Monday, 6 May 2013

From tigers to dragons

Well hello people and a special hello to my new follower Graham. I haven't posted of late to to the general busy-ness of life, but I have much to report. 

From tigers to dragons

Well last time saw me trouncing all over Purdis Heath in search of Green Tiger beetles and for once, I was successful. Now, with the help of Duncan Sweeting from Suffolk Amphibian and Reptile Group, I was going to be trained in the art of Great Crested Newt surveying. Now it's important to state from the off, that this is a licenced activity which can only be carried out by or under the supervision of a licenced GCN surveyor, Duncan is this person. For obvious reasons due to the protection afforded these wonderful creatures, I'm not going to divulge the exact location of the site we were surveying, except to say it was near a little place called Saxmundham.
We met up in the evening just before sunset where Duncan gave us a little talk about newts in general, showing us some eggs that he found earlier prior to our arrival, showing us the difference between smooth newt and GCN eggs and showing us how the newts deposit their eggs by carefully laying an individual egg in a wrapped leaf. Really quite interesting stuff (if you're into that kind of thing), then we wandered off to check out a couple of nearby ponds where we were shown where and how to look for the evidence of newts and to find out what species they were. We were also introduced to several types and ways of trapping and Duncan even caught a pair of GCN's to show us what they looked like. Unfortunately, due to the fading light I wasn't able to get a decent enough shot of the newt, not for publishing here anyway. But you can take it from me, it was a fantastic specimen, really quite outstanding and I can now see why they are protected. 
I managed to find a couple of eggs which I felt quite pleased about as it meant I was doing something right. We could also quite clearly see many newts popping up for air every now and then across the surface of the ponds.
With the various types of traps set in various ponds around the site, we returned to our cars for the short drive to the pub for some refreshments whilst waiting for the sun to set. 
Once the darkness fell, we returned to the ponds with high powered torches in hand to practice the method of 'torching'. Again, this requires a licence to practice and shouldn't be conducted without one. Basically, it involves pointing the torch down into the water looking for the newts and counting what we find. We also checked the traps and although none had caught any newts, two traps actually caught a couple of Great Diving beetles. These are another beetle that I've read about and have seen pictures of, and I personally would love to study in more detail. Again, I wasn't able to get photos, but they really looked impressive and I look forward to studying these in more detail in the future.
With all the ponds but one surveyed, we were in for a little bit of an unexpected treat when we got to the last pond. We had just about come to the end of surveying the last pond and was getting ready to make our way back to the cars when Jenny, another trainee spotted a Grass snake, and sure enough, from out of the reeds on the opposite bank came this beautiful creature, gliding effortlessly across the surface of the water. Totally oblivious and uncaring to our presence, he came right up to the bank we were standing on right below our feet, probing every little nook and cranny for a nighttime snack, which newts make up a good part of it diet. Duncan bent down and picked up the snake, which must've been a good 24" long, and it immediately gave off this smell, which is hard to describe except to say it's foul smelling. This smell instantly took me back to my childhood days growing up in East London, when a visiting auntie took me down to a market called Petticoat Lane, a place where most things could be bought and sold. I remember us stopping by a run down little shop, which in its window, had grass snakes for sale. I was mesmerised by these fascinating creatures, after all, living in a concrete jungle I'd never seen a snake before and I thought these were so interesting. My aunt saw my fascination and bought me one which was put in a bag with a load of sphagnum and carefully carried home to be placed in an old glass tank which I converted into a type of terrarium. Needless to say, my parents were not too pleased with my aunts actions that day and not before long it 'mysteriously' disappeared with my mother saying it must've escaped down the drain. But I have reasons to believe that it was most likely removed by my elder sibling under parental instruction to be released on a nearby sewer embankment. But hey, that's another story and it was most probably better for the poor creature. 
So, with a wonderful end to a wonderful nights survey training, we let the snake off to continue its hunt and we made our way back to our cars. Many thanks to Duncan and Margaret.

