Stannington Library logo

Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for November 2020. Click on each photo to see a larger photo on a new page. For downloadable pdf versions of each topic see the links below.

Grey Seals

Halichoerus Grypus, from Greek, meaning ‘hook- nosed sea pig’

Whilst the majority of mammals already have their offspring by now, grey seals give birth to their pups between September and December, and November is the favoured month for female grey seals to return to land to give birth. The UK is home to over half of the world population of these lovely creatures, and the Norfolk, Northumberland and west Scottish coasts are really important beaches during the breeding season.

Much larger than the Common Seal, female Grey Seals are up to 2.5 metres in length, with males often 3 metres, weighing up to 440 kg. That is an impressive size, and especially when weaning their pups, we need to respect them and keep a good distance away. Mothers are very protective of their pups until they are weaned, and will attack human intruders if provoked. Rightly so, I reckon.

The pups are born above the high tide mark, and weigh about 14kg at birth. They grow rapidly on the rich milk from their mother, which is 60% fat, enabling them to put on 2kg a day, laying down thick layers of blubber to insulate them from cold seas. They have delightful white fur for the first two to three weeks of life, but are abandoned by their mother at 3 weeks old to fend for themselves.

Weaned pups spend the next few days and weeks resting, without eating or drinking, and are vulnerable to being trampled by the male bulls, washed off rocks in stormy weather, or disturbed by tourist invasions. Rookeries, where all the pups are born and weaned, are very noisy places. Pups cry like babies, mothers howl at each other, and the bulls grunt and whiffle, sounding like steam trains!

Moulting their white fur, pups reveal the mottled grey coat of the adult. Driven by hunger, they take to the offshore sea, rapidly developing their hunting skills and taste for fish, crustaceans, eels and squid. They are protected to some extent by the Grey Seal Protection Act of 1941, after they were hunted almost to extinction; but still they are allowed to be shot in the ‘open season’ by fishermen and fishery owners who compete for the fish they eat.

Once weaning is over, the huge males mate with the females, after often bloody battles with other males for dominance. The female then does this amazing thing of delaying implantation of the fertilized egg, keeping it safe inside her body for months, so that she will give birth at the same time each year, after a pregnancy of about 7 months. Females live for up to 45 years, the males less at 25, as they are battered by their yearly territorial and mating disputes.

If you are lucky enough to see seal colonies and pups at this time of year, make sure you stay at least 20 metres away, keep dogs on a lead, keep quiet and don’t ever play with frisbees ( as if! ) as they cause awful damage to seals when caught round their neck.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Grey Seals

Pendunculate Oak Trees - one of two native British Oak trees

We have talked before about this well known and magnificent tree, but this year has been particularly marvellous for the sheer number of acorns that have been produced. When I go for walks in my local Cat Lane Woods, the acorns have formed a thick rubble on the ground, which looks fantastic, but are also a bit slithery to walk on.

Huge production of seeds is called a ‘mast’ year, and it occurs every 2 to 5 years. There are various theories, but good weather in spring, when pollination of the blossom occurs, is the major factor. The very sunny weather we had in spring positively effects all the oak trees in any location, resulting in them all producing excellent acorns now.  More seeds means more oak saplings, and the continuation of our most marvellous, common broadleaf tree. The oak supports the widest variety of invertebrates, insect species, lichen and fungi of any tree in the UK, providing a rich habitat for more than 500 species, so it is incredibly important in maintaining biodiversity.

There is a fascinating, symbiotic relationship between fungi and the oak ecosystem. The Oakbug Milkcap has ultrafine filaments, known as mycrorrhiza, which act as extensions to the oaks root system. The fungi collect extra nutrients and moisture from the soil through these fine filaments, which can then be absorbed by the tree, in exchange for constant sugars from the tree, through photosynthesis.

Pedunculate refers to how the acorns grow from the branch, suspended by long, thin stalks - peduncles - often in pairs. The acorns, snug in their tight fitting cups are clearly visible amongst the almost stalkless leaves, and this is a native tree that most people can recognise. Our only other native oak is the Sessile Oak, where the acorns grow tightly against the branch, and these two can hybridise.

