Adventures in biological recording – June (Part 1)

My adventures in biological recording for this month have so far included going on a Invertebrate recording event with Cheshire Active Naturalists, seeing my first Water Vole and a touch of Bat Surveying!


Cheshire Active Naturalists are a group of professional and amateur naturalists that provide training (only £30 a year!) in a variety of natural sciences to members, the great thing about this group is having the opportunity to learn new skills in a relaxed environment with people who are extremely knowledgeable about what they are teaching and not forgetting that the yearly membership fee is very good value for money for the scope and amount of courses on offer. So far since joining I’ve had the opportunity to attend courses on conducting Phase One habitat surveys and using the extremely useful but difficult to get your teeth into book – “The Vegetative Key to the British Flora”.

The Invertebrate recording event was held at the Anderton Boat Lift on the 6th June and the group included recorders of Diptera, Molluscs, Hymenoptera and not forgetting Arachnids! This gave me the opportunity to learn more about other types of Invertebrates which was an exciting start in beginning to collect specimens for identification later as many species are difficult to identify in the field. (I have previously gone on a Solitary Wasp identification course with Liverpool Museum that involved identifying specimens under a microscope which included looking at different identifying features such as the pattern of the wing membranes and determining whether a wing is forked or not.)

You can see an example below of the first wasp I managed to ID to family level which was a Paladonia Wasp.

Paladonia Wasp

Here is an example of a forked wing membrane which can be seen within the blue circle and as some species do not have forked wing membranes this can be helpful in narrowing specimens down to at least a family level.

Forked Wing

Obviously this isn’t possible in the field so many specimens are collected and then identified at a later date using a microscope.

I really like Liverpool World Museum in that it is great resource for amateur entomologists as being a publicly funded institute members of the public can use both the dry and wet labs for their own identification purposes.


Armed with my trusty Spi-Pot (Thanks to Shropshire Spider Group for making me one) , my hand lens and Spider ID book and not forgetting my sweep net I was ready for an adventure..

The habitats around Anderton Boat lift included Woodland, Wildflower Meadow and Grassland and a few ponds with wetland areas which gave everyone the opportunity to look for their chosen groups.

Female Nursery Web Spider (Pisaura mirabilis) with eggsac.Nursery web spider

The Weather was perfectBeautiful Blue Sky

Long Jawed Orb Weaver (Tetragnatha spp) found on Nettles within Woodland habitat Long Jawed Orb Weaver

While sweep netting in an patch of long grass within the Wildflower Meadow I happened to catch a Four Spot Chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata) it must not have been ready for the wake up call as It spent a good 10 minutes warming up which resulted in quite some odd photos as it looked like it was twisting its wings when in reality my phone camera speed was not fast enough to capture the vibrating wings. It was beautiful watching such a fantastic creature so close up. Once warmed up it didn’t wait any longer before flying off.Four Spot ChaserI also not unsurprisingly considering how common they seem to be now I manged to see quite a few (I counted more than 30) of Alder Leaf Beetles (Agelastica alni) throughout the day. I found it quite amazing to find that this species was considered extinct in the UK between 1946-2003 with almost no records. It was re-found again in Manchester in 2004 (on a bus stop no less..).

This image was from Floodbrook Clough which is an Ancient Semi-Natural Clough Woodland and Site of Special Scientific Interest in Runcorn, Cheshire.

Alder Leaf Beetle

I also got to see this Yellow Tail Larvae (Euproctis similis), I thought I would wear my gloves when getting close to this one..Yellow Tail Larvae


I’ve recently signed up for the National Bat Monitoring Project run by The Bat Conservation Trust, the NBMP is a series a surveys that volunteers can sign up to to help monitor the population of the UK’s bat species and one of the surveys I’ve signed up for is looking at whether Nathusius’ Pipistrelles are present within my allocated 1km sqaures near to where I live, one of the most exciting parts of this survey is getting the opportunity to analyse your own recordings and identifying a a species through the call structures and peak frequency ranges that can be seen on a sonogram.

I thought I would take my bat detector down to Frodsham Marsh (along Frodsham Bird Blog) in the hopes of find some Daubenton Bats which can be found hunting for insects along waterways.

Bat detector and sunsetWhile waiting for the sun set we managed to see the male Marsh Harrier (Circus aeruginosus) hovering above number 6 tank, along with an early or late Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) and a Dunlin (Calidris alpina).

