Sunday, 18 August 2019

Jewels on the Wing

I have been collecting data on the wildlife of 'my patch' for over 15 years now and its about time I did a little more with that information.

At this time of year we are approaching the end of the Banded Demoiselle flight period and so I thought it appropriate to explore their population dynamics since 2003.



How has their population size changed over time? Has the time they first emerge got earlier or has the length of their flight period changed. I can answer all these questions in a series of graphs.

Graph 1 - Number of maximum individuals recorded each week


This graph shows that between 2003 and 2013 the population was fairly static at less that 150 individuals in flight er observation. This increases markedly in 2014 with number rarely dropping below 200.

Graph 2 Date of First Emergence


Over the 16 years of study there is very little change in the week number in which the first Banded Demoiselle is seen. The trendline does indicate a very small trend for slightly earlier emergence times but is unlikely to be significant.

Graph 3 Length of Flight Period


Whilst emergence maybe getting ever so slightly earlier the duration of their flight period has remained static at approximately 15 weeks (11-20) although it could be said that this has only become more stable since 2013 with the variance in data becoming less than preceding years.

Graph 4 Maximum Emergence


This last graph partners with the first to take a more in depth look at the change in population, Here the maxima count values for each year are plotted highlighting the rising curve.

So what does all this mean? Well we can say that the population of Banded Demoiselles at the Saxon Mill is stable and actually increasing year on year within the same defined flight period. These sort of studies are very useful at looking at patterns but only go so far. We need some other level of data to explain the changes. Is the increase in numbers due to a change in sex ratio, better food availability or a reduction in predators. This opens up new avenues for investigation, I am reluctant to introduce the spectre of global warming but it is in temperature dependent species such as damselflies that its effects can be noticed.

You have to be careful in analysing data as well. You need to know about the ecology of the species, Banded Demoiselles spend two years as larvae before emerging therefore the population increase seen starting from 2013 reflects an increase in eggs laid in 2011.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

The Missing Lynx by Ross Barnett


I rarely get chance to read wildlife books but I always manage to get through at least over the summer and this year I chose The Missing Lynx by Ross Barnett. It was recommended to me in the BBC Wildlife magazine and seemed to fit my current view on the current direction ecology and conservation needs to take in the modern world.

The book looks like it is about the proposed reintroduction of Lynx to the UK but this is misleading, as the byline states this is about all our missing mammals. For me, as a child whilst dinosaurs were interesting it was the mega fauna of the Pleistocene that were more fascinating. When writing a book on the natural history of Warwick I read through the records of Aurochs and Mammoth that once roamed on the same landscape I call my home.

Ross takes a balanced and light look at the range of fauna that once lived in Britain. He devotes chapters to key groups such as Hyena, Bears, Sabre-tooths and so on. He delivers the material with charm balancing the science of how we know with humour and flair. 

As a scientist himself who works in the field of genetic analysis Ross' expertise shines through and he explains fascinating details of evolutionary theory, likewise he places these animals in an ecological context with skill.

He invokes a real melancholy in his writing for what we have lost. His passion for these past creatures is palpable. He accounts for each species disappearance and doesn't shy away from laying the blame at our (mankinds) door. You may think that this would make the book depressing but his final chapter on the future of these mammals whilst still lamenting their loss highlights the positive actions that can be taken.

Ross explains the success of wolf reintroduction's in America and in Europe and how the beaver reintroduction in Scotland is a flagship for positive conservation action he also makes a clear case for Lynx reintroduction.

This books is for anyone interested in how our landscape was so very different from today or sees the potential for rewilding and reintroduction as key conservation policy for the future in the UK.

The book is available from all good bookshops.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Rabbits

Rabbits are a species in Britain that can often be overlooked. They are a common site across much of the country but their fortunes have risen and fallen considerably over the generations.



Its is believed the Rabbit that we know and love today was introduced to Britain by the Normans although the fossil record indicates that they had been present in prehistoric times but gone by the Neolithic. The Normans farmed them for fur and meat with warreners being appointed to look after the rabbit warrens.

The Rabbit is a survivalist and can thrive in a range of habitats as long as there is sufficient grass to eat and soil to burrow in to. Rabbits also have the ability to breed prolifically, the breeding season can be as long as from January to August and can produce a litter of between 3 and 7 kittens every 30 days. This amazing reproductive rate is important because lots of things love to eat them, they form the main diets of foxes, stoats and buzzards.

Such productivity brings them into conflict with farmers. In the 1950's in an effort to control rabbit numbers in Australia the myxoma virus was introduced to wild populations. This horrible disease internal bleeding and lesions on the eyes that blind them. Britain became infected in 1953 from France and began to devastate populations.

In the mid-1980's I remember you couldn't go anywhere in Warwickshire without stumbling over Rabbits, they positively filled the hedgerows and trackways. Then a contagion of myxamatosis whittled the numbers down to what we see today. Whilst the virus isn't a prevalent anymore outbreaks do occur and they are at risk from Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease.

I took the pictures of the rabbits this weekend at Priory Park, here a stable population exists in the centre of town, multiple warrens are scattered across the parkland. Beloved by dog walkers the rabbits seem to have become accustomed to them and each year at this time it is possible to get quite close to the young rabbits.


They are obviously quite wary but on my bike they seemed less concerned and I was able to approach within a few feet. I was then able to observe them as the grazed on tender grass shoots. It was fascinating to watch the ears twitching. Twitching ears and noses are a common habit of rabbits but it was interesting to watch how they swivelled. As they turned their backs on me to eat their ears would turn round to keep fixed on me, listening for the slightest sound of movement.



Saturday, 22 June 2019

Fawns and Cubs

With the Fox cubs vacating the den area I decided to relocate my second camera, I opted to return it to a Badger sett I know of nearby. The sett has multiple holes and the clan have three cubs. What was most interesting is the variety of other animals spotted on this camera over the week.

The badgers were seen on most nights but not as much as I expected. The cameras placement was between two of the main holes and away from one of the exits into the field, it was therefore possible that they used these other holes more often.

It was with some pleasure that I found that my fox family frequented the site a lot, two cubs and both the Dog Fox and Vixen were seen across the week. It is not unknown that Foxes will cohabit with Foxes and although neither appeared together they were obviously tolerated.

The cubs are still active and like to involve the adults in the below clip  you can see one of the adults taking a tumble when following one of the more exuberant youngsters.



Other than the Foxes most interesting was the amount of time a female Roe Deer and her Fawn spent sheltered under the tree. As I pointed out in an earlier post, I had seen both pregnant Roe Deer and Muntjac. This fawn is the result of this. Now confident on its feet but still with the white spots on its back I got some intimate footage of the two together relaxing. The muntjac actually joined them one afternoon, although the muntjac appeared very wary.



Even Wood Mice were recorded scampering about, unafraid that both Foxes and Badgers frequented the site. Birds also appeared including a juvenile Robin, Great Tit and Magpie. I am amazed how many species will occupy one space each with their own niche and how they hardly seem to interact.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

More foxes

I had expected this week to see the cubs move from suckling to solid food however this did not occur. This suggests the cubs are a bit younger than I assumed or that the parents do not think they are ready yet.

Over the last 7 days both parents have attended the den more frequency compared 36 to 14 in the previous. Likewise the Dog fox, half-tail, visited the den more. In the first clip you can see some interaction between the cubs, the vixen and the dog fox. Its obvious that the vixen promotes excitement as she carries the milk for them to suckle however the cubs seem just as excited to see their father and will race around him.



Sadly it seems that we have gone from 4 cubs to 3. I am unsure what has occurred, it could be that there are still 4 but only 3 are ever seen together but I would expect all cubs to be present for suckling.

Play behaviour has increased with cubs using litter around them to play with. The cubs show different types of play. One their own they will pounce, chew and toss rubbish whilst when they have companions they will wrestle and chase, pouncing upon one another and exhibiting the typical wide gap display of dominance.


The last clip from this week is of the Vixen resting with her cubs. The suckling seems to be taking its toll on her and she is starting to look tired and thin. She obviously has to hunt well to produce the milk but will soon need to start bringing in prey for the youngest and wean them. This clip shows a rare moment of tranquility where after feeding the cubs she takes some time to stay with them and rest herself.


Sunday, 12 May 2019

The new family on the block

Last year I knew we had a breeding pair of foxes, I regularly saw a cub passing to and fro the main camera. This year I have stumbled across a den with 4 cubs. We both surprised each other last week. I was coming round some undergrowth and the cubs were out playing. They are not particularly shy of me, in fact they show a cautious curiosity of me and let me take a few shots of them



The cub featured above still has blue eyes, these change to yellow after about 4-5 weeks. I watched them for awhile and moved one of my cameras to watch them unobtrusively. Having checked the camera yesterday I now have a wealth of information.

I can now tell that the vixen of the family is Full-tail. One of the foxes in the area with a, you guessed it, full tail. The dog fox is half tail and only visits the den occasionally. The video below shows the vixen suckling the young. Suckling generally up to week 4 and visits the den infrequently allowing the cubs to roam about themselves.


Much of their time as cubs is spent playing and learning. There is an old bottle in view which was potentially brought in as a toy. The cubs also like practicing pouncing and one uses a stone for target practice. There is of course many games of chase and tussle.



This play behaviour mimics the hunting skills they will need in adulthood.



The last video clip is a nice shot when the vixen remained for awhile and snuggled up with the cubs.

Whilst a maximum of 4 cubs have been recorded it is clear that whilst there is no runt of this litter they do lead independent lives. 2-3 are often seen but more often just 1. This one might be more adventurous, venturing out when the others stay in the den or more cautious and is staying at the den when the others leave the area exploring.

The eyes in the first picture, seemed off to me and I think its to do with the pupil perhaps not pointing in the right direction, something to watch.

Interestingly prior to me moving the camera I have seen both Half tail and a full tail heading to a second location where a tiny still black cub was seen. I therefore suspect a second den which is fairly close by with a second vixen and perhaps the same dog fox. More observations are needed.

Estimating their age at about 4 weeks puts their birth at around the 13th April which is late in the foxes breeding cycle. Based on this I can expect the parents to start bringing in solid food this week, them to exhibit more dimorphism and darker red fur in 2 weeks time and in about a month a full adult coat. I hope they remain in sight of the camera for this time, I would really like to see what they are fed on, as in this area there is a distinct lack of rabbit but lots of small rodents.


Monday, 6 May 2019

The subtle ways of wildlife watching

I have to declare here and now that I am not a patient wildlife watcher. I find it hard to sit in one place and wait for the animal in question to appear I always become distracted by the other wildlife around me and before long I am off hunting that down rather than the intended species.

I am the kind of watcher who likes to go out and see what nature surprises me with, but even so there are a number of skills any guide book will tell you. Wear clothes that are comfortable and breakup your outline, approach from downwind and walk quietly. Try to arrive before the species and pick a good safe spot to watch from.

For me though there are some other points I would suggest. For these you are required to become part of your habitat. Understand where you are and take a few moments in silence to settle into the habitat, soak in the sounds. Sound is one of the most underrated sense in watching. I often hear an animal before I see it. Animals and birds all move with an element of regularity something that the wind doesn't. Natural features like wind are chaotic and without pattern animals are less chaotic they have a set or parameters and drives that mean that their signs are regular.

I remember learning in my Landscape Ecology lectures about energy flows in nature and in man made landscapes. Humans use energy to force elements in to unnatural patterns, take for example a fence or wall, these are straight linear features which do not occur in nature. Nature abhors pattern and thrives in chaos. You can use this to you advantage, animals like us follow established paths and have regular effects on their surroundings. Sitting quietly you can easily distinguish between a deer trotting through the undergrowth and the wind doing the same.

Still on sound do not forget to listen to the birds. They are excellent watchers and Blackbirds and Great Tits will see you from a mile off and have communicated that to the birds around them. Listen for this, changes in their calls will differentiate between foxes and sparrowhawks. I have used Great Tits many times to track down a top predator, Magpies are especially good for tracking down roosting Buzzards.

Animal especially British Animals are masters of camouflage and so I suggest that what you should look for is what they are looking for from you, the general shape. This is why it is best to crouch or sit low with your back to a fence, tree or wall, it breaks up your shape. Look instead for movement even the tiniest of movements.

Once you have found your species the deepest urge is to look at it. Animals, especially prey species find this very unsettling. In this case it is best not to suddenly twist your head and fix it with your gaze but instead to slowly turn, allow the animal to get used to you not being a threat. Do not make eye contact, this will often make the animal head for cover at a rate of knots. |Reduce all movements to slow gentle ones, avoid sudden movements.

These obvious tips have helped me get close to many different animals and be able to sit calmly in their presence. It all takes practice and I am nowhere near a master.