Acorns are an important food source for both birds and mammals, and ‘pannage’ is the term still used for the right to turn pigs loose in woods to feast on the acorns.

Jays are also fond of acorns, and do a great job of increasing the chance of new oaks springing up, away from the shading canopy of the parent tree. Like squirrels, Jays bury lots of acorn seeds as a larder to come back to in cooler months, and like squirrels, they sometimes forget where they put them. They fly with them, secure in their beak for some distance, until they find a spot where they want to store them, and dig a hole with their beak and push the acorn in. It seems a shame that they can then forget where they are, and their larder can also be raided by clever corvids and squirrels watching their efforts. But being forgotten is a positive for the acorn, as it can grow into a new tree. The posh name for seed dispersal by animals is zoochory - which would be a great Scrabble word too!

The botanical name of Quercus Robur means sturdy, and the dense, durable timber of oak, together with its lovely colour, made it widely used for construction over many centuries. Laws were passed in Elizabethan times to protect the oak, as too many trees had been felled for house and ship building, and there was a subsequent, extensive planting of new oaks in royal forests; many of which still survive and can be enjoyed today.

Oak has dense timber because it grows so slowly, therefore it is used mainly for furniture rather than in the paper industry. Standard oaks will live easily up to 300 or 400 years, and can reach 140 feet tall, but the much shorter, ancient pollard or coppiced oaks can be up to 1000 years old, and are mostly found in medieval parkland.

If you ever get the chance to visit Wistmans Wood on Dartmoor, do go, or look up some images of it if you can. I used an image of these woods in the October Nature Notes. It looks rather scrubby from a distance, with some oaks clinging to a valley by the West Dart river, and has no signposts to help you find it. But once inside, you are transported to a totally unique and amazing place. The oaks are all ancient, many over 1000 years old, contorted and barely 15 feet tall, because they were all coppiced; and now lie neglected amidst huge granite boulders, all covered in masses of moss, lichen and ferns.

The unique ecosystem of these woods has evolved untouched for so long because the boulders protect them from grazing sheep and deer, and the very difficult, lumpy ground and short trunks means they are of no use to destructive logging, and defeat most walkers.

Hurrah for some truly neglected wild places I say. Long may that wood be left alone, but enjoy some local woods nearby if you can.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Pendunculate Oak Trees

The Eurasian Jay

Garrulus Glandarius from the Latin for ‘noisy acorn eater’

A medium sized member of the corvid family of birds, all of whom are incredibly intelligent, the jay is the brightest coloured of them all. It is about the same size as a pigeon, 13 inches long, and with a wingspan of 22 inches. But it remains elusive, even with its striking plumage and harsh, loud alarm call.

This is because they are woodland birds, favouring oak woods as well as living in coniferous, mixed forests, so are less likely to be seen in gardens or parkland. This is changing due to the loss of their traditional habitats, so they are adapting to living closer to us in more urban environments, which are called ‘analogue habitats’ and include our gardens and parks. You’ll be very lucky if they come to your garden, but you will need to have mature trees for them to visit.

Widespread, the jay we see is one of more than 30 species, all with colourful distinct plumage. Both sexes are very similar, with the lovely blue flash on the outer wing feathers. This glorious patch of colour led to it being heavily persecuted and shot in Victorian times, as the blue feathers were used to decorate hats and other desired accessories. Thankfully, this vile practice has mostly ceased, and their numbers are now stable.

Rarely straying very far beyond their birthplace, each autumn our resident UK population is swollen by jays moving west from Europe, when food is scarce. Sometimes we have huge numbers joining us, which is called an irruption, due to extreme continental weather.

Autumn is the time for stocking our larders, and unusually for birds, jays are well known for hoarding nuts. They are especially fond of acorns and beech nuts, and when they have eaten their fill, they carry the nuts in their beaks to a favoured spot and either bury it, cover it with leaf litter, or jam them into crevices in tree bark. A single jay has been known to hide as many as 5,000 acorns in one season, which is an impressive pantry! Although they have excellent memories, not all the acorns are re-found, so jays are also fantastic at helping new oak saplings establish, away from the parent tree.

