We've had some interesting sightings in the Garden by the Visitor Centre and today was a day which produced another. We have occasionally enjoyed watching a weasel scurrying around the edges of the hide before now, trying to find one of the bank voles or wood mice which enjoy bits of the birds seed, to add it to it's lunch menu.
This is a shot of a cheeky little weasel, taken by Ian Butler, but not actually on Old Moor.
Weasel's are around 20 cm long and have a short tail which is the same gingery colour as their fur.
Today, I was talking to visitors in the centre (as I do!) when one of the families I had been chatting with, who were looking out of the window, called me over. The boy was called Julian and he was able to point out the animal which had caused them to call out. Rather excitingly, I found it was not a weasel, but a stoat!! This is far more unusual a sight than having the weasel in the garden. Infact, I can't recall another time this has been seen here!
Stoats are about 30 - 40 cm long, which includes their tail, which is quite a bit longer than the weasel's. It also has a clearly noticeable black tip to it.
Whilst weasels will easily manage a vole for lunch, they will tackle larger meals, like a young rabbit or rat. Stoats, despite being not much bigger than a weasel, are quite a bit more adventurous! They have a larger appetite, it seems and will go after an adult rabbit with no worries at all!!
The difference between a rabbit and a stoat can be seen here. They are feisty, tough and incredibly strong!
As we have rabbits in the garden by our Visitor Centre pretty well every day at some point, the stoat was presumably following their smell. It spent 5 minutes or so, working it's way carefully around the edges of the lawn, smelling under shrubs, around the hide and anywhere really, where a worried rabbit might have chosen to hide out of it's way.
The rabbits won today though, on this occasion. The stoat didn't mange to find one and had to leave without it's dinner.
So keep an eye out whilst you're around the reserve. There's always plenty of interesting things going on and you just never know what you might see next!! One thing's for certain; if you're not out there having a go, you don't stand a chance. You've just got to keep trying!
If you read our blog regularly, you've probably gathered that I love a bit of weird wildlife and nature! It's obviously not really 'weird', as it's evolved that way over millennia for sound biological reasons. To our human eyes though, things really can seem a bit strange sometimes and that's when I love it most!! Take the winter moth, for example....
If you read Bert's blog last night, you will recall him being educated by Titchers about a pipestrelle bat which had been seen late the day before. The mild weather almost certainly contributed to that bat and probably others, coming out of hibernation and going for a bit of a fly around. But why would it bother, in the depths of winter?
Kate, our Assistant Warden, put the moth trap on Tuesday night, because amazingly, there wasn't a lot of wind, so the conditions were fair for attracting moths. Despite the bright moon (which also makes it hard to attract moths to the trap), there were a few winter moths caught when we looked, the following morning.
A bit drab, perhaps, but the male winter moth does have beautiful silken fringes round the bottom edge of his wings. Atleast he's trying!!
The winter moth does what it says on the tin, really. It's out, on the wing, in winter. A clever strategy really, to help survival. But first, how can I tell this is a male winter moth?? I'm no moth expert, but even I can see that it's got wings!! Yes, it really is that simple.
What??? So the female hasn't got wings?! That's right!! Bizarre.
The female has tiny stumps for wings, because she doesn't fly!
The male might be a bit drab, but I can't find many attractive features on her really. (Sorry, love.) But, hey, she smells great!! She sits around, wafting her alluring pheromones into the night air and the males come to her. She doesn't need to go anywhere! Once she's mated, she will lay her eggs and that's the life cycle completed.
It's only on milder winter nights that there will be bats on the wing. And as bats love a juicy moth for supper, the winter moth avoids a lot of them by being around in this chilly season. They've done all their feeding as caterpillars, so they don't need to even feed on flower nectar or anything. They really are just all about continuing the next generation.
Bats catch moths using echo-location then scoop the moth into the tail membrane and and up towards their mouth. Yum!!
One of the biggest threats to the next generation of winter moths, (whose caterpillars feed on most trees leaves, particularly the freshly emerging buds in spring), are birds. Long tail tits, blue tits, wrens, goldcrests, dunnocks, etc, will all be grateful for the juicy little bundles of energy packed eggs, placed on the tips of twigs all over Old Moor. In the late winter, they give a much needed boost to their food supply.
So that's what those acrobatic blue tits and long tail tits are looking for, dangling around the ends of branches!
So the moths lay hundreds of eggs each, to improve the chances of some surviving to hatch out as caterpillars and then some surviving even more hungry beaks on the look-out for a yummy caterpillar. Only a small proportion of the eggs will make it through to the pupa stage and from there, to the adult moth.
A little undignified perhaps, but worth it, if there's a yummy snack to be had!! Thanks Ian, for this pic, taken on Old Moor.
