Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Wildlife Wednesday Bird Ringing

This morning, at our Wildlife Wednesday bird ringing demo, Richard, our ringer, caught a sparrowhawk in the mist net.
Richard with the sparrowhawk

It was a male bird, so much smaller than a female sparrowhawk.  He was in the middle of molting his feathers so we saw the difference between the new, brighter feathers and the older, dull ones.  After he was measured, weighed and ringed he was then set free again.  He was a beautiful bird with sharp talons and beak, and fierce eyes.

The bird ringing sessions have been successful, attracting lots of visitors who get to see the birds close up, and learn about birds and ringing.  One of the things that we have found out during the bird ringing sessions is that there are 24 different robins feeding in the woodlands behind the stable block!  Without carrying out the ringing sessions, we would never have guessed that there were so many robins around there.  We hope to carry on the sessions in the next school holidays.


We went to Cherryburn today, one of our sites near Prudhoe.  We went along to do some strimming and help with hedge cutting, and we said 'Hello' to the animals too.  There are two donkeys, Esmerelda and Frieda, three alpacas, some sheep and rabbits, and chickens that wander around the farm yard.
Cherryburn is a small site, but it has a farm area, a wildlife garden, a putting green and tennis court, orchards and of course the  Thomas Bewick exhibition, the artist and engraver who was born and lived at Cherryburn.
We always love working at Cherryburn, it's so peaceful and the views across the Tyne Valley are beautiful.
Two of the Cherryburn alpacas - love those leg warmers!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Netting newt efts

Yesterday we surveyed the ponds for newt efts (young newts that have hatched over the spring and summer).  We are doing this as part of the Gibside Great Crested Newt Project, to find out how well great crested newts are breeding in our ponds.   The project has also included digging new ponds and re-excavating and improving existing ponds, so over the next three years we will monitor the newt population to see how they have been affected by these pond improvements.

John with the catch from the Walled Garden pond
Phil surveying in the Garden pond.      

 Rangers and volunteers used nets to scoop up pond creatures and find young newts.  Some of the efts we found were well-grown and almost ready to leave the pond.  The efts that we found in the Walled Garden pond were the largest, and starting to loose their feathery gills.  They must have hatched a couple of months ago, earlier in the season.  Others were tiny, only a couple of inches long, so they must have hatched recently.  The last few weeks of rain showers will have tempted the adult newts back to the ponds to lay more eggs.

This tiny eft was found in the Park Field pond.  It is so small, we think it must have hatched sometime last week.

Larger efts from the Walled Garden pond.  They still have their feathery gills, but they will disappear soon, and the newts will leave the pond.
Amphibians will breed and lay their eggs in ponds, and then leave the ponds and spend most of the year on dry land, eating bugs in the long grass and hiding in tussocks.  They hibernate on land during the winter.  The youngest efts may not develop sufficiently to leave the pond before the winter, so they will hibernate in the mud at the bottom of the pond.  As the water warms up again in the spring, their development will start again, and they will leave the pond at a year old.

We found great crested newt efts in every pond that we surveyed which is great news for the newt population.

County Durham Environment Trust and Northumbrian Water funded £20,000 for the Gibside Great Grested Newt Project.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Peacock butterfly on Lady Haugh meadow

Speckled Wood butterfly basking in the sun
Our volunteer butterfly surveyors had good results from today's transect.  The sunny afternoon brought out peacocks, speckled woods, meadow browns and small coppers. 

The other rangers spent the day cutting wildflower meadows, now that the flowers have dropped their seeds.  Over the next few days we will rake off the cuttings, so they don't rot down and improve the soil.  This helps to maintain the right soil conditions for the wildflowers to grow successfully again next year.

Our wildflower meadows support a huge variety of insects, providing food for many birds and mammals, including bats.  It's important for us to manage the meadows to encourage the wildflowers, to maintain the foodchain and the biodiversity in the area. 

Friday, 12 August 2011

The swallows that have been nesting in our stables block are on to their third brood!  There are currently 12 nests in use in various rooms of the stables, some with eggs, and some with chicks like these.  This nest is in our wildlife room.  It is being filmed (you can see the camera in the background) so we can watch the chicks being fed, and growing up.  The footage is being shown on a screen in the wildlife room. 

The swalow chicks were ringed this week as part of our Wildlife Wednesday events.  There will be bird ringing demonstrations at the stables block every Wednesday of the school summer holidays.

It won't be very long until the swallows start to gather together before they begin their journey south for the winter.  Hopefully the weather will improve soon so the parents can feed these chicks up, building up their strength for their long journey.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Monday 8th August 2011

Although we are still busy with summer time conservation tasks, and the swallows at the stables are bringing up their third brood, there has been an autumny feel to the last few days.  All the rain showers over the last week or so have brought colourful fungi popping up all over the estate!