As part of the bird surveying element of the course, the DESS team are taking part in the BTO/GWCT Woodcock Survey. This national project aims to calculate a robust population estimate for the woodcock - a bird that is thought to have suffered a considerable reduction in range over the past few decades.
The woodcock is the only species of wading bird in the British Isles that has adapted to breed in woodland, both broad-leaved and coniferous. Therefore, the team travelled up to two woodland sites near Loch Tay and Loch Tummel to carry out the first of the surveys. Things looked promising as our survey areas looked like prime woodcock territory!
We used our GPSs to record the grid coordinates of our survey sites:
We found other things along the way, such as (suspected) pine marten scat, a red deer skull (modelled here by Rachel), and a very distant view of an osprey!
The nocturnal and cryptic nature of woodcock make this species particularly difficult to monitor using traditional survey methods. Therefore, a special survey method is used which involves counting the territorial ‘roding’ flights (undertaken by male woodcock at dusk and dawn) to estimate the number of males present.
Roding woodcock fly in circuits at a height of 3-30m above the woodland canopy whilst making repeated whistles and grunts. The sound can carry up to 300m and is thought to attract the attention of females in the area. (Click here to listen to the woodcock’s amazing call on the RSPB website.)
As dusk approached, the team split in two and each sub-team made their way to their survey sites.
The surveys last for 75 minutes, starting 15 minutes before sunset. Thankfully, each sub-team recorded woodcock roding at their site, and there were a few other fantastic sightings including: common pipistrelle and soprano pipistrelle bats; roe deer; a fox; a badger that stumbled within 10m of one of the sub-teams; and two palmate newts that decided to migrate across one of the woodcock recording forms!
We’re all really looking forward to our next woodcock survey!
On Wednesday the DESS Team joined up with Ali Murfitt of Plantlife to learn all about conducting wildflower counts. Plantlife run this annual national survey to monitor the change in distribution and abundance of the 99 commonest wildflower species, which are often overlooked in other surveys. Studying these changes over time can give vital insight into how factors such as pollution and land management practices can effect the wider environment.
It’s easy to get involved and take on your own wildflower path or plot and it is suited for all levels of experience from beginner to Super-surveyor!
You can find out more about getting involved by following this link: http://www.plantlife.org.uk/things_to_do/wildflowers_count/
Here are some photos from the days surveying.
Practicing quadrat surveying.
Lesser Celandine (Ranuculus ficaria). A member of the buttercup family and one of first plants to flower in spring.
Mountain Everlasting (Antennaria dioica) is a mountain specialist and quite a rare find. Certainly not one of the UK’s 99’s commonest wildflowers.
Keying out a wildflower. Heath Speedwell (Veronica officinalis).
Dung Roundhead (Stroparia semiglobata).
And finally, A Rove beetle (Staphylinus erythropterus) identified by it’s two-tone antenna and the yellow pubescence (hair) on the scutellum (triangle between the elytra bases).
On Friday 10th May the DESS team visited a wood in Cumbernauld to look at a site associated with Cumbernauld Living Landscape - an exciting initiative which aims to enhance, restore and reconnect green areas of the town (more details here:http://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/what-we-do/living-landscapes/cumbernauld-living-landscape/).
The walkover of the site turned up some interesting findings:
A Green-veined White butterfly was active despite the chilly weather:
The team found a Larch Ladybird, which is not nearly as a bright as its more well-known spotted cousin. Helen poses with the ladybird while Ben takes a photo for our records:
Secretive Grasshopper Warblers were singing from patches of long grass and bushes as we walked through the site. These little birds are the sole representative of the genus Locustella in the UK - well named as their call sounds very similar to the ticking of a grasshopper or cricket. (You can listen to their call here: http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/g/grasshopperwarbler/index.aspx)
This strange growth on a dead tree had the DESS team stumped (excuse the pun!) for a while. It was later identified as the slime mould Enteridium lycoperdon (AKA False Puffball). Look out for these in the spring and autumn, especially on the trunks of dead alder. (In the background Claudia thinks she may have spotted an old Sparrowhawk nest).
