Today at RSPB Rainham Marshes we had some fantastic views of a Water Rail, normally a shy sulking bird. We watched as it stalked through the reeds to the waters edge, extended its neck in a heron-like fashion, and then in a split second made a snatch at something just below the surface. On the first occasion this was a enormous Great Diving Beetle, and on the second, a Stickleback. These sizable food items required a bit of pre-dinner preparation. The bird repeatedly struck its prey by stretching upwards and plunging it’s bill vertically downwards into the morsel on the ground, firstly killing its prey and then breaking it into smaller pieces. We could hear the loud taps as the bird tried to pierce the hard casing of the beetle. What a wonderful intimate peep into the secretive world of the Water Rail.
Coming up on Saturday is the last of the Oakwood Park Family Wildlife Club sessions for 2014; “Wild Winter Crafts”. We’ve had some brilliant fun over 2014 and are delighted to have funding from Enfield Council to run the club again next year too! Here are a few pics from the most recent session; “Autumn is Awesome”. We were so lucky to enjoy one of those wonderful crisp bright autumn days, with the autumn colours in Oakwood Park really looking their best.
There has recently been an emergence of mayflies. These little winged insects aren’t just restricted to the month of May; one species or another can be on the wing throughout the summer. Mayflies are well known for their short adult life; some emerge in the evening and are dead by the next morning, existing in the adult form for the sole purpose of reproduction. I found several on the surface of a pond which were either spent, or had become trapped on the surface tension of the water. If they attempt to free themselves their struggling movements attract the attention of predatory pond skaters. Pond skaters use their feet to feel the water surface tension for the vibrations of struggling prey. They have specialised mouthparts in the shape of a tube, the rostrum. Pond skaters inject digestive enzymes into their prey and then suck out the resulting juices through their rostrum. The pond has as much action and gore as any horror film!
This Friday, Saturday and Sunday (15 – 17th Aug) I will be at the Rutland Water Birdfair, on the stand of the wonderful Aigas Field Centre, in marquee 1. Come along, say hello, and have a chat about wildlife. At 13:00 on Friday I will be giving a talk in Lecture Marquee 3 entitled ‘Three Years in the Wilderness'; highlights of my time working as a ranger at Aigas in the Scottish Highlands, and how this experience shaped my future path, leading to the creation of Wild Capital. Hope to see you there! Brenna
During the Birdfair Auction, there is the opportunity to bid on two places for the Wild Revival programme, running at Aigas Field Centre 23rd – 30th August 2014. Worth £2250, this is a chance not to be missed! The Wild Revival programme is a gentle introduction to natural crafts, field skills and sustainability, set in the stunning grounds of Aigas Field Centre in the magnificent Scottish Highlands. Including walks, hide visits and a raft trip down the river Beauly, there is plenty of wildlife to see and scenery to enjoy.
For more information about the Wild Revival programme here
Great indeed! What a big beauty of a water snail. Like me, you may well have come across smaller Ramshorns Snails in freshwater sites. But this species, the mighty Great Ramshorn Snail (Planorbaruis corneus) is really something to write home about!
The flattened coiled shell that resembles the characteristic horns of male sheep can reach 3 cm in diameter. This individual is living up to that sizable reputation.
This species isn’t particularly uncommon, but it does struggle to colonize new water bodies, so tends to be local to certain sites. Hence count yourself as lucky if you see one.
Ramshorn snails have special adaptations for living in small still water bodies, which often have low dissolved oxygen levels. Firstly they aren’t gill breathing snails (this strategy relies on high levels of dissolved oxygen in constantly moving water). Instead they have a lung within their shell, which means they can take in air from above the surface of the water.
Like other types of water snails with lungs, they can sometimes be seen hanging upside down on the surface tension of the water breathing air from outside of the water. However, unlike most other types of water snail, their body fluid contains the protein haemoglobin; the same substance which occurs in our blood and is responsible for absorbing oxygen and transporting it around the body. Haemoglobin is very unusual in molluscs, and means these snails make the most of utilising the oxygen they breath. It’s the red colouration of haemologlobin which gives our blood it’s pigment and gives these snails an orangey red tint to their shell and foot.
All in all, a pretty great snail!
I spotted this Treecreeper in Hyde Park the other day. Treecreepers have always been in my top five birds; I love to watch their secretive tree trunk acrobatics. They travel from the bottom of a tree upwards, spiraling around the trunk, then along the branches looking for insects. Once they have thoroughly searched one tree, they fly to the base of the next and the process begins again. It is almost as if the Treecreeper is magnetic, and someone is moving a powerful magnet within the tree trunk; sometimes the bird follows the imaginary magnet smoothly, and other times it gets a bit stuck and needs to jerkily jump along to catch up. In fact Treecreepers do make jerky hops with both feet at once when ascending trees, they use their tails as props to help them balance. Long, very sharp claws allow these birds to hang upside down from the underside of branches. Their long slightly curved beak is the perfect tool for poking into bark crevices and retrieving weevils, beetles, moths, woodlice, spiders and others small prey items. Their camouflage is superb, and very often it’s the jerky movement that gives away the birds presence. A true tree dweller living in the city!
For the two bank holiday Mondays in May, Wild Capital have run Wild Road Shows at Fulham Palace. Here are a few pictures from yesterday. The rain forced us inside but didn’t dampen our spirits; we still had lots of folks coming to say hello, meet the residents of Fulham Palace gardens and get stuck into some wildlife themed activities. We were delighted to be able to show people stag beetle grubs, and an adult lesser stage beetle. Fulham Palace gardens have a good supply of dead wood, vital habitat for these rare beetles.
River surveying in the Thames today we found several mayfly nymphs; aquatic juvenile mayflies equipped with gills for underwater living. Mayflies spend most of their lives in this form.
The adult life of a mayfly is very short, sometimes as brief as a single day. They take to the air for the purpose of finding a mate, the females lay eggs in water and shortly after they die. This striking picture of an adult mayfly was taken by Claudia Innes. I love the detail of the wings, beautiful!