Friday, 14 September 2012

Survey photos...

And finally some photographs from my surveying exploits...

Peacock butterfly (Inachis io)

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

Dark Bush-cricket (male) (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)

Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

Lucilia spp.

Southern Hawker (female) (Aeshna cyanea)

Photos from Norfolk....

Next, our college camping trip to Norfolk!  A few friends from Writtle decided to have a much needed break after our year of dedicated study(!)... we packed up our tents and headed to the north Norfolk coast for a couple of nights.  The stomping ground of one of our group we had a ready-made tour guide.

We went to visit Blakeney Point one day and saw the Common and Grey Seals basking on the point, plus lots of Terns.  We moored the boat and took a walk on the Point which was absolutely beautiful.

Blakeney Point

Oystercatcher on Blakeney Point

We had a trip to Wells-next-the-sea where we did a spot of crabbing and ate an ice cream.  We also spotted this rather political van which apparently receives regular paint job updates depending on the current political issues!

Following that it was back to Stiffkey Saltmarshes which was where we were camping for a wander out to sea!  It was a lovely trip and a beautiful place to spend a few days in the sunshine.

Matt the Tour Guide and the Girls

Photos from Scotland trip...

Ok, so I promised some photographs in my last post... so let's start with my trip to Scotland back in June.  I spent almost a week over the Jubilee Bank Holiday weekend visiting my parents in Prestwick, Ayrshire.  We had a few day trips outs and about and I visited some of my old haunts.  I was keen to get out and see the local wildlife.  Whilst I have always loved animals I didn't have an appreciation of UK wildlife when I was younger and therefore totally overlooked what was on my doorstep.

We visited Culzean Country Park and its clifftop position overlooking the Firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran is beautiful.  My brother worked here as a Ranger over a decade ago and lived on site.

Culzean Country Park - view across to Arran

This is the view from one of the footpaths - you can see Arran in the background.  It reminded me a little of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica... but cooler and with fewer mosquitoes!

We walked along the coast line to a small town called Maidens.  From much of the Ayrshire coastline you can see Ailsa Craig which is a granite outcrop in the middle of the sea.  Granite was quarried here and Scottish curling stones are made from it.  However, now it is a SSSI and SPA and is managed by the RSPB.  

Maidens Beach looking across to Ailsa Craig

We took a trip up to Stirlingshire one day and stopped off at the Falkirk Wheel which is a rotating boat lift which joins two canals and is really quite fascinating (if you like engineering!).  From the top of the lift there are lovely views across to the Ochil Hills.  I used to live at the foot of these hills and it brings back some lovely memories.

Falkirk Wheel - Ochil Hills in the distance

After Falkirk we carried on to Stirling - another of my old stomping grounds.  We visited the old town and walked round the castle.  The photo below is the view from the castle across to the Ochil Hills with the Wallace Monument and the river Forth in the foreground.

I used to have this view from my living room window!

Back to Prestwick and a walk along the sand dunes revealed a bit of erosion between the dunes and Old Prestwick Golf Course.. a somewhat pointless fence!

Prestwick sand dunes

There was however an abundance of bird life along the dunes and on the beach.  Dunlin and Ringed Plover edged along the tide line, Skylarks above the golf course and a few Reed Buntings flitting about the gorse.

I have to say I do miss this beautiful beach and the views over to Arran, and beyond.

I'm looking forward to going back over Christmas when I will try to take some wintery shots of the beach and the sea!

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Where did the Summer go?

Cripes.  It's the beginning of September.  I'm back to college in a few weeks.  What happened to my summer holiday?  I'll tell you what happened to it.

My summer holiday was spent doing (at least) weekly butterfly surveys of the college estate; going through the break up of a 7-year relationship (very sad) and subsequently moving house, and; more surveying for butterflies (few and far between).  It's been a tumultuous couple of months but I am fortunate enough to count one of my key strengths as resilience.  So, onwards and upwards, eh?!

I have moved to Writtle which is where I am studying.  It is super handy for the college and library which is excellent news for my third and final year of hard academic graft.  It is also ridiculously handy for the village pubs and student bar which is terrible news for my limited budget but great news for drowning my sorrows!

