Blog Archive (28) Posts Made in April 2016
Saturday, April 30th 2016
The bird ringers have been out checking nests and nest boxes. Jack, down on Salisbury Plain, photographed this Long-tailed Tit nest, beautifully made from lichens and cobwebs.
He also found this Moorhen's nest.
Our Moorhen chicks have not been seen today, but hopefully they are tucked away in the reeds. The Greylag Geese are keeping a watch over their chicks. Usually the chicks are found between the adults. This photograph was taken just after they had had a feed.
On another site Grey Heron chicks were ringed. You can see what these chicks have in their diet.
It was late when the ringers had finished ringing the chicks as can be seen by this beautiful evening photograph taken by Oliver.
Dippers nest early and their nest and young have been found. You can just imagine the encouragement given from those above to Sophie in the water!
Extra help was needed.
And here is the Dipper chick. You can see the large gape that it has, which encourages the parents to feed it.
Out on the training area the first Lapwing chick of the season was photographed by Hedley.
The bird ringers have been working hard and this is just the beginning of the season. Thank you to Robin, Hedley and Oliver for these photographs.
A Cold Educational Visit
Friday, April 29th 2016
Again the cold weather persisted, and precipitation fell in various forms. This was not ideal for the last of the week’s school visits, and even though an indoor alternative activity was offered to the children they were still keen to pond dip. Today we were visited by Year 3, Carnagill Community Primary, where we split the group into two for the various activities we had in store. My group went to the pond dipping platform where the usual pondlife was found, again dominated by sticklebacks. But a few Wandering Pond Snails were found.
These snails are fairly common, and a lot smaller than the larger Great Pond Snail we also have in the same ponds.
On the habitat walk we had a good view of the Greylag Goose and her 3 goslings, but had no sightings of the Moorhen and chicks recently fledged.
A respite from the weather in the Lake Hide had us searching for birdlife, and a decent view with the spotting scope allowed the teams to view the Little Grebe on the nest.
After lunch I took my group to the outdoor classroom where we found Ground Beetles, and Millipedes and the usual slugs.
Elizabeth’s group found a few extra things, a Spiny Headed Harvestman (Megabunus diadema). The picture below shows the front end and the palps.
Harvestmen look like spiders, and in fact are arachnids, have eight legs, palps, but do not carry venom, or make webs; they are hunters, chasing their prey and holding them with their legs whilst consuming them. The body is a combined head and abdomen, unlike the spider's two part body. If you look at the above harvestman it has a turret that contains the eyes, which Elizabeth nicely describes as a Sputnik. There are over 6400 species of harvestman in the world but we have only 24 varities in this country. Unlike spiders, who have up to eight light sensitive eyes, this little beasty has only two, and has poor eyesight, depending on its legs as sensors. The photo below shows the rear end. You will note that there are only seven legs in the photo as they have the ability to shed a leg if threatened or predated.
And we also found this unidentified moth caterpillar, so if anyone knows the name of this chap please contact me.
Here is the school group at 2.30pm in the rain, still with smiles on their faces!
While all this was going on, Colin, our Friday volunteer, filled the bird feeders. Our sincere thanks to him for his valued and much needed help.
A Cold Visit
Thursday, April 28th 2016
Driving up the reserve track to the Field Centre a Woodcock ambled across the road and disappeared into the undergrowth, never to be seen again. The weather was bitter, snow still laying in patches of shade, but at least it was bright.
We had the second of our school visits, Romanby Primary School years 1 and 2. Thankfully the rain held off for the majority of the day, and the teachers had ensured that warm clothes were worn especially as we were pond-dipping, nature walking, and giving a mini beast hunt, all outdoor activities.
The wintery weather did not prevent us from finding treasures to show the children. In the Scrapes for our pond dipping activity the children found a variety of pond life; Water Skaters, Pond Skaters, tadpoles, Freshwater Shrimps, Water Boatmen, etc. Some gems also included a caseless Caddis Fly larvae, this one below was approx. 35mm in length.
Caseless Caddis Flies tend to be predatory whereas the usual cased caddis fly feeds on detritus, plants and algae, making a case for themselves from the surrounding debris.
A single Mayfly larvae was found.
When gems like the above were not being found the children were finding plenty of 3-spine sticklebacks, keeping their attention off cold hands.
While I was pond-dipping Jackie was leading the Mini Beast safari at the out door classroom. The usual worms and slugs were found underneath rotten logs, as well as this single mini beast which at first I thought was a Millipede, as it was 40mm long, and rather slow moving compared with the usual centipedes I see.
On closer inspection you can see that each body segment has a single pair of legs, and that rather passive looking head was concealing a hefty pair of mandibles. Centipedes are predators, whereas Millipedes, like the ones found below, feed on living and dead plant matter. Note also the two pairs of legs on each body segment.
Elizabeth took the children on a habitat walk showing them the variety of habitats which Foxglove Covert has squeezed into its 100 acres.
As the rain started to fall I walked the school group back to the coach for their journey home.
Thank you for all the help from the volunteers today.
