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What to see & do in October

The nights are drawing in and we’ve seen a bit more rain but it doesn’t mean that we need to stay indoors!  The ‘there’s no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing’ quote is one which has a lot of truth to it so, once you’ve wrapped up and ventured outside, what can you expect to find?

Autumn Trees by Jane Ruhland

Blazing branches 

October is the month in which to see the leaves on the trees changing colour.  This is a visible signal of the physical and chemical changes going on inside the plant as it prepares for winter but it’s also absolutely glorious to look at.  Trees full of leaves which are vibrant reds, oranges and yellows, looking like they’re on fire in the sunshine, are a sight to behold and it’s not around for long so now is the time to get out and see it. 

Fabulous fungi

Wherever you’re out and about, start looking for signs of fungi – on trees, forest floors and in your own gardens.  Weird and wonderful, there’s around 15,000 species of wild mushroom found in the UK so you’ve got your work cut out to see them all! Mushrooms and fungi can be poisonous so it’s always best to look and not touch.  You can see a list of the ten most common UK species in this handy guide.

Autumn fungi by Susan Quirke

Watch wildlife 

Wildlife remains active in October with lots of magical displays of behaviour.  You can watch the arrival of migrant birds such as Waxwing, Redwing and Fieldfares. Listen out for the thin “Tseep-tseep” calls of these migrants overhead at night. Get on down to the London Wetlands Centre in Barnes for a spectacle of newly arrived wading birds, ducks and geese.  Head to Richmond Park and try to catch a glimpse of deer rutting (from a safe distance!).   You can admire intricate spider webs bejewelled with rain drops and watch out for busy squirrels and jays foraging for nuts to hoard!

Red Deer portrait by David Gordon Davy

Record what you see

A lot of the work we do at EWG can feed into larger studies and networks, when we get the time to collate and submit our records.  We’re big believers in ‘Think Global, Act Local’ – doing what you can in your local area to help out.  Recording what you see can help UK wide studies understand things like how climate change is affecting our planet or could help highlight other issues which may be present in our environment.  Citizen science! The Woodland Trust’s Natures Calendar is just one way in which you can get involved and help.  Not only does it help you spot and identify nature in your local area, you will also be helping to monitor the health and biodiversity of our planet! Others include Greenspace Information for Greater London or GiGL (https://www.gigl.org.uk/). So if you’ve seen a hedgehog or a slow worm, an unusual butterfly or bird get your records in!

Things to see in September!

Collect and plant tree seeds

The best time to plant a tree was 50 years ago, the next best time is now! With climate change, biodiversity loss and loss of green space in urban areas all real concerns, trees are a real asset. So why not grow some trees for future generations? We’re seeing a bumper crop of acorns this year and Ealing is no exception! Oak trees are one of our best natives for supporting wildlife, with a whopping 280 species of insect supported by a mature oak. That’s a pretty solid base for a multitude of food webs. 

So why not get out and collect some acorns to plant in pots of compost this Autumn. Leave in a cool place outdoors, make sure they don’t dry out and they should start to sprout in Spring. You can also do this with conkers from Horse Chestnuts, Beech mast, Sweet Chestnuts and many other tree seeds you find this time of year.  Between EWG projects and our local park rangers we’ll find them homes over the coming years, or you could plant a native hedge with them to support an abundance of wildlife in your own outdoor space. Free, fun and fantastic! 

More info here:

https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/advice/grow-from-seed/

https://www.habitataid.co.uk/blogs/blog/native-hedge-planting

Watch bird migration

Our summer visitors are leaving, with Swifts one of the first to depart in August. Swallows and Martins are leaving now, along with many of the warblers we enjoyed listening to back during the glorious dawn chorus in Spring. It’s a great time to watch birds like Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Whitethroat, Blackcap as they are busy feeding out in the open to pile on as much energy as possible. They’ll need it to fuel their epic journey back to Africa for winter (where there will be plenty of insect food for them, unlike here this winter). Some rarities and surprises always show up this time of year as birds pass through Ealing. The Hanwell Wryneck was a good example with less than 300 passing through the UK on migration from Sacndinavian breeding grounds to African wintering grounds each year. 

