Somerset Wildlife Trust

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Nature Nuggets

Things you might not know about the natural world...
 


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The FootballerThis hoverfly in the stripey jersey is Helophilus pendulus - the droopy marsh-lover - otherwise known as The Footballer. Not many hoverflies have English names (The Marmalade Hoverfly is an exception) and many are very similar, making identification difficult. Even The Footballer, who looks strikingly distinctive, can be confused with two others. You need keen eyesight or close focusing binoculars to see his full glory. Look for him on our wetter reserves.

Photograph: ©Wikipedia Charlesjsharp 

Collared Dove

Well it's not actually milk but a few days before eggs hatch, the hormonal changes similar to those in mammals produce a cheesy substance formed from the fatty cells lining the crop of the adult bird. Rich in protein, fat and anti-oxidants, this "crop milk" is regurgitated and used to feed the young for their first ten days. Only pigeons, flamingoes and male emperor penguins have this ability. This nugget of information comes courtesy of Chris Chappell whose monthly notes on Wildlife to See should not be missed. Go there now!  

Photograph of Collared Dove © Chris Chappell

White-tailed EagleIn the winter of 1857 a White-tailed Eagle was shot near Bridgwater. In a recent talk, Chris Sperring MBE, naturalist and a Trust Vice-President, suggested that there is no reason why these eagles (also called Sea Eagles) should not be re-introduced to the Levels. The introduction of this great bird in Scotland has now led to over 40 pairs breeding. But historically in Britain and currently in Europe, the birds inhabit lowland areas just as successfully as rocky coasts. These huge birds have a wing span of 7-8 feet  (compared with 4-5 feet for a Buzzard) so if a dark shadow falls over you as you walk the droves of Westhay …….

Photo © Wikipedia

HedgehogsThe only UK hedgehogs which are thriving are these woolly specimens from Somerset. Other populations of hedgehogs have declined by over a third in the last ten years, particularly in rural areas. Emerging from hibernation in April, hedgehogs have large territories, can cover 2km per night and seem to seek out villages. Leave holes for them to get into the garden, don't be too tidy and check your bonfires. To get knitting in order to add to the Somerset population look here.

Anting 2It has been known for years that some birds, especially crows, carry out an activity known as "anting" to make use of those ants which spray formic acid. But for what? How can wriggling on an ant hill or smearing ants on their plumage be a satisfying thing to do?  Removing parasites? Assisting grooming? Letting the ants use up their acid before eating them? Or just as body lotion after moulting? Several accounts even suggest that the acid produces an almost glazed-eyed hallucogenic effect on the birds.

Photo  © Levina de Ruijter

Trogloneta granulumThe spider Trogloneta granulum, found at two sites in Wales last year, can be added to the list of about 600 UK spiders. For arachnophobes this is presumably bad news and it seems there is little they can do to banish their fear since the phobia seems to be inheritable in addition to sometimes being related to a specific experience. About 30% of us have some fear of spiders, more so with women than men. But Trogloneta granulum, pictured, is only 1 mm long. Not too scary surely?  

Starfish

The Common Starfish (Asterias rubens) can do things not many of us would attempt. Having smelled its target, say a mussel, it prizes the bivalve apart with its feet, squirts its own stomach out through its mouth, inserts a bit of stomach into the mussel shell and sucks out the contents for lunch. If it loses one of its five arms in the process, it can grow a new one. A female will expel 2.5 million eggs into the sea to await the male’s contribution of sperm and the resulting larvae will take a few weeks to look like starfish. To follow this up, have a look here.

Photograph of  Asterias rubens (and gull) courtesy of Wikipedia.


Nathusius bat

The Nathusius' pipistrelle bat weighs about 10 gms. One of these was ringed at Blagdon Lake, Somerset, in October 2012 by Daniel Hargreaves. It turned up in Holland in December 2013. It had made the journey of 370 miles but did not live to tell the tale. These bats are known to travel long distances in migration on the continent and have been found on oil platforms but this is the first indication that they are capable of crossing the channel. Did it perhaps use a ferry?

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

 

Northern Bald IbisAfter hunting killed off the Northern Bald Ibis in Austria, the "Waldrapp" team first of all became foster-parents to a pair of these, then taught them their migration pattern by getting them to follow a microlight. This led to observations about the movement of air over the birds' wings. Air passing over the upper side of the wing produces an "upwash". A  following bird can benefit from this by positioning itself to either side of the leader's wash. Being directly behind would merely result in hitting the "downwash". The extension of this when further birds join the flock leads to the V pattern adopted by skeins of birds in flight being the most efficient. So the project allowed these birds to find their way from Austria to Italy and gave evidence to validate the long-standing claim that the V shape was best. Look here for the BBC article or the definitive report in Nature. 

Image © Wikipedia.


Yellowhammer

In 1946 Julian Huxley noticed that yellowhammers sing in different dialects. You can now contribute to a survey which allows comparison between yellowhammers in UK and New Zealand where they were introduced in the nineteenth century. Beethoven is said to have copied the yellowhammer’s song for the first notes of his fifth symphony but he did not record which dialect of German it was using or whether it translated as "A little bit of bread and no cheese." A good place to look would be on the Cheddar reserves, Black Rock or Long Wood for example.

Photograph courtesy of Wikipedia
 


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