Dolphin – Common

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Common Dolphin

The common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) is also known as the short-beaked common dolphin and is one of the smallest of the dolphins, measuring 2.1 – 2.4 metres in length and weighing 75 – 85 kg. The body is long and slender, as is the beak, and the dorsal fin is tall and pointed. The species is often confused with the striped dolphin Stenella coeruleoalba, but the common dolphin’s haracteristic hourglass or criss-cross pattern on its flanks is a good distinguishing feature. This patch is tan or yellowish in colour before the dorsal fin, and pale grey behind. Common dolphins are very agile and active.

They commonly bow-ride, often accompanying boats for many miles, and are capable of swimming at great speed, as well as engaging in energetic aerial acrobatics.

Diet
Mainly opportunistic feeders, the common dolphin diet is very varied, consisting chiefly of small schooling fish such as cod, hake, mackerel, sardine, pilchard, horse mackerel, scad, sprat, sand eel, herring, whiting and blue whiting, as well as squid – the type of food taken depends on local availability. Groups of dolphins often use co-operative feeding techniques to herd schools of fish, panicking the fish through frenzied activity and taking them in the confusion.

Social Behaviour
The common dolphin is a gregarious animal, often found in large, active schools. In British waters, most herds consist of less than 30 individuals, and animals often occur solitarily or in pairs, although occasional schools of more than one hundred dolphins can be seen. School size increases in mid-summer and midwinter, possibly linked to the dolphins following prey moving inshore. They are highly vocal, emitting high-pitched squeals that can often be heard easily above the surface of the water.

Common dolphins develop strong social bonds, particularly between mother and young, and males and females; if one animal is captured or injured, the other will remain in attendance, and frequently shows much distress at its companion’s plight, squeaking and squealing.

Reproduction
Common dolphins appear to have two calving peaks – spring and autumn – with a gestation period of 10 – 11 months. Other females may assist the mother with the birth and also take part in ‘baby-sitting’ while the mother feeds. Calves are 80 – 90 cm long at birth. They are weaned at the age of around 19 months, and the mother has a resting period of about four months before her next pregnancy so that calving intervals are generally 2-3 years or more. Males become sexually mature at 5-7 years of age, and females at around six years. Common
dolphins can live to 30-35 years.

Status and Distribution
In the British Isles, they are common in the western approaches to the Channel and the southern Irish Sea (particularly around the celtic Deep) and around the Inner Hebrides north to Skye. In recent years, the species has occurred further north and east in shelf seas – around Shetland and Orkney, and in the northern North Sea, reflecting changes in the strength of the Gulf Stream. It is generally rare to see them in the southern North Sea and eastern portion of the Channel.

Threats
The major threat facing common dolphins in British waters in recent years appears to be entanglement in trawl and purse seine nets in the Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay. This has resulted in large numbers dying and subsequently being washed ashore, particularly in the southwest of Britain, due to the fact that they often prey on the same species as the fisheries, thus becoming a prime target for accidental capture. Although there is no evidence of serious organochlorine contamination in eastern North Atlantic common dolphins, specimens from the Atlantic coast of France have been found with high levels of methyl mercury (max 631 Cg/g dry weight in the liver), with levels of total mercury increasing with age.

Credit: © Information and photo kindly supplied by the Sea Watch Foundation

www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk

www.adoptadolphin.org.uk

Dormouse

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Dormouse

Dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius)

Habitat
Deciduous woodland, Mixed woodland and Coniferous woodland.

Description
Orange/yellow fur; our only small mammal with a very distinctive thick furry tail. Large eyes and ears (because it is nocturnal); Paws turn sideways (for climbing).

Size
60-90mm, tail 57-68mm

Weight
10-15g in juveniles; 15-26g in adults, up to 43g before hibernation.

Origin and Distribution
Dormice occur mainly in southern counties, especially in Devon, Somerset, Sussex and Kent. There are few recorded localities north of the Midlands, though they are present in parts of the Lake District and in scattered Welsh localities. The dormouse is found in deciduous woodland and overgrown hedgerows.

General Ecology
The dormouse is a strictly nocturnal species, found in deciduous woodland and overgrown hedgerows. It spends most of its time climbing among tree branches in search of food, and rarely comes to the ground. During the day it sleeps in a nest, often in a hollow tree branch or a deserted bird nest or nest box. Dormice are able to lower their body temperature and become torpid, so saving energy, if food is short or weather prevents them foraging. During the winter they hibernate and are not normally active again until April or May. Thus dormice may spend three-quarters of their year ‘asleep’.

Dormice live at low population densities (one tenth as abundant as bank voles and wood mice in the same habitats).

Diet
Dormice feed on flowers, pollen, fruits, insects and nuts.

Lifespan
Up to five years.

Breeding
They can raise one or occasionally two litters a year, each usually of about four young. The new-born dormice remain with their mother for 6-8 weeks before becoming independent. The breeding season and success depends very much on the weather.

Conservation Status
Dormice are strictly protected by law and may not be intentionally killed, injured or disturbed in their nests, collected, trapped or sold except under licence. Their principal requirement is for a diverse habitat featuring several different trees and shrubs to provide food throughout the summer. Coppice management of wood-lands can create such conditions; but cleared areas and wide rides may interfere with the movements of dormice, because the animals live almost exclusively in the trees. Surveys show dormice have declined in Britain this century. Loss and fragmentation of ancient woodlands, climatic difficulties and suspension of coppicing are all probably connected with this. Nest boxes, put up with the entrance facing a tree trunk, are attractive to dormice and help survival and breeding success.

Re-introductions of dormice are often suggested, but these require suitable (large) areas of woodland habitat and long periods of supplementary feeding. Breeding dormice in captivity is difficult and wild-caught animals are unlikely to be available in sufficient numbers. If fewer than 20 animals are released there is a high risk of failure. However, they have been success-fully reintroduced since 1992 to several counties (including Cheshire, Cambridgeshire, Derbyshire).

Many thanks to the Mammal Society for sharing the information, for more details on the Society please visit their website below:

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Dragonfly (Common Darter)

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Dragonfly (Common Darter)

The Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) is a small dragonfly that quickly colonises ponds. The male is dull red and the female is yellow, orange or brown. It can be seen from mid to late summer and sometimes in autumn in large numbers; it can be the last dragonfly to be seen on the wing.

The dragonfly hovers and darts to catch its prey, usually insects such as gnats and midges.

The female lays her eggs just below the surface of the water. The larvae emerge and live in the pond for a year feeding on small aquatic animals such as tadpoles.

Credit: Information and photo kindly supplied by Peter Dowse of Bollington, Cheshire.

Dragonfly (4 Spotted Chaser)

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Dragonfly - Four-spotted chaser

Four-Spotted Chaser Dragonfly – Libellula quadrimaculata

Dragonflies are similar to damselflies, but hold their wings horizontally at right-angles to their body when at rest. Adults of dragonflies and damselflies have large eyes and are usually found near freshwater, though dragonflies are strong fliers and are sometimes found some distance from water.

What do they look like?
The Four-Spotted Chaser is 45-48 mm long, with a wingspan of 74-78 mm. The body is generally brown in colour, with the abdomen darkening from a yellowish-brown near the front to black at its tip. From the side, yellow markings can be seen along the side of the abdomen. The distinctive feature of the Four-Spotted Chaser is that there is an obvious dark brown spot near the middle of the leading edge of each wing (in addition to the dark spot near the tip of each wing, and the dark patch at the base of each hind wing).

The Four-Spotted Chaser is similar in general appearance to females and immature males of the Broad-Bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) and the Black-Tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum), but these two species do not have the dark spots near the middle of their wings.)

Where do they live?
Four-Spotted Chasers are particularly common on or near lowland ponds and small lakes, often with little open water, but are also found near larger lakes and at brackish sites.

Where can they be found?
Four-Spotted Chasers are found throughout most of Europe. In Britain, the species is common and widespread, but is absent from some parts of north-east England.

When can you see them?
Adults are found flying from mid-May to mid-August.

Life cycle
Mating is brief and takes place in mid-air. The female often lays her eggs alone, but is sometimes guarded by the male. The eggs are released as the female dips or flicks the tip of her abdomen on the water surface over patches of aquatic plants. The eggs hatch after about a month. The nymphs live underwater among plant debris, where they grow for over two years. When they are fully developed, they leave the water – usually early in the morning – and shed their skins to emerge as winged adults on vegetation by the water’s edge or on leaves and stems sticking out of the water.

What do they do?
The males are very territorial, leaving their chosen perch to find females, chase rival males or bully smaller dragonflies, often returning to perch on the same twig, branch or leaf at the water’s edge.

Did you know…?
Dragonflies and damselflies look beautiful but they are predators, catching other insects in flight when they are adults, and hunting them underwater as nymphs.

Credit: Thank you to the Royal Entomological Society for sharing the information and photo. Photo Credit: © Samantha Howse / Royal Entomological Society.

www.royensoc.co.uk

www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk

Common Earwig

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Common Earwig

The adult Common Earwig Forficula auricularia is 11-16 mm long. Its legs, thorax and wing-cases are yellowish brown, but the head and the abdomen are dark brown. The pincers on the tip of the abdomen are curved in males but almost straight in females. The membranous hind wings are folded tightly underneath the wing cases: these wings are functional but the Common Earwig rarely flies. The nymphs of the Common Earwig resemble the adults, but are (of course) smaller.

Where do they live?
During the day, Common Earwigs hide in dark sheltered places such as under stones, flower pots, logs or loose bark on trees. They can be found by turning over likely stones and pots or by searching in corners of garden sheds. They are active at night, when they can often be seen by examining plants by torchlight on mild evenings.

Where can they be found?
The Common Earwig occurs throughout Europe. It can be found in most gardens in Britain and Ireland.

When can you see them?
Common Earwigs are most often seen between April and October.

Life cycle
There is one generation per year. Common Earwigs mate in the autumn and the female digs a hole in the soil, where she lays 30-50 eggs. Whereas most insects abandon their eggs, female earwigs stay and guard their brood until after the nymphs have hatched in the spring. The nymphs shed their outer skin four times between spring and mid-summer as they grow and develop into adults.

What do they do?
Earwigs are sometimes regarded as garden pests because they eat the young leaves and petals of plants such as clematis, dahlia and chrysanthemum. However, they also feed on small insects, such as greenfly, so they can be beneficial.

What do they do?
Earwigs are sometimes regarded as garden pests because they eat the young leaves and petals of plants such as clematis, dahlia and chrysanthemum. However, they also feed on small insects, such as greenfly, so they can be beneficial.

Photo Credit: © Royal Entomological Society

www.royensoc.co.uk

www.nationalinsectweek.co.uk

Field Vole

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Field Vole

Field voles (Microtus agrestis) have grey-brown fur above, creamy-grey fur below, has a tail much shorter than the bank vole, and fur is shaggier, covering the ears. Rounded snout, less prominent eyes than mice and ears are furry.