A walk along Number 6 tank heading towards the old log book only resulted in a few very faint clicks and not much else, as by this time it was getting late (after 10pm) we decided to drive to the Horses fields and ditches close to the motorway bridge which resulted in a few Common Pips  (Pipistrellus pipistrellus).

It was while looking across the ditch I saw a little brown object swimming along the water…my first ever sighting of a Water Vole (Arvicola amphibius)..and to say I was more than happy is an understatement! 

Thanks for reading 🙂 


Solar Eclipse 2015

Happy Spring Solstice!

Here are some pictures that I took of the Solar Eclipse today, last time I managed to see one was 17 years ago!

It was quite cloudy and hazy today but there have been few breaks in the clouds to take some pictures.




Near the end of the eclipse when the sky started to darken and the air get cold, the starlings decided to start roosting. There was a few brief seconds when it was cold and quiet as the sun disappeared behind the moon and the birds went silent, I managed to take a picture of this Starling on top of a neighbours TV aerial.

The importance of biological recording

A 2 spot Ladybird (Adalia bipunctata) was the 100 millionth record entered on to the NBN Gateway which was recorded at the National Trust Estate in Wimpole, Cambridgeshire!

John Sawyer (Chief Executive director of the National Biodiversity Gateway) has said that “Without the dedication of volunteers recording what they see we would know very little about the status of our wildlife, what is happening over time, whether a changing climate is having an effect and whether our conservation and restoration is making a difference.”

To put that 100 million figure into context, there are 76,000 taxa on the NBN gateway, around 250,000 1km squares in Britain – that’s 19 million potential records just to confirm each species in each 1km square each year. In fact, only around 6,000 species have more than a thousand records on the gateway – lots of scope for more!


I’ve recently started on a 8 session course with the Greater Manchester Local Records Centre and Manchester Museum which is being run as part of the National Lottery funded ‘Grey to Green’ project (which aims to encourage and train local people to identify and record wildlife across Greater Manchester)

One of the most interesting themes looked at during the course so far is looking at the problems facing biological recording, especially in terms of what gets recorded and what doesn’t.

While it could be that some species aren’t deemed terribly exciting or easy to identify (Spiders or Lichens) for example, there is also a problem that some species are not recorded as they are deemed too common (An example being Hedgehogs..even though they are currently one of the 6th most endangered species in Britain) or that some species are possibly over recorded an example could be that volunteers are more likely to report signs of Water Voles (Arvicola amphibius)  than House Mice (Mus musculus domesticus as the former could be deemed a more valuable record.

Another potential problem is that records could possibly reflect the distribution of recorders as opposed to actual species distribution – an example given in the course was that a majority of Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) records within Greater Manchester were concentrated within the garden of a local recorder..!

Another great example can be seen in the map below – the county with the greatest concentration of European Cranefly (Tipula paludosa) is Shropshire, which is also where Pete Boardman of the FSC Shropshire Invertebrate Challenge lives..!

The Power of Pete! European Crane Fly (Tipula paludosa) as recorded in Shropshire. (Pete Boardman works at the Shropshire Invertebrate Challenge)

It could be deemed short-sighted to look at species distribution maps and assign species presence or absence without first determining how much of a vice county has been actively recorded. I think this is one of the main problems facing biological recording in that some species are more/less likely to be recorded and that some counties may have a higher percentage of active recorders for hard to identify species which often require specialist equipment and/or knowledge (e.g. a hand lens or a microscope for Spiders to using bleach to spot test Lichens!) and not forgetting the taking of a voucher specimens for new records.

While this may be off putting to the average naturalist who may not have the knowledge or skills to record hard to identify species it is still important that even  ‘common’ or easy to identify species (even recording a species by its family name is useful data to have…which is useful in the case of entomology) are recorded and submitted to a Local Records Centre if those records are ever going to used to conserve habitats and species effectively.

To put it simply there is no such thing as a useless biological record!

As part of my course I’m required to undertake a small recording project on a species or habitat of my choice.

I’ve decided to do a small project on the presence/absence of small mammals within two main habitats (Lowland Heath and Woodland) of a site within Cheshire.

I’m Particularly looking at the difference in species between the micro habitat characteristics of the two main habitats (e.g small areas of heath with ponds, areas of woodland with hedgerows etc) compared to the species present within the wider habitat.