In the opposite direction, we’ll see many of our winter visitors arriving, mostly in a month or two, but a few will start arriving in September too. Ones to look out for arriving on our shores are generally waders and waterfowl at the coast or on large lakes and ponds. Garden or parkland visitors in Ealing include our winter thrushes, redwings and fieldfares. Listen out for them overhead from later this month and early next, with a thin ‘tseep-tseep’ call in the dark night sky.

Redwing by Barry Riches

Watch Autumn dragonflies (& if you’re lucky, Hobbies)

A few species will still be chasing, hawking and darting over our freshwater ponds, ditches, canals and lakes. One of the most spectacular is the Migrant Hawker, a large and quite magnificently blue spotted species. You’ll find them patrolling hedge lines, woodland edge and waterside vegetation, hawking flying insects from mid air. The female is less brightly coloured but no less impressive. The British Dragonfly Society is a great resource for learning all about these prehistoric and fascinating creatures (https://british-dragonflies.org.uk/).

Common Darter dragonfly by Rachael Webb

And whenever you’re in a good area for dragonflies there’s always the chance of spotting a Hobby, a small migratory falcon that comes to the UK to breed each summer. They will depart having raised their young and taught them to hunt later this month and into October, back to sub-Saharan Africa. Ealing usually has several breeding pairs and 2020 looked to be a great year for them. They are nimble aerial predators and dragonflies over water a firm favourite so keep your eyes peeled. 

Hobby juvenile by Martin Shirley

Learn to ID fungi

Autumn is the start of bumper fungi season. And it’s a real skill, as well as being fun, to learn how to identify all the various types that crop up in a wide variety of places. A good fungi book is a great investment if these strange organisms interest you. 

Autumn fungi by Susan Quirke

Every year on our Facebook page we get photos of fungi posted asking for an identification and whether the fungi in question is edible. We have to reiterate that it’s really difficult to ID fungi from one or two photos online. And on the question of being edible, a very wise saying states: “All fungi are edible, some are only edible once!”.

It’s true. Some seemingly harmless specimens that mimic a delicious type, can actually be deadly if eaten. And it could be the smallest ID feature that sets it apart as such a danger. From the colour of the gills underneath the cap, to the shape when it initially emerges from the ground. The best advice is if you don’t know, then please don’t eat it. Every year people suffer excruciating digestive upsets, kidney failure or even death from eating the wrong type of mushrooms. So please don’t ask if fungi are edible on Facebook. It’s a recipe for disaster. 

When is watching wildlife harmful to wildlife?

There have been a few times recently where I’ve had to make a decision on whether to share wonderful wildlife news, or hold back and keep it to myself. Mainly to protect the wildlife from disturbance or harm.

In August for example, we finally released some very exciting footage of barn owls using one of the nest boxes we installed last year. The footage was from February! Do you know how hard it was for me to sit on that exciting news all these months? Very! Once we had confirmed footage from the early breeding season, we stopped checking and left them to get on with it. Releasing the footage once the breeding season was over so as not to have a rush of people down to catch a glimpse at a delicate time when they were prone to depart.

As it happens, someone did catch wind of there being activity at the box, and we don’t believe this pair of barn owls bred successfully due to disturbance. Not only that but the interested humans scaled the tree with a ladder and took our trail camera, so we have lost all our footage for the season. I can only hope the camera is our only loss, and they didn’t also take barn owl eggs or chicks! The only silver lining is that a pair of kestrels may have nested in the box later in the season.

The ranger team found a new badger sett location which we’ve staked out with remote trail cameras, and confirmed an active, healthy badger clan living within. Bringing our total number of known established badger setts in Ealing to three (and a few other locations TBC). But we’re always super secretive and never disclose locations of badgers as they are so prone to persecution. There was after all an incident some 12 years ago where badgers were dug out of a sett in Ealing, presumably for fighting/baiting with dogs.

Our newest resident Ealing peregrine falcons, Freddie and Dusty, chose a pretty public place to roost for all to see. Right above the A&E entrance of Ealing Hospital! So even though they are a schedule 1 protected species, we thought it best to go public in a big way and put it to the public to name the pair! The more eyes on them the better, and the less likely they are to be disturbed or persecuted. It’s worked at many peregrine nest sites up and down the country so hopefully next year we’ll have them breeding on the hospital and we can all enjoy watching. Peregrines are not exactly popular with the racing pigeon fraternity, in case you were wondering what the exact threat is to this species.

