Monday, 30 December 2013

Get ready, 2014 is on its way!

Well, that's Xmas over for another year. I trust that you had a pleasant one and that Santa bought you the things you wanted. Now that most of the mince pies have been demolished and the Xmas dinner leftovers have been consumed, it's time to start planning for the new year ahead. Have you got any things you would like to do, see or be involved in?

As always, I have lots of stuff I want to do, but if I actually get round to doing it is another matter. But here's an idea that you might like to try, 1000 for 1KSQ. This blog originally started on a similar thing I was trying a couple of years back, however, time and the fact that I'm not really good at making lists meant I failed miserably, twice. However, this is slightly different and you have to try and find 1000 species in a 1km square of your choosing. It's a great way of finding new species to you and what is really out there, maybe you can do it as a family thing or a weekend thing when you're away from work. It's as good a reason as any to get out there and start exploring your local wildlife.

Maybe you could decide to spend a year studying a particular creature, be it insect, bird, reptile or mammal. You will be surprised how much you can learn from such simple studies. One of my major plans this year involves bumblebees, as you may know, and I'll be building an indoor nest box for them to build their hive in. Watch this space!

You could spend the year moth trapping by running a simple, homemade moth trap every weekend in your garden/backyard. You will be totally amazed at the amount of wonderfully patterned moths that are flying over your garden every night. My little trap that I built a couple of years ago, caught over 500 moths in one night last summer. In total over the year I trapped over 3,500 moths and 260+ species. This was a fantastic way to observe wonderful creatures that we don't usually see. Some of them even laid eggs which I grew on. A fantastic experience which I'm looking forward to seeing hatch in the spring. The trap is getting a little tired and out of shape now so I'll be building a new moth trap soon and will be showing you how you can do the same thing in the upcoming weeks. Join me, you won't regret it.

There's plenty of surveys to get involved in starting with the Big Garden Birdwatch which is on January 25-26th. As always, there will be plenty going on throughout the year. Reader and fellow blogger Ryan Clark recorded 400 species in his garden in 2013. You can see the list here. Why don't you see how many species you can find in your garden? Who knows, you might get a surprise like I did and find a completely new species to your area/county or even country. You never know unless you try.

Maybe you could do a course at one of the many Field Studies Council centres dotted around the country or with one of your local Wildlife Trust's. They have so much on offer and you can learn so much from one of these courses. It may even fire up a new interest for you.

Another way of learning is by joining a society such as the British Naturalist's Association, Amateur Entomologist's Society, Bumblebee Conservation TrustBritish Dragonfly Society or your local naturalist group or wildlife trust to name just a few. Whatever your interest is, I'm sure you'll find a group or society for it. Many of which will run workshops, talks and even outings where you can meet lots of like minded people like yourself and learn new stuff.

Just remember, you don't have to be an expert to get involved. You don't need degrees or ology's, you just need the enthusiasm and and eagerness to do it. The internet is filled with websites and social media that is there to help you, such as iSpot and iRecord. The more people out there getting involved with nature helps nature to help us. Simple things such as recording damselflies on your local pond, or butterflies in your back garden go a long way in the grand scheme of things.

So, like a container ship thats unloaded all of its cargo, 2013 begins to slip its mooring and gently drifts off out, into the past. We wave a welcome 2014 as it comes into view over the horizon and begin to wonder what it has in store for us. Whatever is in its vast cargo hold, I hope it has plenty of joyful happiness in store for you and a year of new adventure and discovery awaits for you.

Happy new year to each and every one of you and your families.




Tuesday, 24 December 2013

A year of wonderful experiences.

Hello dear reader and my apologies for not posting of late, but as you can imagine, what with the season and all, I've been a little bit busy. But now it is Xmas eve and just a couple of small last minute pressies to source and then we can sit back and relax. 

From one wonder to another.

Last time I told you about the wondrous spectacle of seeing a Peregrine Falcon dive at speed to catch an out of sight pigeon. It truly was fantastic to see and I wish you could have all been there to see it too.

Well, I was hoping to have more wonderful delights to share with you and when I saw a tweet from @RSPBintheEast to say that there were around 10,000 starlings roosting at Minsmere. That said, the following day, I jumped in the car and headed down towards Eastbridge, where Minsmere is located. I pulled into a small lay-by near the reed beds the starlings were seen roosting, prep'd my camera and waited. The sky was clear and cold, the river which rang under the road at Eastbridge was still running high.
Exceptionally high water.
This was the result of the recent storm surge and high tides along the east coast. But the water wasn't getting any higher, so I felt quite safe. As the sun got lower and lower in the sky, I continued my vigil scanning the horizon in the hope of seeing some sign of a murmuration. The Suffolk coast landscape being so flat is ideal for this as you can see for quite some way in all directions. I even had the binoculars out in case I missed something far away, but still nothing. Eventually, the sun set and the light rapidly vanished and I never saw a single starling, which left me with this thought, 'I wonder where they went?'

The highlights of the year!

Well, what an eventful year it's been. I've met some wonderful people and had some great experiences.

In March I witnessed a starling murmuration in Ipswich. Something I've been trying again to catch this autumn, but without much luck I'm afraid.

Yet, in my seeking for it this autumn, I did get to see a Sparrowhawk fly by and catch its prey.

I've had the moth trap up and running every weekend for most of the year catching some fantastic moths I've never seen before. A Poplar Hawkmoth laid some eggs in my trap which gave me great pleasure rearing on to pupation. 
Poplar hawkmoth caterpillars
My neighbour brought me round a female Emperor moth which laid around 100 eggs, again these were truly fascinating to watch them eat and grow. The majority are now hanging in a basket on the side of my wife's studio in the garden awaiting the warm rays of spring.
A beautiful moth with her eggs
I learned how to pin and display insects.

Went on a wonderful course learning all about hoverflies, robber flies and soldier flies with Martin Harvey (Highly recommended)

I saw a Swallowtail butterfly fly over my garden. The first one reported in Ipswich since 1998. 

I had a record moth count from one nights trapping in my garden of over 520 moths! (It took 3 days to ID the lot of them)

I (with help from the wifey) found a Banded General Soldier fly which hadn't been recorded in my 10km square in 119 years!
Stratiomys potamidas better known as the Banded General.

Came across some lovely Stag beetle larvae whilst working in my in-laws garden.

