Graham, one of our volunteers, captured this grim action on the north brooks yesterday - a grey heron eating a juvenile moorhen. Not something you see everyday and an illustration of the heron's opportunism.
A wood sandpiper is still present but generally elusive - easier to find are green and common sandpipers. Hobby and red kite seen yesterday.
On the heath over the last few days have been a number of black darter dragonflies - they have an amusing way of avoiding sunburn (or whatever it is they are doing) and it is called the obelisk position. It is a handstand, as far as I can tell - shame it isn't an olympic sport. Black darter was first seen at PB by local ecologist and dragonfly enthusiast Ben Rainbow a couple of years ago (just the one!), and my colleague Nick found a freshly emerged individual earlier this week. On further investigation it appears they seem to have properly colonised the site, with several males and females present on the wet heath. Out on the brooks, there are a few passage waders - at least one wood sandpiper, 1 greenshank, 3 little ringed plovers, several green sandpipers and two dunlin. The dunlin were unconcernedly feeding 5 metres from me as I walked past to check the cattle - it made me wonder whether they had come from the remote far north where humans are rarely, if ever encountered. Yesterday, at least 3 garganey were present on the south brooks and a marsh harrier was seen again.
Finally, a warm, still, cloudless morning to enjoy on our monthly waterfowl count. Lots of lying water remains on some of the brooks providing good feeding for numerous herons and egrets. Highlights were at least 7 garganey (this constitutes a large flock!) on one of pools on the south brooks amongst dozens of mallards. Little ringed plovers, snipe, green and common sandpipers were also present in various places. A few reed and sedge warblers, meadow pipits and reed buntings were still singing . Brown hawker dragonflies seem to have emerged in large numbers in the last few days - I encountered at least 15 pristine individuals along the riverbank. Despite it being late July, there was still a brood of two-week old mallard ducklings - so I got the full pantomime of distraction behaviour as the mother did her best draw me away from her young.
We couldn't do the work we do here without the help of lots of fantastic volunteers, and last night we thanked them all with a barbecue. Typical summer 2012 weather ensued as we put up the marquees and lit the barbie...Fortunately, we had some respite from the rain and having eaten lots, many felt they should take some light exercise with an evening walk on the heathland trail.
The group were rewarded with great views of nightjar up at the tumuli (not much churring but lots of activity), plenty of bats and this 'twinkling goblin light'. Pete assures me this is a glow worm and not a UFO...
Despite all the wind and rain there seems to be a plentiful supply of mice and voles - good news for our barn owl chicks who must be close to fledging now. The older of the 2 is looking like a proper barn owl now except that he's wearing a pair of fluffy trousers. The younger one is now starting to catch up in terms of size and is changing daily with more flight feathers appearing. David and Janet Shaw took these fantastic photos of one of the adults delivering dinner...
A little upturn in the weather has also brought out some of our incredible insects. A few butterflies have been reported over the last day or so; gatekeepers, skippers, ringlets, commas and even a white admiral. Several of us watched as dragonfly larvae crawled from the black pond on the heath and gradually emerged... thanks to Gareth Hughes for his photos.
We're now getting ready for a busy summer holiday packed full of events - next week's highlights include a session of pond dipping and an insect safari - does anyone want to challenge me to a game of minibeast top trumps?
At 08.00 this morning (in the sunshine !) the black pond on the edge of the heath was good for just-emerged emerald damselflies (see below). The walk to the pond along the bridleway was also interesting - 2 or juv green woodpeckers noisily pursuing a parent, marsh tit, a robin feeding some just out of the nest youngsters, treecreeper, goldcrest, nuthatch and great spotted woodpecker.
Efforts at dropping the water levels on the north brooks to produce some muddy pool edges are paying off - there is now a decent expanse of mud and at least 5 green sandpipers and a dunlin were enjoying it today. We are also dropping the levels on west mead pool for the same reason - something I've never actually had to do in the last 10 years...
Grey herons and little egrets still all over the place. Thankfully none of them spotted a large grass snake which swam right across the middle of the main north brooks pool/mud today - a very risky manouevre.