Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Migrants Migrants, Everywhere......

......Some are common, and some are rare! As in Black-Winged Stilt rare! Apparently the word had been around for a few hours on Birdguides before any of us knew about it, and it didn't take long for us to finish our jobs and get onto the reserve once the news filtered down. And what a cracking bird.... This is a UK first for me, and having seen them in Southern France already where they are common they look equally as spectacular here. As can be seen in the photo below, it towers above even largish waders like this Ruff! The bird was wonderfully showy in the evening as it made its way around the reserve feeding and being harassed by gulls!

Black-Winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus with Ruff, Philomachus pugnax 

Black-Winged Stilt, Himantopus himantopus

There are also plenty of other migrants around the reserve at the moment, some here to stay and some just moving through. The two Turtle Doves are still purring away in the hedgerow and sometimes in the garden (!)  and a Cuckoo is heard most mornings, it must be said while I am lying in bed; what a luxury! There are at least two pairs of Common Terns around Frampton and plenty more at Freiston, and all our usual migrant warblers are in full voice. The odd Little Gull and Garganey are putting in appearances, as are Common and Green Sandpipers. Another nice arrival was the first Wood Sandpiper of the year at Frampton on Monday, another lovely little wader, which at this time of year I believe is best described as "Spangly." There is a very small breeding population in the Scottish Highlands, but most of them make there way to subarctic wetlands in Europe of Asia, so who knows where this one is headed!

Common Tern, Sterna hirundo

Wood Sandpiper, Tringa glareola

And now for some resident breeders that are both on the UK Red List for species of conservation concern, and both for the same reasons; Corn Bunting and Yellowhammer. While they may not be rare in terms of population size, both these species have suffered over a 50% decline in their breeding population in the last 30 years, due to agricultural intensification. Both species are ground-nesting farmland birds, and as such have suffered greatly at the hands of machinery and destruction of suitable nesting sites. There is potential for a brighter future though as agricultural schemes encourage farmers to spare a little land for wildlife, and where these schemes are in place the results are promising, like around our reserve! It is a real treat to be able to go out and see these birds singing away!

Yellowhammer, Emberiza citrinella

Corn Bunting, Emberize calandra

And finally, I was lucky enough to visit the Farne Islands on Saturday and get very close to one of the more remarkably adorned birds we have on our coastlines in this country, the Shag! What a beauty!!

Shag, Phalacrocorax aristotelis

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Back on Patch

A Spring Lamb

So to begin with this time, a picture of (I hate to admit it) a rather cute lamb! Eponymous of Spring these little mammals are actually with us for a more scientific reason, although looking cute is a nice bonus! We use lambs and sheep on our reedbed because unlike other grazing livestock, they don't eat reed. As we try to develop our reedbed to eventually provide suitable habitat for Bitterns and Bearded Tits, we need it to be able to grow as freely as possible and with little competition, making these guys perfect!
Another sure sign that Spring is well and truly here is that everything begins to "court" so to speak. All over the reserve there are signs that everything is getting ready to begin mating and raising young. While one of our Barn Owl boxes is housing Barn Owls, the other is providing a nice home to a pair of Kestrel, and this female can regularly be seen sitting on her front porch! While Barn Owl boxes are not always occupied by the intended species, they are now considered essential for sustaining Barn Owl populations, and with Kestrel and Stock Dove (Amber listed in the UK) being the other species that usually take over, they are always beneficial!

Female Kestrel, Falco tinnunculus

As I said before, in our other Barn Owl box we have a pair which can often be seen hunting at Freiston early morning an evening. The long grass on the edge of the tracks and hedgerows provide essential hunting grounds for these graceful predators. The Barn Owl is a Schedule 1 species in the UK, making it a criminal offence to disturb or persecute them. Their demise can be attributed to many things, the destruction of natural nest sites (woodland and old buildings), the use of pesticides that enter the food chain through their prey, and also the destruction of suitable long grass meadows for them to hunt over. However, with a lot of hard work, things are looking up for this magnificent creature!

Barn Owl, Tyto alba

It's not just birds that are showing the signs either; I found this pair of Common Toad making their way toward a body of water, the male clearly thinking it was too far for him to hop! Toads are incredibly faithful to their breeding grounds and will often return to breed at the pond where they were spawned. What normally happens is that the males gather at the breeding site and remain there for a few weeks, while the females stay for only a short period. However, this male clearly hadn't read the plot and had intercepted this female before she even reached the water! It is said that male toads are rather keen, and have been know to mount inanimate objects and even each other in a breeding frenzy. This makes it a stressful time and mortality is often high. The mounting of the male on the females back in know as Amplexus, and the two toads will remain in this state for a few days as the female makes here way around the pond laying her eggs while the male fertilizes them!

Male and Female Common Toad, Bufo bufo

And finally for this post, it is that time of year to dust off the moth traps! We have begun trapping in the garden over the last week, and while catches have been very small (maximum haul 3 so far), we have had one interesting (ecologically it must be said) species for Lincolnshire, in the form of the scarce-for-the-area Pale Pinion. We have also been catching Hebrew Character and Common Quaker so far, which i are more interesting to look at! Moth trapping is very easy, a good moth book is relatively cheap and it is a fantastic way of getting close to nature and practicing ID techniques; however the one question that trumps all others still remains, why exactly are moths attracted to light? More research to come.....but for now, the Pale Pinion in all its glory!

Pale Pinion, Lithophane hepatica