Author Archives: Martin Ferns

MKNHS member Harry Appleyard wins BMERC photo competition

Early this year BMERC held the first Wildlife Photography Competition 2020, with two categories ‘Wildlife’ and ‘Landscape’. The judges independently voted for two winning photos belonging to the same author – MKNHS member, Harry Appleyard, to whom go our congratulations.  More details can be found in the BMERC newsletter, linked below, which includes both photos: ‘Shepherd’s Delight’ and ‘Waxwing in Tattenhoe, December 2010’.

BMERC Newsletter 1 14-05-2020

The judges commented that some that some of the entrants ‘showed amazing level of passion and skills. The variety and beauty of some shots revealed incredible expertise and patience.’ The report notes that the judges had a tough job, before choosing the work of ‘an extremely talented young photographer’.

A new pond – Simon Bunker

We did the garden last year and we installed a pond, so I have been staking it out, looking carefully and pond dipping.  At first I thought it was devoid of life, but after being told to be patient things started to appear.

First up were pond skaters, so had a play taking their photo while they were skating on the pond.

Above: (l) Pond Skater; (r) Young Pond Skater

While pond dipping found back swimmers, water boatman, Mayfly nymphs, damselfly larva possibly common blue. Later confirmed when a green form emerged from the pond. Darter larva, plus 2 different diving beetles.

 

Above: (l) Back Swimmer; (r) Mayfly Nymph

Above: (l) Lesser Water Boatman; (r) Diving Beetle

Also we saw our first frog last week, but no frog spawn, hopefully next year.

While watching the pond I found the exuvia of the dragonfly and damselfly which I have collected and put onto microscope slides.

 

Above: (l) Common Blue damselfly larva; (r) Darter larva, poss. Common

   

Above: (l and r) Common Blue damselfly – green form

In between pond watching and working I also have been taking pictures of Myriapods and Isopods. Plus anything else that stayed still long enough!

 

Above: (l) Millipede; (r) Millipede – Polydesmus species

 

Above: (l and r) Woodlice-Philoscia-muscorum

Simon Bunker
(who took all the photos)

Access to Wildlife Trust Reserves – update

Government advice now allows travel to other places in England so you may be thinking of visiting nature reserves further afield. If you are a member of either the BBOWT or BCN Wildlife Trusts you will have received an up-date on the current situation on reserves access. If not, do check out the advice on their websites: https://www.bbowt.org.uk/covid-19-update and https://www.wildlifebcn.org/news/how-we-are-responding-covid-19.

In both cases most reserves are open, but car parks, visitor centres and bird hides remain closed.

The Secret Bee Bush – Ann and Mark Strutton

News of a busy Cotoneaster in Willen

One of the joys of late spring in our garden is the blooming of the Cotoneaster horizontalis.  This plant produces small pink flowers which, unless you inspect closely just seem to be buds that never open.

Even on a day like today, when the air temperature is around 10 C, the plant is alive with bees.  On a hot day, their humming is almost louder than the traffic on the M1.  All cotoneasters are good for nectar but this species is the best.  This plant is not more than 2 feet in height but about 5 feet across and, in a quick count today, there were at least two dozen bees on it.  The majority were the workers of the tree bumble bee, Bombus hypnorum and the spring bumble bee, Bombus pratorem.  Also present, a single honey bee – well it is a cold day.

The small flowers of the plant are well suited to the short tongued bumble bees.  It is well known that bees do not bother to visit a flower that has been recently visited by another individual bee. I read in Dave Goulson’s book, A Sting in the Tail, that it has been shown, by clever research which involved washing the feet of bees, that each bee leaves a smelly footprint on the flower which can be detected by another bee.  The smell declines over time so the insect can determine when the flower was last visited.  Different plants refill their nectaries at different rates, borage being a notable plant that refills very quickly, in about two minutes, compared with comfrey which takes upwards of forty minutes.  So out I go with my stopwatch and observe a single flower.  I took three readings all under ten minutes, the average time between visits being 6 minutes.  Considering that this single plant must be covered in thousands of flowers, it explains why it is such a good nectar source.

