Very excited when I came in this morning to find some lovely hawkmoths in our moth trap - a perfect result for national moth night!
We recorded around 50 different species of moth including 5 types of hawkmoth from last night's survey - can't wait to show them to my guests at this evening's night-time safari event!
The ones featured above are a lime hawkmoth and two poplar hawkmoths.
Recent Sightings Friday 27th May - thanks to volunteer Phil for his update and photos
With warm sunshine and only a light breeze all day everything seemed set fair for one of those wonderfully varied and days that we sometimes have at this time of year. This is one of my favourite times on the reserve as various colourful insects and flowers start to become prominent alongside the birdsong and young birds
An early walk through Black Wood was accompanied by a cuckoo calling. On arrival at Hail’s I was lucky enough to see the bird emerge from the wood and land on the ash tree in front of the viewpoint. It didn’t stay very long but was quickly replaced by a pair of mistle thrushes – another species not commonly seen.
I then scanned the South Brooks to and was delighted to pick up a mandarin and no less than 17 ducklings. These had been reported on the Sussex Ornithological Society website the previous day and the report there suggests that this is over the normal maximum size of a mandarin brood. Someone asked me later in the day whether it could have been a sort of duckling crèche and I had to confess that I just don’t know. On reflection I can’t see why an adult mandarin would be leaving her chicks in the care of another bird unless she’d been predated and I’ve not heard of orphaned birds being taken care of like this. It was certainly a remarkable number of ducklings and it was good that there had not been any overnight predation.
Setting out on the main trail down the zigzags I quickly picked up the green woodpecker yaffle I’d heard a lot last week. However there was something slightly different form normal about this and I surmised I might be listening to a blackbird that seems to have developed a line in green woodpecker imitation. I’d never suspected this until a conversation with a visitor the previous week who had actually seen the blackbird singing!
A little further on down the path a brilliant flash of gold caught my eye and proved to my first identifiable dragonfly of the year – a female broad bodied chaser.
A little further down the path I discovered a pair of wonderfully named damselflies – the beautiful demoiselle – a male with the dark blue wings and a female with brown wings.
At West Mead my colleague Tom who’d been there for some time drew my attention to a pied wagtail feeding some fledged youngsters by the edge of the pool which allowed for a comparison of the adult pied plumage with the juvenile light grey.
The fledglings then moved into cover and one of the adults perched on a fencepost near the hide and commenced a repeated call to the youngsters which continued for several minutes.
One of my favourite orange tip butterflies fluttered in front of the hide with sun picking out the bright orange wingtips beautifully.
Photo by Pete Hughes
Over lunch in Winpenny hide I was able to admire large red and azure damselflies right outside the window. This photo of an azure was taken last year.
Also a green veined white butterfly was prominent – this one photographed last week outside Little Hanger.
The snakes in Adder Alley decided to remain hidden, but one of the nightingales tuned up out of sight behind the now copious foliage, but then gave some glimpses at the bottom of the bushes.
Nightingale photo by Chris & Juliet Moore
At the Hanger the pergerine was on its usual perch
There are rather more leaves on the tree now...
It’s easy to feel rather blasé about this bird now but it still delights most visitors who don’t commonly see these birds. I speculated that it might stay resident for several more months until next spring when being more mature it will presumably need to move away to find a mate and nest. There is plenty food for peregrines on the reserve but no suitable nest sites.
Going down the path to Nettley’s Hide a glimpse of a jay reminded me of last week’s encounter with a bird that was uncharacteristically unfazed by my presence. Jays are usually very wary of people and I assumed it must have been a youngster. I was able to photograph it perching prominently only a few yards away.
And finally out on the North Brooks a drake mandarin was to be found thereby in a sense completing my family from the morning. There was of course no way of telling whether this was the father of the 17 ducklings, but they are such colourful birds and it’s always good to see one.
Thanks to volunteer Phil for his report. Phil helps us to monitor the breeding lapwings as well a being one of our regular 'hides & trails' volunteers.
The lapwing is one of the iconic species of Pulborough - this beautiful bird appears on much of our signage and sometimes heads up our web pages.
And yet the report from Anna and Gary on the Breeding Bird Survey only mentioned lapwings as lunch for our resident juvenile peregrine and I thought it was time to redress the balance by reporting on their breeding season.
With the UK population in decline we do our best to encourage lapwings to breed here and closely monitor how successful they are. So throughout April to June a small group of volunteers is involved in surveying the reserve to help our wardens establish how many pairs are attempting to breed, locate nest sites, hatched chicks and eventually fledged birds. We also look out for signs of breeding snipe and redshank but these are much more difficult to see so the main concentration of effort is on the lapwings.
Lapwing courtship display flights are one of the key sights of spring here as they loop the loop making astonishing twisting and turning manoeuvres. Having progressed to mating they then nest quite openly creating a small depression in open bare ground or short grass to lay their eggs.
The difficult part then begins as the lapwings have the job of defending against predators, the most common of which here are foxes and crows, but the nests are also vulnerable to trampling by deer and grazing cattle. And this year they need to worry about the peregrine which could make an easy lunch from a sitting bird. Watching lapwings defend their nests against crows is not an uncommon sight and can be quite thrilling as they are very feisty. On one occasion last year I saw a lapwing rise from a nest, fly very fast at a nearby crow on the ground and turn it onto its back, one of my wildlife highlights of the year.
After the eggs hatch the chicks will be immediately walking and the mother will typically lead them into cover usually in some of the more dense patches of rush in our wet meadows. They then face a difficult few weeks before being able to fly as there are several land based and aerial predators to contend with. According to research a rate of 0.7 fledged birds per pairing per year is needed to maintain the population. Sadly our local figures are below that at 0.6 last year, although that was a little up from 2014 so a small encouraging sign. It is also encouraging that other RSPB reserves with more favourable local circumstances have breeding success considerably better than the target rate.
Visitors to West Mead Hide will notice the electrified fence surrounding the immediate area. This is an attempt to reduce predation by keeping foxes out but is only temporary and will have to be taken down and stored away in due course. It has only been used for the first time this year, although a similar fence used last year on the South Brooks has also been erected again. The amount of effort we put into trying to protect the lapwings is perhaps a sad reflection of how their decline, largely down to changes in farming practices, has reduced the numbers to a point where it is more difficult for the population to survive natural losses due to predation.
Just before my recent holiday I had spotted my first 2 chicks of the year on the South Brooks, probably just a few days old. So returning on 17th I had high hopes of finding them significantly bigger, but they were nowhere to be seen. This was naturally disappointing but I consoled myself that some of the rushes are quite high and I could hear adults calling perhaps to warn chicks of danger.
On the rest of the reserve I found 5 nests I’d not seen before, 2 of them very visible on the largest island just in front of West Mead hide so that was some compensation for not finding any chicks.
By Friday one of the nests on the North Brooks had clearly failed and we’ve had at least 4 other failures so far. However I then discovered reports of chicks on the whiteboard in West Mead hide and after a second visit there found 2 chicks half hidden in the waterside vegetation on the far side of the pool. Where the nest was that produced these chicks will never be known as it didn’t show up on any of the marked up maps produced by myself and the other volunteers. This illustrates that it pays not to be too disappointed if a nest fails as chicks can appear seemingly out of nowhere. The nature of the terrain and the limitations on where we can survey from without disturbing the birds and other wildlife mean that we will never have a full precise picture of all the nest sites.
We are still hoping for a decent crop of fledged birds and should be able to derive a complete picture after the end of June.