Wednesday, 18 February 2015

I am a mole and I live in a hole.

Two years ago I became gripped by one of my obsessions. My character is one that borders on the OCD and I go through phases of fascination with a subject. Recently I am absorbed by an interest in paleontology and in the past I have focused on Ancient Mesopotamian History and the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (which led to a book). The particular obsession I refer to today is that of Moles.

I noted the presence at various points on my local estate and began to wonder what the distribution of mole was in Warwick. I quickly began to consume the literature and discovered that molehills are in fact no relation to the number of moles living in an area. However I realised that they were a reflection on the amount of tunnels dug and earth moved. I also wondered if there were any patterns to their creation and did that change of time.

Molehills are generally constructed during the winter when more tunnels are needed to increase the foraging area. So over January and February of 2013 I went out and using a Garmin E-Trex gps device geo tagged every single molehill I could find in the town.

As luck would have it I also started a GIS course at the Continuing Education department of Oxford University and the data being collected was perfect for my final project.

This is the final map I produced.

I followed this up with a report on the different patterns identified and the distribution of mole colonies found. This was published on my website Wild Warwickshire under the title of The distribution of molehills of the European Mole (Talpa europea) in a sub-urban environment (2013)

I repeated the study on two of the site in 2014 and then again this year. I have quickly plotted the results in two pictures but have yet to do anymore analysis.

There is definitely some evidence of a pattern and it will be interesting trying to understand what if anything it means. Keep tuned and I ll post when I find out more.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Whats bothering the Badgers?

Its a Sunday so as usual I have been down to my local patch to see whats been happening. It was a rather dull and uninspiring morning. It wasn't exactly wet but felt damp and the low cloud made it feel almost claustrophobic.

Despite the weather it was still an enjoyable jaunt around the river and field. The birds were out in force even if none of the 'specialties' were.
There were no signs of the Teal this week and unusually few Mallard. The riverside trees however, were alive with Blackbird, Tits and Robin.

A single buzzard was observed fleeing across the main meadow out over the fields pursued by three crows swooping and diving upon it.

Moving on to my little patch of land all of the annual flood waters had receded leaving the ground thick with mud and it was evident that Muntjac, Fox and Badger had all used the same path I had. I stopped to retrieve my camera, more of that in a minute and went on to the feeding station.

I am always marvelled by how the birds react to my presence. As soon as I turn on to my patch I am very quickly flanked by a Robin who follows me to the feeding station and is always the first and boldest to feed. Today I could feel and see myself shadowed by a pair of Great Tits and some Blue Tits that all eventually ended up in the Hawthorn tree beside the bird table waiting patiently.

On the way back I caught the glimpse of a vole making its way through the undergrowth. It was a browny colour with a short tail so could possibly be a field vole.

On returning home I turned to analysing the weeks camera trap data. There was the usually mix of birds, wood mice, deer and badger but a number of things stood out.

Firstly was the odd appearance of a Moorhen on shot. The patch is close to the river but the hedgeline is quite some distance and it is quite a risky prospect for such a tasty bird when the track is commonly frequented by the Fox.

Speaking of the fox, it wasn't much in evidence this week but on one of the occasions it was seen carrying prey. It seemed quite big and was possibly a Woodpigeon or a Rabbit. It is interesting to note I have only seen prey carries past the camera when the Fox had young however peak cubbing is usually during March not February or has the mild winter brought things on a little.

Lastly are the Badgers and boy have they been active this week. They can go several days without being seen and when they do its only the occasional individual passing by to forage or get to the edge of their territory. This week however over the 11th and 12th Feb their activity dramatically increased. In this period they activated the camera 11 times. Again they were just passing by but they seemed to be more in a hurry. They seemed to be dashing to and fro. Now of course February and January are the prime cubbing months. Due to delayed implantation it is at this time the sows give birth to their cubs underground. These cubs will not come out for another month and they are a little more grown. Does the activity and speed of these badgers reflect the excitement of the pitter patter of tiny paws in the clan? Who knows?

Monday, 9 February 2015

In praise of the normal

I have never particularly considered myself to be a 'twitcher'. In fact I can say I have only twitched twice in my life. One successfully and one unsuccessfully. My first attempt was to find a pair of Snow Geese in a field of beans near Snitterfield. I was not exactly sure which field the geese were in and spent over an hour unsuccessfully trying to locate them.

My second attempt came in 2005 and I ventured a long way (for me) from home to Hillmorton near Rugby to view some Short Eared Owls. Arriving just before dusk we negotiated the housing estate to find a patch of rough grassland. We paced about the field for awhile and then just as the light started to fail and we were returning to the car three of the owls appeared and gave us a wonderful display.

