Friday, 30 December 2016

My 2016 in Uckfield Nature Photos

I've been away a lot - in Birmingham and Leatherhead - this year so haven't paid as much attention to our local wildlife as usual. However, I've still managed to find interesting plants and creatures in and around our local area.

January

My wildlife year started with the BSBI New Year Plant Hunt.  In spite of a frosty start I managed to find 30 wild species flowering and 4 naturalised garden escapees in bloom.  This was up on the 19 wild and 3 naturalised I saw in 2015.

At the start of my flower hunt I was concerned about the frost.
Bush vetch in Belmont Lane on New Year's Day.
January ends with the RSPB's Big Garden Birdwatch. This year I saw only 12 species, which is my lowest count since I started in 2011. This was probably due to the unusually mild weather, which enabled the birds to find food in local farmland and wild places rather than our garden.

Notes from my birdwatch.
February

In February, Lime Aid did the usual trimming and tidying in Lime Tree Avenue assisted by an awesome lady, who came to Clean for the Queen.  We saw birds and emerging plants - and a frog.

Martyn found a frog - Lime Tree Avenue
In our own pond, the frogs spawned on the 14th of February.

March

At the end of March, I took a few minutes to do a bug hunt in the garden. I found bumble bees, a Peacock butterfly and an Angle Shades moth.

Angle Shades moth - the first I have ever seen
April

In April, different types of bees were beginning to emerge in our garden. One of my favourites was this Tawny Mining Bee, which looks like a mini punk rocker.

Tawny Mining Bee in our garden.
May

Our visiting Fallow buck, visited during May. Since his previous visit on April the 12th, he had lost his antlers. On May 17th, when he visited us to give our flowers their 'Chelsea chop', he stayed in the garden for most of the morning.  The shots show that he had no antlers at all. As you can see from the photo below, they had already started to regrow by the end of the month.

Fallow Buck in our garden - 30th May.
June

June is the month of my two favourite wildlife events, the Garden Bioblitz and the Wildlife Trusts' #30DaysWild. In the Bioblitz, I recorded every wild plant and creature in my garden.  I found 144 species, which contributed to a total of 152 recorded in East Sussex.  One of the sweetest moments was seeing young Blue Tits, which may well have come from our own nest box.

Young Blue Tit in our Silver Birch - 5th June
I also detected a Common Pipistrelle bat with my bat detector and found some beetles in my hastily improvised beetle traps.

Just dig a hole, put a coffee cup in and cover with leaves.
For the Wildlife Trusts' #30DaysWild challenge, the aim is to make time for one wildlife encounter each day. I find that it encourages me to take more notice of the wildlife all around me.  One of my favourite moments was watching a Wool Carder Bee gathering hairs from a Lambs Ears plant.  This is another species that I saw for the first time this year.

Wool Carder bee collecting "wool" from plant leaves into a ball.

Another favourite was the sight of a row of Field Poppies, which had invaded the top of a wall, against a blue sky.  There were not many days like this, it was one of the wettest June's I've known.

Poppies on a wall in Uckfield High Street.
July

In July we had some serious badger action.  Not only did the trail camera catch 3 badgers together but they dug out a wasp nest. 

Badgers in our garden - 23 July

A rumour blew round social media that Glowworms (actually a type of beetle) had been found in a local lane. As I had never seen one before I was delighted when I found some.  The females glow to attract a mate.

Glowworm - 21 July
While visiting the West Park Nature Reserve I found a flower that I had never seen before. Red Bartsia is a parasite on grass much like Yellow Rattle, which is used to weaken grass enabling wild flowers to grow better.

Red Bartsia - 30 July
August

In July and August I took part in the Big Butterfly Count. I, and other recorders across the country, got fewer butterflies than in previous years. The butterfly people were a bit baffled as we had had a warm summer, which is usually good for these insects. Possible reasons for the low count included this year's cold spring.  I wonder if it also is down to grass competing out wild flowers as it has grown particularly thickly in this years strange weather. 

Large White - my most numerous butterfly this year.
For a couple of weeks in August, a young Green Woodpecker was haunting our garden.

Juvenile Green Woodpecker
September

September started hot and dry. While gardening I found myself intrigued by my tiny helpers, which eat slugs eggs and other pests.

