Sunday, 19 November 2017

November Notes

Let's begin this week with some of my local roe deer.

I was surprised to see how calm these deer appeared to be. They were only a few hundred metres away from a busy building site where groundwork was going on and this was only a few minutes after the loud canon that is fired for Remembrance day. Unlike other species of deer(1), the roe deer's rutting season has long since finished. They form small groups in the winter, as I saw(2). It is most common to see roe deer 'lying up' like this- they do this to ruminate (chew the cud) between feeding bouts.

Last week I visited Lymington-Keyhaven which is now starting to get busy with overwintering birds. I was also pleased to discover that the tide was out on my visit meaning there was a good opportunity to spot feeding waders.

There were several curlews feeding on the mud.

Last week I discussed how badly curlews are doing locally although you wouldn't know it at Lymington-Keyhaven. Every so often you could spot another large wader a little way out to shore and it would turn out to be a curlew. Unfortunately it's unlikely that many, if any, of these birds actually breed locally. Most of the UK's breeding curlew is in Scotland and the North of England(3) so it's likely these curlews are winter visitors, possibly only stopping off here on their way further south(4).

Here's a much smaller wader, a redshank.

Like curlews, redshank are generally found more in the North of the UK. Locally a few nest in the New Forest wetlands but most can be found at Lymington-Keyhaven- the Solent is an important area for them on the south coast(5).

Very close to the path I spotted this turnstone

The majority of waders have a duller plumage in the winter but turnstones have one of the more extreme changes, going from a bright chestnut brown to a dull grey(6). They get their name from the way they forage for food, often looking for invertebrates under stones. This individual didn't have to worry about stones though and was instead sifting it's way through the seaweed. 

I also saw a few species of duck at the reserve, including a few teal

Whilst some of the duck species that overwinter in the UK can be tricky to identify, teal are easy thanks to the green stripe on their head and the green wing feathers. The RSPB state that teal are resident in this part of the UK(7), though I've only ever seen them in the winter. Like the other birds mentioned today, teal are mainly found further north outside of winter. The UK is home to a significant percentage of the north-west European wintering population of these birds.

One final aquatic bird today and it's a canada goose that I see from time to time on my local fishing lake. It's easy to spot due to it's unusual plumage. 

It's difficult to know for certain what's going on here. The top of it's head should be fully black but here it looks like the black plumage hasn't formed properly. I think this goose is probably leucistic which means part of the plumage lacks the melanin pigment needed to produce the normal colour(8). This can cause problems for the bird as makes the feathers less strong and can result in members of the species not recognising it, though I think this individual will probably be OK on both counts. 

The other possibility is that this is a hybrid-goose, the result of a canada geese mating with a domestic goose or a different species. Geese breed with other species quite often and because all geese have 40 chromosomes they can do so successfully(9) which results in geese with unusual plumage. I would expect the hybrid to look more different from a canada goose than this individual does though.

1: 'Understand the British deer rut' 29/08/12 Discover Wildlife 
2: 'Roe Deer' The British Deer Society
3: RSPB: Curlew
4: 'Lymington and Keyhaven Marshes Local Nature Reserve' Hanstweb
5: 'Redshank' New Forest National Park Authority
6: RSPB: Turnstone
7: RSPB: Teal
8: 'Leucism and albinismBTO
9: 'What is this strange goose?' 

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