Day 1 – 30 Days Wild 2017

Well, since the last time I started doing 30 Days Wild, I have actually become a little bit obsessed with nature. Just over a year ago, I went on a bee ID weekend workshop hosted by Steven Falk with the Principle Ecologist from work. It’s safe to say I’ve since been a little bit buzzed by bees. So I apologise for the amount of bee pics you’re going to be seeing over the next 30 Days 😀

So, today was an exciting day – I spotted a Megachile centuncularis – Patchwork Leafcutter bee (I think!) and also spotted that they’ve started filling the holes in two of the (so far) unused Bee B&Bs that hang on the walls of my employer’s HQ.

I think the highlight of the day was getting all up in the grill of this Painted Lady, which has migrated all the way from North Africa to mate and rear young in the Cotswolds!

I also took a walk to this lovely field of Phacelia tanacetifolia – farmers sometimes sow this as a ‘green manure’ but for me, it’s really exciting because it’s a massive field of bee magnets!

Oh and finally, I submitted a record for a Kestrel I photographed hovering over the fields near my house the other day. It’s great to take part in biological recording, and it’s super easy with iRecord, there’s even a Smart Phone App.

Trackpad (touchpad) too sensitive on Ubuntu?

I resurrected a Dell Latitude e6420 a couple of weeks ago after it was kindly donated to me. It just needed some RAM and a Hard Drive and an operating system. I might get around to writing that process up at some point but for the sake of brevity, I’ll cut to the chase.

After installing Ubuntu 16.04 LTS on it and spending a fair while messing around with it, the final thing I wanted to do was sort out the trackpad/touchpad. It seemed to be far too sensitive (as opposed to ‘fast’), I would be accidentally selecting text on web pages, unintentionally dragging files around and all of that. In fact, it was so sensitive that I could move the cursor around by hovering my finger a few millimetres over it. There’s nothing in the standard Ubuntu GUI to adjust this sensitivity, but there is a command that you can plug into a terminal that sorts it out:

synclient FingerHigh=100

I have mine set to 100, but you can easily run the command again with a different integer value if it doesn’t work for you. The bigger the number, the less sensitive and vice-versa.

There are a lot of parameters you can tweak with synclient – no doubt I’ll be trying some of those out in the future, but for now that fixed most of the issues I’ve been having. Here’s the man page for synclient in case you want to have a go.

Once you’re happy with the way your touchpad is behaving, you’ll need to create a script to make the settings ‘stick’ on reboot. Now, you could follow my steps and export your synclient settings or you could actually copy mine and tweak from there. If you’re a glutton for punishment, in terminal type:

synclient -l > touchsettings

This will dump all the settings to a new file called ‘touchsettings’ – you’ll need to make a load of edits:

nano touchsettings

Then you need to make the format like this (just copy mine!):

#!/bin/bash
synclient LeftEdge=300
synclient RightEdge=1700
synclient TopEdge=210
synclient BottomEdge=1190
synclient FingerLow=12
synclient FingerHigh=100
synclient MaxTapTime=180
synclient MaxTapMove=107
synclient MaxDoubleTapTime=100
synclient SingleTapTimeout=180
synclient ClickTime=100
synclient EmulateMidButtonTime=75
synclient EmulateTwoFingerMinZ=141
synclient EmulateTwoFingerMinW=7
synclient VertScrollDelta=48
synclient HorizScrollDelta=48
synclient VertEdgeScroll=0
synclient HorizEdgeScroll=0
synclient CornerCoasting=0
synclient VertTwoFingerScroll=1
synclient HorizTwoFingerScroll=1
synclient MinSpeed=1
synclient MaxSpeed=1.75
synclient AccelFactor=0.0819336
synclient TouchpadOff=2
synclient LockedDrags=0
synclient LockedDragTimeout=5000
synclient RTCornerButton=2
synclient RBCornerButton=3
synclient LTCornerButton=0
synclient LBCornerButton=0
synclient TapButton1=1
synclient TapButton2=3
synclient TapButton3=0
synclient ClickFinger1=1
synclient ClickFinger2=1
synclient ClickFinger3=0
synclient CircularScrolling=0
synclient CircScrollDelta=0.1
synclient CircScrollTrigger=0
synclient CircularPad=0
synclient PalmDetect=0
synclient PalmMinWidth=10
synclient PalmMinZ=100
synclient CoastingSpeed=20
synclient CoastingFriction=50
synclient PressureMotionMinZ=15
synclient PressureMotionMaxZ=80
synclient PressureMotionMinFactor=1
synclient PressureMotionMaxFactor=1
synclient ResolutionDetect=1
synclient GrabEventDevice=0
synclient TapAndDragGesture=1
synclient AreaLeftEdge=0
synclient AreaRightEdge=0
synclient AreaTopEdge=0
synclient AreaBottomEdge=0
synclient HorizHysteresis=12
synclient VertHysteresis=12
synclient ClickPad=0

