Signals and mi-newt details

I know that every blog post, I say how amazing the last week has been and how I’ve seen so many cool species. This week is no exception and what a week it has been! There has been so much awesome stuff happen that this blog post would be ridiculously long if I were to mention everything, or even half of it! So it shall be a very slimmed down affair.

It started off with a visit to one of my favourite Dorset places – Brownsea island! It was just a super quick visit, but I saw a bird that I love which is the Black-Headed Gull, as it was among the first birds I learnt to identify at Chesil and I think that it is generally quite cute.

Black-headed Gull

Black-headed Gull

Crayfish training was rather surprising as there are more non-native species in the UK than I thought! However, the big baddy is the Signal Crayfish from America which is a really awful invasive species and our native White-clawed Crayfish is really suffering as a result.

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

White-clawed Crayfish (note the whiteness on the underside of its claw)

It’s a combination of the American species acting as carriers for a disease that is fatal for our species, it is also bigger and breeds earlier, thus pushing out the native species. In addition, it’s practically impossible to remove the American species once it establishes itself in a river. Lastly, it is possible to spread the disease through human transmission – wellies and, I should think, leisure craft (e.g. kayaks).

It's me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn't find any crayfish though.

It’s me! For once, there were waders in my size and I jumped in. I didn’t find any crayfish though.

From crayfish to amphibians, and even more awesomeness. After a theory session on ID on the different native and non-native species, we headed out to Powerstock Common Reserve and had a look for the species. We were particularly interested in Great Crested Newts (GCNs) as they’re a protected species and are also quite groovy animals. They’re relatively large, the largest of our newt species and the adults at unmistakable. The juveniles can have a bit of confusion with other species. SUPER COOL FACT: juvenile newts are called efts!

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?  Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

An eft! Not a great photo, but can you make out the gills at the back of the head?
Unknown whether smooth or palmate newt species.

ID features for GCNs include: size (up t0 16cm!), colouring (black on back, orange on belly), pattern on throat (spotted), feet (stripy!) and the male has a large crest with a distinct dip (this may only be during the breeding season though).

I enjoyed the amphibians training day so much that I’m considering doing a species/group profile post on newts! For now, Amphibian and Reptile Conservation have got a new ID guide in PDF format which can be downloaded for free.

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)

Great Crested Newt male (note the large crest on his back). He is next to another newt species (much smaller!)

 

The last training of the week with Dorset Wildlife Trust was on Odonata – i.e. dragonflies and damselflies, of which there are far more species than of the amphibians! Again, a theory session in the morning was followed by a practical afternoon with a visit to Winfrith Nature Reserve. We were netting damselflies for ID, but you shouldn’t net dragonflies, so we were relying on them to rest for a little while in order to look at their ID features (body shape, colour, wing spots and patterning are the main ones).

I do believe one of the favourites of the day was the Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, whose specific ID features are the last segments on the abdomen (though we would call it the tail). Segment 8 is half blue and half black, whilst segment 9 is blue with a distinctive black line one it (of 10 segments along the abdomen [tail]). You should be able to see it relatively easily in the photo (I would suggest opening up the photo separately in order to zoom).

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly (note the end segments of the abdomen [tail])

In addition to the lovely creatures that were the focus of the training days, there were so many other amazing species seen from a variety of groups including (but not limited to): Hobby, Grey Wagtail and Lapwing (birds), Green-veined White and Dingy Skipper (butterflies), Cream-spot (ladybird), Bugle, Green-winged Orchid and Yellow Archangel (flowers). I shall finish off this post with nice photos of some of the mentioned species.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Grey Wagtail flitting about whilst we were finding crayfish. Really amazing to watch it.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Dingy Skipper Butterfly. Although less bright and flashy than other butterflies, it is still a beauty.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Cream-spot Ladybird. A favourite of mine as it was one of the first ladybird species that I properly identified.

Yellow Archangel - look at that patterning!

Yellow Archangel – look at that patterning!

A number of new beasties

I gave myself the weekend off from blogging last weekend so there are two weeks to catch up on and it’s been a mixed lot! In the Lepidoptera world, I’ve caught some beautiful moths recently including a Powdered Quaker, Angle Shades and a Plume Moth.

Plume Moth, note the T-shaped wings

Plume Moth, note the T-shaped wings

I took the Angle Shades into work (moths are usually fairly happy to be in a bug pot for the day) to convert more people to the moth cause. Well, convert them into appreciating moths. It’s a fantastic example of how amazing moths can be – the way it holds its wings, the pattern, the colouring and the edges of its wing. And everyone was very impressed with it, although I shall continue improving peoples’ perceptions of moths of course (and other wildlife).

Angle Shades Moth - very distinctive!

Angle Shades Moth – very distinctive!

For the start of this week, my housemates and I did a lot of squealing as we found a slow worm in the garden!

Slow Worm

Slow Worm

Despite its name, it isn’t a worm. And despite its appearance, it isn’t a snake. It’s actually a lizard, albeit without the legs. Like other lizards, it is able to lose its tail and regrow it again. This is a neat little trick because if a predator catches its tail, it can just drop it and slither off into cover, and thus survive. The one that I saw in the garden did look like it might have had this occur and new growth was going back. However, I’ve not come across slow worms much so I’m not entirely sure about that.

Thursday saw the volunteers of the Chesil Centre heading up to the wonderful Portland Bird Observatory where the warden (Martin Cade) and assistant warden (Joe Stockwell) showed us how they do bird ringing up there.

Joe Stockwell (assistant warden) does some alfresco ringing

Joe Stockwell (assistant warden) does some alfresco ringing

Martin had also saved the moths from their moth traps (I believe they run four?!), which I was thrilled with – especially as two of them were new species to me, the Herald and the Red Sword-grass (the latter was caught over on the ‘mainland’ in Preston). I do believe that the volunteers are slowly being converted to appreciating moths, I’m sure my enthusiasm for them helps a lot.

Herald Moth - distinctive orange patches and edge of wings

Herald Moth – distinctive orange patches with white dots, and edges of wings

With the help of Sean Foote, I got two more Dorset species “ticked off” – a Little Ringed Plover and a Sanderling, both by the Chesil Centre with a larger group of Ringed Plover and Dunlin. The Little Ringed Plover does look a lot like a Ringed Plover (hence the name) but is quite a bit smaller (again, hence the name). It also has a distinctive yellow around its eye.

Little Ringed Plover, photo by Sean Foote.

Little Ringed Plover, photo by Sean Foote.

My Saturday afternoon was filled with a hunt for otters – unfortunately I didn’t find any (though there may be one nearby) but I did have a nice time outside in the (mostly) sunshine. I did come across an interesting bee as well, who as identified as an Ashy Mining Bee by @Bex_Cartwright. Fun fact: there are around 250 species of bee in the UK, 24 of the 250 are bumblebee species, 1 is a honeybee species and the remaining are solitary bees (like the Ashy Mining Bee). Pretty amazing stuff – 250!!!!

Unknown insect

Ashy Mining Bee

Apologies for the last couple of blog posts in terms of the quality of the photos – my camera is in for repair and I’m having to rely on my phone. Saying that though, they are pretty decent photos for a phone! Technology is pretty amazing!