Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Last moth of the year

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

2014 start

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The footprints of mice.

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

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


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

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


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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Helping build bug hotels (c) Samantha Gay

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

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

Need I say more?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Till then, keep safe, keep smiling.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

All about the birds

Well the weather has most definitely taken a much cooler turn of late with chilly frosty nights. These drop in temperatures will kill off any insects that are not already overwintering by now. So with all the insects all tucked up for a long sleep, my attentions turn to other pursuits, mainly birds. 

Now you may remember, I was amazed at how quickly the fat balls on the inherited bird table feeder that came with the property, were disappearing. Then, one morning, I saw a Great Spotted Woodpecker hammering away at the fat balls and thought mystery solved. I was wrong. One evening, whilst doing some washing up, I looked through the window by the kitchen sink and saw absolutely nothing except blackness of an unlit countryside. I then noticed my torch on the window ledge, picked it up and turned it on pointing it straight at the bird table and there staring back at me looking rather surprised were two rats, each one holding a fat ball feeder and mouths wide open as if to say, 'Bugger, I think we've been found out!'.

Needless to say, first thing in the morning, I dismantled the bird table and built a new one, which I've placed in a more open site where the rats won't be able to get to it. The new site for the bird table is opposite the french doors now, where it can be viewed from the living room. This has been very nice as the past week has seen me suffering from a bout of man-flu. So whilst sitting all weak and feeble like on the sofa, I've been able to do a little bit of bird watching. This led me to spot a first for me, a Bullfinch. Yes, I've always wanted to see one but they never seemed to frequent my garden in Ipswich and yes, they are as beautiful as I imagined. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get a photo yet, because as soon as I see it, it's off! But here's hoping that I'll get a picture for you soon. 

In the meantime, I have set up my video camera on the bird table,
Video camera set up on new bird table
which caught an image of this beautiful Starling showing off his amazing winter plumage.

Beautiful Starling

One picture I did get however, was that of a Sparrowhawk. I admit, it's not going to win any prizes but it was the best I could do with a phone, from a distance and not trying to make any sudden moves.

Female Sparrowhawk (honest).
I was sitting on the sofa when I suddenly noticed a flash past the french doors. I looked up to see a female Sparrowhawk sitting on the water butt. The last Sparrowhawk I saw was a male, so it's good to know there's a pair around, lets hope they breed in the new year. She didn't sit there for long and soon swooped of into my orchard scaring the blackbirds in the process. Flash, the Blackbird with a white streak on his side, flew out of the orchard like a bat out of hell. I then watched the Sparrowhawk fly off across the fields towards Horham.

Talking of breeding birds of prey, tawny owls are heard all around during the night and one of my ideas to try and help move the rats on, is to place an owl box on top of the wifey's workshop with a fitted cctv of course. I plan to convert my MKII moth trap that I built earlier this year as the lack of patio means that the wheels on it are now useless and it's a bit cumbersome to carry about. What will I use to replace my moth trap I hear you ask? I've written a very nice letter to Santa telling him what a good boy I've been and that the only present I would like for Xmas is a Robinson Moth trap, or monies towards it. So, hopefully, that problem is solved, fingers crossed.

Fieldfares still continue to be seen from time to time and with sightings of Waxwings along the Suffolk coast, I'm hoping one or two these might turn up soon (more finger crossing).

The pond

Work started on the pond last month with us getting a Mini-digger in and wifey enjoying herself.

Wifey gets diggy with it!
The pond went in where there used to be a Strawberry patch with hundreds of plants and a bumblebee nest. The nest was carefully removed and many plants given to good homes. The pond measures about 5 x 5.5 metres and is about a metre deep. A lot of the dirt that comes out of the hole will be used to create the waterfall, a good way of getting rid of most of the spoil, the rest my neighbour is happy to take off my hands as he's a landscape gardner and has a current project which involves some filling in. 

