Summer migrant at last!

The weather last weekend certainly suggested that spring had sprung and the many signs of the changing seasons about such as flowering Wood-Sorrel and active Bee-Flies supported that fact. However despite the beautiful sunny weather, by yesterday morning I was still yet to see a summer migrant this year!

Early yesterday morning I spent over an hour at the beautifully serene and calm Hedgecourt Lake waiting for a particular species I was hoping to see arrive. Ospreys are apparently seen here every spring and autumn when they travel through on their way to their more northerly breeding grounds. However I have never seen a single one here.

The previous evening (Saturday) not one but two Ospreys were reported nearby at Weir Wood Reservoir just as the sun was setting at 18:30. I was hoping that they would carry on their migration northwards earlier this morning and arrive at Hedgecourt, which is the nearest large waterbody to the reservoir. That is the main reason why I was up nearly at dawn getting ready to wait for one to appear.

Unfortunately I didn’t have any luck with the Ospreys at Hedgecourt although there were some other nice birds about around the lake, with many singing Chiffchaffs, a displaying Sparrowhawk and a male Mandarin which flew in.

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Upon arrival back home I heard news that a couple of nice summer migrants had been seen at Weir Wood Reservoir while I had been at Hedgecourt. These were an Osprey, possibly one of the two there yesterday, and a Little Ringed Plover. Encouraged by this news we decided to head to Weir Wood Reservoir to see if we could see either of these birds ourselves.

Weir Wood Reservoir is quite a large reservoir and the whole reservoir cannot be seen from just one viewpoint. Therefore most people visit both ends of the reservoir, the West end and the Dam end. The West end was where we visited first and where the Ospreys were seen yesterday evening and this morning.

Despite the large number of birders at the car park there were few interesting birds to be seen and certainly no Ospreys. According to one of the birders there, Alastair Gray, they can remain well-hidden during a lot of the day simply perched in the trees beside the reservoir and only become noticeable when they set out to fish most commonly in the early morning and late afternoon. They don’t like to fly a lot unnecessarily as it really upsets the local crows which harass the Ospreys until they land! However there was an immature male Goldeneye amongst a group of Great Crested Grebes which was my first of the year.

After searching for hidden Ospreys unsuccessfully we then moved on to the dam end to look for the Little Ringed Plover. The walk up to the dam wall was alive with the song of many Chiffchaffs and the blossoming Blackthorns were full of life. There were a pair of Pied Wagtails on the grassy bank of the dam and a Grey Heron flew overhead.

After walking along the dam wall for a little while to my relief the Little Ringed Plover came into view. It was small and slender, moreso than its relative the Ringed Plover, and was feeding right on the water’s edge. I was able to get quite close, up to a distance of about 10 feet, and from there I was easily able to observe its distinguishing features. To separate Little Ringed from Ringed Plover, the easiest feature to see is the colour of the bill. Little Ringed Plovers have an entirely dark bill whereas Ringed Plovers have a bill with an orange base and a dark tip. Also,  if you are close enough, you might be able to see the yellow eye ring of a Little Ringed Plover which is a feature absent in Ringed Plovers.

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The Little Ringed Plover

Although Little Ringed Plovers are regular breeders in England and Wales in the modern day, they first bred as recently as 1938. Their expansion across southern Britain is partly due to the creation of man-made habitats perfect for breeding such as water-filled gravel pits. Now over a thousand pairs of these small waders arrive here each spring to leave again in late June/July.

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I am pleased that I have now managed to find my first ‘proper’ summer migrant of 2017. Over the coming weeks, migration is set to pick up as winds become favourable and it becomes warmer. Hopefully I will soon be waking up to the song of Blackcaps and Willow Warblers!

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A corner of County Kerry in a Kentish Cave

Saturday saw me attending another excellent field trip run by the South-East group of the British Bryological Society. This time we were headed to a private site just inside Kent called Hungershall Rocks. The sandstone at Hungershall Rocks is part of a large number of these outcrops stretching across the Weald from Tunbridge Wells to Ardingly and all along the ridge there are sites with a wealth of rare bryological flora.

Hungershall Rocks is a private site just outside Tunbridge Wells near High Rocks which we were lucky to get access to. Plenty of excellent bryologists have visited the site in the past and the records stretch back over more than 150 years. It has been interesting to see how the bryological flora of the site has developed over such a long time, with new species being discovered but equally species that were here in the past being lost from the site.

The rocks themselves are mainly under tree cover, however some are more exposed. Some patches are dripping wet due to the clay within the rocks and others bone dry. There are a plethora of nooks, crannies, ledges and some caves too. This wide range of rock features leads to a very diverse set of mosses and liverworts that can be found on these rocks.

It wasn’t only mosses and liverworts that were in abundance either. There were many different vascular plant species inhabiting the rocks, especially ferns. One of the best finds of the day was this beautiful, eye-catching and impressive-looking plant:

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It’s stunning, isn’t it?

It wasn’t too easy to get to. It was growing on the wall of a small cave, where very little sunlight penetrated. There was only really room for one person inside the cave and that person had to be in a crouched, uncomfortable position. So why was this rather underwhelming (to be honest) plant worth such an effort to get to?

