Sightings for week ending 14/05/2017

It’s been a pretty mixed week, with the start nice and sunny and the end, some well-deserved rain and we still have migrants coming in! The swifts have started to turn up and there are generally more hirundines across all the sites. Swanwick Lakes had a big flock of house martins over it the other night whilst I was stomping around doing and evening survey.

The seals have been quite obvious recently. If you take a scope to the southern end of Farlington Marshes and look across the mud flats at low tide, there is almost always several, hauled out along the creek that runs near to the aggregates port. Whilst sitting having lunch at Southmoor yesterday, one popped its head up just off the shore. Always exciting seeing a seal. Love them!

For me, the stars of the show this week have been the grey plover on the main lake at Farlington. They are in their breeding plumage and are absolutely stunning. The little terns have also been making themselves known. At high tide they come really close to the sea wall, fishing right on the edge,. Perfect opportunity for some shots of terns disappearing into the water.

The usual around otherwise. A marsh harrier has been spotted a lot, the short eared owl is still around, surprisingly, and the yellow wagtails are regularly in among the cattle on the main marsh. In the bushes there are lesser whitethroat around.

There was a cuckoo calling at Swanwick on Monday, the only one across all my sites this year (that I have heard anyway). There has also been a garden warbler singing away and a firecrest. These are both good records for the site, with potentially breeding firecrest a new record.

We’ve had a couple of rough weeks for butterflies. We have struggled to get our survey work done as it’s actually been quite chilly during the days. Wednesday wasn’t too bad though with highlights at Swanwick and Hookheath being, green hairstreak, holly blue and small copper. There was also a hairy dragonfly and beautiful demoiselle recorded.

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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.

water beetle larva

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.

mute swan and cygnets

mute swan and cygnets

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

sedge warbler

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!

marsh harrier

marsh harrier