We also wanted to create a wildlife pond. This won't have any fish or filtration in, it's just a small body of water aimed at attracting wildlife. The problem with fish ponds, is that they don't suit all type of wildlife, such as newts, water boat men, diving beetles, daphnia, etc because the fish are likely to eat them up or they get sucked up into the pond pumps. The addition of fish food to a pond means an un-naturally added element/nutrient which causes an un-balanced ecosystem of sorts (the reason for a pond filter). This causes waste products in the form of fish faeces and uneaten food which create poisonous ammonia in the decomposition process. A wildlife pond however, doesn't have any un-natural elements entering the ecosystem and it is therefore able to balance itself out. We are creating our wildlife pond at the from of the property at the bottom of the garden. Apparently, there used to be a natural pond here stretching over both gardens, but it was all filled in many years ago by the neighbours because they had small children. So by me re-instaing the pond back in its original position, the wildlife should return.

I lined the pond with thick clay I found at the bottom of the dug out fish pond and filled it with water.

Filled wildlife pond
Yet, come the morning...
Where did the water go??
And it seemed that no matter how much I trod the clay in and patted it down, the water wouldn't stay in it. Yet the fish pond, which was yet to be lined had no trouble collecting water.
Natural water filling the fish pond.
I even pumped water from the fish pond to the wildlife pond, but to no avail. So once all the water was pumped out of the fish pond, I lined it with carpet from the lounge that we had removed. This is so no sharp stones pierce the liner causing a leak. Then I put in a PVC liner which has a 25 year guarantee, so should do us in to our dotage. 
Liner in place
Unfortunately, there was still some clay water in the hose when I started filling, but that will settle out eventually.
Almost filled.
So, all I need to do now, is set up a pump, uv (to keep the water clear) and a filter and the pipework. Need to add some marginal plants too as well as some lilies in the middle. Thankfully, they provided me with more liner than I actually need, so I will cut this off and use that to line the wildlife pond. That will stop the water disappearing, I hope!

Just 17,000 more things

Getting back to the Starling as pictured above, this time of year they begin to murmurate. This is where they begin to gather in their thousands and fly in close formation creating huge displays over a roost site. If you've never seen one for yourself, I suggest you try and seek out your nearest one now. 
For anyone living in Suffolk, especially West Suffolk, there is a murmuration at SWT's Lackford Lakes. Its size varies from 10,000 - 17,000 birds and two years ago actually reached 30,000 birds. They fly back and forth, swirling around and diving into their roosts from around 3pm. The beauty of this place is that it happens right outside the visitor centre, so you can sit inside with a nice cup of hot chocolate and a slice of chocolate cake and watch the display from the upstairs viewing gallery, it really doesn't get much better than this! Don't delay though, these murmurations don't continue all winter and often by Xmas, they have gone.



That's it for now, but until next time, keep safe, keep happy.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

It's huge!

Hello one and all, it's been a while, but I'm back! Yes, as you know, my summer got busy in a way that I never could imagine. First, Suffolk Wildlife Trust became my employer and then we moved house to a place in the country. I really am living the dream. I really am a lucky guy.

It's huge!!

So the new pad is in the middle of nowhere and the garden is huge. We have 6 trees in it, 3 apples, 2 pears and a cherry tree. We also had a rather large 5 x 7 metre strawberry patch with a buff-tail bumblebee nest in the middle of it. Problem is, our old house had a big pond with several koi in it, which are currently residing in the father-in-law's pond. So the we have decided to put a pond in where the strawberry patch is, but this has meant that I would need to remove the bumblebees first. 

Recently, I met the conservation manager of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and she was amazed that the bees were nesting so late in the year. Usually, bumblebee nests would have died off by now, but the warm weather of late has meant that they have lingered on that little bit longer. This isn't the first time I've come across a bumble nest whilst digging a pond. A few years back, whilst making the pond bigger at our old house I found that several male bumbles were head butting me as I dug around the waterfall. Turns out that their nest was under the waterfall (the area I was going to be removing), and I didn't want to destroy it. So, I got some advice from local beekeepers and removed the hive with a spade in one piece and placed it under a terracotta pot under a bush with just enough room for bees to get under the lip of the pot. They spent the rest of the summer there quite happily coming and going until it was taken over by wax moths.

