Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Getting the moth trap out of moth balls!

With Spring definitely in the air, I put out the moth trap yesterday evening for the first time this year. I’ve still very much got my ‘L’ plates on when it comes to moths, so I’m going to need some help over the season. I think I’m ok with last night’s catch – just 4 species: The moths, in order, were Hebrew Character, Light Brown Apple Moth, Double-striped Pug and Emmelina monodactyla.
The Light Brown Apple Moth – or LBAM – has a fascinating history. It’s quite a pest in Australia and is reckoned to have been accidentally introduced to Britain in the 1930s. It was first found breeding in Cornwall in 1936 but has spread dramatically since then! If you put LBAM into your search engine you will discover how it has not only spread to Britain but also to New Zealand, Hawaii & the United States, leading to a lot of concern about the effect it might have on the fruit industry! Interestingly, we lost 62 resident moth species here in Britain in the 20th Century…..but gained 89 species!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Red Squirrel Ringworm?

This is a video-grab of 'Scratch' which shows the sore on the top of his head. In another dairy-farming life many moons ago I used to treat cattle infected with Ringworm, and I wonder if that might be what Scratch is suffering from. Ringworm is found in Red Squirrels though Jessica Holm, in her book, describes the symptoms as being characterized by crusty and flaking ears. ---------------------------------- Update: Helen Butler of the Wight Squirrel Project notes that Red Squirrels can get dermatitis, mites and also bumps & grazes. It would take close examination and a squab to determine what is causing this 'sore' area. I'm going to keep an eye on 'Scratch' to see how it progresses.

More Water Vole evidence

I visited Afton Marsh again first thing this morning and wandered along the Western Yar river. A Kingfisher hurtled down the ditch alongside the Freshwater Coop and a Cetti's Warbler was practising its song in the reeds close to the Freshwater Causeway.
I noticed that something had been enjoying the apple that I had placed alongside the river yesterday. Carole saw the blog and was shocked when she realised that I was using her expensive posh 'something-or-other' apples, so she's going to buy some cheap ones instead! I think the Water Voles deserve the best.....
....and I can now confirm that it is, indeed, a Water Vole that has been enjoying the apple. The apple's over-exposed on this close-up view so you can't see the tooth marks very well...but there are half-a-dozen or so fresh Water Vole droppings! Now I just need some better views, which will probably mean getting up even earlier at the moment!

Monday, February 27, 2012

Red Squirrel nuts, Water Vole apples & Badger calling cards!

All 3 Red Squirrels were feeding in the Western Yar woodland earlier today. This is a bit of video footage of 'Scratch'. I was amazed how close he came to me. He enjoyed a few of the peanuts I'd placed around, but he also spent time digging up a few caches of acorns that he devoured with relish!
I couldn't resist this video-capture!
Apples are to Water Voles what chocolates are to me...a real treat! I attached this apple to a Water Vole latrine area with a six inch nail!! My first Isle of Wight Marsh Harrier flew over the marsh...I assume they eat unwary Water Voles?
A few hours later I came back to find this!! I can't guarantee that it was a Water Vole but there must be a good chance (though I only viewed it from the opposite bank and there are not any obvious toothscrapes)! I was wondering why I haven't found any well-used latrines on this stretch of water. As I sat watching the apple, I suddenly realised that it was gradually disappearing beneath the water:
*Light bulb moment* Ah...this stretch of the Western Yar is tidal and so all of the latrines close to the water must get washed clean a few times a day! The Water Voles must realise this so I need to look higher up the bank for signs. And, talking of latrines, I went into the back garden to find this first thing this morning:
Our local Badger had left a calling card! Thank goodness he didn't dig a hole to put it in!! :-)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Red Squirrel contemplates the meaning of life!

The Red Squirrels were very active again late this morning. I think that the Squirrel on this video makes for a fascinating subject!

Water Vole!!!

