Vancouver – Skunks, Squirrels and Stanley Park

After an amazing 10 days in the wilds – from the mountains of Squamish; the temperate rainforests and pacific beaches of Tofino; and the whales off Victoria – it felt a little strange to be heading to a city to finish. But Vancouver had plenty of wildlife delights to offer us.

One of the highlights of any trip to Vancouver has to be Stanley Park. Straight across the water from downtown, you can hike the 8km  around the seawall or explore the trails through woodlands, gardens and grassland in the centre. We were hoping to see sea otters and racoons – both of which are common sightings apparently – but we instead settled for the black squirrels which were to be found in abundance. We even found a guilt-free way to feed them – the ground was strewn with conkers, and although they were there for the taking, the squirrels seemed unable to resist one which had been picked up and rolled towards them!

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Black squirrel with a horse chestnut in Stanley Park, Vancouver.

These squirrels are black forms of the invasive eastern gray squirrels – Sciurus carolinensis – the same species which have largely deposed the reds from the UK. The population in Stanley Park is said to have originated from breeding pairs given as a gift from the Mayor of New York in 1909 and released into the Park.

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The progressing shades of autumn shown in the maple leaves in Stanley Park

As with any big city, the feral pigeons were to be found everywhere. These are easily vilified and despised by many city residents, but they are a perfect example of a species whose niche overlaps with the habitats we create for ourselves and which thus thrives alongside us. These birds originated from rock doves which were birds of sea cliffs and mountains – I always wonder whether they would be seen differently if it were puffins who had made the leap into the mainstream.

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A local offering help to a tourist…. or more likely angling for food!

Herons were abundant around the city – as you might expect for a seaside conurbation – and as in other urban environments, they seemed easily at ease with the bustle of passers by and barely registered your presence. We saw them motionless in the waters off Stanley Park; perched on boats in the harbour; or stalking the boardwalks of the marina.

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Grey heron stalking away from a coke machine on the marina in Vancouver

Cormorants were another species which made use of the urban infrastructure in close proximity to the sea to roost between feeding.

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A cormorant having a scratch – this one was perched on Granville Island Bridge

Amazingly, Vancouver is home to some rather impressive mammals such as the coyote. You can see recent sightings on an interactive map which shows their pawprints across the city.

Whilst we didn’t see a coyote, a nice surprise on our last night was a skunk which wandered out across the road and pottered along the sidewalk foraging for morsels. It was only after it had gone that I remembered the cartoon stereotypes from childhood and wondered if I’d been a little blase! This skunk had the swagger of an old hand who’d been around a few years and was fairly unconcerned with a little attention from passers by. We left it ambling off down a side street, disappearing to a white stripe in the darkness between the streetlights.

On our very last day in Canada, we went to see an exhibition of Emily Carr’s paintings before catching our flight home. I’d never come across her work before but her forest pieces were captivating. They are impressionistic without being abstract and give an overwhelming evocation of the life and flow of the BC forests which we had become familiar with over the two weeks. You can read more about the exhibition and find out more about here work here.

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Autumn leaves turning orange in the streets on our last day in Canada.
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Victoria: Humpbacks to Hummingbirds

Our final stop on Vancouver Island itself was in Victoria – out on the eastern tip.​

​The highlight of our stay there was the opportunity to see orcas and humpback whales on a trip out into the straights between Victoria and the mountains of the Olympic National Park beyond. We went out on a zodiac and bounced across the waves – not the ideal transport for the seasick ecologist but I soon forgot when we found a pod of orcas moving gracefully through the open seas. The waters around here play host to resident orcas who are present all year round; but this pod was passing through; these are referred to as transient. Interestingly, the two groups have different feeding habits – the resident pods are largely salmon-eaters whilst transient pods tend to eat seals and other marine mammals.

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Members of a transient pod of orcas

After spending 20 minutes watching the orcas, we moved on to watch a pair of humpback whales which were perhaps even more impressive. I know that ‘whales are big’ is about the most basic fact you can learn about them, but I’d never seen one up close before to be able to appreciate just how big they are! They would break the surface to spout at regular intervals of 20-30 seconds and repeat this 5-6 times before arching their backs for a deep dive which results in their tail breaking the surface and following them down to the depths where they would hunt for 5 minutes before returning to the surface for air.

On the way back, we got some great views of the sealions on a small island just off the coast – the smell caught up with you soon afterwards!

