Easter Holidays

It’s the last day of the Easter holidays. I’ve not been too far off my local patch as my sister is revising for her GCSE’s, but we did have a trip out to Westonbirt Arboretum. Not much wildlife but it was amazing to look around the trees and plants.

I came across this Chaffinch with what looks like the warty growths, Fringilla papillomavirus which affects Chaffinches and Bramblings.

Sometimes these growths are small warts but they can grow to larger warts over time that engulf the whole leg. While some birds appear quite healthy, some birds may become lame.

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Back in the garden I’ve been keeping a watch out for the Hedgehogs from last year. Others are posting Tweets and photos of their hedgehogs, but mine had yet to appear. Finally the trail camera managed to capture the hedgehog coming to drink from the dish of water.

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The weather has been so dry and the ground is now fairly hard and dusty. The stream alongside the badger sett has dried up and it must be quite difficult for them to find worms.

I visited the sett this week and enjoyed watching a fox and a badger wandering around in the Bluebells.

I noticed that the badgers have been taking Bluebells down in to the sett for bedding.

Two of the local hares have paired up and I quite often see them together. The male is the one in the photo below, while the female, which is hidden in the dried grass, is very pale in colour, so they are easy to recognise.

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Wheatear

During the first week of the holidays I got to talk on a local TV station called That’s Oxfordshire about ‘blogging about nature’ and getting young people involved in wildlife.

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Yesterday I was really pleased to get some of my footage of Badgers on BBC South Today during an article about the impact of development on Badgers in Oxfordshire.

The Oxon Badger Group highlighted how Badger setts and long established foraging paths are being disrupted by the building of houses and roads.

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Badger identification

Identifying my local badgers can be difficult. After spending so much time with them and watching so much footage of them from the trail cameras, I can nearly always work who is who.

With the adults it is not only the facial markings, but their size, the tail, scars and ear damage, the way they move, their behaviour and also which other badgers they are normally seen with. Putting that altogether gives me a good idea of who I’m looking at.

However the cubs are impossible. Last year there were 6 cubs, one of which died after a few months. I haven’t managed to catch up with the cubs since October and often wonder whether they survived, stayed at the sett or moved on, especially as Arrow has had cubs this year.

Last night as we walked back through the wood I spotted this Badger. Straight away we could tell it wasn’t Pirate, Smee, Bog, either of the twins, Arrow, Stick, and not Small as she died last week.

N.B. I found Small half in and half out of one of the sett entrances a week ago. Looking at her it didn’t look like foul play, (dogs or humans) but she had quite a few injuries to her rump, suggesting she had been picked on by the other badgers, possible underground in the tunnels as she had no injuries to her ears, head or front legs. – Please feel free to suggest other possibilities. Small wasn’t a family member, but joined the clan last Spring.

I wondered whether this new badger (photo below) could be one of last years cubs, so I’ve cropped some photos of the cubs to try and match the facial markings. I think looking at the way the black strip indents sharply under the eye, it could be the cub we named Blue in the top left photo of the cubs. Some badgers have straight black strips, sometimes the black finishes half way across the ear, other times the black strip continues under the bottom of the ear. Each face is subtly different.

I have spent ages looking closely to see if I can come up with a system of measuring the markings. Perhaps a grid I can put over the photos, or measuring the distance between black and white parts against the setting of the ears, eyes and nose. But that all depends on having the photographs the same size and the face pointing at the same angle.

Does anyone use a system that works? If so, I would be really grateful if you could share it. Thank you

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Cubs from 2016

Footage of unidentified badger

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Water Vole Day

Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius) are native to the UK and have been protected since 1981 by the Wildlife and Countryside act.

There has been a massive decline in Water Vole numbers since 1900 and by 1990 we had lost 90% of our water voles. In some counties where there has been recovery programmes some increases have been seen, but numbers are still struggling and spotting a water vole can be quite difficult.

