On Saturday afternoon a Waterside Care group, led by Mark Glover, went to work on the Ouse Dyke between the culvert on Teal Close and the footbridge onto the Lagoons nature reserve. They removed a mountain of litter, including tyres, a bike and a skateboard as well as pulling up vast quantities of balsam seedlings. Mark said it was a very successful afternoon.
The two walks were held on Wednesday, 14th August and Sunday, 18th August, the first day there were seven people and on the Sunday only one person turned up. The weather was bright and warm on both days and so the insects were not hard to see, although the Wednesday was rather windy.
On the Wednesday the Long-winged Coneheads were plentiful and seem to have taken over most of the site and were not restricted to a few areas as they had been in the past. There were individuals of all ages, from quite early instar nymphs to fully mature adults. Many of the ones found were of the extra long-winged, macropterous, form, which is normally associated with dense populations of the insect. These are the more mobile form that it is thought spread out to colonise new areas. Also found in large numbers were Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers, which were found in a variety of colour forms. The Field Grasshoppers were much harder to find than they have been in the past, possibly due to competition with the other two orthopterans. Roesel’s Bush Cricket was not found, possibly because the blustery weather made it hard to hear, and no Slender Groundhoppers were found when we looked by the Small Gravel Pit.
On the Sunday, as there were only two of us, we decided to see what we could find on the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon. We found plenty of Long-winged Coneheads and Lesser Marsh Grasshoppers as we made our way to the Slurry Lagoon gate. Once on the slurry surface we found the missing Field Grasshoppers amongst the sparse vegetation.
Whilst looking for them we also discovered Common Groundhoppers, which were in good numbers but extremely hard to see. All sorts of colour forms and patterns were represented, but they were difficult to photograph as they kept jumping and disappearing. We again looked without success for Slender Groundhoppers by the Small Gravel Pit, but were luckier with Roesel’s Bush Crickets, which were singing along the banks of the Deep Pit.
The purpose of these walks is to help people to be more confident in identifying these insects on the site. Some people ignore the ‘brown’ and ‘white’ butterflies because they are not sure they can tell them apart. By the end of the walks most people are having a go as they learn the points to look out for. It is the same with the dragonflies and people were confidently separating Red-eyed from Small Red-eyed Damselflies once the differences were pointed out and both were seen together.
On the butterfly walks the sun was hot and there was a lot of butterfly and day-flying-moth activity. The ‘browns’ showed a considerable gain on last year with Ringlets being abundant as 75 were recorded, with 32 Meadow Browns.
Several moths identified rather carelessly as Six-spot Burnets were re-identified as Narrow-bordered Five Spot Burnets when somebody noticed a spot was missing. The Six-spot Burnets fly later, after the Five-spots have finished.
- Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet
More careful observation of the Small Skippers was rewarded by the discovery of a thriving colony of Essex Skippers. The two populations keeping to their own areas on the site, Essex on the Deep Pit bank, opposite the railway line and along the Causeway and Small Skippers around the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon.
- Essex Skipper
The second generation of Common Blues were only just beginning to fly, so the counts were low, but there are signs of a come back from the dismal numbers seen last year but, unfortunately, there was no sign of a recovery with Small Heath and Brown Argus, as none of these two species were seen.
The dragonfly walks were slightly less successful than the butterfly walks as several species were no longer flying and others had yet to get going. The Small Gravel Pit made the best showing with Red-eyed, Small Red-eyed, Emerald and Azure Damselflies being seen, along with Brown Hawker and Black-tailed Skimmer on the first walk. On the second walk the sky was overcast for much of the time and the wind was strong, so much smaller numbers of insects were seen but a Ruddy Darter was found by the Small Gravel Pit.
Sometimes the most spectacular sights are of the most ordinary creatures. The fields adjacent to the Slurry Lagoon had been used for growing sweetcorn and they had just been harvested. This was the trigger for thousands of Grey-lag and Canada Geese to flock in to glean the spilt corn in the stubble. Seen from the Slurry Lagoon bank, interspersed with Carrion Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws and spread out across the expanse of the fields, they did not look very spectacular. I carried on past them to the Causeway to see how many Shoveler were on the Slurry Lagoon.