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Steller sealions seen on the way back to harbour in Victoria

I had made some assumptions about the ethics of whale watching, in that it must be OK to be sanctioned, but after returning to dty land, I did a little research on the potential impacts upon these species. From the work I do in the UK with bats, I know that a species which relies upon echolocation for navigation and hunting will change their behaviour in response to noise – this is seen through avoidance behaviour or changes in hunting or foraging tactics. It turns out that there is evidence that whale watching can have a similar impact upon whales.

The sites I found which deal with this issue didn’t really give me a satisfactory final answer. Partly this is because these trips occur worldwide, with different regulatory regimes and some wildly different ideas of appropriate practise. And partly because the research simply isn’t there to assess the significance of an impact – the mechanism is understood and an impact demonstrated in some circumstances but the real impact of this growing industry may only become apparent in the long term.

The whale watching tours leaving from Victoria do follow a strict code of practise, and the various boats we saw watching the orcas observed these well. This would significantly reduce the impact in comparison to unregulated tours, but whether it is enough is still questionable. It was an amazing experience, but I would think twice before going out again. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society express concerns over trips from Vancouver Island to visit the resident population as, by definition, they are much more likely to suffer from the repeated visits from boats on a daily basis whereas the transient pods are likely to receive much more short-term disturbance.

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Humpback whales spouting off Victoria, BC with the mountains of Olympic Park in the background.

One unexpected reminder of home was walking through the streets at dusk and hearing the trees alive with song. We had watched starlings descending into the city as the day drew to a close and there, in the middle of Government Street amongst the lights and cars, was an evening roost! A free concert for all those who passed by.

The other creature I was really hoping to see was a hummingbird. Victoria gets a number of species through the summer, but their reliance on the seasonal resource of nectar means that most migrate for the winter to seek food. With such a fast wingbeat, their energy expenditure means that they can’t go too long without a sugary refill! We were too late for most, but one exception is Anna’s hummingbird – these have the northernmost year-round range of any hummingbird and are regularly counted in Christmas bird lists for the city. On the last day, I read a tip which suggested listening for the male singing from the top of a tree. I had been sitting a few moments listening to what I assumed was some sort of machinery in the street outside our apartment, before realising that this series of buzzes, chips and whistles was the bird I was hoping to see! Looking for all the world like a pair of outsized bumblebees, a pair were skittering around the top of a street-tree, settling briefly before buzzing onwards and out of sight.

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Anna’s Hummingbird settled in a street tree in Victoria, BC.

The final stop was a few days in Vancouver itself before heading back home – final post coming soon!

Tofino – Beaches, Big Trees and Bears

After leaving Cathedral Grove, we made for Tofino out on the western coast in the Pacific Rim National Park. The town is situated at the tip of a peninsula amongst a cluster of islands and inlets.

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Rather than three trees – this photograph is actually taken in the space between three leaders which arise from a single bole.

The temperate rainforests along this stretch of the coast are stunning – we walked the steps and boardwalks through the luscious greenery admiring the towering trees above and their tiny delicate lichen analogues below. The parallels with the temperate rainforests in the UK – such as those found in Wales – are apparent through their determination to green every available space – as you can see in the image of the wooden boardwalk below!

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Boardwalk covered with mosses and ferns

One day we walked through the forest to reach Schooner Cove – one of the stretches of pristine sandy beaches which line the Pacific – and another, we walked the length of MacKenzie Beach watching surfers learning the waves whilst sandpipers foraged along the shoreline.

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Sandpipers and sanderlings feeding along the shoreline in MacKenzie Beach

The beaches around Vancouver Island were almost all headed up with bleached-white driftwood – presumably pulled clear to lie well above the strandline. These are no mere branches – the timber at the top is often entire trees. Where these piles were well established, they provided nice little ecological niches, with plants establishing within the hollows and small birds foraging in amongst the cavities their huge trunks crated.

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Driftwood piled artistically with a crow sat at the apex – corvids were frequently to be seen foraging for morsels along the shore

Whilst we saw plenty of the grey squirrels, sadly all to familiar in the UK now, we also saw some much smaller species too, such as this one which popped up to see us at Long Beach. There are two similar species – Douglas and American Red squirrels – which are tricky to tell apart to the unfamiliar eye. Fortunately their distributions are rather different – Douglas squirrel is not found on Vancouver Island.