Press ctrl-O to save the file. Then you’ll need to make it ‘executable’ with this command:

sudo chmod u+x touchsettings

Now you’ll need to add it to your ‘Startup Applications’ – this is probably possible via terminal but I did it with the ‘Search your computer’ button in Unity like so:

Open ‘Startup Applications’ and then ‘Add new’:

And that *should* do it…

Increase disk space on debian VM filesystem with command line

If, like me, you’re a bit of a linux n00b and you’ve made the mistake of setting up a development VM-based linux server (in my case Debian) that ended up being a production server but you failed to provision enough disk space (it was only a dev server am I right?!) then you’ll probably have tried increasing the disk space in vSphere or similar and wondered how to make the OS see that extra disk space…

What you need to do is rebuild the partitions and then get the filesystem to fill the space, particularly the rootfs, which is probably where you are see 90%+ when you run:

$ df -h

First thing you need to do is have a read of this excellent guide: Live resizing of an ext4 filesytem on linux

Pay particular attention to the disclaimer about data loss. You MUST create a backup in case you mess this up.

This is actually magic. After adding additional disk via your VM management tool, you’re going to log in to your linux system and using fdisk you’ll delete active partitions, all of them. While you are logged on! Then you’re going to create new partitions and then get use resize2fs to get the OS to recognise the new space.

A colleague and I practiced this on a clone, and this morning I came in early and we did it on the production server.

The only slightly complicated bits were picking the right number of sectors to give to sda1 (we went with 60000000) leaving enough room for sda2 (Extended) and sda5 (Linux swap / Solaris).

The other bit we stumbled on while trying to follow the codesilence recipe was that the code section for resize2fs at the bottom of the post didn’t show the command to edit fstab, and we tried to do that last… that didn’t work 🙂 We reread it and realised the correct order is stated in this bit:

run mkswap, adjust /etc/fstab to the new UUID and turn the swap on

After you run mkswap, it will give you a UUID that you need to copy (or screenshot) which you then enter into /etc/fstab using your preferred editor (that’s nano for me, but you may prefer vim or vi… you sick puppy) THEN you do the swapon bit…

Enjoy your new space!

Multislacking

I might not be the world’s best multi-tasker but I reckon I’m a contender for the world’s best multi-slacker!

Did I mention I do social media stuff for my day job? The way I keep sane (and employed!) is by forgetting all about my day job when I finish for the day, which means I try to avoid social media. I do keep in touch with family via Facebook in the evenings, but I’m rubbish at Twitter. I’m rubbish at updating this blog. I do enjoy going out into the wild and taking pics of nature (especially fungi and bees) and I can cope with Instagram which has become my phenology diary 🙂

So basically, if you’re interested in what I get up to – insta is it

Day 17 – Kingfisher reversing

I know. I had a bit of a break from blogging but I’ve still been wild everyday. I do social media/blogging stuff for a living and sometimes the joy of experience over-rides the pain of mediation… 😉

So the good news is that I’ve still been doing something wild every day and at some point I’ll get around to backdating the blog with the accompanying posts but I did manage to capture some footage of a Kingfisher leaving its nest today, so I had to share that…

I also need a better lens. The pics I took of it about to enter the nest with a big fish were rushed (those Kingfishers are flighty!) and out of focus, but I managed to shoot some footage of the exit 🙂

(slowed down)

The really exciting thing (apart from this being the first time I’ve managed to photograph/video a Kingfisher) is that this seems to be the second brood in this nest this year 🙂

Day 10 – Watching foxes

The other day I caught a glimpse of a fox in some wasteland at the back of the car park I was using, but by the time I got my camera out it had run off.

