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….

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Migration in Action

After having a week on leave the last couple of days have been busy filled up mostly on my part with driving around the county picking bits of kit up or getting materials for some summer jobs. The Farlington volunteers and Emma, however, were busy starting on the fencing in the Hayfield yesterday. They made a cracking start getting most of the posts in place and even started on getting the wire up. While they were busy digging holes I popped over the other side of the A27 to check if Storm Katie had left her mark. Luckily we had got away with just minor damage with one or two trees down internally. Along the way I heard three Chiffchaff spread out along the length of the railway boundary.

The sound is litterally the soundtrack of spring so I had to take a short video of it as it sung above me.

Today was similar to yesterday, as I spent the morning driving around dropping off bits of kit and delivering a load of fence posts in to Farlington. In the half an hour or so I spent on site (going no further than the main track by the hut) I saw some clear signs that spring is getting going and migration is in action. First to grab my attention was a male Reed bunting in song and then a pair of Bearded tit flittering around. After unloading the trailer and driving back past the hut three hirundines caught my eye. Three Sand martin, quickly shot past. Up the stream and over the hut disappearing out of site as soon as they had appeared. 5 minutes later a Swallow followed suit. Both my first of the year. Other visitors have reported seeing Wheatear but I have yet to find time to see any myself. Similar to the hirundines, these first few Wheatears are not hanging around for too long on the reserve, getting well on their way on their migration.

A pair of Beardies.

A pair of Beardies.

Sand martin

Sand martin

A rather silhouetted Swallow. My very first this year.

A rather silhouetted Swallow. My very first this year.

Although I didn’t have time for a proper look it seems like the Brent geese have now left the harbour. Reports tell me they made a break for it early last week. Other bird reports from around the reserve are Merlin on the 27th, 3 Wheatear yesterday and Short-eared owl also on the 27th.

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

A Day of Snails and Swifts

I was down at Farlington early this morning, had it been drier it would have been quiet pleasant, at least it was not cold. I went to count the cattle and found the fifteen in West Mudlands and the eighty-two on Main Marsh, I was just going to check the fifteen on the Bushes when I got a call to say that they had been taken off the reserve even earlier this morning. Next week we should be getting some more and probably we will have a general sort out as well.

The damp weather meant that there were lots of swallow, at least 120 swift and 15 house martin feeding low over the fields and especially the reedbed. I had to go down to the Deeps to see the cattle on South Marsh, the raft still seems to be being ignored by all birds, but I did see a single avocet there. The wet had also brought out lots of garden snail which were wandering about all over the place, including along the seawall, perhaps they too like a wander by the sea.

snail by the sea

snail by the sea

Back at the Building I saw a party of 10 bearded tit, comprising one adult male and 9 fledged juveniles, which must have been from at least two broods. Farlington has a good track record of breeding success for bearded tit and it is always good to see the first independent young birds, albeit about three weeks later than usual. I also saw that the suspected nesting by black-headed gull had in fact happened, there were at least two broods of young and I suspect two or three more nests as well. I did have a bit of a surprise as well, when I saw a short-eared owl hunting along the back of the reedbed, it came close to a perched buzzard, at first I though the buzzard was going to leave it alone, but in the end it took off and chased it away down towards the Point Field. Whilst I was at it I thought I would also check on the lapwing in the Hayfield, both of the pairs that had hatched young still have at least one chick. In the wet areas of the north-east slip there are now good patches of celery-leaved buttercup.

celery-leaved buttercup

celery-leaved buttercup

The Hayfield itself has a good flora and one of the common species is the partly parasitic yellow rattle, these were the first flowering ones I had seen this year.

yellow rattle

yellow rattle

The hawthorn is now in full flower, I know I have posted pictures before, but the amount of blossom on some branches is amazing.

hawthorn

hawthorn

Near the east seawall I spotted one of the white rabbits, it took a while to notice me as I was directly behind it.

white rabbit

white rabbit

A number of flies were warming themselves on the kissing gate including the pictured one which had prominent spots on the thorax, I think it is Anthomyia pluvialis.

fly

fly

I then headed back to the Building along the east seawall and noticed the sea-kale plants are now flowering, these relatives of the cabbage and have bluish leathery leaves and dense heads of white flowers.

sea kale

sea-kale

sea kale flowers

sea-kale flowers

Rafting Around

Monday and Tuesday are both volunteer days on the reserves, yesterday we were at Swanwick making a start on setting up a storage area for the wood we are removing from the north-east meadow.

volunteers working on timber storage area

volunteers working on timber storage area

I hope to get some cattle into this meadow next week, starting early in the season should mean they eat off some of the regrowth of small trees and seedlings, or at least that is the theory. We were lucky with the weather which remained fine and even sunny at times. There were signs of spring all over the reserve, close to the working area above was a flowering apple tree, possibly a crab apple but more likely one that has grown from a discarded eating apple core.

apple blossom

apple blossom

There are ferns unfurling all around the reserve, always  good to see and something I look forward to each year.

ferns

ferns

By the Centre Lake the show of cowslips is particularly good at the moment , although some of them seem very large and I suspect the seed was of slightly dubious origin.

cowslips

cowslips

On the Lake the mallard brood is still growing well, she still has seven ducklings having only lost two since they hatched, a very good performance.

mallard brood

mallard brood

In the sunshine we saw a few large red damselfly, lots of bee-flies, including some dotted bee-fly and at least one green tiger beetle. A cuckoo was singing nearby and a pair of treecreeper were feeding young somewhere near our work site.

