Monday, 16 November 2015

Bird Ringing Presentation Wednesday 18th November 7.30pm


Just a quick reminder for anybody interested in: 

  • learning about the reasons behind bird ringing, 
  • the information and benefits to be gained from the data it provides 
  • and the training  those involved must  undergo. 

Then Wednesday nights presentation by Kenny Crammer from the BTO 
is not to be missed. 

Kenny demonstrates the process of bird ringing to a small group at LLNR


Kenny has been ringing birds at LLNR for just over a year now and will be sharing his experiences with us at the Centre from 7.30pm until around 9pm.


A Meadow Pipit ready for release after ringing at LLNR


As always refreshments are available. We look forward to seeing you.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Open Sunday 18th October

Another well attended Open Sunday featured a visit from the local RSPB who set up a small information tent for the day and a guided walk followed by a fascinating talk by local fungi expert Justin Long.




Although Justin was a little pessimistic regarding our hopes of discovering much in the way of fungi around the reserve (apparently weather conditions have not been ideal) fortunately thanks to some young and very keen eyed fungi spotters quite a few species were observed.


Woodchip piles are it seems are a relatively new habitat in which mushrooms can be found, these particular examples could not be conclusively identified on the day.


Provided common sense is used there is no harm in picking a few fruit.


Including this rather magnificent Puffball, which Justin is demonstrating how it releases it's spores into the atmosphere.


From the large Puffball to this tiny "Poached Egg"


A miniature red capped shroom close to the path - maybe Hygrocybe coccinea
a waxcap grassland species


Rather frustratingly after Justin had departed we discovered a whole host of fungi around the raised pond - possibly Sulphur Tuft - Hypholoma fasciculate.

Many thanks to Justin for a vey entertaining and informative morning and for bringing so many samples for us to discover and learn about. Hopefully we will be able to persuade Justin back on future occasions. 






Sunday, 13 September 2015

Another Successful Open Saturday



I'm happy to report that our Open Saturday on 5th September was a great success!!!

The weather was fine and dry, there were Grasshoppers and Crickets in abundance and we had willing and eager participants - even a little stridulating was noted as the afternoon warmed up! 

'Teacher' and 'Students' found 4 species of Orthoptera - add those to the 4 species that Simon found the previous day during his pre-gig reconnoitre and we now have a very decent site record as well as some satisfied customers!


Some folk with Simon in the Lab......


....and others out in the field with Sue.

So, a big thank you to Simon Bunker for your 120% input - the feedback has been terrific! 
Carol writes

'Just a quick note to say thank you for all concerned with the above event last weekend.
We spent a very enjoyable afternoon with Simon (who was very knowledgeable) and had great fun (and laughs) catching lots of specimens......I noticed that one of my photographs reminded me of the characters in ‘A Bugs Life’ and there were plenty of ‘characters’ for us to catch at the reserve and look at in detail....'

Our grateful thanks also to the rest of the Bunker family for their much needed help and valued support to run the Open Day (including baking delicious cake and making the wonderful book trolley!)

If you missed our Saturday Special this month, put the next Saturday event in your diary for October:

Saturday, 10th October
'A Bird Walk with Steph'
10.30am & 2.00pm  £1.00 per person 
 (Suitable clothing and footwear advised, and bring lunch if you'd like to stay all day...)
More info from michelewelborn@homecall.co.uk

Brush up on your ID skills, look and listen with experienced birder Steph Kimsey, who knows the Linford Lakes Nature Reserve very well from her time working here until recently as MKCouncil Education Officer. What will there be to see? Well, Winter Wildfowl will be on the water, and there could be Siskin, Redpoll, Redwing or Fieldfare  - and who knows what else - feeding in the trees on Alder, Hawthorn......



 .....and other plentiful berries such as Guelder Rose.

The Centre will be open from 10am until 4pm if you fancy a few hours in a magical place.  Come in and browse among the 2nd hand books, buy a hot drink from the Cafe, look at our crafts and cards, purchase bird food, and enjoy the view from the picture window and gallery. We'll have scopes set up, and a limited number of binoculars available if you don't have your own....

Don't forget  -
Open Sunday 20th September 10am - 4pm, and Work Party Sunday 4th October
 
 Michele :)

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Bridge Partners

Those of you who have visited the woodland hide over the last month will, I am sure, have noticed the magnificent structure, that is the new maintenance access bridge over the stream.

