Sunday, 15 June 2014

15 minutes of fame

Hello and a special welcome to my new followers, glad to have you aboard as always. Well, did you hear me? Did you see me? At last I'm famous, well, for about 15 minutes anyway and as that is what Mr Warhol predicted, so I can't complain. So to get things off and running, here it is, my debut radio with the delightful Etholle George.

That was recorded at about 7:30am and then the people at Springwatch Extra (on the red button) wanted to talk to me. They said they would like to interview me live on air at 12:30 so could I hang around. I agreed as there was plenty to see on the RSPB Minsmere site despite the appalling weather. First on the list of things to see was the Bittern. When I lived on my boat on the Norfolk Broads some years back, I remember sitting on the front of the boat in the calm dark nights and listening to their booming call which sounds exactly like someone blowing over an empty milk or beer bottle. Yet, I never got to see one, so here's my chance I thought.

I found the Bittern Hide on the reserve and climbed its lofty tower. As I did so, I could hear the Bittern calling again, along with a Cuckoo and a Cetti's Warbler (someone told me later what the warbler was, I'm rubbish with most bird calls).

Looking out across the vast expanse which is RSPB Minsmere, I could see Little Egrets flying about and a Mute swan with only one cygnet, yet I couldn't see the Bittern, nor could I see the Cuckoo which was loud and close by judging by its call. I sat waiting and watching for about an hour before the peace and quiet was interrupted by an American lady who thought it was quite acceptable to come into the hide with her laptop and start tapping away at it whilst occasionally stopping to pick up her binoculars. Honestly, a hide isn't the place to do your office work, go to a cafe and tap away there for crying out loud!

Anyway, I'm not going to rant here, so I left her to get on with her furious tapping and I wandered off to explore more of this wonderful site. Like I say though, the weather was awful with the heavy rain lashing down in a steady flow. This made most of the wildlife just hunker down I think, as I didn't see much more except for some rather pretty snails on the paths.

Brown-lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis)

The same species as above, just a different colour variety.
This brings me on to a separate issue through a friend of my mother's who, after seeing Grub the Tawny owl chick being fed slugs on Springwatch, asked me what was the point/use of slugs and snails. The answer to this is simple, they are detritivores, they consume decaying matter such as dead vegetation or animals, thus transferring the nutrients from the decaying matter back into the soil via their excrement. They are also a vital part of the food chain as we saw in the case of young grub. I remember when I used to walk to school, hearing a knocking noise coming from an embankment I used to walk past. On further investigation I saw a Blackbird with a snail in its beak bashing it against a fallen log trying to get at the fleshy bits inside. Everything in this world has a use and has evolved to be here and just by taking the time to look and study, you will soon discover what that purpose is.

Anyway, getting back to Minsmere, I made my way to the visitor centre, which is a lovely building in itself with nice staff and a lovely café serving delicious cake (always good). This overlooks the manmade Sand Martin nesting sand bank and you can sit here and watch the martin's swooping to and fro from the cliff face and for the geologists amongst you, enjoy looking at the different strata's in the cliff face.

The Sand Martin cliff face.
There are also feeders set up around the cafe enticing various birds for you to watch whilst you tuck into your cake and whilst I was there I got to see a pair of Greater Spotted Woodpecker's, some Chaffinch's, Great, Blue & Long-tailed tits as well as a baby rabbit sitting at the bottom munching on nettles.

After this I decided to pop back to the car to have a nap as I'd only had about 3 hours sleep in the night. I got back in the car and in the distance I noticed a rare sight which I think was a Lesser Spotted Martin Hughes-Games and a Greater Chris Packham.

Martin Hughes-Games & Chris Packham on a morning stroll.
Eventually, my TV appearance was due and I made my way into the Springwatch camp of trucks, trailers, tents and cables to seek to the Springwatch Producer Anne Gallagher, a nice lady who made me feel very welcome. The Springwatch Extra show is mainly done in the camera observation trailer where all the live cams are monitored and the stories for the show are put together.

Springwatch command central.
I was introduced to the presenter Euan Mcllwraith who would be interviewing me. Just before I was due on, there was a young photographer chap on first who had some stunning shots to show. Standing just in front of this whilst it was happening helped me prepare for what was going to happen and therefore I wasn't really that nervous, strangely. His interview over, they played a video taped interview with an artist and in the meantime, the photographer and me swapped places.

