Kleptoparasitism in Water Crickets

A sight that may not be for the feint of heart – 9 Water Crickets (Velia caprai) engage in a feeding frenzy on an unfortunate fly that has fallen into this quiet backwater. This is an act of intraspecific kleptoparasitism, that is, the stealing of food acquired by other members of your own species.

This behaviour is something that Velia caprai are known for – it was clear from watching the feeding bundle that the prey was not being shared voluntarily, with something akin to a water borne rugby scrum breaking out between the individuals.

Water crickets are smaller but sturdier looking than pond skaters, We noticed this group whilst walking along the edge of a quiet backwater ditch in the farm’s riverside fields. Quite the miniaturised jungle drama for a pleasant Sunday afternoon.

The Atlantic Puffin

These charming seabirds can be watched in a few coastal locations around the U.K. with Bempton Cliffs being perhaps the most well known mainland location. There are however some really great island seabird colonies to visit, where Puffins have a significant presence. All of my images for this article were taken on a fantastic trip to Skomer island, located off the SW coast of Wales. (The Farne islands are great for northern England and consider visiting Sumburgh Head on Shetland or the Isle of May, if you are in Scotland).

A Puffin keeps a watchful eye outside its burrow.

These cute seabirds, with their strikingly coloured bill & worried expression, stand about 7 to 10 inches tall & weigh in at just 500 grams. They are evolved for swimming & diving more than for flight, using up to 400 wing beats per minute to achieve a decent top speed of a little over 50 mph. Life span is about 20 years.
An Atlantic Puffin returns from sea with a beak full of sand eels

Whilst much of their year is spent out at sea they must come to land in spring for their breeding season. This is when they sport their bright colours & striking plumage. Puffins nest in burrows. About 10% of the World population breed around the UK, that’s about 500,000 birds. This April about 25,000 Puffins were counted on Skomer. Breeding is a tough business and statistically a pair of Puffins chance of getting just one chick to fledging is about 0.5 to 0.7. One hazard is predation by Gulls & Skuas, not only are the chicks at direct risk but the parents have to run the gauntlet of Gulls attempting to make them drop their precious sand eel cargo.

Sand eels are the primary food for Puffins. The Puffins have reverse facing barbs inside their mouths & on their tongues, this allows the Puffins to typically scoop up about 10 sand eels with each dive. At 3 or 4 years of age Puffins find a mate, they will bond for life. Once the female Puffin has laid her single egg, each adult will take turns incubating the egg for about 40 days, after which it will hatch. Now starts the busy task of feeding the young Puffling who will fledge when large enough, a minimum of 45 days later.
One Sand Eel carrying Puffin passes closely overhead another.

As the Puffin parents busy back & forth with bills full of sand eels, dodging the marauding gulls & avoiding collisions, its a great spectacle to behold (always keeping the welfare of the birds upmost of course).
A Puffin sets off out to sea after more food for its young chicks.

Once the young Pufflings have fledged (mid-summer) the Puffins will start to disperse again, out on the open Oceans until next spring. Puffins are considered to be a vulnerable species Whose numbers are falling. There are various research projects attempting to find out the causes. One possibility is that the supply of sand eels is dwindling due to overfishing by humans another factor may be changing sea temperatures due to global warming. The RSPB currently (2017) has a call out for pictures of feeding Puffins, to help with their research.
A closer view of the Atlantic Puffin’s exquisite markings

We had a great day on Skomer, I would heartily recommend it to all nature lovers. The Puffins (Fratercula artica) are fabulous. You really do need to be very careful to stick to the paths because there are fragile burrows everywhere. The Puffins are so photogenic and it’s a nice challenge to catch the perfect flight shot. Also, long focal lengths are not required which is great if you’re going to walk the few miles around the island on a hot summers day. Here’s a small gallery of a few of the day’s photos including the above (do look at Natures Universe if you’d like to purchase images) :

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The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea)

Grey Wagtails are a bright active bird, rather more colourful than their name suggests.

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They prefer to live along fast flowing sections of rivers & streams and are native residents across much of Britain, particularly western areas like Wales.

An ideal location would be one with plenty of rocks & pebbles to perch upon and with rocky banks that present ideal nesting hollows & cracks. The further addition of some woodland shade would provide the perfect abode with plenty of insects just waiting to be made a meal of. The two pictures in this post illustrate just such a location and the wagtail in the first picture is holding a scrumptious beak-full of wiggly insects.

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Grey Wagtail populations are susceptible to harsh winters, amongst other things, and they are currently considered to be of amber conservation status (RSPB).

Like all Wagtails, the Grey Wagtail bobs & wags its long tail almost constantly. If you are lucky enough to find an upland river where Dippers & Wagtails share the stage, you’d be forgiven for feeling that you were viewing the next energetic dance craze! If you’re visiting my neck of the woods, look out for the action along the Afon Dulas.

For more Wagtail pictures, pop across to my galleries at Natures Universe.