Friday, 28 April 2017

April 28th Mousehold Heath

Common Plume Moth
Last night, I helped out with the first moth evening of the year at Mousehold for a talk on moths for this morning. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a very cold, damp night for it and we didn't get a single moth. So today, we still had moth expert Peter do a talk about these nocturnal insects to a small group using his photos and book illustrations. Thankfully, someone did bring a plume moth with them, so it wasn't completely moth-less.

Common Nettle-tap

After the talk, we went for a quick walk around St James' Hill to see if we could find any day-flying moths. Despite a short April shower, it was mostly sunny, so we were still hopeful of finding something at least. In the end, we found a few tiny micro moths (the really, really small ones) including a few common nettle-taps. Here's what else we saw this morning...

Some kind of fly
Apple blossom
Female Orange-tip
St Mark's Fly on Alexanders
Meadow Saxifrage
Carrion Crow

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

April 26th Strumpshaw Fen

Greylag goslings
It was a mixed day of sunshine and rain this morning at Strumpshaw. While getting to the reserve it was raining, but when I arrived, the sun came out and I had enough time for a quick walk to the river and back before it started raining again. During this short walk, warblers of many species were singing all around me. Willow warblers, chiffchaffs, blackcaps, Cetti's warblers, sedge warblers and reed warblers were extremely vocal, but not a single one of them sat still long enough for a photo! I also saw a crèche of goslings swimming on the river, safely guarded by four adult greylags, which were perhaps the cutest highlight of the walk.


April showers one minute...
Back at Reception Hide, the weather continued to switch from sun to showers throughout the morning. It was like someone messing with a dimmer switch. One minute it was bright and cheerful, then it rains or hails, creating a gloomy landscape, then its sunny again, then back to rain... Its like the weather can not make its mind up of what it wants to be today. At least the birds didn't mind. They were active rain and shine, especially the swallows and house martins. These birds were swooping fast over the surface of the broad all morning. Also this morning, I saw marsh harriers, reed buntings, pochards, a sparrowhawk and two brief glimpses of a kingfisher flying past the hide.

... and sunshine the next!
Male Reed Bunting
Female Reed Bunting
Marsh Harrier
Carrion Crow
Some kind of Bee

Moorhen chick
For those who like baby birds, there were plenty of them about. There were ducklings, goslings, coot chicks and moorhen chicks. The latter two are not as cute as the first two, but they were still very small. While the ducklings and goslings are lovingly admired as they try their hardest to keep up with their parents, the moorhen chicks, on the other hand, have it tough. While their mum does a good job looking after them, she does however have tendency to sometimes kill the weakest chick. I saw one moorhen mother today suddenly chase after one of it's own, giving it a nasty peck. This is a survival strategy which is common amongst moorhens. By killing off the weakest chicks, more attention can be given to the ones that remain. Its not pleasant to watch, but that's nature for you.
Mallard with ducklings
Greylag with goslings

Monday, 24 April 2017

April 24th Minsmere

The hunt for an emperor moth has brought me to Minsmere today. After getting permission to use my pheromone lures and net, I set them up and waited. However, despite being slightly better conditions than last week at Weeting, I still was unable to attract an emperor. The clock is ticking with these moths as they are only out in April and early May. I am starting to wonder if the emperors want me to see them at all. At least the local pheasants were more obliging.

Ant-lion catching a Millipede
Thankfully, there is another of my target invertebrate species that I could look for at Minsmere and I don't have to go very far to see them. Around the back of the visitor centre building, there are a few sandy flower beds. Look closely at them and you will see that they are riddled with circular impressions in the ground. These are the pitfall traps of the ant-lion larvae, which sits buried within the sand waiting for it's next meal to slip in and into their deadly jaws. Today, we were in luck as a few millipedes demonstrated how brilliant these pits are and we saw the ant-lion larva in action. It is amazing to think that these tiny fearsome creatures will develop into something so dainty as their adult form is damselfly-like in appearance. To see the adult form, I would need to come back in August and at night as they are nocturnal. But for now, I am more than happy with this menacing larva stage.
A bigger Millipede being attacked by a different Ant-lion
Escape to freedom!
Ant-lion pitfall traps
With my invertebrate target successfully ticked off my list, it was time to focus on finding birds. There was quite a decent list on the sightings board today. It had written on it some exciting names like nightingale, Savi's warbler and lesser whitethroat. Out of these three, I had only glimpsed a nightingale once before as well as only hearing lesser whitethroat a couple of times in the past. All of them are rather secretive and not easy to get good views. To see any of these three would make my day, though I would be just as happy if I was to only hear them.
So after a short visit to North Hide, seeing greylags with goslings and oystercatchers, we went in search of the lesser whitethroat. We only got as far as the area of heathland where the stone-curlews usually nest, when I heard the bird I was after. Every now and then, it would sing it's short, loud rattled song somewhere in one of the surrounding bushes and trees. But where? After some time and patience, I was finally able to get a few brief glimpses. Annoyingly though, it would not stay still long enough to get a few photos of it. I also saw linnets, a pair of wheatears, blackcaps, red-legged partridges and a common whitethroat, which is slightly bigger and not as greyer as it's lesser cousin and has a completely different song in comparison.
Greylags with goslings
Red-legged Partridge

Black-headed gulls
From East Hide, the scrapes were almost full of gulls with most of them being black-headed and Mediterranean. There was plenty of nest building behaviour on display and a lot of squabbling amongst the colonies of gulls taking over much of the space on the islands. Sandwich terns, avocets, redshanks, black-tailed godwits, dunlin and redshanks were also about amongst the nesting gulls.

Mediterranean Gulls
Sandwich Terns

Sand Martins
After lunch, it suddenly started to rain as we made our way to Island Mere Hide via the hill where the Springwatch studio still is, with one ear open for singing nightingales, but with no luck. Sand martins and swallows dominated the wet scene outside Island Mere Hide as hundreds of them skimmed the surface of the mere over and over again. While I was at the crowded hide as the rain shower gradually passed by, I managed to hear a single burst of the reeling song of a Savi's warbler somewhere on the other side of the mere before everyone started talking and moving about inside the hide, making a lot of noise that drowned out the bird. I went outside to try and hear it better, but I couldn't. I did, however, saw a bittern fly past, marsh harriers soaring over the reed beds and a bearded tit perched on a reed stem within a few metres from where I stood before flying under the hide's walkway bridge and out of sight completely. I saw more exciting things outside the hide than inside it.
Marsh Harrier