Thursday, 25 September 2014

Bat-boxing clever

North West Zone: 22/09/2014

At least once a year, we carry out a check and clean of the bat boxes with Martyn Cooke from Surrey Bat Group. Negotiating an ancient, brambly woodland with the massive ladder we borrow from air traffic control is not the easiest job!

Brockley Wood bat boxes

Aside from trying to locate boxes high up in the trees with the use of an incredibly vague map, you have to find secure anchorage for the ladder, avoiding numerous rabbit holes and the rotten branches hidden in the undergrowth. 
   Peeking inside the very first box, we came across this sleepy huddle...
A hareem of Soprano Pipstrelles

Feisty fella

A lucky find, with six sleepy Soprano Pipistrelle Bats (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) all roosting up together. At this time of year it is almost always just the one male with several females...

Donald looking impressed by Martyn's data entry form

Of course, while you are up those trees on that precarious ladder, bear in mind there might not always be bats living in your bat box! 

Martyn peeks into a hibernation box...


Thriving colonies of European Hornets (Vespa crabro) in two of our hibernation boxes is less than ideal. It not really worth disturbing these impressive Hymenopterans, so Martyn respectfully leaves these boxes untouched until the winter.

Other niceties from the day included:

Dark Bush-cricket (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)

Chuffed to see my first male Vapourer Moth (Orgyia antiqua); a little beaut

Speckled Wood Butterfly (Pararge aegeria) on Wood Spurge (Euphorbia amygdaloides)

There was quite a racket coming from the Reed Beds just as we popped out of the woodlands... A Moorhen which hybridised with Kestrel and is trying to be a Water Rail, perhaps?

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Detours for Dormice

Sadly, we have yet to detect the charming Muscardinus avellanarius in our woodlands at Gatwick, so I have to get my fix elsewhere... 

Hazel Dormouse

Last weekend I nipped off on a trip to that fair Isle of Wight, with Laurie and my housemate Debbie who is working towards her PhD in genetics. We were collecting hair samples for DNA extraction and had joined up with volunteers for the People's Trust for Endangered Species, monitoring Dormouse populations on the island.

Step 1. Finding the woodland...

Step 2. Finding the correct bit of woodland

Step 3. Finding ridiculously small nest boxes within forests of bramble and densely coppiced Hazel.

These woodlands at Briddlesford were fantastically well-managed by the PTES, but this did mean the terrain was tough, with areas of brambles at chest-height. Goose-stepping all day is hard work! 

As deer are absent from the island, a lack of grazing pressure results in healthy woodland understory

The Hazel Dormouse is a protected species in the UK and their populations have declined historically, so this data is all valuable and could contribute towards the conservation of this species.

Sleepy Dormouse mother with babies

Juveniles, individually weighed before being popped back into their nest

Mum receives a small hair pluck before being safely returned to the nest box

Ah jeez...

In the end we got lots of data for Debs, plus the Isle of Wight offered up some other niceties:

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) juveniles in a Dormouse box

Wood Cricket (Nemobius sylvestris), a nationally scarce species. 
These were quietly churring in the background

Common Carder Bee (Bombus pascuorum) on Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis)

Volucella pellucens on Devil's-bit Scabious

Loads of Devil's-bit Scabious

Elephant Hawk-moth (Deilephila elpenor) caterpillar

A Linyphia spider, possibly L.triangularis

We were also treated to a sighting of the Red Squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), but kinda like my birding photos...

Yeah no chance.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Gatwick's first Wildlife Recording Day

Where: The River Mole, north of the airfield, Sussex/Surrey border (TQ260414)

When: 29.08.2014 (Friday night)

Who: Local residents, keen volunteers, professional conservationists, ecologists and representatives from Sussex Moth, Sussex Mammal and Surrey Bat Group. 

Riverbank Basecamp with the moth light trap

Bat Trapping - Martyn Cooke

Time: 20:00

In the fading light, we met at the Riverbank basecamp, firstly setting up two moth traps (one beside the river, another in the woodland). Moving further into the woodlands, we set up the two bat 'harp traps'; these are made up of a tall frame, with vertically running fine wires and a collecting bag at the base. When bats attempt to fly through, the strings intercept them and they slide unharmed to the bottom.

Harp Trap in woodlands (Photo by Maria Donoghue)

Martyn also kits out these traps with electronic lures, essentially a laptop and microphone which play out the social calls of different bat species, hopefully enticing them in. 
   Our bat detectors were picking up the rapid clicks of Common Pipistrelle bats and as we moved off, Martyn's detected the call of a species belonging to the 'Myotis' group. Could it be the rare and elusive Bechstein's Bat?

