Thursday, 27 October 2016

Autumn Migration

Today I've got something of a migration special as I'm sharing various birds I've seen that may have migrated here in recent weeks.
First of all, it's a fantastic time of year for blackbirds as they can be seen (and heard) finding berries to eat.
There suddenly seems to be more blackbirds around. I suppose this is partly due to the fact they are more visible as they feed but actually there are now more blackbirds than there were over the summer. Blackbirds are actually migratory birds and whilst many are resident to an area all year round some do migrate. They migrate from Scandinavia and more Northern parts of Britain so they can have a milder Winter. Living here in the South of England means this is the area where the blackbirds come to spend the Winter.
Another bird which is less well-known to be migratory is the cormorant. A growing number are arriving at Blashford Lakes, like this young individual.
Like blackbirds many cormorants are resident here but some do migrate and arrive down South for the Winter.
Yet another partial migrant is the stonechat. I've seen lots of these throughout the summer in the New Forest which would suggest there's a fairly large resident population there.
I've also started to notice stonechats in lots of other places too. Whilst males are easy to identify the females are fairly plain and on several occasions now I've thought I've seen a more unusual bird but eventually realised it's another stonechat. I saw this one at Stanpit Marsh on Christchurch Harbour yesterday.
There are now lots of shovelers in the area and numbers have grown considerably over the last few weeks. I only seemed to see females to start with but have now seen a few gorgeous males.
There seems to be lots of redshank around at the moment too. Again, many redshank are resident but huge numbers come down from Iceland for the Winter. They look magnificent with their bright legs.
Another bird whose numbers have increased significantly are little egrets. When I went to Stanpit Marsh yesterday they were everywhere. There's a fair few resident these days anyway but many more have joined them for the Winter from the continent. I think you'd be unlucky to go to a stretch of water locally and not see at least one.
I think I've only ever seen one treecreeper before so I was really pleased to spot this individual on an oak tree by the River Avon today. Treecreepers do leave their breeding territories in Autumn which might explain where this one came from. I don't think there are usually many at all in the area.
Obviously grey squirrels do not migrate but they are a lot more visible at this time of year. As Winter approaches they are seen much more often on the ground as they collect fallen nuts and acorns. I've realised just how huge the grey squirrel population must be, especially in parks around the Bournemouth area.
We'll end like we began with a member of the thrush family, this time the robin. Like blackbirds we consider robins resident birds as we see them all around but plenty do migrate South. Everywhere you look there are robins at the moment. They are a rare bird in that they sing all year round so everywhere I go I am hearing beautiful robin song at the moment.
I've not seen any unusual migrants this year yet but there are some around- a waxwing was seen not far away last weekend. It's still amazing to see these tiny birds that may have travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles to enjoy the relatively mild winter we get round here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Bird Bonanza

Last weekend I visited Lymington-Keyhaven Nature Reserve and was delighted to find it teeming with bird life. There were a few species I see all the time but are still lovely to watch like black headed gulls and little egrets.
But actually the majority of species I saw were ones which I don't usually get to see. First up were some little plovers plodding around looking for food.
In the same area were lots of sanderlings, also having a feed.
There were a few lapwings around too, though most of them were looking pretty sleepy.
I took that photo for the lapwing but it was only upon closer inspection that I realised the ducks were more interesting than they appeared from a distance. It's difficult to see when they are so tucked up but you can just make out that they are in fact teals.
The most magnificent bird of the day was this stunning bar-tailed godwit. It's a really beautiful bird.
Even that though wasn't the most exciting spot of the day- that accolade goes to this wheatear.
I've never seen one before and was lucky to see several on what may well have been one of the last days they were around before migrating South.
Whilst I'm on the subject of birds I don't usually see, we had an unheard of visitor to our garden this week. We've lived in this house for 19 years now so getting new bird species these days is extremely unusual. I was surprised to see this female pheasant poking around the garden when I came home from work one day.
It was a surprise because we live in quite a built-up suburban area and even in the farmland not too far away pheasants are pretty unusual. We had some really heavy rain earlier in the day so I am theorising that this pheasant was driven to go somewhere more sheltered and perhaps was struggling to feed on water-logged land where it usually goes.
Something else which has also appeared in our garden recently are these great Sulphur Tuft mushrooms. We've had fairy ring mushrooms on the lawn before but these are new and they look great. They also seem to be proving popular with our resident slugs which is why some of them look a little chewed.
It still seems plausible that I may see a butterfly in November this year. There's still plenty around- I saw both speckled woods and a large white today and a rather battered looking red admiral at Lymington-Keyhaven last weekend.
I even saw a dragonfly today which goes to show that the weather is still proving fairly mild. This is a very dark female common darter.
It's interesting to see that Autumn is so late this year. The leaves have taken long to start to change colour and drop off too. Other than a couple of days of very heavy rain it's been very dry and though it is certainly colder now it's actually relatively mild- I don't think it has dropped below 4° at night yet. A longer summer must be a good thing for the majority of wildlife- the shorter the winter the higher number of individual animals will survive.


