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Autumn 2006

As I write in early November the first morning frosts are upon us and the weather generally, is beginning to feel like autumn should. Up until now we have enjoyed one of the mildest and most benign autumns on record. Conditions have been excellent for our farmers and a combination of dry warmth with sufficient moisture has lead to ideal drilling conditions. A flush of autumn growth in the grass pastures has to a certain extent, compensated for the long, dry spell in June and July when grazing was sparse causing some farmers to break in to their silage clamps - their winter reserves. The local potato crops were mostly lifted before the end of October and quality, if not yields, are very good indeed.

One of the penalties we have paid for such a mild autumn is that the spectacle of colour, as the trees prepared to shed their leaves, was not nearly as pronounced as last autumn, when the leaves turned much earlier. Even now, many leaves are still more green than brown and one might think that even the trees are beginning to believe in global warming.

Evidence of the mild autumn, if not global warming, was apparent in the activity of wildlife. For example frogs were croaking in our pond in the last week of October, abundant Common Darter and Migrant Hawkers throughout the month and a Red Admiral basking in sunshine in our garden as late as November 3rd.

Talking of dragonflies, I have been busy misidentifying dragonflies all summer! The most common of the Hawker family in Lincolnshire, now, is probably the Migrant Hawker, which was formerly only a migrant but now probably breeds in good numbers, whereas the very similar Common Hawker is actually quite rare in Lincolnshire. I have had to carefully withdraw all my county records of Common Hawker and brush up on my identification.

Local naturalist; John Redshaw, to whom I am grateful for pointing out my errors of identification wrote that a new species for Lincolnshire was recorded at Whisby; the Lesser Emperor and another rarity, the Red Eyed Damselfly was quite common this year at Baston Fen nature reserve.

Moths are generally even harder to identify than dragonflies, but the exception is the delightful Hummingbird Hawkmoth, usually a very rare migrant, but enjoyed by almost everyone in Rippingale with flowers in their garden this summer. The Silver Y Moth, another day flying species was also particularly abundant this summer, especially on Buddlia.

Migrant butterflies were also much in evidence with Large Whites, Red Admirals and Painted Lady leading the advanced guard and the Clouded Yellow, which can be common in the southern counties in some years reached Lincolnshire in good numbers, especially on the coast. One at least made it to Rippingale to become a new record for my garden.

As I have said before in Country Eye, autumn wader passage can start as early as June with the sorry return of failed breeders, but the biggest month for both waders and other species is undoubtedly September. The coast is certainly the best place to be and the RSPB reserve at Frieston Shore near Boston just seems to get better and better. A high tide visit during the migration season is well worthwhile. When the marshes are flooded many waders will roost on the lagoon, often right in front of the hide. Most of the smaller waders will be Dunlin but a careful search might reveal a few Curlew Sandpipers, a Little Stint or two and this autumn the rare White-rumped Sandpiper was found. Whist the tide is still in, check the realignment from the sea wall for more waders and Little Egrets (I saw 23 Little Egrets on my last visit!) and if you have a telescope check the sea. Although it is a long way out Gannets, Skuas, Terns and other exciting seabirds can all be seen, if you are lucky.

The bushes down the track are always worth checking. You will almost certainly see Tree sparrows and this October the bushes contained a good selection of passage warblers including Chiffchaff, Blackcap, lots of Goldcrests and that autumn speciality the Yellow Browed Warbler.

A boat trip into the Wash from Boston affords even greater chances to witness migration and I did three this year, one in spring and two in the autumn. The September trip produced great views of both Arctic and Great Skuas, several Black Terns as well as very close encounters with fishing Gannets. The October trip produced the first returning skeins of Pink-footed Geese, 2 rare Roseate Terns, a Mediterranean Gull and several birds of prey.

The September trip also afforded excellent views of Common Seals on the sands, but not quite as close as you can get to the Grey Seals at Donna Nook. Further up the coast. A Harbour Porpoise also appeared alongside the boat.

Don't worry if you can't get to the coast because it can be even more rewarding to find birds on your local patch. Late summer and autumn brought a regular Hobby to Rippingale, which was seen well in to October. I was fortunate enough to see this dashing migrant falcon 3 times in my garden where it chased dragonflies over my ponds. The Hobby is an extremely fast falcon and regularly catches Swallows and their allies. Sue and I watched one catch, pluck and eat a Sand Martin, on the wing a few years ago at Baston Fen.

Another good autumn migrant was a Redstart seen by Dave Thorpe at Dunsby Fen..

I saw my first returning Fieldfares, on 2nd November when a flock of about 70 flew low over the garden after a day of north-westerly winds. Today in early November I have one fieldfare and three Redwings in the garden and I am looking forward to finding a host of other winter visitors.

Ian Misselbrook
November 2006.


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