Tuesday 13 November 2018vember 2018Pine Martens and Squirrels-Michael Stinson.Pine Martens rare in N.Ireland, have increased in numbers recently. Locally they have been seen in Davagh Forest and Drum Manor.Michael began with interesting information on red squirrels-largely gone from Mid-Ulster, where they were once fairly common. Positive conservation may be needed to maintain the species in Ireland.They are smaller than grey squirrels and have been resident since prehistoric times. There is an endemic British and Irish race. Red squirrels spend much of their time in trees, eating seeds, berries, fruits and fungi. Hoardings are scattered over a range of three to five hectares. Reds are more vocal than greys and moult twice a year. In medieval times they were abundant but numbers declined in the 18th century. Re-introductions have taken place in many areas.Red squirrels have a breeding season of six weeks and usually produce a litter of three. Weaning takes nine weeks with fairly high mortality among young. They practice both solitary and communal nesting, but at a lower density than greys. Their dreys are lined with moss and leaves.Grey squirrels from eastern USA , arrived here around 1945. Even in the early 1990’s the number in N.I. was still small. They are efficient predators and take young birds in the nest. They damage trees and are considered an alien species. Greys are found in coniferous/mixed woodland and although active at night, are often seen during the day.Feeding habits of Greys and their ability to carry squirrel-pox virus had a big impact on Reds. The first signs of the disease in N. I. were in Tollymore forest in 2011. Squirrel-pox causes high mortality, and in a project 240 grey and 40 red carcasses were examined. One quarter of Greys had antibodies. About 10% pass on the virus, so where grey and red are together, virus transmission occurs causing 100% per cent fatalities amongst Reds within a few weeks.Long term prospects are hopeful. There is a N.I. squirrel forum, and groups such as Ulster Wildlife Trust work in local areas. A considerable amount of money has been injected to improve their prospects. Removal of Greys may be the only answer!The Pine Marten is a native mammal, present in all counties. Pine martens are members of the weasel family-related to otters, stoats, weasels and mink. Although numbers are increasing it remains one of N. Ireland’s most elusive animals. Deforestation and persecution by game-keepers in the 19TH C greatly reduced their range. They were also trapped for fur.About the size of a small cat with a long bushy tail, a rich brown fur coat, and a bib of creamy yellow, males are larger than females. The body is slim, with longish legs. The face pointed with obvious, upright ears. Pine martens can be confused with American mink but have longer legs and are more cat-like. They are secretive agile animals with sharp claws used to climb trees. They are rarely seen, and eat almost anything, including carrion, wood mice, eggs, fruit, nuts, small birds and grey squirrels. A fondness for game birds and entering buildings does them no favours..They have been reputed to eat lambs!Dens are made in trees, buildings and rocky places. Females are usually three years old before they have young. Pine Martens live to 7 years and mate in the autumn; fertilized eggs are stored inside the mother’s body.They implant and start to grow the following spring. The den is often a hole in a tree or a rock cavity. Young pine martens are born in spring, they are deaf, blind and helpless at birth. Initial evidence indicates that Pine Martens have a negative effect on grey squirrels but it is a gradual process. As greys decrease, red squirrels increase.The best opportunities of seeing them are in Fermanagh and west Tyrone. Many observations are by camera trapping. Their scat is a useful way of tracing their presence.There is continued expansion and in Scotland they have reached the N.Highlands. Invertebrates in the garden-Dr Roy Anderson 8 January 2019Dr. Roy Anderson has been retired for some time, but during his career produced more than 300 scientific papers. He was, and has been for the last 40 years or so one of our foremost naturalists and an excellent nature photographer who has produced stunning photographs of insects. One has only to browse the Internet to find his images in natural history websites.Roy introduced his talk by suggesting that we could do well to concentrate on very small in nature. Such organisms cause huge changes on our environment-often without being much noticed. Our speaker suggested his talk might well be titled ‘Catastrophe In the Garden’as so many invasive alien invertebrates have wreaked havoc in our gardens over the last 50 years. One obvious change is a decrease in earthworms. Earthworms have always been considered necessary for aeration and drainage, but within the last 30 years their numbers have dropped -it is rare to find them, even after rain. No wonder our fields seem less well drained. Why the decrease? An alien - New Zealand Flatworm - arrived in Ireland some 30 years ago. It feeds on earthworms by dissolving them. 20% of