Saturday, 29 March 2014

Flower Power

Rediscovered my macro lens today.

A cute female flower bee taking a rest and warming up on the patio.
Time for a wash and brush up including making sure that you have a very clean tongue!

Now for a bit of a feed but she's got the attention of the local males....

The female makes a break for it but is followed by two males who are joined by a third.
 One of the males attempts to mate with the female whilst another is close by.
 The male successfully mates with the female and I leave them alone.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Early Spring - So Easy To Miss

Blink and you can miss it. I find that spring is so easily missed, you tend to wait for spring to happen and then realise that it has and summer is fast approaching. March is when it all kicks off big time, and today was no exception, what a beautiful warm and sunny day.

I visited an area close to home and happily spent a couple of hours in the company of many butterflies, I must have had at least 12 brimstones flying up and down the hedgerows along with peacocks and commas. Buzzards were displaying overhead and lizards scurrying about in the leaf litter and basking in the warmth along with a single male adder.

 Backlit cultivated dafodils but the sign of early spring.

This peacock was one of many warming itself after overwintering in the area.
Common lizard catching a few rays.
Common Buzzard, one of 4 in the skies, displaying.

 Eristalis pertinax, the drone fly, a common but distinctive species.

Lesser Celandine, only a few in flower along with violets.

Comma butterfly, so called because of the white 'comma' like mark on the underwing.

Primroses, just make you feel good. 

Male adder, my first for the year.

Only when I had to leave did events take a turn for the worst as folks arrived intent on riding their motorbikes and quad bikes around the same area that all this wonderful wildlife lives in. Such a shame, I doubt they even cared.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

February Missing Bits

So stuff that I forgot to blog about earlier. Well the first frogs in the pond appeared around Feb 17th and since then i've seen at least 4 with 2 coupled but so far no sign of any spawn. Toad patrolling at Swanscombe has been hit and miss but so far 8 toads, 7 frogs and 6 newts have been safely carried across the road and have hopefully been able to do their stuff. Whilst 5 toads and 1 frog weren't so lucky getting squashed on the way whilst crossing the road :-(

Also on the 17th Feb I saw a freshly dead badger at the top of the dual carriageway from the Bean roundabout as you approach Bluewater, whilst driving to work at Crossways. I've never knowingly heard redwings sing in the UK before this February and on a few occasions whilst walking to the car at Crossways I've enjoyed listening to a quiet, presumed, sub-song of a couple of redwings that were feeding on the cotoneaster berries of the bushes linking the various car parks there.

Friday was the start of the spring/summer/autumn Garden Moth Scheme, so I set my 40W actinic trap with an expectation of catching nothing especially as it was pouring with rain and cold. My expectation was appropriate for the night as my check of the trap in the morning proved that I had caught nothing or at least nothing decided to stay and who could blame it.

Went to a very interesting talk on Wildlife and Planning given by David Skully from Tunbridge Wells District Council last Friday at a Kent Mammal Group meeting. Certainly a subject that I knew very little about. David is the Biodiversity Officer for that Council and gets involved in many, if not all of the planning applications. Whilst David obviously enjoys his work immensely, I came away from the talk with the feeling that local councils are placed under great pressure to manage planning applications and their biodiversity impacts with minimal resources. I was unaware that quotas for handling planning applications are set by the government with penalties imposed if quotas are not met and the government wading in to make a planning decision if the 8 week timeline from submission to decision is not met. No doubt, David and his colleagues sometimes have to make compromises.

When you see government statements such as
'Purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable development'
rather than what I'd prefer to read
'Purpose of planning is to help achieve sustainable biodiversity'

I tend to wonder just how long the remaining green spaces in Kent will actually remain and what will be left for future generations outside of nature reserves, assuming that the nature reserves are allowed to continue to enjoy their protected status?

