Thursday, 19 May 2016

Lesser Whitethroat returns

Last year, a singing male Lesser Whitethroat turned up at the Brickworks at the end of June. It seemed to stay in and around the area thereafter until it was time to head back to its sub-Saharan wintering territory.

You never know whether these birds will return and so it was with genuine delight that I heard that familiar jangling/rattling song back at the Brickworks on Sunday 15th May.  It is currently favouring the hedge at the northwest edge of the site, sharing the area with 3+ Common Whitethroats (location marked in blue on the map below). With a bit of luck it'll attract a female and breed there.

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Moths, Dingy Skippers and Warblers

The first moth trapping of the year at the Brickworks took place on Sunday 8th May. After a very slow start to the year, Ben and the team had a surprisingly successful night, with Ben adding 3 brand new species to his life list (that's no mean feat!). For the full report and some super photos, please do visit Ben’s blog, here.

Other news from the site, the first Dingy Skipper of the year zipped past me on Friday 6th. Orange-tips are out in good numbers now, along with one or two Speckled Woods and Small and Large Whites.

There are really good numbers (perhaps into double figures for each) of singing Blackcap and Chiffchaff. The number of Common Whitethroats steadily increased all last week, as more birds settled in to their territories. Again, we could well be into double figures now. So far, just the one Willow Warbler, a mixed singer and likely the same bird that was on site last year.

Dingy Skipper 6/5/2016

News from the end of April

Six Lesser Redpolls spent a week on site, feeding on buds in the blossoming Blackthorn. They mostly kept themselves tucked away, out of sight, but I got lucky one morning, when a beautiful rosy chested male came out into the open.

[The video is best viewed in HD: press play then click on the cog, bottom right, and select 760pHD quality]

At least one pair of Muntjac are regularly around the site. I managed to grab a record shot of the female before she darted into the scrub on 21/4/2016.

Monday, 11 April 2016

Newt Survey

Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). Male.
Without the buoyancy of the water, the crest, which runs along his back, is folded over onto his body/tail

Last week, I slid into the watery world of the Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). This is the UK’s most common and widespread newt species. In terms of its length (up to 10cm), it sits comfortably in between the UK’s smallest newt, the Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus) and the UK’s largest and most protected newt, the Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus). All 3 native species are fairly widespread and it seemed plausible that we might have at least 2 of the 3 on BMT land. The only way to find out was to get stuck into a proper, grown-up newt survey.

Close by, local RSK ecologist, Jess Breeze, and 3 bright, young Master’s students, found themselves in need of a convenient training ground. It was a match made in Resource Management heaven. A plan was struck, collaborations agreed and wellies cleaned. We even had an average overnight temperature of or above 5°C on Thursday, making bottle trapping a possibility. All that was missing were the slinky, lizard-like amphibians.

There are four main surveying methods: torching, bottle trapping, netting and locating eggs. They’re all fairly self-explanatory but there’s a whole lot more info here, if you’d like it.

Bovingdon Brickworks, lined pond

We started at Bovingdon Brickworks. The torching count was a complete surprise. Although I’ve seen frogs here, I hadn’t expected newts. We tallied 28 male and 30 female Smooth Newts. It was crawling with life!

Following a count of the adults, it was time to look for eggs. This entails a search for vegetation which has been folded over by the female, using her hind feet, to protect/house the solitary egg in its jelly sack. A single length of vegetation can be used more than once, creating a concertina appearance.

Spot the folded grass stem

Smooth Newt egg, 1) inside the grass stem 2) revealed 3) up close

Over the course of a breeding season, she’ll lay a phenomenal 200-300 of these and they will be the offspring of numerous different males.

The eggs are tiny, approx 2mm in diameter.

The fun didn’t end with the egg hunt. Oh no, after that it was time for bottle trapping in Hay Wood, Westbrook Hay.

8/4/2016, 9am, Hay Wood pond. Bamboo poles mark the location of bottle traps, set 2m apart, 12 hours previously

Bottle traps: 1) in the pond, 2) out of the water, showing angle of submersion, which enables the formation of an air bubble inside to provide trapped newts with oxygen

Our trapping, torching and egg hunt success was less impressive at the Hay Wood pond. Just 1 male and 1 female in the bottle traps. 3 spotted the previous night, torching (the water was too murky, following the heavy rain). No eggs found.

Bottle trap results: 1 female and 1 male Smooth Newt plus a well developed frog tadpole (back legs starting to sprout)

Having never surveyed newts before, it really was a fascinating and fun process. When Jess showed us the telltale sign of the presence of eggs and then unfurled the grass stem, it was one of those moments where you couldn’t help but gasp and smile at the ingenuity of nature. Sure, less than 1% of all the eggs laid will make it to adulthood but the fact remains, delicate, tiny and vulnerable organisms do survive. Nature may be red in tooth and claw but it is also structured in such a way as to sustain a life when it is at its most defenceless. To be aware of that is to experience, and to be enveloped within, a unique kind of limitless beauty. Many thanks to Jess and her colleagues for the opportunity.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Spawning Toads

Just two days after my last visit and Common Toads (Bufo bufo) have arrived to spawn. In the 3 years I’ve been walking the Brickworks site, this is my first record of breeding Toads. It’s fantastic to see and I just hope the seasonal pools maintain sufficient water for the spawn to mature.

I counted 2 mating pairs and 3 other singles, making a total of at least 7 Toads. No doubt there will have been others below the murky surface.

Along with the numerous singing Chiffchaff, a pair of Linnets were searching out a nest site. I added Brimstone to the butterflies now emerged from hibernation.

Strings of "pearls" aka Toad Spawn

Sunday, 3 April 2016

A fall of Chiffchaff

A lovely sunny afternoon at the Brickworks today. The car thermometer read 14°C

Birds of particular interest

At least 10 singing Chiffchaff around the site. Many of these were likely to be migrants, newly arrived.
A Tawny Owl gave one burst of song at about 14:30 (my first record of this species here)
1 drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 calling
3 Green Woodpeckers, one of which called
1 singing Song Thrush
Also numerous common species singing around the site

Butterflies spotted

2 Comma
2 Peacock
(also had 1 Small Tortoiseshell last week)

Flowering plants included

Lesser Celandine
Colt’s Foot
Ground Ivy

If I get the chance, I’ll upload a few photos next week.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Spawning Frogs & drumming Woodpeckers

It only happens once every 4 years. It’s February 29th! Frogs have already spawned at the Brickworks, in their favoured seasonal pond; a Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming this morning, and Snowdrops are giving way to Daffodils and Crocuses. We’re leaping into spring.

As I walked the site today, I came across 4 buzzing Bullfinches. They’re generally very shy but I managed to photograph this female (below) busy feeding on the buds of Blackthorn and Hawthorn. It won’t be long before the first hibernating butterfly takes flight.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Lesser Redpolls still

It was great to discover yesterday that presumably the same pair of Lesser Redpolls is still around the Brickworks. I could only mange distant record shots as they fed in a Silver Birch but they really are lovely little birds to have locally. A flock of 8 Bullfinches were perched up nearby and, once again, I had at least 4 Jays as I walked the site.