The Breeding Season at Blue House
Blue House Farm EWT Reserve, North Fambridge : The breeding waders enjoyed their fourth successful season on the trot. The number of Lapwing pairs on The Flood increased from 12 in 2009 to 20 this year and Redshank from 10-12 to 15+. Single pairs of Snipe and Little Ringed Plover also summered. Avocets were also on course to increase but several of the early nests failed to hatch. Three of these were in front of the New Hide and my notes indicate that the clutches were brooded for over five weeks (long past their normal incubation) before the adults began to lose interest and the nests were subsequently robbed by Coots (see my entry in May). There may also have been some losses to other predators but there was no evidence during the summer of any widespread predation by foxes, the usual culprits. I suspect that the myriad young rabbits along the railway embankment are a counter attraction to most predators. In the end, the five pairs of Avocet that did hatch young all succeeded in rearing at least some of them, ten youngsters fledging. The poor hatching success may have been due to the cold night-time temperatures in spring as Avocets are emotionally incontinent and more than once I saw a brooding bird leave its nest on a cold day to chase off birds as inocuous as a Pied Wagtail!
As for the Lapwing, the 20 pairs on The Flood reared around 35-40, an excellent return for a ground nesting bird such as this. Elsewhere, 6 pairs on The Fleets reared 8 young; Kestrels (which bred on the reserve this year) probably taking at least some of the chicks, while the 6 pairs on the Flat Fields failed completely; their first clutches probably being lost to cattle trampling and their second due to the extreme dryness of the fields later in the season. Many Redshank young were seen and this species definitely benefits from its close association with Lapwings and Avocets, which offer a far more effective defensive shield than they can provide on their own. An example of this occurred when a male Kestrel was foolish enough to venture on to The Flood and found itself on the losing end of a dogfight with ten Lapwings and five Avocets!
Among the wildfowl, a total of 24 broods of Mallard were seen along with 5 Shelduck, 3 Shoveler and single Wigeon, Pochard and Mute Swan. Around 40 pairs of Coot and 15 Dabchicks also nested. A pair of Water Rails with two fledged young was a bonus. Again, predation was very low; a brood of 13 Mallard ducklings in early May remaining intact (and nearly fledged) four weeks later and a similar number in early July losing only one of their number before fledging. Similarly, the Shovelers reared 9, 6 and 6 young respectively.
Wetland passerines included 80 pairs of Reed Warbler, 28 Sedge Warbler, 38 Reed Bunting and 5 Yellow Wagtail (up from one the previous year). On the downside, we lost our few remaining pairs of Corn Bunting and the two pairs of Turtle Dove that usually nest on the railway embankment failed to return this year. Both are red listed species in sharp decline. To end on a more cheerful note, a pair of Swallows nested under the eaves of the New Hide and reared four young.
Blue House Moths
Reading Ben's account of his moth night at Canvey Wick and his description of the site reminded be of a friend, the late Bob Glover, who in the 1970s wrote an article entitled "All Waste and Lonely Places" for Birds Magazine, extolling the virtues of brownfield sites long before their value to wildlife became widely known. Being a country boy I scoffed at him at the time but see things differently now, having spent the past thirty years helping to monitor the rapid decline in farmland birds and other wildlife hereabouts. Anyway, Ben might be interested in the results of the past two years moth trapping at Blue House EWT Reserve, North Fambridge. Nick and Tim, warden and assistant warden, kindly set the trap for me once a week and this is gradually building up a picture of the reserve's moth population. Around 225 macro species have been trapped to date and as you would expect of a farmland/wetland reserve, grassland and reedbed species figure prominently in this list, Viz :
Grassland/Scrub : Cream Spot Tiger, Six Spot Burnet, Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnet, Mother Shipton, Latticed Heath, Burnet Companion, Small Yellow Underwing, Yellow Belle, Plain Pug, Mullein Wave, Antler Moth, Hedge Rustic, Northern Drab, White Point, Shark, Chamomile Shark, Star Wort, Black Rustic, Feathered Gothic, Dusky Lemon Sallow, Lesser Spotted Pinion, Crescent Striped and Small, Large & Feathered Ranunculus.
