Thursday, 22 May 2014

My 100th post and some exciting news!

Hello everyone, don't worry, I'm still here, just been a little busy as there is so much happening, it's hard to find the time to write about it all. So, how's things been with you? Hope your out and about doing and seeing lots, after all, there's quite a bit out there to be doing and seeing.

Now last time I left you with news that the eggs in the Blue tit box were hatching and eventually all 9 eggs hatched. The parents got straight down to work looking for and bring back food. That was 3 weeks ago, can you believe it? I know I can't as the babies have grown so fast! The feather is still in place partly obscuring the view into the box and at one point I had a small technical issue which meant I had to have a self taught crash course in video electrics. But I and the camera survived to tell the tale, so are we sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Like I said, three weeks ago the nine eggs started to hatch, each new hatching brought forth a little pink helpless body with a huge head for its tiny frame, each one helpless and dependant on a regular supply of food and nutrients that only the parent birds could give it. Three days after the eighth egg  had hatched, the ninth finally came into the world, this would obviously be a chick whose survival was already an issue, as its siblings had already had a 3-day head start on it.

Compassion is really a human concept and rarely shows its face in the natural world and number 9 soon faded from view as the days went by. The parents diligently collected food for the babies as time went by in all sorts of weather and the mum kept them warm during the chilly nights.

Sometimes the parents were a bit optimistic as to what the chicks would eat and I managed to catch this one occasion when a rather large moth was brought back to the nest.

As you can see, it was passed around until one little fellow managed to gulp it down. One week on and the changes were becoming visible with the feather roots coming through they were beginning to look darker and they seemed more in control of their heads now as the neck muscles begin to develop.

The parents even done the equivalent of nappy changes by removing the fecal sac from the chick as soon as it was fed. At one point I sat and watched the chicks for an hour and counted how many feeding visits were made by the parents. I counted 51 visits in that hour and the food brought back was a good mix of caterpillars and, this may surprise you, fat ball fat. Yes, the parents have been going down to the end of my garden and collecting large mouthfuls of the stuff and bringing it back for the babies to eat. This surprises me as I would've thought that this is more in the realms of junk food compared to a nice juicy caterpillar and as time went on, it would seem that the fat was brought back more often than insects at a ratio of 3:1 I would estimate. It is only an estimate as I'm not sat watching the cameras all day. This raises an interesting question which I will bring up in another blog about how we feed our birds and its impact on the local ecology.

But for now, lets concentrate on the nest. Not long after hatching the feather that had been partially obscuring the nest had moved making the view a little harder to see and for those of you who have been following my YouTube channel, you would have noticed the lack of videos of late. I'm not going to post pointless videos where you can hardly see anything, there's too much of that on the web already. However, through the murky view is was apparent there were only 7 mouths being fed.

This was only 2 weeks from when they hatched and now just 3 weeks on we're down to 6 little birdies. However, they've grown up remarkably fast and I wonder if the fat balls have anything to do with that? Needless to say then that it might be no surprise to hear that on Friday, just 3 weeks after hatching, Patty Blue Junior NÂș1 fledged the nest! I woke up to see quite a bit of activity in the nest, a lot of preparation of feathers it would seem.

Again, sorry for the poor picture quality, the feather still hasn't budged! However, seeing this I grabbed my camera and popped outside to see if I could catch the moment of freedom. But little one was in no rush as we can see.

Unfortunately, when my back was turned however, it made its bid for freedom. I only realised this when I heard the characteristic call the fledglings make coming from my flower bed. Maybe he didn't want its first flight to be recorded in case it was a failure.

Out in the real world and looking for mum.
However, the young one picked the wrong day to fledge as the weather was about to turn much for the worst in the next 24 hours with strong winds and lashing rain. It was sad for me to find the little one dead the next day. So now we're down to 5 fledglings who seemed to have the sense of waiting until the storm passed. Two more then left the nest leaving just three who seemed to hang back for a few more days before deciding to take the plunge and go for freedom.

During all this time, I managed to grab a still or two every day during the nest building process and compiled it all into a time-lapse. I hope you like it.

Mini Muncher news

The emperor moths are growing at a phenomenal rate and are doing so well, that many have already made cocoons ready for winter believe it or not.

Not so little anymore!
I must admit that keeping up with these fellas food consumption rate was a bit of a challenge and the local pear and apple trees took a bit of a pruning for it.

You can't bluff that you're an expert.

Went on a Butterfly Conservation members day recently, unfortunately it was disrupted by rain, not good weather for butterflies. However, we still went for a walk around Martlesham Heath in the vain hope that we might see one or two. Alas, it wasn't to be, but I came across a couple of other things whilst searching for elusive butterflies. First thing I came across scattered across the grass were some beetles which at first glance I thought were Oil Beetles. I've always wanted to see an Oil Beetle, so was quite excited (yes, it's possible to get excited about a beetle). However, as soon as I picked it up, I realised it wasn't an Oil beetle as its elytra (the hard shell that protects its wings) covered the whole of its back, whereas in Oil Beetles, the elytra is underdeveloped exposing the abdomen.

Not an Oil Beetle
Judging by its looks though, I guessed it might be a beetle known as a Bloody-nosed Beetle, yet I thought it was a bit small for this. Thankfully, Twitter again came to the rescue in the form of Richard Jones and Max Barclay who confirmed the beetle was in fact a Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle (Timarcha goettinggensis).

Lesser Bloody-nosed Beetle.

The naming behind these beetles is about a defensive reflex they have. No, they do not punch you on the nose if you bother them. Instead, they exude a foul tasting bright red liquid from their mouth that looks like they have been given a bloody nose instead. I tried to see if I could get the beetle to do this, but it didn't seem that bothered and just ignored me.

