Sunday, 17 September 2017

September Sightings

Sometimes wildlife sneaks it's way into the house. One evening a moth fluttered in through the front door and then happily sat at the top of the living room wall.

This is a brimstone moth, one the UK's brightest. Who said all moths are dull looking? This species is attracted to light which is likely why I headed straight for our doorway. It has a complicated ecology with anything from one brood a year to three broods over two years

There are also still a few butterflies around but with the temperature getting colder the number is getting lower every day. I've mostly seen large whites and red admirals on the wing but I have also seen the occasional comma

I spotted this harvestman this weekend, really obvious against the leaf. 

These arachnids are omnivores and eat everything from squashed slugs, bird droppings and fruit to small invertebrates they catch. Now is the best time to see these creatures- there name comes because they are usually mature by the Autumn, around harvest time. 

There's a lot of spider around at the moment leading to loads of really beautiful webs.

The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Webs are also electrically conductive which causes the silk threads to spring out to trap their quarry, as flying insects gain a static charge which attracts the silk.

The small birds appear to be a little more obvious again now, likely because they need to spend more time looking for food. There will be very few caterpillars and other invertebrates for them to find unlike the abundance over the summer. 

Robins are starting to begin their autumn song which is subdued and melancholy compared to the powerful and upbeat spring song.

I was lucky to get this shot of a blue tit which looks like it was jumping in the air. Despite the breeding season being over, blue tits are often seen around nest boxes at this time of year. There are several possible explanations for this- blue tits often start looking at nest boxes ahead of the breeding season before making the final decision in the spring. It may also be as they are looking for somewhere relatively warm to roost in the colder weather. 

It's not entirely clear what species bird is but I think the streak of yellow in the tail feathers indicate it is a goldfinch. While goldfinches are resident to the UK plenty more arrive for the winter from North West Europe and Scandinavia to escape the colder weather. 

I've also captured a few good shots of mute swans over the last few weeks. 

Whilst mute swans do not migrate they do tend to move to a different area over the winter. Some young swans are driven off the breeding territory by their parents at this time of year too, when their plumage become predominantly white.

Over the last few weeks a bird has taken up resident on the island in the middle of the fishing lake. 

It's really hard to spot in this photo but it's the tiny white speck in the centre. This just shows how far away from humans and land-based predators the bird is. 

This is as close as my camera allows. This grey heron has been sat on this log every time I've been passed over the last fortnight. I rarely saw a heron here over the summer so I suspect this individual has moved to the area, either having migrated here or separated from a breeding colony.

Grey Squirrels are well known for collecting acorns at this time of year but you rarely catch them in the act. I did however manage to spot this one running off with it's find. 

I shall end with one more mammal, the world's longest roe deer

OK, it's really two deer in long grass but it makes for an amusing image!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Tremendous Trees

I've been planning to do today's post for months and this week I finally decided it was time. Yesterday I did my usual walk around my patch and tried to photograph as many different species of tree that I could find. I discounted trees in gardens, only counting 'wild' trees that haven't been obviously planted by humans (though it's likely some probably were).

My first find were some pine trees. Though there are large pine forests on the Western side of the town there are very few pine trees within the town itself. I think these trees are probably black pines which is the non-native species. In the Spring lots of rooks nest in this row of trees and you can hear them cawing away when you walk past. 

This was perhaps the easiest tree to identify, an English Oak. I'm pleased to say there are a lot of oaks in my area and this was by far the most common large tree I saw on my walk. This is fantastic for wildlife as oaks support more life form than any other native trees including hundreds of insects as well as plenty of birds and even a few mammals with they fallen acorns.

This is a silver birch, named after it's very pale bark. These trees can be used to improve soil quality- their deep roots bring inaccessible nutrients into the tree which are recycled onto the surface of the soil when the leaves are shed. These trees also support many insects- they attract aphids which are food for ladybirds and are a food plants for many species of moth caterpillar.

Mainly from the leaf shape I think this is a lime tree, probably a common lime. Similarly to the silver birch, these trees attract aphids and moth caterpillars. I found these trees very close together so it's likely this area is good for moths. 

The leaves and berries make this a quick one to identify- it's a rowan. These berries are a rich source of food for birds in the autumn, particularly members of the thrush family. Birds are the main way this tree disperses it's seeds- the seeds themselves pass through the bird and are excreted in a different location, potentially a long way from the tree.

This is one of my favorite trees, mainly due to childhood memories of collecting conkers- it's a horse chestnut. Apparently it's not actually a native species and was introduced to the UK from Turkey in the late 16th century. Horse chestnuts are a rich source of nectar when they are in flower and the leaves support triangle moth caterpillars, one of the blue tit's favorite foods.

This is an ash tree- they have very distinctive leave structures. Ash's are the third most common tree in Britain though of course they are being affected by ash dieback disease. Incredibly, the leaves can move in the direction of sunlight and sometimes the whole crown of the tree will lean in the direction of the sun. 

This is buddleia- I'm not sure it's usually classified as a tree but it certainly has a woody stem. Since being introduced in the 1880s buddleia is now classified as an invasive species- it grows all over the UK's railway network (indeed, this plant is situated on a former railway line) and causes lots of damage to buildings and structures. But it is good for wildlife, providing a source of nectar and is a favorite of butterflies. 

A really obvious one this, holly. It's berries make it popular with birds and small mammals who are not put off by the spiky leaves. If you see a holly tree take a look at the highest leaves and you will notice most aren't spiky. The spikes have evolved to protect the berries from large mammals who can't reach the tops of the trees. To save energy, the holly tree grows simpler leaves at the top.

This is just a small portion of the local trees but it was an interesting exercise to look closely at things I look at constantly. 

