May 2015 Riversearch

I chose another glorious afternoon for my May Riversearch survey. It’s a joy to be out and about in the May sunshine – the trees wearing their new gowns of leaves, every wildflower bursting with the joy of life.

The River Mole, at the foot of Box Hill
The River Mole, at the foot of Box Hill

BlossomButterflies and damesflies were busy making the most of the good weather, and birds were busy with bringing up youngsters.

Brimstone butterfly on a red campion, among cow parsley
Brimstone butterfly on a red campion, among cow parsley
Banded demoiselle damselfly
Banded demoiselle damselfly

The river was back to its normal level, with the Stepping Stones easily crossable (if a little slippery). There were no signs of pollution, and no fresh fly tipping.

Few people were out and about – just a few youngsters enjoying sitting round, listening to music and chatting (enjoying the start of half term, and a brief respite from exams).

I came across an iIntriguing hole in a tree trunkntriguing hole in a tree trunk – not sure who was using it.

So much has grown up since my last survey, it was much harder to see the river. A thick wall of waist-high stinging nettles defeated me in some places – I’d need thicker trousers before I attempt to force may way through them! By the time of my next survey they may well be as tall as me, limiting the thoroughness of my data collection.

Stinging nettles
Stinging nettles

Sadly not everything was so positive. When I looked under the bridge to check for signs of otters I came across someone sleeping rough. Not a great place to set up camp for any length of time, as though the river level was ok, any heavy rain and the river would easily cover where the person was sleeping.

The other negative to my survey was signs of Himalayan Balsam returning. I only spotted a few metres of the stuff, but give it a month or two and it’s likely to have engulfed much more of the riverbank.

Himalayan Balsam emerging again
Himalayan Balsam emerging again

 

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Dormouse (or rather bluetit) box check, May 2015

Saturday morning was glorious, so I was feeling pretty optimistic as I set out for the May dormouse box check. We hadn’t seen any dormice in April at my site, but a month can make a big difference to small mammals. And Dr C was joining me (along with four other volunteers) for the first time.

The woods looked like a bride, dressed for a wedding in the freshest foliage and bedecked with flowers. Spring was everywhere, and the contents of the boxes reflected that.

Sadly, we had no dormice (nor any other mammals). But many, many birds nests, with lots of chicks. About a third of the boxes contained bird nests, which limits the nesting sites for dormice. But we can’t (and wouldn’t want to) disturb the birds.

Anyway, most of the nests were bluetits, who only have one brood a year. By next month most of the chicks will have fledged,  the nests will be empty, and dormice can move in. While dormice are more fastidious housekeepers than other mice, they’re not above building their nest on top of a used bird nest. And, when the bird nesting season is well and truly over, we will clean the old bird nests from the boxes, to give the dormice a more hygienic option.

So, I was a little disappointed we didn’t get any dormice. Especially when other site leaders posted photos on Facebook of all the lovely dormice they had found. But I refuse to give up hope, as we know there are dormice in the wood, and they did use the boxes late last year.

Still, I think I may have to change what I call the box checks – not dormousing, but bluetiting.

Bird nerd part 10: feral pigeons

Feral pigeons are regarded as pests in many towns. Lots of effort and expense goes into discouraging them from perching on ledges by placing spikes, and scaring them away with birds of prey. But in my garden feral pigeons have been rare. In 2013-14 I recorded none at all, and the year before that I only recorded them on 3 occasions. Now I’m seeing them all the time.

So far this year I’ve recorded data from 13 observation days. I’ve seen feral pigeons on 9 of those 13 days. And it’s not just one or two. In the four preceding years, the most I’ve seen on any single day was two. This year I’ve had up to six on a single day. I’ve seen feral pigeons on as many observation days in 2015 (and we’re still only in May) as in the previous 4.5 years put together.

I’m not sure why there’s been this change. I’m still getting regular visits from their country cousins, the woodpigeons. The type of food I’m putting out is the same. And there hasn’t been any significant changes in land use nearby.

Feral pigeon
Feral pigeon

While not everyone’s a fan of feral pigeons, I quite admire the beautiful colouring on their necks. And they look a bit brighter than woodpigeons (who always strike me as dopey). As far as I can see they’re not causing any problems in the garden, so they’re welcome visitors (as are the crows, jackdaws and magpies that other garden birdwatchers are often less keen on).

 

In which I learn I need a new approach to seeing bats

Last year I had quite a few bat adventures. I (eventually) managed to see five different species of bats, but frequently struggled with not being able to distinguish the calls captured by my bat detector. I could tell it was a species that I didn’t have ticked off my list, but not which one. So this year, I decided I needed to learn more about bats to help me in my quest.

