Sunday, 29 November 2015

Day 370 - Fabulously Fascinating Fungi Part 3

Amazing fungi at Fountains Abbey
Hey everyone today's Day 370 and a while ago, when I was still in my year, I did a post called Fabulous Fungi. I basically covered a whole load of different fungi and what they looked like and that sort of thing, as well as covering the underground world of fungi, the mycellium. In this Fabulous Fungi I will be covering how fungi are important to us ans some of the uses for fungi. I thought I'd come back to this subject as I'm still finding a lot of them around when I'm out walking. The leaves have fallen off the trees but there are still plenty of fungi around.

Fungi have been used by humans for lots of things for centuries. I'm going to cover some of the uses I have found out that you may not know about as well as a few you probably will.

The first fungi that you probably know about and its uses is yeast. This is used to make something most of us eat quite often. Bread! Yeast works by fermenting sugars, basically that means turning them from sugar into alcohol, and releasing a gas, carbon dioxide. That's what makes the bread rise, lots of little pockets of gas in the dough which set when it bakes. Baking makes any alcohol evaporate.

By fermenting sugars in liquids you get something quite different like beer or wine, this time it's the carbon dioxide that escapes and leaves the alcohol behind!

I also remembered from a programme I watched ages ago with Ray Mears that some fungi were very useful in making fire. You can see how Horseshoe fungus can be helpful in this video here.

Shaggy Inkcap fungus dripping ink
Then there's the Shaggy Inkcap fungus. As this fungus grows older its cap starts to liquefy to spread its spores around. The liquid can be used just like ink.

There's also the Puffballs. These were actually used by our ancestors as a sort of healer. When you flick a Puffball it will puff out (hence the name) a sort of green-brown mist of spores. This is actually a good medicine for cuts and that sort of thing. There once was a time when every single blacksmith in England had some of these to hand, just in case they cut themselves.

One thing on Fungi in general. If there is any extra-terrestrial life out there (and I'm sure there is), fungi are likely to be among all of it in general. As science has proved, they can use radiation, instead of sunlight, to grow, some planets may have a fair amount of this so we may soon see some ET's out there!
Fungi may be able to use radiation rather than the sun to grow.

There is a particular type of Fungus called, Cordyceps. These are fungi that, once eaten by an ant, will infect the ant's brain making it walk upwards. It will hang onto a stem with its feet and will be killed by the fungus. Then, the fruiting body of the fungus will sprout out of the ant's head and, after about 3 weeks or so, will erupt with new spores which more ants will eat. But don't worry, that's highly unlikely to happen to us! This could be useful to us as we may be able to find fungi that help to control crop pests.


 Here's a video to explain it better by BBC Earth:



In fact fungi are great allies for us and have been used to make medicines such as penicillin. In 1928, when Alexander Fleming was studying flu, he noticed that a mould had grown accidentally on one of the dishes of bacteria. The mould had created a bacteria-free circle around itself, basically, it had killed the bacteria around it. Fleming experimented further and called the substance penicillin. Two other scientists then developed it into the drug that it is now.

One last thing on useful Fungi, we need them to survive. Without a type of Fungi called Mycorrhizal fungi many plants would not survive, and as plants create oxygen for us we wouldn't last very long without them. Most plants rely on Mycorrhizal fungi around their roots to provide nutrients and water acting as an extension to their roots. The fungi get some sugars from the plants in exchange.

Here's a few links to further information:

BBC - Alexander Flemming

Live Science - 6 ways Fungi can help humanity

Kew Gardens - Fungi's Importance

I also got a lot of this information from a Ray Mears clip from when he was very young:


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Day 369 - Defend Nature, Green Government & a Calendar

Looks like it's down to us to look after nature
Hey everyone, well it's not really Day 369, more like post 369 so I'll have to think about how I title things now. Anyway. I was wondering what to cover today but then I found a letter from the RSPB about asking the Government to defend nature. I'll be writing a letter to my MP soon, or maybe using the system the RSPB have set up on line - click the link to see it.

Dad came home and was talking about what the Chancellor had been speaking about today, it affects his work, so we had a chat about this. We looked up the Comprehensive Spending Review and you can see that at this link.