Today however, I had a treat! Not only did the fox linger long enough for me to whip out my DSLR… but so did its cubs!

Not a lot more to say really, apart from YAY! What a lovely, unexpected wild experience 🙂

(I had to upload this one to Youtube because the file was too big for the blog)

Day 8 and 9 – Wildlife Trust reserves

Yesterday and today, I visited two different Wildlife Trust reserves. The first was a new one to me, Strawberry Banks and the second, I visited last year.

So I was mainly looking for orchids yesterday and I found some! Lots of them. And one I’d never seen before – the (Greater?) Butterfly Orchid.

Today I went with a couple of work colleagues to Daneway Banks. We went looking for the famous and very rare Large Blue butterflies, who should be merging from the ants nests by now (Yes! Ants nests!), but the up and down weather seems to have delayed things. We’ll be back 🙂

We did spot more Orchids, a few Common Blue butterflies and lots of day flying moths, a very interesting looking fungus plus a passing Lepidopterist! There’s always something to see at a Wildlife Trust reserve 🙂

P.S. The header image is of a log that has one of my favourite fungi growing in it – Green Elf Cup (Chlorociboria aeruginascens). It isn’t fruiting at the moment, but you can see the bluey/green staining of the mycelium. This type of stained wood is used still in ‘Tumbridgeware’ and parquetry.

Day 7 – Wildflower meadow

It was a lovely day today, not too windy and nice and sunny. Perfect day for butterflies and wildflowers.

I took Mojo (my whippet) to a local meadow known as ‘Ditches Field’ – it’s an important archaeological site with an (Iron Age Hill Fort and an early Roman villa – a book about the excavations has been published.

The landowner has turned it over to the wildflowers, butterflies and skylarks and has spared the plough but he kindly allows locals to walk their dogs there, so I get to see it all through the seasons.

I think he sowed some wildflower seeds a few years ago and they are starting to come into their own with the Yellow Rattle helping to keep the grasses down, giving the other flowers a chance. Nothing rare like orchids or anything I suspect, but wildflower meadows are rare enough these days.

I also saw a lot of Common Blue butterflies, blimey – they’re almost as tricky to photograph as Swifts! I managed eventually though 🙂

Day 6 – Simple things

Today I’ve been volunteered to be a taxi driver by my daughter, so I decided to do some quick things around the garden for the benefit of wildness.

First I fed the birds with some dried mealworms. We have a massive population of Sparrows in the village – bucking the national trend of decline.

DSC_0179-smaller

Then, I went and cleared a gap in our hedge for hedgehog passage. We used to have pet rabbits you see, and they used to escape through gaps in the hedge, so I put lots of mesh up to stop them getting through when we let them have a run in the garden. We don’t have rabbits any longer but we have had hedgehogs. In fact, a couple of years ago we had a nest in our raspberry patch. I was SO chuffed! I want to see them back. I hope this new gap will provide easy access. No pics for this.

Then, I seedbombed around the pond with Kabloom Seedboms – it’s a little late in the season but I found them the other day and thought I should give them a go. I think I’ve just used Pollinator BeeBom, LoveBom and Poppy PeaceBom. My kind of bombs!

