Dave’s News 3May 15th, 2012 by Bruce
Manhood Peninsula Mammals
Mammals as primary and secondary consumers are important indicators of the health and biodiversity of the countryside. The more we understand their requirements the better able we are to create and manage the habitats entrusted to us. Although many are nocturnal and most are shy by nature and therefore not easily observed, by studying the tracks and other signs created by the animals, valuable and reliable evidence of their presence can be obtained.
Regularly I observe the Fox Vulpes vulpes as sniffs and scent marks its way through my garden, occasionally I catch a fleeting glimpse of a Weasel Mustela nivalis out on the hunt and all too often I find of the lifeless body of a Hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus curled up on the roadside. These are mammals that are considered fairly common but how much do we know about these animals and the rest of the mammal population across the Manhood Peninsula?
I decided to explore what information is available to someone wishing to find out more about local mammals? If like me you have a keen interest in nature and an enquiring mind, where do you go to get your questions answered?
The Sussex Mammal Society would seem like a good bet, so I entered their web site. I was not surprised that in keeping with the current trend they promoted Water voles Arvicola amphibius and Otters Lutra lutra but little else it would appear; although in fairness to the group, I felt that if I accepted their offer to become a member, then possibly there laid the key to all knowledge. Sadly as I already subscribe to a number of groups, I had to resist this offer. I was however directed by them to the Sussex Biological Records Centre Sxbrc web site. An interesting site but not that easy to navigate as no matter what question you feed in you are redirected to the home page. There is a form available which allows you submit your enquiry and hopefully get the answers you require. A bit time consuming but with perseverance should be a useful line of enquiry. I continued my search.
I decided to try our very own well-presented MWHG Web site. Alas, apart from the mention of the iconic Water vole and two articles that gave a general reference to Bats and the Brown Hare Lepus capensis, there was no real local mammal connection.
Likewise contributors to the MWHG newsletters rarely refer to local mammal populations, apart from A. amphibius and a couple of undesirables whose presence conflicts with other interests, I of course refer to American Mink Mustela vison and the Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus. Now I hasten to add this is not a criticism of the content of the Web site or Newsletters but rather an observation that there seems to be a distinct lack of interest in local mammals
The Medmerry realignment has proved an interesting project which promises great things to come. Lectures and regular bulletins have provided local people with up to-date developments at the site. We have been reliably informed that priority has been given to the relocation of wildlife whose habitats were lost as a result of the site redevelopment. All good stuff don’t you know, but for mammals, read Water voles, because as far as I can see no other mammals get a mention.
Thankfully I was rewarded with another modicum of success when I homed in on the Pagham Harbour LNR Management Plan 2006-2011. In this document it was reported that 30 species of mammals have been recorded on the Pagham site. Among these sightings were the Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus , Common seal Phoca vitulina and I am reliably informed of a recent record of a Harbour porpoise Phocoena phocoena observed in the harbour, bringing the species total up to 31. The site also mentioned six species of bats which is encouraging news for the faithful who carry our bat detecting throughout the summer months. Leaving out the marine mammals this document would suggest that there could be at least 28 other species of mammals resident across the inland peninsula.
Another source that I hoped would wet my appetite even further was a visit to the Chichester Harbour Conservancy’s Wildlife and Ecology Reports recorded between 2007-2011. Well as expected birds galore, but not a lot on mammals. A mention of marine mammals, four species of bats and the presence of the Water shrew Neomys fodiens at Fishborne meadow just about summed up what they had to offer on the matter.
Unfortunately I don’t number among my contacts any poachers, because in my past experience they are pretty hot when it comes to knowing the whereabouts of both diurnal and nocturnal local wildlife. This left me with one further channel to explore, the MWHG membership.
As conservationist and active volunteers there must be a reservoir of wildlife observations just waiting to be shared. Many of us are gardeners and others love rambling and what better opportunities to glimpse wildlife. Let us not forget a major scoop by a member, whose knowledge of wildlife led to the identification of the Giant Oak Aphid Stomaphis quercus. Working groups and those employed on projects such as the Water vole surveys carried out by Jane Reeve and her volunteers are in a good position to record observations of not only mammals but other species. By jotting down random observations these can later be reviewed and collated. Similarly the leaders of guided walks, irrespective of the theme, could note down sightings which could later be transferred to a report book made available at team leaders meetings. Although initially we would be relying very much on anecdotal evidence, which in short refers to non-scientific observations, such evidence, if deemed reliable would be very helpful to team leaders responsible for site management.
I would hope to be given the opportunity to talk further on this subject at the next team leaders meeting. I would welcome input or comments from fellow team leaders.