So the plan was to do the same again this time, but first, I had to find out exactly where the nest was. I could see where they were entering and exiting the nest, a little hole under the leaf of a strawberry plant. Now all I had to do was trace the hole back to the nest, easier said than done!

The best time to do this is when the sun goes down, bees do not fly at night, there's no point. So once the sun had set, I got down to work. Using a long drill bit placed into the hole, I then removed the soil around it. I repeated this process over and over again, gradually getting deeper and winding my way through the strawberry patch. Eventually, after going down about 10 inches and following the tunnel for over 3 feet, I slowly pushed the drill into the hole and it pushed on something soft. I withdrew the drill bit and its withdrawal from the hole was quickly followed by an very annoyed queen who pounced on the end of the drill bit, probing with her stinger trying to find a soft part to this alien object to drive home her venom. About 3 more workers then came out to see what all the fuss was about and it was time for me to work quickly and extract the nest and move it to a safe area. The nest was found, it was about the size of a large grapefruit and all the beautifully created wax cups could be seen. These cup are where food is stored and bees grow from the eggs laid by the queens. Most of these cups were empty, this was most definitely a nest in decline. As I moved the nest to its new location, I counted at least 4 queens and about 10 workers. 

You might be surprised to see that it had more than one queen, but the sole purpose of a hive is to create the next generation and this can only be done by creating new queens who, towards the end of summer will leave the nest and find somewhere sheltered away from the ice, cold and snow of winter ready to start a new colony next spring.

Unfortunately, the bees didn't like their new location and after a couple of days, the bee nest was empty. The queens would have realised that there was probably no point in looking after the nest now and time would be better spent looking for a place to overwinter. The workers, now released from their hard labour, would become free bees with no commitment to the hive. They would live out the rest of their days idly feeding from what flowers they could find and basically resting up.

I recovered some of the remains of the nest and put it in the freezer as it's items like this that make great educational tools for kids and adults too. Very few people get to see the inner workings of a bumblebee nest.

Part of the bumblebee nest

Dark and quiet is the night, or is it?

So as you can imagine, with fields on three sides, the nights here are very dark and quiet, so much so, that when I walk out of the house at night, I can look up and see the Milky Way without even trying and every time it takes my breath away. I can't wait to dig the telescope out and get some sky bound exploring done.

The first few nights we had here, we had trouble sleeping due to the quietness of the place. You can't hear a thing except for some strange mystery bird that calls in the night. My suspicions lead me to think it's a Little Owl, but I'm not 100% sure on that. One thing I am sure on though is the unmistaken call of a Tawny Owl that sometimes flies past our windows in the dusk. This has got me planning on setting up an owl box above the wifey's studio, which is a large workshop which backs onto two of the adjacent fields and a hedgerow. An ideal place for a owl box me thinks. I also hope to set up a camera too, which is an exciting thought, so watch this space.

Other wildlife.

When we arrived here, there was a strange little bird table set up with a cage over the top. Attached to the cage were two small fat ball feeders. I duly filled these up with fat balls and was happy to see various Blue and Great tits happily peck away at them, however, I did notice how quickly the food was disappearing and couldn't believe that these little birds were eating so much food. On some mornings one of the feeders would be sitting at an angle on the table with most of the food gone, maybe the Jackdaws were having a go? Then it happened, one morning whilst me and wifey were chatting in the kitchen I glanced sideways and saw this:
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Sorry for the poor grainy image, but this is a cropped picture from a camera phone taken through a double glazed window. But as you can imagine, we were very happy to see such a bird visiting our feeders and it explains where all the fat balls have been disappearing too.

