29 Sep 2010

Grimpo Nature Notes September 2010

Wading through the piles of potential recyclables to clear a space for my split kindling in the log shed I paused a moment and glanced upwards. There in the old roof rafters the cups of this years broods remained stuck firmly in place. I briefly debated removing one to have a look but suspected I would be depriving a wood mouse of a winter snuggle pit.

As I write the swallows are limbering up for the long flight south, so we are not the only ones responding to the change of season.

Tidying the garden the frog gave us a start, his triangular head poking skyward from the water filled bucket, we knew how he got in but he was going to need some help getting out. Frogs only need pools to breed in, the rest of the year feggy, thick and tussocky grasslands will do, we flushed out a plague of the striped and spotted fresks when clearing a knotted patch of bramble. Our frog was carried carefully to the most tangled corner of the garden and gently slid back to freedom. Moments later a familiar nerve-jangling cry let us know that a toad had been found, this time in a watering can, for him a release spot near the veg. plot compost heap, bad luck slugs!

Adorning so many trees and woody shrubs are the long awaited fruits, the product of those delightful blossoms earlier in the year. Orange haws, rowan berries, red hips, elderberries and blackberries are steadily stripped from their stems by hungry birds. It is in the early autumn that the hideaway antics of birds following the annual moult come to an end.  For the migrant bird the moult, a steady loss of old feathers to be replaced with new, has to be a quick process, a blackcap replaces it’s plumage in 35 days before embarking for the southern Mediterranean and north Africa. The resident Bullfinch takes its time over a leisurely three months.

Birds tend to avoid moulting during the breeding season, when food-stocks are low or whilst migrating, though there are so many exceptions as to defy simple classification. At a critical point during the moult all birds will experience an impaired ability to fly, and for some such as the willow warbler this occurs twice a year. The willow warbler spends its days in thorny scrub and consequently needs to revamp its flight kit more regularly. By now though our resident birds need to be fluffing nicely there is much work to be done as the temperatures drop.

Trying to make the most of the shortening evenings I headed out on the cycle, I liked the rustle of browned leaves on the road and gave my appreciation to a handful of late blooming wildflowers.

A sweet gang of Common Toadflax, also known as ‘Bunny mouths’, sent a yellow and orange peal down a grassy verge and will with luck still be showing off in early November. By the canal I encountered a number of Trifid Bur-marigolds, a scary name, I watched them for a while to check how firm rooted they might be before studying the small fire orange flower head. On the homeward leg a small powder blue patch of Harebell nodded from the hedge-bank, the Scottish bluebell. Contrary to my long held belief the harebell is not confined to the drier swards of the UK mountain districts but  is found widely, avoiding damp conditions but held aloft on thin stems out of chalky or acid soils, lamp-like in a bracken forest or as mine were, dangling from the ancient grass banks of a raised field bounding hedge.

The end of summer is a slow affair, none of the urgency of the spring round of territory grabbing, display and procreation, but rather a gentler fattening up and hunkering down. The migrants will head off and our hardy residents will take up the sometimes unequal task of out-staying the winter. So after readying my log pile to keep the family warm I headed to the bird table topping up the nuts and seed to ensure this gardens feeding station was ready and waiting for custom.

If you would like to share your wildlife reflections please email Pete at petewoodman@thewoods12.fsnet.co.uk

27 Sep 2010

Extreme Moth-ing!

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The night was cold. It was windy. And wet. Very wet. We’d chosen to do a moth night on the summit of Shropshire’s most prominent hill - The Wrekin!

September 10th, 2010 saw 4 intrepid Wrekin Forest Volunteers clamber aboard the Shropshire Wildlife Trust’s white Defender to drive to the top of the hill with all the equipment needed to set up moth-traps, small mammal traps and camping equipment.

Yep - we were there from dusk till dawn - or at least 2 of us were. Extreme moth-ing it may seem, but we were keen to find out what was flying up here at this time of the year. A similar exercise last year brought only a handful of moths but it wasn’t as cold then, or wet, or windy so maybe there’ll be nothing moth-ing at all tonight?! We’ll see.

So we set up camp attaching the Moth Pavilion to the jeep in an attempt to stop it from disappearing over the side of the hill in a gust of wind and secured our two small back-packing tents.

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We were soon joined by Ian, Andy and Carl; the Ricoh Small Mammals team who with Pete Lambert placed several traps out in an effort to find out what mice, shrews and voles may be living up here. They were softies though - they were walking back down the hill later for home, hot tea and warm beds, returning in the morning to check the traps.

Keith brought along his now legendary moth sheet and torch which often attracts a few interesting species, not necessarily all moths. Graham also attended to help with ID’s (should there be any moths!) and to impart some of his wealth of local knowledge with us.

Moth and small mammal traps were set-up just as dark fell and an eerie mist descended casting weirdly huge shadows as we moved around the summit site.

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Jenny (Telford Butterfly Group and Butterfly Conservation) climbed the hill with husband and dog to see what we were up to and helped when the generator died shortly after firing up. They pointed out that it might be something to do with the little breather-switch on the top that needed moving from ‘Off’ to ‘On’!   How did I miss that?  Thank you!

As predicted the bad weather kept most moths from flying but an Antler Moth popped in to see what all the fuss was about and somewhat later, after Graham, Keith and the Ricoh team had left, my first Autumnal Rustic of the year appeared.

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                                                                     Antler Moth
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                                                                Autumnal Rustic
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The gloom of the night moved in with yet more rain and stronger winds. Pete and I retired to our tents at around midnight and despite the foul night I managed to get a few hours sleep, faring better than Pete who struggled to push his way through the sound of rain and wind bashing the tents' fabric.
I was awoken a little after 6am with the sound of voices. It’s amazing the number of people who climb this most famous of Midlands hills from dawn to dusk and here were the first of the day.
It didn’t take too long to empty the two moth traps, identify and record the results:-
Large Yellow Underwing           Noctua pronuba            7
Antler Moth                           Cerapteryx graminis       2
Autumnal Rustic                     Eugnorisma glareosa      2
Lesser Yellow Underwing          Noctua comes              2
Silver Y                                Autographa gamma        1
Common Wainscot                  Mythimna pallens           1
Setaceous Hebrew Character    Xestia c-nigrum            1
Diamond-back Moth                 Plutella xylostella          1
Micro-moth                            Caloptilia betulicola agg  1

18 moths across 9 species with no big surprises but an interesting exercise nonetheless. Must mention that Keith had a minor success with his sheet and torch when a ladybird hopped on board.

Right on time at 8am the Ricoh lads returned having climbed the hill once more and with Pete did the rounds of all the small mammal traps
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And amongst the inhabitants was this little chappie and I’m afraid I can’t remember whether this was a Yellow-necked, Wood or Field mouse but there’s obviously a few little mammals around up here.

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Just time for a group photo and then a ride back down the hill again with a little delay caused by a tree that had fallen during the high winds of the night blocking the main path.

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And I’m afraid I’ve no idea what was happening here but it certainly looks painful!

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Catch you all soon

Paul Watts