It’s been blowing a gale here today at Langford and combined with some heavy showers this afternoon, it’s been a rather dreary day. However, the miserable weather most definitely doesn’t deter the wildlife!
This morning I was treated to a brilliant view of 3 whooper swans on silt lagoon 4, looking stunning with their bright white plumage and striking yellow and black bills. I had first picked them up yesterday morning after they swam across silt lagoon 6, being hotly pursued by a pair of very aggressive looking mute swans!
Also this morning I managed to pick up not 1, but 2 kingfishers heading towards Phase 2 from the silt lagoons and a green sandpiper calling overhead as it flew towards Phase 3.
2 kestrels battled the howling wind this afternoon hunting on Phase 2, still managing to keep their heads totally still as they hovered over the rough grass and the regular roosting starlings started to gather around 15.30, with swirling flocks dropping into the reeds and willows around silt lagoons 2,3 and 4. The maximum number seen so far this year roosting on site seems to be in the region of 3000-4000, not as many as last winter, but still a magnificent sight!
Also on site this week, volunteers John and Graham recorded jack snipe on Phase 3, 14 house sparrows around the public footpath (a most unusual sight at Langford!) and up to 7 tree sparrows feeding on the bird feeders viewable from the screen on the public footpath looking over Phase 1. A mixed finch/bunting/sparrow flock kept me entertained yesterday afternoon along the public footpath, with around 100 birds of a good selection of species including yellowhammer, reed bunting, tree sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and linnet.
The monthly WeBS (Wetland Bird Survey) was completed on site yesterday by myself and Warden Paul Bennett. This involves counting all waterbirds on site and submitting the data to the British Trust for Ornithology and is part of a national network of sites contributing data to this important monitoring scheme. Our results from yesterday are as follows –
2 little grebe
2 great crested grebe
79 tufted duck
6 mute swan
1 greylag goose
1 green sandpiper
3 grey heron
40 black headed gull
1 water rail
Also on site yesterday were a short eared owl and a merlin seen by Site Manager Michael Copleston, 2 sparrowhawks seen by Paul and a Cetti’s warbler singing from the Phase 1 reedbed. Today we have been treated to some more sightings of tree sparrows from the Phase 1 viewing screen, have counted around 100 fieldfare at the southern end of the site, watched a corvid mobbing a short eared owl over the silt lagoons and spotted 24 golden plover and 150 pink footed geese overflying the reserve. Not bad!
I'm sure that most of you will be aware of the fact that during the winter, starlings often gather in huge, swirling flocks, prior to going to roost and will often use reedbeds to roost in. You may also remember that last winter at Langford, we had approximately 15,000 starlings using our Phase 1 reedbed to roost in; that is before the big freeze put paid to it.
Well, despite the fact that part of our reeded area in Phase 1 has temporarily been covered over during our engineering project, Michael and I observed over 2000 starlings performing their pre-roost aerobatics last night, shortly before filtering in to the reeds in Silt Lagoons 5 and 6. This was made even more spectacular by the addition of a pair of hunting peregrines (the size difference between the sexes was quite obvious).
When we finally see an end to the unseasonally mild conditions that we are currently experiencing, then it's likely that the flock will be joined by many more birds too.
All of this action can be seen from the public footpath that runs along the north-eastern reserve boundary.
Also of interest at the moment is a barn owl that has been seen three times over the last week along the southern boundary of the reserve.
There's been a steady increase in the number of birds on site and in particular, those that one might associate with winter time.
Flocks of winter thrushes, namely fieldfares and redwings can be seen and heard overhead throughout the day and our starling roost is starting to grow, with Michael having seen around 2000 yesterday. This flock may well have attracted the sparrowhawk that we saw this afternoon.
Wildfowl numbers are swelling, with more teal and mallard on site, interspersed with the odd pintail, shoveler or pochard. Carl Cornish found a male stonechat by the Balancing Ponds last week and it was relocated in Phase 2 by our volunteers during last Sunday's work party.
Flocks of lapwings and black-headed gulls have been seen around Silt Lagoon 5, where there has been a very vocal Cetti's warbler over the last couple of weeks. Nearby, a water rail has also been in good voice.
We've had two star birds on site this week though. The first is a tree sparrow (or possibly two), that flew over me and Jenny yesterday and landed in the hedge behind the viewing screen. We've not seen one of these on site since last winter.
The other was a short-eared owl. This was flushed out by one of our contractors who is currently working on the re-profiling project. Short-eared owl is usually a regular winter visitor to Langford. However, none were seen last year (presumably due to the snow), so hopefully, this one may hang around long enough for me to see!
We had another successful volunteer Sunday this weekend, with 14 people arriving on site ready for a hard days work. And what a beautiful day it was as we set off, with cloudless skies, not a breath of wind and the sun still giving off some warmth, even in November!
The main task for the day was building the reed growing bays in the new polytunnel. The group soon got to work fixing together wooden frames, levelling off the bases with sand and lining them with plastic. By the end of the day 4 bays had been built and the reeds returned to their rightful place – a great job by everyone involved. Any visitors to the viewing screen will also see a difference, as we have cut some viewing channels through the scrub next to the screen. This now enables visitors to see further across the reedbed and into the corners previously obscured by the scrub. This makes it a bit more interesting and increases your chances of spotting the ever elusive bittern!
And it just wouldn’t be right if we didn’t spare some time to appreciate the great wildlife that we have here at Langford. The bird of the day has to be a lovely male stonechat, spotted by volunteer Barrington Randle down on Phase 2, see his pictures on the photo gallery. Also around on Sunday was a little egret on Phase 2, kingfishers calling and two flocks of pink-footed geese flying over the reserve, the first this winter.