The VT came to an end and my interview got under way. We had a small monitor in front of us and I could see exactly what the public was seeing. It was completely unscripted and all I knew was that I was going to be talking about recording and my blog. It was so weird to suddenly see my blog pop up on the screen with a picture of two Rosemary beetles mating. I explained what they were and as I did so, I was aware that someone had just walked in and was standing in front of me. I didn't realise who this was until Euan spoke to him, it was the legendary Nick Baker who had had these on the Unsprung show the night before, so I was glad that the information I gave on the beetles was right. Would've looked a right ninny if he had to correct me live on air.

Anyhoo, wifey recorded the interview and you can see it all here. Unfortunately, the sound is very low due to the TV speakers being on the other side of the room, so you may need to pump up the volume a bit.

After my bit, Nick shook hands with me and jumped into my seat. It was only a brief encounter, but he seemed a nice chap. Hopefully, our paths will cross again one day.

A bearded Nick Baker gets ready in the Springwatch Extra Studio.
So, that was my little taste of fame and it was really interesting to see all the behind scenes goings on and everyone was really nice, which just made it all better. If anyone's interested, I am available for hire at a very reasonable rate.

Just emerging.

Some of you may remember that last year, I had some hawkmoth caterpillars, which I raised through to pupae stage, well now is the time for them to emerge. I got a surprise when the first four emerged as I raised them thinking they were Poplar hawkmoths (Laothoe populi) only for them to emerge as Eyed Hawkmoths (Smerinthus ocellata). 

Newly emerged Eyed Hawkmoth looking pristine.

Then there was the privet hawkmoth caterpillar I found in my lilac tree last year, a beast of a caterpillar and such a beauty. Now I did try to film its emergence using time lapse, but unfortunately, they emerge from the pupal casing so quickly that even under time-lapse, one blink and you'll miss it. However I did take this picture of it looking very beautiful in the lilac tree where I originally found it. 

Newly emerged Privet Hawkmoth (Sphinx ligustri).

If you go out on the heath today...

Yes, get down to your local heathland and you might spot some beauties in the shape of the delicate and small Silver-studded Blue butterfly (Plebejus argus). I went down to Purdis Heath this week to see if I could find any and came across not one, but four males fighting for dominance over a small area waiting for the females to emerge. Again, I've never seen one before so was quite pleased to see these fluttering about.

A male Silver-studded Blue.
And the same butterfly from above.

Last but not least

This weekend saw me at Great Waldringfield doing my bit for Suffolk Wildlife Trust. The local community were celebrating their local wildlife site that they had created by having a discovery day involving pond dipping, owl pellet dissection, bug hunt and guided walks. It's an amazing area which was only created 5 years ago with some trees planted, pond dug and wild flowers in full bloom, it looked fantastic. I was there along with fellow volunteer Gillian to assist with the owl pellets and invertebrates and pond dipping, which the kids really loved getting involved with.

I hadn't been there for five minutes though when I came across this fantastic, and one of my favourite insects, the European Hornet (Vespa crabro). 

The word hornet instills fear into a lot of people and there is no foundation for this because they are a gentle creature unless provoked. The above pictures are full frame, un-cropped and taken on my iPhone. I even went back and took some video of it and even though it was completely aware of my presence, it didn't get annoyed with me or threaten me in anyway.

This also goes to show the importance of how valuable a small pile of rotting tree stumps/branches are in the habitat. The hornet was nibbling the wood and mixing it with saliva to make papier måché for constructing the hive. One day, I hope to find one of these recently deceased so that I can get an even closer look at such a fantastic creature.

Till next time, keep safe, keep smiling.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Suffolk Show

Well hello everyone and a special welcome to my latest follower Julie, glad to have you aboard. For those of you living in East Anglia, you'll know that it was The Suffolk Show this week and for the first time ever, I was going to be there. But not as a punter, no, this was with my voluntary work with Suffolk Wildlife Trust. SWT were running several activities throughout the two days and the staff and volunteers all helped pull it all together. The activities being run in the wildlife area of the show ground at Trinity Park were pond dipping, hedgehog trail, bioblitz, moth trapping, whittling and building a large bug hotel.

I was down to help with the bioblitz and bug hotel as well as running the moth trap in the evening and collecting the moths early in the morning. The weather wasn't grand on the day before the show and the rain fell heavily at times, my weather station recorded 30mm the night previously and by the end of Tuesday had recorded nearly 50mm in a 24 hour period. That's a lot of rain, but everything was set up and ready for the Wednesday and all we had to do was await the madding crowds.

