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On Thursday, the sun shone as we embarked on our annual Harvest Mouse nest survey along the Wildlife Watchpoint bund and the rank grassland along the northern edge of the Meadow. This involves a fingertip search to find the ball shaped nests of Harvest Mice as they leave the reedbeds in the autumn to head for warmer climes of tussocky grassland. However, it's not that effective as a survey method. We know we have a reasonable number of Harvest Mice as we encounter them during management operations. We have even found one on Paddy's Island. Yet, this technique only reveals one or two nests each time we do it. Time for a re-think ?
Yesterday we found two nests. They are easily told from vole nests as vole nests contain more shredded material, while Harvest Mouse nests contain longer grass stems woven together.
The woven grass can clearly be seen in this photograph. No mice were in attendance or harmed during the making of this blog.
Posted by Dean H
Once again, there is excitement around the reedbeds as visitors desperately try to catch a glimpse of the Bearded Tits and Cetti's Warblers. A Cetti's has taken up residence by the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide but the Bearded Tits keep everyone guessing by appearing in one place, disappearing for a few days and then appearing somewhere else on the reserve. But still not on my grit tray.
The Soup and Starling events have begun again, with some spectacular displays from the Jubilee Mound.
Starling murmuration by Brian Clasper
The twists and turns get more frantic when a predator such as a Sparrowhawk gets between them and their chosen bed for the night. This year the Sparrowhawk has been joined by a female Marsh Harrier which quarters over the reeds once the birds are down. Bitterns are also seen flying over the reeds. Don't miss out - book now!
A Short-eared Owl is seen daily along the path to Haverton, but the Long-eared Owls have not shown up yet.
Short-eared Owl by Ian Forrest.
What I love about these birds is the way they turn their heads to look you in the eye as they fly by. It's been a few years since Short-eared Owls have wintered at Saltholme. Their populations are known to fluctuate with the 5 year boom and bust cycles of small mammal populations. Since these birds have come here from Northern Europe, it suggests there are plenty of little rodents nibbling at the trees in the Boreal Forests.
Reedbed birds continue to provide the possibility of excitement this week. A singing Cetti's Warbler is a pleasant welcome in the mornings as I open the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide and a Bearded Tit has once again been seen in front of the Phil Stead Hide, but sadly not on my hastily erected grit tray. Up to 3 Bitterns continue to fly around Haverton and Middle Tank.
It's always nice to see Brambling in winter and a single bird has been at the Visitor Centre feeding station, along with a few Lesser Redpolls. The Brambling seems quite at home on the ground next to the Hedgehog Box.
One of our Lesser Redpolls by Ian Forrest
Another favourite of mine but scarce at Saltholme, are the group of 20 Long-tailed Tits which can be seen on the Pedestrian path and along the Watchpoint Hedge.
It's always nice to see Long-tailed Tits, photo by Ian Forrest.
The pools this week have attracted 20 Whooper Swans for a short rest as they move south, and the flock of Golden Plover has swelled to 1,800 birds. They make a real spectacle when they take flight as they twist and turn in the sunlight. Look for them in the wet grassland from Paddy's Hide.
The small and invisible birds have caused most of the excitement this week, with a Yellow-browed Warbler around the car park and up to 3 possible Cetti's Warbler calling and singing in the reeds around Bottom Tank and at Dormans's Pool. Naturally, as these birds are invisible, I have no photographs to show you.
Large and only slightly more visible, are the Bitterns which fly from one clump of reed to another. We think we currently have 3 birds, as two have been seen together at Haverton while a third bird was seen from the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide.
One of this weeks Haverton Bitterns, by Mark Stokeld.
Considerably more visible are the Great White Egrets, Gloria the Smew and 34 Little Grebes, taking advantage of our never ending small fish supply.
Little Grebe by Mark Stokeld
They are very evident at the Wildlife Watchpoint. Look for bubbling in the water and soon a Little Grebe will pop up.
The sightings of passage waders are dwindling fast now although we still have up to 10 Black-tailed Godwits and 7 Ruff about. The excitement now is over the incoming wintering birds such as the 660 Wigeon, 16 Pintail, 3 Goldeneye and 400 Golden Plover. Up to 7 Whooper Swans have gone through along with 60 Redwing and 8 Fieldfare. On Monday, we had our first Short-eared Owl of the year, and Elly did well to grab this photograph with her phone from the truck as she prepared to move the sheep.
Gloria Smew (someone had to) and the 3 Great White Egrets are still here. Saturday caused a bit of a stir with a Bearded Tit in the reeds at the back of Bottom Tank. It wasn't seen on Sunday, but was seen again flying west on Monday.
I was taken by surprise while cleaning out the Mouse House on Wednesday, when a Common Shrew came in and started to try and open the drawers and cupboards. After a while I placed some peanuts on the floor, thinking this well known insectivore couldn't possibly be after them, but it toddled over and managed to get one in its small mouth before scarpering out. So there you go...........Shrews eat peanuts !
It's been a good week for Bittern watchers this week. Bitterns have been seen every day at Haverton, as they fly from one area of reed to another. There may be a couple of birds there. Haverton Viewpoint is the place to be, but you'll either need to put some hours in, or be very lucky.
Bittern flying at Haverton, by Lockhart Horsburgh.