Habitat
Urban & gardens, Deciduous woodland, Grassland, Mixed woodland, Heathland, Arable land

Size
90-115mm; tail is <40% of head and body.

Weight
20-40g.

Origin and Distribution
Field voles are found throughout mainland Britain and remains date back to before the end of the last glaci- ation, 11000 years ago. They are absent from a number of islands including Shetland, the Isle of Man, Isles of Scilly, Lundy and Ireland and replaced by larger Orkney and Guernsey voles on the respective islands. The field vole occurs typically in ungrazed grassland or in the early stages of forestry plantations but may also live in woodland, hedgerows, dunes, scree or moorland, wherever grass is available. Shredded grass leaves are used to make their nests which are about 10cm in diameter and may be built at the base of grass tussocks, in underground burrows or even under sheets of corrugated iron.

General Ecology
Like all small mammals, the field vole is host to a number of parasites, carrying fleas and possibly ticks and worms. It must be particularly careful to avoid predators which include kestrels and owls, together with foxes, weasels and stoats. The number of young reared by kestrels and owls has been shown to increase when vole numbers increase. In extensive grasslands, field vole populations may fluctuate on a 4-year cycle with numbers increasing tenfold between the lows and highs.

Diet
Grass is the field voles’ major food source, with bents, fescues and hair grasses being preferred.

Lifespan
The average life span of a field vole is up to 1 year.

Breeding
The breeding season begins in March/April and ends between October and December. Four or five young are normally found in each litter and females will give birth to five or six litters each year. Although this gives rise to large numbers, population turnover is rapid. Voles do not hibernate but moult to cope with the inevitable change in temperature with the seasons. Moulting provides a dense layer of fur for winter and a “lighter” coat in spring.

Conservation Status
Field voles are very widespread and are currently thought to be the most common British mammal; a recent population estimate put the number of field voles in Britain at 75,000,000. Although the field vole is numerous, it is still important to consider conservation methods and maintain biodiversity within habitats, not least because field voles are so important to owls and other predators. Leaving wide field margins beside hedgerows provides cover and food which will encourage and maintain populations. Long grass on roadside verges is also important. A varied woodland area will encourage small mammals and groups of branches should be left when clearing patches of ground.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Frog – Common

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Common Frog

Possibly our most recognisable amphibian, the common frog (Rana temporaria) is distributed throughout Britain and Ireland, and can be found in almost any habitat where suitable breeding ponds are near by.

Garden ponds are extremely important for common frogs and many populations in suburban areas depend on them.

Common frogs have smooth moist skin. Frogs are often found close to fresh water in habitats that remain damp throughout the summer. Outside of the breeding season they can roam up to 500 metres from a breeding pond.

Identification
Adults can grow to 9cm (nose to tail). They are generally a shade or olive-green or brown, with a dark patch (or ‘mask’) behind the eyes. Frogs often have bands of darker striping on the back legs. Many individuals have irregular dark markings on the back. Colouration is extremely variable: yellow, pink, red, orange and black individuals are often seen.

Lifecycle
Spawning takes place during early spring, starting in the south of Britain as early as January. Tadpoles generally take up to sixteen weeks to grow back legs, then front legs before they metamorphose into tiny froglets, ready to leave the water in early summer (often June, but in some ponds this may be as late as September).

‘Mature’ tadpoles are faintly speckled with a gold/brown colouration which distinguishes them from the black tadpoles of the common toad. Common frogs feed on a variety of invertebrate prey, slugs and snails particularly. This makes them very beneficial to gardeners.

Protection
In Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the common frog (and its spawn) is protected by law from trade and sale.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Frog – Pool

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Pool Frog

Pool frogs (Pelophylax lessonae) were presumed extinct in the wild in 1995, but have since been reintroduced at a single site in East Anglia.

Identification
Pool frogs are extremely variable in colour, although the type reintroduced to the UK are predominantly brown with dark brown or black blotches over the back and a lighter, often yellow, dorsal stripe.

Adults can grow up to 9cm in length but males are significantly smaller. During the breeding season the males have a loud call generated by a pair of inflatable pouches (vocal sacs) each side of the mouth; a feature absent from the common frog Rana temporaria.

Lifecycle
Pool frogs breed much later in the year than the common frog. Breeding coincides with the onset of warm nights in May/June. The spawn ‘rafts’ are typically smaller than those of the common frog, and individual eggs are brown above and yellowish below. Pool frogs (and other members of the green frog ‘complex’) are known to bask in the sunshine on even the hottest days.

Protection
The pool frog has full protection under UK law. It is an offence to kill, injure, capture or disturb them, and to damage or destroy pool frog habitats. It is also illegal to sell or trade pool frogs. This law applies to all life-stages.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Goldcrest

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Goldcrest

The Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) is the UK’s smallest bird and weighs as little as a twenty pence coin.

Its call is a high pitched tsee, tsee, tsee, this call is one of the first sounds to go as the ears fade in later life. The bird is specially adapted to conifers such as pine, spruce and fir, because of its small size and ability to squeeze between the needles where it can feed on small insects.

The bird is recognised by the golden, yellow crown stripe.

They build a nest consisting of spider’s webs, mosses, and lined with feathers, this is then suspended from a branch.

Credit: Information and photo kindly supplied by Peter Dowse of Bollington, Cheshire

Common Field Grasshopper

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Common Field Grasshopper

The Common Field Grasshopper (Chorthippus brunneus) is the one of the grasshoppers that you are most likely to see throughout the UK as it is can be found in dry grassy areas, meadows, fields, parks, roadsides and even on waste land. They vary in colour; some can be green, some grey, some brown and some are even a purplish colour. Despite their individual colours they all have something in common; they all have light vertical stripes running down the length of the body and darker markings too. They also have a hairy belly unlike most other grasshoppers.

One would think with the name ‘grasshopper’ that this insect hops a lot. Actually it doesn’t hop very often at all, but it will hop when it is disturbed and when it does, it is capable of hopping over one metre. That is a long distance for this grasshopper seeing that it is only two centimetres long! It uses its strong hind legs to hop and it does this by quickly extending its powerful legs which literally throw the grasshopper forward and upward at an amazing speed. It is spectacular sight to see if you are lucky enough to witness it.

The Common Field Grasshopper is not only a strong hopper but a strong flier too and can be seen flying around in warm weather sometimes. However, if it is very hot and the sun is shining it is not uncommon to see one sunbathing on walls, on a bare piece of ground and on pathways. More often than not you can hear grasshoppers before you can see them. They make a short sequence of chirping sounds and these sounds are created by the grasshopper running its hind legs against its forewings.

When male field grasshoppers want to attract a female they often chirp at one another, with each male taking its turn. This is almost like a rivalry song with each male trying to beat the other in the hope that a female will notice him. If a male finds a female his song changes to a ‘ticking’ sound and this is most probably to let the other males know that he has succeeded in finding a mate.

During the summer months, a female field grasshopper lays a large egg pod containing approximately fifteen eggs. The egg pod is buried just below the surface of dry ground and sometimes in ant hills. The protective case keeps the eggs safe over winter and until spring when the young hatch out. The young, called nymphs, shed their skins about three to four times before they eventually become fully grown adults, just like their parents.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Steve Falk

www.buglife.org.uk

Green Shield Bug

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Green Shield Bug

The Green Shield Bug (Piezodorus lituratus), like its name suggests, is bright green and has a body shaped like a knight’s shield. However, the green colour may darken or even change to a deep bronze in the winter before it goes into hibernation. It hibernates in grass tussocks or leaf litter and emerges again around May time, and sometimes you may see it basking in the sun on top of plants or on tufts of grass before it goes into hibernation.

It is sometimes called a ‘Green Stink Bug’ as it can produce a very pungent smell if it is disturbed or handled. It can be seen in gardens, parks and woodland edges throughout England and Wales, but less so in Scotland. However, if you can’t see it so easily because it is hidden among some plants you may be able to see the stinky trial it leaves behind!

The Green Shield Bug feeds on deciduous shrubs, tall herbs, leaves of tress and plant sap. It uses its piercing and sucking mouth parts to suck sap out of the plants.

The Green Shield Bug is about one centimetre in length and can fly. It has four sets of wings; two green wings which are thick at the base and fine at the tip, and then there are two other transparent wings underneath which are thin and flexible. The bug holds the wings flat over its shield-like body when it is not flying. It has six thin green legs and two long green antennae which have brown markings at the end of them. It uses its antennae to detect air movements, vibration caused by sound and even taste and smell.

Female Green Shield Bugs lays clutches of eggs in multiples of seven underneath leaves. When they hatch they are wingless so this is the time you will see them crawl between plants when feeding. The baby bugs are called nymphs and they undergo four incomplete moults before they become flying adults.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Steve Falk

www.buglife.org.uk

Grey Heron

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Grey Heron

The Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) is the tallest bird in the UK and is almost lanky-looking because of its long thin legs. It can often be found standing very still near canals, lakes, slow-flowing rivers and estuaries. It is a wading bird and like its name suggests it is mainly grey coloured, but it has a white head, chest and belly. It has a wispy crest of black feathers on the top of its head and black feathers running down the length of its long throat. It also has black feathers above each eye.

When a Grey Heron rests near water it often places its head between its shoulder in an hunched up position and stands very still and silent so it is easy to walk past a heron. However, you may spot it more easily in your garden if you have a pond since it likes to steal goldfish! When the Grey Heron hunts for fish in natural water it can stand motionless for a long period of time holding its neck in an elongated ‘S’ position ready to strike. It uses its long and pointed dagger-like beak to stab at a fish several times before eating it. If it catches a large fish the heron takes it out of the water and breaks it up into small pieces on land. Sometimes Grey Herons will eat small mammals, small birds, frogs and insect larvae and in coastal areas they will eat eels and crabs.

The Grey Heron has a wingspan of nearly two metres and in flight it curves its wings into an ‘M’ shape and beats them very slowly. It flies with its head drawn back into its body, but with its legs trailing horizontally behind, and often in flight it makes a very loud and harsh ‘frarnk’ or ‘kaark’ sound. When the heron is in flight the black outer feathers on the wings can be seen.

During the mating season Grey Herons perform wonderful courtship dances for the females. The male stretches his neck to the sky and then bends it very elegantly backwards until it touches his back. If they like each other, they both snap their beaks at each other while they run and hop towards each other with outstretched wings.

The male and female like to build their nest together very high up in tree tops close to water in woodland areas. The nests are made out small branches and twigs and are shallow and almost saucer-shaped. Nests are often built close to other nests creating a heronry. The female lays five greenish blue eggs and the chicks hatch out about twenty six days later. The chicks are fed on regurgitated fish and after about twenty or thirty day they are able to leave the nest to climb up and down branches. When they are approximately fifty days old they get their first set of feathers making them ready to leave the nest.