earthworm biomass has been lost, and nearly 100 % of their biomass in many gardens. Quite a number of beetles have soft bodied larvae which feed on snails, and one alien invader Cychrus caraboides (which ejects an unpleasant liquid) has been reducing snail populations. Ladybird beetles are useful. They control greenfly, but the Harlequin ladybird-is an invasive and unwelcome alien. This ladybird has spread throughout S.E. England since 2011 and was recently discovered breeding in Belfast. The species overwinters in houses. It produces a bright yellow liquid which does not wash out-housewives beware.The Vine Weevil has a larva which eats plant roots and Lily Beetles have been recorded from several places. Rosemary Beetles and Eucalyptus beetles have recently been recorded in Belfast and Newry. They arrived with imported plants. Asparagus beetles and Viburnam beetles were recorded in Wexford in 2017 and have been introduced accidentally into Belvoir Park. Shield bugs have a proboscis which acts like a hypodermic syringe and sucks juices from plants. The most common one in Northern Ireland is the Hawthorn Shield Bug, but a recent arrival-the Green Shield Bug - is a predator on Sawflies. Among common creepy-crawlies are millipedes, which eat decaying plant material, and centipedes, which eat slugs and insects. Four new species from Umbria in Italy have appeared. Slaters are harmless, but the New Zealand Land Hopper is becoming common and out-competes Slaters.The Giant House Spider(as everyone has probably noticed) is more common.Among garden slugs and snails, the Brown-lipped Snail arrived from south-east Pyrenees, perhaps 1500 years or more ago with ancient tribes, so invasions have been going on for a long time. We are used to the Black Slug and the Red Slug, but an alien super slug (Arion vulgaris) is spreading in Ireland.Roy cited more cases of recent invaders including Cotton-boll Worms and the Light Brown Apple Moth-accidentally brought in during the 1930’s and spreading rapidly.This was a wonderful talk, with expertly taken photographs, a well constructed power-point presentation, and an interesting and informative commentary by an acknowledged expert. Pine Martens and Squirrels-Michael Stinson. Tuesday 13 November 2018 There was an excellent attendance for Michael Stinson’s talk. Pine Martens are a rare mammal in Northern Ireland, but in recent years numbers have increased and locally they have been seen in Davagh Forest and Drum Manor.Michael began with interesting information on red squirrels, which recently have largely disappeared from Mid-Ulster, where they were once fairly common. Positive conservation action may be needed to maintain the species in Ireland.Red squirrels are smaller than grey squirrels and have been resident here since prehistoric times. There is an endemic British and Irish race. Red squirrels spend around 70 per cent of their time in the tree canopy and eat mainly seeds, berries, fruits and fungi. Hoardings are scattered over a range of three to five hectares.Reds are more vocal than greys and moult twice a year. In medieval times they were abundant but numbers declined steeply in the 18th century, introductions have taken place in a number of areas.Red squirrels have an extended breeding season of around six weeks usually producing a litter of three. Weaning takes around nine weeks and there is a fairly high mortality among young. They practice both solitary and communal nesting, but at a lower density than greys. Their dreys are usually lined with moss and leaves.Grey squirrels are from eastern USA , arriving in N.I. around 1945. Even in the early 1990’s the number of greys in Northern Ireland was still small. They are efficient predators and even take young birds in the nest, they also damage trees such as oaks and are considered an alien invasive species. Greys are likely to be found in coniferous/mixed woodland and although active at night, can sometimes be seen during the day.The feeding habits of Greys and their ability to carry squirrel-pox virus had a huge impact on Reds. The first visible signs in Northern Ireland of the disease were in Tollymore forest in 2011. Squirrel-pox has a high mortality rate, and in a project covering 37 forests, 240 grey and 40 red carcasses were examined. One quarter of Greys had antibodies. About 10% pass on the virus either in faeces or via parasites, so where grey and red are together virus transmission occurs often causing 100% per cent fatalities amongst Reds in a few weeks.Long term prospects are hopeful. There is a Northern Ireland squirrel forum and groups such as Ulster Wildlife Trust work in local areas. A considerable amount of money has been injected to improve their prospects. Removal of Greys may be the only answer!The Pine Marten is a native mammal present in all counties. Pine martens are members of the weasel family-related to otters, badgers, stoats, weasels and mink. Although numbers are increasing it remains one of Northern Ireland’s most elusive animals. Deforestation and persecution by gamekeepers in the 19TH C greatly reduced the range. They were also trapped for fur.The Pine Marten is about the size