April 2020 and lockdown

It’s a different world out there nowadays and because of the dreaded Covid-19 virus we live by new rules with new phrases such as ‘self-isolation’, ‘social-distancing’ and ‘Book a Slot’ dictating our way of life. So no fortnightly Lym Nats walks around our area and in the New Forest to enjoy the unravelling of spring with its fresh green leaves and emerging flowers, blossoms, butterflies and the arrivals of summer visitors such as Swifts, swallows and warblers. Only a lucky few might hear or see a Cuckoo this spring. 

With the sunshine we enjoyed during April winter’s bare trees turned to green, the early white blossom of Bird Cherry, gave way to Blackthorn, which in turn passed the baton to Hawthorn as April turned to May. Already fledged Blackbird chicks are begging for food from their parents on lawns and roadside verges and hopefully it won’t be long before Swifts return to scream over Lymington.

Blackbird - male feeding recently fledged youngster © Chris Robinson
Nature and wildlife continues as normal, perhaps appreciating a quieter world and less traffic on our roads, so that perhaps birdsong is more noticeable than before and uncut roadside verges are more floriferous than usual. To highlight the changing seasons Lym Nats set up a Facebook group on the internet for our members to stay in touch with one another and to share their sightings - be it from within their gardens or exercise walks. In many ways nature and natural history gives us something to look for and to look forward to as the spring turns to summer.  

Contributors to the Facebook group have shown us newts in ponds, foxes in gardens, a great variety of insects, spring flowers and birds. If you are a Lym Nats member and haven’t yet joined (apologies to anyone who slipped through the net when it was set up) why not consider joining and contributing? The more the merrier! RC

And here are some of the magical April moments from our Facebook pages:

Singing male Whitethroat © Becky Wells
Mistle Thrush with food © Chris Robinson
A Dunnock springs into action © Glynis Payne
Male Great Spotted Woodpecker on feeder © Richard Coomber
Wood Anemones and Lesser Celandines © Richard Smith
Narrow-leaved Lungwort © Richard Smith
Three-cornered Garlic - an invasive species © Richard Coomber

Lady's Smock or Cuckooflower © Maureen Fidkin
Green-winged Orchid along Woodside Lane, Lymington © Maureen Fidkin
Mallard ducklings © Mary Mawdsley
Orange-tip - male © Richard Coomber
Garlic-mustard or Jack-by-the-hedge- a food plant of Orange-tip caterpillars © Richard Coomber
Bluebells © Carol Giles
Fourteen-spot Ladybird © Chris Robinson
Adder © Mary Mawdsley

Large Red Damselfly - mating pair © Richard Smith

Honeysuckle Sawfly © Chris Robinson
Early Purple Orchid © Chris Robinson
Stag Beetle - male © Chris Robinson
Green Alkanet © Maureen Fidkin
Streamer (moth) © Richard Coomber

Water Crowfoot © Richard Smith
Hawthorn or May © Richard Coomber

Citizen science - things to do during lockdown and beyond

Rosie Ward has sent this list of activities that came from New Forest National Park 

General species monitoring with Seek by iNaturalist Use this handy app to help identify the species around you in your gardens.

Living Record – join this web based recording system that is accessed the various Hampshire county recorders for flora, butterflies etc

Blooms for Bees Bumblebees are really starting to get going with this warm weather. If you have five minutes, why not spend some time watching a bee friendly garden plant and recording the visitors that arrive with this useful recording app for bumblebees

RSPB #BreakfastBirdwatch The Breakfast Birdwatch takes place daily between 8 am and 9 am – at a time when, normally, many people would have been commuting to work, on the school run or otherwise engaged. Using #BreakfastBirdwatch on social media, they hope to create a friendly, supportive and engaged community who are able to share what they can see in their gardens, on their balconies, rooftops and spaces from their own homes, all the while keeping within government guidelines in relation to COVID-19.

Garden Wildflower Hunt a citizen science project set up by the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland with two aims: to help find out more about the wild plants growing in our gardens; and to give people a way to improve their plant identification skills under lockdown. 

Botanical Society Activities the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland has come up with a list of 10 activities and projects on a botanical theme which volunteers can take part in without leaving their homes, gardens or balconies.  

Seabird Watch is a citizen science project set up by Oxford University to find solutions to the present research gaps using cameras as a monitoring network for Arctic seabird conservation. They need your help counting birds, nests and eggs in our thousands of photos to turn them into data.

Penguin Watch is a citizen science project set up by Oxford University to find solutions to the present research gaps using cameras as a monitoring network for penguin conservation. They need your help counting penguins, chicks, nests and eggs in our thousands of photos to turn them into data. 

Naturehood A citizen science project focused on taking action for wildlife in private gardens, this project encourages the implementation and recording of wildlife friendly actions in communities. Take simple surveys to record changes in your garden wildlife. 

