All posts by asouth

Bluetits ready to fledge

Having been away for the last 10 days, I wasn’t sure if any chicks would be left by the time I got home. They could have fledged, or not made it that far. So it was a relief to hear loud cheaping coming from the box as I reached the front door yesterday.

Not only were all the chicks still there, but it turns out we had 9 chicks rather than 8. They are much easier to count now they are bigger and less tangled.

Bluetit chicks nearly ready to fledge

There’s been plenty of wing exercises in the last 24 hours, so I think they’ll be off soon. Last time I checked, I could only see 8, so one may have fledged (or just be hiding).

I’m off on a work trip for a few days now, so won’t get to see the rest fledge. Dr C is under instructions to send me daily updates.

When I am back from my trip I have some exciting adventures to tell you about, including another couple of ticks on my British Animal Challenge list.

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Bluetits have hatched!

The bluetits in our camera box hatched over the weekend! There were 9 eggs, and they’ve all gone. As of this morning there were at least 8 chicks alive (it’s hard to count them as they are an ever moving pile at the moment, with some buried underneath at any one point).

At this stage they’re still bald and their eyes haven’t opened. They look so vulnerable, with their big heads on top of tiny, scrawny necks, flopping around on top of their siblings. It seems a miracle any bluetits survive to fledge.

Newly hatched bluetit chicks
Newly hatched bluetit chicks

Mum and Dad are working hard to keep the little beaks busy. Apparently bluetit chicks need around 100 insects each a day – that’s a lot of flights to and from the box when you have 8-9 chicks!

Bluetits fledge roughly 2-3 weeks after hatching, all going well. We’re cheering our little family on (quietly, so as not to disturb them)!

Spring at last!

It seems that spring is finally here, at last. The bluetits at my dormouse monitoring site seem behind compared to previous years – there were fewer nests, and hardly any nests had eggs in when we checked them on 19th April.

At home, the bluetits in my camera nest box have started incubating 9 eggs. I think incubation started last weekend, and it usually lasts 12-16 days, so I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for signs of hatching later next week.

7 bluetit egss in our camera box nest
7 bluetit egss in our camera box nest

There seemed to be lots of squabbling between male birds yesterday in the garden – blackbirds were quarreling, as were sparrows. But that’s hardly surprising – I hear preparing for new babies can be a bit stressful.

A pair of goldfinches have been around our house quite a lot in the last week or so. I have a suspicion they must be nesting nearby, but I haven’t spotted where yet. That’s quite exciting, as they tend to be occasional visitors to our garden, and I haven’t seen signs of nesting before.

Autumn dormousing

It’s been an amazing few months at my dormouse site, with lots of breeding and therefore lots of bouncy baby dormice to record.

August was a remarkable box check as we found nearly every stage of dormice (pinkies, greys whose eyes have not yet opened, greys with eyes open, older juveniles, adult testes scrotal males, adult females (lactating, pregnant)). This was great for the trainees who came out with me, who need experience of dormice at all these stages as part of their training. And it’s good to see little dormice!

Little dormouse

September was even more amazing. Out of 50 boxes, 9 contained dormice, but most of theses were young families, so in total we recorded over 40 individual dormice. I have never found that many on a box check before. For comparison, the most we saw on a single box check at my site last year was around 10.  As you can imagine, it takes quite a while to extract, weigh, sex and replace that many dormice, but no-one was complaining! It’s fantastic to see them do so well this year.

After the previous two months, I was expecting lots of activity on the October box check. In the end, it was comparatively quiet. We only found 4 (mostly this year’s young, dispersed from their maternal nests), plus one nest that was empty but warm. Hopefully that means that September’s young have all grown up and dispersed around the wood, concentrating on fattening up before winter. None of the ones we found were torpid (although perhaps some have gone into hibernation already).

Lovely dormouse

I was really encouraged to see a new nest in a box we haven’t previously found dormice in – it’s great that they seem to be using the whole site, not just a small pocket of it.

Of course not all the young dormice will make it through the winter, but hopefully the relatively mild autumn is giving them plenty of opportunity to fatten up and give themselves the best chance of waking up next April/May. We didn’t find any particularly fat dormice in October (unlike at one SDG site, where they found a 38g monster!), but they were all weights that mean I’m not too worried for their chances of survival.