Jay also eat insects, invertebrates, berries, fruits and also small mammals and eggs and chicks of small birds. Their omnivorous diet and ability to adapt to changing habitats helps them to survive better than many other birds. They have an average lifespan of 4 years, although one ringed jay survived for over 16 years.

They are predated by gamekeepers, tawny owls, sparrowhawks, peregrines and goshawks, and will work together, ‘mobbing’ roosting owls in the daytime. Another fascinating behaviour that jays exhibit is ‘anting’. This is when the jay seeks out an ant nest, then picks up ants in its beak and rubs them all over their wings, or simply lets the ants crawl over it. Feeling threatened, the ants release formic acid, which kills any parasites, bacterial and fungal infections that the jay may have. This may also be a way for the jay to ensure the ant has released its formic acid before eating it, so it tastes more palatable.

Corvids are some of my most favourite birds, all highly intelligent - tool users, able to plan ahead, often very sociable and collaborative in how they live - and the jay is the most gorgeously coloured and easily recognisable of this clever family of birds.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of The Eurasian Jay

© Jan Flamank 1st November 2020. All rights reserved. Images used in the document have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting

Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for October 2020. Click on each photo to see a larger photo in a new page. For downloadable pdf versions of each topic see the links below.

Goldcrest

The Goldcrest is our smallest native bird, found mainly in coniferous woodland and often heard more than seen, as it is only up to 3.5 inches long and weighs less than a quarter of an ounce, or 5-7 g. It is always on the move in the dense foliage, well camouflaged as it flickers round the branches, hovering and picking insects and spiders from the tree. They can also hang upside down when searching for food beneath leaves, and have very sharp, thin beaks that act like tweezers. Usually well hidden in conifers, they sometimes visit the ground to peck seeds and insects from snow covered surfaces.

Well named, it has a bright yellow or orange crown on the top of its head, bordered in black, and this bright crown is raised into a small crest when alarmed. They have a high pitched song and alarm call.

What amazes me for such a tiny bird, is that in our autumn, our resident population can increase fivefold by large numbers of Goldcrests migrating across the North Sea to spend winter here. They fly here from the Baltic, Finland and even Russia, covering over 600 miles in one week.

They are effective breeding birds, with 2 broods a year of up to 20 nestlings in one season. They have also benefitted from widespread conifer plantations across the UK, with the fast growing trees used in lumber and paper production. Both parents make the small spherical nest, with 3 layers for insulation, made with cobwebs, lichen, moss and lined with feathers and hair. It is so small and well concealed in the dense foliage, it is rarely predated.

They feed all day in autumn, building up energy for the cooler nights, huddling together in thick cover to keep warm. I would love to see that! I have seen Goldcrests in conifer woodland, but it was mostly an impression of fluttering movements as they restlessly foraged for insects.

The Firecrest is another tiny bird, closely related to the Goldcrest, similarly secretive, but they do sometimes interbreed. Firecrests are less numerous here, but are found mainly in the South East. They migrate from central Europe, but prefer more open mixed woodland, and may also inhabit gardens with exotic conifers. When they feed together with Goldcrests they tend to feed lower down in the trees than the Goldcrest, so leaving space for each other to hopefully find enough food. Sensible and kind, this is a lovely lesson for us all from these very small birds.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Goldcrest

Hail

We tend to think of hail as winter phenomenon, as it is ice, but in fact we always have hailstorms in the warmer summer months, so why is this?

It is all because the big convective clouds reach their highest elevation in summer, when the surface is strongly heated by the sun, and also when they have the most moisture in them, so evaporation is at a high rate too. Both of these occur in the summer months. The higher the clouds go, away from the warm surface of the earth, the colder they become.

Cumulonimbus clouds, which produce hail, are convective clouds, formed by warmer, summer air pulling away from the surface of the earth, contrasting with the relatively much cooler air above the cloud. The clouds form and transport heat up into the atmosphere by the process of convection, and the strong updraughts of ascending air, and downdraughts, enable hail to form inside the cloud.