Time: 21:30

Small mammal surveying - Laurie Jackson

A crowd of people with headtorches comes in handy after the batteries in both of mine died! 
(Photo by Tom Forward)

Over to the small mammal surveying areas where our Longworth traps were staked out. These humane traps are placed out in both woodland and grassland habitats, targeting as wide a suite of species as possible. Baited with porridge oats, apple, dried mealworms, peanut butter and some warm straw for bedding, how could any small mammal resist!

Scruffing small mammals for identification (Photo by Maria Donoghue)

As a result, we grabbed a good haul of small furry beasties this evening, including Bank Voles, Field Voles and Wood Mice, from which we collected biometric data. After weighing the wee rodent, Laurie then gently holds it by the scruff of the neck, checking its gender and general health.

Time: 22:30

Moth Trapping - Jake Everitt

A futuristic campfire - Photo by Maria Donoghue

Back to the moth trap (and the tea, coffee and biscuits) and we all gathered around the actinic light bulb. As well as attracting in passing Moths and Humans, this light proves tempting to plenty of other things such as Caddisflies, Shieldbugs and Lacewings.

Brightly coloured Brimstone Moths (Opisthograptis luteolata) were one of the most numerous species this evening. Photo by Maria Donoghue

The odd Hornet tends to join us for a free feed, but its not our biscuits they are after...

European Hornet (Vespa crabro)Photo by Maria Donoghue

These chunky hymenopterans make short work of delicate moths, munching them up with their strong mandibles. If a whole lot of them get in the trap, you can end up identifying moths just by the remains of tattered wings. Jake bravely freed this one from its gluttonous prison by fishing it out with an insect pot.

Tins of biscuits prove an effective Human lure for Wildlife Recording Days

Jake and Tom F, a formidable team on any Bird Race, 
dull company when comparing bird apps on their smartphones

It was then back to the bat traps for a final check... they remained determinedly empty. Not our luckiest night for bats, with only Common Pipistrelle and our mystery Myotis species turning up on the detectors. However, we totaled a good number of small mammals in the longworth traps, plus there would be plenty of moths to take a closer look at in the light of the day.

Saturday: 30.08.2014 

Time: 09:00

Who: Around 30 people including keen naturalists, representatives from Surrey Biodiversity Records Centre, Wealden Dragonflies and Sussex Fungi Group

River Mole floodplain on the Saturday morning. Seriously, it's right by an airport! 
Photo by Maria Donoghue

Sussex Wildlife Trust marquee and recording desk, manned by Kevin Lerwill of Gatwick Greenspace and Catherine Burton of Surrey Biodiversity Information Centre.

Back at basecamp, we had begun the day in earnest... with lots of chatting, drinking coffee and generally not getting very much done.

Time: 09:30

Small mammal surveying - Laurie Jackson

Emptying wee mammals into a bag for weighing

Someone took the initiative to get us all moving and our group split into two, half to carry out a bird survey and the others to check the mammal traps again. Our fingers were tightly crossed to find a Harvest Mouse (Mircomys minutus) as I had trapped one in this area only the day before...

Harvest Mice prefer to clamber up the stalks of grass and other vegetation, so we try to target them by putting some of the Longworth traps on stands

Common Shrew (Sorex araneus), re-orienting itself after being released. Photo by Maria Donoghue

Field Vole (Microtus agrestis). Photo by Maria Donoghue

No Harvest Mouse sightings today, but we did find ourselves evidence in the form of a nest right next to one of the traps, and that counts as a record!

Harvest Mouse nest in Tufted Hair Grass

Time: 09:30

Bird surveying - Tom Forward

In the meantime, Tom F was leading another group along the riverbank to collect some bird records. They got some great bird of prey action, including Common Buzzards, Sparrowhawks and this awesome little Kestrel.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) Photo by Maria Donoghue

Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting could be heard by keen ears along the river

Great views (and songs) of a European Robin (Erithacus rubecula). Photo by Maria Donoghue

Time: 10:30

Moth Trap reveal - Jake Everitt

The moth traps had been sealed overnight and now was the time to go through the contents, listing all of the species...

Moths drawing a crowd. Photo by Tom Forward

Jake Everitt of Sussex Moth Group.

