Monday, 29 September 2014

Autumn Moths

Two posts in quick succession because I have a really busy week ahead and don't know when I'll have a chance to post these moths otherwise.

The box was out last night and, because the nights are relatively mild at the moment, the moths were out in numbers with 123 in the box. There has been a shift over the past month towards autumnal species, which is what you would expect given that October is knocking on our door. Autumn moths come in a range of burnt umbers, pale yellows and deep oranges to match the falling leaves, or else they are dark and Gothic.

We are also inundated with hornets. These moth killers excellently designed predators are attracted to light and believe it or not they also fly at night. There are usually two or three in the box in the morning and they are responsible for the miserable butchery I find inside. They will rip the wings and heads off moths, tearing them apart as if they are made of paper. Hornets are dozy first thing so they are easy enough to remove, but they are powerful and violent creatures when fully awake. 

Luckily, there were only a handful of deceased moths to sort out this morning as well as two more-perky-than-I'd-have-liked hornets (Poppy thought it would be fun to pick one up as it crawled across the patio- luckily she dropped it when I yelled at her and no stinging occured); the other moths were all safely asleep inside the egg boxes with a few dozing on nearby leaves.....

Angle Shades

Black Rustic

Blood Vein

Brindled Green

Brindled Green

Burnished Brass

Frosted Orange
Frosted Orange

Lunar Underwing

Maiden's Blush

Oak Hook-tip

Pink Barred Sallow

Another Pink Barred Sallow

Pyrausta Aurata (a small micro moth)

Common Wainscot

The aptly-named Yellow Tail
The four new visitors amongst those brings my 2014 moth tally up to 284 different species. Last year it was 311 and time is now getting tight to match that. I was confident at the start of the year that we would, largely because I didn't start trapping till June last year and this year I started in February. The summer months are obviously boom time for moth numbers and species and I can think of a handful of species that turned up last year that haven't this, but even so, I'm surprised I haven't yet exceeded last year's total. 

I've had a much better year butterfly-wise. Last year I noted down 24 species and this year I have seen 36. I have gone out actively seeking them, which has helped, and I've been doing surveys too. I've also had expert help from Dave who has a wealth of knowledge about species ID, and I've seen new species at home that weren't here last year (skippers, small copper, purple emp). This is possibly because of changes we've made to habitat, but maybe also because I'm more aware of them so I notice them.

My 2014 butterfly species list (seen out and about as well as at home) consists of: 

Red admiral
White Admiral
Small tortoiseshell
Orange tip
Speckled wood

Large white
Small white
Marbled white
Green veined white
Common blue
Small blue
Holly blue
Chalkhill blue
Adonis blue
Brown argus 
Green hairstreak
Brown hairstreak 
Small copper
Grizzled skipper
Dingy skipper
Large skipper
Small skipper
Silver spotted skipper
Essex skipper
Small heath
Meadow brown
Dark green fritillary
Silver washed fritillary
Purple Emperor
Painted lady
Clouded yellow

There are about fifty eight British butterfly species, some of whom you can only see in specific sites in Scotland and in coastal areas, so I reckon I've done quite well with 36.

Right, I'm off to put some polish on an assignment. Wishing you all a peaceful and productive day,

CT :o)

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The Sea, The Sea, Diet Update & The Baby Grass Snakes Have Hatched!

First, a quick update on the New Diet. It seems eating as our ancestors would have done is working, because I've been pretty much pain free since Friday. Good.

We went to Keyhaven this morning as I was getting sea withdrawal symptoms. The sun shone and it was hot (22 degrees). M went swimming, Poppy considered it but the swish swash of the water against the pebbles on the beach put her off and Ted sat on the edge of the water woofing at M to please be careful and can you get out soon in fact, Dad? L made me feel sick by jumping from one enormous flood-defence boulder to another. These have huge bloody great cracks to fall down/ break legs on and he does this every time we visit, knowing full well that I hate it. To soothe my nerves I took photos of Turnstones (love them) and made a small pebble tower (obligatory) and generally enjoyed the warmth of the sun on my skin........

When we got home I gave both the dogs a bath. They are now white, fluffy and generally sweet smelling, which is not like them at all. Teddy threw me a reproachful look while I was drying him off as if asking why did you have to do that? while Pop made a bee-line straight for the back door in a very obvious attempt to escape into the garden and thereby roll in earth or pigeon poo. I was too quick for her though and got there first, shutting the door so she couldn't get out. She was furious.
L hates baths or anything to do with personal hygiene in general (classic teenage water aversion) and usually whinges about having to run the bath too. Sunday is bath and hair wash night here, so after I'd shampooed the dogs I called down to say he could have an early bath if he wanted because there was one already run. For some reason, he wasn't keen...... 

