Wildlife in August 2017

1st August:  Spotted Flycatchers

Seen too rarely these days, Spotted Flycatchers have probably bred in Fineshade again this year - hooray! They are rather drab little brown birds but make up for their lack of looks with their enormous character. They watch alertly for passing insects, sally out with an agile, twisting flight and return to their favoured perch to consume their prey. They are one of the last of our summer visitors to arrive, having spent the winter in the humid zone of West Africa.  The species is in serious decline and the Spotted Flycatcher is now on the Red Data list, but the causes of the stark decrease in numbers are not clearly understood. (See the BTO's BirdTrends page)

During late May this year, Alan Rowley was staying on the caravan site at Top Lodge and, on two occasions heard what he believed to be a Spotted Flycatcher singing in the wood near the northwest corner of the site. This was no mean feat since they have a no more than a tiny, thin, squeaky song - one of the most difficult bird songs to locate and identify.

Photos by Kurt Hellwing.
Young Spotted Flycatcher above and a (rather less charming!) young Green Woodpecker below

 

During June and July several visits were paid to the area described by Alan to try to see the bird but to no avail. And there were no other sightings of the bird from anywhere else in the wood. The old orchard at Top Lodge has been a favoured site in recent years, but not in 2017

 

Then last Sunday during Butterfly Conservation's Field Trip, with all eyes searching for butterflies, a Spotted Flycatcher was seen doing its thing high up below the canopy of the very trees from which Alan Rowley had heard the song. No doubt the bird was searching for butterflies too!  

The next day Kurt Hellwing was at the Wildlife Hide, some 500m away from the sighting of the previous day. There he saw and was able to photograph a young Spotted Flycatcher. Was it the same bird, or a member of the same family, or perhaps even from a different brood in the wood? You can tell that this is a youngster from the flecking on the head and the line of white dots on the wing. So very probably Spotted Flycatchers have bred in Fineshade again.

The timing of these sightings was quite fortuitous - the new Back from the Brink project officer, Susannah O'Riordan has just taken up her post and was present on the Butterfly Conservation Field Trip - and the Spotted Flycatcher is one of the threatened species that the project will seek to help in Rocking Forest. (Details here)

 

8th August:  More special moths in the trap

Last Saturday night was not ideal for moth trapping - there was a fresh breeze all night and a clear sky. The full moon competed with the light given off from the actinic bulbs in our new trap, so only nine species of moths were caught. But included were two that were really interesting.

The first, pictured on the left was a Birch Mocha (Cyclophora albipunctata) - a real rarity for Northants. Moth recorder Mark Hammond, who confirmed the identity, says that since 2000 there has been only one other record of the species in the county. That was back in 2008 when one was recorded in Collyweston Great Wood, the National Nature Reserve that lies close to Fineshade's northeastern boundary.

The second special moth was the Coronet, (Craniophora ligustri) pictured right.
We think it may be the first Fineshade record and used to be rare in Northants, but it has been cropping up fairly frequently in other woodlands in the county in recent years.

 

14th August:  A Hobby at the hide

Once again we are indebted to Kurt Hellwing for being in the right place at the right time and providing superb pictures of this elegant falcon, a summer visitor to Fineshade. Kurt was in the Wildlife Hide at mid-day yesterday and was able to capture these images as the bird was hunting over the pond and deer lawn. The pictures above show beautifully all the key features of this raptor - pointed wings, dark grey above, speckled underparts, a white throat and cheeks and rusty-red "trousers". 

Hobbies arrive here from Africa in May and often use a vacated crow's nest near the top of a tall tree. They have bred in conifers in Fineshade every year since 2011 - we reported on last year's breeding success here. Often the Fineshade youngsters have been ringed before they leave the nest and, rather interestingly, the adult photographed yesterday was wearing a metal ring on its right leg: the ring can be clearly seen in the picture below.  The photo shows the bird eating its prey - a dragonfly or flying beetle - on the wing.

 

Hobbies are part of the "assemblage of breeding bird species" that occur in Fineshade and make it eligible for notification as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (Details of the argument made for SSSI notification in 2016 are here.)

 

22nd August:  Angelica and hoverflies

One of the most obvious flowers in Fineshade at the moment is Wild Angelica, Angelica sylvestris.  In some places it is flowering very profusely with plants all over the open glades and some of them reaching up well over 1.5m high. It is a member of the carrot family, which are known as "umbellifers", presumably a description of the large clusters of flowers that are shaped like umbrellas.  The stems and sometimes the flowers are tinged pink or purple. It is a close relative of Garden Angelica whose stems have been used to make cake decorations, and it is said that until the 20th century Wild Angelica was widely used as a vegetable,

 

Look closely to see the tiny individual florets, perhaps 2mm across. I wonder how many florets on a typical flower head? How many clusters on a typical plant? How many plants in the wood? And therefore how many florets in the wood?

All these tiny flowers are a great source of nectar for insects which, when feeding, can often be approached and photographed. The handsome one shown here looks a bit like a wasp but is, we think, one the common hoverflies, Myathropa florea.  

 

Hoverflies have just one pair of wings, unlike wasps and bees which have two, but even so they are able to hover, with their heads held perfectly motionless. There are 270 species of hoverflies in Britain and many of them have distinctive spots, stripes and bands which make them relatively easy for the beginner to identify. We'd be delighted to publish photos of any of the hoverflies or other insects that can be found nectaring in Fineshade Wood.

 

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