Friday 16 February 2018

43 Days to go Before Biking Birder 2018 - Peru. Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm


What a busy week. Talks given to RSPB local groups, with associated travel to and from, last day until October at the wonderful Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly Farm and the completion and publication of my first book, Biking Birder 2016 - The Quest for 300. 

 By I, Snowmanradio, CC BY-SA 3.0,

A few days spent at the Butterfly Farm were as wonderful as ever. It really is a privilege being a volunteer there and a delight to meet and greet so many fascinating and wonderful people. Due to the Shakespeare influence the farm gets people from all over the World, people from Coventry to New Zealand, people from every nation. My job is to try and ensure that everyone gets to see everything on view and enjoy their experience. To that end I may point out Stumpy and Prudence, the two Peruvian Iguanas and maybe even supervise as I ask children to feed them!

Working with the work experience volunteers and other staff members, we get some insects for people to hold, namely Madagascan Hissing Cockroaches, which really do hiss as you gently pick them up and large stick insects so different to the Indian Stick Insects I had as pets when a child. We also get out the Giant African snails, as big as our hand and Giant African Millipedes as well as occasionally superb Hermit Crabs.
To watch peoples' faces is always the best thing about the 'creature encounter' time, especially the youngsters and the young at heart.

Then there's my favourite job, the cleaning out and the provision of leaf material for my favourites, the Leaf-cutter Ants. Stratford Upon Avon Butterfly farm has a large colony, the largest in Britain I would imagine, with a large aquarium where twigs of Privet, Ivy or another soft-leaf species are placed inside for the ants to cut and then transport along two long ropes suspended from the ceiling over the heads of the visitors.

Two ropes around ten to fifteen metres long each, one rope goes via a helical descent that takes the girls, yes the ants are all female, down and then close to the surface of some water in another aquarium that has three Archer Fish in it. The Archer Fish, if hungry, aim and spit a small glob of water at an ant, which is extremely accurate and powerful and sometimes this is enough to knock the ant from off the rope and into the waiting mouth of the fish.

Once they have negotiated this, the ants continue along the rope all the way to the main colony. Carrying their leaves they arrive and the leaf piece is taken down into the tunnels to be mixed with faeces to make compost to feed a large, sponge-like fungus, the real food of the ants. I love them  . . . despite their bites!

The faces on the people entering the ant room and having not noticed the overhead ropes, suddenly react in a diversity of ways upon realising that there are thousands of ants above them. "No they never fall off!" I will answer the most often asked question.

Spiders, scorpions, lizards . . . pass the visitors a torch and let them search for themselves.

Then there are the butterflies. Most people are fascinated, occasionally one is scared and i will never forget the pair, mother and daughter, who came in screaming. they made their way around the main butterfly area terrified of butterflies. Not the best place to visit for them!

Fabulous place to work. Wonderful people and always so much to see . . . . 

And wait until I tell you about yesterday!!!!!!!!!!!

Love to you all, 

Gary xx

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