Friday, 30 September 2016

Xanthandrus comtus at Newton-le-Willows station

I've been catching the train to Manchester from Newton-le-Willows station for most of the past week, and yesterday I noticed a lot of invert activity on a wall covered in flowering ivy. I took a few photos and it turns out that one of the hoverflies I captured, Xanthandrus comtus, is quite a rarity in Lancashire, with the total number of records ever in single figures. I also found another new hoverfly species for me, Meliscaeva auricollis.

Xanthandrus comtus. Recorded in Lancashire in single figures, this species is a mainly a southern species which becomes rarer in the north. Such records that there are in Lancashire are almost entirely coastal, lending weight to the suggestion that this is perhaps a migrant in the north. The larvae are often found in association with micro moths on ivy.

Xanthandrus comtus showing its distinctive pattern well.

Meliscaeva auricollis.

Syrphus ribesii.

Eristalis tenax.

Eristalis pertinax.

Helophilus pendulus.

Syritta pipiens.

Episyrphus balteatus, marmalade hoverfly.

Myathropa florea.

Lots of honey bees about today, many with large pollen sacks like this one.

Wasps were probably the commonest species on the ivy.

The tachnid Tachina fera.

There appeared to be a mass emergence of harlequin ladybirds, showing a wide range of patterns. I counted at least 50 adults and at least 200 pupa.

More from Martin Mere

The great white egret was showing well again today at Martin Mere, in Boat House sluice. Also today I re-found a pectoral sandpiper on Wood End marsh.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

A red letter day at Martin Mere

It's always a red letter day when I get a new bird for Martin Mere, and today was just such a day. When I heard that there had been a great white egret seen from the Ron Barker hide I decided to call in and try my luck, half expecting it to be gone when I got there.  Fortunately it was still present when I arrived in the hide, but it was out of view in Boat House Sluice (the deep sluice which runs between the Ron Barker hide and the United Utilities hide).  Every now and again I managed to get a glimpse of its head as it walked through the ditch, and on a couple of occasions it flew up and but then dropped down almost immediately. A tick but frustratingly poor views . However eventually I spotted it walking towards the hide and quite close, and fortunately it climbed up onto the bank for a minute allowing great views.

Martin Mere has always been one of my favourite birding places, and my WWT membership has always been, and probably always will be the last membership I'd let go when times are hard. I've been a member for 41 years, since I first visited the place with my dad in January 1975, before it was open, and we met and were given our own private tour by the original currator Peter Gladstone. According to my database, today was my 411th visit, though this will be an under estimate, because in the early days (i.e. the first 10 years) I didn't always record every visit, and also because when I digitised my notebooks a few years ago, I omitted a few of the less inspiring visits simply because of the huge amount of data I had to input. Also I've been a volunteer for two periods and I didn't always include those visits in my records, unless I happened to see something good. So it's always a good day when I get a new bird for the reserve (new for me on the reserve I mean)

There has been a big build up of geese over the past week, from 6000 last Tuesday to around 15000 today. There'll probably be double that number next week.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Pectoral sandpipers at Marshside

Pectoral sandpipers have always been one of my favourite waders so I was delighted to see not one, but two juveniles showing well on the pools near the sewage works at the north end of the reserve. Pretty impressive numbers of other birds around as well, including a few hundred black-tailed godwits and around 1000 pink-footed geese, plus the long staying cattle egret.

Year: 244 (Pectoral sandpiper, though not todays birds. I also saw one at Martin Mere on Tuesday.)

Although I've seen lots of pectoral sandpipers over the years, this was the first time I have seen more than a single bird.

Ruff, pec sand and teal.

Cattle egret with prey.

This ruff was colour ringed. I've reported it to the Euring website and await the outcome.


Monday, 19 September 2016

Late summer flowers on the Great Orme

Some really nice late summer flowers on the Great Orme at Llandudno today, and one or two surprises, with some species that I really didn't expect to still be in fllower. Also today still two black redstarts at the copper mines, a single gannet over the sea, 15 common scoter, 4 chough and at least three wheatears.

The first surprise was a few flowers still in bloom of bloody cranesbill. This is one of the most beautiful flowers of limestone regions and it was a delight to see it so late in the year.

Wow! Now this is something special, not because it's a rare plant but because of the location it is growing in. This is common butterwort, its flowers long since over but always a good plant to see. It's insectiverous and you can see some of the small inverts stuck to its leaves. What I really like though is the fact that it is growing in a seepage in the limestone. It was the only plant growing here, and I wonder if it is only capable of living in such a calcareous position because it supplements its diet with insects?

The solubility of limestone in naturally acidic rainwater over millions of years results in the caves, pot holes, underground rivers and grikes often found in limestone regions. Where water runs down or through limestone, organic acid from the soil above increases this action and in caves can form stalactites and stalagmites.  The rock in this photos looks like it is melting, and you can see what looks like a mini stalactite forming. The rock here was soft, almost like mud to touch. Look over to the left of the photo and you can see a small butterwort almost covered in the limestone solution!

On the limestone pavement puddles of water gradually eat into the rock until eventually they form deep holes called grikes. These grikes collect debris and soil and the remains of plants and invertebrates, and they're sheltered from the elements and have there own micro-climate. They also provide shelter to plants from grazing animals such as sheep, and it's not surprising therefore that they provide a good habitat for many species, especially ferns. This is black spleenwort, a limestone loving species but one which I had growing in the wall of my house in St Helens due to the lime in the mortar.

A limestone loving umbellifer, burnet-saxifrage. This is another species which grows in St Helens on mortar, or at least it used to. It was in the wall at the side of United Footwear in Carr Mill Road, but since the store closed down I'm not even sure that the wall is still there.

Rock samphire, a limestone loving, coastal umbellifer, it prefers to live close to the sea spray. Notice the fleshy leaves, typical of many  coastal species.

Rock samphire

Traveller's-joy, a limestone loving wild clematis.

Common rocksrose, one of my favourite plants on the Orme.

Devil's-bit scabious.



Rough hawkbit with the hoverfly Melanostoma scalare.

Ladies bedstraw.


Mouse-eared hawkweed.

Fairy flax



Carline thistle. This is one of those plants which I actually think looks better when it's gone over.


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