Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Gatwick Wildlife Recording Day 2016

At a new site along the Gatwick Stream, Land East of the Railway Line, under the friendly banners of the Sussex Wildlife Trust and Gatwick Greenspace, a merry band of water-proofed biological recorders were gathered.
    Events like these are a great way to bring together people from all backgrounds, abilities and interests, introducing them to their local wildlife. The bonus part is that we get a big boost to our data, in the form of a massive species list for the site!

The area underwent a massive change as part of a flood attenuation scheme in 2013; thousands of tons of soil were scooped out, creating a huge bowl with an area of around 18ha (44 acres). This was retained as meadow grassland and will function as a river floodplain during extreme flooding events.

Friday 17th - 8.30pm

After a slight downpour-delay, the action kicked off with surveys for small mammals...

A keen crew of mammal surveyors gathered to check the humane (longworth) traps in the misty evening...

(Photo by Helen Cradduck)

Our first find of the day... (Photo by Katherine Quinlan)

The longworth traps were mostly full... with slugs! They are very adept at getting stuck under the trigger bar, and the subsequent slug-release programme is a long and slimy business.

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus
Photo by Lucy Groves

Fortunately, we did find 3 very cute, non-slimy Wood Mice.

(Photo by Helen Cradduck)

Martyn Cooke kindly led the next walk, introducing us to the bats of Gatwick. The cool mist meant perhaps fewer insects were on the wing, but that didn't stop intrepid Common Pipistrelle and Noctule bats putting on an aerial show...

Noctule Bat (Nyctalus noctula) heard on a bat box duet detector

An abundance of these strange Ghost Moths were fluttering up and down in the long grass, adding to the atmosphere (and food for the bats).

Ghost Moth (Hepialus humuli)

The rain started up again just as the batwalk came to a close. We covered up the moth traps, keeping their precious contents dry for the grand reveal the next morning...

Saturday 18th - 7.30am

The next morning dawned rain-free, and we started off the day with a well-rounded breakfast of date and chocolate flapjacks made by Katherine and magnificent pancakes cooked by Kevin...

Base camp was incredibly soggy underfoot, but Kevin pulled a blinder by getting up early to spread barrow loads of bark chip, absorbing the worst of it. The two Toms collected in moth traps, placed out kit to dry and started up the generators for the all-important round of hot brews.

Basecamp (photo by Lucy Groves)

7.30am: Small mammals and birds...

Basecamp was alive with bird song, and in a very short time Tom Forward had us picking out several species in just one spot, such as the highly rythmic, yet variable notes of the Song Thrush...

Gatwick Stream flood attenuation area and grasslands

Reed Bunting is a new species to this area since the re-landscaping of the Gatwick Stream; it has a sweet, unobtrusive song...

Our mammal traps showed success this morning, with several Wood Mice and Yellow-necked Mice in residence...

We collect data such as weight, sex and breeding condition before releasing

Along with another haul of slugs...

Lucy's new pal (Arion sp.)

In fact, we then got quite into the slugological (?!) side of things, as no reptiles were to be found under the damp refugia...

Leopard Slug (Limax maximus)

Can anyone confirm if this is Deroceras reticulatum ?

Our trail camera (which we placed out the night before, baited with old biscuits and breakfast cereal), picked up another common type of mammal. Sadly, the infrared trigger seemed to startle it and it was off like a shot...

The shy and retiring Thomas simpsonii,

Back to basecamp for a caffeine stop, then it was time for the moth-showdown! Uncovering the traps,  we had Bob Foreman (Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre) leading the species identification, while Josh Baum (Surrey Biodiversity Information Centre) entered the data into the iRecord app...

The following are just a small selection of what we caught...

Burnished Brass (Diachrysia chrysitis) (Photo by Helen Cradduck)

Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor), yup, that's a real moth! (Photo by Lucy Groves)

Pine Hawkmoth (Sphinx pinastri) - this massive moth is a new species for me! 
(Photo by Helen Cradduck)

Buff Ermine (Spilarctia luteum) female (Photo by Lucy Groves)

...and considering the ridiculously un-June-like weather, we bagged ourselves a good haul of species.

Next, we targeted day-flying invertebrates such as butterflies and dragonflies, which were not so much out on the wing, but instead could be spotted and sweep-netted from the long grass.

Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus)

Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa
(Photo by Katherine Quinlan)

Josh impressed the masses by holding this male (therefore stingless)
White-tailed Bumblebee (Bombus lucorum)

Neoscona adianta is a beautiful and rather uncommon orb-weaving spider

I've just caught myself trying to identify different people's fingers from the pics... those are mine are above. Yuck - poor spidey!

We stumbled across the experienced fungi recorder, Nick Aplin scrabbling around in a small scrape. We thought he must have turned up an exciting new species... .

But it turns out he was just looking for a lost camera stand. A short time later, he had an impressive list of new fungi species for the site!

Our records for lichens at Gatwick have been a little on the sparse side, shall we say... So two other great additions to our day were lichenologist Simon Davey and bryophytologist (?!) Brad Scott, purveyors of the tiny world of micro-greenery.

Various recorders-of-the-future were in attendance, including recent ecology graduates, environmental and ecology students, local volunteers and a couple of the Gatwick Greenspace Youth Rangers. 

It's always uplifting to have fresh eyes and ears along; future recorders, we salute you! 

Rosie Daines, an Environmental placement student at Gatwick Airport, 
with colleagues Troy and Tom Simpson

The afternoon finally unveiled the sun, and we headed over to the wildflower meadows, west of the Gatwick Stream. This site looks stunning now, full of nectar and pollen-rich plants for a fantastic diversity of invertebrates.