Photo Credit: © Copyright David Tomlinson

www.davidtomlinsonphotos.co.uk

Grey Seal

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Grey Seal

The grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are very large animals, males can grow up to 3 metres long and weigh 300kg! The Grey Seal spends most of its time out at sea, where it feeds on fish. Mainly greyish in colour, with darker blotches and spots. The Grey Seal is more often found on rocky shores, although large colony of Grey Seals breeds in the sand dunes at Donna Nook on the Lincolnshire coast: the fluffy white pups can be seen between October and December.

How to Identify
Can be told from Common Seal by its larger size and by the longer head with a sloping ‘roman nose’ profile.

Distribution
Found around the coasts of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and parts of eastern England and south west England.

Credit
A recommended reference book for further information is the ‘Great British Marine Animals’ by Paul Naylor. (www.marinephoto.co.uk)

Photo Credit: © Copyright Paul Naylor

www.makingwavesproject.org.uk

www.wildlifewatch.org.uk

Harbour Porpoise

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Harbour Porpoise

The harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) is the smallest species of cetacean found in European waters, measuring around 1.3 – 1.5 metres in length and weighing 50 – 60 kg. It is often confused with dolphins, particularly the bottlenose dolphin. The porpoise is rotund in shape, with a small triangular dorsal fin which shows briefly above the surface – usually little of the animal is seen, as it rarely leaves the water entirely. It has a small rounded head with no distinct beak.

Harbour porpoises do not usually approach boats nor bow ride, although they can be observed at close quarters from a dinghy or small inflatable boat, and in late summer, may actually approach vessels.

Diet
The harbour porpoise eats a varied diet of fish, cephalopods and crustaceans, related to local availability of food; in European waters, herring, mackerel, sand-eel, gobies and a wide range of gadoid fish such as cod, saithe, pollack, and whiting are all known to form prey of porpoises. The apparent flexibility in diet helps the porpoise to avoid being adversely affected by local human over-exploitation of any single fish species. However, intense exploitation of fish stocks overall can put great pressure on marine mammals like porpoises that are dependent on them for food.

Social Behaviour
Harbour porpoises generally live in groups of two or three animals, or singly, but occasionally forming groups of 10 – 20 animals. Larger aggregations of up to several hundred porpoises have also been seen seasonally (Feb-March & Aug-Oct), either associated with food concentrations or long-distance movement.

The basic social unit appears to be the mother and calf, which may sometimes be accompanied by a yearling. Segregation by age and sex may also occur in larger groups. DNA studies indicate that females can form genetically distinct groups, while males are more likely to move away. During late summer, porpoises are more social, and sexual activity can be observed. In calm seas, animals frequently lie in a resting state just below the surface.

Rerproduction
The main mating season is summer, and birth takes place 10-11 months later (usually between May and August with a peak in June). Calves are suckled for between four and eight months, and the mother usually reproduces every 1-2 years. Porpoises take three to four years to reach sexual maturity and have a relatively short life span usually of no more than 15 years, although animals have been recorded up to 24 years of age.

Status and Distribution

As the name suggests, the harbour porpoise is commonly seen in coastal areas, although it ranges over much of the European continental shelf. It is the commonest and most widely distributed
of all cetacean species in northern Europe, favouring comparatively shallow, cold waters.

There are seasonal concentrations of harbour porpoises off south-west and western Ireland, west Wales, the west coast of Scotland, Northern Isles, and eastern Scotland – porpoises may be permanent residents in these areas, with the greatest numbers usually between July and October. Like the bottlenose dolphin, the species was once a regular visitor to the south coast of England and the southern part of the North Sea during the summer months, but then became a rare sight in these areas.

Genetic studies have indicated that around the British Isles, there are separate populations in the Irish Sea and off the Welsh coast; in the northern North Sea; eastern (Denmark) and western (UK) North Sea; and southern North Sea (Netherlands). Further research may reveal other genetically distinct populations.

Threats
Despite the fact that the harbour porpoise is probably the commonest small cetacean in UK waters, it is thought to have undergone substantial declines in numbers over the last fifty years, with the species becoming rare in the southernmost North Sea and Channel. Although reasons for this status change are not known for certain, pollution, disturbance, lack of food and entanglement in fishing nets have all been implicated.

Credit: © Information and Photo kindly supplied by the Sea Watch Foundation

www.seawatchfoundation.org.uk

adoptadolphin.org.uk

Hedgehog

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Hedgehog

Hedgehogs are our only spiny mammals. They have a short inconspicuous tail, small ears and relatively long legs, which are all covered with dense, sharp, brown spines. When they are alarmed, they protect themselves by rolling up into a defensive ball and effectively fend off any lurking predators.

They are active at night or sometimes after heavy rainfall, and rely heavily on their keen sense of smell to find food, to recognise other hedgehogs or to sense danger.
Hedgehogs travel large distances every night and stop to feed at various places on the way. They are often regarded as slow animals but, if they want to, they can move up to 40m in a minute, which is no mean feat considering their size!

During cold winters, when food becomes scarce, hedgehogs conserve energy by making a nest in a sheltered spot and then becoming inactive by dropping their heart beat from 190 to 20 beats per minute. Their body temperature drops from 37C to near freezing. This is called ‘hibernation’ and the amount of time they remain like this really depends on the weather.

Breeding
The hedgehog breeding season generally lasts from April until September. Females are usually pregnant for about four and a half weeks and then give birth to up to seven pink, sightless young in a nest made of grass and leaves. Soon after birth, the young grow short white spines, which they lose within a few weeks when the brown spines grow through. They feed on the mother’s milk and become independent at two months old.

Diet
Worms, beetles, caterpillars, slugs and snails.

Habitat
Hedgehogs need overgrown hedgerows and woodland edges to nest and rough pasture to find food. They tend not to live in wet areas or large pine forests.

Predators and Threats
Badgers and foxes occasionally eat hedgehogs. Many are killed on roads or killed as a result of eating poisonous slug pellets used in gardens.

Status and Distribution
Hedgehogs are found throughout the British Isles, including urban areas, but not on some of the Scottish Islands. They are common and widely distributed but are in severe decline, both in the countryside and in our towns and cities.

Credit: Source: People’s Trust for Endangered Species Photo Credit: © Copyright Mike Lane

www.ptes.org

www.nature-photography.co.uk

Hen Harrier

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Hen Harrier

Hen Harriers (Circus cyaneus) are resident and passage migrants, they nest on moorlands and move to the lowlands in winter.

Given the name ‘ringtail’, female and immature Hen Harriers are dark brown above with brown streaked breasts; they have a white rump and dark banding (rings) around the tail. The juvenile has more of a yellow tone to its underside. The male is blue/grey over much of its body, with a white rump and breast and black wing tips. They maybe confused with the less common (in the UK) Montagu’s Harrier, although the Hen Harrier has broader wings and lacks the black band seen on the upper side of the wings of the male Montagu’s; differentation is easier between the juveniles of the two species.

Length: 45-55cm; wingspan: 100-120cm

Population Trends

By the first decades of the 20th century, Hen Harriers became restricted to the Orkney Islands. They have long suffered from persecution and didn’t return to breed in England until 1968. The Hen Harrier has been relentlessly persecuted ever since and in 2012 just one pair attempted to breed in the whole of the UK. The on-going conflict between the Hen Harrier and owners of Grouse moors is a contentious issue and although birds have been attempting to breed in this environment, tracking studies have discovered that even though nest sites are left undisturbed, breeding adults have been failing to return to the nests. The Hawk and Owl Trust have a strong Campaign Against Persecution

Habitat and Distribution
Hen Harriers can found in a number of moorland locations in the north of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; however, as mentioned above breeding is becoming extremely rare.

Hen Harriers move to more lowland areas in the winter including coastal marshes, heathland, farmland and river estuaries. Recent research sponsored by the Hawk and Owl Trust has indicated that the majority of wintering birds are of UK origin and not from continental Europe as previously thought; if this is the case the link between breeding birds and over wintering birds will become even more important.

Breeding

Hen harriers nest on the ground in heather and in young conifer plantations. Tree nesting occurs in Northern Ireland. Courtship display involves elaborate sky-dancing and food passing.

Feeding
Small mammals, most commonly voles, and ground nesting, grassland birds, such as pipits, especially young in the nest and fledglings are all taken. They also take game-birds and waders, and their young. More birds are eaten in years when vole numbers are low.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Jo Jamieson / MCSCredit: With thanks to the Hawk and Owl Trust for providing the information. Photo Credit: © Steve Mill / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Moon Jellyfish

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Moon Jellyfish

This jellyfish is transparent and grows up to 40cm wide. It is shaped like an umbrella and has short hair-like tentacles around the edges, and four rings towards centre. They are mostly harmless to humans, though may sting sensitive skin.

Moon jellyfish are very common all around the UK, especially in sheltered waters in the west of Scotland. You can sometimes see large numbers of these jellies when our chilly seas begin to warm up, or cool down. When this happens, it is known as a jellyfish bloom.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Jo Jamieson / MCS

www.mcsuk.org

Jewel Aemones

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Jewel Aemones

The Jewel anemone is a beautiful sea creature with spectacular colours varying from bright green, red, orange, pink and white and has a smooth column. It looks rather flat and squat in appearance, a bit like a saucer-shaped disc, but it is surrounded by up to 100 short tentacles, each having a small knob at the end. The tentacles have strong contrasting colours varying from purple, blue and white. This contrast of colours makes these creatures look very jewel like, hence the name.

Jewel anemones reproduce asexually, which in its broadest sense means that they reproduce without the bonding of a male and female but by splitting, which creates clusters of identical coloured clones to form large colonies. They prefer fast flowing water and feed on invertebrates such as sea urchins, sea stars and others. They paralyse their prey by using poison inside the tentacles and then carry their prey to their mouth which is located in the centre of the tentacles.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Sally Sharrock

www.seasearchdevon.co.uk

www.mcsuk.org

Kingfisher

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Kingfisher

The Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) is a striking electric-blue and orange coloured bird but the feathers on the bird’s back can look blue or green depending on the angle you are looking at the bird. This happens because of the different wavelengths of light produced between the layers of feathers. Although the Kingfisher has these bright noticeable colours it very rarely seen as it is extremely shy and it can fly and beat its wings so quickly that it almost looks like a blur to the eye! But if you hear a shrill ‘chreee’ or ‘chee-kee’ it may well be a Kingfisher.