This week I attended a Bat Ecology course, hosted by Surrey Wildlife Trust and taught by a member of Surrey Bat Group.The course was fascinating. A particular highlight was getting to see some bats up close, as there were a few captive bats present (who can’t be released back to the wild as they can’t fly properly). I learnt a lot about the different species of bats, and how to distinguish between them if I get a good view of them (when they’re not flying about in the dark). I was also reassured to learn that it’s not just me being rubbish at interpreting the sounds from my bat detector – even experts can’t tell distinguish between the Myotis bat species (Daubenton’s, Bandt’s, Whiskered, Alcathoe, Natterer’s, and Bechstein’s) using just a basic detector like mine.

So, having been reassured that it’s not (just) my incompetence that’s stopped me being able to identify some of the bats I’ve come across, I need to come up with a new way of seeing those species that I haven’t yet ticked off my list. I think I may need to start volunteering on some bat surveys.

But that’s not going to stop me walking around at night waving my bat detector in the air. Surrey’s a great place to see bats, as most of the 17-18 (it’s complicated!) British bat species are resident here. And using a detector to eavesdrop their hunting is a good way of getting a glimpse into their night time audio world, so different from our own.

More about my bat adventures:

Empty nest

This time last year the first brood of house sparrow chicks in our camera nest box were fledging. And the year before that, ill-fated bluetit chicks had just hatched. This year, for the first time since we put the box up, no birds have shown any inclination to nest in it.

I don’t know why. Our garden is still full of sparrows, emptying the feeders and chattering away. The box is well hidden by a rampant clematis, but it was last year as well. There’s no sign of nesting in our other bird boxes either. And I don’t think they are nesting in our gutter like they used to.

I miss watching them build the nest, brood the eggs, and wait expectantly for them to hatch. And I miss hearing the cheeps, and checking the camera footage to see the moment they fledge. (To cheer myself up, I’ve just rewatched the footage from last year).

Oh well, there’s always next year. And I should get to see plenty of bluetit chicks on my next dormouse box check.

Do you have any idea of why the sparrows aren’t nesting in the box this year?

Defend Nature

The laws that protect otters are under threat: defend nature by supporting the RSPB campaign to protect the EU Nature Directives
The laws that protect otters are under threat: defend nature by supporting the RSPB campaign to protect the EU Nature Directives

We have some special, wild places in Europe (and the UK), and some remarkable wildlife. This isn’t by accident: without strong protection in law many of these places and species would be no more. The EU Nature Directives, laws which protect precious species and places, are under threat.

European leaders are considering making the Directives weaker. Now is not the time to be despondent about politics, despite last week’s results – it’s time to take action to protect what we value. Take action now to tell them EU leaders that you support the Directives, and the protection they offer to our wildlife, and don’t want to see them weakened. And share this with others, so they too can defend nature.

 

Election summary

Thank goodness there’s only one day to go until the election. In case you still haven’t decided whom to vote for, here’s a quick summary of where the parties stand on some issues relating to wildlife and the environment.

Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues
Summary of where the parties stand on some nature issues

Of course, this table is a very simplified summary. If you want to find out more, please read the full posts:

Fellow blogger Georgia Locock has been looking through the party manifestos to see what they have to say on a variety of other nature issues (sadly, in most of cases she’s investigated, most of the parties have little to say, reflecting the importance they place on these issues). Do have a look at her posts, as they provide a useful summary of the issues, even if the party manifestos are uninformative:

I hope that, if you can vote in the UK, you will consider some of these issues (along with other important things like the NHS) when deciding who to vote for. And if you’re wavering on whether to vote or not, please do, as there is real difference between the parties on some of these issues.

I’m looking forward to normal service resuming on this blog, focusing on my wildlife adventures rather than politics. But we only get a chance to vote in a national election once every five years, so we need to make the most of it.

April Photography Challenge: spring

My theme for April’s challenge was spring. As it turned out, I didn’t take many classic ‘spring’ shots (apart from some bluebells).

Bluebells at Hatchlands Park
Bluebells at Hatchlands Park

Birds are busy in spring, and I couldn’t resist when I saw this fine woodpecker.

Great spotted woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker
Great spotted woodpecker

Reptiles don’t come immediately to mind when you think of spring, but actually it’s a great time to see them basking in the early sun. I managed to find a few on a Surrey Wildlife Trust walk.

Grass snake
Grass snake on a corrugated tin sheet used for monitoring reptiles
Slow worm
Slow worm
Slow worm
Slow worm
Slow worm
Slow worm
Adder
Adder

Reptiles aren’t the only creatures who like to sunbathe – foxes are rather fond of it too.

Fox enjoying the sun
Fox enjoying the sun
Fox enjoying the sun
Fox enjoying the sun
Fox enjoying the sun
Fox enjoying the sun