Although there can be some lingering summery weather in late September, we are definitely into autumn in October. Even so, you may still see the odd butterfly on warmer days; these are likely to be species such as Peacock that over-winter as adults and will be the first to appear in spring. Unfortunately, this is 5-6 months away, so enjoy them while you can. There are also still some late dragonflies around, in fact i saw a few darters there on Sunday.
Most of the summer migrant birds have now left and we can look forward to the arrival of the winter visitor birds. Usually, the first are flocks of Redwing, which often arrive during the night but can be detected by their thin, high whistle. Often they can arrive in large numbers that are very hungry and can strip berry bearing trees such as hawthorn in a few hours.
The Redwing is slightly smaller and darker than the Song Thrush and easily identified by the red mark under its wing. If you see a flock of thrushes feeding in bushes or on fields, they are almost certain to be Redwings.
As the leaves start to fall, you can see fungi around the site, especially after damp weather. Some of the fungi such as the Birch Bracket fungus can be seen all through the year but is far more obvious in winter. You can see them on the branches and trunks of many dead birch trees around the site. If you are lucky, you may also see the classically coloured Fly Agaric on the woodland floor. This species is poisonous, as are several others so if in doubt, don’t pick them!
The larger Hawker dragonfly species become more noticeable as we go into September although there are still many smaller Darter dragonflies around.
One of the rarer species on the site, the Migrant Hawker, starts to appear in September. This species is unusual in that the adults are comparatively tolerant of each other whereas the other species are constantly tussling. So if you see several large dragonflies that are flying together, they could be Migrant Hawkers like this one.
There are still some large butterflies about in September, particularly those that will eventually over-winter as adults or those that are migratory and only arrive in late summer here. One fairly common migratory species to look out for is the Red Admiral and, if you are very lucky, you may see a Painted Lady.
Many of the summer birds are now leaving for warmer over-wintering locations. Although their songs make them very obvious when they arrive, they mostly slip away quietly and un-noticed. The main exception to this is the Swallow. On occasions it will be possible to see hundreds passing through. Risley Moss can also be a ‘drop-in’ for birds on passage from more northerly breeding areas so there is always the chance of unexpectedly seeing rare species.
September is also when fungi start to appear. The large white cone-shaped ones you can see along the paths are likely to be Shaggy Ink-caps. This species is edible but, unless you are an expert, do not take them as some species are very poisonous. Also if you want to learn more about Fungi come to an event in October :
Sunday 9th October 10.00am to 12 noon
Bring all the family along and join our local enthusiast on this introduction to mushrooms and toadstools and learn some funky fungus facts and some foraging skills in the woodland.
Places are limited so please book in advance on 01925 824339
This month is when the main Dragonfly emergence takes place. By far the most common small dragonfly you will see will be the Black Darter, which is a species associated primarily with peaty areas such as Risley Moss. The other species comparatively frequently seen is the Common Darter. One of the best places to see both species is the ‘Wild Flower Patch’ where they regularly perch on the seat and the “Do not pick the Wild Flowers” sign.
The dragonflies are so numerous that they become the main food source for that most elegant small falcon, the Hobby. On a sunny day you can see from the Tower up to 3 or 4 of them flying over the mossland, catching Dragonflies in mid air, in fact last year there were uo to 7 on some occasions. If you are lucky they may fly really close to the observation tower from where you will get a fantastic view.
There are also some small butterflies (less than 3cm wing span) around. One regularly seen is the moth-like Large Skipper which is found around blackberry flowers. There are two small blue butterfly species on the site, but if you see one, it will probably be a Holly Blue. However, the most common butterfly is the medium sized Gatekeeper, which can be seen all around the site.
June is the month of the annual Green Safari Day at Risley Moss now to be known at the Risley Moss Summer Open Day, see our events page for details
The Open Day is a great day out with the opportunity to see a wide range of exhibits and have the opportunity to go on guided walks into areas of the site not usually open to the public.
