Thursday, 26 June 2014

Moments of magic in a favourite place.....

Wednesday 25th June....

I arrived early at the Reserve for another of Gordon Redford's mothing events. Sitting on one of the platforms by the dipping pond I took a moment to reflect - how fortunate we are to have this wonderful oasis for nature here in Milton Keynes! With it's surrounding buffer zone of countryside and lakes to support all the wildlife that lives or visits here, there is almost no sound of traffic, or people....
The weather was perfect - there was almost no breeze to stir things about, and I wandered contentedly along the path to take pictures of the late-June flowers before the hard work of waiting for moths to arrive began.

Amongst the Greater Spearwort and the Reed Mace in the dipping pond this Flowering Rush (Butomus umbellatus) caught my eye - I'd never seen it here before, and thought I'd move round to the end of the pond for a better shot...
...and very nearly stood on a large coiled snake which was busy doing nothing but basking in the warm sunshine!

Grass snake (Natrix natrix)
She stayed long enough for me to take her picture, then glided sedately from her leafy bed into the water to hide in the Reed Mace, where no doubt she could feast on a bounty of unsuspecting small amphibians at her leisure. Delighted with my find, I sat on the little bench to look through the images on my camera and listen to the reed and sedge warblers, and to soak up more of the sounds and smells of the Reserve.
It was soon time to head back to the Centre.

A small (but perfectly-formed) bunch of enthusiasts was already gathering. After tea and cake, and in the cooler fresh air outside the building, we sat on the picnic benches to listen to a show-and-tell session from Gordon. He'd brought a collection of cocoons, caterpillars and moths with him so that he could  enlighten and entertain us before the evening turned dusky and the night fell, and we could set about our main business of the night.  Then he took us to see most of the 6 moth-traps he'd set up, explained how they worked, and after answering questions we headed back into the warmth for more welcoming hot drinks. 

There was a delightful anticipatory buzz.  
It's always like this at FohESC events, and on our Open Sundays at HESC - as it is with the visiting groups of schoolchildren and other people who use the Centre. It's good to see people come in, feel comfortable,  make themselves at home.....
We swapped stories, and news, and soon the light began to fade. The first bats began to whizz past the large window, to the delight of our youngest member, and me too. We weren't going to be the only ones out mothing....!

And so we set off into the gloom. 
The mothing lights were switched on, and we separated into two groups around light-traps set up in different areas near to the Centre building. 
Very shortly the first flying and jumping things landed on the white sheets on the ground under the lamps. First to arrive were caddis flies, then frog-hoppers, crane flies and, of course, mosquitoes. Oh, and a grasshopper.... 

Soon after, one of the larger stars of the evening flew in - a beautiful Poplar Hawkmoth - followed by a host of larger and smaller micro and macro moths, with names that have been tumbling about in my head ever since, including: 
Drinkers, Peppered Moths, Emeralds, Bright-line Brown-eyes (not to be confused with Brown-line Bright-eyes), Cream-Bordered Green Peas, Waves, Carpets, Hearts and Darts, different Borders, both Clouded and Broad, Large Yellow Underwings, Brindles, Beauties, Pugs, Fliers, Arches, Small Magpies...
There were Tortrix moths, maxi micro moths, micro maxi moths, moths with mythical magical monikers, and much later on there were moths on our legs, and arms, and in my hair....and my favourite amongst those moths I'd never seen before, a Burnished Brass moth....
Gordon and Andy Harding, his able assistant, stationed themselves at one of the 2 lights, and helped us to identify and photograph a great number of them. Thank you so much to both of you!
As the night went on, people slowly and rather reluctantly drifted away, leaving just a very few of us to continue happily potting, exclaiming about, observing the beauty, intricacy and variety of, and finally releasing some of nature's smallest and most exquisite flying creatures....

At the T junction by the birch tree, looking at the actinic trap.....
Dusk falls.....
The lights go on, and the first of the night visitors arrive.....
Meadow grasshopper (Chorthippus parallelus)
Cream-bordered Green Pea
Burnished Brass
Poplar Hawkmoth

I have to admit - it's nights out like this that are my kind of Glastonbury, and it costs MUCH less to buy a permit that will enable you to use the site all year round, not just on one wet weekend!   
 Do join us next time there's an event, or come along on a 1st Sunday working party morning (you can always just come and give us a wave, or chat and maybe buy a cup of tea, or a permit if you don't yet have one) or on one of our Open Days on the 3rd Sunday of the month.....

See you at the oasis soon!


PS: 'The Cream Bordered Green Peas', 'The Brown-line Bright-eyes', 'The Borders', 'Heart and Dart', etc and similar, will still all be appearing at  HESCFest (and somewhere even nearer to you) for the next few months....

Saturday, 7 June 2014

HESC COMMON TERNS - Courtship Feeding

I know a few people, myself included, have observed one Common Tern feeding another bird. As I was sure that the bird receiving the food appeared to have adult plumage, I thought I would look into the possibility of courtship feeding and have come up with the following information.

 The female looks around for the male bird

During the breeding season when pairs are first getting established or sometime later after incubation has begun, they can perform "courtship feeding" during which males present food to the soliciting female.

In an effort to lure females to their territories in the nesting area, a male Common Tern carries a fish around the breeding colony and displays it to prospective mates. Once a pair bond is formed,  the male tern  feeds the female, after which they usually mate. 

As the male approaches with a fish, the female emits a begging call

During the following five to ten days, both sexes feed themselves, but the male also frequently feeds the increasingly dependent female.

 The male passes over the fish - in this case it looks like a roach, 
but I also witnessed what I am sure was a very small pike being handed over

For a few days prior to egg laying, the female is fed almost exclusively by the male, but this then declines once the second and third eggs are laid.

It is thought that courtship feeding not only performs part of the pair-bonding function, but also provides the female with nutritional benefit, which can effect the number of eggs she lays and the total clutch weight. 

Words and pictures by Tony Bedford