Sunday, 24 April 2016

Bees, Buzzards and Ducks

Another nice day and another good days bird watching on my patch. I recorded 28 species of bird including another single swallow and the first Common Whitethroat of the season.

Along the river emerging from a patch of driftwood brought down by the recent floods and high water was a female Mallard with 6 newborn ducklings. They were tiny and fluffy, likely only a few hours old, if a day. She led them very protectively from driftwood to driftwood where they could feast on the flies that collect their.

It is unlikely that these ducklings will last long, broods are heavily predated on my patch by Mink, Pike and other predators.

Elsewhere there was more evidence of breeding, again there was no activity at the Long Tailed Tit nest but a Woodpigeon nest was discovered and a Crows nest.

The crows nest is of particular note as the pair are spending much of their time chasing off the pair of resident buzzards giving them not a moments peace.

As well as Buzzards I also saw the other main predator of the patch a male Sparrowhawk. He glided along the river before perching in a tree briefly. He wasn't mobbed nor were the smaller birds alarm calling. I find it amazing that they seem to know when a Hawk is in hunting mode and when not, or perhaps they never saw him?

Lastly I want to comment on a piece of interesting behaviour. On my patch there is a colony of feral Honey Bees. They have nested in an old woodpecker hole for at least the last 3 years. The colony seems strong and healthy and today was very active. As I trudged through the thick mud that had been left by the receding floodwaters I noticed many of the bees were coming down to the water to drink.

Colonies need water at different times of the year especially in the summer when they use the  water to cool the hive. As this is early in the year is is possible they need to stock up or transfer the water to the newly hatched drones.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

War and Peace

Today on my patch was a time to appreciate bird behaviour. It was gloriously sunny and all the birds were out singing and flitting about in fact I record 26 species of bird in my 1 hour visit including a cormorant which was the first sighting of one this year.

As I first arrived three Buzzards could be seen wheeling and mewing above the fields. I have a resident pair that nest on my patch and a second pair nest in a nearby wood. During the summer you can watch the adults rise up out of their nests and tussle with each other along their boundary, today however the interaction did not seem overly aggressive and I wonder if the third individual was last years offspring. Like many birds of prey Buzzards exhibit a behaviour called natal philopatry. When fledged the young buzzards will disperse from the nest site over autumn and winter only to return in the spring. They arrive back at the nest site if their parents are gone they can claim the territory as their own, after all they know it was good enough to raise them, or if the parents are still resident they find themselves tolerated for awhile and then chased off. The third individual was very pale which could indicate a juvenile although Buzzard colour morphologies can range from the almost white to the darkest brown.

I spotted this youngster not long after being furiously mobbed by Crows and Rooks, They never gave him a moments peace the entire time.

In fact all the predators were having a hard time, a pair of Kestrels were present and like the Biuzzard were driven off by a combination of crows, magpies and jackdaws and the Sparrowhawk that was cruising through the wooded edge of the river was easily spotted by the Great Tits and right along its length alerted all the small birds to its presence.

Down by my feeding station the Chiffchaff were in abundance. I have seen more chiffchaff in this year than any other, I suspect that the mild winter meant that more of the overwintering ones survived  and will have managed to grab the best territories by the time the other and their cousins, the Willow Warbler and Whitethroat arrive from Africa next month. They seemed oblivious to me and I was able to watch their behaviour quite closely. Some of the adults were still staking their territory by 'chiffchaffing' from prominent song posts whilst others silently chased off intruders.

From where I was sat I could watch a pair that seemed to be mating or courtship behaviour. The pair flitted about among the willow stems low by the waters edge, dashing up occasionally to what could possibly be a good nest site. This flitting and soft suitt calling passed briefly into a moment of mutal shaking. both individuals seemed to perch, held up their tails and flittered their wings whilst closed, a bit like young sparrows do when demanding food from their parents.

Lastly I would like to finish on a recap from last week. Along the river I managed to see a pair of Long-tailed Tits building a nest. I got some shots of them bringing in moss to a bush hanging over the river. Its an excellent nest site as long as we do not get a major 1 m+ flood again, which only really happen in late winter. There is no way a land predator could get anywhere near. Well today after some searching I managed to find the same tree and was able to see that the nest was completed.