A flash of electric blue as one of the local Kingfishers shot past my line of vision and brightened the early morning gloom....the pig-like squeals of a couple of water rails rending the air....and a Water Vole that suddenly appeared on the other bank of the river before plopping into the water and disappearing. Brilliant....the first few seconds of many future hours of observing Ratty and his friends!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Red Squirrel Day!

I was really pleased to come across these three Red Squirrels earlier today as, so far, I've only seen singles at any one time. These 3 were in a wooded area just off the old railway path running along the side of the Western Yar estuary.
There was a drey there, too, so I think I've found the ideal place to follow the fortunes of a family of Red Squirrels over the year. I was trying to work out how I might identify them, but then noticed that the first squirrel in the video has some sort of abnormality on the top of its head, so I've decided to call it 'Scratch'!!
This one looked so delicate & petite that I decided it must be a female. Her pelage was also a rich red colour, so 'Red' it is!
And the last of the bunch was much greyer...'Dusty' it is!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Encouragements & Discouragements

After getting up soon after 4am this morning to get some work done I reckoned I'd earned myself a bit of sunshine. There were various articles I needed to read so I surmised that I might as well read them in the fresh air! The discouragement was the failure of any Water Voles to appear over 4 hours silently waiting at Afton Marsh. Hopefully they will become a bit less nocturnal and a lot more visible over the next few months. There are still plenty of signs, including this well-used latrine on an alder tree root...
And this is the encouragement - a Spotted Redshank that was present at Mill Copse Pool. I'd heard that it was around so it was good to catch up with it....

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Toilet Talk (1)

Well, it’s a cold, wet & dreary afternoon even on the Isle of Wight. I’ve wimped out of going for a walk in favour of doing some work in the comfort of the front room. The Badger’s hoovered up the peanuts in the back garden the last few evenings, but arrives well after our bedtime so I’ve not got any video footage yet. The sows should be giving birth to the cubs about now, so I’m already hoping for a family visit later in the year!
Recently, I was wondering why I hadn’t come across any Badger latrines in the area. Badgers defecate into holes that they have dug in immediate area of the sett and, also, generally within the territory of the social group (‘hinterland latrines’). But they also set out ‘boundary latrines’ along the edge of their territory. Last week I came across some latrines at the top of the footpath in the corner of our estate just on the left-hand side of the other side of the arch in the photo.
I think that it’s probably a boundary latrine. Badgers tend to use half of their boundary latrines over a period of days before swapping to the other half. It’s mainly the males that use the boundary latrines and their main purpose is for clearly marking out the territory of the group, though they seem to communicate so much more.
In the New Naturalist Book, Badger, Timothy Roper makes the following observations: ‘The classical view is that the boundary marks, not just in badgers but more generally, constitute ‘keep out’ signals, posted to deter intruders from entering the territory. However, this idea is almost certainly an oversimplification, for a number of reasons. First, it fails to do justice to the wealth of olfactory information that is being deposited or to explain why, if the message is so simple, badgers spend so much time sniffing at the contents of latrines. Second, it fails to explain why badgers do, in fact, invade one another’s territories on a regular basis for foraging, mating and scent-marking purposes, often without meeting any resistance on the part of residents. Third, it is hard to see why, in principle, a ‘keep out’ notice, in and of itself, should act as a deterrent. And finally, the ‘keep out’ hypothesis fails to acknowledge what is perhaps the most striking feature of boundary latrines: namely, that when neighbouring groups share a common territory boundary, they also share the latrines along that boundary. This suggests that boundary latrines exist for the mutual sharing of information between neighbours, rather than for delivering a one-way threat from a resident group to would-be intruders.’

