Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Knopper Galls

The local oak trees are really starting to switch to Autumn mood now. As well as acorns they ‘produce’ another ‘fruit’, knopper galls.
Of course knopper galls aren’t produced by the tree itself- they are chemically induced by gall wasps when they lay their eggs on acorns. Now all the galls are falling from the trees and the adult wasps will emerge in the spring. The degree of attack by the parasitic wasp varies but this year seems to have been a bad year for oak trees with these knopper galls covering virtually every oak tree for some miles around.
Another odd growth nearby is this incredible beefsteak fungus.
This fungus is so called due to it’s appearance and apparently has even been used as a beef substitute in tough times. I have not been brave enough to try it!
Autumn might be approaching but there’s still time for flowers to bloom. At the moment there are lots of these field scabious flowers in the vicinity.
Our next-door neighbours have recently hacked away at the hedge at the side of our garden and have sadly killed one of the plants that was part of it by severing it from the ground. As the hedge was dying off I spotted this old nest in it, which I suspect belonged to house sparrows. As they are colonial birds there is a fair chance there are other nests in other parts of the hedge. It’s always amazing to look at a nest closely and see the engineering skill performed by the birds.
We’ve had some more unusual visitors in the garden several times this week in the form of a volery of long-tailed tits. Unlike other tits they are almost always found in a group.
The next bird is one that I’ve been attempting to photograph for months now. This little egret is nearly always found in the same spot on the river Avon but over the summer it has been avoiding my camera lens. It’s flown off, hidden behind tufts of grass or been too far away. Finally, here it is in all it’s glory.
Here’s a similar bird, a grey heron having a preen:
And a few more aquatic birds:
Mute Swan
Cormorant– over at Barton-on-Sea
I think we shall end with some lepidoptera. The butterfly numbers are starting to drop now but there are still plenty around, including a fair few speckled woods.
It’s unusual to see most moths in the daytime but I found this Silver Y sat on top of a local street sign.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Flying Ant Day

Autumn is edging ever closer but no-one seems to have told the weather as it’s been around 26/27° C over the last few days. This meant that yesterday it was flying ant day!
Now this came as something of a surprise to me. From social media reports it seemed that flying ant day for most people was around a month ago, even in Bournemouth around fifteen miles away. But here in Ringwood they finally emerged on the 23rd August which seems remarkably late.
Flying ant day is when young queens leave their birth nests to found their own colonies. They seem to appear on the same day in localised areas, choosing hot days without rain. It’s still unclear how and why they choose to leave on the same day.
It turns out flying ants are really hard to photograph so I didn’t get many good photos but there were thousands of ants flying around. This was good news for migrating swifts who appearing to be having something of a feast.
Which brings me nicely onto to the swallows I saw sitting on the power lines near the river Avon:
On Sunday I visited Winchester where I had a very close experience with a cygnet. It got very agitated as I approached so I gave it as wide a berth as I could!
I also saw a large black slug as it was a damp morning.
More locally, I was amazed at the enormous noise this grey squirrel was making as I walked past it, trying to scare me off. For a small mammal they can make a huge noise!
Today’s obligatory deer photo is once again a roe deer near the Avon.
Signs of autumn are everywhere now. The leaves are beginning to wither and acorns are ripening quickly.
Also ripening locally are lords and ladies (Arum maculatum). It’s an interesting plant but the berries are poisonous and in fact the plant is responsible for more accidental poisoning in British A+E departments than any other wild plant.
I have noticed lots of fungi growing on a pile of woodchip recently.
I am not 100% certain but I think this is Wrinkled Fieldcap (Agrocybe rivulosa). It was first recorded in the UK in 2004 but is now relatively common in Southern England. It’s spread is apparently entirely due to the use of woodchips so it makes perfect sense given the location.It’s certainly an interesting species to see.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Local Nature News

Today I thought I would share various nature news from my local patch and places quite nearby.
Let’s start with something very local. Only a few miles from home is Moors Valley Country Park, a wonderful place that I’ve planning to write a post about for some time but haven’t got round to it. The park recently did a Bioblitz survey to see which species are in the park and one particularly exciting discovery was made. The Dingy Mocha moth appears on both the UK biodiversity action plan and the international Red List of endangered species.
The moth is only found in Dorset and West Hampshire so it really is a local species. I think it just how to go on my list of species to see! [Source]
An interesting story about the New Forest emerged this week. Various campaigners have come out to say that the New Forest is being destroyed by the growing number of New Forest ponies. Ecologist Sam Manning said:
“We know that an estimated 170 species have been lost over recent decades and that can be partially attributed to overgrazing. Now 68% of the New Forest is in unfavourable or unfavourable recovering condition which, considering it’s supposed to be one of the most well-managed biodiverse areas in the country, is frankly unacceptable.”
In 1950 there were around 2,000 New Forest ponies whereas now there are about 5,000. This is largely due to financial reasons. It’s important though to point out that overgrazing is only partially being held responsible for lack of diversity and there are of course a swarm of other reasons. I think it’s difficult to really know the extent at which the ponies are making a difference. There are certainly a lot of grazing animals on the forest these days and a reduction certainly wouldn’t do any harm but I doubt it would save the forest as the article sort of suggests. [Source]
In Bournemouth it appears the seagulls are becoming an issue again. The council has had lots of complaints from the public about gulls stealing food from their hands and even swooping at people without food. You can’t really blame the seagulls, they have simply found an easy way to get food but it’s not pleasant for people. A few years ago a seagull hung around my grandfather’s flat and dive-bombed him every time he came out, presumably either mistaking his silvery hair for fish or protecting a nearby nest.
The council are limited about what they can do as herring and lesser black-backed gulls are protected species. The best thing is to be preventative, to try and stop people feeding gulls and ensure waste is stored in closed bins, something which is being prioritised in the area. [Source]