The moths were quite obliging in the light of the day, sitting quite still for their close ups...

Centre-barred Sallow (Atethmia centrago). Photo by Martyn Cooke

Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa). Photo by Martyn Cooke

Mother of Pearl (Pleuroptya ruralis). Photo by Martyn Cooke

Ello mates! A crowd of Large Yellow Underwing (Noctua pronuba). Photo by Martyn Cooke)

Time: 11:30

Terrestrial invertebrates

It was onto recording invertebrates and the sun was putting on a good show, warming up those things with wings. Seeing as everyone had become quite familiar with the site, naturalists with cameras, nets, paper and pens were let loose in all directions.
   We were incredibly fortunate to have on our site a selection of keen invertebrate recorders, all specialising in their different groups. These photos are just a tiny subset of their final species lists:

Hoverflies and Bees - Jeremy Early

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) queen. Photo by Jeremy Early

Bumblebee Mimic Hoverfly (Eristalis intricarius) Photo by Jeremy Early

Hornet Mimic Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) Photo by David Chelmick

Butterflies - Harry Clarke

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) female. Photo by Jeremy Early

Checking the hedgerows

Comma Butterfly (Polygonia c-album) on Blackberries. Photo by Maria Donoghue

Excitingly, a rare Brown Hairstreak Butterfly (Thecla betulae) also put in an appearance, however the crowd was slightly off the ball with all their cameras!

Dragonflies - David Chelmick

Mr Chelmick has been on a personal mission to prove the presence of Willow Emerald Damselfly (Lestes viridis) along Gatwick's section of the River Mole. He emphatically believes this recent arrival to Britain has to be here someplace...

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum). Photo by Maria Donoghue

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) on naturalist. Photo by Maria Donoghue

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta). Photo by Tom Forward

Sadly, no Willow Emeralds were to be found on this day, however there was a very unexpected surprise in the form of a Golden-ringed Dragonfly, far away from its usual heathland habitat!

Bugs, hoppers and other terrestrial groups -Andrew Halstead and Roger Hawkins

These chaps did a brilliant job of boosting our invertebrate species list with less well known groups...

Forest Shield Bug (Pentatoma rufipes)

Harvestman (Mitopus morio). Photo by Jeremy Early

Tom F and Tom S, helping with the identification of Crickets and Grasshoppers

Time: 13:30

Time for a lunch break. People relaxed by the river while Catherine did a quick species tally...

These guys were super keen though and couldn't sit down for long....

Is it a bird, is it a plane?

Time: 14:00

Plants - Arthur Hoare

Botanical records make up a huge part of any species list on a recording day, and our floodplain is a mecca for botanising!

Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense). Photo by Maria Donoghue

Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia). Photo by Maria Donoghue

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota). Photo by Maria Donoghue

Fungi - Nick Aplin

Nick knows this area well and is a most welcome addition to a diverse team of naturalists...

Scotch Bonnet Fungus (Marasmius oreades). Photo by Nick Aplin

Phialina (Calycellina) ulmariae growing on Meadowsweet stems.
This species is possibly a new record for vice-county Surrey. Photo by Nick Aplin

Plus Nick's personal favourite: Calyptella capula on Rabbit poo.
Photo by Nick Aplin

Aquatic invertebrates - Tom Simpson and David Chelmick

Wading in the River Mole: We selected areas with differing silt levels and flow rates to see what we could find. 

Invertebrate kick-sampling is quite self-explanatory; Tom stood in the silt, held the net downstream and kicked up aquatic minibeasts from the silty river bottom.

David draws in the crowd with his battle cry of 'Odonata!' (That's dragonflies to you and me)

White-legged Damselfly larva (Platycnemis pennipes). Photo by Maria Donoghue

American Signal Crayfish (Pacifastacus leniusculus), an invasive species which we trap to remove along the River Mole. Photo by Martyn Cooke

Also a few more vertebrate species to add to the list...

Stone Loach (Barbatula barbatula)

....and since I had forgotten to put out any refugia, not a single reptile record today!

Knackered naturalists

At the end of the day, we had totaled 215 species. As of now, we are officially up to 298, with probably more to come!

A rough breakdown of the species groups:

Massive thank yous are in order to Kevin, Catherine, Tom F, Tom S, Laurie, Martyn, Jake, David, Jeremy, Nick and absolutely everyone else who came along on the day and helped make it so memorable. You may rest now.

Here are a few of the natural history groups who were respresented on the day:

We hope to see you all again next year!