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May and June at Gowy Meadows

Posted: Sunday 9th July 2017 by trustadmin

Gowy Meadows in May and June, guest blogger Gowy D'Amus reports the sightings of the month.

Counting wheatears on 1st May in SJ4373 was delayed by the fifth marsh harrier of the year quartering over the pond and adjacent rushes and sedges. Missing a primary from the right wing and also a tail feather she ought to be readily identifiable if opting to stick around.

More wheatears were to follow shortly after the harrier upped and headed off north-west at altitude, bringing the total on the reserve to 17 on the day and to 84 for the year. Two whinchats were amongst them and the years’ first sedge warbler chortled away – finally back! Continuing the circuit of the pond, there was next the fourth redstart of the year, followed by a pair of canada geese which came in to land on the water right in front of me… I had been standing on the shore in plain sight after failing to find any waders other than four presumed summering lapwing, so why they should land and then kick-off with endless honking defied understanding!

A week later, after walking to the reserve the long way around through Ince Lane, Speckled Wood Lane produced numbers of green larvae – seemingly of more than one species but eventually all determined as winter moth.

Scanning from the gate at the western end of the lane produced little apart from sheep and lambs, but shortly after walking into the first field an unexpected pair of gadwall came in to land on the main pond. Seven ‘pairs’ of mallard then flushed away, revealing that none are breeding unfortunately – perhaps they have already worked out that the evapouration rate will see the pond disappearing before not too long. With several kestrels known to be in the area it would have been understandable to pass off a low-flying falcon as being just that, but a mental bell rang which had me back-tracking a few paces to put binoculars on it as it came out from the other side of the hedge; a beautiful adult hobby, red thighs and all! It tore across the reserve and was at the northern boundary when it actually gained speed (!), climbing to gain altitude before stooping on something I couldn’t see. Swifts, invariably heading east into the breeze, followed in twos and threes over the next couple of hours, almost 40 all-told and often found whilst scanning through the flock after passing a flock of gulls heading north. There will have been thousands of gulls, which, on being disturbed from the landfill site to the south split allegiance between either heading east or north. The northern contingent is generally the larger but since they were passing over in droves I chose to neither count nor try to identify them… for now! Three male sedge warblers displayed their hearts out, one allowing a rare photographic opportunity.

I had to give the south end of the pond the chance to turn up a wader so headed off in that direction, choosing to give the ‘puddle’ in an adjacent field a final look of the spring, as its unlikely to last another week before being consigned to a mere patch of dried mud again. Amazingly, there was my wader; a little ringed plover to boot! This species appeared annually over 2013-15, but with the dry conditions of last year had not turned up – or at least if it did, I didn’t see it. The actual pond revealed nothing so it was onward and westward in an increasingly strong and cooling wind. Two wheatears were a pair, but even at this stage of the year, they aren’t going to stay. Gulls passing over had by this time (midday) reduced to countable numbers and it took me just 15 minutes to ‘click-up’ 1009. Given this rate, I retro-fitted some formula or other (a guesstimate by any other name!) to get to the likelihood that upwards of 10,000 or more had headed north since I arrived within the bounds of the reserve… and they were still passing over.

From this point in proceedings, I decided to see how the Mute Swans were faring so headed initially west across the reserve and then north up the Gowy to the permissive footpath, seeing not too much for my troubles apart from a pair of stonechats, six more wheatears, a whinchat and two ravens. The former were particularly interesting as with both ‘parents’ out together it might indicate a nest full of chicks needing feeding nearby. Passing through the herd of moos, I noticed something I’d never seen before, grey herons impersonating cattle egrets. Two were closely stalking moos through tall sedges, clearly hoping for something to be disturbed for them to munch on. That I was in plain sight, not 40 metres away told of their concentration levels; there were in fact eight herons on the reserve today, all adults.

The permissive footpath was quite active, with whitethroats trying to out-sing reed and sedge warblers, chiffchaffs and another two ravens were overhead, being mobbed relentlessly by crows. With no moos to disturb in the field hosting the other main pond on the reserve, the opportunity to check it out for the first time in a while was too good to miss. Nothing too consequential apart from a pair of mistle thrushes and a late snipe enjoying the gooey conditions at the north end of the pool (see photograph below) but it was nonetheless good to be able to confirm mallard, moorhen, coot and canada goose (four), as all being present. Mummy mute swan was fast asleep on her nest so went undisturbed too. With no butterflies on the way home it was a quiet end to what had been an exciting day in parts.

The 7th May followed a clear night which spells out just one thing – any migrating birds will have moved out, and if anything new turns up it will be some form of miracle.