IMAG3283

Then, I got out my drill and a big drill bit and drilled some holes in a couple of logs. Such a simple little thing but I hope to encourage some solitary bees. Last year we had some in a little hazel stake I placed on the fence and forgot to move. They made the holes themselves, but I’m giving them a head start this year 🙂

IMAG3284

Going wild doesn’t mean you have to make big plans, pack a picnic and drive miles to a nature reserve. Gardens are important habitats for nature, and I think we should all stop being so apprehensive about letting a little bit of wildness in 🙂

Day 5 – Swifts

I’ve never really paid much attention to swifts, probably because I didn’t really know how to distinguish them from Martins and Swallows, but also because they are usually so high up in the air.

I saw some very interesting footage on Springwatch about them though and decided to attempt to observe and photograph them for today’s random act of wildness.

Well, the observation is easy enough but blimey they’re hard to film and photograph!

Here’s my best picture.

DSC_0167-smaller

The second best one is at the top of this post! I did manage to grab a few frames of video, but it’ll take me a while to extract the sections that are in focus 😉 If I ever do that, I’ll update the blog.

Here’s some amazing facts about swifts compiled by the RSPB:

Swifts around the world

  • Our swifts and its relatives form a group called the Apodidae – this is a very ancient group. They probably separated from all other birds in the Tertiary period (65 million years ago) or even the Cretaceous (70mya). Archaeopteryx was 150 mya, and Tyrannosaurus died out about the same time as the Apodidae separated!
  • The earliest known swift-like bird, Priamapus lacki, was named after David Lack, the ornithologist who did the most work on swifts.
  • Our swift’s closest living relatives are other swifts, swiftlets and tree swifts (which can perch) and the hummingbirds.
  • As a group, swifts are the fastest of all birds in level flight (the peregrine is the fastest of all birds, but only in a steep dive called a stoop). Our swift holds the record for the fastest proven. (Henningsson et al How swift are swifts? J Avian Biol 2010 41: 94-98). The top speed recorded in a recent scientific study was 111.6km/h (69.3mph). The needle-tailed swift of Africa and Asia has been reported to reach 170 kph, 105mph, but this is not proven.
  • The birds vary geographically. Swift species tend to be paler in drier and darker in wetter areas, and tend to be smaller in hotter and larger in colder regions. The further north a swift species lives, the darker it will be – and ours are the darkest of the lot
  • Of the three species of swift breeding in Europe, the one with the most southerly breeding range (the pallid swift) has the most northerly winter quarters, while the one which breeds furthest north in Europe moves furthest south in Africa – ie our swift. David Lack’s swifts travelled over 6000 miles to reach S Africa.
  • One reason it’s hard to know much where they are and what they’re doing in winter – they look so like other swift species, especially the African black swift, that it’s hard to tell which is which without catching them – not easy to do.

Our very own swift

  • Our’ swifts are only ‘British birds’ for a quarter of their lives (three months per year) – the rest of the time they’re African
  • They have soft beaks – but very powerful feet
  • Their four toes are arranged in twos, each pair pointing sideways rather than forwards, a bit like a chameleon or a koala.
  • The wings are long and narrow, and superbly adapted for fast flight, but don’t allow slow flight or a great deal of manoeuvrability
  • In flight the forked tail is closed to a point for extra efficiency
  • A swift weighs about the same as a Cadbury’s Crème Egg, Crunchy (or any other 40g chocolate bar)
  • For its size, the swift has an exceptionally long life-span – averaging about 5.5 years. One bird in Oxford was found dying in 1964, 16 years after it was ringed as an adult, and therefore likely to be at least 18 years old. It’s reckoned that this bird flew, in its lifetime, about 4 million miles, the same as flying to the moon and back 8 times!
  • In swifts generally, longest primaries can be up to three times the length of the secondaries – only up to twice in hirundines (swallows and martins).
  • Eyes are deep seated and have moveable bristles in front – sunglasses for reducing glare.
  • All birds have fleas and feather lice or similar parasites. However the swift’s are so different to those of other species that it supports the fact that they separated from other bird species a very long time ago. Their parasites have evolved with them.
  • Swifts were once thought to hibernate over winter – like swallows, which were believed to hibernate in mud below ponds. Even the naturalist Gilbert White in mid 18C got labourers to dig up likely spots to see if he could find any. He heard tales of swifts being found alive but torpid in church towers in early spring.
  • Edward Jenner, he who invented vaccination, marked several swifts by cutting off toes and noticed that they re appeared in the same place the next spring. He was convinced that they’d migrated – and in evidence noticed that the re-appearing birds were fat and in excellent condition
  • They almost never land – except at their nest sites – doing everything on the wing
  • A healthy adult swift can get off the ground but rarely needs to. Starving young ones usually can’t and these are the ones most often seen.
  • They can sleep on the wing – a French Airman in the 1914-18 war glided down with engines off behind enemy lines. At 10,000 feet he found himself amongst birds apparently motionless. One of them was caught in the machine on the following day was found to be an adult male swift.
  • Not many predators can catch a swift – hobbies may take a few, and so may kestrels, tawny owls and barn owls. However, it’s likely that many of the swifts they manage to eat were weak for other reasons eg starvation. Very few mammals ever catch one, except perhaps rats or weasels that can climb to nests.
  • They seem to bathe by flying relatively slowly through falling rain.
  • In Tuscany people used to eat young ones, even building special towers to house them – the swift equivalent of a dovecot. Apparently they are delicious! Don’t try this at home…