Our plant is one of a large family of cotoneasters which originate in India, Tibet or China. Horizontalis is the one that is most recognisable and has acquired a common name, the Fishbone or Herringbone cotoneaster.  Originally found in China, it was brought to the west in the 19th century by that saviour of deer, Pere David.  Considered by some to be too invasive, our plant arrived by chance about 20 years ago and established itself on the edge of our north-facing patio where, apart from when we trip over it, it has become most welcome.

As the year progresses, other species make the most of this shrub.  This week, when the song thrush chicks fledged, their parent took them right under the branches into its heart to hunt for snails.  Throughout the rest of the year, the wren is most active in it and the dunnock uses it as a hidey hole to escape from the aggressive robin.  We often see glimpses of bank voles rushing into cover under it and frogs and toads live under it as well.  Occasionally, a grass snake makes an appearance.  On one memorable occasion, many years ago, a mink appeared from under it.

Once the berries form in the autumn, it becomes of great interest to other species.  In the past, this would have been blackbirds, thrushes, sometimes redwings in the depths of winter but these days, the resident wood pigeon gobbles them up quite early in the autumn, a bird so fat it seems to waddle.

Ann and Mark Strutton
May 2020

Marston Vale Forest

Peter Meadows reminds us that there is plenty of wildlife interest in Marston Vale Forest. The Forest Centre remains closed, but the park itself and the car park is now open from 9am-5pm.  You can see what’s about by following this link to the weekly blog on Nature news (https://www.marstonvale.org/blog/nature-news-11th-may) from the Forest, with updates on plants coming into flower, bird activity video recordings and insect sightings.

Peter Kent

We received news recently that Peter Kent, a former member of the Society, former Chairman and long-serving committee member, died on Easter Sunday. There may not be many members now who remember Peter and his wife Jean, who were very active in the Society during the 1980s and 90s. Apart from being Chairman for 4 years from 1989-1993, Peter will be particularly remembered for planning and organising a number of successful trips for Society members, which saw groups travelling to Crete, Turkey, Israel, Texas and South Africa. He also arranged trips in the UK, both long weekends, such as to Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire, and day trips to places like Westonbirt Arboretum. Due to the lockdown restrictions, a small funeral has been held, but a memorial service will be held later. His wife Jean, now 90, continues to live in Stoke Hammond, where they moved from Bletchley a couple of years ago.

 

Dawn Chorus walks, Olney – Julie Lane

I decided that in this time of lockdown it was about time I made the effort to get up early and go out into the local countryside to listen to the dawn chorus.

Photo: Julie Lane

On my first walk, the alarm went at 5 a.m. and I stumbled out of bed and out into a misty cold and not very inspiring morning. I wandered down to the river and listened to the sedge warblers and reed buntings but I was very chilly and keen to get home for a warm drink. I came home via one of my favourite haunts and singing in the blackthorn scrub was a nightingale. All feelings of exhaustion and depression lifted and I stood and listened for about half an hour as he sang his heart out occasionally coming into view to check me out. I recorded several bursts of song on the voice memo app on my iphone and include one of them here.

Nightingale. Photo: Euan Purvis

My second walk took place on a lovely morning with blue skies but a layer of mist hanging in the valley floor. I listened to the nightingale for a while but he was sulking and only producing a recurrent whistle followed by a churr, so I decided to leave him in peace.

Photo: Julie Lane

I wandered down through the fields into the mist by the River Ouse. As it started to lift the scenery was absolutely magical and the bird song from the reedbeds was amazing. I felt very privileged to be sharing the sunrise with only the wildlife (including a rather surprised fox) for company. I took some photos and recordings.  How many birds can you hear in this recording?

Sadly when I downloaded this recording to my computer it seems to have more background ‘noise’ than the original recording on my iPhone but I can hear a song thrush, chiffchaff, sedge warbler, wren, blackbird and pheasant. And I expect I have missed something (maybe a reed bunting?)

Photo: Julie Lane

Julie Lane
7 May 2020

 

Wildlife in Lockdown: Tattenhoe and Surrounding Areas – Harry Appleyard

The prospect of lockdown as the most exciting season of the year for wildlife got underway was daunting to say the least, but fortunately through singular and fairly consistently paced walks, I’ve been able to see what’s about around my southern corner of Milton Keynes, while keeping to the best routes for social distancing and considering my timing carefully. It has also been an ideal time to use the garden for sky watching more than ever before, bringing some bird species I haven’t previously seen or heard from home.

