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Autumn Diary 2016

(Click on the images for a larger picture)

I am commencing this article during the week of the autumn equinox and here in Lincolnshire we are enjoying a very open and pleasant season. It has been a good spell for farmers with the best of the weather coming in late summer, which after disappointing yields of the earlier harvested winter barley, has produced some good crops of wheat. Most farmers have already drilled the autumn crops of wheat and oilseed rape and many livestock farmers have re-seeded their grass leys as they know that during times of low milk and meat prices optimum use of grass and other forage crops is key to maintaining their profitability.

Visible migration of our passerine birds is very much in evidence as I write with flocks of Swallows and House Martins flying south, Chiffchaffs singing in the hedgerows and Blackcaps now changing from their summer diet of insects to feast on berries before undertaking their migration. Meadow Pipis are also passing through and yesterday a late Yellow Wagtail flew over my garden.

Autumn migration of our wading birds starts much earlier; depressingly as early as June! The first birds to appear are those that were unsuccessful but soon afterwards arctic nesting waders throng to our shores. RSPB Frampton Marsh on the Lincolnshire shore of The Wash and RSPB Titchwell Marsh on the Norfolk coast compete every year for "The Golden Wellie" which is awarded to the RSPB reserve which attracts the highest number of species of wader. I believe last year it was a draw between the aforementioned reserves. For sheer numbers of waders RSPB Snettisham takes some beating but when it comes to attracting rarities Frampton and Titchwell are the places to go. The prize for the rarest bird must go to Titchwell which hosted a Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris). This is about 30% larger than its common relative but quite different in appearance. It took me two attempts to see it but even though it was very distant the Turnstone like tortoiseshell markings on its back and larger size made it relatively easy to pick out amongst the hundreds of Red Knot (Calidris canutus) that frequented the mudflats on the fresh marsh. The Great Knot nests in the arctic tundra of eastern Siberia and would normally migrate south through the USA.

White-rumped Sandpiper

Frampton though fought back with unprecedented high numbers of Curlew Sandpiper (Calidris Ferruginea); over 250 on one day plus a host of rarities. Of those that visited I did manage to watch and photograph a Broad-billed Sandpiper (Limicola faicinellus) and a White-rumped Sandpiper (Calidris fuscicollis).

Broad-billed Sandpiper
The latter species nests in Alaska and Canada and normally migrates south as far as South America and The Falkland Islands.

Broad-billed Sandpiper with Dunlins

Greenshank at Frampton

Although not nearly as rare one of my favourite wading birds is the Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) an elegant long-legged relative of the Common Redshank. Greenshank nest on dry land in northern pine forests, including a few pairs in Scotland. They migrate in small parties and can be seen on coastal reserves like Frampton and inland waters. A few may over-winter here but the majority continue down to Sub-Saharan Africa. I have seen them during our winter months in The Gambia and Senegal.

Speckled Wood on Common Toadflax
in author's garden

After a generally poor summer for butterflies, September has been a good month; especially in our garden. My wife has planted a wide range of native wild flowers and many have proved very attractive to bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Common Toadflax flowered throughout September and seemed especially appealing to Speckled Wood butterflies as my photograph shows.

Our perennial grass/wild flower border with a mass of Black Knapweed flowering in late summer and early autumn was also a hit with a wide variety of butterflies. But although not a native plant our buddleias lived up to their nickname of "Butterfly Bush" attracting a peak of 18 Small Tortoiseshells as well as Painted Lady, Peacock, Comma, Red Admiral and three species of Whites.

Common Darter

Dragonflies are also on the wing late in to autumn if the weather is fine and as I write Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers are still abundant.

September is the month when adult Tawny Owls evict their young from their territories and with the bedroom window open, our nights are punctuated by their calls and hoots.

Pomarine Skua

On the second of October strong northerly winds produced some wonderful sea-watching from Holme Dunes on the North Norfolk coast. Hundreds of Gannets streamed past but the highlights for my friends Dave and Denis were the skuas; scores of Arctic, several Great Skuas (Bonxies) and one each of Pomarine and Long-tailed Skua. Also passing by were hundreds of Common Scoter (sea ducks) a Red-breasted Merganzer, which is a saw-billed fish eating duck and a Manx Shearwater. Our penance for this magnificent spectacle was that a cold, squally shower came in off the sea and drenched us! A small price to pay for such a spectacle.

Libby Owen

It is with great sadness that I report that our good friend Libby Owen died in August after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Libby was typically courageous to the end and was determined to carry on watching and photographing wildlife as long as she had the strength to do so.

Fox Cub

Libby was a regular contributor of photographs to Country Eye and her work was show-cased in edition 53. With her partner Nick's permission we will continue to feature her work in relevant issues. For no other reason than I really like it; I have included her recent photograph of a fox cub.

Our sympathies go out to her partner Nick and her daughters Pippa and Bryony.


Ian Misselbrook

October 2016


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