Thursday, 31 December 2015

Mixed ground-feeding flock at Roughdown

Throughout the winter, there is often a lovely mix of bird species feeding out in the open on Further Roughdown. One morning in October, I had Chaffinch, Green Woodpecker, Redwing and Mistle Thrush all feeding within one square metre. Today, a colourful flock of Greenfinches had joined the throng. For the full count, click HERE.

Monday, 21 December 2015

Warm enough?!

Meadow Buttercups flowering on Bulbourne Meadow 18th December 2015

I thought it was worth just noting the extraordinary weather we’ve had so far this December. On Saturday, temperatures reached 16°C at Northolt (the nearest observation site to Hemel). My car thermometer read 15°C. Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Great Tits have started their Spring songs. Robins and Wrens are singing (but do most of the year). Meadow Buttercups are flowering on Bulbourne Meadow and over at the Brickworks today, I came across leaf burst on Hawthorn (which shouldn’t happen for at least another couple of months!). It’s all rather worrying. If we’re going to get very cold weather this winter, it needs to happen asap before plants and flowers are too far along their springtime processes to recover. We’ll just have to watch and wait, I guess.

This will be my last post before 25th, so, I shall wish you all a very happy Christmas. Take care!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Lesser Redpolls at the Brickworks

Lesser Redpoll is not an easy species to see around Hemel Hempstead and, up until today, I'd not seen them at Bovingdon Brickworks either. For more on the sighting see HERE.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Mystery burrows at the Brickworks

David K had come across two curious burrows at the Brickworks a few weeks back. Thanks to the use of night time camera traps, we've solved the mystery, HERE.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

The Small Blue Project

The Small Blue: what is it and what does it need?

The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is the UK’s smallest resident butterfly. Its survival is entirely dependent upon the presence of Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), a plant which can only flourish in early successional conditions (i.e. short-turf grassland with abundant bare ground). Whilst the larvae need the Kidney Vetch, the adult butterflies need places to perch and to roost. Ideal habitats include chalk & limestone grassland, especially with naturally occurring broken ground; man-made habitats such as quarries, gravel pits, road embankments, disused railways and other brownfield sites as well as coastal grassland and dunes.

UK decline and status in Hertfordshire

Across the UK, it’s estimated we’ve lost 80% of our chalk grassland habitat over the last 60 years. That's 80% of the sites where Kidney Vetch has the potential to flourish. And, according to Butterfly Conservation, we’ve lost nearly 40% of the UK’s Small Blue butterfly population since 1970. At the end of 2014, there were only 3 known colonies of Small Blues in the whole of Hertfordshire. It’s rare and is a high priority UK Biodiversity Action Plan species.

10/06/2015 Small Blue on Kidney Vetch at the A41 Bourne End exit
Hemel Hempstead 2015

On the 8th June 2015, David Kirk and I happened to spot a single Small Blue butterfly in Dellfield meadow, Westbrook Hay. We could hardly believe our eyes! It was the first to be recorded on Trust land. Further investigations revealed that the roadside verge of the A41, less than 200 metres away, had been planted with Kidney Vetch (KV). Two days later, I counted up to 12 Small Blue butterflies on KV beside the A41 at the Boxmoor/ Bourne End exit.

Eager to confirm breeding, over the next 9 weeks, I visited the A41 site at least once a week. By the middle of July, larvae were appearing on the KV flower heads and at the very end of July, a second, albeit modest generation emerged of at least 3 butterflies. It was the best possible news. And, the Trust, who'd been keeping a close eye on progress, and had already been considering the feasibility of attracting Small Blues to the land, were keen to do everything in their power to help sustain this rare, local breeding population.

Small Blue: larvae through to adult at the A41 colony

The Box Moor Trust Small Blue Project

The KV along the A41 isn't managed or protected. The Trust’s aim is to attract the butterfly to food plants within managed habitat so that the colony is safeguarded. A handful of suitable sites nearby, on Trust land, were identified for an autumn planting of Kidney Vetch: 2 at Roughdown Common (chalk grassland) and a few at Bovingdon Brickworks (a brownfield site with areas of nutrient poor, bare sandy, clay soil). The Trust worked extremely hard to dovetail this project with county-level conservation objectives and researched thoroughly the various conditions needed to ensure that both Kidney Vetch and Small Blues would be given the best chance to thrive. At the end of November / beginning of December, organised and led by David Kirk (Chairman), more than half a dozen enthusiastic helpers (from trustees, staff and volunteers) rolled up their sleeves and planted some 500 seedling plugs and seeds across the two sites.