As I counted the Shoveler something disturbed the geese from their feeding and they took off en-mass to take refuge on the Slurry Lagoon. To see so many large bodied birds wheel over the bank, and hear their wing beats and calls as they circled the water before settling to swim, was spectacular. They drowned out every other sound with a cacophony of nasal cackling and honking calls, the drumming of their wings on the air and the splashing as their feet ripped through the water’s surface as they landed. They came over in waves, so that as one lot settled another was arriving. Once they were all down they continued an excited exchange of cackles and honks as they sorted themselves out into families and groups.
Crows began to fly across the back of the Slurry Lagoon whilst I watched the geese. They were beginning to go to roost. I was not really aware of them at first but gradually I noticed that there was a flock of birds that straggled right across the sky from one side to the other. I could not estimate their numbers as they were sometimes stretched in a ribbon and then bunched together, but as birds disappeared to the south more appeared from the north as a stream of corvids flowed over the lagoons. They were not as noisy as the geese, but contented themselves with conversational caws, cacklings and croaks.
Behind me I gradually became aware of another building sound, a combination of whistles, squeaks and rattles. I hardly noticed it at first but gradually the volume grew as more birds arrived to join in. I looked up on the nearest pylon and saw the Starlings were beginning to gather. Some birds arrived in small, tight flocks and went to join the others on the pylon. Other flocks flew towards the reed bed, their intended roost, where they joined together to make swirling clouds of birds. Now the spectacle began to unfold as more and more birds arrived. There were masses of birds on the pylon now so that all the spars and horizontal surfaces were thickened and blackened. The two nearest pylons were similarly clothed with a layer of birds. From time to time large groups of birds would tear themselves from the pylons to swoop over the Slurry Lagoon and join up with the swirling flock already there. The flock twisted and dived backwards and forwards over the reed bed, sometimes folding back on itself and then stretching out thin. The cloud of birds constantly changed shape as they twisted and turned, their wings roaring as they banked this way and that. They seemed unable to decide where to go or what to do as large parts of the swarm would detatch themselves and then rejoin or else return to the birds on the pylons. All of the time more and more small flocks were arriving and sometimes much larger flocks would race in over a hedgerow. The popular analogy with smoke is very understandable as the flocks no longer seemed to be birds but the drifting shapes of smoke rising from a fire.
Gradually the birds started to make a decision and groups would dive quite suddenly into the reed bed. The actual patch of reeds they went into seemed too small to hold so many birds but group after group fell into the same space and more birds poured from the pylon to join them. Through binoculars I could see birds perching on the reed tops and the reeds bending as more joined them as they charred the reeds black. Others were jostling for a place or being displaced from one spot and crossing over to another so that the view at reed-top level was of a confusion of birds flying in all directions. Of course, they could not do this quietly, so every bird was using its voice to its limit as it complained to its neighbours about the liberties another bird had just taken. Still more birds were arriving, but the pylons were still holding a black mass but as the light lowered more birds flew from the pylons and smoked into the reeds. Small groups were still arriving but these seemed anxious to get into the roost and dived in without preamble, as if they felt too vulnerable to dilly-dally. Almost suddenly the hubbub ceased and the birds settled to roost. Small groups were still diving into the reeds but the spectacle was over for another night.
Five intrepid orthopterists met by the footbridge at the alloted hour to see what orthopteran delights the site held in store for them. The weather was warm and sunny, just right, and a great improvment on the rain that cancelled the Wednesday walk.
As usual the first insects were searched for by the bench, at the top of the steps. Here we very soon found Meadow Grasshopper, Field Grasshopper and Long-winged Conehead. Attention was drawn to the pronotum on the two grasshoppers so that the differences in the two species could be seen. I managed to persuade a Long-winged Conehead to sit on my finger so that everybody got a good view of one.
The other main target was the Roesel’s Bush Cricket, which prefers the banks around the Deep Pit, so we set off along the south side of the Slurry Lagoon. As we progressed, opposite the railway embankment, the path was beside a wide grassy area where more Meadow and Field Grasshoppers were seen. In the brambles at the top of the bank a Spiked Shieldbug Picromerus bidens was found and several hoverflies, including Helophilus trivittatus and Sphaerophoria scripta. Further on, as we passed the Deep Pit there were Common Blue and Small Copper butterflies to see.
We were fortunate to have one member of the party who could actually hear the crickets stridulating (We have tried ‘bat boxes’ but they are non directional and frustratingly tell you there are crickets about but not where they are.), its normally a good idea to have some kids in tow to do this for you. Soon there were Roesel’s Bush Crickets being found by the bucket load. They were mainly at the top of the grassy bank as we looked towards the gravel pits and we were soon getting excellent views of them.