Very large and amazing stag beetle larvae
I was the first person to record a Rhyparochromus vulgaris seed bug in Suffolk!
New to Suffolk Rhyparochromus vulgaris
I was asked to give a talk to the children of Trimley Primary School on minibeasts and pollinators, which I (and them) loved.

I won a category in the Suffolk Wildlife Trust's photo competition.

I also got the job as Education and Events Volunteer with Suffolk Wildlife Trust. 

Got to do more voluntary work on Purdis Heath.

Most of the above happened in my own garden, which isn't huge by any means. It's there if we choose to look for it, it's right under our noses and because sometimes we don't see it, it doesn't mean it's not there!

What to expect in 2014!

Well, I have some plans in the pipeline, one of which includes an indoor bumblebee nest with live webcam so that you can see the comings and goings of one of our favourite insects.

I'm hoping to continue my bat survey of a local ancient wood near me that's never been surveyed before, which I had to put on hold last year due to injury.

I also will be more involved in recording hoverflies next year especially at Purdis Heath SSSI.

I want to also get more involved with recording the insects at Purdis Heath.

I will also be running my moth trap as per usual and I look forward to hatching out the pupae of the moths I reared in 2013.

I'm also looking to forward to new challenges especially with SWT and who knows, I might even have new events on the horizon to look forward to.

This is just some of the stuff I hope to be up to in 2014, but what about you? Do you have any plans or projects you're thinking of doing? I look forward to hearing from you.

That's about it for now, it's Xmas eve, the mad rush is over and it just leaves me to do one more thing.

Hope you all have a wonderful Xmas and you all get what you wanted and more.
Be sensible, be safe and we'll meet up again after the Xmas pud has gone down. 

Merry Xmas

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Wow! What a dive!

Hello dear reader, hope all is well in your little world and things are ticking along nicely for you. Been a bit busy of late with the run up to Xmas. However, I was awoken with a start on Thursday when the wifey on getting ready for exclaimed, "I think it snowed last night!" I jumped out of bed to see if what she was saying was true, however, it wasn't. It was instead a heavy frost that had not only covered the cars, but the road too and in the dim light of pre-dawn, did look like a dusting of snow had fallen. I was up now and the wife reminded me that I should take this golden opportunity to go our and get some nice crispy frost shots in the dawn light that was now emerging. So after a cup of coffee and a bowl of cornflakes, I was off in the cold frostiness of the morning, destination as usual was my local patch Purdis Heath.

Once there I started to seek out some nice crispy views, however, the frost here wasn't so thick as back home and search as I did, I could not find anything to inspire me. I wandered around for about an hour before deciding to call it a morning. Then, as I walked back to the car I heard what at first I thought was a woodpecker. I stopped and waited for it again, but called out again and I thought it just didn't sound right for a woodpecker, then it called once more and I located the source. High above me in the blue sky a crow was cawing it as it mobbed a rather large bird of prey. I quickly whipped out my bins (binoculars) and just got focused on it to see it was a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus). Then it done something I never expected whilst I watched it intently through the bins. It suddenly folded its wings back, tilted forward and accelerated at such a speed I could hardly keep the bins on it. It disappeared behind some trees and as I lowered the bins I saw a sudden explosion of wood pigeons flying off in different directions from the golf course. The birds must have been feeding on the nice clear fairways and must've stuck out a mile to the peregrine overhead.

So although I never got any nice photos, I got a sight I would've happily paid to see, a peregrine in a dive. The peregrine is the fastest animal on Earth with dives measured at over 200mph! The peregrine usually hits it prey at such a speed as to stun it, then turns to collect its stunned dinner. They have been noted to be nesting under the Orwell Bridge and last year on one of the quayside cranes at the Languard terminal on Felixstowe docks.

The cocoon from the lagoon.

Saturday found me with a little free time on my hands and with the weather looking sunny, yet chilly I decided to try somewhere new. Somewhere I have been meaning to check out for some time now, Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Levington Lagoon.

As you can see from the link, the reserve was formed 60 years ago by the notorious great flood of 1953. Something we had a repetition of lately, but without the disastrous consequences. It's only a few minutes from where I live, just past the lovely little village of Nacton at the bottom of Strattonhall Drift. There's ample parking for about 6 cars if everyone parks considerately and although not well signposted, if you tap the postcode of IP10 0LH into your satnav/smartphone, this should take you pretty close to the car park.

Ample parking at the car park.
As I said, it was a chilly day with a cutting offshore wind. It wasn't long before I bumped into a birder who told me that he'd been watching a Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) down by the sluice. These are one of those birds that have a confusing name because the Grey Wagtail is actually yellow in colour. Compare that to the very common Pied Wagtail (M alba) which is seen walking around most car parks in the UK and is more grey than the Grey Wagtail. However, that said there is also the Yellow Wagtail (M flava) which is a kind of greeny yellow and definitely has less grey than the Grey and Pied Wagtail put together. Confusing I know, unless of course, unlike me, you're a birder. The birder also went on to tell me that he often sees a Kingfisher sitting above the sluice, but it wasn't about today unfortunately. On finding out I wasn't a birder he kindly told me where I could see Golden Plover's (Pluviarias apricaria) too. Unfortunately, not being the birder type, I really couldn't say for certain what a Golden Plover looks like, so I might have seen them and didn't know it when I decided to go off wandering. 

I must say, as lovely as I find the scenery of a coastal environment, I am more of a land lubber myself. I love being in the countryside in fields, heathland or woodland. I struggle with estuaries, thick mud and being exposed to the wind which seems to blow incessantly. Yet, these sites are still important and I'm not suggesting they be ripped up or anything, I'm just saying it's not really my bag. However, I wasn't going to let my inner issues put me off and I continued with my walk into the cutting wind.

One of the first things I noticed in the mud just past the entrance gate were tracks, not dog tracks, but deer tracks.

Deer tracks, possibly Muntjac.
The small, paired indentations of the cloven hooves could quite clearly be seen and were most likely that of a Muntjac Deer (Muntiacus reevesi). A Chinese deer that was accidentally released into the UK countryside after captives at Woburn Park in Bedfordshire escaped. They are now widespread across the UK and cause untold damage to saplings by nibbling the protective bark from the trunks. They are also often seen dead on many a roadside through collisions with motor vehicles.

As I walked along the path, it was quite clear this site is a wonderful place for birders as the air around me began to fill with strange and weird wonderful noises of bird calls. At one point I heard feint noises sounding like 'tseep, tseep' as a flock of about 20 Redwings (Turdis iliacus) flew over. I confirmed this later with the RSPB website which allows you to play recordings of bird calls.

