Sunday, 2 July 2017

#30DaysWild is over...or is it?

The Safari has been busy with all sorts of groups this week. We've played host to school classes, Rainbows, Brownies, Beavers, Guides and volunteers from the zoo doing their #30DaysWild challenge.

The schools pond dipping sessions have thrown up a couple of surprises. The first day the class watched a female Emperor dragonfly laying her eggs on vegetation in the pond right under the children's noses - none of them had ever seen a dragonfly before and didn't know insects could get that big, some even thought it was too brightly coloured to be an insect so must be a bird! Whether insect or bird it was an awesome spectacle for them to witness.
The following day's class the children watched a dragonfly nymph catch and devour a small 3-spined Stickleback - they found that awesome if a bit gruesome too. But generally apart from prodigious number s of Wandering Snails, darter sp dragonfly nymphs (probably Common Darter) and hundreds of 3-spined Sticklebacks there wasn't much for them to catch. Until one of them, and then others, pulled out a tadpole. Where had they come from surely the pond sides are too high for a Frog to jump up and over into the water. We surmise that someone nearby has a pond which was in danger of drying out during the hot spell last week and 'rescued' them in to our larger and deeper pond. One one of the last evening sessions a Brownie caught a Pond Skater, we've not seen one on there for a long time. But where are all the Bloodworms, Diving Beetles, Back Swimmers, Front Swimmers and Blue Tailed Damselfly nymphs? It's a funny old year in the pond!
The volunteers from the zoo had arranged to do a beach clean with us."We do like to be beside the seaside...but we don't like to see the beach covered in litter.
6 big bags of rubbish were eventually collected and taken off the sands - well done everyone
Perhaps the most disturbing piece of litter was this length of fishing tackle which had continued fishing after it had been snapped off and ended up killing a small Smooth Hound pup. We often find lost tackle with hooks and breakaway weights waiting to catch a fish, gull, dog's paw of child's foot. We think the anglers who lost their gear should come back as soon as the tide drops and try tto retrieve as much as they possibly can - that would be better than leaving in/on the beach - and while they were doing that they could pick up all the litter they leave behind where they stand too - Anglers are supposed to be protectors of the environment aren't they - well we don't think so!
The children's' best find was a tiny shell. So small we're quite surprised, but really pleased, that it was actually spotted and picked up. No not the pretty Sea Slug skeleton, the pink Acteon tornatitlis the other one. In all our years doing beach events with the children we've never seen anything as small as this so we went into detective mode and called on the expertise of our marine biologist friend DB who suggested it might be a Mediterranean/European Atlantic coast species that has been washed in  by the currents, Tritonalia aciculata. A quick search of the data-bases suggested that this could be a first for British waters - what an awesome find that would be for a Yr2 child!!!
Now not totally convinced with DB's ID we put the pic on the British Marine Life Study Society's Facebook page and they came back with a more likely ID of Netted Dog Whelk - albeit a very small one!
They also found several specimens of Dead Man's Fingers, which looks a bit like a Sponge but is actually a colonial polyp related to sea anemones and jellyfish.
At the end of the week we had a job to do at the zoo with Sustainability Officer LW, looking through some of the pics from their moth trapping event and a quick check of their data from the Native Species Bioblitz they did while we were away  in Cornwall.
Once we'd ID'd a few moth pics and asked for others to be sent on for more in-depth analysis (ie micro moths we can never remember the names of) LW said one of her keeper colleagues had found a rare orchid in the Dinosaur area and would we like to see it. Well we're never one to resist a rare orchid so of we went. We walked through the exhibit and back looking for what we supposed would be a Marsh Orchid and going bu the other Marsh Orchids locally were looking for a finished flower spike. We had no luck at all. LW then called her colleague who told us it was near one of the T. rex models. Again we looked and looked without success. Eventually JP was called out to show us exactly where it was. And no wonder we couldn't find it, it wasn't under the T. rex at all but a Pentasaurus!
No, we've never heard of a Pentasaurus either! And no it wasn't a Marsh Orchid spike so we were looking for the totally wrong thing. It was actually a battered and bruised specimen of a helleborine species but which one?
We initially thought it was probably Broad Leaved Helleborine but info from Twitter suggested it was much more likely to be the much much rarer Dune Helleborine which is found locally a few miles away, on the dunes of all places. We've arranged to get back into the zoo to monitor its progress and get some pics - an awesome find! And then JP casually mentioned "we've got some other orchids - would you like to see those?" Of course we would,, ta v muchly! He took us to a currently out-of-bounds area undergoing a large scale construction site refurbishment and there on the edge of a pool was a colony of Southern Marsh Orchids growing among the waterside rushes and reeds.
He then said "we've got some more too, follow me to the Capybaras". A few minutes searching between the viewing rail and the safety fence had us looking at a gone over Bee Orchid and then a smaller one still in flower. Who needs to look at giant rodents when you've got these beauties right next to them!
With that it was time to leave for Base camp at the end of a very busty week and so ended #30DaysWild for us and the Zoo team - see their Facebook page Blackpool Zoo - Wildlife Learning for all they got up to. Looks like they had a blast being wild - just as e did. And just because the 'event' is over doesn't mean YOU have to stop being wild...please carry on doing random acts of wildness, finding bizarre, exotic, beautiful, ugly, rare and common species in your own outback and don't forget to share them!
Where to next? We've got a Year Bird Photo Challenge to catch up on this weekend, some of the other challengers are posting like mad and we don't want to get left behind!
In the meantime let us know how wild you're going to be in your outback this month.

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