Lots of News
Wednesday, April 27th 2016
Where to start? People have been taking photographs at Foxglove and beyond and each tells a story. So are you sitting comfortably, then I will begin.
Last night was the second night of checking bird boxes. Two Tawny Owls that had been caught before were retrapped whilst two who had not, were caught and ringed. None of the chicks were big enough to receive their rings so the boxes will be revisited. As many of the boxes are on the top of the moors, unfortunately you can see what is coming, in this case another snow storm, which curtailed ringing!
A Moorhen with six chicks was recorded on the lake.
Walking through the Scrapes we were really disappointed that the nest of (Mrs) Greylag Goose was empty. We feared the worst. Looking carefully at the nest area we could see down around the nest and into the water. This gave us a little reassurance that the chicks might just have left the nest. Down at the lake a quiet shout, there they were, Mam, Dad and between them three young.
Our moth trapping last night yielded one moth. The wall of the Field Centre also had one moth, a Red Sword-grass. This is alive and it is a moth, not a piece of wood.
The monthly flower walk has very strict rules, the flower must be open. A Bird Cherry along Risedale Beck was very carefully examined and yes an open flower was found, add it to the list!
Good Friday Grass or Sweep's Brush, correctly named Field Woodrush is in flower across the moor. It is a rush and not a grass.
Along the Sycamore Avenue many of the trees have flowers, not Sycamore flowers but Norway Maple Flowers. A debate was held as to whether we should change the name of the avenue!
Primroses are in bloom across the reserve growing just where you would expect them to be. This one is growing on or in a cement step.
Thank you to everyone who helped to spot flowers and check their status for our records. Thank you to John, Robin and Roger for the photographs used in the blog.
Finally, the sunny morning whilst we were indoors working, turned cloudy and dull and cold by this afternoon, and just as we got back from the flower walk for a cup of tea and scone it turned white with snow.
Tuesday, April 26th 2016
Like every Tuesday it was a volunteer’s day. Folk come from the surrounding area to spend a few hours with us doing jobs, which by myself would take me a week! Thankfully we have some hard working and hardy folk that come back rain or shine. This was particularly good today because we had rain, sunshine, sleet and snow.
The first job was to clear around the bullet catcher; this is an old army shooting range which now is our out of sight storage. Bullet cases are quite often excavated by rabbits whilst digging their warrens. It had needed a good sorting for some time and now with ‘all hands’ we finally completed the task.
The next job was some old tree felling which had been missed recently; at this point the sun shone, and the cold northerly wind was sheltered by the trees.
After lunch we restocked the bird feeders, especially as the Lesser Redpolls are still about in reasonable numbers and may even nest here, time will tell. A few other little jobs were cleared away with the team thrown back into winter as snow, hail, and sleet fell.
Before going home I walked around the lake watching a beautiful Grey Wagtail by the dam.
A Dabchick (Little Grebe), although smaller, chased off a Moorhen.
I spotted these two water birds with their very different styles of feeding; the Dabchick diving for insects, larvae and small fish, and the Moorhen dabbling on the surface with the additional diet of weeds and seeds. That is not to say the Moorhen will not dive, they do so to escape predators.
I took this photo of a Dog Violet to confirm that it was Spring.
On the dark wood-stained wall of the lake hide a few insects rested out of the cold wind gaining the warmth of the afternoon sun. This little chap below is one of the Gall Midges, they are only about 5mm in body length, with very long forelegs. The larvae cause galls in various plants such as Germander Speedwell.
Thank you again to all the hardy volunteers who braved the unseasonal weather.
Sunday, April 24th 2016
Many Hawthorn in the hedges outside Foxglove are already green. Inside Foxglove they are just starting to turn green and there is now a green haze across the reserve.
If you look closely at the trees you can see the buds breaking. Even the dark green conifers have their buds just ready to show their new soft, bright green needles.
Rowan or Mountain Ash has flower buds as well as leaves.
Like Blackthorn the Bird Cherry develops at different times, depending upon where it is on the reserve. Some have flower buds almost ready to burst and show their white petals. Usually as Bird Cherry is one of the first trees to leaf it is often very quickly covered by a myriad of insects. The low temperatures, at the moment, mean the leaves are insect free.
I have been trying to think what this Whitebeam flower and leaves remind me of and can't quite make up my mind, a bird, an insect or an alien?
The bird ringing volunteers were in today carrying out the final checks in preparation for CES 1 next Sunday, weather permitting. Whilst in and the wind was gentle they put some nets up in the garden and caught some Lesser Redpolls. They were able to show some children how the birds were ringed.
Later the children learned about camouflage using the 'worm game'.
The hive bees have been bringing in different types of pollen. Experts can tell which pollen belongs to which flower. Taking a photograph of Blackthorn flowers it struck me that it was just possible that the dull, nearly brown pollen could come from Blackthorn.
Many thanks to the volunteers who helped during the day, displaying their many varied skills.
More Exciting Sightings!