Trying to see the dark shapes amid the bushes was a pointless task but it did draw my attention to one tree in particular which was bare except for some weird attachments on some of the branches.

Three clearly obvious attachments.
Taking a closer look, I could see that they were indeed cocoons. However, cocoons of what I a m not sure. I noticed the tip of one branch with a cocoon on was broken slightly, so I removed it with my trusty knife taking care not to damage the cocoon.

Another cocoon wrapped deep within the safety of thorns.
And a closer look.
Although I'm not sure whether these are lepidoptera or arachnid cocoons, Max Barclay of the Natural History Museum, through the medium of Twitter reckons they may be Lackey Moth (Malacosoma neustria) which feed on Hawthorn and Blackthorn and are resident in the southern half of Britain. Needless to say, the cocoon I removed is now sitting in my garden to overwinter till next year when I can see it emerge and can then confirm what it is.

As I continued my walk along the lagoon, boats sailing back to their berths along the Orwell river made for some nice photo opportunities.
Sailing by.
I could see in the distance along the shoreline the various dippers, but they were too far away for me to get any photos. Then filling the sky ahead of me, was a flock of birds that I was later learn as a 'deceit' of Lapwings (Vanellus vanellus).

Lapwings filled the sky, or were they being deceitful?
Now, although I've said before that I'm not a birder, I always remember the first time I saw these birds, when as a young lad driving past a field in Romford, Essex. I suddenly noticed these strange unusual looking birds the like of which I had never seen before. No internet in those days, so I had to pop down the library to look at bird books to find out what they were. Interestingly, the main thing that has always stuck in my mind about these birds is that when they fly, they seem to have rather large disproportionate wings which seem to 'lap' the air in flight.

In the distance arose the un-natural scenery of Felixstowe Docks with the huge cranes unloading the huge ships full of the lifeblood of consumerism.

Felixstowe docks
Reaching the point looking out towards Felixstowe, I decided it was time for me to turn back and head home. A couple of times I saw at distance, a Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) flying around. A recent visitor to our shores and some say this is due to global warming as the breeding range of this bird is spreading further north. They are very much like a small white heron (same family) and in my years as a truck driver I too have noticed their spread. As I walked back to the car, I noticed one feeding by the sluice, however, it was still too far away to get a good shot of it and I thought about sneaking up on it when I got back to the car. Yet, my plans were scuppered as suddenly I noticed a couple of dog walkers approaching the sluice along the path. Damn! I knew they were going to flush the bird as they approached so I prepared for the fleeing of the bird. The dog walkers approached and as predicted, the bird took off and flew in my direction into a head wind which held up its progress enough for me to get this shot.
Little Egret flying by.
Needless to say, I was happy to get a photo of something I've seen about for years, but never been lucky enough to capture on my camera. Again, another nice end to the day. I look forward to returning next year when the weather warms up to see what Levington Lagoons has to offer then.

No excuses, pick it up!

I like dogs, lovely characterful animals that are always intrigued, pleased, displeased or scared to see you. However, some of their owners I like a lot less, especially when they don't pick up their dogs mess. This is a bit of an issue at Purdis Heath that is to be addressed in the near future it seems. However, one thing I saw at SWT's Levington Lagoon was this great idea of a poop bag dispenser. Brilliant! If these were placed everywhere inconsiderate dog walkers go, then they would have NO EXCUSE as to why they didn't pick up their dogs mess. Come on you inconsiderate owners, step up to the plate and take responsibility for your dogs. After all, the dog didn't choose to be with you, you chose to have the dog.

Bag dispenser, a great idea.
That's it for now, keep safe and take care.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Education through volunteering

Hello again dear reader, hope all is good in your world. The weather of late has been rather turbulent with another rendition of the great flood of 1953 being the main feature in the news. Yet come the  Saturday two days later, the weather was a mild 10ºC and sunny, ideal for the volunteer work party at Purdis Heath with 19 volunteers turning out to help clear and cut back the gorse to allow the area to scraped which in turn will allow fresh heather to shoot up and provide an ideal habitat for the Silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) to breed in. 
The cut gorse piled high on a sheet before being dragged away.
As we lopped away at the gorse, we transferred it to a large sheet or some big tonne bags as used by ballast companies for supplying tonnes of sand and ballast to the building trade. We moved it like this so as not to unintentionally spread the seeds of the gorse over a bigger area, which would be defeating the purpose for which we were there.

It was a lovely day with a great bunch of people and many of the photos can be seen on the Purdis Heath SSSI Facebook page. The great thing about these volunteer work parties is that it just isn't about work, you get to learn and observe things at the same time. For instance, whilst we were chopping away at the gorse, a volunteer (Val) noticed that a couple of the tall gorse bushes were looking rather trim and proper unlike all the other scraggly gorse bushes around. 

Neatly pruned on the left, naturally scraggy on the right.
We came to the conclusion that these gorse had been grazed upon by deer and as the bushes were around 8 feet high, the only likely culprit would be the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) as these are big deer and quite capable of reaching such a height. 

A better view of the nibbled gorse.
I remember last year whilst driving down the A14 in my truck and seeing the antlers of a stag  and some of his hinds walking in a field just over a mile from the site at Purdis.
A Google Earth aerial view of the landscape between the two sites.
As we can see from the above image from Google Earth, there are no populated areas between the Purdis Heath and the sighting of the herd last year. Another thing that sticks out (to me anyway) is the lack of natural habitation between the two sites. There is nothing except arable fields which have very little wildlife value. When I spotted the deer a year ago, it was early in the morning just before first light, so it is possible that the deer use the heathland at Purdis occasionally to feed before heading to the woodland at Seven Hills (where I spotted them) to rest in the security and shade of the woodland for the day. This is just another reason why sites like this need to exist to preserve our natural world.

Another thing that I came across was this little old nest that had seen little use during the year.
Avian or rodent?
At first glance it looked like a small bird nest, but on closer inspection, it had seed heads from some broom that had been growing nearby which would suggest rodent such as a field mouse, harvest mouse etc. Several of the naturalists among us had a good look and think about it and the eventual consensus was that it was probably built by a bird before being taken over by a rodent. 