One other interesting thing I found out about this beetle was that although you can see in the above picture, the join in the elytra where it opens so that it can extend its wings and fly away. Well in this species, that doesn't happen. The beetle has evolved in a way that the elytra has become fused together so that it doesn't open to free the wings. It is in fact a flightless beetle, which meant that the specimen I collected had to be taken back to the site to be released as it wouldn't be able to walk all the way back. In a way this did me a favour, because when I got back to the site, I found many more of them all wandering around finding partners and mating. Some were laying eggs and some were in the process of dying after having laid their eggs. Which gave me the opportunity to collect some specimens to pin.

Another interesting thing I came across whilst we walked around looking for butterflies was a skull. It was sitting on a pile of recently unearthed dirt outside a burrow. There had also been some fresh urine markings on the dirt, so I'm guessing that the dirt had recently been excavated from the burrow.

The skull
I could see straight away that what I was looking at was the remnants of what was once a fox. We were only 100 yes away from the busy A12 dual carriageway, so it's likely that the fox had probably been hit and crawled back to its den to sleep and pass away. A new generation of foxes have probably come along and cleared out the remains then marked the area to warn other foxes off.

It was quite interesting as the helper of the butterfly walk who was 'supposed' to be a bit of an expert told me adamantly that it was the skull of a muntjac without doubt. I told him that it was actually the skull of either a fox or badger (wasn't 100% sure myself at the time) as the teeth were of a carnivore nature, not a ruminant animal like deer. He assumed that I was talking about the tusks that some muntjac have and claimed that young muntjac don't have tusks. I told him I was talking about the molars and showed him that molars on a grazing animal would be much flatter.

Carnivore molars
A few of the group tended to agree with me on this and he backed down with his argument. Thankfully, when I got home I did some checking and was pleased to confirm my thoughts that it was a fox.

A bit later in the walk he started to show everyone his homemade butterfly net made from a coat hanger, a piece of bamboo cane and some net curtain and how to make it. I was a little concerned at this as net curtain is far too rough to be used as an insect net, let alone a butterfly net. Yet when I showed him mine, the response was a rather derisory "... or you could all go and buy an expensive net like this." he told everyone pointing to my net. I told everyone that my net was NOT expensive and is made from material that is much kinder and less likely to damage any caught butterfly. He's reply was comical, "I haven't harmed any butterflies with my net, but then I've only ever caught one with it and that was by accident." I kid you not.

If anyone is interested in the net I use, you can find it here. It's £24.50, folds up so you can keep it in your pocket and you can add a handle to it at a later date if you wish. I would also like to point out, I hate injuring any insect when I'm out collecting and even if the net was £100, I would much prefer paying that sort of money than using a homemade contraption that might kill or injure my specimens.

I must say that I was rather amazed that the talk leader allowed this helper to be so active in this workshop with so many newcomers involved. Giving the wrong advice helps no-one, especially when it can be so damaging not only to the insects, but to those involved too. No-one person can know it all, it's impossible. There are far too many species out there to do that and even the experts will happily admit, they don't know everything. But to make out that you are an expert doesn't help anyone because in doing so, you are more likely than not going to give wrong and misleading advice.
A couple of years back me and a professional bat ecologist friend went to survey a barn that I had said looked like a likely roost spot. On arrival, she immediately made a point of saying that there was no way on earth that this barn would contain bats of any sort. Unfortunately, at the time we didn't have the keys to get access to the barn and we left, after all, she's the paid professional expert. One month later, I visited the same barn with another ecologist who agreed with me that the barn did look like a good site and this time we had the keys. When we looked inside we found bat droppings every where from Pip's as well as Serotine's which just goes to show that even paid professionals can make glaringly obvious errors. Imagine if that barn had been earmarked for destruction, a lot of roosting bats would have lost another home because an expert was to full of themselves to say, 'well, it could be possible, lets look round and check'.

I too am no expert, I will happily admit that. I just have a keen interest in what I find and I always want to find out more about the things I find. I often blush when I hear people say that I'm good with bugs and stuff, because I'm not. I don't think so anyway, I know a lot more people who are far better than me and I often am asking for advice from others on the stuff I find. Some of this knowledge sticks and I will happily pass it on. But if I don't know something, I will never make out that I do.

So on to the exciting stuff!

I know there's quite a lot in this weeks blog and that's because I haven't been around much and I've got lots to tell you. However, If I don't begin to close this up now, I'll never get this edition published. So, I have some news, some exciting news. Last week via the social media that is Twitter, a journalist tweeted me asking for me to get in touch. I did and it turns out that the fellow works for BBC Radio Suffolk. Now some of you may know that this year's Springwatch is coming from the RSPB Minsmere reserve here in Suffolk, very exciting. Well BBC Radio Suffolk also have a Springwatch to run alongside the main one and after seeing my blog, they would like to interview little old me at the Springwatch camp. It's due to be aired on Wednesday 4th June between 7-8am (live radio, so times are a bit fluid) and I'll be talking about recording wildlife and how people can get involved. I'm looking forward to it and I hope you are too. Hopefully, I'll be able to post a link to the radio interview after the event, so those of you not in Suffolk can listen too.

Suffolk Show

Yes, it's that time again for the Suffolk Show, something which I've never been to before. But this year is different, I'll be there on both days (Wed/Thur 28th 29th May) working with Suffolk Wildlife Trust at the wildlife area. I'll be doing moth trapping (or showing the results of) and bug hotels. Please do say hello if you're passing, there'll be lots of stuff happening at our tent asides from the moths and bugs. We'll look forward to seeing you there.

Well, even though I've got much more to tell you, it'll have to wait till another time. But till next time dear friends, keep safe, keep smiling.