27/11/2015 Kidney Vetch plants (plugs & seed) protected from rabbits by wire mesh
Left: Lower Roughdown south-facing bank by A41. Right: Further Roughdown sheltered gully by railway line

04/12/2015 Kidney Vetch plants (plugs) protected from rabbits by wire mesh
South-facing bare-soil banks at Bovingdon Brickworks

04/12/2015 Left: a south-facing bare soil bank was sown with Kidney Vetch seeds. Right: more KV plugs protected by wire mesh
Bovingdon Brickworks

David (Chairman), Peter Ablett (Chairman of Estate & Land Committee) and other key trustees, volunteers and staff have busted a gut to get this project off the ground before winter. Let's hope the rabbits and slugs munch elsewhere and we reap the well deserved rewards in the spring!

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Siskins on Blackbirds Moor

Siskins are resident in the north and west of the UK but, here in Hertfordshire, we have to wait until the winter to spot them. Smart, yellow and black and streaky, these small-billed finches favour the seeds of Alder cones during winter. For the past 3 years, I have been keeping my eyes peeled for them around Trust land but it wasn’t until this autumn that I first saw and heard them on passage migration. The great news is that a small flock are currently feeding in the Alders beside the canal on Blackbirds Moor. They’re best viewed from the canal path with binoculars, from the opposite bank. If you have no luck there, the birds are also occasionally visiting the Alders on Hardings Moor. They'll stay as long as there's food and then they'll be off somewhere new...

Keep your ears open for their whistling calls.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Little Egrets hit double figures

The wet weather continued into Saturday and so did the 7 Little Egrets on the Hemel moors. More importantly, 7 became 8 and we hit double figures, TEN(!), for the total number of individuals visiting the Bulbourne in the last couple of months.

For a brief spell, the rain stopped and the sun came out. 5 Little Egrets on Bulbourne Meadow, 7/11/2015

Yesterday, 5 birds had gathered on Bulbourne Meadow and 3 were hanging out on Fishery Moor. Amongst them were the same 2 colour-ringed individuals as the previous day. That meant, we’d gained another un-ringed bird, probably attracted to the site by the large gathering. It was also interesting to note that 3 immature Grey Herons were also on Bulbourne Meadow and at least 1 other immature bird, probably 2 more, were further upstream. The most I'd seen on previous visits were 2 immature birds.

So, we’ve had 6 un-ringed and 4 ringed Little Egrets frequent the moors in the last 9 weeks. That’s pretty good going for an area which experiences frequent disturbance from pedestrians, runners, dogs, etc.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

9 Little Egrets in 9 weeks & Fieldfares arrive

Yesterday, I think the awful weather was to our advantage as it grounded a flock of 5 Little Egrets, 4 of which were new in, on Fishery Moor. The 2 other regular adults were feeding downstream in their favoured areas, making a total of 7 Little Egrets on the moors yesterday afternoon.

The group of 5 Little Egrets, including 2 colour-ringed birds, on Fishery Moor, 06/11/2015

The group of 5 included 2 colour-ringed birds, one of which was new in: RBM; LAON(9); RAYN(D), BTO ring GR24046. This individual came from the first ever nest at Verulamium Park in St Albans, ringed on 9th June 2014 by Barry Trevis. It had 3 siblings. In Autumn that year, it was spotted at Startop’s End reservoir, Tring. Finally, it was observed at the end of last year, in December 2014, in the Chaulden area of Hemel. Where it’s been for the last 11 months is anyone’s guess!

Video still, showing the new colour-ringed bird

In the last 9 weeks, the Box Moor Trust land along the River Bulbourne has been host to at least 9 LITTLE EGRETS: 2 regular un-ringed birds, 3 un-ringed visitors (yesterday) and 4 ringed birds, the latest of which carried the number 9.