With the excitement of seeing so many crickets, the walk leader forgot to search for Slender Ground Hoppers, which are fairly common on the site and often found on the edge of the Small Gravel Pit. Other than that the group had an enjoyable walk and were well pleased with the insects that they had seen.
Once again the Small Gravel Pit was used for this event. On 8th there were five people present, but none were children whilst on 12th there were eight people, including two small children. We went through the ‘OPAL’ water quality routine again and the water was judged to be of very high quality and almost neutral pH.
Water slaters, damselfly larvae and water bugs were plentiful and each dip included at least a few of all of these. The best finds on 8th were two three-spined loach and a newt tadpole. Also found were a caddis fly larva, common shrimp, ramshorn and common pond snails and some water beetles.
Step in the kids on 12th. One proved to be a master fisherman and on almost every dip he caught one or two, and once even three, newt tadpoles. His final tally was at least twelve. The two between them caught about five three-spined loach and two ten-spined sticklebacks. There were also plenty of damselfly larvae, water slaters, caddis fly larvae, water beetles, leeches, shrimps, water boatmen and a water scorpion. Frog and toad were also recorded and brown hawkers and common blue damselflies were seen egg laying. At one point a black-tailed skimmer rocketed out of the poolside vegetation. We assumed that it had just emerged from the pool but could not find the exuvia when we searched for it.
All in all these were two successful events and good fun to participate in.
Seven of us met at the footbridge at 14.30 as arranged and the weather was for once on our side. A couple had come from Leicester, having seen our website and decided to give the lagoons a visit. There was a Brown Hawker flying around us as we met, and a Holly Blue flew along the bushes behind the seat at the top of the steps.
We walked from the steps towards the Wader Scrape, along the north side of the Slurry Lagoon, noting the insects as we went. The Gatekeeper was the most abundant insect that we saw, with at least 45 being seen during the course of the walk. There were also a few Meadow Browns and even seven Ringlet were seen, although they’d been flying since late June. The Meadow Brown numbers were low however and only twelve were recorded. Small Skippers were also flying and ten were seen but the Essex Skipper was more elusive, although we checked the antennae of most of them to see if we could identify one. Common Blue Damselflies lived up to their name as we walked along the path and we saw so many that we gave up counting them. Amongst them all we did manage to find two Blue-tailed damselflies. On the bank overlooking the new substation we saw our first Six-spot Burnet of the day as it performed gymnastics on a flower-head. It was holding its wings in a strange way so that the crimson under wing was showing and it really looked a very smart insect. As we watched it perform a Red Admiral flew past us.
We walked along the Causeway and sat on the bench, overlooking the Slurry Lagoon as I had seen some Black-tailed Skimmers here previously and hoped they would still be about. I spotted one sunning itself on a small patch of mud and pointed it out, whereupon it took flight and disappeared. Soon its place was taken by a superb male Emperor which patrolled the water in front of the bench very diligently. Soon the Black-tailed Skimmer was back, and then another one. As we watched a total of seven Black-tailed Skimmers appeared and then another Emperor and they all darted this way and that in skirmishes over the water, where dozens of Common Blue Damselflies were egg laying.
We continued around the Deep Pit in an anti-clockwise direction, noting more Gatekeepers and some more Six-spot Burnets. As we proceeded ,Black-tailed Skimmers took off from the path in front of us and we found a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle, Agapanthea villosoviridescens, clinging to a Wild Carrot stem.
On the bank overlooking the river, everybody was pleased to get views of a hunting Weasel as it crossed and recrossed the path and here we found the only Banded Demoiselle of the day. There were some whites about and we managed to identify three as Large Whites and three as Green-veined Whites and there were still one or two Black-tailed Skimmers taking off in front of us. We went down to the Small Gravel Pit to see what was about but were disappointed to find no dragonflies at all. As we were about to leave a male Emperor appeared, and then posed for us on a reed beside the pool, giving us very good views.
At the Wader Scrape there was lots of dragonfly activity, and more Black-tailed Skimmers were seen, bringing the total to 17, seen on the day. There were also some young Kestrels practising manoeuvres along the shorelines but I don’t think the dragonflies had anything to worry about.
We now returned to the steps to complete the walk and managed to find an Essex Skipper. Near the bench we also found Meadow and Field Grasshoppers and some Long-winged Coneheads. These were all still growing and in the nymph stage of their life cycles. This rounded off nicely a very enjoyable afternoon.
