The Redpoll Stake-out

Before 2016, Lesser Redpolls (Acanthis cabaret) had not been seen in my garden since 2013, when seven would commute between a Quince bush at the back of the garden, some bare ground beneath a large oak tree and our small two-port nyger feeder in January and February. There would be loads of scuffles between the Redpolls as there were seven of them but only two ports. Sadly our nyger feeder got stolen by a Grey Squirrel and we still haven’t found it. We did buy a new nyger feeder though, with four instead of two ports.

It took a while for the Redpolls or the Goldfinches to find the nyger. Both species are very timid, but once they discover a food source they visit very regularly. The first time I saw a Redpoll in our garden for 3 years since 2013 was on New Year’s Day. Tony Davis, my bird ringing trainer, and I were ringing in my garden and by about 10am we had caught a fair amount of tits, Goldcrests and other passerines (perching birds). However, when Tony was extracting birds from the (safe) nets and I was getting my gloves he came back with two species of birds, both finches, that I hadn’t ringed yet this morning. The first was a female Chaffinch. The second was a Lesser Redpoll ! It was a stunning adult male:

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Despite the Redpoll having visited our garden, it was another week before one came to our nyger feeders. Two came one Saturday afternoon, one normal adult male (but not the one I’d caught a week earlier as it had no ring) and one intriguing female with an orange crown. A closer look revealed an almost white rump, very pale wing bars and less streaking on the breast: a Mealy Redpoll (Acanthis flammea flammea), a subspecies of the Common Redpoll, which is uncommon in the UK! Even stranger was the orange crown  which is rarely encountered in Redpolls of any species, let alone a county rarity! The orange colour instead of the red is caused by the bird’s diet: carotenoids are likely to be the cause of the orange colouration and they can be present in some plants. Apparently a third species, the Arctic Redpoll (Acanthis hornemanni), has this orange cap more often than Lesser or Mealy Redpolls. Perhaps the plant that causes the increased number of carotenoids in Redpolls is more common up north? Here is a bad photo of it taken with my Camcorder, showing the orange crown. Unfortunately the camcorder makes it look darker than it actually is:

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And here is a photo showing the pale rump:

Common Redpoll Screengrab

This morning I planned to get a better photograph of a Lesser Redpoll. The only photographs I had obtained so far were from my Camcorder, which were really poor quality as it is obviously designed for videos rather than photos. My small camera hadn’t a zoom large enough to get a good photo of the Redpolls either. What I planned to do was sit near the feeder with my camera on a tripod until the very shy Redpolls came down to feed. Unlikely to happen any time soon.

I wrapped up very warmly and settled down just after 8am. It was fifteen minutes until I heard the Redpolls and then spotted them, high up in the huge oak tree the Redpolls fed under 3 years ago. There were six of them at first, but only 3 flew to the Holly bush next to the feeder. After they saw me, however, they flew away again.

It was 8.45 until they returned. 3 of them again, in the Holly bush. 1 was braver than others and came within 30cm of the feeder but then flew away again, irritatingly. The same thing happened five times until eventually, at 9.08, a brave male made its way first to a branch adjacent to the one on which the feeder is hanging, then to one just below it, the finally to the feeder! I was over the moon! Here are a few photos I managed to take:

 

Exploring the British species of the Ambigolimax genus

There are only two!

In the summer, I photographed an unidentified slug and posted it on iSpot to see if anyone knew what it might be. Recently someone tentatively commented on the observation and said that it might be Ambigolimax nyctelius, the Balkan Threeband Slug. If you have a look at the National Biodiversity Network map for this species, you will see that there are few records for this species (only five!) so I was quite excited!

I emailed Martin Willing, the mollusc recorder for Sussex, and he replied saying that it is likely that the slug is Ambigolimax nyctelius! He couldn’t be certain though, as it needs dissection to reliably identify it. Therefore he forwarded my email to Dr Ben Rowson, the curator for Mollusca at the National Museum Wales. Dr Rowson replied asking if I could confirm if I still had the specimens, which I didn’t, and if I could send some specimens to him for dissection. I sent two new ones along with one of the original three in a pot to the museum, a concept my mum found quite comical. It was probably the idea of three slugs going on holiday to Wales!

He received the slugs surprisingly quickly and he was also kindly quick to identify them. He replied with the scenario I was hoping for: the specimens were of two different Ambigolimax species: Ambigolimax valentianus (the Greenhouse Slug) and Ambigolimax nyctelius (the Balkan Threeband Slug).

What concerned me is that he only received two specimens. The image that immediately sprang to mind was one of a slug crawling around a Welsh post office or somewhere in a postman’s bag in Cardiff. However when I asked about the third slug, he replied saying that the other two slugs were in fact cannibal slugs! I wasn’t expecting that!