Kingfishers can be found throughout the UK near slow-flowing rivers and streams, canals, lakes and ponds. An ideal fishing perch for this bird in on a firm branch overhanging water. It prefers to perch motionless when hunting for fish, but sometimes the Kingfisher will hover over its prey and then quickly dive into the water. As it dives into the water the Kingfisher opens its beak and then closes its eye by using a third eyelid so when the Kingfisher grabs the fish it is in effect blindfolded. How clever is that! The fish is immediately taken back to the perch where the Kingfisher strikes it a few times against the branch in order to stun the fish. It does this because some fish have very sharp spines on the fins and it is only when the fish is stunned that the spines relax enabling the Kingfisher to eat it. The Kingfisher always turns the fish around so that it can swallow it head first. Kingfishers must eat at least their own bodyweight in food each day in order to survive, and although fish is their main diet they will also eat some aquatic insects such as mayflies, stoneflies and water beetles.

When the male Kingfisher wants to impress a female he offers her fish and if the female accepts they form a bond and courtship begins. Both the male and female dig a tunnel in a bank close to water so they can nest their eggs there. No material is brought to the nest. The female lays six to seven white glossy eggs around March time and both parents incubate them for about twenty-one days until the chicks hatch. Both parents feed the chicks and once a chick has been fed its moves to the back of the nest so it can digest its food and then the other chicks move forward which means every chick takes it in turn to get some food. Chicks are usually ready to leave the nest after about a month and then are fed for about another four days by the parents. After that though they are driven out of the territory and have to fend for themselves.

Photo Credit: © Copyright David Tomlinson

www.davidtomlinsonphotos.co.uk

Leatherback Turtle

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Leatherback Turtle

Jellyfish are the staple diet of the critically endangered leatherback turtle. These spectacular reptiles are seasonal visitors to UK seas, migrating from their tropical nesting beaches, and analyses of stomach contents of dead leatherbacks stranded on UK shores have revealed that they feed on several species of jellyfish found around the UK.

Turtles are in an ancient group of reptiles that have witnessed the rise and fall of the dinosaurs, with the earliest marine turtle fossils dated at about 110 million years old! Seven species of marine turtle now swim our oceans and all are included on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species. Some marine turtle populations around the world are in danger of extinction, as a result of too much fishing, getting tangled in fishing gear, marine pollution and habitat destruction.

Activity
By comparing jellyfish numbers with things like sea temperature, plankton and current flow, MCS hopes to understand a bit more about what influences movements of jellyfish and leatherback turtles.

Please report any turtle or jellyfish encounters to MCS!

Photo Credit: © Copyright Mike Daines/MCS

www.mcsuk.org

Common Lizard

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Common Lizard

The common lizard (Zootoca vivipara) is most frequently seen on commons, heaths, moorland, dry stone walls, embankments and sea cliffs around the British Isles.

It is the only species of reptile native to Ireland. Common lizards are widespread throughout Europe, even extending into the Arctic Circle.

Identification
Typical adult size is approximately 15cm (nose to tail). Colouration is commonly a shade of brown with patterns of spots or stripes. Colour variants are not uncommon: everything from yellow through various shades of green to jet black can be encountered.

Newts, when on land, are sometimes mistaken for lizards. They can be told apart by looking at the skin: lizards have scaly rather than smooth, velvety skin. Lizards tend to move very quickly when disturbed.

Lifecycle
Mating takes place in spring and females ‘give birth’ to inch-long lizards in August. Like the adder, the common lizard incubates its eggs internally without laying shelled eggs (like for instance the sand lizard). Juvenile lizards gradually turn a copper colour as they develop into adults. The common lizard likes open sunny places and is usually found in dry, exposed locations where dense cover exists close by. Common lizards feed predominantly on spiders and insects.

Protection
Common lizards are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell/trade common lizards. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected against killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Sand Lizard

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Sand Lizard

Due to vast habitat loss the sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) now only occurs naturally in Surrey, Dorset and Hampshire, where it lives on sandy heathland, and further north in Merseyside where it is confined to coastal sand dune systems.

Sand lizards have now been re-introduced to other sites in these counties and also, to restore its range, to sites in North Wales, Devon and Cornwall and West Sussex.

Identification
The sand lizard is a stocky lizard, that reaches up to 20cm in length. Both sexes have brown varied patterns down the back with two strong dorsal stripes. The male has extremely striking green flanks which are particularly bright during the breeding season in late April and May.

Lifecycle
The sand lizard lays eggs in late May or early June. The eggs are left buried in sand exposed to the sun which helps to keep them warm. Eggs hatch between August and September. The sand lizard is dependent on well managed heathland or sand dune habitats, where it occupies mature vegetation that provides good cover.

Protection
Due to its rarity, the sand lizard is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to: kill injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; possess, sell/trade them in any way.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Marsh Harrier

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Marsh Harrier

The Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) is the largest harrier found in the UK, the population is at its highest for 100 years, but still low and very localised. Since its recovery the Marsh Harrier has adapted its behaviour, with individuals wintering in the UK and breeding on farmland as well as traditional reedbed habitats. Marsh Harriers can be found in large numbers at the Hawk and Owl Trust’s, Sculthorpe Moor Community Nature Reserve in North Norfolk.

Slightly larger than a Buzzard, Marsh Harriers can be distinguished by their longer tail, slimmer body and narrower wings. Females are dark brown with a distinctive cream coloured crown and pale patches on the fore-wing and throat. Males have dark wing tips and grey tail, the breast and head appear yellowish with a brown belly, the upper-wing is a combination of black, grey and brown. Juveniles are dark brown with a golden crown and throat and a pale leading edge to the wing.

Length: 47-57cm; wingspan: 115-140cm

Breeding

Originally nesting on the ground in reedbeds, Marsh Harriers also nest in crops. Breeding pairs carry out impressive displays of aerobatics, tumbling through the air with the male dropping food for the female to catch in mid-air.

Females have a single clutch of 4-5 eggs and start to breed at 3 years of age. Males are not monogamous and will sometimes mate with 2 or 3 different females.

Feeding
Marsh Harriers feed on small mammas and birds, preferring prey that is easier to catch. They will also take reptiles, insects and carrion.

Habitat and Distribution
Mainly found in areas of reedbed, although as mentioned they also now frequent and breed on farmland. Main populations are in Norfolk, Kent, Lincolnshire, Humberside, Lancashire and Southern Scotland.

Credit: © Information kindly supplied by the Hawk and Owl Trust. Photo Credit: © Andy Parkinson / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Merlin

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Merlin

The Merlin (Falco columbarius) is a speedy small falcon, similar in shape to the peregrine but only two thirds the size. Seen in the summer flying low over upland heath and moorland, moving to the coast in the winter. The Merlin often flies with very fast wing beats interspersed with short ‘closed wing glides’.

Adult males have a blue-grey tail with a black terminal band and grey upper wings with a darker outer wing. The breast is finely streaked and has an orange colouring, the throat is white. The female, who is larger than the male, has brown upper parts and a heavily barred tail, the breast is paler with darker, heavier streaking than that of the male. Juveniles closely resemble the female and are very difficult to differentiate.

Length: 25-31cm; wingspan: 50-62cm

Breeding
In general Merlins are ground nesting birds; however, they will nest in the abandoned nests of other raptors or corvids. They have also started to make use of conifer plantation edges as nesting sites. Birds typically breed at one year of age, laying a single clutch of 4-5 eggs.

Feeding
Small birds are hunted from perches and taken in flight.

Habitat and Distribution
Mainly breeds in the uplands of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and northern England, although small numbers also nest in the SW of England.

Status in UK
1,330 pairs, increasing; AMBER listed; resident Population Trends
The Merlin suffered badly from the effects of organochlorine pesticides in the 1950’s and did not show significant signs of recovery until the 1980’s; it still suffers from persecution and loss of habitat. Increases in population may be linked to a change in behaviour with some birds using forest edges as breeding sites as opposed to open moorland and heathland. Even though the population is rising slowly the Merlin still remains a rare and elusive bird.

Credit: © Information kindly supplied by the Hawk and Owl Trust. Photo Credit: © Chris Packham / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Harvest Mouse

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Harvest Mouse

Harvest mice (Micromys minutus) are Britain’s smallest rodent, weighing around 4-6g as adults, with a head and body length of 50-70mm. They have golden fur and a pale underside with incredible semi-prehensile tails, meaning that their tail is adapted to be able to grasp or hold on to objects. They are very active climbers and so this is very handy for holding on to the stems of plants.

They prefer tall, dense grassy vegetation and build nests of woven grass above ground level in the stalk zone of the vegetation. They inhabit central Yorkshire southwards, with a higher density towards the South East, although isolated populations may be found outside of this range, possibly from the release of captive individuals.

Harvest mice have many predators including weasels, stoats, foxes, cats, owls, hawks, crows and even pheasants. They live on a diet of seeds, berries and insects and may feed on moss, fungi or roots. They live on average for around 18 months.

If you spot any harvest mice or their field signs (such as their round nests) please do report your sighting on The Mammal Society website so that we can include it in our National Mammal Atlas Project (NMAP) which is working to paint a fuller picture of the whereabouts and numbers of our British mammals.

To find out more about mammals or how you can help them please visit The Mammal Society website below:

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society. Photo Credit: © Copyright Derek Crawley

www.mammal.org.uk

Mole

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Mole

Moles, (Talpa europaea) have short usually black velvety fur, with spade-like forelimbs with large claws that face towards the rear of the animal. Pink fleshy snout and tiny eyes.

Habitat
Urban & gardens, Upland & moorland, Grassland, Mixed woodland, Arable land

Size
113-159mm. Tail: 25-40mm.

Weight
72-128g. Males usually larger.

Origin & Distribution
Moles are found throughout Britain but not in Ireland. They are present in most habitats where the soil is deep enough to allow tunnelling but are uncommon in coniferous forests, on moorlands and in sand dunes, probably because their prey is scarce.

General Ecology
Moles spend almost all their lives underground in a system of permanent and semi-permanent tunnels. Surface tunnels are usually short-lived and occur in newly cultivated fields, in areas of light sandy soil and in very shallow soils, where prey is concentrated just below the surface. More usual is a system of permanent deep burrows which form a complex network hundreds of metres long at varying depths in the soil. The deepest tunnels are used most in times of drought and low temperatures. Permanent tunnels are used repeatedly for feeding over long periods of time, sometimes by several generations of moles.

Diet
Earthworms are the most important component of the mole’s diet; an 80g mole needs 50g of earthworms per day. Moles also eat many insect larvae particularly in the summer, though earthworms dominate the winter diet. Moles sometimes collect and store their food (earthworms) alive in special chambers. The stored worms are immobilised by a bite to the head segment, 470 worms have been recorded in one chamber.

Lifespan
Most moles don’t live beyond 3 years but can live up to 6 years. Their main predators are tawny owls and buzzards; stoats, cats and dogs, also vehicles kill some. Humans also kill many as pests of agriculture.