Anyway, back to matters of the natural world.  As I have mentioned a lot of the summer has been spent conducting point count surveys for 4 species of butterfly: Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Gatekeeper.  The inclement weather we've had over the winter, spring and summer has resulted in a pretty poor showing in butterfly numbers, felt across the whole of the UK.  The college estate was no exception to this trend. With numbers in the single figures I have a real lack of any interesting data for my hypothesis at the moment.  However, what I do have is over a decade's worth of transect and weather data for the estate.  This will allow me to look for patterns within that and hopefully draw some useful conclusions.  As far as I am aware not much has been done with the combined data before so it should prove to be interesting.

I'm recording surface and ambient temperatures at each of my point count sites and each data logger is housed within a small length of plastic pipe.  These bits of pipe are attached to either end of a 1m plastic stake.  A couple of these have gone missing over the course of the summer and it frustrates me that people just rip them out for fun.  Yesterday, as I stood quietly counting 2 Speckled Woods (it didn't take me long!) I looked up and spotted my missing stake in the tree above.  After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to the college with one of my lecturers, a window pole and a long plank of wood we managed to dislodge it from its leafy home and retrieve the loggers.  Each of these loggers had 6 weeks worth of temperature data on it so I was incredibly relieved to have spotted it up there!

At the end of August I assisted an Ecologist on a dusk and dawn Bat survey down in Brighton.  The purpose of the survey was to determine whether there were any bats living within an old ex-convent before the planning application for development was submitted.  It was very interesting to hear all about the processes but also to get out and do the survey itself.  We discovered some Pipistrelles foraging along the boundary hedgeline, but nothing in or out of the building.  It was a pretty spooky place and I was a bit nervous.  The dawn survey was fun to do because it was gradually getting lighter rather than darker and it was lovely to watch the sun come up. We also went up into the loft space to check for any signs but there was nothing to report - just spiders!

More to follow soon with some photographs as well....

PS I've also added a badge for my LinkedIn profile here as well should you wish to get in touch that way.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

The end of another academic year... and Spring sightings!

I'm back!

It's been a long, hard slog this year but I'm delighted to say my 2nd year is behind me - bar the small matter of the results.  I think it is fair to say that we all noticed the upwards shift in academia between the first and second years.  Modules completed this year included: Biological Surveying, Principles of Habitat Management; Landscape Ecology and Assessment, and; the utterly dire Academic and Professional Development.  Highlights of the year included small mammal trapping, use of GIS software, field trips and landscape ecology lectures.

In terms of crazy weather - we've had an exceptionally dry and warm March, followed by an exceptionally wet April and now we're into May - currently the sun is shining bright and an Orange-tip butterfly has just flown past my window but who knows what the remainder of the month will hold!

Following submission of the last of my assignments I took a wander round Norsey Woods to see the Bluebells before they disappeared.  It was a lovely day although it was very muddy underfoot.  Lots of lovely wild flowers to be seen and a very handsome Buff-tailed Bumblebee (below).

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Green Alkanet
Yellow Archangel
Greater Stitchwort

Red Campion


In addition to these there were numerous birds singing in the trees including Blackcap and Chiffchaff - both of which I was delighted to be able to spot in amongst the foliage!

Last week saw the arrival of our garden fledglings: House Sparrow, Starling, Wood Pigeon and Collared Dove.  The picture below shows one of the Starlings attempting to feed itself.  It was quite comical to watch as it struggled with when to open and close its beak.  Most of the food ended up out of the tray.  One of the adult Starlings spent a lot of time singing the most melodious song and looked very much like a bird of paradise with his head raised and his throat warbling.

And finally, my very first 'Wildlife Diary' has been published in the May issue of the Essex Field Club newsletter.  It was a very exciting day when it dropped through my letterbox yesterday.  A big hello and welcome to any EFC readers that make it through to my blog!