The Government has told us in the past that it will be 'the greenest Government ever'. I'm not sure what they think that means but Dad and I had a search of the Comprehensive Spending Review. We searched for nature, wildlife and environment. Nature isn't mentioned once, nor is wildlife. Better news on environment - that is mentioned 25 times but not much of it is about protecting the environment - most of it is about taking money away from the bit of Government that looks after it....

The Chancellor's job is about looking after our country's money so maybe I shouldn't expect much but you would have thought he would put a bit more money towards looking after nature if this is 'the greenest Government ever'. Going back to the RSPB letter I certainly will be writing to my MP to try and get the Government to defend nature!

Now to something much nicer. Over the last year I've taken lots and lots of photos, some are pretty good I think, so I've decided to do two things with them. The first thing I am doing is donating some of my photos to nature organisations. If you're a nature charity and like any on my blog please get in touch :-)

The second thing I've done is to make a 2016 calendar with them. They came just yesterday and they look rather good!  There are some photos of it dotted around this post so you can see what sort of things are included.

If you like the look of them and would like to buy one, they are £10 plus £2 postage. Please Tweet me or comment on this post and I'll tell you how to get one. I'm trying to raise some money to put towards a telescope so I can find even more nature. David Cameron is always telling us to be more enterprising so this is a Government policy I am trying out... :-p


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Day 368 - Simply Spectacular Squeak!

Hey everyone, today's Day 368 and as you all will know, my year has now finished but this does not mean I cannot keep on with my blog anyway. Even though it has been over a week since the day it finished I have still been getting congratulations from various people, I am truly amazed and very grateful for all of the lovely messages from everyone. Two messages are particularly worth mentioning again as they are the reason for today's post:


Little Squeak!
Awesome! But I had to tell them that my family already has a WWT Membership so they replied with something even better. They said that they wanted to give me an adoption pack for a baby Otter! They told me that at Washington (my nearest WWT reserve) there was a new little otter that was born on the 28th of May and that I could be one of the first to adopt her! I could not believe this and I was really happy and, obviously, accepted this offer.

Calling for the keepers just before feeding time
- Squeak is in the middle.
I hadn't been to Washington for a while and didn't know about Little Squeak so, yesterday I just had to go to see her. Her actual name is Ruby but they named her Little Squeak beforehand as they didn't know what gender she was for about 6 weeks. We got there in time for the feeding at 11:30 and we saw her parents as well, Musa and Mimi.

Mum and Squeak have a cuddle.
They were all really cute to see. I should probably also mention that they are all Asian-Short-Clawed Otter, the smallest of all 13 known Otter species. They have a lovely enclosure as well as a little room with a heater inside of one of the building's walls. I learnt a few more things about them too that I didn't have in my 'Oarsome Otter' post.


  • They need to eat 20% of their body weight everyday!
  • Only the dominant pair in a group will breed, any offspring that hang around will help to bring up the young. 
    Family feeding time - Squeak is at the back.
  • The pair bond for life and can have up to two broods a year with up to six babies in each
  • They have two layers of fur. The top one is the waterproof one but they also have an undercoat which is finer and dense. This traps air and keeps them warm and buoyant!
  • Squeak is now six months old and weighs 1.9kg
  • She is learning what skills she needs to be an otter by watching Mum and Dad.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
It was lovely to go back to Washington to see all of the other animals there and it was lovely to see one of my favourite birds, the Smew, in its Winter plumage as well, it looks lovely in any case. It's weird how they are going to eclipse already whereas the Mandarin ducks, which are in the same place, are still in full breeding plumage. I love Washington as there's such a lovely mix of wild areas and captive areas such as the Hawthorn Wood hide, this is a place where I have got some great photos such as the one to the right.

Black swan cygnets all grown up
Then there's the Close Encounters area where you really can get up close with the the birds all around you especially all of the various types of Geese like the Nene (or Hawaiian) Geese, the Red Breasted Geese and many others. I find this the best place to get some lovely photos such as the one below of a Smew:

It was nice to also see the Black Swan Cygnets, which we saw last time we visited, all grown up and looking like adults. It's such a lovely sight to see and I really like the contrast to the more common mute Swans. They are literally exactly the opposite, black with a red beak

Smew
I absolutely love Washington WWT, I'm going to try and get to some other reserves of theirs this year, I would have gone to Martin Mere this weekend but it ended up being quite busy so we didn't get chance as it's quite a long drive for us . I'm so happy that the WWT gave me the adoption of Little Squeak, it's a fantastic present and honour, thank you very much!

