Turning Point

It’s getting to that time of the year. Birds are starting to finish breeding, DSC_0745feeding up, moult and think about migrating. This is pretty evident at Farlington at the moment where we’ve got a mix of young birds, barley out of the nest and some of the waders are starting to feed up in the lakes around the site. It’s that point where anything could turn up!

The Meadow Pipits and Skylarks have been working hard, often producing three broods per year. Whilst working the other day we found a recently fledged Meadow Pipit bouncing around. The nice end to the summer has hopefully made up for the dreary start and they’ll make it through.

WP_20160809_11_56_07_Pro

There has been plenty of Blacktailed Godwits roosting on the stream during high tides. They’re easily viewed from the visitor center and there has been a few Green Sandpipers occasionally seen here. They tend to spend most of their time on the scrape in the main marDSC_0829sh but will fly in and out, especially when the Marsh harrier flushes them.

Thankfully the stream and the lake have now returned to normal levels, with a new set of shiny tidal flaps on the outlet that let water out but not back in.This will pay off over the coming months as the waders accumulate here to roost.

DSC_0747

Toad!

Found several of these cheeky chappies recently whilst cutting the grass. One at Swanick and two at Farlington, right in the middle of the main marsh. Wouldn’t really have expected them there. Glad to see them about though, not something I particularly see a lot of these days. WP_20160804_10_59_15_Pro

We were cutting around the ditch that bisects the main marsh today, again to clear some nice grazing spots for the prospective wildfowl. I had a wander over to the scrape and was greeting by a cloud of Lapwing, two Green Sandpipers, a Common one and a Ringed Plover. There was also a Marsh Harrier and two Ravens flying around.

 

Things should hopefully be building up soon. No sign of any Wheatears or Yellow Wags yet but they can’t be far away.

Hook Heath butterflies

WP_20160721_11_24_03_Pro

Being new to the post, I have spent a little bit of time wandering around the reserves getting to know my way around. One of the areas I have been most impressed with is Hook Heath Meadows. This collection of wet meadows, near the top of Portsdown Hill, provided one of the best butterfly related outings of the year for me.

DSC_0708

You couldn’t move for Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers but most impressive was the sightings of two of my most favorite species – Silver washed Fritillaries (7!) and a lonely White Admiral.

I have a particular fondness for White Admirals and their lonely wanderings throughout our woodlands. Not a common butterfly, this is accentuated by their very low population densities, often only appearing in very small numbers in woodland. The most I have ever seen in one outing is five. It makes you wonder just how they manage to reproduce and maintain their populations.

DSC_0811

A rubbish pic of a White Admiral

The Silver Washed Frittilary  is one of our most impressive butterflies, and unmistakable due to their size. Hook Heath was alive with them one sunny day the other week, an excellent sign of the health of the site and a good indication of how well the mix of woodland edge habitat is working on site.

DSC_0711

Setting the table

It seems like a lot of our time is taken up with grass cutting at the moment and on that note we’ve been very busy at Farlington over the last couple of weeks.

DSC_0824

Perfect for a hungry goose

A lot of the cutting we do supplements the grazing work going on, to reduce the tough stuff the cattle won’t eat and help with the overall diversity of the sward and the benefits that brings to inverts etc.

Farlington is a little different as our goal is more geared towards providing  optimum foraging and roosting habitat for our winter waders and wildfowl. In particular Brent Geese.

DSC_0821

The vols hard at work – long hours of strimming

There has been a lot of research into Brent Goose feeding behavior and the overall view is that a short sward, under 5cm, is perfect for the geese to feed on. It doesn’t matter how you arrive at this, cutting, grazing etc. This is why you often see them on playing fields throughout the area. This has become more important in recent years as there has been a significant loss in salt marsh and inter tidal grazing of eel grass that they would normally use.

The cows do the bulk of the work on the marsh but this time of year we cut all around the Deeps and other areas that hold water in winter, to get an autumn flush of grass and a nice short sward – setting the table for the Brents arriving. Our volunteers have therefore worked tirelessly over the last couple of weeks to do this. Hopefully this will mean the Brents and other species such as Wigeon, will have an excellent area to feed on over the winter.

On other news, birds are starting to pick up on the marsh. Recently there has been a Marsh Harrier hanging around, large numbers of Black Tailed Godwits and several Common Sandpipers with the odd Green one. We also saw a Raven floating around whilst working yesterday.

DSC_0846

The guys. Not that the masses of thistles aren’t ideal but on the plus side there were over 100 Goldfinches on them

Exciting times in the NE meadow

WP_20160804_11_34_57_Pro

We’ve been very busy in the north east meadow of Swanwick Lakes over the last couple of weeks. It looks absolutely fantastic, with a very flower rich sward. When you wander through, it is alive with crickets and butterflies. One day last week on a hot day, you couldn’t move for Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

We have spent a lot of time with brush-cutters, and some hardy volunteers, taking out the willow and bramble regrowth that would, in time, cause the meadow to scrub over and lose diversity. This is in preparation for the cows, who we shall move in the next few weeks.
WP_20160804_11_45_45_Pro

This part of the site is targeted as wood pasture, so a scattering of trees is the overall aim. Over the last few years the team has been steadily thinning out the oaks, which may seem destructive but it creates this much more open woodland effect. Combine this with the flower rich grassland in between and you have a recipe for very high diversity, with a huge range of niches available. This is particularly important for invertebrates which then equates to more species up the food chain.