Wetland : Brown-veined, Bulrush, Fen, Large, Matthew's, Obscure, Shoulder-striped, Silky, Southern, Striped, Twin Spotted and Webb's Wainscots, Reed Dagger, Small Rufous and Pinion Streaked Snout.
There are also a surprising number of woodland species, the most unexpected of which was a Festoon; perhaps a wanderer from Hockley Woods across the river.
The latest catch, on July 20th, consisted of 198 Dark Arches, 49 Rustic/Uncertain, 45 Common/Lesser Common Rustic, 40 Smoky Wainscot, 19 Silver Y, 16 Scarce Footman, 16 Cloaked Minor, 15 Dusky Sallow, 9 Bright-line Brown Eye, 6 Light Arches, 5 Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, 4 Crescent Striped, Common Footman, Common Wainscot and Clay; 3 Lesser Yellow Underwing, Drinker and Lunar Spotted Pinion; 2 Shuttle-shaped Dart, Silky Wainscot, Svennson's Copper Underwing and Yarrow Pug; and single Brown-veined Wainscot, Buff Arches, Buff Footman, Chinese Character, Common White Wave, Dark/Grey Dagger, Dingy Footman, Dot Moth, Double Square Spot, Dusky Brocade, Early Thorn, Elephant Hawk Moth, Fen Wainscot, Flame Shoulder, Heart & Dart, Herald, Latticed Heath, Lime Hawk Moth, Mouse, Nutmeg, Oak Eggar, Paerly Underwing. Peppered Moth, Riband Wave, Small Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing, Small Scallop, White Point and White Satin.
479 macros of 50 species (I think!) - too many for one trap; they tend to batter themselves in these numbers and the object of the exercise is to survey the reserve's moths not beat them up! One curiosity of the site is the disparity between Noctuid and related moths and Geomtrids; and I mean disparity - 80 or 90 to 1 overall, which is difficult to explain. Apart from common species the only migrant of note has been a Ni Moth in August last year.
A Little Bit of Luck
Sunday July 18th : Some birds are notoriously difficult to see. You can visit the Bittern Watch Point in the Lee Valley on a month of Sundays and not catch a glimpse; or you can pop in on the offchance and see three! The Corncrake is another skulker, taunting would-be observers with its harsh, monotonous "crex crex" call from deep in the hayfields; a sound that can apparently cause sleepless nights and have you reaching murderously for your shotgun in the few places where it is still common. Sadly, it is over a century since that was the case in Essex. A third recluse is the Quail, like the Corncrake a summer visitor in small numbers to Britain. If you are lucky you might hear its distinctively jerky "wet my lips" call from the cornfields; Elmdon and Chrishall being one of its favoured haunts in the days of my youth. Blissfully quiet it was there then, before the advent of the M11 and expansion of Stanstead, the call of the Quail often forming a prelude to that of the Stone Curlew, another lost Essex bird. As for seeing them - in your dreams! After fifty years of walking the farmland around Ingatestone (since I was first given permission to go freelance at the age of twelve) without even hearing one call my luck finally changed today. I was sitting under a tree on the edge of a cornfield at Mill Green, enjoying my elevenses, when four tennis ball sized gamebirds came creeping along the edge of the field towards me accompanied by a slightly larger ball - their mother. I had been expecting to focus my binoculars on a brood of Pheasants - which have precociously feathered young -and it took some moments before the striped faces and stripe-flecked backs registered. The female was the first to cotton on to my presence and she dived into the corn but the youngsters panicked and sprang into the air, flying a few yards on furiously beating wings before plopping back into the wheat. To say I was chuffed to bits or - to use an alternative cliche - over the moon, is a slight understatement! The record will be entered in the relevant tetrad on the BTO's Bird Atlas - a rare case of proved breeding for this species - but context and meaning has nothing to do with tetrads but resides in long cherished areas, such as parishes, and as the same walk produced not only a Quail but a Marbled White - another new parish record - it was truly a red letter day for this tribal East Saxon ploughboy!
U3A Visit to Hitchcock Meadows & The Backwarden
Saturday July 10th : 21 members of the West Suffolk branch of the University of the Third Age Botanical Group visited Hitchcock Meadows and The Backwarden EWT Reserves. They ranged in experience from the botanically inclined to heavy duty botanists but all were marvellously friendly and energetic and it was a pleasure to show them around. Youth can indeed sometimes be wasted on the young! According to the Met Office the first six months of 2010 have been the driest for eighty years and as the temperature on the day was 30`C in the shade (40`+ in the sun!) it was both surprising and pleasing that it was the plants, rather than their observers, that were beginning to wilt by the end of the afternoon. The following morning was a different matter though! Both reserves were parched but we still managed to find a few things of interest. At Hitchcock most attention focused on a Corky-fruited Water Dropwort - a new record for the reserve - and a species still rare in Suffolk. There was also a fine display of Harebell in Dell Meadow and Zig-Zag Clover in Broken Back while Lesser Calamint was showing well in its enclosure on Toot Hill. Also, we were able to identify the hybrid between Tormentil and Creeping Cinquefoil on Toot Hill, although there was no sign of the pure bred Trailing Tormentil which I had found a couple of weeks earlier. After lunch at Danbury Park we went on to The Backwarden, dodging from sunshine to shade. Highlights here were a small patch of Lesser Skullcap (5" high and displaying signs of sunstroke) which many people had not seen before, and a few green specimens of Floating Club Rush among their sun crisped brethren in one of the bogs. Slender St John's Wort is a plant that we in Essex take for granted on our acid soils, but that is not so when you come from the calcareous grasslands of West Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, while other species of note included Oval, Pill and Green-ribbed Sedges (only the first and last still in flower), Common Skull Cap, Blue Water Speedwell and Wood Small Reed. Thanks are due to Peter Squire and Dave Williams, warden and volunteer at Hitchcock respectively, for helping me to show the group around their reserve, and also to the U3A group themselves for making it such an enjoyable day despite the heat.
Brian Goodey in the Moths of Essex (2004) states that records by Reid (1916) from the Kelveden area were erroneous, corrected in The larger moths of and butterflies of Essex
(Emmett & Pyman et al
., 1984), and also notes an unpublished and unsupported report of an adult from Basildon on 9.vi.1997. He notes that the moth is found in many southern counties that support its foodplant, bilberry. This is a plant probably now extinct in Essex (with single record from Sunshine Plain Epping Forest, not seen recently
) and this is also a very scarce plant indeed in the Kentish Weald. So the presence of Beautiful Snout at Canvey must be as a vagrant unless there is an alternative plant which occurs in the area. Is there anything that might be possible?
Canvey Wick is certainly an astonishing place, representing an excellent example of 'brownfield' Open Mosaic Habitats on Previously Developed Land habitat (who ever thought up that name for a UKBAP habitat!), and one which keeps turning up more rare invertebrates and many a surprise. The SSSI contains a range of habitats with support assemblages representing species associated with, for example, dune, coastal levels, saltmarsh, fen and scrub habitats. As well as the extensive dry grasslands on calcareous sand, brackish ditches with sea club-rush etc, there are extensive dry Phragmites areas, and it is possible to stand in some places and imagine one was at Minsmere.
Rumblings down at Canvey Island...
Last night was the night of all nights! very warm all day and the evening was dead calm on the edge of the mouth of the Thames down on Canvey Island, it really is a strange and almost messy place being made up of huge areas of waste ground but it has to have something good as i has been awarded the SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and Moths from what I had heard from my friends Graham Bailey & Don Down, were no exception!
We started off walking through the rough ground and then set about getting the lights on.
We had Don's 125w MV bulb on a tripod with sheets and egg trays around the base, Graham set his dual 40w Actinic and halogen combination up and I had a 26w Daylight bulb attached to a pole, dug into the ground and sheets placed underneath.
Clear skies prevailed but this did not affect the catch, estimates of 1500 Moths wouldn't be far wrong...they were literally everywhere!