These clouds contain large water droplets and hail forms within the cloud from tiny ice crystals called graupel. The hailstones become bigger inside the cloud, due to the accumulation of supercooled water droplets as they are borne upwards on rapidly rising air. The hailstones have to build up sufficient layers of ice to be heavy enough to fall out of the cloud onto earth. They do this by moving up and down in the cloud on the water- rich updraught, adding icy layers to themselves. It is possible to count the ice layers in a large hailstone and have an idea of how many times it moved up and down in the cloud.

So, the next time we have a summer hailstorm, think of the tiny ice crystals becoming larger as they move up and down in the cloud, encountering very cold water droplets and making extra layers of ice, prior to making headlines in the local news. It is a summer weather event to marvel at - buy try to avoid being out in it, as they can hurt if they land on your head!

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Hail

Pygmy Shrew

This is our most tiny shrew, widespread throughout the UK and surprisingly resilient given its minute size. It is only 2.5 inches long, but its long hairy tail of 1.5 inches adds to the overall length.

As such a small warm bloodied mammal, it has a proportionately larger surface area than bigger mammals and so loses body heat quickly. Many mammals grow longer fur to combat the cold, but this tactic would hinder the movement of such a small creature, so after the moult in autumn, its fur stays at about 3mm long all over. We don’t know why it happens or how it is controlled, but the autumn moult starts on the rump, working up towards the long nose, but the spring moult does the reverse, starting at the nose then working towards the rump. Wild indeed.

Being so small has some advantages, and the pygmy shrew can hide effectively in a wide range of habitats, including fissures in rocky outcrops, but prefers long grass and shrubby vegetation in woodland where they can also easily feast on their prey. They mainly eat spiders, beetles, woodlice and snails and feed almost constantly, as they have to consume 25% more than their own weight every day, just to keep alive. That is a huge amount of tucker!

Luckily, it has a very efficient digestive system, and excellent hearing that picks up the minute sounds of moving invertebrates. Their wonderfully long nose is covered with hairs that detect movements of prey in the undergrowth. Once they pounce on a spider or woodlice they bite it with teeth that are red at the tip, due to iron oxide in their enamel. Juicy snails also provide water for them. Pygmy shrews have a very high metabolic rate, with a heart rate of 250 beats per minute, and a breathing rate of 200 breaths a minute and live a short, fast life of only up to a year in the wild, with many dying within 4 months of birth.

Solitary creatures apart from mating, they usually have 2 litters of 4 to 7 young, born mainly April to September. They grow rapidly on the rich milk of their mother, increasing their size 10 fold in just 2 weeks. They are independent at about 3 weeks old, and then leave the nest to establish their own territory. Wet and cold weather is the biggest cause of mortality, as they impede the shrew’s ability to keep warm and find enough food.

We are unlikely to see live pygmy shrews, who are themselves a tasty snack for owls, but the next time you walk near woodland or long grass, imagine them rushing about, foraging and feasting on small invertebrates, resting only in very short naps of a few minutes in their hidden undergrowth homes.  And the proud possessors of red tipped teeth.....

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Pygmy Shrew

Trees and Carbon Capture

Most of us are much more aware now of the unavoidable fact that humans are by far the most destructive species on this planet. Thankfully, we are also more aware of what we can do to change our behaviours, rebalance our relationship with the natural world and repair some of the damage we have done.

An important concern with regard to increasing global warming is the vital issue of carbon capture and the role of trees. As with all these complex environmental challenges, our responses need to be equally multifaceted and thought through to ensure long term benefits. We can do this.

High quality research is ongoing in the UK and beyond, and the Woodland Trust and Wildlife Trusts are doing fantastic work on our responses, along with many environmentalists, Defra and other organisations. This all helps, a lot.

