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August at Gowy Meadows

Posted: Saturday 2nd September 2017 by trustadmin

Gowy Meadows in August, guest blogger Gowy D'Amus reports the sightings of the month.

August 5th
Mixture of sunny spells with cloud; breezy.

Another very slow day despite reasonable conditions – albeit a tad too breezy for the best insecting. In terms of the wind – peculiar at best as at the outset it was decidedly northerly, after which it went west, then south and by the time I’d returned home it was completely calm! This probably saved me a soaking as one particularly nasty looking storm passed to my west thanks to the northerly wind and then tracked east due to the westerlies…

Possibly the most notable event of the day concerned the sudden and massive appearance of leafmines belonging to the pear leaf blister moth (Leucoptera malifoliella). Sadly there were few actually on the reserve but in two places there were thousands along stretches of hawthorn hedge no longer than 100 metres. Staying with moths, Speckled Wood Lane chipped in with an adult blood vein plus mines of both Parornix devoniella and Carpotriche marginea. The lane was once more practically birdless though there were nine long-tailed tits, two juvenile willow warblers and a chiffchaff. The tone of calling buzzards suggested they were actually whinging juveniles, at least two.

Checking out the pond in SJ4373 was surprising as despite all the rain over the previous ten days or so there was no improvement in the size of what is best now described as a large puddle – with nothing attending other than a single lapwing. A few swallows were hawking over most of the meadows, perhaps 25 in total but no other hirundines or swifts; the ten greylags which flew through could have been a local family party.

About this time of year, surprisingly, some of the sightings of warblers may turn out to be the last. Some will undoubtedly have moved off south already, but any still around will have gone quiet apart from their contact calls or have gone completely silent. As such, records of whitethroat, sedge warbler and reed warbler were more than welcome. The latter was particularly interesting as it represented just the third record for SJ4373 ever and the first for autumn. Three immaculately plumaged ravens were rollicking around, presumably birds of the year just having fun; they passed so close their beautiful metallic plumage was stunning to see. Moving across the centre of the meadows produced nothing other than the third record of Epiblema scutulana for the reserve and on reaching the river there were to be just three banded demoiselles – not entirely unexpected as their numbers will be tailing off at this time.

On passing into SJ4374, the first real surprise on the birding front – a female tufted duck with two small chicks! Similar sightings in previous years have all come from this same stretch of river, so it’s almost certain they bred here again. This sighting upped my enthusiasm so much that I next elected to see how many cinnabar larvae I could find along Thornton Brook; 386! Walking slowly so as to attempt an accurate count also accounted for numbers of butterflies: 54 gatekeepers and 40 meadow browns were much the commonest but nine peacocks were all immaculate, fresh insects as was the surprise painted lady (right).

One or two small coppers and a handful of small tortoiseshells completed the picture along the brook, though there was to be a single common blue just west of Thornton itself. 

Close to home, another autumnal sight awaited…

Whilst watching the swallows, which included a fair few youngsters, I re-focused on some blurred spots in the background to see a very nice group of six swifts – which could well be the last of the year for me.

August 12th
Mixture of sunny spells with cloud; one heavy shower and a little breezy.

Ladybird day! If birds are discounted then this was a really wonderful day, despite the slightly breezy conditions. It had been a while since I’d covered Cryer’s Lane, so today was going to be the day. Within a few metres of leaving the Elton traffic lights behind me some sixth sense told me to have a check of the hawthorn hedge. It was probably in the back of my mind to check for pear leaf blister moth leaf mines (which there were thousands of) so I was surprised, to say the least, to find a cream-spot ladybird staring back at me! This is the first record since 2014 anywhere in the survey area and the first for SJ47M, so things were off to a wonderful start.

Slightly less rare but no less expected, there next came a late instar Troilus luridus shieldbug, the first of 13 seen during the initial part of the day and the highest ever day total for the species. Occasional moth leafmines notwithstanding (and a lovely brimstone moth) the remainder of the time spent walking the lane was dominated by numbers of 22-spot ladybirds, with 12 in all; the previous highest day total was just three! It was nice to see that harlequin ladybirds were completely outnumbered for a change!

On or near the gorse bushes in SJ4473 came a single pine ladybird, just the fifth record for the local patch at what is fast becoming the prime location for the species; a single green and three gorse shieldbugs plus two 7-spot ladybirds completed the picture.

Heading north past the old people’s home the next surprise was an orange ladybird, the first adult since 2014 and the first of three seen during the day – one had been the previous high! Interestingly, one of the records concerned a very young larva. The final ladybird from the days’ haul of seven species (itself a new high mark) was kidney-spot, just the 7th record for the reserve (photo right).

After walking the length of Speckled Wood Lane and unearthing practically nothing apart from several additional micro-moth leaf-mines, the pond in SJ4373 was noted as still being extant but hosting nothing other than a heron. Eight house martins might have come from the old people’s home so it was difficult to classify them as migrants just yet, moreso since, unlike swallows, they can still have young in the nest by early October. Windy conditions I now considered to be unlikely to prove fruitful whilst wandering further to the north so opted instead to retrace my steps and cover the lane again, but this time on the outside, where it was both sheltered and sunny. This paid dividends as on several fronts, not least of which another painted lady and the so-called oak artichoke galls of the gall wasp Andricus Fecundator. The latter was particularly pleasing as earlier in the morning I’d found them outside the reserve and was mildly annoyed! For something that I had never seen anywhere before they were actually reasonably common! For something straightforward enough to find, the wonder is, have they just arrived in the area en mass?

