The Smaller Things

I did not have time to do yesterday’s news last evening so here it is a day late.

I did not set off around the reserve straight away, but decided to check the sluices along some of the ditches and investigate the water flows. This took me into some areas of the reserve that I very rarely visit and that are beyond those publicly accessible. There is still  a lot of water on the fields despite what must have been the driest fortnight for about eleven months. In one of the ditches I came across the first frog spawn I have seen this year, it is very late and this looked recently laid as it showed little sign of development.

frog spawn

frog spawn

From the wet areas I flushed several snipe and from one particular patch 5 jack snipe, I have noticed before that even though snipe may come up from all over a wet field if there are jack snipe present they are very often all in the same small area, I don’t know if this because they have very particular requirements or if they are sociable, when they fly up it is not as a flock but as individuals so this last seems unlikely to me. As I headed back towards the Building I saw a water pipit near the Hayfield gate, a regular area for sightings.

I then headed off the walk around the reserve and as I did I noticed a merlin perched on the ground on the ground in North Marsh, my first of the year, they have been unusually scarce since the New Year. The fields still had good numbers of brent geese, there were at least 2500, although they were every restless and frequently made fast flights around the area when flushed, they were also very vocal, all typical signs that they are readying to leave. I suspect a lot will go in the next few days if the north-east wind eases. From the Point I got good views of two fo the slavonian grebe as they came well up Russell’s Lake and even got a picture of sorts.

Slavonian grebes

Slavonian grebes

In the ditch near the Lake a pair of teal were feeding making for great views of these wonderful little duck.

teal drake

teal drake

I had some lunch and was pleased to see the skies brightening so that when I set off for the northern part of the reserve the sun was just starting to appear. I took my macro lens with me and took the opportunity to get a few pictures of some of the smaller things on the reserve, especially the lichens, many of which were looking very good indeed.

lichen fruiting bodies on elm

lichen fruiting bodies on elm

The one above was growing on an elm trunk near the underpass. The smaller shrubs along the track had several species on as well, including this one on small twigs of a hawthorn.

lichen fruiting bodies

lichen fruiting bodies

Some of the larger willows in the Aerial Field were especially well covered.

lichens on a willow

lichens on a willow

There were several similar looking ones in shades of grey and white.

lichen on willow

lichen on willow

white lichen

white lichen

There were also shaggy ones.

shaggy lichen on willow

shaggy lichen on willow

The oldest trees in this part of the reserve ar ea couple of oaks, but these do not seem to harbour lichens to the same extent as the willows or ash trees, I believe it is something to do with the pH of their bark.

old oak tree, for Farlington at least!

old oak tree, for Farlington at least!

There were other things to see as well, a couple of buzzards were calling to one another and in the shallow water when I was looking, without success, for more frog spawn I saw a wide range of water plants.

water plants

water plants

Up in the Old Copse the cuckoo pint leaves are showing well including some of the spotted variant.

arum with spotted leaf

arum with spotted leaf

Some bracket fungi growing on one of the cut tree stumps also caught my eye.

bracket fungi

bracket fungi

Despite the sunshine there were very few insects out, I spotted one small true bug and a few flies, as a rule the glossy leaves of ivy are good for basking insects but I could find none.

ivy with berries

ivy with berries

The only fly that stayed still for me was one that was feeding on the seeping of sap from one of the cut stumps left by the powerline clearance team.

fly on cut hawthorn stump

fly on cut hawthorn stump

Near the gate into the Aerial Field  there were several very large, new molehills, there are lots of molehills about at the moment and they are work recording for the current mammal atlas being organised by the mammal society, for more information visit www.mammal.org.uk.

By the time I returned to the Building the sun was quite warm and I decided to see if the bittern was sunbathing alongside the Stream, It was not so I guess it may well have gone. The reeds were looking fine in the low sunshine and I could hear several bearded tit calling, although I failed to see any.

reed seed head

reed seed head

Reed seeds make up almost the entire diet of bearded tits during the winter and the number that winter at Farlington is testament to the good levels of seed that the reeds have in the reedbed. In fact not all reedbeds are good seed producers, so we are fortunate that ours are.

