A Windy Day in the Fields

Although it was bright  and sunny for a good bit of the time there was a constant threat of rain in the air and a wind that must  have been gale force at times, so it was not a classic mid-summer day at Farlington Marshes. I checked all the cattle quite quickly so had a look at some of the fields to try to decide when to move the cattle between the fields. The field behind the Building is looking very bright now, being full of buttercups, so far it has not been grazed this year but I decided to open it up for the fifteen that have been in West Mudlands for the last month to give them some fresh grass.buttercup field

As often happens on sunny but windy days there were great concentrations of insects to be found in sunny spots where there was shelter from the wind. The hoverfly Tropidia scita is a common species of marshy ground, but this was the first time I had seen a lot of them flying this year.

Tropidia scita

Tropidia scita

A number of other commoner species were also out in good numbers.

Meliscaeva auricollis

Meliscaeva auricollis

I came across the huge cranefly Tipula maxima, which as well as being very big indeed also has wonderfully patterned wings.

Tipula maxima

Tipula maxima

It is good to know what I am looking at but inevitably most of what I find is firmly in the “unidentified” camp. The bets I can do with this micro moth is that it is a Tortrix moth of some kind, I suspect with work I can get it to species but I have not done so yet, if you do know I would be delighted to hear from you.

Tortrix moth

Tortrix moth

Then there are things like beetles where my skills end at “A beetle of some sort”! Again if anyone can help…..

beetle pair on willow

beetle pair on willow

Many people who visit the reserve will know that brown-tail moths can be very abundant at times on the brambles, this year they seem to be rather few in number. The over-wintering caterpillars gather together in a silken tent but when they grow larger in spring they spread out and grow one on their own. I found this large caterpillar, probably fully fed and shortly going to pupate.

brown-tail caterpillar

brown-tail caterpillar

I went over to look at our neighbouring reserve at Southmoor, just to the east along the northern shore of the Harbour, some of the site is SSSI, but one field, a former playing field, is not and we have been working to try to see if we can manage it to make the grassland more like that found at Farlington. We have been grazing cattle there for some years and the ones there this year are looking very good.

cattle grazing at Southmoor

cattle grazing at Southmoor

At first the field had been ungrazed for years and was characterised by very coarse grass and thistles with a deep thatch of dead grass, it is much better now and looking quite promising in some areas. Some years I experimented with a couple of areas where I had the topsoil scraped away and these are now getting colonised by plants like marsh foxtail grass and others. Most exciting I found a plant of sea clover there today, this is a very rare plant in Hampshire and is only regularly found on Farlington Marshes, I think this is the first record from Southmoor.

sea clover at Southmoor

sea clover at Southmoor

Back at Farlington in the afternoon I made another, less interesting discovery, this was a group of adder’s tongue near the Double Ponds in the Bushes, I have never seen it there before and will have to find out if anyone else has.

adder's tongue at Double Ponds

adder’s tongue at Double Ponds

I also found some scarlet pimpernel, obviously not at all rare, but the flower in close up is about more than just scarlet.

scarlet pimpernel flower

scarlet pimpernel flower

I have already mentioned the very strong wind today, it actually made it very hard work to walk along the south wall, but these are winds that can bring in migrating insects and when I got how eat the end of the day I found both red admiral and painted lady butterflies on the flowers in my front garden, both classic migrants.

painted lady

painted lady

Perhaps there will be a lot more to come if the predicted southerly winds come to pass later next week.

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The Old Post House

I arrived early at Farlington Marshes today to give me time to walk round the reserve before the volunteers arrived at 09:30. I wanted to check on the cattle and lapwing broods on the Main Marsh having not seen them since Saturday. I am pleased to say that I think all the lapwings that had young with them on Saturday still have at least some, although counting small chicks in rough grass is an unreliable business. I did less well with the cattle as they were scattered about so that I could not see them all from any one place, but they looked fine and I will have another go tomorrow.

The volunteer task today was repairing a fence north of the road in the most easterly field, a bit of the reserve that is rarely visited by anyone, it is not an area for birds but has got a very varied an interesting flora. The field is mostly old pasture with anthills and wet hollows, some of which sometimes have salt water backed up into them so they have a saltmarsh character, which adds to the variety.

I had always wondered if there was any adder’s-tongue in the field, it looked suitable but I had never seen it there. So on the way we all stopped to look at it growing in the Aerial Field to get our eye in and sure enough a search of the far field produced three patches.

lots of adder's tongue

lots of adder’s-tongue

In fact having got a search image going we found several more patches in the Aerial Field on our way back, despite having walked over the same ground on the way out without noticing a thing. I think the adder’s-tongue is having a very good year, not only do there seem to be lots of plants but they seem a very good size.

We had to replace a few fence posts as parts of the old fence were very poor, in fact so bad was the strainer that it was hollow in the middle and had a pair great tit nesting in it!

great tit nest in a post

great tit nest in a post

We also came across a couple of wasp beetle, these longhorn beetles are very brightly coloured black and yellow, hence the name and often sun themselves in the open on logs and leaves. The larvae tunnel in dead wood and I sometimes see the beetles as they emerge from my log basket at home, coaxed out by the indoor warmth.

wasp beetle

wasp beetle

Bluebells and Adder’s Tongues

I went to Farlington today with the idea of doing a survey of the nesting lapwing, I had help with me as well, unfortunately the wind was so strong and cold that the lapwing were keeping their heads down. In addition it was difficult to keep binoculars still enough to make a good search. An estimate of territories made from the number of males present suggests a few more than a couple of weeks ago, although some of these are unpaired. It was also good to see that at least some of the birds sitting nearly three weeks ago are still doing so, this should mean we could see chicks in the next week.

Luckily the weather did improve as the day went on, although the wind did not let up, so we shifted attention to the area north of the A27 and looking at plants. The area so completely cleared by the powerline company is starting to show some signs of recovery, the ferns are doing especially well and a small clump of bluebell on one of the banks was a  nice surprise.

bluebell and fern

bluebell and fern

It was especially pleasing that they showed every sign of being true bluebell (in a non-politic sense), being so close to suburbia the risk is that any pure bluebells hybridise with garden forms, either Spanish bluebell or their hybrid with our native species. Bluebells are a bit of a speciality of the British Isles, the carpets of blue are only found here and on the very nearest edge of the continent.

The greater shelter north of the A27 meant that some butterflies were out, although they were all speckled wood, which will fly pretty much whenever it is worm enough even if the sun is not out. The several that we saw today were my first of the year.

speckled wood

speckled wood

We also went looking for the adder’s tongue, a small plant with an unusual form that is characteristic of old, unimproved grasslands. There used to be good patches of it in the Aerial field and we found it there still and also in the north-east slip field, although there it is in danger of getting overwhelmed by brambles.

adder's tongue

adder’s tongue

Generally speaking it was a quiet day for birds with 2 greenshank, 2 wheatear, 2 raven and 3 swift being the highlights. There was some suggestion of a light passage of hirundines with a scatter of swallow and a single sand martin over the Stream.