Though there are a few fairly local places I like to travel to at this time of year, there is usually more than enough wildlife to keep me busy on my local patch. There are a range of habitats around Tattenhoe and the surrounding areas which make it well worth scanning for passing migratory birds from late March to early May. The woodlands and parkland meadows usually produce several species of butterfly and quieter periods can offer glimpses of some of the elusive resident mammals. Social distancing can be carried out here without much difficulty, so long as the narrow woodland footpaths and thin red ways between housing and hedgerows are usually avoided.

On my walks early April saw the return of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps, which quickly gained in numbers as males began to occupy and defend territories. There was a brief movement of Willow Warblers with 6 singing males on 7th April, only two of which seemed to have remained since. The morning of the 8th produced my eagerly anticipated first Redstart of the year, unfortunately perched from a far from ideal place for photography in a private car park. Fortunately, an even better consolation prize followed immediately after with a northbound Cuckoo passing over Tattenhoe Park. This was my first Cuckoo for the Tattenhoe area since 2017 and the first reported in Bucks this year, just about photographed as a mere speck in the distance but nonetheless unmistakable in shape and flight.

One frequent passage visitor I think I have probably missed a few more of is the Wheatear, with just a single male seen so far stopping by on 17th April. Fortunately, lucky timing has given me sightings of some other unusual flyovers for this corner of MK included a Goosander heading north on the first day of the month and a Green Sandpiper, which also flew north on the 16th. Another local scarcity, the Ring Ouzel, dropped into Tattenhoe Park on the 9th, spotted in the exact same treeline as my previous one in October 2018. After many days of hoping for them last year it was great to see one here again, though the photo opportunities were cut short by a male Blackbird keen to prevent it from foraging around one of the fields!

Keeping an eye on the skies from home for longer periods than usual has also produced a few pleasant surprises including migrating Meadow Pipits, Linnets and a pair of Kestrels. All three of these are fairly common species locally but never seen over my suburban garden before, well away from the scrubby grassland habitats I tend to associate them with. Tagging in with the citizen science of “nocmig” or nocturnal migration, I’ve also been using my Tascam DR-05 sound recorder in the hopes of picking up bird movements at night. With a bucket, bubble wrap and the recorder on a tripod, my nocturnal recording setup is nowhere near as advanced or expensive as those I follow online but it has yielded some satisfying finds. So far the highlights have been two occurrences of Moorhen, a local resident species but rarely anywhere near my garden, Coot, which is an infrequent visitor to Tattenhoe’s waterways on at 2.53am on 26th March and an Oystercatcher, a rare flyover for this corner of MK, making a single call at 00.50 on 5th April.

After bringing the recorder back inside, I use Audacity to amplify the sounds of the recordings, then looking for blips in the spectrogram, the smallest of which are usually bird vocalizations. I’ve already known most of the calls I’ve picked up on them so far, though looking at other people’s recordings on Twitter and researching the vocals of various birds on xeno-canto.org has also been very helpful in identifying them since I started this last year. It hasn’t produced as many bird species as I had initially hoped for so far, but picking up just the occasional call of one that I don’t usually see from my garden or even my sometimes lengthy walks in recent years has made it well worthwhile.

In recent years, aided largely by spring migration, April has had a knack for bringing new species to my Tattenhoe birds list and 2020 has been no exception, bringing me the 126th since 2008 with my first ever Wood Warbler, singing his heart out while foraging the canopy of a thicket in the Tattenhoe Valley Park on 26th April. Being a rare visitor to Bucks with less than 5 reported across the county annually in recent years, this was easily my most exciting bird find of the year so far. As expected, this was a passing visit and there was no sign of him the next day. A bird I had been holding out hope for over several years, slap bang in the middle of a place I had already been to countless times. It just goes to show a local area with decent habitat, even in an urban setting can still be full of surprises after years of being watched.

Wood Warbler, 26th April

A couple of days later, one of the trademarks of summer, the Swift arrived over my garden, with three hawking in the murky morning skies. Today as I type this on 4th May, at least 5 have been lingering around the nearby sky, performing aerobatics, and frequently chasing each-other from the late morning and into the afternoon.