Many, many, thanks and congratulations are due to all those involved in it's construction and installation - but a special mention must go to chief designer Neil Studman and his very able erection team stalwarts Simon Bunker and Martin Kinkaid.

Any dangers of a certain Chair Person getting his hands dirty were quickly averted by

a) The hangover following his 60th Birthday celebrations and
b) The other members of the crew refusing to let him anywhere near proceedings

The two halves of the bridge had been pre-constructed so the first job was to drive in new support posts either side of the old plank bridge.




There was to be no lying down on this job





 and anyone found slacking was made to walk the plank.




Once the new supports were in place the first of the two parts of the bridge was manoeuvred into place.






Then the second section was positioned in place



Finally it was time to plank the walk.


Please can we ask that members refrain from crossing the bridge unless involved in an authorised work activity.

In truth there is very little to be seen on the other side and constant activity will deter the mammals and birds that can be seen in the area and disrupt the enjoyment of anyone visiting the woodland hide. There will I am sure be ample opportunity for those interested to make visits across the bridge during work parties and other organised activities.

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Sunflowers, sundogs, sunsets, and a Saturday Special in September!

 
Saturday Special!
5th September 2015
'Grasshoppers, crickets and other small things 
that jump and hop at
 Linford Lakes Nature Reserve'
 Simon Bunker, one of our Friends of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve, has recently been spending lots of time at ground level studying some of the smallest creatures that live in our meadows and grasslands: Grasshoppers, Crickets and other things in the order Orthoptera that jump and hop.

He's very kindly going to share his knowledge of where to look, what to listen for, and how to identify Grasshoppers and Crickets and related mini-beasts, and invites you to join him at  

11am - 12.45pm or 2pm - 3.45pm
(£1.50 per person, £3.00 per family)
 
 The Centre will be open from 10am until 4pm, with all the usual Open Day delights on offer - refreshments including hot and cold drinks, cakes, 2nd hand books, crafts, and Friends to answer questions about the Reserve and its flora and fauna. 

Finally, a few pictures from today at LLNR...
   Sunflower
 Sundog

 Sunset

Some things are spectacular, aren't they?

Don't forget to put Saturday 5th September in your diaries!
(....and of course we also look forward to seeing you this coming Sunday, 16th August, for another of our regular Open Days.)

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Warbler Walks (and much more)

This year we were fortunate to have two walks led by Andy Harding, the County Bird Recorder. Not surprisingly, the evening walk in pleasantly warm sunshine on 20 May was well attended. 

Within a few minutes we had swifts screaming over the reed bed at the back of the Centre. Andy told us that a swift never comes down to land until it is ready to nest and breed, at some two or three years of age. This means that it even sleeps on the wing, going up high and catnapping on the way down. They spend a lot of time over the sea, where they can float in the warmer and rising air currents.


Reed Warbler

We ambled past chiffchaffs, willow warblers, garden warblers, blackcaps and whitethroats. A sedge warbler and a Cetti’s warbler were making the most noise at the water’s edge. Not everyone got to grips with the differences but I’m sure everyone learnt something.


Chiffchaff

The highlight for the lucky few at the head of the group was the sight of two young foxes playing along the path past the Far Hide. Though of course they jumped into the hedge as soon as they saw us. 

Finally as we were enjoying a cuppa back at the Centre, we had a grandstand view of a barn owl flapping slowly around the edge of the lake.

The early morning walk on 31 May only attracted a dozen or so hardy souls – well, it was dull and damp and more like April than the end of May. 

But what a treat we had. Apart from the birds, we came across Gordon Redford checking his moth traps which he does every morning in the summer. He found two hawk-moths that had been attracted to the lights and brought them to show us: a privet hawk-moth (the larvae feed on ash leaves as well as privet) and an eyed hawk-moth. The privet’s wingspan was the length of a finger and the eyed hawk-moth was nearly as big. We were amazed to hear they only live a few days and don’t have the mouthparts to feed on anything. Their whole existence is geared to finding a mate and reproducing.


