Thursday, 21 January 2016

Narcissus the Sparrow

2 weeks ago at work my attention was drawn to a bird outside one of the schools meeting rooms. As I have mentioned in the past I am always called upon to look at injured animals on the school site and a member of staff, in this case, was worried that a sparrow was in trouble. They suggested that the sparrow was acting aggressively to its reflection in the mirrored window.

I made my way out thinking it odd for a sparrow to behaving this way and fully expected to see a Dunnock or some other more territorial species. Perched on the window ledge however was a male House Sparrow. As I watched he displayed what seemed to be aggressive behaviour, flying up and pecking at the reflection in the mirrored window.

House Sparrows are a colonial species that live in small flocks, in fact there numbers are quite robust on the estate around the school, with several flocks ducking in and out of the vegetation along the brook. Winter is a time when territoriality is often relaxed, it is not efficient to expend energy fighting instead of finding food.Occasionally birds will become aggressive at a food source establishing a pecking order for feeding. In this case this was not so. The male was alone and there was no food source.

It is possible the sparrow saw the reflected male as a threat but again this didn't ring true. When startled he would fly away some distance but soon returned again. This fluttering assault continued for a day or so and then he seemed to settle down and more often than not he was found just sat on the ledge. It was at this point where I felt the anthropomorphic need to name him, un-originally I opted for Simon but later that day I found that another member of staff had started to call him by the much more apt name of Narcisuss, the Greek hero who fell in love with his own reflection.

I then began to suspect that having being attracted to the window by its reflection and finding out it could not intimidate the individual had found that it was a warm spot in the cooling weather. The room inside was warm and toasty and I m sure some of that would radiate out.

Again this theory did not seem to fit the facts as on the following day Narcissus was once again fluttering at the reflection,this time however he carried a small leaf in his mouth. Could Narcissus really be in love with himself? Entering into courtship with his reflection by offering a gift.
A quick literature review revealed that male sparrows can become territorial around their nest sites. It is possible that during the mild weather Narcissus selected a nest site near the window, perhaps in the eves of the building in the process of collecting material he saw a potential rival and has been keeping an eye on him whilst he builds his nest. The abnormally warm weather and then the sudden cold snap has perhaps caught this poor sparrow on the hop and he is caught between behaviours.
Any other ideas are welcome.

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Citizen Science

It has been awhile since I have written a review blog post and I thought I would do one on some of the Citizen Science projects available through Zooniverse.

I stumbled across Zooniverse via Stargazing Live. They  advertised the site and asked viewers to take part in analysing pictures of galaxies. From this I discovered Snapshot Serengeti.

Snapshot Serengeti was a breath of fresh air. I am not one for travel and so have never visited Africa and experienced the thrills of a safari. This project enabled me to enjoy this experience at a distance.

Snapshot was like many projects. They collected over several years large amounts of camera trap data. So many photographs that to process all the information it would take years and years. The project allowed you view the photographs and identify the species present. I saw Elephants and Lion, all manner of Antelope and Deer as well as the smaller cats and baboons. The interface was easy to use and it felt good to be contributing to some worthwhile science. It became my regular teatime break past time. Sadly the last batch of trap data was conclude this past year.

The good news is that new projects are always coming available and I have found an excellent one to replace it - Chimp and See.

Chimp and See is very similar to Snapshot Serengeti but is based in West Africa. The project is a bit broader allowing more behaviors to be recorded.

There is also a slight change of species whereas in the Serengeti the Wildebeest was the most commonly seen species now it is the Baboon.

I have only been working on the project for about a week. and already I have recorded Mongoose, Snake and Aardwolf.

These projects are an easy way to become involved in world class scientific research. You do not need to be experienced, they all have training tutorials and the design of the project relies on crowd sourcing. With enough people looking at the pictures the correct id generally comes out on top, statistically this projects are quite viable.

So my suggestion is get involved its simple, free and easy and you get to contribute.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Bats and Fishers

With the threat of heavy snow coming overnight and bright sunshine I decided to go down the mill and do my usual Sunday survey a day early.

There was a light frost and it felt cold but once I got going it was fine. My first task was to check the trail camera which later revealed mostly Wood Mouse sightings in the last week and the return of the Rabbit. I also measured the field of view and measured some height marks to help with later analysis.

On my usual survey circuit I made sure to look out for a tree that I had identified last week. I had noted the dark stains coming from an old woodpecker hole and was intrigued enough to look it up online.

A quick search soon revealed that this is evidence of a bat roost possibly Noctule Bat or Daubentons. This is very exciting as in the summer I went on a bat walk organised by the local mammal group down the Saxon Mill and we picked up a Noctule then. The dark stain is from the urine and faeces spilling out from the roost.

As I moved up the river a passing dog flushed a pair of Teal. These are dainty ducks but are very nervous and flighty. In fact due to the wild nature of the site even the Mallard which would be fairly tame on the canal or in the park are very cautious, and rightly so there are foxes and mink that would love a duck lunch.

I paused to take rest on some cut logs and spotted a pair of Kingfishers. They flew off quickly but one returned shortly after and I was able to get this shot. The black beak indicates that this individual is male. If the lower beak had an orangey tinge then it would be female. I remember this by thinking that women wear lipstick.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

New Year, Same Patch, more badgers

Due to some illness and bad weather today was the first day I was able to get down to my patch and do the first proper survey of the new year. Thankfully it was sunny and although there has been a lot of rain in the week the fields weren't too flooded.

The fieldfare and redwings have arrived in greater number perhaps heralding colder weather approaching. Overall I recorded 22 species of bird and a grey squirrel. This is more than the same time last year when I only recorded 16 species.

There were small flocks of both Chaffinch and Pied Wagtail which are usually on seen in small numbers intermittently. Two kestrels were about and one remained to hunt across the meadow as I made my circuit.

Last blog post I showed some graphs from the Bird Journal and here are some more, ones that I have produced in excel. These two graphs explore the relationship of mean monthly temperature with the number of species and individuals.

This first graph reinforces something that is apparent in the raw species data. The number of species is temperature independent. This makes sense as although several species migrate as a result of temperature (season) this exchange of species seems to be equal between summer and winter visitors so much so that the number of species on the site hardly fluctuates.

The second graph like the first reinforces observations. The graph shows that there are fewer total numbers of bird when it is warm and more when it is cooler. This can be explained by the dynamics of bird behaviour, When it is warm, this is usually in the summer or late spring when birds are breeding, many species are territorial and so species number becomes a function of space and territory size. In the winter when colder temperatures are recorded several of the resident species and most of the winter visitors all form flocks of large numbers (Gulls, Thrushes and Finches.)

Lastly I had two weeks of camera data to plough through. One particular clip stood out. This was on the 7th January. The clip showed 3 badgers in the one 30 seconds. This is very rare, all previous sightings except for ones with cubs are solitary individuals. In this case there is some interesting interactions between the individuals.

Last year I hypothesized that a spike in badger activity and behaviour was linked to the excitement of cubs being born in the sett. Could this be similar evidence? There is nothing to support this or refute it. Early January is early for cub birth but as we all know it has been exceptionally mild. What is more likely however is the high water and flooded field. The flood waters aren't very high this month despite the rain, the level this morning was just 5 cm above ground level however this maybe enough to alter foraging patterns. 

I believe that the track on which the camera is situated is used by dominant boars and adults to reach the edge of the territory to mark. The rest of the meadow and woodland are riddled with badger paths but with this area under water, individuals that would usually forage along these tracks have been forced on to the track being monitored. Either way its nice to see the interaction of the three badgers.