Friday, 17 May 2013

A typical fieldwork day in Reading

A typical fieldwork day in Reading normally starts with consulting the weather forecast. The weather forecast is really important for our fieldwork as we can only sample if temperatures are warm enough and if there is no rain. It looks sunny and reasonably warm with a threat of showers in the afternoon so we all gather in the fieldwork car and drive to the first field site which happens to be a cemetery today. The grass is quite short and flowers are few and far between so it will not take long to count the flowers and sample the pollinators.

Our Caversham cemetery pollinator transect

 Especially on cemeteries we often find plastic flowers from the graves in between the real flowers. Wonder if the bees get confused ;-).

A plastic flower from one of the graves nearby

Not far from our transect we find this nice area, planted with rosemary bushes and flowering trees (see below). 

And sure enough there are the bees we could not find in our transect nearby. The rosemary seems to be far more attractive to the bees than the daisies and buttercups in our transect. Not surprising really.

A honey bee visiting rosemary flowers
The next habitat we visit is a school playing field. The grass has just been cut so just a few daisies left for us and the bees (see below).

A little surprise awaits us in a little woodland area attached to the playing field. It is full of bluebells! What a nice sight. (see below). 

 But unfortunately no pollinators are around apart from a lonely bumblebee flying past.

Peter looks for pollinators in the bluebells

But there is something else which catches our interest. A huge badger set with several deep entrance tunnels.

One of the entrance tunnels of the badger set

And it is obviously an active badger set as we can find these big foot prints.

A badger foot print in the mud outside the entrance

We leave the school playing field and sample a pavement next. You might think pavements are just tarmac and devoid of life but look closer and you can see weeds growing out of cracks and garden plants encroaching on the pavement from the adjacent gardens.

A red dead nettle waiting for pollinators

After our lunch break we visit a park which has just been mown by the council. But to our delight they have left islands of  flowers uncut which not only looks nice but is also good for the pollinators. What a good idea! We would like to see these islands of flowers more often in parks and green spaces.

Lots of flowers thanks to a pollinator-friendly cutting regime

It is quite a nice and sunny day but we mostly find little black flies today, sitting in the daisies and dandelion flowers (not very exciting). We start to wonder where the bees are hiding. They are probably all in the rosemary flowers in the cemetery we visited earlier.
The most common pollinator today are little black flies

We visit a local nature reserve next and hope for a nice bluebell display. But what a disappointment, no bluebells and also no other flowers in our transect. But the woodland still looks nice with the fresh green leaves and the dappled sunshine (see below).

On our way back to the car we find a little patch of bluebells which look like our native bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta). But not far, closer to the edge of the woodland, we find another patch of bluebells, this time the Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica). We also find some bluebell hybrids nearby. This is what happens quite a lot now, Spanish bluebells are planted in gardens because they are bigger and showier. They escape into natural habitats and hybridise with the native bluebells which is not really good. If you want to plant bluebells in your garden please only plant the native bluebell and not the Spanish bluebell.

Native bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta)

And finally we find a pollinator in a little clearing,  a Speckled wood basking on a bramble leaf in the sunshine. So there are pollinators in this woodland after all.

A speckled wood butterfly

A look  at the sky confirms, showers are building up. So we hope to visit one more site before we are heading back to the University. Our last field site for today will be the BBC Berkshire car park in Caversham.

Our fieldwork car in front of the BBC Berkshire entrance

Our transect across the car park yields no flowers and no pollinators (see below).

But as we walk past the main entrance we see some flowering Berberis shrubs which attract quite a lot of pollinators, mainly bumblebees. We can count 4 different species of bumblebees, Red-tailed  bumblebee (Bombus lapidarius), Common carder-bee (Bombus pascuorum), Buff/White-tailed bumblebee (Bombus terrestris/lucorum) and the cuckoo bumblebee Bombus vestalis or B. bohemicus (they are very difficult to distinguish from each other). The cuckoo bumblebee is very interesting as it takes over the nest of Buff/White-tailed bumblebees, kills the queen and lets the workers raise its offspring. Not a really nice fate for the Buff/White-tailed bumblebees.

A cuckoo bumblebee (Bombus vestalis or B. bohemicus)
A buff/white-tailed bumblebee worker at Berberis flowers

We watch the bumblebees for a while but it is time to go now, so we get in the car and head back to University. We have only caught 6 pollinators today (mostly little black flies) but have seen lots of other interesting things including bluebells, a badger set and a cuckoo bumblebee. So all in all a successful day.

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