We know that trees are excellent at capturing and storing carbon, but which are the best and how can we intelligently plan ahead to reduce climate change and restore some of the vast losses of natural habitats for wildlife? It is not enough to just pledge to plant vast numbers of trees in the UK. We need to know what to plant, where to plant and to avoid the mistakes we made with huge conifer plantations. We must also stop stripping the soil of all its nutrients with chemicals and overgrazing. As I have said before, many times, if we have poor soil, we cannot have healthy plants and without plants, we will ultimately, have nothing....

So, a huge challenge faces us, but we have reflection, intelligence (with notable well known exceptions!) and environmental sciences to help us plan well and make a real, positive difference. Phew.

Here are some useful facts about carbon capture from the Woodland Trust:

Broadleaf trees are better at storing carbon than conifers, with beech trees in the top 5 for locking up destructive CO 2. This is due to their high timber density. Fast growing conifers are good for easy financial gain, but not for long term sustainability, eco -diversity and reducing climate change. Soils store a huge 72% of the total carbon capture for a wood, with tree trunks, limbs and leaves locking up 17%, tree roots 6% and deadwood 5%.UK woodland captures 20million tonnes of CO 2 annually, and we can improve on this by planting trees most effectively across our small island.

We may not all have the resources or space to contribute to mass tree planting, but we are all aware of the small, incrementally useful things we can do to help now:

If you have a garden, or community space, plant a new tree if you can. Autumn is the best time to do this, when the earth is still warm and the trees have time to establish before new growth in the springtime. Think small and native, and make a square planting hole as the roots establish more firmly than in a round one. Ensure it is well watered in the first few years of growth.

All the usual daily eco-helpers of reduce, reuse, recycle to avoid waste.

Don’t fly! Leave that to our perfectly adapted feathered friends, but do put out some sustaining seeds and water for them throughout the cooler months.

Enjoy the glorious colours of autumn as our broadleaf trees lose their leaves and prepare for a period of dormancy over winter.

If you get the chance, read The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, an inspiring book for the longer evenings.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Trees and Carbon Capture

© Jan Flamank October 1st 2020. All rights reserved. Images used in the documents have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting.

Here are Jan Flamank's Nature Notes for August 2020. Click on each photo to see a larger photo in a new page. For downloadable pdf versions of each topic see the links below.

The Eurasian Otter

A member of the Mustelidae family, our native otters are surprisingly large, lithe and energetic carnivorous mammals. Semi-aquatic and mostly nocturnal, they can be difficult to see, despite being so large at over 1metre/ 3.25 feet long.

They are excellent swimmers and are the only Mustelid to have webbed feet, with five clawed toes. They swim low in the water, with only their eyes, nose and top of their broad head and back visible above the surface. Their strong ability in the water is helped by their long, muscular tail, which is slightly longer than their body, at up to 16 inches long. This tail acts as a rudder when they are swimming, and also helps them to balance on land when they stand up straight on their hind legs, to have a good look around.

Eurasian Otters are at home in both fresh and sea water, although river otters tend to be more nocturnally active than sea otters, who are diurnal, because they have to feed at low tide. River otters breed all year round, but coastal otters mainly breed in summer, with cubs emerging from their holt in autumn to take advantage of seasonal fish stocks. Coastal otters also need to have access to fresh water, to wash their dense coat clean after a swim in the sticky salt of the sea.

When otters dive for food, they close their nostrils and ears shut and can reach speeds of 7 miles an hour with their streamlined, muscular body. They have large lungs, enabling them to hold their breath for up to 4 minutes underwater. They have incredibly dense, sleek fur to insulate them from the cold water, with a double layered coat that has over 70,000 hairs per square metre!

Otters are carnivorous and have a wide diet, depending on their habitat, but with fish making up about 80% of their catch. They especially love eels, which are rich in fats. They are opportunistic feeders and their diet can also include octopus, frogs, toads, eggs, ducks and rabbits!

Otter poo, known as spraint, is small for such a large mammal, and is a complex messaging service to other otters. It is used to defend their territory, indicate readiness to mate and pronounce which otter has been there. The spraint contains over 100 different scent components, and otters spend a lot of time both marking their patch and ‘reading’ messages left by other otters.

