Saturday, 30 January 2016

Top 10 Gatwick natural history highlights: 2015

Seeing as I'm desk-bound and continually procuring new strains of rhinopharyngitis previously unknown to medical science, this seemed a good time to round up my Gatwick wildlife highlights....

1. Black is back

One sunny morning early in the year; a stunning, entirely black Grass Snake...

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix)

It turned up on several occasions in the North West Zone, so fingers crossed it will make another appearance this coming spring.

Grass Snake - Natrix natrix subsp. persa?

Also hanging out with blackie was his unusually stripey pal... perhaps related to the European subspecies of Grass Snake, which are also striped. Some DNA swabbing and testing is hopefully in the pipeline....

2. Encounters of the fluffy kind

Hazel Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius)

Two of them!!! Found after around 3 years of surveying the ancient woodlands in the Land East of the Railway Line...


3. Another Long-horned beastie

Long-horned General (Stratiomys longicornis) female - Photo by Andrew Halstead

On our Wildlife Recording Day back in May, along the River Mole, Andrew Halstead turned up our star find - an impressive soldierfly named the Long-horned General. This very scarce species is normally associated with coastal habitats and salt water, but a few have recently appeared in land-locked areas.

Andrew also swept our first Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis) of the year.

4. Tigers on our Jerseys

It was just another evening at Gatwick Moth Club with bickering, car-biscuits and male Glow-worms trying to mate with the green generator light. 

A massive Tiger Moth turned up suddenly on Brad's jumper, sparking off another, erm, discussion....

Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria)

In the end we had to believe our eyes; not just one but two Jersey Tiger Moths at Gatwick Airport... A new tick for life-long moth-er Jake Everitt!

5. Ashley's new record

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) Photo by Julia Gregory

It might just be a plain-ol' Grass Snake, but for us it was a landmark moment as this one had turned up in Ashley's Field... another first in 3 years! This is hopefully an indication that our grassland enhancements are paying off, with amphibians and reptiles benefiting.

6. Ninja bats

I spent a suspenseful dawn with Laurie Jackson, standing in the twilight with detectors on, awaiting bat re-entry into the roost at the old Charlwood Park Farmhouse...

Pipistrelle activity on a bat detector

We picked up plenty of activity and had great views of Long-eared bats landing up on the eastern side of the building, scurrying up and disappearing under the loose tiles. At least three different species of bat are using this building as a roost!

7. The Lost Jewel

Jewel Beetle (Agrilus sp.)

A bitter-sweet highlight (and one Scotty Dodd has not yet forgiven me for) was the time I let go of this stunning Jewel Beetle before he had identified it to species. Not matter that we also procured a carabid beetle called Amarus strenua (Red Data Book 3 species), which was probably even more interesting, so should more than make up for this.

Scotty's tentative i.d: Agrilus sp. indet. cf.bickerisabloodymindedliberator

But I think insult to injury were my rubbish photos.

8. Badger Badger Badger Badger

Just that one step closer to getting some good footage of Badger (Meles meles) at Gatwick.

A Work In Progress (like all of my photography).

9. My kind of human

Meath Green Primary School counting our nest boxes in the Dormouse Challenge

The Forest Schools are Tom Simpson's project, and I've really enjoyed meeting this keen bunch from Meath Green Primary. These tiny humans have been learning all about their surroundings in Gatwick's woodlands, east of the railway line.
   I wish I'd gone to this school!

Woodland festivities

10. The smallest of owls...

Undoubtedly one of my best moments was all the way back in February, while on a bird survey with Tom Forward. This was my first sighting of a Little Owl (Athene noctua) in the wild.
Is it very tiny, or just very far away... or perhaps a blurry picture of a lumpy branch?

Coming up in 2016: even more wildlife photography!