After all that excitement, we went blackberrying to some late-flowering brambles we found in a hedgerow by a field while we were walking the dogs last weekend. The farmer has cut the hedge in the interval, but there were still two tub's worth. Some of these will be going into my new paleo berry burst breakfast smoothie tomorrow.....


Back at the start of summer I put out a refugia (a type of ground sheet for reptiles and small mammals) at the top of the garden near the pond. I have been hoping to find slow worms but so far no luck. Instead we've had voles, shrews and teeny weeny baby toadlets under there. That is, until today when I discovered this little beauty curled up asleep on the nest the voles have made......

Remember the Grass Snake eggs the dogs discovered in the compost heap earlier in the year? That was back in July and you can read about it HERE. Well, this little person is a baby Grass Snake and it is very likely that he came from that self-same batch of eggs which I rescued and reburied in the hope they'd be OK.

Grass Snakes are declining in the UK and it is reasonably unusual to see them, largely because they are so sensitive to ground tremours they are usually off long before you get close enough to spot them. I did see an adult this summer but it was dying, and last year of course we had the enormous but graceful Samantha Helvetica sunning herself in the veg patch over several days. I've never seen a baby before though. Not until this afternoon. They are BAP listed and protected by UK law which makes it an offence to kill or sell them.

I was extremely careful picking this little one up and in the end he didn't want to get off my hand (probably because it was warm) but he did show us the Famous Grass Snake Lunge, a feint that they do to warn off predators. They mimic a poisonous snake's lunge as if they are about to bite. As I put the camera closer he drew his head up and struck forward suddenly in a very convincing bite feint. Grass Snakes have no venom, so this is their main protection strategy. I've never seen it in the wild before as Samantha used to just turn tail and flee when she saw us, so I was most impressed that this baby used it.
Note the prominence of the yellow collar immediately behind his head- this instantly tells you this is a Grass Snake rather than a poisonous adder. I've not seen such a prominent collar before- the adults we get here are usually much paler. Isn't he sweet?

I am SO thrilled he is here and that the refugia is doing it's job of providing a safe haven for these dear little souls. Next to him (which made me smile, considering their relationship as adults is as predator and prey) was a tiny weeny baby toad.... I've seen quite a few of these in recent weeks under the refugia which is Good News.

Also out and about in the garden today....

Carder bee on Cornflower

Nettle Tap moth on Cosmos

And at last! The Blue Pimpernels sown this Spring have decided to flower

All in all a good day.

I'll leave you with a pic of the two doggy people who are tired after their various excursions (not to mention their bath). The moth box is out tonight so I should have some lovely autumn moths to share with you all this week.

Wishing you all a peaceful evening,

CT :o)

Friday, 26 September 2014

Goldcrest In Ancient Woodland And The Stone Age Diet

I've been asked to do a plant survey in some ancient woodland managed by the National Trust, so yesterday afternoon Dave and I set off with a camera, a notebook and a pencil to see what we could find. I'd forgotten both my loupe and my Francis Rose bible (a wildflower book), so that was a good start. 

We were working in a stretch of ancient woodland that is about to be brought back in to coppice rotation, so our task was to record all the plant species we could find, before they start coppicing. I'll return in the Spring and make a new list- the comparison between the two will indicate trends in woodland flora and how they are affected by coppice management. It's an ongoing survey which I will do for each season until we've built up sufficient data to be able to observe trends. I worry that I am sounding increasingly like a scientist, or possibly even someone who knows what they are talking about.

Should be interesting anyway.

We noted over thirty different plant species, including a couple of ancient woodland indicators. My expectation is that, once the canopy is open and sunlight can come in, we'll find more of them in the Spring. Bluebells and primrose spring to mind, but there should also be wood anemones and possibly violets.

This particular woodland also has dormice boxes in it, and an on going survey is hoping to establish their presence in the wood. So far, no luck, which is odd because the habitat is right. I wonder whether they are there, they just don't like the nest boxes.

While we were searching the ground we heard the distinctive high-pitched call of the Goldcrest, Europe's smallest bird (bet you thought it was the Wren, didn't you?). I have an app on my phone that allows you to play birdsong, so we switched it on and waited to see what would happen. Sure enough. two tiny wee birds soon flitted down out of the canopy and sat listening to my recorded call. They seemed very intrigued by us and spent a good fifteen minutes zooming busily about through the branches near our heads, replying to my recorded call. I wonder what they were saying? Fantastic little things. I had also forgotten my camera (sacrilege) so this pic is off the net...


