Barn Owl Success Story!

Hello there!

The following is the story of what has been happening inside this unassuming, triangular box in a tree in our local patch.

unasuming-box

Our story begins a little while ago, early August to be precise, when I was preparing to write the last blog. I went out for a walk around this area to look for things, mainly butterflies.

While I was out, I found some very ‘splatty’ bird droppings and quite a lot of it and I recognised it as Barn Owl droppings, which is quite like whitewash.

Splatty Barn Owl droppings

Splatty Barn Owl droppings.

With a bit of smug satisfaction I looked up and there are was a (triangular) Barn Owl box in the tree above the droppings. The polite word for bird dropping is guano, which I quite like.

Anyway, later that day I went under that box again by chance and flushed the adult Barn Owl from that tree and I could hear the chicks inside the box.

So began what has turned into almost an unofficial monitoring of this Barn Owl box and here’s what happened.

I began by setting a little camera I have which is essentially a little green box with a camera in it which you can leave out in practically all weathers and after some initial positive results we started using a higher quality camera with a better zoom which we put up when the owls weren’t active to avoid disturbance.

Now we were keen to see how active the box was and so began the routine of leaving the cameras out for a few days and then looking through all the footage.

Eventually the young owls started poking their heads out of the box occasionally.

At this stage, it was estimated that the biggest chick was 8 weeks old. Barn Owl chicks tend to hatch at different times and this can lead to a size difference.

They get to the stage when they are all very keen to have a look outside.

 

The young owls tend to emerge from the box at about 5pm, but not necessarily fly away. After a while we could see that there were 3 chicks. Here they are beginning to exercise their wings and explore their surrounding, including each other!

The higher quality camera could only be outside in dry daylight hours whereas the other camera could be left outside all the time. What this enabled us to do was monitor them during the night as well.

In the dark of the night,  now in mid August, the young have begun to fly.

Sometimes one of them can be seen staying on the box for a few hours at a time. They are also constantly calling, either to keep communication to each other or make themselves heard to the parents so they can be fed. The adults were very seldom recorded, probably because at the stage the chicks were at in these videos, the adults would not be coming to the nest much and if they did bring in food they would only drop it off and not hang around.

When it came to going back into the box for the day, the young would often sit on the front ledge and seemed to be watching the world before they went back inside for the day, bobbing their heads around and around.

By the end of our ‘monitoring’, the chicks confidence was building, but by late August they were still tentative about leaving the box:

However, this is just four days later and they aren’t hanging around this time!

To give an outline of how Barn Owls are fairing this year in Sussex, there are lots of broods of two chicks this season, and many of them rather late, which could be put down to the strong winds and heavy rains in late February/early March. They were having difficulty hunting then and struggling to get their weight up to a level at which they could lay eggs. For this year, 3 chicks is about average but still good.

The Barn Owl is recovering from its population crash in the mid 20th Century and now has Green Status, as opposed to the Red Status of species such as Lapwing. If the Barn Owl is to continue on its current trend, it must have area to hunt and breed such as our local area.
This box has only been up for 2 years and here is a photo of it being put up.img_4020-2 If you think you may have a good location for a Barn Owl box and would like some advice about putting one up, please contact Barrie Watson on  01273 452472
That ends our summer of monitoring these lovely birds. We can now only hope they survive long enough to breed themselves!
Thanks to Barrie Watson for his help and expertise!
 Jane Watson and Tom Simon.

Hunting for Hairstreaks

Hello out there!

It’s mid summer, but just to show we’re past the halfway point of the year, the blackberries are turning already!

July Blackberry

July Blackberry.

So aside from that, now is the time of the year to start looking for one of this areas star species, the Brown Hairstreak butterfly.

Brown Hairstreak

Brown Hairstreak.

I’ve mentioned these before in these blogs and I think it’s worth going over why they are something to really treasure.

These butterflies have had a real downward spiral and according to the Butterfly Conservation website have declined by 43% since the 1970’s, mainly due to habitat destruction.

