Happy Easter to everyone and what a great weekend it is shaping up to be with all this sunshine! I had a pleasant afternoon down on the reserve yesterday in glorious 25C temperatures and the place was buzzing with life. I picked up my first hobby of the year over Phase 1. What a stunning bird this is, with it's steely grey upperparts, black and white head pattern and bright orange/red 'trousers'. Look for them darting very fast over the reedbed hunting dragonflies.
Invertebrates are in abundance now and the numbers of St. Mark's flies and longhorn moths, Adela reaumurella (see previous blog), seem to have increased significantly since Tuesday! Another painted lady butterfly on Phase 1 yesterday was a welcome sight and the reserve's beetle recording has started for the year, with some nice species already on the list! The green dock beetle, or Gastrophysa viridula, is a small metallic green beetle that can be seen on or around dock plants - as their name suggests, the larvae feed on dock. See if you can spot a gravid female (full of eggs). Her abdomen swells to about twice normal size, pushing the much smaller elytra (wing cases) upwards, exposing the black 'skin' of the abdomen underneath. Some of my personal favourites are the click beetles and we have seen two species on site already this year. No English, so here goes with the Scientific names - Agriotes lineatus and Kibunea minuta are two common species in the UK, Agriotes is a light brown colour, whilst Kibunea is black, but get it in good light and you will see a purplish sheen. As a defence mechanism they are able to arch their backs, snapping a special 'spine' into a notch on their undersides. This produces a loud clicking noise and propels the insect into the air to escape predators!
And the moth trap on Thursday night produced some more nice species for our ever growing site list. Along with hebrew characters and clouded drabs, we had a pebble prominent, a powdered quaker and 3 muslin moths. The pebble prominent is a pretty species, usually flying between May and August, the caterpillars feeding on sallows and poplars. The powdered quaker is related to the common and small quakers (see previous blogs) and fly in April and May, the caterpillars feeding on willows and sallows. And my favourite the muslin moth is a beautiful species, with a strong sexual dimorphism - that is, the male and female look very different. The male is a soft grey/brown colour, whilst the female is bright white, but both are sparsely flecked with small black spots and have bright yellow hairs covering their front pair of legs! They fly in April and May and the larvae feed on low growing plants including dock.
We are certainly enjoying this nice weather here at Langford and so is the wildlife! I went out on Tuesday to conduct the third butterfly transect of 2011 and what a stark contrast to last week’s, which was dull and grey! With 21°C, minimal cloud cover and only a gentle breeze, it was ideal conditions for insects of all kinds. And the first butterfly I came across, only 5 yards into the transect route was a smart little holly blue - the first of the year. They fly in two generations each summer – the first from April until June and then again in July and August. As their name suggests, the caterpillars feed on holly, but only in the first generation. Individuals of the second generation mainly feed on ivy!
Other butterfly species recorded were green-veined and small white, brimstone, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood, orange-tip, peacock and comma.
And I even had my first day-flying moths of the year on Tuesday, on the public footpath near the woodland. They are called Adela reaumurella (sorry no English name for this species!) and belong to a group of moths known as the longhorn moths. And this is for a good reason as the white coloured antennae of the males are up to two times the length of the insect itself! In females they are up to 1.5 times the length of the insect. The wings are metallic green and often you will see a group of up to 20 of them swarming together around vegetation. Stunning to watch!
Also this week - look for the little black flies that fly around with their legs dangling below them. They are St. Mark's flies, or Bibio marci, to be technical. At about 10mm long, they are so named as they are thought to traditionally emerge on St. Mark's day on 25th April - a bit early this year!
And finally some bird news from Tuesday – regular sightings of a male cuckoo on Phase 1, a nice female sparrowhawk flew over Phase 1 towards the public footpath and the first house martin and common terns of the year.
Highlights from the latter half of last week include –
It was an early start for me last Wednesday as I started my 2011 bird surveying. I had a busy morning and managed to pick up a barn owl on phase 1, a stunning pair of wheatear on Phase 2 – a site tick for me and the first of the year, a pair of grey partridge on Phase 2, cetti’s warbler singing from silt lagoon 3 and the first whitethroats of the year.
Male marsh harrier on Phase 1, male wheatear still on Phase 2, yellow wagtail on Phase 2 and greenshank on silt lagoon 7
Cetti’s warbler on silt lagoon 3
And I was glad I left the moth trap out on Thursday night, as on Friday morning I was greeted by a small, yet high quality catch! The first was a beautiful waved umber. With their brown and black pattered wings, they look just like a charred piece of wood, brilliant camouflage! They fly from April to June, and the caterpillars feed on wild privet and lilac. The next was The Streamer. This is a stunning species with a light grey base colour to the wings, sometimes tinged lilac, patterned with black. The name ‘streamer’ comes from the black tapering mark running down the forewings from the leading edge to the tip. Common in England and Wales, the larvae feed on dog-rose and the adults fly in April and May. Next was a Herald – these are lovely, with their bright orange flecking on the forewings and white and brown stripy legs. They overwinter as adult insects and can sometimes be disturbed during the depths of winter. The larvae feed on willows and poplars. Also in the trap were 2 hebrew characters, 1 clouded drab and a pretty little micro-moth, known as the 20-plume moth – due to it’s feathery wings.
And one last piece of insect news – another early painted lady butterfly was seen on Phase 1 on Friday afternoon by volunteer Dave Watt and myself.
This morning I met volunteers Julie Straw and Linda Lowndes, to carry out this months WeBS count on yet another glorious day.
Results were as follows:
shelduck - 9
oystercatcher - 14
mallard - 28
coot - 26
Canada goose - 9
greylag goose - 40
grey heron - 3
great crested grebe - 8
lapwing - 9
tufted duck - 33
mute swan - 11
gadwall - 19
teal - 15
shoveler - 2
snipe - 3
little ringed plover - 4
black-headed gull - 3
green sandpiper - 1
redshank - 3
pochard - 2
kingfisher - 1
Also of note were 2 yellow wagtails, 1 white wagtail, 1 Cetti's warbler, 6 grasshopper warblers and a male marsh harrier.
I was joined on site today by eight members of the public who had booked on to an 'Introduction to Birdwatching' course, organised by the BTCV (British Trust for Conservation Volunteers) and TVLP (Trent Vale Landscape Partnership).
After running through some of the basics (optics, field guides, websites etc), we wasted little time in getting outside in the glorious sunshine. It was initially a little hard going, trying to point out willow warblers and blackcaps that were skulking behind the fresh foliage of the trees, however, we eventually got good views of both.
I have to say that the numerous warblers around site were a personal highlight. As well as willow warbler and blackcap, we also heard Cetti's warbler, grasshopper warbler, whitethroat, chiffchaff and sedge warbler. What I wasn't expecting to hear, was my first cuckoo of the year.
As we approached Silt Lagoon 6, it could be heard singing it's distinctive song, somewhere north of the viewing screen.
We paused for lunch by Phase 1 and just as I was explaining the differences between sand martin and house martin, one of the group spotted a bittern, as it moved positions in the reedbed. Unfortunately, only the very quick managed to see it as it dropped back down out of view.
The occasional yellow wagtail gave itself away with it's call as it flew overhead, though we didn't see any on the ground. We did, however manage to get very good views of little ringed plover, displaying lapwing, great crested grebes and six buzzards circling low over Phase 2.
(Photo courtesy of RSPB images)