Monday, 16 May 2011

Fantastic flight along the lower River Kennet

May is a great time for gently canoeing and kayaking along the lower reach of the River Kennet.  Winged wildlife abounds, and paddling provides a perfect platform to get up close without becoming intrusive.

All the usual residents such as Canada and Greylag Geese, and Mute Swans are easily spotted, often with young in tow.

For the sharp-eyed (spot the birdie)...

...the Grey Heron will be commonly spotted on the River Kennet.

Kingfishers are also relatively common along much of the Kennet, and nest at a number of locations.  The 2005 Berkskire Ornithological Society Kingfisher survey concluded that "the probable number of breeding Kingfishers in Berkshire 2005 was between 78 and 84".  It also noted that "a number of records came from canoeists; this seems to be a good way of observing Kingfishers at close quarters!"  However please note that disturbance of kingfishers on or near an active nest is an offence so, if you're lucky enough to spot such a site, keep your distance to avoid being the cause of parents abandoning chicks or eggs.

Less popular, at least with fishermen, are the Cormorants that can often be seen in the skys or on perches, especially close to the many stocked lakes past which the river weaves its way.

At the other end of the size scale, reed margins on Kennet backwaters offer the paddler the chance to spot male Reed Buntings in full breeding colours at this time of year.

Aquatic invertebrates are also notable along the Kennet, and the richness of species forms part of the basis for the SSSI citation.

As the name suggests, this month sees the start of the Mayfly hatch.  Pollution sensitive, the larger the numbers, the healthier the river.  This one, my wife tells me, is Ephemera danica.  As she is someone who was delighted to find the shed larval husk of a Mayfly, I'm not going to argue.

This is another example which we think might be the same species but as confirmation requires examination of genitalia I'll be happy if you wish to correct me.

More attractive to my eye (and also noted in the SSSI citation for the River Kennet) are the Banded and the Beautiful  Demoiselle that, along with other species of Damselfly, fly in profusion along the Kennet from May through to August or early-September.

Male Banded Demoiselle, distinguished by the 'thumbprint' on its wings.

Female Banded Demoiselle.

Mating Beautiful Demoiselles (the female can be distinguished by her brown wings and metallic green body).

Male Common Blue Damselfly.

Another type of Common Blue, this is the female of our most prolific Blue butterfly species that can be found along grassland banks by the Kennet from May through to October...

...whilst the unmistakable Cinnabar Moth is another May arrival along the water side.

The Small Skipper butterfly is easy to distinguish along the banks of the River Kennet.  This one is a male, identified by the black stripe on it's upper wing.

Once you know that the markings on the upper wing are said to resemble the elongated nose and chin of a 16th Century witch, you will never have a problem identifying the Mother Shipton moth as you paddle down the River Kennet (more on persecuted paddling witches on the River Kennet at a later date).

Edited with additional images 21.05.11