Author Archives: Emily Reilly

Simple moth trapping for beginners

There are around 2500 species of moths in the UK. Compared to the 60-ish species of butterflies, this is impressive. The great diversity of moth species makes for some fascinating findings from moth trapping – all possible within your garden.

Despite the huge number of moth species living here, we don’t often see them unless we are actively looking, because, of course, most moths are nocturnal – hiding away in the day and coming out when it is dark. Moth trapping is a simple and humane way to identify and take a closer look at moths by attracting them to a light source. The method is harmless to the moths, allowing them to be safely released or free to fly away.

Traditional moth traps can be bought or made at home if you are more serious about recording and identifying moths, however for beginners a simple and effective methods is to create a light trap using a sheet and a torch.

Tips:

  • Make sure it is dark when you use your moth trap – turn off nearby lights too.
  • You can also create a similar trap by spreading a sheet out on the ground and placing a standing lantern-style torch in the middle.
  • Moths will be most active on warm nights with a little breeze.
  • Avoid touching the moths, especially on their wings, as this can damage them.
  • Avoid setting up your trap every night as this can disturb behavioural patterns of moths and other insects.

It is National Insect Week this week (22nd to 28th June 2020), so this is a great way to get involved and celebrate the most diverse and ecologically important group of land-living animals! If you have a camera, why not take some pictures of the moths you find – send us your photos at enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk. You can even enter them into the official National Insect Week photography competition if you’re feeling extra artistic!

From Lawn to Meadow

‘No Mow May‘ was an initiative by Plantlife, encouraging people across the UK to reduce their mowing frequency to encourage wildflower growth and nectar production in their gardens.

A citizen science survey revealed that lawns cut just once a month had the highest production of flowers and nectar, whilst areas that were kept completely unmown grew the widest variety of wildflowers. This is more proof that an unmowed lawn is fantastic for wildlife. You can read more about the findings of this research and the background behind the No Mow May regime on the Plantlife website.

One resident of Nether Whitacre, Debra Starkey, has been letting part of her garden go to meadow over lockdown and has kindly shared the results with us. Read about Debra’s experience and findings of growing a wildflower meadow below.

Nature has always been important to me but I knew it would play a more crucial part during lockdown. It has given my comfort and hope at this anxious time. The thing I’ve noticed the most, as I’m sure others have, is the peace and quiet. No planes or road noise to drown out the birdsong, and wildlife has prospered as a consequence.

At the start of lockdown I made the decision to let part of the garden go to meadow. I knew it would help my anxiety over this crisis, if I could walk around the meadow watching it change and looking for wildlife and photographing it. It’s not a huge area, around 30m x 30m, but I have been rewarded already! The sight of a kestrel hovering over it for about 30 seconds, coming down a few feet then dropping to the ground was amazing. What a moment!

The meadow is still mainly grass with a few wildflowers but is filled with butterflies and day flying moths. I’ve also had a common spotted orchid growing in the meadow which was special too. There were 20+ black-headed gulls circling the meadow for about 15 minutes, presumably catching insects, but it looked like a choreographed dance. It was a delight to see.”

– Debra Starkey
Debra’s wildflower meadow, June 2020

Many thanks to Debra for sharing a wonderful story with us.

If you are inspired to start your own wildflower patch in your garden, it’s as easy as stopping mowing! You’ll be amazed at the difference it can make to wildlife.

If you would like to share your own wildlife story with us, please send an email to enquiries@tamevalleywetlands.co.uk. We’d love to read them.

Nature Spots 3.0

After a spell of heavy rain in the Tame Valley Wetlands, we have welcomed back the glorious sunshine this week. Here are some lovely wildlife pictures from over the last few days.

With fewer people around at Hams Hall Environmental Centre and less opportunity for maintenance of the walled garden, the plants are thriving. There is an abundance of nettles, of course (which are inconvenient for people but do act as an important habitat and food source for insects such as butterflies), but also there are many beautiful wildflowers such as this field poppy and a group of orchids.

Field poppy at Hams Hall Environmental Centre
Early purple orchids at Hams Hall Environmental Centre

We have also been sent images of wildflowers from around the Tame Valley wetlands, such as this Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis).

Pyramidal orchid spotted in Nether Whitacre, submitted by Debra Starkey

This time of year is peak season for caterpillars, often spotted munching away on leaves or trying to stay hidden from predators. Here is a peacock butterfly caterpillar (Aglais io) spotted at Whitacre Heath Nature Reserve, and a fantastic image of a Mullein moth caterpillar (Cucullia verbasci) resting on a buddleia.

Peacock butterfly caterpillar
Mullein moth caterpillar submitted by Stephen Powell

Finally, the butterflies have again made beautiful photos this week. Here is a comma butterfly (Polygonia c-album) – you can see how its wings, with their scalloped edges and cryptic colouring, give the butterfly strong camouflage – especially useful when hibernating in piles of leaves during the winter months.

Comma butterfly submitted by Debra Starkey

Planting at Southfields Farm – 8 months on

In October 2019, Tame Valley Wetlands team and TameForce volunteers planted a grand total of 14,000 plug plants at Southfields Farm along the River Blythe in order to help restore and improve the SSSI. You can read more about the days we spent planting here.

8 months later, in June 2020, efforts have been rewarded with an abundance of wildflowers and grasses growing in the fields.

Click through the slide show below to see the results!

