Today I arrived back at work after ten days escape back to Scotland to be unable to see anything - yes that autumn mist was covering the reserve again! Autumn is one of my favourite times of year and this morning was a typical example of this - the sound of autumn. Calling overhead were thousands of pink-footed geese heading out for a days feeding in surrounding fields. Also calling overhead was a redwing another sign of autumn.
As I went around the reserve to check if the hides are still where they should be I had a look at what I could see. Through the mist were lots and lots of duck - teal and shoveler in particular. Also on the islands that I could see were snipe, redshank and lapwing.
Later on in the day, when the sun came out (it was an extremely nice day today!), 3 curlew sandpipers were still present on the reserve. Other waders around today included greenshank, ruff and spotted redshank. The spotting of a tawny owl in the hedge near singleton was another bonus.
Around 4pm another lot of pink-footed geese flew overhead - over 1000 of them.
These next few weeks are the best time to experience this wonderful time of year when summer makes way for Autumn - lets hope some of those nice sunny days like today will be a feature of the weather this autumn. Though sometimes a drab day like last Sunday can throw up a surprise. Bempton visited Blacktoft on Sunday - over 10 Gannets flew past the reserve heading west so you never known what an autumn day at Blacktoft might bring.
A moth blog by Mel our long term residential volunteer. Mel will be leaving us this weekend to continue her volunteer training at our reserve at Old Moor for the next six months. We hope that she will have a great career in the world of conservation.
After a summer of moth trapping on the reserve, I had begun to think that the mysterious world of moths was just too perplexing for words. Telling the multitudes of Lepidopteran ‘little brown jobs’ apart (is it a Dusky Brocade? Or a Confused? Now I’m confused!) seemed almost impossible sometimes. And though the diversity of moths appearing in our traps was astounding, the skills required to ID and count them accurately seemed astounding also.
However, checking a dew-covered moth trap on a crisp autumn morning is like opening a treasure chest, especially, it seems, if it has been raining the night before (the more recent wet weather conditions appear to make the moth trap into a more of a refuge, with moths jostling for space and rubbing wings on the egg boxes inside). The autumnal species, unlike many of the summer ones I puzzled over, can be really unique and striking – making my ID job much easier!
Recent moth traps have shown the Green Carpet moth to be the most abundant, showing off their stained-glass effect green and black markings when freshly emerged.
They only fly until mid September, so any seen outside this season are likely to be worn, their green scales fading to pink or even white.
Increasing numbers of Sallows and even a Pink Barred Sallow in the traps have brightened up my mornings:
They became even more interesting when I learned that the caterpillar (larva) of these moths will feast on the insides of a willow (sallow) catkin until it falls to the ground. The caterpillar within then gorges itself on other fallen catkins until it reaches pupation and spends winter, spring and most of the summer in an underground cocoon.
Frosted Orange moths sound good enough to eat – indeed they do display a beautiful pastel orange pattern and will be on the wing (and hopefully filling up our moth traps) until October:
Occasionally, the bright yellow-bodied Canary Shouldered Thorn has graced us with it’s jaunty presence in the trap.
Like the other Thorn species, they are easy to classify by their habit of holding their wings half raised when at rest, giving a ‘butterfly’ effect. This moth will fly well into October also, and it’s a real treat to see.
The usual Smoky Wainscot numbers of the summer months appear to have been replaced by the Large Wainscot:
They are seen in good numbers at Blacktoft due to our prime Phragmites reedbed, which is its larval food plant. Unlike a lot of moth caterpillars, the larvae feed, not on the leaves of the plant, but on the root and stem tissue. The effect on reedbed growth as a whole is generally not significant if the reed is otherwise healthy, and the Wainscots themselves provide food for our reedbed birds, especially the thriving bearded tit population.
Before October is out, the keen-eyed among you may also spot the very cryptic Red Underwing resting on walls and buildings during the day:
After a trapping night, the (well-behaved) moths we trap will rest the following day in the Reception hide, and their fascinating array of markings are available for curious visitors to feast their eyes.
We hope to have moths to show you on Sunday during our Autumn Day.
During this next month we see the end of summer and the start of a new season, autumn. What does this mean for us at Blacktoft?
Over the next few weeks, waders will give way to wildfowl. Of the waders still around we have 2 curlew sandpipers, lots of spotted redshank, ruff and some black-tailed godwits. The wader that increases is the amazingly autumn marked snipe, peaking during October. Be sure to look in the grass in front of xerox hide and you might see a lot of snipe.
Wildfowl have already started to build up with almost 1000 teal using our lagoons. Other counts today included 68 wigeon, 30 gadwall, 37 pintail, shoveler and mallard. They appear to favouring the newly flooded area of Ousefleet. Also pink-footed geese have started flying overhead.
Bird of prey are also a feature of the reserve from now on. Highlights at the moment include 21 marsh harriers going into roost and merlins have returned from the moors to become a regular feature at Blacktoft for the winter. Other birds of prey to look out for include peregrine, sparrowhawk, kestrel and the odd hen harrier.
Bearded tits are also a feature on the reserve at the moment. A group of 30 were seen on marshland on Thursday. Be sure to arrive in the mornings of calm autumn days.
The colours around the reserve during autumn is also amazing with reds of the berriers, oranges of the leaves and the reed to the browns of many of our birds - it is another reason to escape to Blacktoft Sands this autumn
Discover autumn at Blacktoft on our open day on Sunday 3rd October. There will be guides in hides and a special autumn wildlife challenge for kids. Join us anytime between 10am and 4pm.