30 Days Wild – Day 28: Good for Snails?

This maybe the time of year when the sun is at its highest but it was hard to tell today as it never actually stopped raining, it eased to drizzle at times, but never stopped.  It seemed that the return of wet weather had every froglet, toadlet, slug and snail out and about in celebration of the end of the hot, dry days.

The night was damp but warm with the cloud overhead and the moth trap was quite busy again, I had only one out last night. Although it is a “Moth trap” it would be more correct to call it a nocturnal flying insect trap as it catches many other insects, in fact sometimes many more non-moths than moths. One of last night’s non-moths was a fly and one that probably also benefits from damp conditions as it was a snail-killing fly. It is actually the larvae that are the killers of snails and slugs. Considering I have so many slugs and snails in my garden it is surprising I have never found a snail-killing fly there, although the reason for this is that they do not generally prey on the common garden species.

snail killer

snail-killing fly

I also realised that yesterday’s moth catch included one that was new to the reserve, although all the books describe it as “common”, I had never seen one before. It was a green arches. Looking at the distribution map for Hampshire it is apparent that it avoids the New Forest area for some reason, despite being a moth of damp woodland, perhaps it does not like acid soils.

green arches

green arches

The heavy rain in the morning did present one surprise, as I opened up the Tern hide there was a flock of 20 black-tailed godwit flying around, eventually landing to the east of the hide. They were all in fine, red breeding plumage, these were Icelandic godwits returning to the south coast for the winter, or at least to moult. They had all their wing feathers too, which would indicate that they had probably arrived straight from Iceland and just been forced low by the rain. This early in the “autumn” they will be birds that have failed to breed successfully so head to the south coast of England to undergo their post-breeding moult. This will start only once they get here so they can make the journey fully feathered, having arrived they will start to moult their wing feathers almost immediately. Moulting is an energy intensive business, but there is lots of food in the mud at this time of year and not many waders around competing for it, so their strategy is a good one. A lot of godwits from this population have been given colour-rings, so when they landed I checked through the flock, but there were all unadorned.

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Sightings, Comings and Goings

The last week has seen good numbers of birds at the Woodland hide, all the regular species in good numbers and including at  least 14 brambling, with some males now looking very fine indeed, c20 reed bunting and loads of siskin.

The bittern was still present early in the week at the Ivy North hide. On Ibsley Water the Slavonian grebe and 2 black-necked grebe were seen on most days.

The big news has remained the gulls, the evening roost on Ibsley Water is huge, probably at least 10,000 black-headed gull, 200 or so common gull and probably at 3 adult ring-billed gull. Ring-billed gull is a North American native and the only one regularly seen in England this winter was the bird that roosted on Ibsley Water each evening, so when a second turned up this was remarkable. Subsequently a probably hybrid one has appeared and now what seems to be yet another pure bird. Although all adults they vary subtly in wing-tip pattern, degree of moult into breeding plumage and exact shade of the mantle. With so many gulls present careful searching may yet turn up more are visitors. In addition there are a lot of gulls migrating at present and in total many tens of thousands may pass through Blashford Lakes during the course of the spring.

Numbers of larger gulls have dropped right away though as have ducks, with the exception of shoveler which remain in large numbers. But the arrival of something like real spring weather which causes the wildfowl to go also heralds the certain coming of our summer birds, there should be chiffchaff, sand martin and maybe wheatear and garganey over the next few days. All you need to do is get out there and get looking!