Nature Diary for November / December 2010
Sun Oct 24th 10.30am the morning being bright and sunny I decided to do a short recce of Dunyeats Heath, leaving my camera at home with just my binoculars for company, hoping to see what bird life was happening. The first bird to greet me was the resident Dartford warbler (Sylvia undata), not just one but several, they seemed to be everywhere playing peek-a-boo, perched on top of some gorse or heather, every time I raised my binoculars for a closer look they would suddenly disappear. I have had people say to me they have never seen one, today was an exception but they can usually be found, even though they are an extremely secretive bird you just have to look and listen. Their call or sub-song once described, as pishing is a very good interpretation, once you have heard it you will never forget it. I also noticed large flocks of woodpigeon on the move, although the ring dove (Columba palumbus) is a resident being with us all year round large numbers of them do gather in the winter in search of food. While I was on the heath I decided to look at the southern wood ant (Formica rufa) nest that I filmed on the 10th Oct and could not believe what I saw, instead of a thriving colony of this hard working Heathland ant there was nothing, someone had cleared all the birch trees in close proximity to the nest not leaving one, depriving them of their protein that they obtain by milking aphids that live in these trees plus there was no sign that a nest had ever been there only a hole in the ground where there had been a fire. I find it hard to believe that someone would have set fire to the nest, but that is what it looked like. Wood ants are a significant part of the heath land ecosystem, their presence has an important effect on many other organisms, plus wood ants do not colonise new areas easily, for this reason it is recommended that the emphasis for conservation effort should be upon trying to maintain existing populations. Judging by what I have seen the people who did this should have done a degree in ecology before ever considering attempting a future in Herpetology. Later in the day I did observe a small group of Redwing (Turdus iliacus) feeding on holly berries, these thrushes migrate at night arriving here from early October reminding me that the Fieldfare and winter are not far away.
25th Oct I found a Harlequin ladybird (Harmonia oxyridis succinea) on the inside of my back door, this alien beetle that originated in Asia and introduced to the USA in 1988 where it was used as a biological control agent, and being very invasive, eventually arriving here in 2004 and like the grey squirrel is here to stay. Thank you once again America.
3rd Nov A good number of volunteers were on the heath today clearing young birch, it was nice to see new faces taking an interest, I asked them what they knew about the wood ant and mentioned the impact that the ant has on other organisms and the role they play in being part of the Heathland ecosystem and not one of them knew, the only thing they did know was that the ant can bite "correct" and can spray you with formic acid if you annoy it which is also correct, which I suppose is the answer you would get from most people that walk on the heath, but we are talking conservationist here, ask the majority of people about the adder and their reply would be they are poisonous ... "my friend's dog got bitten by one", if the dog had been on a lead it would never have happened, you never get the reply that the adder is a beautiful snake with wonderful markings or I would love to see the black variety known as melanistic. And to witness two males dancing as they twist and twine about one another sometimes rising up as if balancing on their tails for some minutes until one submits and the winner takes possession of the female now that really is something. I noticed on one of (Formica rufa) nest several (Coccinella 7-punctata) seven spot ladybirds, you can often find them on or in close proximity to the nest both having associations with aphids but unlike the ants who milk the aphids for protein. Ladybirds eat them, but now autumn has arrived they were probably looking for somewhere to hibernate. I noticed on another old wood ant nest there was still activity, several worker ants were actively climbing a tall pine to milk the aphids or collect sap and resin from the branches, I watched them for some time climbing the trunk while passing others on their way back to the nest. I quite expected the nest to be quiet, but being sunny they were taking advantage of the warm weather before the winter sets in.
10th Nov after heavy wind and rain it was a pleasure to see a blue sky and the sun shining, despite there still being a cold wind it was nice to get out of the house even if it was only to get some shopping. While I waited with my wife for a bus in the Broadway we saw a flock of approx 60 to 70 Fieldfare (Turdus pillars) heading in an easterly direction, their white underwings showing clearly, I always look forward to seeing these winter migrants from Scandinavia. Last year on November 5th I watched a dozen or more of these birds feeding on Rowan berries in the recreation ground, they would have made a wonderful picture had I have taken my camera with me.
11th Nov I noticed on my front door a male Mottled Umber moth (Erannis defoliaria) which had been attracted to the reflected light from my hall, the female being wingless can be found on a wide range of trees, I have found them by accident on the trunk and branches of oak and birch while looking for other invertebrates. If you wanted to look for her you may have difficulty, as she is only 13mm in length and well camouflaged.
16th Nov My wife and I went for a walk on Canford Heath, taking our binoculars and a flask of coffee we headed towards Wallisdown. The heather was covered in a sharp frost and all the puddles frozen with ice, the sky was blue with not a cloud in sight. The first bird to show itself was our old friend the Dartford followed by a meadow pipit which can always be seen here on the heath, but rarely on Dunyeats Hill. While we were watching the meadow pipit our eyes were drawn to a honking sound coming from above and there in perfect V formation were about forty grey geese heading towards Poole, I don't know what species they were being that they were quite high, the only other birds we saw apart from carrion crows was a wren. On making our way home we were lucky to witness a windhover diving into the heather and then flying up to an old telegraph pole where he perched sorting out his prey. We watched him through our binoculars for several minutes before moving on. By now clouds were starting to appear on the horizon so we decided to head for home. We got back just in time before the heavens opened.
18th Nov 7am I heard and saw my first song thrush singing since early July when they cease singing, we should start hearing their song from now until next June. The blackbird does not start singing until February. Of all the song birds the blackbird and song thrush has no equal.
Keith Clements - Parks, Nature Reserves & Heathland