 

Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards

I had the pleasure of attending the Surrey Wildlife Garden Awards this afternoon, and winning the ‘Small private gardens’ category. Dawn Fielding, the Surrey Wildlife Trust Community Engagement Officer, gave a short talk explaining the importance of gardens for wildlife, and the pressure wildlife in Surrey is under.

Headlines from the State of Surrey's Nature report, 2017
Headlines from the State of Surrey’s Nature report, 2017

23% of Surrey’s species are extinct or under threat. Gardens are a big opportunity to help our wildlife. They make up 12% of the land area of the county – more than nature reserves, so have the potential to make an impact.

The awards recognised school gardens, community gardens, business grounds and private gardens that are havens for wildlife. This year there were 145 entries, with around half achieving gold award level, so I’m thrilled our garden has come top in its category (for the second time!).

My certificate and plaque
My certificate and plaque

It was very interesting to hear and see pictures of what others are doing in their gardens, and fascinating to look around the Therapy Garden  (which won the Community Garden Category).

Neither Dr C nor I are particularly green-fingered, nor do we have massive amounts of time to spend gardening, but we do like the occasional Womble project (see the ‘How to‘ section for some examples).  I like to think that if we can do it in our little garden, anyone can.

Nice as the award is, the real reward for wildlife gardening is watching the wildlife make use of the habitat, shelter and food we provide.

Robin with worms

 

British Animal Challenge: bottlenose dolphins

It’s been a while since I last wrote about my British Animal Challenge, but I haven’t forgotten it. I managed to tick another species on my list this Easter: the bottlenose dolphin.

Easter day was glorious down in Cornwall. Beautiful weather, and ideal for a walk. So that’s what we did. We followed the coast path from Godrevy Beach, up round Dean Quarry (more on that later).

Of course, whenever I’m by the sea I keep my eyes peeled for exciting marine wildlife. A reasonably choppy day means I can spot vast numbers of imaginary basking sharks. But that day wasn’t so good for spotting imaginary wildlife; too flat. Which meant, when I did spot a fin breaking through the surface of the water, I knew it was something real.

Distant dolphins (the tiny black specks) by the Manacle rocks
Distant dolphins (the tiny black specks) by the Manacle rocks. (Sorry for the dodgy picture – I only had my phone with me).

The binoculars came out, and I was able to tell it was some kind of dolphin. Or rather, dolphins. There was a group of five. They travelled parallel to the cliffs, not far out, for quite a while, giving us an excellent, prolonged view.

I couldn’t identify which species of dolphin they were there and then. I could tell they weren’t common dolphins or porpoises, both of which I’ve seen quite a few times before. But I didn’t know what they were.

As soon as we got back to an internet connection, I looked up an ID guide, and concluded that they were bottlenose dolphins. This was confirmed a week later when we went out on a wildlife cruise, and, chatting to Captain Keith found that they’d seen the same group of dolphins in the same place on Easter Sunday afternoon, and they were, indeed, bottlenoses. I also learnt that one of the 5 was a youngster, which I hadn’t realised.

Bottlenose dolphins are between 2-4m long, and impressively intelligent. They use sound for communication as well as hunting, and some have been trained by the military to locate sea mines. They can live for more than 40 years, and jump 6m in the air. They’re pretty impressive animals.

The area we saw them in is the Manacles Marine Conservation Zone, off the east coast of the Lizard peninsula. This is a very special area for marine wildlife, but is under threat from plans to open a superquarry. Aside from the noise of the blasting and loading, pollution risk, increased traffic through the site of special scientific interest and area of outstanding natural beauty, and light pollution, plans involve building a new breakwater out into the Marine Conservation Zone. It was lovely seeing the dolphins there (we often spot cetaceans in that area), but there’s a real question over the future of wildlife in that area. If you want to find out more, visit the Community Against Dean Superquarry website.

Dormouse box check, July 2017

We had a fantastic dormouse box check at my site this month, finding six sleepy juveniles and an active adult.

Juveniles are this year’s young, aged at least 28 days and weighing more than 10g. Their fur isn’t as golden as an adult, but they are still super cute.