Saturday, April 23rd 2016
On the way to the wetland hide is the platform which gives a lovely view of Risedale Beck. There are Primroses on the bank, soon to be joined by Bluebells and nest boxes on trees. On the interpretive panel by the platform it mentions that Otters may be sighted from here. Today one was! Unfortunately no Otter photo, just a view down the bank to the beck.
Children often ask how I notice different flora and fauna. My answer is that I am looking for something that should not be there. A red mark could be a ladybird, a slight movement on the rail of the bridge could be an insect. Of course sometimes that white/grey mark turns out to be a bird dropping! On driving up the access road I saw something on the very top of a tree. Out came the trusty camera and full zoom, yet again, I took several photographs. On closer inspection it was a Meadow Pipit.
These birds have a very long hind claw and this can be easily seen on this photo.
The Grey Wagtail has been seen near the lake and beck leaving the lake. Some photos were taken but it really was too far away.
Late last summer Linda, the botany recorder for VC65, re-introduced some Mealy Primroses, Primula farinosa. They have survived the winter and the flower heads are just starting to appear.
Friday, April 22nd 2016
Having been off site for the past few days I was expecting to find Foxglove Covert bursting with flowers; the sun may have shone but unfortunately the chill is back. What is positive is that spring is creeping forward, and the ground is finally showing signs of drying out.
A Moorhen on the wetland kept her head down as I walked the area this morning, probably sitting on 8 /9 eggs in a basket of reeds. I did not linger as they can easily vacate the nest when disturbed.
The Bluebells are starting to show themselves, and should have fully erupted over the next week.
Wood Anemone, is a lovely sight in spring. With the sun of the day they had wide open flowers, but on dull days and evenings they will close and heads will hang drooping. Another name for these flowers is Windflower, apparently they do not open unless a wind blows. Smelling these flowers is not a joy like their appearance as they have a musky odour not unlike that of a fox scent. They are a good sign of ancient woodland.
Nest Boxes and More
Thursday, April 21st 2016
An email arrived in the bird ringers inbox giving them the dates of CES, the first, weather permitting should be Sunday the 1st May. Enough warning to prepare for an early start and time to check those alarm clocks. Then all went quiet and spring slowly made some progress. Another email, this time it was for the start of the nest box checking, in the evenings, both at Foxglove and across the wider training area.
These are images from last year. Although this photo does not show it I can recall some very, very cold evenings and lots of layers were needed.
Boxes have to be carefully opened to see what is inside.
Detailed records must be kept.
The nesting season continues right through to mid July. It is a very busy time for the bird ringers. Many of the boxes in Foxglove are adopted and at the end of the season details are sent to those who have adopted a box. If you wish to adopt-a-box there is just still time to have one for this nesting season. Details are on the web site or call in at Foxglove.
Going back to CES, the net rides have been prepared and will just need a final check next week. At the end of CES some of the poles are removed as the net rides are not used during the winter. Today volunteers have been returning the poles and ensuring that all the ties are there and that the poles are oiled so that they come apart easily. A big task. Thank you for all your hard work, the bird ringers will appreciate it at 5am on a cool May morning.
Changing the topic totally now. Ater waiting for so long for the flora to grow, everything seems to be happening at once. The Cherry trees are beginning to open their flowers.
Crossing the middle moor an inspection for Yellow Rattle seedlings was carried out and sure enough they are there. This is really good news. It will be interesting to see how far the seeds have spread this year.
From plants to inverts. Whirigig beetles live up to their name. This photo shows the beetles and also the rings they make on the water as they charge round and round.
The queen bee was found today, laying eggs. Kidney Spots ladybirds have finally been reported on their Ash trees.
Now to vertebrates. Newts were seen in a pond. These are the last amphibians to lay eggs. A pair of Kestrels were soaring on the thermals above the field centre. Green Woodpeckers feed on ants and they were observed doing so this afternoon.
When the Sun Shines
Wednesday, April 20th 2016
Another lovely warm and almost windless day. The sun and warmth stretched butterfly wings. Brimstones were seen and it is back to chasing them if a photo is required. A single Orange Tip butterfly flew in front of the drystone wall. Yesterday it was the volunteers sunbathing around the wall, today a Peacock butterfly was doing the same. Peacocks have hibernated over winter and are now on the wing. Unfortunately the temperature is dropping by several degrees from the weekend so those on the wing now may struggle to survive.
There is a small steep bank at the edge of the far moor and it is covered in violets. We think that they are all Common Dog Violets, even this very light coloured one.
The first Wood Sorrel flowers were seen growing on an old tree stump. A tiny green mark turned out to be a greenfly.
There are plenty of flowers, including willow for the hive bees to feed upon. Whilst watching them in the hive I wondered how heavy their pollen sacs were in relation to their body weight. Pollen grains are light, but even so the large size of some of the sacs must be heavy. Then another question raised its head - how many pollen grains are contained in one sac? Perseverance with the camera has resulted in a sort of reasonable photo of a bee with large pollen sacs.
There has been a photograph of a Roe Deer buck in velvet. This is the skin that feeds the growing antlers. When they are fully grown this skin starts to peel off and is very itchy. Young saplings are ideal as scratching posts as this tree shows.
