells Park, Ipswich.
I remember when I first saw this amazingly coloured bird many years ago on the Norfolk Broads. I thought I was seeing things, it almost looked like someone had drawn and coloured this bird. Unfortunately, this photo has been heavily cropped and really doesn't do the bird's plumage justice, but take my word for it, they are a beautiful bird.
Then I saw another bird with fantastic plumage, the Kingfisher. With its iridescent blue back and bright orange front it would be hard to disagree. But the best thing about this bird is that it's a native species that can be found worldwide. So coupled with the Mandarin and the Teal (spotted on Friday) the Kingfisher comes in at number 65. I know, still trailing.

So, the Big Garden Watch. What will I see today? Will I be handsomely repaid for my efforts of just staring out of the kitchen window waiting for loads of different species for my list? NO, is the answer. In my hour's vigil the birds spotted were as follows:

2x Dunnocks
2x Goldfinches
2x Collared Doves
1x Wood Pigeons
2x Chaffinches
2x Blue Tits
1x Robin
1x Blackbird

So as you can see, although there was quite a variety of bird life in my garden, there was nothing that I hadn't already spotted this year.
The rest of the week was pretty fruitless too, with me only being able to add one other species, an Eider duck.

Day 36 is now here and on 66 species, that puts me 42 species behind schedule and the gap is ever increasing. Especially as about 6-8" of snow fell last night, the spotting is getting to be even harder. Roll on spring!

63 Teal Anas crecca SP951691 26/01/2012
64 Manadrin Aix galericulata TM173434 28/01/2012
65 Kingfisher Alcedo atthis TM174435 28/01/2012
66 Eider Somateria mollissima TL170559 01/02/2012