A new year and and a resolution to post news more frequently!
Very few birds on the reserve, today, we had hoped for some winter thrushes but with few hawthorn berries it was perhaps no surprise. However what we lacked in quantity we made with quality. Checking out the effectiveness of some of the glade creation we did about 4yrs ago I flushed out a woodcock from the woods. The bird flew fast and silent out of the trees in a NE direction. BRGP isn’t a site you would anticipate seeing a woodcock, but this small woodland is reasonably wet and there are other woods in the vicinity. Our native birds are also joined by large numbers from Russia and Finland so increasing the odds of disturbing a bird. I believe this is a first for the reserve!
We were delighted for our first view of little egret for the year. The bird was initially 200 m distant at first – in the vicinity of the small beck that runs into the river about half way along the reserve. Fortunately for us it was disturbed by 1 of 3 red kites which kept harassing it for about 5 minutes drawing it until eventually flew along the river. I mentioned the sighting to a dog walker, who visits the reserve frequently – usually in the evening. He remarked that he had seen the egret roosting in a tree over the lagoon on a few occasions- something I will definitely follow up in particularly when the evenings start getting a bit lighter
The other notable sighting was a weasel which ran along the riverside path ( I have seen them before up near the entrance
Sand martins now number over 50, the best we have had for many years. The blackcaps and chiff chaffs have now been joined by willow warblers. With the river being so low the gravels and muddy banks have attracted a pair of redshank and a pair of common sandpiper. A female sparrowhawk was around I assume targeting the blue, great and long tailed tits and dunnocks ,, since we don’t have any sparrows! A young duckling was calling from the top of the bank between the river and pond, hopefully it was located by its mother before being spotted by the sparrowhawk. Steve
35 plus sand martins pairing up and exploring nest holes were the highlight of our saturday work group. Other birds included singing blackcap and chiffchaff and pair of kingfishers. A newly emerged orange tip was joined by over wintering brimstone, comma, peacock and small copper butterflies
The last week or so has seen the arrival of quite a few Comma butterflies at the reserve. These are the autumn generation and are looking very fresh, (see featured image, taken October 1st 2016 ) leading you to believe they have not been around long.
The life cycle of these butterflies is quite interesting: they emerge from hibernation in March giving rise to a summer generation, which can breed rapidly, leading to an autumn generation usually around September. At the Gravel Pits, however, the autumn generation has only been noticeable the last few weeks which may be typical for more northerly regions. Looking at butterfly records for previous years, the autumn generation also seems to be the more abundant of the two, with considerably more sighted than in the summer months. If you take a trip down the reserve, in the next few weeks, keep your eyes peeled when passing many of our bramble bushes.
It has been a disappointing year for butterflies so far, but there have been a few encouraging signs. Despite their low numbers, a male and female Large skipper were seen on the South Lawn on 18th June and a Common blue (see featured image) was found by Phil Reed on 19th June. There used to be a healthy colony of Common blues at the Gravel Pits, so this was particularly pleasing, after one was spotted last year.
Both the Gravel Pits and Sun Lane had established colonies but both seemed to die out quite suddenly. Birdsfoot trefoil (often known as ‘eggs and bacon’) is their foodplant and their absence was made doubly disappointing since Sun Lane has had this in abundance in recent years. The Gravel Pits can’t boast the same quantities, but there are now several good patches.
After a bit of exploring a small colony of Common blue was discovered just over the road from the Gravel Pits and, last year, one individual was spotted on the South lawn on several occasions – a small nick in its wings making it identifiable as the same butterfly. So if you visit either of the reserves any sightings will be gratefully received since the hope is they will re-establish themselves again.
Thank you to all those that came to the walk tonight. The weather was kind to us and there was even a bit of sun at one stage. We hope everyone enjoyed the orchids. It was good to have some extra eyes to spot things we often miss. One example was a Snout moth (see featured image) – a nice find by one of our party. It looks like we have Common Spotted orchids as well.
2016 has to be one of the best years for orchids at the Gravel Pits for a very long time. Quite what the count is is hard to determine since there are that many (see the featured image for just one example). They are largely on the South Lawn but there are also a few on the North Lawn which is encouraging. Most look to be Southern Marsh Orchids although some are likely to be hybrids.
The Gravel Pits is a good place to spot some of the less common ducks. The featured image shows a male Goosander preening itself ,next to an Oyster catcher, the far side of the river. Some of the lagoons attract other species such as this pair of Tufted ducks, seen this afternoon. They are slightly smaller than than a mallard and their distinctive yellows eyes can be seen in the photo on the right. The male is all black apart from white flanks and the female is brown with paler flanks. They are thought to feed on a mixture of plant matter, molluscs and insects.
Whilst not technically on the Nature Reserve, an estimated 40+ Broad-leaved Helleborine orchids have sprung up at the Gravel Pits. The featured image shows just how well they blend in with the greenery. See below for a close-up.