Thursday, 29 October 2015

Gatsbees B-Log: September 2015

Money Spider (Linyphiidae)

September brought cold nights and tiny, immaculate spider’s webs in the grass

and warm sunshine in the day to release nectar from the Sedum, much to the delight of the bees.

They are still throwing out unwelcome visiting wasps...

and are bringing in nectar and pollen from Himalyan balsam, Impatiens glandulifera. It begins to flower in July, is highly invasive, and is the tallest annual plant

with seed pods which burst, spreading them far and wide.

The bees carry a distinctive white patch of pollen on their thorax from the balsam and bring back loaded pollen baskets and nectar for weeks. Both bees are also collecting water; the bee’s tongue in the centre is just visible sucking up the dew on the leaf. Honest guv’na!

Beekeepers have a system for marking queens on their thorax with a coloured pen to denote which year they were born,

A small pink dot remain's from last year's marking

but generally I prefer to leave them unmarked so that I look for more than just a queen with a dot on her head. How influential are those that impress us first with their teaching!

Contain her, don't squash her!

The queen cage is pushed gently onto the queen to keep her still and she is marked on her thorax through the wire with one of the coloured pens.

It’s been good practice too for Tom and Rachel to find unmarked queens and now they are good queen spotters, it’s useful to mark one or two in the larger colonies. Job done!

Can you spot the queen? Answer next month...

It’s not easy to see queens amongst the 50,000 workers in summer...

unless she’s a big 1st or 2nd generation of commercially produced stock. As they interbreed with local drones, the queens get smaller. I look for a bee with long legs and a spidery walk, especially in the brood area where I’d expect to find her. Hope, not expect.

You may see her long abdomen, even though her head is in a cell checking it out for laying an egg and

a retinue of worker bees surrounding her, exchanging food and pheromones with the queen, which over 24 hours, informs all the workers that the queen is still there.


They in turn pass on the pheromones to each other, called trophallaxis.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

Blackening Waxcap (Hygrocybe conica)

There are fairies at the bottom of the garden.


They fill every nook and cranny with comb in a nectar flow in the summer

so there was a bit of housekeeping to do where the girls had built comb in an area of the hive without a frame.

They were quite calm while we cut it out

but there was surprisingly little food in it due to the wet and cold August, so we’ll have to make sure they have enough stores for the winter.

Forest Bug (Pentatoma rufipes) on hive lid

Hey wasp! Buzz off………………

Gillybee x

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Not finding Nemo

There has been two great causes for celebration this month: 


Gatwick has retained The Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark Award for the 2nd year! A huge thank you is in order to all the people who have been involved, particularly our fantastic volunteers and the gang from Gatwick Greenspace Partnership.

Electrofishing with AES Europe
The other brilliant news is... the fish have finally been removed from Pond 3!!!

Pumping down the pond water for netting

Why so much fish-hate, you might ask? Fish are an important part of certain ecosystems to be sure, but when artificially introduced into land-locked ponds (particularly a pond which used to be breeding grounds for Great Crested Newts), they are unfortunately highly destructive, eating anything which moves, churning up the sediment and create a stagnant, lifeless silty pool.

These fish had possibly been introduced in Pond 3 back in the 90's, sometime after another restoration project. Before beginning the pump down, the nutrient levels in here were incredibly high and oxygen very low, plant life was nonexistent and so little else was surviving.

Over the past few years, the Projects department at Gatwick have been hard at work all over the airport, improving flood defences and increasing the water holding capacity of operational ponds. They brought in AES Europe Ltd to remove fish out of harms way; as a result we now have a list of fish species for many wetland areas of Gatwick, all contributing to our booming biological records database.

AES carry out fish rescues and relocations using a variety of methods, including electrofishing (the process of passing a weak electrical current through the water, stunning but not harming the fish). They captured hundreds of Common Bream, some huge Common and Mirror Carp, a handful of Rudd plus a couple of Perch; these were then removed by special license and re-homed.

Common Carp  (Cyprinus carpio)

For me, it's been a great opportunity to learn freshwater fish identification; Nina and Tony have been patiently explaining the subtle differences between closely related species and even how to recognise some hyrbids...

The top: Rudd, and below two Rudd x Bream hybrids

Mirror Carp and Common Carp (Cyprinus carpio)

Perch (Perca fluviatilis), always more fancy-looking when young

Swan Mussel (Anodonta cygnea) - not good for eating when its been stuck in a silty pond

River Mole, North West Zone (June 2015)

The team from Corby have been to some unusual places for fish rescues in their time, but being next to the taxiing aircraft was a new one for them. I've grown so used to it now that I tend to forget they are there!

Fish removal from an area to be de-silted. They were released straight back into the River Mole

I can hardly enter species records for an area where the individuals have just been removed from, so I'm only entering those which are released back onto the sites. Below are a few more of Nina's helpful records:

Common Roach (Rutilus rutilus)

From the top: Bream, Pike and Chub

A bloomin gianormouse Perch (Perca fluviatilis

A lovely big Pike (Esox lucius

I'm building up a nice database of fish identification snaps too:
Young Rudd (Scardinius erythrophthalmus) - yellow eyes, dorsal fin set far back

Reddish tinge to fins, tail fin blunt and squared off dorsal fin

Young Common Bream (Abramis brama)
Dull fins, very pointed dorsal fin and forked tail

Rudd x Bream (Hybrid)

Fins are intermediate between the two species; orange tinged, not as pointed as pure Bream

A big thank you to Tony, Nina, Darren and the rest of the AES team for all your help this past year (and your massive amounts of patience).

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Micro-mouse micro-management

Volunteers Peter and Mark setting up humane Longworth traps

Because we are gluttons for punishment, we decided to have another crack at monitoring Gatwick's resident Harvest Mice (Micromys minutus) in the North West Zone. Again, after a week of full-on surveying, with the finest smorgasbord ever presented (Braeburn apples, Scottish porridge oats, mealworms, casters, capped off with crunchy peanut butter) catering for even the fussiest of Harvest Mouse guests... we glimpsed not even a whisker!

River Mole floodplain grasslands, North West Zone

However, it is still a great excuse to delve into the world of Gatwick's other small mammals species. Here are a few snaps depicting our finds:

Bagging and weighing occupants

Common Shrew (Sorex araneus)

Common Shrew (Sorex araneus)

Pygmy Shrew (Sorex minutus)

Re-baiting the traps after the evening check

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

To big to fit in our Longworths: Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus)

Field Vole (Microtus agrestis)

Field Vole (Microtus agrestis)

The results of our camera trap efforts:

 Border Force Patrol Dog (Canis lupus familiaris)

Back-end of a Badger (Meles meles)

Eye-shine of a Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus)

Ecologist (Homo sapiens sapiens)

NWZ Mammal survey species list 2015 (in rough size order):
  • Human
  • Roe Deer
  • Domestic dog
  • Badger
  • Red Fox
  • Rabbit
  • Field Vole
  • Wood Mouse
  • Common Shrew
  • Pygmy Shrew

Missing from this year's survey but recorded here previously:
  • Bank Vole
  • Yellow-necked Mouse
  • Harvest Mouse

Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus), North West Zone in 2013

Many thanks to all of those who helped out on this year's survey: Brad, Martyn, Anna, Adrian, Peter, Sue, Mark, Jim, Annabelle, Kathryn, Emily and both the Surrey and Sussex Mammal Groups.