Both of these species are special as they aren’t native to this country, the Greenhouse Slug is an alien from Spain; and I’m assuming the Balkan Threeband Slug comes from the Balkans, but there is little information on this little-known species. They are usually imported here by accident in pot plants and survive and breed well in greenhouses (hence the common name of Ambigolimax valentianus). The most obvious place these slugs could have come from is our local garden centre, Haskins. It’s still about a mile away (as the slug crawls)! Most of their route, if they do come from there, is through suitable woodland. Therefore I’m surprised that they’ve come so far. I’m hoping this is because my efforts at creating a wildlife garden are paying off!

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Ambigolimax nyctelius

 

An Insight into Daphnia biology

Daphnia are truly amazing. They are often called ‘water fleas’ as they look like tiny fleas swimming around in lakes and ponds. However, they are harmless and fascinating to observe. You can easily find some at home – just scoop a bit of water out of your pond with a pot and hopefully there’ll be plenty of these complex organisms bobbing about!

Believe it or not, Daphnia are actually tiny crustaceans, related to crabs, lobsters and woodlice. The reason they don’t look very similar is that the shell of Daphnia is uncalcified (not hard). This means they’re see through, and so great to put under a microscope. Yesterday and today I collected a few Daphnia from the pond with my pipette (like a small turkey baster), put a drop of water containing the Daphnia on a microscope slide and placed a cover slip gently on top so that the Daphnia wouldn’t be squashed.

Looking at them under a microscope reveals a whole new view on their lives, which we could never see with the naked eye. This photo I took yesterday and I find it most intriguing, Daphnia obtusa giving birth!

Daphnia giving birth!

Daphnia giving birth!

In the photo you can make out a smaller version of the adult Daphnia just below it’s rear end, at the bottom. Look for the black eye. To add to that, as the Daphnia is see through, you can also see its twin still inside the adult!

With the Daphnia collected today, I could also see their tiny heart beating. This short video I recorded shows it well:

To help give an idea of where the heart is on a Daphnia, this is the image of the pregnant Daphnia with most of its anatomy labelled:

Simple Daphnia Anatomy

Simple Daphnia Anatomy

The antennules – These are antennae, but instead of being sensory organs, they have evolved to be used to propel the Daphnia through the water. The ‘proper’ antennae are found beneath the rostrum, and are tiny. The mound on which the ‘proper’ antennae are born, sensibly called the antennal mound, is an important identification feature of Daphnia obtusa and is just visible in the image above. Daphnia obtusa has a noticeably larger antennal mound than similar species like Daphnia pulex.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post on Daphnia. Hopefully this has inspired you to look for Daphnia in your own local pond or lake. Daphnia are incredibly unrecorded for such an abundant animal, which is probably present in nearly all squares in the UK:  >>CLICK<<

Canary-shouldered, Purple and Early, a Thorny Moth Trap!

When I checked the moth trap on the morning of August the 2nd, there weren’t as many moths as there usually is. However, there were many species I’ve never seen before, including three species of Thorns. Thorns can be identified by the way they hold their wings – not flat like most moths but angled upwards.

The first species of Thorn I found by the trap was the Purple Thorn, which was resting on the sheet. It’s a pretty large moth, the individual I caught had a wingspan of 34mm. However that’s not the species’ maximum wingspan. The Purple Thorn has two broods (generations) each year, the first flying in April and May and the second flying in July and August. The first brood has a larger wingspan, whereas the second has a smaller wingspan, and the moth we caught was from the second brood. The species is fairly common in the south, and prefers habitats like woodland and heathland. However, it gets scarcer as you move northwards. It is patchily distributed in Scotland, with the main stronghold being around the Moray Firth. It’s common in Wales, but practically absent from Ireland.

Purple Thorn

Purple Thorn, above view

Purple Thorn

Purple Thorn, side view

The second species found, the Canary-shouldered Thorn, was perched on the metal bit which holds up the bulb. It’s the prettiest species we caught, with a bright canary-yellow thorax and yellowy-orange wings. It is also the largest species, even larger than the Purple Thorn, and it also only has one generation. It’s widespread throughout the UK, from Cornwall to Orkney, although like the Purple Thorn, it’s scarcer in Scotland. However, this might be because there are fewer recorders up in the highlands, and there are many concentrated around the South-East (like me). The Canary-shouldered Thorn can also be found in Northern Ireland and even the Isle of Man.

Canary-shouldered Thorn

Canary-shouldered Thorn

The last Thorn species is called the Early Thorn. It’s by far the smallest species and, like the Purple Thorn, has two broods each year. We caught an individual from the second brood which flies from August-September. The first flies from April-May. Even though it might be the smallest, it’s the most widely distributed, being found on Scilly as well as England, Northern Ireland, Wales, Scotland (including Orkney) and the Isle of Man. It’s identifiable by the way it holds its wings, flat above the body like a butterfly. A melanic (dark) form of this species is fairly common in Northern England, but rare down here in the South.

