In the last week, even with somewhat changeable weather, there has been plenty of activity on the bird front. Waders seem to be assembling on the estuary now, day on day: Black-tailed and Bar-tailed Godwits, Golden Plover and Oystercatchers in ever increasing numbers.
Black-tailed Godwits on estuary at Campfield, 10th July 1710 hrs 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits on high tideline at Campfield, 9th july 2010
Bar-tails in flight, Campfield. 9th July 2010
Small group of Golden Plover feeding on the ebbtide, Campfield. 10th July 2010
On the farm part of the Reserve at North Plain we have seen encouraging activity regarding young birds: House and Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Sedge and Willow Warbler and Linnet families. On the 2nd Pool we’ve watched Moorhens continuing with their nest building - the female now appears to be sitting. The female Little Grebe is presently feeding a growing youngster and there are increasing numbers of butterflies and dragonflies all along the track.
Water levels in all the pools and scrapes appear to be holding their own, with the rain of the last week - all this culminating in a great day today. When we went for our usual morning stroll down the lonning, we were immediately confronted by splendid examples of female Southern Hawker dragonfly, Red Admirals, Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown butterflies and Silver Y Moths. I think the rewarding moment was coming upon two splendid Emperor dragonflies hawking over the 2nd pool along with several families of swallows – whether these represent a present danger to the dragonflies, we are not sure!
Red Admiral on brambles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Meadow Brown on nettles, Lonning 14th July 2010
Silver Y Moth on bramble flowers, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
Emperor dragonfly (male) hawking on 2nd Pool at North Plain, 14th July 2010
Having taken a number of photos of Southern Hawker dragonflies in the last few days, we were amazed at the way this colourful dragonfly’s marking matched, in many ways, the various foliage that they had chosen to land on. Although in the three examples below, the background foliage was entirely different, the dragonfly’s colouring seemed to pick out and emphasise certain elements, to give themselves most effective camouflage. One supposes that had they landed on some other coloured vegetation the same might have happened. As a major predator this would have greatly assisted in its hunting technique. Also, obviously, it would have been a major protection against predation on itself – say from birds. This goes to show that even gaudy colouring which some dragonflies can be said to have provides surprising protection
Female Southern Hawker on wild roses, North Plain Lonning, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker in garden adjacent to RSPB reedy meadow, on dried leaves, 12th July 2010
Female Southern Hawker on nettles, North Plain Lonning, 14th July 2010
The sun was warm and the wind had dropped. The air was alive with insects. On our return journey home we had the good fortune to come across two cheerful visitors accompanied by our very own Norman Holton. On introduction, they turned out to be Bill Kenmir, Cumbria RSPB Reserves Area Manager, and Johann Holt, RSPB Visitor Services Advisor from the Lodge, Sandy. They had certainly chosen the day – what with the weather and the like.
Johann Holt, Bill Kenmir and Norman Holton, 14th Jully 2010
We, again, ran across them later in the day at Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, where they were treated to the spectacle of upwards of 1000 Oystercatcher, numerous Curlew, Gulls and Golden Plover, not to mention about 40 Bar-tailed Godwits in all shades of plumage from deep summer red to the palest grey – all basking on the hightide roost, not a hundred yards away.
Oystercatchers and Curlew resting on Campfield saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Bar-tailed Godwits ( in varying degrees of plumage) with oystercatchers at high tide on saltmarsh, 14th July 2010
Golder Plover, Saltmarsh Pool, 14th July 2010
The Lay-by, full of happy birders – many of whom were RSPB, had certainly given our visitors a splendid show.
Birdwatchers, Saltmarsh Pool Lay-by, 14th July 2010
Crow on the lookout from the garden.
Our house, as you may have gathered, is within the precincts of the Reserve, so we always consider that a bird seen in the garden is automatically a bird for the reserve – and we view it accordingly. We also feed the birds in the garden intensively, as indeed does Norman at the farm (North Plain) - only a couple of hundred yards away . . . so, in the immediate area, we have a good number and variety of species – which is excellent.