 It is hard to see from the picture but it is the white mass in the centre made of moss and lichens. Its an enclosed nest so there was no way to see if anyone was on it but I will definitely be monitoring it closely over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Camera Trap Analysis 2014/2015

At the end of this week my camera trap will have been running 24/7 for 2 years and so I am now beginning to look at the ways in which I can analyse the data. Last year I looked at the 2014/15 data and produced some weekly graphs showing abundance and some interesting distributions of activity in the mammals. I also wrote a short report on the Badger.

This time I have started to look at when during the day or night they are most active. Each of the following graphs show the culmination of all sightings over the 52 weeks in the 2014/15 season. At the end of next week I will do the same for the 2015/16 season. I will also break up each year into seasons to compare activity times throughout the year.

 This graph shows the percentage of each mammal species recorded in the first year

 This graph shows that the Badger is wholly nocturnal and most active along the hedge line in late evening.
 With the Fox you can see periods of activity across the night with an interesting dip between 8 and 11 pm. It is also possible to see low activity during the day.

 The Muntjac shows several bursts of activity. There is a dominant peak that relates to dusk and again a small peak at dawn. There is some evidence of some daytime activity.

 The Wood Mouse, as expected, is completely nocturnal, with not real spikes in activity but seem most active between 1 am and 3 am.

The Grey Squirrel is a fully daytime species with an even distribution of activity across the day with a peak at Mid-Day.

Lastly this is a list of the species recorded across the whole 2-year survey period.

Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus
Wood Mouse Apodmemus sylvaticus
Weasel Mustela nivalis
Polecat Mustela putorius
Badger Meles meles
Muntjac Muntiacus reevesi
Grey Squirrel Sciurus carolinensis
Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculatus
Fox Vulpes vulpes
Blackbird Turdus merula
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Great Tit Parus major
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Jay Garrulus glandarius
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Woodpigeon Columba palumbus
Redwing Turdus iliacus
Chaffinch Fringilla coelebs
Wren Trogydytes troglydytes

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Butterflies and Mumruffins

We have been blessed with two successive Sunday's of glorious weather spread between two weeks of typical April weather with showers and sunshine. Such weather has encouraged the wildlife and down on my patch things are moving on a pace.

Whilst it is still not warm enough yet for most butterflies Brimstone's and Tortoiseshells are on the wing. The Brimstone's are large, obvious butterflies being one of the only yellow butterflies found in this part of the world but never seem to settle. Over the years I have built up a catalogue of images of the different species, but the Brimstone continues to elude me, and I fear my chance for this year has passed me by. Last weekend I chased one along the entire length of my patch. It never once alighted on a perch, the power of its flight remarkable and more direct than many. It remains a challenge for future years, its always good to have the one that got away still out there.

Elsewhere on my patch the celandines are starting to ebb, their vibrant yellow star like flowers that track the sun are now tattered and subdued their leaves already becoming overshadowed by the emergent nettles. For the past few months have my patch has been flooded by the river although most of this has been under only a few centimetres nevertheless under these damp conditions the Epilobium is starting to rise and the buttercup and forget-me-not are filling out ready for a summer show.

As for the birds there has been a marked change none more so than in the arrival of the Chiffchaff's. Their sing-song call now reverberates across my patch as several individuals. Last week one particular individual spent quite awhile foraging among the willows near the feeding station. For a bird that is so melodious its is a surprisingly drab little olive brown bird that is until you see it up close and can see the eye stripe (supercilium) and subtle colourations.

A bird with a bright supercilium that you may not be aware of is the Wren, it maybe that they are so secretive that you don't manage to see them up close but when you have a chance you can see a definite eye stripe and the delicate checkerboard along its wings. I caught this Wren after it had been singing its territorial call and came down to the rivers edge to drink and forage.

Today the Buzzards were prevalent, up to three circling up and around tussling and avoiding the mobbing crows who seemed to give them very little peace until they were able to climb up the thermals to the very heights mewing all the way.

Lastly were the Mumruffans, an old term for a Long-tailed Tit, their behaviour has changed profoundly over the past few weeks, generally these diminutive birds travel in family groups. Over the winter I was recording groups as large as 12 as parents and last years young band together to join the tit flocks and forage together in safety. In the last few weeks these flocks diminished and each of them has formed pairs. They bobbed about the brambles and thickets exploring for nest sites. Excitingly today I identified a nest site. They build tiny delicate nests with moss, grass and spider webs. This nest is lodged in a willow bough on the bankside.

This discovery is one to watch over the next few weeks and I hope I will be able to make some notes on the food being brought in and its regularity.