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Hedgehog survey update, it’s good news!

Our Ealing hedgehog team have been swiftly setting up and collecting another 30 trail cams across Ealing allotment sites.. beavering away reviewing photos of Ealing wildlife, harvesting data to submit to our friends at ZSL London Zoo All puns intended! First site has revealed an unexpected number of visits across the site from our prickliest mammal! 6 out of 10 cameras recorded visits, nightly or much more frequently. Thanks to all EWG members for help with this phase but esp Jane Fernley Jane Hodgkin (and of course Sean McCormack, as ever!)

Focus Stacking Macro Photography

First, let me say how knocked-out and delighted I am to have my photograph of the sporangia (a posh word for fruiting bodies) of a slime mould take first place in the Up Close and Personal category of Ealing Wildlife Group’s photography 2022 competition. I’ve had a few emails/messages asking me how I achieved the photograph and I was asked about the process in person at the exhibition opening in Walpole Park, too.

Slime moulds are fascinating organisms. Their life-cycle includes a free-living single-celled stage, almost like an amoeba or a bacterium. When food is in short supply these single-celled organisms will congregate and start moving and behaving as a single body. They can detect food sources and can ‘shape shift’ and readily change the shape and function of the parts of their aggregation and can form stalks that support fruiting bodies – sporangia – that produce spores. The sporangia are usually very small, and can take some finding. I have a ‘slime mould farm’ in the garden that consists of a small pile of twigs and logs that I keep damp and in the shade, but even then ‘photogenic’ fruiting bodes seldom occur. I think this is because the single-celled organisms have plenty of food – microorganisms that live in dead and decaying plant matter so have not been triggered into aggregating. Slime moulds are not considered fungi by the way, but are classified within the group Protista.

Here comes the geeky stuff:

The sporangia in my photograph are very small and are around 1mm high, growing on a piece of decaying wood in my ‘slime mould farm’. After I found the slime mould I set up the equipment to photograph it. In order to achieve the magnification presented in the exhibition’s printed image (around 400 times life size) some specialist macro kit was required. I used a full-frame Canon R5 camera (that produces a high resolution file that can be readily enlarged) and a Canon MP-E 65mm macro lens. Most macro lenses can achieve a magnification of x1 but the specialist lens I used can provide magnification of up to x5. It’s an entirely manual lens and can be very tricky to use. At x5 magnification with such a small subject the depth of focus is wafer thin, especially as I wanted to use a near wide open aperture of f/4. It’s true that I could have stopped down the lens to f/16 to increase the depth of focus to a useful amount but this would have required a long exposure time of several seconds and, more importantly, would have softened the image because of diffraction. Instead, I used a technique known as focus stacking.

In focus stacking the image is not reliant on a band of acceptable sharpness either side of the actual point of focus in a single photograph. Instead there are many individual points of focus through the depth of the subject resulting in critical sharpness throughout. A series of identical images are taken, each with a slightly different point of focus throughout the depth of the subject. The resulting images each include a ‘slice’ of sharp detail and a fair amount of unsharp, out of focus information. Software is then used to ‘stack’ all these slices of sharp detail into a single image of exceptional clarity and detail. I use Helicon Focus to achieve this. The software essentially looks for, and keeps, the sharp detail and throws away the unsharp, out of focus bits. The sharp detail is combined to form a single coherent image.

How are several identical images (apart from different points of focus) taken? The camera and lens was mounted on a Cognisys Stackshot automated macro rail and this was mounted on a rock-steady tripod. The macro rail is controlled by a small, basic micro computer that moves the camera and lens forward by a small amount during the photograph-taking process. This amount, the focus step distance, is critical to the process to guarantee a series of overlapping bands of sharpness throughout the depth of the subject. This step distance is calculated from a combination of sensor size, aperture and magnification. Look-up tables are available to avoid the maths!

Once the subject has been composed, framed (it was lit with two small LED panels) and exposure determined, the macro rail was set to the start point, via the controller. This is the focus point just before the nearest part of the subject. The end point is then set, also via the controller, to focus just beyond the furthest part of the subject. The focus step distance from the look-up table is entered into the controller and the ‘go’ button is pressed. The process starts with the controller sending the macro rail to the predetermined start point, firing the shutter and moving the camera the required focus step distance through to the end point. In this case the focus steps were 56 microns and there were around 60 separate photographs. This means a total travel of the camera and lens of around 3 millimetres.