Other birds that have been frequenting the garden since we moved here are Wren's, Blue, Great and Coal tits, Chaffinch's House sparrows, large flocks of migrating Pied Wagtails, and Blackbirds, Fieldfares, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and Robins, four of which were fighting in one of the fields at the back the other day. Among the many migrating Blackbirds we have coming through the garden, we have a resident Blackbird that is always chasing them off. How do I know he's resident? Simple, he's leucistic. Leucism is a pigment disorder in the feathers of the bird causing those particular feathers to be white and is rather prevalent in Blackbirds, although why it is not known. I remember many years ago in the 90's when I lived in Dagenham, seeing a starling that looked like it had been dipped head first in a tin of white paint. I knew then it was an abnormality and remembered speaking to an 'apparent' birder at work about who turned round and said in a rather 'stupid boy' way, "Well it's obviously not a starling then". If only I knew then what I know now.

So, Flash (as we have named him) has a white flash on his left flank below his wing appropriately and  like I say can often be seen flitting around the garden chasing off other blackbirds who are passing through. He is also a guard bird for the other birds as he usually pipes up an alarm call when Trousers our cat goes out for a wander. 

When we first moved here, much to my wifey's dismay, I found a large poo that I thought might belong to a badger. However, badgers don't really travel far from their setts and there was no known badger setts in the area. I set my trail cam up for several weeks, but nothing was seen despite various large apples laying around the garden and a good spread of peanuts too. Then, one day last week, on top of the compost heap, I found another identical dropping of the first one I found. So out with the trail cam again and a more peanuts and the mystery creature was revealed to be...
... a Fox.
It's hard to tell exactly if it's a young one or not, but I will get the trail cam set up again in the next few days and try and get some video of it.

One video I did get was of something I don't really want in my garden. I noticed some fresh holes under the concrete plinth of the workshop that seemed to big to be mouse or vole. So, camera set up, peanuts scattered around and as I expected I got video of a rat.

Rat
Now, I'm not like most people who detest rats, as far as I'm concerned, they're just like big mice or water voles, and everyone loves water voles. I know they can be destructive and for this reason, I don't want them nesting under the workshop. So I have ordered a humane trap to catch the rats and relocate them to more rural settings far from any human habitation, there's plenty of places like that to take them around here. 

One of my first jobs when we moved in was to install a TV aerial in the loft as the previous owners never owned a TV, so had no need for an aerial. Whilst I was up in the loft, I came across some droppings, ooh, bats I thought. But a quick rub of the droppings between thumb and finger revealed them to be mice droppings, as bat droppings crumble when rubbed, mice don't. I could see other evidence of mice activity in the loft insulation, but also saw some empty poison packets, so presumed all mice had been dealt with. Then, one Sunday morning, whilst me and the wifey were laying in bed, we heard some scratching from the ceiling above us, the mice were still there. I ordered a couple of humane traps, baited them with rice cake and peanut butter and set them in the loft. I checked them every 12 hours for about a week, but to no avail and then success! One of the traps had caught something, a shrew! A SHREW! What the hell are shrews doing in the loft?

A shrew, possibly a pygmy shrew.
I have no idea how a shrew got into the loft, we don't have any trees or bushes up against the house that they could've used to gain access, but there's the evidence, it was in the loft. Parts of our new house date back to the 1750's, so who knows what wildlife it is supporting. Unfortunately, it had died in the trap, most probably through shock of being trapped, I tried at least. 

The workshop outside isn't so old, yet whilst standing in it the other day, again I heard some frantic scratching from the polystyrene roof panels and found the stash of a intelligent wood mouse.

Neatly nibbled kernels in a polystyrene nest
I say intelligent as a nest in polystyrene must be one of the warmest places you can build a nest if you ask me.

Last but not least, just been out to the kitchen just to do some washing up and whilst looking out the window to see what birds were on the feeder, I noticed there were no birds on the feeder. Then I saw the reason, there, sitting on the back of a patio chair less than 5ft away from me was a Sparrowhawk. This is the first time I've seen one so close up. We usually get them at Lackford Lakes where I work, but we only see them flash past the feeders and they're usually gone by the time that anyone notices, yet this one just sat there looking at me, if only I had a camera to hand.