During the tea breaks where tea, coffee, biscuits, mince pies and some lovely cakes supplied by Susanne were consumed, we got to talking all things nature and was told by Julian and Helen that only last week a Peregrine Falcon (Falco peregrinus) was spotted flushing wood pigeons on the heath. Also whilst we chatted, a Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) was also seen to fly by so sunny and mild it was. During the lopping of the gorse, I came across two 7-spot ladybirds (Coccinella 7-punctata) which I recorded using my iPhone app. So nice to see some natives instead of dreaded Harlequins (Harmonia axyridis).

So if you fancy coming along to the next work party, then please do. It's on Saturday January 4th 2014, an ideal time to work off the excesses of Xmas. We meet up in Bucklesahm Rd at 10am and work unto 3pm, but you can come and go as you please, after all, you are a volunteer. Please bring along a packed lunch and some suitable clothing. If the weather is pouring down, it will be likely to be called off, so watch this space and we will have a better idea nearer the date. 

I got my prize!

As many of you know, I won a category of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust's photo competition and this week I received my prize in the post. What did I win? I hear you shout in anticipation. I got a certificate, a print of my image and a years membership to SWT which is worth £30, excellent! Included in the membership pack along with a car sticker, a copy of SWT's magazine and some information on the work they do, there is also the wonderful book, Suffolk Landscapes, which has some wonderful photos of the nature reserves within Suffolk and some text about them as well. 
My prize has arrived.
Keeping with the SWT theme, last week I left you in suspense that I might have some exciting news to share with you and now I can for the day after getting my prize in the post, I had to pop down to their HQ in Ashbocking to discuss a wonderful volunteer opportunity that had arisen within the trust of Education and Events volunteer. I went today and had a wonderful chat with them and am going on the volunteer induction day in the new year, I got the job! I'm well chuffed to say the least and will keep you posted on any developments. The new job will see me travelling around the county helping out with displays, nature trails and events and helping to educate children and adults alike about the wonders of nature, helping with bioblitz's and much more. It's something I am very much looking forward to and cannot wait to get started.

That's it for now, so till next time dear reader, please take care.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Butterflies in December

Hello dear reader, hope everything is good in your world and the beginning of December hasn't got you too panicked to go rushing out to do your Xmas shopping. Me and the wifey try to do our shopping through the year, buying little bits and pieces when we see them. Beats all that mad 'Black Friday' shopping. I honestly do not understand who would want to go through such stress in buying a present. Sometimes, I think the world has gone beyond mad, but that's a different story.

December butterflies

Of late, especially on the world of Twitter, people have been reporting that they keep finding butterflies in their homes, fluttering around the place. I too got a text from the wifey who came across a Peacock butterfly (Inachis io) inside an upstairs function room of an old pub, asking me if she should set it free.
Keeping warm for winter.

Consultant ecologist Ralph Hobbs was recently (this week) called to a vacant pub after the new owner spotted around 75  Small Tortoiseshell butterflies (Alglais urticae) in the downstairs front room of the unoccupied building.
All resting up for the winter. ©Ralph Hobbs
Thankfully, the new owner new what they were and before letting the rest orators get to work, he called his ecologist friend in, who happily collected them all up in a insect mesh container and relocated them.
Collected and ready for transportation to their new winter home. ©Ralph Hobbs
Not a lot of people realise this, but not all butterflies die off at the end of summer/autumn. No, some, such as Peacocks and Tortoiseshells, actually hibernate for the winter months ready to get going again as soon as the temperatures begin to pick up again. This is why people keep finding them fluttering around their front rooms in winter, because the central heating has kicked in, warming your house up to a nice toastie 17-20ºC and they (the butterflies) think 'spring is here, lets get jiggy with it!'

However, whilst they're hibernating in the relative shelter of the shed, they are at risk from other predators such as spiders, mice and bats (yes, warm days in winter sees hibernating bats going for walkabout around their hibernaculum). The peacock butterfly has this remarkable little defence system where if it sees a threat approaching, it will quickly open it wings flat, displaying the two eye like spots and at the same time as it opens its wings, it squeaks. Yes, a butterfly that actually squeaks like a mouse, and this squeak is not only audible to us humans, but it also resonates in the most sensitive area of a bats hearing, thus it can be heard as ultrasound too. There has been a paper done on this that can be seen here. As you will see, the sound is made by the membrane between two veins on the butterfly's wing, as it opens the wing quickly, it causes the membrane to vibrate. This, coupled with the flash of the eye spots is a two pronged defence technique and although it has been proved that the eye spots don't really bother the bat, it's the ultrasound click within the audible squeak that puts the bats off. The squeak coupled with the eye-spot flash would probably scare off predators such as mice who don't want to bump into things with big eyes.


SQUEAK! BACK OFF!
So, how can you help these amazing creatures if you find one in your house? Simply the best thing you can do if you come across the unexpected butterfly in a dark corner of your home is to gently scoop it up with a cup and a piece of card, a bit like collecting a spider, and then place it in your shed or garage or outhouse. Somewhere that isn't artificially heated and that is relatively quiet with little activity and with gaps so that it can escape and fly away again come spring. Many thanks to Ralph Hobbs for letting me use his photos and well done on such a grand job of relocating all those butterflies.

Work party time!

Yes, time to get the loppers and secateurs out and join us over at Purdis heath this Saturday (7th December) to help us preserve the small piece of heathland site that is so important to Silver-studded Blue butterflies (Plebejus argus). It's between 10am - 3pm, but obviously, you can come and go as you please. There will be tea/coffee and biscuits for breaks but please bring along a packed lunch to see you through. If you have work gloves, that would be good too as well as any loppers/secateurs you have. Please wrap up warm and wear suitable clothing/footwear for the job in hand.
We will meet up in the lay-by on Bucklesham Rd opposite the Trinity Showground about 10 am, I and many others will look forward to seeing you there.

Suffolk Wildlife Trust Photo Competition

As many of you will know, I won a category (Best photo taken by a mobile device) in the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Photo Competition. The category winners then went to the public vote (I hope you voted dear reader) to find an overall winner. 
My winning entry caught on my iPhone.
Unfortunately, my photo didn't win the overall competition. However, I'm not sad as the winning entry totally deserved to win and can be seen here. Lee Acaster's The Old Oak is a lovely photo that makes me feel that if Constable could have taken photos, this would have been the style of photo he would have taken.

If you did take the trouble to vote for me, thank you very much, I appreciate it greatly.

That's about it for now, got some projects to be working on, like my bee project and I might have some other exciting news to share too, so just watch this space!!!

Till next time dear reader, take care and have fun.