Tiercel or male falcon (photo: Rachael Webb)

We’ve had a pair of Hobbys nesting in one of our local parks, a migratory smaller cousin of the peregrine falcon. Apologies to anyone who asked me where they were to go see or photograph them and I refused. They are very secretive at the nest, and the more people that know about them and go see them, the more likely they were to have left or perhaps not used the nest site again this time next year.

Word gets around, one person tells one other person, passers by take an interest in all these people watching a particular tree. And before you know it the Hobbys spook and depart because their top secret location is now receiving daily visitors to have a nosy. It’s not to keep it a secret for only a few to enjoy, it’s to keep the Hobbys safe and happy so we can enjoy them in our skies above Ealing each summer.

Hobby nest (from a great distance)

It’s a delicate balance between showcasing and promoting our wildlife, encouraging people to get out and explore, and stepping too far into the realms of disturbing wildlife or affecting its safety. So it’s been on my mind for a while to write about watching wildlife responsibly.

This last week when a very rare migratory bird called a Wryneck appeared on Warren Farm, there was great excitement from birders, twitchers, photographers and general wildlife enthusiasts alike. All flocking to see this ultra rare and super camouflaged woodpecker, with less than 300 of its kind arriving briefly on our shores each Autumn on their migration route from breeding grounds in Scandinavia to wintering grounds in Africa.

Wryneck by Kish Woolmore

I went and saw the bird myself, the day it was reported when it evaded me and the day after when I saw it in full view several times. And I must admit that it was wonderful to witness so many people show up to revel at its beauty and rarity, and take real delight in seeing such an amazing little bird.

I did have one or two moments of unease however when the bird flew off and the assembled watchers all merrily followed it. Could we be disturbing it from feeding up efficiently? Is it worried about all these people? Could we be affecting its ability to make the onward leg of its epic journey by preventing it from feeding?

It didn’t seem at all perturbed when I was there to be honest. But I’ve had one or two concerned watchers get in touch to tell me that some of the people attending to see the Wryneck haven’t always behaved in a responsible way that’s in the best interests of the bird.

Wryneck by Kish Woolmore

I’ll hand over here to ‘Perry Vale’, who details an account of what they saw, and some top tips for responsible wildlife watching and photography. And I’d urge anyone going to see the Wryneck, or any other sensitive species of wildlife to ask yourself if your behaviour is in the interests of that animal’s welfare, or getting a great photo or view for yourself. It’s a fine balance. Over to ‘Perry Vale’:

The interests of birds and wildlife come first

I sometimes see incidents of wildlife disturbance being carried out in ignorance but also by people who simply should know better.

I recently went to a well known and much cherished wildlife site in Ealing to try and photograph a scarce passage migrant bird that had arrived a few days earlier, probably on its way to central Africa from Scandinavia for the winter. The bird had decided to stay in the warmer weather to rest and feed up before continuing its journey. Its presence was publicised on various birding social media platforms and when I arrived at the normally very quiet site there were several birders and photographers present hoping to see it with several more arriving. It’s normally a shy bird and it took quite a while for it to be found where it was skulking in, apparently, one of its favourite trees.

There was a little rush towards the tree which sent the bird flying into some dense bushes and undergrowth. The assembly moved around to the new area and after a fair bit of waiting, an audio recording of the bird was played to try lure it out of hiding. The recording sounded more like an alarm call to me rather than its song – and in any case the bird is likely not to be singing whilst migrating because it’s not holding territory or looking for a mate. The bird flew from the bushes into a more open area, but was hidden on the ground in long grass and vegetation.

After more waiting the patience of the birders – interestingly not the two or three photographers – was stretched and they decided to flush the bird by doubling behind it and walking in a slow line as if they were beaters on a grouse shoot. The bird was duly flushed and flew into a tree where it was seen nicely. I got on the bird and lined up my tripod-mounted camera and long lens when one of the birders stood two yards in front of me. When I moved to one side, so did he. When the bird flew off after thirty seconds or so he supposed that I had got some great pictures of the back of his head.