Breeding
Males and females are solitary for most of the year, occupying exclusive territories. With the start of the breeding season males enlarge their territories, tunnelling over large areas in search of females. Within the tunnel system moles construct one or more spherical nest chambers, each lined with a ball of dry plant material. Nests are used for sleeping and for raising young. A litter of 3 or 4 naked babies is born in the spring. Fur starts to grow at 14 days, eyes open at 22 days and they are weaned at 4-5 weeks. The young start to leave the nest at 33 days and disperse from their mother’s range at 5-6 weeks. Dispersal takes place above ground and is a time of great danger. Moles are sexually mature in the spring following birth.

Conservation Status
Moles have no legal protection in the U.K. and are frequently regarded as pests by farmers, horticulturists and green-keepers. Surface tunnelling in newly planted fields may disturb plant roots so much that they will wilt and die. Mole hills cause damage to farm machinery and also cause contamination of grass used to make silage. At the beginning of the century moles were trapped in large numbers for their pelts but today they are killed as pests. This is done by trapping, which can be cruel.

Moles used to be commonly poisoned using strychnine. Death by strychnine poisoning is slow and agonizing, and strychnine is highly dangerous to other wildlife, domestic animals and humans. For these reasons it is now illegal to use strychnine for poisoning moles or any other animals. Moles can be beneficial to man, preying on many harmful insect larvae such as cockchafers and carrot fly, while tunnels help drain and aerate heavy soils.

Thank you to the Mammal Society for sharing this wonderful information.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Wood Mouse

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Wood Mouse

Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) – A small rodent with sandy brown fur (darker towards the spine) with a white/grey underside, protruding eyes, large ears, long tail. Juveniles are greyer overall, still with larger ears, hind feet and tails than house mice.

Habitat
Urban & gardens, Upland & moorland, Deciduous woodland, Grassland, Mixed woodland, Heathland, Arable land

Size
81-103mm; tail 71-95mm

Weight
13-27g.

Origin and Distribution
Found throughout the British Isles, even on the smaller islands, the wood mouse is our most common and widespread wild rodent. It is an inhabitant mainly of woodland and fields but is highly adaptable and is found in most habitats if not too wet. It is rarely recorded on higher exposed ground with little cover. Wood mice are essentially nocturnal but some individuals may venture out in daylight.

General Ecology
Most wood mice live in underground burrows. The burrows are fairly complicated and may include nest chambers and food stores. Burrows probably survive from one generation to the next and will be enlarged or modified as required. Nests are commonly made of leaves, moss and grass. They are usually built below ground under the roots of shrubs or trees but occasionally are found in holes in trees, buildings and bird or dormouse nest boxes. Additional nesting material is used in autumn and winter; often the mouse blocks the entrance to the burrow with leaves, twigs or stones.

Individuals will nest communally in the winter but in the spring females usually take up their own home ranges and nest singly. However, home ranges shared by two females have been observed. Breeding males range over larger areas occupied by a number of females.

Their predators include foxes, weasels, owls and domestic cats. Wood mice are important prey for tawny owls; when numbers of woodland rodents are low, owls may fail to breed.

Diet
Seeds, green plants, fruits and animal foods. In a mixed deciduous woodland: acorns, ash and sycamore seeds for most of the winter, buds in early spring, caterpillars, worms and centipedes in early summer and blackberries and fungi in the autumn. Food is cached in underground burrows. Food remains are found in disused bird nests, on tree stumps and in sheltered feeding places between the roots of trees or under ledges. They tend to leave the flesh of fruit and eat only the pips.

Lifespan
Few adults survive from one summer to the next.

Breeding
Litters of 4-7 young are born in successive pregnancies from March to October but autumn litters are small. The babies are born blind (eyes closed) and hairless. They are weaned at 18-22 days of age when their weight is about 6-8 grams. Growth in the summer is rapid and females can become pregnant when they have reached a weight of 12 grams. Breeding may continue over the winter if a good food supply, such as a heavy acorn crop, is available.

Conservation Status
Wood mice have no legal protection and conservation does not seem necessary as recolonisation after mortality is often rapid. Wood mice can be beneficial to man by preying on harmful insects, and many trees and shrubs germinate from forgotten wood mouse food stores.

Studies of woodland seed crops and population numbers organised by the Mammal Society show that the seed crop size strongly influences wood mouse numbers in the same autumn and in the following summer (more food leads to higher numbers and better survival). Numbers are probably synchronised: highs and lows tend to coincide in different parts of Britain, possible because tree seed crops are synchronised.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Great Crested Newt

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Great Crested Newt

Great crested newts (Triturus cristatus) are widely distributed throughout Britain, though absent from Ireland.

In the last century great crested newts have disappeared from many sites across Europe, mainly as a result of pond loss and intensive agriculture.

Identification
Great crested newts are the largest of the UK’s three native species. In comparison to the smooth newt and the palmate newt, the great crested newt is significantly larger, growing up to 15cm in length and looking much heavier.

Great crested newts are dark brown or black in colour with a distinct ‘warty’ skin. The underside is bright orange with irregular black blotches. In the spring, males develop an impressive jagged crest along their back and a white ‘flash’ along the tail. Females, particularly in the breeding season when they are swollen with eggs, are bulky in appearance but lack the crest of the male. Great crested newt larvae are mottled with black spots and have a tiny filament at the end of the tail.

Lifecycle
Breeding takes place from around March to June. Great crested newts undergo an elaborate courtship routine with males displaying before female newts. After mating, each female lays around 200 eggs, individually laid and wrapped inside the leaves of pond plants for protection.

Protection
Due to enormous declines in range and abundance in the last century, the great crested newt is strictly protected by British and European law which makes it an offence to: kill, injure, capture or disturb them; damage or destroy their habitat; and to possess, sell or trade. This law refers to all great crested newt life stages, including eggs.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Smooth Newt

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Smooth Newt

The smooth newt (Lissotriton vulgaris) is the UK’s most widespread newt species, found throughout Britain and Ireland. Like the common frog, smooth newts may colonise garden ponds.

Identification
Smooth newts can grow to 10cm and are generally brown in colour. Males develop a continuous wavy crest along their back in the breeding season. The belly of both sexes is yellow/orange with small black spots. The spots on the throat provide a good way of telling this species apart from palmate newts (which lack spots on their throat).

Lifecycle
Adults are often found in ponds during the breeding season and into summer the months (February – June). Spawn is laid as individual eggs, each of which is wrapped carefully in a leaf of pond weed, by the female newt. Unlike tadpoles of frogs and toads, newt larvae develop their front legs before their back legs. They breathe through external feathery gills which sprout from behind the head. Juvenile newts leave the water in later summer after losing their gills. Smooth newts eat invertebrates either on land or in water. They also prey on frog tadpoles. Outside of the breeding season, newts come onto land and are often found in damp places, frequently underneath logs and debris in the summer months.

Protection
Smooth newts are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to sell or trade them in any way. In Northern Ireland they are fully protected against killing, injuring, capturing, disturbance, possession or trade.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Osprey

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Osprey

The Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) – This large fish-eating raptor dives dramatically into water to catch its prey. The osprey has a slim body and long narrow angled wings. It is dark above and pale below on the body and wing coverts. The head is white with a broad dark stripe through the eye to the nape.

Length: 55-58cm; wingspan: 145-170cm

Feeding
Fish are taken in clear, calm water diving from the air. Long talons with spikes on the underside of their toes help them grasp fish. Species caught are dependent on availability; in Scotland they mainly take brown or rainbow trout inland and flounders on the coast.

Breeding
Ospreys build a large stick nest in the crown of a tree, often refurbishing an old nest. They will also use artificial platforms. The Hawk and Owl Trust has installed one at Pensthorpe, near Fakenham, North Norfolk but it has yet to be used.

Habitat and Distribution

Ospreys favour well wooded country with lakes, rivers or near the coast with a plentiful supply of fish.
They are found in the eastern Highlands, the Grampians and Perthshire and the Southern Uplands in Scotland; in the Lake District and Rutland in England.

Population Trends

Ospreys became extinct as a breeding species in Scotland in 1916, having disappeared from England in the 1840s. A pair first nested in Scotland again in 1954. After much publicity and careful protection of nest sites, the species gradually spread, mainly in the Highlands, reaching 100 pairs by the mid-1990s.

Since they became established north of the border, ospreys had regularly visited Rutland Water in the Midlands on passage. In 1996 a translocation project began with young Scottish birds being released there. These birds returned to the reservoir for a number of years and finally bred successfully in 2001. In the same year a pair naturally colonised the Lake District and bred by Bassenthwaite Lake. In 2004 the first pair reared young in Wales; the male had been released at Rutland and the female came from Scotland.

Birds can be viewed in a number of places in Scotland as well as in the Lakes and at Rutland Water.

Credit: Information kindly supplied by the Hawk and Owl Trust - Photo Credit: © Andy Thompson / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Owl – Barn

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Barn Owl

The Barn Owl (Tyto alba) is a beautiful bird, it has buff coloured wings and upper parts, with pure white underside. When viewed in flight the impression is of a large white bird. Males and females look almost the same with females often having darker colours and small dark spots on the underside.

Barn owls like to roost in old farm buildings or hollows in trees. Being quite shy birds they prefer roosts and nesting sites that give them a place to hide. The ideal habitat for them is rough grassland that has a deep litter layer for their prey to live in. They prefer to stay in the same area their whole life and cover a home range of approximately 3km in which they will probably have one nesting site, a couple of regular roosts and a few that they will visit occasionally.

Reproduction
Barn owls breed in late spring. Females lay a clutch of 5-6 eggs over a couple of weeks. The female will stay with the hatched owlets until the youngest reaches three weeks, at which point they have all developed a layer of downy feathers and can regulate their own temperatures. Owlets will eat the same amount as their parents so feeding a large clutch is hard work for both the male and female. By ten weeks old the owlets are fully developed and begin to venture out the nestbox. They then have just a few weeks to learn hunting skills before becoming independent at around fourteen weeks old.

Diet
The majority of a barn owls diet is made up of small mammals such as the field vole, common shrew and wood mouse. They hunt by flying quite low to the ground and listening for their prey moving amongst the grass. Prey is swallowed whole. However, barn owls cannot digest the bones and fur and they regurgitate these parts as a tightly packed pellet.

Protection
Barn Owls are protected under Schedule 1 on the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 when on eggs or have dependent young. Changes in farming practises over the last century have caused a large decline in the numbers of barn owls as suitable nesting sites and prey habitat is destroyed.

Credit: Information kindly supplied by the Barn Owl Trust - Photo Credit: Russell Savoury / Barn Owl Trust

www.barnowltrust.org.uk

Owl – Little

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The Little Owl

The Little Owl (Athene noctua) is the smallest owl in Britain, it is often seen during the day perched on a post, telegraph pole or exposed branch. It has a broad rounded head and short tail, which gives it a dumpy appearance. Grey-brown, speckled with white above and it has dense, brown streaks on white beneath.

Its bright yellow eyes with prominent white eyebrows give it a frowning expression. When agitated it bobs and moves from side to side. It flies with a series of fast wingbeats and looping glides.
Length: 21-23cm; wingspan: 54-58cm.