In this area though, there is a population of Brown Hairstreaks and someone who surveyed this area for them described it as one of the better areas locally.

So, where is good to go looking for them? Well, the females are more commonly seen when they come down from the tree canopy to lay eggs on Blackthorn bushes and to feed on Bramble flowers. The loss of Blackthorn bushed by modern farming techniques is thought to be one of the main reasons for their decline.

They will feed off other plants, such as Common Fleabane which this female Gatekeeper feeding on.

Gatekeeper on Common Fleabane.

Gatekeeper on Common Fleabane.

On a separate note, Gatekeepers look very similar to Meadow Browns but the key is the ‘eye’ in wing; 2 white dots in Gatekeepers and only one in Meadow Browns.

Just to push the benefits of Common Fleabane a bit further, here’s a Small Skipper!

Small Skipper

Small Skipper.

The other place to look for Brown Hairstreaks is at the top of tall Ash trees where groups can appear when they feed on aphid honeydew on the leaves.

That doesn’t mean to say that the only tree you could see Brown Hairstreaks is Ash because I have seen them on Oaks before. However, just to be confusing, Oak tree canopies are also the home of the Purple Hairstreak.

purple hairstreak circled

Purple Hairstreak.

Now, Purple Hairstreaks come down from the canopy even more seldom than Brown Hairstreaks do and this was my best attempt at photographing one through my telescope the other day. When you are trying to photo one of these, the worse thing you can have is another one because they will defend their territories vigorously and keep chasing each other round and round and round in circles, alla a dog chasing its tail!

So, the other day I went out to have another go at finding some of our local Hairstreaks. It was a bit cloudy but I did succeed and here it is!

Purple Hairstreak

Purple Hairstreak.

You do need a bit of luck with these things and this one just jumped up and I managed to find it! This does show where the Hairstreaks get their name from though, with the faint lines on their underwing.

This was a cloudy day not many butterflies were active then and the better time of day to find Brown Hairstreaks at ground level is on calm, sunny days in the morning when the females descend to lay eggs on Blackthorn. That’s the theory anyway and I should point out that I photographed this one on a very windy afternoon.

Brown Hairstreak

Brown Hairstreak.

What possibly happened was that she came down in the calmness of the morning, the wind got up and she was stuck down below clinging to this bindweed.

On very rare occasions, they will come to you and even sit on your kitchen window!

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

So, with my hunt for Brown Hairstreaks, the other day, the good news is that I did find one! The only thing is that Hairstreaks in trees, once they’re settled, will pirouette like a clockwork doll and then not move for a long time which is what mine did the other day.

I was hoping for a repeat of this one from a few years ago.

Brown Hairstreak

Brown Hairstreak.

It was a few years ago because I remember that being a much clearer photo, but there you go!

This a been a really butterfly heavy blog and I think one more wouldn’t hurt and this is just to dispel the ‘Cabbage White’.

Large White.

Large White.

The ‘Cabbage White’ term is like ‘Seagull’, as in there is no one species called the Cabbage White but it refers to a collection of species. There are 3 main whites that get called Cabbage White, namely the Large White (pictured), Green-veined White and Small White. What is true though, is that brassicas are their main foodplant, but Green-veined Whites tend to avoid cultivated cabbages.

Also, it’s a pretty good dragonfly time of year and look out for this one:

Brown Hawker.

Brown Hawker.

To keep with the brown theme, this is a Brown Hawker. It’s not an especially rare dragonfly but it is one of the easiest to identify with it’s bronzed wings which are quite obvious when its flying.

Finally, it’s not got much to do with wildlife in this area but it’s a particularly good time of year to look for Saturn as its rings are tilted at an angle that makes them more visible from Twineham!

Here’s the obligatory blurry photo from through my telescope!

Saturn (honest)

Saturn (honest).

That’s about it for now!

Keep a look out at the tree tops,

Tom.