Privet Hawk-Moth

Then we concentrated more on the birds. A cuckoo was calling some distance away. Cetti’s warbler nearly broke our eardrums, and garden warblers and blackcaps sang together from neighbouring bushes so it was easier to tell the difference – garden warblers go on and on melodically but monotonously whereas blackcaps sing out in shorter and more flourishing bursts. Reed warblers were another bird that are more repetitive than the scratchier sedge warbler, which can be found further away from the reeds and in the bushes. Song thrushes gave us plenty of experience of repetitive phrasing in the damp atmosphere.


Sedge Warbler

A heavy shower sent us into the Near Hide but on the way we disturbed a kingfisher and two muntjac deer. I had noticed some fresh droppings on the path so it wasn’t surprising. We all managed to fit into the hide and had good views through the telescopes of a smart male garganey, a pair of gadwall, shoveller, ducklings and goslings. 

We just got to the Far Hide in time to shelter from another shower. Andy showed us how to tell a common tern from an arctic tern by looking for a darker wedge at the outer primaries in flight: the arctic tern would have uniformly pale wings. This difference was only noted in the 1960s (I suppose when telescopes and telephoto lenses became more available), and before then people always used to refer to “commic” terns in flight because they couldn’t distinguish them. 


Comic Tern?

We saw a fox snooping around on the bund and had a discussion about the feasibility, or indeed the ethics, of whether this could be prevented in order to save the eggs and chicks of the ground-nesting birds on the bund. Clouds of hirundines came over feasting on the recently emerged flies rising from the water surface. We tried to see how many of the herons, cormorants and little egrets were still nesting on the island. 

By then we were ready for a hot drink and home-made cake in the Centre.
Pauline Studman informed us that the total number of bird species seen on this walk was 45. An excellent result.

Thanks to Andy for his informative chats and to Tony Bedford for his puns.

Please look at the Flickr website for photos of the species mentioned: www.flickr.com/groups/fohescimages/

Janice Robertson


Photographs by and copyright Tony Bedford

Friday, 17 April 2015

Mid-April meanderings....

Spring! It's well and truly arrived - there are signs of re-emergence everywhere!
I've recently managed to find extra time to spend at the Reserve, and been rewarded with quite a few 'first sightings'. These are always a cause for celebration, as it's good to know that things have survived the British winter, or their migration from foreign lands, as both can be equally hazardous.

This last week, among my first sightings, I've seen Small tortoiseshell, Peacock, Comma, Brimstone, Speckled wood and Orange tip butterflies at the Reserve.

Comma (Polygonia c-album). Slightly worn.
Lots of warblers are back.They're making their presence felt (along with those birds which over- wintered) and the scrubby woodland areas and bramble patches are ringing with birdsong. I've seen and heard Chiffchaff, Willow warbler, Blackcap, Chetti's warbler, Chaffinch and Whitethroat, all of them establishing terrritories, and I'm certain that I heard a Sedge warbler around the edge of the large lake. Song-thrushes are calling, too - I saw one very near to the Woodland Hide, and heard another just off-site by the overflow carpark.
As yet the Cuckoos haven't appeared, but hopefully by the time you read this someone will have reported hearing them.  I know that they're beginning to trickle through - a single bird was reported over the Buckinghamshire hills this morning - and as long as their journeys have been unimpeded we should soon be graced by their iconic presence.

Over the last few years l've become a great fan of Hoverflies. I've only seen 2 species out and about at the Reserve so far, but no doubt there have been others around the tree tops. However, 'Eristalis pertinax' and 'Eristalis tenax' fly lower and are therefore more noticeable - these have been feeding at the gorse, dandelions and willow flowers.  I'm looking forward to adding to my records over the next few weeks.

A male Eristalis pertinax basking in late afternoon sunshine...
It's a joy to see the Sand martins again - the other evening I watched 8 birds exploring the nest holes in the Kingfisher palace. Every bird looked into each hole in a very house-hunting sort of way, and at some point two of them appeared to have decided to stake their claim and refused to move when jostled by others. It was fascinating and very entertaining, and even the sound of 3 Buzzards overhead and a pair of Kingfishers flitting across the water didn't distract me too much from the antics of these lovely little birds. (When I noticed that there were also another twenty or so Smarties feeding over the lake, I wondered if we should think about building an extension next winter...?)

Sand martins (Riparia riparia) house-hunting.....

