I hope that you are all well on this fine morning, I'm a little bit hyper but it's all good! This week the weather could be in the 20's - you know I read there is a warning about people not getting enough vitamin D through sunlight; so lets enjoy the weather of this week and get out in the fresh air, explore Rye Meads and soak up some lovely vitamins. Ok - I admit this article was a warning for Scotland, but the point still stands - enjoy the nice weather and get out exploring the countryside!
Did you see my mini picture quiz? Well if not, go back and have a look! There were three mystery pictures, giving you clues to this blog post. See if you can spot the full pictures in this post.
Well, this rather long blog is all about the wildlife at Rye Meads, and typically people focus on the obvious wildlife - the birds. But there is much more to Rye Meads if you just look a little closer! You can see wildlife all over the reserve, not just from the hides - so keep looking all the time.
I went for a little walk on the reserve the other day and took the camera to show you some of the amazing stuff that is out there, and tell you some of the random stuff I know about them!
Now this is a wood louse. I love these lil guys! They are just so fascinating! There are 37 different species of woodlouse in the UK, and can be found pretty much any where. They are crustaceans - relatives of lobsters, shrimps and crabs. They have 14 legs and two antennae. They tend to eat all the dead plant matter. They have got some amazing adaptations - have a look at this woodlouse in the picture above... firstly they are camoflaged and they have a hard body for protection. Secondly, can you see round the edges of its body it has what I call frills. Well this is what this type of woodlouse uses as a defence mechanism - if a predator comes along it uses these frills to push down on the ground and push out all the air, creating a vacuum so a predator can't pick it up.
The antenna are very important for woodlice - as they tend to live in dark and damp places they use their antennae to feel their way along. I once read that woodlouse will be either right 'handed' or left 'handed' - they will have a preference, and will tend to use either their left antennae or the right one.
We also get the pill woodlouse at the reserve. These guys have a slightly different protection adaptation - instead of creating a vaccum they roll up into a ball (kind of like a hedgehog) and their whole body is then protected. All rolled up for safety! They'll unroll when they think it's safe.
Earthworms do a great job of fertilising the soil - they bring the nutrients closer to the surface. They have tiny hairs all over their segmented body that grip the soil allowing it to move when it contacts its muscles. They breathe through their skin, and can't tollerate sunlight or drying out.
You know that myth that is you cut a worm in half you get two worms? That is complete rubbish! You'll get two ends of a dead worm - so make sure every one knows not to hurt them!
Grasshoppers and crickets are very similar - have a look at their antennae, grass hoppers have very short ones, and crickets have long, fine attanea, that are longer than their bodies. So this guy in this picture is a cricket (its a bush-cricket). Crickets are mostly predators and 'sing' by rubbing their forewings against one another.
This fab spider is just by the Draper hide. I know alot of people don't like spiders, but they are fascinating! Look at the lovely patterns on this spider. Now spiders are invertebrates but they are not insects. Insects are invertebrates (creatures with out a back bone) that have six legs and three body parts. So spiders are invertebrates but they are a type of invertebrates called arachnids.
All spiders are spinnerets - some capture their prey in a web, while others run or jump after their prey. Their silk is amazing, its light weight while as strong and tough as steel and Kevlar. A six year old once asked me an amazing question that I had never thought of - why don't they get stuck on their own webs? That is a very good point! Why don't they? Well I had to look it up, and aparently spiders coat their legs with an oily substance from its mouth (although this hasn't been proven) to make sure they don't get stuck in their own web! The base of the web - the radiating spokes and the ones that anchor the web aren't sticky. The only sticky threads is the spiral thread connecting the radii. Spiders have special hooks on their legs that can grab and release the sticky threads quite easily.
Now, away from the invertebrates... Oh one last thing - you know people tend to call all minibeast bugs? Well a bug is actually a type of invertebrate! Bugs are one of the major groups of invertebrate found in the UK, there is nearly 2000 different species of bug in Britain.
This fabulous creature is a smooth newt. This is the only type of newt we find at the reserve. It is the most widespread newt in the country. They are amphibians, meaning they can live and breate in and out of water (how amazing is that?), like frogs and toads. Adults tend to live in the pond during the breeding season and in to the summer months, about February until June. They lay eggs in the pond, and the young newt poles will grow feathery gills at the back of their head, and unlike frogs they grow their front legs first. The young will leave the pond once they have lost their feathery gills in late summer. Once out of breeding season they will spend time on land in damp places - like under logs.
Talking of amphibians.... I've worked here at Rye Meads for about six years and I have never seen a frog or a toad here - that is until last week when Assistant Site Manager Vicky found a toad! We have some bags of soil, and mice had obviously been nibbling at the bags, and when Vicky went to get some soil to plant something, out came this toad! Vicky had discovered its nice hiding place! Amazing! They secrete an irritant from their skin that prevents most predators from eating them! There are only two types of toad native to Britain - common toads and natterjack toads.
This amazingly cute little guy/ gal (don't ask me which) is a water vole. They are quite wide spread but their numbers have had a real bashing as they are a quick meal for many predators, especially mink. You know, 'Ratty' from Wind in the Willows was a water vole. This year the water voles have done really well at Rye Meads, they managed to breed and the adults and young have been showing really well! This picture was taken by one of our volunteers Tom Mason (its nearly his 16th birthday - so Happy Birthday Tom!)
Just three more pictures, hang in there!
It's not just the creatures that are amazing at Rye Meads - we've got some fabulous plants!
This is burdock. Ever had the drink dandelion and burdock? Well this is burdock, or rather the seed heads of the burdock. Can you see on the ends of the seed heads are hundreds of little hooks - these come into play when trying to dispurse the seeds. The hooks will attach themselves to any passing creatures, and will fall off a distance away. They are like nature's velcro.The plant is easily over looked, but next time, have a look!
This pretty flower is from the plant woody nightshade. It's the most common of the nightshade family, it has lovely red berries - but don't touch the berries, they are poisonous!
Last picture (not one of mine I got it from rspb-images.com) ... Common reed or the proper name phragmites australis is definately abundant at Rye Meads. This is another plat that is easily over looked, but it is very important for wildlife. Phragmites reedbeds are among the most important habitats in the country - there is not much of it left! Reedbeds are important for a large number of wildlife species, including a number of bird species that are of conservation concern: bittern, marsh harrier, common crane, Cetti's warbler, Savi's warbler, and bearded tit. There are about 700 species of invertebrate associated with reedbeds, 40 of which are known to be completely depended on reeds.
The RSPB and other conservation organisations have done alot of work over the years to create and maintain a number of reedbeds so that these species can survive. Traditionally reedbeds were well maintained as they were used for thatching, but as this tradition had dwindled, alot of the old reedbeds were drained and sold, or used as farming land. In 1997 there were only 11 male bitterns in the whole of the country, but after the hard work of organisations like the RSPB numbers were upto 55 in 2005. This year bitterns have managed their most successful breeding year yet - a fabulous 87 male birds were discovered around the country.
We get bitterns here at Rye Meads - although they tend to only over winter in the Lee Valley. In theory we do have a good enough habitat to breed in, so we hope one day we'll have breeding bitterns! Fingers crossed everyone!
Woah, that was a bit of an epic blog post, but I hope you have enjoyed it! These are only some of the interesting stuff that are at Rye Meads - there is so much more, you just need to be looking! Don't just go from one hide to the next, enjoy the walk, look in the bushes and on the ground - you never know what you'll see!