As is typical in October, you never quite know what to expect on a countryside walk. That has certainly been true this year, where it has alternated from heavy rain to bright sunshine, sometimes in the space of just a few minutes, making the choice of clothing a tricky one. I do, however, recommend that you wear waterproof footwear if you are planning a visit as some of the trails are quite wet in places.
The changeable weather also leads to a few unexpected wildlife sightings. Following on from last week's yellow-browed warblers, another two were found in the North Bushes later in the week, while a late pied flycatcher was a bonus for the finder in the Sluice Bushes. The arrival of small flocks of redwings, fieldfares, robins and starlings from Scandinavia has also brought in a few ring ouzels. Two were in the North Bushes on Saturday and another was there yesterday. Also known as the moorland blackbird, this pretty migrant thrush is a regular but scarce visitor to the east coast in spring, and especially in autumn.
Other typical October migrants include flocks of swallows, house martins, skylarks, meadow pipits and linnets passing south, particularly in the early mornings, and small flocks of dark-bellied brent geese heading south offshore. One or two wheatears have been seen this, but it looks like the last of the lesser whitethroats may have moved on, and there haven't been any hobby sightings for a couple of days.
Once the sun shines, it's likely that you'll find a few chiffchaffs or blackcaps emerging to feed in the North Bushes, alongside goldcrests, robins and mixed flocks of tits. Nearby, the field at the west end of the North Wall has proved popular with goldfinches, with up to 200 foraging for seeds. Look carefully and you may spot a few chaffinches or meadow pipits among them. I found a male brambling with them last week, too.
Goldfinch by Clare Carter
Sightings on the Scrape are perhaps more predictable in mid October, with large flocks of our six commonest duck species (shelduck, wigeon, gadwall, teal, mallard and shoveler) and three species of feral geese (greylag, Canada and barnacle), as well as a few lapwings, snipe and pied wagtails. There are still upto 15 avocets as well as one or two dunlins, knots, turnstones and black-tailed godwits.
Following on from the cutting of the fen vegetation outside North Hide last week, our contractors have been busy today clearing a couple of shallow ditches around low islands to provide improved habitat for breeding lapwings and redshanks.
We've also begun the annual reedbed management work. At Bittern Hide the wardens and volunteers have cleared a large patch of scrub that was obscuring the the view, and will soon begin clearing the reed from the pools closest to the hide. They've already cut and burnt much of the reed outside Island Mere Hide, so we're hoping that the bitterns will begin feeding int he open soon.
Photo by Steve Everett
Even while this work was being done last week, our volunteers enjoyed some great sightings from the hide. Up to three great white egrets are regular at Island Mere. Like the bitterns, they are most often seen in flight, but sometimes feed along the edge of the reeds. Otter sightings are regular both here and along the North Wall, where one crossed the path just a few minutes before I arrived this afternoon! A female scaup and a couple of tufted ducks are usually among the 20+ coots on the mere, with several little grebes, one or two great crested grebes and flocks of gadwall, mallard and shoveler. Our guides are also reporting regular bearded tit sightings throughout the reedbed, and Cetti's warblers in song in various places.
It may be mid October already, but there are still good numbers of migrant hawker and common darter dragonflies and willow emerald damselflies on the wing, as well as a few red admiral and speckled wood butterflies. I also spotted a peacock butterfly on Whin Hill last week and a small white on the North Wall today.
Finally, no October walk is complete without spotting a few fungi. Some, such as the tiny bird's-nest fungi near the pond, take a bit of finding, while others are harder to miss. I don't think I can remember seeing quite so many parasols as this year, with many of them reaching 25 cm or more in diameter.
We have explored ways that we can utilise the reed rather than burning it but have not yet identified a satisfactory method for the quantities involved. We cut our reeds early in the winter on a long rotation, as this is the best method for enhancing wildlife habitat. Therefore, the reeds are not suitable to use for thatching, as thatching reed is cut annually late in the winter. We trialled a method of cutting reed to convert it to biofuel briquettes, but that proved to be unsuccessful. The size of our reedbed also makes large-scale removal of reed for use offsite logistically difficult. However, we will continue to explore alternatives to burning, and trial them where appropriate.
Always enjoy your blogs, thanks. You really should find something constructive to do with some of the reeds though. How about a Mudhif?
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