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.