Don't forget you can follow my ecological wonderings (and other stuff) on Twitter using the link to the right - or tweet me @NicolaShearer - very original, I know!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Going cuckoo

It's official, the stress of my assignments is pushing me over the edge into cloud cuckoo land.  So much so that this morning whilst I was out, in the rain, trying to take photographs for an assignment I thought I heard a cuckoo.  It was very faint but then I heard it again.  And again.  I didn't hear one last year so I am delighted to hear one this year.

Anyway, please bear with me readers.  My tales are a bit slim on the ground just now - but soon this semester will be done and dusted and I can get back out and about.  Hopefully, by then the rain will have let up a little.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

* * * NEWS * * *

** Finally have a (broad) topic for my dissertation! ** Undertook small mammal trapping and saw my first vole! ** Two assignments down... 4 big ones to go. ** Great Crested Newt bottle traps created ** Hanningfield Living Landscape sections drafted ** Chelmsford becomes a city! ** College prize draw win **

As you can see - I've been busy.  So has the Queen.  Let's start with that shall we?  Chelmsford has become the first city in Essex.  I had no idea that we had no other cities - read what the BBC had to say about it here.  Well done Chelmsford.  I hope Lizzy had a lovely time when she went to do her recce.

Onto far more important news.  After much deliberation I have finally settled on a topic for my dissertation and yes, I have gone full-circle and am doing a study of c.4 generalist butterfly species in an arable landscape and the affects that climate change and microclimate and land-use change has on them in terms of their plasticity.  All with a view to predicting what these changes (climatic and land-use) might mean for other generalist and specialist species over the coming decades.  Or something like that!  I am very excited about it.  There's still a lot to do in terms of the scope of the research but it is still early days.  It will be a lot of hard work but I can't wait to get started.

First though, 4 chunky assignments to get through - habitat management essay; landscape character assessment; biological surveying report and the research proposal for the aforementioned butterfly project.

As part of our couse we did some small mammal trapping last week. We set several Longworth traps along a boundary hedge in an arable setting. We only found two species Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) and Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus) but it was useful to get practice of constructing the traps, filling them, placing them in suitable positions, and then checking them. We also got practice of handling them and sexing them. Having owned a pair of dwarf hamsters fairly recently I wasn't too worried about handling them. However, these little critters are tiny and wriggly! It was a great experience though. Pictures following below:

Bank vole

Congratulations! It's a girl!

Wood Mouse

It has been quite a hands-on month at college.  A small group of us, trying to get our Great Crested Newt licence this year, set about creating bottle traps.  It was a lovely hour of arts and crafts as we cut up plastic bottles and then reassembled them "kebab-style" on a garden cane.  We put them out overnight at the edge of the college reservoir.  It was a bit early/cold and so they remained empty in the morning when they were checked.

The sections Michelle and I were writing for the Hanningfield Living Landscape vision document have been done and submitted.  We attended an indicator team meeting this week and it all seems to be progressing on time.  The draft document is due for internal review next week and then we'll take it from there.  Despite our section being completed it is good experience for us to stay involved to see how it all gets put together.  Hopefully we will be able to get involved in the summer in planning the projects that arise from the vision document.

And finally (no, I'm not one of the Two Ronnies) my name was drawn out of a hat as the winner of the college library survey prize draw.  Book token prize.  Niiice.

I think that is it for now.  Back to the essay writing.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

I love Twitter

Chris Packham replied to one of my tweets.  See for yourself.  Speechless, I was.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Nuclear Nature

At the mouth of the River Blackwater at the northern tip of the Dengie Peninsula in Essex lies the defuelled Bradwell Nuclear Power Station.  It operated for about 40 years but was decommissioned 10 years ago.  Some months ago I pulled a wildlife walk guide from a magazine and stuck it on my shelf thinking 'I'll do that walk sometime'.  Well, Sunday was the day.  We drove up to Bradwell-on-Sea which is a beautiful little village, with some ridiculously friendly residents, and parked the car in the designated car park near the chapel of St. Peter-on-the-Wall.  This restored chapel dates back to 654 ( and it is a lovely little place - always open as well so you can go inside for a look around and to get out of the wind off the North Sea!