I realise it all sounds very complicated and specialised. It took me a while to get to grips with the process but I think the results can be worthwhile. I like the slow, painstaking process that reveals subjects that are barely visible to the naked eye.

If you have read this far you are probably interested in this geeky stuff and in macro photography. If you would like a macro photography workshop/tutorial drop me a message. It will be 1:1 or 1:2 and not one of my usual much larger group sessions.

Ealing’s Hedgehog Highways project launch. Can you help?

Blog post by Natasha Gavin, EWG Hedgehog project lead

When I was growing up in Ealing, it was a rare treat to see a hedgehog. In fact I only saw one once, when I was 12 yrs old, in South Ealing. I tried to pick it up, and that REALLY hurt. I learnt a life lesson: let wildlife be wild. No iPhones back then. Just a vivid memory remained 😉

Fast forward 30 odd years, it’s even rarer to see a hedgehog in Ealing. Or anywhere. Numbers have declined roughly by 2/3 since my first and only sighting of a live hedgehog. But trail cameras now mean I know they exist, in smaller numbers, but in urban safe havens- I have watched dozens of prickly mummies feeding their baby hoglets, in compost heaps, piles of leaves and back gardens all around our borough. As nocturnal creatures, you are unlikely to spot them coming out to feed, but affordable clever technology means we can capture their movements. And then we can help them to thrive.. or at least survive.

What does EWG have planned in our hedgehog project? 

Hanwell Hedgehog by James Morton

ZSL (Zoological Society of London) have been surveying hedgehogs across London for 5 years as part of their London Hogwatch project. We have commissioned them (using grants secured by our one lady fundraising team, thank you Sandra!) to help us survey populations in three hog hotspots across Ealing: Pitshanger Park, Brent Lodge Park (aka the Bunny Park) and Elthorne Park and Extension. ZSL will install about 30 cameras in those parks next week (as hedgehogs venture out to eat as much as possible before hibernating) and review all footage for us after a two week period. We will feed back to EWG members via informative online talks during this project- so watch this space.

We’d like to thank our friends at the Charity of William Hobbayne for getting in touch with us proactively to ask if there were upcoming conservation projects they could help support us on in Hanwell, and The Freshwater Foundation for awarding us further funds to get the local community across the whole Borough of Ealing involved in helping hedgehogs and connecting our green spaces and gardens to allow wildlife like hedgehogs to get around the borough and continue to thrive.  

EWG is also partnering with ZSL to deliver a citizen science project- that’s where you can help. 

How can you as an EWG member be involved in helping hedgehogs?

Phase 1

  1. ZSL will lend us a number of extra cameras, for private residents to use in back gardens adjacent/ in close proximity to the Parks above. Cameras would be loaned for a two week period and EWG members would be asked to review all footage at the end of the period. (The cameras only record for very short bursts when triggered by motion at night so this would not be too onerous.) Get in touch ASAP with me if you are interested in hosting a camera natashagavineo@gmail.com 
  2. We are looking for a Hedgehog champion in each of the three areas. This will involve coordinating and monitoring where private cameras are at any time, and ensuring their safe return to ZSL (via me) at the end of the project. It could also involve helping with phase 2 of this project. 
  3. Report any hedgehog sightings (recent or historic) to Greenspace Information for Greater London here: https://www.gigl.org.uk/submit-records/submit-a-record/ 
  4. Talk to your neighbours now about how to help hedgehogs: create holes in fences between gardens, leave wild corners, provide fresh water, leave out cat food in Spring/Summer months, ensure ponds have escape ramps and stop using horrid pesticides like blue slug pellets.
Tash Gavin, Hedgehog project lead with her very own hedgehog highway

Phase 2

  1. Once we have a better picture (no pun intended) of where the hedgehog highways are (or should be), our dedicated team of hole makers will offer to create CD sized holes in fences, where permission by fence/ wall owner is given. The grants from Freshwater Foundation and The Hobbayne Trust will be used to purchase all necessary equipment- all we need are DIY lovers. So please come out of the woodwork..:)
  2. We will be doing some hedgehog focused habitat management and creation task days for volunteers who want to get involved in a hands-on way. With some of the funding kindly provided by The Hobbayne Trust we will be initially focusing on making the Hobbayne Half Acre site near Hanwell Viaduct a model reserve for hedgehogs to thrive. All ages and abilities welcome to come help. Volunteer dates to follow. If you’d like to keep up to date then please sign up to our volunteer mailing list here: https://ealingwildlifegroup.com/get-involved/volunteering/
  3. We will be running a public information campaign in Spring/Summer 2023- if you want to help with that do let me know. It will involve outreach work, and probably talking to families and children- every child should be able to see at least one living hedgehog during their childhood, shouldn’t they? I have seen three dead ones in the last year. 