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American Red squirrel along Long Beach, Tofino

In the late summer/early autumn, the black bears frequently spend time along the shore, foraging under rocks and boulders for crabs and other rockpool treats. We had hoped to join a kayaking trip out to see the bears, but the organisers said it was too late as the bears were heading back inland to follow the salmon runs. However another outfit just around the corner was still running trips – sadly not by kayak – so we hopped on and went out to watch them! The tour leader was very experienced and spotted the ‘right kind’ of black blob at a great distance when it was merely a spec on the shoreline. On closer approach, he cut the engine and idled slowly and silently close enough for us to watch the bears without disturbing them.

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Black bear foraging along the shoreline in Tofino

Watching the bears overturn the boulders as though they were simply pebbles to be pushed out of their way allows you to appreciate quite how powerful these creatures really are. Whilst we never saw another wild bear on our travels, it was great to be able to observe this natural behaviour without needing to worry too much about our exit strategy!

​On our last day, we took a kayaking trip out around Clayoquot Sound, including a walk around the Big Tree Trail on Meares Island. The staggering trees include cedars which are between 1,000 and 1,500 years old. These spectacular beings came scarily close to destruction in 1984 when MacMillan Bloedel prepared to log the island. The Tla-o-qui-aht Tribal Council declared the entire Island a Tribal Park and successfully gained an injunction against the company which has allowed these treasures to be preserved to this day. The arrogance of the proposal to log the island hit me quite strongly – after standing for 1,000 years or more, why should this generation and this company decide that these ancient trees were theirs to take? Much more chilling is to think of the vast expanses of forest which didn’t escape this fate.

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The cloud hanging over the wooded islands around Clayoquot Sound, Tofino
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The view from the kayak on a beautiful Sunday morning.

Next stop – Victoria out on the eastern tip of Vancouver Island!

 

Vancouver Island – Sea-mist in Nanaimo

After Squamish, we headed out to Horseshoe Bay and caught the late afternoon ferry across to Vancouver Island – landing in Nanaimo just as darkness fell.

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Our first sunset views of Vancouver Island on the ferry from the mainland
We stayed just up the coast a little from the town itself, and woke the next morning to see the sea concealed with an inversion lit by blue skies and sunshine above.

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The mist beginning to clear over the ocean between Lantzville and Vancouver as the morning wore on
We hastily corrected our plans and headed out to Moorecroft Park in Nanoose to make the most of the surreal scenery. Here we walked down to the silent shoreline and watched hawks, vultures and cormorants whilst the mist rolled down the wooded hillside to reach the sea.

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Mist rolling down from Vancouver Island to reach the sea in Moorecroft Park, Nanoose.

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Mist rolling down from Vancouver Island to reach the sea in Moorecroft Park, Nanoose.

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Trees barely visible through the mist at Moorecroft Park, Nanoose.

Turkey vulture beside the shoreline in Moorecroft Park, Nanoose
We spent the afternoon walking around Protection Island, watching seals in the harbour from the Floating Pub, before heading inland the next day to Cathedral Grove.

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The view up amongst the giants of Cathedral Grove
Sadly, the main draw of Cathedral Grove is that it is one of the few remaining stands of the old growth forest which is otherwise now largely lost. Here, the largest trees are 800 years old, measuring 9m in circumference and towering to a colossal 75m. This habit is markedly different to the growth patterns of old broadleaf trees in the UK – I recently climbed some 35m high black poplars but this is easily the highest I’ve ever been in the canopies. Our broadleaf trees grow oldest when they are coppiced or pollarded and never reach these heights – for example the Bowthorpe Oak – thought to be over 1000 years old, has a circumference of 13m but stands barely 15m high.

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Dipping into the edge of Lake Cameron
As well as admiring the trees themselves, there were the decorations of bryophytes draped over the branches and hanging down in straggled strands – the most appropriately named being the Witches Hair lichen.

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Trailing bryophytes amongst the lower branches of the confers in Cathedral Grove.
Next stop – heading out to admire the rainforests and the Pacific Ocean in Tofino!

Squamish – Sea to Sky

We’ve just returned from an amazing couple of weeks spent on and around Vancouver Island in British Columbia and I’m still processing all the sights and experiences. Vancouver island is extensive, BC is huge and Canada is just colossal – I’m aware that we only scratched the smallest surface of this stunning destination but I thought I’d share below a few of the highlights from the trip. First stop, Squamish!

