Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The destruction at Lake Farm begins.....

I've been out of the loop since my last blog post, due to a very sore sprained foot. My last blog was about the release of three of my five Painted Lady butterflies, at Cranford Park, with the help of Corinna, who had to drive me there.
 
The link below is to my friends Tony and Audreys blog. I had to call on them to release the last two Painted Lady butterflies, as by that stage my foot was strapped up and I was on crutches. They duly did so, and wrote a lovely account of it...........
 
 
Today was my first 'outing' since hurting my foot. I've really missed being out and about, both at Lake Farm and Cranford Park, but as LF is that much nearer to me, and my foot is still a little tender, I trotted off there this afternoon.
 
I've known for some time now, that the many petitions, meetings etc to stop the new school development at Lake Farm, had failed, and I'd also been warned the works would start earlier rather than later. Several weeks ago Tony, Sue and I had discovered one of the oldest matures hedgerows by the Toddlers playground had already been ripped down. Today, I was dismayed to see portaloos, cars, vans and a huge yellow digger on the site. It has begun. The site known as Lake Farm Country Park is about to be torn apart.
 
 In the map below, the orange area is the site of the new school. You can clearly see to the left of the orange area, a well marked out footpath. According to all the maps and proposals I have got my hands on, nothing is to be built to the left of the footpath. It will remain as it is now, and hopefully the birds will stay around.
 
 
The proposed school building area. The red line on the far left is the
footpath marked on the above map.
 
All of my data, including habitat, reptile, bird and tree surveys and several site maps.
 
But what use of a site map, if the heavy machinery is going to be bought in from the Dawley Road end of the site ???? That's the area, by the BMX track, that apparently isn't going to be built on. There are deep gauge marks from the top of the park by Dawley Road, cutting diagonally across Lake Farm. Huge tyre tracks have flattened down all the long grasses and scrubby bushes, that not long ago were nest sites to Skylarks, Reed Buntings, Common Whitethroats, Meadow Pipits, Blackbirds, Wrens, and other birds. As the site is going to be built on the corner of Botwell Lane and Botwell Common Road, why cant the machinery have been bought in from that direction ? All that land is going to be torn up anyway !!
 
Isn't it enough that we're losing over a quarter of this park in the first place. I would love to know who organised that logistical movement, and to know they're reasons why !
 
The footpath that is the boundary line. The area to the right will be the new school site, the area to the left is meant to be left as Lake Farm.
 
Huge great machine, sitting amongst the long grasses, that were just days ago, nest sites for the Skylarks. And I do know this, as I often watched them from this very point. The houses in the background are on Botwell Common Road.
 
 

 
After photographing this dreadful scene, I did have a wander around the remainder of the Lake Farm. Naturally there were no birds except pigeons, where the construction was going. But the corner shown to the right of the workmen above, was full with House Sparrows the last time I was there. Not one to be seen today.
I didn't walk far, as didn't want to put my foot under any strain, so I slowly meandered through my favourite area, the copsey shrubbery area near the willows. It paid off as the first bird I spied was a gorgeous male Black Redstart. That's the first for me on this patch. Unfortunately I got no photos of birds today, I didn't have my zoom lens on my camera. I also saw several Common Whitethroats, including at least five within the condemned new school area. Compared to last winter, when in one outing I counted 27 Reed Buntings, today I found just one solo male. Goldfinches were abundant, including some juveniles. A Hobby flew over whilst I watched the flooded willow area for another sighting of the Black Redstart. I also had a Red Kite glide over when I eventually left. Blackbirds and Starlings were plentiful, Wrens could be heard and the 'gull field' next door has started to attract a few Black-headed gulls again.
 
 I wasn't out for long (only two hours compared to my usual seven or eight), but it was enough to leave me feeling quite 'down' when I left. I understand the new school is going to be built, whether we like it or not, but I'm not happy that the rest of the park is going to be used for getting the heavy machinery in and out. That hasn't been noted in any of the surveys, or proposed plans that I have. 

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The Painted Ladies.....with vid clips and photos

Back on the 31st July I acquired five tiny Painted Lady caterpillars. They came in their own pot of artificial food and with no instructions on what to do with them. A few hours research on the internet, and I hoped I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for....
 