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Late Summer Sightings

We're into meteorological Autumn now- temperatures are beginning to dip and winter migrants are on their way.

It may be Autumn but there are still butterflies around. This week I've seen several species including numerous large whites. There seems to be more around now than there have been all summer.

I also managed to find a lovely moth recently in the most unlikely of places, a fenced alleyway. 

This is a willow beauty which is a night flying moth though the literature says that they can often be seen during the day on tree trunks. I suppose to a moth there's not much difference between a wooden fence and a tree trunk. 

It was still relatively quiet at Lymington-Keyhaven marshes when I visited last week but I did get a reasonable photo of a ringed plover

Many more of these birds will likely arrive in the coming weeks and months but this one probably stays in the UK all year round. These birds nest on open grounds on beaches so are obviously vulnerable to predators. They have a neat trick though. If a predator approaches the nest the adult will walk away from the nest, call to attract attention and feign a broken wing. When the predator heads towards it and therefore away from the nest the plover flies off.

I saw something I haven't seen before this week, a little egret sat on a nest.

OK, I have a confession to make: this is actually a captive bird in a walk through aviary at Marwell Zoo! It was still interesting to see nonetheless though a little odd to see such a familiar bird hanging out with ibis' and other exotic birds. 

Whilst at the zoo I did notice lots of wild house sparrows in the various animal enclosures. These were in with the meerkats. 

This shows how resourceful these birds are. The enclosures are actually ideal places for small birds as they are accessible and free from predators- as you know meerkats usually place an individual on sentry duty but at Marwell they don't feel the need to do this most of the time.

Marwell Zoo is near Winchester and somewhere I've been visiting all my life. Unlike some zoos it has large enclosures for it's animals and does fantastic work in education and breeding, both in the UK and in locations where some of it's animals come from. I recommend it if you're in the area. Here's a couple of meerkat photos I took on my visit:

Moving on, I've seen the Avon roe deer a few times this week. 

I recently learnt that roe deer became extinct in England during the 18th century. The Breeding Bird Survey (which also monitors mammals) has found the numbers of roe deer have increased by 64% since 1995. That's across the whole of the UK but in the South of England numbers haven't changed much since 2005. 

Managing deer populations is tricky. Too many deer mean land is overgrazed and in woodland this can cause a loss of habitat for birds and other animals. With no large predators to reduce numbers it's up to humans to try and manage numbers. 

The Avon kestrel has been regularly seen over the summer but they are a very tricky species to get good photos of. I did catch it taking a rare break from hovering as it rested in a small tree though even then it's not very clear.

It's likely this individual is still hunting from it's perch here- it's obviously requires much less energy than hovering. They can locate prey from a remarkable distance and are able to see and catch a beetle fifty metres from their perches!

That's all for today but hopefully I'll now slip back into the regular routine of new posts every Saturday. See you next week!

Monday, 21 August 2017

An August Assortment

I always try and theme my blog posts but every now and then I just end having a random hodge-podge of things I've seen recently. Today is one of those times.

Let's start with some birds. I was delighted to spot some swallow chicks calling for food on reeds on the shore of the Avon recently.

Given the time of year it's possible that these chicks are from a second brood- swallows tend to have two broods a year. The young stay with their parents for about a week after leaving the nest which means these chicks hatched around a month ago. Sometimes birds from the first brood will assist in feeding birds from the second brood- these young chicks may have been fed by their older siblings as well as their parents. 

I spotted on our local buzzards recently. 

A few weeks ago I talked about how buzzards like to perch on dead trees where there are no leaves to obscure their view. This guy was having none of it and sat happily amongst the leaves! 

Before sitting on the tree this individual spent a long time circling the skies on the thermals. I've tried to capture buzzards in the air many times but it really works- this time I at least got a passable photo. 

On the path near the buzzard I saw loads of these forest bugs sat on top of the fence posts. 

I've seen several similar shield bugs over the summer but this species is the largest and has a dash of colour to it as well. This bug mainly feeds on the sap of oak trees but will also feed on other trees and will even eat caterpillars and insects. 

Which is bad news for this fellow who I found crawling down another of the fence posts. It turned out this one was easier to video than photograph. 

I'm not sure on the species of this- it's likely to be a geometrid, i.e. a member of the geometer moth family but it's too difficult to tell beyond that. I love the way taps the tiny fly as it crawls along here. 

It wasn't the only caterpillar I spotted recently as I saw this magnificent specimen sat on a bench: 

This is a buff-tip moth caterpillar. The moth itself looks really like a bit of branch but the caterpillar is much more visible. The caterpillars feed on a range of deciduous trees and can even defoliate entire branches. They overwinter as pupae in the ground. 

I've also seen a few adult moths lately. This is not a great photo but thanks to the distinguishing feature it's clearly a silver Y moth

You can see a silver letter 'y' on the wing of this moth, making it perhaps the easiest moth to identify from this angle. Whilst virtually all the moths I have been able to identify were seen during the day, I did spot this one attracted to the light of our conservatory one evening. 

This is the dusky pearl moth (Udea prunalis). As you'd expect this is a nocturnal species and one that is only seen over the summer months, between June and August. It likes hedgerows so is probably attracted to the overgrown hedge in next door's garden. 

A few fungi to finish I think. First here is an Amnita though I'm not sure of the exact species. 

What I am sure of is that this would make you very ill if you tried to eat it. Next we have the Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica)

This species turns black with age, hence the name. There's debate on how edible this one is- some say you can eat but there have been at least one report of poisoning from eating this species in the past. Suffice to say I won't be trying it anytime soon. 

Finally, here's a scarlet brittlegill (or potentially a similar species). 

Again there are reports this is edible but eating something that is bright red is never a sensible idea. There's a reasons why the russulaceae are sometimes also known as 'sickeners'!