Whilst looking at a moth on the trunk of a beech tree, the team discovered a strange sight slightly further up - a tail sticking out of a hole in the tree! Upon further inspection we thought it may be the tail of a (dead) grey squirrel - however it has not yet been confirmed. This seems a strange place and position for a dead squirrel to end up - any suggestions about how it ended up there are welcome! (Tweet to us at @SWT_DESS)
Monday was the start of our first residential trip, this time to Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. We met up with NTS rangers, Heather and Deirdre; then, after settling into the cosy accommodation; were briefed on our task – newt surveying!
Setting off at dusk with the rangers (and ecologist John Sweeny), we headed to the nearby ponds (narrowly skirting a confident hedgehog out for a stroll) to set up bottle traps. We used the following simple method:
#1. First collect your trap – an inverted bottle with optional brick
(Never before has someone been so happy at being given a bottle tied to a brick…)
#2. Next insert bottle trap into the water – insuring there is a sufficient air bubble
#3. The following morning, collect bottle from the water…
(Gleefully comparing numbers)
#4. Remove inner ‘spout’ and decant newts (and other beasties), segregating by species and sex…
#5. Experience handling…
#6. Obligatory photos all round
(‘Stop press! No more photos!’)
(‘Reginald’ – the Great Crested Newt)
#7. Belly patterns are the equivalent of a human’s fingerprints/zebra’s stripes; they are individual indicators. If records of the patterns are kept, they can be compared with newts caught in the future, thus determining whether the same individuals are staying in the same location.
(Example of a Belly Spot Pattern)
We succeeded in catching a good number of both palmates and great crested newts through this method; and observing a greater number when torching during the night.
We still had time for a walk round the estate to collect a camera trap (placed near an otter holt);
partake in a spot of bird-watching;
be ambushed by brown hares and chased by mallards before heading back to Edinburgh.
In the past week the team have had two trips to East Lothian to learn about woodland plant communities with local expert Ben Averis.
Ben taught us about many aspects of woodland plant communities, and despite there not being many plants in flower, there were still many interesting findings - including a broad range of bryophytes.
James is pleased with himself after correctly identifying Mnium hornum (a very common woodland moss species).
Ben showed the team some of the typical species found around the edges of freshwater, such as greater tussock-sedge Carex paniculata (which can be seen in large mounds in the background).
During our woodland explorations, we came across a badger latrine - Lizzie takes an obligatory sniff:
As well as a few woodland plants coming into flower, we also saw a few other signs of spring, such as this common toad and small tortoiseshell butterfly:
We found piles of predated frogs and toads at the side of one of the ponds we visited - a sign of possible otter activity.
John, Thomas and the rest of the team enjoyed the fine, sunny weather, especially after Wednesday’s day in the rain in Cumbernauld!
On Wednesday 17th April we journeyed to Cumbernauld to visit some of the sites involved in the Cumbernauld Living Landscape programme. Despite the extremely wet weather, Duncan Clark (Reserves Manager) happily showed us around Glencryan Woodlands and other areas associated with the project.
Despite getting a soaking, it was an interesting and productive day in which the team learned a great deal.
James Bray from the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) spent a day teaching the team bird survey techniques including territory mapping, point counts and line transects, as well as learning some bird calls. We also learned about woodcock surveys and mountain transect surveys that we will be doing later in the year.
Rachel practices surveying techniques along the Water of Leith
James Bray teaches bird calls and song along the Water of Leith
Liz spots a bullfinch. We also saw redwings, grey wagtails, great spotted woodpecker and a dipper as well as many other species. It is always surprising how much wildlife is to be found in urban areas!
The team getting settled into the DESS office.
Eric Coull (Head of Conservation Teams) came to the office to welcome the new team.
Gill Dowse (Biodiversity Data Manager) starting her first workshop on GIS, data management, and in-field GIS for ecological surveying.