The bird flew to a more distant tree and then dropped down into the bushes and undergrowth. The birders congratulated themselves on the good views and how the wait was worthwhile and began to drift off having got their ticks. Two or three birders stayed and I moved to the area where it flew to. After another wait those birders moved off to another part of the site. I remained, stood still and quiet and eventually the bird flew from hiding and settled on a perch in good light, and in full view. I was perhaps thirty metres away and got onto the bird almost straight away, getting some photographs before it flew off and I left it in peace.

When I go to the Highlands of Scotland for photography I hire a wildlife guide to take me to places where my target species are likely to be – he has notebooks and diaries that cover over thirty years of time spent in Scotland and elsewhere. In many ways he is my mentor for wildlife photography, fieldcraft and the ethics of the countryside. One of his principles is to allow the subject to arrive and depart of its own free will.

A birdwatcher’s code has been produced by a partnership of several organisations involved with wildlife and whilst quite specific to birds can be extended and adapted to all areas of observing the natural world on the ‘don’t trample that orchid’ principle’. I urge you to follow, or at least be sympathetic, to the code:

Birds respond to people in many ways, depending on the species, location and time of year. Disturbance can keep birds from their nests, leaving chicks hungry or enabling predators to take eggs or young. During cold weather or when migrants have just made a long flight, repeatedly flushing birds can mean they use up vital energy that they need for feeding. Intentional or reckless disturbance of some species at or near the nest is illegal in Britain. Whether your particular interest is photography, ringing, sound-recording or birdwatching, remember that the interests of the bird must always come first.

Avoid going too close to birds or disturbing their habitats – if a bird flies away or makes repeated alarm calls, you’re too close. And if it leaves, you won’t get a good view.

Stay on roads and paths where they exist and avoid disturbing habitat used by birds.

Think about your fieldcraft. Disturbance is not just about going too close – a flock of wading birds on the foreshore can be disturbed from a mile away if you stand on the seawall.

Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young. Never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.”


Wryneck by Nigel Bewley

So there you have it folks, I don’t think any well meaning nature enthusiast can stand over the behaviours described above. Yes, people may get excited, yes people may not realise that their one action that disturbs a sensitive wildlife species doesn’t add up as part of all the other disturbance incidents caused by others. And maybe some people just don’t give a damn as long as they get that tick on their bird list, or a beautiful photo. But please, I urge anyone that sees this type of behaviour in the field in future to call it out and explain why it’s just not on!

I welcome comments and discussion below.

Dr Sean McCormack BSc (Hons), MVB, MRCVS

Founder and Chair, Ealing Wildlife Group

EWG bat walks are back!

The summer is coming near to an end but with relaxing of lockdown rules we wanted to squeeze in a few bat walks before our little winged flittermouse friends retire for their annual hibernation in a few months time.

Paula Kirby, coordinator extraordinaire of our EWG Bat Pack has been busy researching and organising how best we can run some bat walks for you safely and in accordance with government guidelines, including track and trace.

Common Pipistrelle (handled under license. Photo: Sean McCormack).

So, here’s an initial list of dates you can sign up to. Please only take a place if you can definitely come, as we anticipate places will be in high demand. We never normally have a limit on numbers, and our last bat walk in 2019 led by Paula had over 90 people!

For these walks, we’ll be leading a maximum of 25 people, from only 5 households or social bubbles. All the details are in the form for each walk, so choose your preferred date, location and/or guide and get signed up. Again, please only sign up if you can make it.

Thanks, the Bat Pack!

Mon 17th – Paul Schifferes leading, Blondin Park: https://forms.gle/6tkbGHc4UFWknrzA9

Weds 19th – Paula Kirby leading, Walpole Park: https://forms.gle/PrpNDdPETQtDg5vb6

Fri 21st – Paul Schifferes leading, Gunnersbury Park: https://forms.gle/4Gi8t5E95HKsh3Xr9

Sat 22nd – Sean McCormack leading, Pitshanger Park : https://forms.gle/emZiTbc2LBHYhH4e8

Fri 28th – Sean McCormack leading, Northala Fields : https://forms.gle/fNkbxsMARgmJdM2F8

Sat 29th – Paula Kirby leading, Hanwell Viaduct: https://forms.gle/7FnxkdMMTKfkbLbm8

We may be adding more availability from some of our other bat pack members in due course, so look out on Facebook and our website events page for more announcements.