 

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Brent, Brent, Brent

A bit of a late post from Saturday as events overtook me and I did not get it done yesterday. Something strange seems to be going on as Saturday was the third fine day in a row, I think it was sometime in August, or possibly last March that we last had such a run of good days!

The fine weather brought out the visitors in fair numbers and the fields were well spread with birds, especially brent geese. I took a walk round the reserve in the morning. starting at the Building there were several bearded tit calling, although they were not showing, the same could be said for the Cetti’s warbler singing from the reeds. Cetti’s warbler were very much in evidence generally and I had one that I saw well calling near the East Wall Blockhouse and another singing in the Point Field as well as several in more conventional locations. At the Deeps a carrion crow was calling vigorously from a fence post on the  seawall, with each full-throated “caw” the tail fanned and eyes closed as the third eyelid came across the eye.

calling crow

calling crow

I think crows are responsible for the outbreak of clam shells across the marsh at present. They collect them from the shore ans fly about dropping them until they open enough to allow the flesh to be removed. Years ago when I first saw this behaviour thought the object was to crack the shell and wondered why they so often dropped them onto soft grass or mud. Then i found out that the idea is to wear the clam out, they can only hold the valves of the shell tight shut for so long before the muscles tire and that lest the crow inside. The shells left are clean and complete, just like the ones littering the Bushes at the moment.

clam shell

clam shell

Out in the field by the Blockhouse a buzzard was just finishing off some unfortunate prey item. When I last worked at Farlington some seven years ago they were still notable birds on the Marsh.

buzzard

buzzard

Looking out into the Harbour from the East wall I could see the RSPB islands and the contractors machinery, they are doing a shingle recharge to try to get a long shingle bank that will stay well above the high tides. Last summer most of the nests on the islands were washed out by tidal surges.

South Binness recharge works

South Binness recharge works

Looking from the Point the flat calm sea meant I could see all the birds floating on the surface very well and I picked out 3 Slavonian grebe and distantly down near the Harbour entrance 2 great northern diver, the last being new for my yearlist.

The fields were full of brent, well over 2000 spent the day on the Marsh and at pone time I could see something like another thousand on the mud off the eastern side of Portsea Island. I came across a number of colour-ringed birds, including several “old friends”, but also two that were new to me, both were white and blue combinations, I will have to try to find out where they come from.

white V, blue = (WVB+) brent goose

white V, blue = (WVB+) brent goose

I also came across several variations on the usual brent goose theme, there was speckle-head.

speckled brent

speckled brent

Just inside the field off the south wall I found the smartest looking brent I have ever seen, if it had a tailor it would be on Saville Row. It wa sa large bird, so I assume a gander, but it had a rather small neck mark and a somewhat paler than average belly, resulting in a fairly strong contrast with the black chest.

super smart brent

super smart brent

Ok, so I probably spend too long looking at brent geese. I also found the usual pale-bellied brent, at times right next to the path just east of the Building.

pale-bellied brent

pale-bellied brent

The picture was “digi-binned” which is to say taken by holding the camera up to my binoculars, instead of “digi-scoped” by holding to the telescope. There are many obvious differences from the usual dark-bellied brent, but one of the less obvious is well shown here, on a dark-bellied the dark belly extends back between the legs, whereas this area is completely white on pale-bellied birds.

During the day I also saw  two birds with some characteristic of the Pacific race, known as black brant. The first was a largish one, so a gander and typically much darker, more chocolate-brown than dark-bellied brent and with pale,  more defined flank patches, but it did not have the very broad neck collar typical of that race, so I would guess it is the result of  across with a dark-bellied brent. The second was a small goose (female) and she did have a very large white collar which met across the front of the neck.

brantish neck

brantish neck

Although she looked quiet good and was certainly not a pure bred dark-bellied brent I don’t think she quite cut it as a black brant either.

Brant-like brent

Brant-like brent

Trouble is I know dark-bellied brent vary a lot, but I am not sure how much black brant vary. In general the females of brent are duller and have smaller neck collars than the ganders. So this one, with much more contrasting pattern and very full neck collar when compared to the dark-bellied birds, really stood out, despite being a female.

I did warn you I spent too long looking at brent geese!