Hopefully, Pete, Shaun and I have got a good, mixed newsletter with a range of articles that will be of interest to you. The first two trips of the year have already been done and hopefully there will be something in the forthcoming programme that you will be able to join us on. The schedule includes talks, work parties as well as the usual natural history walks. Already, the crocuses and bluebells in Burton Wood (nr. Caton) are responding to the lengthening daylight hours so the walks should get better and better from this point onwards.
Please take a look at the front door of the IEBS department as Keiko is advertising our trips, etc. on the door so nobody can say they didn't know that events were lined up. Pete is taking this year out but will remain in Lancaster as so is more than willing to stay on as chair and help out with other matters as needs be. The proposed trip to Caerlaverock is well in hand and details are now up on the board. Another notice has been put up inquiring if there are any other ideas for weekend trips away, so let's have your ideas please.
Week 4 : (11/2 and 12/2) - Caerlaverock weekend residential and Warton Crag workparty (12/2)
Week 6 : Duddon estuary (sand dune and woodland habitat (provisional)
Week 7 : Work party on campus (tree and shrub planting) (provisional)
Week 8 : Stream sampling (provisional)
Week 9 : (18/3) - The alternative tour of Sellafield
I was asked a few months ago if Holly trees (Ilex aquifolium) existed in Japan. As far as I knew, they didn't, but to make sure, I decided to do some research to find out the true story. In an English-Japanese dictionary, 'Holly tree' is translated as a species called Hiiragi. However, this is misleading. Hiiragi looks quite similar to Holly having many spiny leaves. The similarity in appearances must be the reason for the rnistranslation. Hiiragi (Osthusaman heterophylus) belongs to a different family to the Aquifoliaceae. It is widespread in mountainous areas of the mainland and on the southern islands of Japan. It also grows in Taiwan.
WIthough scientifically different, the interesting common feature of Holly and Hiiragi is in its cultural use. On the day just before 'Rissun', the first day of spring in the traditional Japanese calendar (around February 4th), the head of a sardine is pierced with a branch of Hiigari with its spiny leaf and is put on the front door. This is believed to stop the evil spirits from entering the house and make happiness come to the house. In Christian countries (Europe and the US), Holly has been traditionally used as a symbol of Christmas. I understand this custom comes from the same idea that these spiny-leaved trees have the power to ward off evil. It is interesting to see that people in two very different cultures have attached the same customs to these similar looking spiny-leaved trees.
There is another story about mistranslation of names of tree species. This example of botanical misunderstanding leading to economic and ecological loss of benefit. An English Oak (Quercus robur), as the Latin name indicates, gives very strong and durable material and thus was used historically for the construction of houses and ships. Now it is in great demand as a material for making good quality furniture. This economically important tree was translated to 'Kashi' when it was first translated into Japanese More than 100 years ago, probably by somebody who did not have too much understanding of trees. Kashi belongs to the genus Quercus, but are evergreen trees and has different characteristics from Q. robur as a material. There are many evergreen broad-leaved trees in Japan which makes the winter scenery green. Kashi is too hard to work in making furniture and it has been used only for making wooden swords (which are meant to be very hard!). So, about 100 years ago when oak was translated to Kashi, people thought Japanese oak was different to European oak and could not be used for furniture making. Meanwhile, some Europeans found another oak tree, Mizu-nara, in the Northern part of Japan which they thought might be even better than the European oak. They were pleased about this discovery, bought it cheap and brought it back home. The Japanese people did not know how good this tree was and though they could make good trade by getting rid of a 'useless' tree to the Europeans in return for money. It is surprising to know that until recently, Japan was importing oak trees from other countries at very high prices.
Nara are the true Japanese equivalent to oak and are deciduous oak trees widely distributed in Japan, of which Mizu-nara (Q. crispula) is the best. They are now regarded as an important source of wood for making furniture although many people still think an oak is Kashi.
The bird box scheme is now in its 2nd year and it is fair to say that overall the project has been extremely successful. The first batch of boxes, a total of 20, were put up in February 1993. These were predominately hole nesting boxes, designed for Blue Tits and Great Tits - of course we are ever hopeful for a surprise, maybe a Coal Tit or a Pied Flycatcher; one can dream! We also put up a treecreeper box which the squirrels took a liking to. (A Treecreeper box is similar to a bat-box, with a small gap left for access at the bottom of the box). After severe modification by these furry fiends the box was eventually taken over by a pair of Robins, which successfully raised 4 youngsters. The other boxes were occupied by Blue Tits and a pair of Great Tits. Birds were observed carrying nest material at the start of April and the first eggs were laid around the 16th. By 28th of April one box was already crammed full with 12 eggs. A total of 13 Blue Tits managed to raise 123 young at a average of 9.5 young per box. The Great Tit pair struggled to raise just 4 young. The largest number of young that fledged from one brood was 13.
In the early part of Lent term in 1994 another batch of bird boxes were put up, bringing the grand total to 36. Strangely, this year all the boxes were occupied by Blue Tits. Nest building was later this year, almost certainly due to the poor weather. The first sign of nest building activity was recorded in early April but the majority of birds did not start building until mid-April. The first eggs were laid on the 22nd April (almost 1 week later than 1993). On the whole, despite some poor weather in the Spring, a total of 23 boxes were occupied and 196 young fledged at an average of 8.5 per box. The delayed onset of egg-laying was reported as being nationwide for many species by the British Trust for Ornithology who mastermind surveys of bird activities. All the young were ringed by Shaun P. Coyle under the supervision of a qualified local bird-ringer (Morecambe Bay Ringing Group). To date, no 'controls' have been reported back to the BTO ('controls' are where ringed birds are trapped in mist-nets by other bird-ringers).