One of my trips to the Reserve this week was to help Martin Kincaid, The Parks Trust Biodiversity Officer, show his PT Volunteers around. We went into the Centre, the hides (saw the two Shelduck currently being reported daily) and then into the Far Paddock, and heard about ideas and plans, (some of which are already taking shape such as the new Willow tit nesting boxes and Owl boxes) including grazing, re-instating scrapes, making willow screens, and returning the Bund to its original glory.
Needless to say, we all had a great morning, and those folk for whom it was a 'first sighting' fell in love with the place.  I'm sure we'll be selling more permits as a result.  
(A bonus, if we do, is that we could well have more willing and able bodies to come along to work parties, and possibly extra hands for our Open Days. Each of these lovely people is already a volunteer, and on the premise that you can't keep a good volunteer down....well....!)  
One of the tasks we did on our tour was to check the numerous new 'tin lids' for Grass snakes. A number of these have been placed in strategic places - you can't miss them as they're marked with flourescent orange lettering for easy identification. One concern that some of us have is that they'll provide yet more temptation for people to take a look underneath to see what's taken up residency - hopefully most of us will be able to curb our curiosity, and whatever does move in, or under, will be left to get on with it without undue disturbance.
Did we find a snake?  Well no, but the Bank Vole was a delightful surprise find, and carefully man-handled for the purpose of Education and Science. We learnt which feature distinguish it from the Field Vole - notably the longer length of its tail....

Bank vole (Clethrionomys glareolus) and Martin Kincaid (Homo sapiens)


And finally, it's nearly AGM time again. 
On Wednesday, 13th May 2015 (put the date in your diary) you will have a chance to find out what sort of year FoHESC has had, to vote for the probable change of name, to ask questions, and to put yourself forward to join us on the Committee. 
Yes - I did suggest that! You see, we need more people, and if you would like a greater input into your Friends Group, whether it's to meet the public and show newcomers around, or help with events and to raise funds, or to help with publicity and other things, then come and chat to us. 
We meet once a month - your Committee consists of a group of friendly people who are passionate about the Reserve, just like you, so you'd fit in straight away.

And at Committee meetings on beautiful sunny evenings we get to see the sun setting across the lake....
Sunset over Linford Lake Nature Reserve, a very special place.
See you soon,

Michèle Welborn
 



Monday, 23 March 2015

There's nothing like a sunny Sunday morning!

It's a latish start to Spring this year, and still cold in the shade - and in the hides!
That doesn't really stop the enthusiasts amongst us from venturing down to the Reserve at any opportunity, and Sunday's sunshine persuaded some of us out quite early with binoculars, scopes and cameras.
And so it was that I found myself in the good company of some of our Friends, including our youngest photographer, Ella.

It was a good birding morning. The birds of prey were out in force before the day had really begun to heat up, and I watched a kestrel, 2 buzzards, and a pair of sparrowhawks circling over different parts of the Reserve and the adjoining fields. Moorhens were strutting about on the grass verges, Chaffinches, Great and Blue tits, along with the ubiquitous Robins, were busy foraging and staking claim to territories, and a flock of 6 Long-tailed tits kept me entertained as I walked the length of the butterfly bank.
The usual suspects were about at the Woodland hide, with the addition of Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, briefly glimpsed but definitely heard, along with a very vocal Little Grebe which refused to show itself whilst I was there.
From the Near Hide I spotted shoveler, heads tucked under, by the reeds, along with teal, gadwall and a pleasing number of mallard.  As well as those cormorants sunning themselves on the bund, a flotilla of 15 birds were floating on the far water with plenty of other species of water-fowl about too. On the near-side of the bund a large flock of Common gulls were keeping company with a few Black Headed gulls, Mute swans and Great Crested grebe.
I also counted 6 Herons dotted in and out of the reeds, along with 3 Little Egrets.

The herons are very active at the moment - as are the frogs. There's quite a lot of spawn in the larger of the dipping ponds, and I watched one heron stealthily creeping along the edge of the pond keeping  a close eye out for a mid-morning snack. (I couldn't see any  'necklace' spawn yet, but I expect the toads won't be too far behind their amphibian cousins.)

Although some butterflies and other bugs were on the wing, there aren't many nectaring opportunities yet - I didn't find a single hoverfly in spite of all the Sallow flowers. Oh, and I haven't seen a Bombylius yet - I always think that the bee-fly is one of the true heralds of Spring...

