Spring Cometh

Well looks like spring could well be on the way; Wheatears are fastly being reported up and down the country and I even heard my first ‘proper’ Chiffchaff (I’d like to think it is one that hasn’t over wintered) down at Farlington today! The Brent are also looking like they have very itchy feet too and if I was a betting man I would put money on them leaving next week, once this wind changes direction back to a south westerly, aiding their journey northwards.

Elsewhere down on Farlington the volunteers and I started on our long list of fencing jobs by doing battle with the fence line near the hut, which needed reinstating. They did a cracking job – so good in fact I’d be pleased if a contractor had produced such a straight, taut piece of fencing. We still have a bit to finish off but you get the idea from the photo below.

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed....

Fine bit of fencing. Still to be completed….

Unfortunately being so close to the busy A27 left little scope for seeing or hearing much nature but while sitting eating lunch we did see a small colourful butterfly. I didn’t get a good look at it but I think it was either a Small tortoiseshell or a Comma. Later in the afternoon, however, while grabbing some more fenceposts I did get a good look at a Peacock butterfly basking on the warm woodwork.

After we had packed up all the tools and the volunteers had left, I drove up the main track to turn the truck around. In the fields behind the building were a dozen Curlew feeding and a pair of Reed buntings in the adjacent reed bed. The showy male hung around for a while and I even managed to get some photos.

KO3A8412

Male Reed bunting

Curlew

Curlew

The Brent are looking very flighty now and all took off numerous times in very large flocks – tell tale signs that they soon will be returning to their summer stomping grounds. Before they all took off I managed to see two adult birds with colour rings. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read the rings in the long grass though but it was nice to see that there are still some (old) birds hanging around in the flocks.

Colour ringed Brent goose

Colour ringed Brent goose

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Big group of Brent over the main marsh

Advertisements

Spring is on the way

As we move on into spring we will endeavour to update the blog more frequenly as new birds, butterflies and plants put in appearances as the season progresses. We will also keep posting about the habitat work and improvements that take place on the reserves, usually with the help of our hard-working volunteers.

The brent geese at Farlington are becoming restless, they’ll soon be on their way to Arctic Russia to spend the summer. We bid them farewell, hope they have a good breeding season and look forward to seeing them return in the autumn. But while we may loose the geese along with some waders and wildfowl, they will be replaced by a whole new selection of birds from points further south. It’s not just birds – we look forward to, and anticipate, the first appearances of butterflies, plants and dragonflies that all mark another step towards the wildlife riches of spring and early summer.

This spring so far we have seen both Brimstone (first date 24/2) and comma (7/2) butterflies at Farlington. A spoonbill, although not a typical spring migrant that we might look for, was no doubt on the move because of the season – one was at Farlington (27/2 – 4/3) at least. Chiffchaffs were first heard singing at Farlington (10/3), and at Swanwick (12/3). A red kite at Swanwick (12/3) was unusual, so this was also probably on the move. Star of the show though was an osprey seen flighing over Farlington (4/3) by a couple of lucky observers.     

Butterflies and Birds

I was working with the volunteers at Farlington today, it was very warm in the sunshine, but we got a good bit done. We were working in the Bushes area cutting vegetation and replacing one of the old bridges over the ditch. The sunshine brought out a good few butterflies and as we worked we saw several clouded yellow, small heath, gatekeeper, meadow brown, common blue and small white. There must have been a recent hatch of small heath as lots of them were really fresh.

I had a quick look around the Bushes and there were a few migrant about including 3 spotted flycatcher. Other birds today included a number of whinchat, wheatear, yellow wagtail, a redtsart and out in the Harbour an osprey. At the end of the day I took a quick look at the high tide roost on the Lake, there was no real change from the birds I saw on the count on Saturday, apart from the addition of 15 wigeon. Yesterday a ruff and a garganey were reported, but I could see no sign of them today.

On Saturday the high tide roost at the Lake comprised 688 oystercatcher, 688 redshank (yes, I know, how unlikely was that!), 52 greenshank, 1 spotted redshank, 265 grey plover, 2 bar-tailed godwit, 258 black-tailed godwit, 5 common sandpiper, 58 dunlin, 1 curlew sandpiper, 2 knot, 5 ringed plover, 2 snipe, 64 lapwing and 1 whimbrel, fifteen species of waders in all. Elsewhere on the reserve there were 446 curlew, 1 golden plover, 1 green sandpiper and 2 little ringed plover.

Too Hot Even for Butterflies

Another very hot day,  Rob and the Farlington volunteers were working over at Southmoor removing ragwort and spear thistle, I had intended to be with them but got called away to try to find the cattle at Swanwick which had been reported missing. in fact they were there, just being lethargic and hiding in the best shade they could find, as I said in yesterday’s post counting, or indeed even finding, cattle can be harder than you might imagine!