Although some birds are still singing (especially those that have multiple broods) most are now much quieter as they concentrate on feeding their young and recuperating. They are more difficult to see amongst the tree foliage despite there being more birds on site at this time of year than any other! Even those you can see can sometimes confuse. If you see this little bird that acts like a Robin, it is probably a Robin but a young one (the orange / red breast comes later).
As you go around the site, you may also see some white butterflies. These are generally not the Large or Small White, whose caterpillars eat our cabbages and nasturtiums, but are Green-veined White, which do not feed on garden plants. If you see a brown butterfly, it is most likely to be a Speckled Wood. These are amongst the easiest species to photograph because they readily perch low down and return to the same spot.
The Large Red Damselflies that emerged in May are joined by some blue damselflies in June. There are six ‘blue’ species in the UK which are very difficult to separate. Fortunately, only one species, the Azure Damselfly is common at Risley Moss so that is the one you are likely to see. It breeds prolifically in the pond near the Visitor Centre and can often be seen perched on surrounding vegetation.
Four-spot Chaser dragonflies are now appearing in numbers and can be seen anywhere around the site so look out for them. However, the main dragonfly emergence is not until July and August when up to 12 species can be seen.
Just had a quick visit to the moss on the bike with my lad, sitting at the far end of the footpath by pond 2 watched a Red Kite soaring high in the sky above us, first red kite twitch for me in England and right on our doorstep, Brilliant. Added to that hobby, buzzard and kestrel over the moss from the observation tower, and the summer migrants, blackcap, chiffchaff and swift and the residents reed bunting all being great spots. There were also lots of large red damsels first on pond 1 but also in places all around the woodland area, loads to see on a day for a beautiful stroll.
Despite the cold wet April weather, the woodland is full of singing birds, including all of the nesting summer visitors. However, they are difficult to see because they are often hidden by the leaves on the trees. It is well worth learning their songs and calls because you can identify up to 20 species without actually seeing any!
The first butterflies and damsel / dragonflies are now appearing. Most of the early butterflies are those that over-wintered as adults such as the Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Brimstone. The bright yellow male Brimstone is particularly noticeable at this time of year. All of these over-wintering species are hoping to mate, after which they will soon die. However, their offspring will appear in late July and August.
Already, you can see some butterfly species flying that over-wintered as pupae, such as the Speckled Wood. This species has very obvious pale yellow spots on its inner wings. It has multiple broods and can be seen throughout the summer, often seen in sunny spots in the woodland, near flowering blackberries.
The first damselfly to appear is the Large Red Damselfly. It breeds prolifically in the pond near the Visitor Centre and can often be seen perched on surrounding vegetation. If you look very carefully, you may even see one emerging from its larva on the reeds in the pond. Dragonflies will start to appear in early June, so look out for them. The earliest is likely to be the Four-spot Chaser.
By the end of the month, the birds will be in full song in the woodland. On a good day you can hear over 15 species; unfortunately the emergence of leaves on the trees makes it difficult to see them! The most common birds heard singing are Robins and Wrens. However, one of the loudest singers is the summer visitor Blackcap, whose explosive song is a bit like a rusty wheel turning. Although there are usually about 7 pairs on site, they sing from cover and can be very difficult to see. Particularly in the late afternoon, you can hear the mellow song of the Blackbird, which usually sings from a fairly prominent perch and hence is easier to see.
We think that everyone would enjoy springtime walks more if they could identify some of the birds they can hear, but can’t see. To help you identify some of these birds by their song, RIMAG is organising an informal guided walk on 8 May. Please contact us for more details if you would like to join in.
The warmer weather increases the chance of seeing butterflies. These are species that over-winter as adults and emerge in spring to breed, after which they die. Their offspring then appear in late July and August and some of them will then over-winter for the following year. The most common species you are likely to see are the Peacock, with its large purple ‘eyes’ on it wings and the ragged winged Comma.