Swift over the garden, 27th April

Onto non avian wildlife, early April produced a huge butterfly boom across the local area. It didn’t take long for Orange-tips to appear in mass just about everywhere I looked, while Speckled Woods started to appear around the woodland edges and Holly Blues made passing visits to the garden, occasionally basking. The eagerly anticipated dragonfly and damselfly season finally got going for me on 4th May with two Large Reds emerging from one of the balancing ponds. A disappointingly late start to the season compared with other recent years, but with so many fine sunny days recently, I suspect many of them may have already gone missed on their maiden flights. 2020 also seems to be the year of the Cuckoo flower in Tattenhoe, with many more appearing around the woodland and parkland meadows than I can say I’ve seen before.

Tawny Mining Bee in the garden 27th April

Peacock Butterfly 4th April

Lockdown life has taken some adjusting to, but it has been comforting to at least see a portion of what has been going on out there within compliance to the guidelines. It’s been a good spring so far, especially for birds and with these difficult times still looming over us, I’m feeling luckier than ever to have the parks, lakes and woodland of MK on my doorstep. Stay safe everyone.

Harry Appleyard
Tattenhoe, 5th May 2020

All photos courtesy of Harry Appleyard

Life in a bubble – Sue Hetherington

Just like everyone else, I still find it hard to believe I am actually living through what feels to me like a bizarre disaster movie.  I feel the same mix of negative emotions – fear, anger, anxiety, loneliness – that I am sure we all do so I won’t rehearse them all again.  I’ll just say we are all in it together in every way except actually being able to be together.

So, how has my lockdown been going?  First, I’ve been reading my copy of Wonderland: A Year of Britain’s Wildlife, Day by Day by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss on a daily basis.  The 22nd April entry reminded me of the joys of the dawn chorus walk.  We duly went for ours on 22nd April and came home to a full cooked breakfast, just as in the book.  The dawn chorus is a magical thing, even if you can’t get outside to experience it, I urge you to open a window about half an hour before sunrise at this time of the year and enjoy it while you can.

Andrew and I came to a decision very early on that in a world where all of a sudden “Everyday is Like Sunday” (as Morrissey sang in the 80s) we had to make a new normal and try to shape our time.  We resolved that we would walk every day whether we felt like it or not.  We are fortunate that we live in a small village (Gawcott) surrounded by miles and miles of fields and hedgerows.  These were previously totally unexplored by us but we have now subjected them to intense scrutiny.  And some amazing and unexpected finds have been made.  Firstly, the field that I can actually see from my study is absolutely alive with yellowhammers yelling their “little bit of bread and no cheeeeeeeese” song, and skylarks pouring out their incessant song while I search for the little black dot they have become.  My neighbour called out to me one day from his window: “Did you see it?  Did you see the snowy owl?” He’s not much of an ornithologist as he obviously meant “barn owl” but he’s seen it and I haven’t!  It’s on my “most wanted” list though and I keep looking.  There was one fantastic evening when we saw a hare zooming over the field.  We were amazed we had hares so near to us.  I’ve picked 4 trees and have been taking a daily photograph of them all since 31st March to look back later and be reminded of the “lost spring”.  I can’t help wondering if I’ll still be photographing them as the leaves turn to gold and fall.

We’ve done lots of ordinary walks but a couple of crazy ones too. On 8th March we walked at 3:30am to see the much hyped “pink moon”.  It was a fantastic full moon but it wasn’t pink!  I discovered later that it’s called “pink” for some vague extraneous reasons, nothing to do with colour.  Our village Facebook page also advertised times of the ISS (International Space Station) passing and we made a point of looking out for that too. Yes, I know it’s been going for over 30 years but I’d never somehow found the time before.

The President of Bucks Bird Club, Dave Ferguson, very kindly sent a copy of the local Butterfly Conservation group’s magazine to a large email group as a neighbourly gesture in the lockdown.  He said please pass it on to anyone who may be interested so I am pleased to do just that. I enjoyed reading it and there are a lot of interesting ideas for enjoyable things to do.  I was particularly interested in the article titled “Enjoying moths at home without a light trap” and plan to give it a go.