We still have our resident it seems, Smew and 3 Great White Egrets. A few waders such as 2 Green Sandpiper, 3 Common Sandpiper, 2 Ruff and 11 Black-tailed Godwits continue to linger, while migrants are arriving including 2 Whooper Swan, 12 Pintail, yet more Wigeon and 60 Redwing dropping in this morning along with a Brambling.
The Visitor Centre feeding station can be quiet at times just now, as it is being buzzed by a female Sparrowhawk.
Female Sparrowhawk by Mark Stokeld
We planted the Wild Privet to give the birds something to dash into at such times, but it hasn't grown up enough yet to giver any decent cover. It's not all bad, as we were inundated with Starlings, which were consuming the seed for the Tree Sparrows. Nature finds a balance in the end.
If this Smew stays any longer, we'll have to give her a uniform and name badge. Suggestions please..............
Even bringing the Tern rafts in on Tuesday only made her skip to the other side of the Main Lake.
'Our' Smew evading the work party, by Ian Forrest.
The cold and hot all in the same day weather has meant we still have migrant waders on the reserve while the winter birds are arriving. We now have over 300 Wigeon which have arrived from Finland and Russia, that number will swell to 3,000 mid winter, as well as 14 Ruff, and 4 Greenshank, some of which were photographed by Ian Forrest below:
The other highlights are the Great White Egrets, of which we appear to have 3. A single bird which has been around for two weeks and another couple which arrived on Sunday. Although I wouldn't presume they are in fact a 'couple' in case I cause offence.
The single Great White Egret, by Ian Forrest.
You wouldn't think he'd bother with such small fish.
In Otter news, Lauren Teate photographed two Otters on Dorman's Pool this week. With the young filmed by Ed at Haverton earlier this year, it appears we have two 'families' at Saltholme. Although both females could be paired with the same male, as larger male territories often hold several smaller female territories.
Every month we undertake a WeBS count of the reserve land holdings. WeBS stands for Wetland Bird Survey. This is a useful way of seeing how birds are responding to seasons, the weather and of course, our management. Sunday's count revealed quite a few winter birds coming back rather early. We counted 237 Wigeon, 337 Teal and 7 Pintail. We also now have 759 Lapwing on the wet grassland areas. I was particularly lucky while counting the Main Lake to see the female Smew quite close.
Our female Smew, by Ian Forrest.
This bird has been on the reserve for a few weeks now, yet is something we would expect to see mid-winter. It gave great views from the Visitor Centre, or the café. You could have Smew and chips.
Waders continue to move through and on the day we had 3 Curlew Sandpiper, 2 Greenshank, 2 Green sandpiper, 69 Dunlin and 13 Ruff, two of which gave excellent views right in front of Paddy's Hide.
One of our Ruff, by Mark Stokeld.
And now that we've cut the grass short, They're even easier to see !
Although it's been a bad year for Dragonflies, there are quite a few MIgrant Hawkers around just now, and this female was photographed by the Phil Stead Hide this morning.
Female Migrant Hawker by Ian Forrest
Migrant Hawkers are the Collard Doves of the Dragonfly world. They colonised England during the 1950's and have spread slowly northwards since then. Many years ago when I was a young man with disposable income, I used to venture south to Skipwith Common near York to see them, and now I find myself working among them. You can tell it is a Migrant Hawker because it has very short anti-humeral stripes. Those are the two very short light lines that hang down on the thorax, just behind each eye. They are full length of the thorax on a Common Hawker, and big fat things on a Southern Hawker. Migrant Hawkers are much less territorial than the other hawkers and so you'll often see them hunting in small groups on tracks and in clearings.
On Wednesday we took a trip to Paddy's Island with a volunteer party from Analox. We were clearing vegetation that has grown over the summer, so that the Common Terns can nest there again next year. While we were there we rescued several different species of caterpillar, but the biggest and most beautiful was this Elephant Hawkmoth (Deilephila elpenor) larva. We managed to get this photo of him sat on top of a tern shelter which we provide to protect the chicks from predation.
The eye-like markings on the side of his head act as a deterrent to birds which may otherwise attempt to eat him for dinner. When startled, the caterpillar adopts a deceptive snake-like posture, which makes him look dangerous to possible predators.
We found him near his food plant, Great Willowherb, resting in the mid-afternoon sun. As we had removed all of his food plant from the island, we bought him back with us and have created a habitat for him to safely feed and pupate in. Since he has found his new home with us and will be with us for some months to come, we thought it only fitting to give him a name, and so he is Samwise, in honour of his intrepid journey. Samwise is likely to pupate any day now as Elephant Hawkmoth larvae normally do so by the end of September. He will then spend the winter as a pupa and should emerge around May next year as a vibrantly coloured pink and green moth. We took this picture of an adult moth back in June whilst surveying the contents of a moth trap.
So if you come across this creature lurking in your garden, don't be alarmed! You can look forward to the prospect of sighting a beautiful moth next spring.
In the meantime, watch this space for another blog when the time comes for Samwise to pupate and begin his next grand adventure.
Karen and Fiona, Estate Volunteers
We're setting up an emergency fund that we can use to get our reserves back into shape and repair the damage caused. Please help us rebuild from the worst storm in 60 years.
Grid reference: NZ5023 (+2km)
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