Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Moth and sparrow

I noticed a silver y-wing moth on the inside of our window in the conservatory. I tried to catch it and in the process disturbed the moth which flew around the inside of the window. All of a sudden a sparrow appeared, hovering on the otherside of the window trying to catch the moth.
(Moth photographed from outside the window when the sparrow had gone)

I have seen sparrows successfully catch moths which they have disturbed from their resting place and once caught back the moth on the ground to subdue it and make it easier to eat.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Great tit family

For the last few days the large tree that over hangs the end of our garden has been visited by another great tit family. The young birds tend to stay in the more dense outer branches so looking up through the tree it is difficult to see them. Occasionally they will flit across the central branches looking a bit like a ghost as they stand out against the darker background. No pictures unfortunately because of the dense branches and problems of focusing quickly enough in the gloom.

The adults can frequently be heard calling to the chicks and occasionally flying through the central branches with caterpillar in its mouth calling to the fledglings.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Blackbird gaping to keep cool

It was a hot sunny day. I noticed a female blackbird in the front garden gaping and spreading its wings to keep cool.

The blackbird was sitting in the shade of the buddleia bush, in an exposed position. I have witnessed this behaviour on quite a few occasions, once even in the shade of trees in the middle of a park.

The beak was open wide and it appeared to be panting, both designed to reduce the birds internal body temperature.

I was a bit concerned because there are several cats who pass through our garden as well as our own. However, after a while a passer by, walking noisily along the path the other side of the buddleia disturbed the blackbird and it flew off.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Marbled white butterfly and ant mating flight

The first marbled white butterfly I have recorded in our garden.

Infact, I first discovered it in our conservatory and encouraged the butterfly to climb onto my hand. I then carefully took it outside to the garden and encouraged it onto a plant.

A warm humid evening and exactly the conditions the ants were waiting for. The large winged queens poured from the various ants nest around our garden. Climbing up walls and plants until they reach the highest point and then wings out stretched launched into the air.

(Three queen ants on the watering can)

By this time the small winged males follow. This is the ant mating flight. The queens head up into the sky and the males follow. In theory it is the strongest (healthiest) males that catch the queens and mate. However last year I photographed a male and female mating on the wall of our bungalow. Once mated a new queen will be fertile for the rest of her life. She returns to the ground and bites of her wings as she will no longer need them.

However many don't get to mate. On the ground they are picked off by sparrows and starlings. Some end up in the webs of orb spiders.

Those that get off the ground may be eaten by a variety of birds including sea gulls.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Butterfly survey

From the 4th to the 12th July was the Brighton and Hove Big Biodiversity Butterfly Count. Butterflies are use Biodiversity Indicators whose presence and distribution can be used to measure its biodiversity and health. Butterflies are particularly sensitive to changes in the habitat and as a typical insect impact on butterflies is likely to be similar to many other insects.

I undertook the survey in my own garden and despite the poor weather for much of the week still managed to record some interesting butterflies.

Large white butterflies were seen on 4 days (ranging between 1 and 4 butterflies)
Small White on two days (two butterflies each day)

Meadow Brown seen on 7 days (a single butterfly seen at one time except 12th July -sunny day)
Gate keeper was also seen on 2 days (2 each day)

Red Admiral one seen on 2 different days
Comma, only one seen

Peacock, only one seen
Speckled wood seen on three days (average of 2 butterflies each day)

Speckled wood, meadow brown and gate keeper are particularly common in my garden.

Here are a few pictures form my garden during the survey.
Meadow brown, rescued from our conservatory

Similar, but smaller, gate keeper

Speckled wood

Red Admiral

Comma, looking a bit worst for wear.

Monday, 13 July 2009

Amazing ants

If I had to chose just one animal in the world to study it would be ants. Ants are amazing insects, even those common old black ants you find in your garden or kitchen from time to time.

Ants are social insects and one of their most fascinating attributes, and possibly the secret of their success, is scent. When you see those little black highways of ants crossing the path, they are following scent trails left by other black ants. The scent trails allow them to forage for the equivalent of miles (for their size) and find their way back to the colony. When a particularly large food source is found a special scent message asking for help is left at the junction with the main trail. So if that solitary ant wandering around your kitchen comes across a food spillage, the chances are it will leave a scent marker to call up re-enforcements.

Ants are also farmers, not cattle but aphids. Black ants will even move aphids closer together to make it easier to defend them against invertebrate predators who like to eat aphids. I came across this particularly large congregation on the evening primrose in our front garden.