This town is nestled between the mountains and the sea and claims the title of ‘the Outdoor Recreation Capital of Canada‘. I can see why… whilst my fingers itched to join the climbers scaling boulders and pitches all around, we had only a few days and there was adventure enough without taking to the vertical!

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A view of the Strawamus Chief, taken at sunset from Smoke Bluffs with Squamish town nestled below

The Strawamus Chief hangs above the town and we were lucky enough to have a perfect view of this iconic mountain from our window. At night you could watch the stars wheel overhead whilst mornings would see the peak revealed or otherwise concealed by rolling clouds which permitted glimpses in silhouette before billowing it back into obscurity.

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Starlapse over the Strawamus Chief

We walked the Chief trail which can take you up to all three consecutive peaks of this enticing prominence. Although time conspired against a view from the peak, the route up from Shannon Falls was spectacular – a combination of natural path and the built elements such as log-steps and boardwalks required to surmount the otherwise impassable. The forest which hugged the base and through which the path ascended was our first real view of the eerily beautiful bryophyte-hung conifers which we were to become familiar with over the next few weeks.

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Shannon Falls etching its way through the deep conifer forests which crowd around it

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A grey second day took us out along the Mamquam river which empties into the Sound at the foot of the town. The salmon runs were just beginning and we walked through the gravel banks amongst saplings and driftwood to watch their backs breaching the ripples as they spawned in the shallows.

These runs bring the eagles in the winter where thousands can be seen taking advantage of the fish – the record count in 1994 was 3,769! Sadly we were a little too early  as they peak in November.

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The humped back of a spawning male pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuska) breaching the water in Mamquam river.

The salmon die after spawning and we saw many dead along the gravel banks, as well as failing and foundering in the river itself. This seemed a sad sight, but the runs of salmon from the oceans to the rivers, and their subsequent demise in freshwater, are a vital ecosystem function in transferring nutrients from one location to the other. The fish are caught or scavanged by a wide variety of species, from bears and eagles to mink, otter, gulls and vultures. This is transferred to the land through droppings, but also manually moved by bears in particular who will take the fish into the forest but often feed only on the most select parts, leaving the rest to be scavanged or simply to break down and decompose. One study in south-eastern Alaska found that up to 25% of the nitrogen in the foliage of trees was derived from spawning salmon which makes this miraculous migration a key component of the forest ecosystem.

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One of the many salmon carcasses which contribute to a vital upstream flow of nutrients

Our stay backed onto Smoke Bluffs and we took a couple of walks in the trails which weave through this forest. With huge boulders scattered amongst the conifers, and no shortage of mountain bikers willing to throw themselves down them, the trails were somewhat more challenging than the average stroll through the woods but all the more exciting for it. Whilst the evidence of others was apparent, we found ourselves alone; the sense of stillness and quiet in those woods was unlike everything I’ve ever experienced, shielded by high canopies above with all sounds softened by the sea of ferns which lapped the edges of the trail. Down low too were some beautiful lichen forests, emulating their larger neighbours in miniature.

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Lichens growing within a bed of moss upon the rocks in Smoke Bluff park

One our last day, before heading on to Horseshoe Bay to catch the ferry across to Nanaimo, we caught the Sea to Sky Gondola for a bird’s eye view of the landscape. Sea to Sky is the name of the route and the region, and it’s not hard to see why – the view from the 885m high peak out across Howe Sound shows what a stunning combination of the elements this place is!

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The view out over Howe Sound from the top of the Sea to Sky Gondola

At the summit station were creatures which I first thought to be butterflies, but on closer inspection realised were grasshoppers. I think these are Trimerotropis species and their sustained bouts of flight were unlike any I have seen our UK species do. These noisy ascents would last 10 seconds or more and had the air of a display about them – this is something which females of the genus are known to do when receptive to mating. Whilst conspicuous on the wing, they were perfectly camouflaged against the rocks, disappearing if you took your eye off them only to reappear precisely where you left them!

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Trimerotropis grasshopper on the rocks at the Sea to Sky summit

Next stop – Vancouver Island!

 

Vegetation Layers in an English Woodland

The different layers within a woodland are one of those classic illustrations from ecology textbooks – usually a cartoon graphic showing how the structure changes as you move from the ground up to the canopy. The distinctions are indicative – there is often plenty of overlap between the layers – but these are a useful way of thinking about the woodland in terms of its ecological function beyond what simply meets the eye. Helping you to see the wood for the trees, if you will!

