Beardies, Buntings and Shorties

Being the Trust’s Strategy Lead for Planning, means that I don’t get out of the office much and when I do it is usually to attend a meeting at a Council office, and not to visit one of our nature reserves. Weekends however are completely the opposite and I try to spend as much time as I can possibly get away with out in the field. I am an enthusiastic birder and have been a qualified bird ringer for 20 years, and as such spend most of my time up to my knees in mud or in reed beds.

I have lived in Hampshire all my life and know the coast extremely well, and particularly some of Trust’s coastal reserves. Farlington Marshes has been a regular haunt of mine since 1980 and over the years it has fulfilled the role as a great birding and ringing site for me. The variety of bird species I have recorded over the years is probably only matched by another of my regular haunts, Titchfield Haven, although I must admit I haven’t actually ever tallied up the lists.

This last weekend (31st Oct – 1st Nov) was one where I had planned to ring at Farlington Marshes on the Sunday morning and met up with a colleague at 06:30 in order to set our nets. It was a damp and dreary morning and the marsh was shrouded in dense fog when we arrived. Undeterred we persevered and by the end of the session had ringed around 30 birds. The bulk of our catch was made up of Reed Buntings and given the fact that most of the birds were caught first thing, we assumed that they had been roosting in the vicinity of our nets.

Reed bunt

Reed Bunting (male)

As would be expected in a reed bed, the diversity of species ringed was low, and other than the reed bunts our catch consisted of a Robin, Wren, three Cetti’s Warblers and two Bearded Tits. Bearded Tit was one of our target species; good numbers breed at the marsh, but recently they have been feeding in the reeds at the head of the lake, so we were really chuffed to catch some. Male Bearded Tits are truly stunning species and one that you never get bored of handling.

Beardie

Bearded Tit (male)

After the session I headed home to dry out and have a spot of breakfast, but within an hour I was back on the marsh. By this time the fog had lifted, it was calm, warm and sunny and the tide was rising, the ideal conditions for a spot of birding. I had been birding on the marsh on the previous Sunday (25th October) after news broke of the White-rumped Sandpiper, and on that visit had seen a cracking view of a Short-eared Owl. It had been reported that there could be as many as four now frequenting the marsh, and it was really that and the desire to get some flight shots of them, that had lured me back.

I had been on the reserve for less than five minutes when I picked up the first one, and over the next hour and a half was treated to some fantastic views. Four birds were out in various locations, but periodically their paths would cross and I would be treated to spectacular aerial sorties and vocalisations. They were ranging widely over the reserve, sometimes flying high like a giant bat, only to drop back down a quarter over the grassland. I was intrigued to note that three of them were more richly coloured and when I got home decided to read up. It appears that adult birds tend to be distinctly paler, and males paler than females. The dark markings are much bolder in male birds also, and this has led me to believe that one of the birds may be an adult male.

429A6563

Short-eared Owl

429A6570

Short-eared owl

429A6575

Short-eared Owl

429A6584

Short-eared Owl homing in on prey

As I worked my way around the marsh back towards my car, stopping at the lake to take in the roosting waders, I found it difficult to ignore the owls that were constantly feeding in the background. In the distance I could see a bird quartering over the islands beyond the sea wall, so it could be that as many as five birds were present, but I couldn’t rule out that one had flown over there. The frequency with which Short-eared Owls turn up on the marsh varies from winter to winter, but this is undoubtedly one of the best years for a while. I would urge you to get down and enjoy the spectacle whilst it lasts as they are such tremendous birds.

Advertisements

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Raftwork by Autobahn

I spent most of the day at Farlington trying to finalise details of the tern raft, I think it is starting to look more or less as we intended and, with a bit of luck, could be ready to float on Tuesday.

raft construction continues

raft construction continues

It was very pleasant working in the sunshine, although the incessant roar of the eight lanes of the A27 gets some getting used to. This is very much an experimental project and as we have gone along I keep thinking of potential improvements, some of which I have incorporated and some that will have to wait for Mark II. I trialled the finish on the foam bund , it is a bit pale, but not far from the colour of the pumice.

raft corner detail

raft corner detail

Although I was in the yard for most of the day I did manage to see my first red admiral of the year, one of five species that flew past me there during the day.

I did take a walk down as far as the Deeps to try and confirm that all the cattle were present and correct, which I am pleased to say they were, we now have 76 on the Main Marsh as well as the 16 in the Bushes, probably about half what we will have later in the season. On the way a male yellow wagtail flew over heading northwards. Sadly the days when they used to breed at Farlington are now long gone and I doubt they will ever return, though I would be delighted to be proved wrong. I also noted a number of new lapwing nest sites, on Saturday I will have another go at mapping them.

I had to go to the office at the end of the day and on my way out of Farlington I checked the alexanders growing by the gate for insects. Umbellifers are generally good nectar sources for flies and alexanders especially so as it flowers relatively early. There were the usual drone-flies and a few solitary bees and one Eristalinus aeneus. The last is a typically coastal species with larvae that live in piles of rotting seaweed.

Eristalinus aeneus

Eristalinus aeneus

They are fairly unremarkable, being overall a glossy black, but they do have very splendidly spotted eyes.

Eristalinus aeneus head detail

Eristalinus aeneus head detail

This particular one is a female, the give away is that the eyes are separated on top of the head, in the male they meet in the middle.