So as you can see, there's a lot happening here and there is more to tell. But that can all wait till next time, so till then, keep safe, keep smiling.







Thursday, 30 October 2014

Settling in

Well, as you may remember dear reader, the last blogpost (some time ago now) mentioned that me and the Wifey were in the process of moving. Well guess what? We've moved!!!! Words can't describe how happy we are, we are now situated in a lovely part of the county in the more rural parts of Mid-Suffolk near a town called Eye. We have a semi-detached property but, unlike our home in Ipswich, we are surround by fields on 3 sides of our new home. No more rumbling trains at the bottom of the garden or unruly neighbours who have disregard for everyone but themselves. The night skies here are lit only by the stars themselves and the Milky Way can be seen quite clearly thanks to there being such little light pollution. Our garden is bigger and has 3 mature apple trees, 1 mature pear and 1 young pear tree. As you can imagine, we are so happy and grateful for our good fortune. 

So, as you can imagine, I'm living a naturalists dream at the moment, with the countryside literally on my doorstep. Already, I have recorded a Common pipistrelle bat which was one of the first things I spotted flying past the window. Other creatures include Red Admirals, Commas, Wrens, Chaffinch's, Blue and Great tits, Pied Wagtails, Buzzards, a Buff-tail bumblebee nest in the middle of our strawberry patch, wasps and hoverflies galore. However, the summer is over and the insects are now few and far between, yet I await next spring with such eagerness, I almost shake as I write this.

Unfortunately, the blog will also be a little few and far between for the time being, as I hope you can imagine, there are many jobs that need to be done whilst settling in to the new home. So the naturalist side of me has to sit on the back burner for a while, unless I'm at work of course. 

So even though this is just a short post, it's just to let you know that I haven't forgot or abandoned you, perish the thought. No, it's just a post to touch base and let you know that normal service will be resumed in the future, and as soon as we're all settled, I'll let you in on some of my new projects that I'm planning for next year!!! Watch this space!

Till then dear reader, I will give you some idea to the lovely place I'm in, with this morning view from my bedroom window.

Bliss
Till next time, keep safe, keep smiling.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

I’ve been busy!

OK, I know it’s been a long while and I really do have a good excuse for it, honest. We (me and the Wifey) are currently in the process of moving house, so as you can imagine, I’ve been a bit rushed off my feet of late. Most of my office now sits in cardboard boxes, which is quite frustrating at times when you suddenly realise you need a certain book to ID a bug or work out a bat call, but can’t remember what box marked ‘BOOKS’ the actual book you need is in.

But fear not dear reader, I will still be a Suffolk Naturalist as I am remaining within this beautiful county, but am heading for grasses more rural. So hopefully, I’ll be able to give you an insight to even more nature than I currently do, fingers crossed.

Since last time

Well, the last time we spoke, I had just got back from Latitude after doing my weekend stint helping kids go bug hunting. That was in July believe it or not, doesn’t time fly! Obviously I have been having far too much fun it would seem. As you can imagine, a lot has happened since then. First up was the amazing bioblitz at Foxburrow Farm. This is where an area of land is surveyed over a 24 hour period to find every living thing that exists, whether it be plant, tree, fungi, ant, deer, whatever. If it’s living and easily identifiable, then it’s recorded and the best thing about a bioblitz is that anyone can take part, you don’t have to be an expert as there are plenty of experts on hand to help those involved ID their finds.

