Updated: Nov 17, 2019
This is a short blog summarizing some of my wildlife highlights of 2018.
Started with a windblown and rainy trip to the Stiperstones in Shropshire on a quest to find Red Grouse. Although I saw some, the inclemency of the weather and the bleakness of the terrain made any photography difficult. In less remote areas, Blackbirds are frequent visitors to gardens with fruit trees at this time of year – the remaining fruit of the previous year providing them with a vital food supply. This was the case in my mother’s garden.
Stunning views of two windblown Common Snipe at Rye Harbour National Nature Reserve were a highlight of February, along with a visit to Pulborough Brooks RSPB NR which yielded stunning views of Marsh Harriers, Lapwing and Eurasian Teal. A pair of Red Kites rounded off February in spectacular fashion.
A first for me – a Bluethroat at Dungeness (unfortunately too far away to be well photographed, but I attempted nonetheless!).
Spring really gets going in April – pond life becomes active, birds of prey become conspicuous and the Nightingale arrives on our shores and sings (in this case at RSPB Pulborough again). A pair of Avocet were also present at Pulborough – sadly, they did not stay to breed. In my back garden, Pond Skaters and Smooth Newts were plentiful. This year, there seemed to be fewer Brimstone butterflies than usual, although Orange Tips were present in their usual numbers.
Generally the month of my annual “seabird fix.” This year a trip to Northumberland to visit the Farne Islands and Long Nanny Tern Site in Low Newton where I was a ranger (then termed ‘warden’) back in 2010; for just three months or so, these sites play host to a remarkable diversity of wildlife. Bottlenose dolphins are now common currency in the waters around the islands. Arctic and Little Terns breed at the Long Nanny and vast seabird cities populate the Farne islands including Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Sandwich, Arctic and Common Tern, Eider, Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher alongside a number of others. By August most of these species have left for the open sea and both sites fall almost silent with just waders, gulls, shags and a few cormorants remaining. If you choose to visit the Farnes at this time, remember to take a padded hat – Arctic Terns are not the friendliest of creatures when approached!
These two months typically see the departure of our breeding Swift population – these remarkable birds eat, sleep, mate and collect nesting material whilst in flight. In fact, it is true to say that the only time when they come to land is when they are on eggs. As the Swifts are thinking about leaving, some of our finest butterflies are on the wing. The purple Hairstreak, Silver-Washed Fritillary and White Admiral are but three woodland species that can be found at Bookham Common in Surrey; of our downland species, the Adonis Blue and Chalkhill Blue are two of the most beautiful with remarkable life cycles that can be found on Ranmore Common. The numbers of Purple Hairstreak this year were remarkable – I even had one fly into my car when getting petrol; it rested on my finger for some minutes.
The first migrants begin to appear at their wintering grounds and the activity of summer begins to wind down; Great Crested Grebes continue to fee their young however, and there are still a few more weeks before the Swallows and Martins depart. September is also a good month in which to see one of our migratory butterfly species – the Red Admiral. At this time of year they can be seen drinking apple juice from windfalls.
At Dungeness, there were both Great White Egrets and Cattle Egrets amongst the more usual avifauna; some Swallows were also still present, but lining up in on telephone lines in ways that indicated they will be on their way in a day or two. I also had wonderful views of March Harrier. Along the road at Rye Harbour, I encountered my first and only Spoonbill of 2018. Occasionally, one experiences a one-off wildlife spectacle – this happened to me on 13th October when I visited Nutfield Marsh nature reserve only to encounter a White Stork (a bird of Europe and North Africa) casually feeding on one of the lakes. Whether an escapee or genuine vagrant, it was lovely to see.
November is also a good time to observe garden wildlife, as the weather becomes colder forcing wildlife closer to human dwellings and their gardens. I have taken to feeding meat to local Magpies and Red Kites.
Provided me with some excellent views of both Turnstone and Gadwall at Titchfield Haven National Nature Reserve. Also pictured is some Oak Moss - this is, in fact, a lichen which is used by some perfume manufacturers to ensure the longevity of the scent of perfumes after they have been applied. Cold clear evenings afford the possibility of witnessing murmurations of Starlings. Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic decline in the number of Starlings breeding in the UK; the causes of this are not yet sufficiently understood, although (oddly) some research shows it might have to do with them ingesting substances found in antidepressant drugs. December affords good (if often uncomfortably cold) viewing of waterfowl and waders.