Some results from the scheme include boxes C and 17A (a nice, ordered naming system at work there! Eds.). Box 17A had a complete nest and one egg was found on 22nd April. By 27th April, seven eggs had been laid and eleven by 11th May. The adult was incubating on the 18th May and 25th May, though on the latter day, the young were noted to be ready for ringing. These were ringed on the following day (ring numbers J632701 to 11). By 31st May, all the young were fully fledged. In Box C, the base of the nest had been built by the 22nd April, 27th April saw the nest completed.
Two eggs had been laid by 4th May and four by 11th May. On 18th May, the adult was incubating and by 25th May, all four young had hatched. On the 1st June they had lost most of their down and their feathers were well developed. All four were ringed on 7th June (ring numbers J632823 to 26). This nest-box had the smallest brood size which fledged. The highest number of fledged young came from box E which had fourteen. This almost certainly represents an experienced adult at work, namely a female breeding at least for her second season as an adult.
Some typical figures for Blue Tits from national studies suggest an average laying date for first clutches as mid-April, so Lancaster fits in well with this pattem. The nest is a pad of moss, often mixed with pieces of dead grass, straw or with other plant material; the cup is lined with fine dry grass, hair, wool and some feathers. Building is by the female alone, who may continue to add fresh material during incubation and after hatching. The time from the start of building to laying of the first egg is variable, averaging 5 to 12 days. The clutch size can vary between 2 and 18 and depends on latitude, altitude, year, size of nest cavity and especially quality of habitat. Average size of the first clutch is between 10 and 12. Incubation lasts for 12 to 15 days and is done by the female alone. It begins 3 days before clutch completion to 1 day after. The young hatch over a variable period, which increases as the breeding season progresses because incubation tends to begin earlier in later broods. They are cared for and fed by both parents. The fledging period is generally between 16 and 22 days.
Unfortunately, the success story of the bird boxes does not appear to have been repeated for the numerous bat boxes that were put up at the same time. Many appear not to have been used but a recent survey has not been conducted. This may have been caused by an absence of nearby colonies or the unsuitability of the habitats on campus. The latter point is doubtful as Lake Carter and the mature woodland on campus should provide a substantial supply of insects for the bats.
Sean Cooch and Shaun P. Coyle
Unfortunately, only four people registered for this trip and at least two of them were suffering after partying hard the previous night. A frantic phonecall from a Caton phonebox established that the work party was at the far end of the woods (predictable) and that the task for the day was Sycamore-bashing, which was just as well as anything nasty like Rhododendron or Hawthorn would have been the death of the aforementioned 50% of the group. Despite a collective IQ the right side of 500, we insisted on proceeding though the woods via the most steep and muddy path when there was a perfectly serviceable path alongside the River Lune. Nevertheless, the walk turned up a large flock of Long-tailed Tits, Greater-Spotted Woodpecker and fleeting glimpses of Treecreeper and a female Sparrowhawk. A walk of a mile brought us finally to where the workparty was. We did better than BTCV Blackpool who had to have a search party sent out for them. A noted local entomologist, Jennifer Newton, greeted us and explained what needed doing.
The woods are primarily Oak but Sycamores have invaded and are forming an understorey so the idea was to remove the Sycamore growth and create brush and wood piles. Sycamore does have its uses in nature conservation but the domination of high wildlife value woodlands is not one of them. Presumably the stumps will be treated to prevent regrowth while the piles of cut wood will provide habitat for small mammals, fungi and invertebrates. Not only does dead wood provide shelter for invertebrates but some of woodland invertebrates eat the wood itself. The nutritional value of the wood is often low, it is hard to bite through and difficult to digest so many species that eat wood take several years to reach maturity, e.g., the Goat moth (Cossus cossus) which feeds on Oak and Willows.
Overall, there were around 20 of us so a good amount of Sycamore was felled and numerous woodpiles created. Lunch was taken in the middle of a hailstorm but luckily, the weather held good for the remainder of the day. Better views of a Treecreeper were obtained at lunchtime as the bird inched up a nearby tree in its search for invertebrate prey. The bank on which the work stands was very steep and that fact, combined with the soft soil made work harder than it could have been. One larger Sycamore which it was reckoned would soon be a source of 'keys' was ring barked to see if that would effectively kill off the upper portion of the tree. Everybody made it home OK, despite the driver stopping to let people alight and then driving off before anyone had chance to do so.
30th January brought us the sad death of Gerald Durrell, one of this century's great naturalists. He was responsible for transforming the image of zoos from cruel Victorian attractions into well-managed centres for captive breeding of endangered species. Born in India in 1925, he began his career as an apprentice at Whipsnade, going on to lead many wildlife expeditions around the world. He presented numerous television wildlife documentaries and wrote over thirty books.
In 1958 he set up a small zoo in Jersey and later founded the Jersey Wildlife Preservation Trust - a worldwide organisation dedicated to the captive breeding of severely endangered animals, and their eventual reintroduction into the wild. This novel concept has since been adopted by many zoos around the world, all now coordinating their breeding programmes with each other. He oversaw the successful and often pioneering breeding of rare animals such as Mauritius Pink Pigeons, Mauritius Kestrels, Bali Starlings, St. Lucia Parrots, Round Island Skinks, Lowland Gorillas, Spectacled Bears, Snow Leopards, Golden-headed Tamarins, Rodrigues Fruit Bats, Black and White Ruffed Lemurs, Aye Ayes and many more.
His dream was of a time when no animals were any longer endangered and such zoos would no longer be required. He died after many months of illness, leaving no children, but his wife - the American biologist Dr. Lee Durrell. He will be missed.