Thanks to volunteer Phil for his report and photos - Friday 29th January
This was to prove a difficult day for birding as the southern flank of Storm Gertrude hit with a vengeance bringing low cloud, heavy drizzle, high winds and poor visibility. West Mead and Winpenny Hides were most affected as they were facing the south westerly wind, and birding was very difficult from there. However I drew the long straw with my colleagues and set out for the relatively sheltered Jupps View and Nettley’s Hide.
Despite the shelter the wind was still very noticeable to the left of the hide and whereas this has been a very productive spot for small birds as per last week only a female stonechat ventured out perching on the twigs a few yards away.
However despite the poor conditions this was to prove one of those special days that the reserve is so good at providing. On arrival at Jupps View I was immediately treated to a spectacle that I had only faintly contemplated for the first time the previous week when for just a few seconds something like a murmuration in a cloud of black tailed godwits started. However on this day there was no doubting the idea of a murmuration as a much larger number of birds swirled around for more than 5 minutes – enough time for me admire the spectacle, decide to take my camera out of my rucksack, shoot a 90 second video sequence, and then several still shots.
Initially there were 2 distinct clouds of birds.
Eventually the clouds merged and after some more swirling the birds all descended into one area along a not quite fully submerged bar going across the brooks – all packed very tightly in a long line.
This gave me an opportunity to estimate the number of birds which after a couple of attempts I put at somewhere in the region of 1200. This would most likely be the largest number here since records began. The official WeBS count figure from the previous week was 950.
The spectacle was so mesmerising that I deliberately decided not to look for the cause of the commotion which I assumed to be the young peregrine that has taken up residence and has been seen many times in recent weeks flying low over the brooks.
I have seen a huge starling murmuration on the Somerset Levels and nothing about our godwits can beat the sheer scale of this, but I’d never even come across the idea of a godwit murmuration before, and these birds have something that starlings cannot match. This is the brilliant white underparts which suddenly become visible when the birds wheel. If you’re lucky enough to catch this on a sunny day they look particularly spectacular. Even on a poor day they were quite noticeable.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I and a few lucky visitors who had braved the weather were treated to a few more murmurations and when the birds came closer to the hide they seemed to fill the whole sky.
At one point I could see a resemblance to a large squadron of WWII fighter planes.
Eventually we discovered the peregrine on its usual low level flights and twice it perched in its favourite willow tree.
As the wind became stronger towards lunchtime the peregrine disappeared and the birds hunkered down more. We then had to content ourselves with the usual ducks – wigeon, teal, shoveler pintail, mallard, shelduck. There were also a large number of lapwings but much more scattered than the godwits. We also noted a pair of tufted ducks which are unusual at Pulborough, their presence indicating that the water levels are still high.
After a futile attempt at seeing anything in Winpenny and West Mead hides I returned to the Visitor Centre rather early, but still feeling invigorated by the morning spectacle.
Thanks to volunteer Phil for this report and photos
Brown Hairstreaks – Looking Forward to Summer. Thursday 28th January
This might seem a strange subject for January but nevertheless very topical.
The brown hairstreak is a scarce butterfly and we are fortunate to have a colony on the reserve. The adult insects fly in late summer up to the end of September and are hard to spot as they prefer to feed on aphid honeydew in the treetops. However after mating the females descend to lay eggs on blackthorn bushes typically where new growth meets old. The eggs stay dormant over winter and hatch into caterpillars in the spring which then emerge as adults around late July.
Scrub and hedgerow management is an important part of the work on the reserve and it helps to know where the hairstreaks are laying eggs to avoid disturbance, but also where blackthorns can be safely be trimmed back to encourage the new growth favoured for egg laying. To help this work a party of volunteers and a few visitors led by warden David Andrews, set out on an egg hunt on a rare and glorious sunny morning. Soon we had normal visitors being intrigued to spot several people peering intently into bushes.
For people like me who are new to this activity spotting the eggs is hard as they appear as tiny white dots in ones and twos. Eventually however, most people managed to get their eyes attuned to what they were looking for, helped by the fact that a few of our volunteers had done this before and were able to put us onto some eggs quite quickly. It might be assumed that the eggs are simply tiny white blobs but this would be quite wrong. Under magnification they are revealed to have a beautiful intricate structure.
Eggs were found in a number of areas, notably by the zigzag path, Adder Alley and the path down to Nettley’s hide. The latter is very close to the “master” ash tree used by the male butterflies to congregate there and sally forth to win passing females. This ash tree is unfortunately now hollow and unsafe thereby forcing the closure of the path through the picnic area, but it is still alive and no-one wants to cut it down because of its importance to the butterflies.
After the success of this survey I am now hoping that this will be the start of a journey that will lead me to seeing the adult butterflies for the first time this summer.
Here's Friday's report and photos, courtesy of volunteer Phil...
A damp walk to Nettleys Hide in the morning led to being trapped there by heavy rain for several hours. Despite this the water level in the North Brooks had dropped considerably during the cold dry spell but even with the warmer temperature there was still some ice on the water’s edge. There was plenty of bird activity to keep me occupied.
200+ black tailed godwits were feeding near the hide, and scattered across the North Brooks there were many wigeon and teal and several shoveler, pintail and mallard and lapwings. However the numbers were small compared with those on the 18th when a WeBS count at Amberley Wildbrooks estimated over 3000 wigeon and 1000 teal. Even with the lower water not as suited to diving there were still a few coot pottering around along with the usual moorhens. However the water rail which had been seen several times near the hide in the last week or so did not show. The tree to left on the far side of the Brooks held 9 cormorants.
Eventually an unusually solitary long tailed tit emerged from the woodland fringe to perch on the rushes closely followed by 3 goldcrests, a wren and a dunnock A little later a pair of blue tits provided some entertainment swinging on reed stems and by craning my neck it was just possible to pick up a treecreeper in the oak to the left of the hide.
A commotion amongst the godwits alerted me to a peregrine flying fast and low across the Brooks making a beeline for the famous willow where it duly perched on its favourite branch. A little while later I suddenly became aware of a godwit murmuration and it became clear that all along there had been 2 large groups which then coalesced in mid-air. I estimated that the combined group would have had 400-500 birds. I couldn’t be sure what had put them up, the only other bird of note just then being a grey heron flying purposely across to the bank near the willow which seemed an unlikely candidate.
Eventually the rain eased and I made my way round to The Hanger where I was able to photograph the peregrine still in the willow.
At Little Hanger hide the visibility was much improved and this allowed me to spot a short-eared owl patrolling the river bank near Pulborough village.
At Winpenny Hide with sunshine starting to break through I found a stonechat near enough photograph and then proceeded to Redstart Corner.
Here a brief glimpse of a redwing flying left put me onto a kestrel sitting on a post beside the path which then moved to a nearby tree.
At West Mead I located a dunlin amongst the lapwings and then returned to base spotting a more typical party of long tailed tits at the bottom of the zig-zag path. Finally arriving back at the Visitor Centre a buzzard could be seen sitting prominently on a fence post to the left of Upperton’s Field.