Costons Lane Nature Reserve: Grand plans revealed!

Here are our plans for the derelict and often flooded allotments site at Costons Lane. Our aim is to turn it into a refuge for nature and people alike. The front section will be a landscaped utilities area. This will be perfect for showcasing ideas for wildlife gardening. Our recycled storage container and decking surround will act as the centerpiece for this space. It will house our supplies and act as an education hub for events and open days.

Passing under a natural wood pergola you’ll enter the nature reserve proper, with winding wood chip pathways to explore. Much of the space will be left as is, already an absolute haven for wildlife of all kinds. But we’ll carry out some management tasks. Pushing back some brambles to allow space for other woodland edge plants to establish. This will provide a mosaic of diverse habitats. Therefore supporting more species of plants and animals.

In the southeast corner the site holds most water, and has some aquatic/wetland plant species clinging on. Here we’ll create a large pond on one side of the path. And a wetland scrape in the centre of wet meadow on the opposite side. A pond dipping platform will allow curious kids of all ages to explore what lurks below the water surface. The bird hide will allow viewing of the wet meadow, pond and a woodland bird feeding station.

There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s already started! All ages and abilities are welcome, but under 16s must be accompanied by a responsible adult. To get involved and stay up to date with volunteer task days, sign up to our newsletter here or check out our event section on our website and Facebook group.

Top 10 Tips for attracting wildlife during lockdown!

While we’re all confined, I’ve noticed so many more people taking the time to watch and observe the beauty of nature around us. It’s a pleasure to see people posting about it on our social media channels. Getting outdoors daily and connecting with nature is just so vital for all of our well being in general, but especially right now. Whether you’ve got a balcony, window ledge or a garden, there are many things we can all do to encourage wildlife to visit. Then sit back and enjoy watching wildlife going about their business as usual! 

1. Feed the birds

Birds benefit from having food provided all year round, and the more variety you can offer the more species you’ll attract. Peanuts, sunflower seeds, niger seed, fat balls and dried mealworms will bring in a huge range. Don’t forget a shallow dish of water too. Place feeders near some cover if possible so the birds feel safe stopping by, not out in the middle of a lawn or patio. If you don’t have a garden, not to worry, you can also get suction cup window feeders which will allow you to see your feathered visitors up real close. And everyone has a window! 

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/feeding-birds/

Goldfinch by Kish Woolmore

 

2. Sow wildflower seeds

Buy some wildflower seed packets or a seed bomb online, and sow on a bare patch of earth, or in a pot, container or window box according to pack instructions. These usually contain a mix of native and ornamental flowering plants that are just perfect for pollinators like bees, hoverflies and butterflies. So not only do they create a wonderful display of colour, they also benefit some of our most threatened insects. You can get various mixes that suit woodland shade, full sun, dry or damp conditions so choose your spot and get sowing now.

https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/actions/how-grow-wild-patch

Wildflowers by Jenny Gough

 

3. Make a container pond

Any water in your outdoor space will act as a magnet for thirsty wildlife like birds, insects and mammals. And it doesn’t have to be a massive pond. Why not try making a pond in miniature using an empty plastic container, plant pot (with no drainage holes) or an old half barrel. Any water tight container will do, and you can do this on a windowsill too. You’ll be astonished what comes to visit; damsel and dragonflies, lots of microscopic water creatures if you look closely, and if you’re lucky maybe even a newt, toad or frog!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/fun-and-learning/for-families/family-wild-challenge/activities/make-a-mini-pond/

Container pond by Indra Thillainathan

 

