Friday, 25 July 2014

FLEDGED HARRIERS

Several young marsh harriers have left their nests, this youngster photographed by Andy Field on the Langenhoe army ranges on 12th July. There were at least seven nests on the ranges just to the north of Mersea Island - something like the usual sort of number of nests here. One pair also nested on Mersea with at least one young seen.

At the country park on Friday 25th, a green sandpiper, two snipe, family of four avocets, 3 lapwing and 5 black-tailed godwits were present on the pools in the fields. By the pond 10 little egrets roosted in the trees, 5 teal and a second brood of little grebes were on the pond, while a reed warbler sang in reeds nearby.

A hobby was reported flying near the seawall by the Oyster Fishery on Friday afternoon.

The first returning snipe of the autumn was back on the park pools on Thursday 24th where ten black-tailed godwits were also present and the avocet family with the two youngsters.

A little owl perched on wires over Bromans Lane at dusk on Thursday evening while the previous evening a tawny owl flew briefly alongside the East Mersea road and then perched on a roadside tree near the Cosways Lane.

A marsh harrier was mobbed by a carrion crow over the Chapmans Lane field on Wednesday 23rd.Andy Field saw two hobbies by the Strood on Monday 21st.

Other bits of wildlife interest seen at the park over the last few days have been the first common blue butterfly on 25th, painted lady on the 20th and two adders on the 19th.

One of the highlights of the mothing session with fellow members of the Essex Moth Group's at the country park on Tuesday 22nd was this very colourful but diminutive rosy footman moth. Unfortunately for the other moth enthusiasts who came along that night, this little fellow only appeared in the early hours of the morning, after everyone else had gone home.

The rosy footman is recorded each summer at the park but never more than a couple of individuals. This one seemed particularly fresh with a bright salmon-pink colour. The caterpillars feed on lichen.

Four traps were set up at the park at dusk on Tuesday with three continuing till 4am the following morning. Just under 70 species were noted, involving about 600 individuals- about 200 per trap. The breeze kept up through the night and the clear sky kept the temperatures down a bit too - so not as good conditions as last year.

Other highlights by dawn included 9 poplar hawkmoths, elephant hawkmoth, ground lackey, oak eggar, tree lichen beauty and the first record at the park of a black arches.


This canary-shouldered thorn was the first one noted for the summer season. It's a widespread moth and is easily recognised with the yellow head.

There have been lots of drinker moths coming to the traps over the last fortnight or so but all have been the dark brown males. This individual was the first female drinker seen this year,slightly larger and a pale brown colour.

There was a surprising amount of different kinds of yellow underwing moths, such as this tongue-twisting lesser broad-bordered yellow underwing. Others noted were the large yellow underwing, lesser yellow underwing, broad-bordered yellow underwing and the least yellow underwing. The individual pictured above caught the eye as it showed a fresh dark red edge to the wing-tips.
 
Some of the other moths seen included maidens blush, small yellow wave, least carpet, iron prominent, chocolate tip, starwort, sycamore, green silver lines, white satin, nutmeg, lychnis, copper underwing and lunar-spotted pinion.

Other insects came flying to the bright moth lamps but the biggest one was this big and solid looking dung beetle or dor beetle. This individual pictured above was stretching its wings, usually concealed from view when at rest.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

BACK-YARD MOTHING

I had company in the back garden in Firs Chase, West Mersea whilst checking the moth trap, with this robin taking a great interest in what had been caught during the night. There was plenty of moth activity during several nights trapping in the very warm and muggy conditions.

The young robin is in the middle of shedding his speckled brown feathers of a juvenile, while the red-breast of an adult bird begins to develop. It didn't seem to have any fear of humans and was either very cheeky or very hungry, swooping just in front of me to snatch a moth from the trap to have for his breakfast.

Around seventy macro species of moth were recorded over four nights between 16th and 19th, with up to 200 individuals on some nights. A big thunderstorm passed over the trap at 3.30am on Saturday morning which curtailed that session as the rain poured down and lightning flashed repeatedly around.

It was nice to find this neatly marked black arches in the trap - the first time I've noted one on the Island. It's mainly a woodland moth and is reasonably widespread on the neighbouring mainland.

 Another new species for the Island was this small ranunculus, a species that has been increasing across Essex in recent years. It used to be a scarce moth in the county and is listed as a red data book species in Essex.