Eating and drinking

  • The swift probably eats more species of animals (small insects and spiders) than any other British bird. David Lack recorded over 312, and reckoned there were more. They usually take items 2-10mm long.
  • They probably hunt at about 25 miles an hour
  • They drink by gliding over smooth water and taking sips
  • Swifts can be quite selective about what they catch. One was found to have caught only stingless drones around bee hives, and to have neatly dodged all the females, which had stings
  • Swifts can’t feed in wet weather in the UK, so fly around storms to find dry areas – the only UK birds to do this.
  • On the wintering grounds in Africa it’s different – there are more insects in the air on rainy days, so the swifts will head for rain.

Bringing up baby

  • It seems they really can mate on the wing – but they will also mate in their nest holes. No other bird is known to mate on the wing (apart from some other swift species)
  • Use saliva for nest building – like the edible nest swifts
  • Nesting material is collected on the wing (it has to be) so they can only use what they can find in the air – David Lack once recorded them using a live butterfly!
  • The weight of an egg is about one-twelfth the weight of the female that laid it approx 3.5 grams
  • Even the experts agree – very young swift chicks, before they get their feathers through, are hideous!
  • They have a clever adaptation. Food can be scarce in bad weather – the chicks can go cold and torpid and survive for days without food, then regain weight rapidly once supplies resume. Most baby birds can’t do this and would simply die within hours.
  • Only one other kind of bird can lose temperature control and become torpid each night – the hummingbird. This saves energy.
  • The length of time the babies spend in the nest will vary, depending on how good the food supply has been, and can vary by up to three weeks – this is different to birds like robins and blackbirds which leave when they are a certain age, no matter how well they’ve grown.
  • Each bolus (ball of food) brought to the babies weighs just over a gram, and contains 300 – 1000 individual insects and spiders. The average is 300-500 food items per bolus
  • Swifts in the nest, especially the young ones, are bothered by horrifying parasites called louse flies (also called flat flies or keds). These alarming wingless parasites don’t actually seem to do them any harm but they are relatively huge, and are roughly equivalent to us having 10 cm lobsters or crabs crawling on us! Each blood meal these things take from a swift is roughly the same as we would give in one-quarter of a blood donation. Louse flies may look scary but they are no bother to people and very rarely bite.
  • At about a month old, the babies do ‘press ups’ in the nest, lifting themselves up by pushing down on their wings, probably to strengthen the wings. By the time they’re ready to go, they can hold their bodies clear of the ground like this for several seconds
  • Once they launch themselves off on their very first ever flight, that’s it, they don’t return to the nest and are no longer cared for by the parents.
  • Unlike many birds, the siblings do not necessarily leave together – each goes in its own time, when it’s ready. And it may well head off to Africa almost straight away
  • Breeding pairs sleep in their boxes – it appears to be the young non-breeders that spent the night up in the dark