4. Stop mowing the lawn

Put your feet up and forget about lawn mowing this summer. Not only is it terrible for the environment, we’re running out of grass in urban areas, especially gardens, as people use decking, paving and (cringe alert!) Astroturf instead. Not good for flooding risk either, all this hard landscaping. But it’s also an ecological desert for wildlife. So to counteract it, what if we all left even a portion of our lawns unmown this year? Wildflowers will spring up and the long grasses with their attractive seed heads provide cover and food for an abundance of insects, including lots of butterfly and moth species. Insects are the bottom of the food chain, so with all this new bug life you’ll get more bats and birds and other creatures too.  

https://plantlife.love-wildflowers.org.uk/wildflower_garden/mynomow/

Long Grass by Jane Ruhland

 

5. Put up a nest box

If you haven’t already put up a nest box for birds, get cracking. The avian property market is hot, hot, hot right now so you need to be quick. There are various designs available online; blue tits, great tits and sparrows like circular hole fronted boxes (a different diameter for each, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm respectively). Robins, wrens and wagtails will use open fronted boxes. An old teapot or boot placed deep in a hedge can even turn into a robin des res, just be sure to place the teapot spout down and boot toe down for drainage! And if you have a nest box that’s been up for ages and never used, change it to a different location this year. They need to be out of direct sunlight, ideally facing between north and east. Hole fronted ones on a tree or wall 2-4m high. Under 2m high in dense cover for an open fronted robin box. 

Don’t forget to tune in across our social media channels for what happens in our Blue Tit camera nest box!

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/how-you-can-help-birds/nestboxes/

Blue Tit in our camera nest box, hosted by Nigel Bewley

 

6. Build a log pile or compost heap

Find logs, branches or even woody cuttings from shrubs and trees in your garden and pile them up in a quiet area, leaving a few spaces in between. Rotting wood is an important habitat for insects and other invertebrates, which feed lots of other creatures in your garden ecosystem. Log piles also attract the nationally rare Stag Beetle, whose larva feeds on dead wood. London and Ealing are hotspots for this impressive insect, so the more dead wood you can provide in the garden the better. You may also attract newts, toads, slow worms and even hedgehogs if you make a teepee style pile! Log piles for the win! 

https://www.hedgehogstreet.org/help-hedgehogs/helpful-garden-features/

Volunteers Richard, Jane & Alex build a logpile by Sean McCormack

 

7. Dig a pond

If you’ve got the space, I can’t recommend installing a pond highly enough. It’s the single most beneficial feature in any wildlife garden. You’ll have hours of entertainment peering into its depths and marvelling at the number of creatures it draws in to drink, feed or breed over the years. So yes, it’s a bit of hard work to dig and install, but it will repay you ten times over. We’d love to see your efforts if you decide that this is the year you finally put in a pond! Great resources here to help you:

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/water-for-wildlife/planning-a-pond/

Smooth Newt in pond by Nigel Bewley

 

8. Provide a bee hotel

You can buy one online, or make one yourself from scrap wood, boxes or old plastic bottles and stuff them full of hollow bamboo sticks. Place on a sunny wall and watch as various solitary bees use it to raise their young. You can also help the more familiar bumblebees by sinking and upturned terracotta pot into a sunny bank or border filled with dried grass or straw. More detailed instructions here:

https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/bumblebee-nests/

Bee hotel by Trish Hart

 

9. Stop using chemicals

Pesticides, herbicides and fungicides line the aisles in garden centres all over the country. These are poisons, killing far more than their target pests and diseases. So please ditch the weedkiller, go chemical free and stop the slug pellets. Poisoned slugs are no good for amphibians, hedgehogs, song thrushes that rely on them for dinner. Use biological controls, like nematodes which are just as if not more effective and eco friendly. You can order biological control for many common garden pests online as well as organic options for many plant diseases.

https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/animal-deterrents/organic-pest-control/

Leopard slug by Rachael Webb. These ones eat other slugs! 

 

10. See the small things

We’re challenging you to go out in whatever outdoor space you have access to and spend an hour just looking at the ground, the leaves, the world around you. ONce you stop to watch and really observe what’s happening down at ground level in your lawn, or under a stone, or in the edges of a pond if you’re lucky to have access to one, you’ll discover lots of life. Take a snap of what you find, and post it on our social media using the hashtag #seethesmallthings. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/B96EjpZnavi/

Hoverfly by Julian Oliver