It’s Spring outside and Twineham’s forgotten filmset

Violet

Violet (Viola papilionacea)

I thought I’d start with one bluey flower out at this time of year that isn’t a Bluebell and the closest I could get is a Violet and here’s one I found along the bridleway that leads off Frylands Lane.

We’re also back in the time of year for Nightingales and they are back in this area, but how many are yet to be determined.

Nightingale in full song. Photographed at Pulborough Brooks (RSPB Reserve) April 2004

Nightingale (Luscinia magerhynchos) in full song. Photographed at Pulborough Brooks (RSPB Reserve) April 2004.

Here is one and it is worth pointing out that Nightingales are notoriously hard to spot as the often sing deep in a thick bush, unless you go to RSPB Pulborough Brooks and in some places you’ll be doing well not to tread on one! They are pretty showy over there!

It’s also the time of year to be looking out for Lapwings and as the successfully bred here last year it’s definitely worth keeping an eye out for them.

Lapwing trimmed

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) in Twineham.

This in an adult male and below is one of the chicks from last year.

Lapwing chick

Twineham Lapwing Chick.

So yes, when I was waking up the other day I had BBC 5live on and they somehow got on to asking people for their local areas odd claims to fame and since this is loosely wildlife based I’ll mention the one I sent in and got read out.

It involves one of the two Common Oaks (Quercus robur) that are in Twineham Recreation Ground, the left hand one in this photo.

Twineham Recreaction Ground Oak Trees

Twineham Recreaction Ground Oak Trees.

The story as I understand it is that for an episode of the 1980’s sitcom Terry and June, they were looking for a cricket ground with a tree within the ground and I think specifically with a forked branch and Twineham fitted the bill!

The idea was that Terry, being the world’s worst cricketer, ended up being the last batsman in and wildly scooped the last ball of the innings looping up and the ball gets wedged in the fork of a branch of this tree. The opposition do what they can to get the ball down but can’t in time to stop Terry running the required runs, which was more than 10.

I did wonder if this was ‘the fork’ but I’m not sure.

The fork?

The fork?

So yes, Common or Pedunculate Oak is not the only UK Oak species. Sessile Oak (Quercus petaea) can look similar but its acorns do not have stalks or peduncules, whereas Pedunculate Oaks acorns do!

Another and not so well distributed oak is Holm Oak (Quercus ilex) which is one of the few evergreen broadleaf trees in the UK and has a similarity to Holly (Ilex aquifolium). One place I do where there are some Holm Oaks in growing the central reservation of the A27 between Arundel and Chichester but there are almost certainly more accessible ones out there!

Common Oaks are very important for wildlife and some species, such as the Purple Hairstreak which is in this area, rely on it as a food plant. Common Oaks also have the distinction of supporting a greater number of species than any other native tree.

It is argued that coniferous trees support a great biomass (weight of organisms) and the Scots Pine in the front garden may have been responsible for attracting this Pine Hawkmoth into the garden back in May 2008.

pine hawkmoth

Pine Hawkmoth (Sphinx pinastri).

You just never know what you’re going to find out there!

robin nest 2

Peg basket Robin (Erithacus rubecula – yep, it’s a long Latin name!) nest.

Finally, about 2 years ago I was surprised to find a Spotted Flycatcher hanging around on the front of the house. Now, Spotted Flycatchers do nest in open fronted nest boxes and the nearest thing I could find at the time was a wicker peg basket that I hung up on the inside of the porch. Unfortunately, nothing happened then but 2 years later a pair of Robins have found the basket and are nesting in there even though it’s just above the front door. Now our challenge is not to use the front door so much!

Anyway, Ill leave you with another photo of the 2 Common Oaks of the cricket pitch to act as a reminder on this Bank Holiday Monday, it was sunny yesterday…

IMG_6405

Tom.

2000 Starlings, a new bird for the area and Spring is coming!

Hello all out there!

I thought I’d start the first blog of this year with a bit of a bang and a new bird for the area.

