Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Early Breeding Bird Survey: North West Zone 24/04/18

While I often deliberate wearing gloves and scarf, the chilly early mornings don't bother the breeding birds, and in April you are almost guaranteed a lusty dawn chorus.

Tom Forward beginning our bird transect in the North West Zone

We began our survey sometime after the dawn chorus ends, as this is when birds are more active and getting on with their day. Along the first section of the River Mole, one of the first species for the list was a warbler; a male Common Whitethroat in the scrub where the river pops out from under the runway. A loud scuffle between two male Reed Buntings caught our attention, then a moment later we heard something quite different; a manic chattering and trilling call from a hedgerow...

A Sedge Warbler! Our very first for this site survey (and hopefully not the last!)

Sedge Warbler (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus) RSPB

A Blackcap sang from another hedgerow, Blue Tit and Song Thrush were calling as we passed by. Rounding the bend of the river, Linnets were calling overhead and we spooked a Green Woodpecker, which shot off with a yaffling cry.

The wheel ruts along the track have become especially deep in the past year, which is good news for the frog population. We often get both Common Frog and Marsh Frog on site here, but these look like the usual Common Frog tadpoles.

While Tom is distractedly checking Reed Beds for our elusive Water Rail, I sneak a peak under one of our reptile refugia...

Grass Snake (Natrix helvetica) juvenile, less than one year old

Keep your head in the game Rachel, back to the birds! 
We were treated to the fluttering display flight of a Common Whitethroat on top of the riverside willows. Over in the scrub west of Brockley Wood, we added Chiffchaff to our list of warblers heard today, with it's easily recognisable, onomatopoeic song.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybitaRSPB

Along the bases of these hedgerows grow the strongest smelling spring flowers; Wild Garlic or Ramsons (Allium ursinum) is an incredibly pungent plant, very much like onion or garlic in its taste. Much to Tom F's dismay, I can never resist chewing on a leaf or two.

We set off again in an oniony-fugue, with Tom determinedly keeping upwind of me. As the day was warming up, the scent of Bluebells began to hit us and they were smelling great (even if I wasn't).

Brockley Wood

At the woodland edge, we picked up another Chiffchaff and the excited song of a Goldcrest, our smallest bird species. We haven't had a single record of Firecrest at Gatwick, but as their range is seemingly expanding, I'm betting one will turn up here eventually.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulusRSPB

Firecrest (Regulus ignicapillusRSPB

Back out onto the floodplain, and the Reed Warblers were chugging their songs from deep within the reed beds. Our first Swallow of the year flew low overhead, calling relatively quietly so we were lucky to spot it. We were a couple of kilometers into the transect when a strange rattling call came into range; the call of Lesser Whitethroat is pretty unmistakable!

We don't tend to get high numbers of Lesser Whitethroat, so it's always a real treat to hear one. Our next warbler on this warbler-fest was Garden Warbler, which was singing heartily while being chased around by a territorial Blackcap.

Adjacent to the reed beds of the River Mole are dense stretches of Water Mint and nodding heads of Cowslip... even the refreshing smell of crushed mint doesn't mask the Ramsons though.

Nearing the end of the final transect, we witnessed an incredible performance by a Reed Warbler incorporating perfect Blue Tit alarm calls into its song. We then came along another Sedge Warbler near the Long-horned Bee bank; could this be a new breeding territory? Our final warbler of the day was Willow Warbler, bringing our total number of warbler species to 8: Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Garden Warbler and Willow Warbler. That's quite a high number, so we think that perhaps this day was a 'fall of warblers' and some of them may only be passing through. It will be interesting to see what turns up again later in summer.