Ringed birds:
LAON(9); RAYN(H). BTO ring GR24085, first spotted 03/09/2015 (caught toe)
LAON(H); RAYN(F). BTO ring GR24083, first spotted 04/09/2015
LAON(H); RAYN(C). BTO ring GR24066, first spotted 20/10/2015
LAON(9); RAYN(D). BTO ring GR24046, first spotted 06/11/2015

In other news, I caught up with the Fieldfares at the beginning of last week. On Tuesday, there was a small flock of 11 at Westbrook Hay and another of about 10 in dense scrub at the Brickworks. These birds have likely come from Scandinavia, Finland or northwest Russia and do end up frequently associating with Redwings, as was the case at the Brickworks. Keep your ears peeled for that chack, chack, chack call.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Redwings arrive

Over the last week or so the winter Thrushes have started to arrive locally. Migrant Blackbirds and Redwings have been the most abundant. Over at the Brickworks, I came across a flock of at least 50 Redwing last week. A good few remain on site, and the smaller woodland birds are forming mixed species flocks to give themselves the best chances of survival as winter approaches. For a full species count from this morning, head on over to the Brickworks blog, HERE.

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

Colour-ringed Little Egrets

The River Bulbourne, running through Bulbourne Meadow, is currently a favoured spot for 3 colour-ringed Little Egrets. Two were first spotted at the beginning of September, hatched this spring in St Albans, Verulamium Park. A third bird turned up yesterday, ringed as a juvenile at Lemsford Springs in September 2014. The ring details are as follows:
LAON(9); RAYN(H). BTO ring GR24085, first spotted 03/09/2015
LAON(H); RAYN(F). BTO ring GR24083, first spotted 04/09/2015
LAON(H); RAYN(C). BTO ring GR24066, first spotted 20/10/2015
Colour-ringed birds on Bulbourne Meadow, 4 Sept 2015

Third colour-ringed bird, River Bulbourne, 20 Oct 2015

If you'd like to know more about the history of Little Egrets in Europe and the ringing scheme, I put together a couple of far more rambling posts on my personal blog, HERE and HERE.

Friday, 16 October 2015

The clash of Kings on the River Bulbourne & an Osprey!

It’s that time of year when monogamous Kingfisher pairs part company and set up alone to see out the winter. The young too disperse, finding their own stretches of water to patrol and to sustain them through the colder months.

Just after 3pm yesterday, beside the river on Harding’s Moor, approaching Station Road, I could hear two Kingfishers having a right old barney. Insistent calling from both parties and, when I finally located the female, perched precariously on grasses overhanging the river, she was posturing continually, bowing her head and staring with murderous intent.

Disturbed by a man looking for fish(?!), the birds flew up in to the tree on the opposite bank and here they remained for at least the next 2 hours, barely moving except to posture, flinch and mirror one another. Apart from the rise and fall of their chests as they breathed, you could be mistaken for believing they were playing statues - to move was to lose the battle.

The female had clearly staked out her spot but the male seemed to slowly but surely decrease the distance between them. Unfortunately, it started to rain quite heavily towards 5pm and I had to call it a day, leaving the pair locked in this subtle but fierce battle. I wonder if this location on the river is a boundary between adjacent territories and they were asserting their lots? The male, I think, is a first winter bird and the female an adult. Perhaps mother is trying to encourage son to stop raiding the food cupboard and go out and find his own supplies! I had watched the female fishing downstream last week, again in the gloom and drizzle.

Female Kingfisher, River Bulbourne, 6 Oct 2015. A selection of video stills from handheld video footage, in the rain!

One of these days, I’ll come across the Kingfishers when there’s enough light for nice photographs at a reasonable ISO. In the meantime, here are some 90 seconds from the 2 hour stand-off, to give you a flavour of the determined patience of these birds when holding their ground. The tension of battle is palpable but made all the more obvious when the young male jumps at the sound of the female’s sudden call. Their focus was such that they completely ignored me, standing less than 10 metres away, as conspicuous as a pink elephant.

In other news - An OSPREY!

