Monthly Archives: September 2014

Autumn Feeling

Holywell Pond Nature Reserve

Despite the mild weather, early Saturday morning felt chilly at Holywell Pond – autumn is definitely here. A fall of migrant Mistle Thrushes, Blackbirds and Starlings bustled about in the large Sycamore tree on the way to the reserve. The rustling was incredibly noisy, as if every possible branch was occupied, and now and again a few Blackbirds or Thrushes would dart out of the tree chasing one another.

There also seemed to be many Robins both in the Sycamore and in all the hedgerows nearby. No doubt many of these are migrant birds, if not from Scandinavia then at least from other parts.

Robin

The pond itself was busy with the usual flock of Greylag geese, Canada geese, many Teal and Lapwing and a sizeable group of Common and Black Headed Gulls. They were joined by a small party of Wigeon as well as good numbers of Mallard, a single Grey Heron and three Snipe, which I thought were more conspicuous than they normally are. There were plenty of Tufted Ducks further out on the water too, as well as Little Grebes and Coots.

Past the pond a pair of Jays flew over the bridle path a number of times and seemed to be harassing a charm of thirty or forty Goldfinch at one point. As I walked along the track I flushed what I think was a Sparrowhawk that had been perched in the burnt out patch of Gorse – d’oh!

Reed Bunting

This juvenile Reed Bunting was less bothered by my presence though and continued to feed on the track right in front of me. Its plumage is incredibly striking considering it is made up mainly of brown and beige.

In the reserve I managed to get an overhead view of another cracking bird – a lovely pair of Bullfinch. The male was more forthcoming and stopped for something to eat right above me. Although the females are less colourful, they are no less beautiful – what a sublime bird this is.

Bullfinch

A bracket fungus growing on a Birch tree also caught my eye. It is a Birch Polypore or Razor Strop fungus (piptoporus betulinus) and it takes its name from the fact that it was once used by barbers to sharpen their cut throat razor blades. Early man used it for an entirely different purpose however – as a means to transport fire. The fungus was dried  and could then smoulder for hours whilst its bearer moved about.

Razor Strop Fungus (piptoporus betulinus)

Garden Goliaths

European Garden Spider

At this time of year there are loads of european garden spiders (araneus diadematus), seemingly on every shrub in the garden and getting fatter by the day. As the autumn progresses these are most likely to be the female spiders, as once mating is over the males tend to die off.

The spiders spin the classic orb web that people associate with all kinds of spiders and either sit in the middle of the web waiting for prey, or else spend time just beside the web where they spin silken shelters round themselves.

With the damp weather we have been having lately, the extent of some of the webs in the garden becomes obvious as they are covered in fine droplets of moisture – some of them are rather large! And recently I discovered possibly the biggest garden spider I have ever seen – here is a picture – her body is about the size of a 50 pence piece.

European Garden Spider

I suspect she has successfully mated, as rather than spending much time on her web, she hides underneath the lip of our brown recycling bin where it looks like she is protecting a silken egg sack. To get this photo I had to go out at dusk as this is the only time the spider actually sits on its web.

The colouration and patterns on these spiders is superb, varying across all shades of brown. They are also sometimes known as garden cross spiders due to the white cross shape on their backs.

The females will die in late autumn but the spiderlings will hatch next May time. They look different to the adults at that stage and group together in one mass of tiny spiders, before moulting and then separating to live individually whilst they mature.

This spider is enjoying a meal underneath the cladding on the kids’ playhouse – yum!

Garden Spider and Prey

Still No Lady

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Still no sightings of a Painted Lady this year but this beauty will do nicely. This Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was on the churchyard wall at Earsdon yesterday, along with clouds of Speckled Wood butterflies flitting about the ash trees.

The autumn generation Small Tortoiseshells will hibernate over winter in adult form, then bring forth the next generation of butterflies in the spring. The Speckled Woods have been as numerous as Whites this year which is quite a surprise as I’d never even seen one of these until a few years ago.

Also over Earsdon on Saturday I spotted a stunning pair of Buzzards, as well as two individual Sparrowhawks seen separately – one a male and one possibly female given its larger size. The highlight of the weekend for me though was a super Pied Flycatcher in the willows at St Mary’s – awesome!

Sunday Morning

Starling

At low tide this morning there was a flock of around three or four hundred Starling feeding amongst the seaweed on the rocks at Whitley Bay. Each time they were disturbed by dog walkers or joggers they would fly off en masse with a whoosh of wings, circle round a bit further out on the rocks and begin feeding again.

The metallic chattering sound they were all making was amazing and with the sun in my eyes, it was hard to tell what were birds and what was seaweed! Spot the Starlings…

Starlings

It was nice to see a few waders too – in the short time I was there I spotted around a dozen Dunlin, a few Knot and a solitary Sanderling still in summer plumage.

Before I hit the beach I was at Holywell Pond where it was still pretty quiet on the water but for the mixed flock of Greylag and Canada Geese that arrived whilst I was there. The air was full of House Martins, Sand Martins and Swallows, making their leisurely way south.

And again, the hedgerows that border the south side of the reserve were full of smaller birds with Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin, Dunnock, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and a low flying Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I have got to say, the hedgerows look amazing at this time of the year – possibly even better than when the Hawthorn is first in leaf in spring – as they are dripping with hips and berries, as well as these…

Speckled Wood Butterfly