Thursday, 28 November 2013

Leaves, Starlings and a Sparrowhawk too!

Hello dear reader, hope this finds you nice, snug and warm, wrapped up against the chilly weather outside. The leaves are at long last beginning to fall and my garden is covered in the beautiful autumnal colours of brown, reds and yellows. Many of you will be starting to dig the rake out to scoop them all up to either stick in the composter or to make a small slow burning pyre from. But there is another important use they have and one I think you should consider.

The importance of leaf litter


Colours of autumn.

Leaves are not just pretty green things that hang of trees, they have a very important function in the the grand food web which we discussed last time. Firstly, through the process of photosynthesis, they combine and convert the sunlight energy, water from the soil and the carbon dioxide we exhale, into a chemical energy such as sugars which the tree/plants can use as food. A wonderful by-product of this process is oxygen which we need to survive, so trees/plants are your friends, remember that.

But this is not the only thing they are good for as leaves are a host to many other important organisms which have their place in the environment. Some moths known as micro moths 'mine' the leaves as a larval stage. This involves the very small caterpillar that hatches from the egg which was laid on the leaf by the parent moth which sometimes measures no more than 2-3mm long. This gives you some idea how big the egg and the larvae are. The caterpillar would then make a small hole on one side of the leaf and then burrow in between each side of the leaf so that it is actually inside the leaf. Now considering how thin some leaves are, this is quite an amazing feat. You can tell when a leaf has been mined and you may have in fact seen this type of thing before without realising what it was. As the caterpillar munches its way through the interior on the leaf, it leaves behind a trail which can be seen in the pictures below.

A mined hazel leaf.

Another mined hazel leaf.
Here, the white zig-zaggy lines can be clearly seen. Sometimes, if you hold it up to the light, you might be able to see the larvae inside or, even some of its frass. Some species of micro moth overwinter within the leaf or the leaf litter when the leaves fall to the ground in autumn. Another insect that uses leaves are gall wasps who implant their eggs into the leaves of trees. This implanted egg has an effect on the chemicals in the leaf surrounding the egg/insect and this causes a growth to occur which can either act as a protective shell around the developing insect or, act as a source of food for it during development.

Galls on the underside of an oak leaf.
Again, come autumn when the leaves fall to the ground, the developing insect inside overwinters amongst the leaf litter. So why is this leaf litter so important?

The simple answer is warmth. If you have a compost bin that the council collect full of leaves or grass cuttings or, you might have a pile of leaves/grass cuttings in the garden, you might notice that the bin may be warm to the touch or that the pile of leaves/grass seems to be steaming. If you carefully place your hand into the leaf pile, you will feel the heat being generated. But what is generating this heat? 

Amongst all this leaf litter are micro organisms, detritivores, who munch away at all the dead vegetation on the ground. All this hard work generates the heat within the litter and provides a wonderful little micro climate in which all those invertebrates within, survive. This process helps many invertebrates get through the harsh, freezing temperatures of winter. When the ground is covered in frost or snow, and temperatures fall to zero or below, in amongst the leaf litter, the temperature is 1-3ºC above zero, stopping the insects within from freezing to death. This warm layer also provides protection to any seedlings on the ground or any dormant plants from frost damage. Worms, which keep our soil aerated, love to munch on a leaf or three over the winter period. They slide up out of the ground, grab a leaf in their mouth and then retract back down the hole pulling the leaf with it. As these leaves are eaten and destroyed they release vital nutrients back into the soil around the tree they fell from, which in turn provides important rich nutrients for not only the tree next year, but also the plants and other insects that also depend on these nutrients as well.

So, at this time of year, you will find me raking up the leaves in the garden and instead of placing them in the composter, I spread them over my flower beds about 3-4 inches deep. This process helps to keep some of my plants protected from the frosts, keeps the soil above freezing and the biodiversity of my garden rich and varied.

Pile it on. Leaf litter spread deep over my flower beds.
So before you go chucking those leaves into the compost bin, just think again about what good they could do your soil with all those lovely rich nutrients. Think about all those wonderful creatures that depend on the energy trapped within those beautiful colours and then go and spread them on your flower beds. I've been doing it for a couple of years now and the amount of colour from flowers that I got back this year was lovely, something which I attribute to my leaf spreading. After all, before mankind was on the scene taking pride in his garden, what happened to the leaves then?

A murmuration at last.

Over the last few weeks, I've been on the look out for a murmuration of starlings. This is where starlings gather in huge numbers and fly back and forth creating huge patterns in the sky that are  mesmerising. Earlier in the year, I captured this event on video not far from me in the east of Ipswich near Ransomes Europark industrial estate. My neighbour had said he spotted a small flock of starlings in the same place recently looking like they were trying to start a murmuration (thanks Mick). Anne, a regular reader to this blog (Hello Anne) also contacted me to say she had spotted around 120 starlings not too far from Ransomes as well.

So, last night I had some time available to me and went to have a look to see if anything was happening. I drove straight onto the industrial estate to see what I could find and it didn't look promising as I sat waiting, scanning the skies for any movement. But after about 5 mins I spotted a small flock of about 30 starlings flying over the entrance to the estate where Nacton Road meets Ransomes Rd. I pulled into the Thrashers Pub car park, where I spotted the murmuration earlier in the year, and waited. Sure enough, within minutes a flock of about 100 flew over in cloud formation.

The gathering murmuration had begun.
They kept on flying back and forth and at one point as they flew towards the tall trees behind the pub I was taken by surprise as a sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) came up from behind me and flew past my head and into the trees. Had it made a catch? At that point I wasn't too sure as the light was already fading and the dark back colouring of the sparrowhawk coupled with the dark silhouette of the trees made it hard to tell. However, the murmuration continued its fantastic display above the rush hour traffic gathering below, then all of a sudden, the starlings flew low down and towards me filling the eyepiece of my camera as they made a rather quick and dramatic split into several smaller groups above my head.

A startled starling split.
They passed overhead and then I saw again the sparrowhawk fly back from the direction of the pub towards the industrial estate and I could quite clearly see that this time it had dinner clasped firmly in its claws in the shape of a starling. As it approached the trees surrounding the estate, to crows left their perches to try and mob the sparrowhawk, but it quickly out flew them and found sanctuary in the darkness of the conifers around the estate. Again, although I could see it clearly with my eyes, it was still too dark for my camera to try and get an action shot, that it happened so quick.