We undertake tree climb and inspect surveys for bats in a variety of settings – from individual trees in gardens to well-spaced parklands and dense woodlands. Each of these gives a different insight into vertical variation but a recent climb in an oak and ash woodland gave a nice opportunity to illustrate how this changes in a typical ancient woodland habitat.

English Oak Woodland Structure
Photographs taken at 2m (bottom), 6m (middle) and 12m (top) in an English oak and ash woodland to illustrate the variation in spatial structure.

The number of ‘layers’ and their distinctions vary between sources and across countries – I’ve seen three defined layers, nine defined layers and every number in between delineated in various graphics. I’m going to keep this simple and focus on the three broad categories which are shown in these photos:

Field Layer – taken at 2m height

Ground Layer
Photograph taken at 2m showing the field or ground layer in an English oak and ash woodland

 

This photograph encapsulates what could be considered the field layer, the ground layer or the forest floor depending on which divisions you use. Broadly, this is the view from the ground – the most apparent vista for most visitors to the woodlands but the scene varies greatly as the year progresses. In secondary woodland or more botanically diminished sites, this can be a mass of ruderals such as nettles, cow parsley and bramble whilst some plantation woodlands can be head-high in bracken. In ancient woodland – such as this – springtime sees a flush of ancient woodland species which time their flowering early in the season before the canopy closes overhead. As May arrives and the trees and shrubs come into leaf, the main event on the forest floor is already coming to an end. Some species flourish later in the season but in September, the vegetation has largely died back often leaving a relatively bare floor. The dominant vegetation remaining is therefore the trunks of the trees and the shrubs which rise above the field layer to leaf and flower higher.

Scrub Layer – taken at 6m height

Shrub Layer
Photograph taken at 6m showing the hazel-dominated shrub layer in an English oak and ash woodland

This could be described as the under-canopy, the scrub layer, the shrub layer or the under-storey layer. This is the level at which the shrubs flourish – those smaller woody species which often include hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel, holly, dogwood and elder, amongst others. These shrubs can often form such a dense canopy that the view to the treetops above can be quite obscured – something of an issue when you’re searching for bat roosts! In this instance, hazel and hawthorn dominate and as the photograph shows, they form a dense and highly cluttered environment some 6m above the ground.

Canopy Layer – taken at 12m height

Canopy Layer
Photograph taken at 12m showing the space between the shrub layer and the woodland canopy in an English oak and ash woodland

This is up at the top of the trees, where the taller trees branch and close their canopies to claim first use of the sunlight available. I’m not right in the canopy in this photograph – the trees did not require us to climb to the peaks – but this nicely illustrates the shrub layer below with the high canopy of the oak and ash above. In some forests, the species composition includes a sub-canopy of smaller trees – such as rowan, silver birch and field maple – which form a layer between the lower shrubs and the taller climax species. This photograph nicely illustrates how much of a space can open up between distinct layers within the higher reaches of the forest structure.

Why does it matter?

An appreciation of how the character and conditions of a woodland change on a vertical plane are just as important, although a little harder to appreciate, than the variation on the ground. The illustrations above are for just one section of just one woodland and each type of species composition but they help to give a visual idea of how this works.

One example of how this type of variation is important is when considering how bats might use a habitat. Different species of bat have different hunting characteristics and habitat preferences, and this often relates to how open or cluttered a habitat is. Species such as brown long-eared are highly maneuverable and will glean insects from leaves so a reasonably cluttered woodland environment suits them perfectly. At the other end of the spectrum, a noctule hawks in open space, often flying over fields and catching its prey on the wing. Species such as pipistrelle are typically characterised as edge specialists which forage along woodland edges, hedgerows and other similar environments.

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Pipistrelle bats are typically described as ‘edge’ species which forage along the edges of vertical features, such as a woodland edge

The field layer of the woodland looks ideal for a species such as brown long-eared but you might think that it would be too cluttered and enclosed for other species. However an insight into the structure above the shrub layer reveals a mosaic of open space and leaf cover which provides perfect ‘edge’ habitat for a hunting pipistrelle, and the voids between the trees would be perfectly navigable for a noctule in search of a roost. This was the subject of a talk by Ian Davidson-Watts at a recent BCT Bats and Woodland conference which you can read more about in this blog post here.

If you’re looking for tree climb and inspect surveys for bats, do check out this page for further details!

 

Heather Hanami anyone?