Gill showing the team how to use a handheld GPS.
Greg Tinker and Oliver Davies talking about marketing as part of the Scottish Wildlife Trust induction.
Expert botanist Ben Averis giving the trainees an introduction to habitat surveying.
First aid training: Tom pretends to be injured while Sandy from the British Association of Ski Patrollers advises on the best course of action.
James Allison: My innate fascination and passion for the natural world led me to study Zoology at the University of Edinburgh where I graduated in 2009. Since then I’ve developed my skills in ecological monitoring through volunteering for various conservation organisations in some wild and fantastic parts of the world. Highlights include: tracking orang-utans through rainforest in Kalimantan, camera-trapping mammals and birds in Cambodian jungle, and a season of seabird monitoring on the island of Alderney.
The DESS course is especially exciting to me as it will help me develop my current surveying skills in ornithology, Lepidoptera and mammals, whilst learning new skills such as botanical surveying, bat surveying and GIS. This, together with exploring and discovering the unique landscape and wildlife of Scotland, promises for an unforgettable 18 months to come!
Mike Beard: Three fascinating and enjoyable days into the Heritage Lottery Funded training programme Experts for Nature - Developing Ecological Survey Skills (DESS), run by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, and I am already gaining a reputation as an (ecological) social butterfly and shutterbug (photographer)! The first is because I have a wide network of contacts as I am always actively involved in the local wildlife conservation groups wherever I live. In the past six years this has been London, Sussex, and now Edinburgh & Scotland in general. Meanwhile, I am frequently found with a camera in hand because photographs are invaluable to publicise and explain the activities of these conservation groups.
After fifteen years helping businesses gain the most benefit from information systems, I had the pleasure of spending three years running a biological data management project for the National Trust for Scotland. The experience of working within their Nature Team has confirmed to me that ecology is definitely the career direction that I should be aiming for. I have a wide range of skills and interests including; data management, geographical information systems, project management, volunteer management, photography, birds, bats, botany, butterflies, moths, dragonflies, mammals, and amphibians & reptiles.
More details are available here: http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/mike-beard/58/420/61b
Lizzie Drake: I recently graduated with a degree in Zoology from the University of Edinburgh and wanted to pursue a more hands on, field based approach to environmental work. Among other things, I’ve spent time volunteering for SWT on the Isle of Eigg and did some brief work experience with a Department of Conservation bat team in New Zealand a few years ago. Although I am interested in all areas of ecology and I am looking forward to building up my ID skills across the board, I am particularly keen to learn more about butterflies, moths, birds and also fungi. In addition, coming from Coigach, I would like to be able to use this training to get involved in projects back home like the Living Landscapes project.
Rachel Edmans: I only found out I had a place on this amazing course three weeks ago and it still hasn’t really sunk in that it’s real! Ever since I was small I’ve been interested in wildlife; the first book I pulled off the bookcase was on wild flowers!
I studied BSc Environmental Protection at the Scottish Agricultural College in Edinburgh, graduating in 2009. Since then, I’ve spent the last three years volunteering (with a few work stints with The Conservation Volunteers (formerly BTCV) and the Forestry Commission) with numerous environmental organisations doing a variety of activities: mainly practical conservation work, but also ecological surveying and environmental education. Three weeks ago I was studying for a Master’s degree, but I decided that the opportunity to study such an incredible course with SWT would be far more worthwhile – and not the sort of option that comes around often!
My passion is of a botanical nature, but I hope to expand my knowledge on fungi and birdlife as well. I am looking forward to learning more about professional surveying in all areas as well as meeting field experts. This is going to be an awesome 18 months! (And yes…I like mud J)
John McTague: Hi, I’m John. In the past I’ve done a fair amount of bird monitoring including seabirds and woodland species, smaller amounts of botanical and other surveys and also a bit of wardening and more community-based work. Over the last few years I’ve become more interested in plants and am keen to improve my botanical skills, as well as learn more about mammal ecology and survey, particularly bats and otters. I’m originally from Yorkshire but have spent quite a lot of time in Scotland and am looking forward to exploring new places while learning new skills.
