Monday, 29 July 2013

I knee-d a Purple Emperor

The first Purple Emperor of the day landed on my shorts and wandered around my knee for a few minutes, no doubt remarking on my sweaty qualities.  Frustratingly, no amount of contortion could get the beast into focus through the camera lens before it soared off over the woodland canopy.  So began my walk around Broxbourne Woods this weekend.  After the first Emperor of the day they became decidedly scarce for a while and it seemed I would not get a decent photo, unlike Silver-washed Fritillaries, which were everywhere.  I have walked these woods since the 1970s and never have they been so numerous. They were distinctly hard to find in the 1970s-1990s but now every sunny glade seems to have a few. A remarkable change in status.  Likewise the Purple Emperor.  In the early days, every White Admiral was scrutinised in the hope of finding the Emperor.  Now almost full circle, I saw more Emperors than Admirals on my two hour walk.

At Danemead, a Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust nature reserve within the woods, Broad-leaved Helleborines were just coming into flower and the exit holes of Goat Moths were still evident in the small group of old trees that they have inhabited for decades.  Back in the depth of the planted conifers, a family party of Firecrests mingled with a large mixed flock of tits and 9 Crossbills chipped away from the top of a Larch.  On the final stretch back to the car park, Purple Emperors at last began to perform; a couple zooming around large sallows, a couple more taking moisture from the damp path and a final individual sucking away at a gate post.

Photos: my feet, Silver-washed, White Admiral and PE.


Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The road to Utopia

The Wadden Sea islands in The Netherlands are remarkable for both migrant and breeding birds. Texel, at the southern end of the chain is perhaps the best known of the islands and has high levels of conservation management. In 2010 the Dutch conservation organisation Natuurmonumenten created a new nature reserve on Texel. The reserve is a 28 ha brackish lagoon behind the seawall adjacent to the Wadden Sea. Formerly a grass field in agriculture, the land was excavated to create a series of islands in a shallowly flooded lagoon. Around 84,000 m3 of soil was removed and 2,000 m3 of cockle shells brought in to cover some of the islands, which were a mix of grass, shell and mud. Seawater can enter the lagoon at high water via a sluice.
We visited Utopia in 2011 and were duly impressed. The site already supported good numbers of breeding Common (600 pairs), Arctic (60) and Little Terns (54), Avocets (73) and Ringed Plovers (10). Black-headed Gulls (200 pairs), Black-tailed Godwit, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank and Eider also breed. Spoonbills feed in the lagoon and passage and wintering waders use the lagoon for both roosting and feeding. Terns and other seabirds have a distinct advantage on Texel; the island has virtually no mammalian predators apart from a few Stoats. This was evident at our first stop; a Sandwich Tern colony of some 1200 pairs, easily accessible by ground predators but with hundreds of chicks. Even crows seemed scarce, apparently kept in check by the resident Goshawks.
This type of habitat is sadly lacking in the UK, with coastal habitats under severe pressure from human activities and sea level rise.  However, we are now well on the way to creating our own ‘Utopias’. The first, an 18 ha freshwater lagoon on the Suffolk coast will be excavated and functioning by the end of the year.  The project will excavate 16000 m3 of soil and create a mosaic of grass, bare mud and islands topped with 2000 m3 of shingle for nesting and roosting birds. The site will have an anti-predator fence around the perimeter.  More to follow but in the meanwhile...this is the Dutch Utopia.