One of the cultural aspects I love about Japan is the observation and celebration of the seasons. This is manifested perhaps most strongly in the Hanami – flower viewing.

In the springtime, the cherries across the country put on spectacular displays and people flock for celebrations and selfies. There is a blossom forecast on the weather report to allow people to plan their visits; people gather with friends and families to have picnics and parties under the trees in the parks; and there are special blossom trains to take you on scenic journeys through the cherry orchards.

Whilst cherries are popular as street and city trees in the UK, and are occasionally planted in such numbers as to be worth of a pilgrimage, I wonder whether our most appropriate focus for Hanami might be heather viewing.

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Many of our upland areas are transformed in August and September as heath and moorland are washed purple with the flowering of heather. The effect is truly spectacular and well worthy of a pilgrimage one sunny late-summer day. Putting aside the question of ‘naturalness’, and certainly the practises which are predominantly responsible for the habitat, the flowering of the heather represents an easily accessible way for everybody to appreciate nature and reconnect with the shifting of the seasons.

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Before the autumn leaves turn – a phenomena equally enjoyed by the Japanese as momojigari – I’d suggest a sojourn to the uplands to enjoy one of the last great shows of summer while you can!

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If you do take a trip – keep your eyes peeled for the smart little heather colleges bees which time their lifecycle around the flowering of this species. Find out more about them in my blog post here!

30 Days Wild 2017

It’s the 1st of July and that means that the Wildlife Trust’s annual month-long challenge of #30dayswild is over for another year.

Last year, I wrote a blog every day for #30dayswild but this year I’ve had to settle for a tweet – so this is my retrospective of highlights from June 2017.

I am incredibly lucky to have a job which, along with writing reports and assessments, also gets me out in the wild to undertake surveys. Despite this, here are my top tips for engaging with wildlife on a day to day basis.

#1 Get out every day!

This might seem like an obvious one, but there”s nearly always time to connect with nature if you make the space. If I am in the office for a day, I always get out at lunchtime, rain or shine, for some fresh air and exercise. Sometimes I’ll have a target in mind – visiting the wool carder bees down in the Sensory Garden in town for example. Other times I’ll just wander, but never yet have I returned without encountering something unexpected – whether this is a grasshopper landing on my hand or finding a new orchid colony in the wind and rain. If you’re receptive to the wildlife around you, there will be something to intrigue you! The following photographs are all lunchtime encounters:

#2 Keep your eyes peeled for surprises

When I’m out and about on surveys, we had particular targets in mind. One day we might be surveying for newts, other times we’ll be carrying out habitat surveys or scoping for suitable bat roosting trees. But the opportunity to be out and about provides ample opportunity to witness something new – here are a few from surveys during June:

 

 

 

#3 Spend time in your garden

Spending a day out in the garden at a weekend allows an insight into all the activity and life which occurs every day when I’m out at work. There’s something special about wildlife in your garden – especially if they are attracted by, or using, things which you have provided for them – be this native wildflowers for the bees; the pond for damselflies; or the log pile for woodlouse spiders and frogs.

I am aware that I’m lucky to have a garden and some people do not have this space – but the principle still applies to a local park or even a patch of grassland at the road verge. I always feel a stronger connection with wildlife close to home, which you don’t need a special trip to see.

 

 

#4 Take the time to visit somewhere special

Despite stating that wildlife close to home feels particularly special in #3 above, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take the opportunity to explore somewhere new and exciting when you can. The Wildlife Trust manage some incredibly diverse and exciting reserves around the country, and the vast majority are free to explore.

I love the Nature Finder App which the Trust have produced – this maps their reserves and will show you which ones are close to you, along with details of what you might find there. As I travel around a fair bit, there are often opportunities to call by somewhere new and see something unique. When you’re planning a long journey, I would urge you to check it out and find somewhere magical to stop off on the way. Or use it simply to find somewhere new closer to home.

These are all opportunistic stop-offs when I was driving close by in June:

 

 

#5 It doesn’t hurt to have a holiday booked in the middle of #30dayswild!

We had an amazing week away in the Dolomites at the beginning of June and spent the time walking the mountains and valleys and experiencing some amazing flora. If you feel like perusing the photographs, you can read more in my blog post here. Otherwise, here are a few #30dayswild highlights!

 

 

 

 

 

#6 Keep it going!