On a different subject, I'm wondering how many of you have heard of Lectins? Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins that are found in most foods, but are present in especially high levels in grains (wheat, rice, corn etc), dairy products, pulses, beans, legumes, foods from the nightshade family (peppers, tomatoes, potatoes), and certain fruits and vegetables. They cause agglutinisation (clumping) of red blood cells and are implicated in many digestive tract disorders because they damage the gut wall and contribute to leaky gut syndrome. There is also an increasing body of evidence that suggests they are implicated in auto-immune conditions, inflammatory conditions and nervous-system conditions.

My digestion has been dicky for years  but it's got a lot worse over the past three or four. Doctors scratch their heads and prescribe antacids or acid suppressants (which, being a holistic person I won't take) and dieticians offer low fibre solutions. I thought I'd cracked it this year by cutting out all dairy except cheese early in the year and by stopping drinking white wine (acidic) and generally eating earlier before bed. It has been better for weeks, but a couple of months ago it went hay-wire again and it's not been good since.

Running helps, so I try to do that every other day, but it's not the whole answer.

I stumbled across lectins a couple of years ago. I get a lot of people coming to see me for treatment with digestive problems so I tend to read around subjects and try and keep up with the latest research. Lectins are not well understood- my GP and the last clinical dietician I saw knew nothing about them - but the essence of them is that they are indigestible and are probably present in plants to act as a toxin to warn wild things not to over consume that particular plant.

They would have been present in the kind of diet that was eaten by our Paleolithic (Stone Age) ancestors, but only in very small amounts. Today we consume them by the bucket load. The reason why a Stone Age diet is being increasingly recommended for health is because in evolutionary terms it's the merest blink of eye since we were foraging for food, eating meat, seasonal nuts, seeds, berries and green leaves and little else, as well as not mixing food types (ie eating protein on its own, fruit on its own etc) and our digestive systems simply haven't had sufficient time to evolve to cope with the modern diet.

I looked up symptoms of lectin intolerance....

Bloating, nausea, pain, flatulence, excessive burping and gas, vomiting, discomfort after eating, headaches, joint pain, upper respiratory tract infections, excess or too little mucous, auto-immune conditions such as coeliac disease, inflammatory responses, excess or continued tiredness, flu like symptoms, changes to bowel habit, stabbing pains, sinusitis, sore throat, distended abdomen, insomnia, depression, mood swings, irritability.

Hmm. Well I get quite a few of those when my gut's playing up and I am convinced food is the source of my problems. Working as a holistic practitioner for the last seventeen years has taught me that no one answer is going to fit everyone. There will be food I can tolerate that you can't and vice versa. So, what I'm doing is making a list of high and low lectin foods and I am shifting my diet to accommodate them. I will trial some foods and be open minded about them, because it may be that I can tolerate cheese for example but no other types of dairy. It may also be that I can eat small quantities of one type of food but not large ones.

For anything like this to be effective you need to follow it for a minimum of eight weeks and probably more like twelve. That takes us up to Christmas. I'm not sure at this stage whether I need to cut out all types of wheat or will be OK just eating it once a day, but I am cutting out all other grains, beans and legumes, nightshade family foods, dairy products and certain vegetables, as well as white wine, spirits, crisps, cakes, biscuits and chocolate. I already only drink water so giving up tea and coffee is not a problem for me. It leaves me with a pretty clean-looking diet that takes in meat, fish, sweet potatoes, spinach, carrots, watercress, courgette, beetroot, cauliflower, berries (raspberries, blackberries, blueberries), bananas, nut milks, coconut water, red wine (in moderation) and seafood. After the twelve weeks are up I may start to reintroduce specific foods one by one and note down any responses. This all depends on whether any of this has an affect.

I have to say that even after a day of shifting my eating habits onto these foods I am not feeling as uncomfortable as I have been.

I'll report back as I go along with this because I'm quite sure there will be a number of you reading who also suffer from poorly tummies and would like to be free of the pain and discomfort they cause. A sick stomach can really rule your life.

I shall be your guinea pig! And if any of you have any thoughts or experiences you think might be useful to add to this please let me know via the comments- I'd be really interested in hearing your tales.

Here are some links that explain lectins and the paleo (stone age) diet theories in more detail. They also provide a list of foods and dietary approaches that are low in lectin, and the last one looks at food combining, which I am also interested in because it links back to the way our ancestors would have eaten and relates to theories of evolutionary biology. 

CT :o)

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

The Dog Ate My Homework (no, really) And Clearing A Medieval Pond

I've been silent recently because I'm back at college and it has been non-stop. It is lovely to see everyone again and nice to be learning more ecology stuff. Today we have been restoring a medieval pond (more on that in a minute), so I left the house early. When I got back after lunch this was waiting for me on the kitchen table....