The Water vole is a mammal and the largest vole in Britain. They are sometimes mistaken for Brown rats and in the book Wind in the Willows, Ratty was actually a Water Vole. Water voles have a life span of 1.5 years but are often predated long before that. They are roughly 20cm long, their tail can be another 11cm.

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Water Voles live in holes which tend to be 2-3cm off the water and can be found along riversides and shallow streams. They prefer water ways with steep sides and plenty of vegetation. Bare patches, where feeding has taken place, will show that Water voles have been present recently.

Another sign of Water Voles along the river bank will be droppings the size and shape of a Tic-Tac. Water voles leave dropping to mark their territories.

Water vole sniffing

Recently I was kindly invited to see some Water Voles in Gloucestershire.

It was good to have someone with local knowledge to point out where to look and the common behaviour of the water voles.

Just as the group of us had finished talking about where to look and that these particular water voles were used to people and dogs passing by, there was a small plop and right in front of us was a Water Vole hurrying along the side of the bank. I got my camera ready and started taking photos as it was a great opportunity to get some amazing close up shots. Unfortunately the Water vole climbed up in to the foliage and we lost site of it.

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Where the water vole had disappeared the foliage suddenly started moving differently, rather than swaying in the wind like the surrounding grass and nettles, the Celandine flowers were being tugged away and vanishing before our eyes. We could just make out a little brown face amongst the foliage.

While I was taking photos, my mum filmed.

 

Thanks to Iain Green for hosting the day, and to Jo Cartmell for all the water vole expertise. It was a great experience and lovely to see Water Voles so close up in the wild.

 

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Spring mammals

I’ve spent a lot of time each evening with the Roe deer over the past week. As the sun sets it is such an amazing sight to watch as each ray casts a golden light through what will become a flower meadow in the summer.

Hundreds of wisps of spiders webs catch the sunlight as it streams down.

When I photograph Roe deers I let them come to me rather than me following them.

To get in to position I hurry across to a certain point before getting on my hands and knees to insure my outline isn’t obvious. If the deers spot me, it depends on how the are feeling they will ether run away or stay, but recently they have been staying around me.

There are two males, one with velvet on his antlers and one which has rubbed the velvet off. There are around seven females. Sometimes they are in a big group, other times in groups of two’s or three’s.  The females are less wary of me, and the male in the photo below is the most wary.

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Muntjac

The Hares are definitely more active now. Most evenings there are roughly 8 Hares running around the field. It is interesting to watch how they will charge at full speed all the way across a field towards another hare, then stop about 2 metres away, stare at each other before starting to chase round and around.

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When I went to photograph them the other day the boxing and chasing was over.

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Little owl

The Little owl (Athene noctua) was introduced to the UK by Col. E.G.B.Meade-Waldo in Kent, in 1874 and by the 4th Lord Lilford in Northamptonshire around 1889.

Little owls are the smallest owl in Britain and are about the size of a Starling. They can be spotted on walls, fence posts, farm buildings and exposed branches and are active both day and night, but especially from dusk to midnight and again at dawn.

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Their brilliant eyesight means they can hunt both in the day and night, looking for small mammals, moths, beetles and earwigs. They will also eat earthworms after it has been raining. The Little owl hunts by running along the ground or pouncing down from a perch. Their amazing hearing helps them locate small mammals.

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Little owls make over 20 different sounds, ranging from hoots, deep whistles, yelps, a kweew, kweek sound and a woop.

The first I knew I had a Little owl near my house was hearing a strange call just after dark, I thought it was an owl of some kind and after checking on-line I found out it was the contact call of a Little Owl. Some evenings I could hear another owl replying.

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Each time I went out I searched along the barn roofs, the hedges and along of the hay bales. Little owls apparently even like sunbathing.

My mum saw the little owl a few times while I was at school, sat on top of the hay bales. My dad saw it early one morning about 1 metre of the ground on a branch being hassled by a blackbird, but no matter how hard I looked I never saw it, only heard it.

