Heather Bashing

Another day, another wander into West Woods. I’ve been getting a tad unsatisfied with my walks into West Woods, so today I decided to walk straight through West Woods and into Tyrebagger Forest, owned by the Forestry Commission.

I hadn’t really decided what I was going to do whilst out so spent a bit of time looking at the birds around the new Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route. The Linnet flock was almost always flying overhead, c20 of them with 6 Yellowhammers mixed in. On Friday I spotted what was possibly a good candidate for pure Hooded Crow. It was a striking individual, and appeared to be cleanly grey in all the right places.

possible Hooded Crow

A Buzzard mewed overhead and I noted it as a ‘dark intermediate’. See here if you don’t know what I mean. It’s an interesting bit of research being carried out by the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. It’s easy to submit info too so why not do it?

“In this project we are aiming to investigate the geographical and temporary differences of the distribution of the various morph-types in the Common Buzzard. We would like to find out how the variation in plumage colour can be maintained over time.”

More bird activity, I came across this when crossing the golf course into West Woods…

There’s been a murder…

Upon closer inspection it was clear the something had had a good go at a Woodpigeon, and I suspect it was almost certainly a Sparrowhawk due to the fact there are feathers everywhere. Sprawks tend to pluck their prey when they catch it so this one was obviously not disturbed as it de-feathered the Columba palumbus.

I didn’t stop again until I was in Tyrebagger, at which point I was met with the lovely ‘glip-glip-glip’-ing of Crossbills in the conifers. They pretty much replaced the sound of Linnets as they were constantly moving about, around about 30 in total, with a small flock of Siskin that joined in at one point.

After a bit of walking around in circles, feeling lost as to what to do, I remembered I’d brought my spider guide with me! Then realised I hadn’t brought anything to catch them in… No worries, I could try a technique that I’d been wanting to do for a while now. I found the nearest clump of Heather Calluna vulgaris, placed my book open on the first page (you know, the blank page right at the start) and started shaking it.

The idea here is to dislodge anything that might be clinging on, and get a clearer view of whatever you shake out on the white paper. It worked a treat! I’ll start off with a wee compilation of non-arachnid beasties…

I was actually quite surprised to find a busy little ant nest under a stone by a big larch. I suppose they’re getting ready for the season ahead! These ants I suspect are Scottish Wood Ants Formica aquilonia becuase they have little hair on the back of the head, unlike the Hairy Wood Ant F. lugubris. There’s a nice wee website on Wood Ants set up by the James Hutton Institute that I found very helpful.

Whilst bashing Heather, I spooked a Woodcock Scolopax rusticola from right next to where I’d been standing about for about 10 minutes. Needless to say, I almost needed a change of underwear, but you’ll be glad to know I didn’t. They really do rely heavily on their camouflage don’t they!

Right, now on to spiders. I have actually found spiders quite difficult to get into, probably down to the fact that there aren’t that many around when everything is frozen solid. Nevertheless, I’m giving them my best shot, with a bit of help from the British Spider ID group on Facebook.

No idea what this one is, I’m gonna be honest. I don’t think this one is identifiable without getting closer, better quality, well-lit pictures. I might be wrong so I’ll post it on the Facebook group in a bit.

Sorry to disappoint, but again, no idea. I’d thought this one had a fairly distinctive pattern but I can’t find anything similar in the Collins Guide. EDIT: IDed as Neottiura bimaculata spiderling.

One thing that I’ve found out about spiders and that I may have mentioned before, is that a lot of them are money spiders, Linyphiidae, as they represent 45% of all UK spider species. Therefore, I suspect the next bunch are all money spiders of some sorts.

EDIT: The spiderling in the bottom 2 pictures is probably a Ceratinella sp., perhaps C. brevipes

Right hopefully I can ID the next two… *gulp*…

Nope, I can’t. Ugh, spiders are tricky. I’ve posted on the Facebook group to see what the experts say. Apologies that I have literally just shown you pictures of spiders, all of which are under a centimetre long.

Despite all the non-IDs, I can explain that spiders, of any and every size, are good! Obviously, everyone knows spiders eat other invertebrates meaning we aren’t completely overcome by midges and mozzies and such. That’s their main niche in every ecosystem that they are a part of. Spiders even kill and eat spiders, as a form of self-control of their own population. On top of this, spiders feed species higher up in the food chain such as birds, wasps, ants and amphibians & reptiles.

Something I read recently was that spiders are actually so generalist that it’s pretty much impossible to say “this spider fits in this niche, and this spider fits in this niche,” and in fact, if a spider species is added or removed from and ecosystem it’ll have very little effect, unless of course it is the only spider in the ecosystem, in which case you’ve got a problem.

Anyway, I’ll update this if anyone can identify any of the spiders I’ve photographed and hopefully in summer there’ll be more, easier spiders about so I can do a proper spider post.

EDIT: The top two pictures are probably of Neriene peltata spiderling.

Heather Bashing

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