Time for home; the walk wasn’t entirely without highlight as just to the south of Thornton-le-Moors there was a rather lovely female holly blue. Though the seventh record of the year, 2012 went one better with eight. Nonetheless, a very nice autumn record.

August 13th

Mixture of sunny spells with cloud.

Another reasonably good day in nice weather that showed just how different two days can be; I didn’t record a single ladybird all day! Wanting to check out the pond in SJ4374, I came into the reserve from the A5117 and headed straight across the fields to see if there was a green sandpiper. Before getting there two Epiphyas postvittana moths were a good find. No green sandpipers but more water in the pond than I had anticipated was a nice surprise, as was a fox and a fly-over cormorant. A count of 30 Agriphila tristella micro moths was also a good number for so late on in their season.

Heading west along Thornton Brook was a tad quiet though at the river there was a single sedge warbler and a nice close kingfisher. In the distance to the south and coming down in the fields adjacent to the motorway were 225 lapwings – a decent number this early in the autumn, with the flock having more than doubled in the last week.

On walking back across the middle of the reserve I came across a small bunch of warblers trying to hide amongst a sizeable flock of blue tits – four chiffchaffs and eight whitethroats – none of which were adults, just immaculately plumaged juveniles, as were most of the blue tits. A few cinnabar larvae were still munching their way through ragwort whilst a jay whinged and 30 goldfinches gave some lovely close views, again including plenty of juveniles. The second reserve record of Alceris rhombana then flew across my bows and straight in to my net to allow for its identity to be confirmed! Again, the sunny outside to Speckled Wood Lane was busy with plenty of insects, singles of willow warbler and chiffchaff, three common darters and a handful of speckled woods.

Galls were even more interesting however, especially those on oak. The weirdly shaped knopper gall (photo, left) is a common enough sight each year but oak artichoke was again found in numbers. Having reached the main road I turned north to head into Thornton and immediately ran into the years’ first migrant hawker – though it resolutely chose not to land.

It was call it a day time but knowing that there was plenty of buddleia still in flower at Holly Bank House I chose that way back. I immediately noticed peacock, comma and small tortoiseshell on the same frond so it was out with the camera hoping for a photo… alas no, for following a manoeuvre the Red Arrows would have been proud of there was suddenly none! Scanning the bush from a few metres to re-locate my quarry confirmed two comma to be in attendance, as well as a gatekeeper and large white – five species of butterfly, so not bad at all… however, I then had my eyes pop out of my head when noticing the enormous shape of the largest hoverfly in UK, Volucella zonaria! By anyone’s  assessment, this is a beast of a fly and if looks could kill the floor would be littered with bodies! This was just my second ever in UK, my first in Cheshire and so nearly (100 metres) a reserve first. They are approachable, so I moved slowly forward and ended up holding the flower-head it was feeding on so as to get my photographs.

The sheer size of the thing ought to leave no-one in any doubt that they have zonaria, BUT… there is one potential spanner in the works as another species can be confused with it, namely Volucella inanis. Inanis is generally smaller but size isn’t entirely reliable. Two things to clinch the identification as zonaria are:

1. A chestnut (not grey) thorax – the flat ‘plate’ behind the eyes, and
2. Broad black bands on the underside – which can be clearly seen in the photo to the right.

This individual is a female as can be seen by the fact that the eyes are separated – in males they would be touching. Essentially a southern species, it has been making steady progress north over recent years and though it is currently a vagrant to Cheshire we can expect its  appearances to increase all the time now. No one around to high-five when you need one, so it was back home, walking two feet off the ground all the way!

August 15th
Mixture of sunny spells with cloud, one small rain shower.

Another wildlife guided walk on the meadows with 10 people turning up being an all-time record and very nice to see such enthusiasm. Before meeting up with the group I paid some homage to the buddleia that hosted Sundays Volucella zonaria and was pleasantly surprised to find Volulcella bombylans there instead!

The idea of this particular guided walk was to just see as many different types of life form as possible in the three hours we had allocated and in that respect the trip was a resounding success with at least 87 species being recorded – though not everything was seen by everyone. The undoubted highlight of the show was another (or just maybe the same) Volucella zonaria, well and truly adding itself to the reserve hoverfly list and coming as close as less than a metre. Everyone was amazed at the sheer size of the brute, and justifiably so!

Amongst the 28 species of bird recorded the small group of warblers that drifted past us included at least two lovely immature lesser whitethroats as well as a willow warbler and several chiffchaffs. A raven was however just about the only other notable species. Three common blues and a beautiful fresh male brimstone were the pick of the 11 species of butterfly though there was also another comma that added to the species already excellent year. Dragonflies put in a very good show given the terrain we covered, with a trio of common darters a female banded demoiselle not 200 metres from the church and three (migrant, brown and southern) species of hawker.