After this, the murmuration, now about 200 birds strong, moved deeper into the estate. I got in my car to follow them but the light was beginning to fade much quicker now and photographing them was no longer an option. One thing I did notice whilst I watched this magnificent display was that all the while as they flew back and forth, every now and then a much smaller flock of 5,8,10 or 15 birds would fly in and join them. I have seen this before in my hippy days of living on a boat on the broads. One evening watching a huge murmuration near Barton Broad in Norfolk from about a mile away. Yet every now and then a small flock of starlings would fly over my head, heading towards the murmuration. So maybe these murmurations are a way of communicating to all the surrounding flocks of starlings that, 'we're all sleeping here tonight, come join us if you want to be safe'. After all, safety in numbers usually works, although try telling that to the sparrowhawk's dinner.

A sky full of starlings.
I will try and keep an eye on this murmuration over the next few weeks to see if it gets any bigger, hopefully it will. However, if you do want to see a much bigger murmuration, apparently, there's a flock of around 30,000 starlings on the river Alde between Snape maltings and Iken. These larger murmurations are really fantastic and awe inspiring to watch. If I get the time, I may try to go this weekend, fingers crossed.

That's about it for now, till next time dear readers, take care.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Invasive species calls for drastic measures

Hello dear followers, I hope all is well in your world wherever you happen to be. I am glad to report that my man-flu has subsided only to be replaced by a tooth abscess. I've had a couple of off days with it as you can imagine, but now the antibiotics have kicked all is much better. 

Invasive species calls for drastic measures

I came across this report from the BBC about how the Environment Agency are planning to use a fish poison called rotenone to remove a non-native species of fish called Asian Topmouth Gudgeon (Pseudorasbora parva) which has thought to have been introduced to our ecosystems by either the aquaria trade or by deliberate use as a fish bait according to RAFTS.

Now there is a very good reason for wanting to eradicate this new invasive species. 
  • It has a very rapid breeding rate up to 4x faster than our native species, which could have a massive impact on our native fish. This would lead to the natives being out competed for food leading to a reduction in native fish populations.
  • It also severely impacts on native populations by predating on native fish eggs. 
  • It is also a carrier of a parasite that affects carp and salmon.
So, as you can see, this invasive species could devastate native fish stocks across the UK. A bit like what the Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia adryxis) has done to our native ladybirds. However, and this is a big however, the poison that they are going to be using on the river will not only kill the non-natives, IT WILL KILL ALL THE FISH IN THE RIVER, including our native species such as eels, roach, minnow, stone loach. Even though the poison is a piscicide, which means that it will only affect fish. No other organism will be affected, including any that may feed upon the dead fish apparently. However, this will create a huge impact upon the ecosystem on that stretch of river as a major factor has been removed from it, meaning that all of a sudden there will be an influx of other organisms that the fish used to feed on. With that part of the food chain missing, the balance becomes unstable. So lets look at this food chain to see why it could become unbalanced.

The food chain always begins at the very bottom where the detritus (dead vegetation, dead organisms, etc) build up and where the diatoms/algae feed from the nitrates and nitrogen's that leach into a water system from the surrounding land and also the detritus of rotting leaves and dying organisms in the silt on the riverbed.
In turn, this is food for other organisms such as worms like bloodworm (mosquito larvae), freshwater shrimp and mayfly larvae.
Again, these are eaten by small fish fry, dragonfly and caddisfly larvae who get eaten by bigger fish which end up getting eaten by birds such as herons, kingfishers, etc. I’ve knocked up a diagram below to try and simplify things a bit. Not easy with such a complicated system.
A much simplified version of a very complicated food chain interrelationship.

All this works seamlessly and has done so for millennia, but now we remove the fish from the equation and things start to get messy.

Suddenly, there are no fish to eat the mosquito, mayfly, dragonfly larva or the freshwater shrimp and suddenly populations start to get out of control because the main regulator, the fish, have disappeared from the system. So come the warmer weather and suddenly there is a greater influx of mosquitos and mayfly emerging from the water due to lack of predation. There are more dragonflies on the wing which love to chase and eat other flying insects and it would be fair to think that the dragonflies will have plenty of food with all the mosquitos and mayfly about. However, the mosquitos and mayfly have much shorter lifespans than the longer lived dragonfly and soon the dragonflies will need to search elsewhere for food causing impacts on other ecosystems and food chains and species and this is only a very small part of the whole complicated system.

I won’t lie, when I first saw this report, I was shocked, appalled even. I immediately took to contacting the Environment Agency for more information. I even tweeted to them asking could they not remove the non-natives first, then replace them afterwards. In fairness, they tweeted straight back to say that the fry of the gudgeon were as small as an eyelash and could possibly be found in the gills of native fish. This would mean that even if they did remove the natives first, they could re-introduce the non-natives when they put the natives back. A waste of time and effort. However, I was still shocked by such drastic action I began preparing my blog whilst awaiting for the information to come in.

As I did so, I soon began to realise that what the EA were doing wasn’t such a bad thing after all, when you consider the much bigger picture. A new non-native species could and would take hold quickly and as they did so would also spread rapidly causing much more devastation to our native wildlife than the EA would do in a relatively very small operation. They have even said that they would restock the waterway with new, safe livestock. Then, the following morning, the EA emailed me a 6 page PDF which was very informative and explained so much more than the original BBC report. I’m not going to reproduce the whole PDF here as it does take some reading, but I will list the important bits that news agencies seem to miss and give you a more detailed version copied direct from the PDF.

The report states:

The main issues:
  • Its presence within the lake and the nearby Cuffley Brook not only threatens the local wildlife but if they were to spread, it could have serious impact on our native wildlife and habitats on a national basis
  • This is one of only 34 topmouth gudgeon populations in the wild across the UK, with populations being concentrated in the South East. We have already eradicated 14 of the 34 populations . 
  • Topmouth gudgeon are considered one of the most potentially damaging non-native fish species in Western Europe and are banned from sale in England and Wales. They harm the environment, fisheries and angling quality where they are present. 
Why are they a problem?

  • If they escape or are intentionally introduced into the wild they have the potential to harm our native wildlife, habitats and fisheries.
  • They reproduce rapidly, spawning up to 4 times per year.
  • They eat the eggs and larvae of native fish.
  • The male guards the eggs from other predators.
  • They out compete native fish for food and habitat.
  • They are very small and are easily accidentally transferred with movements of native fish.
  • There is evidence that they may carry the threat of new diseases and parasites that could affect our native species. 
Is the method of removal humane?
  • Yes the dose applied will ensure that the fish are removed rapidly with minimum stress. 