However there is a downside to all this: we seem to be 'raptor central'. I can't tell you how many birds of prey we get on a regular basis. Some of them you could nearly set your watch by (No! Really!) - and regularly little piles of feathers are to be found here and there, which we endlessly speculate about. We also have foxes and feral cats putting their sixpenn'orth in. OK! while we are at it, we have badgers coming in from the Reserve, which fortunately don't take birds but do rotavate the lawn and orchard in search of worms – their main source of food. We have long since stopped worrying about the fact and just go with the flow now. Ray Mears, on TV the other night, came up with the sentiment by 'Grey Owl', that famous naturalist and conservationist – that we do not own nature, we are part of it!
That being said, I have been known to go out and shout at the Sparrowhawk or the two Buzzards, when I see them sitting in the garden trees. The Buzzards decimate the rabbit population that spend time in the garden. The horticulturists amongst you may say, “Well, that's OK!” But when a dear little rabbit, no bigger than your hand, turns up to nibble the lawn grass – which is pretty well all they do – one forms quite a deep attachment to these little furry folk.
The redeeming feature of all this are the two resident Carrion Crows, who nest and reside in the trees at the end of the garden and who, over the years have raised many successful broods. Last year was particularly good, in their having brought off 4 fledglings who are still hanging around the family nest and act as a sort of support group to the old male Crow in his policing activities, which he enthusiastically pursues throughout the course of the year - not only in the garden but on the adjacent saltmarsh and estuary. Nothing – and I say this from long experience – escapes his attention. He is the ultimate 'Warlord'. Should, for instance, a party of Rooks, often accompanied by Jackdaws (of which there are a good number on the Reserve), arrive on the saltmarsh in front of us, to eat and disport themselves amongst the rich detritus the estuary tides have to offer – he will descend amongst them with his retinue of 'crowlets' and make his corvid cousin's lives intolerable: chasing and jostling; so that they eventually leave in disorder. Whereupon the gang returns to the garden, cawing and strutting – displaying their satisfaction and ownership of the area. This action they metre out, without fear or favour, to any predator or raptor that misguidedly wanders into their marshland kingdom..
We have seen them remove Harriers - both Marsh and Hen; Buzzards; Sparrowhawk and Peregrine. They even harass Kestrels and local Owls of all species – and it's a brave fox that enters into their domain, although they do try it out sometimes on the saltmarsh, but tend to get a good drubbing for their pains and run off to more peaceful areas, further away. Sparrowhawks, though I have to say, are quite brave folk, as they also see the area as their territory too – but, in the end, are driven away.
About a week ago, we observed a real classic, out on the estuary 'sands', a couple of hundred yards beyond the saltmarsh. A Peregrine had just made a kill of a duck( a Pintail, we think) and was consuming the same when our doughty crow pair went out to do their thing. The male Crow stood in front of the Peregrine, a couple of feet away, crowing right into the Peregrine's face and generally making himself disagreeable. This gained the raptor's attention whilst the female cunningly hopped up behind him, eager to gain a tasty morsel or two. At which, the Peregrine spun round, and with a couple of gestures, discouraged the female from her thieving activity. I was watching this through the scope with great interest to see how this would all play out. The Peregrine tolerated this situation for a while but was clearly beginning to suffer from indigestion and made a determined lunge at the male Crow. Now, to use a well known metaphor, this was the 'yellow card' - which predictably the crow did not accept. Bad Plan! This was now becoming serious and and I began to fear for 'our' Crow's safety. But the fearless corvid could not back down, as this would have meant losing all his 'street cred' on the marsh – especially in front of his lady love! Push had come to shove!. Now a Peregrine is a serious animal when it comes to 'shove' and has all the advantages. But I was seriously surprised when it leapt into the air and started flying in ever increasing circles – gaining height and speed. Now I, as a humble human, recognised this as the 'red card', as this is the Peregrine's method of attack. The two Crows also recognised the implications and made a dash for the safety of the garden trees which they gained in some disarray. The Peregrine in close pursuit – buzzed the house a couple of times too, giving us an excellent view of this magnificent bird. The old male Crow, being a warrior of many summers, wisely chose to cut his losses and live to fight another day.