I know when it’s Saturday because I’ve been joining in with an initiative started by Si Nicholls, that well known MK birder! He calls it the #biggardensit. The idea is for birders to record as many species as they can in the hour between 8am and 9am STRICTLY from their own living spaces. A species can be counted if it is seen visiting, flying over, heard, seen distantly (even if 2 miles away sitting on a puddle). Good optics and great birding skills are useful aids!  It started on 28/3/20 with mainly Bucks birders.  By 18th April it had grown to 56 birders over 11 counties who between them clocked 90 species.  I’m sure Si would be delighted to welcome more participants and the project is set to continue for every Saturday in May.  If interested, email si.nich@yahoo.com  And if you’re curious, on 25th April my score was a modest 18 while the top score was 40 (shared by a Bucks birder and a Cornish birder).

Finally, I will share one of my concerns about the pandemic.  I am sure we are all aware the virus originated in Wuhan, China, in the so called ‘wet markets’ where all sorts of live animals, wild and domesticated, are killed in dirty conditions and sold for consumption.  These markets were supposed to be banned and many of the wild animals are in theory protected by law.  The virus probably originated in bats and passed along a chain of other animals until it mutated and jumped to humans.  The science journal “Nature” reported the most likely vectors were some illegally smuggled pangolins.

Covid-19 is not the first disease that has originated in wildlife and spread to humans – a couple of other examples are the SARS epidemic and MERS.  Voices are beginning to be raised calling for the UN to add a new Article – Article 31 – to the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognising the right to a healthy environment. It certainly gets my vote.  Enough is enough.

Sue Hetherington
26 April 2020

Spring on Bury Common – Ann Jones

Bury Common or Bury Field is an ancient common in Newport Pagnell, and is my main local ‘patch’. It is a large area of common land (first mentioned in 1276), and it is just five minutes walk from my house. It has been a regular part of my life for around thirty years now. Bury Common is mainly open pasture and was grazed for many years, but there have been no cattle there for a few years now. What is usually called the lower meadow borders the river Ouse and has recently been managed for restoration to meadow, which has included planting yellow rattle. Although not a massively diverse habitat, the common includes a river bank, floodplain, pasture, hedgerows and small copses, and is next to grazed paddocks (sheep and horses) where there is a permissive riverside path, and is also next to a small patch of woodland.

It’s a good place to walk at any time of year and I walk there with Teo our dog for an hour or so most mornings and evenings. As it is a 5 minute walk, I can still spend quite a bit of time here even in lockdown and it feels like a real blessing. For me the first signs of spring are the larks which are heard more regularly once February arrives, although this year, there seemed to be less activity, perhaps because February was so wet. I’m pleased to say that larks are doing really well on the common now, even though it is well used by dog walkers. At the moment, with traffic reduced during lockdown, the common is often full of lark song with little other sound to disturb it. I’m not sure how they are successful on what can be quite a busy area, but they manage it and there is at least one field fenced off (though a dog could get through the wire fence easily enough).

Lark

Of the other various small farmland birds, I love seeing and hearing the meadow pipit which I still associate with wilder upland places.  Small flocks are present on the common and active in the early spring.  Another of my favourites is the reed bunting which is also present in reasonable numbers through the year.  But my biggest favourite is the lapwing, perhaps because of its persistence and its haunting cry.  It also reminds me of the area I grew up in in North Wales, by the cost where lapwings and curlews were numerous.  At the moment there is just one pair on the common, which is nesting in a field abutting the lower meadow.  (There were two one year, but there are never that many). Ground nesting birds have a difficult time anywhere – but here there is just this one pair, and they are close to the rookery, so a tricky place to be successful.  The spring aerial display was wonderful, and this morning another walker on the common told me they had seen two chicks. That’s great news and I will be looking out for them.

Lapwing

As far as I can tell, some of the traditional farmland birds are here in relatively small numbers: small flocks of linnets, greenfinch, chaffinch (I don’t see many of these) and larger flocks of goldfinch. I am told by a local birder that there is a pair of bullfinches in the hedgerow between the main and lower common but have not been fortunate enough to see them yet.  At this time of year, more and more migrants are appearing. Swallows turned up about 10 days ago – unfortunately not that many and sand martins have returned around the same time.  Today I spotted some house martins.

Female linnet

The boundary between one of the upper fields that used to be an arable field, and the lower meadow is quite a rich area, especially where there are brambles along the boundary wire fence and where there is a very small copse at the end near an ash tree.  Many birds use the fence and the posts as perches.  A highlight for me a week ago was seeing a whitethroat here.