Solitary and secretive creatures, most of us may only see the chain of silvery bubbles at the water surface that gives away their presence underwater. So, think yourself highly fortunate if you manage to see one in its full glory - feasting on its catch, basking in sunshine or preening that magnificent pelt to keep it waterproof and warm.

I saw a family of young otters on holiday in Scotland when I was little, and  they were so enchanting, my twin brother and I decided we would like to keep one in the bath at home...... which of course, never happened.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of The Eurasian Otter

Harvest Mice

Our smallest native rodent, the tiny harvest mouse weighs the same as a 2 pence piece, about 5 grams, with a body just 8 centimetres long. Although so small, they are expert climbers, using their hairless, prehensile tail, the same length as their body, to help them cling to the stalks of long grasses. They live in reed beds, grass, wet meadows, hedgerows and farm crops of wheat and oats. They are well camouflaged, and hide themselves in dense vegetation to avoid detection by predators, detecting them with their excellent hearing. They have rather poor eyesight, although their large eyes are positioned on the side of their head to give them almost 360 vision.

Helping them to cling onto and climb tall vegetation are their adapted feet, which are relatively broad, and they have an opposable inner toe that gives them extra grip.

Like many small mammals with short lifespans - they live about 18 months at most - they reach sexual maturity quickly and are able to have up to three litters each breeding season. Vulnerable to predation from stoats, weasels, foxes, cats and some birds, they are also at risk in cold, wet weather. They do not hibernate and their very fine, pale ginger fur offers little protection from the elements.

Most known for building a remarkable nest, they weave this small, spherical ball out of grass stems, perched high up in tall vegetation, about 10cms in diameter. The female makes these nests at night, shredding and weaving living, fresh grass leaves, which remain attached to the grass stalk. She lines the nest with more leaves, pulled through the outer wall. There is no entrance as such, they simply push through the wall and then close it up again. This snuggly nest can hold up to 8 teeny young mice, where they are weaned at 10 days, staying for only 16 days altogether, before they are abandoned by the mother and start to fend for themselves. The majority of them are born during August and early September, hence their name.

Harvest mice eat seeds as their main diet, but also include insects in summer and fruits and berries in the autumn months. In the colder months they leave their high, vertical habitat and often hide away by burrowing beneath the soil to try to keep warm. They make a smaller nest in winter, much nearer to the ground for warmth, where they store food to help them survive until the next spring.

Because they prefer the warmth, they are mainly found in southern Britain, but their numbers have drastically reduced due to intensive farming and loss of habitat, like many farmland creatures. We can help them by leaving areas of rough grass, and allowing vegetation to grow up around ponds, ditches and rivers. They are the only native mice to build nests above the ground, intricately woven little balls of grass and a delightful sight if you are lucky enough to find one. They are seen best in winter as vegetation dies away, but will no longer have any mice occupants inside them.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Harvest Mice

The Summer Moult

We are enduring some very hot and humid conditions at the moment, and I for one, find it rather saps my energy.... so what must it be like for all the furred and feathered, warm bloodied wildlife we share our small island with? Phew.

Nature and evolution is packed full of amazing adaptations, to enable a myriad of species to survive across diverse habitats. But climate change is affecting our whole planet, and we are having much more extreme weather to deal with. Adaptations and evolution take a hugely long time, so I feel we really need to adjust our often destructive human behaviour, so we can all continue to share this small planet, and without exploiting nature any further.

All of us pet owners will know that our cats, dogs, rabbits  and chickens lose lots of their thick fur or feathers, and are adept at finding cool places and shade to rest in during the hotter weather. They will also drink more water. Garden birds rely on clean water too, both to bathe in and to keep hydrated, so please keep any birdbaths you have clean and full.

One of the annual changes that ducks, and other waterfowl employ at this time of year, is their summer moult. This summer moult is not due to heat though, but all about ridding themselves of their rather tatty plumage after the rigours of the breeding season. This ensures they have feathers in really good condition to protect them for the colder months ahead. Their new feathers also help to keep them waterproof, when coated with the oil they preen themselves with regularly.

