All Creatures Great and Small – Sparrowhawks and Water Bugs

Hi all!

It’s been a pretty wet and cold week, which meant we weren’t able to do any bird ringing at Bedfont Lakes last Sunday. Even without the rain, winds above 10mph are not suitable as the nets would blow too much in the wind and pull on any birds caught in the them, possibly causing injury. Not worth the risk!

I would just like to add here, for any one who isn’t familiar with bird ringing, that it in no way harms the bird and every measure is taken to ensure that birds caught are ringed and processed (sexed, aged, measured and weighed) as swiftly as possible, especially when it is cold. The information gained from bird ringing is vital for conservation as it means that we are able to use information about a species movements and survival to help to explain population fluctuations not only in the UK but also on a global scale – the unique number on a birds ring allows it to be identified by bird ringers, and indeed the public, any where in the world. Plus I’d like to add it is a great opportunity to get close to the birds and really appreciate and admire them, which for me just fuels my ever growing interest and enthusiasm!

Back to Bedfont…. The Sunday before that (18th Jan) was a beautiful sunny morning and although quiet on the bird front, save a few blackbirds I had a go at handling (they are strong!), we did catch and ring this stunning young male Sparrowhawk!


And what perfect light for it – he really was as handsome as he looks in this photo, if not more! Obviously the bright yellow eyes are what stand out, but what I love is the beautiful V shaped markings down the chest that almost look painted on in a luscious mix of dark, chestnut and cappuccino browns. Further down these become more elongated lengthways and turn in to distinctive bars or stripes characteristic of this species.

What also struck me is its particularly long spindly legs which it uses to catch its prey. You wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of them 😉 I am still getting the hang of handling the little guys!

Just for some contrast, after closer inspection I discovered that the water beetle I mentioned in my last post is in fact (I am ashamed to say!) a water BUG – piercing not biting mouthparts would’ve been a dead give-away if I had looked closer, don’t tell my old lecturer….. I think it is the saucer bug Ilyocoris cimicoides, part of the creeping water bug family Naucoridae.

1743170_10202412760034093_44952763_nFeel free to comment if you agree/disagree! Photo courtesy of Szymon Szary, who was the one who actually found it whilst collecting backswimmer samples at London Wetland Centre. He’s actually come across a few, some quite a bit bigger than this which was 12mm, so they may be different species or perhaps the same species but different sex?

I love to think of all the dramatic predator prey interactions that go on at the bottom of ponds! These guys sound like fearsome predators, hunting invertebrates, tadpoles and even small fish! After catching their prey they use their mouthparts to pierce them and inject digestive enzymes which allows them to suck out their insides….. A real life horror scene that could be taking place in your own back garden 😉

All this invertebrate action is making me excited for spring!