Ringing in the Reedbeds

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An exquisite male Bearded Tit

On Sunday we started ringing in the reedbeds at  Farlington Marshes nature reserve. The aim is to concentrate on the bearded tits to try and get an idea as to how the population is faring. It turned out to be a reasonable start and we caught a good number of birds. The females all had brood patches which signifies breeding so things are looking good.

Bearded tits, actually called bearded parrotbills now (formally bearded reedlings) are one of Farlington’s iconic species. They draw in a lot of people as the site has a very good population, especially for its size. The only issue is that they are very difficult to see. Normally all you get is a fleeting view of them as they bounce over the top of the reed before quickly dropping down. This makes monitoring very difficult and really the only way that we have a chance of getting a population estimate is through ringing. This also helps us look at longevity of individuals and location within the reed bed itself. All very useful stuff which can help influence how we manage the site.

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A very handsome male Reed Bunting

It was a good session catching bearded tits, reed bunting, Cetti’s warbler and sedge warbler. The whole reed bed was alive with the chatter of segdes and there were even some reed warbler there. These will build up steadily as they migrate in and then disperse leaving the breeding population.

The lapwing have begun to settle down and there seems to be a good number of redshank on the marsh and in the hay field. Hopefully we will see a higher than average year for these this year but its still early days. The lapwing are in low numbers but this is the same across many sites at the moment so hopefully they are just late arriving.

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The very noisy Sedge Warbler

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A Beardy Good Day

Well its been yet another busy weekend. Yesterday the Trust had a presence at the well attended Hampshire Ornithological Society’s Open Day. Not only was it a great chance to engage with like minded people but they also put on a good selection of talks – a busy but most enjoyable and educational day.

Today started bright and early as we were taking advantage of a good weather window to do some bird ringing in the reedbed at Farlington. Arriving just before sunrise, we got up several nets in the redbed in front of the hut. We didn’t have to wait long before the first birds came in; A pair of stunning Bearded tit, then a few more. By the end of the session we had caught and ringed 13 Beardies along with a male Reed bunting, a Meadow Pipit, a Blue tit and perhaps most surprising of all a Willow warbler. This was an obvious new arrival to the country with a thick matt of pollen above its upper mandible. This will have come from feeding from pollen rich flowers found on the continent. A top bird and the first for the year on the Marsh.

Male Bearded tit

Male Bearded tit

Look at that moustache !

Look at that moustache !

Comparative close up on the female

Comparative close up on the female

Meadow pipit

Meadow pipit

Willow warbler

Willow warbler

Pollen soaked Warbler 'nose'

Pollen soaked Warbler

Another male Beardie

Another male Beardie

The first’s didn’t stop there during the ringing session I saw my first Wheatear of the year out on the marsh (although they have been spotted on the reserve for over a week now.) We also a saw female/immature Marsh harrier, 3 Sand martins and a Short-eared owl, which was over in the hayfield.

We rounded up the session by mid morning but it was too nice to head home so I stuck around and went for a walk around the reserve to see what other migrants had touched down that morning. First interesting observation was the Brent goose splinter group were still present on the main marsh, but there were only 63 of them today. Then we found two groups of Wheatear when looking out onto the marsh from the blockhouse. There were two lots of 3 containing equal numbers of males and females, and then we later saw another female at the back of the reedbed, totalling 7! Moments later we got a glimpse of a Swallow dashing northwards.

Chiffchaff singing in the bushes

Chiffchaff singing in the bushes

Three Chiffchaff were noted; at the point, in the bushes and behind the building. When getting back to the hut in time for a late lunch there was a familiar sound in the distant; a singing Sedge warbler. Unfortunately it didn’t show itself  but with such a distinctive call i guess it didn’t need to.

It was a distant bird so you might need to turn your volume up to hear it….

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

 

Swanwick Sandpiper

It was Monday so I was working at Swanwick Lakes with the volunteers, in addition the Beechcroft team were also working there so we got a whole range of tasks done across a wide area of the reserve. It was a great day to be out in the sunshine, although there were not as many insects as I had hoped due to a cool breeze. There were a few migrant birds about including a cuckoo, willow warbler, a sedge warbler and a common sandpiper. the last two were on Ben’s Lake and the sandpiper would seem to be the first reserve record. The lake edges have quiet an attractive flora in places with patches of marsh marigold in full bloom now and lots of marsh orchid leaves giving promise of flowers to come.

marsh marigold

marsh marigold

Although the numbers of insects were not what I had hoped for there were some about including butterflies, peacock, comma and brimstone, a few of the commoner hoverflies and the site’s two bee-flies. The further sightings of dotted bee-fly are especially gratifying, Jess told me she saw one last week too, it seems we certainly have a population of them. It seems that one of the other Hampshire sites for them is Martin Down, an all round insect hotspot.

Tomorrow we are working at Farlington, taking another step towards the ultimate little tern raft (ok, I may be over-egging it a little I admit).

Sea-trials and Bee-flies

The main event today was working with the volunteers at Farlington Marshes, but quite a bit more went on as well. I arrived at 07:30 to give me time to check the cattle and have a quick look around the reserve before things got going. Luckily the cattle were all present and correct and when I found them in the Bushes they were accompanied by 5 yellow wagtail, which was a real bonus. Along the Stream there were 2 avocet, a few black-tailed godwit and a party of 7 whimbrel which flew over heading west.

I had a very quick walk round and came across at least 4 wheatear, although 12 or more were reported later. In the Point Field a singing sedge warbler was my first this year and, although they avoided me, several whitethroat were also reported today. My walk was cut short and turned into a bit of a dash when the skip I had ordered turned up a bit earlier than expected.

The volunteers continued clearing the yard and worked some more on our attempt at a little tern raft, which got as far as “first sea trials”.

first time afloat

 

We also started making shelduck boxes using yet more of the old plywood from the underpass, much more to do on these and the raft over then next couple of weeks.

I then had to dash off to Swanwick to meet our new boat, I had to wait for the delivery but as the sun was out I was not too bothered. There are now quite a lot of flowers out near the Centre, especially cowslips,

cowslip

cowslip

and primroses.

primrose

primrose

The flowers were attracting a few solitary bees and my first bee-fly of the year at first I thought it was the common Bombylius major, but then I spotted it had spots on the wings, I got a picture and was able to confirm it was in fact the scarcer Bombylius discolor.

Bombylius discolor

Bombylius discolor

I then did find a Bombylius major, just for comparison.

Bombylius major

Bombylius major