Plovers Pool was beautiful in the afternoon sunshine. We are taking regular photographs as the area changes with the seasons and would hope to have a display towards the end of the year to show its development.
First Time this Year
Tuesday, April 19th 2016
You could tell where the volunteers were working today by the pile of clothes draped over trees, rails and posts.
For the first time this year it was warm enough for layers to be removed.
It has been said numerous times before how hard the volunteers work, but everytime I caught up with them they were eating and resting!
Seriously though a great deal of work was completed today. Wood that had been felled was cleared and tidied away. The ever growing Bramble stems were trimmed around the red route. Some boards were prepared for the back garden to save the bird ringers becoming covered in mud. A step down to one of the CES net rides was repaired. The boardwalks were given a make over, having the moss cleared from the edges and ensuring that all the non-slip pieces were fixed firmly in place. Inside the field centre the work did not stop as admin work dealing with the Adopt a Box scheme was continued. Displays were changed and the store room was tidied. Not a bad day at all - thank you so much for all your hard work and the stickies that Ann brought in, which were enjoyed by all.
Film or Digital?
Monday, April 18th 2016
I have always enjoyed taking photographs, and from a young age was encouraged to do so by my father. A lesson soon learnt was how to put in the roll of film and how to take it out of the camera. Prints went to the chemist for at least a week and slides went off in the post for longer. The excitement of looking at the results was huge, as was the disappointment when that one and only shot was blurred.
When digital came along and computers associated with it, I fought hard. No digital for me, ever! I eventually, very reluctantly, accepted the loan of a digital camera - that was it. I was, as they say, hooked. Now I would not be without my camera around my neck. I can take as many photos as I want and one amongst the many will be good to great!
I have taken photographs of most of the main flowers in Foxglove over the years. This year I want to concentrate on the less well known ones and less obvious ones, which are often more difficult to take. The first to show itself, in its usual place tucked along the boardwalk through the Scrapes is Ground Ivy.
Until hops were introduced into England in the 16th century, the leaves of Ground Ivy were used during brewing, hence its other name in parts of Yorkshire alehoof.
Some flowers react to the sun. There is one Wood Anemone in flower. Early in the morning it was closed.
By mid-day it was open. This one has already been chewed by snails or slugs.
As part of 'digitalisation' was the ease by which photos could be sent and received. When you visit Foxglove, please bring your camera and take photographs and if you would like to share them with us please send them via email. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nest box cameras were another development in the digital progress. Our Blue Tit still keeps coming into the box and sorting out her nest. There is one piece of grass that is causing her a problem and she keeps having to move it around.
Lesser Redpolls were in large numbers in the back garden. Siskin were also present as were a male and female Brambling. Unfortunately they would not stay still long enough for a photo.
A Peacock Butterfly braved the cold wind and settled on a log, but by the time the camera was out and focused it was only the log to be seen, at least flowers and trees stay still!
One advantage of the wet weather is that footprints can be tracked in the mud. Roe Deer were seen today and their steps, called slots, could be followed through the Hazel Avenue.
Sunday, April 17th 2016
A Grey Heron taking off from the Scrapes against a blue sky was a good start to the morning.
Unfortunately eyes could not remain on the bird as underfoot it was frosty.
As the sun rose it began to melt the frost but only where it could reach.
The back garden nets were raised and the bird ringers continued to catch more Lesser Redpolls, 38 new ones, bringing the total this year to 235. Two more controls were also caught. It was noticeable when the data was entered into IPMR that many of the birds handled today were females.
The bird ringers really appreciate the support of other volunteers who keep the net rides in pristine condition, make tea, wash up, check bird bags and bring stickies and sausage rolls. A huge thank you to them all.
We caught an eight year old Lesser Redpoll and thought it was the oldest on record, unfortunately it is not and we need to catch it next year.
Whilst talking of birds if you are in the Field Centre keep your eye on the nest box camera as the Blue Tit is making her nest. The box did have some nesting material and sawdust in it, which was not to her taste and she removed it all, before starting to bring in her own much better material.
Sometimes, not often, it is mentioned on the blog that we get a little impatient at this time of year as we await the spring flowers. Nearly but not quite are some Bluebell buds growing along the quad bike track. A little more patience.
When reading the information about the food plants of some moth caterpillars, Downy Birch is often mentioned. Silver Birch is well known on the reserve but we were unsure of Downy Birch, until we found one and it is downy! When the stems and leaves are touched they really do feel soft and downy. You can see the hairs covering this stem.
Scarlet age 20 months, came in with Mum and Dad to pick up her winning prize from the Easter Hunt. Thank you to everyone who supported this.
Saturday, April 16th 2016
Having heard and seen a Reed Bunting singing in the same place for some time a photograph was required. Thank goodness for digital cameras as most of those that were taken were blurred, have branches in the way or he was on the move. Finally a reasonable photo was taken. This is his patch that is for sure.
The ponds are quiet now and people ask where have all the Frogs and Toads gone? They have moved from the ponds back onto land to feed. Occasionally they can be found walking around the reserve, some even use the paths and bridges!
