Monday, 30 June 2014

My Latest Twitches

On Saturday 14th June 2014, I went on a twitch for a Spectacled Warbler at Burnham Overy Staithe, Norfolk.  It was a great bird and I was really pleased to catch up with it as it had been around all week.  I felt a little bit sad as it was building a nest but you knew it was in vain.  There was a young birder who recognised me and said hello, but he left before I had time to ask him his name, so I don't know who he was!

We then went to see our birding friend Digby and his wife Aga and their boys.  Mum and Digby were busy chatting about a trip we are all doing with Digby next summer to Southern Ecuador. Mum and Dad met Digby on a bird tour to Venezuela a few years ago and have kept in touch since.   It is always lovely to see them, particularly as Digby spent 4 weeks birding with us in Colombia, so I know him really well.

After that we had to rush home as Mum and Dad had a friend's 50th birthday party in the village.

Spectacled Warbler, Norfolk, 14th June 2014
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Spectacled Warbler, Norfolk
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Spectacled Warbler Twitch, Norfolk
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Spectacled Warbler Twitch, Norfolk
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

Then on 21st June we twitched Ashdown Forest, East Sussex for a Short-toed Eagle, a third for Britain.  It had been seen at the beginning of June only a couple of hours from home, but we were doing the garden bioblitz and had a houseful of people helping with that, so we couldn't abandon them (though mum did think about it).   We were up early, to get there for 5.30 am and mum and I stayed passed out in the car.  We were lucky enough to see the bird at 8.00 am but had to jump out of the car really quick to see it perched in a tree.  There lots of young birders there including some I met at the AFON conference like Josie Hewitt, Alex Berryman and Matt Bruce.  Though we were all going in different directions, trying to re-find the bird, so I didn't get a chance to chat.  It took another hour and a half to get better views, before Dad drove us home as quick as he could.  

This time my scout leaders, Mike and Paula, were getting married and I was a Scout flag bearer.  There was loads of traffic on the way home, so it was a bit touch and go whether I got there for the start of the ceremony.  But in the end, we got home in time for me to make myself look presentable for a wedding and still get there before the bride (just)!

Short-toed Eagle, East Sussex, 21st June 2014
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig, digiscoped using an I-phone

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig as a flag bearer for Scout leaders Mike and Paula's wedding
Photograph taken by and copyright Helen Hewitt

My UK 400 British List is now 439 and my World list is now 3377, as Short-toed Eagle was a new bird for me.  It will be great to see my next new bird for my British List, as it will feel like a downward roll to 450 after that.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Garden Bioblitz 2014

Birdgirl Mya-Rose bioblitzing in new T-shirt
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

It was the first weekend in June and I was sitting in a shady spot in our Chew Valley garden, watching the birds.  This is what I often do, but today I was frantic to make sure that I didn’t miss anything.  Should I look in the front or back?  Could I cover both?  I had already seen the usual suspects like Blue Tit, Great Tit and Robin, but now there was more urgency in my search for new birds.  Where were the Goldfinch that usually come to our garden? 

Today was the first day of the National Garden Bioblitz and I was taking part in my garden. A bioblitz is a 24 hour event where originally lots of different types of scientists got to together and tried to find and identify as many different live species as possible in a set place.  The first bioblitz took place in 1997 in America and there they still have large bioblitz’s, for example in 2012 they had a bioblitz of the Rocky Mountains National Park.

Last year, the National Garden Bioblitz was launched.  It was aimed at anybody, just getting out into their garden to find as many species of wildlife as possible. This year, I thought it would be fun to get involved.  Although I am able to see and identify the bird species, I needed help with identification of most other things.  We talked to some local friends and quite a few were keen to get involved.

Nigel Milbourne from Blagdon,  an expert in birds, bats, plants, bugs, beetles, flies, butterflies, moths and lots of other things;
Pete Burston from Chew Stoke, an expert in birds and plants;
Dr David Hill from Compton Martin, an expert in Lichen;
John Martin from Bristol, an expert in birds, plants and insects;
Andy Pym from Bristol, an expert in micro moths, spiders, insects and many other things things;
Mike Bailey from Timsbury, an expert in birds and moths and lent us his moth traps and camera trap;
Alan Feest, an expert in fungi and moulds who helped us to identify mould from a photograph;
Ray Barnett, from Bristol Museum, an expert in all types of insects, spiders, flies.

John Martin, Avon County Bird Recorder, in our wildlife garden
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

We started our bioblitz at midday and soon after Nigel arrived, identifying plants and all types of insects.  He was in his element and it was hard to keep up with his finds; dragonflies, bees, butterflies, hoverflies.  His knowledge was amazing.  Next was Pete, who systematically worked through the garden identifying as many native wild plants as possible.  It was a big job and soon John Martin, arrived from Bristol, naming even more plants.  John was also great on insects and was giving us names of things that I had never even heard of, called leaf miners.  They are flies that lay larvae on leaves, causing a pattern.  I had seen them lots of times, but had never known what they were. 

John Martin, Avon County Bird Recorder, helping with everything
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

There was so much to taken in, it was really exciting.  In fact, it was exciting and fun for all of us.  Next, Andy Pym arrived from Bristol, an expert on spiders, insects and micro moths.  Those are the tiny moths that are really difficult to identify.

Andy Pym examining an insect
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

By this point we had Raven, Green Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk, Nuthatch, Bullfinch and Commons Swift.  The birds identified as part of the bioblitz was going really well.

My Dad, Chris Craig, looking for a slow worm in the compost heap without any luck
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

As it got dark, we heard an obliging Tawny Owl calling and then Nigel got to work with his bat sensor.  There were bats flying over our heads and for the first time, we knew what they were.  As well as Common Pipistrelle, he identified three more species including Lesser Horseshoe Bat, which is a really good spot.

We also set up a camera trap and three moth traps borrowed from Mike Bailey, who runs the ringing station.  He was a back up identifier and came the next day to help.  We saw Roe Deer, a Fox and heard two Common Shrews fighting but sadly no animals caught on the camera trap.  Andy and Nigel got to work with the moth traps, which are boxes with bright lights in them, taking out the moths, identifying them and then letting them go.

Pete Burston getting a bit chilly!
Photograph taken by and copyright Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig

I headed off to bed whilst everyone else stayed up really late and then we all got up early.

The following day we finally saw our missing Goldfinch, Swallow and a mallard flying over.  I’m not sure I have ever been so happy to see a mallard!  David Hill arrived and managed to identify 40 species of lichen just in our garden, which was astonishing.

Photograph of Early Bumblebee
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

Then we had a last scramble to dig up earthworms and try and identify files and anything else we could see.   There was a final frenzy leading up the end of our bioblitz at midday.

Then was the task of identifying things that we had photographed, with the help of friends.  For example, we had taken a photo of a slime mould, which Alan Feest from the ringing station, as expert on fungi and moulds was able to ID instantly.  Also, there is a website called i-spot where you can post photographs and experts look at them and tell you if they can identify them.  Mum also posted photographs on Facebook insect groups which got a great response.

Our final number of species was 332, coming in second in the country.  It would be great if more people took part next year as all you need is a good pair or eyes and a camera.  We are definitely going to do it again next year, hopefully with even more friends to help.  Mum and I are also going to try and learn more about things like ants, worms, slugs and snails. 

Hister Beetle with mites on it's back
Photographs taken by and copyright John Martin