Why can’t native fish be removed first?
  • The lake near Crews Hill is very shallow which means we won't be able to use boats to remove native fish. The lake is also very silty, which makes it unsafe to remove them by wading into the lake. There are not a high number of native fish in the lake.
  • The native fish in the stream are primarily roach, and we do not believe they would survive the necessary quarantine processes if we were able to remove them. If we were to remove the native fish from the stream before applying the rotenone, we would only be able to remove fish over 15cm to avoid confusion with non- native fish. We would need to hold the removed fish in quarantine before we could return them to the water. The quarantine process requires that each fish is inspected several times for topmouth gudgeon before it can be returned to the water. 
  • Unfortunately some native species like roach cannot be put through this process as they would not survive, so we will humanely cull them along with the top mouth gudgeon.
Will it harm other animals?
  • Rotenone is selective to fish, which is why it is used. Mammals and birds are not affected. Animals that eat it, either directly or through eating animals that have been exposed, will not be affected because all animals have natural enzymes in the digestive system that break down rotenone. 
What will happen to the rotenone?

  • Rotenone is a naturally occurring organic substance. It breaks down when exposed to light, heat and oxygen. When applied to water it will break down to carbon dioxide and water in a few weeks depending on conditions. In the case of the stream treatment, we will be neutralising the rotenone using potassium permanganate. 

Has this method been used before?

  • Yes, we have used this method before to eradicate other populations of invasive fish, including topmouth gudgeon, sunbleak, wels catfish, pumpkinseed and fathead minnow. All our operations have been successful and the sites have now been restored to their former condition as productive, valuable, fisheries. 

Can another method be implemented?

  • No we have examined and tested all other options for management of topmouth gudgeon including: no action, screening outlets, rod & line removal, netting / electrofishing removal, egg removal using spawning mats, biological control (introducing other predatory species), drain down and liming. All of these options will only achieve management of the population and not eradication. Due to the threat posed by topmouth gudgeon it is essential that 100% eradication is achieved piscicide application represents the only viable option to achieve this in this case. 

What will the EA do to prevent this happening again?

  • We regulate every fish introduction and removal in the freshwater environment through fish movement consents and ILFA licenses.
  • We educate anglers, clubs, land owners and fish farm owners about the risks posed by non-native species and importance of managing their activities carefully.
  • We make clear that there is a buyer beware' responsibility on the buyer of any fish.
  • We work with Cefas and the fish farming industry to monitor fish movements. 
Like I say, I haven’t included everything that was in the PDF, just the bits that I thought were important. However, if you’re still not happy and want to know more, then send me your email below via the comments page (don’t worry, it won’t be visible to everyone) and I’ll email it to you.

However, this wouldn’t be needed if news agencies were to publish full details instead of just going for the sensationalist approach. Even just supplying a link to the PDF would have helped. On a positive note, the EA were very helpful and quick to respond to my questions, something other agencies would be good to pick up on.

We, the general public and businesses, especially those who impact on nature, need to learn and learn quickly that our actions, regardless of how insignificant WE think they are, can have devastating effects on our surroundings and beyond. As an ex-truck driver, I have delivered to out of the way, back of beyond warehouses in the middle of nowhere. All around their perimeters are rodent poisons which may be good at killing rodents, but they are also good at killing other wildlife such as owls, kestrels and other predators through secondary poisoning, eating an animal which has been poisoned by the rodenticide.

No-one knows how Topmouth gudgeon got into the system. They could’ve been introduced by someone who stocked a private pond, or an unscrupulous fish dealer out to make a quick buck. They could’ve been a tank fish that someone had got tired of and decided to release them into their nearest waterway thinking the weather would kill them off. Many years ago, I once knew a person who released Koi into a stream because they were getting to big for his pond. I won’t repeat here what my response was to him then. Needless to say, I no longer know this person as I don’t suffer idiots well.

Starling news

Reports have been coming in from a couple of my readers of starlings in largish numbers. First report is from Mick who tells me that he saw a largish flock at the original site at Ransomes this week and that they were starting to murmurate when he saw them.

Anne emailed me to say she spotted around 120 starlings at the nearby Trinity Showground feeding on land adjacent to Purdis Heath. I remember many years ago when I lived on a boat on the broads, I remember mooring up one evening and seeing a murmuration in the distance which I watched for ages. As I did so, every now and then a small flock of starlings would fly past or overhead, heading in the direction of the murmuration. A sure sign that these displays pull in much smaller groups for quite some miles around, safety in numbers!

So thanks to my roving reporters, I will be out in the next few days to see what murmurations I can find.

Still time to vote.

In case you haven’t done so already, you can still vote for my Barn Owl Hunting mobile device picture in the Suffolk Wildlife Photo Competition here. Voting closes soon so no time like the present. 

Till then dear reader, take care.




Sunday, 10 November 2013

In 1st place...

Hi dear followers, hope all is well in your world. Glad to see that finally, the leaves on my cherry tree are beginning to turn colour and give in to gravity. The temperatures are beginning to drop rapidly now with frost being reported from friends up north. Temperatures have affected me too as most of the last week I've had the dreaded lurgy, so haven't been out much. But still, I have good news to report.

In 1st place…

One evening in the summer, I was off to do a bat survey at Dunwich Heath in Suffolk. It was late in the day and the sun was beginning to set as I zipped along in my car down a country lane I saw a barn owl (Tyto alba) fly across the road in front of me. I've always been fascinated by these creatures and even raised one from a chick (Tyto was her name) in my younger days and used to take her out flying lots. 

As I approached the section of road I had just seen this bird fly across, there was a small lay-by which I promptly pulled into, after all, I was running early for the survey. Pulling into the lay-by, I could see the owl quartering the field next to the road. It was a lovely evening and like I say, I had a bit of time on my hands, so I got out of the car just to stand and watch. Barn owls really do fly silently due to a row of comb like bristles on the leading edge of the primary wing feather. They also make flying look incredibly easy as they fly so slowly and stop to hover over an area looking for a meal. Everything about an owl suggests that it's not built for speed. The flat disc shaped face is far from being aerodynamic, yet it serves another important purpose. The face is just like a satellite dish and it directs any sound direct to the birds ears, which are asymetrical (one higher than the other) to allow the bird to triangulate exactly where a sound is coming from.

