Nature Notes # 42 (mini edition)
Last Saturday I was stood with Bill at the viewing banks overlooking No.6 tank looking for an odd-looking aythya duck that had turned up earlier in the week (the duck was not present). It was a really warm day and the intake of refreshments was necessary so, Bill had brought one of his essential and most cherished possessions along in the form of his Sigg water bottle which he perched precariously on top of the nearest fence post top. The fact that the flask had many dents in its aluminium shell indicated that it had fallen in the line of duty on more than one occasion in the past and each dent had a story to tell.
However fascinating this may be it was about to have a new chapter in its illustrious history. The interesting thing was that both the fence and the flask were soon covered in literally hundreds of tiny black flies. All of these flies were engaged in some form of mating ritual and whenever Bill wanted a drink he had to disturb them from their activity, a quick swig and the bottle was placed back in position for their ritual to commence.
When disturbed, they would fly about us in a swarm before returning to the fence post and Sigg. I took a couple of photos and sent them to the Dipterists forum for their experts to pass an opinion on. One knowledgeable member supplied the following information.
The family Scatopsidae , is commonly known as Scavenger Flies or Dung Midges. The former name is better I think as the first is somewhat of a misnomer based on a mis-spelt scientific name. The ones on the fence post could have been Anapausis soluta, which, like other Scatopsidae, form swarms which include an equal number of males and females. This is different to the Chironomids, or true midges where the males assemble and wait for the females to arrive. In the swarms of Scavenger Flies there are usually mating couples, indicating that it may be a mass emergence event we witnessed, which would end in mating and dispersal, somewhat like St Mark’s Fly Bibio marci.
Written by Tony Broome and image 2. Additional images and video, 1&3: WSM.
A short walk along the Holpool Gutter to the Manchester Ship Canal produced one of three Marsh Harriers over No.4 tank and an adult Peregrine with prey plus an additional juvenile further along the canal.
Observer and images: Paul Ralston
This mornings sightings along the Holpool Gutter included a Green Sandpiper and good numbers of young Mallard, Moorhen with Tufted Duck also in attendance. The Manchester Ship Canal attracted a couple of Common Sandpiper with both Common Buzzard and Raven overhead. I heard Sedge Warbler but along with Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff they were difficult to observe. The Canal Pools had several broods of Coot of different ages only two Mute Swan cygnet with their parents. Hirundines were moving through with Sand, House Martin and Swallow over the pool but surprisingly no Swifts seen with them. A young Kestrel was hunting insects (hobby style) over No.6 tank was being harassed by several Pied wagtail . A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in a stand of dead trees on Lordship Lane while hungry young buzzards could be heard calling from the wood along side the Growhow works. A male Peregrine put on a show hunting feral pigeons and was later joined by a large female.
Observer: Paul Ralston
Image: Tony Broome
Nature Notes # 41
Umbellifers by the waters edge
On Saturday I had a walk along the River Weaver on Frodsham Marsh with Bill, looking for the Red-necked Grebe from its usual spot. A Common Tern flew lazily up and down the river making half-hearted stoops at fish but never completing its dives. It always surprises me how uncommon they are on the marsh. They should be breeding! As with most plants, different umbellifer flower at different times of year. I would guess that one of the reasons is so that they don’t compete for the insects that pollinate them. The grebe wasn’t to be found, but as I looked around I noticed the big white globular heads of a umbellifer at the bottom of the bank, almost hidden by the tall, rank grass. I recognised it from Poynton Pool but couldn’t remember the name. The flower heads were covered in insects. There were some more accessible ones further on, so as we would be passing them, I made a mental note to stop and look at them. They turned out to be Wild Angelica Angelica sylvestris, a waterside species and a magnet for hoverflies and bees.
It was nice to be stood by the water instead of up on the bank. There was also another umbellifer in flower next to the Wild Angelica. I’d almost missed it, the flower heads were so small, although much more numerous. I crushed a leaf and it smelt overwhelmingly like celery. Not putting two and two together I thought it may be Lovage which has a similar smell, but its flowers were yellow, not white like this plant. It was actually Wild Celery Apium gravedens, another lover of damp habitats including ditches and river margins with a mainly coastal distribution.
It’s been a relative poor year for dragonflies and damselflies. A bit of a mystery really, but maybe connected to the weather conditions in previous years when the larvae were developing, but I’ve no idea really. For the last two months the pools and scrapes have been devoid of these beautiful insects. Only during the last few days have some began to appear.
The Shooters Pools had a brilliant Emperor Dragonfly the other day and I’ve had distant skimmer which I am pretty certain was Black-tailed. On the Weaver path, a damselfly perched up briefly and I managed one picture only. It’s cerulean blue and black markings identified it as a Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum, which should have been everywhere but not this year.
Written and illustrated by Tony Broome.
Top image by WSM
A later than normal visit this evening which lasted until dusk. A Peregrine was sat atop the blue-topped chimney overlooking the Mersey Estuary. On a less lofty note but a little more aerial was a juvenile Marsh Harrier hunting the fields of No.5 tank.
No.6 tank was a little below par but still attracted 14 Common Teal, 12 Common Shelduck and 30 Mallard. The Cormorant roost held 34 Cormorant. Shorebirds gathered in small flocks with 54 Curlew dropping into roost with 2 Little Ringed Plover and 14 Lapwing.
An adult and juvenile Water Rail were skulking in the reedbed margins at the secluded pool on No.6 tank.
Quite a few moths were out and about at sunset which included an Ermine Moth the first of the year for me.
Observers: Emily Traynor (images 2&3), WSM (and image 1).
Expectations were not particularly favourable with the tide barely high enough to force many birds from the estuary, nevertheless migration south is always possible in late July. The warm sunshine, little wind and Cleg Fly activity at its most virulent added to a testing walk across the marsh. I met Frank briefly on No.6 tank then later joined up with Tony after he eventually made it on the marsh from a long crawl along the westbound lane of the M56.
No.6 tank had a gathering of 100 Tufted Duck along with 2 Pochard, 56 Mallard, 12 Common Teal, 1 Shoveler, 2 Common Sandpiper, an adult plus juvenile Little Ringed Plover and a juvenile Ringed Plover. A couple of Dunlin were sitting low down in a crack in the dried mud to avoid the heat of midday. 240 Black-headed Gull included 14 Common and a 1st summer Herring Gull at the gull roost. The highlight was a juvenile Marsh Harrier hunting the western reedbeds.
A need to cool off and a change of scenery sent us to the Weaver Estuary where the breeze was a welcome relief from the oppressive heat of No.6 tank. 7 Great Crested Grebe, 8 Little Grebe, 56 Coot, 8 Mute Swan on the river were to be expected unlike a sinensis Cormorant and a Common Tern which ranged from the ‘Bend’ to the Weaver Sluices.
The Weaver Bend had a summering flock of 350 Black-tailed Godwit with smaller numbers along the river edge. 20 Common Snipe, 12 Common Sandpiper and a Green Sandpiper which later flew from the river to the Shooters’ Pools were all part of a movement of waders. Also present on the pools were a number of Common Snipe and a juvenile Little Ringed Plover.
Other birds of note was a flyover Yellow Wagtail and the lack of the Red-necked Grebe which alas looks to have left the area? The last confirmed sighting was on 22nd.
Observers: Tony Broome (image 2), Frank Duff, WSM (images 1&3)
An adult Mediterranean Gull joined the gull roost on No. 6 Tank this afternoon.
Also present on the tank were 2 Avocet (Adult and Juvenile), 1 Common Sandpiper and a pair of Ringed Plovers with two small chicks.
Observer and image: Alyn Chambers.