Working the outside of Speckled Wood Lane was a no-brainer and it was actually quite rewarding since it produced just the third record for Gowy Meadows of dark-barred twin-spot carpet, great spotted woodpecker, a large red damselfly, singles of 14 and 22-spot ladybirds and the years’ first two common blue butterflies. The main pond in SJ4373 was avoided today but there were two excellent birds in its vicinity, both of which went unseen; cuckoo and greenshank, the latter being only the second record for the reserve, following one in 2012.

A female mallard was then seen in a bit of a tizzy as she was attempting to shepherd her eight miniscule ducklings away from me… in plain sight. She made such a din that even if I hadn’t seen them long before she began her distraction display I’d have been attracted to them anyway! Nonetheless, they were the first proof that anything wildfowl has actually bred on the reserve this year apart from the mute swans.

Six lapwing loafed around and (following on from the previous day), the latest ever snipe for Gowy Meadows flushed from under my feet – just the fourth May record ever. That there were just two male whitethroats singing all day was a little concerning as theoretically at least they ought to be back in full strength by this time. The spring has thus far, having produced more lesser whitethroats than common, is unprecedented. Yet another stunning male brimstone butterfly then stole the show; it or another was seen about 200 metres away only a minute or so later… it could have been the same insect… possibly.

The next thing I did was to scare the living daylights out of a heron which thought it was having a peaceful time feeding, but no. Sudden, loud, audible profanities will scare most things – but it had its revenge since it scared me to a similar degree as it exploded from three metres away! Why the profanities; a macro moth. Why I thought I should have seen it before it took flight is up for question, but as it happens it flew about me for around a minute and then incredibly proceeded to perch up on a hawthorn trunk, revealing itself to be a may highflyer, a species new for both my local patch and of course for Gowy Meadows! Whilst I was photographing it, it flushed again and actually landed on me briefly before finally disappearing into the grasses; superb, my 218th species for the reserve – without ever having used a light trap! 

(May 14th) In hindsight it would probably have been a better plan NOT to undertake transect-based recording today as the wind was so unhelpful, keeping plenty of passerines either down, silent or both. Nonetheless, and abiding by the ‘we are where we are’ philosophy, the first hour or so of the morning was spent surveying along transect “G_E” – Green route, East no less. Apart from the lack of warblers other than two chiffchaffs, it wasn’t an entirely unexpected return…few birds. A great spotted woodpecker was nice however as were greenfinch and jay. House sparrow was probably the best species however insofar as the two pairs appear to be nesting ‘naturally’ – that is, not in a house but in the wild. Half-way down the route I made a detour into one of the meadows to successfully find small yellow underwing and Aspilapteryx tringipennella if not much else, but with Pammene rhediella, a first for Gowy Meadows already in the bag, things were going well!

With the bird surveying slow and mainly being done through audibles rather than visuals, there was plenty of time to spend insecting, to good effect as it turned out. Two Leucozona leucorum hoverflies were swiftly followed by a few large red and thereafter the first azure damselflies of the year, plus an Adela reaumurella moth (photo, right), the first since 2015 put in a rare local appearance.

On finishing the transect I switched my attention to the main pond in SJ4373, noting singing sedge warblers, two adult little grebes and a female mallard being trailed by 13 young! Ignoring transect G_W (Green, West) as its essentially a dragonfly transect, I headed north up the river, stopping briefly to discover four wheatears and see that Thornton Brook was neck deep in tiny sticklebacks and tadpoles that were actually bigger than most of the fishes!

So to transect R_N (Red, North). It was almost deathly quiet and with the increasing wind causing virtually everything to stay down and silent it was only half an hour in the processing. A lapwing in the area was a good sign as there had been two a couple of weeks earlier. The same was true of mistle thrush and six canadas, four of which are now attempting not to look furtive when I am close by! There were however warblers, with unseen reed and sedge warblers, blackcap, whitethroat and chiffchaff all doing their best in the unhelpful conditions. Mummy mute swan was still on her nest, and with that having been the case for just over a month the probability is that in a week or so whatever is under her will hatch out. Before leaving the reserve to head home I stayed a whiles on the bridge over the stream about half way along the transect. Not too much was on the move but the first Episyrphus balteatus hoverfly of the year showed alongside the beautiful froghopper Cercopis vulnerata, which I may have only seen once before on the reserve.

On 19th, I arrived on the reserve from the south and once under the motorway, the first of the days interesting moths for the appeared; firstly the 8th Hedya nubiferana, followed by the first ever mottled pug! Deciding to do the transect G_W for the first time this year proved mildly yet not entirely surprisingly disappointing – though in fairness its primarily for dragonflies. In the past, the southern part of the river has hosted anything up to four pairs of sedge warblers but there were none at all. It was equally lacking in reed buntings and meadow pipits but at least skylark were well represented, six pairs being a good show. A wheatear was off in the distance and two pheasants were a nice surprise. A third was across the river near to no less than four fox cubs that were just having fun. This is the first time I personally have seen any evidence as to local breeding and it was lovely to watch them, though I am certain those rearing pheasants in the area wouldn’t be so happy! The site is off-reserve but I can’t resist showing the cubs at play.