 
 
Although all the websites said the artificial food was fine for these caterpillars, I wanted more for them. I wanted to create a little haven for them with fresh food too. On my next day off work, I went straight to the nearest pet store and brought a tank suitable for keeping lizards, spiders etc in.
 
 
 
As the caterpillars were so small, they could escape through the air holes at the top of the tank. To remedy this I cut up an old gauze arm sling, and fitted it across the top of the tank, secured with sellotape. The black lid then fitted securely on top. I went out and collected nettle and thistle leaves and stalks, and at the bottom of the tank I spread out the artificial food, just in case.
 
 
As the caterpillars grew, they started to take on characteristics, and as they got bigger they didn't move around so much, so it became very easy for me to recognise them by sight. They had to have names, so I named them after some of my friends.....
 
 There were two that always seemed to stick together, so they became Susan and Elaine, who are best mates in the real world. In the vid clip below, you can clearly see how 'close' they were, ha ha ha.
 
video

One of the caterpillars seemed to be more mature than the others, and early on found a large clump of artificial food, then spun a very loose silk web over the food and itself. I called this one Maggie, after a dear friend of mine who is very sensible. Maggie stayed like this for a long time, eating the food within her reach and not moving around a lot, therefore conserving lots of energy. This is Maggie below......

 
Another caterpillar seemed more adventurous than the others, moving around the tank, investigating, often stopping and taking in the world around it. I called this one Gina, after a very good friend of mine.....this is Gina below....
 
The last little caterpillar was the one that, once it discovered the fresh food, didn't go back to the artificial stuff. This one I called Sandra, after a friend of mine who is a Vegan. Below is a little vid clip of her having lunch.....
video
 
Although the websites I had looked at were good, none of them really gave me a time line of when to expect 'changes' to happen. On the 7th August, Maggie left her silk 'apartment' and made her way to the top of the roof. Later that night, she had dropped down to a J position. This is the position Painted Lady caterpillars get in to before they become a chrysalis.
 
Sandra and Gina soon followed, and by the morning of the 8th August, Maggie, Sandra and Gina had dropped to the J position and had become chrysalis. When I adapted the tank for their needs, I knew they tended to spin a silk button up high, then hang down from it head first, therefore the stretched piece of old arm sling was proving to have been a good idea. However, what I didn't allow for, was this made viewing the little critters much harder. I had to hold up the whole tank to look under the lip of the black plastic roof. Also the caterpillars had left little silky webs everywhere, so getting photos proved to be challenging.
 
The photo below is of Gina (chrysalis to the left), Maggie (chrysalis to the right), Sandra (chrysalis at the back), and Elaine the caterpillar. Susan was still munching on the artificial food below.
 
The vid clip below is of Elaine the caterpillar having a walk around the roof, and Maggie the chrysalis. Note the 'thing' hanging off on the left of Maggie. Its actually her expelled caterpillar head ! And you can see Maggie moving around inside her new shell.
video
 
Later that day, Elaine the caterpillar managed to knock Gina the Chrysalis off her silk button. Gina fell half way down the tank wall, before coming to rest and being held on by just a few strands of silk. I was a bit worried for a while, I wasn't sure how this would affect her once the last process began, the emergence of the butterfly. Photo below is of Gina at her new place of rest.
 
Gina holding on, literally, by a thread.
 
This is Maggie. You can just make out the silk button at the top.
 
By the evening of the 9th of August, both Elaine and Susan had also dropped to the J position, although Susan had abandoned her friendship with Elaine, and positioned herself on the other side of the tank, away from the other four. Elaine had chosen to take the place where Gina had originally hung from. By the time I got up in the morning on the 10th, I had five little chrysalis, four hanging neatly from the roof, and one hanging precariously against the side of the tank.
 
Going from the information I had found on the websites, once the final stage had begun, I should expect butterflies in around 8-10 days, so I was expecting Maggie to emerge over the weekend of the 17th August, with Sandra and Gina to follow, then Elaine and Susan to emerge maybe on the 19th.
 
