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Autumn Diary 2015

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As I write we are enjoying an Indian Summer, which goes some way to making up for the indifferent summer that is now behind us.

It was probably the poorest summer that I can remember for butterflies barring the long wet summer of 2012. Not that 2015 was a wet summer, here in Lincolnshire - far from it, but it was generally cool and cloudy which does not favour these sun loving insects.

In contrast late September has been quite good for both butterflies and dragonflies with Speckled Wood, Comma, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and both "cabbage" whites flying in the garden. Migrant and Southern Hawkers and Common Darter Dragonflies have been daily visitors to the ponds.

Most of the Swallows and Martins departed by the last week in September but there are still quite a few warblers about. A Lesser Whitethroat on September 27 will likely be the last this year but some of the Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps that remain might well over-winter in the UK.

Turtle Dove

One species suffering serious decline, probably mostly due to being hunted in Europe, but also to having fairly specialised feeding requirements; is the Turtle Dove. Turtle Doves breed in the UK but migrate to tropical Africa to spend the winter there. I have seen them in The Gambia. The return journey to Africa is fraught with dangers as they are shot, netted and trapped from the minute they cross the English Channel, across the Mediterranean and increasingly hunted in North Africa and the Middle East.

This is our smallest dove and rather beautiful. One of the key food species for Turtle Doves is Fumitory and the UK government with a lot of help from the RSPB have devised a seed mixture containing fumitory amongst other species, as part of the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme. My employers; Limagrain will be selling this mixture next year and we hope that it will be embraced by farmers and lead to a reversal in the decline of this once common species.

With so many losses occurring on migration it is crucial that Turtle Doves have a good breeding season here. We are lucky in that a pair nested only a mile from where I live and I am delighted to report that they raised two broods each of two young. The last brood fledged in late August and the photograph shows them sitting in a bush waiting to be fed by their parents.

The advanced parties of Brent Geese have been back on the Lincolnshire coast for a couple of weeks now but the noisy parties of Pink-footed Geese that we watched in Norfolk on Sunday September 27th were almost certainly new arrivals.

Our boat trip from Boston Marina in to The Wash is always one of the highlights of the autumn. Normally to see good birds in The Wash you need to go after an easterly blow, but this year's trip took place on a calm sunny day following a few days of similar weather, so we feared the worst. The first hour was spent cruising down the River Witham where we got good birds from the outset. Whilst still moored in the marina we were treated to a pair of Grey Wagtails and a Kingfisher. Cruising past the imposing Boston Stump (the nickname for the tower of St Botolph's Church) we got good views of a Peregrine perched on one of the buttresses.

Close views of waders; Common Sandpipers, over 50 Ruff, Redshank, Godwits, Curlew, Dunlin, Ringed Plovers and Lapwings were all noted on the banks of the river before we reached the estuary. At the mouth of the river more waders, albeit more distant views, over 100 Little Egrets and assorted gulls kept us busy.

We fully expected to see nothing out in The Wash on such a calm and sunny day, but almost immediately we encountered groups of fishing Gannets and several Sandwich and Common Terns. The fishing was obviously good as we could see the occupants of another chartered vessel hauling out mackerel as fast as they could.

Pomarine Skua

Arctic Skua

It was not long before the avian stars appeared in the shape of distant skuas harassing the terns to get them to relinquish their catches. One skua landed in the water so we got the skipper to approach it. We obtained quite good views before it took off and to our delight it turned out to be a Pomarine Skua; one of the rarer skuas that visit our shores. A little later, we also got good views of a juvenile Arctic Skua; much darker than the "Pom".

No trip to The Wash is complete without seeing some seals and as well as a few seals seen swimming in The Wash a cruise up the River Welland produced nice views of Common or Harbour Seals with their pups. Common Seals give birth in July whereas the Grey Seals, which can also be found in The Wash as well as further up the Lincolnshire coast at Donna Nook, don't give birth until late autumn or early winter.

Yellow-browed Warbler

October is probably the best month to find rare migrant birds and certainly the peak month to see the diminutive Yellow-browed Warbler. Not much bigger than a Goldcrest, these tiny warblers breed in Northern Siberia and given the right conditions are sometimes blown off course during autumn migration and can be seen on our eastern coasts. I caught up with two individuals at Lincolnshire's Gibralter Point nature reserve on The Wash, on the 2nd of October along with a Pied Flycatcher and a good selection of wading birds. Much more unusual was the one captured and ringed less than a mile from my house at a sewage treatment works on October the 9th, 20 miles inland, by veteran ringers Alan Ball and Bob Sheppard. Fortunately I was working from home that day so that when I got the call I was able to be on site within minutes and capture the handsome bird on film.

Fungi on Tree Stump

Wet autumns are usually best for fungi but to date this autumn has been very dry. However there are some superb examples of fungi about including the colony in the photograph over two metres wide on a tree stump.


Ian Misselbrook

October 2015


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