Here is a female Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus) that I found in woodland at the site.

Bank Vole (Myodes glareolus)

The Association of Local Environmental Records Centre is a great place to find out where your local records centre is –

A is for Avocet

As a relatively new birder I still find it a little bit nervous going out with the main intention of bird watching as opposed to purely going for a walk and enjoying the views and sights as I go along.

I’ve been taken along on bird watching excursions as a youngster and while I enjoyed being outdoors in sometimes beautiful and remote locations, I didn’t have the patience to really enjoy it.  After spending more than 5 minutes in a bird hide my mind usually started to wander only to be jolted back to reality if something ‘interesting’ appeared.

It has only been within the last few years that it’s something I’ve become more interested in, There is a great sense of a fulfillment when you’ve Identified a bird successfully and not forgetting the chance to get a bit of fresh air.

So when I expressed an interest in going birding down Frodsham Marsh a family member offered to take me under his wing (no pun intended) and show me the ropes.

‘There’s no such thing as a stupid question’ is my excuse to keep asking questions! While it does help reading books, no amount of page turning will ever beat a good field session in terms of knowledge gained.

Within a few hours suddenly all these calls that I had once heard were identified as to belonging to a different species of bird, within a day I had learnt what a Grasshopper, Reed and Sedge Warbler sounded like. The sound of a Grasshopper Warbler is unmistakable, if it wasn’t for the fact there was no power cables nearby it wouldn’t have been something I would have picked up on, for me at least they sound like the electrical buzz you hear when close by to an overhead power cable.

Sedge Warblers and Reed Warblers are quite tricky, admittedly they sound different from each other,  but when there are a few individuals with an area all the sound seems to merge into one continuous call.

It’s only if you hear a slight ‘guda guda gud’ within the call do you realise you have a Reed Warbler at least, Sedge Warbler on the other hand seem desperate to be heard almost frantic in comparison and have an almost Grasshopper Warbler trill within their call aswell.

I also expressed my intention of visiting Martin Mere in Lancashire to see the Avocets, but was informed that there was some on Frodsham Marsh….right on my doorstep so that saved me some petrol money!

I’ve enjoyed observing the trials and tribulations of the Avocets on the marsh over the last few weeks, the original couple are only down to one chick , so when a Black Head Gull or Marsh Harrier appears suddenly an Avocet will take to the air vocalising its distress that a predator is close by.

There is also Lapwings there, they don’t seem to be as cautious as the Avocet family although maybe that’s because they haven’t lost any young, which is as exactly how the Avocet family had once behaved.

Yesterday I got the chance to see a Red Necked Grebe for the first time, admittedly this is quite a rare event by all accounts as they are mainly found in the South and East of the country.

One arriving at the usual spot on Sunday afternoon I was quite surprised to see 5 cars parked up, I’ve never seen the marsh this busy. On walking down to the Weaver Bend I passed a birder who must have been in such a hurry he failed to hear the trill of a Sedge Warbler and see the not so subtle tremble of the Reed stalk as the bird moved up to the seed head, The bird went quiet and the stalk stopped moving, I quickly lost sight of the bird. oh well..

I took a slow walk taking in the sights and sounds surrounding the muddy pathway, a steep nettle covered bank to my left and a Reed bed to my right. I had observed Furrow Orb Weaver (Larinioides cornutus) spiders here a few weeks ago, they make retreats next to their webs.  If you look closely you can see the small grey retreats dotted all along the embankment.

As I deviated from the path to follow the bend of the River Weaver I spotted some other animals going about their lives,  a Lucilia blowfly  (Lucilia spp.) that posed long enough for me to take a picture, lots of  Yellow Dung flies (Scathophaga stercoraria) a small tortoiseshell Butterfly (Aglais urticae) and a sawfly (Hymenoptera spp.) … also a Green Nettle Weevil (Phyllobius pomaceus) along with a Thick Legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis).

Plant species along the way included Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) , Rapeseed (Brassica napus) and Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).

View of Frodsham Marsh


I also found a Sycamore tree (Acer pseudoplatanus) which had small red bumps on the leaves, it turns out they are a type of Nail Gall which are caused by mites living with the leaf itself!

Sycamore Leaf

A closer view

Sycamore leaf

A Green Blowfly (Lucilia spp.)

Green Blow Fly

Sawfly (Hymenoptera spp.)

