Friday, 29 September 2017

Gatwick Wildlife Recording day 2017

This post is a round up our 24 hour Wildlife Recording Event, this year held once again at Rolls Field and the Gatwick Stream flood attenuation area.
  So, why carry out a 24 hour intensive wildlife recording event (sometimes called a Bioblitz) on our sites at Gatwick?

Base camp at Rolls Field. Photo by Lucy Groves

The main goal is to boost the biological records of under-surveyed areas, by inviting groups of naturalists of varying specialisms to focus on their chosen wildlife groups, such as birds, plants, flies, bats or fungi. This way, under-recorded common species, as well as rare species, can be confirmed utilising the site. For example, we hadn't known that Marbled White Butterflies can be found along the river banks here, and that a rare type of Yellow-faced Bee is nesting in the bare clay. We then pass on the information to the local Biological Records Centres, who store and catalogue data from all resources, both historical and present.

Site map produced by the Sussex Biodiversity Records Centre. Habitats here include remnant hedgerows, wildflower-seeded low lying meadow and a re-aligned river

The second incentive is to engage and share knowledge with naturalists of all levels, including people who've never previously taken such a close look at the nature on their doorstep.

Rolls Field. Photo by Lucy Groves

And the final reason? It's blooming good fun!

July 7th: 6PM

In contrast to the previous year, it was a warm and balmy evening as we set up (which is why we were repeating the event at this site again!) and the conditions meant lots of butterflies, bees and beetles were already being collected for proper identification the following day.

Martyn Cooke's static bat detectors set up on site

Baiting mammal tunnels (Photo by Lucy Groves)

After setting the Longworth mammal traps and footprint tunnels, we set off for a bat walk led by bat surveyor Martyn Cooke. It was a fairly quiet evening, but we still did better than the previous year, and we notched up our first few records of vertebrate species...

Photo by Helen Cradduck

Bats (2 species):
Common Pipistrelle

Common Frog

Tawny Owl

With mammal traps set, static bat detectors running, trail cameras switched to record and moth light traps on, it was time to turn in for the night.

Base camp in the evening (Photo by Helen Cradduck)

Next day (July 8th):

It was an early start to the morning in order to tot up some bird records before the site got too busy with people. A few of us covered different areas, making observations with binoculars or simply listening out for calls, then met back at base camp to compile the list while enjoying some freshly brewed coffee.

The trail cameras picked up some useful records for us too...

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis); blink and you'll miss it but the call is unmistakable. Kingfishers are on the amber list for conservation as per the Birds of Conservation Concern 4 report 

This is the completed bird list from the end of the day:

Birds (34 species):
Carrion Crow
Great Tit
Grey Wagtail
Stock Dove
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Grey Heron
Long-tailed Tit
Song Thrush
Tawny Owl
Marsh Tit
Green Woodpecker
Reed Warbler
Pied Wagtail

Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) - a red listed species of conservation concern

Once the morning guests had arrived, the next job was to liberate any overnight guests from the Longworth mammal traps. Mammal ecologist Lucy Groves led this busy session, discovering Wood Mouse, Yellow Necked Mouse, Bank Vole and Common Shrew occupants.

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Sightings of some larger mammals were also coming in...

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus) - ignore the date stamp on video

Martyn's checked his static bat detectors which had picked up two species; he was able to show us the call of a Common Pipistrelle on his bat sonogram software...

Mammals (8):
Roe Deer
Wood Mouse
Bank Vole
Yellow-necked Mouse
Common Shrew
Common Pipistrelle Bat
Serotine Bat

Sussex Biodiversity Record Centre desk, run by Lois and Nick

Our recording table already had specimens from the previous day, such as hoppers, butterflies and beetles, which were identified and then released. Brad Scott identified and tweeted our tiniest new records. In fact, this is our very first springtail record for Gatwick...

We were visited by Dr Ian Beavis who was able to record some of our tiny solitary bees and wasps, including this Red Data Book species of Hylaeus bee...

Spined Hyleaus bee (Hylaeus cornutus), the female with central depression in the face
which is used for carrying pollen loads

Rosels Bush Cricket. Photo by Helen Cradduck

Moths (88):
Lepidopterists Jake Everitt and Laurie Jackson collated the list of the moths from all three of our 3 traps, which is no mean feat! Species highlights for Jake were Antler Moth (declining all across Sussex), Least Carpet (Uncommon resident) and Lunar-spotted Pinion (Uncommon), all of which are lovely catches.

Poplar Hawkmoth

Photo by Lucy Groves

Black Arches Moth (Photo by Lucy Groves)

Elephant Hawkmoth (Photo by Lucy Groves)

Thanks to local butterfly expert Harry Clarke and others for compiling our comprehensive butterfly species list. I think the abundance of Purple Hairstreaks and Marbled Whites were the clear favourites!