Living with Mammals survey PTES is calling for volunteers to take part in spring’s survey of wild mammals in gardens and local green spaces. Choose a site close to home or place of work, and spend a short time each week looking out for wild mammals or the signs they leave behind. To receive a survey pack contact PTES. 

Garden Butterfly count The Garden Butterfly Survey allows you to record and report the butterflies that visit your garden over the course of a year. Create a free account, submit your sightings and help us learn more about how butterflies are faring in UK gardens.

Join in with Bee-fly Watch 2020  Bee-fly Watch is now into its fifth year. These distinctive furry flies are usually on the wing from March to June, often hovering over flowers and using their long 'nose' (proboscis) to feed on nectar. Once again we are asking people to look out for bee-flies and add your records online.

RHS Cellar Slug Survey This survey asks members of the public to submit records of Yellow Cellar Slug and Green Cellar Slug in UK gardens, along with information about your garden so we can establish any links between habitat features and where these species occur. 

Rainfall Rescue Before 1961 there were actually thousands of rain gauges but the rainfall data has not been transferred from the original hand-written paper records to something digital so that it can be used in data sets. Aiming to fill in the gaps Zooniverse show you images of rainfall data and ask you to transcribe the values. 

MammalWeb is a citizen science project that enlists members of the public to upload camera trap data they capture, to help with classifying the animals pictured in camera trap footage, or both. You don’t need a camera trap to take part, and you can help to build up a picture of the state of our wild mammals in the UK and beyond.

Nature's Calendar What effect has recent weather had on wildlife? Does climate change affect timings in nature? Take part in the Nature’s Calendar citizen science project and help scientists discover answers to these questions. Simply record the signs of spring that you can see from your window or garden: naturescalendar.woodlandtrust.org.uk

Field Studies Council ID kits If you are spending more time getting to know our garden but want extra help with identification check out this online identification kits with the Fields Studies Council.

Heritage Quest Help archaeologists discover traces from our past on high-resolution elevation maps created using lasers mounted on aircrafts (LiDAR) (based in The Netherlands)

Useful links
Here are some more useful links - the Heritage Fund has included many useful tips which includes free virtual tours of galleries and museums, including the Painted Hall at Greenwich.

If you would like to listen to a dawn chorus recorded in the New Forest, visit newforestsounds.co.uk for this and many other recordings. 

Hampshire Swifts and Lymington

© Richard Coomber

Our friends at Hampshire Swifts have sent this:

COVID-19: opportunity knocks..

In the past 4 years Hampshire Swifts has installed over 1000 Swift nest boxes on households, churches and public buildings.

With a few notable exceptions, we have no idea how many have been used by Swifts (or indeed, by other species). A lot of time, energy and money goes into this project yet we have no idea how successful it is. Surely it's time we started to accumulate some occupancy figures for Hampshire?

One reason for this lack of data is because determining whether Swifts are breeding is not straightforward (unless you have cameras installed in your boxes) and relies on birds being seen to enter or leave the nest box. Swifts visit their nest sites relatively infrequently so this is a time-consuming business. Another reason is that under normal circumstances people tend to be out and about or go away on holiday during the summer months.

The RSPB Oxford City Swift project has been running for some years and relies on volunteers surveying parts of the city, mapping where Swifts are nesting. They have just released an excellent video explaining why they run this project and the methodology they use. This is well worth watching and can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFvFJCX7MeU.

The RSPB survey is necessarily quite involved as they are attempting to answer a number of different questions. All we want to know is whether our nest boxes are being used and by what. So what is the most efficient way to monitor a Swift box to see if it is being used? Luckily a group in Germany has recently published some research on this.....

Using light level geolocators attached to Swifts they could detect when, and for how long, birds entered nest sites. Over 2 breeding seasons they assessed the site visits of 11 Swifts and this allowed calculation of the visit duration and number of visits with respect to the stage of the breeding season and different weather conditions. The average visit frequency across the whole breeding season was 5.6 visits per day or 0.32 visits per hour of daylight. The highest daily number of visits was highest at the beginning of July (0.4 visits per hour), increased in warm weather and decreased when it was cold, raining or windy. Within each day there was also a pattern, with a peak around sunset (up to 1 visit per hour), after sunrise and around noon (both up to around 0.5 visits per hour).

Their recommendations are that the best chance of seeing Swifts departing from or returning to boxes is from the end of June until mid-July from 0.5 to 7.75 hours after sunrise or from 3 hours before sunset to sunset in good weather. If viewing during those periods then a viewing period of 0.5 - 2 hours gives over 90% chance of encountering a Swift returning to the nest site. If time really is at a premium, then the 2 hours before sunset in warm, dry and still weather is probably optimum.

For more details see Schaub et al (2020) Bird Study https://doi.org/10.1080/00063657.2020.1732862

So, if you have Swift boxes, how about devoting 1 early morning or an evening in good weather to watch your Swift boxes in late June or the first half of July this year? All we need to know is how many boxes you have, how many have Swifts nesting, how many are unused and, of the others, what else is using them? 

© Richard Coomber