Oxeye Daisies were in abundance, along with a rich mix of trefoils, clovers, vetches, vetchlings and tares...

Meadow Vetchling (Lathyrus pratensis)

Grass Vetchling (Lathyrus nissolia)

Arthur Hoare is our botanical Yoda, opening our eyes about to the light-and-dark-sides of conservation grassland seeding. A gentle teacher, who's invaluable botanical knowledge provided us with a comprehensive plant species list -  thank you again Arthur!

All great days must come to an end, and just before packing up we tallied the species count so far...

There are still plenty of records to add to these lists, once the various specimens and photographs have had closer examination.

A huge thank you to all who helped us to set up and run these events, and thanks again to everyone for your bravado in the face of most unpredictable wet weather I've ever experienced. We are already looking forward to next year!

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Gatwick Goes Wild in 2016

As part of The Wildlife Trusts' 30 Days Wild campaign, the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership held a six-day program of events in early June, engaging airport staff with the wealth of wildlife on their doorstep. Everyone got really stuck in and despite the occasional rain shower, we had rewarding encounters with small mammals, Grass Snakes, Banded Demoiselles, Long-horned Bees and Harvest Mice!

A huge thank you to Tom S., Tom F., Kevin, Lucy, Martyn and Richard for hosting this series of events and to all the volunteers and attendees for making the effort to visit. Below are a few picture highlights from the week....

Day 1. Small mammals and Harvest Mice

The morning was spent checking 10 longworth traps, identifying and releasing the occupants. On this occasion, we only trapped one small Wood Mouse...

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

The wet weather meant not many insects were out on the wing, but closely checking the vegetation we found things roosting up, trying to keep dry...

A Snakefly! I don't think I've ever seen one of these before. Apparently we have 4 species in the UK

Tree Bumblebee (Bombus hypnorum) clinging on to a Bluebell in the rain

The wildlife was not the only thing caught out by the rain...

Mr Simpson; 'All the gear, no idea!'


Lucy's talk with the Harvest Mice in Gatwck's offices went down very well, although the journey to the meeting room took a little longer than we anticipated...

Erm, which way to departures?

In the meeting room at Gatwick's South Terminal offices

Lucy is an animal keeper and charismatic speaker at the British Wildlife Centre, who kindly gave up her free time to visit us with her captive-bred Harvest Mice. These little guys will be released into the wild once they are fully grown.

Harvest Mice (Micromys minutus)

Day 2: Family bushcraft day

Tom Simpson has a secret forest school, hidden away in Goat Meadow, land east of the runway. We were invited to visit his site, tracking the wildlife and learning how to build a safe and sturdy shelter for protection from the elements... 

Tree leaf identification

A little moth caught by young Oliver - the Common Tubic (Alabonia geofrella)

Roe Deer tracks (Capreolus capreolus)

The super-shelter was constructed in the nick of time, as it began to pour down with rain!

By the afternoon, even the interior was being well insulated! But what good is a shelter without a flag? 

Leaf-printing with natural materials

Some sort of semaphore system?

As a final reward at the end of the day, we found this sleepy curled-up Grass Snake under a refugia...

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) with the distinctive bright yellow collar

Day 3: Riverside Walk

 A short walk away from the South Terminal, we met up with Tom Forward at Riverside Garden Park. We examined the contents of the moth trap Tom had placed out the previous evening, then took a quick stroll to see what else might be hiding out in the nearby grasslands...

Silver Y moth (Autographa gamma)

Tom does an excellent Kingfisher impersonation (the call that is, not the flight)

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) male

One of our most colourful bumblebees - Early Bumblebee (Bombus pratorum) male

Day 4: Even more mammals

The camera trap from the night before brought us some lovely footage of a male Roe Deer...

Over to the traps. and this time we had caught 4 different species of small rodent - Wood Mouse, Yellow-necked Mouse, Short-tail Vole and Bank Vole.

Short tailed Vole (Microtus agrestis)

Yellow-necked Mouse (Apodemus flavicollis)

...and at lunchtime there was more Harvest Mouse action in the Gatwick meeting rooms

Even local celebrity TinyBirder had heard about it and came to see for himself...

Afternoon: Bat box checks

We had a fantastic walk through the River Mole woodlands, accompanying Kevin Lerwill and local bat ecologist Martyn Cooke as they checked the new bat boxes.

Woodland birds were in full song, and the ground flora was rich with ancient woodland indicator species.

Early Purple Orchid (Orchis mascula)

Bat box on an Oak tree

We were incredibly fortunate to be able to see a Soprano Pipistrelle in the hand; great confirmation that our bat boxes are being put to good use! 

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

Saturday & Sunday: BeeWalk Training

Richard Comont from Bumblebee Conservation Trust (BBCT) visited us again a year on, delivering another weekend of Bumblebee identification training. Richard is a brilliant entomologist and another Pan-species Lister, so it's always a privilege to spend time out in the field with him.

This very popular course is run by the BBCT for free each year, at different locations around the UK...

Destinations Place, South Terminal Offices

In the afternoon we nipped over to the River Mole site, and luckily for us the weather was warming up...

Early Bumblebee (Bombus patorum) on Common Spotted Orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii)

Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen (Bombus terrestris)

Another cool find was this Rhinoceros Beetle (Sinodendron cylindricum)

We were also lucky to be able to provide Richard with a new tick for his life-list; Gatwick's very own Long-horned Bees!  

Long-horned Bee (Eucera longicornis)

Truly one of the best weeks I've ever had at work, I really hope it was as much fun for everyone else!