Black Clock beetle - from our garden
October

This is when Uckfield Local Nature Reserve Supporters Group really got going.  On the 22nd we went for a walk in West Park where the sharp-eyed youngsters in the group helped us find rabbits, lady birds and so much more. If you are interested in Uckfield's Nature Reserves, there is a Facebook Group.

Members of the Uckfield Local Nature Reserve Supporters Group
The week after, the Ranger guided us through Hempstead Meadow Nature Reserve and explained the work that had been done there.  I was pleasantly surprised to see some flowers still blooming - including Bramble, Hogweed and Water Chickweed. The latter is another first for my species list.

Water Chickweed at Hempstead Meadow Local Nature Reserve
November

On the 12th of November, David led the Uckfield's Nature Reserve Supporters Group on an evening bird song walk.  We managed to see and hear 16 species in under an hour in spite of the rather murky weather. 

I saw Bluetits and a Nuthatch in this tree
On the 26th, I went back and tried to apply what I had learnt on our walk.  This was mostly about listening for the birds and then watching the place where the sound came from until they revealed themselves. Hearing the little calls of a group of Bluetits in the big Oak shown above, I spent a little time looking at them with my binoculars. I was delighted to find a Nuthatch clinging to the craggy old bark.

December

As the year winds to a close, the number of pollinators visiting our flowers has diminished.  One of our most conspicuous visitors is a Buff-tailed Bumblebee queen.  In the photo below, you can see the pollen that she has collected to take back to her nest.  The days have already started lengthening and  nature is preparing itself for spring.

Buff-trailed Bumblebee queen - 28 December

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The Big Butterfly Count 2016

The 2016 Big Butterfly Count has just published its results. According to the Big Butterfly Count 2016 Results page, 36,400 people carried out 38,233 15-minute counts from July the 15th to August the 7th.

Holly Blue, 25 July 2016.

Considering just the counts I did in our own garden:
  • 2014: 10 counts, 10 species of butterfly, 66 records
  • 2015: 12 counts, 13 species of butterfly, 108 records as well as some moths
  • 2016: 12 counts, 8 species of butterfly, 50 records and a 6-spot burnet moth.
So this year's count was lower than previous years.  It seems that others had the same experience.  The results page says:

The average number of individual insects of the 20 target species seen per 15 minute count during big butterfly count 2016 was the lowest recorded since the project began in 2010.

Large White, 25 July 2016.
In my garden, nearly half the butterflies I counted were large whites. This species was slightly more numerous than last year, whereas numbers of the others had dropped dramatically.

Butterflies recorded during 12 counts in our Uckfield garden.

In 2015, gatekeepers had been the most numerous butterfly in both: my counts (47 individuals) and nationally. However this year this species had tumbled to a miserable 4th in both.  I've certainly missed seeing them dancing in our front gateway.

Speckled Wood, 31 July 2016.
On the other hand another dancer, the Speckled Wood, did really well in my 2016 counts - it came joint second with the Meadow Brown. I counted 11 individuals this year, compared to 2 last year. The national count recorded a small (12%) increase.

Red Admiral, 21 July.
Sadly, most of the big colourful butterflies were missing from our garden counts this year. No Peacocks, Small Tortoiseshells or Commas - all of which I counted in 2014 and 2015. We did have 3 Red Admirals - but that compares to  8 last year and 4 in 2014. Nationally numbers were up a by 70%.

An Guardian article on the Big Butterfly Count says:

“The drop in butterfly numbers this summer has been a shock,” said Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation. “When we have cold, wet summers, as in 2012, we expect butterfly populations to plummet, but that wasn’t the case this year."

“The summer months were warmer than usual, yet most Big Butterfly Count participants saw fewer butterflies. Perhaps the very mild winter had a negative effect, or the cold spring, or perhaps the impacts of intensive farming and pesticides are really hitting these common species now.”

We can only hope for better next year.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Badger! Badger! Badger!

We've had badgers visiting our garden for at least 20 years. My Dad saw one back in the 1990s and one of our neighbours saw another (maybe a descendant) a few years ago. Our trap camera shows regular but infrequent visits.  This means it was a treat to open up the trap camera and find 3 in one shot. Two are quite a bit smaller than the third, who I'm assuming is their mother.

3 Badgers, 24th June 2016.
According to the Collins Fields Guide to Mammals "Young born mid-January usually peaking early Feb". So my young badgers were probably nearly 5 months old.

