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Autumn Diary 2012

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Chalk Hill Blue

Following one of the wettest summers since records began the weather so far this autumn has been a mixed bag. September brought record storms and floods, but also some calm sunny spells. October brought more rain and flooding to the west but drier sunnier weather in eastern areas of the British Isles.

Chalk Hill Blue

After a summer of very few butterflies, August and early September brought a burst of activity. At a local nature reserve with a diverse limestone flora, both Chalkhill Blues and Brown Argus appeared in good numbers during the second week in August and I was privileged to witness and photograph the latter species mating. In a mixed woodland nearby in eastern England, the rare Silver Washed and Dark Green Fritillaries were also flying in good numbers during the same week.

Dark Green Fritillary

Silver Washed Fritillary

Brown Argus Mating

Southern Hawker Egg Laying

September and October brought another group of attractive insects out; the dragonflies. I was able to photograph a magnificent Southern Hawker, laying eggs in plant material at the edge of my garden pond. Common Darters were still mating in October and we watched scores of conjoined adults flying, on a recent visit to the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire.

Skua and Tern

Our annual boat trip in to the Wash and beyond to the edge of the North Sea took place a little earlier this year, in fact at the beginning of September, which seemed to pay off in terms of seabird sightings.

Velvet Scoter
Most impressive were the aerial combat scenes as terns, mostly Sandwich Terns tried to evade attacks by Skuas, determined to force the terns to release their catches of fish. As I watched, transfixed my mind was playing the soundtrack to the film of The Battle of Britain! Most of the Skuas were Arctic Skuas (more than thirty) but we managed to identify at least one Long-tailed Skua and one Pomarine Skua as well. Other "stars" included a superb Velvet Scoter (a true sea duck), several Guillemots and a Hen Harrier powering its way across the Wash; probably an arriving winter visitor.

It is always worth keeping an eye on the local coastal nature reserves during passage periods for a mix of the spectacular and the unexpected. My local reserve; Frampton Marsh produced the spectacular in the form of a massive flock of over 5700 Black-tailed Godwits and the "unexpected" included a Pectoral Sandpiper, a wader that breeds in Siberia, Alaska and Arctic Canada which has probably migrated south on the wrong side of the Arctic Circle. Other rarities on show at Frampton that day included three Curlew Sandpipers and a Red Necked Grebe.


Autumn passage of passerine birds reflected the poor breeding season with far fewer migrant warblers appearing at my local sewage farm and very few young birds. However a week's holiday on the Greek island of Lesvos, close to the Turkish mainland enabled my wife and I to enjoy the autumn passage of birds in a sunnier climate. Spotted Flycatchers, much declined in the UK were present in huge numbers and in all habitats, from the tops of mountains, to forests and hotel gardens. Whinchats, once common summer visitors to both lowland heath and moorland, now much declined in all areas except perhaps north-west Scotland, were also very much in evidence on Lesvos.


Neither could compete with the spectacle of hundreds of Greater Flamingos feeding on the salt pans and the largest gathering of Avocets; more than two and a half thousand, that I have ever seen.

White Pelican
Occasionally these flocks would become "spooked" by the arrival of a raptor, sometimes an Osprey, once a Short-toed Snake Eagle, but usually the culprit that caused the most disturbance, would be a Peregrine. However on one occasion the cause of panic was not a raptor at all, but the arrival of a pair of White Pelicans; a rarity on Lesvos and as such probably mistaken for a raptor.

White Pelicans

This autumn I have spent a lot of time away from Britain and everywhere I have been I have witnessed extreme weather conditions. In total contrast to our wet summer, a visit to the south of France, near Toulouse in October produced temperatures of 29 degrees centigrade in the early evening and an absence of any significant rain since March. Even the birds seemed confused because I heard a Woodlark, usually an early Spring songster in full and lovely voice. A visit to Uruguay in the same month, where of course it is early spring, produced a rainstorm which dropped 100mm of water in a day and near hurricane force winds at a time when sunny days in the mid 20's are to be expected. Whether man made or a natural phenomenon, all over the world there is evidence of climate change

On my return from Uruguay at the end of October the weather had certainly changed from the relatively mild conditions of a week before, with an icy blast from the north giving us an early taste of winter. As I drove up to Lincolnshire from London's Heathrow airport I spotted more Jays than would be resident and I surmise that these are continental birds arriving on our islands, as well as several flocks of Fieldfares and Redwings; thrushes from Northern Europe.

After such a disappointing wet summer I don't really feel ready for an early and possibly severe winter, but at the same I can't help but feel a little excited at the prospect of what wildlife spectacles it might afford.


Ian Misselbrook
October 2012


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