Dave’s News 2November 29th, 2011 by Bruce
News from Dave Haldane
November was a wonderful month, not only for the splendid weather but also for the abundance of fungi to be seen around the local area. Very noticeable were the Mycena and Marasmius species found in large numbers along the grass verges in the residential sector. Eye catching in their abundance, these small fungi are however difficult to identify and usually require a sample being taken for closer inspection. Also found here, although in smaller numbers, were clusters of Coprinus atramentarius with their gills rapidly liquefying as an aid to spore dispersal, hence the name ink cap and the smaller Fairies bonnets Coprinellus disseminatus which is very fragile and crumbles rather than deliquescing.
A Yellow-stainer mushroom
Another species often found growing on grass verges, is the edible mushroom look-a-like Agaricus xanthoderma . It is not dissimilar to the edible variety but caution is required if a gastric upset is to be avoided. This species is flatter on top and a simple identification test is to bruise the cap and lower stem with your finger. Should the pressure produce a strong crome-yellow discolouration which persists, then it is very likely you have a Yellow-stainer mushroom which should be discarded.
Along the hedgerow skirting the Kingsway I found several Blewits Lepista nuda growing in small groups. The cap, which is buff to violet in colour with the gills veering towards lilac is fairly distinctive and the pleasant smell is a give-away to the more knowledgeable fungi forager.
Also close to the Kingsway I found a species usually found in a woodland setting. Sulphurtuft Hypholoma fascicularis seen here growing out of the gravel. This is a saprophytic fungus which feeds from decaying wood such as old tree stumps. The example shown is most likely to have emerged from mycelium growing from a buried wooden perimeter post.
Fairy rings are produced by several species of fungi but one of the commonly associated species is the mushroom Marasimius oreades. This is a small mushroom with a cap which rarely exceeds 5 cm across and ranges in colour from tawny to pale brown. The photograph shows one of several distinctive fairy rings found on the grass verge at East Beach Pond. A much larger mushroom, again growing in a ring or horseshoe shape, is the Clouded agaric Clitocybe nebularis. This spectacular species is normally found under heavy scrub and has a pale grey colour cap and can reach 15 cm across.
The Earth Star
The earth star is one of the oddities sometimes encountered when rummaging among the hedgerow leaf litter. I have seen only two species Geastrum pectinatum growing under privet on Selsey Common and a recent find, believed to be a Collared earthstar G. triplex growing under heavy scrub over chalk in the Brandy Hole woods. The cylinder shaped fruiting body acts in the same way as a puff ball by discharging its spores from a small central opening when pressure is applied.
To find attractive little Puff balls you need go no further than Manor Green where Bovista plumbea and Lycoperdon perlatum were frequently observed during October and November.
To sum up: You need not be an expert to try your hand at identifying and recording fungi but you do need to be very knowledgeable if you intend to eat what you find.
Dave’s News 1September 29th, 2011 by Bruce
News from Dave Haldane
This is the first of what l hope will be a regular blog on the MWHG website. The content will consist of items of interest relating to the natural history and heritage across the Manhood Peninsular. Its prime aims are to bring to the members attention up to date news on topical issues and hopefully provide a valuable supplement to the quarterly edition of the MWHG Newsletter. To achieve this we will require regular contributions from other members. Contributions can be e-mailed to Dave Haldane.
East Beach Pond Selsey.
The recent Gold Award at the South and South East in Bloom was a fitting reward for the dedicated work carried out by the regular members of the East Beach Pond sub group. We were however disappointed to have lost valuable marks because of a problem relating to public access. The netlon path which helps stabilise the ground has a tendency to buckle as a result of root disturbance. Despite our best efforts at root pruning and relaying the netlon surfacing, we failed to impress the judge on this issue. This will now be a priority task.
At long last, after many attempts by Mallards to successfully rear a brood beyond the first three weeks, one mother duck has achieved some small success by raising two of her clutch of five ducklings. The mother is very vigilant and the youngsters, who are not quite fully developed, have become masters of concealment.
Earlier broods were lost to predation by the Heron, Carrion crows, Herring gulls, Brown rats and Foxes. One unfortunate duckling was even killed when it was drowned by a Mallard drake, according to information passed to the group.
There are two young English oaks Quercus robur growing on the East Beach Pond site. Both have played host this year to several gall inducing Oak cynipids (Gall-wasps). The Marble gall Andricus kollari, Cherry gall Cynips quercus-folii, Ramshorn gall Andricus aries, Spangle gall Neuroterus quercus baccarium and the interesting Knopper gall Andricus quercus calicis. The latter is caused by a gall wasp which lays its egg in the emerging acorn often distorting its development and destroying its seed. Galls arise as a result of a growth reaction by the host to an invasion by a parasite. The resulting gall with its nutritious tissue is associated with the reproduction cycle of the parasite. Small infestations rarely harm the host plant.