Breeding
Little owls nest in holes in trees, farm buildings and sometimes holes in the ground such as rabbit burrows. They readily take to nest boxes, especially those with a tunnel entrance.

Feeding
Invertebrates, such as beetles, earwigs and earthworms, and small mammals form the majority of the little owl’s diet. Small birds are taken mainly in the breeding season.

Habitat and Distribution
This owl is mainly found in farmland, around farmsteads and villages.
Occurs throughout England, Wales and southeast Scotland, but populations are very patchy in southwest and northeast England and southwest and central Wales.

Status in UK
5,800-11,600 pairs declining; introduced; resident Population Trends
The little owl was an occasional visitor to Britain before the mid-19th century, when a series of introductions occurred. Attempts in Yorkshire and Hampshire failed, but those in Kent in the 1870s and in Northamptonshire in the 1880s led to little owls establishing themselves in England, filling the vacant niche for a small nocturnal predator in agricultural landscapes.

It spread rapidly in the early part of the 20th century and by 1925 had colonised much of England south of Yorkshire and south Wales. By 1960, although it had spread north to southern Scotland and north Wales, the population increase had slowed. From then on numbers have declined as it was affected by cold winters in the ’60s and subsequently by intensification of agriculture. Since the mid-1980s little owls appear to have declined by at least a third, especially in the South-west.

Credit: © Information kindly provided by Hawk and Owl Trust - Photo Credit: © Andrew Parkinson / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Otter

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Otter

Otters have brown fur and often pale on the underside. They have long slender bodies; small ears on a broad head a long thick tail with webbed feet. They swim very low in the water with their head and back barely showing.

Size
About 60-80cm; tail about 32-56cm

Weight
Average 8.2 kg for males; 6.0 kg for females.

Origin and Distribution
The otter is a secretive semi-aquatic species which was once widespread in Britain. By the 1970s, otters were restricted mainly to Scotland, especially the islands and the north-west coast, western Wales, parts of East Anglia and the West Country (though they remained common and widespread also in Ireland). This decline was caused by organo-chlorine pesticides. Since these were withdrawn from use, otters have been spreading back into many areas, especially in northern and western England.

General Ecology
Otters can travel over large areas. Some are known to use 20 kilometres or more of river habitat. Otters deposit faeces (known as spraints, with a characteristic sweet musky odour) in prominent places around their ranges. These serve to mark an otter’s range, defending its territory but also helping neighbours keep in social contact with one another. Females with cubs reduce sprainting to avoid detection.

Diet
Fish, especially eels and salmonids are eaten, and crayfish at certain times of the year. Coastal otters in Shetland eat bottom-living species such as eelpout, rockling and butterfish. Otters occasionally take water birds such as coots, moorhens and ducks. In the spring, frogs are an important food item.

Lifespan
Up to 10, though few survive more than five years.

Breeding
In England and Wales otter cubs, usually in litters of two or three, can be born at any time of the year. In Shetland and North-west Scotland most births occur in summer. Cubs are normally born in dens, called holts, which can be in a tree root system, a hole in a bank or under a pile of rocks. About 10 weeks elapse before cubs venture out of the holt with their mother, who raises the cubs without help from the male.

Conservation Status
Otters are strictly protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) and cannot be killed, kept or sold (even stuffed specimens) except under licence. In the late 1950s and early 1960s otters underwent a sudden and catastrophic decline throughout much of Britain and Europe. The cause was probably the combined effects of pollution and habitat destruction, particularly the drainage of wet areas. Otters require clean rivers with an abundant, varied supply of food and plenty of bank-side vegetation offering secluded sites for their holts. Riversides often lack the appropriate cover for otters to lie up during the day. Such areas can be made more attractive to otters by establishing “otter havens”, where river banks are planted-up and kept free from human disturbance. Marshes may also be very important habitat, for raising young and as a source of frogs.

While otters completely disappeared from the rivers of most of central and southern England in just 50 years, their future now looks much brighter. There is evidence that in certain parts of the UK the otter is extending its range and may be increasing locally. Otter populations in England are very fragmented and the animals breed only slowly. Attempts have been made to reintroduce otters to their former haunts, by reintroducing captive bred and rehabilitated animals, with some attempts proving very successful.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Owl – Long Eared

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Long Eared Owl

A medium size long winged owl with long ear tufts and piercing orange eyes. it enjoys a large range from western Europe to north Africa, China and Japan. It winters as far south as Pakistan, southern India and southern China – it is also found in North America. Interestingly, it is thought to be the most nocturnal of all owls only hunting in the darkest and quietest part of the night.

Credit: Photos kindly supplied by the Chestnut Centre, Otter and Owl Wildlife Park. Copyright Chestnut Centre

www.chestnutcentre.co.uk

Owl – Short-Eared Owl

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Short-Eared Owl

The Short-Eared Owl (Asio flammeus) is our most diurnal owl, it is often seen sitting on a post or quartering open country. In flight it is paler, more stocky and longer-winged than the long-eared owl, and the tail and wings are more boldly barred. Its body plumage is brown, spotted and streaked with buff, yellow and white. It is pale beneath with a boldly streaked chest. The yellowish facial disc with bright yellow eyes set in black patches gives this owl a cross expression.

Length: 37-39cm; wingspan: 95-110cm

Feeding
Field voles are this owls’ most important prey, but other small mammals such as wood mouse and shrews may be taken. They will also catch rats, especially in Ireland where voles are lacking. Birds, usually between the size of finches and thrushes particularly young ones, are also caught.

Breeding
The nest is on the ground hidden among grass, heather or reeds. They are one of the few owls to make a nest. The female makes a scrape which she lines with whatever vegetation is available close by. One brood is usual, but when voles are plentiful, short-eared owls may have two broods or increase the number of eggs in the clutch.

Habitat and Distribution
The short-eared owl is found on heaths, grass moors, marshes and sand dunes; in winter it is particularly found on coastal marshes and adjoining farmland. This species is resident in the north and east of England, north and west Wales and the south and east of Scotland. Summer visitors breed in the Highlands and west coast of Scotland. Scottish birds and those from Scandinavia winter in southern England and Northern Ireland.

Population Trends
In the 19th century the main population was in the uplands of Scotland and the north of England with a second area in the fens and marshes of the east coast of England. The short-eared owl has always been a scarce, localised bird in most of these areas, except in the Outer Hebrides and Orkney. During the first half of the 20th century reduced grazing and the spread of plantations in the uplands favoured this species and allowed it to increase. It particularly liked these areas when the trees had just been planted but as they grew up the forest became unsuitable and numbers declined again.

This owl is very dependent on short-tailed voles, and so numbers increase significantly when its prey populations are high. There are also large influxes of wintering birds from Scandinavia after populations of small mammals peak there.

Credit: © Information and Photo kindly supplied by the Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Pine Marten

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Pine Marten

Pine marten (Martes martes). Dark brown fur; yellow/white throat patch; long fluffy tail; about the size of a small cat.

Habitat
Coniferous woodland, Deciduous woodland, Mixed woodland

Size
Males 51-54cm; females 46-54cm; Tail length: males 26-27cm; females 18-24cm.

Weight
Males 1.5-2.2kg; females 0.9-1.5kg.

Origin and Distribution
Pine martens are found in the Scottish Highlands and Grampians, with isolated populations in southern Scotland. In England and North Wales pine martens seem to be on the verge of extinction. They are widespread and relatively common in Ireland. Although they occur in a wide range of habitats, pine martens prefer well-wooded areas with plenty of cover.

General Ecology
Marten dens are commonly found in hollow trees or the fallen root masses of Scots pines, an association that probably earned pine martens their name; cairns and cliffs covered with scrub are frequently used as alternative den sites. Martens have territories that vary in size according to habitat and food availability; for males these are about 10-25 square kilometres and for females about 5-15 square kilometres. They mark their territories with faeces (known as scats) deposited in places where they are conspicuous to other martens; they are frequently left along forestry trails.

Diet
Pine martens are generalist predators, feeding on small rodents, birds, beetles, carrion, eggs and fungi. In autumn, berries are a staple.

Lifespan
Maximum life expectancy is 8 years.

Breeding
Young martens are born blind and hairless, in litters of 1-5, in early spring and stay with their mothers for about six weeks. Their eyes open at the end of May and by mid-June they begin to emerge from their den. Male martens play no direct part in rearing the young.

Conservation Status
Martens and their dens are fully protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981); martens must not be trapped, sold or disturbed except under licence from Scottish Natural Heritage, the Countryside Council for Wales or Natural England. Despite this legal protection, poisoned baits and traps, often set for hooded crows and foxes, still probably account for many marten deaths each year. Others are also shot at hen houses, and some are killed when mistaken for mink.

Until the 19th Century, pine martens were found throughout much of mainland Britain, the Isle of Wight and some of the Scottish islands. Habitat fragmentation, persecution by gamekeepers and martens being killed for their fur, drastically reduced this distribution. By 1926, the main pine marten population in Britain was restricted to a small area of north-west Scotland, with small numbers in N Wales and the Lake District. They have now increased their range in Scotland, and now occur throughout the Highlands, N of the Central Belt but remains one of the rarest native mammals in Great Britain, with a total population of around 3-4,000, but Ireland probably also has as many.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Red Fox Cub

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Red Fox Cub

The fox is a member of the dog family and is recognised by its orange-reddish fur, it has overtaken grey wolves as the most common canines in the wild.

It is mainly nocturnal but can be often seen during the day. They can be seen in various habitats from the wider countryside to gardens, and have been found breeding in holes under sheds.

Their eerie scream is usually made by the female vixen and is heard under darkness, they are known to have twenty eight different calls.

They are opportunist, usual prey being rabbits, amphibians and invertebrates.

Credit: Information and photo kindly supplied by Peter Dowse of Bollington, Cheshire.

Polecat

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Polecat

Polecats (Mustela putorius) – Blackish guard hairs and yellow under fur on the body, giving ‘black and tan’ appearance; banded “bandit” face: pale muzzle, ear tips and ‘eyebrows’, with a broad dark band around the eyes; darker legs and belly, short fluffy tail; is the size of a ferret

Habitat
Urban & gardens, Deciduous woodland, Grassland, Mixed woodland, Arable land

Size
Males 33-45cm, females 32-39cm; tail length: 12-19cm.

Weight
Males weigh around 0.8-1.9kg, females 0.5-1.1kg.

Origin and Distribution
Polecats are found throughout Wales where valleys and farms are favoured, the midlands and parts of central southern England, and are spreading steadily from these areas. There are isolated populations in Cumbria and Caithness, which probably result from unofficial releases. Once, polecats were widespread throughout Great Britain, but were nearly exterminated by 1915. They never occurred in Ireland, or on the outer islands. Although they occur in a wide range of habitats, polecats prefer lowland areas. In England, farmland with hedgerows and small woods is preferred.