The river bank provides a different habitat.  There is a pair of mandarin ducks currently though I have only seen the female and am still hoping for an appearance by the male. The paddocks where the horses graze is next to the river, and walking the river path is delightful.  Yesterday was a very good day as I heard my first cuckoo: it seemed to be in the Lathbury area (about half a mile away) but we usually have at least one calling on the common, and have had two in the past.  I then heard the call of another favourite bird of mine, the ‘cronk’ of the raven. Isn’t it wonderful that these birds are now seen much more frequently in the east of the country?  I imagine the ravens that I hear on the common (but don’t usually see) are birds looking for new territories.  I would be delighted if a pair decided to nest here.

Whitethroat

The final highlight of yesterday morning’s walk was the little owl.  We have a pair here that frequent the area near the paddocks, usually roosting in the same willow tree, but I hadn’t seen one for a while.  The habitat must be nearly perfect for them.  There is a fence running between the first paddock and the second, with a number of old willow trees along the fence.  A further fence runs along the upper edge of the paddocks (at a right angle to the first fence) with a hedge behind and more willows, and a third wooden fence borders the path by the river.  There are further fences between the paddocks.  The owls often perch on one of the fences, and when disturbed or when they have had enough, there is always a willow to retreat to, and they are very well camouflaged in the willow.  I imagine that the paddocks with the horse manure are rich in earthworms, whilst behind the paddocks there is an area of rough grass which usually has a good population of voles.

Ann Jones
[submitted 26 April 2020]

An appeal for Red- and Black- Currant bushes

Some of you may have been at a MKNHS meeting last autumn when Ayla Webb, Gordon Redford and I spoke and illustrated three different aspects of our local ‘mothing’ activities during the year.

Ayla covered the use of pheromone lures to attract a group of day-flying species which are otherwise near-impossible to find. Of these, in 2019, we were able to locate and photograph Six-belted Clearwing, Hornet Moth (or Hornet Clearwing) and Red- tipped Clearwing. There are over a dozen other Clearwing species. One which ought to occur in our area and for which there is a pheromone lure is the Currant Clearwing.

This species was always difficult to find, but many more were discovered with the advent of the lure. However the growing of Black and Red Currants in any numbers has declined drastically either in large gardens or allotments. It is thought that the moth has declined in parallel.

So, do you know of any large patches of Red or Black Currant bushes which we may be able to access at the appropriate season…late June is the peak time. If you do, please contact me and we will see if we can locate and hopefully photograph the species. You get a mounted print if we are successful! For additional encouragement and to show you how beautiful these creatures are, here is a photo of the Red-tipped Clearwing taken at Stony Stratford Nature Reserve.

So please help if you can…many thanks

Andy Harding on 01908 565896 or 07969 916380 or at andyh444@sky.com

 

The Magpie has flown! Not quite! 

The latest issue of our society newsletter ‘The Magpie’ can be viewed in the Publications section of the website or by clicking here.

Over the past few years it has become apparent to those of us involved with the website and our newsletter the Magpie that there is quite a bit of overlap and also some muddying of the waters as to what content should be sent to which of the two forms of communication. Combine this with the work involved in collecting and collating the articles for both and it has been decided that we need to look at integrating the two forms of communication to maximise the quality of our output.

To meet this end the Spring edition of the Magpie that has just been circulated will be the last in its current form. In future we (the communications/editorial team) will concentrate on encouraging people to submit content for the website eg. interesting articles, local wildlife news and recent sightings of local wildlife. Then this will be posted on the website as before on a regular basis.

However we are also aware that there are quite a few of our members who do not have easy access to the internet and we of course must continue to cater for them. To this end we will also produce a twice-yearly set of printed articles or ‘digest’ of interesting content taken from the website that will continue to be called the Magpie (quite apt as Magpies do love a good collection of interesting objects!) This will be sent out to the members who are on our mailing list for printed communications.

This change will allow the editor of the Magpie (Julie Lane at present) to spend more time providing support/back up to the website editors when and where it is required.

We hope you agree that these changes are the right way to go forwards ensuring that the Society remains up-to-date in its methods of communication and continues to inspire its members to value and celebrate local wildlife.