It took about 6 months before I finally saw and photographed the Little owl this week. I was walking back out of the field after taking some photographs of Roe deer when I heard a Raven calling overhead, as I was looking for where the Raven was I noticed there was a Little owl sat on the barn roof right opposite my house. The following evening I checked again and this time it was sat on a tree stump.

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Little owls nest in holes in trees and I’m hoping that they have found somewhere close to have chicks.

 

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A badger and a fox

It is not often that I get both a badger and a fox together, mostly they will avoid each other and the fox will only appear once the badgers have left for the fields.

During the day I often find the fox asleep or resting near or actually on top of the badger sett.

Smee is one of my local Badgers, who has a bad right eye. He ( I think it’s a he) doesn’t stray very far from the sett and is the Badger that can always be found hanging around the sett long after all the others have gone out in to the field.

The other night my trail camera picked up a bit of interaction between Smee and a fox. I had put down a very small handful of peanuts and I think the fox was keen on having a fair share but Smee was having none of it.

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State of Nature in Oxfordshire 2017

A couple of months ago I was lucky enough to be asked to do a presentation at the Launch Event of The State of Nature in Oxfordshire 2017.

We decided that rather than doing a presentation on the day that I would make a film in advance, that way I could put in some film clips of wildlife that I had taken on my local patch to show people how wonderful Oxfordshire’s wildlife is and also I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to take the afternoon off school.

The launch took place on 21st March at Blenheim Palace, with the first speaker being Professor David MacDonald, Director of WildCRU. Professor MacDonald spoke about how research in to wildlife is only the beginning, it is the partnerships between the researchers, landowners, farmers, volunteers and conservation management that will make a positive outcome for nature.

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It was interesting to hear that a lot of Oxfordshire’s countryside is farmland and we have little actual ‘wild’ spaces.

The next speaker was Graham Scholey, technical adviser for the Environment agency. Then followed the film I had made for the event. Big thanks to my sister for filming me.

The next two speakers were Martin Layer, the Planning and Estates Manager for Smiths Bletchington and Dr Judy Webb. Both spoke about nature reserves that I knew little or nothing about. Which made me think that if someone like me who regularly visits local nature reserves and seeks out wildlife hadn’t heard of these reserves then how do we promote nature reserves to the general public.

Perhaps that is an idea for future blogs – to visit all the nature reserves in Oxfordshire and blog about them.

Emma Marsh, regional directer for the RSPB, spoke last and summed up the general gist of the report.

The report not only outlines the loses and the gains in Oxfordshire’s biodiversity but also a call to action plan that involves the following key points

  • Urgently create larger and more connected high quality habitats
  • Find financially viable ways to help farmers manage land to benefit nature.
  • Improve practical support for communities
  • Ensure better planning for blue and green infrastructure
  • Put sustainable development that invests in nature at the heart of local decision-making
  • Increase access to green space and volunteering
  • Develop more collaborations within our strong and diverse sector
  • Continue to improve the methodology for monitoring the state of nature.

The few points that I picked up on during the event was that Nature, Politics and Money are all interlinked, fragmentation is a huge problem and sadly, like other conferences I have been to, the under 25’s are under represented.

It was a real privilege to be involved in the launch and my final words from the film are:

I would like to see much more education on nature in schools. How can we care about something we know nothing about and therefore have no connection to?

I would like to see all MP’s of every party pledge for the Environment and overall no matter whether you are an individual or head of a multi million pound company, an MP or a planning officer I would like to ask you to have a little more consideration for nature.

We only get one chance at this; hopefully it is not too late to change the State of Nature to a positive.

You can read the full report at http://www.wildoxfordshire.org.uk/stateofnature/

Posted in Blogging, Citizen science, Hedgehogs, nature, Nature reserve, outdoors, Oxfordshire, RSPB, Rural life, Uncategorized, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments