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It’s May which means as well as singing birds and woodland flowers, it’s time for Dragonflies, and in particular, the emergence of Four-spotted Chasers at the Dragonfly Ponds. But with the cold weather in April, things in the Dragonfly world are a bit late. So I was delighted on Tuesday, to find the nymph of a 4 spot crawling up a post near the ponds. 4 spot nymphs will crawl up to 5m away from the pond in an effort to find a good support on which to climb up and emerge. After a while the back of the thorax split and the emerging Dragonfly pumped itself free, pulling out the white linings of the nymphal breathing tubes as it came out. Once most of the adult is out, it has to rest for a while so the soft legs can harden before it flips up to pull the abdomen out. Then, haemolymph, or insect blood, is pumped into the wing veins to expand them. And it was at this stage that I realised something was wrong. Two of the wing buds didn’t expand and haemolymph oozed out from a damaged vein in another wing.
This 4 spot wasn’t going to make it.
Sadly, only 50% of Dragonfly emergences are successful, mainly due to incomplete expansion of wings, but also predation from birds and wasps. This morning, at least 50 of them have emerged from the Central Dragonfly Pond here at Saltholme. Some of them have damaged wings, but most have made it. Now they’re just sitting in the grass and sedges waiting for some sun.
Posted by Dean H
You know when you’re out monitoring Lapwing nests and staring hard down binoculars and a telescope looking for chicks amongst tufts of grass, and you see an Avocet with 8 legs ?
Well after checking that Avocets aren’t in any way related to spiders, I deduced that there must something else under that Avocet with 6 legs, or more likely that there were 3 things under that Avocet with 2 legs each. And of course it wasn’t long before 3 weeny little balls of down on stilty little blue legs came out stabbing at the mud for even more weeny little non-biting midges. These are the first Avocet chicks born on the Saltholme reserve, and so far we have 9 of them from 3 nests, with another 7 nests with birds still sitting. Sadly though, this area of wet grassland is not viewable from any of the paths or hides so visitors are not able to view the birds.
I did the best I could with my little £50 from Argos compact camera that I could, but it’s not the best photograph of Avocets.
I was expecting new Avocet chicks to be white, as they are when they are a bit older, and was surprised to see them this sandy colour, although it is very good camouflage against the mud. It was also interesting to see that even at this tender young age, they have weeny little curved beaks. It’s all enough to make one broody. But I’m not.
It’s been an exciting week for migrant birds. This includes a Great Reed Warbler which is currently hiding in the reeds by the Allotment Pool. It generally sings (I use that term loosely) at dawn and dusk, although it grunted and squawked with it’s teenagers voice breaking throat at about 8.30 this morning while I desperately tried to glimpse it through the reeds. It sounds like one of those Hollywood doctors has given it way too many steroids. Hopefully, it will become more confident and sing in a prominent position, as these birds are supposed to do.
Last Sunday I walked into Paddy’s Hide to do a count and was confronted by an excited crowd and 5 Spoonbills on the wet grassland. They are still here, although they spend a lot of time on the Port Clarence Flood, just out of view. They were in front of Saltholme Hide on Wednesday morning as I opened the shutters. A nice start to the day.
We now have 8 Avocet nests on the wet grassland which is also hosting a few Red Knot and Grey Plover, both rare visitors to the reserve and the cause of excitement to us wardens only.
And on top of all this are the Terns. The first Black Tern arrived on Sunday, but we had 6 of them on Tuesday. A couple of Whiskered Terns arrived on Monday and they are still here, flying around the islands on the main lake. Belonging to the family of Marsh Terns, Black and Whiskered Terns don't feed on fish as other Terns do, but catch insects above the water, which results in a more buoyant flight.
A wonderful shot of a Whiskered Tern captured by Mark Stokeld
I think I’ll use this photo for the cover of my next album. Well, first album. I’m sure it’s never been done before.
The Common Terns are lining up on the professionally erected goal posts (we used a very large hammer), but the Whiskered Terns don’t seem to want to use them, which I feel is rather rude.
Although you can see the Whiskered Terns from the path as it leaves the back of the visitor centre, you can also enjoy them from the viewing gallery or the cafe.
Spoonbills, Terns, chips and cake.............that’s a good day out.
We’ve had to wait longer than normal this spring, but Garganey have once again returned to Saltholme. Fewer than 100 pairs of Garganey breed in the UK, so our 5 pairs last year make this a special bird for us. We estimated that those 5 pairs produced 5 fledged young, which is not very productive. However, I use the term 'estimate' because the trouble with Garganey is that they are incredibly secretive.