of a small cat (about 60 centimetres long) with a long bushy tail and a rich fur coat, dark brown, with a bib of creamy yellow, males are larger than females. The body is slim, with relatively long legs. The face is pointed with obvious, upright ears. Pine martens can be confused with American mink but have longer legs and are more cat-like in shape. Mink have a long, slinky body, thin tail and blunt face with small rounded ears and often a small white patch on the chin. Pine martens are secretive but agile animals. Sharp claws allow them to easily climb trees. They are rarely seen, and eat almost anything they can catch including carrion, wood mice, eggs, fruit, nuts, small birds and grey squirrels. A fondness for game birds and entering buildings to make dens does them no favours..They have been reputed to eat lambs but this is debatable. Dens are usually made in trees, buildings and rocky places. Females are usually three years old before they have young. Pine Martens live from three to five or even seven years and mating takes place in the autumn; the fertilized eggs are stored inside the mother’s body and do not implant and start to grow until the following spring. The nest or den is usually a hole in a tree or a rock cavity. Young pine martens are born in late March or early April, they are deaf, blind and helpless at birth. Initial evidence indicates that Pine Martens have a strong negative effect on greys but it is a gradual process. As greys decrease, red squirrels increase.The best opportunities of seeing them are in the west such as Fermanagh and west Tyrone. Many of the observations are by camera trapping. Their scat is a useful way of knowing their presence.There is a continued expansion eastwards and in Scotland they have reached the northern Highlands.Michael’s extensive knowledge of both squirrels and Pine Martens was evident in an absorbing and well illustrated talk. Recent sightings of Pine Martens in our area and the demise of the red squirrel which-once common in Drum and Killymoon made this a highly anticipated and enjoyable talk for Cookstown Wildlife Trust.Amphibian and Natterjack Toad conservation in Ireland - Marina Reyne 12th March 2019Marina Reyne from QUB had been working for 10 years in conservation-most of this on amphibians. She is an acknowledged expert in the field and has studied amphibians in many parts of the world. Marina’s talk was illustrated by excellent slidesAmphibians can live equally well on water or land. Their lifecycle is similar to that of a frog.Their skin is permeable to both water and gas. They breathe and drink through their skin. Amphibians need water to lay their eggs. There are 6000 species of amphibians, 4000 of these are frogs. Salamanders are mostly terrestrial newts live mainly in water. Their eggs are laid in chains, not like frogs.Frogs can be considered as terrestrial, but toads are largely water based. Much of Marina’s work has been done in the equatorial forests of Bolivia and near Lake Titicaca, but at present she is working on improving and providing habitat for Natterjack toads.The Natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita) is rare, and the most range-restricted amphibian in Ireland. The species has high conservation status and listed under the EU Habitat Directive. 40 per cent of amphibians are endangered with populations declining. They are environmentally sensitive to pollution, climate change and disease.Chytridiomycosis is an infectious disease in amphibians, caused by fungi: Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis and Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans. Chytridiomycosis has been linked to dramatic population declines or even extinctions of amphibian species in many parts of the world and has not been found in Europe.Habitat loss and lack of suitable breeding sites have also been identified as significant factors driving population declines. In 2008, the National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS) launched a new scheme aiming to increase the number of breeding ponds and to restore the toad’s distribution. In Ireland we have three native amphibians.Common Frog, Natterjack Toad and Common Toad (non-native). Toads lay strings of eggs which produce small black tadpoles.In Co. Kerry Marina is involved in “Kerry Natterjack Toad project”, based around Dingle Bay where the breeding season is long due to milder weather. Her research involves conservation, where they are, how many and habitats they are found in.One aspect is trying to find what would be the perfect pond and another is based on DNA and relating this to biodiversity. DNA is extracted and the Natterjack Toad barcode elucidated. One feature is that Natterjack toads in Ireland do not have enough variation, they are too closely related.The other aspect is conservation and habitat restoration, 25 per cent of ponds are colonised and attempts are made to populate other ponds, by breeding toadlets and re- introducing these to new ponds.Natterjack toads are protected throughout Europe, but are declining in many areas of Europe. In Ireland they are not doing well either, except around Maghery.