More snakes, or not as the case may be.

With the weather finally getting more spring like, I decided to go looking for Adders, our only poisonous snake. Again, due to public perception of these lovely creatures, I won't be disclosing the exact location  of where I was looking except to say it was heathland in Suffolk. I knew where to look as I was sent to survey this area last year as part of SARG's adder surveys. I had also found one in this location last year. However, after much searching, me and the wifey didn't come across any unfortunately. However, we did get to see some Yellowhammer's (which the wifey was most taken with) and some Whitethroat's which were a first for me. We also came across a large piece of discarded foam thing (maybe from a car interior). It had been there for quite sometime judging by the looks of it and I was interested to see what might be under it. Lifting it up very carefully, after all, I didn't want to be faced close up with an angry adder, we saw nothing at first. Then I noticed something shiny amongst the vegetation growing underneath. It was a beautiful looking beetle about 3cm long with an amazing metallic hue to it. Turns out it was a Violet Ground Beetle Carabus violaceus, another first for me. I tried and thought I got some good photos of it before the sun warmed it up into a fast scurrying insect. But when I got home, all my photos were rubbish and out of focus. Sorry dear follower, the only thing I can think of is that I was so caught up in the moment of finding such a wonderful looking creature, my photographic skills went straight out of the window and I clicked away aimlessly for no point at all. However, all is not lost and a quick google brought me to this page which gives you all the relevant info as well as a lovely pic of said beetle.

And now for something a little more shocking!

Firstly, let me apologise for what I am about to tell you, is not pleasing to the heart. I found out earlier this week that the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have been carrying out a practice known as 'pinioning'. This 'pinioning' is a practice where young newly hatched chicks have a piece of the wing amputated so that they will never be able to fly. 
When I saw this I too took a double take. Wasn't the WWT supposed to be protecting these birds? Were they not supposed to be rearing endangered species for release back into the wild? Still not believing what I was reading, I contacted WWT asking them if they carried out this barbaric practice. They replied by forwarding me this link, which at present, as I write this is down. But basically, from what I remember (I'll re=edit this if I've got it wrong), it states that they do this to their captive birds and it is to help their workers on endangered species projects in other countries. It prevents the birds from flying off and hurting themselves in netting, etc. However, I did ask why they didn't just clip the flight feathers of the birds instead? I have yet to receive a reply to this question, but when I do, as always, I'll report it here and let you know.

In the moth trap

Yes, the weather is picking up, yet the nights until recently have been a bit chilly with over night temperatures dropping to a brisk 1ÂșC last week. However, this week saw an improvement and not only in temperatures either. There were the usual suspects, Common, small and Twin-spot quakers as well as Early Greys and Hebrew Character's. There were also a couple of firsts for me in my home trap. The first one up is this beauty:
Lunar Marbled Brown Drymonia ruficornis
As you can tell, he was quite a fluffy fellow and even more so from the side.

D ruficornis from the side. Look at those hairy legs!
The next first I originally mis-ID'd when I put it in the pot. I thought it was a Buff-tip Phalera bucephala when I pulled it out of the trap. However, when it came to taking a photo of it, I realised straight away that it wasn't a Buff-tip at all, but in fact it was a Chocolate-tip Clostera curtula.

Chocolate-tip Clostera curtula. The tail is on the right just poking out between the folded wings.

Also in the trap was three of these little Pine Beauty's Panolis flammea.

P flammea 
Then there was a slightly worn Bright-line Brown-eye Laconobia oleracea, not to be confused with the Brown-line Bright-eye Mythimna conigera, I kid you not.

Bright-line Brown-eye. The shiny patch on the head is known as being 'worn'.
There were a few other moths such as pugs which are a nightmare to ID and made me realise that I actually prefer IDing micro moths, of which yet, I've had none. But when I do get some, you'll be the first to see them. 

I think that's all for now. Hope you have a pleasant weekend.

Till next time. 

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