After covering about half of the transect, and with the knowledge that the northern part was likely to be even quieter, I changed tack and focused on a different route, R_S, that traverses the middle of the reserve. This proved to be a good move as suddenly there were meadow pipits parachuting down to earth and by the end, seven stonechats had been logged, including the first three fledged young of the year. Towards the eastern end of the route, idly searching the hedgerow produce a single Syndemis musculana, a micro moth new for Gowy Meadows, followed almost instantly along Speckled Wood lane by a drinker larva, Cauchas rufimitrella, Spularia flavicaput, Ancylis badiana the leaf mines of Pegomyia solennis, the tiny yet lovely fly Thaumatomyia notata and finally two Cercopis vulnerata.

Both the leaf miner and the fly were also new to the reserve (to my understanding) the drinker larva represented the eighth record, Ancylis badiana just the third, as did the Adela rufimitrella… a few magical minutes, but the lane was far from done!

Towards the eastern end first came three 14-spot, then a pair of 16-spot ladybirds in the cop! The latter were not only another new species for the reserve, but also new for me! Sadly they weren’t too enamoured by my stuffing a camera in their faces and, still paired up, they moved to the edge of the leaf and hurled themselves off! Finally, a Nemophora degereella hove into view, one of my favourite micro-moths, sporting as it does enormous antennae.

All in all, one of the best days on the patch in many a long day.

On opening the bedroom curtains on 20th, conditions looked so perfect (sunny and no wind) I reached for the hoverfly book, some pots and my butterfly net, set to spend the time in the field insecting – birds, unlikely to get in the way at the end of May… So when I opened the front door to a practical gale and slate grey skies only 10 minutes later I thought someone was having a laugh… how on earth can the conditions have changed so dramatically in such a short space of time!! Committed, I continued with plan A, beginning by walking the meadows south of Speckled Wood Lane and within minutes I’d wet lower legs, shoes, socks and feet again – oh joy. It was hard work, but a single small yellow underwing eased the pain a little. Odd spots of rain began falling – nothing serious, but unhelpful at best… a few azure and then the years first blue-tailed damselfly appeared next but star of the meadows was a superb wasp beetle (Clytus arietis, photo right), just my second on Gowy Meadows. The third ever Parhelophilus frutetorum hoverfly added further interest before I called time on actual meadows and headed for the main pond in SJ4373, taking in the last 100 metres of Speckled Wood Lane on the way. BOOM! Thanks to having brought the net with me I managed to catch Gowy’s first Nematopogon swammerdamella micro-moth, the fourth of the so-called longhorns on the reserve so far this year!

The pond itself was disappointingly bereft of much water and looking at the skies I admitted to having mixed feelings – I wouldn’t mind getting a good soaking if it meant the water levels might rise an inch or two. What was left of the pond at its southern end at least had a wader, if only a lapwing but there was also an intriguing group of duck. More exactly a group of weird ducklings and their mother…

Notwithstanding that two of the ducklings were…yellow… with orange bills, all the rest had dark bills with no reddish tip – so presumably were not mallard. Looking at the female more closely, she didn’t have a typical mallard bill either, in fact it looked distinctly shoveler-like.…only the rest of her didn’t fit for that species. I needed a closer look, so moved towards then – they didn’t move a muscle but had clearly reasoned I was a threat even at 100 metres. Two things then happened; firstly I disturbed a dozen Bactra lancealana moths from the sedges – and in stopping momentarily to identify one that had perched up, I’d given the family the few seconds they needed to get out of sight!! The must have moved like lightning to disappear as they did, so well done to one and all. Hopefully they will stick around long enough for me to cross paths with them again and confirm their ID.

The rain then became persistent and the sky was pretty much the same colour as the land…I was forcibly reminded of the epic statement used by those delivering the shipping forecast on radio…’precipitation in sight’ – never truer than the present when precipitation in sight was practically the case for all of the 360 degrees! For the first time in years, and maybe because of not being dressed for adverse weather, I headed for home, getting a tad moist on the way – no complaints really as any day with new species for the reserve can’t be all bad – and we need the water!

There was an impromptu trip on 23rd caused by the good weather and wanting to see how the mute swans were doing. As such, it was essentially just an idle wander of the permissive footpath along the northern boundary of the reserve. Plenty of moth, dragonfly and butterfly activity resulted in several Pammene argyrana micro-moths, the first four-spotted chaser and small coppers of the year – but no mute swans! The nest looked in good condition, a few feathers still in the cup but nothing else and nothing to suggest that there hadn’t been a successful end to the 42 days incubation. All that’s left to do now is wait and see when and where the family turns up and how many of them there are. One male orange tip was a bit of a surprise but there have been local records into the first week of June in the past.

