Spring is continuing to advance – very slowly! Last week saw the first small tortoiseshell butterfly on site and indeed the first butterfly for weeks, since a peacock was seen in a brief warmer spell in January! This was then followed by two more small tortoiseshells yesterday and my first bumblebee of the year. The large queen was flying around silt lagoon 2, presumably taking advantage of the plentiful willow catkins that are providing the only source of nectar at the moment!
I’m waiting for my first Langford brimstones now, after seeing three in over the border in Lincolnshire on Saturday and hoping for other species that should be on the wing now, including comma, red admiral and soon orange-tip, speckled wood and green-veined white.
Bird wise, the migrants are trickling in. My breeding bird survey this morning revealed two singing chiffchaffs – one more than last week and at least 3 little ringed plovers. Our Conservation Officer, Carl Cornish, also reported the first sand martin of the year on Saturday. There was plenty singing this morning including 3 song thrush, numerous reed buntings, increasing numbers of skylark holding territory, little grebe trilling away on Phase 3 and Cetti’s warbler.
However, my highlight of this morning’s survey was a woodcock around the south end of the site on the National Cycle Network trail. I saw the bird in flight twice, such a distinctive looking species and beautifully plumaged, this was a real treat and only my second woodcock sighting this winter (and yes, it felt like it was still winter in that wind!).
It’s finally happened – spring migrants have started arriving on site after a longer than usual wait! First thing yesterday morning, we were treated to four little ringed plovers on Phase 1, accompanied by four redshank, two oystercatchers and displaying lapwing. It’s definitely wader week too, with green sandpiper and numerous snipe also present on site.
I heard my first chiffchaff singing this morning – only my second of the year after a brief view of one a couple of weeks ago. This was followed half an hour later with a lovely sighting of a non-singing bird on the public footpath by the Phase 1 scrub.
So, what’s next – the first willow warbler, sand martin, swallow, yellow wagtail? Keep your eyes open over the next few weeks and please do let us know of any sightings.
I also had a major excitement yesterday when I spotted my first butterfly of the year – a small tortoiseshell next to silt lagoon 6. I usually expect to see butterflies on warm days in early-mid March, so this is rather late, but at least they are on the move. Other species to expect in the coming weeks are comma, brimstone, orange-tip, speckled wood and green-veined white – keep a look out!
Also this week we have seen a marsh harrier over silt lagoon 6, the second in three weeks and a different individual based on obvious plumage differences. Two barn owls around the public footpath next to the silt lagoons were a lovely treat yesterday morning, four treecreepers were on the public footpath near the woodland (the most I have ever seen here), a Cetti’s warbler gave a short burst of song around silt lagoon 2 this morning, along with a very vocal green woodpecker calling from the woodland.
I have to admit to not knowing a great deal about amphibians – despite the fact that they are indeed fascinating creatures, birds and insects always seem to dominate my time (there’s so much to learn, you can’t do it all!) However, I sense a new interest looming for this coming spring and summer and it’s all down to a little newt that myself and volunteer John Elwell found in the polytunnel on Friday, whilst repairing one of the reed propagation bays.
The polytunnel seems to be a good place to find amphibians and I don’t blame them in weather like this! Our first finds of the day were two common frogs, or Rana temporaria to be scientific. I love how variable in colouration common frogs can be, with individuals ranging from bright green/yellow to pink/red to brown/black. Indeed our two were completely different, one being bright green and the other brown.
Next on the list was the aforementioned newt – a small, delicate looking creature, around 55 to 60mm in length, with pale olive/yellow/brown upperparts and a striking yellow/orange underside, completely unspotted. It was sat on sandy substrate underneath the propagation bay we were repairing and after a close inspection, was returned safely to the next bay. My rudimentary knowledge of newts suggested to me that this was a smooth newt, Lissotriton vulgaris, not a species that we seen very often here at Langford and indeed the first newt I have seen on site since I started here!
Unfortunately, the camera was absent, so no picture, but on further investigation back at the office, we suspect this may in fact be a palmate newt, or Lissotriton helveticus, a potential new species for the site and an excellent record considering newts seem to be so scarce here. Our specimen had a completely unspotted underside, including the throat, an important distinguishing feature between smooth and palmate newts.
Palmates are a fairly common and widespread species in the UK, but not as common or widespread as the smooth newt. They have a greater tolerance of acidic waters and are able to withstand drier conditions than their relatives.
We will need to see another specimen in order to confirm the record, as it can be hard to confidently distinguish between the two species, but whatever the outcome, in future I will definitely pay more attention to these lovely little creatures and their relatives, the frogs and toads.
It’s that time of year again when spring migrants meet winter visitors here at Langford – a real transition period that can often see singing warblers accompanied by whooper swans and flocks of fieldfares and redwings flying over displaying oystercatchers and ringed plovers.
Indeed the first spring migrants have now arrived on site, with 2-3 oystercatchers present for the last week or so and a pair displaying on Phase 2 yesterday. The first ringed plovers have also made an appearance, with a pair at the southern end of the site on Sunday morning and a potential second pair over Phase 1 later on in the day. And the passerines are here too, with the first chiffchaff of the year on Phase 1 yesterday – not what we expected to see on a very cold, damp and dreary morning!
So what’s next to arrive? Little ringed plovers have been recorded in the county last week, sand martins are in the UK and a willow warbler was recorded on the south coast in the last few days. Any guesses….
And what about those winter visitors still on site? 15 whooper swans were on Phase 1 on Sunday, with 14 still present yesterday, goldeneye are still here in good numbers, as are wigeon and pintail. Small numbers of fieldfares are around in the boundary hedgerows, with an apparent roost in silt lagoon 6 and the large flock of redwing feeding in the woodland is still there.
Also on site this week, we have had an excellent record of a red kite over Phase 1 this morning, seen by Site Manager, Michael – the first in a while and certainly not a regular species here at Langford. Water rail and Cetti’s warbler are calling away from the silt lagoons and the dawn chorus is definitely building, with quite a noise coming from the reserve yesterday morning when I arrived at 05.30.
With winter back in full swing (we are experiencing a heavy hail shower as I type….), the start of my Breeding Bird Survey season has been somewhat thwarted! However, despite the cold temperatures, this morning the sun was shining and we ventured out into the woodland for an hour to see what was around.
Unsurprisingly there wasn’t as much singing activity as last Wednesday, but I did manage to pick up 5 robins, 6 blue tits, 1 great tit, 1 wren, 1 dunnock, and 1 song thrush. I also picked up nest prospecting activity by a great tit, 2 long-tailed tits and a pair of great spotted woodpeckers. I’m not too disappointed with that lot on a very cold mid-March morning.
Other birds present this morning include 3 lovely lesser redpolls that landed briefly in the canopy before flying off towards the silt lagoons – the first I’ve seen on site for some weeks and a 50-60 strong flock of redwing. The redwing are particularly noteworthy as it is the largest number I’ve seen at Langford together in one flock this winter. The birds were obviously finding something good to eat too, as they hung around in the canopy watching us as we completed the survey, returning to the woodland floor as we left.
Many thanks to volunteer Will Booth for help this morning.
And one final thought – when is the weather going to improve? I’m more than ready for the first insects to make a proper appearance! Maybe next week….