The attached YouTube clip represents just one of the vast and varied ways that Tom Clarke, (our Wild about Weymouth and Portland (WAWAP) Project Officer) is using his brief to engage the local community in wildlife and the outdoors. Many talks, walks, events have been staged (and much watercress soup consumed along the way…), all in the name of community inclusion - and much more is to follow.
We are fortunate to have otters on Radipole as they possess a charisma all their own which can ensnare the imagination of young and old alike and fuel a lifetime’s passion for wild spaces and the plants and animals which inhabit them.
To my mind the clip captures beautifully the wonder of youth and, just maybe, will represent the first tiny welly-boot steps into the vast, rewarding world of wildlife watching?
Many thanks to Sally Abbot who made the film on behalf of WAWAP; Tom for arranging the event and Rachel Janes at DWT for the provision of otter props.
We are undoubtedly guilty on this blog of marsh harriercentricness to the detriment of, say dunnock or their LBJ compatriots. However when a set of photographs as dramatic and narrative as the following arise we are duty bound to publish - and further marginalise the poor dunnock.
Allan captured these images of the Radipole female terrorising a coot family cooped up in the rushy margins. On 5 occasions she dropped on them attempting to snatch a cootlet - each time repelled by the tenacious parents. Anyone who has had the misfortune to handle a coot will tell you that they are decidedly narky, quarrelsome birds, (characteristics to be greatly admired in my opinion) and this stood them in good stead as the huntress went unrewarded.
Shortly after this and having been alerted by Allan of her activity I was fortunate enough to pick her up in Buddleia lagoon performing the same trick on a family of gadwall. The attendant female gadwall was diving and dashing about and seemed to perform the ‘winged duck’ routine to draw the determined raptor from her brood. I lost count of the number of occasions that she swooped upon them and was often hanging in a slow winged hover a few feet above the tormented ducks.
This morning, as if to emphasise the value of perseverance, she employed a different 'cooting' tactic; stealing in on the parents blindside and whisking away a chick before the parents knew what was happening.
If you have yet to see the harriers I would recommend that you do so now as the amount of activity is unprecedented and fledging immanent. It may not be safari but as far as British wildlife is concerned it doesn't get much better or more dramatic in my humble opinion.
'What immortal hand or eye, dare frame thy fearful symmetry?' William Blake may have been alluding to a tiger but it fits equally well for marsh harrier. Thank you to Allan Neilson for these remarkable photographs.
A young coot can be just seen wisely tucked in beneath it's plucky parents.
I joined our band of surveyors this morning for our monthly general reserve survey which provides us with data to analyse population trends and productivity of bird species using the reserve. As one would expect at this time there was quite a high proportion of fledglings amidst the count and on the top of Radipole I happened upon young reed warblers, sedge warblers, reed bunting, whitethroat, chaffinch and gadwall. Meanwhile Frank and Allan on Lodmoor were able to add mallard, shelduck and tufted ducklings to the list of youngsters as well as bearded tit, oystercatcher, cygnets and no fewer than 40 common tern chicks to this heartening list.
Added to this the two mother marsh harriers are still evident and actively hunting now, (rather than leaving it to the poor overstretched polygamous male) which suggests that the chicks are fairly well advanced. According to our calculations, (based on when it appeared that they began incubating) there could be harrier fledglings within the next week on Lodmoor and perhaps slightly later on Radipole.
The femme fatale majestically scything through the short-lived blue. Luke Phillips.
We were never able to ascertain quite how many first brood kingfishers fledged but there are still juvs about on both reserves. It appeared that the parents went straight on with a second brood but it seems that incubation change-overs are not so frequent as previously. I am sure many of you spend more time in North Hide than ourselves so we'd be interested to know your thoughts on the kingfishers progress or otherwise. As Luke's photographs from Sunday evening shows they are still active around north pool - and no less colourful for their parenting marathon.
With all this positivity floating, fluttering, hawking and flapping about it is easy to get complacent about the perils that our wildlife faces - perils that will only intensify if a major funding stream runs dry. Rather than do a bad job explaining what is on the agenda in Brussels and the consequences it will bring for our wildlife, I have attached a blog from Martin Harper, our new Director of Conservation, detailing the threat of cuts and what we can do to give nature a voice.
PLEASE read and pass on to anyone you know who may be revolted at the prospect of a countryside without the song of skylarks...
Now is the prime time to see scarlet tiger moths, one of our more striking invertebrates, which are currently immerging in good numbers and lending the reserves a splendidly exotic sheen. Their glossy black forewings with blobs of white and yellow and their scarlet hind wings make them easily identifiable at rest. Their strong presence on the reserves is due to the profusion of their caterpillar's food plants - comfrey, hemp agrimony, nettle, bramble, meadow sweet and sallow - most of which thrive here due to careful management on the verges and elsewhere.
Another lepideptoral observation of some significance is the current profusion of wainscot moths (obscure and silky for the most part) and their larvae on both reserves. The larval food plant of both these species is phramities australis (reed if you prefer) into the stems of which they bore to live out their larval stage. Great swathes of our reedbeds on both sites are withered, yellow and stunted rather than the typical verdant green sky-scraping growth more normally associated with late June and all because of these hungry, hungry caterpillars. I am trying to research the environmental trigger to this infestation and await word from our ecologist for a definitive answer, but we have postulated that less winter flooding may have resulted in fewer than normal eggs being washed away... seems plausible enough to me..?
There may be a cyclical element to wainscot 'lemming' years, the last being 2003 which didn't have any obvious lasting impact. Of course this great glut of invertebrate biomass will surely benefit other insectivorous reed dwellers like bearded tits, sedge and reed warblers may also benefit along with all other insectivorous passerines. Harvest mice can confidently be expected to tuck into the bonanza and thrive as will moth eating bats such as the serotine.
Southern Wainscot Moth.
Visitors to Radipole and Lodmoor recently might have noticed that bearded tits are starting to feature more frequently on the sightings board. It’s been mentioned before that the Weymouth Bearded tit population was almost wiped out by recent cold winters. Thankfully the Beardies have a way to rebuild their numbers. Breed, breed and breed some more! They are quite capable of successfully fledging three broods of chicks in one season which can rapidly increase their population in a reed bed.
This photo was taken pretty recently and shows two juvenile (a male and female) Bearded tits which is proves they are breeding successfully. I had a really nice view last week of a different family of beardies. The family consisted of a couple of very young beardies. In fact they were so young their tails were only half grown! They must have literally fledged the nest that day. Fingers crossed they continue to fledge chicks which should lead to a really good show when they start their irruption in late September. More about that when it happens!