Early Thorn

Early Thorn

The reason we put the moth trap out was because I had an event planned for the following morning. I thought that as I lived in a small, quiet village it would be nice to teach the people who live in my village a little bit about the moths found in their area. I invited all the people I knew from the village and was pleasantly surprised that quite a few people decided to come! I even got a few to sign up to my monthly natural history newsletter, which I will be writing for the residents.

What my grandkids might not be able to see – Foxes

Some people might think that the Fox is an unusual choice as something my grandchildren might not be able to see. They are so common they can even be found in cities, right? But they’re wrong. Foxes can be found in today’s cities, but what about the cities in half a century? The only reason Foxes hang on in cities is because there are spaces  for them to shelter and there is lots of food to be found on the street. But cities will develop – that’s inevitable. Cities will become neater, leaving no shelter. Cities will become cleaner, leaving no food. That’s another habitat lost.

I am incredibly lucky to have foxes breeding in my quiet village. This year for the first time I have seen cubs, three of them, run past my living room window while I’m watching Countryfile, so young and full of life. But as all cubs do, they’ll grow older and have to fend for themselves away from their parents’ territory. But dispersing is like an assault course – they have to cross road after road before they reach unoccupied suitable habitat.

Even though there will be much less suitable habitat in the future and fewer Foxes will survive to adulthood, there is still some hope left. Our Fox family has chosen an excellent place to live as there’s lots of food on offer. A house down the road feeds them chicken and we often see a Fox trot past the window, looking content and with a huge chicken breast in its mouth. However, I wouldn’t advise feeding Foxes, especially if you have limited time. If you start feeding them they will come to depend on you, but sooner or later you’ll be absent for a long period of time or even move house, leaving no food for the Foxes. A way you can help though, is by being careful when driving in the evening. Our Foxes come out at anytime after 8pm, sometimes earlier. Drive slower, always watch the road and if it is dark then put your headlights on as soon as the sun sets.

Buff-Tip, Buff Arches and Buff Ermine, a Buff-coloured Moth Trap!

Despite it raining last night, we still found some great moths in the moth trap including my first ever nationally scarce moth!

The first moth is the Buff Arches. It has a flint-like quality, with intricate detail etched in white. This leads the list of the most beautiful moths. Do you agree it should be at the top?

Buff Arches

Buff Arches

Second on the list of most beautiful moths is the Buff-Tip. It has unbelievable camouflage, it looks just like a twig. When I put it on a tree it was indistinguishable from a birch twig! I am incredibly lucky to have caught it, even thought it is common.

Buff-Tip

Buff-Tip

Next up is the Blotched Emerald, which is not only pretty but is also a localised moth. It is very well named, with cream and fawn blotches on the corners of the wings on an emerald green background.

Blotched Emerald

Blotched Emerald

Our last ‘buff’ moth is the Buff Ermine, of which we caught two. They aren’t always buff-coloured, but can sometimes be white and even black, but that is extremely rare in the wild.

Buff Ermine with 3 Peppered Moths

Buff Ermine with 3 Peppered Moths

To finish off this blog post we’ll have the nationally scarce moth I’ve already mentioned, a Great Oak Beauty. I thought I’d caught this moth two weeks ago, but it actually turned out that it was the much smaller and more common Willow Beauty. This time we were able to compare the size to a Willow Beauty and it was so much larger. Also the pale apical spot under the forewing was visible as well as the antennae, which were feathered on only two-thirds of the length instead of completely.

Great Oak Beauty

Great Oak Beauty

Garden Moth Trap, 27th May 2015

We had already put out our trap in May although we decided to put it out again to see how the species would differ between early May and late May. This is what we caught:

  • Green Carpet 2
  • Muslin Moth 1
  • Scorched Wing 1 (a scarce moth)
  • Poplar Hawk-Moth 1
  • Marbled Brown 1 (a scarce moth)
  • Pale Tussock 1
  • Scalloped Hazel 1
  • Flame Shoulder 1

Out of the 8 moth species we caught, 7 were new in May. We had caught Pale Tussock in early May. Also, we had seen a pair of Poplar Hawk-Moths mating in the summer of 2013, but this is the first time we have caught one in the trap.

The Scorched Wing is an absolutely beautiful moth. The faint lines across the fore- and hindwings give the impression of fast movement and the edges of the wings have a scorched appearance. The females are rarely seen and the males rest with the tip of the abdomen curled up, which was observed but it’s not visible in the photo. Therefore I think it’s likely that the one we caught was a male moth. My moth guide says that the UK status is ‘Local T’ which means it has only been recorded in 101-300 sites in the UK, which are spread throughout the country.