You can find out more about Squeak at the Washington WWT website where she has her own webpage:

Welcome to the world of Little Squeak!

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Day 367 - The Mindbending Making Of...

Hey everyone, today's Day 367 and I've gone past the year mark now and had a couple of days off but the excitement of it hasn't calmed down. For me, it's been totally amazing. All of the nice messages of congratulations and support have been incredible. I have even had people like this congratulating me, today!



Thank you so much Chris and BBC Earth! Really appreciate the tweets :-)



Getting in close in spite of thistles for a close up.
It's been a great year with some great memories so I thought I'd fill you in on some of the funny things that happened as I went along:


Doing it everyday has been a real challenge at times, it's really worked its way into my brain. Mum and Dad told me a funny story about one night when I was sleeping and they came into check on me, as I stirred I actually said www.yearofnature.blogspot.com in my sleep. I didn't do this just one but ON TWO DIFFERENT OCCASIONS!!!!!  Sooo, yeah. It's obviously got its way into my psyche.


This was tricky - but got a great shot!
As you can see from the pictures,. I am also going to be talking about some of the challenges I've had before the post is written, when I'm taking the pictures basically. I've had to get into some weird positions, for example. when I was taking the picture for my life-cycle of a dragonfly, I found some weird green thing and shouted my Dad to see if he knew what it was. He said that it was a dragonfly emerging from its nymph and we were pretty amazed so I had to get lots of photos. What I didn't tell you in that post is that this particular one was on a rock right next to a pond. So I either had to swim in the pond with my camera, a little expensive, or get into a weird position:


Up close to a Humming bird Hawkmoth
It was relatively fun to do actually. There has been some other funny moments taking pictures, several of which have involved an insect... and a Thorn Bush or Thistles. To get my Trademark 'bug's eye view' photos I really had to get up and close with the insect so I have to go inside the Thorn Bush. sometimes I wonder 'is this really worth it?!' but then I think about it or see the pictures and say "Oh yes, yes it is." even though it has resulted in me sleep-talking...
Camping and early mornings - hmmm - yes it is worth it!


I've mainly stayed in the North to do my blog but did go on some trips to other areas. Birdfair was one example that was great fun. I've done a bit more camping this year because of this. That's great fun, love the camp fires, not so keen on the early mornings but it is worth it once I'm up and out. Bird ringing especially means early starts but it's wonderful to do and gets you so close to the birds, you really see them in a different way to looking through binoculars, see really small details.

Where it all started - in the audience at Unsprung :-)


It is a very hard to actually write the posts themselves because I have to think of what I've already covered and then find one to cover in the first place, do all the research, process the photos etc. There have been a few occasions where I have done a full post and then Dad sees it and we realise that I have already done that particular species. That's quite annoying!


Family bird watching,
Dad, Me and Esme, from Mum's iPhone
Well that's a little look 'behind the scenes' at a wonderful year. I've always gone out walking and taking an interest in what I see but this year has taken it to a whole new level. I've met lots and lots of great people of all ages and backgrounds. I'm just wondering what next year will bring!


I'm thinking of challenges like trying to get to all the nature reserves in Yorkshire, but I've got to get Dad's taxi onside for that one - it's a big place and I haven't counted all of the reserves yet!


I've got a new birdwatching companion too, Esme, she's very good and just watches everything with us, no barking at all which is brilliant!


Close encounter of the Beetle kind.
One last thing, I've got hundreds of great photos and I've been wondering what to do with them. Some I will donate to nature organisations like the Wildlife Trusts but I'm also thinking of making a calendar maybe to raise money for a telescope. I don't know if any of you would be interested though so if you think that's a good idea and you might like one please could you leave me a comment or tweet me @nerdboy386.


Hope you enjoyed,

Z.





Sunday, 15 November 2015

Day 366 - A few thank you's

Thanks everyone :-)
Hey Everyone, well back with a slightly different blog today just to say some thank you's for the incredible support I've had through my year of nature. There have been so many people out there that have been very kind and encouraging, it's been a truly amazing year. What I find most amazing is that I did not know any of the nature based people I have met through my blog before I started.

