Sunday, 17 June 2018

Norfolk Hawkers at Amwell.

I had a spare morning on Saturday and went down to Amwell. The weather wasn't all that great, with generally cloudy conditions but fairly warm and humid. I had just received a 60mm Olympus macro lens for my Panasonic GX8 and wanted to give it a try, but in the end only took a couple of record shots of plant photos with it and an Azure Damselfly.

Bird wise it was a bit quiet of course, we are in the middle of the breeding season, and the ducks are starting to moult. Lots of ducklings, goslings and juvenile Black Headed Gulls all over the place, and there are a few lapwings as well, but I'm not sure about the nesting Oystercatchers. There was no sign on the island though I one did fly over from Tumbling Bay mid morning.
Hirundines in very short supply still. There are  breeding Swallows in the Gladwyn Hide, and one or two were feeding at the far south of the lake. I did see one or two other very distant birds which may have been martins. There are a a few Swifts as well, and a nice bonus Hobby was seen over the woods.
I spent a while wandering around the White Hide area and saw what I presume was a Comma (it flew by very quickly and was soon lost to view but I couldn't help thinking it might have been a Fritillary).
Apparently two Garganey were seen from White the previous evening but they weren't there while I was there. I did get a good look at the back of the island where several egret nest were barely visible, with birds coming and going all the time.

Down at Tumbling Bay things were very quiet, with only a single Black Tailed Skimmer and Azure, Common Blue Tailed and Red Eyed Damselflies on view so I went to Hollycross. Things weren't much better here with one Four Spotted Chaser among the hoards of damselflies. Various orchids had been seen but as most of the area is very overgrown with rank grasses and Hemlock it was hard to search and I never found anything. Most of the orchids in the pen had gone over but a few Southern Marsh types were still flowering. One Ringlet and one Meadow Brown were the only butterflies seen.
Back at Tumbling Bay it had warmed up a bit and had got a bit brighter. After about ten minutes two Norfolk Hawkers appeared and eventually an Emperor a s well. I was lucky enough to get a few flight shots of the Norfolk though it was very difficult to track and focus on. No sign as of yet of the Scarce Chasers (assuming they appear this year).

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

More orchids and Black Hairstreaks

On Saturday, Colin and I had intended to visit Woodwalton Fen for dragonflies and Glapthorn Cow nature for the Black Hairstreaks which were flying. This was based on the weather forecast of it being warm and bright with sunny spells. Having arrived to pick me up at eight, it needed a bit of a rethink since it was cool and cloudy with a bit of a cold northerly breeze-not quite what we expected.
We decided to have a walk around Paxton and see if conditions improved since it was on our way. We usually visit a bit earlier in year but expected to encounter most of the species anyway. Warblers featured, with several Willow warblers singing-seemingly a common bird as we encountered them at every site (unlike around here where I have only heard a couple all spring). Chiffchaffs were also vocal, as were Blackcaps, a couple of Garden Warblers and two Lesser Whitethroats. Nightingale numbers have been very low this year and we didn't hear any (though a Song Thrush was doing a very good impersonation at times) which was a pity, and the other really significant observation was the complete lack of Swifts and hirundines. The only birds feeding over the lakes were Common terns which seemed to be very successful on the rafts. A few Blue Tailed and Azure damselflies and a roosting Banded Demoiselle were also seen.

We headed north to Barnack Hills and Holes. Most of the Pasque flowers had gone over but at least three plants were still out on the cooler north facing slopes. Lots of Fragrant Orchids were out-another visitor that day suggested that at least two types were present. I'm presuming there are Marsh Fragrant in the damper hollows among the Common/Chalk Fragrants. However I didn't look too closely and my images are of Common. He also said that there weren't many Man Orchids this year, but compared to our previous visits they seemed to be very abundant with plants in areas we hadn't seen them before. There were a lot of other interesting plants including the rather rare Purple Bush Vetch. The first butterflies of the day were seen-two Meadow Browns

We then decided to try Glapthorn as it was starting to warm up a bit but I found another site in my books on the way-Collweston Quarry. This is like Barnack, an old quarry with a good chalk flora, but a lot damper. The key plant here seems to be Dyers Greenweed which was everywhere and there were a lot of Knapweed Broomrape spikes as well. Its supposed to have a lot of orchids but we couldn't find any. The only butterflies were Common Blues.

We finally reached Glapthorn in the early afternoon. It was still dull at times, but a lot warmer and humid, and there were a lot of people here as well. It only took a few minutes to find a Black Hairstreak (in the past we have really struggled to find any at most sites we have visited), then we found several more. The local recorder suggested we go round to another clearing as they were coming down to the dewberry flowers, and here we saw many more, with maybe half a dozen at any one time-and there were even more further up. seems like it was a good spring with very high numbers recored throughout the area. It seems to have been a bumper year for them, perhaps the winter and spring weather enabled many more than usual to survive without succumbing to predation or disease.

On the way home we stopped off at Baldock Services. The bank to the south was covered in Pyramidal Orchids, though unfortunately those in the grass beside the footpath had been mown. Bee Orchids were also out with maybe six flowering plants. I was last here a few years ago and saw more Bees, and a nearby area had Common Broomrape then which I had hoped to photograph but the area was completely covered by scrub. Apparently there is some near Lister Hospital so I may have to look there in the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Orchids and Stodmarsh, Kent

The weekend was another really hot one at times, provided one kept to the southern part of the country. We were supposed to get storms and downpours towards the end of last week, but it was dry all the time. However, on the drive over to Colin's near Stanstead on Saturday I discovered that there were an awful lot of puddles in the road, and it rained quite heavily in parts of East Anglia that day.
We went to Kent and had blazing sunshine, high humidity all day.
Chatting to the guys we met last week in Bentley Wood we got fairly good directions to a couple of sites in and around Parkgate Down, so we decided to go there and see how things went. The first thing I noted were the large number of Monkey orchids in flower-having heard that the ones at Hartslock on the Thames had been out several weeks ago I assumed that there wouldn't be many left. More typical for this time of year were the Chalk Fragrant and Common Spotted orchids, the wild columbines Aquilegia vulgaris and many other downland plants. I cannot remember seeing Greater Butterfly orchids here before but there were several fine plants, but much harder to locate were about six Fly orchids. Our main target, the Late Spider orchid couldn't be found despite extensive searching, maybe we were a bit early. I had a look around the woodland to the north as I have seen Lady orchid here in the past but there didn't seem to be any this year.
Lots of Adonis and Common Blues, some Brown Arguses and Small Coppers. No skippers or whites which was a bit unexpected.

We called in at Wye, another Late Spider site but it seems we were sent to the wrong area. A chat with one of the nearby residents, a voluntary warden suggested that recent management has led to a decline and they have become hard to find in recent years. Again butterflies were numerous with Adonis and Common Blues being abundant. Two nice Hobbies hunting the southern slopes were nice to see.
In the afternoon we spent a couple of hours at Stodmarsh. It was a site I used to visit regularly in the late 80's / early 90's but neither of us had been here since the American Coot in 1996 (more recently we have been to the eastern section at Grove Ferry).
The main target here was Variable Damselfly, a species i don't get to see all that often, and usually one of the first blues out. I wasn't disappointed and encountered many individuals and found them generally easy to pick out among the familiar Azure Damselflies. Several Norfolk Hawkers were also seen, plus a few Broad Bodied and Four Spotted Chasers. I had hoped to see Scarce Chasers here as I know they are present in the area, but couldn't find any. Again a pair of Hobbies entertained us, but often came too close for the camera and only a few photos were worth keeping.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Bank Holiday Weekend, Butterflies

We had a thunderstorm in the early hours of Sunday. I slept through it. This didn't bode well for a day out butterfly hunting, and when Colin arrived it was rather damp, cool and misty again.
Things hadn't improved much b y the time we got to Noar Hill, and I had a sense of deja-vue, as last years visit was abandoned and we had what turned out to be a nice visit to Wisley garden. However it was a lot warmer this time so we persevered. Singing Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps was a good indication and it wasn't long before the sun came out. Took a long time to find any butterflies though.
Most of the Early Purple orchids had gone over, the Common Spotted orchids were just emerging, but the Twayblades looked good. For quite a long time the only butterflies we saw were Common Blues which seemed to be on every sunny bank. Eventually a few Green Hairstreaks put in an appearance and Colin found a Small Blue, a species we hadn't seen here before. Eventually three Duke of Burgundies were found, rather tatty individuals. A search of the northern fence line produced a single White  Hellborine in flower and a couple of blind plants. With hindsight we should have perhaps searched for Frog orchids as well as they are out in places.

A quick stop off at Bentley Wood was productive. Its dried out considerably since our previous visit, but I was concerned at the lack of flowering plants with only a few bugles and bluebells out. However  in a short space of time we saw at least six Pearl Bordered Fritillaries and met up with a couple of guys watching a Marsh Fritillary.

The afternoon was spent at Martin Down. I had realised by then that I had forgotten to bring my tablets with me. Not a serious problem, but with the heat and humidity building up I was starting to tire rapidly so we didn't spend a lot of time taking photos.
My intention was to take the track from the Sillen Lane car park, walk south west and then head north along the dyke, but we soon changed our minds when we heard Turtle Doves to the south. We walked south to the farm fields, and could hear maybe five birds purring, but could we see any? No, and neither could the couple we met who had been searching for them in the thick hedges and copses here. We did get a tip from them and headed of to the high slopes to the west where we saw hundreds of Greater Butterfly orchids spears over several acres-a great sight.

