What I think is opinion based on casual observations, I’m not a qualified scientist and I haven’t kept detailed notes on paper or in spreadsheets. Many years ago I did get accepted, as a mature student , to study Ecology at the UEA. However, I didn’t even last the first day! After arriving at UEA, being processed for my course and sitting my first lecture I went to the student bar and had a pint. I don’t know what was special about that pint, but I decided to get back into my borrowed car and go and buy a ticket to Australia so I could look for some real wildlife…and had some amazing adventures.
Anyway, I’m supposed to be writing about the question, that if I’m seeing lots of Water Voles in my local surroundings then is that a good indicator for the relevant local ecosystem? Well, certainly the local pair of Barn Owls and their three fledged young are doing very well. The Barn Owls have made good use of the relative abundance of Water Voles, it was noticeable that this was particularly the case during the first couple of weeks after the young owls hatched. After this time the owls seemed to vary the diet more, taking lots of smaller rodents. I’m pretty sure that I can work out the reason for this, but I’ll let you speculate on that one.
The fact that there are plenty of Water Voles around must mean that some things have gone in their favour, what are they? – a mild winter? the vegetation that they feed on has experienced good growing conditions? Yes, I believe those factors are true, but there is another vital factor. This as always, is the effect that humans have on their surroundings. In the general area where I live it appears that landowners are sympathetic to the existence of riparian zones.
I’ve read several statistics that nationally Water Vole and Barn Owl numbers have declined massively. Just by personal observations and the observations of others it leaves me hopeful that these two species seem to be showing good signs of recovery in parts of Suffolk and elsewhere.
So, what of the question I asked originally? well, my totally unscientific conclusion – surely the answer is obvious, yes they are a good indicator species. But maybe the most pivotal point that arises from the question is that we can provide nature reserves that act as a refuge for individual species and for ecosystems, but the volume of land that is in private hands makes partnerships with landowners a key factor in the preservation of our planets ecosystems. This is as relevant in Suffolk as it is in the Amazon basin.
I try and get out for a walk every lunchtime, stretch my legs and let my eyes focus on something further away than my computer monitor. I always go to the same place – the Millennium Green in Halesworth, Suffolk.
If you go to the same place all the time then you get to know the flora and fauna that lives there day by day and season by season. So after catching several glimpses of a Kingfisher lately, I’ve become aware of it’s favourite fishing perch.
Today was a hot day, there were dog walkers and families on the green…and there was me , camera in hand, crawling across the grass. As my fellow park goers looked on, I ignored self-dignity and the fact that I might look a bit dodgy, I didn’t care, stealth was the only way to get close enough to photograph this beautiful creature.
Yesterday on the heath, Westleton Heath that is, something caught my eye through the vegetation, a pile of Adders. I counted five, but there may have been more as the pile moved separately but as one, interweaving itself under roots and a carpet of dried gorse needles.
As ever, moving as quickly and quietly as possible without one of the above adverbs being compromised, I tried to get shots of the snakes through the grass. I would have liked some beautiful crisp shots of the Adders in the open, it wasn’t going to happen, they knew very well that I was there and they weren’t going to break cover.
The silver lining is that I paid more attention to the snakes that I had the clearest shot of. One of those happened to be the blue-eyed beauty in the photos above. Adders usually have red eyes (see pic of photo-bomber, below) however, when they are about due to shed their skin, fluid builds up between the outer(old) and the new inner skin, which gives the appearance of the adder having blue eyes. The fluid seems to act as a lubricant aiding with the shedding process and also as a moisturiser, nice, it’s always good to moisturise after exfoliation!…. that’s what my girlfriend says anyway!. Maybe I should finish up with trying to use the correct terminology here – the process of skin shedding in snakes is known as “sloughing”.
About twenty years ago I decided that I would never visit a zoo again. Last Monday I broke that vow for the second time, at the same zoo…..zoo? Actually, it’s known as the Durrell Wildlife Park, but what really allowed me to override my conscience is the knowledge of what sets this place apart from most other animal collections. Infact, I think it’s more appropriate for me to use the name that greets you as you arrive at the main entrance “Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust”.
Gerald Durrells vision was that zoos should not only be somewhere that members of the public could view and learn about animals that they wouldn’t otherwise experience, but that zoos should aid in conservation and be centres for research and education. This vision certainly became a reality on the island of Jersey and the effects have been far reaching. The Trust achieves it’s goals internationally by gathering scientific information from field programmes and animals in the wildlife park, by successful captive breeding programmes for endangered species and by running a conservation academy providing a seat of learning for todays and tomorrows conservationists.
So, on Monday, my good friend James and I met up with Dr Lee Durrell MBE. Lee gave us a guided tour of the “Gerald Durrell Story” exhibition and made us both feel relaxed, inspired and contemplative with her affable nature and utter dedication.
I’m not going to try and relay Gerald Durrell’s story or go into great detail about what a great team Gerald and Lee have been or indeed the amazing work that Lee and her colleagues do now, but I will try and convey the abiding thought that I was left with. It’s the example that some people set to the rest of us, that their desire and dedication to stick to their guns and do what they want to and what they believe in can make an enormous positive difference and not only that, can pave the way for many others to join in the same cause and efforts, it’s a legacy that will live on in this example, forever I hope, but then that’s down to the rest of us too.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a newt swimming , then I turned my head, refocused and…oh hang on a minute…..no, it’s a lizard. I’m no stranger to seeing Grass Snakes swimming but this is the first time I’ve seen a Common Lizard having a go. I’ve witnessed Basilisk Lizards running on water in Central America, and surely they don’t always manage that feat without the odd dunking, so I shouldn’t have been surprised. Infact, after a quick bit of Googling I found that it appears to be quite a regular occurrence for the C.Lizards to have a dip, they can even swim under water.
So, there it is, I shouldn’t be surprised that I’m surprised by nature again, there’s always something new to see and new to learn.
I used to work in a factory, actually I’ve worked in quite a few, but the memory that I’m trying to describe is of a factory in Ipswich, England. It was a warm environment to work in anyway, but on a hot summers day it was really hot in the factory. It was on one of these uncomfortable hot days that I was sweating angrily to myself wondering what the hell I was doing working in a bloody hot factory, when a hoverfly which must have found it’s way through the propped open fire exit appeared . This little creature just hovered there in front of me, what did it want “haven’t you ever seen an underpaid, overworked, hot, pissed off human being before?”, the hoverfly didn’t answer, I carried on working.
I looked up from my work sometime later and the hoverfly returned, in silence we stared at each other. My attention was now completely taken from what I was supposed to be doing, I held out my hand and the amazing little creature landed on my index finger. Without even realising, my inner peace had returned and my wealthy boss and his deadlines no more leant pressure on my being, in a special moment I was freed by a hoverfly.
There are approximately 276 species of Hoverfly in the UK and if you’re into scientific geekery trivia – they beat their wings approximately 120 times a second!