Summer is here

I’ve not posted in a little while. A mixture of being very busy, very relaxed (on holiday) and more recently very hot. Working in thirty degree heat over the last couple of days has been somewhat taxing.

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It is starting to happen though. Invertebrate life is springing into action all over our reserves and as things quieten down with the bird life, we stop looking up and start staring intently into the long grass.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t any decent birds around.

Farlington Marshes nature reserve has had the usual, a mob of black-tailed godwits chattering away by the building or on the deeps. They were joined the other week by a stunning male ruff, in full breeding plumage. this chap has been frequenting various sites around the Solent for a few weeks now. There have also been a lot of bearded tits showing off in the reed bed.

The meadow browns have emerged en mass across most of our sites. Swanwick and Hookheath in particular. We have also seen silver washed fritillaries, white admirals and marbled whites, with at least one purple emperor reported as well.

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Swanwick Lakes nature reserve has also had its fair share of dragons. A walk through on Friday afternoon saw Emperor, black-tailed skimmer, red-eyed damselfly, golden-ringed, common blue, blue-tailed and small red damselfly. There have also been downy emeralds seen regularly, but not by me, despite a lot of trying.

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The orchids this year have been exceptional. North-east meadow at Swanwick Lakes nature reserve has had the most ever, as has Hookheath. Farlington has had a very good year, with common spotted and southern marsh orchids filling the top of the hay field and pyramidal orchids scattered along the path.

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All in all its been a good, yet warm, couple of weeks – and over the next couple, we should see a bigger emergence of species like marbled whites, gatekeepers and a few more silver washed.

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Sightings for week ending 12/03/2017

Its been a busy week down Farlington this week. Lots of Bearded Tits, a Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Barn Owl, tons of Curlew, Brent Geese and Shelduck and still a Short Eared Owl or two. There was a leucistic duck by the building Tuesday which I think was a Gadwall, despite being positioned next to a Pintail.

Today was particularly gloomy but there were 500+ Dunlin feeding on the mudflats west of the marsh with a few Black Tailed Godwits and Redshank mixed in. There was also one solitary Avocet roosting on the lake. I haven’t seen any Avocet around for a little while, despite the high numbers earlier in the year.

Spring really descended on Thursday. We were working in tshirts at Swanwick Lakes, basking in the warmth on the edge of the lakes. Whilst we were sat at lunch we had a Brimstone, Peacock, Comma and a Red Admiral pass by! These are the first butterflies that I have seen this year.

I think Saturday will be the better day this weekend and so will be a good opportunity to see the last of the waders and wildfowl. The numbers have certainly dropped significantly in the last couple of weeks and it will be sensible to keep an eye out for the first of the summer migrants. Reports of Wheatears and House/Sand Martins have been arriving across the country for a week or so now!

Sightings for week ending 29/01/2017

dsc_0509Nearly the end of the month! January has flown by in a flurry of Brent geese and waders! This week has been a good one too. I have spent some time down at Farlington and you may see our hedge laying work down by the building. I’m quite pleased with it, the volunteers have done an excellent job, especially as for many of them it was their first time laying.I also remembered to take my camera out with me for once as did our student from Sparsholt (thanks Gwyneth) hence the overload of images on this post.

The star of the show, in my opinion, this week has been the Marsh Harrrier which has been cruising over the reed bed for a few days now. It is quite obliging and regularly pirouettes mid air whist quartering.  No less impressive have been the Bearded Tits which have been seen a lot up by the building and the feeder, even in the thick fog at the start of the week. I filled the feeder on Thursday so hopefully this may draw them in this weekend.

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Marsh Harrier

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Black Tailed Godwit and Teal – Gwyneth Mitchell

The usual high numbers of Black Tailed Godwits, Redshank, Avocet and Dunlin have been in the lake at high tide and Widgeon, Teal, Pintail and Lapwing have been in good numbers across the site. Three Short Eared Owls are still around, using the Point Field and the Main Marsh.