Full bird list (39 species):

Blackbird Turdus merula
Blackcap Sylvia atricapilla
Blue Tit Cyanistes caeruleus
Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhula
Carrion Crow Corvus corone
Chiffchaff Phylloscopus collybita
Coot Fulica atra
Dunnock Prunella modularis
Garden Warbler Sylvia borin
Goldcrest Regulus regulus
Goldfinch Carduelis carduelis
Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major
Great Tit Parus major
Green Woodpecker Picus viridis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
Jackdaw Corvus monedula
Jay Garrulus glandarius
Kestrel Falco tinnunculus
L.Whitethroat Sylvia curruca
Linnet Carduelis cannabina
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus
Magpie Pica pica
Mallard Anas platyrhynchos
Moorhen Gallinula chloropus
Nuthatch Sitta europaea
Pheasant Phasianus colchicus
Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus
Reed Warbler Acrocephalus scirpaceus
Ring-necked Parakeet Psittacula krameri
Robin Erithacus rubecula
Sedge Warbler Acrocephalus schoenobaenus
Skylark Alauda arvensis
Song Thrush Turdus philomelos
Stock Dove Columba oenas
Swallow Hirundo rustica
Whitethroat Sylvia communis
Willow Warbler Phylloscopus trochilus
Wood Pigeon Columba palumbus
Wren Troglodytes troglodytes

Friday, 27 April 2018

Winter break-through

A round up of our autumn and winter works on the biodiversity sites

Proof that the GGP biscuit supply is so good, volunteers will even brave snow storms

While I was keeping warm, dry and caffeinated over the winter, the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership team didn't stop, keeping hard at work on conservation tasks across all of the biodiversity sites.

It is an exciting time for conservation at Gatwick, as we have just renewed our Biodiversity Action Plan for another five years, which includes additional ecological surveys and brand new habitat tasks! Tom Simpson's volunteer program continues to grow year on year, with increasing help from airport staff, local businesses, local conservationists and trainees. It has been statisfying knowing that the Wildlife Trust youth groups and trainees are shadowing Tom in the field, so that his invaluable skills are being passed on to future conservation leaders.

Somehow we never run out of conservation tasks, and here are a few examples of what has been going on over the last few months:

Dormouse box installation with GGP Youth Rangers

Pond weed management on a cold February day; no problem for these guys

Pesky willow stumps in Goat Meadow don't stand in their way

Deer exclusion fence being carefdully removed from the developing coppice woodland

Corporate volunteer teams led by Tom have made a huge difference in improving the access into our woodlands. For every calorie burned in creating board walks and edged steps, a calorie is saved for the general public, our local wildlife, and myself from wading through the winter mud!

New board walks through wet woodland

The Gatwick Greenspace Partnership weekly volunteer crew

Tom Simpson's 'Digital Detox' days are an excellent reminder of how valuable it is to maintain connections with the natural world, simply by engaging in focused activities in outdoor spaces.

Nestlé UK Ltd in Upper Picketts Wood

We have even had a team of ecologists volunteering on our sites, as they know the value in taking a break from the office during the gloomy winter months.

The Ecology Consultancy managing Blackthorn along the River Mole

So once again, we would like to say a huge THANK YOU to all of the teams who have visited our sites over the winter; the project simply wouldn't be the same without you!

Both Gatwick Airport staff and businesses from the wider area have helped maintain our sites for wildlife

We aim to carry out as much habitat management with volunteers and hand tools as possible, however some heavier-duty works, such as woodland ride management and dense scrub removal, require the help of the professionals; Glendale Landscape Services and our Wildlife Trust recommended tree surgeons; Roots Upwards Ltd, are well versed in the sensitivities of working on biodiversity sites.

Woodland ride management; this area is a particularly good corridor for foraging bats

Managing woodland rides and glades rotationally creates a dynamic habitat system; while one area is gradually colonised by mature vegetation, another area is opened up, providing new space for early successional species.

Sycamore removal in a woodland glade

Each winter Roots Upwards Ltd have donated us a free day of labour for conservation works. This year they brought along their climbing harnesses and ropes, bringing down the heavy bat hibernation boxes for a much-needed winter clean out. The lads couldn't quite believe their luck when they took down the final box...