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Spring birdsong - The Dunnock

The weather warmed up considerably this morning and it was obviously having an effect on the hormones of the local bird population who were singing with a spring in their step all over Golden Hill Country Park. I went for a walk first thing and recorded this Dunnock singing. The light is not good, but I like the early morning silhouette. What I found interesting about this bird is the warble that can be heard at 49 seconds, 1 minute 07 seconds and 1 minute 14 seconds. I confess that I've never really noticed it before, unless this is a variation for this region or else this particular bird: Dunnocks, or Hedge Accentors, can be heard singing all over the place. The best description I've heard of this song is that it reminds you of a squeaky trolley being pulled along. The call sounds like a rusty hinge on a gate - a simple 'creak'. According to research, Dunnocks string together between 2 and 5 different phrases to make up a song sequence. They have a repertoire of some 10 to 15 phrases which they mix and match. After singing a particular song the bird will then change the sequence. What is fascinating is that research shows that the male will typically change to a new song after he has sung the same sequence about 20 times. But, if he is actively searching for a mate, then he will change the song after only singing it a few times. It's all very complicated (just like the life of a Dunnock which I'll share another time) but if you want to learn more you can read a fascinating paper here. This year I'm going to be listening particularly closely to just what our local accentors are singing! And listen out for that little warble and let me know if you hear it where you live!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Success!! Encouraging Foxes & Badgers into the back garden (Part 2).

I've been really encouraged by the initial results of my efforts to try to encourage our local Foxes and Badgers into the back garden (see below). This morning my sand tray looked like this:
There is a nice pair of front Badger feet, together with what looks like the prints of one of the small local cats.
These are the front feet - the distance of the claw tips in front of the toe pads gives an idea of just how long the claws are!
These are the prints of a Red Fox that visited the garden the first evening I tried this. The sand was too dry to make a good impression, so I dampened it to get the better results for the badger.
Last night's sharp frost has meant that it is fairly easy to see how the Badger has wandered around the garden in its heavy-footed plantigrade way.
This is one of the reasons why most people don't like to encourage Badgers into their gardens!! I've repaired the damage here and in a few other places....hopefully any further damage will remain at this low level for a while. The next stage is to attempt to get a photo or bit of video of our nocturnal visitors!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Encouraging Foxes & Badgers into the back garden (Part 1)

This is our home. We’re very fortunate in getting larger mammals passing by at night but I’d like to get even better views by trying to entice them into the back garden where the security light on the shed should make them easier to see and, lacking passing cars & late-night dog walkers, they should learn to feel a bit more settled.
This is the corner of the fence that you can see right next to the house. There was already a small gap, but I’ve widened it to make it a bit easier to access the back.
This is the gap looking from the other side. You’ll notice that I’ve laid a trail of peanuts to entice any passing animals to enter and then loiter in the back garden! The white thing is a baking tray filled with soft sand (children’s sand from Argos) which will hopefully record the prints of anything that arrives.
I’ve deliberately tried to encourage any visiting mammals to follow the line of the house and enter the back garden proper via the gap between the shed and the house.
There are peanuts sprinkled over the lawn and some water placed in an old plastic pork chop tray beneath the bird table!
Here's hoping……Watch this space!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Freshwater Knots!

I was pleasantly surprised to come across these two Red Knot feeding together on the Western Yar close to the Freshwater Causeway this morning. They're the first Red Knot that I have seen on this western side of the island. Apparently, the bivalve mollusc Macoma is their preferred prey on European coasts, the animal being crushed in the muscular gizzard, but I don't know whether we get them here. I think these are both first year birds. Looking through the binoculars the chevron markings on the flank were particularly noticeable. The video below follows them as they make their way along the shoreline and gives a good indication of their size alongside the local Black-tailed Godwits.

I had another fascinating encounter a bit later on when I came across a Water Rail scrambling about in the top of the Hawthorn hedge just a few metres from my head!

And here's a challenge for you. The above video comprises a flock of Mediterranean Gulls that were on the opposite side of the river directly behind the feeding Red Knot. Have a look at the video above and see if you can count how many are present. It pans across a flock of Lapwing before reaching the main Gull colony. There are Black-headed Gulls there, too, but I counted over 100 Mediterranean Gulls through the binoculars! I've never seen so many before in one place!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Spring on the way!

