Now we are in the midst of October it is certainly feeling Autumnal now after a long late Summer. The woodlands are looking red, green, purple and gold as the leaves change with the fungi starting to appear now the rain has dampened the ground.

Autumn colours by Kate Thorpe

One thing us birders love is an easterly wind! A recent run of easterlies has landed some mega rare birds into the country. Although nothing that rare has turned up at Middleton (yet) the numbers of redwings and fieldfares have been high for early October. They are a daily sighting on the reserve, can be seen anywhere from the car park up to the north pit! Added to that flocks of siskin and redpoll, which are normally more common later in the year as the alder cones turn, it feels like we have had more migration in action this year than last.

Male siskin by Nick Martin

The siskin and redpoll have also been using the feeders, amongst the usual finches, house sparrows and tits. Brambling have also been turning up in the feeder area – another early arrival. Water rails are becoming braver, mopping up the left over seed around the edges and one even being so bold as to chase one of the farm chickens!

Out on the wetlands we did our monthly wetland bird count – called Webs. We count all the ducks, geese, waders, gulls across the wetland areas. Although some compartments seem quieter than others at times when you add it all together we get an impressive list. The volunteers counted 1691 birds of 23 species, list as follows:- 1 little grebe, 11 great-crested grebes, 45 cormorants, 7 little egrets, 2 grey herons, 34 mute swans, 36 greylag gesse, 64 canada geese, 1 pintail, 199 wigeon, 97 gadwall, 183 teal, 164 mallard, 172 shoveler, 132 tufted duck, 6 moorhen, 270 coot, 1 water rail, 3 golden plover, 244 lapwing, 3 snipe, 4 lesser black-backed gulls and 12 black headed gulls

Of course this is only a snap shot and the above species are all easily seen on a days walk around the reserve the numbers will fluxuate. The little egret numbers have been high, the roost at the moment is on the eastern side of the jubilee wetlands with more than 40 coming into roost. As well as roosting in large numbers they had been taking advantage of the lower water levels on Dosthill as part of our reedbed project (more on that to follow in another blog!). 30+ were amongst the diggers feeding on newly exposed edges. Along with the long staying great white egret. It has been a regular feature on the wetlands, occasionally we have seen 2 together and there is a 3rd in the valley. All 3 are regularly seen on the pond complexes at Alvecote (near Tamworth).

Little egret on the east scrape by Kate Thorpe

Although rarely seen, snipe are building in numbers and we see anywhere from 1-30 when we are working on the wetlands. Jack snipe are also bobbing about – we are attempting to get one on the trail cameras at the moment. I saw 2 on the jubilee last week whilst checking the koniks. The fence line around jubilee often reveal stonechats perching and tick-ing away. Won’t be long before they are following the koniks round the wetlands or the volunteer work party to see if the rakings have revealed a tasty morsal.

Stonechat by Marion Parnell

Whilst on the work party we also find evidence of our more secretive residents. Voles, shrews and mice are frequent in the longer grasses and we find their old nests or even see the odd one running out of our way. The pièce de résistance is finding the evidence of harvest mice. Their nest, a dry tumble of grass, are easy to find once you have your eye in, always a delight that these small mammals survive on the reserve despite the flooding that puts pressure on their habitat.

Harvest mouse nest found on the jubilee by Kate Thorpe

The small mammal population is vital for the owls on site. A short eared owl has returned, hopefully to stay as long as the one last year which didn’t leave until May. Although it doesn’t seem to have a routine yet, I would think the late afternoons especially after a wet night would be the best time to try and spot it. The same approach could also reveal barn owl sightings. I’ve seen 3 at a time recently, mainly over then southern meadow or the river side of Fisher’s Mill.

Dragonflies and butterflies are still a daily occurrence on the reserve on sunny days. The red and black flashes of red admirals can bee seen on the ivy flowers or sunning themselves on the bridges or benches. Along with common darter and migrant hawkers making use of the man made structures to rest on. Even brimstones have been making use of the last of the flowering plants.  

Brimstone by Marion Parnell