Saturday, 27 May 2017

Action on the Avon

It’s been the hottest week of the year so far with temperatures hitting as high as 25° C. The warmer weather has caused plenty of invertebrates to emerge. Yesterday I was pleased to see thousands of common blue damselflies.
It’s still early in the year for dragonflies but I did spot this young female black tailed skimmer.
I really like the fine detail you can see on it’s wings in this photo. This species are common across Europe and Asia but were first recorded in the UK in 1934.
I’ve also seen a few other common insects like a red soldier beetle and a harlequin ladybird.
Today I walked along part of the River Avon and found a particularly rich section for wildlife on one stretch. I was first alerted to it by seeing this black-headed gull perched on the bridge.
This gull was diving into the river, obviously looking for food. What was particularly interesting to see was that large fish in the river were not happy with this behaviour and were actively trying to attack the gull when it was in the water. Fortunately the light allowed me to get some really clear photos of the fish, which are chub.
I don’t know much about fish and finding information about them is hard as most of the information is from an angling perspective. It seems likely that these chub were sat here feeding on small creatures floating their way. The gull was likely looking for the same prey but the chub probably saw it as a threat.
On the same stretch a little egret was hunting, presumably looking for the same prey too.
There were also some mallards pulling at vegetation and there was something of a confrontation when the egret got too close to one of them.
On a different stretch of the Avon this moorhen was feeding.
Moorhens tend to be quite flighty so seeing one feed is not always easy, especially in a place which can often be quite busy. They are omnivores, eating everything from snails to insects, small fish and berries.
A few more birds to finish I think. Here’s a photo of a greylag goose. There’s not much to say about it other than it looks magnificent here.
Finally, here’s a jay feeding at Blashford Lakes Woodland Hide. They are truly beautiful birds.
That’s all for today, I’m off to enjoy this glorious weather some more!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

A Gaggle of Goslings

I had a rare week off from blogging last week. I try to find different things to talk about each week and sometimes it just so happens that I’ve been unlucky and don’t have much wildlife to share with you. Fortunately though I’ve collected enough to be back today.
I’ve been enjoying keeping an eye on the small field that serves as the nursery area for the local canada geese. As each clutch of goslings hatch they are walked to the nursery field by their parents and all the goslings mix together.
Last week I counted 45 goslings at one time which seems like even more than usual! By grouping together like a few adults can keep many goslings safe from predators.
I came across a brood of mallard ducklings today sheltering on the shore of the fishing lake.
Given their size and location I think there’s a likelihood this is the same brood I spotted a few weeks ago when they are very young. There were fifteen ducklings then and were only four today- it’s entirely possible that the missing eleven ducklings were all predated. It shows how hard it is to raise young in the wild and why it’s worth having so many young if over a quarter of them are lost.
This week the first starling fledglings started to arrive in the garden. They are fun to watch as they stagger around, not quite in full control of their limbs yet, and beg their parents for food.
I haven’t seen much of the Avon roe deer over the last month or so. I suspect that with the arrival of Spring they have more options for places to eat. I did spot several individuals yesterday though they can be difficult to see in the long grass.
As you can imagine, when this buck had it’s head down and was eating you could barely see it at all. It’s around this time of year that roe deer start to give birth to their young so I shall be looking out for that, though I suspect the fawns will be almost invisible in this sort of foliage.
Apologies to arachnophobes but here’s a magnificent spider I found this week:
This is a nursery web spider (Pisaura mirabilis). Like many spiders this species has interesting mating behaviour. Males approach potential females with a gift, a fly or other insect wrapped up ready to eat. When the female bites on the gift the male starts to mate with her. To make sure the job gets done he keeps one leg on the gift in case the female tries to escape with it or attack him. If this does happen the male will pretend to be dead (it’s called ‘thanatosis’) and will be dragged along by the leg touching the gift. When the female stops the male carries on mating.
Here’s another invertebrate I spotted recently:
I’m not entirely confident on the ID of this one. It certainly looks like a grasshopper or cricket with that leg structure, possible a roesel’s bush cricket. It’s early in the year and this looks really small so I would hypothesise that it’s a nymph. Females are green so this is a male (assuming I’ve managed to identify the right species).
I was disturbed to see in the news recently that Theresa May and other members of the conservative party want to repeal the ban on fox hunting. When polled, 89% of the British public said they agreed with the ban. May has often stressed how she follows the public’s wishes, seeking out a Brexit deal, so it seems hypocritical for her to go against the public on this. Besides, with Brexit and the issues with healthcare and education funding fox hunting doesn’t feel like it ought to be something the government is even thinking about at present.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Owl's That

I spent a lot of time wandering the local countryside. I usually see some wildlife of interest on every walk. Sometimes I get really lucky and see something particularly exciting. Today was one of those days.
I was wandering along a country road when I caught a glimpse of this magnificent bird.
This is of course a tawny owl. Tawnies are well known for being a bird which is regularly heard but rarely seen. Indeed I regularly here tawnies calling locally but I’ve never seen one until now.
You would expect to see tawnies at night but I found this one at 2:30PM. This is probably it’s roost site- it’s actually sat on a 4×4 in someone’s garden! It certainly looked sleepy, a little wary of my presence nearby but showing no inclination for flying off. I think this was probably the best wildlife encounter I’ve had so far!
In other news, there’s now quite a few greylag goslings on the nursery field, somewhere in the region of fifteen.
I was interested to see that two of the goslings were much lighter than all the others. In some domestic geese this can indicate gender but I’ve not been able to find anything online about why greylag goslings look so different- it may simply be natural variation.
I’ve seen lots of interesting invertebrates recently. A lot of people, even those interested in nature, seem to ignore the smaller animals around them but they are fascinated to find out about.
On one footpath I saw several of these creatures that looked like caterpillars at first. With further investigation I discovered that they were actually glow worm larvae.
Despite the name glow worms are actually beetles, hence the larvae stage. Larvae and even eggs can emit light but generally it’s the females who do so. They emit a greeny or orange light to attract males which have large, photosensitive eyes.
I recently saw this large fly which is apparently a yellow dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria).
As the name suggests, this fly is often found on the faeces of large mammals where they go to breed. They are actually really important to the animal kingdom due to helping dung to decompose and useful to humans to as they have been used for many experiments.
Another insect find was this dock bug (Coreus marginatus).
Dock bugs have a more pleasant diet being herbivorous, particularly liking raspberries and gooseberries. Like other members of their family, they can release strong-smelling defensive chemicals if they are disturbed.
I’ve discussed some oak galls here before but never the most famous, oak apples.
Like other galls, there are not fruit but growths caused by a wasp (probably Biorhiza pallida in this case) chemically inducing them. The larvae feed on the gall tissue and everyone’s a winner as it has no long-term effect on the oak tree.
Well that was an interesting dip into the miniature world around us! I’ll be back next week with much more, including an update on the peregrine falcon chicks.