Please help us to change that. Any Hedgehog Heros please contact me natashagavineo@gmail.com

A PDF of our Hedgehog Slide Deck

How to build a low cost moth trap

By Kish Woolmore

How to make a cheap low-cost Moth Trap:

Generally retail price for readymade moth traps relatively expensive, starting around £150 with good ones being several hundred pounds. Most commercial ones relying on mains power or heavy batteries and not always easy to transport to sites.

Being inspired by a Trap which Katie Boyles from Warren Farm Nature reserve is trying out I decided must be easy enough to make from readily available items with only a limited amount of construction required.

Most of the parts required can easily be purchased from online suppliés like Amazon or Ebay and in some cases may even be sourced from local skips or back of the shed….. Using LED lighting means the unit isn’t as bright and intrusive as the commercial units and thus makes them more suitable for use in urban gardens without causing a disturbance to the neighbours.

What is required a container to trap the moths in and a suitable light source and power supply.

For the container I used a 30litre bucket with lid (I am also going to try a smaller bucket that fat balls come in), for entry into the container I used 20cm dia funnel with the end cut off giving a 60mm hole. Then cut a hole in the bucket lid to fit the funnel snuggly (probably needs a bit of skill to get it good fit and may be easier with specialist compass cutter tool).

For the Light I got a UV LED Strip, these come in various lengths and take some searching especially if you don’t want to wait for delivery from China (where most seem to come from). This is fixed in a spiral around a piece of 32mm Dia plastic pipe. They normally come adhesive tape. You can get 12V or 5V versions, with 5v they usually come with USB plug on the end suitable for directly connecting to mobile phone power pack. The 12 volt version you will need an adapter cable (easy to get online) to step USB voltage up from 5V to 12V. The light unit has to be suspended over the Funnel, there are various different ways this could be achieved but the simplest require least amount of messing around was to get a plumbing fitting (Bulkhead connector) size to match the pipe used and fit this to the frame of a lampshade. It can then stand freely over the top of the funnel, the lamp shade used should be large enough. If you can’t find an old lampshade there are online suppliers that you can get lampshade making frame kit (some even sell just the lamp holder frame).

I already had USB Phone power pack so just needed to put the parts together and plug in. The total cost using new components (excluding the power pack) was around £35.

Note the LED strips are available with silicon covering to make the splash/water proof… But online articles suggest the silicon deteriorates and they aren’t as effective as the non waterproofed versions.

I used a 5v LED strip which I think isn’t as bright as the 12V ones Katie had, so I intend to try a 12V one later and compare for effectiveness.

Unlike many commercially available traps this one doesn’t have any light baffles (not sure if these affect the performance or just to assist in mounting the light), these would need to be custom made from plastic, so something to try at a later date depending on success I get without them.

Another possible consideration is some form of shield to protect from rain. The ones Katie is trying out have Light Switch so they automatically turn off when it gets light, but I considered this wouldn’t be necessary for where and when I am likely to use mine.

Success! The Peregrines have fledged!

It’s been two years in the making but at long last, the Ealing Hospital Peregrines have successfully fledged 3 chicks! Two females and one male as far as we can tell., and all are strong and healthy and flying around the hospital!

How it started/ How it’s going. Photos by Sean McCormack (L) and David Gordon Davy (R)

There is a photo gallery that tells their story here

And to read more about this incredible journey, take a look at this guest blog Sean wrote for Animal Journal!


We will keep you updated on our peregrine family, we can track the chicks as they are all ringed. I wonder where they will end up?

A Nature Walk around Warren Farm

I first heard of Warren Farm from the many diverse posts shared on the EWG Facebook page, seeing numerous photos of red kites, kestrels and skylarks soaring high above the 61-acre space, little owls looking out from the tree hollows of oak and a rainbow of insects and spiders.

