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Food Chain

I love birds, but the more I learn about the natural world, the more i’m fascinated by the smaller things in life. Despite popular believe, it all starts from the bottom up, without the bugs, nothing else would exist.
A little example of which I found inadvertently while observing Pied Flycatchers and their chosen food prey items. This male Pied was bringing back all sorts of prices for his female who is currently incubating a clutch of eggs. He’s been pretty good so far, though only bringing in single items, which doesn’t seem to go down very well with the female, but it does allow me to ID the bugs. They were mostly catching beetles but also some species of Sawfly, which I believe to be an Oak Sawfly. A quick look under the oak leaves and I did find some Oak Sawfly larvae to confirm their presence. Ancient broadleaf woodland is such an important habitat and one oak tree alone can support thousands of species.

I’ve included some pictures of Spiders of which I know some of my facebook friends have turned their eyes away from. I get that not everyone will come to love spiders but I hope to show them in a different light through my photography. The Zebra spider is quite commonly found on homes and gardens and my home is no exception. This little guy was only 2-3mm long as it’s this years hatchling. I see them mostly on warm days but after a couple of showers, this zebra was sporting a brilliant water droplet hat.

I skipped past the Pied Flycatchers without giving them the attention they deserve. I have to thank Richard Evans at Project Nestbox for introducing me to these birds some years ago. I haven’t gone a single year since without going out of my way to see and hear these birds. Once you do so, it’s hard to imagine a woodland without them. Sadly, that is becoming a reality for many historic breeding sites across wales but thanks to the help of people like Richard, these nest box schemes do help increase remote populations.

False Widow Spiders - Steatoda bipunctata

I mentioned a second species of False Widow in my last blog (S. bipunctata) but didn't show you a picture. How rude and unprofessional of me. Here it is, the Rabbit Hutch Spider. Just took these photos at 3 locations around the back garden. First picture below shows a female and a very tiny male which was barely noticeable. These are the smallest of the 3 species of spider under the name 'False Widow' at only 8mm long. The third species I'm yet to see is called the Noble False Widow (Steatoda nobilis) which is 14mm long and I'm told theres only one known place in Gwent for them (by local spider expert Mike Kilner). 

False Widow Spiders - Steatoda grossa

After a little clean out of the garage this weekend, I disturbed my first female False Widow Spider from a cardboard box in the corner. This particular False Widow (Steatoda grossa) is also called the 'Cupboard Spider' and for the obvious reason that it used to turn up in cupboards / out houses. This is different however to the False Widow's that I have in my Shed (Steatoda bipunctata) also called the 'Rabbit Hutch Spider', which is conveniently named considering that my shed was formally used to home rabbits by the previous home owners. 

I don't have a Macro lens, so these pictures are taken with my phone. Both spiders below are the 'Cupboard Spiders' from my garage, a second female of which I found today surrounded by the much smaller males in a pathetic excuse of a web. False Widow webs aren't very elaborate but are however much harder to see, therefor just as effective. 

I know lots of people don't like Spiders, especially ones with such a reputation as these for biting, but don't believe all the hype you hear about these. Yes they can bite but they rarely do. The bite itself for most people is just like a wasp sting, but just like bees and wasps, some people have an allergic reaction, resulting in being hospitalised. I personally have been bitten in the centre of my back by one of these and it was painful, but I'm still here.  

Wetlands Weekend

Not had the time for editing lately so playing a bit of catch up here. Last weekend I spent the morning wondering from the Gwent Levels right up into the Valleys of Pontypool and both on this glorious Saturday brought some great birding with the great company of Paul Joy. In the hope to listen to our first years Grasshopper Warblers, we ended up with a very different, but equally interest mix of species throughout the day. Highlight for me was seeing Gwents first Hobby flying North hitting the first mountain it found in the Valleys on the southern peak of the Brecon Beacons National Park above Pontypool. Below you'll see a female Linnet which was frequently attending to her already hatched chicks. Nice to see so many Greenfinches at Newport Wetlands, this is a bird that I don't get to see much of in Pontypool anymore. Another great find in the form of a Spider this time which is called a 'Furrow Orbweaver Spider' which I presume is common on the wetlands given the perfect habitat for this species. They use the Reeds to funnel themselves a perfectly camouflaged nest. Last but not least for the day was a picture of a beautiful Male Pheasant glistening in the sun with the punchy vibrant colours you would expect to see in the tropics. 

Heather Monitoring with Surprise Bird!

Todays heather monitoring went really well! Only had little showers but for the most part it remained really warm and sunny. Only a few grasshoppers on the uplands now though and plenty of movement with the Meadow Pipits, Skylarks and Swallows so 'term has ended' for this years summer birds. On that note though, a typically 'winter bird' was flushed on our travels and we were shocked to find out it was a Short-eared Owl! This was a first for me so at that point my excitement levels hit the roof. The bird remained on topic for the rest of our trip but we had work todo so couldn't get too distracted. We covered a very large distance today but I won't give away location incase this particular owl was on breeding territory. It's not impossible though that it was just an early winter visitor.