Male mallards - drakes- are much more brightly coloured than the drab females, but at this time of year, they are all looking rather brown and ragged, as they go through their moult, which for males is called eclipse plumage. The moult means that they are less able to escape predators as their flight feathers are poor, but they can hide amongst the lush vegetation, with abundant food readily available, until the new feathers gradually replace the old ones. This can take time, up to 3 months for some species of mallard, but their striking new plumage of iridescent green is gorgeous.

Juvenile garden birds, born earlier in the year, also moult now, developing their fully adult feathers, and migrant birds acquire strong new flight feathers to help them on their extraordinary journeys of 1000’s of miles.

Raptors can’t afford to moult in the same way, as they need to hunt for food every day, so cannot lose power in their flight. They replace just one or two feathers at a time, so only minimal gaps are evident in their wings.

Gulls have a much longer process, where they develop different sets of wing feathers over the 4 years it takes them to be fully mature.

Some male songbirds also have a second moult, in early spring or summer, but this time it is all about sexual display, and having the best plumage possible to attract a mate.

So, when we sit in the shade, keep the curtains closed, take off some layers and have a bit of a siesta during this hot spell, we can think about how our native wildlife is coping with the heat, and hopefully put out some cool, clean water for them to enjoy too.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of The Summer Moult

Late Summer Snippets

Queen Tree Wasp

I thought it might be fun to set out a few snippets of info about some of our native wildlife, as we go into the late summer season.

The close up image here was taken by David Maitland, in his hen house. It shows a native Queen Tree Wasp, brooding her eggs in the first few cells she makes in the ‘starter’ nest, made of fine layers of chewed wood. Later, the newly hatched female wasps will continue to build the nest into a much bigger structure, capable of housing up to 5,000 wasps. That’s a huge amount of chewed wood..... all laid down to make a strong, and very beautiful nest, just for that year.

Honey bees collect tree resins, which they make into propolis. This is a sticky substance used to repair and seal any gaps in the nest walls, which protects the colony from drafts and any wasps who may want to enter the hive to raid their stores of honey.

The Purple Emperor is our largest native butterfly, and whilst it was a rare sighting above oak tree canopies, in the last 50   years it has become more widespread, probably due to warmer weather from climate change. One of the very few benefits of the temperature rise.

Rising sea temperatures are also encouraging more jellyfish to appear on our shores. An abundant, rather lovely and totally harmless species is the moon jelly, so called due to its transparent bell. It feeds on plankton, and it can develop into huge, dense swarms on our shoreline in summer.

Seahorses have a narrow, elongated snout, with big cheeks on each side, which make the shape of their head hydrodynamic – perfect for slipping through water with almost no ripples to alert their prey. Once near their prey, they use a technique called pivot feeding. This means they can rapidly flick their snout upwards, like a catapult, sucking in the small crustacean in under a millisecond, by puffing out their big cheeks.

Some female moths have evolved to be flightless, like the female Vapour Moth. She is evident in tree tops from July to September, and has only vestigial, tiny wings. She stays on the trees, emitting chemical pheromones to attract the flying males who will then mate with her. This adaptive behaviour saves all the energy used in flight, and instead she uses it on the vital business of reproduction.

Pigeons are very noisy in flight. This is because they have very stiff flight feathers that produce a mechanical, purposeful sound on every downstroke. It is also used as a way of signalling danger to the rest of the flock, as pigeons don’t use alarm calls like many birds do. Male nightjars and short eared owls also use mechanical sound - they both clap their wings during aerial displays, showing their strength.

Click here for a downloadable pdf version of Late Summer Snippets

© Jan Flamank August 1st 2020. All rights reserved. Images used in the documents have been sourced free for use in this social, educational, non-commercial setting.

STAND (Stannington & District Library Group) was formed in 2013 after two public meetings that explored the issues raised by Sheffield City Council’s announced withdrawal of formal support for Stannington Library. Since then, the group has been formalised, a committee was formed and teams of volunteers were recruited