I am please to say that the Brent Goose numbers have rocketed in the last week and where we were only getting a few hundred, well over a thousand are now using the fields, especially the hay meadow. This is much more in line with what we would expect. I was surveying this morning, looking out to Farlington from Broadmarsh. Hundreds of geese were along the foreshore and between the islands and they steadily moved into the marsh at high tide.

The Robins are, to be completely honest, getting to ridiculous numbers in the bushes at the moment. Whilst cutting scrub on Thursday there must have been 20 over the four patches we were clearing. There were also a few Stonechats coming over to see what we were unearthing. One of our wardens thought that they saw a Black Redstart so worth keeping your eyes peeled, it’s a great little bird.

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Stonechat inspecting our handiwork

Southmoor was also very good today. 40 Red-Breasted Merganser were off the point, mingling with Gadwall and Widgeon. There was also a Greenshank sitting on the end of the stream.

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Greenshank

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Marsh Harrier

The Swanwick feeders have been as busy as usual with Nuthatch, Bullfinches and Marsh Tit.

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A beautiful pair of Bullfinches – Gwyneth Mitchell

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A handsome Marsh Tit – Gwyneth Mitchell

A Grand Old Age for a Godwit

Regular readers of this blog and visitors to the coast will be very aware of the various colour-ringing schemes carried out on the wildfowl and waders of the Solent. These schemes have generally been undertaken by Farlington Ringing Group and over the years many hundreds of birds have been captured and ringed on Farlington Marshes in Langstone Harbour, as well as several other sites. Periodically we publish posts of interesting sightings, the last one being the Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos that was found breeding in Norway after initially being ringed at Farlington Marshes.

The Black-tailed Godwit Limosa limosa is a familiar and perhaps iconic species of the Solent and along with the dark-bellied brent goose Branta bernicla bernicla, is one of the primary reasons for the Solent’s designation as a Special Protection Area. The black-tailed godwits frequenting the British Isles in the winter are of the Icelandic race L. l. islandica. The species only began regularly wintering in Hampshire in the 1940’s: numbers increased initially but levelled off in the 1970’s. Despite this population undergoing a sustained growth for many years, with the national wintering population showing a similar growth, the Hampshire population has not shown a corresponding increase.

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Black-tailed Godwits – Farlington Marshes

Colour-ringing studies on Black-tailed Godwits began in the late 1990’s, driven by Pete Potts of Farlington Ringing Group and his dedicated team of volunteers. The aim of the studies was to increase the number of sightings, in order to build up a picture of how birds move around during the winter months, and establish where birds wintering in Hampshire were breeding in Iceland. The sightings generated and subsequent data gathered has been tremendous and the movement of birds is now well understood.

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Black-tailed Godwits with colour rings

One of the earliest birds colour-ringed in Hampshire was ES74718 (or B+BL according to her colour rings). She was caught at Farlington Marshes on 16th November 1998 and was aged as an adult female. She has been recorded almost every year since her original ringing date and has been sighted 117 times. Unlike many other colour-ringed godwits, she has never been recorded outside of the UK, but has been recorded at some point most winters in Hampshire. On the rare occasions she has been recorded outside of the county, she has been recorded in West Sussex, Thorney Island July to August 2000, August 2001, August 2002 and September 2012, Pagham Harbour July 2001 and February 2014, Fishbourne Channel, October 2003 and September 2008, Chichester Harbour September 2011, Emsworth Harbour October 2015 and Pulborough Brooks, January 2016, Isle of Wight, Newtown Harbour December 2002, Motney Hill, Kent, July & August 2011.

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Black-tailed Godwit (ES74718) – Originally ringed in November 1998 and one to look out for over the coming winters

I first encountered her on 19th December 2007 from Port Solent in Southampton and re-sighted her only this week (10th January 2017) in Portsmouth Harbour at Porchester. This latest sighting must make her nearly 20 years old, and if she is recorded over the next four winters she will claim the national longevity record for Black-tailed Godwit, so one to look out for over the next few years.

