The cold season means that many vertebrates, invertebrates and plants are in hibernation or some other form of dormancy; so it is usually a quieter time for professional ecologists. However, not everything stops for winter. We can still conduct a range of ecological surveys for a variety of purposes.
Tomorrow morning we're taking the CalMac ferry to the Scottish inner hebridean island of Rùm in search of rare snails. We're looking for tiny whorl snails (Vertigo species), guided by maps of Schoenus nigricans (black bog-rush, often associated with alkaline flushes), geology, geomorphology, and vegetation cover.
Late May is typically the time that sand lizards (Lacerta agilis) start digging tunnels in which to lay their eggs. First they make several exploratory diggings in bare firm sandy ground, and may take several attempts before they manage to dig a suitable egg burrow. The nesting period usually lasts from the last week of May to the first week of June in southern England, and activity may be peaked or spread over a wider period if weather is poor. Warm dry afternoons and evenings are the favoured time for digging.
As the days get shorter, this week in late September sees us pass the point of equal day and night length: the autumnal equinox. The spring and autumn equinoxes are busy times for reptiles in northern latitudes with pronounced seasons. The vernal (spring) equinox sees lots of activity following a long winter hibernation period. Males bask to encourage sperm production, then feed to get into breeding condition. Female emergence usually lags behind by a couple of weeks.
aSometimes things work out just fine if you leave them to the last minute; generally they do not. Today, however, was the former. I had my biggest ever NARRS reptile count - 87 common lizards and one slow-worm - in two hours walking round Redhill Common in Bournemouth, Dorset, at the very tail end of the season. Talk about leaving it late though...
The following was taken from the Buglife and Exmoor National Park Authority websites:
Buglife and Exmoor National Park Authority are appealing for sightings of White-clawed crayfish on Exmoor. The two organisations are working together on a new project to map the species on Exmoor.
We're engaged in lots of non-marine mollusc work at the moment; some of it relating to professional projects; some of it simply in the name of voluntary biological recording. Winter is a time for compiling all those species records collected throughout the year, and sending them off to the relevant Local Records Centres (LRCs).
Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) has announced its intention to a carry out a survey of freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) across Scotland. It is currently seeking tenders from suitably-qualified contractors, to perform the survey in 2013 and 2014.
Buglife, the Invertebrate Conservation Trust, has reported that England's largest population of freshwater pearl mussels (Margaritifera margaritifera) has been devastated by lowered water levels.
It is encouraging to see that Amphibian and Reptile Conservation's "Add an Adder" recording campaign (www.adder.org.uk) is still going strong after six years. In this time it has gathered well over 4,000 records of adder sightings - past and present - from members of the public. The website shows a map of recent adder sightings (green dots) and those that are probably now extinct (red dots).