Archive | September, 2017

We are surrounded by amazing wildlife…

26 Sep

Below is a somewhat late posting of my monthly article in the Sherston Cliffhanger magazine – from July….. my bad…. and more to follow….

Summer is cracking along as we all realised in the recent heatwave. This caused quite a few problems with young fledglings over heating and the Sherston Avon getting quite low but overall most animals and plants are having a good season with lots of butterfly’s around.

We are surrounded by fantastic wildlife – as good as you will see on Springwatch!! It just takes a little time and understanding to find out some amazing life cycles that have evolved locally – and here are two great examples.

As you may know we have a little freshwater shrimp (whose scientific name is  Gammarus pulex) which gets eaten by fish etc.  On a dawn chorus walk in May, Harriet Alvis from the Bristol and Avon Rivers Trust found a spiny-headed worm called Pomphorynchus leavis in the Sherston Avon – is a really small wormy thing with a bright orange spot!! These infest the shrimp and, as the shrimp are almost transparent, the shrimp are easier for fish etc to find due to the orange spot. The spiny-headed worm’s target is to infest the local fish population and uses the shrimp as an intermediate step. Smart worm!!

Paul Ormiston kindly sent me a video of glow worms. Glow worms aren’t actually worms – in this country it’s actually a beetle which grows up to 25mm called Lampyris noctiluca. It’s primarily the females who glow to attract males. They can’t feed so only live for 14 – 21 days but once the female has mated she stops glowing, lays her eggs then dies. June and July are the best time to see them after dark (of course) and they are typically found in walls or low vegetation but can occur anywhere. If you do see them please leave them alone!!

That’s three scientific names on the last two paragraphs…. please keep reading!!
We are fortunate to have a healthy population of Swifts in the village  – the black birds that shriek up and down the high street. They are the essence of an English summer and shouldn’t be confused with the House Martin or Swallow – they aren’t closely related but are a great example of convergent evolution. These amazing birds only spend 3 months here to raise their chicks and otherwise spend their whole life in the air – and that includes sleeping and mating!! By the end of August they will be off back to West Africa for the winter as there will be lots more to eat there. Once the chick leaves the nest it won’t land again for 2 – 3 years when it’s ready to raise a brood.
That’s enough amazing facts for this month!!

 

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Getting tucked up for winter….

24 Sep

The last vestiges of the summer have almost departed – there are still some small flocks of House Martins and Swallows to be seen around the village. These are off to much sunnier climes in West Africa where there will be lots more to eat although the migration across the Sahara and Sahel will take it toll on the young birds, some of whom have only just left the nest.

Our insects are also getting ready with some species of butterfly and ladybird finding their way into sheds and garages to over winter as an adult although large numbers of butterfly’s migrate to Spain and North Africa (how does such a small animal manage that!!)

Soon our winter thrushes will return from Northern Europe and Iceland along with large numbers of Blackbirds, Robins and Chaffinches. The Redwings and Fieldfares gather in small flocks in trees and fields around the village and are typically quite wary of people and migrate at night. If you stand outside at night in October you may hear flocks flying over with them making a contact call to one another.

We should start to get more Little Egrets arriving for the winter. The Little Egret can be identified from other Egrets (all of which are all white) as it has a black bill and yellow feet. There have been reports of Great White Egrets being seen around Sherston – this is the size of a Heron with a yellow bill and black feet and an extra kink in its neck.

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Conkers are dropping and the Virginia Creeper is losing it’s bright red leaves so it’s time too think about getting the bird feeders out if you haven’t already. If you have peanuts and fat balls left over from last year it may be better too replace them as they do go stale.

Wash your bird feeders and water bowls every week or so with hot soapy water as there are some really nasty fungal diseases which spread from bird to bird and may cause fatalities especially with Greenfinches and Chaffinches.

There are still bats flying at dusk and a few House Martins left – but not for long!! Get the supplies of logs and oil in!!