(Posted from an island in the clyde pictures will be uploaded when I return)
Although March is formally the start of spring, there can still be some wintry days. The volume of bird song increases through the month as the resident birds start to set up breeding territories. Even so, many will still be popping in to the feeding stations, particularly the one by the Tower, for a quick meal. Increasingly, you can see more aggression as birds start to claim breeding territories, which can spill over into the eating areas. During this month, many of the birds that came over from Scandinavia to avoid the winter start to drift back towards the east coast prior to returning to their breeding grounds. Some, such as Brambling and Redwing can occasionally be seen around the feeding stations.
Towards the end of the month, the first summer visitors start to arrive. Usually, the first to be detected is the Chiffchaff, with its unmistakeable repetitive “chiff-chaff-chiff” song heard high up in the trees. It is quite an inconspicuous plainly coloured small bird, not much bigger than a Blue Tit, but slimmer. It is not easy to spot and becomes even more difficult when the trees start to produce leaves. It looks very similar to its cousin the Willow Warbler, but that species does not arrive until April, seldom comes into woodland, and has a melodic song that easily separates it.
As the weather warms, there is increased activity in the site ponds. You should look out for Frogs spawning and, if you are patient, you may see Smooth Newts. Please note that all of the ponds also contain larger Great Crested Newts, but these are seldom seen in daytime. (Please note that the Great Crested Newt is a nationally rare. protected species. Its presence means that there can not be any pond dipping in any of the ponds on site due to the risk of disturbance.)
Although February is classed as a winter month, the first signs of spring are already starting to appear, especially if there are warm day time temperatures.
The resident birds are still visiting the Woodland Hide feeding station, but you can start to see the return of species usually seen only on the mossland such as Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. Their arrival increases the chance of beating the record of 20 species during a visit.
These species will eventually nest on the mossland and arrive back early to start claiming territories. They were driven off in the autumn by the lack of food. As food on the mossland is still scarce in the early spring, they often take the opportunity to ‘refuel’ at the feeding station.
Although there are no leaves on the deciduous trees yet, some are already starting to show flowers as a further indicator of spring. Most noticeable are the white flowers on the branches of the Blackthorn (the source of sloe berries), the yellow hanging catkins on the Hazel, and the ‘Pussy Willows’ on the various Willow species trees on the site. These in turn provide pollen for early flying bumblebees, particularly the Red-tailed Bumblebee. If the weather is particularly warm, you may see the early flights of butterflies that have over-wintered as adults. The most likely species you can see is the bright yellow coloured Brimstone. It is thought that the similarity of the yellow colour of this species to that of butter is the reason they are called butterflies.
As winter starts to get a grip, the feeding station at the Woodland Hide really becomes a great place to visit. The best time is after a hard frost (even better if there is snow) because this makes natural food even harder to find and hence there is greater reliance on the food provided.
Over the years, over 40 bird species have been seen at the Woodland Hide; usually there are about 30 species seen each year by regular visitors. It is quite common to see 15 species in half an hour; the current ‘record’ is 20, but you could beat that if you are lucky. Although some species are those you can see in your own garden, you will be unlucky if you do not see Nuthatch, Bullfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker in a half hour visit.
Because they get used to the food put out by Rangers and to the number of visitors, the birds are not usually disturbed people being in the Hide if you are quiet. This makes them comparatively easy to photograph, and a great place to practice taking wildlife photographs if you are lucky enough to receive a camera for Christmas. However, the birds are still vigilant against potential attack by the local Sparrowhawk and will scatter if they are alarmed.
All of the food at the Woodland Hide is sponsored by RIMAG at a cost of around £500 each year; there is a donation box in the Visitor Centre if you have enjoyed your visit and would like to make a contribution towards it.
As you walk around the site you can occasionally hear and see flocks of small birds feeding. These are usually referred to as ’tit parties’ because they often include the five species of tits that are resident at Risley Moss. It is always worthwhile looking over these groups because they can also include more unusual species such as Goldcrest (the smallest UK bird), Siskin and Lesser Redpoll. In fact there have been some great viewings of goldcrest on the buddleia just outside the window of the Visitor Centre.