The Marbled Brown is also a ‘Local’ moth. This one is in fact less widespread than Scorched Wing because my moth guide puts it as ‘Local S,C,NW,(Ir)’ which means that the 101-300 sites are mainly focused in the south, the central regions, the north-west and less frequently in Ireland. I originally thought that this moth was an Oak Beauty, but it was re-identified as this species on iSpot here:  http://www.ispotnature.org/node/681405

And here are the photos:

Scorched Wing

Scorched Wing

Scalloped Hazel

Scalloped Hazel

Flame Shoulder

Flame Shoulder

Green Carpet

Green Carpet

Muslin Moth

Muslin Moth

Poplar Hawk-Moth

Poplar Hawk-Moth

Oak Beauty

Marbled Brown

Pale Tussock

Pale Tussock

The Start of the 2015 Longworth Trapping Season!

15th May marked the start of my personal Longworth Trapping season (Mid-May), so the logbook now has its first entry. I caught a Bank Vole at 4:45 this afternoon and weighed it. It was a whopping 25g, the heaviest since I started last year! I tried a new method of getting the vole into the weighing bag too. I kept the vole in the bedding compartment with all the grass taken out, then I put the bag over the open end of the compartment and tipped the vole gently into the bag. I didn’t even have to try to pick it up! Here are the photos from today:

Bank Vole in the weighing bag.

Bank Vole in the weighing bag.

Bank Vole in the bedding compartment.

Bank Vole in the bedding compartment.

I was doing pre-season trapping earlier in the year, but due to the cold weather catches were scarce. There were only 1 Wood Mouse and 2 Bank Voles, the Wood Mouse pictured here:

Wood Mouse caught pre-season.

Wood Mouse caught pre-season.

Bees and Barberries: A Match Made in (Bee) Heaven!

We have a Barberry in our back garden which seems to be incredibly good for bees! I have recorded 9 bee species on it so far: Buff-tailed Bumblebee; White-tailed Bumblebee; Garden Bumblebee; Common Carder Bee; Tree Bumblebee; Early Bumblebee; Honey Bee; Yellow-legged Mining Bee and, my favourite, a Tawny Mining Bee just yesterday!

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

Tawny Mining Bee (Andrena fulva)

I have caught most of them (except the White-tailed Bumble and the Tawny Mining) in a specimen pot I have now christened my ‘bee pot’. I catch them by holding the lid and the pot of opposite sides of the flower, and bringing them closer together. As they get closer I tilt the pot slightly downwards so that when the bee notices that it’s about to be caught it flies down and into the pot. I then quickly close the lid and take a photo through the bottom, like so:

Yellow-legged Mining Bee (Andrena flavipes)

Yellow-legged Mining Bee (Andrena flavipes)

Part of the Package?

On Sunday the 15th March, I sent off an application to participate in a British Trust for Ornithology survey: Garden BirdWatch. The Garden BirdWatch is an easy to do survey, where participants count the birds in their garden every week and then send the records off at the end of every quarter.

I received the welcome letter and the introduction package on Thursday and I eagerly read through what it contained: information leaflets; a  ‘Garden Birds & Wildlife’ book; welcome letter; example of a paper recording form; ‘Bird Table’ magazine and a quick start guide. Although I didn’t know that I was going to get another gift though…

On Saturday (today) I did a one hour bird watch for the Garden BirdWatch, which was scheduled to begin at 9am and finish 10am. However I chose to start 20 minutes earlier than planned as my gift arrived in the garden; two Goldfinches at the nyger feeder! I haven’t seen a Goldfinch in our garden for around a year even though I recently saw a flock of 50 about 200 metres up the road, and later a group of 20 Chaffinches, 30 Greenfinches and 50 more Goldfinches!

The Goldfinches stayed around for 15 minutes while I counted the other birds and then were spooked by defensive Blue Tits, but they came back for a short visit of 2 minutes in the bushes around the garden and then weren’t seen again for the rest of the count. They are now though, as I write this post, once again being tormented by the local Tits.

I am pretty confident that they are a pair, one has more red on the face than the other and they seem socially close too. One particularly aggressive move from a Great Tit made the two Goldfinches spilt up and scatter, with one closer to the feeder than the other. The closer one returned to the feeder in about 30 seconds, while the other stayed out of sight behind a bush on the other side of the feeding station. They must prefer the company of one another as the one already on the feeder wouldn’t start eating until the other one joined it a few minutes later!

I really hope they stay around, an unusual splash of colour in our garden!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!

Goldfinches at the nyger feeder!