Butterflies (19):
Small Heath
Gatekeeper or Hedge Brown
Meadow Brown
Common Blue
Marbled White
Green-veined White
Speckled Wood
Small Copper
Purple Hairstreak
Small Skipper
Large Skipper
Painted Lady
Essex Skipper
Large White
Small White
Red Admiral

Marbled White (photo by Lucy Groves)

Purple Hairstreak (Photo by Lucy Groves)

Nick Aplin has once again shown us a window into the bizarre world of fungi, and gave our species list a boost despite it not being an ideal time of year.

Epichloë baconii (on Bent Grass)

The above is a new species record for Vice County Surrey! Nick tells me that Epichloë species of fungus are also often called 'Choke', and you can see why in the photo! But far from being parasitic, they're actually symbionts of grasses and actually produce various novel compounds which protect the grass from herbivores, including mammals and insects. The fungus also positively affects the plant's growth and protects it from drought, even though it looks like it's strangling it. 

Photo by Helen Cradduck, who first spotted this gorgeous Wasp Spider hanging out in the meadow

Riverfly surveying with Kevin Lerwill (Photo by Martyn Cooke)

Towards the end of the day, I managed to record a few spiders, carabids (ground beetles) and had some Twitter help with the identification of a staphylinid (rove beetle).

Selection box of spiders, box anyone? Clockwise from top left: Neoscona adianta, Larinioides cornutus, Argiope bruennichi (the Wasp Spider)

Black Clock Beetle (Pterostichus niger)

Staphylinus dimidiaticornis which accidentally hitched a ride home with me in my handbag

With valuable help from Nick and Lois at the record centre, this was our final total and the species breakdown:

Taxon group
New Species
Total Species
Grasshoppers and Crickets
Slime Moulds
True Bugs
True Flies
Vascular Plants
Total Records

These events just wouldn't happen without the incredible work of the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership, our local ecologists and volunteer naturalists, thank you all so much. It gets better every year!

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Gatwick's Dark Knights

After only making it back home in the wee hours of this morning, I was awoken at 7.30am to some great news; council workers had decided to try to repairing the communal recycling bin outside my bedroom window with a sledgehammer. I guess I'll really appreciate this the next time I take out the recycling.

Location: edge of Brockley Wood, adjacent to the north west aircraft stands. 

Ah well, the late finish was totally worth it as we got to see a whole selection of bats utilising the site on the River Mole side of Brockley Wood. I also finally got to see a fairly common bat species which has eluded me for 5 years!

Martyn measuring the forearm length of a bat while Laurie takes notes

Martyn Cooke (Surrey Bat Group) is a licensed bat surveyor, who has been monitoring the bats around Gatwick for several years. A harp trap is his preferred tool, one of safest ways to capture bats and minimise their stress, in order to collect scientific data and feed back to the Bat Conservation Trust.

Harp trap set up on River Mole floodplain

The northern edge of the woodland is sheltered by a massive environmental bund, blocking out light and sound from the airfield. The weather conditions were almost perfect, with low cloud, barely a breeze and a balmy 17 degrees celsius. This turned out to be the best night's trapping I've attended in terms of species diversity; we caught 5 species in the harp traps and at least 2 others on the detectors. 

An electronic lure plays out species-specific bat calls

Here's our haul of bats, in order of appearance...

Soprano Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus)

Soprano Pipistrelle wing

Whiskered Bat (Myotis mystacinus)

I was super excited when I released this one; just look at his little mouth!

Brown Long-eared (Plecotus auritus). He does have some eyes there, he's just blinking

The new one for my list is was the Daubenton's Bat! That brings my number of wild UK bat species seen up to 9.

Daubenton's (Myotis daubentonii)

These funny looking dudes have big bald patches around their eyes, and are specialists at hunting over water, scooping up small insects while in flight with their big tail membranes.

I didn't manage to get a good shot of the membrane, but we can confirm that this one is a fella

Lovely dark face of a Common Pipistrelle

Common Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pipistrellus) female

Although we didn't trap one of the rare Bechstein's tonight (previous post about our first Bechstein's at Gatwick) or Martyn's target species the Nathusius' Pipistrelle, we did pick up this Myotis bat call on Martyn's sonobat, which he thinks could be one of the little dudes with attitude...

Bechstein's call?

Thanks to Martyn, Fiona, Laurie, Rina, Luke and Ryan for giving up your valuable time. Also to the bats for doing your bit for science; you all rock.

North West Zone. Approximate harp trap locations in yellow, mist nets in blue

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Base-of-the-Tree cam

With the help of our regular ecology volunteers Luke, Jason and Connor, I've been maintaining a trail camera network around the biodiversity areas. There's a favourite old English Oak near the Gatwick Stream with an old burrow at its base. Maybe not as tense as an episode of Game of Thrones, but a lot goes on at this remote spot.
(The clips work better with your speakers on.)