A month later the camera caught the family group again. Two of the badgers are partly obscured by vegetation but they all look roughly the same size.

Another visit, 23rd July 2016.
This little family also provide a useful pest control service. I had noticed quite a few wasps in the garden. They were not causing any problems, just going from flower-to-flower, collecting pollen. I didn't realise there was a nest until Tuesday the 28th of July. I noticed disturbed earth and went to investigate.

The remnants of the wasp nest.
Looking closer, I could see a hole about 6 inches (15cm) deep and the same across. There were fragments of greyish 'paper' in and near the hole.

A couple of the few remaining wasps (Vespula germanica).
Rather foolishly, I took a closer look. It was only when a wasp flew into my hair, I realised what was going on! It took a few moments of very nervous headshaking to extract it.  Unfortunately the camera wasn't running on the night that the badgers destroyed the nest but they are the most likely candidates when a wasp nest is dug up. They are known to destroy wasp nests so they can eat the larvae.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

#30DaysWild in Hats

I have to say that the WildLifeTrust's #30DayChallenge has been tricky this year due to unrelenting workload and rain. I didn't get out to nature reserves this time but I noticed and appreciated the nature around me as I went about my daily routine, here in Uckfield and around the office that I visit in Birmingham.

The met office post shows that rainfall has been significantly higher than usual - it was about 125% in Birmingham and Sussex but this doesn't tell the full story of sulky skies that make photography a pain rather than a pleasure.

On a lighter note, flicking through my photos from the Wild Life Trusts' #30DaysWild I realised that the weather conditions had tested my collection of hats to the limit!

June 2nd - Shivering on Watford Junction Station.
At the beginning of the month it was still very cold so I was still wearing my woolly beret.

5th June - The sun popped out for the 2nd part of Garden BioBlitz.
Just a few days in, when doing my BioBlitz, a brief sunny spell meant that I needed my battered old gardening hat.

11th June - Getting hotter
Hotter sun means a bigger hat!

14th June - I'm wearing a waterproof tweed cap for a reason.
Then the rains came down and went on, and on, and on.

19th June - This is a bit more like June.
By the 19th, things were getting back to normal, changeable English weather with some weekday sunshine alternating with weekend rain.  I was in Birmingham for the last few, grey days and I will write these up later.  I've enjoyed finding nature as I go about my daily business and will continue enjoying MyWildLife.

Monday, 27 June 2016

#30Days30 Drawing to a close

We are getting close to the end of the Wild Life Trusts' #30DaysWild. Having been out and about on Saturday, I was busy in the garden on Sunday and working at home on Monday.

Day 26 - Tiny things in the garden

Before starting work in the garden, I took a tour round, camera in hand.

Hedge Woundwort
Wool Carder Bee - gathering plant hairs for her nest.
The best thing I saw was a Wool Carder Bee gathering hairs from a Lambs Ears plant.  Last year I read a post about this species of bee, which mentioned that it harvested hair from this type of plant. A few days later, I saw the plant on sale and bought it. I put it in it next to the path so, if the bee turned up, it would be easy to photograph. The first time I saw a Wool Carder Bee was during this year's Garden BioBlitz.

The BWARs Information sheet for the Wool Carder Bee says that it:
  • is one of the largest British solitary bees
  • has one generation per year, which flies from June to August
  • the male is larger than the female
  • Nests are constructed in existing aerial cavities, such as beetle holes in dead wood in addition to artificial sites such as cut bamboo canes
  • It uses the hairs that it collects to make brood cells.
I watched her collecting hair from the underside of a leaf into a ball. I saw her fly in the direction of our Camellia but then I lost her. This happened twice.

Crab spider, lying in wait.
Day 27 - Leaves from our trees

After a busy day working, I packed up my laptop and went outside just as the sun went in.

Leaves and immature fruits from our trees.
At first I was not really sure what to do for the day's #30DaysWild. Then I started looking at the shapes of the leaves on our trees. We have a wonderful variety of trees in the garden, some of which support a terrific variety of life.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

#30DaysWild Today's News, Tomorrow's Cage Lining

My last post was about taking a lunchtime walk down the Regent's Canal in London. Over the last few days the Wildlife Trusts' #30DaysWild Challenge has given a welcome relief from the depressing referendum campaign and the wrangling afterwards. Conversely it also got me thinking about what the referendum result will mean for the green spaces and wildlife I love.