Photo by Chantal Anita

I have only visited once before and with Spring fully upon us, a second visit was well overdue.

Over the last few years, my bird identification skills have improved, but other than bees and wasps, it is rare for me to catch a glimpse of invertebrates, let alone try to identify them.

As such, my mission was to spend more time in nature to improve my knowledge, focusing in on birds and insects. Yet, with an estimated 27,000 insects across the UK, I realised that I needed to go with people who could help me identify what I saw.

Julian, a member of EWG, an amateur entomologist and amazing macro photographer, who regularly frequents this space, had kindly offered to let me accompany him on one of his solo photography walks. Unbeknownst to him, I ended up hijacking his kind offer and using it as an opportunity to have other people come along.

Photo by Chantal Anita

The walk was to start at 10 am outside the Fox Pub in Hanwell. A popular meeting point for the Ealing Wildlife Group.

A group of 9 of us, plus Max the very well-behaved dog, headed in via the Green Lane entrance, crossing the River Brent on our way. Upon our arrival, Katie, Trustee of the Brent River & Canal Society running the campaign seeking Local Nature Reserve designation to save Warren Farm from development and frequent visitor, had arranged for some members of a local nature group to attend. Quickly our group of 9 turned into closer to 20.

The precious acid and neutral grassland meadow habitat, perfect for native wildflowers and grasses, creates a rich and diverse environment for a multitude of insects and spiders. As with any species-rich ecosystem, invertebrates are key in making it perfect for the mammals and birds which feed on them.

‘The world is full of magic things, waiting for your sense to grow sharper.’

W. B. Yeats

‘So, where do we start?’ someone asked.

Julian knelt down over some foliage and said ‘Getting low is the best way to see things.

Realising that getting low opens up a whole new world of discovery! Photo by Chantal Anita

I leant over the nettles and brambles and stopped to focus in on a few leaves for no more than a few seconds. I spotted the rich red ladybird and then immediately, I saw another, then another. It was as though the first one gave me the key to sight. I looked at them with the same wonder a small child sees the world.

My eyes moved slowly over the leaves in front of me. Within the space of a few meters, crickets and grasshoppers clustered next to one another, more ladybirds including a yellow 14 spotted, caterpillar webbing, flower beetles, wasps, butterflies, bees and spiders. 

Those knowledgeable among us happily helped to identify what we saw. At times, the owners of well-thumbed ID books were keen to show us what we were seeing. I found there to be something very special about a group of strangers coming together to both share their knowledge and learn from each other all whilst having fun. 

Learning as we go. Photo by Chantal Anita

I saw for myself the kestrel and red kites hunting high up in the sky. The numerous binoculars were shared around to help us get better views of the screaming parties of swifts and linnets, passing overhead like bullets. 

I watched nesting pairs of skylarks rise into the sky, singing as they went, before hurtling back down, disappearing into the knee-high vegetation of the field. 

The little owl was spotted in the oak, however, I missed out on a glimpse.

We spent the next 3 hours walking around this important habitat, witnessing this space which had been allowed to succumb to nature and create a much valued and needed ecosystem.

During a short break, Katie used it as yet another learning opportunity to show us feathers she had collected and test our knowledge.

Up close and personal Photo by Chantal Anita

I have no doubt I will be back, hopefully next time with even more people to show this vast and diverse space to.  I look forward to the summer months, when the grasses will be higher, bringing even more life – given we never stop learning, I hope that next time, I will be more attuned to spotting and identifying more of what I see.

There is currently a campaign to turn this space into a designated nature reserve and I can see why – it really is a treasure so make sure it’s your next destination.

I am grateful to those who helped bring such knowledge to our day:

https://www.warrenfarmnaturereserve.co.uk/

Sign the Petition

@julian_with_a_camera

@warrenfarmnr

@wanderfulldn

Ealing Beaver Day

On Thursday May 26th at 7pm we’re delighted to be hosting our friends from Beaver Trust at Horsenden Farm (Horsenden Ln N, Horsenden, Greenford UB6 7PQ) to give an evening talk followed by a panel discussion to answer some of the questions and concerns arising from our public consultation on beaver reintroduction in Ealing. Our project partners Citizen Zoo, Friends of Horsenden Hill and Ealing Council will be there too to answer questions and join the discussion. Gathering in the courtyard from 7pm, Perivale brewery will be open to provide refreshments. Talk starts at 7.30pm.