Such was the general interest in all things living that after some two hours we were barely a quarter of the way around my suggested route for the day! As such, we turned on our heels and retraced our steps back to the church layby, where we parted company after what had been a thoroughly enjoyable few hours. One major plus from a personal perspective was having hedge woundwort pointed out to me – a life plant species and somewhere I can now start looking for woundwort shieldbug!

August 20th 

Mixture of sunny spells with cloud.

The river south from the footbridge was devoid of birds so it was left to dragonflies to supply practically all the interest. Banded demoiselles (up to 25) are virtually at the end of their season so were nice to see. Second commonest were brown hawker, one of which perched up briefly – only the second time I have ever seen one stationary – a split second longer and I’d have had a photograph of it too! One species that did stay still long enough was a nice migrant hawker however (photo, right).

Also, a bizarre incident concerned a raven and a water butt… initially the raven was perched on a gatepost but the next time I looked it was on the side of the butt and then somehow managed to bathe itself without leaving its perch! There was something quite inventive about the whole thing! For the first time in a couple of weeks at least, the mute swan family were on the river, with all five of this years’ brood still surviving, so it looks like they should all get to the flying stage.

Despite dawdling for the remaining time on the reserve there was nothing else worthy of mention other than a dozen speckled woods, all immaculate, fresh, second brood individuals. 

August 26th

Mixture of hot, sunny spells with some cloud and a more than gentle breeze.

I started out early this morning so as to not waste the best time of the day because of a 10:00 am start of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust's Local Patch day. The pond in SJ4573, despite being low on water was nonetheless hosting two cormorants, 10 swallows and 15 greylags. There followed two annoyingly positioned calling nuthatches, neither of which were within the footprint of the reserve! A great spotted woodpecker was however, as were two speckled woods. Prior to meeting up the rest of the group, migrant hawker, raven and long-tailed tit had all made appearances.

The rest of the day comprised two components, an initial illustrated talk within Holly Bank House followed by a guided stroll around the reserve proper. Eight people plus the Trust’s Area South Manager Ben Gregory attended, which made for an easily manageable group once in the field. Phase one, the ‘lecture’ on local patching, was designed to get across the fundaments of local patching, from choosing an area, its size, accessibility and thereafter recording its’ wildlife, including to whom records should be submitted and the form they should take. The idea behind the walk was to put as much of the slide presentation theory into practice whilst in the field; in that respect the event was a resounding success with several of the principles encountered as well as over 100 species being recorded – though not everything was seen by everyone, including me! 

Across the piste, well over 100 species were recorded during the four hours spent in the field including two firsts for the reserve in the form of the micro moth Agriphila geniculea and woundwort shieldbug (right).

In truth, of all things recorded the shieldbug was most pleasing from my perspective. Not being a “flower person” had meant being surprised to learn only a few weeks earlier that hedge woundwort actually occurred on the reserve. This raised alarm bells for the potential presence of the shieldbug too – only not knowing what the plant looked like was a significant issue! On another guided walk a week before this event that problem was remedied and as if by magic, the shieldbug turned up right on cue today!

If that were not enough, whilst sitting down to our picnic lunch no less than four sloe shieldbugs were on the grass alongside us, two adults, a mid-instar and a late-instar that confirmed the species’ is actually breeding on the reserve. Immediately after lunch a green sandpiper was seen to pitch into the pond in SJ4374 and quickly thereafter (yet) another Volucella zonaria was found on one of the few thistles still in bloom.

A small group of mixed tits and chiffchaff performed admirably by illustrating that birds utilise linear ‘assets’ such as hedgerows to move around or even migrate along. A pair of ravens and a large female peregrine were almost certainly from breeding pairs known to be within the Essar refinery complex, but single whinchat and green sandpiper spoke clearly to migration actually happening, albeit on a small scale at the moment. All the likely dragonflies at this time of year were well seen, including at least 30 banded demoiselles, whilst two painted ladies and a single small white were notable amongst the eleven species of butterfly recorded.

All in all a thoroughly enjoyable few hours where once again we failed to complete the planned route for the day – though this time we did at least get half way round!

August 28th
Mainly cloudy with some sunny spells; light wind from the south-west.

The same or another nuthatch to two days earlier was calling from the woods around the old people’s home and 20 swallows, a great spotted woodpecker and two jays were in the same vicinity. Further north towards Thornton-le-Moors a hobby scudded across my path in hot pursuit of something unseen; the net result was that 130 chaffinches suddenly appeared from the direction in which it disappeared. Such a sized flock is a rarity outside of the winter period.

In birding terms, the reserve was deathly quiet. The final dregs of the pond in SJ4373 will doubtless evaporate in hours rather than days unless rains come back but the one in SJ4374 remains attractive, if not today. Another raven (the third of the day in as many tetrads) croaked itself into the notebook but other than that just doubles of stonechat and chiffchaff completed the birding interest. Rising winds put paid to insecting apart from butterflies, not that there were many on view, just six small tortoiseshells and a red admiral. A fine, close brown hawker completed the scene.      

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