A bat hibernation box, recently occupied by Honey Bees

Nothing like a piece of fresh honey comb at the end of a hard day's work

Anyone can get involved with wildlife conservation, whether it is habitat management, learning about wildlife on guided walks, or trying out a digital detox day! Find out more here:   https://sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/get-involved/community-projects/gatwick

Thursday, 8 March 2018

An undisclosed amount of coffee

The blog has been quiet of late due to spending most of winter in isolation, constantly (plugging? Chipping? Hacking?) away at Gatwick's Five Year Biodiversity Action Plan Review, which now looks on track for being finished by early April. That means it should be fully done and out of my brain by the time this wee one hatches!

Brown Hairstreak Butterfly (Thecla betulae) egg on Blackthorn. 
Photo taken in the North West Zone, December 2017

Writing about report writing feels a bit meta...but I'll tell you a bit about it anyway. Putting this report together has been at once satisfying and infuriating, riveting and tedious. Reviewing my own work from the very start of my job in early 2012 was a weird, at times heartening and at other times a frankly excruciating experience!

Pulling together the data, compiling the species lists and finding out the totals for the different wildlife groups was the most enjoyable part; immediately it jumps out where we have done great work and covered all bases, and where knowledge gaps are still to be filled.

One of my many desks this winter: the Harris & Hoole cafe at Hookwood Tesco

The things which got me through this winter have included copious cups of coffee, late evenings spent in noisy pubs with my laptop and headphones, and many, many GIF animations of Sean Bean and Arnold Schwarzenegger (special thanks to Tom Simpson for those).

Me in November 2017

Me in December 2017

Me in January 2018

With my handy new Monzo card and the accompanying app, I have even been able to keep track of the obscene amounts I have spent on coffee while writing up this report... My total spend over the past few months (I earned over £20 in loyalty points at Costa!!), is so shameful that I cropped that bit out of the picture.

The incredible amount of help and feedback I have received from the ecologists and conservationists involved in this project has made the process infinitely more manageable, keeping my sanity in a better state than it otherwise would be! This reminds me how lucky I am to work in a sector where so many people have the same passion; no matter what our backgrounds are, or our interests on the side, our end goal to preserve nature is still the same.

I will post another update soon of all the action taking place under Tom S's guidance on the sites!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Biodiversity Gatwick 2017: Highlights and lowlights

Highlight: Volunteer cleanup crews

With the increased awareness of our biodiversity areas, even more airport staff are getting involved with looking after our sites.

The Surface Transport Team helping clean up around our ponds

Lowlight: Endless fly tipping...

And the help is hugely appreciated, due to the endless flow of rubbish...

Ikea Orange Wardrobe: €5

Broken trampoline: -£2

...and the dog poo.


Highlight: Another group of fantastic ecology volunteers getting stuck in with the project 

We are achieving more every survey season , we cannot thank you all enough.

Roxanne and Kajayini from Royal Holloway University

Our regular Gatwick Greenspace volunteers Luke and Jason

Lowlight: Saying our goodbyes at the end of the survey season. 

Who's going to help us eat all the cake now?

Highlight: Bats galore!

In September we recorded 7 different species in one night, including this lovely Soprano Pipistrelle

Lowlight: Bird fleas galore!

Possibly Ceratophyllus gallinae. I can confirm they itch like hell.

Highlight: An exciting new bird species stopping off at the airport; the endangered Turtle Dove

Lowlight: But not a single Gatwick Dormouse turned up in a box this year!

It looks like everything except a Dormouse used this box

Highlight: Our site is becoming even more secure, with the arrival of our very own biodiversity container!

Lowlight: Things getting a little too secure

Locked in at work on a Friday night

Highlight: Some lovely footage on trail cameras...

Weasel (Mustela nivalis) at the Gatwick Stream

Lowlight: Forgetting where you've put your trail cameras.

Hmm, camera 1, camera 2, camera 3, camera 4...

Doh! Camera 5, somewhere out in the field

Wishing everyone a Happy New Year, hope you can get outdoors in a window of good weather!