Why stop at #30dayswild – keep up the habit and enjoy wildlife all year round – you can tweet #365dayswild to share your experiences and don’t forget the Wildlife Trusts who have masterminded this campaign – they do some excellent work preserving some of our most precious sites but they need your support!

  1. Find your local Wildlife Trust here.
  2. Get the Naturefinder app here.
  3. And keep up to date on the latest news from the WIldlife Trusts here!

Wildflowers of the Dolomites

This blog post steps outside of my usual UK sphere and across to Europe to share some photographs from our holiday in the Dolomites. We spent 6 fantastic days in the Val Gardena and mid-June was the perfect time  for exploring the mountains and valleys at the beginning of the real flush of summer flowers.

We stayed in Ortesei – a popular skiing resort in the winter which lent its infrastructure to summer explorers such as us. Two cablecars and a funicular railway would take you up to 2,500m to alpine meadows to the south of the town, pine forests to the north and the scree-slopes below ancient elevated reefs to the west. With the help of these we walked over 100km of trails during out time there and passed through a wide range of habitat with the variety of flora to match.

This was a fascinating experience for me as an ecologist. Firstly, it was an opportunity to see a number of species which I would dearly love to see in the UK, from the much-celebrated lady’s slipper orchid to the delicate lesser butterfly orchid. I also saw a wide range of species I would recognise in the UK only as a garden ornamentals, such as the daphne and orange lilies. Then there were a whole host of species which could be identified to genus through their correspondence with familiar UK species, but which I had never encountered before such as the alpine colt’s foot and the alpine pasque flower. From these examples a naming system occured to me, similar to the way this landlocked ecologist deals with new coastal species. Whereas the prefix ‘sea…’ works with familiar-but-different‘s beside the coast (think sea mayweed, sea holly, sea campion), so the prefix ‘alpine’ often seems to work in the Dolomites! Finally there were utter unknowns which were quite unlike anything I had seen before – spotted gentian and box-leaved milkwort to name but two!

I worked through my charity-shop copy of ‘Mountain Flowers of Europe’, googled latin names of the right genus from the Plant Life of the Dolomites and refered to this excellent blog post. For the last few, I appealed to twitter and as usual for the botanical community there, some incredibly generous and helpful people offered identifications. However this slightly scattershot approach to ID has led to a number of ‘possibly’ and ‘probably’ ID’s whilst others might quite simply be wrong. If you spot anything in the following collection of photographs which looks awry, I would welcome any corrections or confirmations!

I would highly recommend this region, and Ortesei in particular, as an excellent spot for the extensive trails, the beautiful wildflowers and the predictably enjoyable food and drink. And that’s to say nothing of the marmots!

Alternatively, for an armchair whirl through some of the flora which these mountains have to offer, scroll on!

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Dark columbine – Aquilegia atrata
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Trumpet gentian – Gentiana acualis
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Lady’s slipper orchid – Cypripedium calceolus
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Lesser butterfly orchid – Platanthera bifolia
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Lesser butterfly orchid – Platanthera bifolia
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Yellow foxglove – Digitalis sp. – perhaps D.micrantha
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Foxglove – Digitalis sp. – probably D. lutea or D. ambigua
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Orange lily – Lilium bulbiferum
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Woundwort – probably Stachys recta
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Unidentified saxifrage – possibly Saxifraga hostii.
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Lupin – Lupinus sp.
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Rampion – probably Phyteuma spicata, P. scheuchzeri or P. betonicifolium
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Spotted gentian – Gentiana punctata
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Spotted gentian – Gentiana punctata
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Alpine rhododendron – Rhododendron ferrugineum
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Gentian – possible spring gentian – Gentiana verna
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Violet – Viola sp.
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Daisy-leaved speedwell – Veronica bellidoides
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Butterwort – Pinguicula leptoceras
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Bird’s nest orchid – Neottia nidus-avis
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Goat’s beard – Aruncus dioicus

 

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False lily-of-the-vally – Maianthemum bifolium
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St Bernard’s-lily – Anthericum ramosum
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Meadow clary – Salvia pratensis
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Campanula – Campanula sp.
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Rock soapwort – Saponaria ocymoides
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Solomon’s seal – Polygonatum sp
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Cow wheat – perhaps Melampyrum sylvaticum
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Meadow clary – Salvia pratensis
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Thistle – probably Cirsium erisithales
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Orchid – Dacylorhiza sp.