Wednesday, 19 October 2016

I Believe in Zoo

You may have seen the recent news of gorilla Kumbuka escaping from his enclosure at London Zoo. The male Western Silverback got out into a secure keeper’s area and was quickly tranquilised. The public was never in danger and the situation seemed to have dealt with very well by the London Zoo staff.
The events have led to an organisation called the Born Free Foundation releasing a statement saying “it could have ended very differently” and was a “startling reminder” of the risks of keeping wild animals in captivity. The organisation wants to see zoos phased out, something which I disagree with.
In terms of their opinion of the events of the London Zoo incident, it seems frankly wrong. It was extremely unlikely that it would ever have ended any differently thanks to the zoo’s safety procedures. The animal never escaped into a public area, the public were evacuated quickly and the gorilla was tranquilized and moved back to his enclosure remarkably quickly. It seems clear to me that London Zoo has clear safety procedures which it followed efficiently.
There is a debate to be had about intelligent animals being kept in captivity. You’ve probably seen Blackfish after all. But I do believe that even the most intelligent animals can be kept happily in captivity if treated well. It relies on the zoos really understanding the animal and being able to provide it with the environment it needs- both the physical space and fulfil its leisure and social needs- but I think it can be done.
I think zoos are really important for many reasons. For a start, they can encourage a love of the environment, particularly in children, that few other things can manage. That love of the environment is vitally important. If we want to save the endangered animals across the world we need a world where people care about animals and I think zoos really do this.
Zoos also provide an important service in education. On a basic level this is signs and guided tours which tell visitors more about the animals. But many zoos provide special education systems for schools which teach children about conservation in a practical way. As part of their conservation programs some zoos also educate local people about animals which can really have a positive effect.
Those conservation programs do a lot of good work. Profits from most large zoos go directly to conservation programs which help save the very animals people are seeing in front of them. The zoos often have breeding programs which can breed new animals to be released into the wild. This can be effective because it can increase the genetic pool of a species. These breeding programs are also important to ensure rare species don’t die out. In a worst case scenario a species like the tiger could go extinct in the wild but be saved thanks to tigers being bred in captivity.
Plenty of zoos work as rescue centres too. Many of their animals are ones which have been rescued, be that from injured individuals in the wild or those illegally kept in the pet trade. These animals could never be released in the wild but can be kept happily alive in a zoo.
Things need to be done better, I concede, but zoos still have an important role to play. They have moved on, here in the UK at least, to simply being places for entertainment but now educate and lead conservation projects. If the Born Free Foundation really wants to help animals they should be helping zoos to achieve these aims rather than criticising and trying to eliminate them.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Arne in Autumn

Last weekend I visited RSPB’s Arne Reserve, located on the West side of Poole Harbour. It was a gloriously sunny day and really busy on the reserve- I suspect due to the fact that it has been announced the reserve will be the location of the BBC’s Autumnwatch later this month.
I saw plenty of Sika Deer on the reserve. You may remember I saw the same species on my recent visit to Brownsea Island and these deer actually originate from that population, having swam/walked across the shallow harbour.
You can see that the latter has an ear tag and what I think is a radio collar, presumably to keep track of the population and how far it has spread.
I saw plenty of butterflies on the reserve, mostly speckled woods and red admirals but also a peacock.
I also saw both the first two today, the 15th October! It seems that butterflies are flying very late this year and with little sign that the temperature will drop significantly over the next week or so I suspect we may even get the odd butterfly still flying in November but we will have to see!
On the bird front Arne was a little disappointing I have to say. I saw this Little Egret near one of the beaches amongst a bunch of gulls.
Arne has a two-level hide which I was most excited by. On entering the higher level I quickly concluded that the reason it was so high is that the birds are a long way from the hide. I spotted a few spoonbills around and a shelduck.
Today I visited Blashford Lakes and had a great time. Two weeks I was over the moon that I had finally managed to photograph a kingfisher. I was lucky to manage that feat again today as a kingfisher obligingly sat on the edge of the lake cleaning for a good half an hour.
It kept diving into the water and then kept cleaning itself which was really enjoyable to watch.
A few other spots on the lakes: a pochard, a little grebe and some lapwings.
In terms of fungus I saw some stunning Shaggy Ink Caps.
I managed to see a demonstration of just some of the natural variation of Harlequin Ladybirds.
I have seen lots of hornets lately, mostly on ivy flowers. Frustratingly they always seem to visit the flowers at the top of the bush, away from most of the wasps, bees and flies, and are therefore very tricky to photograph. I saw one today on some leaf litter so got a clear view. They are remarkable creatures so watch.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Autumn Days

We’re now a week into October and it really feels like Autumn now. The temperature is dropping, especially at night, and the leaves are a rainbow of colour. This plant that grows on a wall at the end of our street always looks magnificent at this time of year.
The local horse chestnut trees are producing lots of conkers too, most of which are collected by local children.
I’ve seen the River Avon cygnets a few times lately and they are looking more and more grown-up each day. They look like grey adults now but there’s something magnificent about them.
The swans weren’t the only juvenile birds in this area as I saw this young Grey Heron fishing on the Avont too.
I was surprised to spot some stonechats on the farmland not far from my house. I’ve seen plenty up in the New Forest but never so close to the town. I can’t really explain why they came down from the forest though- perhaps to take advantage of an untapped food source.
It may be well into October but there are still a handful of butterflies around. I’ve seen three different species today (8th October)- a Red Admiral, some form of White and this Speckled Wood.
Last weekend I visited Blashford Lakes again and as usual there was plenty to see. My first spot was a load of Harlequin Ladybirds crawling around some wooden fence posts.
I saw lots of fungi but the only one I hadn’t seen before was this Cep (Boletus edulis).
Apparently this is one of the most tasty mushrooms according to foragers. Mushroom foraging is banned in the New Forest and I know that Blashford Lakes support this view. It’s much better to be able to enjoy the fungi if they are not picked by others and is of course better for the local environment.
There was lots of activity at the Woodland Hide with the usual tits and finches:
I also captured this Nuthatch living up to it’s name:
The thing I love most about Blashford is that you never quite know what you are going to see. Often it’s something fairly ordinary but still nice to see, like a rabbit or a coot.
Sometimes you might see something more exciting, like a shoveler:
But it you’re really lucky you might see something really special, like a kingfisher.
I am so pleased with this picture. I know it’s not a great photo, but it’s the content I love. It felt like a real achievement to finally capture a kingfisher on camera. It was so lovely to get a proper look at one too. Usually if you see a kingfisher you see little more than a blue blur as it flies away. This one sat on that stick for a good few minutes so I was able to sit and watch it for a while. It was a real moment of delight.