St. Peter's-on-the-Wall

The circular walk takes you right round the sea wall of the peninsula and permits great views of a range of song birds near the bird observatory (run by Essex Birdwatching Society) and the chapel and then waders and wildfowl on the saltmarsh and fields.  As we were walking round we saw a huge flock of birds flying in over the sea wall.  they just seemed to grow and grow in number and then landed in an arable field to feed and rest.  They were Brent Geese and there were thousands of them.

Brent Geese

We saw lots of other species of bird but the highlight for me was spotting a common seal just offshore who was looking as us just as intently as we were looking at it.  We also saw a couple of hare in the fields on the walk back to the car park.

The species list for the day: Wren; Chaffinch; Skylark; Bombus spp.; Magpie; Reed Bunting; Great Tit; Blue Tit; Greenfinch; Shelduck; Knot; Brent Goose; Oystercatcher; Little Egret; Redshank; Common Seal; Black-headed Gull; Great Spotted Woodpecker; Green Woodpecker; Mallard; House Sparrow; Rook; Wood Pigeon; Carrion Crow; Robin, Blackbird; Rabbit; Fieldfare; Pheasant; Hare and Moorhen.

Bradwell Power Station
It was a lovely sunny day and a very long walk.  With all the stopping and starting it took us about 4 and a half hours to walk round but I would definitely recommend it.  It was great to be by the sea and seeing the sun setting was really beautiful.

Sunset over the River Blackwater

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Busy busy busy...

It's been an incredibly busy month or so and my poor blog has suffered.  January saw me take the reigns of the Essex Field Club's "A Wildlife Diary" in their newsletter.  First article to appear in April. 

My statistics exam has been and gone - I passed!

I had a wonderful trip down to Dorset with EuCAN again where we (Amy and I) spent a great weekend in Beech Cottage hanging out at the Kingcombe Centre with Nigel, Kathy, Sarah et al.  We did some winter twig ID and looed at bryophytes, learnt about traditional hay making in Transylvania, enjoyed a barn dance (with cider and wine), lots of fabulous food and cake, and then spent Sunday morning clearing gorse and hawthorn on a Butterfly Conservation site at Lankham Bottom.

I've been out and about at Langdon again and this weekend we had a work party from Butterfly Conservation join us to continue in our pursuit of the perfect habitat for the Grizzled Skipper.  Not sure whether they are going to "move in" but we can hope.

The deadline is looming for the Hanningfield Living Landscape information to be written and submitted for review, so once this current assignment is completed that is next on the list.

Oh, and we had 15cm of snow in Basildon at the start of the month.  Great fun!!

Gloucester Park, Basildon
Cormorant drying off
Mute Swan

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Dissertation topic...

In the next few weeks I really need to decide on a broad topic for my dissertation.  I'm due to present some ideas about it to a panel at college sometime in February and then my completed research proposal has to be submitted by the beginning of May, ready to commence the real work from then until Spring 2013....

Slight problem: I haven't got a clue what to choose!  So I'm calling for as many suggestions as possible whether it be mammals, birds, butterflies, bats, plants, trees, habitats, landscape ecology.... I just need rough ideas to see what ones might enable me to produce a compelling dissertation!

Answers on a postcard please.... :-)

Monday, 2 January 2012

Happy New Year!

A very happy new year to my handful of readers!  Spring seems just around the corner and I can't wait as I got my very first bat detector for Christmas and I want to get out there and use it.

Christmas was spent in Scotland visiting my folks and I was desperate to get out and about, but sadly, the weather was atrocious and I just didn't have the right clothing with me.  The journey up the M74 was quite exciting as we saw several buzzards in Dumfries and Galloway which I'd never noticed before - mainly because we normally drive up in the dark!  So, a walk around Coombe Wood in Langdon Hills was the order of the day on New Year's Eve once we were back in Essex.  It was a really nice walk with views over the Thames Estuary.  We saw a few Great Spotted Woodpeckers and some Great Tits, but nothing much else.  There were some lovely trees though some great gnarly ones.

So until my next installment... here's to a conservation-tastic 2012!