Saturday, 31 January 2015

Keep on Learning...

I have a fascination for learning new things and miss the academic environment of higher education. Over the past 15 years I have taken a number of distance learning courses ranging from Ornithology and Wildlife First Aid to Photography and GIS.

This year however I have discovered the even greater wealth of courses available on the internet. I had already sampled some of the wildlife options but when I was asked to provide some information on MOOC's (Massive Open Online Course) for our Sixth Form students I stumbled upon first EdX which is an amazing site and Coursera.

Coursera engaged my interest immediately with one particular course Dino 101 - Dinosaur Palaeobiology.
For the past 12 months or more I have been an avid listener of the Tetrapod Zoology Podcast ,  a brilliant mix of humour, comment and information on all things tetrapod. Their chat renewed my love of Zoology and my early interests in early animals, especially vertebrates. Dino 101 was the perfect course.

Dino 101 is a verified course run through Coursera from the University of Alberta. The course covers the physiology, evolution and extinction of the Dinosaur. The course is taught via a series of lectures that contain video lectures, interactive collections and quizzes.

The course is led by Professor Philip Currie a paleontologist of some note ably assisted by some research student. The course doesn't feel like learning at all and you can take it was seriously as you want. As I took it as verified course I treated it as a proper course and wrote up notes and did extra reading, but you could easily complete the course with the material provided.

Designed to be taken over 12 weeks at your own speed I was particularly eager and managed to complete a lesson a day finishing in under a fortnight. I have now started to teach myself Mammalian Evolutionary Theory before a second coursera course on Statistics begins in March.

I can highly recommend both Coursera and Dino 101. So why not broaden your horizons and learn something new today.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Exciting sight

After returning  home yesterday I checked my camera sightings and one of the clips revealed something very exciting.

Its a fleeting glimpse but I've managed to narrow it down. I've compared it to other sightings and ruled out the possibility of a badger, size and shape are wrong. Its too large for Mink and the tail isn't right for an Otter. Its movement and size are wrong for weasel or stoat which leaves Polecat.

Polecats are not a common species and if it had just turned round I may have been able to confirm it properly. Nevertheless I have sent the clip of to some friends and experts and the consensus is that it is a Polecat.

I now plan to do a bit of research into the species in the area... is it possible that its a wild polecat or an escaped polecat/ferret hybrid. Stay tuned for more info when it arrives.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Teal, Skuas and Snipe

I have extolled the virtues of my weekly patch visits before but I am constantly reassured and inspired by them.

Today was a lovely day, the sun was shining, there was a very light frost and ice still gripped the banks of the back water to the river, and still the site amazed me. It was, in terms of wildlife a rather 'poor day'. Most of the birds were blackbirds or tits and none of what I consider the Mills 'Special species were showing themselves.

As ever at these times my mind wandered to how given lottery scale winnings I would convert this site into a first class reserve and haven for wildlife. Where would I dig out the scrape and pools, which parts would I let go and which would I leave to develop as nature intended. I already know where the hides would go and which hedgerows I would reintroduce and most importantly which parts would have public access and which would be science only zones.

God, Mother Nature, Fate whatever you call it often likes to play tricks on me and rewarded my neglect of what was around me by assaulting me with a multitude of possibilities. A chatter of tits frantic and desperate told me a Sparrowhawk was present. I quickly scanned the trees and spotted a male shooting out of the woods and across the trees startling a flock of Fieldfare and Redwing. My sudden movement flushed some small ducks that had gone unseen in the lee of the bank. They scrambled down the river and round the bend. As the Sparrowhawk a single call came from the trees to my right... was that a Little Owl? I scanned the large tree for it but couldn't see anything.

I was now torn, did I start my return journey and hunt down the possible Little Owl and count the flock of Fieldfare or did I back track and identify the ducks. I had a pretty good guess that the ducks were not Mallard, they had the feel of Teal and they are beautifully dainty little things. I decided to ignore the Little Owl, they are fairly common on the site and as the call was not clear I decided to not record it. I quickly did a rough Fieldfare count at distance and began to backtrack back down the river.

Teal in many ways have been the bane of my photographic life, they are tremendously nervous birds especially where I get to see them which is generally wintering on the river or on the fields at Warwick Castle. Most of my shots are at distance. I approached where I had seen them go down and began to carefully enter stealth mode... which to be fair isn't all that clandestine. Again they were flushed before I saw them but as I approached a willow a single male emerged in to the centre of the river. At first I thought he was a little grebe popping up but a swift confirmatory glance with my binoculars showed a neat little duck with rich brown head and bottle green eye stripe edged in gold in front of a light grey body. Our eyes met briefly and that was that he was off taking with him three more I had not even seen.

The best photograph I have of Teal taken as Warwick Castle Park in 2011

They flew down river and settled once more but I decided to leave them be. They were visitors to my patch and deserved respect. They were using my patch as a feeding station and it would be wrong to pester them any more. It would be on their terms that I would see them any better not mine. It is a healthy thing for wildlife enthusiast to hold dear - do no harm, do not disturb. I recall some years ago the most salutary lesson in this and a reason why I distrust Twitchers. The word came out through various newsgroups of a Great Skua at Draycote Water. This was of course a great rarity for land locked inland Warwickshire and people flooded far and wide to see it. They did seem to wonder why it was there from the birds perspective. The Skua had no doubt been out to see when a great storm came. It had been pushed inland and lost its direction. Tired and in need of rest it found Draycote a large open body of water were it could lay up, recharge and re orientate. Sadly the twitchers left it no peace. Each day they would try and get closer and closer to get THE picture. Each time that magical boundary of comfort was breached and the Skua flapped a short distance away only to be followed with greater avarice. By the end of the weekend the bird was found at the reservoirs edge dead from exhaustion, but at least there were plenty of memorial photos to go round. Wildlife watching is a deal, a bargain with nature, treat it with respect and it will reward you, treat it badly and it can end badly.

The last surprise for me was a site first. I left the public paths and started to wade through the flooded part of land that I manage to exchange the memory card in the the trail camera. I barely had chance to reach the temperature and depth recording station when a small bird was flushed. It dashed up in front of me and darted away showing a white rump/belly and straight needle like bill. Snipe was my first thought, I knew they had to be present on the site in the winter, it was perfect territory but this was my first sighting there. I watched twist round and drop into a bed of reeds I knew I would never distinguish it from and so left it be to check my camera and to return home and check my ID. After a brief flirtation with Jack Snipe and a quick check of the flushed call Common Snipe was confirmed and a new species dutifully added to my lists.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Here comes the data

In the last part of  my camera sightings series of posts I show you some of the preliminary data analysis I have begun.

I hope to run the survey for a year in the current location before relocating to try and confirm the presence of Otter on the river.

So far only some very simple graphs have been produced. These following graphs show the number of camera activation s in each week.

Muntjac presence seems to fluctuate. This seems to support my idea that they are not resident on the site but move through it. I m unsure whether they are the same individuals moving in and out of the site in a larger territory or the different individuals representing a wider mobile population.

The high peak of activations at the start of the graph correlate with the arrival of the Fox cub. this continues into autumn when only one individual is ever seen.

 The Grey Squirrel graph is particularly interesting as it shows a massive peak between weeks 37-44. This coincides with the beech mast drop. The camera is attached to a beech tree and in this period the squirrel was very active collecting and burying the nuts.

Badger activity is periodic like that of the muntjac however I know that these are a resident population. This seems to suggest that this pathway is not one used on foraging trips. It is my assumption at present that the path that takes them past the camera leads to the edge of the setts territory and that periodically individuals use the path to mark the boundary. This is partially supported by the fact that most sightings are of large males that seem to regularly mark their path.

The Wood Mouse shows peaks of activity. Interestingly there were no mice recorded in the start of the survey period which corresponded to late spring and early summer. There is then a peak in early Autumn with a decline into Winter. As yet I have not discerned a reason for this patter.

I will update these data as I make more progress.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Hey there Foxy

Part 3 of my camera sightings round up is the Red Fox.

I've already posted clips showing the cub and vixen so I'll not add too many of them. But to start with here is a clip of the youngster and mum

In this next clip the cub you can clearly see the cub starting to hone his hunting skills, He has started to forage for his own food and you can clearly see who his ears are erect and listening and he even makes a few simple pouncing movements.

On the same topic of feeding we next have a clip of a fox feeding on low hanging berries.

And to finish off my favourite and again one I may have shown before. A stand off between Fox Cub and Pheasant. He knows what he should do but really isn't that confident and tries to nonchalantly ignore the issue.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Hello deer

Part two of my series on camera sightings, today is a series of clips on the Muntjac.

Its interesting to note that Muntjac have been seen only occasionally on the site over the past 10 years but the camera data shows that they are much more abundant illustrating how timid and cryptic they can be.

This second clip taken at the same time shows this female particularly well.

I have never seen two Muntjac together but the camera identifies at least one pair moving in and out of the area, heres hoping for young this year.

Lastly is evidence of the deer feeding on the leaves around the camera. Most earlier clips show the deer just moving through the area however eventually they started to stay longer and foraged through the leaf litter and then this winter began to feed upon the leaves.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Badger Badger in the night

For my first collection of clips I have chosen my favourite animal - the Badger.

First off is foraging behaviour. The clip shows a pair of badgers rooting about in the leaf litter looking for insects

They are known for digging with their strong claws and sticking their noses in to get at food resulting in some badgers getting a very muddy nose.

Next up is marking, this is a regular occurrence caught by the camera. The path they use past the camera is towards one end of their territory and so they often stop to mark with urine.

Badgers are well known for their scratching and this next clip catches one pausing to scratch and possibly mark in the classical upright pose.

The last video for this collection is one showing something odd... It seems as if this badger has an earring in its left ear. I've never seen it on one before or since and am assuming its a caught bramble leaf... or perhaps its a fashion statement.

I m back

Well this has been a long time coming. September up to Christmas was a tough time and so I m afraid this blog slid to one side for awhile, but its a new year and things are different.

I thought I would start the year looking at a series of videos collected from my web cams and obviously with an election looming there will be much to blog about.