Tag: Workshop

CAN Spider ID Workshop

CAN’s very first spider event was held on a gloriously sunny September day at Wybunbury. The excellent facilities of the Village Hall provided the venue, where Bill Bellamy introduced our leader, Philip Baldwin.

His introductory talk covered the anatomy and taxonomy of the 33 families and 650+ species of British spiders, vividly illustrated by smartphone photos.

The variety of web shapes, from the classic orb web of garden spiders to tubes and untidy masses of thread over your shed provides one clue to identification. The environment and lifestyle range from species confined to caves and iron bridges or railings (what did it do before the industrial revolution?) to families which jump on their prey or spit out threads of sticky gum to trap it.

The Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus)

Then it was out onto Wybunbury Moss National Nature Reserve to see what we could find. We were privileged to enter the inner moss area where a layer of peat floats on a deep pool, a feature originally formed during the last ice age. Bill’s warnings not to wander towards the middle ensured that the spirit of the bog claimed no victim of drowning. The colourful spread of sphagnum and cross-leaved heath was studded with webs still glistening with dew and we were soon overwhelmed with specimens to take back for the practical ID session.


Phil Baldwin (centre) explaining the complexities of spider ID


Now we started to grapple with the standard identification keys to the families – requiring close examination of mouthparts, leg hairs, spinnerets, eye patterns and other parts which modesty prevents me from mentioning. Our live specimens generally settled down quietly in their petri dishes so that we could appreciate all these intricate structures under the microscope. Not only do spiders have eight legs but in many cases eight eyes as well!

Spider ID is fortunate in that the best book is the readily available and inexpensive Collins guide by Roberts – this enables identification to species except for the Linyphiidae family of money spiders, which are mostly very small but do account for nearly half the number of British species. There is also a wealth of information on the website (where else!) of the British Arachnological Society, who also run a national recording scheme encouraging everyone to submit observations of easily recognisable species.

All in all, an excellent day encouraging us to take the subject further.

Phil Brighton (CAN member)


CAN members get to grips with spider ID in the Village Hall

Diptera Workshop with Tom Mawdsley

Tom going through ID with Ralph

One of the first things you realise when you start looking at Diptera is that it’s all about hairs.  Or in some cases bristles, that are just stiff hairs, or spines, which are I suppose are a bit stiffer still. Dipterists are obsessed with hairs, and if the hair has been broken off they will go in search of the hole that it grew from. Diptera have something for everyone and if you’re not into hairs then there are families in which they’re not so important, such as the hoverflies and the cranefly families (Nematocera).  As flies evolved from the earliest forms (Craneflies are considered the most primitive) they gradually lost wing veins and gained hairs, the “hairy flies” like Muscidae and Calliphoridae being considered the most recent to evolve.

Tom provided us with plenty of specimens (which was fortunate because there aren’t many flies about in December) and we were soon working through the keys, which are available online from the Dipterists Forum.  Mostly the keys are easy to work with although there are a few sticky parts – many of us had trouble working out how to find hypopleural bristles! Dipterists forum have a lot of draft keys, of which Tom had copies, and the RES publish quite a few more, some of which are free online, so many families are very accessible. If you have started with hoverflies, then craneflies, Muscidae, Calliphoridae, Tabanidae, all have keys and are fairly large species. Some flies are awfully small though!  We saw some specimens of Ceratopogonidae which were small even under a microscope and need specialist study.

Many thanks to Tom for spending another day with us, and to Paul Quigley and Norton Priory for providing the venue and refreshments.


Badger Surveying Event

Badger Print

One of the new events for this year was the Badger workshop looking at everything from badger habitat and field signs to mitigation and persecution. On Saturday 4th August, 18 bright eyed CAN members joined Wirral & Cheshire Badger Group representatives Brian Rhodes & Jane Cullen to find out more and hear about their badger experiences over the last 30 years of the groups existence.

Members as usual came up with a raft of intelligent questions for Brian, Jane & CAN council member Helen Lacy, and the afternoon flew by as the group dissected pictures of badgers, setts and of course badger poo! The not so nice subject of badger persecution was discussed and the importance, as always, of recording. The tricky issue of sett closures & mitigation was demonstrated with some interesting case studies and examples of what not to do. Hopefully members went away armed with the knowledge of what field signs to look for and what issues there are surrounding badgers today but more importantly a greater understanding and respect for this stunning mammal.

Badger Sett on Public Footpath

As part of this session members were driven off (and returned in one piece!) to a woodland sett a few miles away whereby evening badger watches took place. These watches were spread over the weekend and each watch was different to the last. The woodland is in a lovely quiet spot and our members had it all to themselves which was a real treat. Whilst waiting patiently for the badgers, woodmice were seen scampering about and the bats were feeding so close you could feel them turn in front of your nose. One night the wood was full of noise with tawny owls calling and screeching all night long and fox cubs were heard playing too. A badger started to venture out of its sett only to be startled by the blood curdling scream of a vixen & dart back into its sett- damn! At least a badger was seen though! On the last night it was ‘Badgers in the mist’, the day had seen a tremendous thunderstorm over the region but by the evening conditions were vastly improved and looking good for the watch. As the eagle eyed CAN members ventured into the wood and sat down a mist slowly rolled in and enveloped the whole wood- even the previously noisy tawny owls had nothing to say and the wood fell quiet apart from the sounds of water dripping from the trees. By the time the wood was completely dark a snout appeared from out of the sett and minutes later the watchers were treated to a great view of a badger as it came fully out to munch on a few of the scattered peanuts. It didn’t stay out long but none the less it was great to see and a surprise addition to the evening was the lovely display made by the woods Glow worms. All in all a great weekend, thanks to those who took part and of course to Wirral & Cheshire Badger Group.

To visit our friends in the Wirral and Cheshire Badger Group please click on the link below…

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