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

A Quiet Week

It’s perhaps the quietest time of year for most wildlife, especially bird life. At this time of year lots of birds are molting and laying low. All of which makes being a wildlife blogger quite tricky at this time of year! Nonetheless I’ve been out photographing whatever I can find.
Before all that though, I have good news about the ban driven grouse shooting petition. It has now reached 100,000 signatures which means it will be considered for debate in parliament. The word ‘consider’ is important here; it doesn’t guarantee the subject will be debated but there’s a good chance. At the very least the issue and the public’s view on it will have reached the ears of the people who can do something about it.
It’s been warm and calm on the fishing lake recently but a few species have been frequenting its waters.
There’s usually the odd black-headed gull floating around the centre of the lake. They don’t seem to be doing much other than just floating there.
There’s lots of mallards around at the moment and they all appear to be females. Appearances can be deceptive though as at this time of year mallards moult and both genders look very similar.
I was surprised to spot a new bird species on the lake that I’ve never seen there before this week. This is an Egyptian Goose which is actually a non-native species. They were introduced as an ornamental waterfowl but their population is gradually increasing.
The RSPB say that most of their UK population is in Norfolk but I think the local population is probably growing. There has been a small population around Blashford Lakes for a little while and it appears they are happy to travel a short distance to find new habitats.
There are still a few dragonflies in the area too. This is a common darter, a maturing male.
There are also plenty of butterflies too, like this Speckled Wood.
I finally managed to spot one of this year’s buzzard chicks this afternoon. I hear them every time I go near the lake but they are housed in a small wood which is on private land. The constant screeching is instantly recognisable. I still didn’t get a good view today but I saw a the young buzzard preening on a rock on the edge of the woods.
I suspect the young buzzard(s) are not good news for the many rabbits that inhabit the local fields and hedgerows.
In the same field as the buzzard was the subject of today’s obligatory deer photo, a young roe deer.
The housing estate I live in has been mostly absent of bird life but if you look closely there are birds to see. Here’s a collared dove snoozing on our roof.
There’s usually plenty of starlings on the roofs and aerials in the late afternoon.

Friday, 12 August 2016

The Inglorious Twelfth

Something a bit different today because this is an issue I simply can’t ignore.
Today is the “glorious” twelfth of August, the day when the shooting season of the red grouse begins. Over the next few weeks and months the season opens for other “game” too. Personally I don’t think there is anything glorious about it at all.
Let’s think for a minute about what grouse shooting actually is. Killing defenceless birds for entertainment. I can’t understand how any decent human being could find enjoyment from murdering another creature. Yet this practice still goes on.
It’s worse than that though. In order for there to be enough grouse to be shot, predator numbers need to be reduced. This means foxes, stoats and crows are routinely killed and in most cases perfectly legally too- gamekeepers are given licenses.
Recently Natural England granted a gamekeeper a licence to kill up to 10 buzzards, a legally protected intelligent predator. 10 buzzards may not sound like a lot but it has huge consequences. For a start, it’s almost impossible to ensure a gamekeeper sticks to that number. Natural England will now be swamped with applications for licenses to kill buzzards and with a precedent now set it seems likely they will grant at least a small number. It also means gamekeepers will feel that it’s OK to kill buzzards and the less scrupulous ones will probably start killing buzzards.
Buzzards are something of an unusual conversation success story. In the 20th century they were wiped out from large swathes of the country but since they were given legal protection in 1954 there numbers have risen to the extent that they can be considered common. Between 1993 and 2013 Britain’s buzzard population increased eightfold.
This doesn’t make them safe though. There are still occasional but regular cases of illegal persecution so surely their numbers would be affected if lots of gamekeepers were also given licenses. It all seem a bit pointless anyway. There are some 45 million factory-farmed pheasants dumped into our countryside each year. A study has found that 1-2% of young pheasant deaths are caused by birds of prey. I don’t have figures for grouse but I it seems likely the latter statistic would likely be similar.
Last weekend was Hen Harrier Day. Hen Harriers are in big trouble. Last year there were six breeding pairs of hen harriers in the UK- this year there are only three. The main reason for this reduction is illegal killing on grouse moors. That’s not speculation it’s fact with pole traps and a decoy hen harrier being found. The hen harriers Chance and Highlander both disappeared in suspicious circumstances.
It’s bad enough when common birds like buzzards are being killed to support a blood sport. But when it’s a deeply endangered bird like the hen harrier it’s totally outrageous.
There’s a big petition about banning driven grouse shooting  on the government petition website. At the time of writing it needs about 32,000 signatures to be considered for debate in parliament. I doubt that a ban will go ahead any time in the near future; it goes against many traditional conservative beliefs. But I hope it can some effect. It will at least raise the profile of the issue and encourage the government to do more to protect hen harriers and other birds of prey. The RSPB have just withdrawn their support for the Hen Harrier Action Plan which adds weight to the petition’s argument.
It often feels that being an average person on the street means you can’t change anything. Not directly perhaps but you can at least make your views known.
All the facts and figures in this post come from the following sources: