Sunday, 31 May 2015

Garden Bio Blitz 2015

It's the end of May and it's time to record as many wild species I can find for the Garden BioBlitz.

Marmalade hoverfly on a garden poppy.
I did my first BioBlitz last year and was surprised by the number of different wild species I found in our garden and how little I knew about them.  I have often seen hoverflies, like the one shown on the poppy, around the garden but had never particularly looked at them or realised that there were many different species.  I set myself three objectives for this year's BioBlitz:

1. To spot more species last year's score of 105.
2. To do a better job of identifying them - I was OK on flowering plants but otherwise my 105 species included too many that I was very unsure about. This included taking more photos for reference.
3. To identify more minibeasts - insects, crustaceans etc.

Early bumblebee with 'bed hair'.
The day started cold (it went down to 3 degrees C overnight) but bright. Having worked late on the Friday evening, I could relate to the early bumblebee in the photo, which slowly and unwillingly clambered out of the allium flower it had slept in overnight.

I started by checking off the wild flowers I had listed last year. I was indignant when I realised that many of them had been browsed off by two fallow deer who had visited a couple of days previously. Fortunately the deer had done the decent thing and left enough for me to identify the plants and, judging from fresh droppings, popping back on the night before/early morning of BioBlitz day.

Caught in the act.
Throughout the day, I was able to see how others were doing by following the #gbb15 hashtag on Twitter. Although I was working on my own, I felt like I was part of a team working on a joint project because we kept tweeting photos and commenting on each other's progress.

I was particularly pleased to see @DaveyManMcG tweet "Loads of honey bees & a few tree bees on my cotoneaster". This unregarded little shrub with its tiny flowers seems to be great for bees. Ours was covered in honeybees, tree and early bumble bees.

Tree bumblebee on cotoneaster
He has posted about his Garden BioBlitz on his Lancashire and Lakeland Outback Wildlife Safaris blog. I was amazed that he still had bluebells looking good at the end of May. In Sussex, ours peaked at the start of the month. It sounds like they had pretty challenging weather. Ours was OK but colder and windier than you would expect at this time of year so I didn't see many of the hoverflies that have been buzzing round our garden lately.
I am finding that social media is transforming my ability to observe and understand wildlife. I am learning so much from others. When I found out how many species of bees and hoverflies there are, I was fairly daunted by how difficult it would be to identify the creature that was in front of me. However there are loads of helpful resources online. Recently, I have found following Facebook groups very friendly and helpful:
So instead of being stranded by myself with books full of similar looking creatures, I can put a photo in the group and people, including experts, will help me identify them.
Back in the garden, I decided to try something I saw on Springwatch a few days previously. One of the presenters explained how many creatures could be found in an oak tree and shook a branch over a tray. He got several caterpillars and I got ... a disappointing rain of tiny bugs that I couldn't hope to identify and a fallen bit of leaf. Then I looked closer ...
Light emerald moth.
The leaf was a beautiful moth. It's light green colour and white 'veins' looked just like the back of an oak leaf. Then I looked some more and found a jaunty little yellow and black bug.
Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus bug from our oak tree.
I carried on poking around in the garden until the clouds rolled over and all sensible creatures including myself headed for shelter. I spent the evening processing photos and figuring out what I had found.  I entered my results on Sunday and was pleased that I had met my objectives, having:
  • identified 127 species
  • improved the accuracy of my identifications and added photos to enable verification
  • increased the number of 'minibeasts' identified - I have actually doubled the number of insect species in my count.
Breakdown of my BioBlitz Results.
When I finished at about 2:30pm, I was delighted to find that I was 3rd on the league table for the results overview. Of course, others will soon overtake me but it'll be nice while it lasts!
Overview of BioBlitz results at 2:30pm on Sunday.
I was intrigued to see that other results were building up for East Sussex. My 127 had contributed to a total of 141 species at that point.  I went into iRecord proper to find out what was going on. 
BioBlitz records in iRecord.
It seems that people have been doing a National Trust BioBlitz at Birling Gap.  Obviously their results are going to be very different - Birling Gap is right on the coast, is chalky and is a much more natural environment.  However, as their list has built up, it has been intriguing to see some similarities with mine.

Red tailed bumble bee was found in both Birling Gap and my BioBlitz.
Back to my own garden, I was pleased that some our garden minibeasts have become familiar enough to name on sight and I can identify some of the more distinctive creatures without too much trouble. However, I'm still struggling with many of them and have a lot to learn.  Also, after one little shake of an oak branch revealed two such pretty creatures, I really want to know what is going on in the canopies of our trees and who lives there.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Casulty 152461 - An injured pigeon in our garden

A while after I got home from Birmingham on Thursday, I glanced into the garden and saw a woodpigeon. There's nothing unusual in that but this one was lying on its back with its legs in the air. I checked it and it was still breathing. I decided to give it about 20 minutes to see if it would come round by itself.