I did make it over to Southmoor for a couple of hours and progress son removing the ragwort was very good and the main field is now more or less free of it. The change in this field since the Wildlife Trust took on the management is extraordinary, it started as a long grass field with a dense thatch of dead grass and huge areas of dense creeping thistle and stands of ragwort. It now looks like a grazed permanent grassland, still with  along way to go, but on the way to being a real asset as a bit of shore side grassland habitat. The grass was alive with butterflies again, in fact it got so hot that many of them left the grass to rest in the shade of the hedges, I found this marbled white doing just that on the path along the northern side of the reserve.

marbled white

marbled white

I had to go over to Farlington to check on the cattle and do the butterfly transects. It was very pleasing to find 4 small tortoiseshell on the transects, they have been almost rare for several years, a remarkable change from their status as one of the most familiar of all butterflies in my youth. I also saw a good few small skipper and my first Essex skipper of the year. The biggest change over the last week has been the large-scale emergence of gatekeeper, in fact I probably missed quiet a lot of them as many were hiding from the heat on the shady side of bushes, one traveller’s joy covered bush had at least eight perched on it, all with wings closed.

gatekeeper on traveller's joy

gatekeeper on traveller’s joy

On the north-east wall I found a stem of cuckoo pint full of berries, they will turn red as they ripen.

cuckoo pint berries

cuckoo pint berries

I am pleased to say I also found all the cattle, although those on Main Marsh did need the use of the telescope.

I will end with a few pictures from Hookheath yesterday that I was unable to post. This pair of small skipper had been on  along chasing flight before landing and sitting still as though trying to decide if their relationship was going anywhere.

small skipper pair

small skipper pair

The answer, by the way, seemed to be nowhere as the female flew off strongly leaving the male alone. As well as the butterflies  here were a good few six-spot burnet moth on the wing.

six-spot burnet

six-spot burnet

One of the reasons it is such a good place for insects in the large amount of flowers everywhere. There are large stands of hogweed, knapweed, bird’s foot trefoil and lots of others including some spikes of betony.

betony

betony

Skittish Skippers and Moody Blues

I was out and about for part of the day looking at tasks for the Access to Nature volunteers. One of the places we went to was Milton Locks, I confess it is a while since I was down there. This tiny site on the northern shore of Eastney Lake on Portsea Island is of note as it is one of very few places where the shore has a natural slope from grassland down into a narrow saltmarsh zone and onto the intertidal. In the sunshine it was looking very pleasant and the long grass was alive with butterflies.

Milton Locks

Milton Locks

There were lots of marbled white and a fair few small skipper, large skippermeadow brown and the odd common blue, but all were well able to avoid my attempts to photograph them in the hot sunshine.

We then headed up to Farlington Marshes where there were more signs that, despite the high summer weather, autumn is coming. Along the Stream there were 2 common sandpiper and I saw at least 11 greenshank flying over the reedbed to roost on the Scrape, all waders on their way back south already. On the fence of West Mudlands a family of swallows were perched, the juveniles allowed fairly close approach and I got a “digibin” shot of one of them.

juvenile swallow

juvenile swallow

As we went up to the ponds north of the A27 we came across a garden tiger caterpillar in the gateway, these are the “woolly bears” that used to be so common but have not been so in recent years, but perhaps they are making something of  comeback as I have seen quiet a few this summer.

garden tiger caterpillar

garden tiger caterpillar

This was not the most notable moth of the day however, that title went to a moth caught in the trap run overnight at Beechcroft, it was a species I have seen only once before, a white satin.

white satin

white satin

Come into my Parlour…

It has been quite a hectic few days and I have not had a chance to post. Summer has arrived and we have been working in weather that has been verging on being too good. On Monday the Beechcroft team were path clearing at Southmoor, we hope to lay the hedge here next winter which will hopefully reduce the problems with it closing down the path width and make the whole length much better for wildlife as well.

path clearing at Southmoor

path clearing at Southmoor

The hotter weather has also resulted in a surge in the numbers of insects around. There are now good numbers of meadow brown and small heath flying over the grasslands and summer brood small tortoiseshell and comma seem to be doing well too. Small tortoiseshell have been in very short supply in recent years so seeing good number of them is especially pleasing. More insects has been good for the spiders too and I have got several shots of them cashing in on the abundance over recent days. First a zebra spider on the outside wall of the Building at Farlington.

zebra spider with fly

zebra spider with fly

Then a larger spider on a wild carrot flower head near the Lake at Farlington.

Tibellus oblongus

Tibellus oblongus

Lastly a small spider inside the Buidling at Farlington that was taking on a horsefly.

spider with horsefly

spider with horsefly

The hot weather is not good news for all though. Yesterday I went to the sluice at the Lake to clear any debris at the grill and found it partly blocked with dead flounders. They all looked fine and only larger fish were involved. The spring tides at present mean the Lake level gets very low at  low water and the water heats up resulting in severe oxygen deficit, the fish may well have tried to get out through the sluice but were too large to exit and so died in the deepest water still available to them. I have seen this before in hot dry spells and I think only eels can successfully survive int he Lake in all conditions.

dead flounders

dead flounders

The low Lake levels are allowing the wader roost to build and a sign of approaching autumn is the number of redshank and now greenshank that are gathering. I saw three greenshank but fourteen were reported yesterday. I was pleased to see a half-grown redshank chick on the south side of the Lake though, it is often very difficult to assess their breeding success but this seems to have been quite a good year for them.