General Ecology
Polecat dens are commonly found in rabbit burrows, especially in summer, but they frequently move into farmyards in winter, when they may den in hay bales, under sheds and in rubbish tips. Polecats have territories that vary in size according to habitat and food availability. For males they have been measured at 16-500 ha, and for females about 25-375 ha, using radio-tracking. Territoriality seems weaker in polecats than other mustelids, perhaps because they move around more to exploit seasonally abundant food sources. There are often piles of scats near den sites, but little evidence that scats are left around the territory to defend its borders. Polecats have scent glands either side of the anus, and they produce a pungent, repellent scent.

Diet
In summer, rabbits are a major food, and polecats are slender enough to hunt them within their burrows. In winter, common rats become a favoured food, and sites with good rat populations become usual habitats. Birds may be taken and frogs may be important in spring, when gathered to spawn.

Lifespan
Up to 14 years in captivity, probably five years in the wild.

Breeding
Polecats have one litter a year, with 5-10 young born blind and hairless in late May-early June. They begin to take meat from 3 weeks, and stay with their mothers for 2-3 months. They reach adult size by autumn, and breed at one year old. Pregnancy is direct (no delayed implantation) lasting 40-43 days. Male polecats play no direct part in rearing the young.

Conservation Status
In addition to its protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, the polecat has recently (2007) been added to the list of UK BAP mammals, protected as species of principal importance for the conservation of biological diversity in England under Section 74 of the Countryside and Rights of Way (CRoW) Act 2000. Until the 19th Century, polecats were found throughout much of mainland Britain and the Isle of Wight. Habitat fragmentation, persecution by gamekeepers and being killed for their fur drastically reduced this distribution. The polecat population was reduced to about 5,000, but is now more than 46,000. Road accidents are a major threat as they tend to be attracted to other road kill items for food.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Red Kite

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Red Kite

The Red kite (Milvus milvus) is a slender bird with long narrow wings with white patches on the underside of the primaries and a long, distinctive forked tail. Grey head, rusty wing coverts, back and tail, contrast with dark primaries and secondaries. The underside is red-rust with darker brown stripes on the chest.

Length: 55-60cm; wingspan: 160-180cm

Population Trends
Red kites were widespread in the Middle Ages particularly in towns and cities were their important role as a scavenger led to them being protected by royal decree. But by the 16th century they were classed as vermin and their decline began. By the 1870s they were confined to Wales and by the beginning of the 1900s only a few pairs survived there. Wardening by committed volunteers, including those from the Hawk and Owl Trust, prevented complete extinction.

With protection a slow recovery began but the population was first limited by myxomatosis, drastically reducing its rabbit prey, and then by persistent agri-chemicals. By the late 1960s their recovery accelerated but, as their spread was very slow, a reintroduction project using young birds from Sweden began in the Chilterns in 1989. This was so successful that this population provided young birds for further reintroductions both elsewhere in England and in Scotland. The bird is now widespread in Britain and is beginning to be seen in Northern Ireland.

Habitat and Distribution
Wooded upland valleys in Wales and well-wooded farmland in the lowlands. The original population is still confined to mid Wales. The majority of birds are still to be seen near the re-introduction sites: the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire, Northamptonshire and Yorkshire in England, and Dumfries and Galloway, Stirling/East Perthshire and the Black Isle in Scotland. Non-breeding red kites are now seen throughout Britain, especially young birds which range widely in their first year.

Breeding

Display flights occur over the breeding site in March and April when the pair circle high in the sky, chase each other and grapple with their talons. They build a large stick nest high in a fork of a tree on the woodland edge, often renovating an old nest. They will use artificial platforms.

Feeding
Much of the kites’ diet is made up of carrion. They will catch small mammals up to the size of rabbits and young hares, a variety of birds, as well as insects and earthworms.

Credit: With thanks to the Hawk and Owl Trust for providing the information. Photo Credit: © Andy Thompson / Hawk and Owl Trust

www.hawkandowl.org

Red Squirrel

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Red Squirrel

The Red squirrel’s (Sciurus vulgaris) fur colour varies from bright ginger through to red and dark brown or black tinged with grey in winter; larger ear tufts in mid-winter which disappear by the summer; bushy tail which bleaches white by late summer in some individuals.

Size: 180-240mm, tail about 175mm.
Weight: Juveniles: 100-150g; Adults up to 350g.

Habitat
Upland & moorland, Coniferous woodland

Origin and Distribution 
Red squirrels spend about three-quarters of their active time above ground in trees and shrubs, and are at home in both conifer forests and broadleaved woodland. The distribution of red squirrels has declined drastically in the last 60 years and they are now extinct in southern England except for a few on the Isle of Wight and two small islands in Poole Harbour. Elsewhere in central Britain they are confined to rather isolated populations in Wales (notably Anglesey) and around Formby in Merseyside. Red squirrels are still widespread in the North of England and Scotland, and in Ireland, but even here their range is contracting.

General Ecology
Red Squirrels are active during the daytime, though in summer it may rest for an hour or two around mid-day. Squirrel nests, or dreys, are constructed of twigs in a tree fork, above a whorl of branches close to the stem of a conifer, or, less visibly, in a hole in a tree. They are lined with soft hair, moss and dried grass. Several squirrels may share the same drey, or use the same drey on different days.

Diet
Their min foods are tree seeds, especially hazel nuts and seeds from conifer cones. They also eat tree flowers and shoots, mushrooms and fungi from under tree bark. They often suffer periods of food shortage, especially during July.

Lifespan
They survive for up to six years in the wild.

Breeding
Breeding can begin in mid-winter and continue through the summer, depending on the weather and how much food is available. Mating chases occur where several males follow a female who is ready to mate. During chases squirrels make spectacular leaps through the tree canopy and spiral up and down tree trunks. Females have one or two litters a year, usually of about 2-3 young. Juveniles are weaned at around 10 weeks, but do not breed until they are one year old.

Conservation Status
Red squirrels are protected by law, and may not be intentionally trapped, killed or kept, or have their dreys disturbed except under licence from Natural England (NE), the Countryside Council for Wales (CCW) or Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH). Red squirrels are considered vulnerable in Britain. However, occasionally high densities in some Scottish forests can lead to economic damage to trees. In such cases, government agencies will assess whether to issue a licence to remove some of them.

Despite historically high numbers, the introduction of grey squirrels during the early 20th century greatly contributed to their decline through disease transfer and indirect competition (better foraging efficiencies). The only certain way to sustain red squirrel populations is through the exclusion of grey squirrels. This can be achieved through the creation of habitats favourable for only red squirrels, selective feeders or lethal exclusion. To improve the success of reintroductions further research is required.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Short-Snouted Seahorse

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Seahorse

The Short-snouted Seahorse has its name because it has a head shaped like a horse and it has a short nose that is slightly upturned. It is a beautiful looking creature even though it’s body is covered with wart-like lumps, making it look rather knobbly. When swimming it keeps in an upright position and uses a fin that is situated in the middle of its body to propel forward. When it wants to climb on plants or seaweed it uses its long tail to grip so it won’t be washed away by strong currents.

This seahorse can be difficult to detect under water as it is capable of changing colour to either brown or orange, and other colours too so it adapts to its surroundings. It does this so it is better camouflaged, which is a good thing seeing that humans like to have them as souvenirs because they dry out intact.

The Short-snouted Seahorse has excellent eyesight and unlike human eyes it can move its eyes independently which means it can look forwards and backwards at the same time. This makes hunting for food easier for seahorses especially since they only use their eyes to hunt. When they find something to eat they suck their food up through their snouts – similar to how a hoover sucks up dirt. They eat on average about 40 times a day but they don’t chew their food, they just break it up into pieces.

When seahorses find a partner they stay together for life and after the courtship dance and mating, the female lays her eggs in a special pouch located on the front part of the male’s body. Once she has done that, the male takes over the responsibility of looking after the young until they are ready to hatch.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Sally Sharrock

www.seasearchdevon.co.uk

www.mcsuk.org

Robin

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Robin

The Robin (Erithacus rubecula) can be seen throughout the year almost anywhere in the UK in gardens, hedgerows, parks and woodlands. It is also known as the Redbreast Robin because it has a red face, neck and chest. Males and females look identical and both have large and prominent black eyes and a short thin black beak. Even though these birds look quite cute they can be very aggressive if their territories are invaded and have no problem at all in driving away intruders.

Robins are not shy and will follow you around in the garden if you are digging up soil because they know they will find worms more easily. And if you happen to have some mealworms they will even eat them out of your hand because these worms are their favourite food. However, Robins usually eat spiders, beetles, flies which they hunt for from a branch perch. They also like eating berries and seeds. Robins hop very quickly on the ground and often flutter their wings and tails giving them the impression that they are nervous, even though they are not really.

Robins can be heard singing sweet melodious songs throughout the year and throughout the day, but often you will hear them the most in the morning when they are singing out loud to mark their territories. They also like singing at night next to street lamps!

On a cold night a Robin likes to keep itself warm by tucking its head under its shoulder feathers and often the Robin will stand on one leg and tuck the other leg under its body to keep itself warm. The feathers on its belly also help to keep its feet warm while it is resting on a perch.

A male Robin also sits on a perch singing songs to attract a female and if the female likes the sound of the songs she will fly in and out of his territory many times to show him that she is a female and that she finds him attractive. Remember Robins look identical and even they have difficulty telling each other apart, and the female doesn’t want to be mistaken for a male because she knows she will be attacked! Once the male realises it is a female he starts to bring her food as a means of courtship and if she is happy with the food and the male she starts to build a nest.

Nests are dome-shaped and made of twigs, leaves, grass and moss and are built low-down in tree stumps, tree roots, gaps in walls and in open-fronted nest boxes. In April, the female usually lays five to seven eggs that are a pale blue colour with reddish spots. Incubation lasts for around two weeks and during this time the male brings the female food. Approximately two weeks after the chicks have hatched they can fly and then they become fully independent about 16-24 days later.

Photo Credit: © Copyright David Tomlinson

www.davidtomlinsonphotos.co.uk

The Seven Spot Ladybird

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Seven Spot Ladybird

The Seven Spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) is a small red beetle that has seven different shaped black spots on each wing case. These wing cases are known as elytra and the patterns of the spots are identical on both sides making the cases look like mirror images. The bright red colour and black spots help to warn predators that the ladybirds are not very tasty and a bit poisonous too. The ladybird has a poisonous substance in its body which is released through its legs if it is captured by a bird for example. The poison not only tastes awful to birds but it also makes them feel sick so they keep well away from ladybirds. Humans on the other hand seem to like these pretty looking beetles, not to eat of course, but to look at and many people believe that if a ladybird lands on you it will bring you luck!

