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Autumn Diary 2014

(Click on the images for a larger picture)

This edition marks the tenth anniversary of Country Eye. Time flies when you are having fun!

Looking back over the last ten years I have witnessed many changes in our countryside and in our attitude to managing it. Set-aside disappeared but farmers were encouraged to manage their farms sympathetically to wildlife by joining various schemes; Countryside Stewardship and equivalents and then the ELS and HLS schemes; the latter with highly focussed conservation objectives. The latest package of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reforms seems to be a retrograde step allowing farmers to exit the current schemes without penalty and the package of "greening" measures includes the possibility of growing commercial crops of peas and beans. A new package of conservation measures (NELMES) are due to be launched in 2016 but it remains to be seen how well funded this will be.

The hysteria surrounding the dramatic expansion of the Sparrowhawk population seems to have subsided as have the number of Sparrowhawks which now seems to be in balance with the availability of prey.

Turtle Dove

Birds of prey continue to be persecuted; Golden Eagles should be expanding out of their Scottish Highland refuges and the Hen Harrier is virtually extinct as a nesting species in England. On a more positive note Buzzards are now the most common and widespread birds of prey and the reintroduction of Red Kites has been very successful.

Many of our smaller passerines are seriously declining. Are Turtle Doves on the same path to extinction as their lost relative the Passenger Pigeon? Their decline maybe party attributable to climate change but hunting in Europe is certainly a major contributor to their downfall. For other species such as Cuckoos, Spotted Flycatchers and Swifts the decline is less easy to explain and probably has more to do with finding food and shelter during their migration across the increasingly hot and dry southern Mediterranean and North African countries.

Dark Green Fritillary

Despite having enjoyed two good summers, following a run of wetter ones, butterfly numbers do not seem to be as high as I might have expected. However, a number of species have reappeared in areas that they were lost from decades ago - particularly here in Lincolnshire. Silver Washed and Dark Green Fritillary have both reappeared whether naturally or from unofficial introductions as has the magnificent Purple Emperor.

Glossy Ibis

Looking back to our summer the RSPB reserve at Frampton Marsh just gets better and better. The new reed beds, scrapes, wet grassland and hides were created on the landward side of the seawall on what used to be arable farmland. The extensive salt marsh on the seaward side remains much as before and is an important SSSI in its' own right. Such is the success of the RSPB's habitat creation that Frampton is now their top reserve for wading birds in the whole of the UK with the number of wader species occurring exceeding 20 in many months and often achieving the high twenties! This year it was also the site for the first recorded attempt at breeding by a pair of Glossy Ibises.

Wood Sandpiper
The attempt failed amidst speculation that one or both of the birds might have been too young and one of the pair subsequently disappeared, but the other became a major attraction at the reserve and still remains as I write.

One of my favourite waders is the Wood Sandpiper and this too graced Frampton with its presence during late summer, on early autumn migration.

The east coast of Britain can afford wonderful opportunities for finding migrant birds in the autumn. Spurn Point in Yorkshire, Gibraltar Point in Lincolnshire and Holme in North Norfolk all host bird observatories where birds are trapped and ringed. I visited Gibraltar Point in late summer and unwittingly became the centre of controversy when I witnessed a very rare Short-toed Eagle fly in from The Wash. Unfortunately no one else saw it and as I was principally out for a ride on my motorbike, unusually, I did not have my camera with me. I think that most of the county's birders disbelieved me until we found out that a bird had been resident in Norfolk for some weeks where its presence had been kept secret. It disappeared a few days before my sighting , thus lending credibility to my observation.

My friend Dave and I headed to another of the aforementioned bird observatories in late September, where we enjoyed an excellent morning seawatching and then searching the dunes and pines. Hundreds of mainly juvenile Gannets were flying by but more exciting were several Red-throated Divers; one still in summer plumage, a Great Northern Diver and both Arctic and Long-tailed Skuas. The dunes held both Whinchats and Stonechats and large numbers of Meadow Pipits. We rounded a great morning off with a Yellow-browed Warbler which we found in a flock of Goldcrests and Coal Tits in the pines. Butterflies were also much in evidence; notably very late Gatekeepers and several Small Heaths.

Speckled Wood

As I write in early October our Indian summer is just drawing to a close but Red Admiral, Comma and Speckled Wood butterflies are still on the wing in my garden.

Heavy rain is expected tonight signalling a change to more normal weather conditions for the season, but as always I look forward to more forays in our beautiful countryside and lots of wildlife to write about.

Ian Misselbrook

October 2014


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