Foxglove's flowers tend to open about two weeks later than those in the surrounding area. Dandelions are in bloom and can be classed as a weed, especially when they grow in a lawn, but they do provide food for a variety of insects in early spring.
A Walk in the Woods
Friday, April 15th 2016
I had got it all wrong today, I was in the office for when it was dry and went out to check things outside when the rain fell, and steady it fell. There is a certain atmosphere when the rain is falling as you walk through a wood, a sort of Lord of the Rings atmosphere, almost expecting an elf to suddenly appear.
I was visually checking nest boxes above Risedale Beck. I can tell if a bird has been in a box by the amount of webs around the entrance hole, no webs then I just give a visual check, which was the majority. If the webs are there then I open the box to clean it out. I realise this is rather late now for these checks with birds now starting to nest, but I have used this method before and as yet no birds have been disturbed. Thankfully my checks are now complete, and I have repaired a few in the process and returned them to their numbered position.
One box I emptied today was obviously not occupied, at least not by a bird. As I emptied old debris, feathers, moss, bird poo, onto the ground, a buzzing noise of a bee could be heard. A Bumblebee had decided to make a cosy nest. Realising that I had disturbed the bee I gathered her up and placed the ball of nest material in a hollow of a tree nearby, hopefully having not damaged too much.
I did not identify this bee to avoid more disturbance, but from its white end this may have been a Tree Bumblebee, Bombus hypnorum. This bee was first recorded in the UK in 2000, having made its way from the continent, and it has been established it is not a threat to our native Bumblebees. With climate change new invasive species are making their way to our shores and this one appears to be of benefit.
There are many tracks which weave their way through our woodlands, this one was created by Roe Deer.
Wood Sorrel, which is often confused with clover is starting to emerge. These are of the same family, Oxalis, as the sorrel you get in salads. The leaves fold down in late evening.
The rain continued to fall, reminiscent of earlier in the week.
Thank you Colin for your help this morning.
After The Rain
Thursday, April 14th 2016
The day felt a lot warmer than i tecent days. There was no rain for the entire day. Four Greylag Geese and a Little Grebe greeted me as I started my morning rounds.
Mike and Jackie helped with sorting out the workshop, which will take longer than just one day.
A trip to the wetland with a Curlew flying low, breaking into its rising flutey, call was a change from the Mallards' panicked cries as they leave the ponds. Again signs of Otters with fresh spraints were present.
Great Sallow (Salix caprea), otherwise known as Pussy Willow or Goat Willow is in full flower. Goat willow often hybridises with Grey Willow (Salix cinerea subsp. oleifolia), to which it is closely related. The timber is soft and yellow in colour. Unlike most willows, its brittle twigs are not suitable for weaving, but traditional uses for its wood included clothes pegs, while the foliage can be used as a winter feed for cattle. The wood is a good fuel as it burns well.
Traditionally willows were used to relieve pain, and the painkiller Aspirin is derived from salicin, a compound found in the bark of all Salix species. It is a great source of pollen for the bees at this time of year when pollen is rare, but not too good for the camera lens when you are up close trying to get a photo!
Thanks to the team today.
Wednesday, April 13th 2016
The rain was falling steadily as I arrived at the reserve, there had been no respite over night.
The moth trap left out gave us several Hebrew Characters, Common Quakers, and a Powdered Quaker which is a paler version of the common.
The Easter Egg Treasure Hunt draw was made and all the winners were contacted to pick up their prizes.
In the back garden of the Field Centre, Jenny noticed a Redstart flitting backwards and forwards, but we were unable to get a decent picture. These birds are not that common on the reserve so we were pleased to see this brightly-coloured newly-arrived migrant..
Thankfully the rain turned to drizzle as this evening we had attending the site the Colburn Beavers. They were keen to earn their outdoor/wildlife badges, so we were able to take them to the ponds to look for Toads, and up to the outdoor classroom for charcoal bark rubbing, and looking for minibeasts in the pit fall traps. Thank you to Jackie for her much needed help.
Rain No Shine
Tuesday, April 12th 2016
The first couple of hours this morning were bleak but dry. There had obviously been a lot of rain in the night from the amount of water comimg over the dam on the lake.
With the hardy Tuesday volunteers I ventured out cutting back encroaching bramble and hawthorn from around the CES net rides, plus a few other non CES net rides. The mist nets are made from fine thread, and if they get caught on a branch or trailing bramble there is potential damage to the expensive net, as well as frustratingly having to untangle the said net.
The Constant Effort Sites (CES) scheme is the first national standardised ringing programme within the BTO Ringing Scheme and has been running since 1983. Ringers operate the same nets in the same locations over the same time period at regular intervals through the breeding season at over 130 sites throughout Britain and Ireland, we are just one of those sites, and have been operating the CES for over 20 years, gaining important bird data for the BTO.
Dales School attended the site braving the weather and assisting with changing the water in the tadpole tanks, as well as going on a tour of the hides.
With only two volunteers left after lunch we were able to get a few pot holes filled, before finally they too left me to the dry confines of the Field Centre office where I dried out and caught up on office jobs.
