On Sunday I had a day off in a spell of all workdays, you’ve got to make the most of a free day, and so spent the whole of it on my local patch, Newchurch Common, with just a short break at home for lunch!! The weather was overcast in the morning, so birds dominated, and sunny and warm in the afternoon, so invertebrates were more in evidence.
A good morning was had but my initial thought was that it was very quiet on the two main pools. On one of my smaller waters, Gull Pool, a high count of 35 Tufted Ducks was made in the afternoon, eclipsing any counts on Big and Small Pools. Also in the early afternoon a total of 6(3drk) Teal was counted, which was made up of two pairs on Shemmy Moss and a pair on Gull Pool. A Gadwall was heard on Shemmy Moss, calling from the cover of submerged willows but never seen. Also, on the mosslands a pair of Greylag Geese were flying around, this courtship behaviour is expected here as they bred in the vicinity last year, albeit unsuccessfully, the nest being predated before the eggs hatched.
On Gull Pool 6 Little Grebes were seen in 3 breeding pairs, again this is a traditional breeding location for this species, but I have never seen as many as 3 pairs on this small water in the past. A walk in a private area inadvertently flushed 6 Common Snipe, but I retreated so as not to disturb any more. A total of 8 Lapwings were seen, scattered across the breadth of my patch in several arable fields, most now pared up pre-breeding. These birds have variable breeding success in my area dependent upon what the farmers do on their fields at critical times.
A Kestrel was seen north of Big Pool and then the same bird was to the south of Small Pool, this was only my second patch Kestrel of 2023 in contrast to Buzzards which are seen on most visits! A Green Woodpecker was constantly calling in the Small Pool area in the morning but was silent in the afternoon. No thrushes were in the former Leek Field am or pm, an area which just a few days earlier held a flock of Fieldfares, Redwings and a couple of Mistle Thrushes.
The main avian highlights of the day were amongst the passerines. The first patch male Blackcap was found singing east of Big Pool in the morning, picked up on song and then watched as he actively moved up and down the meadow area here. As I was leaving late afternoon my first patch Swallow was on wires above Sandy Lane, taking off and flying over the horse paddocks as I drove by. This looked like a local breeder from its behaviour and right enough it was in the same area on the same wires a couple of days later. Other good birds over the course of the day included a very showy male Bullfinch nibbling buds low down on the main track, whilst a Linnet was singing on Shemmy Moss and a Nuthatch called nearby in Gull Pool Wood.
As previously mentioned once the sun came out and the day warmed up invertebrates took centre stage. Butterflies were a highlight with 12 Green Hairstreaks (the FIRST Green from the title!) seen on Shemmy Moss as well as a male Brimstone butterfly in the same area, both firsts for the year on patch. A Comma was also seen on Shemmy Moss, but all these species were very difficult to photograph as all were supercharged with the hot sunshine and rarely perched up.
An Orange Underwing moth (Archiearis parthenias) was seen and photographed by Shemmy Moss, this is a pretty scarce Cheshire species and doesn’t often give itself up for pictures. It is a dayflier and prefers to flit around at high level, to quote the Butterfly Conservation website: “The Orange Underwing flies around the leafless canopy of mature birch trees on sunny, still days in early spring. The moths rarely descend low enough for close inspection and are best observed through binoculars.”.
A Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) was on Shemmy Moss, again not an easy species to photograph, but I managed just one shot before it jinked away over the dead bracken.
A White-footed Hoverfly (Platycheirus albimanus) was nectaring on freshly emerged dandelions by the edge of Shemmy Moss and a Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) was also seen, this time utilising the many gorse bushes now in flower. At least 10 Green Tiger Beetles (Cicindela campestris) (my SECOND Green species of the day!) were on Shemmy Moss, great to see as they stalk the open areas between the heather looking for prey and then with a turn of cheetah-like speed chase these down and impale them in their impressive jaws.
A brand-new species for my recording area, for me personally, was added too, the diminutive Common Ground Hopper (Tetrix undulata), seen on Shemmy Moss. I was amazed to have found this tiny, well camouflaged insect nestled down in the dense heather, no wonder I’d never seen one in my 9 years recording here!
Autumn is the usual time that I concentrate on fungi but I couldn’t ignore the beautiful Coral Spot fungus (Nectria cinnabarina) which was seen on a dead twig in the Pine Belt. These little scarlet jewels encrust the surface of dead wood and ultimately break it down to return the nutrients into the ecosystem.
As well as the invertebrates the advent of spring brings out flowering plants, including my first patch Lesser Celandines, Red Dead Nettles, Goat Willow and Narcissus which were all recorded on the patch walk today.
This was a day well-spent, with lots of new species seen for the year, across several taxa. Especially pleasing were the photographs of insects which sometimes can be really hard to capture in such warm weather when they are very active and often don’t pause long enough for observation never mind a photograph!