It started in the evening at 6pm with some twilight pond dipping and a bat walk. I was in charge of the bat walk, my first ever bat walk and it seemed to go pretty well, except there weren’t many bats about. This isn’t to say there aren’t many bats at Foxburrow, as I know there are, it’s just that the bioblitz occurred at an unusual time in the bat world, a time of transition. Yes, most of the juveniles that for the last 4-6 weeks have been happily tucked up in their maternity roosts with their mothers feeding them, had now reached the point where they didn’t need feeding anymore and they had fledged the roost in search of fun and freedom. This coupled with a period of hot weather which in turn caused a boom in insect populations meant that the mothers who had been out all night long continually foraging in the need to feed their young didn’t need to eat so much now. With all the insects about as well, it meant that a lot of the bats were literally just coming out of their roosts, feeding up and then going back to the roost within an hour. The usual feeding routes were no more as there were insects everywhere, not just in particular places and this showed on the bat walk. Walking out from the farm, we came across a couple of pipistrelles (Soprano and Common) and we found a few more a bit further on in one of the fields. At one point I did record a distant Serotine bat, but it just barely made an indent on my sonogram, so it wasn’t going to be heard. Eventually we turned around and walked back and didn’t record a single bat until we reached the farm where a single Common pipistrelle was making use of the moth trap and catching any little bugs that were being attracted to it. So within the hour, those bats that we had first recorded had gone.

But everyone seemed happy that they got to hear the calls of bats that we don’t hear normally and that they actually got to see a few bats too whilst they were echolocating. 

Stargazing

Even though the bioblitz is about recording life at a site, we felt that it being a nature event, a bit of stargazing would also be a wonderful attraction for those with a love of nature and the Orwell Astronomical Society Ipswich turned up with their scopes in the hope of showing people the wonders of the night sky. Unfortunately through, the weather had other ideas and the clouds rolled in thick and fast to prevent such musings. Yet, OASI secretary Roy came prepared and gave those budding astronomers a powerpoint talk of the night sky instead.

A wet night

Those clouds that rolled in overnight brought with them a lot of rain and put a complete dampener on the moth trap, to the point that only 3 moths were caught. However, Tony Pritchard, the county moth recorder stilled turned up early doors to record what moths were there despite knowing it was going to be little, thanks Tony, that sort of dedication is much appreciated.

The wet weather of the night was gone by the time the sun rose and a beautiful promising day began to unfold as everyone prepared for the various events such as butterfly walks, dragonfly walks, pond dipping, bee spotting, mammal trapping and so much more. Unfortunately though, the numbers were low and I put this down to the weather peeps on the telly, who had been promising all week that the weather was going to be bad and thus people had made other plans, yet, it was a glorious day all day and those who did turn up loved every minute of it, finding out about new things and learning so much about the nature that surrounds them. At one point, me and Adrian Knowles, the county hymenoptera (bees, wasps, ants) recorder, found a solitary mining bee that was so small, it was actually depositing eggs into old nail holes by walking backwards into the hole as far as possible to lay an egg. It would appear a couple of minutes later to go find some material to cap of the egg and create a cell for the larvae to develop in before laying another egg in the same hole. It turned out that this bee (Heriades truncorum) is a Red Data Book 2 species. I then spotted what I thought was an ichneumon wasp (a parasitic wasp), laying eggs into the same chamber as the bee with its very long ovipositor.


Two images of the same wasp Gasteruption jaculator


Turns out that this wasn’t an Ichneumon, it was a Gasteruptiidae and only the second record for Suffolk. Adrian later found some other interesting species too such as Auplopus carbonarius, also a  second record for Suffolk. Stigmus pendulus, a tiny wasp that was also inspecting woodworm holes above the post where I found the bee and the other wasp, a fifth record for Suffolk. Cerceris quinquefasciata was also a surprise find as Adrian pointed out that these are usually found on sloping sandy banks, which is something Foxburrow farm does not have.