Marsh Marigold or Kingcup on the Scrapes seems very fitting for a day like today, the entire site feels like a marsh.
The rain started about 11, but did not let up at all, and is still falling steadily as the light is dimming over Foxglove Covert LNR.
Thank you to all that attended today.
Bugs and Things
Monday, April 11th 2016
The day was fairly warm, overcast in the morning, sun mid-afternoon, then again overcast.
Most of the morning was catching up on office work; the various emails, cashing up, and trying to get some signs made to ensure that dogs were kept on leads. With the various birds now either nesting like the Greylags, and Moorhens, or thinking about it, it is important that the dogs are kept under control.
On the wetland, having inspected the water levels, I found some more carrion beetle on more dead /partly eaten toads Thanatophilus rugosus , one pair mating.
A single Groundhopper was also spotted. These are only about 10mm in length but great jumpers, I only caught this one because it leapt into a pond. This Common Groundhopper (Tetrix undulata) is a small relative of the grasshoppers, but is smaller in size and more heavily armoured. Although localised being found nationally, they are quite often overlooked so probably under recorded. My feeling was that it seemed early for this chap to be out.
Other signs of Spring was the Barren Strawberry
And Common Dog Violet
Where to Start?
Sunday, April 10th 2016
The bug hunting volunteers will be pleased that their favourite things are really on the move. A tiny red speck, out in the sunshine, was not the remains of a red fruit or berry but actually a Red Spider Mite.
Finally the bridge rails yielded some life, a single shieldbug instar and a tiny one at that, but it is a start.
The bees also decided to have some fun in the sunshine and became very active in the hive and outside. There was some concern that they were about to swarm, but they calmed down and retreated back inside the hive, at least for the time being. If you look carefully you can see some bees carrying their pollen sacs.
The Scrapes ponds were quiet as the Toads have finished spawning. They have returned to their land haunts. Woodpiles, holes in the ground, under stones and generally hidden away are their preferable homes. These two toads were hidden under the wriggly tin that we leave out around the reserve for the amphibians and ever hopeful, the Common Lizard.
Whilst checking the garden nets there was a call to say that a Crow was harassing a Buzzard.
Back down on Earth the bird ringers were ringing yet more Lesser Redpolls. 21 new birds and 28 retraps. Interestingly some of these retraps had been initially ringed in January and are still on the reserve. Siskins are still coming onto the reserve and another 17 received rings today. Surprisingly we ringed four Brambling. Chaffinch numbers are continuing to increase. There were also some Great Tits, ringed in the nest box at Downholme that had made the journey of 6km to Foxglove.
We had another Lesser Redpoll control (a bird ringed elsewhere and caught at Foxglove) taking our total of controls for 2016 to 9 already, and we have also had 6 recoveries of our birds caught elsewhere!
A surprise today was a new Marsh Tit. Could it be an offsrping of our old one? Ever hopeful. Marsh Tit numbers are declining and the bird is on the Red List.
Another of our summer migrants arrived, a Willow Warbler.
Sometimes our common birds get overlooked. Blue Tits are notorious for giving the bird ringers some nasty nips but then looking so angelic whilst deciding where to bite next. This stunning male Blue Tit really stood out among his peers.
Bird ringing start times have been quite late of recent weeks, but an email this evening is certainly food for thought - CES is about 2 weeks away, the first CES kicks off at 0530. Get the alarm clocks out!
Thank you to everyone who helped during the ringing session.
On the Move
Saturday, April 9th 2016
The beetle reported on yesterday's blog has been identified as Thanatophilus rugosus. This was last recorded at Foxglove on the 1st July 2002.
Invertebrates are beginning to show themselves even though the temperature remains low, especially at night. Lymnaea stagnalis, Great Pond Snail, has been photographed in the ponds, reminding me of one year when pond dipping with school children we caught 29 very large snails. Each one was returned to the pond, very carefully, by hand so that they would not get stuck down the plug hole!
Another invertebrate lurking in the pond water is this carnivorous dragonfly nymph. Not in the ponds but in the Pillwort tank, on the windowsill. It will be returned to its pond over the next few days as there is not enough food for it where it is living at the moment. It is well camouflaged helping it when hunting prey.
Our moth-ing has not returned many moths so far this year. Butterflies have also been scarce. Coltsfoot, one of the few species of flower to be open was visited by a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly. Three Peacocks were seen today and another Brimstone. Butterfly surveys will soon be taking place
In the afternoon whilst standing in for our regular member of staff two small nets were put out for a couple of hours which caught over 60 birds including a control Siskin and Redpoll. This brought the number of new Redpolls in the last couple of weeks to 166. One of the Redpolls caught yesterday was ringed as a juvenile in 2008 and is 8 years old! For a Redpoll that is a very good age!
Sun and Lesser Redpolls
Friday, April 8th 2016
It was a fine sunny Spring like day.