It's just aswell that a lot do get eaten, really, for our trees sake, as the caterpillars can munch their way through lots of leaf buds and as a result, are seen as a pest by some gardeners. So a healthy balance of plants and bird species needs to exist in an area to keep everything just so. Which, thankfully, is how it seems to be on Old Moor!
I'm very pleased to say that for the second year in a row, we have breeding Bittern at RSPB Old Moor. Activity clearly suggests that we have a female feeding young chicks.
This is clearly excellent news and we now need to instigate our plans to allow as many people as possible to have the opportunity to see a Bittern whilst at the same time ensuring the best possible chances of their success.
So, from tomorrow morning, we have taken the decision to again close the reedbed trail from the switch back just after the wildlife ponds.
This is very much a precautionary principle and is led by the fact that last year, the reedbed trail became so popular that the female started to amend her behaviour and this is the last thing that we would like to see happen again.
In time, I think the cache of a Bittern sighting at Old Moor will drop and the amount of reed at Old Moor and Bolton Ings will increase so as to make this decision null and void, but for now it seems the best course of action.
So, what are we doing to facilitate a sighting?
Firstly, last years gazebo and plastic chairs are being replaced by an altogether grander affair. Our wonderful reserve team are building a viewing screen complete with roof and seating to give you a semi permament base to sit and watch for feeding flights.
We will staff this from time to time but in general it will be unmanned. However, there will be sightings boards and interpretation and we will encourage visitors to record any of their sightings (which we will then note at the end of each day).
Given the nature of the species, this will again offer the best chance of seeing a Bittern as they fly across the reedbeds.
The viewing area should be in place and complete by the end of Thursday.
Secondly, and this is new for 2013, we are prepared to offer some special viewing opportunities.
Away from the public part of the reserve, we have a special Bittern monitoring hide, staffed every day, that allows us to track the Bittern activity throughout the breeding season. This hide is raised on stilts and provides an unrivalled view of the reedbeds and the birds.
This year, we have decided to trial a limited number of places to accompany one of our monitoring staff or volunteers to the forward hide to spend a shift with them and help to record any activity.
There are 20 slots available initially on a first come first served basis.
If you are interested, you need to be able to dedicate a morning or afternoon and be able to climb the ladder to the hide (I'm afraid it is designed for monitoring bitterns not public access!). You are more than welcome to bring camera equipment with you.
If you would like to put your name down, then you need to email firstname.lastname@example.org and if you are one of the lucky ones, Katie will get in touch to discuss details and time slots.
Based on how well this initial pilot goes, we will see if it is feasible to release more slots as the breeding season progresses.
I hope that we can welcome you to Old Moor and Bitternwatch 2013 in the near future!
Here comes the weekend!! Yippeeeee !!!!
Here come the sightings !! .. Extra Yippeeee !!!
So .. before we are all 'yippeeed' out, let's get started ..
Old Moor first ..
A first report was of a willow tit which was seen on the Trans-Pennine Trail to the rear of the car park .. Nice! A song thrush was also heard singing in this area ..
On the Wader Scrape were 2 goosanders, 2 shelducks and a redshank ..
The Mere had 3 goldeneyes and a small flock of 11 golden plovers while over on Wath Ings were a sparrowhawk, little grebes, wigeons, pochards, shovelers, mallards and a flock of linnets ..
In the Bird Garden were chaffinches, goldfinches, greenfinches, long-tailed tits, great tits, blue tits, pheasants, a wren and a sparrowhawk ...
A brambling was seen in the Tree Sparrow Farm along with reed buntings, yellowhammers, chaffinches, greenfinches, tree sparrows and pheasants ..
A last report from Old Moor was of a bittern which was seen at 1:00 as it appeared from somewhere near to the river and flew over to the reedbeds... Cool !!!!
Finally there was a peregrine falcon seen flying over Wombwell Ings ..
And that's it for today chaps !!
Have a great weekend everyone !!
Good evening to one and all.
As Bert has already hinted, I have news to impart... It is with some sadness that I am leaving the Old Moor blog, Facebook and Twitter page, to move on to pastures new. So this is my final post.
I have been given a new mission to go out into the world (well, South Yorkshire mostly) and tell everyone who will listen, about the RSPB, our conservation work and it's importance for our wildlife and our future. I'm going to find lots of lovely new members and hopefully send more new visitors to Old Moor to share in it's many wonders!
I will still work at Old Moor, in the Visitor Centre from time to time, so I might see you then. If not, then I might catch you on the reserve as a visitor myself, when I go on my days off to get my Old Moor fix!
I shall keep following the 'bloggings' from Bert, Matthew and our newbie (coming soon!) and hope you will continue to enjoy them as much as I'm sure I will.
So farewell friends. I've loved every minute of sharing this great reserve with you on the blog and welcoming you to our wonderful site in the real, not virtual world. Thank you to you all for sharing your enthusiasm and for all the chats, photos and comments you've all contributed. It wouldn't be the same brilliant place without all of you.