Sleepy dormouse
Sleepy dormouse

It’s really encouraging finding them this month, having not found any pregnant females or mothers with young last month – it shows they are breeding already, but using natural nest sites rather than dormice boxes. These youngsters have plenty of time to fatten up prior to hibernation.

I particularly enjoyed this box check as Dan, who’s a Surrey Dormouse Group trainee, working towards his licence, was in charge of the clipboard, directing the volunteers and recording data. This freed me up to actually check boxes for a change. There’s a delightful moment of suspense when you slide the lid of a dormouse box across and peak in; what will be in the box?

The dormice at my site continue to build rubbish nests. We never find textbook examples, with woven honeysuckle cores surrounded by green leaves. It’d be easy to dismiss many of the nests we find dormice in as apodemus nests or bird nests. This site has taught me to investigate any possible nest carefully.

Two sleepy juvenile dormice
Two sleepy juvenile dormice

We found two juveniles in what was little more than a pile of leaves. And there was a shallow, mossy nest, which didn’t look very dormousy, but I checked it anyway. On first exploration of the cavity and down the sides I could feel nothing. I was almost ready to conclude it was empty, but I went back to double check the cavity and ended up finding three dormice.

The check ended up taking quite a while, partly because we found quite a few dormice, and partly because those we did find weren’t in any hurry to get back into their nests. Several of the juveniles we found were awake but sleepy. One decided that halfway through climbing back into its nest was a good time to fall asleep. Another decided to leave its tail dangling out of the box for ages.

Dormouse refusing to put its tail back in the nest box
Dormouse refusing to put its tail back in the nest box

I’ve been checking dormouse boxes for seven years, but they can still surprise, entertain and delight me.

Election Focus 2017: Voting for hope

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the day we decide, individually and collectively, what we want from our government for the next five years.  This is our opportunity to show politicians our values, our hopes, and our vision for the UK. I urge you to make the most of this opportunity – please vote, and encourage others (particularly young people) to vote too.

Vote based on policies

When you vote, don’t do it based on what the media (or social media) say; vote based on policies. Much of our media has vested interests to protect, which may not be the same as what is in your, or our collective interest. Look beyond the headlines at what the parties intend to do.

Obviously, environmental policy isn’t the only thing you’ll think about when you vote, but please do take it into account, as there are important differences between some of the parties. I hope my blog posts comparing what the party manifestos have to say on various environmental issues have been helpful to you.

If you’re not sure who to vote for…

Having spent so much time immersed (reluctantly) in the manifestos, I’d got to the point where I wasn’t sure who I was going to vote for. Three of the UK-wide parties (Labour, the Lib Dems and the Greens) had quite good policies on environmental issues. And my constituency is such a Tory safe seat, my vote will have no impact on the outcome. (More on this later, if you’re in the same position). So I spent some time working through the ‘Vote for Policies‘ tool, covering all the issues I was remotely interested in. It’s more time-consuming than other similar tools I’ve tried, but I’ve found it the most helpful. If you’re not sure who you should vote for, give it go – it’s worth investing a bit of your time today to make sure you make the right decision.

If you’re considering voting for the Conservatives…

Please remember that, by voting for the Conservatives you are giving them permission to:

  • make fracking easier, including taking power to decide on whether fracking should be allowed away from local councils, and allowing exploratory and monitoring drilling to take place without the need to get planning permission.
  • try to bring back fox hunting
  • weaken environmental protection laws once we leave the EU (unlike Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens, the Tories do not make any commitments about keeping or enhancing the current levels of protection)

They make a few, vague but seemingly ambitious environmental claims (on climate change, air pollution and the environment in general), but consistently provide no details on how they will achieve them. This undermines their credibility, and is in keeping with the way they’ve run this whole campaign – refusing to answer questions on what they will do or how, and treating the voters as idiots who’ll happily write them a blank cheque. Soundbites are not going to reduce air pollution-related deaths or bring down our carbon emissions.

If you’re considering voting for UKIP…

If you think that there’s a chance that 97% of climate scientists might be right about climate change, please do not vote for UKIP. Climate change is too big an issue to pretend it isn’t happening, and we don’t need to do anything about it. Their policies on this issue would make the problem worse. We cannot afford that.

