Saturday 22 March 2014

Roving Records - Land East of the Railway Line: 19/03/2014

Recently I've been really spoiled by warm and sunny weather, so I had to give myself a kick to get outside on this cool, blustery day.

Underside of a Mink: the colour is quite beautiful but the fur is rather oily in texture

On the way to the site, along the A23 was a grim but still an interesting find: a squashed American Mink (Neovison vison), which came off worse after meeting a car. I've seen plenty of tracks and droppings around our streams and rivers, but I've yet to see a live one. American Mink were brought in and farmed in the UK for their fur before it was banned in the '90s. Sadly this practice still goes on in European countries and the US. The descendants of the escapees here are an invasive species and voracious predators, thought to be at least partly responsible for the decline of the UK's Water Voles.
Scots Pine and Birch trees dominate the entrance of Upper Picketts Wood

Into Upper Picketts Wood and a colony of Jackdaws were making the most of the stiff breeze, leaping off the trees and being buffeted happily about. A group of Goldfinches high up in the Scots Pine were also singing lusitly, a sound which I normally associate with my housing estate.

The woodlands are really alive with bird song at the moment, in particular Wrens, Robins, Goldfinches, Great Tits and Chaffinches. Great-spotted Woodpeckers were drumming and a Green Woodpecker was 'yaffling' in the distance. I regularly hear a Marsh Tit around the entrance to Goat Meadow and have occasionally seen a pair flitting around together. I really like its shrill 'pit-choo' calls, which can feel like a greeting, though in actuality is telling me 'where to go'.

I was sneaking a look under the reptile refugia around the meadow, when something which looked like a massive rubber snake draped over a branch caught my eye...

Refugia at the Grass Snake boulevard

A rubber snake

It was in fact a very real and pretty massive Grass Snake! It's close to a meter long and I've seen this big ol' female in the same spot last year. I was hoping she wouldn't mind our rennovating her brash pile, which was breaking down and getting a bit sparse, but it seems to have gone down nicely.

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

On to checking the hedgehog tracking tunnels, kindly lent by one of our Ecology volunteers George. We are hoping to get some indication of Hedgehog activity on our sites...

A Hedgehog tracking tunnel - corrugated plastic with an ink pad and pieces of plain paper at either end

They were baited with spam and tinned sweetcorn, as like some humans, most mammals don't seem to be that fussy! After just one night, all the food was gone and left behind were lots of little inky mammal tracks. Sadly no hedgehog prints yet, although it was probably a bit of a long shot.

These tiny tracks are most likely from Field Voles and Common Shrews

Halfway through checking the tunnels, I spotted two bees hawking over the grass... I had a quick sweep of my net and one got away, but I snagged this cute little fella - a mining bee of the Andrena genus.

Male Andrena spp. As well as two large compound eyes, you can see the three ocelli (simple eyes) on the top of his head which assist with light detection and navigation

I was told it is probably the Small Sallow Mining-bee (Andrena praecox), one of the earlier species to be out and about. Male Andrenas can all look pretty similar so I would need to use an identification key to be sure, but as I am pretty tight for time, I let it go.

He was released on Blackthorn flowers, though it might have preferred a Willow catkin

Finally, under the reptile refugia I am also finding many of these little click beetles...

Elaterida is the Click Beetle family and consists of 73 species in the British Isles

At some point I will have a crack at using some invertebrate identification keys, but right now I am on a steep learning curve in terms of Airport and Aerodrome Ecology, so it is on the back burner!

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