I was first told to look out for this moth turning up on Mersea several years ago, but surprisingly this first record was in West Mersea and not at the country park. One of its foodplants in prickly lettuce which is found on the seawalls and beach at the park.

The small tree-lichen beauty has become a regular visitor to the traps in recent summers. The muggy nights of Friday and Saturday saw five of these moths in the traps. A single one was also noted on Thursday night.

Each of the tree-lichen beauties had a slightly different colour pattern on the wings. This one shows a pale green band across the wings. They are well camouflaged on the leaves and even more so on the bark of a tree

The first dark spectacle on the Island was found in the Firs Chase trap during Thursday night's session. The head and the base to the wings show a much paler colour than is found on the more commonly seen cousin, the spectacle moth.

It was nice to catch this vapourer, the first one in the trap for many years, despite it being fairly widespread. The unusual looking caterpillars with colourful bristles and tufts are occasionally found.

The common buff-tip moth still looks more twig-like than moth-like even after seeing lots of them during the season. Not found any of the large feeding masses of caterpillars on trees or bushes this summer yet.

Other moths of note at Firs Chase included marbled beauty, ground lackey, oak eggar, privet hawkmoth, poplar hawkmoth, elephant hawkmoth, least carpet, scorched carpet, small blood-vein, swallow-tailed, iron prominent, swallow prominent, pebble prominent, maple prominent, white satin, lunar-spotted pinion, poplar grey, sycamore, ruby tiger, least yellow underwing, nutmeg,oak hook-tip and bulrush wainscot.
One of the tiniest of moths found were at least ten diamond-back moths on Friday and Saturday nights.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

SOME JULY MOTHS

There's been a rewarding selection of moths visiting the moth trap at the country park in recent nights due to the warm temperatures.
This large female oak eggar is one of the largest moths seen at the park during the summer nights. Two or three individuals are often noted during July, usually always the females to the trap. The large hairy caterpillars are often seen at the park if they're wandering around on the ground.

The red coloured ruby tiger may be a common moth but it always adds a bit of colour to a summer trap.

The large and bulky-looking drinker moth turns up at the trap in small numbers during July and early August. The large caterpillar is occasionally found at the park amongst the long grass, where it sometimes drinks the dew drops off the grass.

The aptly named yellow-tail moth is showing off the tail tip here, which helps to distinguish it from the equally common brown-tail moth.

This female ground lackey moth was seen in the trap by the car park - about 400m from the nearest saltmarsh which is its preferred habitat. Usually it is the smaller and paler males that are found in the trap. The moth is nationally scarce, found on the saltmarshes mainly of the south and east of the UK.

Other moths of interest seen at the park over the last week have included festoon, privet hawkmoth, elephant hawkmoth, poplar hawkmoth, least carpet, orange footman, Kent black arches, fen wainscot, lunar-spotted pinion, iron prominent, pebble prominent, starwort, small scallop,  and the micros the sulphur pearl and the tiny migrant diamond-backed moth(3 on the 15th).


Thursday, 17 July 2014

BASKING IN THE SUN

The recent spell of warm weather has brought out lots of butterflies at the country park such as this freshly-marked peacock seen resting on top of a wooden post.

Numbers of red admirals have also picked up recently especially around the buddleia bushes near the park buildings and also around some of the bramble bushes.

A painted lady made a brief appearance on the buddleia at the park on Monday 7th.
Small numbers of commas and small tortoiseshells have also been seen in recent days at the park.

The various brown butterflies are to be seen everywhere at the park with lots of gatekeepers on the wing. This male pictured above was seen on ragwort - just before some of these plants had to be pulled up and bagged.

There are still plenty of meadow browns on the wing although many are looking faded and worn, their season coming to an end soon.

Nice to see lots more ringlets around the park, now in their third season at the park. One ragwort plant had four ringlets gathered on it.

Lots of skippers both Essex and small, were flitting around the site amongst the grass as well around any plant in flower. 

The only other butterflies noted at the park in recent days have included large white and small white.

The main bird highlight over the last few days at the park continues to be the growing up of the two avocet chicks in the park grazing fields. The chicks are about three weeks old now and about half the size of the parents. The family have done well to avoid any predators especially as the nearby vegetation around the pools is so thick with tall docks and rushes.
There's been no further sign of avocet chicks near the Point with one of the small lagoons almost dried up.

The avocets are trying their hardest at keeping most other birds away from their chicks. Those that have been brave enough to stay have included up to ten black-tailed godwits, four shoveler, 5 teal and 12+ mallard. On the dyke the tufted duck was seen with four ducklings on Monday 7th.

Five mistle thrushes have been feeding on the rowan berries in the car park and a song thrush has been singing loudly at the north end of the car park. A greenshank was heard calling as it flew off the mudflats on Tuesday 8th. At least one Sandwich tern was heard calling from the foreshore beside Cosways caravan site on Tuesday 8th..

Will Baker saw a barn owl hunting over the park late on the evening on Sunday 6th.

An adder was seen slowly moving into cover on Monday 7th alongside the track, while five common lizards were seen amongst the long grass..

Paid a brief visit to the fields near Coopers Beach on Tuesday 8th where the long grass in the fields had been cut for hay. There was the nice sight of two marsh harriers hunting low over the three hay fields, looking for prey. Three kestrels presumably a local family, also had the same idea with one of the parents hovering above the cut grass.

Also seen in the area were a pair of yellow wagtails, little egret, 10 linnets and 100 starlings with ten common terns seen offshore.

Near Chapmans Lane 100+ swallows were perched on wires on Wednesday 7th, as was the usual corn bunting.

Was surprised to find this young slow-worm lying dead near the back door in the Firs Chase garden on Thursday 17th. A goldcrest was heard singing from a nearby garden on Thursday morning.

A muntjac deer was seen crossing the East Mersea road near the allotments at dusk on Monday 7th. It managed to squeeze between the bars on the metal five bar gate into the nearby hay field.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

ALLOTMENT ATTRACTION

It was a case of dodging the heavy showers during Sunday 13th, interspersed with some nice warm and sunny spells. I paid the Island allotment field a visit having been invited to judge some of the classes in their summer show! There was a great display of flowers, fruit and vegetables around the site.

When the sun came out the butterflies were quickly seen on some of the flowers such as this small tortoiseshell nectaring on some verbena. Other butterflies seen were peacock, small / Essex skippers, meadow brown, gatekeeper and small whites.

The grey heron joined some of the seven little egrets for the high tide roost in the trees over the park pond on Sunday 13th. On the park pond three little grebe chicks were making lots of noise as they were being fed. A reed warbler was singing from the reedmace on the edge of the pond.

On the pools the pair of avocets were still nervously guarding their two week old chicks, especially as just a few metres away a cow had just given birth to a small brown calf, partially hidden amongst the thick marshy vegetation.

A greenshank was heard calling as it flew off the mud with the tide coming in. A song thrush was singing loudly from the north side of the car park during the day.

Late on Sunday night a tawny owl was perched on a fingerpost sign beside the East Mersea road near Fen Farm.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

SHRINKING SWAN FAMILY

The swan family at the park has shrunk from six cygnets down to just three cygnets. The family pictured here, were preening themselves at the side of the borrow-dyke on Saturday 12th. One of the cygnets, in the middle of the three, has unusual white downy plumage rather than the normal grey down of the youngsters.

Also in the dyke was a very young brood of four tufted ducklings being watched over by the mother as they dived under to feed. four shoveler flew along the dyke and two reed warblers were singing from the reeds. On the saltmarsh lagoons five avocets were seen but no chicks, with a further seven birds on the nearby mud. On the outer reaches of the estuary were another ten avocets, five common terns and two little terns were flying about.

A redshank was making a lot of noise on the saltmarsh to suggest a breeding bird. A meadow pipit performed its parachute display above the seawall and a reed bunting sang at the Point. Twenty turnstones were seen on the mud as the tide came in.

On the park pools the pair of avocets were still watching over their two chicks, the only brood left out of three in the area. Four black-tailed godwits and five teal and ten mallard were also seen here.
Perched in the willow trees beside the pond were 12 little egrets, the start of the autumn high tide roost here.
At least four of the fledged kestrels were also perched in their oak tree waiting to be fed and a marsh harrier flew high over the fields as it headed north.

On the nearby Langenhoe ranges, Richard Hull and Andy Field on Saturday noted 10 marsh harriers, common sandpiper, 4 little ringed plovers, 10 green sandpipers, greenshank, 50 black-tailed godwits and 12 bearded tits.
Angela Devonish saw two adders by the seawall as they walked between Maydays and the Strood on Saturday morning and also heard a common seal calling from the Pyefleet channel, probably a youngster.

On Friday a green sandpiper dropped briefly onto the park pools in the late afternoon while a dozen sand martins flew round the the tree-tops along with a house martin and ten swallows. Offshore 50 black-tailed godwits were feeding on the mud at low tide.

