Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Scottish wild scats

Caringorms National Park

I've always been hooked on the idea of survival in extreme winter habitats (Gatwick, you're just not cold enough!), so my escape to a northern place has become an annual event!

My friend Rina introduced me to the group Explorers Connect, who host adventurous trips and training around the UK. I joined them on their recent winter skills course in the Cairngorms.
   As well as hiking up wintry slopes, we had a chance to explore the mosaic of bogs and upland heath, with incredibly old pines, stunted and twisted in growth. This habitat felt truly wild and untouched by humans; in fact it was one of the quietest places I have ever been.

Caledonian forest and bog woodland; silent except for calls of a lone Coal Tit

This habitat has become increasingly rare after the centuries of deforestation activity by humans. Although the wildlife here can be incredibly elusive, there is an abundance of particularly rare and endangered species and charities such as Trees For Life are doing excellent work to conserve them.

Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris)

Despite the winter season, there was a whole gamut of species here waiting to be discovered by us. The ground layer beneath the forest was dominated by heather, sphagnum moss, and several small shrub species, all new to me. A few of them were unseasonably fruiting too...

Cowberry (otherwise known as Lingonberry) - Vaccinium vitis-idaea

Crowberry (not to be confused with Cowberry) - Empetrum nigrum

Everywhere we looked, there were signs of more elusive wildlife...

Mountain Hare (Lepus timidus) droppings

Mountain Hare tracks in mud

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), UK's largest land mammal

Things got pretty exciting when we stumbled across something not unlike a frozen, mouldy Curly Wurly....

Pine Marten (Martes martes) scat

WOAH THERE... we hit the poop jackpot!

Capercaille (Tetrao urogallus) - big mounds like this one apparently form underneath 
the low bough where they typically perch

The Capercaille is a huge grouse and a very endangered bird in Scotland. I was hoping for just a glimpse, or a hint of their call, but we will just have to settle for their poop. Another two species we missed out on here were Crested Tits and Scottish Crossbill, again rare local specialities. We did see a mixed flock of Siskin and what looked to be Redpoll, but I wasn't confident enough on the ID of this group.

However, we did see and hear Snow Bunting and Ptarmigan, which make some really wacky calls...

Ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)

Our mammal tracking adventures continued in Aviemore!
   Before our long train journey home, we nipped down to the River Spey for a quick scout along the river bank. Our mustelid charm is working incredibly well right now, as look what we spied underneath the bridge...

Otter (Lutra lutra) tracks

This is not a great time of year for invertebrates, but at least I found a new species of moth to me on the hostel window... Into iRecord it goes!

Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria), a fairly common moth all over the UK

Another interesting angle to my trip was testing out a new pocket-sized toilet called Peebol. To hear more about this portable option for answering 'the call of nature', take a look here...Go Go Guano: The Call of Nature

Monday, 30 January 2017

Biodiversity sites in winter

(Filler-post alert!)

I've said before how differently I feel about winter since seeing our sites through the full cycle of seasons. When life goes back into the ground, everything takes an essential break to recuperate and replenish, readying for the kick-off again in the new breeding season. That gives us humans the time to restock, set out new goals, complete heavy-duty habitat works, tidy the piles of brash, clean out nest boxes, repair equipment and, of course, consume a copious amount of coffee and biscuits on the sites without too much disturbance to the wildlife.
  Here are a few shots of our biodiversity sites on the coldest and most peaceful days.

Grassland in the North West Zone

Wetland plants, North West Zone

Spring is just around the corner in the North of Brockley Wood

The River Mole, North West Zone

Gatwick Stream flood attenuation area, Land East

Rolls Field, Land East

The clearing in Goat Meadow, Land East

The Gatsbee Apiary, Land East

Ashley's Field, Land East

Ashley's Field

Roe Deer tracks

Red Fox print

Rabbit tracks

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Gatwick Trail Camera: Scavenger Cam Jan 2017

I staked a pheasant carcass to the ground in a quiet part of Goat Meadow, then set up a trail camera to see who would come a'scavenging...

Day 1: European Robin

Day 2. Yep, it's definitely dead guys.

Evening 2. Eyes in the dark... a female Roe Deer

Evening 4: Red Fox

Day 5: Roe Deer (female)

Day 5: Carrion Crow

Evening 5: Red Fox

Cast (in order of appearance):
Roe Deer 1
Red Fox 1
Roe Deer 2
Carrion Crow
Red Fox 2 (or maybe 1?)

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Biodiversity Gatwick 2016: Highlights and lowlights

1. Highlight: All our biodiversity interpretation boards were installed, including images of notable species to be found around Gatwick.

Tom S., Robert and Harry of the Gatwick Greenspace Partnership

Lowlight: Forgetting to include any representatives of an entire taxonomic kingdom...

2. Highlight: Yet another year with our superb ecology volunteers carrying out record numbers of surveys; we seriously cannot thank you enough!

Lowlight: The state of my car by the end of summer.

3. Highlight: Of all the new species this year to Gatwick, I think the Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos) was my favourite, singing in the scrub west of Brockley Wood. 

Lowlight: My least favourite new species for Gatwick was Ash Dieback disease (Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus), now prevalent around the South East UK.

Shriveled and blackened leaves in summer

Diamond-shaped lesions around buds

4. Highlight: iRecord became available as a phone app, meaning I can now record wildlife anywhere in the UK, 24 hours a day!

Lowlight: The Wood Mouse population reached apocalyptic levels, meaning this was what I was mostly recording...

Our most recorded mammal in a single day

You again?

5. Highlight: After the fish removal from Pond 3, this year Great Crested Newts are back laying eggs!

Lowlight: Conducting amphibian surveys + leaking wellies = athletes foot

6. Highlight: Gatwick's Biodiversity Action Plans scooped another award this year and also got a mention in the International Airport Review.

Lowlight: All of our restored meadow grasslands, rich in wildflower and grass species, in which we take so much pride, are slowly trying to kill me.

7. Highlight: Discovering our first Slow Worm in Ashley's Field, a new reptile record for the Gatwick sites!

Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis)

Lowlight: Discovering our first Slow Worm poo.

8. Highlight: We hosted even more wildlife events for biological recorders, Gatwick staff and the general public.

Lowlight: Probably the wettest, most unpredictable set of wildlife events we've ever had

Tom S. models the latest in binbag fashion-wear

9. Highlight: I am finally making good progress with the malaise trap invertebrate sorting, with excellent volunteer help and the Sussex Wildlife Trust lending us their classroom!

Entomological enthusiasts Ryan Mitchell and Natalie Kay

Lowlight: Cranefly legs have become a living nightmare.

10. Highlight: The work of our excellent conservation volunteer groups, led by Tom Simpson, has resulted in great feedback from the general public about our sites.

Lowlight: Some not-so-lovely feedback from the public.

2017, here we come!