I received an exciting report from Trustee, Peter Ablett, yesterday. He’d been a passenger in a car crossing the Bulbourne on Station Road at about 12:20 and “fleetingly saw an Osprey sitting on the stump of the fallen willow by the river bridge” (very near where I subsequently watched the Kingfishers). He returned on foot a little while later but the bird had gone by then, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it’s a fantastic record and another “first” for the Trust.

Monday, 5 October 2015

Trail Cams, Moths & Autumn Flowers

Apologies for the lack of updates recently. With a bit of luck and a following wind, normal service should resume.

In the last week, Liz has posted the latest clips from the Gadespring trail cameras. And, Ben Sale and the Trust mothing team carried out their final trapping of the season at Gadespring. For more details just click on the links.

Meanwhile, over the past month or so, the autumn bloomers have really got going. A warm, sunny first week of October has certainly helped. Singling out just a couple of them, we have the tiny but ever so lovely Autumn Gentian at Roughdown Common, and, over at the Brickworks, there’s a beautiful spread of Common Toadflax in the area east of Baker’s Wood. The latter will flower right through November and perhaps even into the beginning of December.

For Gentian blooms, click HERE
For Toadflax blooms, click HERE

Friday, 24 July 2015

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Purple Hairstreaks & Large Red Appear

Fellow volunteers share sightings from Roughdown Common and Gadespring Cress Beds.

For the Purple Hairstreaks, head on over to the Roughdown blog, HERE.
For more on what's been spotted in the reeds and shallows at Gadespring, click HERE.

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Birds Fledge & Brassy Longhorns!

Over the last 10 days, Kestrels, Green Woodpeckers and the Swallows have fledged at Westbrook Hay. Over at the Brickworks, I came across a small gathering of Nemophora metallica also known as Brassy Longhorn moths. These are a county rarity although there have been a handful of records in the last year or so. For more details, head to the Brickworks blog, HERE.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Swallows at The Old Barn

A pair of Swallows have nested again this year in The Old Barn at Westbrook Hay. They've chosen a rather busy area to raise their brood - up in the corner of the walk-through. Still, both parents are hard at work, feeding 5 nestlings regularly. A few video-stills below show the family members as of 9/7/2015.

Five nestling Swallows

Attentive parents. Left: Female (shorter tail streamers); Right: Male (long tail streamers)

Friday, 3 July 2015

Youngsters at Gadespring

Young Foxes, a juvenile Heron and newly fledged Kingfishers, all thriving at Gadespring. For more details, head over to the Gadespring blog HERE (for the Fox family); HERE (for the young Heron) and HERE (for news on the Kingfishers).

Friday, 26 June 2015

Moth Trapping at the Brickworks

Ben Sale and the Trust mothing team were up into the small hours on Wednesday night, trapping at the Brickworks. For the full report and a selection of great photos, see Ben's blog HERE.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Lesser Whitethroat Calls In

Catch up with some of this week's goings-on at the Brickworks, including a singing male Lesser Whitethroat and a Bee Orchid find, HERE.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

Migrants, Fledglings & Bee Orchid Tally

This week, I was keen to do a proper butterfly count and see if any migrant butterflies or moths had turned up. I was particularly looking for Silver-Y (Autographa gamma) but didn’t have any luck there.

Wednesday (17/06/2015)

I predominantly tackled Bovingdon Reach meadow, although I did skirt round the west side of Dellfield and go through Hay Wood and up into Ramacre Wood. The butterflies and moths were as follows:

Dellfield meadow (TL029057)
3 Small Tortoiseshell
4 Meadow Brown
4 Common Blue
4 Yellow Shell
1 Burnet Companion
1 Large Skipper
1 Celypha lacunana

Yellow Shell (Camptogramma bilineata), a very variable moth. This one had the much darker band.

Hay Wood (TL030056)
3 Yellow-barred Longhorn (1 female, 2 male, different locations within grid ref)

Bovingdon Reach meadow (TL028052 & surrounding area)
12 Meadow Brown
6 Common Blue
2 Yellow Shell
11 Burnet Companion
1 Garden Grass-veneer

Ramacre Wood (TL024049)
24 Yellow-barred Longhorn (an all male gathering!)