PS Please note a mistake was made in the emailed Spring edition of the Magpie newsletter saying that there would be one more edition of the Magpie. Apologies for the confusion but this is not the case – this Spring edition is the last in its current form!

A NEW APPROACH TO NEWS!

Two events have prompted a re-think about the way the Society website is used and the focus of its content.

The first of these is the resignation of Peter Hassett from the role of webmaster resulting in the establishment of a new, but less experienced, editorial team. [See ‘Changes afoot on our website’]

The second is the recent survey completed by a substantial number of members of the Society. This survey indicated that certain parts of the website were highly valued and very well-used, but some pages were visited much less frequently. With regard to news items, the pages presenting Society News were visited far more frequently than ‘Other News’.  We know (and very are grateful) that Peter spent a considerable amount of time and energy researching the amazing variety of natural history related stories that appeared in the Other News section every week.  Unfortunately, we are not able to sustain that degree of effort, and plan to give this lower priority, particularly now we know that the pages are not viewed as often as this effort deserves!  We also feel that the website should focus on news about wildlife and environmental issues in the Milton Keynes area in keeping with the aims of our constitution:

  1. To promote and improve the knowledge and status of Natural History in Milton Keynes and the surrounding district.
  2. To co-operate with other organisations, and to do such other things as are conducive to further the above objects as the occasion may arise.

As a result, the website team and Society Committee have agreed that from now on, we will concentrate on Society and Local News. Of course there will be national or international developments and reports that impact on us all in Milton Keynes, such as the recent ‘The State of Nature’ Report. We will retain the ‘Other News’ page for such items.

This change means that the website will very much rely on YOU, the Society members, to send in news items/experiences/thoughts/sightings/photos and observations you’d like to share with others.

So what are you waiting for?  Send your news items to webmaster@mknhs.org.uk  or your sightings to sightings@mknhs.org.uk.  We look forward to full mail boxes!

Rebecca, Martin, Julie, Linda – The Website Team

 

Biodiversity in Britain at risk from standstill due to corona-virus

Wildlife Trusts warn of effects from neglected reserves and species loss, to fly-tipping and illegal shooting (Caroline Davies, The Guardian, 24.04.2020)

While lockdown has allowed some a greater appreciation of spring and the fun of seeing goats, sheep and deer foraying into urban landscapes, Covid-19 is wreaking havoc with UK biodiversity as vital conservation projects are put on hold.

On Friday conservationists warned of “desperate times” with an explosion in invasive non-native species during prolific spring growth and the deterioration of rare and historic wildlife meadows that could take years to restore. …

The full article can be found here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/apr/24/biodiversity-in-britain-at-risk-from-standstill-due-to-coronavirus

PROPOSED CHANGES TO THE WEBSITE SIGHTINGS PAGE

The Sightings page is one of the most popular pages on the Society’s website. We think we can add to its interest, but it is changing and we need your help to do this.

The Sightings page is not only for experts to add their amazing sightings but for any MKNHS member, whether experienced naturalist or new member of the Society to submit their ordinary sightings.

Please look at the Sightings page every week to see what’s about. From time to time we will be adding new information about what to look for.

What we want to see on the sightings page

Up to now our website editor has laboriously transferred many individual bird records every day to the MKNHS Sightings page from the Bucks Bird Club website. To these he added any other sightings submitted direct to the MKNHS website, but there have been fewer of those. This has meant that those of you more interested in flowers, mammals or insects have seen less of interest on the Sightings page.

Bird sightings remain important and we would like you to submit those for the Milton Keynes area direct to the MKNHS website, as we will transfer very few from the Bucks Bird Club website ourselves. We explain later how you can find those elsewhere.

What to look for

Some of you may feel that what you see is hardly special enough to send in as an MKNHS website Sighting. But we want to widen what we all see on our Sightings page, so here are the kinds of sightings we will welcome:

  • Your local wildlife around where you live
  • Birds and insects in your garden
  • The first of the season (first bluebell seen, first swallow to arrive, first butterflies of the year, which tree leaves are opening first)
  • Birds, insects, flowers & fungi (wherever you see them in MK area)
  • Indoor sightings (which house spiders? Oak bush-crickets in late summer)
  • Plants or animals in unexpected places
  • Animals not often seen (such as an Otter or a Weasel, or simply a Hedgehog in your garden)
  • Road kill (such as badger, fox, hedgehog, owl)
  • Animals or plants that especially interest you (but local sightings please)
  • Interesting photos.