After a bright sunny morning the weather clouded over and the first raindrops were felt just as three intrepid birders arrived to start the walk. By the footbridge there were Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and a Lesser Whitethroat, so at least the warblers were not put off by the weather.
The rain came and went in short, light showers, so the weather was not too uncomfortable, as we made our way around the south western side of the Slurry Lagoon. There were lots of birds singing, making it sometimes difficult to point out a particular species, with Dunnocks, Wrens, Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins joining the singing throng. A Willow Warbler perched up nicely so that everyone could see it as it sang its sweet cadence of descending notes. More Blackcaps were singing but they were much harder to see, and another Lesser Whitethroat was rattling out its song from deep in the hawthorns. Whitethroats were heard but they were giving their ‘churring’ contact notes and the only singing bird was rather distant, so we moved on towards the Causeway, where I hoped to find Reed and Sedge Warbler.
When we arrived by the reed bed there was such a hubbub of song that again individuals were hard to pick out. Then a Sedge Warbler started to perform and its staccato notes gave us no doubt of the performer’s identity. The Reed Warblers sang much more rhythmically with a more even range of notes. None of the birds were showing as they remained deep in the dried stems of last years reeds. A Whitethroat sang briefly from the Deep Pit but gave very poor views, and the Cetti’s Warbler song exploded from the bushes at the foot of the bank several times as it made its patrol.
All of this was soon forgotten as rain brought Swifts and House Martins low and their close passes above our heads completely stole the show. They seemed to go through in waves as first there were Swifts rocketing over the Causeway at head height, and then the House Martins could be heard giving their conversational ‘prrit’ calls as thirty or so were feeding higher up. Next some Swallows came though and then it was House Martins again. During this time the Swifts kept coming though, sometimes passing between peoples’ heads and Common Terns flew between the Deep Pit and Slurry Lagoon several times, calling excitedly as they pursued one that was carrying a fish. The Swifts were so impressive that it took us a long time before we could drag ourselves away.
We walked around the Deep Pit and back along its eastern side towards the river. On the bank by the river there were two Sedge Warblers singing loudly and a good view was grabbed of a male Whitethroat. On the fence we noticed some Swallows having a rest, so we paused until they decided to continue their journey, which was not very long. We tried to identify the males from the females. Some Sand Martins were feeding in the Deep Pit and we heard their rasping ‘trrrsh’ calls as some flew over towards the river. We carried on back towards the Causeway, hearing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps singing along the railway embankment. Back on the Causeway we struck lucky as a Garden Warbler bubbled through its repertoire as it sat on an exposed perch and everybody got good views of it. The Swifts were still performing well, so we dawdled along the Causeway, hearing the Cetti’s Warbler again. It now began to rain more seriously and so we made our way off the site. We had missed one of the warblers, so we only scored nine. The Grasshopper Warbler has only been heard once or twice, very briefly, and is possibly not even on site this year.
The idea of ‘Patchwatch’ is to see how many species of birds can be recorded on the site in a day. Normally a day during migration is picked so that there are likely to be more species about as passage birds go through and there might be some winter birds still about as well as the incoming summer birds. Also different birds use the site at different times of the day hence the ‘Dawn to Dusk’ in the title.
I arrived at the site at 05.15, just as it was getting light. I was just in time to catch the Greater and Lesser Black-backed Gulls as they left the roost on the Slurry Lagoon. There were only a handful of birds, a tiny fraction of what would have been seen in December or January. I walked along the path on the south-east side of the Slurry Lagoon towards the river and the air was full of the sounds of Song Thrushes, Great Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, and Wrens. They were so loud that it was difficult to pick out some of the quieter calls and songs. However I did pick out Blue Tit, Dunnock, Blackcap and Willow Warbler and Pheasant and Carrion Crow interjected their coarser notes. In the growing light I could see a Mute Swan on the Slurry Lagoon and then I could hear Reed Bunting, Canada Goose, Mallard, Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff. It was now 05.30 and I had seen or heard 20 species.