It's been a wet week to say the least. A total of 119.4mm of rain fell during May in Ipswich.
Ox-eye daisies were in full bloom ready to greet the visitors.
I set the moth trap up on the Tuesday night in the hope that I might catch something to show the people on the Wednesday, but as it had been raining most of the day Tuesday and was set to drizzle through the night, I wasn't very hopeful.

However, all was not lost as at 5am on the Wednesday, I returned to open the trap to find what I had caught and it wasn't all bad news. There were a total of 6 moths Buff footman, Treble lines, Ermine (male & female), common swift and a small unidentified micro moth. Unfortunately, no hawkmoths to be seen. Thankfully, I don't live too far away from the show ground, so was able to nip back home for some breakfast before coming back for the start of the show at 8am. I was on the invertebrate section and along with helping kids ID what they had found on their mini-beast hunt, I was also helping them construct a large bug hotel with Wildlife Gadgetman, Jason Alexander.

Here we had a pile of 5 pallets with the top one inverted. The kids were then shown how to stuff an old flower pot or toilet roll inner with some straw, sheep's wool, pine cones, etc and then place it somewhere within the pallet structure. These little bug homes would provide adequate shelter for a myriad of insects come the winter. Many kids loved the idea that they were creating these little hideaways for insects that they asked to make more than one pot/roll for the insects. Many adults too also liked the idea that something so simple and cheap could be created in their gardens or schools and was a great project for the children to make and get involved with.

The start of the bug hotel (© Samantha Gay)

Me and Jason help with the bug hotel. (© Samantha Gay)
Those who went out into the field with a bug pot and sweep net brought back a lot of insects that had all the staff flicking through the ID books trying to give a name to the insect. The children's faces would light up when they found out that they had caught something new for the day which wasn't on the board. Yes, we were keeping track of everything that we found, saw or heard that day just so that we could show how biodiverse the site was.

The bioblitz board.
As I said before, bug hunting and hotel building wasn't the only thing on the agenda, there was also pond dipping which was fully booked at every session and turned up wonderful things such water scorpions, caddisfly larvae, various water snails  and tadpoles of frogs and toads. There were even some stickleback's caught too. You might notice on the board above, some moths that I didn't mention earlier, this is because the board pictured was day two of the event and I was a little bit luckier on the second nights moth trapping than the first, however, still no hawkmoths. Some children were also find moths in the long grass

Outside the wildlife area at the entrance was our giant willow hedgehog that visitors got to add a willow spike to on the day. It was huge and come the end of the two days, looked super impressive.

Willow hedgehog. (© Samantha Gay)
There was also a hedgehog trail for everyone to follow that lead people around the site with a little competition for the children asking them questions and getting them to look for clues, so it really was a learning experience throughout the whole area.

After 2 full on hectic but enjoyable days, the show was over and we reflected on what a successful time it had been. I for one, really enjoyed myself showing the children different bugs, showing them how they will use the bug hotel and answering all their fascinating questions. It just shows that there really is a need to teach our youngsters more about our wonderful environment and how it can benefit not just them in future life, but the environment too.

The finished bug hotel

Some sad news

I'm sorry to have to say this, but alas Patty Blue is no more. It happened during the week when Patty was on the feeder with her young. Something spooked her and she turned and flew straight into a window. Thankfully, the young fledglings are pretty much feeding themselves now and there's still dad to look after them. That said however, yesterday I noticed one of the youngsters on the feeder all by itself, so she did well.

On the radio

Well, as I write this, I'm less than 12 hours from my interview live from Minsmere Springwatch camp on BBC Radio Suffolk. I'll be mainly talking about how everyone can do their springwatch bit by recording the wildlife they see or by taking part in surveys from stuff in your back garden to all sorts of stuff whilst you're out band about doing your day to day tasks. I'll be on somewhere between 7-8am and if you've arrived at this page after listening to my smooth voice on the radio (not), then please look to the right hand side and you will see some links under the 'Citizen science' headline. Clicking on these will take you direct to the relevant page.

Sorry the blog is a bit short this week, but what with all the Suffolk Show going on, it's been a bit hectic to say the least. One thing I would like to say before I sign off, is a big thank you to Suffolk Wildlife Trust's Samantha Gay for allowing me to use her photos. Really appreciate it.

I'll leave you with just one more image before I go of some of the children releasing the moths that had been trapped overnight at the show.

Release the moths!
Till next time dear readers, keep safe, keep smiling.