Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Bugs, Bees and Beavers

Another typical day for me today. We had a group visit us on Cuerden for "Exploring Habitats." This means comparing two sorts of habitat, woodland and grassland to find out what lives there. We search or an animal, identify it, and then see if we can tell which job they do. Then look for different plants and do the same with them. They could be population controllers - beetles; transporters - bees; oxygen makers - all plants;stone crumblers - lichens; or carbon dioxide makers. We found a very tiny toad, a similarly tiny frog, several butterflies, centipedes. millipedes, woodlice, goose grass, balsam and red campion.
 After lunch I went to Brockholes to meet my colleagues from A Rocha UK, who were conducting an hymenoptera survey. We had  bombus lucorum, bombus terrestris, bombus pascuorum   and tree bee.We seemed to see honey bees all over the place as well as azure and  blue tailed damselfly. Botanywise, I saw lots of meadow cranesbill, meadow sweet, lady's bedstraw and hogweed.
The Beavers we saw on Brockholes, were of the juvenile homo sapiens variety. Lots of noise and enthusiasm, but great fun as well. They discovered the diffrence between dragonfly and damselfly, saw a buzzard, looked at a high rise sparrow tenement, learned a flower called " bee's bum" and found out how reedbeds clean up waste liquid.  Rain had threatened throughout the evening but thankfully no precipitation.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A little rain, a lot of records

After a good start last night we went to Brockholes with anticipation of a good day. On arrival we saw Zach who had had a cuckoo before 0700. For us the first task was to empty the moth traps. Clinging to both the outside of the trap and the gazebo were two examples of what turned out to be the moth of the day, - Eyed hawk moth. It was a stunner.

 We also had barred straw, dark arches and an ermine. From here we then went to check our mammal traps. A slightly dissapointing start was soon forgotten when we found a wood mouse, a bank vole and a common shrew. Setting the traps again we proceeded to help folk set up a variety of gazebos. There were representatives from the Lancashire Badger Group, The newly formed Mammal Group, The Preston Society, OPAL and folk who were from Brockholes itself helping with moths, bugs, flowers and birds. The most important one as far as the day itself was concerned was the Lancashire Environmental Recording Network. The Bioblitz was all about gaining lots of records for Brockholes.
I accompanied David Earle, BSBI recorder for VC59 on a trip to find vascular plants.We walked along the river for a short distance and for me the good finds were welted thistle and cuckoo flower still in bloom. I then had to leave David to return to the Badger stall. He carried on round the reserve. I then heard about the best flower of the day - Climbing Corydalis. The constant gentle rain seemed to put off many visitors, but for those who attended it was a superb day. We also had worm catching, more wildflower walks, bug hunts, bird watching and small mammal trapping. The second time we emptied the traps we had two more common shrews, which I felt were the mammals of the day. Most of the birders said that the bird of the day (1600 on Friday to 1600 on Saturday) was a grey partiridge seen Friday evening. Thanks to Lorraine for organising this. Can we have another one please? but not on Glastonbury weekend, it always rains.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Brockholes Bioblitz Begins

I was to have been surveying for bats in Penwortham but a drizzly evening made us decide to postpone for 24hrs. I went to Brockholes to assist in putting out some Longworth traps for small mammals. As I drove towards the barrier I saw my first mammal. This was not a small one. A brown hare decided to committ suicide by running in front of my car. I refused to cooperate and braked hard. I then waited in the office for my colleagues to arrive. We set off after being joined by my brother Jim who came to help with moth trapping. As we approached the area where we would set up our traps a Barn Owl flew past in hunting mode. We watched the bird for a few minutes and realised if it was hunting there, then there could be small mammals in that area. Two more hares shot past as well as a fleeting glimpse of a grey partridge. We set 24 traps up, marked with small canes so we could find them in the morning. As the mammal folk departed we were joined by lepidopterists who came to set up two or three moth traps. Another hare showed up and song thrush, curlew, oystercatcher, sand martin and whitethroat were also heard. The constant light rain meant definitely no bats. We look forward with anticipation to opening both mammal and moth traps in the morning

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Delight to disappointment in 24 minutes

The longest day, Tuesday 21 june started out brilliantly. 14 kids from a church group in Leyland came to Cuerden to enjoy pond dipping. It was a fun evening. We finished at 8.00pm after finding scores of tadpoles, a few minnows, one leech and a stickleback. Straight on then with Lancashire Mammal Group to setting some Longworth traps to see which small mammals we might catch on Cuerden. As we were completing our setting the traps, a gentle misty rain started to fall. Home to bed so we could be up early Wednesday. 0740 start as we inspected our traps. The first one - empty; the second had been tripped and felt quite heavy-ish. We had caught a woodmouse. After checking all 24 traps we had caught 10 woodmice, which we then freed. We felt it had been a good evening/morning's work. Traps then had to be cleaned and the canes used to re-find the traps, collected.
I then prepared for another pond dipping session. This was with some kids from Belarus who were victims of the Chenobyl disaster. Despite my having no Russian and all the kids no English we got along fine. This was mainly due to a wonderful lady who translated everything. Back to the Barn for handwashing and lunch. I then rang Cuerden Birds of Prey to check they would be coming. I was told at 1245 they would be on Cuerden at 1300 to 1310. We went to the pineatum and waited... and waited....and waited. By 1340 I rang again only to be told they had to take a bird to the Vet. So we had 16 very disappointed Belarussian children in our pineatum. I managed to play a couple of games and then they left for their hosts' homes. They had had a good morning but not so good an afternoon

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Three ringers, three rookies

