Autumn has arrived

WildNet - Vicky Nall

The temperature has certainly dropped, but we are still getting some bright, sunny days.

During our last bat survey of the year on the 27 September, at Woodwalton Fen National Nature Reserve, it was 180C as we started, the following evening, it was 80C!

During the day, plenty of dragonflies have still been on the wing, mostly common darters and migrant hawkers, and the hobbies have been around to take their share. Buzzard and red kite are conspicuous in the fields; as the vegetation is relatively short, they hunt through the harvested fields. The occasional barn owl can also be seen hunting, in the early mornings and evenings.

Amongst the cattle, yellow wagtails abound, running around on the hunt for insects. This is one of the best times to see them as they pass through the region, stopping off in the Great Fen to refuel. Other birds have been on the move; wheatear and whinchat have been passing through, making use of the old droves. The Wheatear, with its long legs, making best use of the bare tracks, and the stonechat perched on the taller vegetation, on the margins. The Northern Loop of the Last of the Meres Trail is often good for these birds, especially the stonechats who stay with us for the winter.

A couple of juvenile stonechats were seen passing through this year, and other evidence of breeding within the Fen in this case has not been hard to find. Several juvenile grey partridge have been seen on a number of occasions, a species recorded in a number of places in the Great Fen this year. The successful breeding of ground-nesting birds is of particular significance in terms of the Great Fen’s contribution to wildlife conservation, with large areas of undisturbed habitat being available for them to nest in.

A number of wild flower species have still been in flower, and this year the toadflax, a wild relative of the snapdragon, has produced a 'sea of yellow' in many fields, a sight normally confined to the wonderful spring show of cowslips we have up at Engine Farm.

Now, we are looking forward to yet more migrants passing through. We already have blackcaps in, feeding on the Elderberries, and the odd redwing has started to appear. Our latest surveys are showing that the bird flocks are starting to grow in size, such as those of golden ploverlapwing, and of goldfinch and linnet.

Henry Stanier (Great Fen Monitoring and Research Officer)