This just goes to show what is actually out there when we start looking. Recently at an event in Christchurch Park in Ipswich, Suffolk Wildlife Trust was dong an event with the Ipswich park rangers. We, as per usual were there to inform and educate people about wildlife and this included running a bug hunting session for the kids where we send them off with a net and bug pot to see what they can find. It wasn’t long before one girl by the name of Helen Jarrett approached me with a bug in a pot. On examining the pot, I soon realised she had found something pretty significant. She had found a seed bug of the Ryhparochromus sp, a recent invader to UK shores and only recorded for the first time in Suffolk last year by yours truly. After a bit of investigation, it turns out the bug was in fact the same species as I found last year (Ryhparochromus vulgaris).

Helen’s Ryhparochromus vulgaris.
So there you go, Helen, who’s a Brownie and doing her Nature badge is the second person to find this bug in Suffolk, well done! Another record goes to an avid photographer who spotted a butterfly at my new place of work, Lackford Lakes. He came into the centre to ask me what species of butterfly he’d just taken a picture of? It was a Grayling butterfly, which I checked in the book to confirm. Turns out, it was the first record of grayling at Lackford Lakes and it got the staff and volunteers running out to see if they could see it too, which they did, so it was well and truly confirmed. Just goes to show, unless we look, we never know what we might find.

That's all for now, more packing to do. Will catch up soon.

Till next time keep safe, keep smiling.








Friday, 25 July 2014

Festival time!


Well hello and welcome once again dear readers and a big hello and welcome to my latest follower  AND employer, Suffolk Wildlife Trust. Yes, this week I got the spiffingly jolly news that I am now the new member of the Visitor Centre Team at Lackford Lakes, Suffolk. It's only a part-time post, but is still very challenging and rewarding and I can't wait to get started. 

Guess where I've been this week?

Rubbing shoulders with the stars

What's this? More stardom I hear you cry! Not really, just been at The Latitude Festival working with SWT teaching kids about bugs and hedgehogs and wood whittling. The weather was a scorcher and it only rained at night with some fantastic lightening displays rippling across the skies. At one point, whilst doing my duties encouraging people to come in and take part in some activities I said hello to a lady and asked how she was and it turned out to be no other than Kerry Godliman of Derek fame. Turned out her child wanted to show her one of the activities she had completed in a nearby tent. 

Craft activities under the star shade next to the willow hedgehog.
So not exactly rubbing shoulders, more just saying hello really. But anyway, I digress. The weekend went along wonderfully with lots of kids bringing me there bugs to ID with lots and lots of woodlice turning up. In fact, I don't think a single bug hunting pot came back without a woodlice in it. But still, to the kids they had found something interesting and that's what it was about, teaching the kids something interesting about the bugs they had found.

But it wasn't all woodlice and slugs, oh no, there was some more impressive finds too such as this lovely Longhorn Beetle.

Leptura rubra, a most impressive looking beetle.
One child also managed to catch this lovely large moth and was so pleased he had done so.

A rather tatty and worn (wouldn't you be if you'd been hunted down by a determined child)
Yellow Underwing, probably Lesser Broad-bordered, but not really 100% positive due to
it being rather worn.
Telling the kids all about the insects they had found and what the insects roll in the grand scheme of things was is great. They're amazed when they find out that the beetle or moth they just brought me has been living underground for most of the winter and then digs its way out come summer. Or that a woodlice sits deep within the dead wood of a tree munching away at it. It opens up a whole new world to them and hopefully ignites an interest that will grow like a fire within them.

So, as you see, I've been pretty busy this week, but I was lucky enough to record the following sequence with some Small Tortoiseshell caterpillars I came across recently.


Such an amazing experience to actually see these emerge right before your eyes as I did whilst recording this. I look forward to coming across more caterpillars/pupae on my travels so I can record their lifecycle as capture that which is often less seen. Currently, as I write this, I've just had some Eggar moth eggs hatch and am trying to record a time-lapse of more emerging, so watch this space. 

