Sunday, 15 October 2017

Lymington in October

Today I visited one of my favorite local nature reserves, Lymington-Keyhaven. With winter on the way it's starting to get busy with winter migrants.

Perhaps the easiest bird to see at the reserve, and indeed anywhere along the UK's coast, is the black-headed gull.

It's estimated that around two thirds of UK black-headed gulls in winter are actually migrants from mainland Europe. In winter these birds lose the chocolate-brown plumage which give them their name and just a brown smudge remains.

There were plenty of ducks on the reserve although most were females which look very similar and are difficult to identify from a distance on a murky day.

I suspect all or at least most of these ducks are wigeon- the bird in the top left is clearly a male wigeon. Wigeon do breed in the UK but only in Scotland and Northern England so these birds will be winter migrants from Iceland, Scandinavia or Russia.

Wigeons are dabbling ducks, like mallard, which means they feed by tipping headfirst into the water. The legs of dabbling ducks are more central than other types which means they can walk well on land and graze there.Diving ducks have to run across the water in order to gain momentum to take off whereas dabbling ducks are able to take flight straight from the water.

As you'd expect at this time of year there were plenty of waders around in the shallower water. I still find wader identification really tricky especially in winter when they tend to be similar light grey colours- it's highly possible some of my identifications are not right. 

There were many small waders which I think are probably dunlin- they are after all our most common small wader. 

Unlike other small waders, dunlin have slightly curved beaks which seems to be the main way to identify them. 

The largest waders of the day were the black-tailed godwits on the left of this photo.

It's interesting to see that these godwits still look fairly bright, not yet having faded to their full greyer winter plumage. I'm speculating that unlike other waders I saw, these are actually resident birds (I've certainly seen godwits at the reserve all year round) and therefore don't naturally fade as early. 

One more wader I saw was the greenshank

Greenshank aren't especially common in the UK with a few breeding in Northern Scotland and then a few overwintering here on the South coast. Like most waders they mostly eat small invertebrates but will catch small fish and amphibians. 

I also spotted several oystercatchers

It would be easy to assume that these birds eat oysters but unfortunately their name isn't really very accurate. They mainly eat cockles and mussels but also eat worms, especially if they are inland. Indeed, over the last fifty years more birds have started to breed away from the coast. 

It wasn't just aquatic birds I spotted on the reserve. You wouldn't necessarily expect to see goldfinches on a freshwater marsh but there they were amongst this red plant. 

Also taking advantage of this habitat were a few meadow pipits like the slightly blurry one I captured here. 

These birds are found all over the UK but mostly stay in the uplands in the breeding season. However, in winter they move South to the lowlands and becomes much commoner in the Southern half of the UK. 

I was surprised on my way back to the town through the yacht marina that there were a lot of larger fish right near the shore. 

I wonder why these fish were on the land side of the yacht marina. No fishing is allowed in the marina so they are protected by that and the large amount of human activity and the shallow water means they are protected from most predators. 

I suspect, though I'm not sure, that these are thick-lipped mullet. There are four species of mullet in the UK- red mullet, which these look too dark to be, the golden grey mullet which isn't usually found at estuaries and harbours and the thick-lipped grey and thin-lipped grey mullet. These fish are often found in shallow waters and can even enter freshwater. 

That's all for now, see you again soon!

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Arachnids, Butterflies and Crickets

The year is zooming along and it's October already! How did that happen?

I'll start today with a red admiral from last week. Despite the temperatures gradually dropping there are still plenty of these hardy butterflies around.

The results of Butterfly Conservation's Big Butterfly Count were released this week and it was good news for red admirals. Despite the wet summer numbers have risen by 75% compared to 2016. A few decades ago Red Admirals were only summer visitors to the UK- they arrived from warmer parts of Europe in the Spring, bred here and their offspring flew South. Now many overwinter in the UK and the Red Admiral is the most commonly recorded butterfly during the Winter. 

The most commonly spotted butterfly of the count was the gatekeeper and other butterflies which had a better 2017 than 2016 include the comma, the small copper and the common blue. But it was a terrible year for the UK's three species of white butterfly (green-veined white, large white and small white) with all showing amongst their lowest ever totals of the count. This is partly due to the wet summer but may also be because they emerged earlier than usual, before the count begun. Certainly it felt like they were around in large numbers locally. 

Moving on, it's always nice when a more unusual moth finds it's way into the house where you can get a good look at it. This is a light emerald moth

These are relatively common moths which can often be seen in gardens and parks. It's likely this individual is from the second of two generations this year. The green colour fades over time until the moth eventually becomes almost pure white- this is common amongst green moths. 

I've noticed lots more spiders over the last few weeks, many obstructing pathways with their webs. 

These are both garden spiders, easily identifiable due to the cross of white spots on the abdomen. Spiders catch their prey in a variety of ways but this species does so in the one most familiar to us- they spin orb webs and sit in the middle of them waiting for insects to fly into the web. 

Spider webs are incredible feats of nature. The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. It's also thought that webs are electrically conductive which causes the silk threads to spring out to trap their quarry- flying insects tend to gain a static charge which attracts the silk.

Another recent invertebrate sighting was this cricket which I think is a roesel's bush cricket

Interestingly, a small number of this species are 'macropterous' which means they have much larger wings than normal. In most populations it's about 1% of individuals but some populations have higher numbers. It's thought that this is a dispersal technique. The idea is that in well-established populations or in strong seasons the population becomes dense so macropterous crickets can fly further to an area where there are less crickets and therefore more food. 

That's all for today but I'll leave you with the bright red leaves I always love to see at this time of year at the corner of my street. 

Sunday, 24 September 2017

RSPB Weymouth Reserves

For the first time in a little while I went on a wildlife expedition today. I headed over to Weymouth, a seaside town on the Dorset coast which is home to two small RSPB reserves.

First up was Radipole Lake, a reedy lake in central Weymouth. It reminded me a lot of one of my favourite nature reserves, Winnall Moors in Winchester, but this is even more urban. You can see just how close it is to the town in this photo.

My first sightings were members of the heron family, a grey heron and a little egret. Both are always welcome sights. 

There were also plenty of ducks around including tufted ducks and mallards

You can see a mallard here who looks a little different. It's possible that this individual is still undergoing losing it's eclipse plumage. Male mallards moult between June and September and look very similar to females during this time. It's also possible that this individual might be a cross breed, the result of a mallard breeding with a domestic duck or another species. 

I spotted a few cormorants sat on a pile of rocks near these ducks. 

Whilst some cormorants are resident in the UK, the numbers vastly increase over the winter months. I've started to notice cormorant numbers increasing significantly everywhere I've been over the last few weeks. 

It wasn't just birds that I saw at Radipole. It may be late September but there were still plenty of butterflies and dragonflies around including this peacock butterfly and common darter

Though not as glamourous, I also saw a large slug. 

Then it was on to Lodmoor, which houses another large reedbed. It too is located very close to the town centre. 

It was something of a feeding frenzy at Lodmoor with every bird I saw intent only on finding food. I saw my third species of duck of the day, a teal

This individual is almost certainly a wintering bird from Europe, probably having come from the Baltic or Siberia. 

Nearby was a moorhen with two juveniles still sticking close to it. 

Moorhen chicks can feed themselves within a few days of birth but clearly stick near their mother for some time. Moorhens lay between four to twelve eggs but it's common that only the two eldest survive as had probably happened here.

I was pleased to be able to get closer than I ever had before to black-tailed godwits at Lodmoor. There were good numbers Lodmoor and a few at Radipole too.

Most appeared to still be in their browny-orange breeding plumage but the odd one, like the last photo here, were already in their winter plumage- it may be that this was a juvenile. 

Another, much smaller wader that was present at Lodmoor were dunlins

Dunlins are the most common wintering waders with around 360,000 birds feeding on our shores.

I'll leave you with a few more photos of the lovely Weymouth reserves. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

September Sightings

Sometimes wildlife sneaks it's way into the house. One evening a moth fluttered in through the front door and then happily sat at the top of the living room wall.

This is a brimstone moth, one the UK's brightest. Who said all moths are dull looking? This species is attracted to light which is likely why I headed straight for our doorway. It has a complicated ecology with anything from one brood a year to three broods over two years

There are also still a few butterflies around but with the temperature getting colder the number is getting lower every day. I've mostly seen large whites and red admirals on the wing but I have also seen the occasional comma

I spotted this harvestman this weekend, really obvious against the leaf. 

These arachnids are omnivores and eat everything from squashed slugs, bird droppings and fruit to small invertebrates they catch. Now is the best time to see these creatures- there name comes because they are usually mature by the Autumn, around harvest time. 

There's a lot of spider around at the moment leading to loads of really beautiful webs.

The tensile strength of spider silk is greater than the same weight of steel and has much greater elasticity. Webs are also electrically conductive which causes the silk threads to spring out to trap their quarry, as flying insects gain a static charge which attracts the silk.

The small birds appear to be a little more obvious again now, likely because they need to spend more time looking for food. There will be very few caterpillars and other invertebrates for them to find unlike the abundance over the summer. 

Robins are starting to begin their autumn song which is subdued and melancholy compared to the powerful and upbeat spring song.

I was lucky to get this shot of a blue tit which looks like it was jumping in the air. Despite the breeding season being over, blue tits are often seen around nest boxes at this time of year. There are several possible explanations for this- blue tits often start looking at nest boxes ahead of the breeding season before making the final decision in the spring. It may also be as they are looking for somewhere relatively warm to roost in the colder weather. 

It's not entirely clear what species bird is but I think the streak of yellow in the tail feathers indicate it is a goldfinch. While goldfinches are resident to the UK plenty more arrive for the winter from North West Europe and Scandinavia to escape the colder weather. 

I've also captured a few good shots of mute swans over the last few weeks. 

Whilst mute swans do not migrate they do tend to move to a different area over the winter. Some young swans are driven off the breeding territory by their parents at this time of year too, when their plumage become predominantly white.

Over the last few weeks a bird has taken up resident on the island in the middle of the fishing lake. 

It's really hard to spot in this photo but it's the tiny white speck in the centre. This just shows how far away from humans and land-based predators the bird is. 

This is as close as my camera allows. This grey heron has been sat on this log every time I've been passed over the last fortnight. I rarely saw a heron here over the summer so I suspect this individual has moved to the area, either having migrated here or separated from a breeding colony.

Grey Squirrels are well known for collecting acorns at this time of year but you rarely catch them in the act. I did however manage to spot this one running off with it's find. 

I shall end with one more mammal, the world's longest roe deer

OK, it's really two deer in long grass but it makes for an amusing image!