Wood Mouse spooked by Tawny Owl calling

Male Roe Deer

 Indecisive Rabbit and Great Spotted Woodpecker calling

Female Roe Deer eating something alarmingly crunchy

Female Roe again, sniffing camera. Distant Tawny calling and Herring Gulls

Nervous Rabbits and a car alarm sounding closer than it is

 Male Roe Deer breaking the third wall

Jay and Magpie, partners in crime

Wood Mouse acrobatics

(Camera is Ltl Acorn 5210a supplied by NatureSpy)

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Weathering June

There were soggy June days….

Handy woodland foot bridges built by Tom S and his volunteers 

And scorching June days...

River Mole grasslands, North West Zone

But most were great days on the project! Here is my round up of the June happenings:

We kick-started The Wildlife Trust's '30 Days Wild' with a series of wildlife events for Gatwick staff and local residents. Uptake was much better this year, and it is incredibly gratifying to see people engaging with a range of wildlife walks, talks and activities such as forest schools.

Riverside Garden Park pollinator walk

Azure Damselfly (using a clip-on macro lens for my camera phone)

The Long-horned Bees have received further executive visitors in the form of Sussex University Profs. Francis Ratnieks and Dave Goulson, with their PhD student Gigi. 

Part of Gigi's project will be focusing on our LHB colonies, which is really exciting as few detailed studies have been carried out for this species. Her mark-recapture work (which doesn't harm the bees), could reveal insights into how many bees there are in each colony, which plants they like best, how the overall population is faring etc.

A queen-marking cage used for Honey Bees also work very well to temporarily hold this female Long-Horned still

Into the woods; this summer I'm spending most of my time carrying out repeated baseline habitat condition surveys, which takes me back to 2012 and my first summer in ecology. Those early days were incredibly challenging, but then formative times mostly are!

Woodland habitat survey of Upper Picketts Wood, Land East

Looking back over my data, it seems I did alright with my botanical species identification... In fact, past-Rachel had indeed correctly identified Field Forget-me-not, so present-day Rachel has to amend a recent record. You win this round past-Rachel. (Took you over 4 years to find a Purple Emperor butterfly though didn't it?)
Ecologists Rina and Lucy with Royal Holloway Uni placement students Kajayini and Roxanne

While I was going a bit weird out in the woods, we had some extra help out on the sites for our annual ecological monitoring.  

Adult Grass Snake just prior to shedding (Photo by Anna-Marie Lawn)

Late summer breeding bird surveys with Tom F : Two new species to the survey were Eurasian Hobby and a daytime calling Tawny Owl

Our Dormouse surveys haven't turned up any of the critters so far this year, but we did accidentally disturb this hornet's nest, which we felt bad about, but was pretty cool to see...

On the hottest day of the year, I happened to be up in London, as Gatwick Airport Ltd received several awards from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA). My project work comes under Gatwick's central Environment, Health and Safety Team, who are an incredibly diligent and hard working bunch; my hat is off to this team and they really deserve the recognition. Despite near heat-death on the tube (next time it's hiking boots), it was good fun hanging out near the Royal Victoria Docks.

A smoggy haze is the downside to a hot day in the city

Gatwick was this year's headline sponsor for The Big Bang Fair at the South of England Showground. The festival celebrates science, technology and engineering careers, with students attending from schools all over South East England.

Kevin Lerwill from Gatwick Greenspace. 

 It was pretty intense and we engaged over 100 students with our biodiversity stand, which included water quality assessment through pond dipping for invertebrates. 

Tom Errett from Gatwick's central EHS Team

Demonstration of bat sonograms and surveying technology by bat ecologist Martyn Cooke

Back over to our sites, and our invasive species management is well underway, with teams of Gatwick staff assisting Tom S with tackling Himalayan Balsam along the River Mole. 

Goat's Rue is another invasive plant starting to spread here, so we are doing our best to dig it up cleanly from the roots. I don't know much about Goat's Rue management as their doesn't seem to be much online literature, so any further advice appreciated!

Our Gatwick Honey Bees (Apis melifera) had a challenging season with the extreme June weather, and decided they didn't feel like swarming this year. We have 6 colonies and a few of our queens have now superseded, so they should be looking stronger for mid-summer.

(Put your speakers on/ headphones in for these...)

Our trail cameras are picking up some lovely footage (thanks to volunteers Luke and Jason for maintaining these); now the next step is to comb through it all and enter details into irecord! 

The fluffy coat on this poor old fox must be seriously hindering him on the hottest day of the year...

I love Grey Wagtails, so am hoping this one has been breeding nearby...

However, our best day of June was The Day The Container Arrived (which sounds like a really dull dystopian sci-fi novel.)

This is exciting for us, as we've been planning for a field base for the past few years, and have hit a few challenges and hurdles along the way. It has been worth the wait though!

Tom S now has a new base for volunteer activities and forest schools

So I feel that I have shown admirable restraint the last few days, only very gradually sneaking the entire contents of my car inside...

Blimey, did you make it to the end of all this? That is some staying power, well done you!