Late night wanderings

Yes, I've been out and about looking for some bats and I thought I'd give a new site a try to see what turned up and I not only got more than one surprise. A site I been to a few times and isn't very far away from me is SWT's Newbourne Springs Nature Reserve. It's where the seaside town of Felixstowe originally got its water supply from, but is now just a lovely wooded valley with a marshy meadow running through the middle of it. The stream that trickles through is lovely and clear and is a place where I've seen sticklebacks fight over territory, it's where I did my Big Butterfly Count last year and counted over 100 butterflies in 15 minutes and it's where I came across the bird box which had been taken over by hornets, the defunct hive is now used by SWT as an educational tool. So as you can see, it's a very biodiverse site and I thought I'd go see what bats I could find. 

Pulling up in the car park and switching on the detector, I was immediately buzzed by a lone Soprano pipistrelle flying round the brick pump house, a promising start me thinks. Wandering onto the reserve, it was clear to see that the local volunteers had been busy clearing some of the vegetation away from the paths making access to the site easier. I kept picking up various pipistrelle's, commons and sopranos and as I made my way deeper into the reserve crossing one of the many small wooden bridges that criss cross the stream, I came across this:

An abandoned walking stick.
Now this got me thinking, either the owner was a forgetful person who maybe stopped to tie a shoelace and then wandered off home forgetting their need for a walking stick or, were they so enthralled by the beauty of the site that their pains became the least of their worries and they wandered off in tranquil bliss? The only other thing that could've happened of course was that they paddled in the ankle deep water and were cured!!!!! 

Does Newbourne Springs have healing properties???? Could it be the new Lourdes right here in sunny Suffolk???? Who knows, if I hear or see any more evidence of healing, I will keep you informed.

My next surprise came just around the corner when I picked up a bat I hadn't recorded before. It's call pattern looked very different from the usual bats calls and I stood and recorded a few passes before moving on.

Recordings in the bag, I ploughed on round the site only for my torch to give up halfway round, not good. I stopped in a clearing to catch my breath in the warm muggy air when from my left a large black shape appeared in the corner of my eye and let out a ear piercing screech with wings spread wide! Thankfully, before my heart came to a complete stop, I realised it was a Tawny owl which I had obviously spooked and it was getting it's own back. Touché, it worked and that was definitely one up for the owl. I continued round the rest of the site without recording much else and when I got home, I was eager to find out what I had recorded.

The unmistakeable call of the Barbastelle
Turns out the strange call I had never heard before was that of a Barbastelle Bat. A bat that was not blessed with looks as each of its eyes are located inside their ear! Yes, the outer rim of their ear swoops round the face encompassing the eye, quite strange, yet they are still amazing and I will always remember coming across one of these during my bat rescue days. I had t take it down to Harlow to see if it could fly well enough to be released. Essex Bat Group have a flight rehabilitation cage which is ideal for this and I have never seen anything fly so beautifully in my life. It really was amazing to see. However, the final surprise came when I checked the NBN Gateway records. The bat had never been recorded at this site before! Excellent news and really was the icing on the cake for me. that night I went to bed a very happy man.

The importance of Bug Hotels

Often, people say too me, 'I've had a bug hotel up in my garden for years and nothing's been near or by, load of rubbish!' The first question I usually ask is, where is it located? That's the most important thing about any animal housing, whether it be a bird box, bat box or bug hotel, it's all about location, location, location.

Bug hotels, especially the ones with drilled holes or bamboo canes in them like a bit of sun, but not too much sun. Th bugs inside need to stay warm, not cooked. I have two bug hotels in my garden, one is on an east facing fence panel, the other a south facing shed side. The one that faces south is empty, but the east facing one is getting filled up nice and slowly. So if anyone tells you they don't work, they're wrong and here's a little video I took to prove it.



Well that's about it from me this time. Sorry it's a short one, but as you see, been busy of late. However, fear not, as the weather warms up more and more things are happening and I hope to get to see and share more of it with you. In the meantime, don't forget the Bioblitz at SWT's Foxburrow Farm on the 8th & 9th of August where I will be doing a bat walk on the evening of the 8th. It's a free event, but the walk will need to be booked in advance.

Something for everyone!
Till next time dear readers, keep safe, keep smiling.