30 Days Wild – Day 8

My day started with a rare sight from my kitchen window, a pheasant walking across the lawn.

pheasant

cock pheasant

Pheasants are not native to the UK and owe their existence here to birds released by shoots. Millions are released in early autumn each year, most will die, either shot, starved, predated or in accidents, but perhaps 3 million will survive. They would probably die out within a few years without the constant introductions.

I was at Fishlake Meadows to help Jo with a few fallen trees over the fences before the cattle arrive next week. I know how much Jo likes her “Things on fence posts” so here is my contribution, a lesser stag beetle.

lesser stag beetle

lesser stag beetle

I also saw a very smart five-spot burnet moth in Ashley Meadow.

five-spot burnet

five-spot burnet

Later at Blashford I had the butterfly transects to do, probably for the last time this year as the volunteers will be taking over again next. Still rather few butterflies, but I did see my first marbled white of the year. It was good fro longhorn beetles though.

black-and-yellow longhorn

black-and-yellow longhorn

It has been noticeable that rabbit numbers are increasing again, after several years of scarcity. I saw this one, very alert, as befits the times, on the Lichen Heath.

alert rabbit

alert rabbit

Rabbits are another introduced species in the UK and were carefully looked after in special Warrens, but as they “breed like rabbits” over time they adapted to our landscape and became better at surviving here without help.

I ended my day back in the garden, this time seeing the first field scabious flower of the year open in the mini-meadow, a favourite with lots of insects.

field scabious

field scabious

Site Checks in the Sunshine

I was over at Blashford again today, checking all was still well, which I am pleased to say it was. Incidental to my checks I came across a number of firsts for the year, for me at least. Speckled wood butterflies were frequent throughout the woodland areas, unfortunately we won’t know if they manage to follow up last years good showing at Blashford with another bumper year as the butterfly transects, like all our other surveys, have been suspended.

speckled wood

My first speckled wood of the year

I also saw my first large red damselfly, tree bumble bee and heard my first reed warbler.

There are especially large flocks of black-tailed godwit around in the Avon Valley at present, they seem to be feeding on the flooded fields and coming over to Ibsley Water to roost or when disturbed. I think there were as many as 2000 birds flying around at one point.

Black-tailed godwit flock

black-tailed godwit flock in flight

The cherry trees are in full flower now, looking splendid in the sunshine.

cherry blossom

cherry blossom

There have been several pheasant around the reserve recently, but until today I had only seen males, so a female was unusual.

female pheasant

female pheasant

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.

 

What a Difference a Day Makes –

Firstly apologies for not posting yesterday – this was due to a cybernetic thrombosis – otherwise known as a ‘clot on a computer’. I’d started a posting but somehow managed to lose it in cyberspace!!!!

So in a special ‘two for one’ offer I’ve concatenated a few notes from yesterday and today.

Sunday was a quite brilliantly sunny day which is in keeping with conservation work parties (although I believe the previous Sunday work party in September was particularly wet.).

One of the rarer habitats on the reserve is the lichen heath, an area surrounding the water treatment plant and close to the small car-park on the way to the centre.  This primarily consists of very fine, nutrient poor silt and fine sand which are the washings from the old gravel workings.  The lack of any goodness in this soil makes it a great place for lichen to grow, but it is now starting to be invaded by pioneer species such as birch. If left alone this would eventually become a scrubby area with no particular special features, so we set about taking out some of the young and not so young  birch and bramble.

View of Water treatment Plant before clearance

and after

The obvious bushes are gone, but so too are a huge number of very small saplings – not bad going for a team of seven ( ‘The Magnificent Seven’) volunteers.

With bird numbers on the increase, there is now a steady stream of visitors including blue tits, great tits, nuthatch, chaffinch, greenfinch goldfinch and siskin, together with collared doves and even robin on the feeder with pheasant lurking around the base for spilt seed.

Even thought the brightness of the sun tends to wash out the colours, it’s tempting to try to capture some pictures of even the most common birds in the sunshine,

Chaffinch in tree by feeder

A rather ‘rakish’ looking nuthatch pinching a black sunflower seed.

Although bright, it had been cold overnight, and the light trap on Saturday/Sunday had few moths in it. In contrast today it had rained overnight , but there was an 800% increase in moth numbers – O.K. it was only 18 moths, but much better than the two on Sunday.  There was also a tremendous increase in the number of caddisflies attracted to the light trap – I guess they had  been brought out by the last couple of warmer days.

Caddisfly

Otherwise the grey and grizzly weather today was altogether uninspiring and views across the lakes hampered by the slightly misty conditions. There were quite a large number of lesser black-backed gull loafing on Ibsley Water and the selection of wildfowl continues to expand with the range of duck species  improving on a weekly if not daily basis. Tufted duck, mallard and gadwall are fairly easily seen with many of the others such as pochard, wigeon and teal present but not always obvious, as they invariably seem to lurk at the far side of the lake. (It doesn’t matter which side of the lake you look from, they’re always on the far side!!! How do they do that??)  Whilst there are many young birds and adults in different states of moult , it can still be a bit of a nightmare identifying  which species any particular bird belongs to.

Our ever-present pheasants – refugees from the rough and tumble of the surrounding countryside where, apart from the lack of so much free food, they also might risk getting shot – continue to provide photo opportunities including this one that wasn’t  afraid of being ‘on the table’ but preferred to keep its feathers on for the trip!

The ‘ready for table’ pheasant

ASBOs – Animals, Some Behaving Oddly

The behaviour of animals is perhaps one of the main reasons many people continue to watch and observe even the quite familiar.  I vaguely remember a comment from a Radio 4 series of programmes broadcast last week in which they were talking about ‘alien’ birds i.e. those that people have brought into the country.  The comment was a report of an observation by an eminent ornithologist and concerned a pheasant that had been on a boat. When the boat got into difficulties the pheasant had flown to shore (if  I remember all the details correctly!). Anyway the comment was something like   ‘this is a remarkable piece of behaviour from an otherwise unremarkable bird!!’ 

Well, as many visitors will have noticed, we have a few refugee pheasants on the reserve who have discovered that there are easy food pickings around our bird seed feeders. I’ve even seen one fly up to the feeder and eat spilt seeds from the tray, so wasn’t too surprised when as we were closing down yesterday, one flew up onto the ‘shelf’ over the disabled access window.  What was slightly more interesting was that it then started pecking at the window, presumably because it considered its own reflection, in the half-silvered glass, to be a rival bird.

Pheasant outside Woodland Hide window

Having satisfied itself that the ‘rival’ posed no threat, it then seemed to settle down as if roosting for the night and was quite unconcerned by our tapping on the window. It did, however, offer an ideal opportunity to get a real close-up of the stunningly coloured feathering on these birds.

‘Pheasants eye view’

Earlier in the day, near the centre car park, one of the other pheasants  had been ‘anting’ or dust bathing – another ‘interesting piece of behaviour ‘, unfortunately I didn’t get a picture.

Not to be outdone in the ‘behavour ‘ stakes , when we returned to the centre after closing all the hides, a jay had muscled up to the seed feeder and knocked it onto the ground so that it could easily pick its way through the seed, selecting out the peanuts. A quick inspection revealed that the feeder was deficient to the tune of one screw, which had made it east to dislodge.  I replaced the feeder before leaving, but wasn’t surprised to find it empty and on the ground again this morning.  Having lost a number of feeders lately I knew I’d have to repair this one today.

But first things first, opening up the centre and dealing with the moth trap, I took the light fitting off and, as normal, covered the box with a towel before setting off to open the hides.  During the morning round of hide opening, I was delayed again at the Woodland Hide, by what looked like a rather large squirrel apparently trapped inside the ‘squirrel-proof’ peanut feeder.  It looked quite bright-eyed, but rather forlorn and immobile and didn’t move despite my banging in the window. 

How do you get something that large through those sized holes??

I guessed this was something else I might have to ‘release back into the community’ rather like yesterday’s swan, but with the added opportunity of having fingers chewed off!!!   Rather ducking the issue I decided to leave it and think about my options whilst opening up the Ivy South Hide, but fortunately the squirrel had extricated itself from the cage by the time I got back.

Talking of things trapped, the repairs to the seed feeder took a little longer than I at first thought, having to locate a suitable screw to replace the lost one and giving the feeder a bath took a little time.  It was, therefore, later than normal that I got the chance to look through the moth trap.

Earlier on when I’d casually looked in there didn’t seem to be  much in the moth trap, and had also noticed yesterday that there were signs that we had had some bird predation (quite a  few unattached moth wings) and some bird droppings on the egg-boxes.

Today I had what was numerically the lowest number of moth species for some time, but in terms of bio-mass was probably the largest ‘haul’  I’ve ever found  in the light-trap in the form of a wren,. In my haste I had inadvertently captured  it when I threw the towel over the box. The bird continued to scuttle around under the egg-boxes as I quickly tried to empty them out and eventually escaped, flying to a nearby bush – protesting loudly.  In the intervening period I guess the wren had eaten most of the captive moths, with the exception of one Poplar Hawkmoth, five Large Yellow Underwing, one Setaceous Hebrew Character, and one Flounced Rustic.

Flounced Rustic

I’ll finish with a shameless piece of ‘shoe-horning’ under the guise of ‘animal behaviour’ , with this image taken late yesterday of the Small Tortoiseshell basking on one of the picnic benches –  copyright , my wife Sheila,

 

 

Small Tortoiseshell