Thursday morning and the alarm went off at 0500. A quick wash, cup of coffee, porridge and brush of teeth  made me ready for a 0550 start helping with some bird ringing. Three regular ringers, Dave Bookless, Bill Haines and Helen Demopoulos were accompanied by Thomas our French volunteer, Marc a German volunteer and myself. As we approached the site whitethroats, chiffchaffs, blackcaps and parakeets taunted us to catch them, so we erected six lots of mist nets.This meant that one of us had to endure thistles, brambles and nettles just to put the guy ropes in.
 Once up it did not take long for our first bird - a juvenile robin - to offer itself up for stardom. We had to wait a little longer for subsequent customers to do the same. I noted lots of stitchwort, teasel, vetch, various rurnuculii, goats beard and speedwells in the area in which we were ringing. The previous two days without seeing a single parakeet were overshadowed in what became almost a surfeit of this noisy but beautiful bird. Time to check the nets again meant we caught whitethroat, blackcap and a garden warbler.

 Another robin made it difficult for us to weigh, due to its grabbing the edge of the weighing cup with its beak. Offering it a finger enabled us to complete our task. Other birds recorded throughout the morning included blue tit, great tit, dunnock, long-tailed tit and a stunning male bullfinch. Then in an oak quite close to us, a male kestrel landed to have his mid morning snack. In what appeared to be no time at all it was 11.30 and time to take our nets down, A slight shower helped us to do this fairly quickly. As we got to the last net the rain ceased. We had this set up in the shape of a V so two of us could not see round the corner. Thomas our French apprentice was jumping up and down excitedly. We briskly joined him and saw the object of his joy. It was a green woodpecker. Carefully extracting the bird then taking the nets down, we called our other colleagues back to the recording area. It proved to be a mature female.

 What a stunning bird to end our six hour activity. Returning home to the A Rocha Centre another pleasant surprise greeted us - apple crumble. It was the Centre staff thanking me for bringing a local ( to me) cheese, Blacksticks Blue.
ps I will add some pics when I get home

Twin and triplet

Wednesday 9 June I was helping at Minet with education. The School was called Dr Tripletts and we were looking at habitats. After the usual H&S talk we went out on the Park where I was leading the part of the programme that investigated ponds. On arrival at the first small area we spotted a large red damselfly on the reeds near the edge. We soon got ourselves organised with trays and dipping nets and most of the children had the opportunity to experience sweep netting. It will not surprise most of my readers that the predominant animals found were tadpoles. They were at various stages of their development some without legs, some with two legs and one individual with four legs. A minnow swam amongst them and we also found a weird collection of detritus. As we watched we suddenly saw some feelers then a head emerge. It was a cased caddis fly larva. Everyone was thrilled to bits. As ever lunch time came far too quickly so we headed back to the Lodge for our lunch. In the afternoon I changed to looking at grassland. Sweep netting in the meadow was energetically practised and the findings checked with a key. These included crickets, ladybirds, beetles, spiders and a variety of flies of various shapes and colours. Some of the children seemed disgusted when they saw some "spit" on some of the dock leaves. I was able to explain that these were hibernation chambers or "nests" for the frog hopper. Then the rain came. It was rather heavy so we retreated to the lodge. We were able to continue our lesson with the contingency programme and since rain had been in very short supply here in the South East we did not complain too  much. It had been a brilliant if  exhausting day

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Helping out at HQ

I came to Southall to do a variety of surveying on Minet Country Park. The first day we decided to look for fresh water macroinvertibrates. Thomas, an EVS volunteer from France accompanied me and we walked the 30 minute journey with Sarah Leedham. Suitably equipped with waders, trays, nets, keys and a camera we started at the southern section of the Park in the Yeading Brook. Our walk disturbed a few linnets feeding amongst the various flowers in the meadow and innumerable whitethroats sang throughout the Park. Chiffchaffs, blackbirds and a skylark joined in. A bullfinch was also heard deep in the scrub but we were surprised not to either see, nor hear ring necked parakeets.We did both kick and sweep sampling in this section of  the brook and found a few creatures. Most of these were fresh water shrimps with the usual selection of snails. We had three small damselfly nymphs and a wonderful example of Banded Demoiselle nymph.

 Thomas and I then checked out two sections of the small stream that runs south from the pond into Yeading Brook. We did see one large red damselfly, a very large pond snail and several tadpoles but that was all in this section of the Park. They had just endured a very long dry spell so that could have contributed to the sparsity of findings. We then decided to check out the large pond but as we approached a broad bodied chaser flew right past our noses. Rucksacks were ditched and cameras readied to see if we could photograph this stunning pale blue male. He was not for having his image taken, especially when joined by a female. She then started ovipositing at the edge of the pond, so we left them to it. However an emperor decided not to and invaded their personal space. We had just put our cameras away when our chaser male rested on the edge of the pond no more than 5 metres away. Isn't it always the case? Lunchtime beckoned and a rumbling tummy succumbed to the call.
We then decided to try some bat surveying that evening. Thomas, our French guest and Bill Haines, a local bird ringer had never been surveying for bats previously so they accompanied me to Minet. A 2050 start meant we were on site just before sunset.Starting again at the southern end of Minet we waited, bat detectors at the ready for our first sighting/echo locating. A green woodpecker shouted its warning to us so we stayed away from what might be the nest site. At least two song thrushes sang a musical duel and a heron flew down the canal. To our surprise we saw our first bat rather than heard it. It proved to be a common pipistrelle. It made several passes and after five minutes was joined by a second animal. From here a slower journey to our starting point  revealed two more common pipistrelles and two soprano pipistrelles. By 2300 it was getting cooler so we returned home to a warm shower and warmer beds.