30 Days Wild – Day 4 Far and Wide

A very varied day for me today, I started with a farmland bird survey on the Hampshire chalk, almost on the Wiltshire border, then to Blashford working with the volunteers and finally a guided walk at Hurst Spit.

The farmland survey is always enjoyable as I get to see species that I otherwise rarely come across, in this case yellowhammer, corn bunting and grey partridge. It was a fine, if cloudy morning and it would have been completely enjoyable, if it had not been for getting soaked by the heavy dew as I pushed my way through waist-high goose-grass.

At Blashford we were working on the design of a new tern raft, I think we have more or less cracked it now! I also had to check the fences for the soon to arrive ponies and in doing so I found over 100 bee orchid! They grow in several places around the reserve but typically in small groups.

bee orchid

bee orchid

After a speedy lunch it was off to Hurst Spit to lead a guided walk. I walked the length of the shingle rather than going by ferry, this seemed a mistake as light rain started to fall. Fortunately the rain eased and then stopped allowing us to see at least some of the wildlife of the stabilised shingle at the end of the spit.

The stabilised shingle has a very distinctive flora with zonation from the high tide line back into the grassy areas via damper dips with areas of saltmarsh vegetation. We found a good few broomrape plants, seemingly parasitic on wild carrot, so I assume the coastal version of common broomrape.

common broomrape

common broomrape

Broomrapes are weird plants, they have no chlorophyll so cannot produce their own food, they live parasitically on other plants, tapping into their root systems. There are a number of species and some are very specific about the hosts they exploit, the common broomrape is one of the less fussy ones.

More typical shingle beach plants included some magnificent sea kale, huge, glaucous, leathery leaves and a great froth of white flowers.

sea kale 4x3

sea kale

We also saw lots of sea beet, and yellow-horned poppy.

yellow-horned poppy

yellow-horned poppy

As you can see it is a yellow flowered poppy, the “horn” is the seed pod, which can extend to 20cm or more, quite different from the typical, more spherical, seedhead of most other species of poppy.

It was not all plants though, we found three cream-spot tiger moths, a pale form of mullein wave and lots of the small coastal Pyralid moth Platytes cerussella. The area around the castle has lots of rock pipit, I am sure they have become more common  since I was last out there.

Walking back up the beach I came across a jellyfish in the tideline. I have not heard of many along the coast, but perhaps this is going to be a “jellyfish year”, one of those when they arrive in hundreds of thousands. I have always dreamt of seeing a leatherback turtle in such a year, as these huge reptiles will follow their jellyfish prey as far as our shores. Although reptiles, it seems they have the ability to regulate their body temperature, keeping it at around 26 degrees Celsius, allowing them to come into colder waters than their smaller cousins.

jellyfish 4x3

jellyfish

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30 Days Wild – Day 8 – An Early Start

I was out early doing a farmland bird survey up on the Hampshire chalk, it was calm, which is good for surveying. The low cloud got lower and lower as I was surveying and just as I was finishing it started to rain. I like surveying in a very different area from my usual haunts as it means I see species I don’t normally encounter. Visiting chalk farmland meant that yellowhammer was frequent, a bird I very rarely see these days. My previous visit had also produced corn bunting and grey partridge, missing today, although I did add red kite this time.

At this time of year an early survey means that I can get home in time for breakfast, which I did today. I was having a day off, so most of the rest of my wildlife for the day was seen in the garden.

I started with the moth trap, the pick of the day was a very fresh beautiful yellow underwing. These tiny moths regularly fly by day as well as at night and so often fly from the trap as it is opened, luckily for me this one stayed put for a picture.

beautiful yellow underwing 2

beautiful yellow underwing

It does have yellow underwings, but they are covered by the upper-wings, however the upper-wings are beautifully marked.

The spring solitary bees have mostly finished now but the summer ones are just starting, one of these is, if I have identified it correctly, Willughby’s leafcutter bee. These bees collect pollen on brushes of hairs underneath their abdomen rather than on their legs as many species do. It is on the orange hawkweed often known as fox-and-cubs here.

Willughby's leafcutter bee

Willughby’s leafcutter bee

During the day I saw single green-veined white, red admiral and painted lady butterflies the latter two indicating migrant arrivals.

I came across a couple of new species for the garden today, a mullein moth caterpillar that I spotted from indoors when I was washing my hands after being in the garden and, rather less welcome, a forest fly which chased my around.

mullein moth caterpillar

mullein moth caterpillar

As the name suggests mullein moth caterpillars usually feed on mullein, however they sometimes eat other related plants such as figwort, which is what it is eating in my garden. It is another species with bad tasting larvae, which is why they can afford to perch in the open and be brightly coloured. Despite running a moth trap I have never caught the adult moth in the garden, but this is one moth species that very rarely comes to light.

The forest fly is a biting species that mostly feeds on ponies and deer, it is one of the flat-flies, which scuttle over their hosts and are very resistant to being swatted.

forest fly

forest fly

What’s in My Meadow Today?

For the first time thus year I have bird’s-foot-trefoil flowering in the meadow this year, for some reason it has taken some time to get established, but hopefully is now in place to stay.

bird's-foot-trefoil

bird’s-foot-trefoil

A feature of the meadow from the first year has been a large population of lesser stitchwort, focus down through the grass stems and there are masses of tiny white star-like flowers.

lesser stitchwort

lesser stitchwort

Finally I also found a further new species for the garden in the meadow, it was a small species of chafer beetle, if I am correct it is Welsh chafer Hoplia philanthus , despite the name it is not confined to Wales having a rather scattered distribution across the southern half of the UK.

Welsh chafer maybe

Welsh chafer beetle (I think)

  

Listing, Lessons and Speculations

Like lots of people who look at wildlife I cannot resist keeping lists, not usually very thorough and I usually lose interest in about mid-February each year. So far I have kept going and find that I have seen 116 species of birds so far this year, all of them in Hampshire and at least 105 of them on visits to Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust reserves.

Of the 116 species I can see that five of them are introduced alien species (Canada goose, Egyptian goose, Mandarin duck, pheasant and red-legged partridge) and another an introduced population of a former native (greylag).  All of these  have been either introduced for “sport” or escaped from parkland collections.

Of the native species I am struck by the many species that have changed their status radically since I arrived in Hampshire. There are various reasons for this, the white trio of little egret (now breeding), great white egret (soon to be breeding here?) and spoonbill (perhaps likewise), have increased in number and range right across western Europe. The same could be said for Cetti’s warbler, avocet, yellow-legged gull and Mediterranean gull.

Birds of prey have increased, more or less across the board and seeing red kite, marsh harrier and peregrine is not now especially notable and buzzard has spread right across the county rather than being a New Forest bird. All of these species have benefited from a more benign environment, in which they are less exposed to harmful chemicals and suffer less persecution, at least in lowland England. One other species has gained from the same change is the raven, which now nests across most of the county. Goshawk has also colonised the county and benefited similarly, although the population is of escaped , or released, origin.

When I first came to Hampshire in 1978 there was no accepted record of ring-billed gull and I am not sure there was even such a thing as a Caspian gull thought about.

I estimate that if I had been doing the same thing forty years ago my list would most likely not have included at least 14 of those I have seen this year, so more than 10% of my list are birds that would have seemed remarkable then. Of course there would have been some species that I would have expected to see then by mid January, that we have now more or less lost, or at least which now need more particular seeking. For example Bewick’s swan, white-fronted goose, grey partridge, willow tit, corn bunting, yellowhammer and tree sparrow.

So listing may well be a rather pointless exercise in many ways but reflecting upon my list so far certainly tells a story of how much has changed and of course makes one think how much might change in the future. So what might a list in another forty years include?

I suspect we will have established populations of additional alien species, most likely is ring-necked parakeet (I suspect this will happen quite soon), but I think black swan may also get a firmer foothold too and Egyptian goose could become very common. Who knows perhaps even sacred ibis could make it over here in time if the continental populations develop uncontrolled.

Natural colonists that look like becoming regulars include, cattle egret and glossy ibis, both already occasional visitors. It is interesting to note the preponderance of wetland birds that are expanding their ranges. A bit of a wildcard might be the potential for a whole range of essentially  Pacific Arctic species to turn up as winter vagrants. The ice melt along the northern coast of Russia has opened up a route for many previously unconsidered species. The occurrence in Europe in recent years of slaty-backed gull hints at the potential for species to come via this route in years to come.

Unfortunately I think a lot of species are going to get much rarer. Coastal species will be under particular pressure, in forty years time there will be little or no saltmarsh along most of the Solent shoreline and much reduced mudflats, so wintering coastal wader populations will surely be much reduced. Couple this with and increase in “short-stopping”, which means that wintering birds coming from the north and east just don’t come so far in the increasingly mild winters. Overall I think it certain that the Solent will not be nearly so significant for wintering wetland birds.

This discussion of change is only considering the winter, our breeding birds could be in for at least as great a change, who knows I might speculate on this in a later blog.