Common Sawfly

Thick Legged Flower Beetle (Oedemera nobilis)

Thick Legged Flower Beetle

On reaching my destination I found a small party of birders. I was quickly told where the bird could be sighted and was offered the chance to look in someone’s spotting scope to get a better view, a quick glance and the bird went under the water. The most exciting thing the bird did was to catch a fish but only that lasted less than a minute before it was back to diving out of sight only to reappear a few metres away. I was quite surprised that as individuals slowly trickled away till there was only four of us left I realised that I had spent nearly 2 hours observing this bird!

While I was waiting for the bird to reappear, I got talking to a couple from Macclesfield who said it was their first time here at the Marsh we chatted for  a short while about the different places we like to go birding.

A blurry cropped photo of the Grebe in question!

Red Necked Grebe

After the bird moved downstream I decided to carry onto the Shooters Pools to observe the Avocets and Lapwing families.

I managed to get some shots of one of the Avocets flying when it was disturbed by a Black Headed Gull

Avocet flying

Avocet flying

Avocet Flying

Hope you’ve enjoyed this post 🙂

Spring Hares

Just a quick blog post for tonight, just come back from a guided walk of Frodsham Marsh led by Bill Morton who is a very knowledgeable birder who runs the blog – The Birds of Frodsham Marsh (

Here are some pictures from tonight hope you enjoy them!

A pair of Brown Hares (Lepus europaeus) were observed courting.


Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) I observed four Goldfinches flittering around on a barbed wire fence near Tank number 4.


Finally…a Spring migrant!

Greenland Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe leucorhoa


Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post 🙂



Shropshire Spider Group


Time for a new blog post..this time about spiders!

I recently went on a one day workshop on Shropshire spiders at Preston Montford FSC, this was jointly organised by the FSC Invertebrate challenge and Shropshire Spider Group, the aim of the workshop was to allow participants to improve their Spider identification skills aswell as being able to record these species within the county of Shropshire as they are currently under recorded.

As some one who wasn’t very confident dealing with Spiders to begin with, learning about the ecology of different species aswell keying out different species has made me more appreciative of these weird and wonderful (not forgetting slightly scary) creatures.

One of the aims of the course was to get volunteers confident in being able to ID species out the field, at least to family level as some species can only be reliably identified under the microscope.

For those of you who live or travel to Shropshire (or even if you don’t) the following links might be of interest

A useful link for beginners in Spider Identification is UK Safari –

Shropshire Spider Group –

Here are some Spiders I’ve observed in Cheshire and Shropshire recently, hope you enjoy them!

Nursery Web Spider (Pisaurina mira)

Observed at Preston Montford FSC, Shropshire

Habitat : Semi improved grassland, observed on top of a mammal run.

Nursery Web Spider


Orb Weaver Spider (Either Larinioides cornutus or  Larinioides patigiatus 

Observed at Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire.

Habitat – On nettle covered embankment, adjacent to semi improved grassland. 100 metres or so from the River Weaver.

Orb Weaver Spider


Orb Weaver retreat

Observed at Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire.

Habitat : Same as above, the embankment was literally covered in hundreds of these ‘retreats’,

Orb Weaver Retreat


Female Wolf Spider (Pardosa spp.)carrying egg sac.

Observed at Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire.

Female Wolf Spider


Wolf Spiders (Pardosa spp .)

Observed : Frodsham Marsh, Cheshire

Habitat: Adjacent to grazed improved grassland, close to River Weaver. Found within a patch of long grass.

Also observed a Nursery Web Spider next to the Wolf Spiders, considering they both have a similar diet and habitat range I wonder whether or not they compete or even see each other as prey?

Wolf Spider (Pardosa spp)

Wolf Spider (Pardosa spp)


I also observed a small ‘Money’ Spider in my garden this morning..

Money Spider (Linyphiidae spp.)

money spider (Linyphiidae spp.)

Still waiting for my pot of gold.. 🙂

I’ve found that as someone who wasn’t overly keen on spiders to begin with the more I’ve studied them and observed them the more I’ve come to like them.


Hope you’ve enjoyed this post 🙂

Mammals of Shropshire (28th – 30th March 2014)

I recently attended a course on Mammal Identification at Preston Montford FSC (It was run jointly by the Mammal Society and the FSC) in Shropshire, England.

