Kingston University Biodiversity Action Group

04-05-2013 : Mini-Bioblitz: Kingston Hill wildlife discovery!

A crowd of 21 nature-curious volunteers explored the Kingston Hill campus on Saturday for all forms of flora and fauna in our annual Mini-Bioblitz. A delightful day of wildlife discovery was had by all!

The finds from our pond drew a crowd...
The day began cloudy, but in good spirits with everyone eager to discover what called Kingston Hill campus home. Bird watching was first on the agenda as the morning is the most active time for them. At this time of year (the day before International Dawn Chorus Day), birdsong is at its peak as most of the migrants have arrived. Local ecologist Alison, with the help of Sutton's Biodiversity Officer Dave, led a small group in search of birds.

Shhhhhhh! Keep very quiet and still...Alison listened out for the distinctive calls of the feathered inhabitants of our woodland  (photo courtesy of P. Rojas).

Kingston student Fiona, took part and had this to say:

"... it was great fun. ... as part of identifying the bird species around Kingston Hill we had to listen to the sounds that the birds were making to know their names, saw the interrelations between insects like ladybird bumblebees and the birds by viewing their habitats, and as as we were finishing our project we saw a fox it was trying to scare us away! I really learnt a lot and it didn’t feel like work at all it was very educational, interesting and fun and would like to thank the experts that guided as throughout the bird watching. Thank you!!!"

Hear more about Fiona's experience on the KUSU volunteering blog.

Dave investigated this dead wood stump for life (photo courtesy of P. Rojas)
Other sightings by Alison and Dave's group included Blackcap (Sylvia atricapilla) a summer migrant of the Warbler family which feeds on our berries and insects; Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) one of the UK's smallest birds; and even a Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) known for its hovering hunting technique.

Meanwhile the rest of the gang went bug hunting with help from the knowledgable two Johns and Martin. Soil and leaf litter sampling, plus overturning logs and tarpaulin revealed a wealth of invertebrates.

Philip examines the underside of this log seat for bugs

Ant expert, John Fellowes, was keen to see which ant species could be found here.
In the woodland seating area we unearthed a number of creepy crawlies, including Flat-backed Millipede (Polydesmus engustus) which has longer legs and antennae than most other milipedes in the UK; Earthworm (Lumbricus rubellus) and Common Woodlouse (Oniscus asellus) which are both very important nutrient recyclers in the woodland.

Local beetle enthusiast John Hatto helps Ingrid to identify another mysterious bug
Many mammals are primarily active during the night, so we were on the look out for field signs instead of direct observation. Last Autumn we undertook a small mammal survey so know Wood Mice and Bank Voles use the site, but there were no tell-tale signs today. We did find evidence of Badger activity and witnessed Grey Squirrels up in the trees.

A wander through the woods also highlighted the diversity of plantlife including Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) a member of the rose family; Nettle (Urtica dioica) which is great for wildlife as it supports up to 40 species of insect; and Wild Arum (Arum maculatum) also known as 'Lords and Ladies'. It was clear we have a few domestic garden escapees in our woodland too, such as Raspberry, Bamboo and Azalea.

Elliot gets up close and personal with an Elder. We all know it for its flowers and berries which can be turned into wondrous concoctions, so the pungent (not so pleasant) smell was a complete surprise!

Beautiful bluebells in bloom in our woodland. These are the Spanish variety with their upright stems, and large flowers.
We found we had a mixture of English Bluebell (hyacinthoides non-scripta) and Spanish Bluebell (hyacinthoides hispanica) and even hybrids (hyacinthoides massartiana) where the two had cross-pollinated. This is a familiar situation across Britain today and a worrying trend. The true English Bluebell could soon be just a memory as the genetic pool alters.

Our collection of unidentified species
The clouds turned to rain at midday, signalling time to head indoors to Bioblitz Basecamp! All unidentified specimen were rounded up in pots and trays to be given a closer inspection under microscopes, with further help from the world wide web.

Basecamp - a chance to do some further investigations.

The pooters (bug collecting pots operated by sucking) were a big hit with the younger participants!

John and Dave deliberate: 'Which bee is that?'
The afternoon brought sunshine and renewed energy to get identifying outside again! This time pond dipping was on the agenda, so donning wellies, waders and nets, participants ventured in to the Kingston Hill pond to net some pondlife.

Ingrid proudly presents her star find...a newt!

The patterning underneath told us it was a Smooth Newt (Lissotriton vulgaris). At this time of year this adult could be actively breeding on our pond. They do however, prey on frog tadpoles which may explain why we didn't spot any of those.
Other creatures weren't so easy to identify, or even spot in the first place!

You wouldn't think this collection of twigs in Gerrard's hand was alive would you?!
Caddisflies ingeniously encase themselves in a collection of debris taken from their surroundings for camouflage. Different species use different materials; some use leaves, others use twigs or gravel. With a little more research, Ruth identified this Caddisfly as Limnephilus flavicornis, with its distinctive criss-cross construction technique.

Dr Ruth Kirk was able to explain the amazing behaviour of caddisflies to inquisitive volunteers.

Elliot sweeps the vegetation to try and uncover some other species.
It took a good while to find our first pond snails, but when we did we found one after the other after the other! Our haul included one with a line of snail eggs attached. These made it back to the pond but the adults went to the lab for DNA sequencing to fully identify which species we were looking at. This will take a few weeks.

Examining pond snails - these will require DNA sequencing - very hi-tech!

Curiouser and curiouser, what can it be? John puzzles over the contents of this sampling tray from the pond.

Dragonfly larva - a common find at our mini Bioblitz. This one was identified as a Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) with eyes broader then they were long.
One of the more scary looking finds from the pond, these dragonfly larvae could be from outerspace with their big eyes, numerous legs and armoured casing. Yet, in the summer they will turn into the beautiful dragonflies we all adore buzzing around the pond in their dazzling colours. During this larval stage they are a big threat to other pond dwellers with their voracious appetite. They have obviously found plenty to eat here at the Kingston Hill pond as we found several in our first few nets!

While some got in the pond, others waited to see what emerged on the surrounding lawn. A ladybird flew over and considerately landed on our Ladybird ID guide for identification! It turned out to be a Cream Spot Ladybird (Calvia 14-guttata), identified by its six spots aligned across the wing cases. It will have flown in from its favoured hedgerow and deciduous tree habitat nearby to investigate our Bioblitz goings on.

After being photographed on the ID guide, the ladybird liked the look of itself on the camera phone so much it flew over to check itself out!
The lawn was once acid grassland and we found species typical of that habitat do still remain such as red fescue, rushes, moss and sedge species. In time, these may spread to increase the proportion of this rare habitat.

Other wildlife spotted around the pond included a House Martin (Delichon urbica) soaring high in the blue sky this summer migrant will spend much of its time feeding on the wing; a Mallard duck (Anas platyrhynchos) making its way to the pond for a swim no doubt and, right at the last minute John spotted a Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) fluttering in the warm sunshine - this will be an adult from the first of two Holly Blue broods to emerge this year.
In all, we made over 150 identifications in this one day - an amazing feat! Well done everyone, and huge thanks to Alison, John, Dave, John, Ruth and Martin for sharing their expertise. 
Can't wait for next year? Why not hold your own mini-bioblitz? Check out the BNHC website for ways to get identifying in your own garden or attend other local bioblitzes.

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