Ecology, Wales

The biggest cobweb in the world?

Several years ago a couple of sections of hedge near here appeared to have been wrapped in the biggest cobweb I had ever seen. The sections were about 3-4 meters long — the length of a farm gate. At first I thought it was something to do with planning permission — as when farmers or developers wrap a section of hedge in green plastic netting to stop birds from nesting while they wait for permission to root it out for a new entry. Closer examination revealed something more interesting!

The net appeared to be a huge, quite robust, cocoon in the safety of which thousands of caterpillars were devouring the hedge.

Apocalyptic!” thought I, “That’s the end of that hedge and maybe life as we know it.”

But no, that section which was mainly bird cherry looked dead but the web eventually disappeared and the hedge recovered.

This year the phenomenon has recurred, this time in a hedge that is mainly holly with bird cherry growing through it and the caterpillars of the Bird Cherry Ermine Moth (Yponomenta evonymella), for these are the culprits, have ensheathed most of the bird cherry but left the holly unscathed.

The caterpillars are thriving protected from predatory birds and they appear to have eaten much of the foliage within their web nests already but below you can see them spinning new web to enclose more food.

Now we must wait for them to pupate and later for the adult moths to emerge — a ghostly white night-flyer with rows of black dots, an echo of the caterpillars…

Attribution: ©entomart

They are successful as a species — they’ve developed a clever biodegradable protective wrapper for themselves and they don’t even appear to come back to the same trees twice, they protect their food source — little eco-warriors.

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Ecology, Wales

On the Verge…

What’s this? A fritillary? No — look at those eye spots, it’s a wall butterfly (Lasiommata megera).

They live in short grassland especially where the sward is broken by rocks, furrows and walls (they like Wales), they are seen on grassy railway embankments and green verges, usually alone. Perhaps you’ll see a male flitting along looking for a female or resting with its wings folded together, showing the mottled grey underside, camouflaged on a rocky outcrop. This one was enjoying the May sunshine with its wings outstretched on the edge of a country lane that has a wide verge (the long acre) waiting to flutter up to waylay a passing female.

Their numbers are dwindling and they represent a high conservation priority as, although widespread in coastal England and Wales, they are rapidly declining. Rare now in central England it was presumed due to loss of habitat because of building and changes in farming, less grazing and the use of insecticides to protect arable crops. But there may be another reason: there is evidence that warmer temperatures are causing generations to hatch out too late in the year to survive.

About three years ago everyone here was complaining bitterly about the council not cutting the verges regularly anymore. This year the verges are blue with a resplendent crop of wild hyacinths, self sown or grown from dormant bluebell bulbs which lay waiting for a reprieve from incessant mowing. It’s an austerity bonus! Good for bees!

As our lonely wall butterfly flits off to find a mate it reminds us of the enormous value of our 937 square miles of verges in the UK — twice the size of Exmoor and the New Forest put together — let’s mow them all just once a year and stop spraying and, while we’re at it, please can we turn off all the street lamps!

A483 verge near Garthmyl

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Ecology, Wales

Sometimes I think I’m invisible!

Cheeky bank vole steeling new friend, Thrush’s fat ball (he’s eaten all the bananas!) — bold as brass, six feet away from me.

Gosh! He moves fast, flitting all about the bank –soon the plants will have grown so much that he will be sheltered from the eyes in the sky –buzzards, barn owls and tawny owls. But watch out! There’s a stoat that visits the bank and next door’s cat. Everything is getting much braver since our dog died.

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Birds, Ecology, Gardening, Wales

Protecting the Innocent

Baby barn owls and Jan

Here they are:  last years baby barn owls safe in the arms of local owl whisperer, Jan, from the Species Habitat Protection Group that monitor the owl box on our land.  I couldn’t show you these last year as their location was better kept under wraps — there are evidently still people out there who will abduct baby barn owls to rear as pets and for sport.

We hear barn owls every night but this year Mum and Dad have not used our box again.  It should be a better year as the dry weather allows the parents to hunt every night.

Two days ago Alan and I went to inspect the osprey nest over the hill.  This year there are three chicks, two male and one female, just about ready to fly, jostling for space in the untidy nest.  The location is well known now so their custodians have made a car-park with a hide which provides many volunteer watchers (and doubtless electronic surveillance).

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One fuzzy ‘fish-hawk’

Here are pictures from a previous year from the Osprey Centre webcam in the Dovey Estuary courtesy of the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust Creative Commons License .

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The mother was sitting on the cross-bar above the chicks, when we visited, waiting for the male to return with a big fish.  Below, the reservoir was shrinking fast in our only dry summer for years!

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Whoops — I spoke too soon — with a crash of thunder the drought appears to have ended!

We are reminded that, despite the drought, our habitat is Temporate Rainforest and that our garden, tended only by the Almighty is, this year, very fashionable!

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It would merit a gold medal at any of the horticultural shows — Chelsea, Hampton Court or Tatton Park!

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Ecology

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Fish

If you stand on a bridge for long enough around here someone will come past who will stop to bemoan the passing of the fish.  They will tell you about the trout they tickled in childhood and the salmon their grandfathers netted when times were hard.  They may also tell you how they outwitted the game keeper in their youth.

The only trout we’ve seen in our stream, that was more than an inch long, arrived in a bucket taken from the boot of a car, caught elsewhere by a friend’s grandson and rehomed in our stream, never to be seen again.

Accepted wisdom blames acid rain, too many pine trees, insecticides washing off the backs of the sheep, the reduced use of lime on the fields, too much sewage running into the water, not enough sewage running into the water, over fishing, weirs, flooding and sheep dip.

Now, we’ve just acquired a trail camera which we’ve placed by the stream in an isolated open area (most of our stream has cover) and guess what the first thing we spotted was — not an otter (sadly)

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European Otters

but a mink who appeared to be (guess what?)…  Fishing!

Monk by jsutcliffe

Mink!  by jsutcliffe (CC BY- NC-SA 2.0)

The following day, shortly after dawn, we spied a heron patrolling the same stretch of water. What are they up to, if there are no fish?  I know they do eat frogs.  Or are they the reason that there are no fish?

Lots of the streams in this area have pasture right down to the water’s edge so that any fish that there might be have no cover from overhanging vegetation which is what they need to hide from these dastardly predators.

The problem is what to do about it.  Bring back the game-keeper?  I know what he’d do!

The predators that the game-keepers used to kill are perhaps more common than we thought — we just don’t get up early enough these days to see them.

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Birds, Ecology, Wales

Happytat Creation

Here’s something to cure election fever!

Something new and glorious and full of hope!  It’s something we’ve discovered 50 yards from our back door — a pair of nesting Barn Owls!

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Here is the male (I think) who is paler and here is his mate with her buff coloured chest

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and dark spots on her flank.

Best of all, there are three chicks which I hope to show you in a couple of weeks when they will be ringed and meet the public.

All this and the photos are courtesy of the Species Habitat Protection Group who erected the nesting box and have been monitoring it for 3 years.  Last year there was just one tell-tail Barn Owl feather, so we knew someone had been house-hunting, but we had no idea that they had moved in this year and started a family.  Thank you Jon, Jan, Roger and Brian and the other volunteers.

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