The summer season is approaching!

Ahoy! I have had a busy week and have a nice restful day of bellringing on Guernsey to look forward to tomorrow so it’s time to relax and write an Alderney update.

So, what have I been up to in the last month?!

Pretty much everything really: exploring Alderney, butterfly and bumblebee surveying, reserves jobs including finishing off the new Longis Birdhide and maintaining footpaths, tractor cutting, a few bat and hedgehog walks, beach cleans, more ormer hunting, helping set up for puffin season and for the first time today, leading a cycle tour of the island.

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Sharing the white sands and azure seas of the Mediterranean Channel with visitors on a cycle tour this afternoon.

The weather for the last few weeks has been glorious. It’s been sunny almost every day although often the air and wind have been pretty cold. I’ve had my first sunburn of the year and have got out exploring and being shown new places with fellow AWT staff members 🙂 There are two new secret places which we visited in particular which I loved – The ruined Cachliere pier and Bluestone beach. Bluestone is the islands “nudist” beach as it is hidden from view and again hard to find unless you know how. The blue/grey pebbles get lovely and warm in the sun and there and huge wave smoothed boulders of sandy coloured stone to sunbathe on. It’s a lovely swimming beach and the beach drops off steeply so it gets very deep quickly. I had my first swim on 2017 here a couple of weeks ago – it was very cold! We warmed up in the sun afterwards with a hot cup of tea before heading off to lead a beach clean in the afternoon.

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The ruins of Cachliere pier viewed from the approach above
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It’s great to explore and hard to find unless you know the way down!
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We enjoyed a classy glass of prosecco and enjoyed the warm evening and the different view
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The descent to Bluestone beach.

 

Survey season has well and truly begun, I have two weekly butterfly transects to walk and a monthly bumblebee transect. Ideally these should be done on warm, sunny and calm days, we’ve definitely had the sunny but not necessarily the warm and calm!

Here is one of my survey sites a couple of weeks ago – not may butterflies there!

I also see some other interesting things along my transects like this:

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Mucilago crustacea also charmingly known as Dog’s Vomit slime mould

I do love a slime mould! They are a bizarre single celled organism that most of the time live freely and independently. When conditions are right and they meet mating partners, they grow into a ‘plasmodium stage’ of a mobile slimy mass of interconnecting strands. This mass moves over the food source until it runs out which triggers spores to be produced. The plasmodium stage of many species can be very distinctive but is ephemeral and you will only usually see it for a day or so before if darkens, produces spores and the remains dry up.

I’ve encountered a fair number of different insect species in the last few weeks so I have a separate post coming on those – sorry, like the moths this will be more for my benefit than yours!

In the meantime have some photos of Alderney sunrises and sunsets:

 

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What’s the buzz?

Maybe you’ve noticed the spring arrival of huge queen bumblebees? From March onwards they begin to emerge from hibernation and begin the search for a nesting spot. You’ll see them buzzing along near the ground or along walls, stopping every so often to investigate a likely looking hole or crevice.  More often than not it’s found wanting as a nest site and out she comes a few moments later to try somewhere else.

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Buff-tailed bumblebee Bombus terrestris (Photo credit: Tom Wood)

There are 24 species of bumblebee in the UK but only 8 of these are widely distributed. 6 of these are pictured here although the photo quality is very variable!   The biggest threat to bumblebees is habitat loss due to changes in agricultural practices in the UK. Since the 1930s 97% of flower-rich grassland in the UK has been replaced with arable crops or grazing land. Bumblebees are entirely dependent on the pollen and nectar provided by flowers so this has been a huge blow.

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Common carder bee Bombus pascuorum

Back in February, I attended a talk at the university by Dr Catherine Jones, a visiting research fellow who is heavily involved with the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and the reintroduction of the Short-Haired bumblebee in Kent. She explained the importance of monitoring and introduced the Beewalk. This is a citizen science project using a transect method to quantitatively surveying for bumblebees. The idea is that you set up your transect of 1-2 km and walk the route every month from March to October, identifying and counting the bumblebees you see on the route.

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Garden bumblebee Bombus hortorum

More recently I attended a training event as part of the survey volunteer group at Marsden Moor NT. This was run by Moors for the Future and intended to train volunteers to survey bumblebee transects in the Peak District and South Pennines. In order to collect robust and comparable data they have set up a number of transects following Beewalk methodology. However, to simplify the data collection process, the Moors for the Future survey focuses on 3 key species. These are species which are particularly expected to change in distribution in the Peak District area in the future so are of great interest to help monitor these changes. The Bilberry bumblebee  is an upland species, which is found in colder climates and expected to decline in the Peak District in response to climate change. The Tree bumblebee is a newcomer, first seen in the UK in 2001 and spreading rapidly northwards so expected to increase in abundance and distribution in the Peak District. The Red-tailed bumblebee is common across the UK but expected to become more common in the colder uplands in response to climate change.

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Tree bumblebee Bombus hypnorum

Following all this bumblebee talk, I’ve decided to set up my own Beewalk transect to survey for bumblebees in Leeds. I’m starting a little late but hopefully I’ll get some good results and improve my bumblebee ID skills. After a chat with a representative from Butterfly Conservation Yorkshire, I’m hoping I can combine the same route with a butterfly transect this summer and learn more about these beautiful insects too.

More on these to come then!

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Early bumblebee Bombus pratorum
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White-tailed bumblebee Bombus lucorum