WP_20160804_11_48_11_Pro

Not all the scrub is cleared. Chunks are being left for nesting birds with the aim to bring back Nightingale on site.

WP_20160804_12_06_00_Pro

All in all, it is a very exciting part of the site, with a huge amount of potential that is steadily being reached.

A blizzard of Med Gulls on the marsh

Spring is a busy time at Farlington Marshes; migrants are moving through, breeding birds are staking claim to their territories and fences need to be checked in readiness for the arrival of our grazing stock. This year things have been even busier, as Rob Skinner our reserves officer for the area, after nearly four years with the Trust opted to return to his homeland in Somerset; we would like to wish him well in his new role and will hopefully see him back on the Marsh from time to time. In the meantime Emma Hunt is standing in, so if you are out and about on our southern reserves and bump into her, do say hello.

Last night and after a very busy and productive day in the office I took advantage of the glorious weather conditions and headed down to the marsh for a bit of birding. It was a perfect evening with calm and sunny conditions and a rising tide, which I hoped may force a migrant wader or two onto the marsh to roost, although the primary purpose of the visit was to look for Northern  Lapwing chicks. The water levels on the Lake were still high and as such there was little exposed mud, a lone Northern Wheatear was feeding at the back, and a lapwing sitting next to a tussock near the water’s edge, were the only birds of note. I continued around the seawall heading towards the point, Sandwich, Common and Little Terns were all feeding over the shallow water and a flock of eight Whimbrel and a single Bar-tailed Godwit appeared from the south, circled over the marsh and headed east.

Sedge Warblers appeared abundant in the point field, and as I re-joined the seawall I was greeted by a Little Tern feeding over the calm water just offshore. I took advantage of the good, but gradually dimming light to get some action shots of this diminutive species.

429A9080

Little Tern – Farlington Marsh

429A8935

Little Tern – Farlington Marsh

429A9031

Little Tern – Farlington Marsh

429A8944

Little Tern – Farlington Marsh

I had previously noticed a flock of around 60 Mediterranean Gulls feeding on the mid marsh and there was a constant stream moving overhead. By the time I reached the Deeps the flock had grown to more than 100, occasionally they would take flight, looking like what I can only describe as a blizzard of Med Gulls. There was a mixture of ages, 1st and 2nd summer and full adult birds; the gentle mewing call was a joy to be heard on an otherwise tranquil evening.

429A8981

Mediterranean Gull – presumed 2nd summer with black tips to some of the primary feathers

429A9134

Part of the flock of Mediterranean Gulls; mainly adults but also 1st and 2nd summer birds

The Deeps provided more in the way of variety than the Lake, a roosting flock of 54 Oystercatchers, four Common Redshank, Tufted Ducks (at least 2 pairs), Pintail, Shelduck, Gadwall, a pair of Eurasian Wigeon and a single Dark Bellied Brent Goose. A scan over the marsh produced five Lapwing chicks of varying ages; two in a wet pool closest to the Deeps appeared to be only a few days old.

429A9102

Lapwing chick (background) presumably with parent in the foreground

As I headed back to the car park a family of Coot were busy at the eastern end of the Stream, and several Common Whitethroats were present in the bushes.

429A9207

Family of Coots on the Stream

Notes of April

Where does the time go? Three weeks have past and I haven’t found the time to put finger to key on these pages. Its been a busy time out on the reserves and to be honest the only interesting things I have seen have been while doing other things. These past three weeks have mostly been spent at Farlington, stuck firmly in fencing mode. But after another full on day with the Farlington Volunteers today, Im glad to say we have managed to get the whole place stockproof once again.

New fenceline in the aerial field

New fenceline in the aerial field

April is a fantastic month with lots of spring species either migrating back, popping up out of the ground or hatching. In between busying ourselves I did manage to note a few of these so I shall give a brief overview of April’s highlights;

For a week or so around the 5th a Juv Little gull frequented the south marsh, around the deeps and the willow pool.

Juv. Little gull - Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull – Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull - Deeps (5th April)

Juv. Little gull – Deeps (5th April)

Sandwich tern made a welcome return to the harbour also around the 5th with Common tern and Little tern arriving a week or so later.

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

Two Whimbrel were sighted off the point on the 5th as well as a male Wheatear on South marsh. A single Avocet on the 14th was unexpected as well as two adult Spoonbill. A Greenshank was noted on the lake and I even had a treat of seeing a Weasel!!- a first for me on the reserve.

Wheatear

Wheatear

Further into the month, on the 21st I saw my first Redstart of the year – a female on the fence lines at Southmoor. This area is a hotspot for passerines and I also noted Blackcap (male and female), Whitethroat, with Willow warbler and Chiffchaff in song.

As we approach the end of the month good numbers of swallows are now on the marsh, and can be seen collecting mud from the wet areas of north marsh, next to the track. Lapwing are now busy sitting on eggs with sightings of three chicks already! Another wheatear was noted today as well as a Lesser whitethroat in song right next to the hut.