(1) Beautiful Snout (the best Moth of the night and I believe only the 2nd ever Essex record?
other species of note
(1) Garden Tiger
(15+) Kent Black Arches
(5+) Slender Pug
(1) Shaded Pug
(10+) Cream-bordered Green Pea
(3+) Brown Scallop
(1) Round-winged Muslin
(3+) Southern Wainscot
(5+) Obscure Wainscot
(5+) Rosy Wave
(1) Lesser Cream Wave
(8+) White-line Dart
(3+) Brown Scallop
(10+) Oncocera semirubella
(30+) Melissoblaptes zelleri
(10+) Pyrausta despicta
(5+) Platytes alpinella
(1) Schoenobius gigantella
(3+) Catoptria pinella
More details can be fiound at my blog.
With regards to Deptford Pink there are no modern records for the Colchester area listed in Terri Tarpey's and Jerry Heath's 'Wild Flowers of North-East Essex' (1990) and at that time there was only a single site in Essex, in the south of the county. In Gibson's day (The Wild Flowers of Essex, 1862) there were twenty -six sites scattered around the county. That is not to say that your plants could not be genuinely wild : gardens freee of herbicides can turn up an amazing variety of species, simply from the seed bank in the soil. I suggest that you contact the County Recorder, Ken Adams, via the Essex Botany Group website and he will be able to give you an update on recent records. Graham Smith.
Deptford Pink in Colchester
Looking through the Biological Records in Essex website I see that there are "about 5 sites still extant, 'gardened at 2 sites'". I have a population in my garden (CO4 3UP) (TM0301225378), which is previously unrecorded.
They were growing here when we moved into the house 25 years ago, and have seeded themselves around ever since. When we moved in the house was only 3 years old and the former owners had done little to the garden. Formally the site had been agricultural land, but I don't know of what type. But it certainly seems that the plants are of wild stock.
If anyone has any knowledge of any other nearby sites I would be interested to know. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Butterfly & Dragonfly Walk at Blue House
Sunday June 27th : Helped Tim Lawrence, the reserve's assistant warden, with a butterfly & dragonfly walk at Blue House EWT Reserve. The temperature at 10am, when the walk was due to start, was around 28'C and rising - great weather for insects if not their observers! Around a dozen people attended and as Tim had kindly set the moth trap the previous evening we were able to start the day by showing them a range of the more colourful moths including two Elephant Hawk Moths
. Any fears we had about people being bored were dispelled when it took us the best part of an hour to cross the field nearest the farm, there being so much of interest to see. Our walk conincided with a mass emergence of Common Darters, around 40 being counted along the ditch in this first field, all of them brown individuals, either females or immature males. Several Ruddy Darters were also present, again immatures or females. Among the numerous Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies we picked out a few Azures and a dozen Scarce Emerald Damselflies. As the last are lazy insects, prefering to sit on the vegetation rather than fly, we were able to note the often difficult to observe differences between this species and the Common Emerald, half a dozen of which were also present. Other species seen included six Broad-bodied Chasers, which are normally scarce on the reserve, plus its relative, the Four-spotted Chaser; also Emperor Dragonflies patrolling their territories and Black-tailed Skimmers behaving as their name suggests. The walk was rounded off with a single Hairy Dragonfly, a slightly tatty specimen now approaching the end of its breeding period. Among the grassland butterflies, Meadow Brown are having a poor season but Small Heath, Common Blue, Large, Small and Essex Skippers were all present in excellent numbers. My weekly transects have recently produced totals of 380 Meadow Brown (down from a peak of 1000 in 2007 and 780 in 2008), 360 Small/Essex Skippers (10 : 1 in favour of the former), 53 Large Skippers, 99 Common Blues and 179 Small Heaths. On July 1st three Marbled Whites were recorded, a new species for the reserve; remarkbly, four days later one was seen at The Backwarden EWT Reserve, Danbury, another new reserve record, so they are obviously on the move this summer. We eventually ended up in the New Hide, overlooking the flooded fields, where people were able to relax in the welcome shade and enjoy views of young Avocets, Lapwings and Redshank a few feet from where we sat. The walk seemed to go well and all those who attended enjoyed the day. Later that afternoon I returned to the hide and was treated to a spectacular aerial display by two Hobbys, birds that are far better at spotting dragonflies than I am, and which caught and dined upon around two dozen on them in less than twenty minutes!