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.

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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!

Introduction to Bryophytes

Bryophytes are mosses, liverworts and hornworts, and they are an amazing part of natural history. However, many people don’t know that, so this is why you should become interested in Bryophytes:

  • They are rather unrecorded. It is so easy  just to note the bryophytes you see on a short walk that it is hard to believe how few people actually do it. With a better understanding of them, they will be easier to conserve.
  • They can be found nearly anywhere! On trees, walls, houses, all over the place, even one or two on cars and underwater!
  • There are so many species! There are only 4 species of Hornwort, but you can find 763 species of mosses in the UK and nearly 300 Liverworts. Bryophytes love wet climates so that’s why Britain has about two-thirds of all European species!
  • Unlike some species which can only be studied some parts of the year, Bryophytes can be studied year-round. It is probably even easier to find Bryophytes in winter as they are much less likely to be covered by large plants!

I’ve only found 32 species so far and some can be quite difficult to ID, especially Sphagnums (bog mosses), therefore I recommend buying the British Bryological Society’s Field Guide for UK and Ireland. It can help you identify most of the species you find and has been put together by ‘a team of expert bryologists’. It includes keys, photographs, similar species, colour coding, drawings of key features etc.

It is easy to get started with finding Bryophytes, there isn’t too much equipment involved. The only thing beginners really need is a good hand lens but don’t worry if you don’t have that just yet, many species can be easily identified with the naked eye. I would suggest starting in your own garden, big or small, as there is bound to be many easy species there and is a good way to practise. But most of all: enjoy it!

Dotted Thyme-moss

Dotted Thyme-moss

Urn Haircap, my 32nd species

Urn Haircap, my 32nd species