The Brown tail tussock moth caterpillars, which at this time of the year are tucked up within their web tents, have recently been controlled by chemical treatment. Operators working on behalf of Chichester District Council were forced to take action to reduce the 500+ individual webs covering much of the bramble. The caterpillars are covered in barbed hairs which they shed freely and should they come into contact with skin will cause varying degrees of irritation and occasionally lead to breathing difficulties, if inhaled. The use of chemicals was sanctioned solely in the interest of public health and safety. Warning signs have been placed around the site.
Special congratulations to Selsey Town and Manor Green who shared in the environmental awards at this year’s South and South East in Bloom ceremony at Fontwell Park.
Sightings 2 by Peter DriscollSeptember 19th, 2011 by Bruce
Summer is a difficult season for sightings. It is not that there are not plenty of individual specimens to observe and record – far from it. It is more that populations of many species tend to disperse – often to secret or inaccessible spots. With the countryside full of such individuals or pairs my reader is not going to be greatly excited by a report: Blackbird 5. The job of the Sightings columnist is much easier in those seasons when large flocks can be counted with precision and confidence and comparisons drawn with earlier years.
Exceptions to this rule are birds, such as terns, that nest in colonies and which can be observed, counted and even ringed as whole populations. Here, another issue arises as ‘bad guys’ may read an article about a particular nesting site and join the foxes, uncontrolled dogs and other marauders in disturbing would-be nesters. Of course, not all disturbance is wilful but especially for ground-nesting species an off-the-lead dog always represents a potential threat whether or not it is in hunt, play or potter mode. This summer at Pagham Harbour the failure of the 8-10 pairs of common terns to rear any young at all is put down to disturbance – which might include a fox. It is good to be able to report that some little tern chicks survived to the end of July and that lapwings and redshanks also raised young. It is sad to have to be cautious in reporting this success in case disclosure of a breeding site leads directly or indirectly to disturbance of one kind or another.
One summer visitor who had something to shout about was the Sidlesham cuckoo. I suppose the average predator is unlikely to connect the urgently repeated call of the male cuckoo with the furtively deposited egg or the monstrous chick bullying its unsuspecting foster parents. So the breeding cuckoo can afford to make as much noise as he wants attracting mates and cheering our hearts. For there can surely be no other two-note phrase that is so instantly recognisable or so welcome to our northern ears. I am pleased to report that the Sidlesham cuckoo not only ‘sang’ for several weeks from 10 April but once deigned to show himself high in the robinia tree in my garden that is alternately a roost for a pair of wood pigeons, a watch tower for the magpies who have their nest in the neighbour’s garden, and a vertical feeding table for the locally resident green and greater spotted woodpeckers. I am sorry to say that this was my first live sighting of a cuckoo although I did once find one dead on the lawn.
Noteworthy visitors to Pagham Harbour over the past few months have included: hen harrier, marsh harrier, black redstart, short-eared owl, red kite and 2 ospreys.
My pond project continues but this is a pond without water as the water table appears to have fallen far below the deepest part of the pond, or rather hole in the ground. Tempted though I am to buy a liner I have decided to persevere for 3 more seasons in an effort to create a natural pond. I am strengthened in this resolve by my experience of last winter, when the surface of the water in my garden was level with the top of the grass – at least a metre higher than it is now. So, I am watching keenly as summer turns to autumn, accompanied by strong winds and some rain, but not enough to leave a puddle in my pond, sorry, ‘hole’. As the pond fills, I shall try to seal the bottom and sides with liquid clay but apart from occasional watering of the ‘marginal’ plants that mark what should be the margins of the pond I shall not be using tap water to ‘top up’ any shortfall in natural water supplies. The test will come in the spring of next year – but that is a long way off.
The tree where the buzzards perch is again a centre of activity, with various corvines joining forces to mob generally local kestrels and, as today, a pair of buzzards. The birds of prey see the slender branches as potential vantage points but by landing expose themselves to divebombing attacks by the combined squadron of carrion crows, rooks and jackdaws and the auxiliary wing of magpies and the occasional jay. I don’t know where the buzzards have been nesting – and would not tell if I did.
As autumn approaches, our summer visitors are in the course of, or preparing for, migration to warmer winter quarters. I would welcome reports of latest sightings of swallows this autumn on the Manhood peninsula, plus sightings of other species that seem to you to be late. Likewise, keep an eye out for redwings and fieldfares, which spend their winters here. No prizes, but a friendly competition and a small amateur contribution to science.