During the course we covered all aspects

  • Humanely trapping small mammals using Long-worth traps aswell as BioEcoss tube traps
  • Mammals and the law
  • Identifying British mammals by sight and sound
  • The importance of biological recording.

Highlights of the course included seeing an Otter print (Lutra lutra) aswell as badger and fox prints; we also came across a extensive Badger holt (Meles meles) aswell as a Fox (Vulpes vulpes) hole.

The Otter print excited me the most as ever since reading the likes of Tarka the Otter (Henry Williamson) and Ring of Bright Water (Gavin Maxwell) I’ve been fascinated with Otters and to even see a print of a wild specimen was an amazing find for me.

It was interesting also to capture and see close up a Yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) as they are indicators of ‘ancient’ woodland, so it suggests that they can be found within even semi natural woodland as the local area was a mix of mature woodland and farmland.

Here some photographs of the weekend, hope you enjoy them –

Feisty yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) caught using a Long-worth mammal trap.

Firstly how can you tell a yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis from a wood mouse  (Apodemus sylvaticus) when they both have a yellow/orange stripe on their chest?

A wood mouse only has a a small streak visible on their chest whereas a yellow necked mouse has a more pronounced larger streak along their collar bone. This is clearly visable when out in the field, the individual was very feisty aswell which apparently is a characteristic of that species.



The following image was of Wood mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) showing ‘displacement’ behaviour when held in a plastic bag awaiting to be sexed, weighted and then released. Apparently wood mice display this type of behaviour when they are unsure or anxious.


Also a fellow member of the group also found a Harvest mouse nest (Micromys minutus) which was an exciting find as they hadn’t been documented before within the field studies centre grounds.


We also came across a very extensive badger sett in nearby grounds.

Various signs included paw prints around the sett entrance/exit holes, badger latrines, bedding outside holes aswell as badger hair.

View of badger sett



Badger claw marks on tree trunk 

badger clawmarks

Mammal pathway showing signs of wear.

Note how the middle section of the fallen tree has had the moss rubbed of it through continued use by mammals, most likely badgers.


A Badger print found on a bridle pathway – On the pathway we found domestic cat, domestic dog and fox prints.


 This photo is also a confirmed fresh Otter (Lutra lutraprint,


Also found was a possible Otter spraint. Both print and spraint were very fresh – it was judged that the animal (animals) had been within the area during the last 12 hours.

I’ve been told that Otter spraint has a very distinctive smell, not altogether unpleasant. Apparently it has a smell of Jasmine tea leaves. The spraint below is apparently too large for an Otter, but certainly had a distinctive (fishy, farmyard) smell about it.

We took the spraint back to the classroom to compare the size, smell etc with a confirmed sample…it smelt and looked the same to me.

So who knows? It certainly created a bit of a debate on a wildlife forum that I posted it on a while back, so what do you think?



Mammal signs seen

-Domestic Cat (Felis catus) and Domestic Dog  (Canis lupus familiaris) – paw prints

– Fox (Vulpes vulpes) – Sett and paw prints

-Badger (Meles meles) – Sett, hair, remnants of bedding outside sett, prints, scratch marks on tree, pathway over tree trunk.

– Otter (Lutra lutra) – prints, possible spraint

– Common Rabbit  (Oryctolagus cuniculus) – sighting

– Harvest Mouse (Micromys minutus) – Nest

– Brown Rat (Rattus norvegicus) – Hole 

– Common Vole (Microtus arvalis), Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)  and various other small mammal species –  feeding signs, holes, pathways.

 Small mammals trapped using Long-worth traps and BioEcoSS tube traps.

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus)

Common Shrew (Sorex araneus)

Field Vole (Microtus agrestis)

Common Vole (Microtus arvalis)

Pygmy Shew (Sorex minutus)

Nearly forgot to add that as part of the course we examined some pre-collected owl pellets, these were Barn Owl (Tyto alba) pellets.

I found  Common Vole  (Microtus arvalis), Pygmy Shew (Sorex minutus) and Common Shrew (Sorex araneus) within my pellets.

Here are a few pictures of some of the specimens I found within my pellets.

 Remains of various small mammals after I had dissected the pellet and cleaned the bones.


Pygmy Shrew jaw bone and skull


Here is a shot of both a Pygmy and Common shrew to see the size difference


Shrews are characterised by their Red tipped teeth, I think it looks like they have been sucking blood!

– As always thanks for reading my blog –