2012 got off to a bug filled start this morning. First my iPhone alarm clock failed to wake us due to yet another software issue, then we discovered an unexpected visitor in the kitchen. I shall leave the failings of Apple’s development team aside and instead concentrate on our new companion which after a bit of research turned out to be a Hawthorn Shield Bug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale).
The Hawthorn Shield Bug is the largest of the UK shield bugs and can grow up to 17mm long. As its name and colouration suggests it is particularly fond of Hawthorn but can also be found widely on other shrubs such as Rowan and Cotoneaster. As we have planted examples of all three species in our garden over the last couple of years I’d like to think that our actions have helped to attract this little beauty in. Interestingly all of the literature that I have read suggests that from late autumn onwards the Hawthorn Shield Bug should be in hibernation to help it survive the winter. Now quite clearly we are well past autumn at this point in time which makes me wonder if this individuals appearance is just another example of how the mild winter is effecting our wildlife. After seeing a Crow carrying nesting material today it certainly wouldn’t be the first.
It has become something of a tradition for us in recent years to spend new years day at the local WWT reserve taking part in their annual tick and twitch event. Put simply it is a great way to kick start a new birding year whilst throwing in a bit of friendly competition as to who can spot the highest number of species. In the past cold conditions have generally produced the best results but the entrance feeders were still packed upon our arrival despite double digit temperatures. Blue Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinches, Chaffinches and even the occasional Moorhen were taking their fill whilst out towards the estuary there seemed to be an almost constant movement of Cormorants downstream. With it being high tide the lagoon in front of the British Steel Hide was packed with birds including 180 Wigeon and 750 Lapwing along with a smattering of Redshank, Little Egret, Teal, Gadwall, yet more Cormorants and the four common Gull species. In the background the Burry Inlet delivered my personal bird of the day in the shape of a Slavonian Grebe, a species that I’d normally expect to have to work a lot harder to see.
Behind the hide a Sparrowhawk was showing very well as it first alighted on a fence post and then set about disturbing the assembled flocks. We saw what I assume was the same bird later in the day causing yet more havoc as it shot through the feeder area though on that occasion its efforts were unsuccessful. Black Tailed Godwit and Curlew were added in quick succession before we embarked on a run of good fortune with birds that you may not necessarily associate with a wetland reserve. Goldcrest, Long Tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Wood Pigeon, Redwing, Song Thrush, Wren, Dunnock and Collared Dove were all found around the ornamental pools before it was time to move over to the Millennium Wetlands.
From the Heron Wing Hide I was very pleased to see that a couple of Pintail were back after their complete absence during my last visit, as was a Little Grebe that had been proving elusive across the rest of the reserve. The arrival of a particularly noisy party signalled that we should take our leave so we headed round to the Peter Scott Hide from which you get great views over several small islands that come the summer will be packed with breeding Black Headed Gulls. Today they were altogether quieter which probably explained the presence of seven Common Snipe amongst the roosting Mallards. I would have attempted a few photographs but the heavens chose that moment to deliver a prolonged and heavy downpour that made us glad to be undercover. Ironically the rain seemed to perk the Snipe up as they first started to preen and then hunt for food. One of the birds even swam across a section of open water which is the first time I have seen a Snipe exhibit such behaviour.
After the storm had passed we were back out in the open and looking for Redpoll amongst the willows. Unfortunately we drew a blank but did find a small group of Goldfinch closely followed by a much larger group of Siskins, a bird I seemed to see very little of during the latter half of 2011. After that triumph it seemed that we really were exhausting what the reserve had to offer with only the calls of Water Rail and Cetti’s Warbler creeping onto our list due to a relaxation in my strict must be seen to be counted rule. The day still had one last treat in store though with a single Chiffchaff bringing our final total up to a very respectable 58. With that good start in the bag let’s see what the rest of the year can deliver.