Amusingly, this opportunity arose two or three days later, when he decided to enter into a game of chicken with one of our visiting Little Egret – again right in front of the house on the saltmarsh. The game consisted of the Crow repeatedly standing right in the path of the approaching Little Egret who was peaceably and vigorously feeding amongst the creeks and dubs of the marsh. The game developed with a certain amount of wing fluttering and manoeuvring - the choreography becoming increasingly sophisticated. But the Egret, obviously growing tired of this to the point of exasperation, eventually trampled the Crow who was determined to still hold its ground. Although surprised at this turn of events, the Crow seemed to decide that honour had been sufficiently satisfied on his part and not wishing to receive a second trampling, returned to the garden to preen his ruffled feathers whilst digesting the experience of being flattened by a Little Egret. We suspect that there will be further sequels to this game – with the score being 1-0 to the Egret.
I, as a mere human, can offer the Crow no advice but I do hope that he will watch the Egret's long sharp beak in future or he will, as is his wont, learn the hard way! But in our eyes – his 'street cred' has risen substantially this last couple of weeks and he will be rewarded with an extra ration of fruit cake – his favourite.
Valiant crow seeing off Buzzard.
Peregrine episode - 10 2 13
Peregrine with duck on the mudflats - Scargavel Point
Oh, Oh! What's this?
This requires a closer inspection.
This could be a tasty morsel!
Perhaps a distraction tactic would work better!
Little Egret encounter - 26 2 13
Little Egret hunting along the dubs on the saltmarsh.
Crow arrives to inspect this activity.
Unperturbed the Egret marches off along the saltmarsh.
. . . only to be confronted by the Crow who had flown ahead of him.
As the Egret took no notice of this warning the Crow landed right across the Egret's track.
It had dawned a bright sunny day – perfect for a walk around the Red Route. So starting out through the Discovery field which Stephen had recently mown a wide track through. We were amazed at the number of different flowers now coming up in the Wildflower Meadow. Bumblebees and butterflies were plentiful on this warm sunny day. As we crossed the Troll Bridge we could see that the stream into the Dipping Pond had now completely dried up due to the dry weather we had been experiencing lately.
It was a delightful experience walking along the wide track through the buttercup meadow which was now showing the results of the Yellow Rattle seed that the workparty had sown. As we passed through the gate at the top of the field, we became aware of a Roe Deer grazing amongst the buttercups to our right. Although it had seen us it deemed that we were far enough away for safety and carried on grazing. A rather worn looking Peacock Butterfly flitted about the track ahead of us, landing occasionally and taking advantage of the warming sunshine.
Discovery field aglow with buttercups.
Green-veined White Butterfly on Ragged Robin in Wildflower meadow.
Path through the buttercups.
Yellow rattle growing amongst it.
Roe Deer in next meadow.
Peacock Butterfly on the track ahead.
As we reached the corner near the Damson trees John suddenly spotted a flicker of bright red amongst the grasses at the side of the track. Sure enough, it turned out to be a Cinnabar Moth - a moth that is poisonous to birds, having had this feature passed on to it from its caterpillar stage Ragwort food plant.
Walking along the track towards Bushcraft Island, a couple of birds shot out of the hedge and landed on the power lines nearby. Although fairly distant, we could see from their domed head and white throat, that they were a pair of Whitethroat. As we neared the Island a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly landed on a patch of dried grass in the sunlight. Looking along the path that led back to the hide, a whole line of hawthorns stood out due to their very pink May blossom.
At this point we chose to turn off and follow the Red Route towards the flooded woodland and new boardwalk across the Moss. Nearing the flooded old peat workings, an Oystercatcher’s call gained our attention. It was parked on a fencepost in the lane adjacent – obviously keeping a sharp eye on us as we progressed towards the wood, but not being disturbed.
