Talking it up

21 December 2017:

Bug and Beasties DayThe Bug and Beasties Day event held in August was as popular as ever and I think that it will be worth running two of these events in the next school summer holidays. The event which included bug hunting, crafts, pond creatures, games and a quiz trail kept participants busy from 2pm to 4pm. Stephen Rampley the Landguard Partnership's Marketing and Events Co-ordinator was a great help on the day especially in helping make sure that everyone knew what was available, he also took this great photo which really caught the essence of the event.

Ortolan Bunting and Red-throated Pipit were highlights of this autumn's bird migration at Landguard. I was lucky enough to be present on the Reserve when both were spotted.

Ortolan BuntingThe Ortolan Bunting was spotted as members of the Bird Observatory were beginning their bird recording on their walk around the Reserve. The bird was spotted flying from the Holm Oaks inside the Observatory perimeter out on to the Reserve. Binoculars were simultaneously raised and focused on the area where the bird landed and it was quickly identified as an Ortolan Bunting. This was the first time that I had seen this species, or in birding parlance a 'lifer'. The bird must be a sort after 'tick' by most birders as the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) inform us that there are only around 71 individuals spotted while on passage in the UK. I was keen also to see the bird that is regarded by some in France to be such a delicacy. The bird is consumed whole while the diner ghoulishly hides their face behind a napkin, not something that I will be trying!

The Red-throated Pipit was also spotted on a Bird Observatory walkabout. As it was well into the autumn migration period I was keen to see what I could see. It's a joy to see birds that are commonly seen on their migrations passing through the Reserve such as Redstart, Whinchat, Ring Ouzel but you still have to make the effort to look for them and most visitors I am sure never see them. It's the effort that goes into locating the birds that makes up part of the pleasure in seeing them. It has much in common with hunting but the only thing that the bird gets shot by is a camera and then only if you are quick on the trigger, I mean button.

Red-throated Pipit On this particular morning there was quite a group of Bird Observatory members, among them was Steve Piotrowski, a founder member of the Observatory. As the talk got on to what birds could possibly be passing through, Steve declared that he would be very happy to see a Red-throated Pipit as this would be a first for him in Suffolk. I pretended to look knowledgeable as he spoke but in the end did admit that I hadn't ever heard of a Red-throated Pipit. Note to self, I really must get that book that I saw on rare bird visitors to the UK! As the group began to walk the well worn route adjacent to the Sea-hide building, a flock of Meadow Pipits could be heard calling and many of the birds were feeding out on the open short turfed grass. As some of these birds flew skywards one of them made a call quite distinct from the others but to qualify this it is only distinct if you are listening for it. Among all the other Meadow Pipit calls it could be easily lost particularly if you are only using your eyes while having an enjoyable chat as you go, as I was. Luckily it was heard and Nigel Odin went into the beach cordon where it had landed to investigate. The bird that to the casual observer might not be told apart from a Meadow Pipit flew up and called again before landing on the open grassland.

Will Brame a veteran birder was quick to get his spotting-scope on the bird and confirmed what was already suspected, that it was in fact a Red-throated Pipit. Steve Piotrowsky turned to me and said "We talked that one up didn't we"! 'Wikipedia' informs us that the Red-throated Pipit is a small passerine bird which breeds in the far north of Europe and Asia, with a foothold in northern Alaska. It is a long-distance migrant moving in winter to Africa, south and east Asia and west coast United States.

I noticed that some areas of grass at the end of the Summer were looking a little longer and shaggier than normal and there did seem fewer Rabbits seen, at least during the day. I began to wonder if Rabbit haemorrhaging disease (RHD) had arrived at Landguard. This is a disease in Rabbits that was first diagnosed in a batch of Rabbits that were sent from Germany to China. The disease has since spread to other countries including the UK where it has decimated Rabbit populations in the Brecklands. The disease tends to be more virulent in the warmer months and Rabbits die in their burrows so there are not any visible signs as in the myxomatosis disease. Now in November there seems to be plenty of young Rabbits about so if there was a decline they are now doing what they do best.

Consents were gained from Natural England and Historic England for a new path and new conservation area to go ahead. The new path which is as I write close to finishing, is made from plastic grids which clip together and then pressed into the topsoil. They will provide a surface easily navigated by wheelchair users, people pushing buggies and anyone else that have trouble walking on uneven ground. Hopefully the path will encourage more people to use the route and lessen the trampling impact on the wider area. It will also ensure a circular route for all around the Point. The ground surface had to be loosened with forks and levelled before the grids could be installed. This has required a heroic effort from the 'Footprints' volunteers which have now largely finished the 200m stretch in 3 days! Felixstowe man Brian Bullen, 75 years of age, put in an effort that would put to shame many a 20 year old. The new Conservation Area will enclose a triangular area of land adjacent to the Bungalow more on that in the next blog.

New pathNew path

My attempt to get a combined interpretation/notice board was thwarted by Historic England. Their concern was that the structure wasn’t suitable in context with its historical and cultural setting. Whilst I can understand their viewpoint I feel that the Nature Reserve has lost out in not providing a focal point for visitors. We have now a rather municipal looking new notice board on the fence by the entrance adjacent to the Fort and one at Manor Terrace car park, which I must add has recently been blown off by strong winds. Although a long way from what I had visualised for the Reserve, they are an improvement on pinning notices straight on to a board… I think?