I went on from Swanwick Lakes to Blashford Lakes to try to get the tern rafts out onto Ivy Lake with Ed. We had some problems with the wind and a slightly poor battery, but we did get two in place by six o’clock when we gave up for the day. I moored the first raft and almost immediately four common tern flew over and circled, two then landed on the raft and two flew off, within minutes fifteen terns were swooping over the raft. I then moored the second raft, shortly after which time there were almost forty terns wheeling about and periodically landing on the rafts. We had only seen the occasional tern fly over as we were getting the rafts ready, so how did they all know to come over so quickly. It certainly seemed as though they had been “fetched” by the first birds to see the rafts were out, but surely that is too fanciful? It should be said that the terns have almost all been on Ibsley Water for several days , but suddenly here they were all over Ivy Lake as a group and just minutes after the rafts were put out.

And so onto today, a very different day, with no hint of sunshine, rather windy and increasingly wet. A small but dedicated band of volunteers were working with me at Farlington to get our raft out onto the Deeps. This is a much more speculative affair than the , now well proven, common tern rafts at Blashford Lakes. The hope is to get little tern on this raft, not that little terns ever seem to have nested on a raft anywhere, but that was not going to stop us trying. The design includes a number of features that might help to encourage them, but only time will tell.

rafting on the Deeps

rafting on the Deeps

We did not see a lot of birds or other wildlife as the conditions were not great. A few swallow, a couple of sand martin and several swift forced, low over the Stream by the bad weather gave good views, also from there bearded tit flying back and forth indicated that they are feeding young in the nest now and a loudly calling water rail suggests that hey are also breeding in the reedbed again. the oddest sighting of the day was a moorhen swimming on the sea in Russell’s Lake, it got up and flew several times but remained out on the salty side of the seawall.

 

Gateway Experience

At Swanwick with the volunteers today, where tasks were to put in a new gate for the education team to access one of the grazed fields without having to wade through knee-deep mud and trimming tree regrowth beside Ben’s Lake.

gate to be

gate to be

It is always good to get a task that can be done in the day from start to finish, although we will need to go back and fit the wire to the posts once the ground has settled.

gate

gate

Although it was quite warm in the morning it cooled a bit later, certainly it is much more spring-like than a couple of weeks ago. As we worked we could hear singing whitethroat, chiffchaff and blackcap the and flying overhead were several swallow. The plants are slowly catching up, but much of the sallow is only just flowering.

sallow catkin

sallow catkin

As I went back to the Education Centre a party of 8 house martin were feeding over the trees by Centre Lake.

It will be interesting to see what Farlington has to offer tomorrow.

 

 

Spring?

I was rather briefly at Farlington around lunchtime, so rather than eating I walked down to the Deeps and back, it was well worth it as it appears that spring might finally have sprung.

I checked the cattle in the bushes first and saw at least 12 chiffchaff and my first blackcap of the year. a male and I think the first on the reserve this year. I know many people have blackcap I their gardens in the winter, but I don’t and they are rare away from urban areas, I’m sure this bird would have been a migrant. At the Building several bearded tit were flying around and 2 common sandpiper were feeding along the Stream, another first for the year.

Walking out to the seawall a female wheatear was in the Hayfield and at the end of the track a fantastic male redstart, yet another first for the year for me. I was collecting salinity data from the ditches on my way, unsurprisingly most are quite fresh at present. At the Deeps the mute swan pair seem to have completed their nest.

The Deeps with nesting mute swan

The Deeps with nesting mute swan

Over the Deeps 2 swallow were also the first I have seen on the reserve this year, although not my first this year as I saw one at Warsash at the weekend. Looking out into the Harbour a black-necked grebe was a good sight being nearly in summer plumage and I also added one more species to my yearlist as 6 whimbrel flew around calling. So with four additions I am now on 146 in Hampshire for the year.

Returning to the Building so that I could head off to my afternoon meeting I spotted a plastic bag in a bush. Visitors from other countries around the world marvel at us for the terrible state of our countryside when it comes to rubbish. The roadsides are strewn with an endless ribbon of jetsam, thrown or just lost from passing traffic. The same is true for the seashore where waterborne rubbish and especially plastic rubbish comes in with every tide. In general the reserve does not get too much rubbish left on it by visitors, most of our rubbish comes over the seawall or off the A27. However these bags in bushes are an exception, they are clearly left there quite deliberately, a statement of some kind perhaps. Maybe they are left in the name of art, in which case they are to the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude what a crude graffiti tag is to a Canaletto. A bit like the leavers of tags they do not want them to be easily removed, instead of using permanent spray paint they include faeces, so special effort is required to clear them away. You may say, it is just dog walkers who pick up the mess and cannot be bothered to take it to the bin in the car park, but why pick it up at all if it is going to be hung up to rot? Very strange behaviour indeed.