Day 23 - A good day for snails

June 23, White-Lipped Snails (plus one) on our path.
It was wet on Thursday, the day of the referendum. When I went to get my newspaper, I found many colourful snails on the path.  Later in the day, I looked up from my laptop and watched a female blackbird collecting small worms and other food from the edge of the grass.

Day 24 - A worrying day

I woke up to the news that my country has voted to leave the EU. This has been the most vicious poll of any sort that I have ever known. After months of argument, there has been much heat and little light. There is literally blood on the floor.

View North towards and beyond Buxted.
I found myself gazing out over the countryside to our North and wondering what would become of it without the EU protection that reduces development round Ashdown Forest. Will some other protection be put in its place or will the view be engulfed in development?

Craig Bennet (Friends of the Earth) tackles this in his Guardian article. He says "About 70% of our environmental safeguards and legislation is European".

I am hoping that some will be replaced with home-grown versions but, of but there is no guarantee. Mr Bennet then goes on to point out that ...

'... during the campaign, it was Nigel Farage that finally said the words I’ve wanted so many politicians to say for so many years; “Some things are more important than the economy”. '

Obviously Mr Farage wasn't talking about the Environment. No-one was. So I personally feel the need to keep an eye on the situation and be prepared to fight (or at least write letters!) to protect our precious green spaces and wildlife.

Day 25 - Today's News, Tomorrow's Cage Lining

Yellow Corydalis on an Tower Ride wall.
On Saturday, I cut down Tower Ride to deliver used newspapers to a person who uses them for lining animal cages.  I found lovely Yellow Corydalis on the walls.

Poppies on Uckfield High Street
Just across the road from Tower Ride, there are poppies peeping over the edge of a wall.  While I photographed them, a lady walked by, saw me taking photos, looked at what I was photographing, and said that although she walked by every day, she hadn't noticed them. We chatted about enjoying wild flowers by roadsides and we went our separate ways.  I dropped the newspapers off and thought about the animals pooing and weeing all over stories of division and angst. Let's hope that we soon remember that, in the words of Jo Cox, the MP murdered during the referendum campaign "We have far more in common than that which divides us".

Friday, 24 June 2016

#30DaysWild Canal in the Capital

After seeing the clouds start to gather on the previous night, I wasn't surprised to open the curtains to another sulky grey sky. On the 22nd of June and the 22nd day of the Wildlife Trusts' #30DaysWild,  I left Uckfield to head into London because I needed to visit our office in Kings's Place, near King's Cross.

Yellow Corydalis in front of traditional hanging tiles.
Wednesday gave us another sulky sky but, scurrying up our own high street to the station, I found bright yellow flowers tucked away next to traditional hanging tiles.

Regent's Canal, London - Coot.
After travelling by train and tube to Kings Cross station, I walked into work, pausing to look over the Regent's Canal.  I was pleased to get a close view of a coot sitting on its nest but dismayed to see it surrounded by litter.

King's Place - Seed sculptures.
Kings Place always has artworks on display. Today there were seedhead sculptures displayed in recesses in the exterior walls.

Viewpoint and artificial islands at the edge of Camley Street Natural Park
At lunch time, I took a walk along the tow path. As the canal swings to the North, I stepped onto a boardwalk to bypass some building work. I was able to look right down into the river and see thousands of tiny fish.  Looking across the canal, I could see the edge of the London Wildlife Trust's Camley Street Nature Reserve with the Viewpoint floating platform and artificial islands.

Canada Geese and goslings on an artificial island.
One of the islands was occupied by ducks and another by geese with goslings.

St Pancras Lock.
I enjoyed many interesting scenes are walked up to the railway bridge, where Eurostar trains dwarf quaint canal boats and a huge new development is growing up round a spruced up gasometer.


Young heron on an artificial island.
On my way back, I followed a group of people along the board walk. As I was passing the artificial islands, the oddly primeval shape of a heron descended. I'm pretty sure it's a young bird. It seemed a bit inept and clumsy and didn't look entirely finished.  The group and I spoke briefly about places we had seen herons and then I returned to the office. On the way back I saw a heated argument between a couple talking about Brexit and migration.