Cinnabar Moth amongst vegetation near the 'damsom trees' corner.
Small Tortoiseshell on 'Bushcraft Island'.
Pink may on hawthorn bushes along the ditch back to the hide.
Oystercatcher on boundary fence gatepost - keeping a sharp eye on us.
As the flooded pools came into view, we saw a couple of fairly large Dragonflies zipping across the path ahead. A number of Four-spotted Chasers could be seen patrolling the pools on the left-hand side and a couple of mating Large Red Damselflies on the bracken lining the track. A regular feature of this area is a Buzzard and sure enough, one was soaring overhead as we entered the wood.
We had been getting glimpses of Stephen and tractor as we approached, but now he was there in the middle of the wood, pondering the difficult task of filling in the track to prevent it flooding in wetter months. Stopping to have a short chat, our attention was drawn to a family of Wrens picking about in the undergrowth
Arriving at the edge of the Moss.
Buzzard soaring overhead.
Large Red Damselfly mating - bracken on trackside near flooded peat workings.
One of the pools formed from flooded old peat workings.
Four-spotted Chaser in flight.
Four-spotted Chaser patrolling one of the flooded pools.
A Wren amongst the tangle of undergrowth in the flooded wood.
On exiting the wood we were soon walking along the new boardwalk across the Moss. Ahead of us a Meadow Pipit kept flying onto the boards, running along them for a while and then disappearing back into the vegetation. We presumed this to be a diversionary tactic.
The Cotton Grass, which had been flowering and looking splendid for the last couple of weeks, was now going back. But we pressed on, with the distant outline of the Lake District on the horizon. Fresh green patches of Bog Asphodel could be seen periodically pushing through the old dried vegetation. Soon the wooden compass came into view. This marks the point where the boardwalk joins the older track in the middle of the moss. It is an interesting area here, where the wet sphagnum gives way to drier peat. It is punctuated with birch saplings and areas of bracken. We were fortunate enough to observe a number of birds making use of the habitat: Stonechat, Whinchat, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and a family of Linnets. The Meadow Pipit was actually wallking on the vegetation on the surface of a pool alongside the track and was quite confiding, enabling us to watch it for some time and take some reasonable photos..
The peat underfoot soon gave way to wetter conditions again and we were back on the last section of boardwalk. Nearing the small pool on the edge of the wood, Azure Damselflies were seen on the Bog Myrtle lining the track. The pool itself sported at least two Four-spotted Chasers, slowly gliding back and forth.
Out onto the boardwalk that snakes across the Moss.
Meadow Pipit on the boardwalk ahead.
Bog Asphodel starting to show.
Carved wooden compass marking the confluence of the paths ahead.
Meadow Pipit walking on vegetation on the pool amongst the heather.
A couple of Linnets and a male Stonechat on distant line of heather.
Azure Damselflies mating on Bog Myrtle, on the side of the boardwalk.
Day flying moth on vegetation on the side of the Boardwalk near to the wood . Help with identification would be appreciated. Size-wise, it had a wingspan of about 3cm as seen in the photo.
Cross-leaved heath just starting to flower. Seen in hollows alongside the boardwalk.
Our next stopping place was the Willow Bower, where we had a well-earned rest and drink on this very warm day. We were serenaded by a Willow Warbler sitting on a branch above us and were able to observe a Sedge Warbler collecting insects from the hedge behind and the grassy margins of the track. It made quite a haul while we were there: damselflies, bumblebees and a myriad of flies.
Willow Warbler singing near Bower.
Sedge Warbler with an array of insects - caught from hedge and grasses round the bower . . .
. . . and yet another beak full caught only a few minutes later.
Pressing on back home now, we made a brief stop at the hide where a Grey Heron had just flown in to the pool in front and quickly got down to fishing and two Roe Deer were lazily grazing out in the middle of the now dried up Wetland area.
Roe Deer on wetlands.
Grey Heron had just landed and promptly started to feed.