A new main interpretation board is being worked on to replace the two that are located a stones throw away from the new notice boards. The new board will provide interpretation for the Nature Reserve only, except in just visually locating other peninsular attractions. This leaves much needed space for interpreting the Reserve for visitors, hopefully then engaging a deeper understanding and appreciation. The board will echo the design of the Reserve leaflet which was also produced by my brother whom luckily just happens to be a graphic designer!

The nationally rare Stinking Goosefoot plant appeared in the same Rabbit scrape as the two previous years. This time as well as providing a cordoned off area to prevent trampling, the plants were also protected from being grazed by Rabbits and watered in very dry periods. This conservation effort ensured that over 20 plants grew and thrived until late September, so producing many seeds.

Clouded Yellow Butterfly Clouded Yellow Butterflies were recorded almost on a daily basis which led Bird Observatory man Nigel Odin to believe that they had been breeding on the Reserve. 'Butterfly Conservation' informs us that: "The Clouded Yellow is one of the truly migratory European butterflies and a regular visitor to Britain and Ireland. Although some of these golden-yellow butterflies are seen every year, the species is famous for occasional mass immigrations and subsequent breeding, which are fondly and long remembered as Clouded Yellow Years".

Four Spotted FootmanWhile crossing the Reserve in September I noticed a Pied Wagtail snatch a yellow Butterfly out of the air which I took to be a Clouded Yellow Butterfly. The bird didn't seem to be very happy with its catch and shook it loose from its beak. I quickly went to the area and found out that the Butterfly was really a day flying moth, but which of the over 900 species that have been recorded by the Bird Observatory could it be? Rather than spend ages poring through various books or Googling, I took it to the Bird Observatories main moth man, Nigel Odin. It's a distinctive moth and Nigel quickly identified it as a Four Spotted Footman, which he was glad to see as one hadn't turned up in the BO’s moth traps. 'Nature Spot' tells us that it is: "Resident along the south-west coast of England and Wales, and is also an occasional migrant. In a recent survey to determine the status of all macro moths in Britain this species was classified as a migrant".

It hasn't been a great autumn for recording Fungi on the Reserve mostly because it was such a dry one. I have been keeping my eye out for a species that I noticed fruiting within a stand of Marram Grass two years ago. At the time I thought that it might have been Melanoleuca cinereifolia which I believe would be a first record for Suffolk. At the time I put the specimen carefully in my pocket to take it home and dry it out, hoping to get verification from an expert mycologist. Unfortunately I forgot about the fungus and was only reminded of it when at a later date I put my hand in my coat pocket only to feel the unpleasant consistency of mushroom stew! Fortunately I found another one this year and after carefully drying it out sent it to a contact at Kew, where microscopic detail of its spore can be analysed besides other methods that I am sure that I am not aware of.

Melanoleuca cinereifoliaMelanoleuca cinereifolia

Greyhounds75 Greyhounds converged in front of the Visitor Centre and Cafe on November 19 for an organised walk by the Greyhound Trust over the south half of the Nature Reserve. Many of the dogs are retired from racing and can be getting used to a different life and quite nervous. Part of their attraction to the south half of the Reserve is the dogs on leads rule which limits confrontations with other dogs, a point that attracts other dog walkers to the south half as well.

The event was purposely held late in the bird migration season to lessen the effect of such a large gathering. A morning with light wind and sunshine ensured an enjoyable walk and for so many dogs in one place I didn’t hear one single bark from these placid dogs. A letter sent to me by the chairwoman of the Greyhound Trust saying thank you was a really nice touch.

The following is a summary of the Ringed Plover breeding 2017. This is gleaned from a diary that I keep through their breeding season. Just look at how many eggs were laid to ensure 7 fledged chicks.

5          Pairs of Ringed Plovers
12        Nests
6          Nest failures
46        Eggs laid
20        Chicks hatched and seen alive
13        Chicks predated/nonviable
7          fledged chicks

Ringed Plover eggsThe season got off to a cracking start with five pairs of RP on the beach and the earliest recorded Ringed Plover nest at Landguard on the 3 April. This nest was predated on the 10 April along with two other early nests on the 1 May. Two immature Carrion Crows were spending a lot of time on the beach and are main suspects. The season settled down with five chicks fledging in June and two on the 4 July. There were two more nest failures in July with two more clutches hatching with surviving chicks getting very close to fledging but in the end all were predated as mixed flocks of Gulls post breeding grouped on the Reserve and an active Kestrel was seen more than once hunting in the vicinity of the RP's. Over the last four years I have noted that the back end of the RP breeding season at Landguard seems the most hazardous as regards predations with this year being no different. As far as I understand it seven fledged RP chicks for five pairs of RP's represents a reasonable species survival rate and should ensure the continual return of breeding Ringed Plovers to Landguard Nature Reserve. 2017 is another successful breeding year for this bird at Landguard.

I began writing this blog at the beginning of November in snatched moments and now its just over a week until Christmas but it feels like my 6 year old daughter has been talking Christmas up for an eternity. I do, like many, get thoroughly peeved baring the lead up until Christmas but usually enjoy the day itself as a bit of pagan feasting never goes amiss in the depths of winter! I hope that you enjoy your Christmas and all the very best for the coming New Year.

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