Yellow-barred Longhorn (Nemophora degeerella), female.
The relatively short antennae suggest this is a female - the only one I found - the rest were all males!

In Hay Wood, close to the pond, there was a bundle of 6 noisy, freshly fledged Wrens. In the pond, I did spot 2 Newts that David K had found the previous day.

Juvenile Wren. 1 of at least 6, under rather a dark Hay Wood canopy. 

Thursday (18/06/2015)

I walked the Brickworks and spent some time in the NE corner of Bovingdon Reach, counting the Bee Orchids. The tallies were as follows:

Bovingdon Brickworks (TL008027 & surrounding area)
4 Speckled Wood
16 Meadow Brown
1 Small Tortoiseshell
2 Yellow-barred Longhorn (males)
7 Common Blue
1 Dingy Skipper
1 Marbled White (first of the year)
1 Painted Lady (Migrant. First of the year)
1 Large White
1 Yellow Shell
1 Hummingbird Hawk-moth (first I've seen at the site)

Also, at least 6, possibly up to 8 chirpy, newly fledged Nuthatches in the wooded area, grid ref: TL00800269.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui), Bovingdon Brickworks

Bovingdon Reach meadow (concentrating on a small area, where the Bee Orchids are thriving, TL030053)
1 Painted Lady (Migrant. First, as far as I know, for the site)
1 Brown Argus (first for the site)
3 Small Tortoiseshell
6 Common Blue
6 Meadow Brown
1 Burnet Companion
1 Yellow Shell
1 Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella) (Migrant)

Rush Veneer (Nomophila noctuella), a very worn, faded specimen.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera) count was at least 87 spikes. I will have missed a good few more, so, numbers aren’t too far down on last year.

The Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) was a real surprise and the first I’ve seen at the Westbrook Hay meadows. I have noticed a lot of Cut-leaved Cranesbill growing around Dellfield meadow and I’m sure it’ll be on Bovingdon Reach as well. The area is just right for Brown Argus so I can’t see any reason why this region can’t become well populated in the future.

Brown Argus, Bovingdon Reach, photographed by © Jason R Chalk whilst
I checked the underside of the butterfly to ensure it wasn't a female Common Blue. It wasn't!

Overall, Common Blue numbers seem low this year, so far.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Willow Warblers Mixing it Up!

There have been at least 2 mixed singing Willow Warblers on Box Moor Trust land this Spring. For more details, head on over to the Brickworks blog, HERE.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Mid June lepidoptera at Roughdown & Westbrook Hay Bee Orchids

For the Roughdown update, head on over to the Roughdown blog, HERE.

At Westbrook Hay, in the NE region of Bovingdon Reach meadow, the beautiful Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera) have returned. There are good numbers again this year, at least 50+ although it could be double that as I've really not done a thorough count.

Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

There were also a few spikes of what I think is Common Broomrape (Orobanche minor), a parasitic plant, probably feeding off the nearby Clover. One of the Bee Orchids is just within frame (on the left).

Common Broomrape (Orobanche minor)

Butterflies and moths of note in the NE region of Bovindgon Reach:

8 Meadow Brown
12 Common Blue
3 Yellow Shell
2 Burnet Companion
1 Large White

On the river Bulbourne yesterday, by Bulbourne Meadow, Damselflies included a handful of Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum), 3 Blue-tailed (Ischnura elegans) and a female Red-eyed (Erythromma najas).

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Moth Trapping at Roughdown

Ben Sale and the Box Moor Trust mothing team were again trapping at Roughdown Common last night. I joined them for the first half and the evening seemed to go very well. Overall, the team recorded 105 species! For the full story, including photos, see Ben's expert write-up HERE.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Dellfield: First Small Blue & Grass Rivulets

Butterfly Transect Survey results for 2014 reveal that 78 Small Blues were recorded at Chiswell Green’s Butterfly World, 1 at Heartwood Forest, near St Albans, and 3 near Pirton. That was it for Hertfordshire! The Small Blue is all but absent from the majority of the County. It’s not difficult to imagine then my shock when I found one fluttering along the edge of Dellfield meadow at Westbrook Hay yesterday! I was very glad David K was with me as a corroborating witness and to reassure me that I wasn’t hallucinating. It was the first Small Blue either of us had seen in Hertfordshire and also the 30th species of butterfly recorded on Trust land.