Photos

Sightings are enhanced when they come with a photo. It doesn’t need to be competition standard, just clear and in focus. So send these in, but sightings without a photo are equally welcome.

How to be sure of the identification of what you have seen

We don’t offer an online species identification service, but there are other ways you can check. When MKNHS meetings are running it is worth asking other members to find out who can help. If you have a few natural history field guides you may be able to work out possible options. Why not submit your sighting with what you think the species is but saying you aren’t sure or with two alternatives? But there is an online way of finding out through citizen science. Register for free with iSpot:

https://www.ispotnature.org/. You can then put a photo on the iSpot website and there’s a good chance other people will respond with the right identification. You can then submit your sighting to our website.

What information is needed for a sighting?

The basic information we need is: what, where, when, by whom. To which you can add a photo and a brief observation about what you have seen:

  • What species?
  • Where did you see it? Name of location, preferably with a grid reference.
  • When did you see it? Simply the date.
  • By whom? Your name
  • A photo (format?)
  • A brief observation. Such as how many you saw or what it was doing.

How to submit a sighting

All you need to do is e-mail this information to: sightings@mknhs.org.uk

Bird sightings and the Bucks Bird Club

It is easy for you to view any bird sightings for Buckinghamshire simply by searching on Bucks Bird Club website. The quick route to the day’s sightings is: https://bucksbirdclub.co.uk/ then click on the drop-down in the top bar for Latest Sightings which is headed Buckinghamshire Bird News. Some of our MKNHS members are also signed up members of Bucks Bird Club and have registered to submit sightings to it. For example, on 1st April 2020 Harry Appleyard submitted 37 different sightings. Several other MKNHS members add their bird sightings to the Bucks Bird Club website. Joining fee for Bucks Bird Club is excellent value, as little as £15 a year.

 

 

 

 

CHANGES AFOOT ON OUR WEBSITE

After six years setting up and running our website from scratch Peter Hassett our webmaster finally stood down in March. We would like to thank him for the enormous amount of skill and effort he has put in to running such a great website and for his support during this changeover period.

To try and find a new team to carry this forward has been quite a challenge, but we are delighted to say that we now have two brave new volunteers who are prepared to give it a go. Both have little expertise in the running of websites so they will need a period of grace and understanding from Society members whilst they work their way into their new roles.

Firstly we have a new Administrator Rebecca Hiorns. Rebecca is a landscape architect, a profession she chose because of her love of the natural environment. She has recently joined the Society as she is keen to spend more time exploring and learning about our local wildlife. Rebecca will be responsible for the day-to-day running of the site making sure that it functions smoothly. She will also be responsible for implementing any structural changes that we have agreed are required to simplify the running and improve the layout of the site. We are hoping that these changes will enable our new team to run the site without having to be on-the-case every single day.

Then we have a team of three editors at present. However we are still keen to recruit one member more to join the editorial team.

Firstly a new editor Martin Ferns. Martin retired in 2018 from his post at the Open University where his roles included that of editor back in the 1980s – although not of websites. He has been resident in MK for much of the past 40 years interspersed with periods living and working in Malawi, Zambia (which he says is a wonderful country for wildlife/nature in general) and Cambodia. His interest in wildlife is general across the board.

Martin has agreed to take on the general editing of the site which will include postings of society announcements, society news, updating the Summer and Winter programme where/when necessary etc. The Recent Sightings page of the website is being re-focused with the help of Mike LeRoy to make it more relevant to MKNHS members by encouraging the reporting of more local sightings of a greater diversity of wildlife.

Linda Murphy our Treasurer has offered to lead on commissioning of articles and other contributions to the website in the short-term (until another editor has been recruited) and Jenny Mercer has offered to support her in this role.

Julie Lane who is at present editing the Magpie, our twice-yearly newsletter, is looking at ways to integrate the newsletter more effectively with the website. More about this later and in the Magpie itself due out at the end of the month.

As mentioned above the changes involved with getting our new team up and running as well as the changes in the actual website will take some time, so we ask for your patience and understanding at this time. We will be in touch in various ways letting you know more about our plans but obviously the first go-to place for information will be the website itself.