Sunday, 31 May 2015

Wonderful Warburg

I've never been to Warburg Nature Reserve before, so was really looking forward to a guided orchid walk today. The weather was a bit damp and dreary, but the 8 species of orchids, plus a couple of additional unusual plants that we saw, more than made up for that.

Warburg is a large BBOWT reserve, tucked away in the Chilterns, with a range of habitats from chalk grassland to deep woodland. These different habitats allow a great variety of orchids and other wildflowers to thrive.

Firstly, we found Lesser and Greater Butterfly Orchids growing next to each other, which was great to be able to compare the two. They are both elegant orchids with white flowers with a narrow lip and long, thin spur. Of the two, the Lesser Butterfly Orchid is the least common and is listed as vulnerable.

Greater Butterfly Orchids

Greater Butterfly Orchid
Lesser Butterfly Orchid
To tell them apart, you have to look at the pollinia, which are widely spaced in the Greater and closely spaced and parallel in the Lesser.

Greater Butterfly Orchid

Lesser Butterfly Orchid
While we were looking at the Butterfly Orchids, we also saw some tiny Fly Orchids in amongst the grass. They are so small and delicate that you could very easily miss them.
Fly Orchid

Fly Orchid
We also found some Fly Orchids when we were in the woods later, but they were much taller plants than those out in the open.
Fly Orchid - much taller stems when
they're in the shady woods
In the deep shade of the Beech woods we found the strangest of the orchids we saw all day, the Bird's Nest Orchid. It's a honey brown flower that looks more like a dead stem than a flowering orchid. It has no chlorophyll so doesn't need to photosynthesise. Instead it's sustained by a fungus, which in turn forms a relationship with the nearby Beech trees. These unusual orchids are listed as near-threatened.

Bird's Nest Orchid
We saw several patches of White Helleborines, both in the deep shade and in slightly more open locations. The flowers rarely open fully, which is why my Mum called them Lemon Pip Orchids when she was a girl.
White Heleborine
 Then we moved onto the open chalk grassland, where we found a few Early Purple Orchids that were well past their best and had almost gone over. There was lots of Twayblade in flower and the first Common Spotted Orchids were just starting to bloom.

Common Spotted Orchid just starting to flower

There were plenty of other treasures on the reserve, including a couple of quite unusual wildflowers. We found a few patches of Herb Paris, with it's very distinctive four leaves and tall star shaped flowers.

We took a detour off the main path and climbed up a slope covered in Dog's Mercury to find a fenced off area full of wild Solomon's Seal. I've only ever seen it growing in gardens before.


To top it all off we even found a summer fungus called Persistent Waxcap.

I think we would have struggled to find more than a couple of the great things we saw today if we were there on our own, so having a guide to show us where they're all hiding was great. It was a brilliant way to spend a rainy morning! 

Garden Bioblitz 2015

We've spent Saturday doing the Garden Bioblitz, where you list the wildlife in your garden and record it online on iRecord. To be fair, we didn't do it all day, but popped in and out throughout the day. We did quite well with 58 identified species (although some of our ids may be a bit dubious!). We also have a number of finds that we couldn't identify and have asked for some help with, so that total will hopefully still rise.

It was a bit disappointing that our Hedgehog didn't put in an appearance, but we did see some bats (probably Pipistrelle bats) and found all sorts of lovely mini-beasties. I was also surprised about how many wildflowers (aka weeds) had made our garden their home! It was fun to do and we'll have another go next year and see if we can find even more.

We found:
  • Mammals: Bats (probably Pipistrelle)
  • Birds: Blue tit, Great tit, Sparrow, Robin, Blackbird, Starling, Jackdaw, Dunnock, Woodpigeon, Collard Dove, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Wren and Red Kite.
Red Kite

Robin - couldn't quite work out what we were doing all day!

One of many baby Starlings in the garden at the moment
  • Butterflies: Small White, Large White, Orange Tip
  • Moths: Common Swift, Flame Shoulder, Heart and Dart, Mint Moth, Light Brown Apple Moth
Light Brown Apple Moth
  • Spiders: Wolf Spider, Purse Web Spider
Wolf Spider

Purse Web Spider
  • Bees: Honey Bee, Tree Bumblebee, White-tailed Bumblebee
Tree Bumblebee

White-tailed Bumblebee
  • Other Mini-beasts: Black Millipede, Brown Centipede, Pill Woodlouse, Common Woodlouse, Shiny Woodlouse, Garden Slug, Dusky Slug, Ants, Garden Snail, Earthworm, Baby Forest Bug, Red-headed Cardinal Beetle, Aphids, Cuckoo-spit, 2 different flies
Just a few Woodlice

Cuckoo Spit

Dusky Slugs

Aphid - we found plenty of those!