Short-eared Owl

Short-eared Owl

This is a Short-eared Owl and this is actually a photo I took of one up in Scotland but there is at least one flying around Twineham/Wineham!

This photo below is the best photo I could manage as the one I saw today as it flew away.

That shape in the middle!

That shape in the middle is an owl!

A good place to look for this is around the river Adur, has large hooped wings and is quite pale underneath. Size wise, they are just a little smaller than a Common Buzzard, but are still about 35cm in length and have a meter wingspan. Short-eared Owls fly during the day, this was at about 3pm.

Short-eared Owls do come down into Sussex in the winter from further north and are an anticipated sight at places like Lewes Brooks and they are associated with wet grassland and open farmland.

I think they are a very special sight and that brings the ‘area total’ to 106!

Right now, I think that the weather might have decided to be more what it should be like at this time of year.

Some of the signs of the early warmth we had are still around, with the daffodils still out and a few other plants ‘waking up’. Here is a hawthorn leaf just coming out into leaf and I have already noticed a Blue Tit coming out of a nest box.

Hawthorn coming into leaf

Hawthorn coming into leaf

Whilst it is still wet out there is it worth remembering that wet grassland is a key habitat for some species, such as Lapwing and if the conditions are right later in the year this for Red-Data List species, they could produce one of these again which won’t happen if there are ever houses there.

Lapwing chick

Something else bit more obvious you get when it rains a lot is puddles (I like to be informative) and puddles are used by birds to bathe in. All fairly straight forward so far. This morning though on the Recreation Ground, this was the case in a major way when, I estimate, something like 2-3,000 Starlings descended on and around the cricket wicket and started bathing on mass.

Starlings on the Recreation Ground

Starlings on the Recreation Ground

They covered the pitch and were heads down, feed on what ever they could find through the grass and occasionally flew up in small clouds.

Close up of the bathing Starlings.

Close up of the bathing Starlings

Whether they’ll make a habit of this, I’m not sure but it was quite a sight!

Moving on to something else, a few weeks ago now I rediscovered a few videos I put up on Youtube of wildlife in and around Twineham and even though it isn’t really the time of year for things like snakes, I thought I’d share them here anyway!

Starting with the previously mentioned Grass Snake, this was sunning itself in the ditch along Gratton Lane (it does start moving).

This is of a Peregrine perched on one of the pylons that runs though here. When I re-found this video it had 8 views which is probably what it deserves as a video, but here it is anyway!

Lastly, is a Roe Deer in the front garden on my outdoor camera and all I’ll say is, I don’t think you’ll see it coming (I didn’t)!

With that, I’ll leave it there.

Tom.

What to see in November!

Hello out there!

It’s November and it’s pretty miserable outside. Mud, mist, rain and getting dark early. That notwithstanding, there is plenty to see in the mud, mist and rain and that’s the attitude I set out with that in mind to get some inspiration to write this blog. Most of the outside recently has looked like this.

november day

Now, if you look at that photo a bit closer, there are 7 little white dots and they are 7 Little Egrets, which I wasn’t really expecting to find! They were in the field just east of the Twineham Lane bridge that crosses the river Adur.

7 Little Egret dots

Little Egret dots

You’ll have to take my word for it that these little white dots are 7 Little Egrets. Little Egrets have, only in relatively recent times, established themselves in the UK and this isn’t the first time I’ve seen them around here, but they do stand out a bit!

Most of the plants have stopped flowering now and one of the last plants to flower, which is a good place to look for insects at this time of year, is Ivy. Most of the Ivy has stopped flowering by now but there are still a few flower heads that haven’t gone over.

Flowering Ivy

Flowering Ivy

Now that there are leafs on the ground, it’s a good time to get acquainted with what leafs belongs to what tree. I took this photo along Gratton Lane in Twineham and I’ve found 4 species in this selection, although there are probably areas around here that have a higher number. Anyway, the 4 in this selection are:

leaf guide1. Wild Service Tree (Sorbus torminalis).

2. Ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

3. Field Maple (Acre campestre).

4. Common Oak (Quercus robur).

Ash is always a good tree to begin trying to identify trees by their bare branches because their black buds are very distinctive.

Ash Buds

Ash Buds

Wild Service Trees are not that widespread in the UK and one way to describe their distribution would be ‘locally common’. A good place to find Wild Service Trees around here is along the Gratton Lane bridleway, with a few trees growing right next to the bridleway in the small woodland on the eastern end of Gratton Lane.

Wild Service Tree leaf

Wild Service Tree leaf

Its leaf is a fairly distinctive sharp edged, spiky ‘tulip’ shape and this one was handily on a low hedge.

So with all the greyness around, here’s with a bit of colour.

IMG_5366

Spindle berry

This is a the berry of Spindle, which could also be described as a ‘locally common’ plant. It often grows in hedges and its branches and twigs are green right to their tips.

Finally, this is the best time of year to go looking for the eggs of the Brown Hairstreak butterfly, which I have highlighted in previous blogs as a real stand out species for out area.

Blackthorn thorns.

Blackthorn thorns.

They are difficult to find and the best can do for now is show you a photo of where you can look for them. The eggs are laid at the base of the thorns on a Blackthorn bush, which is the bush that has blue Sloes for fruits. The eggs, if you find one, are tiny white dots, often described as ‘white pinheads’.

Hopefully that has given you a few things to look out for in these November days!

Tom.

An eye on our insects.

Hello everybody!

For this blog I thought that it might be worth highlighting a species which lives around here and is arguably of national importance. In fact this area is one of the few places in the country which you can see it, and is one of its strongholds.

Now, I’m told that this butterfly even got a mention in the Archers for a not dissimilar reason than it is now. I’m talking about the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betula).

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

Brown Hairstreak, Jane Watson.

This is one that landed on Jane Watson’s kitchen window and it’s not something you see this easily because Brown Hairstreak’s tend to live in the tree canopy and usually the only time you will see one at ground level is when the females come down to lay eggs on blackthorn. The best time to look for those is in the winter with no leaves on the bushes and you’re looking for a little white pin head sized thing.

The Brown Hairstreak has the title of being a BAP species which means it is one of the UK species, not just butterflies, to have had a Biodiversity Action Plan written for it.

In the said Brown Hairstreak BAP, it shows that it is also a Red List Data species like the Lapwings of previous Blogs and according the Butterfly Conservation website has, in two 4 year surveys carried out in the last 20 years, has a 40% population decline.

Brown Hairstreak, Tom Simon.

Brown Hairstreak, Tom Simon.

Anyway, it’s a charming little butterfly and it’s really worth looking to the top of the trees at about this time of year, maybe a little earlier that right now, to try to see one of these.

Next, I thought it might be fun to go through the winners of the photo contest and just say a little bit about them.

Orange-tip Butterfly, Deborah Herbert.

Orange-tip Butterfly, Deborah Herbert.

So the Beauty was this Orange-tip Butterfly. This butterfly has a very close relationship with Cuckoo Flower (Cardamine pratensis). This isn’t a BAP species like the Brown Hairstreak and it would be nice to keep it that way!

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar, Kat Mitchell.

Oak Eggar moth caterpillar, Kat Mitchell.

Next we had the Oak Eggar moth caterpillar. Now, this one took a bit of time of time work out what it was, I think the water droplets didn’t really help matters. The adults are quite a large brown moth and worth looking up. It is common and widespread throughout the UK but good food source for things like Cuckoos!

Brown Argus, Dave Hill.

Brown Argus, Dave Hill.

So the most notable species went to the Brown Argus (Arcia agestis). This butterfly is fairly widespread throughout central, eastern and southern England but outside that it dwindles out. It does have an annoying similarity to the Common Blue but this is one!

Now just because the competition is over, don’t stop going out and finding wildlife to record! Who knows, there could be a Brown Hairstreak just waiting for you!