After the usual office email jobs I ventured out to assist Colin with the bird feeders before going into the Field Centre ringing room to process some birds that Sophie had taken out of the mist net in the centre garden. This was an added bonus to my day, and I was able to ring 15 Lesser Redpolls out of 34 caught. A few visitors to the centre came in to observe us at work.
The rest of the afternoon was spent on various checks that I carry out before handing over to the weekend staff, during which I ventured onto the Wetland to ensure the water levels are being maintained .
Signs of both Otter and Fox, with plenty of spraints and droppings. The remains of about 15 toads , mainly just the heads and entrails were scattered along the edge of one pond, with a less common, or at least less noticeable carrion beetle feeding on one. I have not fully identified this beetle but I believe it is one of the Oiceoptoma which is a non-burying beetle, not like the orange and black Sexton beetle commonly seen on carrion. Anyone who can identify this beetle please comment or contact me .
And the usual close up of one of our Wetland residents
Other signs of Spring was a single Peacock butterfly near the lake, and a Buff-Tailed Bumblebee near the Centre.
Thanks again to Colin for his help today.
Thursday, April 7th 2016
What a difference a bit of sun can make, but as soon as it disappeared into the cloud the temperature plummeted. One minute I was comfy in my jacket inspecting the bird boxes, the next I was sweating in the sun. We have over 170 bird boxes at Foxglove Covert, from the smaller Tit boxes to the larger owl boxes. With sitting Greylags leading the way, and corvids such as Rook and Jackdaws gathering their twigs it will not be long before our nest boxes have their own broods.
The signs of spring are slow coming, certainly in the plant world. Plenty of Coltsfoot, and daisy, the formidable Gorse - and the Hawthorn are slowly unfurling. As you look around away from the reserve you will notice that the Horse Chestnut is also one of the first deciduous trees to come into leaf.
The sun had the Common Toads in full voice, and the toad spawn is spreading in the ponds. A young boy wanting to pond dip was satisfied with just getting a net and holding a Toad instead.
Lesser Redpoll are still about in numbers, especially down by the Lake.
And the Field Centre Honey Bees are busy filling their pollen baskets, probably with Gorse pollen.
Easter Activity Day and more
Wednesday, April 6th 2016
The wind blew me to the reserve this morning, the conifer plantation was swaying to the gusts, but at least the rain held off for most of the morning, especially as we were having the second of our Easter Holiday Activities.
The team of volunteers really pulled out the strings for the children today. Activities such as charcoal bark rubbing, using the charcoal from one of our burn sites, as well as drawing with it.
Various arts and crafts from sculptures of toads under the supervision of Glennis
to jelly printing and mask making
Not just the children were entertained
And looking for any bugs in the bug pit fall traps
examining Common Toads up close
plus a visit to the pond dipping platforms to see the Toads mating, and their spawn
Don't let the sunshine in the above photo fool you, 5 minutes before this was taken we were in sleet and snow!
The moth trap was put out last night, and we recorded a couple of new moths for this year. The Satellite, with its main dot and two smaller satellite dots,
and The Clouded Drab,
It is not just moths that come to the moth trap, quite often you get Ichneumons like this one below caught this morning. Ichneumon wasps are parasitoids; females lay their eggs on a caterpillar and the wasp larva burrows into and develops inside this host, eating its internal tissues and eventually killing it after it pupates. They are normally seen later in the year. There are over 1500 different types in the UK, and identifying them is quite often requiring a microscope.
Thank you to all the volunteers that helped out in their many guises.
Rain Then Shine
Tuesday, April 5th 2016
It was raining on arriva today and I half expected the volunteers not to turn up; however they are a solid bunch working in all conditions.
Again the jobs were scattered around the reserve, some of us raked out and removed some of the gravel path spoil that was dumped by the contractors a couple of weeks ago. It was a labour intensive job, not at all inspiring in the rain, but the feeling of getting the job out the way drove folk on. At times a muddy wet job!
While that was happening Ken and Eddie cleared the old downed hawthorn on the moorland, and Brian and Vince set the mini beast pit fall traps by the outdoor classroom.
In the afternoon sun the board walks of the Scrape were cleared of the moss and leaves gathering on the decking.
Anne, Ron and John went in search of the illusive Common Toad spawn, much to my delight finding some for the Field Centre classroom, ideal timing with the Children’s Holiday Event tomorrow.
A Toad Sort of Day
Monday, April 4th 2016
There was a fog shrouding Foxglove Covert this morning which did not fully go until mid-afternoon. The air was damp and the ground seemed to seep water encouraging the Common Toads to venture out of the ponds to cavort in full public view, they were everywhere, and as one Mother said to her son ‘Having group hugs!’. A fair few were on the paths and reserve road so I had to walk tentatively to avoid damaging any. On leaving this evening I put a few signs up to warn folk of the same.
As I cut through the conifer plantation the sap from one of the Sitka Spruce was oozing from the bark, a thick sticky clear liquid, giving the impression,when dried, of candle wax. It has a beautiful, sweet, aromatic smell that would beat most modern air fresheners, not at all pine like. Apparently the North American Indians used the sap as an effective medicine for burns, boils and various skin infections, venereal diseases, internal swelling, heart trouble, and toothaches.
