Mallard numbers are increasing and you can see them on almost any stretch of water, in fact they may be becoming a bit too dominant but nevertheless, they are worth watching. I have covered a few birds washing habits this year and non is more enthusiastic in its dunking style than the Mallard. Also, watch out for them ‘asleep’. They can sleep with one eye open, meaning one brain hemisphere is alert while the other sleeps. Not a bad adaptive behaviour! Conditions: More grey, damp days. Temperature: Max 9 Min 2C.
We are out on the extreme East coast, at Spurn Point Nature Reserve and it is wild, windy and wet, so here are some Dark-bellied Brent Geese that we have been watching and listening to over the last few days, days which have see-sawed between wild and wet, and calm and bright. These beautiful, small geese (a little larger than Mallard) have migrated here, in family groups, from the boggy arctic tundra of Russia, where they breed. 91,000 Dark-bellied Brent geese migrate to marshes and coastal farmland along our East and South coasts before making their way back, via the Baltic coasts, to the arctic by June, as the ice begins to thaw. Whether this pattern will be sustained as global warming changes the nature of the tundra and the shapes of our coasts is in question-walking the land-edge yesterday there were many places where the low ‘cliff’ had been recently eroded by several metres, and Spurn Point itself now gets partially underwater at high tide. It is also an irony that The Brent Goose ‘gave’ its name to the vast ‘Brent System’ oilfield that extracts
oil from the North Sea and pipes it ashore in Shetland. Conditions: Torrential rain, and high NE winds. Temperature: Max 9 Min 7C.
Alder Beetles- if like me, you are seeing Alder leaves full of holes and wondering what’s eating them it is the (unimaginatively but accurately named) Alder Beetle. This tiny, shiny metallic blue beetle which was in plentiful evidence at Potteric Carr nature reserve near Doncaster last week, was thought to be extinct in the UK for sixty years but has recolonised northwards after being recorded in Hampshire in 2004. The Alder Beetle, about 6-7mm long, is most active from April to July but there were many in evidence in the South Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve at the end of August. The caterpillars are also black and feed on Alder too, and the adults overwinter in leaf-litter before emerging to lay their eggs next spring. It sometimes affects Beech as well as Alder but the trees seem to survive the infestations. Conditions: Cool, still, grey.
Temperature: Max 12 Min 10C.
Common Darter Dragonfly- as its name indicates, this is the most common Dragonfly in the UK and can be found around almost any sort of body of water, even stagnant pools. Darter’s are a group of Dragonflies which do just that- they hover and then dart forwards to catch their prey mid-flight, before returning to a favourite perch to consume it. If you notice these Dragonflies, look out for their perches, often atop a plant or fence-post, but they can even be on wooden board-walks, heating up in the sun. Darters aren’t as restless flyers as Hawkers. The Common Darter female and juveniles are yellowish-brown bodied but the males are red-bodied. They can be distinguished from the less common Ruddy Darter by the former being smaller and having black legs. The only other thing you might confuse them with in flight is the Large Red Damselfly which has a longer, narrower body and, like all Damselflies, rests with its wings folded, while the Darter typically rests with its wings held forward.
Conditions: Too hot and sunny for words! Temperature: Max 27 Min 13C.
Mating Damselflies are always fascinating to watch. On the Chesterfield canal we watched Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies in their tandem flying mode, as well as in the ‘wheel formation’ when they are actually mating. The male Damselflies, typically more brightly coloured than the females, use their claspers, at the end of the abdomen, to clasp a special ‘shield’ on the females thorax, and the connection is strong enough for them to fly in this formation, as well as to land, rest and mate. Some species mate quickly and separate, while others remain linked for several hours to deter another Male from mating with the female. In fact, some males dig out the sperm of a previous Male In order to replace it with their own. You can watch this tandem flight and wheel along many slow-flowing streams and canals or pools. Conditions: A more normal summer day, with sun and cloud. Temperature: Max 23 Min 13 C.
Reed Bunting- These lovely long-tailed, sparrow-sized birds traditionally nest in damp areas and reed beds but lately have spread to drier habitats, probably due to the loss of wetlands, and are becoming pretty successful nesting in the shelter of Oil Seed Rape fields, although these are usually cut before they can get a second brood in. The strikingly bold patterned male finds a suitable nest site and the more muted female builds the nest. This female was finding plenty of insects, which the young and adults eat in spring, before adding seeds to their diet in summer. She was dropping down into the nest in the bottom of the grasses, but if a predator is around, as with some other birds, including the Lapwing, the Reed Bunting will feign injury and move away from the nest to draw the danger away.
Waking up each morning to the beautiful song of the Willow Warbler again, and having heard both this and the Chiffchaff singing on nearby Parkwood Springs I thought it was time to revisit these beautiful, elusive and similar-looking spring migrants. Chiffchaff arrive mid-March and Willow Warbler, migrating further, arrive in April. This difference in migration journeys also explains one of the visual differences, with Chiffchaffs having shorter wings and Willow Warblers, flying further, having longer primary feathers/wing length. Chiffchaff have dark legs while Willow Warblers have pale pinkish legs and a brighter eye-stripe. Since they are hard to see, the easiest way to tell them apart is by song- Chiffchaff singing a two note eponymous song, and Willow Warblers have a lovely long song ending with a downward trill. The BTO have a great little on-line video on telling them apart. (The photo’s of the Willow Warbler are from our garden, the Chiffchaff from Spurn).
Conditions: Milder with sun and showers. Temperature: Max 13 Min 4C.