You have all been totally awesome and I want to say thank you to lots of people for support and putting up with my daily blogging and repeated tweeting. I also wanted to put the page together to record some of the lovely comments people have made so there's a few at the bottom. If you want to make any comments as well that would be awesome as I'll have them all in one place to look back on.

There are lots of people to thank so I'm bound to miss some, sorry if I do miss you, but here goes.

Thank you to some amazing young naturalists for lots of support, comments and retweets. Most of these folks have blogs that are definately worth a look:

Thank To some amazing organisations for lots of support, retweets and some great opportunities :
  • Wildlife Trusts, RSPB, BTO, Royal Entomological Society, Butterfly Conservation Trust, BBC Springwatch, BBC wildlife Magazine, Birdlife International, Buglife.

Thanks for some great battles of bad puns:



Some long standing followers, great tweeps, and fab supporters, thanks so much for comments and tweets:

Thanks to some of my favourite places for all the great work making sure there's wildlife for me to watch!

Thanks to these folks for ID advice when I've been stuck:

Thanks for opportunities to write guest blogs:

To save this getting too long there's one last group to thank. Basically the people that inspired me to start this great adventure, well it really started with Mum and Dad taking me places and starting my love of nature. My Nana & Grandad have been very encouraging too and I've made my family very proud. I have to mention Matt Doogue, Lydia Johnson and @BBCSpringwatch with the #100days of nature as they are what gave me the idea and inspiration for the blog. Thanks guys :-)




Just so I can look back at these here's a few of my favourite tweets from yesterday - so many nice messages, thank you everyone :-)













Got a couple of bits in the local papers too which went down well at school :-)

Northern Echo - 11 year old inspires the world with his nature notes

Darlington and Stockton Times - 11 year old inspires the world with his nature notes



Saturday, 14 November 2015

Day 365 - Massively Happy to introduce the Mightily Handsome Montagus Harrier

Today is the day. Day 365. Three-Hundred-and-Sixty-Five posts with hardly any days missed. 103,500 views so far. A dream come true. When I started this, even I didn't believe I would finish this blog. But here we are. It's weird because I can't actually write a simple diary everyday for even a week. It boggles my mind how I managed to do it. I think it was because I am very passionate about this subject. I love nature. Before I get on with today's subject, I want to stress that my blog is not finished. I probably won't post daily. What I think I'm going to try to do at least is cover each week an issue, such as getting kids connected to nature, and a species, such as what I'm doing now. My next post will be the making of the blog, so make sure to keep an eye out for that!

So, to mark this very special occasion I thought I would cover a very special bird. The one I chose was at Blacktoft Sands in East Yorkshire and was one of the most incredible moments in my life.

Pair of Montagu's Harriers ( Circus pygargus ) at Blacktoft Sands
Right from the start of my blog when I was reading up about the UK's rarest birds and I saw the Montagu's Harrier I said 'Wow, I really want to see one!' so I was thrilled when I heard there were some at Blacktoft. It is quite near to us but still around one and a half hours away. So when we got to Blacktoft we found a bench outside a hide to have our lunch. Just as we were finishing, someone came out of the hide and said 'oh, you've just missed the harrier!' So we had to sit in the hide for another 2 hours waiting for it. But it was worth it!

They were amazing to watch but they were a long way off so sadly my photos don't do this lovely bird justice but the Crossley ones show you just how magnificent this bird is.