 

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Herb paris – Paris quadrifolia
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Rock rose – possibly Helianthemum alpestre
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Alpine clematis – Clematis alpina
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Spurge – Euphorbia sp.
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Black vanilla orchid – Nigritella nigra
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Alpine snowbell – Soldanella alpina
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Daphne striata
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Alpine yellow-violet – Viola biflora
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Moss campion – Silene acualis
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Oxlip – Primula elatior
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Crocus – Crocus albiflorus
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Mountain avens – Dryas octopetela
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Trumpet gentian – Gentiana acualis
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Rampion sp. – Phytsuma sp.
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Geranium sp. – possibly G. pratense

 

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Box-leaved milkwort – Polygala chamaebuxus
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Box-leaved milkwort – Polygala chamaebuxus ssp grandiflora
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Sainfoin – probably Onobrychis montana
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Alpine colt’s-foot – Homogyne alpina
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Alpine colt’s-foot – Homogyne alpina
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Heart-leaved globe daisy – Globularia cordifolia
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Heart-leaved globe daisy – Globularia cordifolia
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Mountain everlasting – Antennaria dioica
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Primrose sp.
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Hoary plantain – Plantago media
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Alpine bistort – Polygonum viviparum
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Clover – probably Trifolium montanum
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Catchfly – probably Silene italica
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Hypochaeris uniflora
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Fragrant orchid – Gymnadenia sp.
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Fragrant orchid – Gymnadenia sp.
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Alpine aster – Aster alpinus
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Alpine pasque flower – Pulsatilla alpina
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Trumpet gentian – Gentiana acualis

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Pasque-flower – probably parsley-leaved pasqueflower – Pulsatilla alpina
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Field gentian – Gentianella campestris
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Anemone sp. – possibly A. trifolia
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Anemone sp. – possibly A. trifolia

 

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Meadow rue – Thalictrum aquilegifolium
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Sandwort – probably Moehringia muscosa
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Round-leaved wintergreen – Pyrola rotundifolia
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Round-leaved wintergreen – Pyrola rotundifolia
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Poppy – possibly Papaver alpinum
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Alpine butterwort – Pinguicula alpina

 

Green hairstreaks at Barnack Hills and Holes

On the way back from a site survey in Cambridgeshire, I had the opportunity to call by and take my lunch break in Barnack Hills and Holes in the sunshine. Having seen a photograph posted by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust the previous day, I knew that green hairstreaks were on the wing so I went off in hunt of these iridescent little jewels!

Green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) can be hard to track down for a few reasons; firstly, they are wonderfully camouflaged against the leaves – seeing one at a flower can be almost like noticing that one of the leaves is drinking! Secondly, their populations can be small – some colonies are only a few individuals strong and so tracking them down on a large site could be time consuming.

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Spot the hairstreak drinking from the hawthorn flower!
Luckily, after a pleasant half an hour wandering through the cowslips and orchids, I came across several on a hawthorn shrub. It was a windy but sunny afternoon and this hawthorn bush was more sheltered than many others. When in flight, the butterflies reveal the brown uppers of their wings making them easy to spot on the wing – but they always rest with their wings held together and blend beautifully into the greenery.

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Green hairstreak amongst the hawthorn leaves
I watched two males take up sentry posts, settling on hawthorn buds or leaves, poised to leap into action and defend their territory against intruders. Other males were the most targets likely to be chased, along with other insects and butterflies of other species, but they also use this vantage point to spot females on the wing. When resting and waiting, these males tilted their wings towards or away from the sun, micro-managing their temperature with these movements.

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Male green hairstreak poised on a hawthorn bud ready to intercept intruders
Green hairstreaks are widely but locally distributed in the UK – this means there is likely to be a colony somewhere near you but they have particular habitat requirements so you might need to go to just the right place to find them. They occur in a range of habitat types including dry heathlands, grasslands, old railway embankments, woodland and quarries. The key habitat requirement seems to be open grassland with a good scrub component. Adult food plants include trefoils, vetches, hawthorn, gorse and spring flowers such as cowslip and bluebell. The larval food plants are similarly diverse including trefoils, dogwood, vetches, gorse and broom.

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Green hairstreak on a hawthorn flower – one of the favoured food sources for the imago (adult butterfly)
These butterflies are on the wing early in the year – often in April and early May through to early-June or perhaps later in the north. Barnack is a great place to spot them but this site can help you find a location near you!

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Green hairstreak standing guard over his territory on a hawthorn flower