By the 11th August, the tank really needed to be cleaned out. The uneaten food, both fresh and artificial, was starting to smell. I hadn't been able to do anything in the previous three days, as the caterpillars had been going through such a delicate process and couldn't be disturbed. On the 13th I took the tank to work (not unusual, since the 31st July, I carried the caterpillars almost everywhere with me) and gently peeled back the arm sling roof, cleaned out all the debris, put in some fresh twigs (for the newly emerging butterflies to rest on) and grabbed some photos. I also taped little labels by each chrysalis so I could see at a glance, who they were.
 
On the 14th, I was at home and heard a knocking sound, it was Sandra violently shaking around.
I managed to get this vid footage below.....
video
 
Later that evening, Gina also started 'knocking' and it was so vigorous, that her silk strands snapped and she fell to the floor. Even though there was no damage to her, it did make me wonder how her butterfly was going to emerge when the time came. As I still had a few days to work this out (or so I thought), I went to bed not overly worried.
 
This morning, the 15th of August, I got up and checked on my tank. There resting on a twig was a butterfly !!! I checked the tank again, and hanging from the mesh roof were two more butterflies !!!!!! Sandra and Maggie's old chrysalis shells were still attached to the mesh roof, and Gina's one, on the floor, was also empty. Somehow Gina had managed to emerge and get on to one of the twigs. Luckily I wasn't at work today, but I hadn't planned on actually going out either, except to maybe get some cut flowers to put in the bottom of the tank ready for the butterflies (to feed on) that I thought weren't going to emerge for another two or three days !! I knew the butterflies had to have time to harden off their wings, but I also knew they would have to be released today, to get some food. My friend Corinna, kindly offered to collect me later on and take us to Cranford Park, to release my three little Ladies......
 
The photos below are of the Ladies in their tank, stretching and hardening off their wings.
This one above is Gina. The stain on the blue absorbent cloth, and the red droplet on the twig, is called meconium, and is the waste product from the pupa.
 
Having a stretch giving me a lovely look at the underneath of a Painted Lady. By this time (three hours after emerging) they had moved around quite a bit, so I had lost track of who was who.
 
Resting on a twig
 
Sandra's empty chrysalis shell
 
The vid clip below was filmed at 11am this morning. As you can see the butterflies are getting the idea by starting to flap their wings. You can also see they gained a new 'supporter'.........
video
 
Hardening off the wings.
 
Six hours after finding the butterflies emerged, Corinna picked me up from home and we drove to Cranford Park. A lot of the thistle patches were being cut down to stop seed spreading, but we found a large patch that was going to be left to go to seed. It still had plenty of thistle flowers on it, and seemed the ideal place to release Sandra, Maggie and Gina.
 
For the first time ever, I had a butterfly on my finger tips. I let two fly off from my finger, and the third flew out of the tank before Corinna could place her finger in front of it.

Out and about in the thistles
 
 
And finally a vid clip of me with one of my Painted Ladies on my finger tip, with running commentary from Corrinna......
video
 
And its not over, Elaine and Susan are still in the chrysalis stage (although Elaine was doing quite a bit of 'knocking' while we were at Cranford park), so they are still in the tank and at home with me. As they went into the chrysalis stage almost 30 hours after Maggie, Sandra and Gina did, then I expect them to emerge in about 30 hours time. But I was wrong about my predicted date for my first three Ladies, so I could be wrong about my last two as well !! Watch this space..........


Friday, 9 August 2013

Dip and glory at the London Wetland Centre

I was up early this morning to get the train and buses to the London Wetland Centre. Reports of Clouded Yellow butterflies have started emerging over the last week, the sightings have mainly been down south, but yesterday one was reported at the LWC. This is a butterfly I have never seen, let alone photographed.
 
Sadly I still haven't managed to photograph it, but I did get a brief glimpse of it fluttering by in front of one of the hides.
 
However my luck changed when Richard the Centre Manager, found a beautiful Jersey Tiger moth. This is day flying moth which I have never seen. So even though I dipped on the Clouded Yellow, I revelled in the glory of the Jersey Tiger.
 
