Saturday 29 June 2013

To bee or not to bee...

...that is the question.

For a few years I have been interested in bumblebees. I guess being a "Bee" myself and being rather small made me identify myself with these lovely insects. To be honest I am still struggling to name the different species but at least I was quite sure when I caught this fellow today that he is just pretending to be a bumblebee.

Volucella bombylans var. plunata

This insect is called Volucella bombylans and is a hover fly. It is an excellent mimic of a bumblebee and is found throughout most of the UK. There are two main varieties which mimic different species of bumblebee, one with an orange-red tail (V. bombylans var. plunata) which mimics the Red-tailed Bumblebee and the other with a white tail (V. bombylans var. bombylans) which looks like the White-tailed Bumblebee.

You can tell them from real bumblebees by looking at their head and feet. The real bumblebee has smaller and glistening eyes and long antennae. The hover fly's antennae are very small, while the eyes are much bigger. The fly flies elegantly like all other hover flies and is able to come to a complete stand still in the air. The bumblebee flies in straight lines, less elegantly and never does a standstill, for it can't. The hover fly larva of Volucella bombylans live in the nests of bumble bees, eating the rubbish produced but they might also prey on bumblebee larvae.

On the bird front we can announce that we have finally finished our all island bird counts. As the Kittiwakes were running really late we circumnavigated Skomer on our little Zodiac once more to count them. The first Kittiwake chicks were observed about 10 days ago.

James and Ed counting birds

All our auks are now busy feeding their chicks. So are the Manx Shearwaters which come in at night with a stomach full of oily fish. Annette Fayet, one of our researchers weighed a one day old chick on Friday which was only 50g. Today it weighed an astonishing 120g, it had more than doubled its body weight in one night!

Annette with a Manx Shearwater chick

One day old and weighing in at 50g

And what else is going on on Skomer? Well, as pictures are often better than words, I will let the photos speak for themselves:

First there is love (P. Reufsteck)

Then there is a chick
And the chick wants some food (P. Reufsteck)

Different species, same story

Razorbill egg

Razorbill chick (P. Reufsteck)

And this is impressive mum (or dad) (P. Reufsteck)

We could have just as well called this blog post 'the birds and the bees', either way Shakespeare would definitely have approved.

Bee (Skomer Warden)

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Sand Eels for tea

Firstly we would like to apologise for being so lax when it comes to blog posts recently. We did more in the spring and we will definitely do more once the breeding season is over. Right now we are so busy counting birds, fixing tractors and helping researchers with work day and night that we have a struggle to stay awake long enough to blog. However, here is a quick update on how the season is going. We will also have a few guest bloggers to try and get more island news out.

So to the birds: Some Razorbill chicks hatched on the 10th of June and the adults are now busy feeding the cute little balls of fluff on oil rich fish. 

Sand Eels for tea

Another chick gets fed

Some of the colonies are densely packed and counting them is a challenge (especially from a boat) but with patience and by counting more than once we can get a fairly good idea as to how many individuals are frequenting the nesting ledges during the summer. Skomers seabirds are generally doing well and ledges that held a few hundred a few decades ago now look like this.

The Guillemot colonies are particularly dense

Not many birds can breed at such high densities and a complex social structure is needed to allow this strategy to work.

The whole island needs to be counted from the land and sea as many times as we can during the short breeding season. Whilst the weather is good whole days in a row are spent on the waves.

Five people is the optimum number to do the counts

It is still slightly too early to say exactly how this years figures compare with past years but we will update the blog with news as soon as we have pulled all the counts together.

All pictures by Pia Reufsteck

Eddie Stubbings, Skomer Warden  

Saturday 8 June 2013

Let the moth trapping commence!

Let the moth trapping commence!

Summer has well and truly begun on Skomer Island after two weeks of sunny warm weather.  The bluebells have bloomed and are starting to die off, the red campion is now out in full, meadow pipits and wheatears are busy feeding chicks and the puffins are starting to come in with beakfulls of sandeels.  

a sea of bluebells

The warm weather has given James and me a chance to get our moth traps out.  James has been using two heath traps powered by 12volt batteries in various places in both heath and bracken habitats around the island; while I’ve been running a Robinson trap outside the farm buildings.  Every morning is like Christmas as you never know which species you’ll get in the trap! 

The traps use light to attract the moths which then fall in and hide amongst the egg boxes until morning when they are identified and released. 

Robinson trap

It can take a long time to go through all the egg boxes!
Exciting species so far have been:

A pale pinion which is the 2nd record for Skomer and a rare red twin spot carpet.
Pale pinion

Red twin spot carpet
 My personal favourite is the spectacle (I like his glasses and his hat!)
The spectacle

James’ favourite is the Ruby Tiger 

Ruby tiger