I expect that a few other Spring arrivals are also around, but Chiffchaffs are certainly here, and obvious, and seem to have arrived in good numbers. I saw 3 singing birds, and although not quite at full, lusty 'chaffchifff' yet, (yes, i always hear it that way round) they were in good voice.

As much as I love Winter, it's great to know that Spring really is on the way, and it feels as if there are new beginnings all round for the Reserve.....


View from the Woodland Hide

View from the Near Hide

Robin sunning itself in the hedgrow
(Pictures courtesy of Ella - thank you!)

Saturday, 7 March 2015

The Mammals of Linford Lakes Nature Reserve (HESC)
by Janice Robertson

I had a brief glimpse of a weasel running across the entrance to the car park last week. It looked like a flying sausage!

That started me wondering how many other mammals have been seen on the reserve. The Flickr site seemed a good point to start. I tried the Search option but hardly any came up because not many people remember to put a proper title or tag identifying their photo. Of course the site hasn’t been in operation for very long, having been set up in September 2013. And the FoHESC blog also only started in March 2012. But I trawled through and found a few more. These are notes on what I have found about mammals in the Linford Lakes reserve, in approximate order of size. Perhaps other members would be able to add to these sightings.

Tony Bedford and I saw a Water Shrew from the Woodland Hide on 28 February 2013. We could just see the dark grey body moving about at the bottom of the reeds. It would be looking for invertebrates such as dragonfly larvae but as they are semi-aquatic they also eat beetles and worms along the banks.

Small mammals such as mice and voles are much commoner than we realise because they tend to hide away in their burrows or only venture out in the dark. That’s the problem with being so tasty. They are first choice for barn owls, foxes and kestrels, which only resort to worms and frogs if the rodents are too nippy to be caught. Badgers will also take them if they find a nest. Mice are slightly larger than voles, with longer tails, bigger eyes and sticking-up ears.

Bank Vole

Many visitors will have seen Bank Voles darting in and out of the wood pile in front of the Woodland Hide. They love nuts and seeds and don’t wait for nightfall before nipping out for a scattered peanut. They were photographed by Neil Schofield in February 2012 and Tony Bedford (whose moniker on Flickr is bankvole5) in early 2014. Then the wood pile was taken over by brown rats and the voles disappeared (hopefully not down a rat’s throat). But just recently Peter Connor photographed one there in February. So, have the rats gone? Another species is a Short-tailed Field Vole which is as common but rarely seen in daylight. Perhaps we should dissect some barn owl pellets to find out if they are on the reserve.

In the Blog of October 2014 Tony Bedford has an amusing account of offering to help eradicate rodents from the Hanson Centre offices. He caught seven Wood Mice (also known as Long-tailed Field Mouse) in live traps baited with seed and apple and released them elsewhere in the reserve where their prolific bodily evacuations won’t matter.

We know there are Moles because we see the mounds of earth they kick out while digging their tunnel systems underground. They eat worms and insects and whatever they can find while occasionally emerging above ground, usually young ones dispersing to other territories. They are regarded as a pest in agricultural areas, but they reduce harmful larvae, and their tunnels help to drain soils.

Some of us took advantage of Gordon Redford’s moth and bat evening last year. We didn’t see a lot in the dusk but it was obvious from the beeping of our hand-held gadgets that bats were communicating. We could just see outlines of the smallest and the largest British bats, Pipistrelles and Noctules, as they fluttered overhead.

Brown Rat

The log pile in front of the Woodland Hide was home to bank voles until the Brown Rats moved in and evicted them in the late autumn of 2014. Three or more were seen at any one time, and they became brave and agile enough to climb the bird tables to feast on the seed. I even photographed rats feeding communally with squirrels, great tits and a marsh tit. Some people like them but they might carry diseases to birds and other mammals.


Grey Squirrel

Apart from rats, are Grey Squirrels the most controversial animal on the reserve? Comments heard in the Woodland Hide vary from “They are so cute” to “They’re eating all the peanuts so the birds don’t get a look in”. I think the most I’ve counted was six at once, swinging in from all directions as soon as new seed is put out. They were introduced to this country in the 1850s, and are blamed for damage to trees by bark stripping and for outcompeting or spreading a pox virus to red squirrels. They also are fond of eggs and young birds from nests that they can easily reach. The Government announced plans to extend culling by giving grants to landowners who had identified the animals as an issue and who wanted to receive funding for woodland and other related projects. Perhaps their days are numbered, but I would be sorry to see them all disappear.