Butterflies were abundant everywhere. Lots of Common Blues of course, a few Small Coppers and various whites and Brimstones. Down at the dyke, Adonis Blues, Small Blues and Brown Arguses were seen regularly, with Small Heaths and a couple of Marsh Fritillaries.  Once we reached the Burnt orchids (four plants, three with single spikes and one good one with nine flowers) we decided to return to the car. The chalky track back was where we saw even more Small Blues-dozens at times, with a few Grizzled and Dingy Skippers and one Red Admiral.
In total we had 17 butterfly species over the course of the day, but missed a few things like Speckled Wood, Comma, Peacock and Tortoiseshells.

Bank Holiday Weekend, Amwell.

As usual after a visit to the Chelsea Flower Show, apart from recovering from a very exhausting day,  there was a lot of work to do in the garden-new plants to pot up, seeds to sow and various other things to do. Good job I had the Friday off as well.
The weather over the weekend was a bit gloomy and damp, certainly not the scorcher of the previous long weekend. Saturday started of dull, misty and cool, so I thought there might be a possibility of Black Terns inland, or maybe a wader or two, so I headed off to Amwell. I was rather surprised to only see Barry's car there-presumably everyone else had gone travelling.
As it turned out is was a rather dull day from a birding perspective. There were a small number of Swifts and Swallows around, one Oystercatcher was on the island, apparently on a nest, and there were a few Common terns around. At one point I heard a sandpiper call overhead but never got onto it-Barry said that there was a Common Sandpiper present that morning. The small group of loafing Lesser Black Backs had one third summer Herring Gull and the regular  juvenile  Yellow Legged Gull.

Around 10ish, it started to brighten up and the temperature rose slightly so I went looking for dragonflies. The lily pads on Tumbling Bay held a lot of Red Eyed Damselflies, with a few Azure Damselflies. A couple of Four Spotted Chasers and Hairy Dragonflies were also present. Hopefully not too long before Norfolk hawkers and Scarce Chasers emerge.
Hollycross turned out to be pretty quiet with Azures, and a couple of Large Red Damsels. The orchid pen seemed to be poor this year with fewer than usual numbers of flower spikes. Butterflies were almost non-existent with a few Green Veined Whites and my first Red Admiral of the year.

Friday, 25 May 2018

Chelsea Flower Show 2018

Paid my annual visit to Chelsea yesterday. For once, the weather forecast wasn't ideal, though it turned out well in the end.
I left Stevenage on the 0717 train, in fairly steady light rain and arrived at the show slightly less than an hour later. It was still drizzling which wasn't too bad but eased off over the next hour. This enabled me to visit the Artisan gardens in complete peace, with only a few other visitors present. I was able to chat to one or two of the designers as well. Out in his own space, the Japanese designer Mr Ishihara had his usual superb garden, with a dramatic waterfall, his signature use of maples and a lovely garden house. With only a few visitors around I spent a while here studying the details and the overall design.
Out on Main Avenue, a couple of gardens stood out for me. The Savills garden with its sunburst sculpture in a framed vista was good. It was marked down by the planting which was a bit bitty in places but the overall effect was good. The Trailfinders South African Wine Estate was one I was looking forward to as the fynbos plants are a group I am interested in. Shame I cannot grow all that many myself. The combination of proteacea, restios, heathers was quite good, with the burnt areas planted with emergent bulbs contrasting with the intact rocky areas. I also liked the planting in the Cornish garden-tree ferns underplanted with fatsias and gunneras was bold to say the least.
My favourite was the M&G garden. In some ways it was reminiscent of the Maltese garden last year, being a dry garden planted very naturalistically with Mediterranean plants contrasting with the pale red gravel and large walls in the same colour. The stacked tiles creating screens were a nice touch too.
Another good garden and very thought provoking was the Lemon Tree garden based on the concept of a Syrian refugee garden, and this proved very popular with the crowds. More gardens with the intention to challenge and make you think were along the north side, with the backdrop of the Royal Hospital. I had these pretty much to myself for a while when the heavens opened and most of the crowd sought shelter, but the rain soon eased off and it gradually got warmer and sunnier.
The Marquee was tough going though luckily not hot this year, and I spent a good 2-3 hours in it. It took a couple of circuits to ensure that I dint miss anything. Had time to talk to a few of the people I know, met a few new ones (mainly those interested in carnivorous plants and orchids). I came unstuck on the Fernatix stand where a rather nice looking tree fern bought my eye. Unfortunately it was tender, and after 100 years had only produced a one foot trunk. Needless to say there was no pint in asking for a price. I did however come out of there with a couple of impulse buys-two hardy orchids, a Calanthe and a Cypridium, both of which are being micro propogated on a scale sufficient to make them economical. I also came back with various carnivorous plant seeds which could prove interesting if I can get them going.
I left as usual around 2pm having spent six hours at the show, walked almost six miles and was absolutely shattered by the time I got home.
Here are some quick edits of a few of the photos.