The kitchen table is Out Of Bounds To Dogs (a shock, I know). One dog (who shall remain nameless) finds it enormous fun to leap on the chair and from thence onto the table and chew whatever is on it. I thought I had shoved all the chairs tightly under the table when I left this morning, but certain people are evidently cleverer and more determined than I realised.

L, whose homework sheet this is, will either a) find it hysterically funny and spend the rest of the week telling his chums with great glee that his dog ate his homework (literally), or b) he'll be cross. Given that no actual work has been done yet and this is just a sheet of instructions, which can be replaced following the handing in of a note containing the legend 'please Miss, my dog ate my homework,' (which he has been dying to use ever since he started school), and also because he shares my sense of humour, I suspect it will be a).

There are two potential culprits as you know, but I don't think I need to point out who was actually responsible, do I.....?

My college course contains a practical day. These are always good fun, mostly because of the people involved, but the work we do is also interesting and varied. Last year, I learnt how to put up a fence, coppice a woodland, lay a hedge, bash scrub on chalk downland, make nest boxes and also watched the Red Deer rut at Richmond Park (which was fab). This year, we have an equally varied and interesting programme, which kicked off today with the clearing of an ancient pond. 
I said it was Medieval in the header because there are records of it dating from the 1600s, HOWEVER, it is also mentioned in a document from the 1100s, and given that the Parish it sits in has been around at least since Saxon times I would hazard a guess that it has probably always been here.

The road next to it is now a very busy one, but up until a hundred years ago it was the turnpike way into Winchester and there were few houses on it apart from the nearby manor, church and farm. The pond had long been used as a watering hole for cattle from the farm and for sheep that were brought down from nearby Teg Down (a Teg is a sheep in its second year, or before its first shearing). During the latter part of the last century it had been somewhat neglected, and a few years ago underwent a restoration project which involved lining the sides and base with concrete, putting two rafts at either end which reeds now grow on, putting in drainage channels from the road and a pump in the pond itself.

It was hugely overgrown with reeds when we arrived this morning, and so our primary task was to cut them back as far as we could. The main source of water for the pond is rainwater, or run off and drainage from the road, so it isn't rich in wildlife because the water quality is poor. Even so, life will find a way to make use of a resource like this and we found a Common Frog, a Leech, some goldfish (apparently they get tipped in after Christmas when people receive them as unwanted pets), a yellow water lily, wild mint and purple loose-strife growing among the reeds. I spoke with the pond manager who told me a surveyor found a newt in it a few years ago, and that he himself had seen dragonflies using it. I saw crane flies while we were talking, and I'd lay money there will be moth and butterfly eggs among the greenery, so it does have wildlife value. It is also an amenity for the local people so the management plan has to reflect all these different uses, views and needs.

It quickly began to look better when a number of Brave Ecology Students donned waders and intrepidly went in wielding slashers and clippers......

I was dying for someone to fall in and had the camera ready to record the moment, but Sash (who can usually be relied upon to oblige) was keeping well away from the water, and everyone else was steady on their toes.

Large amounts of disgusting rubbish were fished out and chucked away.....

And the reeds themselves, with attached gunk from the bottom, could hardly be called fragrant. But ecologists don't let a small thing like a putrid smell stop them.....

Fi, demonstrating her muscles. Go Girl!

Harv, being Lovely And Polite, as always....

Caroline adding to the pile of growing reeds

Stu came up with an ingenious method of drawing the copious quantities of duck weed off the surface using a piece of rope stretched between himself and Dave. They dragged it across the water, trapping Cal in the process....

 We were all surprised when it worked and soon the pond was looking much, much happier.....

It had taken us a couple of hours to return it to a healthier state. Man (and girl) power and a few simple tools can achieve much, eh?

We had a break for some food and pictures....

My buddy Dave, looking dashing as he models this season's must-have item....waders

Fi, lending grace and elegance to a spade, a pair of wellies and workmans' gloves

Sash with Harv (who is not as frightening as he looks in this piccie. Promise).

Yellow lily Nuphar lutea
After lunch we cleared up and packed away. During the course of Clearing Up, Great Excitement was caused by the discovery of a leech, who Harv picked up so I could take a picture and we could all see it better. I suggested some action shots would be preferable, and asked whether he'd mind putting it on his arm so it could draw blood, but for some reason he wasn't keen, so you'll just have to make do with it on his glove instead....

 And here is everyone being Fascinated By The Leech....

All in all it's lovely to be back :o)

I'll leave you with Poppy 'All Your Homework Needs Taken Care Of' Russell.

Hope you're all keeping well?

CT x