Sunday, 24 July 2016

Perplexed of Clayhanger

Happy Sunday! Been there, done that, brought the Tee-Shirt! All I had for my efforts were a Swallow (my first locally since June 16th) three Reed Warbler and an overflying Cormorant. No sign of any Swift so far today (sign of the times?) and Ray Fellows got in touch yesterday to confirm successful breeding by the Great Crested Grebe but that’s about it for the bird front (more life in a Tramps Vest as they say!).

So what is it that has got me perplexed?

You may recall that last Sunday I found my first Small Skipper butterfly of the year? Well today, in the usual area there were about seven or eight 'small-type' skipper Butterflies at least three of which were definitely Essex Skipper. I was unable to confirm a definite Small Skipper in the few minutes I was there.

I have been keeping butterfly records for the area on and off since the 1980s and if you read some of my day counts for the Marsh from the early eighties, you would think that they were for somewhere completely different. No Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Gatekeeper (Essex Skipper! - you would have to be kidding) - but hundreds of Small Heath, Meadow Brown and even a few Wall Brown butterfly (locally extinct now?).

A Wall Brown Buttefly - happy days on the dam at Chasewater, now long gone?
Now I aint being big-headed but I actually do have a basic understanding of most mechanisms of nature, let’s face it, I studied most of the 'ology’s' at university and had previously attended ten years of night classes before I had the confidence to do something like this blog, but there is one natural mechanism that I can’t get my head around.

Why when butterflies colonise and area do they have to replace existing species? I can understand it with birds. There is competition for territories, nest spaces and food etc. For example, some people fear that the colonisation by Ring Necked Parakeet will mean a decline in woodpeckers (I don't) . But Butterflies don’t need to compete for any of these things but still we see our long-standing species declining and being replaced by interlopers from the south.

Meadow Brown are still about but in nowhere like the numbers they used to be. Small Heath and Dingy Skipper are hanging on by a thread but Ringlet and Gatekeeper are everywhere. To put that into perspective, in the early 1980s when I started seriously taking an interest in butterflies, I would have had to go to Worcestershire to guarantee seeing a Ringlet or a Gatekeeper.

I am aware that thermoclines are a factor for these species and that with global warming these features are gradually slipping northwards but can that really be such a significant factor in dictating which species thrive and which decline?

I am sure someone must have done some research into this phenomenon but I have not been able to find anything specifically relevant to this issue, so if anyone out there is in a position to address my perplexity, I would be more than willing to learn and pass it on to you lot! Any Takers? - No sensible opinion will be discounted.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The Damning Evidence (Of a Bee nuisance)!

NO - its not evidence of my new salad diet! Well done to Mrs Chaz who succeeded where I failed, by finding the evidence of our Leaf Cutter Bee's activity.

It seems to be favouring just one species of shrub growing alongside the pool - there we are Dave, have a look around your Garden and see what you can come up with? - Chaz

BEE-ing observant

Leaf Cutter Bees - are they noteworthy? I had another view of one in my garden last night and lo and behold I receive a text from Dave Bate today to say that he has found one in his garden too!

Have we just been overlooking these or is this something noteworthy?

There are apparently eight species in Britain but only three species that are common in southern Britain (and from some perspectives I suppose we are southern, - I was in Alnwick once and a mate from Sheffield was told he was a midlander - not impressed your offended Yorkshireman!). The ones that Dave and I have seen will be females as they are the ones that take the leaves and chew them to make solitary nests.

The most likely contenders for our specimens are therefore: Megachile centunculari, Megachiles versicolor or Megachile willughbiella (not being a smart-arse, i'm afraid they dont actually have any English names). If anyone wants to share any further information on this I will be happy to mention it on the blog.

I'm afraid it’s been too damn hot for doing the Marsh (you should know what I am like by now?) but at last things seem to be cooling down to a tolerable level so I will shortly be getting my finger out and doing a circuit.

One contributor (who shall remain nameless) has asked me if the Oystercatchers are known to raise multiple broods and the honest answer is - I don't know? I am aware that this is one of those rare species that normally does pair for life and I know that they will lay again if a nest fails or is predated.

Our birds have already bred successfully this year but I'm not sure if there is a possibility of a second brood given the conditions that we have had this summer - watch this space, you will be the first to know if I hear anything different. - Chaz

Monday, 18 July 2016

An increase in Owl Actvity

I suppose ther must be a correlation between this and my inability to sleep well in this hot weather but a Little Owl calling at around 00.30 today was the first I had heard since last winter. This evening Mrs Chaz and I sat outside at dusk to watch the bats and, (surprise, surprise), a Little Owl commenced calling again from the direction of the Marsh.

Another unexpected side effect of this late night vigil was my first sighting of a Small Elephant Hawk Moth in the Garden. Although it is quite late in the season for this species (the Elephant Hawk Moth tends to fly later into the summer) I am pretty sure it was the smaller species that was battering its head against our living room window for a few seconds.

Anyway, assuming they dont all keel over with heat exhaustion tomorrow, something to keep your eyes (and ears) open for. - Chaz

Sunday, 17 July 2016

What the heck...

Was the big black and green thing that buzzed my face in the garden this afternoon?
I was honestly perplexed until it landed on a fence post but there it was, a Leaf Cutter Bee.

This is the first one I have seen in this part of the world and definitely the first for my own Garden! I tried to sneak up and get a photo but it flew off as I got closer, however I did poach a picture from the internet so that you would get some idea of what I saw (the main difference being that the slice of leaf it took was significantly larger than the one in the photograph).

See, who needs 'Springwatch' to see something interesting - Parakeets, Hobby and Leaf Cutter Bee, all in the same week in a Clayhanger Garden - I'm thinking of charging admission if this keeps up! - Chaz

Its only just begun...

...and its already too hot and sticky!

Had a nice walk around the Marsh and Mere with Dave Plant this morning, lots of insect activity including my first Small Skipper of the year and my first Gatekeeper of the year.

Birding was less impressive although a Cormorant flying from the Mere and Marsh was a welcome sight and a single Sand Martin was (Believe it or not) the first that I have seen on site since April!

Two Singing Reed Warbler and several (at least two possibly three) Oystercatcher were the only other birds of note. On the other hand, noticeable by their absence were Common Tern - I assume the nesting birds have now gone and that any further records may relate to passage specimens.

The Hobby was again active over the village on Wednesday evening so something for you raptor fans to keep your eyes open for. On a sadder note, Dave introduced me to the carcass of a dead Buzzard which has apparently been present on the Marsh for a couple of weeks. Unfortunately too far gone to identify if foul play can be suspected so lets hope that it was just an immature bird that suffered as a lack of experience.

Anyway, enjoy your sunshine while it lasts, I am looking for the promised thunder storms on Tuesday evening.

Have a good week all - Chaz

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Quick Parakeet Update

One of my neighbours has reported that the Parakeets were seen again briefly today in the same poplar tree that they favoured last night. I have also had  a second-hand report that Parakeets are regularly being seen in the park at Bloxwich (King George V ?).

I have been quite alert but have not heard them again and certainly have not seen them so far today but then with the weather we have been having...

Will update if I have any more news - Chaz

UPDATE 20.00

No further sign of Parakeets but while I was watching for them, I was privileged to observe the local Hobby hunting over the village. As I watched it swooped like a huge Swift and took one of the local House Martin, it was startling as the hirundine almost appeared stationary by comparison with the speed of the predator, a sad but in its own way, amazing experience for me.