So, here are the facts:
  • Habitats they like include marshes. moors and grasslands. Blacktoft is England's largest tidal reedbed so lots of lovely marshy habitat for them.
The male flying about
  • Their diet is animals that they take from hunting over areas with low vegetation.
  • They are the United Kingdom's rarest breeding bird of prey. This year there were only 6 breeding pairs and I was lucky enough to see one pair.
  • They don't live here all year, they only come to breed here, and the best chance you have of seeing them is in the South of England. They usually aren't found anywhere else in the UK, so this pair at Blacktoft seem to be unusual - but lucky for me.
  • Now, when I say they only breed here, it's true. But that does mean they need to undergo a migration. So, I looked into this a bit more..
  • Well, they seem to spend most of the rest of their time down in Africa. Specifically in Mali with what's been found by the RSPB.
  • What they've been doing is satellite tagging 5 different birds (Madge, Mark, Roger, Rose and Rowan) and tracking them around the world.
Swooping around for a while before going back to hunt
  • I will be following Mark, seeing as that's my Dad's name, and seeing where he's been going as they can have some pretty big adventures.
  • So, he started off in London on the 24th August 2015. He managed to get across the channel to near Etreux in just 1 day and spent another day resting up. After this he did a weird circle thing over 5 days near Reims and then managed to scale France by the 3rd of September.
  • He then covered all of Spain in the next day only to make it into Africa by the 6th! He carried on trekking along Western Africa slowing down eventually when he hit the border of the Islamic Republic of Mauritania and on the 11th, he went slowly down to the Southern border in 10 days.
  • So, you can see, they undergo huge journeys in such little amounts of time. I'm personally not surprised at all that he slowed down in Africa. 
  • They live for an average of six years but the oldest one recorded was nearly eight years old, he must have flown thousands and thousands of miles!
  • They are a medium sized UK bird of prey with a length of only 40 cm - 50 cm and its wingspan is around 1.1 metres, Still seems impressive to me I'm only a bit taller than they are wide!


Montagu's Harrier from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland
Montagu's Harrier from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland


Here are a few links to some more information:





Thanks for a great year with all of the support, lots of people have been really helpful and supportive and it would need a really long blog one day to thank everybody!

I really hope you enjoyed it, but it's not over, it is never over,

Zach :-)

Friday, 13 November 2015

Day 364 - Brilliantly Positioned - Beautiful Plume Moth

Beautiful Plume Moth (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla)
Hey everyone today's Day 364, just 1 day to go! So, to celebrate I thought I would cover a very nice little Moth that I really like because of its unique shape. This one turned up in my front garden in September, pretty much outside of my front door on some nearby plants. I was on my way out somewhere so my camera was handy and I managed to get a few shots before it flew off.  It is of course, one of the Plume Moths and it is a very beautiful looking one. On that basis, and from my research, this looks like a Moth that is 'what it says on the tin' - the Beautiful Plume Moth.

So, here are the facts:

  • There have been records of them across the United Kingdom, but they get rarer the more Northerly you travel.
    Got in a bit close
  • Well, they are widespread but there are not as many places with sightings in the UK as a lot of Moths I have covered.
  • I haven't found anywhere that they are classed as rare as such, but they certainly seem less common than a lot of Moths.
  • The good news is that they have been getting more common since the 1990's and are now more often found in gardens - just like this one.
  • There are two generations in a year so they are found flying from July and from September onwards, I'm guessing this means until the weather gets too cold and it's time so say goodbye to them!
  • When it gets cold the second generation go into hibernation and once they wake will be flying until May.
Got a crazy looking shot when I went in for a bug's eye view
  • Their wingspan is between the very specific sizes of 17mm and 23mm. This is one of the smaller non-micro-moths that I have ever covered.
  • The larvae feed in June and August on the flowers and young leaves of small plants.
  • Some of these plants include Restharrow, Hedge woundwort, Goosefoots and even Heather.
  • A lot of other types of Plume Moths feed on these plants too so you should be cautious when you are identifying them from their larvae as they are easy to confuse.
Here are some links to more information:




Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Day 363 - Simply Stunning Rugged Six Striped Rustic

Six Striped Rustic (Xestia sexstrigata)
Hi everyone - Day 363 and I've found another moth for you from my Nosterfield Open Day Collection.  While it is not the most colourful of moths it is still very beautiful and I managed to get some nice close up shots which show a lot of its features. I struggled with identifying this one, and did get some help, but it was still difficult as it's tricky to tell from the photos. It's probably a Six Striped Rustic so I researched that moth for you today and on the links on the end you can see some pictures of some with clearer markings, this one looks a little bit worn but still amazing.