We would like to include here records of wildlife you have seen on the peninsula – in your garden, on the shore, or just out and about. Please send your sightings (if in doubt indicate with a ‘?’) to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sightings 1 by Peter DriscollJune 28th, 2011 by Bruce
Late Spring 2011
The title of this article is not a comment on the weather but is meant to indicate that these notes are additional both to the Spring 2011 Sightings already published and the Summer 2011 Sightings that will appear later. We are taking advantage of the technological change that affects the whole Newsletter to bring the Sightings articles into sync with the actual seasons and at the same time revising the format to give fewer lists and more analysis. Those who want a more scientific approach are referred to the excellent websites of the British Trust for Ornithology (www.bto.org.uk) and Sussex Wildlife Trust (www.sussexwt.org.uk).
The new Sightings will refer occasionally to ‘phenology’ (the study of the times of naturally recurring phenomena, especially in relation to climatic conditions). We British, with our seemingly built-in urge to talk about the weather, would surely be champions in any phenology Olympics. The first cuckoo in spring is eagerly awaited – mine was heard at 11:44 on 10 April this year and continues to sing daily. Likewise, the swallow – with the knowing proviso ‘one swallow does not make a summer ‘ – is for many the ‘harbinger of summer’. I saw one on 11 April but since then none. Meanwhile they have been observed at Pagham Harbour since 22 March. Can you beat that?
Those of us who live ‘on the doorstep’ of Pagham Harbour Local Nature Reserve need sometimes to be reminded of how privileged we are. The Reserve qualifies for protection under a whole range of national and international measures and, using data kindly supplied by Ivan Lang, Conservation Warden, I would like Sightings to give a snapshot of how our key species are doing as well as reporting the numerous rarities that pass through.
In the past few months numbers in some of our key winter species have been as follows:
|Dark-bellied Brent Goose||2453|
In future articles I hope to see how these winter populations are faring over time and whether any trends emerge.
Pagham Harbour is also important as a breeding site for a number of coastal and wetland species and as a stopover point for numerous passage species. The latter have now arrived or have passed through on their Spring migration but it is worth singling out the lapwings that are nesting probably as a direct result of a Pagham Harbour project.
A key subject for study in phenology is the geographical spread of life forms perhaps in connection with climatic conditions. Climatic conditions have certainly affected my plans for digging a pond in my garden. I began last autumn when the water table was level with the top of the grass ie there was a centimetre of standing water. This made each spadeful of clay incredibly heavy. As I dug down – in the absence of rainfall – the water table fell ahead of me so that I now have a huge, deep dry hole.
The following is taken from the Met Office UK climate website:
With high pressure influencing the weather for most of [April], it was much warmer, drier and sunnier than normal. The mean temperature was 4.0 °C above the 1971–2000 average and it was the warmest April in the series from 1910, being 0.6 °C warmer than April 2007 (now ranked second). In central England, it was the warmest April for over 350 years. The daily maximum temperatures in particular were well above normal, by as much as 6 °C in the south-east. Rainfall was below normal in all areas — exceptionally so over much of southern, central and eastern England where less than 10% of normal rainfall was recorded. It was the second successive very dry month in these areas. Many places in the eastern half of England recorded less than 1 mm of rain. Provisionally, it was the 6th driest April in the series from 1910 and in East Anglia only April 2007 was drier. Sunshine amounts were generally around 150 per cent of normal, making it the sunniest April in the series since 1929.
The pond is supposed to attract wildlife to the garden and when I saw two mallards swimming, one moorhen wading and a pheasant in the pear-tree I was delighted with the success of my plan. However, my delight, like the pond-water, has gradually drained away and the waterfowl have abandoned us. Of course, many birds have deserted the garden to nest elsewhere. Some, like the pheasant, have come back again, in her case without young, with long-term residents like the blackbirds and robins feeding fledglings in the borders.
Maybe among the birds nesting locally is the blackcap who overwintered this year in Sidlesham instead of chasing back to Africa or wherever? He joined in merrily at the new bird feeding station (2 containers). If he does breed after not migrating then perhaps we are seeing evolution at work?
On the subject of feeding stations, mine is currently subject to non-stop raids by rooks and starlings. However, in February and March it really earned its keep with daily visits from troupes of long-tailed tits and, star of the show with his brilliant red underparts, the greater spotted woodpecker clung with claws and tail to the hanging containers. After a hesitant start, the robins also learned to perch on the wire containers rather than trying to eat while hovering.
We would like to include here records of wildlife you have seen on the peninsula – in your garden, on the shore, or just out and about. Please send your sightings (if in doubt indicate with a ‘?’) to: