Self Isolation Projects

My idea of Easter holidays was to go around and show people the DNOMD (see: https://dnomd.com for info on project) project that I had helped set up. As a result from COVID-19 the project has been cancelled but there is a possibility it will start up again when safe to do so. It was through funding we managed to start it off and it was only meant to last a few months but with the feedback we got we felt it could be a permanent running project. The only barrier stopping us from doing that is time and enough volunteers to keep it going. The three project leaders (including myself) are all teenagers so with next years schoolwork we will be very busy and don’t know if we will be able too keep it going. We will keep everyone updated!

We have had to cancel nest monitoring at our local park to keep everyone safe. See https://friendsoflinnpark.com for more info on our nest monitoring. We do however have 15 boxes up in a housing estate which two residents are monitoring as the boxes are all in their grounds and they don’t make contact with people and can do it as part of their hours exercise so I’ll be busy uploading their records!

Anyway since self isolation started a few projects have risen. I’m going to redesign my garden a bit because there is too much cut grass and it’s not as wildlife friendly as it could be whilst still keeping my family happy. I’ll be doing a separate post with before and after images but i’ve already started working on the extension of the frog pond.

Just before Self Isolation started I managed to get 10 lengths of wood delivered which is enough to make about 40 bird boxes. In a few days I had it all cut and every box assembled. This time I sold boxes for £15 with £5 going towards the NHS to buy protective equipment. The way it worked was I would only deliver to people in my area so that I could leave a box at peoples front door (non contact) as part of my daily exercise. People would either do a bank transfer for money or leave an envelope out. Some people came past and picked up their own box.

More ideas will pop up but for now that’s what I have planned and have done!

Stay Safe

Mike

My Local Rewilding Journey

This is the first of two articles I’ve written about rewilding in my local area. Part 1 will concentrate on some projects in my garden, while part 2 will focus on my attempts to encourage my Local Council to embrace the rewilding agenda.

Part 1: My Garden

I’m 15 and have lived in the suburbs of Glasgow all my life. As my interest in the environment has grown over the years, I’ve become much more aware of the importance of doing everything I can to help wildlife flourish in the areas around me.

In my early years of primary school with the help of my brother and dad we built a pond in our garden (https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-build-pond).It was designed to be as natural as possible with various levels to support the growth of different pond plants. My grandparents gave us a selection of plants from their pond and a few buckets of water to help move things along.

Our Pond (Photo Credit: Kevin Sinclair)

As the pond matured, within a few years we had a thriving population of common frogs which were very vocal in the spring as the males were calling before mating took place.

Typically, in early April, we would wake up one morning to find clumps of spawn strategically laid in the same place every year to maximise the heat captured from the spring sunshine.  At that point our kitchen is turned into a tadpole nursery as we would retrieve some spawn and commandeer some plastic storage boxes as temporary amphibian nurseries! Why? Because it’s really interesting taking some spawn and watching it develop into tadpoles and froglets. It’s also a great talking point for friends visiting the house: those who are not too squeamish at the thought of sharing a kitchen with a few hundred tadpoles!!!  Due to the slightly higher temperature inside it takes about 3 – 4 weeks for the tadpoles become little froglets which are then released back into the pond to continue their development.

Of course, one pond led to two and we now have around 20 or so adult frogs each year! On mild evenings in late spring and early summer around midnight, the grass surrounding the pond is heaving with frogs on the hunt for slugs and worms. Many hours have been spent watching them hop round the lawn tracking down their prey. The spectacle has fascinated the neighbours so much that they’ve now built ponds too. The wider benefits? Fewer slugs, healthier plants, greater biodiversity and a garden ecosystem functioning as it should: chemical free, with wildlife doing what it does best. We’ve also had two hedgehogs which have also been regular visitors over the last 2 years.

Common Frog

With my ponds having been well-established for many years it was time to move on to plants and wildflowers. Wildflowers and wildflower-rich habitats provide pollinators (bees and other insects that pollinate plants) with food sources across the seasons.

In spring 2019 I embarked on a project to plant up my back garden with a range of plants designed to encourage a range of pollinators. In addition to natural wildflower seed mixes I also included some non-native plants from the Northern Hemisphere as recommended by the Royal Horticultural Society (https://wwwrhs.org.uk) to maximise the opportunities for pollinators. Plants that will flower at different times of the year were chosen. Now the hum of bees, wasps and hoverflies is a regular sound: indeed, we even have the odd damsel and dragonflies that stop off at the pond.

Garden with wildflowers up back left. I will be extending this area! (Photo Credit: Kevin Sinclair)

As a keen Moth’er (person who catches, studies and releases moths) I noticed a huge difference in the number and variety of moths caught in my garden.  For the first time in 2019 I caught species such as Swallow Prominent, Elephant and Poplar Hawk Moth which I’m sure were attracted by the greater variety of plants (https://ukmoths.org.uk).

Swallow-tailed Moth (Photo Credit: Michael Sinclair)
Elephant Hawk-moth (Photo Credit: Michael Sinclair)

The benefits of planning didn’t stop at summer! This winter has witnessed the largest flocks of goldfinch, (27) siskin (45) and lesser redpoll (16) visiting the garden to feed off the plant seed-heads.

There is still some cut grass in my back garden, but I’m working on a design that’s suitable for a family garden and one for nature to share. For example, the area around my pond isn’t cut to allow clover to flourish and also create a suitable hiding place for frogs leaving the pond. My garden isn’t huge, but with a bit of thought, planning and patience to let nature run its course it’s amazing what will appear!

Alex White – Guest Blog

Alex is a young naturalist from Oxfordshire, UK. He regularly takes photos and writes a blog. He is very active on social media and is a role model to many people. Alex has has multiple trail cameras which he sets up to see what wildlife is on his doorstep. He always seems to have badgers appearing on footage which I’m very jealous of. More information can be found on his website and social media platforms.
He even has his own book which is available to buy!


Fungi Forage

As the leaves drop and days get shorter, what better way to spend an autumn afternoon than looking for fantastic fungi in your local wood.

With names like Slippery Jack, Elf cup, Angel’s bonnet, Dead man’s fingers or Amethyst deceiver you would be forgiven for thinking you were looking for something out of a story book.

Angel’s Bonnet (Mycena arcangeliana)

According to the Woodland Trust there are over 15,000 types of fungi in the UK, these also include yeasts, moulds and even human infections such as athlete’s foot, but it is mushrooms or toadstools that come into their own in autumn woodlands or grassland.

With the recent wet weather there are many different species of fungi pushing up from the red, orange and brown leaves on the ground, growing out of dead bark or sprouting out at right angles from tree trunks.

Beefsteak Fungi (Fistulina hepatica)

Mushrooms (or toadstools) is a term given to the fleshy, spore-bearing fruiting bodies that certain fungi produce. These are linked underground by mycelia.

Fungi doesn’t use chlorophyll to convert the sun’s energy into food, it uses enzymes to dissolve plant and animal material.

Shaggy Scalycap (Pholiota squarrosa)

Fungi (mushrooms) come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Some are edible, some are poisonous, while the rest are inedible or tasteless.

The best way to learn about fungi is on an organised fungi forage, where an expert can show you where to look, how to identify them and which ones are edible.

Fly Agaric (Amanita muscaria)

Take the time to look closely as many are tiny and difficult to spot, but once you start looking, you’ll notice that fungi pop up everywhere.

Dead man’s fingers (Xylaria polymorpha)

Just remember not to eat any that you are not 100% sure are not poisonous.

Linn Park LNR: A Conservation Journey  

I love the outdoors and I have a particular passion for conservation volunteering in my local community.  In autumn 2017, aged 13, I started a fundraising initiative (the 100 nest-box challenge) building and selling boxes for £10 to raise funds for wildlife charities; little did I know at the time, but that project would be the start of a local conservation initiative that has become a huge and rewarding part of my life.

I’d like to share my story with you, in the hope that it will inspire and give confidence to others (especially young people) to get involved in their local communities with conservation/rewilding projects. This blog is a little longer than my usual ones, but I think it makes an interesting story. I hope you’ll agree.

For those of you who have followed my work through my blogs, simply scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the exciting developments that have taken place in 2019!!