Holidays abroad and abysmal weather meant that the next time I got onto the reserve was on 17th June and I had a difficult decision to make; with it being fairly late on in the breeding season (and blisteringly hot) should I do another transect, or should I bow to insect pressure and wander west within the field? It became easier once I’d seen the fields – the grasses were practically up to my waist… transect it was…or that was the original plan. After a few metres it was clear that there were practically no birds either moving around, calling or singing. Nonetheless, I’d written transect into my notebook so whilst I slowly walked west I was listening and tapping the bushes and trees with my butterfly net. There were scores of Anthophila fabriciana moths and a few Celypha lacunana, the latter will become the dominant moth for a while before the grass moths kick in. One or two speckled woods showed up and then, in quick succession, a snout and a Dipleurina lacustrata, two moths I’d only recorded once previously on the reserve and that back in 2014. Common and silver-ground carpets followed then what would have undoubtedly have been a first for the reserve found itself in the net…unfortunately it lacked enough scales to allow me to identify it! In the same catch there was the nice surprise of a lovely orange ladybird as well as a harlequin larva. It just goes to show that there’s masses of life around – I’d only been attempting to capture the moth!

Half way along the lane, after adding Apotomis betuletana (a first for the Reserve) and Hedya pruniana, the pressure finally told and I side-tracked into the field. Immediately there were numbers of meadow browns and the surprise package of a female banded demoiselle. The closest ditch which I’ve previously found these insects on is almost 600 metres away so how she was expecting to find a mate is something only she knew! Other than that the field was not unexpectedly littered with spiders – hosts of them but there was also a nice straw dot and the very handsome Cheilosia illustrata hoverfly, just the 10th for Gowy Meadows and the first for three years. For reasons passing understanding I then chose to look if there was any water in a butt adjacent to the hedgerow – there was…and also a bedraggled green oak tortrix, which I promptly rescued. On returning to the lane, a swift movement of orange in the corner of my eye betrayed the first large skipper of the year, which stayed put just long enough for a quick photo.

Not having been on site for practically a month I feared as to whether there would be any water in the pond at all and on seeing a lamb where there had been water I feared even more. However, water there was though a much reduced footprint. Nothing actually on it bird-wise but the presence of 15 or more common blue damselflies was a highlight of the entire day.

It was about now (midday-ish) that the heat was becoming quite oppressive and I’d thoughts of giving up for the day as a consequence of both that and that there was almost nothing moving now apart from the odd dragonfly. If these conditions weren’t enough I had to factor in my right shoe… at the edge of the pond I’d stepped onto what I’d thought was terra firma but it turned out to be terra gloop and I went in to the tune of at least six inches. On extracting my foot, the sole of the shoe stayed put, meaning it was hanging off like a dogs tongue following a lengthy run! So, if ever I needed proof that walking forwards wearing flippers was practically impossible, I had it. I’m not one of the boy scout types that carries string and a penknife wherever they go so I was attempting to flipper walk for about 20 minutes before I found a friendly gate with an excess of baling twine holding it closed. Next conundrum – how to get myself a length of it without impacting on the integrity of the shut gate! I tried rubbing the twine against the fence post, but apart from bringing a Salticus scenicus spider to my attention I thought I’d more chance of starting a fire than actually ‘sawing’ through the twine… Think. Idea. Keys out… one of them for a long since departed holiday bag had a serrated edge, I had myself a saw and five minutes later my right shoe sported an orange go faster stripe. Flushed with this success I decided there was no point in just going home so chose instead to go and count banded demoiselles on the river.

On approaching the kissing gate there was a herd of young moos that immediately became fascinated with me, so as is customary I played a game of ‘touch nose’ with a few of them before getting on with the counting. Walking north up the river was in fact very pleasant…there were dozens of demoiselles and nine emperor dragonflies the latter being the equal highest day count ever though there was only one female. By the time I reached the A5117 the demoiselle count had risen to 320+ which was probably excellent given the conditions. Today’s second new moth for the reserve was also found along the river, and posed beautifully as its name implied it should, on a thistle. Thitsle ermine is a species that turned up in the garden trap regularly until last seen in 2007 so this was a very pleasant find on several counts. There was never going to be a second attempt at a transect along the northern boundary of the reserve, so it turned out to be just a nice walk looking for anything that crossed my path Three narrow-bordered five-spot burnets did just that but there was no sign of burnet companion or mother shipton, which was a disappointment. The only other highlight was the years first common darter.

Returning garbage weekend weather meant that this was the only trip to the reserve in June, by which time the years bird list had risen to 88, already the fifth best year ever and with half a year to go! However, looking at potential additions its not going to be extremely difficult getting to the magical 100.


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