So what did I find out about this little moth:
You can see the proboscis here 

  • Like yesterdays Flame Shouldered Moth these moths are quite widely distributed across the UK, not quite as common in Scotland but they are found there.
  • They have a wingspan of 36-38mm
  • You are most likely to see these moths flying between July and September. They only have one brood per year.
  • They live in habitats like damp woodland and marshy areas like bogs and fens.
  • Another similarity to yesterdays moth is that the adults are attracted to Ragwort for nectar. 
  • The larvae are around from September to April or May.
And here's the bugs eye view :-)
  • They feed by night on a range of herbaceous plants like Plantain, Bramble and Bedstraw.
  • In the day the larvae hide out low down on these plants trying to stay out of sight of predators.
  • When they are ready to transform into adults they head underground to pupate.
  • In case it's not obvious from my photos they get their name from six stripes that go across their wings. 

As promised some links where you can see pictures of this moth with better markings.

Nature Spot - Six Striped Rustic

Lepi Photos - Six Striped Rustic

Habitas - Six Striped Rustic

Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Day 362 - Flambouyantly Marvelous Flameshoulder Moth

Flameshoulder Moth (Ochropleura plecta
Hey everyone today's Day 362 with only 3 days to go. You'll have figured out already that today's post is a Moth. You'll also know that I went to the Nosterfield Open Day where they had Moth Traps set up and I helped get the moths out. While looking through them we put some into containers so we could take pictures later. I can't wait to do this again as I saw so many different varieties of moths.
Today's particular one is called the Flame Shoulder Moth. It's a beautiful moth and I can't wait to cover it.

So, here are the facts:

  • They are very common around all of the UK and are more widespread than some other moth species I have covered
  • Saying this, they are found less commonly in Scotland. Weirdly, they aren't found less in the West.
A bugs eye view :-)
  • One last on distribution they are one of the first moths that are recorded in Northern Ireland that I have covered. 
  • As for habitats they usually live in woodland edges, gardens and meadowland.
  • They have a 25mm - 30mm wingspan which is actually quite a medium sized moth for the United Kingdom.
  • There are 2 generations, the first flying in May and June and the second flying in August and September.
  • Adults visit various flowers for nectar especially Ragwort.
They may be common but they are beautiful!
  • The caterpillars are nocturnal, they are found at night, and they live on plants like Dock and plantain
  • The larvae feed up through late summer into autumn and over winter as a pupa
  • The name refers to the flame-like straw coloured sides that the Moth has on its wings.
Here is a link  to some more information:



Hope you enjoyed,

Z.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Day 361 - Really Lively & Beautiful Red Longhorn Beetle

Male Red Longhorn Beetle (Stictoleptura rubra) in Norfolk
Hey everyone, today's Day 361 and a while ago during the Summer I went to Kelling Heath on my holiday. It's in Norfolk. I had a great time there, even apart from what nature I found it was a great time. But nature-wise, it was great too, one little thing was at the holiday park itself which is amongst some fabulous woodlands. I saw a number of these little creatures flying about and it was a while until one settled long enough for me to get a photo of it. It was the amazing, Red Longhorn Beetle. They're interesting bugs and I was looking forward to finding out about them.

So, here are the facts:

  • They are very rare it looks like, there has only been about 54 records, according to the Nation, in all of the UK.
    Trying to get in close
  • The bulk of the UK population is found in Norfolk but it has been spreading North and West recently.
  • The five most Northerly records of these beetles were found by my friend Dr. Roger Key. Well done Roger :-)
  • They are about 19mm in length.
  • Juveniles are found of various Pine Trees, Firs and Larches.
  • Adults, like most Beetles, visit flowers for nectar and pollen, these like thistles and brambles.
    The best bugs eye view I could get - they didn't hang about 
  • The larvae are found in dead coniferous wood stumps where they take 2 to 3 years to develop
    • The adults have been described to be found at the height of Summer, July and August I'm guessing.
    • The one I found was a male which isn't as brightly coloured as the female which have far more red wing cases and where the common name of Red Longhorn Beetle comes from.
    Here are a few links to some more information:


    NBN Gateway - Longhorn Beetles - Distribution map

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Monday, 9 November 2015

    Day 360 - Resplendant Redpolls

    Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret)
    Hey everyone, today's Day 360 and as there's only 5 days to go, I thought I would cover a special species. As I don't come across new birds  very often, I thought I would cover one I saw recently that was a lifer. As you know, a while ago I went bird ringing with the East Dales Ringing Group and saw quite some migrating birds. This particular one is called the Redpoll and they are really cute little birds. As this was the first time I'd seen one it was really special to see them up close, I loved holding and releasing them.