Small Blue
Grass Rivulet

Along with the Small Blue, we also caught up with 2 Grass Rivulet (Perizoma albulata) moths, a County rarity, found at the weekend by Roger Prue. And, a Small Yellow Underwing (Panemeria tenebrata) moth, which turned out to be a female ovipositing on Common Mouse-ear. A quick check at the NE end of Bovingdon Reach meadow was rewarded with seeing the first flowers on the returning Bee Orchids (Ophrys apifera). All in all, a fantastic morning!

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Brown Argus Foodplant Discovered

For more details, head on over to the Brickworks blog, HERE. Also, given that Dingy Skipper records have varied from between 1-6 butterflies, guess how many were spotted on 13/05/2015….click, to find out...

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Moth Trapping at Roughdown Common

Ben Sale and the Box Moor Trust mothing team were trapping at Roughdown Common last night. The target species was Light Feathered Rustic but, for whatever reason, this didn’t materialise. However, as the night progressed, the number of moths grew and the catch was eventually one of Ben’s biggest for the second week of May. For the full story, see Ben's witty report HERE on his great mothing blog.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Dingy Skippers at the Brickworks

Dingy Skippers (Erynnis tages) - don't be put off by the name! Dingy doesn't mean boring and these little butterflies are well worth seeing. Their presence at Bovingdon Brickworks is pretty important, especially when you realise that only 17 of these butterflies were seen at 3 other sites in the whole of Hertfordshire and Middlesex last year. 2 were riding the breeze at Bovingdon today. For more details see the Brickworks blog HERE.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Solitary Bee at Roughdown

I had the opportunity to photograph one of the solitary bee species at Roughdown on Monday. It’s common in the south of Britain but prefers open grassland habitat rather than bare earth for its nest sites. Roughdown fits the bill perfectly! For more on the little miner, described as having “foxy-brown hair”, head to the Roughdown blog HERE.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Wildflowers in Bury Wood and Sheethanger

The bright sunny days have drawn the leaves from their protective sheaths and for a short while they show amazing brilliant colours. 
On Sheethanger this birch is almost flourescent agains the bare trees behind it.

We enter Bury Wood where the dappled light is filtered through trees not yet in leaf

The forest floor is dotted with wild flowers. Soon it will turn blue/purple with the bluebells, but shyer flowers are still enjoying their moment in the sun

Violets and celandine love the damp shade but smile at the sun when it comes out. 

Both have done really well this year.

By the path, delicate white Wood Sorrel glitters in the undergrowth.

The main stars of the show are not yet out, but soon they will paint the whole area blue and waft their amazing and heady scent.

 Wild bluebells are precious because they indicate woodland that has been undisturbed.

They differ from those grown in gardens which are mainly a Spanish variety.

The colour is very distinctive and difficult to describe, Not blue, not purple.

The flowers are elongated and have a frilly base.

The main difference is that Spanish bluebells grow from all around the stem and stand straight, like a hyacinth, whereas the wild ones only grow from one side, so as they open out, they bend.

Watch this space for a transformation soon!

Monday, 20 April 2015

Green Hairstreaks at Roughdown

2 Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) butterflies were on the wing today at Lower Roughdown. For more details, see the Roughdown blog HERE.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Small Mammals

Trust land is host to a number of small mammals. I stumbled across a freshly dead Common Shrew (Sorex araneus) at the Brickworks this morning, whilst studying the mining bees. For more details see: A Common Shrew on the Brickworks blog.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

First Moth Trapping of the Year

Ben Sale and the Box Moor Trust mothing team were trapping at Hay Wood, Westbrook Hay last night. Ben had been hoping for a Brindled Beauty but no such luck. The pick of the catch was a Frosted Green. For the full report, see Ben's post HERE on his excellent mothing blog.

Solitary Bees

Keep your eyes peeled for Mining Bees aka Solitary Bees at Roughdown Common and the Brickworks. For more details see David K's notes in the Brickworks blog HERE.

