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.

Cowslips at Roughdown Common