Rabbits are rarely seen, although Peter Garner photographed one in June 2014. I often see them grazing in farmland during the day but usually they prefer dusk and dawn, when I don’t tend to visit the reserve. Probably only the rough fields and woodland edges of the reserve are suitable. They would be prey for foxes, stoats, tawny owls, and buzzards, and survive by having acute hearing and eyesight and bolting down their burrows at the first hint of danger.

Stoat

Weasels and Stoats have been recorded on the reserve (see Tony Bedford’s photos of December 2012 and July 2014 and Neil Schofield’s of September 2014). But how to tell them apart? There is a size difference (stoats are bigger) and weasels have short tails without a dark tip. They are both fearless and will tackle prey larger than themselves, such as rabbits and rats, as well as mice and voles, and if they get a chance, birds and eggs.

Weasel

In April 2014 Jenny Brown photographed an American Mink peeking out of a drainage pipe. It looked cute, a bit like a small otter, but as semi-aquatic animals they are opportunistic killers of fish, ducklings, small mammals and ground-nesting birds, and are small enough to predate hole dwellers such as water voles and kingfishers. They tend to kill more than they need to eat. They were brought into the country for fur farms, from where they escaped in the late 1950s. They have no natural predators in the UK, although it is thought that the presence of otters reduces their numbers for some reason, perhaps competition for nesting sites. The local Wildlife Trusts try to control them where water voles are threatened by improving habitat and trapping them.


Otter

Otters were first sighted in the River Ouzel in 2007 and at Willen Lake in March 2013. On a dull rainy day in February 2014 I was fortunate to video three otters swimming across the main lake towards the bank behind the Centre offices. Then early this year Neil Schofield was lucky enough to photograph four swimming and Tony Bedford amazingly came across one walking along a footpath and had the presence of mind to grab a wonderful photo. Anglers are not keen on them (and the reserve is next to several fishing lakes). Otters will often take a bite out of a large fish and leave the rest. Neil spotted the otters because they were being followed by crows and gulls, probably hoping for some easy pickings. They are a sign of clear waters and abundant fish stocks. The local Wildlife Trusts try to encourage them by improving habitats and sites for holts.

As nocturnal animals, Badgers are rarely seen. But their footprints are visible in the wet mud and their tidy latrine holes can sometimes be spotted. A sett near a path seems to be in current use. There must be plenty of earthworms around the wet areas. They would also find berries and beetles and wasps’ nests in the ground, and even peanuts if the birds and squirrels leave them around. Unfortunately they often fall prey themselves, to cars on the roads. One was dead on the main road outside the reserve entrance only last month. If they are breeding, young cubs may be above ground by about April.

Many of us regularly see Red Foxes on the reserve, trotting along well-worn paths, or at least smell the pungent aroma they leave behind. I videoed one almost bumping into a muntjac before it was threatened and had to move away. Apparently their eyesight is not as good as their sense of smell or hearing, but they are better at seeing at night-time when they find most of their prey. Neil Schofield has photos of one impudently crossing the bund, where they could do a lot of damage to ground-nesting birds and their eggs. They will eat anything: fruit, grasses, beetles, small mammals, squirrels, fish, frogs.

Muntjac

Many of us have seen one or a pair of Muntjacs, calmly grazing among the trees, until they spot us, at which point they head off out of sight among the bushes with their tails sticking up. Or you might hear one barking like an alarmed dog. They escaped from Woburn Abbey’s parkland in the early 1900s and are now sometimes regarded as a pest, although not as damaging to woodlands as larger deer. They love juicy woodland plants and tree saplings, and any vegetable matter. But it is unlikely that they will inhabit the reserve in such numbers as to do real damage.


It would be interesting to hear of other sightings on the reserve. Has anyone seen hedgehogs, or water voles? One day we may even find evidence of polecats, which have recently bred at College Lake near Tring, and may be expanding their range.



All photographs taken by and copyright Tony Bedford