Friday, 10 April 2015

The Embrace of Common Toads

I spent Monday morning with a crowd of frisky Toads. That’s not a euphemism for the sort of people I hang out with, I do mean the amphibians, warts and all.

Sunday evening I’d learned that Common Frogs (Rana temporaria) and Common Toads (Bufo bufo) had spawned on Trust land (many thanks to the keen observer). I don’t remember ever having seen Toad strings so their presence was too interesting a sight to resist. In fact, not only were there Toad strings, there were Toads and they were still locked in the mating embrace, amplexus, and spawning.

Much of the time, the pairs remained under water but it was still possible to see the string of double-stranded eggs emerging from the rear of the female (the string can also be triple-stranded, whilst single-stranded egg strings would indicate the far more rare Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita)). The male on her back releases sperm cells to fertilise the eggs as they are laid.

The whole process was extremely slow. I spent over 2.5 hours watching them and 1 pair produced perhaps 30cm of eggs. The female steered proceedings, at one point climbing up, through, onto and over vegetation and slowly, slowly going back into the water, her trail of spawn behind her. Somehow, she manages to manoeuvre herself and the male, so as to tie the spawn to vegetation. Very clever indeed.

Toad strings can contain between 400-5000 eggs and be between 3 and 4.5 metres long. One of the Toad pairs on site had opted to spawn where there wasn’t any vegetation to attach the strings to. As a consequence, the pair were hidden and wriggling inside a large ball of eggs approx 20cm in diameter. I’m not sure how long that will last before perhaps a Fox gobbles it up.

Speaking of predators, I did wonder if maybe one of the female Toads had survived an attack of some sort. She had a very badly damaged right back foot. Unlike Common Frogs, Common Toads posses a fairly potent defence mechanism. When under threat, they secrete a foul tasting toxin, bufagin, from glands in the skin. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to dissuade species like Grey Herons, Mink, Rats and Hedgehogs from guzzling them.

The female's badly damaged right back foot

The male's right back foot for comparison

Making their way over the reeds

Common Toads are nocturnal, solitary creatures, coming together only for the short breeding period, following hibernation. Adults return annually to the same breeding ground. And, research suggests that those adults will also have been spawned at that site and their spawn too will return there to breed. Their diet consists mainly of invertebrates caught with their sticky tongue using a “sit and wait” or “whilst I’m passing” strategy. Basically, they are opportunistic feeders, responding to movement.

Until this week, I knew next to nothing about Common Toads and it was interesting to discover that they are 1 of only 6 (or 7, depending on your view on re-introductions) native UK amphibians. It’s a small and select group made up of 1 or probably 2 species of Frog; 2 species of Toad and 3 species of Newt:

Great Crested Newt (Triturus cristatus)Common Toad (Bufo bufo)Common Frog (Rana temporaria)
Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris)Natterjack Toad (Epidalea calamita)*Pool Frog (Pelophylax lessonae) 
Palmate Newt (Lissotriton helveticus)

* Evidence suggests that there was/is a native species of British Pool Frog, which was re-introduced within the last decade, into East Anglia. There are, of course, a few non-native amphibian species around too but I won’t list those here.

So, within the first week of April, we’ve had both Common Frogs and Common Toads spawning. Having watched 4 pairs all still releasing and fertilising eggs, it should be possible to follow their progress quite accurately. Tadpoles should hatch within about 10-14 days from laying. It’ll take a further 8-12 weeks for the toadlets to fully develop, leaving the water en mass. And, it’ll be 4 years before these youngsters reach sexual maturity, ready to return here to spawn themselves. The cycle of life continues.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Signs of Spring

What a delightful Easter we have had.

The flowers are bursting into life on the Moor.
(Daisy, & Lesser Celandine)

The trees seem bare but the buds will burst soon.
(Plough Gardens)

By the canal, white violets glisten in the shade.
(White morph Sweet Violets)

Ducks and geese have paired up
and beg scraps from passing boaters.

The first few butterflies are waking from their
winter sleep, basking in the sun's life-giving rays.
(Small Tortoiseshell)
The trees show their delicate flowers,
acid green against the blue sky.

(Norway Maple & KD Tower backdrop)

Emerging Norway Maple flowers.