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Insects Make A Start

In the garden today, a brimstone, 7 spot ladybird, an Eristalis sp. of hoverfly, honey bees and a queen tree bee. Bring on the sunshine.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Feel Good Factor

Out on toad patrol for the first time this year and Lisa and I managed to save 4 toads, 2 frogs and 2 probably smooth newts. The toads are so cute when they make their little squeaky noises, I know that sounds soppy but they are, honest. Unfortunately there were 3 squashed toads in the road :-(

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Checkout Ma Chakras

So this week I visited Tyland Barn, home of the Kent Wildlife Trust and had a good natter with Sue Morris who heads up the people engagement side of things. Sue introduced me to Sam who is puting together a survey for water voles and mink along parts of the north Kent marshes, keen to get involved and get myself trained up in all things riparian I offered my services. So hopefully come April I will be able to attend a training course and then help our over the spring and summer, cannot wait.

Toad patrol time is getting close, I'm expecting the call from KRAG anytime now to get my fluorescent jacket on and head off to Southfleet protecting toads, frogs and newts from getting squashed as they travel to their traditional ponds to mate and have a good time. At least this year I'll know to help the toads whatever direction they are traveling in. Last year I just assumed the toads going back across the road where confused and heading in the wrong direction. Ooops.

Out for a short walk in the lovely sunshine after seeing 4 buzzards flying over the garden, certainly they seem to be doing well in the local area. 7 spot ladybird and a comma on the wing were nice to see along with a flock of 130 linnets in the surrounding farmland.

Now to the title. Chakras are the meeting points of the non-physical energy channels, seems fairly obvious to me!!! Well Lisa has a much better handle about it all than me, so we visited Glastonbury over the weekend a very interesting place for all things alternative, spiritual, earthie and non-physical energy flows. We were almost put off by the reports of the flooding and were thinking of not going but to be honest the worst of the flooding that we experienced was to the west of Glastonbury and some of the locals we spoke to mentioned that tourists seemed to be staying away due to the inflated media reports of the flooding. Well I'm sure it was not inflated if you were one of the poor people affected but you can understand what the local business folk meant.

A couple of photos here so you can gauge some of the extent as Lisa and I also visited on our way to Cornwall in September 2013. Both of these are taken from the Tor.

Sept 2013.

Just about most of the farmland west of Glastonbury is under water!

Feb 2014

There is a great cake shop in the high street, obviously highly admired by one very patient customer.

In another shop you find yourself in a very different world of alternative medicine, just an amazing display of herbs and aromatherapy based medicinal cures, along with some freaky candles.

They also had an excellent 'Green Man' made from herbs.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Welcome Back

If you are reading this then the likelihood is that you are one of my few followers that have stuck in there and noticed that I've returned, so welcome back and I hope you like the new banner. The dragonfly species is an emperor that I photographed at Beacon Hill country park many years back

This year is going to be an interesting one and I've decided to resurrect the blog to try and document what happens. At the end of March I'm getting made redundant from my IT manager job at Barclays and after 28 years in the industry this is the best chance I'm going to get in my life to make the career change I've been longing for, so here goes. I’m going to try and get a career in ecology! So at the moment I’m dusting off and totally re-writing the CV and preparing cover letters and having to re learn all those interview skills that I last used 28 years ago, to be honest it feels like I’ve left college again.

At the moment I'm having great difficulty getting my last contracted date with my current employer finalised but I expect to be leaving them on March 31st and then I’m ready for the spring big time and too be honest I cannot wait.
So far this year I haven't been out that much but here is what has been happening in my world.

I’m going to sneak back into 2012 a little bit because I was lead guide on one of the ORCA I-SPY trips in September where we had Chris Packham as a guest, who by the way I consider to be a top guy. The trip was just awesome where the 80 or so guests on the Brittany Ferries Pont Aven, where treated to an amazing wildlife spectacle. Just take a look at the sightings map we kept during the trip.

On this trip I managed to see a new species of cetacean for me in the amazing shape of northern bottlenose whale and I also got another personal first for the Bay of Biscay when we picked up killer whales close to the ferry, the whole trip was just wild with mind blowing observations.

Then still in September of last year I managed to get to Grain for a visit and saw my very first water shrew, unfortunately a dead one.

So why a water shrew? Well it has black fur without any change of colouration or demarcation on the belly like common shrew, it also has white fur around the ears and the underside of the tail is furred.

So into this year, 2014.