    So, here are the facts:

    • There are several species of Redpoll so straight away I'll say that this is the Lesser Redpoll.
    Showing off its little black 'goatee beard'
    • They are resident all over the UK apart from right in the centre of England where they only Winter.
    • In the whole of the UK, there are only 220,000 breeding pairs. Well I say only, that sounds quite a lot.
    • Well, despite these facts, they are a RED STATUS. The BTO says this is because there has been a recent breeding decline.
    • This breeding decline was very recent as in the last assessment they were an Orange Status and the time before, a Green.
    Beautiful to get close to
    • They are mainly found in woodland habitats, especially coniferous and birch woods but might be lucky and see them in towns or arable areas though not as often. 
    • They feed on small seeds. Especially those of Birch and Alder Trees. As well as plants like Willowherb and Sorrel. They also visit bird feeders especially for nyjer seeds!
    • They breed first when they are 1 year old and usually live for only 2 years. The oldest ever bird was 6 years and 26 days.
    • They are 12 cm long and their wingspan is 22 cm. Both Males and Females weigh 11g. 
    And very calm as well.
    • Going back to where I saw this post, when I was out bird ringing, their ring size is the second smallest 'A'.
    • One of the things I am still amazed by is how tiny some birds are and even more so how tiny their eggs are. A Lesser Redpoll egg weighs only 1.4g!
    • Some Redpolls come here from colder parts of Europe but our resident birds may move around in cold winters too, they may head from the North to the South of England and if its really bad they may hop across to warmer parts of Europe.

    Here are some links to some more information:




    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Sunday, 8 November 2015

    Day 359 - Decidedly Awesome - Dasysyrphus albostriatus

    Dasysyrphus albostriatus
    Hey everyone, today's Day 359 and as it's been so warm this Autumn over here in the UK it means I've been able to see lots of wildlife I hadn't expected to see so late on. Even last weekend, on the 1st of November I managed to spot a brand new Hoverfly that I haven't seen so far this year. We saw this at Ripon at a place called Quarry Moor Nature Reserve, a place we don't go very often but sometimes stop off at for an extra little walk. There was lots of Ivy in flower there which is where we saw this lovely Dasysyrphus albostriatus which I really hadn't expected to see this far into the year.

    So, here are the facts:

    • This Hoverfly likes habitats such as Gardens, Parks. Woodland Edges and Rides. 
    • They occur on both deciduous and coniferous trees.
    Feeding on the Ivy
    • You'll find them throughout most of Britain and the UK but they are less common in the North of Scotland.
    • You will see them in Spring but also, as with this one, there is a second generation in Summer into early Autumn.
    • The adults as you can see in the pictures are brightly coloured and you will see them feeding on nectar from flowers when they are on the wing.
    • The larvae are much harder to see, as they look like the bark of the branches of the trees on which they live.
    • The larvae feed on aphids, but only at night. They rest near the colony by day using their camouflage to remain undetected.
    Couldn't get a bugs eye view but glad I got this close up!
    • This species of Hoverfly has hairy eyes which you might not be able to see as it was quite hard to get a bug's eye view.
    • They have a wingspan of around 6 and a half to 9 millimetres. This is quite small for a Hoverfly.
    Here are some links to some more information:



    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Saturday, 7 November 2015

    Day 358 - Kracking Kingfishers Royally Revisited

    6 Days to go!

    Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)
    Hey everyone today's Day 358 and before I begin, I would like to thank Jill Warrick Moth Recorder for sending me a lovely 'care package' of Moth information. It'll be very useful!

    Today, I was at Fairburn Ings, and as always when I visit I go to the Kingfisher Screen. Now this is generally a great place to see, you guessed it, Kingfishers. I've always thought this to be a bit of a myth but it did ring true with me once when a Kingfisher was sat for ages in full view on a wire across the beck here. Unusually I didn't have the cameras with me. Ug. But today, it was a happy day. My family were there, looking through the screen and my Mum saw a glimpse of blue. And there he was in the distance, with his back to us. We got some pictures and it very obligingly came closer, then closer again! I did cover Kingfishers back on Day 132 but I only had some distant photos. After today's experience I had to take another look at them, I've tried to find different information this time too.

