Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Awesome Autumn

It may well be Autumn but no-one seems to have told the temperature which is refusing to go as low as it should be at this time of year. That's good news for the butterflies though as they are able to keep flying. I've been seeing the occasional peacock butterfly and plenty of red admirals though on Sunday (22nd October) I was amazed to see a small copper.

Bear in mind that this little butterfly has survived the recent storms which though didn't affect us too badly here did give us strong winds and a lot of rain. There are usually two or three broods of small coppers a year but it's possible that this was a rare fourth brood, something which has been recorded in the South before. 

It's lovely to see butterflies so late in the year and I'm wondering if I might end up seeing one as late as November this year?

Whilst the number of invertebrates is significantly lower than it was a few weeks ago there are still plenty to be found if you look in the right places. Take this ivy bush which I passed today which was covered in buzzing insects. 

Ivy's late flowering is vital for insects. A 2014 study(1) discovered that an average of 89% of pollen pellets collected by honey bees during the Autumn come from ivy. The study also highlighted the importance of ivy flowers to other species such as bumble bees, common wasps, butterflies, hoverflies and other fly species. 

I walked part of the Stour Valley path near Throop on the edge of Bournemouth this week and saw a few birds of note. Flitting about on the concrete supports for one of the bridges was this grey wagtail

Grey wagtails spend most of the year around fast-flowing rivers where they feed on various aquatic invertebrates like flies, mayflies, and beetles and have even been recorded eating crustaceans and molluscs (2). In winter these birds move away from fast-flowing water and can be seen everywhere from gardens to city centres (3). It's interesting that this individual is still near fast-flowing water, perhaps indicating there is still enough food for it here at the moment.

Along the route I also spotted this magnificent grey heron

At this time of year grey herons have spread out away from their nesting colonies(4) and can be seen pretty much anywhere where there is water. Around harvest time they can often be seen in fields where they look for rodents to eat(5)- indeed I saw a heron catch and eat a rat in a field earlier in the year. 

I also saw a moorhen on the Stour too. 

Whilst UK moorhens stay here all year round they are joined in the winter by around 30,000 migrating birds from Europe(6).

One of the most common birds I've seen this week are pheasants. They are really tricky to get good photos of though as they run away from you so I've only ended up with pheasant heads stuck out over the top of a field and pheasants running away. 

Pheasants are not native to the UK but were introduced from Asia for hunting- indeed, it's thought that they are one of the world's most hunted birds(7). 

Pheasants are legally hunted between the 1st October and the 1st Febuary(8) each year. Beaters walk around in areas where pheasants, and other game birds like grouse, are likely to be which causes them to try and fly to safety where they are then shot down and collected by dogs. It disturbs me that killing things for sport is still perfectly legal in the UK in the 21st century. Not only is it legal, it's also big business. 

Landowners that have hunting interests are more likely to provide and manage good habitats than those without(9) and this is often used as a justification for hunting. The government should be working with landowners to ensure habitats are well managed instead of relying on people who want to kill things- that's not real conservation, it's just an accidental byproduct. There are also regular stories of birds of prey, including rare species like hen harriers, being killed in suspicious circumstances around grouse moors so they can't feed on chicks. 

I enjoy the bright colours of pheasants and the way they scuttle around is amusing but I always feel a certain melancholy when I see them knowing that their days are likely numbered thanks to the idiots who think killing living things counts as sport.

I've tried something new today and have put the sources to the information I've used here where I can. You may be interested in reading further on things I've talked about or they might just help to prove I'm not making things up!


1: Garbuzov, M. and Ratnieks, F. (2014) 'Ivy: An underappreciated key resource to flower-visiting insects in autumn', Insect Conservation and Diversity, 7, (1), pp. 91-102.
2: Santamarina, J. (1989) 'The Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea) diet in the Ulla river basin, Galicia. NW Spain'. Ardeola (in Spanish) 37 (1). pp 97-101. Link
7: Robertson, P. (1997) Pheasants. Voyageur Press. ISBN 0-89658-361-9.
8: Game Act 1831- online here.
9: Oldfield, T.E.E, Smith R.J., Harrop S.R. and Leader-Williams N. (2003) 'Field sports and conservation in the United Kingdom', Nature 423. pp 531-533

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