Well I've managed to do a winter bird survey, to help me build my ecology survey experience and also attended a Kent Mammal Group riparian survey training event. led by Richard Andrews, which will also come in useful later in the year when the surveys kick off.

Have I been out anywhere? Well given my change of header, I visited Beacon Woods at Bean, in the mud and rain.

This is a flooded viewing platform that normally overlooks the main pond!

I did manage to find these lovely fungi which I’ve yet to put a name too. Looks like someone's spilled some paint on them.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Mini-beasts, Dragons and Moths

A great weekend for me regarding insects, a couple of superb nights of moth trapping and then I managed to catch up with one of last years rare dragonfly species that I missed.

Over Saturday night I set my mv trap in the hope of catching some good moths for me to use as part of the mini-beasts walk I was booked in for at Darenth Country Park. A good haul overnight produced ruby tiger, privet hawk moth, marbled beauty, iron prominent, angle shades and the spectacle which were chosen to show the folks attending the event. I was a little overwhelmed when 60 people turned up! I managed to get the kids to rethink which insects were best out of moths and butterflies. Generally butterflies come on as the better loved but after showing them the group of moths caught overnight, moths then became the clear favourites, hurrah!

The mini-beasts event was totally exhausting but incredible, the kids in the party were superb, so much enthusiasm rushing about catching butterflies, grasshoppers, spiders, flies and bees, I was kept very busy trying to identify what I could. In true Olympic fashion I split the boys and girls into teams, with the girls scoring a point for every butterfly species and the boys for every grasshopper and cricket species. The girls romped home with 9 points to the boys 5 but it made it fun.

On getting home I had a call telling me about a southern migrant hawker at Cliffe which I duly went to see and I was glad I did because it was a cracking beastie.

The top photo is hawkers_comparison_resizeof the male southern migrant hawker at Cliffe and the bottom photo is of a male migrant hawker, taken in September a few years back.

On first glance they both look similar but the things to check are the colour of the eyes which in southern migrant hawker are a rich blue and the colour of segments 1 and 2. These are the segments immediately behind where the hindwings join the body. In southern hawker both segments are blue, in migrant hawker segment 1 has a set of yellow and brown markings.

Another id feature is the the difference in the markings on the side of the thorax, thin black lines in southern and broad lime/yellow stripes in migrant.










Another unexpected find was a number of small red-eyed damselflies.12_08_11_cliffe_small_red_eyed_damselfy_058Onto some of the other moths caught over the Friday night.

12_08_11_longfield_ crambus_perlella_warringtonellus_110

I haven’t noticed this form of Crambus perlella before it is called warrintonellus.













A great looking moth the grey dagger.12_08_11_longfield_grey_dagger_042I’ve been having a real problem identifying pugs this year, don’t know why just cannot do them at the moment, however this was one exception a nice v-pug.12_08_11_longfield_v_pug__026

This one got me thinking and another first for me, the dark form of willow beauty, f. rebeli


This next micro moth was another first for me, whilst common across southern Britain it has a local distribution, Catoptria falsella, what a little cracker.


Monday, 6 August 2012

Blubber and Fur

Last Saturday saw me down at Dungeness reasonably early taking a couple of hours out to look for marine mammals as I’d missed out on the National Whale and Dolphin Watch weekend over the 27th – 29th July. So I’d decided to complete my watch as a Kent Mammal Group activity and to be honest I wasn’t really expecting anyone else to turn up which was just as well as I spent the two hours alone, enjoying an exciting cetacean and seabird spectacle.


The watch started off well with 3 harbour porpoise being seen within 5 minutes of arriving, 2 of the animals were within 800 metres offshore and one could be seen with the naked eye. There was an obvious trickle of terns, common, arctic and sandwich moving west in the strong south westerly wind which was whipping the sea into a state 4/5. With lots of white water visible and troughs of up to 2 metres, this was hardly good conditions for trying to see the smallest cetacean in European waters being between 4.5-5.5 feet in length but at least it wasn’t raining.