I watched the owl fly around the far bottom off the field then slowly make its way up and then it reached the far end of the field next to the road and I expected for it to fly back over the road, but no. It turned and flew along the field back towards me. From my keeping of Tyto, I knew from experience how an owl sees things, believe it or not, that don't have great eyesight. Their hunting skills predominantly rely on sound. So I ducked down in front of the car so my outline could't be seen protruding from around the outline of the car. I then realised, my phone was still in my pocket instead of being left in the car, so I whipped it out ready to take a photo. But then the bird turned back into the field then turned again going back the way it came. Drat! I thought, a missed opportunity as the bird flew away from me. But then it turned again flying towards me on the same path and as I got ready I really couldn't believe it as the bird flew right past me and I managed to grab this shot with my phone. 
Barn owl hunting.
I cannot tell you how extremely pleased I was with this shot, so much so, that I entered it into Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Photo Competition in the category of 'Mobile Device Photo'. The closing date for entries was on Sunday Nov 3rd and on Thursday I got an email to say I had won that category! Amazing! That chance encounter I had with a very special bird just got even better. So what did I win, I hear you ask. Er, sorry, I can't remember what the prizes were, but I was asked for my home address so that my prize could be sent to me, I should imagine it might be delivered by armoured van and security people, as I doubt a cheque of a couple of million pound would be sent in the post (always hoping).

Anyway, it doesn't end there. Apparently, my photo, along with other section winners such as my good friend Matt Berry who deservedly won the invertebrate section with a lovely photo of a Brimstone Butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni), will be printed in our local paper the East Anglian Daily Times and on the Suffolk Wildlife Trust website where can vote for the overall favourite photo here

Always worth looking.

This good news helped lift me out of the doldrums of man-flu so much so, that I decided to have a little walk around my local patch to see what I could find. It had been a nice morning/early afternoon so I was hopeful to find something of interest. Perhaps a recently deceased minotaur beetle that I could preserve in my pinned insect collection, or a late bumblebee queen looking for a place to hibernate for next years project.

It seemed quite busy when I got there, as most of the parking spaces were taken, but I managed to squeeze onto a little bit at the end. Then I bumped into a couple of friends just coming off the heath. All was looking lovely, however, the weather was on the turn and I knew I wasn't going to be here long. I concentrated my efforts on the bare patch of soil where I had been working last time removing the invasive brambles. I know this area is well populated with Minotaur beetles (Typhaeus typhoeus) and was apparently still quite active as I could see many fresh piles of sand removed in order to dig their deep burrows. I did find the remains of some ground beetles, in some fresh Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) droppings scattered around the area, which was another sign that the beetles are still active. I walked on to the archaeology pit where Matt had been working the week previously strumming down the gorse bushes. I wanted to see if there was anything about there of interest. As soon as I got into the pit I did find what I thought was a freshly dead Minotaur beetle. I say I thought, it wasn't till I got it home to put it on the setting board that I realised its head was missing. Drat, must remember to use my glasses more often.

I wandered up out of the pit with the odd drop of rain now beginning to fall and the clouds getting darker when something fluttered past me. At first, I thought it was a damselfly, but dismissed this thought as quickly as it came as it's quite late for damselflies now. I spun around to get another look to see it shoot out of sight behind a tree and my second thought was small dragonfly, but again I dashed the thought as it was too small body wise. At this point I was already extending the handle of my insect net ready for the capture when all of a sudden it came up behind me after circling the tree. Then I knew exactly what it was, an Ichneumon wasp. I waited till it settled on the leaf of the oak tree it had been circling and then quickly swished my net over it. Looking into the net I could see I had caught it and I potted it straight away in the hope of getting a proper ID on it later.

The rain drops were getting bigger by now and began to make a hasty retreat to my car to go home and identify my catch. It was quite obvious the ichneumon was best pleased at being caught, so I placed it in the fridge to cool down and after a few hours pulled her back out again to get some shots and an identification.

Now when I say ichneumon, this wasn't just any old ichneumon, this one was a big one at around 6cm long with an impressive tail that was just over 3cm long. It was awesome.

My what a big tail you have!
I say tail, but of course, this isn't exactly a tail, it's an ovipositor. This is the end that lays the eggs in the bark or leaves of the tree. This happens when the female, pictured above, senses the larval form of another insect munching away in the wood. The ichneumon will then insert its ovipositor into the wood to lay an egg close to the unsuspecting grub. Then when the egg hatches, the newly emerged larval ichneumon has another grub to feed on close by. I know this sounds a bit gruesome, but this is another reason why insects lay so many eggs, so that even when there are predators like this about, still some will have a chance of making it through to adulthood.
The top view clearly showing the ocelli on top of the head.
I posted these pictures on to some internet forums, social media, etc looking for help with the identity of this wonderful creature and was informed that the only real way of getting a true positive ID was to use a microscope to see the tip of the ovipositor, which was not going to be easy to do with a live specimen.

Such beauty.

Now, as most of you know, I'm really not into killing things. I recently submitted my moth list of all the moths I caught this year to my County Moth Recorder, who informed me that he wouldn't be able to accept some ID's because they could only be positively identified by cutting open their genitalia. My thoughts on this are exactly the same for the ichneumon and any other creature I happen to come across, I don't need to know the name of it that badly, that I need to kill it. That said, one fellow who seemed to know his ichies (not an official term) had come to the conclusion that it was most likely going to be Dolichomitus mesocentrus, a common large ichneumon found in the southern half of England. Looking at other pictures of this species, it looks pretty spot on to say the least and I'm more than happy with the ID and this beautiful creature was let go to fly away to do what nature intended it to do.

Look up to the skies!

This is a plea from me to you to ask for any sightings you've had of any starling murmurations in or around the Ipswich area. I saw a small one earlier this year over east Ipswich near Ransomes Industrial Estate. 

Caught on my mobile earlier this year.

However, this murmuration hasn't returned this year and I would like to get some decent shots of one. So if you know of a murmuration near you, please let me know either by leaving a comment below (don't worry, no-one will see any of your contact details) or via Twitter @SuffolkNature.

Wildlife turns up in the strangest of places

Me and the wifey went out shopping this afternoon and the first thing I noticed was this lovely looking creature.

An incy wincy spider...
on a teapot...
in John Lewis'
Even spiders have taste.

So wherever you are, whatever you're doing, always keep an eye out for wildlife, it's always there and sometimes as above, in the unlikeliest of places.

Till next time dear followers, keep safe.