Anthony Taylor-Pigott: Hi, I’m Anthony, though I am known to most as Badger (I’m a nocturnal woodland creature with striped hair!). My interests are broad but I’m primarily concerned with lichens and there is nothing I like more than wandering around woods, up mountains, or around graveyards looking for them. Before starting with DESS I was a woodland surveyor for the Forestry Commission’s Native Woodland Survey of Scotland, which involved me traipsing around Scotland in all weathers whilst recording woodland NVC types.
Thomas Plant: Hi! I’m Thomas. I studied Tropical Environmental Science at Aberdeen University and did a Masters in Ecology and Environmental Sustainability. At university I did my research projects on beetles (first in the tropics then in Scotland). After that I volunteered on lots of wonderful SWT reserves.
I started off at Montrose Basin monitoring wetland birds then moved up to Spey Bay where I was a volunteer with Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC). Last season I was an Osprey Species Protection Officer at Loch of the Lowes before moving up to Handa Island to spend the summer monitoring seabird populations. I most recently helped with a Manx shearwater project on Rhum before doing some WWOOFING on the Isle of Eigg.
I’m really excited about being part of the DESS Team for the next 18 months and am looking forward to exploring even more of Scotland and learning about everything from bats to bryophytes and everything in-between.
Helen Simmons: Originally from the Isle of Bute, I escaped ‘my island’ in 2005 to study a BSc in Zoology at The University of Glasgow and then an MSc in Primate Conservation at Oxford Brookes University in 2007-2008. During my higher education I have been extremely lucky to be involved in various expeditions abroad to study many of my favourite animals including tropical Birds, Bats, Amphibians and Primates. After leaving university I realised that the majority of my experience was with exotic animals and that I hadn’t actually paid much attention to Scotland’s native wildlife; like many people I probably took it for granted and ever since then I have been trying to get as much experience as possible; paying our native wildlife the attention it deserves.
It’s been a long and tough process to get work in the environmental sector after university, but it is finally paying off; and thanks to the Scottish Wildlife Trust’s DESS Experts for Nature Course, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF); I now look forward to a prosperous career in ecology!
I’ve done a lot of volunteer work and training courses in order to get where I am today, and would encourage anyone with a conservation/ecology career in mind to do as much as possible too; it really does help!
Thank you again HLF for this wonderful opportunity!
Ben Walsh: I’m originally from Somerset. After completing my Environmental Science degree last summer at Bath Spa University I spent the rest of the year with the Somerset Wildlife Trust carrying out botanical surveys for the Mendip Hills Living Landscape Project. Through volunteering on this project I greatly improved my plant identification and developed GIS skills. I have also been involved with the monitoring of dormice for the Perch Project near Cheddar and was an active member of my local bat group. My main interests in ecology are plants and bats.
Sharon Yardy: Hi, I’m Sharon. I started a week later than everyone else as I already had a trip to Normandy booked with the British Bryological Society.
I completed an MSc in Applied Ecology and Conservation in 2011 at the University of East Anglia. I have previously done some survey work for consultancies and volunteered with The Broads Authority for several years. I’m originally from Norfolk, so am looking forward to exploring more of Scotland and improving my botanical knowledge, particularly with bryophytes. I have been an active member of my local bat group for several years and have been a trainee bird ringer for two years.
Preparations for the next phase of the Developing Ecological Surveying Skills (DESS) are progressing. The next phase will be starting in March 2013 with ten more DESS trainees being trained for 1.5 years! The programme will be exciting again with great support throughout the Scottish Wildlife Trust and from many other organisations! Of course all of the graduates from the last DESS training programme will be involved in training the new trainees!
I am very much looking forward to the start of the field season!
Donations are of course welcome and details can be found on the Scottish Wildlife Trust website (just select Developing Ecological Surveying Skills course):
There will be more updates following soon!