Tony was in this morning carrying out a stock take. Generally, I was able to leave him to it, but all the time learning the ropes myself on how the system works I picked his wise brain. Mike came in around lunch time for me to show them the method we are using to test the water quality of the reserve; this time we tested 4 sites at the Scrapes, all with low trace readings of nitrate and phosphate.
After a walk around the reserve late afternoon the sun was trying to push through the clouds giving periodic glimmers on the surface of the lake…..
.....a hope of a better day tomorrow.
A Really Good Day!
Sunday, April 3rd 2016
Rain overnight and no wind meant water droplet photos! These drops are on Blackthorn.
A Rose stem was hanging onto all of these rain drops.
After a walk around to collect water droplet photos it was back to the ringing room. It was certainly 'A Lesre Day' (Lesre is the ringers' code for Lesser Redpoll). There were 44 new Lesser Redpolls, 17 retraps and two controls. Controls are birds that have been ringed elsewhere. Their details will be sent to the BTO, who will tell us quite quickly where they were originally ringed.
Lesres were busy feeding on the feeder in the Hawthorn tree outside the kitchen. They do sit still for a few moments but there is usually a piece of vegetation in front of them somewhere!
Other birds transiting the ringing room included 18 new Siskins, Treecreeper, Chaffinches, Bullfinches and Goldfinches. A single male Brambling was caught, probably on his way north. In the last couple of weeks 124 Lesres and 61 Siskin have been caught on the reserve.
Our first ringed Chiffchaff returned today, having been ringed as an adult in May 2011. A task for someone good at maths to work out how many miles this bird has covered in its lifetime. Unusually early, on another site, one of the ringing team caught the first Willow Warbler of the year - a fine male.
Also caught there, was a Tree Sparrow.
During the monthly flower walks we have been moaning that there are few flowers, but then we do remind ourselves that it is still early in the year and has been wet and cold. We are just impatient. Invertebrates have been even less in evidence. Today there were slugs - sorry no photos. A hoverfly was seen feeding from a Lesser Celandine.
Blackthorn was host to this tiny fly.
Now to be slightly whimsical and anthropomorphic. These two Toads were sitting on the water plants in the lake. You can't help but wonder what they were talking about. Are you sitting comfortably? (Notice the vegetation getting in the way!)
This Toad, photographed by Glennis (no vegetation in the way!) could not make it more clear that love is in the air.
Heading home down the access road, on the lookout for anything, a Roe Deer was spotted, then another sitting comfortably in a net ride. I am sure that he knew he was being photographed. He knew he was protected by the branches and yes, yet another piece of vegetation in the way, right across his eyes! You can see his beautiful antlers in velvet.
A really good day. Thank you to the bird ringers who worked hard especially in some very muddy conditions. Thank you to Glennis, Linda and Ken who helped during the day.
Spring? April Fool!
Friday, April 1st 2016
Although there was no frost today the wind made the reserve seem colder, especially on the moorland; my only company out there was a Buzzard calling, a Moorhen scurrying off, and a Greylag Goose trying hard not to be seen sitting on her nest. Of course the frogs and toads were there but generally the morning was one of solitude until 9.
Colin came in to fill the bird feeders leaving me to fix a couple that were broken. It always feels a little like prep for the weekend on Fridays: fix a gate post here, tidy up old fire sites and give the tadpoles in the Field Centre fresh water. I got the other tank ready for the up and coming toad spawn, cleared an area next to the Field Centre for a possible additional net ride, then as a few showers came in I retreated into the workshop for some repairs, and the office for paperwork… sigh!
It is always a personal challenge to find the queen bee in the centre's hive, especially as there is no mark on her; you can see her here with the extended abdomen, giving the appearance of short wings.
I asked a boy of about 6 what he thought the differences were between a frog and toad. He replied “toads are fatter and bigger”. How right he was, at least regarding the size. Generally, Common Toads are chunkier and walk instead of jumping like a Common Frog. They have no webs on their hind feet unlike the frogs whose hind feet are webbed. The skin of a toad is covered in warts and is drier when out of water being able to survive quite happily away from it. Frogs are smooth and moister, always in or near water. Common Toads also carry a chemical which makes them taste awful, otherwise known as a bufotoxin. This is secreted through the skin, and held in a sack behind the eye. I have recently found just the heads of toads on the wetland which I think the otters are responsible for.
From all the activity in the Scrape ponds I think the toad spawn will soon be plentiful, and one of the first heralds of spring, the Lesser Celandine, can be seen here showing petals just beginning to erupt and fold down to display the familiar yellow flower.
With all this cold weather it reminds me that Stacey is presently sailing to us from Antarctica. Below are a couple of links. The ship (RRS Ernest Shackleton) arrives at Signy on Thursday, then she is heading home via South Georgia and Bird Island, then back to the Falklands from where she will fly back to the UK . The first link is a ship tracker showing where the ship is, and the second is a link to the ships webcam so people can see what she can see. All being well she should be back to Foxglove at the start of May as planned.
A big thank you to Colin today.