Monday, 21 September 2015

Industrial Nature

This week I have been noticing nature close to home. My back garden and those of my neighbours, and the short stretch of road from my front door through the small industrial estate, have provided a number of autumnal moments and even a new species! 

The road follows the route of a disused railway line, closed in the early 1950s, which emerges through a gateway opposite my house where it has been running along an embankment above the rife. Most of the industrial estate road is lined with pine trees; a mixture of Scotts Pines and Douglas Fir, beneath which is a mass of bramble and scrub on one side of the road and a wide grassy slope on the other. The soil is dry and sandy, trampled daily by countless factory-workers, dog-walkers, and to-school-or-the-shops-walkers, as buses, tractors, lorries and cars rumble past on the concrete road. 
Not the most productive wildlife watching spot you might think? might be surprised!

A tawny owl was calling at 4.30 am a few days ago. Yesterday morning a flock of tits visited the garden; Coal Tits taking turns to visit the bird feeder, Great Tits investigating the wild hop that climbs the fence and picking out spiders around the nest boxes, Blue Tits tumbling through my neighbour's shrubs. The Robin sat atop the washing line, flicking his tail in consternation at this multitude of birds invading the garden he has so recently re-claimed. The Wood Pigeons have produced yet another set of squabs from the rafters of the car ports. I think the few House Martins that have been lingering at the rooftop of the house at the end of the terrace, have taken the chattering of the starling flock, gathering on a dead branch that sticks out of a pine at the entrance of the industrial estate, as their cue to leave. 

Just beside the speed bumps, beneath that tree where the starlings have been flocking, a mass of ivy is bursting its buds. Flowering late in the year from now well into early winter, ivy is a favourite and invaluable food source for late flying insects, and often the last port-of-call for butterflies such as Red Admirals for a final nectar drink before hibernation. 
In warm early afternoon sunshine on Thursday, a number of small insects were checking on the ivy's progress to full flowering; hoverflies, wasps, and a slim, perfectly striped, little bee. There were a couple of these small bees feeding on the blooms, and they clearly were not honey bees or the red mason bees I see in my garden in the spring. I didn't have long to hang around and study them so snapped a photo and promised myself I'd look them up. 

 Record shots of Ivy Bee (Collete hederae), Holmbush Way Midhurst West Sussex, Thursday 17th September 2015

With the help of some friendly folk over on Twitter, it turns out that these bees on the ivy are in fact the aptly named Ivy Bee (or Colletes hederae if you want the scientific name!). Ivy bees are a recent coloniser in the UK, from Europe and have been spreading across the southern counties of England. They feed almost exclusively on ivy, as they are active September to November, and the females use the pollen and nectar of the ivy to supply the chambers of her nest burrow, found in soft warm soil. Although a solitary bee, many burrows may be found in close proximity. 

Dark cloud and a cool drizzly morning hampered my efforts to re-find these intriguing insects today, or indeed any ivertebrates on the ivy save for a few wasps and spiders, and so instead I turned to the Industrial Estate's other autumn speciality: fungi. 

I had noticed that a scattering of toadstools had sprung up across the grassy area beneath the Scotts Pines  whilst driving past on my way home from work yesterday. A distinctive and instantly recognisable Fly Agaric was the first to catch my eye, but as I wandered (probably raising a few eyebrows in the factory windows as I stood about staring into bushes or at the ground!) I came across numerous others. Sadly many had been uprooted, whether by passing boots of bored dog walkers or by the clumsy foraging of foxes I couldn't tell. The foxes had clearly been there last night, as there were several pointed snout holes and scrapes in the grass. I am yet to identify all the species that were pushing their way up though the soil, but they certainly made interesting photography subjects.

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Hello! Thank you for viewing my blogs and profile. I am passionate about the countryside and british wildlife and I hope that this comes through in my blog. I am a nature writer and have been pursuing photography since early teenage years, whilst building a career in conservation. Helping people to reconnect with the natural world is very important to me, whether through direct hands on interaction, education or literature. Please also visit my website, for more information, my current CV, and further examples of writing and photography. You can contact me or keep up to date with new blog posts via Twitter @SophiEcoWild and/or Feedback, comments and audience participation are always welcome! Sophie May Lewis