Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Autumn approaches

Where does the time go?  As our stay in the UK nears its end, we realise that we haven’t managed to do anything like as much birding here as we had hoped and intended.  However, as already reported, we have visited a number of the reserves that were previously our regular stamping grounds and in the process it has been good to meet up with quite a number of old friends.  Bittell Reservoirs have recently been added to the list of local sites visited and we also managed a few hours at Lakenheath Fen RSPB Reserve on our way back from a trip to the Norwich area.

Peter was born within walking distance of Upper Bittell Reservoir and Sunday afternoon visits there were regular long before he owned any binoculars.  In fact, his earliest visits, across the fields from what used to be known as ‘Groveley Corner’, probably involved him being carried by his parents!  Access to the reservoirs is rather more restricted now than it was in those days and although there are public footpaths that allow some views, it would certainly be necessary now to obtain permission from the owners, Barnt Green Waters Ltd, to cover the area thoroughly.  Without such permission our visit was a bit frustrating.

The website of Barnt Green Sailing Club has an interesting section on the history of the reservoirs, which owe their existence to the Worcester & Birmingham Canal, completed in 1815.  Apparently there was intense opposition to the building of the canal and the necessary Act of Parliament was not passed until the third attempt in 1791!  Who in those days could possibly have foreseen the importance that the reservoirs now have as habitat for birds and other wildlife - not to mention the sailing and fishing!

At Lakenheath Fen we managed to see a couple of Common Cranes, a Little Egret, an Osprey and a Marsh Harrier but few other birds of note.  However, as we have been pleased to find elsewhere, there were plenty of butterflies, particularly Small Tortoiseshells, which have been relatively scarce in recent years.  Our favourite bird organisation, the BTO, currently has a page on its website detailing records of Small Tortoiseshells provided by participants in BTO Garden BirdWatch.  These records show that numbers increased dramatically with the hot, dry weather of early July.  A number of possible reasons, including the weather, are suggested for the annual fluctuation in numbers of this most familiar of our butterflies.  For several weeks the Buddleias in our garden have been attracting them (along with lots of Large Whites), we now have one that seems already to be hibernating in our office and there seem to be others looking to find a way in!

 Lakenheath Fen (above & below)

Small Tortoiseshell

If you do go to the BTO website, also take a look at the latest news of the satellite-tagged Common Cuckoos.  Back in 2011 we chose well when we decided to sponsor ‘Chris’ which is now the only Cuckoo known to survive from the five that were tagged that year.  The latest signal received from ‘Chris’ was on 2nd September.  He arrived in Chad on 24th July and has remained there throughout August but based on his movements during the past two migrations, he can be expected to head soon for the Central African Republic and then on to the Congo Rainforest.  We will be following his progress and hoping that he makes it back to Thetford Forest in 2014.

Here in Stafford "barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day, and touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue" but Keats made no mention of those hundreds of Canada Geese that pass over the house each morning and evening!

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