|Watching Wildlife||Hillhouse Wood|
November sees the beginning of some serious winter birdwatching. The estuaries of Stour, Colne and Blackwater are thronged with big flocks of wildfowl and waders and reservoirs and lakes will host wintering ducks and grebes with always the chance of finding a rarity or two. The insect season is over with butterflies and moths in hibernation although, if conditions are mild, there may be a lingering red admiral, small tortoiseshell or comma feeding on the last of the Michaelmas daisies or late ivy.
2009 will go down in nature annals as another Year of the Painted Lady Butterfly following the massive immigration of May and big numbers of resulting offspring right into autumn. There was also a late immigration of clouded yellow buttterflies in September with some being seen in NE Essex as late as last week of October. The summer also saw a welcome revival of the small tortoiseshell after several years of scarcity for this once-abundant butterfly.
It proved to be a rather patchy moth season with some normally common species well down in numbers but there was some compensation for moth lamp operators in the CNHS area with the arrival of two Mega Rarities. David Scott had a specimen of the sorcerer to his Brightlingsea garden trap in August, only the second UK record of this very rare vagrant from southern Europe and North Africa. Geoff Swayne of Clacton had a Clifden Nonpareil (blue underwing) to an MV lamp session he was operating during an Essex Moth Group records session at Hockley Wood, Thorrington on the night of August 29, the first in Essex since 1976.
There may be some moth species still flying on mild nights in November including the appropriately named November moth; beaded chestnut, sattelite and green brindled crescent and towards the end of the month, the December moth can appear.
Avocets now winter in numbers in Essex estuaries. Fingringhoe Wick and Tollesbury Wick are good places to see them.
There are some spectacularly large flocks of golden plovers on coastal pastures or cereal fields, often numbering thousands, and they also pack the estuary muds of Rivers Stour, Colne and Blackwater. There are also large flocks of lapwings. Good sites to see these and many other species of waders, ducks and geese are Essex Wildlife Trust's Tollesbury Wick and Fingringhoe Wick reserves as well as Cudmore Grove Country Park, East Mersea the RSPB's Old hall Marshes reserve.
At all these coastal and estuary sites there's a very good chance of seeing short-eared owls, merlins, marsh harriers and an occasional peregrine falcon and a few hen harriers hunting in the same areas. The latter splendid raptor is increasingly scarce here in winter and is suffering from persecution in moorland game-rearing areas of northern England and Scotland.
Some increasingly-rare hen harriers can be seen hunting coastal marshes and grasslands. Pictured is the pale grey male.
Redwings and fieldfares will be back in countryside, woods and gardens in some numbers by the middle of the month coming to us for the winter from their Scandinavian nesting forests. Fieldfares flock to orchards, where they feast on fallen apples, and redwings will make for holly trees as they are especially fond of the berries.
In the woods there are mixed flocks of long-tailed, great and blue tits joined by some goldcrests and tree creepers foraging for insects and spiders. Look for flocks of siskins as they feed on the seed cones on alder trees and there may be some redpolls with them. Goldfinches also like feeding on the seeds of alder, birch and larch. All these attractive finches are regular visitors to garden seed feeders and bird tables and if you are lucky, as we were in our West Bergholt garden last winter, you may have a visit from a wintering blackcap as these warblers are increasing visitors to garden bird tables. We had a male blackcap with us for a period of four months.
Local birdwatchers will be on the lookout at Walton Naze, Cudmore grove,
East Mersea; Colne Point and Brightlingsea for snow buntings
which feed in small flocks on seeds along beaches and sea walls. They
spend the winter with us from their far north breeding areas. By the end
of November there are often goosanders on local reservoirs,
especially Abberton, and these beautiful sawbill ducks can even be seen
on lakes and ponds in towns including Colchester Castle Park.
A snow bunting crouches on a windy Essex seawall. Photo: Charles Rose
Flocks of siskins and redpolls feed on seeds of alder, birch and larch. Pictured is a male.
A rare Clifden Nonpareil (blue underwing) moth came to a moth trap at Hockley Wood, Thorrington on August 29.
2009 goes down as the year of the painted lady butterfly. Some were still flying in October.
Few moths are on the wing in November but the December moth will appear bu the end of the month.
Big flocks of wintering golden plovers are often on winter cereal fields and pastures as well as estuary mudflats.
Flocks of fieldfares are back with us from Scandinavia. Look for them feeding on fallen apples.
Goosanders are among many species of ducks which winter on reservoirs and lakes, some even in Colchester Castle Park. Pictured female (left) and drake.
Blackcaps are increasingly seen on garden bird tables and feeders. Male pictured.
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