Immature Forest Bug
Red-Headed Cardinal Beetle
  • Plants: Ash seedling, Horsetail, Ivy, Bramble, Herb Robert, Dandelion, Nettles, Elder, Honeysuckle, Ribwort Plantain, Woody Nightshade, Sticky Weed, Sowthistle, Red Campion

Ribwort Plantain
  • Moss: Capillary Thread Moss
1/6/15: Updated to add the Light Brown Apple Moth (identification from iSpot) and a couple of flies (Helina and Phaonia)



Friday, 29 May 2015

Pulpit Hill surprises

The best thing about being out and about in our local patch is that you just never know what you're going to stumble across next. Today was no exception!

We headed off to Pulpit Hill and Grangelands after the heavy rain, as that's the perfect time to see the huge Roman snails. There were plenty of slugs and snails about, which the kids loved spotting.

Roman snails

A handful of snail!

We found some huge slugs

Brown-lipped snails
We were walking through Grangelands when Bug Mad Girl spotted our first flowering Common Spotted Orchid of the year. Their spotty leaves have been around for a while now, but we hadn't seen any flower buds there yet, so it was a lovely surprise to see one flowering.

Common Spotted Orchid - first one we've seen
flowering this year
Then she spotted two more. They were only small and we only saw three in total, but we weren't really looking very hard for them. In another few weeks there should be hundreds, or even thousands of them on the site.

We also found some Twayblade starting to flower. It was much smaller than the Twayblade we saw on Sunday at the Ragpits and there wasn't much of it around, but the site is much more exposed, so you'd expect the plants to be a bit further behind.

The sun came out and we walked back through the woods.

The kids like to walk on the top of the banks above the path and Bug Mad Girl shouted down to me, "Which orchid has white flowers, because there's one up here." She'd only found some White Helleborines flowering up there!  Very exciting, especially after I'd been looking for them last week with Mum and failed to find them. We never would have seen them if they hadn't been walking up there and if Bug Mad Girl hadn't spotted that they looked like orchids.

White Helleborine

There were lots of them up there and plenty still in bud, so I'll go back next week and see if I can get some better (slightly more in focus!) photos.

So, what started out as a soggy snail hunt, turned into a couple of wonderful discoveries, finding two new orchids for the year. You just never know what's around the next corner!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Owl Pellet Detectives

Yesterday we found three owl pellets whilst on a treasure hunt in the woods - a pretty good treasure find! With a bit of help from an RSPB guide , we decided to dissect them and see if we could work out which owl had made them and what they'd eaten.

An owl pellet contains all the undigested parts of the birds diet, such as bones, fur, teeth, insect wing cases and claws. After the soft bits have been digested, what remains is prevented from travelling further through the gut, compacted into a pellet and regurgitated by the bird.

We found them in the centre of Brush Hill, next to one of the ponds that was created during the winter. There are tall trees for roosting sites around the pond, including a few very tall conifers.

The pellets were grey, about 5cm long and you could easily see the fur and bits of bone in them. They didn't smell!

We soaked them in water and a splash of disinfectant for half an hour, then carefully dissected them using bamboo skewers. We searched through and pulled out all the bits of bone that we could find.

The basic material of the pellets (the matrix) was made of a mass of grey fur, presumably from rodents. The bones were in fairly small pieces, with no complete skulls, jaws or leg bones.

We found a couple of curved rodent teeth. There were a few slightly larger pieces of bone, which may have been part of a skull and possibly a part of a pelvis (but definitely not sure on these).

Rodent teeth

Top bone may be part of a skull and the bottom bone may be part of a pelvis
A tiny centipede crawled out of a mass of fur as well!

So what made our pellets?

The RSPB guide provides the following info:
  • Barn owls - roost in buildings or old oak or ash trees. Pellets are 3-7cm long and usually black. Often contain intact bones.
  • Tawny owls - roost in tree trunks, often tall conifers. Pellets are 2-5cm long and usually grey and obviously furry. The bones are usually more damaged by digestion than a barn owls.
  • Little owls - roost on old oak and ash trees. Pellets are 1.5-4cm long and often contain insect wing cases.
  • Kestrels - Pellets are 2-4cm long, pale grey and have a 'felty' texture. They digest more of the bones, so less bone fragments are likely to be found.
  • Sparrowhawks - Pellets are 2.5-3.5cm long and usually contain feathers (rarely contain bones)
We found 5cm long, grey, furry pellets, underneath tall conifers in woodland. When we dissected them, the bones were broken up and it appeared the bird had been eating rodents. Looks like we found Tawny Owl pellets!

We have a lot of Red Kites here, so I wonder what their pellets look like? I couldn't find anything out about them, so there's always a possibility that they could be from a Red Kite!