Spring is on the way….and I can’t wait!! The Lesser Celandine is our prettiest buttercup and this was one of several which were adding a dash of bright colour to the scrub at the side of our local Longhalves footpath. Time to burst into a bit of Wordsworth methinks (it was his favourite flower, after all!):

“There is a Flower, the Lesser Celandine,
That shrinks, like many more, from cold and rain;
And, at the first moment that the sun may shine,
Bright as the sun itself, ‘tis out again!”

Let’s hope it’s going to be out a lot this year!

This video is filmed from the Freshwater Causeway end of the Western Yar River. The distant Greenshank stood out from among the other waders as it picked its way up the channel. It’s been loitering around over the Winter period.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Here on the Isle of Wight we are very fortunate in having a healthy population of Red Squirrels, the English Channel forming a handy barrier to prevent the incursion of the alien Grey Squirrel. I'm told that the occasional Grey Squirrel makes the leap, courtesy of a Wightlink or Red Funnel ferry, but they are soon dealt with. And, if you did happen to try to smuggle one across and got caught, you'd face a 2 year imprisonment or £5000 fine!

The Red Squirrel above was spotted in Golden Hill Country Park, which bounds our quiet little estate on 2 sides. I didn't have much hope of seeing one in the road, though. But then, a few weeks ago I happened to be looking out of our front window when a Red Squirrel bounded across the lawn on the opposite side of the road. Wow! I ran out with the video canera and the result is below. I'm disappointed by the poor footage, considering how close I was to it, but I'm hoping for some good quality footage as the year goes on. Our house is the one you can see at the beginning of the video, just to the left of the blue car.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tang Snipes in Colwell Bay!

Shetlanders call it the Tang Snipe or Plover’s Page, but we know it simply as the Dunlin – the archetypal small wader whose relatively small British population is supplemented by the continental crowds to give us a winter population of some half a million individuals!

The video above shows a small flock present on the rocks in Colwell Bay at low tide a few days ago. It never ceases to amaze me how close you can approach various bird species here on the island. I’m used to seeing a distant speck through a telescope, but this flock quite happily went about their business whilst I stood quietly watching them just 10m or so away!

This winter plumage is not exciting, but soon the new reddish upperparts will begin to appear, together with a dramatic large splash of black on the breast and belly. The change is so dramatic that, in the past, it was believed that there were 2 species, the ‘summer dunlin’ and ‘winter dunlin’.

So why the strange name ‘Plover’s Page’? Because of the strange habit Dunlin have of following Golden Plover around and sticking close. Why? It’s reckoned that it’s a good way of being warned by the Golden Plover of predators on the prowl.

I love the sewing-machine-action of feeding Dunlin. In the video below you can watch one individual hunting amongst the rocks for small molluscs, worms and crustaceans.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Freshwater Bay

Carole and I went for an invigorating walk along the cliffs above Freshwater Bay this morning.

This is a new discovery for me….a Common Whelk egg mass with developing Common Whelks inside! Normally I’m only by the seashore whilst on holiday in the middle of summer and so only find the empty cases, looking like a lump of popped bubble wrap!

January is breeding time as far as the Common Whelk is concerned so it will only have been a matter of days or, maybe weeks, since this mass was anchored to a piece of rock below sea level. But this mass has come loose before time, and I found it washed up on the tideline at Freshwater Bay.

Living with the sea on 3 sides is giving me the opportunity to learn lots of amazing new facts. One of my text books says that each capsule, or cell, within the egg mass contains about 12 fertile and a thousand ‘nurse’ eggs. By eating the nurses the newly hatched whelks grow that much larger and stronger before emerging through the capsule exit to the outside world. Suddenly, these ‘bath sponge’ cases are even more fascinating!

It’s amazing how much history you can learn by studying plants. There were the dessicated remains of Carline Thistles carpeting the cliff top. Apparently they are named after Carl the Great, aka the Emperor Charlemagne who supposedly staved off the plague from his stricken army after being shown how to use the healing properties of this plant by an angel!

Or maybe you’re more interested in its supposed aphrodisiac qualities….though, in order to benefit, you would need to plant it and then harvest the root during a new moon…and ‘fertilise’ it with the sperm of a black stallion! Hmmm….maybe not, then!