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Gowy Meadows in September

Posted: Monday 2nd October 2017 by trustadmin

Autumn beckons at Gowy Meadows as guest blogger Gowy D'Amus reports the sightings for September.

September 2nd
Generally good weather with light southerly breeze.

My first trip out after retiring from work was actually quite a nice day, with plenty of activity on one front or another practically throughout the entire day. After a flock of 50+ house sparrows in Thornton village, Speckled Wood Lane produced its namesake as well as leaf mines of Parornix devoniella, Phyllonorycter nicellii and Stigmella floslactella fairly quickly but on the birding front it was as quiet as over the preceding three weeks or so; with almost clear skies, any bird migration was going to be going on miles up…

Once clear of the lane, more speckled woods and a few passerines were noted along the sparse hedgerow that heads west with a lovely lesser whitethroat leading a cast that also included three chiffchaffs, common whitethroat and four stonechats; a pair and two fresh plumaged fledged youngsters.

Butterflies were well represented, with regular sightings of red admiral suggesting some form of movement as most of them were doggedly heading west. The day total was a respectable 11, bested only by small tortoiseshell (14) and green veined white (21). 

Along the river it was nice to still be seeing banded demoiselles this late into the autumn and for the first few hundred metres the single male seen was the only dragonfly of any species! Another reed warbler in almost the same place as previous records along the Gowy might just be telling of a pair having bred, which would be a significant record as all other breeding pairs habitually use the ditch along the northern boundary. A few leaf-mine blotches on dock were keyed out to belonging to the fly Pegomya solennis, a recent addition to the reserve’s list. Even better than that, the event of the day concerned finding the leaf mine of the micro-moth Mompha rashkiella yet another new species for the reserve this year!

North of the footbridge and weir, dragonflies finally began to show, with the recent usual suspects (more banded demoiselles, three hawkers and common darter) all appearing before I’d reached the permissive footpath. It was however hoverflies that stole the limelight with Epistrophe elegans, Eristalis nemorum and no less than three Merodon equistris all showing well. Despite the pond in SJ4374 holding no birds of interest (in fact no birds at all!) there was a lovely male emperor dragonfly, not the latest sighting on record by any means, but seeing them in September is a little unusual. Routing back to the Church in Thornton was quite busy, with comma and three small coppers being notable as well as the remainder of the days’ 12 common darters. Another lesser whitethroat and seven long-tailed tits were the result of just standing in one spot for 15 minutes waiting to see what came along… 

During my computerisation of the days’ records, I noted down year totals for the main species groups found on the reserve thus far: 102 moths, 93 birds, 29 hoverflies, 19 butterflies, seven shieldbugs and 12 dragonflies. 


September 28th 
Generally good weather with light southerly breeze.

The first visit for almost four weeks, on the almost eve of a ‘migration watch’ guided walk on 30th, so a kind of getting the lay of the land day before the event. Hopefully on the day the wind will be in a more helpful direction than today’s light southerlies. Beginning at the Gowy bridge over the A5117 in SJ4374, almost immediately, three red admirals flew past heading unerringly south – perhaps the start of a migration show? Unfortunately not, or at least not a substantial one as only three more were seen during the day. In truth, there was very little sign of migration apart from 34 meadow pipits. The day’s count of 24 buzzards may have included some southerly migration but it’s not out of the question for them all to be accounted for by just helpful flying conditions. Three jays were, however, likely migrants as none knowingly bred this year.

A kingfisher was next to show, making one unsuccessful dip into the chocolate brown river before briefly perching up and thereafter heading off downstream. Two large charms of goldfinches were lovely to see too, moreso given their combined total of 62 birds, a nice showing indeed. Amongst the constant streams of mixed gulls passing between the Mersey and Gowy Landfill site there were regular buzzard intruders but also the occasional kestrel and once a nice peregrine, probably a male and equally probably from this year’s breeding pair within the refinery complex.

I reached the pond in SJ4373 - that had been patch of water no larger than a table tennis table three weeks ago; there were a dozen wigeon swimming on the rainfall re-instated pond! Not only that, heron, coot and mallard were also present as were plenty of common darters and both southern (six) and migrant (two) hawkers. 

Choosing to walk on the outside of Speckled Wood Lane was justified by finding firstly the leaf mine of the micro-moth Ectoedemia atricollis, which is an extreme rarity on the reserve and then a gall of the wasp Andricus grossulariae on turkey oak, the first record for the reserve (photo, right).

September 30th 
Intermittent rain showers, some heavy at times with increasing southerly breeze.

The Cheshire Wildlife Trust’s ‘migration day’ event. One of the unfortunate pitfalls of arranging a programme of events months in advance is of course that there can be no guarantee as to what weather is in force on any particular day. That having been said, for a day hoping to witness migration, whether bird or butterfly, ‘good’ weather wasn’t actually required. What is required however, is weather conducive to migration and in the late autumn that is ideally cloudy skies and if there is wind that it be from the north, to assist birds moving from that direction. Sadly, today produced just about the most unhelpful conditions imaginable, with frequent rain showers and a steady wind from the south, similar to the previous few days as it happens.

Nonetheless and following some brief introductions and discussion on the fact that there are several different types of migration possible, our group of nine set out to try and make the best of the conditions given us. In truth, there was precious little chance given the conditions though there was a single chiffchaff and a handful of teal at the first pond we checked out, both migrant species. The former was passing through on its way south whilst the duck represented the first immigrants that hopefully were the fore-runners of more to come to spend the winter on the reserve.

Amongst the 29 species of bird recorded there were other candidates for the tag of ‘migrant’. Two small charms of goldfinches and a swirling flock of almost 40 jackdaws in particular could have been migrants, the former possibly also about to spend the winter, the latter, because of their number, must have come from elsewhere as the species didn’t breed on the reserve this year. Absentee species also illustrated short distance migration as there wasn’t a single skylark or reed bunting to be seen (nor had there been for at least a month), the assumption being that they have already moved away to either the Dee or Mersey estuaries. One species above all others stood out (stonechat) as sightings were regular throughout the day. The total of eleven seen is a very good day total, some of which may have been migrants as the male-female split was distinctly biased towards males and certainly more were present than the three from this years’ breeding pairs. 

As the day wore on the weather became progressively worse and the last half hour was spent walking in persistent driving rain. However, no-ones spirit was too much dampened as questions about the reserve and its natural history continued unabated. Amongst topics under discussion were (refreshingly!) gall causers and more expectedly, dragonflies.

A knopper gall is shown in the photo to the right.
      
       

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