Nature Spots 2.0

Thank you to everyone who sent in wonderful photos capturing nature and wildlife around their local area! We will share the latest here…

Please keep sending your pictures! You can contact us via email or Facebook.

A cockchafer beetle, colloquially known as a Maybug or a doodlebug. Cockchafers have characteristic feathery antennae, a feature which greatly improves their olfactory ability to sniff out food or mates.

Photographed by Debra Starkey.

A heron (above) and a common roach (left) at Ladybridge in Tamworth. Who knows… this fish might have had the unfortunate fate as the heron’s dinner!

Photographed by Angela Streluk Rodgers.

Lichen on a gravestone at St Giles Church, Nether Whitacre. Lichen is not a single organism, it is instead the product of a symbiotic association between an algae and fungus. Within the lichen, algae grow between masses of fungal structures. The algae photosynthesises whilst the fungus provides a root structure, so the two work together to form a symbiosis.

Photographed by Debra Starkey.

A beautiful peacock butterfly feeding on nectar from an apple blossom flower.

Photographed by Debra Starkey.

This is a burrow dug into the side of an island at Ladywalk Nature Reserve. It could be the burrow of a water vole, but further observation will be needed to conclude this!

Photographed by Neil Adkins.

This fascinating fungal formation is a bracket fungus growing on a dead tree stump. These fungi can cause decay and rot in old trees, and can lead to their breakage and fall. There are many different types of bracket fungi, which cause varying degrees of damage to trees. These plate structures have many pores which are lined with spore-producing cells called basidia. The spores are released to germinate and grow into new bracket fungi.

Photographed by Debra Starkey.

Otters on the River Blythe

Over the past few weeks, there have been numerous sightings of otters, which is great news and usually an indicator of a river having fairly clean water and enough good-quality habitats.

Otters are not often seen by people as they are largely nocturnal. The most common indicators of an otter population are tracks or spraints (droppings). Otters often leave their spraints in conspicuous places along their territory, as a warning for other intruding populations to stay away.

Despite their elusive nature, Nick, Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Wetland Project Officer, has managed to record some fantastic footage of otters on the River Blythe.

In the video below you first see a mink cross the river. Mink are an invasive species and are a considerable threat to UK native species such as the water vole. Towards the end of the video however, three otters come swimming up the river. This group is likely a mother and two large cubs.

Otters communicate with whistles and twittering sounds, often heard at night when they are active and their surroundings are quiet. Click on the video below to hear an otter calling.

This video shows another otter on the Blythe, possibly the father of cubs. The male otter parent is known to play no part in rearing the cubs, leaving that to the mother.

And finally, here is a quick clip of an otter swimming along the river.

Dragonfly emergence… with a surprise ending!

Ian, our Development Manager, has managed to record some brilliant footage of an Emperor dragonfly’s emergence as it transforms from a nymph to its adult form.

The process of emergence usually takes around 3 hours. Dragonflies undergo incomplete metamorphosis, meaning they don’t go through a pupal stage (unlike other winged insects such as butterflies), instead transforming from larvae straight to adults.

Before the emergence, the nymphs sit in shallow water, preparing themselves for the final moult to adulthood. When they are ready, they climb up the stalks of vegetation, out of the water.

During the moulting process, they push their thorax, head, legs and wings out of the larval skin. This takes time – each part of the dragonfly that emerges must harden before the next part can emerge. The wings are limp and shriveled at first, but are expanded by the passage of haemolymph (insects’ equivalent of blood) through the wing veins, taking on their characteristic appearance.

Once the dragonfly has emerged, it is at its weakest and is vulnerable to bird predators. Its first flight, if it manages it, is called the maiden flight.

Watch the video below to see this process in action and discover the fate of this rather unfortunate dragonfly!

Blue tits at Hams Hall

The blue tits have been busy nesting again throughout spring at Hams Hall. This year, we were lucky enough to see all six eggs hatch and successfully fledge from the nesting box.

The video below shows the highlights of this amazing story…

The eggs started to hatch on 11th May. The two parents took turns to feed the hungry chicks, visiting the nest approximately 35 times an hour during this vital period!

As the chicks grew, opened their eyes and developed their feathers (all within the first 11 days of hatching), the parents continued determinedly with feeding and cleaning the nest. The chicks grew and grew, until they fledged on the 29th May. Incredibly, all six chicks survived and thrived, and fledged in turn within just over six hours.

Goosanders on the River Tame

This wonderful image has been sent to us, showing an impressive 18 goosander (or common merganser) chicks with a mother on the River Tame at Water Orton.

Typically, a single brood of goosander chicks contains between 8-12 birds, which follow the mother to feeding sites along the river. Chicks from one brood will often join with other broods to form creches. This is what has happened with this large group – it is likely a creche of two broods.

Job Opportunity – Water & Habitats Specialist Officer

An exciting opportunity has arisen within our dedicated team based at Hams Hall Environmental Centre.

Water & Habitats Specialist Officer (Tame Valley Wetlands)

  • Closing date: Tuesday 30 June 2020
  • Salary: Up to £27,862 (WWT Grade 2B) 
  • Contract type: Fixed term / Working hours: Full time
  • Location: Hams Hall Environment Studies Centre, Coleshill, B46 1GA

The Tame Valley NIA is a dynamic landscape so if you are an excellent project manager, have a good knowledge of wetland habitats, have a passion for conservation and enhancing the environment and want to make a real difference we would love to hear from you.

Please visit the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust website for more details and to apply.