Of Emperors and Admirals

I was in the office for a good part of the day today, not generally my favourite place to be on a sunny day, but at least today it was cooler inside. However I had to go out first thing to deal with a snapped branch at Swanwick and meet up with Emma and the volunteers. Although it was rather hot for working it was brilliant for butterflies as it has been for the last few days. As though to confirm this Emma reported seeing a male purple emperor by Centre Lake at Swanwick on Saturday, a species I have not seen for many years.

I did get out in the afternoon and on my way over to check the cattle at Farlington I stopped off at Hookheath Meadows, which were alive with butterflies, including several white admiral and silver-washed fritillary, both looking immaculate having just emerged. The heat meant that they were all very active and evaded all attempts at getting pictures.

On to Farlington and the hunt for the cattle, I know it does not sound too much of a task to count cattle in a field, but it can be surprisingly difficult. They crowd together so it is hard to work out where one starts and another ends and they sit down on undulating ground in long grass adding to the problems and that is just in open fields, add in bushes and it gets almost impossible at times. Anyway I managed to find most of them with the aid of a telescope!

In the process I had to go onto the seawall at the viewpoint so I also counted the waders on the Lake at high tide these included 3 dunlin in fine summer plumage, 263 redshank, 249 oystercatcher and 80 black-tailed godwit, including many in fine red summer plumage, just back from Iceland.

Summery Saturday

It seems that something like summer is with us, the weather continues dry, even sunny and fairly warm and it even appears that it will continue this way to the end of the coming week. The results of some warmth are showing in a significant increase in the number and variety of insects. On Saturday I was sampling water beetles in the pond complex just north of the road at Farlington Marshes and the number of damselflies and especially hairy dragonfly was very pleasing to see. I failed to get a picture of a hairy dragonfly despite them coming within a couple of metres of me several times, they are inquisitive but don’t land much and fly very readily. I will post more about the water beetles later, but for now here is a picture of a large larva I caught, it has huge jaws and is a fierce predator.

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water beetle larva

The summer feel was enhanced further by the large flocks of starling all across the fields, these flocks are groups of family parties that come to feed on the permanent pasture after breeding in houses around Portsmouth, a favourite food is leather jackets, the larvae of craneflies.

starling flock

starling flock

The young starlings are a greyish brown rather than the glossy black of the adults and are easy to pick out.

starling adult and juvenile

starling adult and juvenile

Most of the waders have passed through now and we are left with the few summering birds, the larger wader species don’t breed in their first or even first few summers. On the rising tide in Russell’s Lake I saw 23 grey plover, 19 dunlin, 27 bar-tailed godwit and a scatter of curlew. Only the dunlin are likely to be going to breed this summer and these will have been birds from one of the races that breed in the very high Arctic and winter the furthest south. There were also 78 black-tailed godwit on the Lake, this species breeds in Iceland and so the breeding birds should all be there now, leaving us with just first summer birds, so it was curious that 26 of these birds were apparently adults in breeding plumage.

Along the base of the seawall on the east side of the reserve there is a small “beach”, but what looks like sand at a distance is actually millions of tiny shells of Hydrobia, the main food for many of the harbour’s wintering waders and shelduck.

Hydrobia shells

Hydrobia shells

The breeding season is in full swing and I was pleased to see that at least one of the lapwing broods is growing well and that there were still all four chicks surviving. Both pairs of mute swan have hatched cygnets, the pair on the Stream just two but the ones at the Deeps have six, although they have moved them to the south wall ditch now.

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mute swan and cygnets

The summer visitors are also breeding and there are lots of whitethroat and sedge warbler in the brambles.

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sedge warbler

Walking around the seawall I saw a number of invertebrates walking along the top of the wall, but they were all very active in the sunshine and I got only one picture, this one of a velvety black spider.

black spider probably Zelotes latrellei

black spider probably Zelotes latrellei

There were few birds of real note about, a spotted flycatcher was again in the Bushes at the Double Ponds and a young marsh harrier was hunting over the reedbed, giving me another opportunity to take a poor picture of this bird!

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marsh harrier