I saw John Feeney walking along the Causeway, but decided I would carry on towards the river, beside the Deep Pit. I could hear a Moorhen and then the staccato notes of a Cetti’s Warbler and on the water’s surface could be seen Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Coots. Twelve Common Terns were back on two of the breeding platforms but the Cormorants still had possession of one of them. Wood Pigeons were in the trees in the Deep Pit and a Chaffinch was singing. I carried on under the Railway Bridge and found some Stock Doves in their customary perches on the power lines. Pied Wagtails and Starlings were flying across the river, Grey-lag Geese were in the field across the river and a Green Woodpecker called. The Swallows were disappointingly thin on the ground (or in the air) and not many seemed to have made it back yet to their nest sites under the bridge. I turned and walked back along the river bank and saw Jack Dennison, who came to join me just as a Whitethroat began singing on the bank. It was now 06.00 and I had reached a total of 36 species.
We walked along the Riverside Path, hoping for a sighting of the Kingfishers and it wasn’t long before we heard one whistle and saw it perched on the river bank. A Linnet was singing in a riverside ash tree and soon two Oystercatchers were spotted on the opposite bank. A Grey Heron stood, hunched, in the field and a pair of Great-crested Grebes swam on the river. We rounded the corner to walk along the Boundary Hedge and Jackdaws were flying over the Severn/Trent field. Some Lapwings took to the air, plaintively calling as they stooped at marauding Carrion Crows and a Magpie flew along the hedge. We passed through the hedge by the large willow and headed towards the bank of the Deep Pit, passing a cacophony of warbler song as Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Reed Warblers, Sedge Warblers, Blackcaps and Whitethroats were singing lustily, along with Blackbird, Robin and Wren. From the top of the bank we looked across the Wader Scrape but found no new species, only Gadwall, Wood Pigeon and Pheasant, so we carried on towards the Causeway. From here we peered onto the Slurry Lagoon and found Shoveler, Teal, Dabchick and Shelduck. It was now 07.15 and I had spotted my 49th species.
On the Causeway I met John Feeney and Tony Lowry. John said he had heard a Tawny Owl earlier on and so I looked in the Deep Pit trees. Soon I found the tip of its tail amongst the branches and leaves and then the warm brown of its body. It was difficult to get a ‘scope on it but soon the owl could be seen. Neil Matthews joined us and said the had seen a Siskin as he came along the Ouse Dyke. As we watched the owl, Alan Edge and Sue Cowlishaw joined us and a male Bullfinch appeared in the willow trees before us. Neil spotted a Common Sandpiper in the Deep Pit, where there were also some Pochard, and some feral Rock Doves flew over towards the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon. Alan, Sue and I decided to follow the Rock Doves in the hopes of finding some Collared Doves. As we walked back along the path some Long-tailed Tits flew through the bushes and a Greenfinch sang from an ash tree. I went to my car to get some food and a Herring Gull flew over the Slurry Lagoon. Alan and Sue went along the Bottom Path and I caught them up but we added no new species, so we returned to the dry end of the Slurry Lagoon again to search for Wheatear. No luck, but we did get Goldfinch and Collared Dove. As we sat resting on the bench at the top of the steps a Skylark sang over the fields and a Sand Martin dashed through. This brought my total at 09.20 to 60.
Back towards the Causeway and Neil phoned to say he had seen Little Ringed Plover on the Wader Scrape. On the way we picked up Black-headed Gull and Keith Cox. After an age of searching a Little Ringed Plover flew from a patch of gravel across the scrapes but no other waders graced the site. A Buzzard was seen evading crows high above us as we headed back towards the Causeway, where a Ruddy Duck had been spotted, then Keith saw some House Martins flying in. The total was nudging up painfully slowly now and people began to leave so I went with them as far as my car, to get some more food, and we saw Rook, Common Gull and Sparrowhawk. I was on my own now and wondered why I didn’t go as well. A Yellow Wagtail called as it flew overhead, but I made my way towards my car again. I had just opened the gates when Sue called out to ask me if I was trying to sneak off now she had come back. We went for one last forlorn traipse around the site and managed to add Kestrel to the tally. With the Great Spotted Woodpecker that John Feeney had seen and had told me about earlier, that brought the final score to 72 species since dawn. It was now 17.15, and I wasn’t hanging about for dusk.
Sunday 11th March was an exceptionally warm still day, perfect for coaxing raptors into the air. Several Buzzards were seen in the same thermal and an amazing sight was a ‘kettle’ of eight Common Buzzards that were joined by two Rough-legged Buzzards. Several Sparrowhawks and Kestrels and a Peregrine were also seen. The bird counts are a monthly event and are a good way of collecting data on the welfare and abundance of birds on the reserve. They are held on the second Sunday of every month. People meet at the end of Teal Close in time to set off at 07.45 and normally finish at about 11.00. If you would like to attend just turn up and join in.