 
There were other butterflies out and about after the dull wet morning. Some are looking fresh, others are well past their prime now. There are a lot of Tufted ducklings around, and some cygnets. I caught a brief glimpse of a juvenile Whitethroat by the Peacock Tower, and there are two more families of Little Grebes on site. Some Sand Martins are still around, and I spotted three Swift going over. Black-headed gulls are all over the islands, in various stages of plumage.
 
male Common Blue
 
a very tatty female Common Blue
 
Gatekeeper
 
juvenile Common Whitethroat
 
Great Crested Grebe
 
Little Grebe
 
a very tatty Meadow Brown
 
Peacock
 
Six-spot Burnet
 
Up by the Peacock Tower, I also found this lovely Red Underwing moth resting on one of the posts.
 
 
 
 
One of many cygnets around.
 
As soon as the sun did come out, so did some of the resident Common Lizards.
 
 
 
 
 
And last, but by no means least, I found this three wonderful dragonfly casings. When the dragonfly larva leaves the water (after spending up to a year, or even two, under water), it climbs up some vegetation, like a reed. The adult will burst through its larval skin head first, and pull the rest of its body out. It will then rest until its legs have hardened, and eventually once body fluids have been used to 'pump up' the wings, the adult dragonfly will take its maiden flight.
 
 
 

So not a bad day out. I would have been happy if I'd photographed the Clouded Yellow as well, but win some, lose some. 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Ozzy and friends at Cranford Park

I was at Cranford Park early this morning to hopefully get some good sightings, before the temperature soared. I didn't plan on staying all day, but I did. I arrived at 7.30am and left just before 5pm. Why ? Because I am now addicted to Little Owls.
 
I found the juvenile we call Ozzy, within minutes of arriving. His 'hissing' call could be heard loud and clear in the quiet of the early morning park. I located him on a different oak to the one we've become used to seeing him on. He knew I was there, and being so indifferent to any ones presence now, he promptly fell asleep.
 
 
He awoke briefly and moved a few branches along, and then flew to the right of the tree, where I couldn't locate him again.
 
 
Shortly after this Sue and Jasper arrived. We had a brief look for Ozzy, then decided to go on a butterfly hunt before it got too hot (more about them later). After our walk to the top of the park and back, we settled back in the shade of the oaks with a very grateful Jasper. We couldn't find Ozzy, but a sleeping owl often cant be found, they turn invisible. After a while the now familiar 'hissing' call began, and we began searching the oaks. Sue spotted Ozzy first, and we were watching him, watching us, watching him, when there was a sudden movement from below and up jumped another juvenile Little Owl. Anyone walking through the park at the time must have been wondering what those two mad women were doing, we were almost jumping up and down with joy, and couldn't wipe the smiles off our faces. We  knew from Tonys' photo there had originally been two owlets, but until today no one had seen them together again, and we had feared one had been lost. I later called Corinna down to the park, so she could see them both, and we all came away with photos. The first two below are mine....
 
 
 
Corinnas photo
 
Sues photo
 
We now had a dilemma. We couldn't call the owls Ozzy and Ozzy, so we've nick named them Ozzy and Izzy. And no, we have no idea which is which. We don't even know which one we've been watching over the last few weeks. But its a wonderful feeling knowing we definitely have two juvenile Little Owls now.
 
So back to the butterflies. Sue had seen Small Coppers yesterday, and they are a species Ive not yet photographed this year. It didn't take long for us to find them, despite the heat. Also abundant were the usual Gatekeepers, Meadow Browns, several varieties of Whites, Common Blues, Six-spot Burnets, Skippers and a solitary Brimstone.
 
Brimstone
 
female Common Blue
 
Large White
 
Green-Veined White
 
and the beautiful tiny Small Copper......
 
 
 
While I was uploading my photos, I zoomed in on this front view of a female Common Blue. Looks like she had a narrow escape. Look to the right of the flower. There's a spider almost in touching distance of the butterfly......
 
Whilst hanging around the oaks, I got some great views of birds of prey today. Sue called out on two Hobbys soaring over, there were at least three Kestrels playing above, a Buzzard came down low, and a Red Kite went over. I also saw a large female Sparrowhawk being mobbed by crows in the morning. So even though the rest of the birds stay hidden during this moulting season, and hot weather, it doesn't appear to bother the raptors, nor the Little Owls. A very pleasant, if a little warm, nine hours of Cranford Park.