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.