It is Trichomanes speciosum, the Killarney Fern. Killarney is a small town in Ireland’s County Kerry, the county where half of Ireland’s known populations of this fern are found. As you can see from the map below, this species has a predominantly Western distribution in the UK and is quite unusual in the East, being recorded in only a handful of sites in the South-East:

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NBN Gateway map for Trichomanes speciosum

You might be thinking that it doesn’t look like a normal fern usually does and you’d be forgiven for thinking so because this is not the most commonly seen fern life-stage. The life-cycles of ferns are very complex and unusual and this is a seldom noticed part of it.

The green felty stuff that you can see in the image are the rhizoids of the gametophyte (also known as the prothallus), the gametophyte being the life-stage before the recognisable adult sporophytes that we most commonly come across; the rhizoids being filaments attached to the gametophyte which conduct water.

On the undersides of the fronds of adult ferns there are small, usually brown, sporangia which contain spores. These spores are released and when a suitable site is found, they grow into a gametophyte like the one shown in the image. The word gametophyte comes from the word gamete – the male and female reproductive cells (the ova and the sperm cells) that they produce.

The gametophyte features an archegonium and an antheridium. The archegonium is the female reproductive organ, which contains a single ovum. The antheridium is the male reproductive organ, which releases lots of sperm. The sperm swims through a thin film of moisture and into a nearby archegonium where the ovum is waiting to be fertilised.

Once the ovum has been fertilised, it becomes a zygote and later an embryo. The embryonic fern relies on the prothallus (gametophyte) from which it grows for its water and nutrients. Soon the embryonic plant grows into a sporophyte (the large leafy plant we most regularly recognise as a fern) and the prothallus dies.

That is fern reproduction explained as simply as I could (I can only just understand some of it myself) and there is a lot more to it. This link explains fern reproduction in much more detail, however as a warning there is certainly a lot of scientific jargon used: http://www.sas.upenn.edu/~joyellen/fernreproduction.html

The following diagram is a representation of the fern life cycle, from the same website:

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So, that felty green stuff on the wall of a cave might not look like much. However clearly there is a lot of interesting information and a very complex life-cycle behind it.

World Wildlife Day – Listen to the Young Voices

Yesterday was World Wildlife Day and the theme this year was ‘Listen to the Young Voices’.

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In December 2013, World Wildlife Day was proclaimed as the third of March, which is the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES). The United Nations decided that World Wildlife Day would be celebrated this year under the theme ‘Listen to the Young Voices’ due to the fact that a quarter of the world’s population are aged between 10-24 and as the next generation they need to be encouraged to protect wildlife.

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Thanks to the brilliance of technology corresponding with people a long distance away has become easier than ever before. And given the unfortunate low density of young teen naturalists in the British Isles, this has been instrumental in bringing the future naturalists and conservationists together.

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Last year I decided to set up a Twitter account (@My_Wild_Life) and very soon I was talking to many of the incredible young naturalists I had previously only read about in magazines and online. A ‘group chat’ had been set up specifically for young naturalists and this became a hub of support, learning and conversation. I was over the moon to be involved with such a hopeful and inspiring group of young people who shared my interest.

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Young people are the future. And in a world where we humans are advancing quickly in many ways, the future of nature and the environment needs to be put higher up the agenda. And without young people interested in the natural world and keen to protect it, it is unlikely that the environment will prosper.

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Due to the increasing popularity of social media such as Twitter, there has been a huge surge in the ‘Youth Nature Movement’. The work of top naturalists and conservationists has lead to a significant increase in the number of young people getting involved with nature. It has also given aspiring young people looking for a career in wildlife louder voices, which need to be listened to.

Below is a list of excellent nature blogs by under-twenties that are really worth reading:

Dara McAnulty, Young Fermanagh Naturalist: https://youngfermanaghnaturalist.com/
James Miller, Knee Deep in Nature: http://www.kneedeepinnature.co.uk/
Mya Bambrick, My World of Wildlife: http://myathebirder.blogspot.co.uk/
Josie Hewitt, Josie Hewitt Photography: http://josiehewittphotography.co.uk/
Paddy Lewin, Paddy’s Wildlife Blog: https://paddylewinwildlife.wordpress.com/
Elliot Montieth, Elliot’s Birding Diaries: https://elliotsbirdingdiaries.wordpress.com/
Dawood Qureshi, Heart of Wild: https://heartofwild16.wordpress.com/
Thomas, Exploring Wildlife: https://exploringwildlife.blogspot.co.uk/
Charlotte, That Bird Blog: http://thatbirdblog.weebly.com/
Zach, Year of Nature: https://yearofnature.blogspot.co.uk/
Harry Witts, Harry’s Wildlife: https://harryswildlife.wordpress.com/
Michael Sinclair, Michael Sinclair Photography: https://naturephotographer.co/
Luke Nash, Luke’s Birding Blog: https://lukesbirdingblog.wordpress.com/
Louis Driver, Louis’ Wild Northumberland: https://louiswildnorthumberland.blogspot.co.uk
Jack Dawson, Jack Dawson Wildlife: https://jackdawsonwildlife.wordpress.com/
Alex Bayley, A Whiff of Fox: https://awhiffoffox.wordpress.com/
Alex White, Appleton Wildlife Diary: https://appletonwildlifediary.wordpress.com/
Noah Walker, Walker’s Wildlife Photography: http://walkerwildlifephotography.blogspot.co.uk/
Findlay Wilde, Wilde About Birds: http://www.wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk