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.
It all started when we arrived at the reserve this morning to look accross the reeds to see that the Indians have moved in on the opposite bank.
Quickly our wardening staff started a fire to open conversation via smoke signals. Ok they were burning some reed as part of habitat work in the reedbed.
For the next few hours, everything around the reserve was as it should be - reports were coming in of 4 curlew sandpipers on townend, 27 spotted redshank, 25 ruff up at Ousefleet, 5 little egrets on singleton etc.
Then at 10:55am our first sighting of the bittern came. On the cut vegetation to the right of reception there was a bittern standing still. During the next 15 minutes it WALKED along the cut area on the opposite bank of the ditch (some 4 metres away) directly in front of reception stopping every so often to stand still with its beak it the air allowing excellent view of its plumage. Of course nobody had a camera to take this amazing view.
Next sighting came at 12:45pm when it was spotted along the right hand side of the cut area in front of first hide, again just walking out in the open. Then it flew into the reeds at the back of first.
Another hour or so when by and another visitor spotted it taking a short flight towards xerox before disappearing once again into the reeds.
A short while later at 2:15pm it decided to take another flight. We watched from reception as it climbed into the sky above xerox and FLEW with difficultly into the wind towards marshland. After struggling and allowing visitors amazing views of a flying bittern it landed to the right of marshland.
Then another hour later at 3:15pm, it appeared directly in front of ousefleet hide and decided it wanted to be on the other side of the fence. After four attempts at trying to get through the fence, it eventually CLIMBED through the small gap in the fence. Around the same time, after sending smoke signals all day, we eventually got a response from the opposite bank via a puff of smoke (what does that mean?).
After such an amazing day, we thought it could not get any better but at 6:30pm, I went up to Ousefleet with a camera this time to take photos of the area in flood and to look at the ducks that are gathered there such as pintail, wigeon, teal and mallard. Whilst taking these photos, I realised that the bittern was sitting on the other side of the fence and I took these amazing shots.
After finally calming down from this, I headed to singleton for what is meant to be the highlight of the day watching marsh harriers coming into roost. Well 10 did along with over 50 yellow wagtails being attacked by a merlin.
What an incredible day was had for 34 visitors that decided to venture to Blacktoft Sands on such a blustery day.
2010 was a fantastic year for marsh harriers at Blacktoft Sands.
It all started with the winter roost peaking in February with 15 marsh harriers coming into spend the night in the reeds. Each year, more and more marsh harriers are now using the reedbed at Blacktoft Sands as a place to spend the winter. For best views of this spectacle visit during January or February when the roost counts peak.
Then it went a bit crazy during March and April with over 20 birds displaying, nest building and chasing each other over the reserve. During March, the male marsh harriers returned from their winter break in Portugal or Africa to discover young marsh harriers trying to take over territories in the reedbed. These males quickly got into action displaying high above the reserve and chasing any of the young males away. For around a three week period during the end of March and beginning of April, the skies above the reserve appeared to be full of marsh harriers. Just out the front of reception, there were seven birds trying for this small patch in the reeds (2 males, 2 young males and 3 females). Eventually, the adult males managed to win these battles, so 2 pairs ending up nesting in front of reception and another one (probably young birds) were pushed over towards marshland. These battles were repeated throughout the site.
With these battles over with, the business of building the nests began. At this time many marsh harriers were flying around carrying a piece of reed to the site they have choosen as a nest.
By May, all our females were sitting on eggs. You only saw them when the males came in from hunting carrying a piece of food, calling her up and passing the food to her in mid air. This amazing spectacle occurred regularly throughout May. One of the males from reception, was a bit too good at this, sometimes coming in up to 8 times a day to feed the female - seems a lot!
At the beginning of June, the young hatched. To begin with the males continued to bring in the food, passing it to the female for her to take part to the nest to feed the young. Quickly, the females started to hunt near the nest and the males went a bit further afield often bring the food back and dropping it straight into the nest - hopefully not directly onto a chicks head!
Early July, saw the first of chicks flying over the reedbed. Eventually over the first three weeks of July, over 20 young marsh harriers started flying around the reeds, fledging from 9 nests. That male that liked feeding the female near reception, continued to like feeding the chicks from that nest so they had no reason to fly as they were kept well fed - perhaps they were too heavy! On the 18th July, they eventually decided to take off and try and fly. Over the coming weeks these young continued to be well fed so they just had to sit around and as soon as the male returns, they took off and chased him for food. He obviously liked this, as he continued to bring in a awful lot of food well into August when all the other adults had given up weeks ago. Apart from this nest, the other birds when through the waiting game quickly and moved onto learning how to hunt - not necessary very successful. Often you see a youngster perched on the ground looking very confused over why it cannot catch some food. One particular day this young marsh harrier spotted a pheasant up at Ousefleet, went for it but missed. It then sat on the ground, whilst the pheasant just wandered right up and took a close look at this bird. The young marsh harrier made no move even though it could just taken a swipe at it to catch the pheasant. The pheasant continued to walk right past the beak of the marsh harrier and it never made a move.
During August, the marsh harriers often headed away from the reserve to hunt over the surrounding fields, some went on trips away and some may have already started migrating to Africa for the winter.
Now duriing September, marsh harriers start roosting in the reedbed to the right of singleton hide. After spending a day hunting either on the reserve or more likely in the surrounding areas, they start heading back to the reeds of Blacktoft Sands to spend the night in the reeds. September is one of the best times to witness this roost as birds that have bred here, young birds and others coming across from Europe join the roost leading to the sight of between 10 and 20 birds coming into roost. Saturday 11th September roost count included at least 7 males, 2 females and 2 youngsters. These birds spent a while on Saturday flying around together before settling into the reeds for the night - an amazing experience.
This Thursday 16th or Friday 17th, we will have guides in the hides to help you make the best of this magical time when marsh harriers prepare for a night in the reeds. Join us from 5pm until when it gets dark. Please pop into reception, pick up an activity book and away you go to watch this amazing spectacle.