Black ants are also known to bring aphids into their nest in the winter placing them on the roots of plants and taking them, back outside in the spring. The reason ants like aphids so much is the that aphids feed on the sap of plants. The ants literally milk the aphids for the sugary honey dew they produce by stroking the aphids abdomen with their antennae.

Black ants make their nest underground, a series of chambers and tunnels.
I accidentally uncovered this chamber in the ant nest while gardening.

Inside where a large number of winged queens and winged males alongside the smaller wingless worker ants which are sterile females. The winged queens and males will take part in a mating flight, but not today, its too windy. They will wait for the right conditions when the air is warm, still and humid.
While a large number of the worker ants rushed about ready to repel any potential attack, the others quickly ushered the queens and males down the tunnels to safety.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Herring gulls and first flight

A drizzly windy day and ideal conditions for a herring gull chicks first flight.
Every time the wind picked up one of the chicks became very active bouncing up and down with wings open.

After a couple of false alarms, the chick launched itself into the air and managed a very awkward and short first flight

Touch down.

Herring gulls get a lot of bad press, being called noisy, blamed for tearing open bin bags and generally being a pest. However, as is often the case this has been largely due to us messy humans providing the gulls (who scavenge as part of their natural diet) an easy food source. At the same time we are over fishing the seas and putting pressure on our coastline causing gulls to adapt to a different lifestyle. In recent years UK herring gulls have declined by about 25% and they are now listed as a red status species.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Herring gulls and swifts

For the last couple of days the herring gulls in the main nest site I have been following are preparing for flight. There has been a lot of wing flapping and wing stretching activity. One even jumped up and and down a few times.

The swifts are still performing ariel displays.
Shadow on the road as a swift screams overhead.
I will miss them when they leave for their winter home in Africa, usually in August.
Now that the young have fledged there has been a lot of coming and going from the nest site.
In the past this has been quite discreet, a single bird breaking away from the rest and making a low silent entry to the nest. Today there is a lot of screaming and almost a atmosphere of excitement.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Roe deer, fox and school invertebrate course

As we arrived at the Crawley Professional Centre yesterday to run a course we were beckoned into the back office. The fox was siting on the field.

We were told we had just missed the mother Roe deer and juvenile. A couple of minutes later the female deer returned with youngster in tow.

They followed the edge of the wood, the mother seemed to be wary of the fox which after a short while got up and trotted back into the woods.

The young deer stayed more in the cover of the trees, both feeding on leaves on the lower branches.
After a while the female trotted back the way they had originally come and the fawn burst out of the tress and ran off after her.

It was great to watch. Roe deer are a small reddish brown deer with a black nose and white chin.

Once the deer had gone the fox returned to the playing field. It stretched out, legs sticking out at he front and back. However the magpies did not seem happy at the foxes return and seemed intent on driving it away. One of the magpies kept pecking at the foxes tail until it got up and went back into the tree.

The fox has a den just on the edge of the larger oak trees.

The course was about urban invertebrates. The pupils would be learning about invertebrates, surveying and recording invertebrates in the grounds, plotting them on a habitat map and investigating invertebrates through the digital microscope

The course started with a perception quiz. The children had to decide if they thought each of the 14 invertebrates were good for gardens, bad for gardens or dangerous to us based on a picture of each.

The aim is to show that we often treat invertebrates by how they appear to us and that invertebrates that people often think are bad or dangerous actually do a lot of good.

We looked at classification and discussed the important role of insects in flower pollination.

I brought along some dead specimens of bees, wasps and other invertebrates (collected from my garden and window sills) . Afterwards we divided into two groups. One group surveyed the grounds the second group collected searched for a small invertebrate in the grounds and carefully collected it for further examination. Later in the day, the two groups swapped over.

Surveying the grounds and recording invertebrates

Exploring the leaf litter

A shield bug laying eggs

Examining the collected invertebrates using the digital microscope

After collecting an invertebrate in the grounds each was examined and photographed through the microscope. (Ladybird larva)

(Shield bug larvae)

The children further investigated their invertebrate using the pictures. The invertebrates were returned safely to the grounds to emphasise their importance. The children also recorded information about where the invertebrate was found, how it moved etc.

At the end of the session the whole group looked at all the invertebrates that had been collected earlier. A few examples are shown below.

Shield bug
Wolf spider

At the end of the session we discussed all the things we had learned. The children were encouraged to carry on studying invertebrates in their garden or school grounds and to keep a nature journal or weblog to record their investigations.