The rescue
20 minutes spent watching for cats between mouthfuls of my microwaved meal and I was out again. The pigeon was still on its back, but clearly conscious and alive - it was blinking now and then.  The situation was clearly not going to resolve itself. Fortunately our area is well served by the East Sussex Wildlife Rescue & Ambulance Service (WRAS).
WRAS to the rescue.
I phoned up and was instructed to put the pigeon in a box, making sure that it was the right way up. I got a box from the loft, put on a pair of soft gardening gloves and squatted down by the pigeon. It looked at me with bright black eyes as I noted the lovely shading from pink on its side to almost white on its belly. As I cupped my hands around it rather plump body, it stretched out a protesting wing. It had a rather nasty wound on its back. I put it in the box the right way up but pigeon had other ideas and promptly rolled over again. I decided to leave it be and carried the box into the conservatory. I dropped an old towel over the whole thing, vaguely remembering that excluding light would calm a stressed, caged bird.

As I waited, I wondered what had happened. I think the most likely explanation is a sparrow hawk. We've seen some clusters of feathers on the ground recently and I glimpsed one in the garden carrying a rodent just a few weeks ago.  Some feathers from our pigeon, scattered over the grass, seemed to confirm this.

The ambulance arrived with two gentle but efficient rescuers. They asked me some questions and examined the bird while completing a form. Admin and examination over, they put the pigeon in a carrier. It snuggled into the soft pink lining, tucking its head into its wings as if it knew it was in good hands. They gave me a casualty number (152461) and information about the organisation including how to donate. I have already donated a few times. I remember giving when I heard about the cascade of baby hedgehogs they got over one winter then to the related Sussex Badger Vaccination Project. However, I've done the decent thing and texted a another donation.

Woodies in our garden

Woodpigeons are regular visitors to our garden. They are rather amusing with their self-important walk and are surprisingly agile when dangling from oak twigs to reach for acorns.  They sometimes build their untidy raft-like nests in our trees and I have occasionally found a discarded eggshell.

Woodpigeon in our garden - 21st May.
Back on the 21st of March, I was surprised to see a juvenile bird. It must have been born at the start of that month. I understand that pigeons make a sort of milk that enables them to start breeding early in the year.  I was able to identify it as a juvenile using the information on the Pigeon and Dove Rescue site.

The post script

On Friday (23 May), WRAS put a post on Facebook outlining the tremendous number of rescues they had done on the day they collected my pigeon. They kindly told me that "He is still with us, doing ok but early days, he was trying to push himself up on the side of the towels we are using to support him earlier."

On Saturday (30 May), WRAS responded to a question on Facebook by saying "Was he the adult one falling on his back with the wounds? ... doing well. Early days for the adult as he has a lot of healing to do, but he is standing and more balanced and eating. It is woodie central at the moment"

Monday, 11 May 2015

Boothland Wood

It's the early part of May, which means it's time to go and see some bluebells.  We have a bluebell wood, Views (Williams) Wood, just a few hundred yards from where I live. I looked round my old friends: the bluebells, the strange stumps and the kingcups on the May Day bank holiday weekend. Today, I visited Boothland Wood, owned by Uckfield Town Council.

Tall trees in Boothland wood.
Although I had never visited this wood before, it has been much in my thoughts recently. Within the next few years it will be engulfed by vast new housing estates.  There is also a Facebook group discussing the situation here. At a Neighbourhood Planning event that we held on the 7th of March, several people mentioned the lovely bluebells in Boothland Wood and their concerns that the wood would be spoilt by too many pairs of feet or the addition of inappropriate pathways.

The wood itself is charming. Although, like Views (Williams) Wood it is an ancient woodland carpeted with bluebells, the atmosphere is very different.  The wood is much smaller but it has a light, airy feel. Partly this is because the trees are different. Views (Williams) Wood is full coppiced sweet chestnut with some sturdy oaks.  Because it was once part of a grand house's park and adjoins a housing estate, a mixture of odd species such as sycamores and rhododendrons have been planted or have found their own way in. To my inexpert eye, Boothland seems to be full of hornbeam and elegant beeches soaring skywards.  It appears to have far fewer 'interlopers'.

Light slanting into the wood.
Because Boothland is surrounded by fields, light seems to bounce in from the slides, playing beautifully with the textures of bark and greenery.

Looking outside of the wood, you can see a farm. Seeing wool caught on the wire seems especially poignant, knowing that the sheep that once grazed there will soon be replaced by houses.

Wool caught on a fence and farm equipment in the background.
On a brighter note, the plans suggest that the farm and oast houses will be kept.

Farm and oast house.
At the moment, the woodland floor is thick with bluebells. A myriad of small paths thread through allowing a curious animal or photographer to get right into the flowers without doing any damage.  As I found my way through the wood a small group of great tits squabbled amongst themselves with little concern about the lumbering human watching them.  Butterflies flitted between the sunlit fields and flower rich woods.

Female holly blue butterfly.
The spring succession of flowers is well under way. I came too late for the wood anemones but there are bluebells, cow parsley, red camion, lesser celandine, herb robert and so many more. The delightfully named, goldilocks buttercup was a particular treat.

Goldilocks buttercup and lesser celandine with the bluebells.
I fear that the paths and the flowers surrounding them will be trampled into dust and the birds will find nesting much harder once the wood is surrounded by thousands of people and their cats and dogs. So it was a lovely but rather troubling visit. The wood seems quite delicate and will need considerable care if it is to survive the new estates.

Note: The outline planning application is here - you need to scroll down the page and hit accept to see it.  It is too late to make comments on this stage of the application.