The beginning (October 2017 – February 2018)

As part of my nest-box challenge I decided to donate 6 boxes to my local park (Linn Park Local Nature Reserve) to encourage wildlife in the park. I’d noticed that the majority of the old boxes had rotted and were falling off the trees.

I met with the newly reformed ‘Friends of Linn Park’ (FoLP) (volunteer group) and the Countryside Ranger for the park (and many others in the local area) to discuss the idea. It was suggested that I could stage an event in the park to promote my 100 nest-box challenge. At the event I would sell boxes to he public in the normal way, but would also give people the opportunity to ‘sponsor’ a box in the park for a donation and a sponsorship certificate.

In February 2018 we held our event to coincide with National Nest-box Week and it was a roaring success! I sold my 100th box at the event and secured sponsorship for more boxes to be put up in the park later in the year. I was overwhelmed with the level of interest at the event and was now heading home with a list of ‘orders’ for new boxes that needed to be built. The problem was, there was no way I could get these done for the 2018 nesting season. So, I told the people who ordered a box that I would make them later in the year in time for the 2019 nesting season. I didn’t realise it at the time, but this was the start of something that was going to grow and grow ……………….. and grow!

A few weeks later, with the assistance of the Countryside Ranger we put up the 13 boxes for the park.

Me up ladder
Me up ladder (photo credit: George Wilson)

April 2018 – June 2018

By this time, I’d become an active member of FoLP and was involved in a number of conservation-related activities in the park, including tree-planting, wildflower planting and path-restoration.

I’d also taken the lead on monitoring our 13 nest-boxes for use throughout the nesting season. I designed a monitoring schedule and with the help of my dad monitored the use of the nest-boxes in the park in accordance with the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) Nest Record Scheme.

For 3 months (April – June) we visited our boxes twice per week to monitor nest development, egg laying and hatching/fledging.  It was hard but rewarding work! We became a regular sight in the park with our bright yellow FoLP bibs and we made a point of speaking to park users, especially children, to explain what we were doing.  Pictures we had taken on our phones of the eggs & chicks were a particular source of interest. Families started to take an active interest in the boxes, watching the birds flitting back and forward with food for their young.

By the end of the nesting season 10 out of our 13 boxes had been used with 47 chicks successfully fledging.  Equally as important, park users were now taking an active interest in what was going on.

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Blue Tit eggs

I kept a spreadsheet of all nest information and submitted the data to the BTO scheme at the end of the year.

October 2018

Excited by the success of our first park nest-box event we staged a second public event to secure sponsorship for additional boxes in the park. I’d been working hard over the summer months to meet my order backlog and to make extra boxes to bring along on the day.

Again, the public event was a huge success. We secured sponsorship for a further 23 boxes with funds going to support the conservation work of FoLP. The additional boxes were put up with the assistance of the Glasgow City Council Countryside Ranger Service bringing the total in the park to 40.  This time we took email contact details for all box sponsors and promised to send them email updates of activity in their box during the 2019 breeding season.

November 2018 – February 2019

Motivated by the growing public interest in our nest-box work in the park we applied for and were awarded a grant (£700) from the RSPB to run a community engagement programme in the park targeted at building and erecting a further 20 bird-boxes and 20 bat-boxes.

Part of this grant involved running a public park event (in February 2019) as well as working with a local primary school where children would build a box.

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Building a box!

During the nesting year, updates on nesting activity in the boxes will be sent to the children who will be able to identify their specific box by its unique number. Details will also be posted on the Friends of Linn Park (Love Linn Park) Facebook page.

The public and school box-building events were a huge success with approximately 60 children involved.  By the middle of February, a further 20 nest boxes and 20 bat boxes had been made. As well as great tit/blue tit boxes we had increased the range to target other bird species in the park including treecreeper, spotted flycatcher, robin, dipper, grey wagtail, goosander, tawny owl and nuthatch. The nest-boxes were put up in the park at the end of February, bringing the total to 60.  Bat boxes will be put up in spring 2019.

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A small selection of boxes

March 2019 – Onwards

With 60 boxes in the park this year, monitoring was going to be a huge task. To help with that process I’ve created a google-based map which shows the locations of each box in the park.  As the location of some boxes is sensitive, I’ve created a ‘public version’ which shows some of the box locations This will give an idea of how the technology can be used. The map can be viewed at: https://drive.google.com/open?id=12MVhxbs7V0_qNY8vwigzCXa4ZD_hz9bZ&usp=sharing

Linn Park: Nest-box Locations

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Main box locations (all view-able from main pathways)

I have just recruited and trained a team of nest-box monitoring volunteers (including 2 families) who will support me with this year’s monitoring programme. In addition to nest-box sites we will also be tracking natural nest locations and recording this information; although these will not be made public.

I’m also in the process of uploading all the locations onto the BTO DemON system so that we can upload all our monitoring data over the year onto the national database.

The Future?

I don’t know what the future will hold for my work in Linn Park and the surrounding areas. My hope is that with the support of the wonderful Friends of Linn Park and Glasgow City Council Ranger Service we can continue to involve the public in working together to protect and enhance the wonderful nature on our doorstep.

To others my age who are thinking about doing conservation work, but haven’t yet taken that step, all I would say is ‘go for it’! 18 months ago, I was a 13yr old kid with a crazy idea to build and sell 100 nest-boxes. I now feel part of something very special that is a huge and rewarding part of my life.

I’d like to say a very special thank you to all who have supported, encouraged and believed in me over the years.

Ivory Gull Release, Stevenson Point, Ayrshire, 11.02.2019

On the 23rd January 2019, an Ivory Gull was found exhausted and underweight In a Stranraer garden due to a long journey from the arctic where it feeds on carcasses like Polar Bears. At only 368g this bird was not looking very good (Minimum weight for a female is 448g and for a male, it is 500g meaning this is most likely a female) . It was covered in feather lice but with no obvious injuries. The SSPCA were called to pick it up but were unable to identify the bird so they took it to Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre who instantly knew what bird it was as they had one in 2007. Unfortunately the 2007 bird died as a result to gape worms. Since they had experienced a previous death, they were not going to take any chances so they gave this bird Antibiotics as well as a Wormer.

During its time at Hessilhead, it made a recovery. It was moved into an aviary on the 1st of February, taking regular baths. By the 6th of February it was flying really well and therefor ready to be released at a suitable location. This location was confirmed on the 8th of February. The date they decided to release it on was Monday 11th February at  Stevenson Point, Ayrshire!

I was off school that day so thanks to Andrew Russell and his dad for giving me a lift to the release location! less than 100 people gathered to witness the release! Andrew and I also met with Elliot Montieth who is a well known birder from Cheshire.

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Left: Elliot Montieth, Centre: Michael Sinclair, Right: Andrew Russell (Photo Credit: Zul Bhatia)

We arrived pretty early and waited more than an hour before Hessilhead brought the gull and released it. Just before the release, volunteers from Hessilhead went and got donations from people, Then a speech was made by Hayley Douglas who had ringed the bird with a metal and a colour ring the day before. Andy and Gay (owners of Hessilhead) were also present. We all arranged our selves a good distance from the bird so we would not stress it.

 

Andy gave a quick speech and told us that the gull was now 600g in weight! He was the lucky one to open the box and let the bird go! When it first flew out, it landed on the grass for less than 20 seconds. It then flew to land with some other gull but was quickly chased off, It then flew around in the sky for a while before heading further down the beach to rest. It stayed for a total of about 20-25 minutes until it flew North.

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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

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Ivory Gull (Pagophila eburnea)

It has not been seen since but hopefully gets reported at some point in the future.

We had a brilliant day and met a few familiar faces. Thanks again to Andrew and his dad for driving me about all day. Earlier on in the day we had 10 Scaup at Auchenharvie Golf Course as well as some other common birds. Finally to round off the day we stopped to see the gull roost at Strathclyde Loch. We saw Keith Hoey and Scott Black (some very good birders) and managed to photograph an Iceland Gull that they had spotted.

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Scaup (Aythya marila)

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European Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)

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Coot (Fulica)

Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)
Iceland Gull (Larus glaucoides)

Hope this was an interesting read, Mike!

Some Social Media/ Website Links (related to this blog):

Hessilhead Wildlife Rescue Centre: http://www.hessilhead.org.uk/

Andrew Russel: @AndyRussOrnitho

Elliot Montieth: @ElliotsPetrel

Zul Bhatia: @ZulBhatia