    So, here are the facts, revisited:
    It started of quite a way off!

    • They are resident around most of the UK except for Northern Scotland and about halfway down the West side of Ireland.
    • I always say that they are quite rare, it's almost true. There are only about 4,000 breeding pairs in the whole of the UK.
    • Because of this and that they are a species of European Concern, they are an Amber List species.
    • They are found basically in places where there is water, but only inland. They favour rivers and ponds.
    • They first breed at one year old and they only live for around 2 years. The oldest one was only 4 years 6 months and 13 days.
    Then it cam a bit closer
    • They are only 16cm long and they have a 25cm wingspan. Both Males and Females weigh only 40g.
    • Now, why do they hang around streams and rivers. Well, they are there for food. Specifically, fish and aquatic insects.
    • They also nest in stream banks. Both the male and female will work to make a burrow in sandy soils. They are normally only just wider than the Kingfisher, about 6cm wide, but are 50-60cm deep or long.
    • At the end of the tunnel a little dip is made so eggs don't roll out of the nest but the Kingfishers don't use any nesting material.
    And then very close :-)
    • In each clutch they have between 5 and 7 chicks and they have between 1 to 2 broods a year and sometimes have a 3rd.
    • They are quite clever as when they are in the nest they operate a rotation system where each chick gets one piece of food and then it moves to the back of the nest to digest its food letting its siblings get food before it starts again.
    • Still on the subject of food, the brood can demand up to 100 food items every day meaning the parents need to be very good at spotting and catching prey.
    • When I was recording this Kingfisher, I noticed that every time there was a gust of wind and the branches went up and down, he would negate it by bouncing up and down again! Like his own little suspension system!


    Here are some links to more information:



    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.

    Friday, 6 November 2015

    Day 357 - A Wonderful Week & Cracking Conehead Cricket

    Hey everyone, well it's day 357 and only 7 posts left to do to complete my year of nature hunting posts!

    This week has been pretty awesome. If you've seen the last few days posts you'll know I was lucky enough to get a little clip of my #mypatch video on Autumnwatch Unsprung as well as being asked to do a guest blog on the Autumnwatch website.

    Well to add to that I've had three more amazing things go up on the web this week. The first is a great new project called Rants for Change and I was asked to do a little video ranting about something I'd like to change, well here's my video but do check out the other videos as they're great.


    I was also asked to write a blog for the #EveryChildWild campaign that the Wildlife Trusts have been running and you can see that blog here.

    And finally I was invited to write a Feature Creature post for Wildlife Watch, the magazine and website by the Wildlife Trust for children - I got to write about one of my favourite beetles - the Bloody Nosed Beetle - you can see that article here.

    A really amazing and wonderful week! Thank you to Autumnwatch, Rants for Change and the Wildlife Trusts for the chance to do all these things.

    Short winged Conehead (Conocephalus dorsalis)
    Well, back to my nature hunting and to a creature I saw on my holidays. It was one that I puzzled over for a while until I got a bit of help with identification from Dr Roger Key, thanks again Roger. I saw this one when I went to Hickling Broad in Norfolk looking for Swallowtails when I was there in the summer. Today I'm looking at the Short Winged Conehead Cricket.

    So what did I find out about this little creature:

    • This one was a bit confusing as it's probably not quite a full adult, this is probably the last instar before it is an adult.
    • Its most likely to be a male.
    • They like to live in wetlands on reed bed edges, rich fen meadows and ditches.
    Impressive antennae!
    • They have been spreading through the country during the last ten years from the south and are now found in most of England and Wales.
    • Body length is 11-18mm long, not sure about the antennae which are very long and you can see in one photo I had to zoom out a lot to get them all in.
    • Adults are around from July to October.
    • They lay their eggs on leaves and stems and they overwinter as eggs.
    • Larvae hatch around may and go though their instar stages before getting to the adult stage by July.
    • They feed mainly on seed heads and flowers of grass, rush and sedge. They are omnivorous though and will sometimes catch and eat small insects.

    If you want more photos and facts try these sites:

    Devon Wildlife Trust - Short winged Conehead Cricket

    Nature Guide UK - Shortwinged Conehead Cricket

    Hope you enjoyed,

    Z.