Other notable birds included 2 black terns an arctic skua and an adult little gull still with a black head. Around 2km’s offshore a building, wheeling group of gannets had started to form and plunge dive, always an impressive sight and an indication of food below the waves which may also be attractive to cetaceans. Sure enough 3 harbour porpoises were there surging through the waves obviously feeding and chasing prey. At times the porpoise would be on the front side of a wave trough and you could see the whole animal just under the surface. In total I managed to see around 10 harbour porpoise and a very close grey seal.

On Sunday, Lisa and I went to a woodland area near to Aylesbury to help out with edible dormouse Glis glis monitoring. Mainly due to the spring and summer weather the numbers of glis being found in the provided nestboxes were down on previous years. Hopefully the majority of animals were safely hibernating the year through and would appear in 2013 rather than having moved into the surrounding houses were they are known to cause havoc by chewing through cables. We were told of one home where already this year 297 had been caught and killed!

12_08_05_edible dormouse_126

How can you do that to something so cute! Watch out for those teeth though as they bite back and they hang on, hence the need to wear gloves when handling.

12_08_05_edible dormouse_134

A superb set of whiskers helps this little beastie check out it’s surroundings at night as it wanders the canopy looking for beech nuts.

12_08_05_edible dormouse_080

This year the use of endoscopes made it easier to checkout the contents of the boxes for any snoozing dormice. As I approached one box and looked through the scope I said ‘ I’m not sure but I think there is a dormouse in here, probably worth taking down just to double check.’.


The box was duly taken down and emptied into a collecting bag. In the bottom were 8 mature dormice, it must have been a squash in there, just awesome!!


After a lot of box checking and data gathering it was back to the control hut for tea and cakes after a job well done.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

So Where Have I Been?

Well most recently, between 14th –21st May, I have been to Norway on a SAGA cruise. Actually i’m not quite eligible to officially join as a cruise guest just yet but I managed to get a place as part of an Organisation Cetacea (ORCA), survey team on the lookout for cetaceans. In fact SAGA and ORCA have built up a good relationship that allows ORCA survey teams aboard providing a welcome additional wildlife aspect to their cruises and giving ORCA much needed extra survey data. So both parties benefit.
The ship is called the Quest For Adventure and a good size vessel she is too.
Whilst we are there to survey for marine wildlife it is an important part of the role to get involved in other aspects of the cruise and ensure we engage with the other guests. So with best formal frocks and suits on, I’ll introduce the survey team. Me, Cheryl, Debbie and Steve, what a fine bunch.
So off to Norway but the weather conditions are not that good for cetaceans but we do manage to see a couple of harbour porpoises and a few puffins.
The first stop was Bergen , a major port for the support of the oil industry.
This ship looks like a seismic survey vessel, used for finding gas and oil fields, potentially not good news for cetaceans. In fact it’s an anchor handling tug, still looks very odd though.
Part of our role is to also help out being additional guides on excursions, which is good fun and allows us to see some of the local colour. The funicular railway gets you on your way to Mount Floyen .
The view from the top.
During World War II Bergen being occupied by the Germans hosted U-boats and you can still see the formidable old concrete pens in the harbour.
Next day saw us further north at the more picturesque village of Flam.
Certainly a more pastoral feel to the local farming practice leading to fields full of wild flowers, these being ladies smock.
Some of the more common garden birds
Marsh Tit
Pied Flycatcher
White Wagtail
There were also some cute local residents.
Some of the team got a bit stuck trying to get up close to a local waterfall.
The next day we were at Skjolden, the scenic Sognefjell Mountain pass and the Sognelfjord.
Some of the local reindeer.
The trip along the Sognelfjord gave us our first chance to see harbour porpoise in good calm conditions.
That days sunset was particularly special.
Our last day in Norway was at Stavangar, once again we were able to join in as additional escorts on some of the excursions. One of which went through the old part of the town which still has 130 preserved buildings from the late 1700s and mid 1800s.
The impressive Hafrsfjord monument ‘Swords in the Stone’ is thought to be where the viking king Harald I defeated the last of regional princes and started the unification of Norway.
Our last day at sea travelling back to Dover actually gave us an incredible sea state 1 which allowed us to record over 30 harbour porpoises and 7 minke whales. The sunset was superb and a fitting end to the trip.
A great trip and team, the crew of the Quest looked after us very well.