On Thursday 10th a yellow wagtail flew over the car park calling, 48 avocets were seen on the saltmarsh pools at the Point while at Chapmans Lane 50 swallows and a corn bunting were noted.

Two whimbrel flew along the park foreshore whistling early on Wednesday morning and a red-legged partridge called from the field to the west of the park, as it had done the previous evening too.

A badger was seen jogging across the road just inside the country park entrance just before dark on Tuesday 8th. A short while earlier a barn owl flew high over the East Mersea road carrying some prey from the direction of Rewsalls marshes heading north-west towards Bocking Hall farm area.

During the visit to Maydays farm in the evening of Monday 7th a marsh harrier flew over the fields near the farm, a yellowhammer sang from a bush in the dyke while on Langenhoe a barn owl was seen hunting at dusk and the still conditions meant the loud laughing calls of the marsh frogs could be heard in the distance on the army ranges.

A kingfisher was seen catching a little tiddler of a fish at the park pond on Saturday 5th by Neil Devonish, and after whacking the fish on the branch, then swallowed it. The first reported sighting of a kingfisher on the Island post-breeding season.

A handful of the colourful six-spot burnet moths were seen feeding on some of the flowers at the park, such as this knapweed on Saturday morning. Not as many so far this summer as were seen at the park last year.

Butterflies around the park included good numbers of meadow browns, gatekeepers, small / Essex skippers, peacock, small tortoiseshell, red admiral, comma, speckled wood, large white and small white.
The first ringlet of the summer at the park was seen on Saturday 5th.

The dusky sallow moth is a common visitor to the moth trap at night at the park, but sometimes one or two individuals can be found during the day feeding, such as this one on greater knapweed.

The scalloped oak is at its peak flight season at the moment with a handful being noted in the moth trap in an evening.

Friday, 11 July 2014

AMASSING MORE MOTHS

There was a bumper haul of moths at the country park during the night of Tuesday 8th after I joined Chris Williams for the second night running on the Island. Together we put out seven traps dotted from the car park, across the park, along the saltmarsh and one positioned at the Point.

The most striking moths were these two garden tigers found at dawn at 4am, one was at the trap on the beach and the other just inside the seawall. Garden tigers used to be very common but their numbers have declined in many areas of southern Britain by 90% in the last 40 years. It's therefore good news to see them still in evidence at the park.

A pair of traps operated almost in the middle of the park by generator. In total about 2000 macro moths were observed in the seven traps involving about 100 species. The most commonest were dark arches, dusky sallow, common footman and scarce footman.

One of the scarcest moths caught was the crescent striped, one pictured above. Five individuals were noted, most of them being seen in the trap placed on the saltmarsh at the Point. The moth is found around the English and Welsh coasts with the larvae feeding on saltmarsh grasses. This is the first record for the park.

The small festoon moth seems to be continuing its spread for the second summer running. Considering it is supposed to be restricted to woodlands in southern England, this is the second night running it has been found outside the seawall on the saltmarsh.

The biggest moth noted was the privet hawkmoth, one pictured on the side of the moth trap the following morning. A couple of privets were noted, as their season draws to a close.

Just one lime hawkmoth was seen, again close to the seawall, while the two other species of hawkmoth noted were a handful of elephant hawkmoths and a couple of poplar hawkmoths.

Very few prominent moths were seen that night, although this maple prominent pictured above was one of them. Only one or two are seen each year at the park.

The nut-tree tussock moth is a widespread moth on the mainland of Essex, but this individual is only the second sighting at the park. The moth larvae feed on a variety of different broadleaved trees.

This very plain wainscot is the fen wainscot, a moth found mainly in the southern half of Britain where there are marshy and reedy areas. Several have generally been seen previously each year at the park.

Another coastal speciality moth is this distinctive starwort with its brownish tinge to the wings. It's mainly found along the southern and eastern coastlines where one of its foodplants the sea aster is found on the saltmarshes.

Other moths of interest on the night were leopard, oak eggar, peach blossom, least carpet, V-pug, green pug, swallow-tailed, pebble prominent, white satin, brown-tail, yellow-tail, dingy footman, ruby tiger, white-lined dart, archers dart, sand dart, least yellow underwing, nutmeg, dot moth, white-point, shark, satellite, poplar grey, copper underwing, birds wing, crescent, rosy rustic, silver-Y and dotted fanfoot.