Vote tactically to keep the Tories out

As well as thinking about whose policies you like best, if your constituency is not a safe seat, please think about tactical voting. I truly believe that five more years of a Conservative majority government will be very bad news for the environment (and our health service, schools etc. etc…)

Is it worth voting if you’re in a safe seat?

Where I live is one of the safest Tory seats in the country. How I vote will make no difference to who ends up as my MP. So does it matter if I don’t vote? I believe it does. I can vote with my heart for the party I believe has the best policies – I don’t need to compromise to keep the worse option (the Tories or UKIP) out. But what does that achieve? When people look at the total number of votes each party received nationally, they will see my vote, and know that I support those policies and that vision for the UK. Opposition parties get “Short money” from the public purse, based on how many votes they receive. So by voting for my preferred party, I am also increasing the amount they receive (by a tiny amount) to support their work.

Tomorrow I’ll be voting for hope. Please join me.

Voting for hope

Election Focus 2017: protecting our seas

For today’s Election Focus, I am looking at what the parties say about how they will protect our seas. I have split this into several headings: protected areas around our shores; international marine protection; plans to tackle plastic pollution; and fishing.

Click on the image to see it full size.

How the parties say they will protect our seas
How the parties say they will protect our seas

My reflections

  • The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems are all a bit vague on UK marine protected areas. How much (more)  will they protect? What does that protection include? The Greens give a bit more detail.
  • Only the Tories talk about marine protection around British Overseas Territories, and their plans sound ambitious. I am not sure if they are referring to the marine protection zone already announced, or if this is additional.
  • Labour, the Greens, UKIP and Plaid Cymru all talk of introducing (or investigating) a plastic bottle deposit scheme to reduce waste. The Green Party seems to be the most ambitious in this area.
  • With Brexit, future fishing policy is a big topic, and now is a good opportunity to improve management of our fish stocks. The Tories, Labour and the Lib Dems all mention sustainability in their plans. UKIP have a lot to say on fisheries, but it’s all about taking back control, with no mention of sustainability.
  • Plaid Cymru and the SNP are both very quiet about protecting our seas.

Election Focus 2017: air pollution

Air pollution is a very important issue,  and we’ve been letting our politicians off the hook on it for too long. When I studied for my MSc in Public Health I learnt about the health effects of air pollution, and was amazed more people aren’t up in arms about it.

It’s estimated to contribute to 40,000 deaths each year in the UK. It makes children ill, and life unpleasant for those of us who work in cities. And it affects the poorest in society the worst – those who can’t afford to live further from major roads.

As a country, we’re really not doing well on this issue. The EU sets legally binding limits on air pollution, which we repeatedly exceed. The government were taken to court in 2015 for failing to do enough, and they lost. Last year a cross party committee of MPs criticised the government’s revised plan and called air pollution a public health emergency.

Given this, you’d hope all the political parties would have robust plans to deal with this problem in their manifesto. Let’s see what they have to say.

I have split this into several headings: legislation, diesel vehicles  (a major source of pollution), other related transport policies, and other measures.

Click on the image to see it full size.

What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution
What the parties have to say on tackling air pollution

My reflections

  • I am not sure if the sentence from the Tory manifesto about planting trees is how they plan to tackle air pollution, or an unrelated point. It’s all in the same paragraph, along with promises to reduce litter and fill in potholes. It’s certainly not a robust response to a public health emergency.
  • Many of the other manifestos spend quite a bit of time criticising the government’s record on air pollution. It’s an open goal and well deserved. But successive governments have failed to get a handle on it (including the Tory-Lib Dem Coalition, and Labour before them).
  • There’s not a single mention of diesel in the Tory manifesto, despite it being a big contributor to the problem.
  • I think the Lib Dem manifesto is the most convincing on this issue.
  • UKIP and SNP give no indication of wanting to reduce air pollution, and UKIP’s policies may well make the problem worse.
  • On a side issue, while searching for ‘air’ in the UKIP manifesto, I came across six mentions of Tony Blair. Given how long he’s been out of power, this seems a bit weird to me.