Translocated Eurasian Beaver (Photo: Roisin Campbell-Palmer, Beaver Trust)

Earlier in the day we’re hosting a couple of guided tour talks and walks at Paradise Fields to explain our proposed beaver reintroduction in situ. We expect to see and hear lots of wildlife. All welcome. 1pm and 5pm for guided walks starting at the underpass from Westway Retail Park (via McDonalds car park, postcode UB6 0UW), but drop by all day from 1pm.

Paradise Fields aerial view (Photo: James Morton)

The Dawn Chorus

WHY DO BIRDS SING SO GAY?

(from the song, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love”, originally by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers.)

Wren singing, by Caroline Farrow

It’s just after five in the morning and I’ve been up an hour. It’s getting lighter by the minute and getting noisier, too. I’m an early bird today because I’m sound recording the dawn chorus, on International Dawn Chorus Day, 1 May 2022. And it sounds sublime.

On my garden terrace, which overlooks Hanger Hill Park, I’ve set up a pair of microphones running to a sound recorder in the house. I’m inside, with the recorder, to keep warm although it is a very mild morning. The main reason is so as not to add any of me to the recording. I just want the birds as they make themselves heard over the sound of the A40. Even at dawn on a Sunday morning the sound of the A40 is there. Ordinarily, when I’m in the garden, I tune out the sound of the road that is about half a mile away. Microphones, however, can’t do that and hear all. But the sound of the vehicles making their way in and out of London is also part of the recording. The birds live with the A40: it’s an urban dawn chorus. They will sing whether it’s there or not. But why are they singing in the first place? They are not singing for me….

A very enthusiastic robin singing, by Caroline Farrow

The dawn chorus commences about an hour before sunrise and not all of the birds start singing at the same time as if from a musical director’s cue. If I overlooked Warren Farm, one of the first to start singing would be skylarks – there’s some truth to the saying, “up with the lark.” Hanger Hill Park doesn’t have any skylarks but there are plenty of robins, dunnocks, blackbirds and song thrushes to start the chorus off. Corvids join in and smaller, more delicate, birds such as warblers and wrens that are more sensitive to a chilly dawn pipe up when the singing is well underway. Even tawny and little owls may join in along with rhythmical accompaniment from great spotted woodpeckers as they drum in support. (Males hammer against dead trees and other resonant objects to proclaim territory ownership. One regularly uses a nearby ‘phone mast.)

Skylark singing, by Caroline Farrow

As Dawn’s rosy fingers put the stars to flight it’s still pretty dark and foraging for food is difficult. What better time to sing for a mate or reinforce territory ownership? Singing in broad daylight can be dangerous because it risks the attentions of a predator. It’s best to advertise in dim light before the singer’s position is betrayed. The air is often still and more humid at dawn allowing birdsong to travel much further. (It seems to make the A40’s presence more apparent, too!) As the light strengthens the dawn chorus diminishes as birds drift off on the hunt for food. Singing is hard work and depletes energy reserves which may be at a low ebb after a night’s roost. It is the fittest, best-fed males who sing the strongest, loudest, longest and most impressive song. Females choose a mate who sings best, because such a male is more likely to be good at raising chicks, to have a good territory, or to pass successful genes to their young. In many species, once the female has been attracted, the male will sing less often. A bird that sings on and on, late into the season, is probably a lonely ‘bachelor’ who has failed to attract a mate or perhaps an already paired-up male looking to hook up with another female as with dunnocks with their notoriously complicated ‘love lives.’

A young blue tit, eating and singing, by Caroline Farrow

The dawn chorus is well worth getting up for or, if you are a night-clubbing, gig-going raver delaying getting into bed for! Listen to the dawn chorus stereo recording that I made, perhaps in its entirety (it’s just over 45 minutes) or just dip in and out. Whichever way you listen simply enjoy nature’s songsters. They will gladden your heart.

The recording was made with a matched pair of AKG C451E microphones, with CK1 capsules, in Rycote Softie windshields. The microphones were arranged as a spaced pair. The digital recorder was a Marantz PMD661 and the file format was WAV with a sampling rate of 48kHz at 24bits. The listening mp3 file is barely edited – faded in and out only.

Nigel Bewley

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