Seven Spot Ladybirds can be found throughout the UK almost anywhere from gardens, meadows, fields, woodlands, hedgerows and even in towns and cities. They are often known as the ‘gardener’s best friend’ because the ladybird’s favourite food is aphids which is a type of lice considered to be a pest to plants. Ladybirds also eat other soft insects such as mites and white flies which are also seen as pests by gardeners. The Seven Spot Ladybirds find their food by using their antennae which help them to smell and feel their way around. It is a good job ladybirds have these antennae seeing that they have terrible eyesight.

Female ladybirds release their own individual pheromone which is a chemical substance that attracts males. When a couple find each other they mate and interestingly the female can lay her eggs up to three months later. The female ladybird often lays clusters of ten to fifteen tiny jelly-bean shaped eggs under a leaf so the eggs are not on show to flying predators. The eggs are laid in a place where there is lots of aphids so that when the larvae hatch out they will have enough to eat. After about two weeks the larvae start to look like a little shrimps and this is the time when they attach themselves to leaves and rest for a few days so that they can go through metamorphosis and turn into fully grown adults. When ladybirds first emerge out of their larvae skin they are a pinkish colour and their wing cases are soft. The wing cases harden after a couple of hours and it is during this stage that they turn a bright red colour.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Steve Falk

www.buglife.org.uk

Basking Shark

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Basking Shark

The basking shark is Britain’s largest fish, growing up to 11 metres long and weighing up to seven tonnes – about the size and weight of a double-decker bus! We used to see lots of basking sharks in our waters, but they are considered to be endangered in UK waters after being hunted for their liver oil in the past.

Now they are protected, but as their numbers are increasing, they still face threats of getting tangled in fishing line, disturbance at their surface feeding sites and illegal fishing for their valuable fins. By finding out more about these spectacular animals, we will have a better idea of how to protect them.

Activity
You can take part in the Marine Conservation Society’s (MCS) Basking Shark Watch programme! If you are lucky enough to spot one of these gentle giants, MCS would love to hear from you. Simply report your sightings by visiting their website.

Photo Credit: © Copyright Jeremy Stafford Deitsch

www.mcsuk.org

Common Shrew

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Common Shrew

Common shrews are one of Britain’s most abundant small mammals. They are recognisable from their long, narrow, twitching snout, silky brown fur and grey underside. They are very hard mammals to spot as they spend much of their life either beneath the leaf litter, where they use old mouse runs to get around, or in the soil, where they dig their own burrows. Occasionally, a high-pitched squeak can be heard in the grass, which is a good sign that shrews are about!

They are most active at night, particularly at dusk and dawn and are solitary animals that can be very aggressive towards each other. Their eyesight is poor and so they use their acute sense of smell to detect their food. Their long snout and whiskers are constantly probing and sniffing the soil to find food and they can locate prey, which is up to 12cm underground.

Breeding
Common shrews mate between April & September and after a pregnancy of 22-24 days, the females give birth to six or seven blind, hairless young. The young grow rapidly and become independent within three weeks but 50% of young shrews die in the first two months. Females can have two to four litters per year depending on the weather and the availability of food.

Diet
Worms, spiders, slugs, insect larvae, beetles and woodlice.

Habitat
Woodland, thick grass and hedgerows, particularly road verges and other grassy banks. They make nests of dried grass and leaves under logs and grass tussocks or in the burrows of other species.

Predators and Threats
Mostly owls but also stoats, weasels and foxes. Domestic cats frequently kill shrews but do not eat them, because of their unpleasant taste.

Status and Distribution
Common shrews are very common and widely distributed throughout mainland Britain. They are however absent from Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Northern Isles and the Outer Hebrides.

Credit: Source: People’s Trust for Endangered Species - Photo Credit: © Copyright Mike Lane

www.ptes.org

www.nature-photography.co.uk

Pygmy Shrew

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Pygmy Shrew

The Pygmy Shrew is a very small mammal with a markedly pointed snout. As in the common shrew the fur is greyish brown (dirty white ventrally) but the pygmy shrew is smaller and has a proportionately longer and thicker tail.

Size
40-60 mm; tail 32-46mm

Weight
2.4-6.1g. Weight may decrease up to 28% in winter.

Diet
They feed mainly on insects, arachnids and woodlice, requiring regular meals and eating up to 125% of their body weight in food daily. Unlike common shrews, they rarely eat earthworms.

Lifespan
Peak mortality is at 2-4 months and the maximum lifespan is around 13 months.

Origin and Distribution
Widespread throughout the mainland of Britain and Ireland, in most terrestrial habitats which offer sufficient ground cover. They are also found on the Isle of Man and Outer Hebrides, where common shrews are absent. Pygmy shrews are active day and night, largely above ground. They make and use “surface tunnels” in vegetation and will frequent burrows dug by other animals. They seem to be relatively more common on moorland than are common shrews.

Habitat
• Urban & gardens
• Deciduous woodland
• Grassland
• Mixed woodland
• Arable land

Behaviour
As in all shrews, senses of smell, hearing and touch are well-developed. Pygmy shrews are solitary and aggressive towards conspecifics. Home ranges vary from around 500-2000 square metres, depending on habitat, with maximum densities of around 12 per hectare. Strict territoriality is only abandoned during the breeding season.

Breeding
Pygmy shrews overwinter as immatures and breed between April and October, producing two or three litters of 5-7 young. Their main predators are owls and other avian predators, particularly those which hunt on moorland.

Conservation Status
Shrews are protected under the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act. As with all shrews, they may be trapped only under licence. In any trapping study on small mammals, care is necessary to avoid killing shrews, which are extremely susceptible to death by starvation due to their small size and correspondingly high metabolic rate. Traps should be provided with suitable food (e.g. mealworms, meat) and/or visited at least every 2 hours. The main habitat requirements are vegetation cover and invertebrate food.

Credit: With thanks to The Mammal Society for providing the photo and information. © The Mammal Society

www.mammal.org.uk

Water Shrew

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Water Shrew

Water shrews are the largest of the British shrews. These frantic little mammals are very well adapted to an aquatic lifestyle. They have a dark black-brown coat of short fur that is paler underneath and which is waterproof and stays dry, even while swimming. Unlike the other shrews found in Britain, they have hidden ears, only visible as white tufts, which they can close when they are in the water. They have a stiff fringe of hair beneath their tail, which they use as a rudder when swimming and they can dive to depths of over 70cm.

Water shrews are mostly active at night, particularly just before dawn. They need to eat 50% of their body weight every day to stay alive and can travel up to 160 metres along the water’s edge to find food and shelter. They do not hibernate but remain active throughout the winter when their dense fur protects them from the cold and wet.

Breeding
Pregnancy lasts roughly 20 days and 3-5 young are born per litter between April and September, with a peak of activity in May and June. Females have between one and three litters in a season. The juveniles usually leave the nest at six weeks old.

Diet
Mainly freshwater crustaceans such as shrimps, caddis-fly larvae and small snails, but also small fish and frogs, earthworms, snails and beetles.

Habitat
Usually unpolluted, fast flowing water, in reed-beds, watercress beds, fens and along riverbanks. They dig extensive networks of small burrows and chambers, about 2cm wide, in the banks of streams, which they line with grass and leaves.

Predators and Threats
Occasionally owls, kestrels, foxes, large fish and cats but most water shrews die from exhaustion after the breeding season.

Status and Distribution
Water shrews are widely distributed throughout mainland Britain, but generally uncommon. They are scarce in the Scottish highlands and absent from Ireland and most of the small islands.

Credit: Source: People’s Trust for Endangered Species - Photo Credit: © Copyright Mike Lane

www.ptes.org

www.nature-photography.co.uk

Slow Worm

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Slow Worm

The slow-worm (Anguis fragilis) is often found in gardens and is widespread throughout the British Isles; it is naturally absent from Ireland.

Identification
Slow-worms are lizards, though they are often mistaken for snakes. Unlike snakes they have eyelids, a flat forked tongue and can drop their tail to escape from a predator.

Slow-worms have a shiny appearance. Males are a greyish brown and females are brown with dark sides. Some females possess a thin line down the back. Juvenile slow-worms are very thin and are initially around 4cm long. Juveniles have black bellies and gold or silver dorsal sides, sometimes with a stripe running along the length of the body.

Lifecycle
Unlike other British reptiles, slow-worms rarely bask in the open, instead preferring to hide under logs or in compost heaps. Slow-worms feed on slow-moving prey, particularly small slugs. Like common lizards, female slow-worms incubate their eggs internally and ‘give birth’ in the late summer.

Protection
Slow-worms are protected by law in Great Britain against being deliberately killed, injured or sold/traded in any way.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Grass Snake

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Grass Snake

Grass snakes (Natrix natrix) are found throughout England and Wales. Feeding primarily on fish and amphibians, grass snakes can occasionally venture into garden ponds in the summer months, particularly in rural or semi-rural parts of the south. Grass snakes are non-venomous and are extremely timid, moving off quickly when disturbed. If cornered they can feign death, and if handled frequently, produce a foul-smelling excretion.

Identification
This is the UK’s longest snake, growing to well over a metre in length. Typically grass snakes are grey-green in colour. They have a distinctive yellow and black collar around the neck, with black bars down the sides of the body.

Lifecycle
Grass snakes are Britain’s only egg-laying snake. Females lay eggs in June or July, normally in rotting vegetation (including garden compost heaps) which acts as an incubator. The eggs hatch into miniature versions of the adults in the late summer months.

Protection
Grass snakes are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell grass snakes.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

Adder

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Adder

The adder (Vipera berus) is the UK’s only venomous snake. However, their secretive nature and camouflaged markings mean they often go unnoticed. Though painful, adder bites are rarely fatal. There are only around ten recorded cases of death from adder bite in the last 100 years. Most bites occur when the snake has been disturbed or deliberately antagonised.

Where to find them
The adder is the most northerly member of the Viper family and is found throughout Britain right up to the north of Scotland. In Scandinavia its range extends into the Arctic Circle. It is not, however, found in Ireland. Adders like open habitats such as heathland, moorland, open woodland and sea cliffs, and rarely stray into gardens.

Identification
The adder is easily recognised by a dark ‘zig-zag’ stripe along its back. There is also a row of dark spots along each side and a ‘V’ or ‘X’ shape on the head. Background colours vary from grey-white in the male to shades of brown or copper in the female. On occasion, completely black specimens are described. They can grow to around 60cm in length and have rather a stocky appearance.

Lifecycle
Mating takes place in April/May and female adders incubate their eggs internally, rather than laying shelled eggs (like the grass snake). Adders ‘give birth’ to live young in August or September. Adders feed largely on small rodents and lizards. As a result their venom is not particularly potent.

Protection
Adders are protected by law in Great Britain. It is illegal to deliberately kill, injure or sell wild adders.

Credit: With thanks to the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation Charity for providing the photo and information. © ARC Trust

www.arc-trust.org

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