Male Garganey by Ed Pritchard
Although the males are very obvious birds out in the open, they and the dare I say boring brown females, do like to hide away. Finding Garganey nests is a skill I am yet to master, as every year, I see birds arrive, then they hide, then months later we suddenly see full grown juveniles. Only in 2014, did we manage to see two clutches of small chicks in the Wildlife Watchpoint Cut.......a real treat. So it was nice to see a very bright male at the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide yesterday morning at 6 am. The white eye stripes were so prominent they looked like they had been stuck on by a duck maker who hadn't used strong enough glue. The bird then disappeared from view and wasn’t seen all day..............until I returned at the end of the day to lock the hide, and then it only came into view as a Great-crested Grebe chased it out of the reeds. There are also birds on the Wet Grassland and at Bottom Tank. If you haven’t seen a Garganey, you must come to Saltholme and see these very special breeding birds.
There may have been signs of spring for a few weeks now: lambs being born, queen bumble bees out and about, Great-crested Grebes eyeing each other up, Cowslips in flower, amorous Toads and a pair of Wigeon at the Wildlife Watchpoint that look very 'together', but for me spring is here when I hear the first singing Willow Warbler, and that moment came this morning as I fed the birds at the Visitor Centre. There is nothing quite like that very sweetly down the musical scale song to say it's time to stop wearing a vest.
In contrast, not many people know that Jim Marshall of Marshall Amplification fame designed and built the first Wren. That is why they go up to 11.
And here is the bird that has built a nest in the Wildlife Watchpoint feeding station screen for the last two years at it once again, photographed yesterday by Lockhart.
Someone turn that bird down !
Wetland birds love an open vista, they don’t like trees or shrubs which provide predators with perches or conceal them. In order to make wetland birds feel more at home, and get them closer to Dorman’s Hide so you can see them, we’ve cleared a few patches of bramble from the area near the hide.
The next day, there were immediate benefits with a few Pintail and Curlew closer to the hide. But, other species of wildlife need the bramble scrub, which is an important nectar source in woodlands during the summer when woodland spring flowers have died back. Grasshopper Warblers and Stonechats breed at Dorman’s, so a few patches of bramble have been left near the car park where these birds have bred in the past.
Today is a special day for Gloria, our female Smew. For today, it is exactly 6 months since she first appeared here. Smew are a tree hole breeding diving duck that breed in Scandinavia and Russia. Less than 200 birds winter here and they generally arrive on inland water bodies in very cold conditions. So Gloria’s arrival in August last year was something of a surprise. At that time, she should have been moulting and flightless.
One of Ian Forrest's many photos of Gloria
Smew usually depart UK waters in March to return to their breeding grounds, but there is nothing usual about Gloria. And...................it turns out that it has been known for Smew to interbreed with Goldeneye. That is not something we’re expecting or indeed prepared for, but if it does, we’re going to need some duck nest boxes in a hurry.
Anyway, at the risk of sounding like a teenager in a relationship, a happy 6 month anniversary to Gloria.
And if you fancy something even more unusual, come to Saltholme to see if you can find the needles in the haystacks that are the Penduline Tits, or the pair of Cetti's Warblers. The Otters at Haverton are an easier find !
In case you haven't noticed, it's a tad windy. I've just been around the reserve to open hides and feed the birds, water voles and mice this morning in the gator, as there was no way I was going to attempt it on my bike. All the waterfowl are hiding where they can, mainly behind reeds. The only species brave enough to venture out into open water seem to be the Goldeneye.
One of our female Goldeneye, by Mark Stokeld.
Goldeneye are one of those ducks that breed in holes in trees in North America and Europe, and the chicks have jump out to the ground. About 27,000 of them winter in and around Britain, and we have 7 of them on the main reserve with another 3 at Dorman's Pool.
In the early 1970's, nestboxes were put up for Goldeneye in the Speyside area, on woodland edge near water. These have been very successful with over 200 pairs now breeding. Those birds appear to stay locally in winter, so it looks like wintering Saltholme Goldeneye originate from Scandinavia and Russia. They must be wondering why they bothered to fly all this way.
Look carefully as you come up the main drive to the car park. There is a Short-eared Owl currently hunting along either side of the drive, around the workshop, over the Discovery Zone and in front of the Wildlife Watchpoint Hide.
Short-eared Owl by Lockhart Horsburgh
These are birds that breed on open uplands and move to marshes and coastal grasslands in winter, but the birds that winter here tend to have arrived from Scandinavia. Short-eared Owl populations fluctuate greatly in five year cycles along with their small mammal prey populations, and this winter is a good one. They hunt during the day, but locate their prey by ear, before killing the unfortunate animal with a bite to the back of the neck. They are very charismatic birds, and it's always a thrill when a passing Short-eared Owl turns it's head to look you with it's staring yellow eyes as it sweeps gracefully by.
But please take care coming up the drive, we don't want to be pulling any cars out of a ditch.
Grid reference: NZ5023 (+2km)
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