So what ended my twitching, well apart from dislike of travel, which is a large part of the pass time, I realised I get just as much enjoyment of the common birds as the rarities. Of course I have great joy and excitement at the sight of Barn Owl, Red Kite or Water Rail but I am more than content to sit and watch Blue Tits and Great Tits.

It was these innocuous that a settled down to watch yesterday. It was a glorious morning and my patch was alive with the sound of song. I completed my main circuit again catching sight of the elusive Teal and entered the bit of land that I manage.

This time I had remembered to bring some bird seed with me and I laid out the mix of seed, mealworms and suet pellets on to my simple feeding station. Even as I emptied the bag I could here a Robin approaching and he took to a perch above my left shoulder and watched me with interest. I retreated a few paces and took a seat.

Almost as soon as I was settled the Robin was darting in to quickly dig out the dried mealworms. Next a pair of Great Tits appeared both now resplendent in bright yellow chest and shiny black stripe. As the Great Tits returned to separate perches four timid Blue Tits appeared. Very much bottom of the pecking order they had to dart in when the other birds were absent. The Robin was top dog and bullied both of the Tits in to giving way, whilst the Great Tit asserted itself over the Blues.

I spent a good 20 minutes watching these three species interacting with each other with just as much interest as when I watched the Short Eared Owls. The owls were magnificent birds and a worthy tick to my British species list but in some respects it would mean so much more to have seen them on my patch.

Patch watching is as much about the place, the space and the wildlife as it is about the ticking. Its important especially when you do as much data collection and analysis as me not to lose sight of the behaviour and intrinsic beauty of the wildlife. Take time to appreciate the mundane.

For more information on my patch - the Saxon Mill follow this link.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Green Politics... or the lack thereof

There are 93 days until the General Election, and it already feels like a very long time. Admittedly the campaigns have yet to get into gear and no full manifestos have been released yet but I do think it is time to start thinking about what the various parties are going to offer in terms of the commitment to safeguarding the environment.

We already know how ineffectual the Conservatives ‘Vote Blue Go Green’ campaign was and I challenge anyone of you to support the coalition’s assertion that they were to be the greenest government to date. I didn't see any of that in the past 5 years, but perhaps I missed something. This is not to let the other parties off the hook, Labour hardly had a sterling reputation when they were in power and the Liberals have failed to assert green policies enough.

The environment is always one of the parties lesser issues, Economy, Jobs, Education and the NHS are the big areas, perhaps immigration for some. Since the economic downturn green policies have gone from the side lines of party politics to completely absent.
As a little bit of research I thought I would investigate the main parties views on the environment by visiting their websites and seeing what I could find, what I found horrified me.

Conservatives – No reference to the environment and green issues and no search function to check their archive. What a joke.

Labour – A vague idea. Most of the page was rubbishing the Conservatives saying what they did last time but little on the future. They did indicate strong ideas of climate change, flooding, animal welfare and the new buzz thing – green jobs and green technology... I m not sure what they mean and there was no definite explanation of how they were going to achieve these aims. A good start though.

Liberal Democrats – The bare minimum. Again a reference to these ‘Green’ Jobs. The aspiration to plant a million trees and a 5p plastic bag charge. Come on Lib Dems.

UKIP – At first I didn't think there was much but a search function brought up a range of policies. Scrapping HS2, Tighter Fishery controls, ban on the export of live animals, protection of greenbelt, added incentives for brownfield construction, local over turn right for large projects based on a local referendum, This all sounds great... it really does but then they also support abolition of green taxes and the repealing of the Climate Change Act. One step forward Two back.

The Green Party – As expected they have policies but they are hardly detailed. They state their aim to move away from fossil fuel dependency and to invest in flood defence and upland management. Protection from short term consumerist goal (how and what is not stated) and strong animal welfare policies. You can do better than this.

So what does this little pre-election survey tell me... well as what I call a ‘pragmatic greeny’ I think we are all doomed. Where policies ideas are voiced they are vague and to be honest not thought through. Only UKIP... I repeat UKIP seem to have some modicum of detail to their plan. Now I am being unfair, the real manifestos are not out yet and perhaps the parties are keeping their powder dry.
Back in May last year I blogged out my personal plea to the next government. I would urge all of you like minded people to review that list and to send it to your prospective parliamentary candidates. Ask them what they are planning to do, they represent us so let’s tell them what we want.

At this rate not a single party will be able to enthuse me enough to vote for them. The countdown starts now.