Saturday, 19 August 2017

Willow Emerald Rye Meads

No sign of the Bee-eaters since they were last seen Thursday afternoon unfortunately. They were not the first for Herts, as there were four previous records-all a long time ago and I wouldn't have thought any were twitchable.

This morning I spent a few hours at Rye Meads. Initially bright and warm, it gradually clouded over and the wind picked up, which was a bit unfortunate as I was hoping to get images of some of the dragonflies.
The Draper Hide was entertaining. The Gadwall Tufted Ducks and Mallards are going out of eclipse and there were several Teal and Shoveller present. Two Lesser Blacked Gulls were busy dive bombing the ducks, without success, so turned their eyes on the Little Grebes and their chicks which consequently spent a great deal of time underwater.
One Little Egret, one Common Sandpiper and maybe four Green Sandpipers were also present, and Stock Doves seemed to be coming and going on a regular basis.
I encountered one Southern Hawker and a Brown Hawker outside, and a bit further on I noticed a movement in one of the Hawthorns, which turned out to be a Willow Emerald, my first for the reserve.
Two Commas some Whites and a couple of Speckled Woods were the only butterflies on the wing.
The four Garganey were seen on the north lagoon from the Gadwall Hide, but remained distant. Several small flocks of hirundines were feeding over the far side, mainly House Martins, but a few Sand Martins and Swallows were with them, and also two rather late Swifts.
I bumped into Colin Wills and Maureen, and had chat when I got back to Draper. The Sandpipers were a bit more obliging, and the hirundines and Swifts remained on view for us.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

First Bee-Eaters in Herts

A few days after we went up to see the Bee-eaters, we heard that the nesting attempt had failed and they departed the site, flying off south. However they were then seen in Leicestershire, and have been reported for the last ten days or so. It was a bit of a surprise when I got a tweet from Mike Illett that the (presumed same seven) flock had been seen in a garden in Bayford yesterday, and were still showing.
That was just after lunch when I went through the messages, so I hung on until three, when I could finish work and was down there just after 3.30. Unfortunately they had last been seen about an hour earlier flying north towards the station and Brickendon (which is actually east but never mind). I drove down to Brickendon checking where I was able to pull in and then returned to the small group outside the garden they were last seen in.
We spent a lot of time chatting and eventually most drifted off to search. I hung around for a bit and then walked up towards to top of the village for a bit, meeting up with Simon, Ian Bennell and one or two others. Apart from a lot of hirundines over the fields, plus the usual pigeons, crows etc there wasn't much around. After a couple of search parties returned around 5pm, with negative news, I decided to leave.
Maybe they will stick around the area for a few days, just hope they get refund as there are an awful lot of disappointed Herts birders at the moment (plus a few very lucky individuals able to get down in  time).

Monday, 14 August 2017

A Butterfly Day

Yesterday Colin and I spent a day out in the Chilterns mainly targeting butterflies which, for me at least have been in short supply recently.
We started off at RSPB Otmoor, which has become a bit of a favourite at this time of year. Seems like a lot of others had the same idea as the car park was a bit full by the time we arrived.
The RSPB had opened up a seasonal trail through the meadow adjacent to the car park and it was full of insect life. Lots of Common Blues and Small Coppers (my first of the year) and large numbers of Common and Ruddy Darters. We kept our eyes open for the Turtle Doves which were still around, having been seen earlier but we were out of luck.
Walking over to the Wetland Watchpoint hide, we scanned the fields for waders and migrant chats-none seen. The Cranes proved to be too elusive and the best birds turned out to be some feral Barnacle Geese. We encountered more darters, some Brown and Southern Hawkers, family parties of Reed Warblers and Whitethroats and a few geese and swans. Lots of distant raptors proved to be Red Kites and Buzzards, but perhaps we should have payed attention as there had been a summering Hen Harrier, and a flyover Osprey though I think the latter was seen after we left.
The Ash and Oaks along the Roman Road were reasonably productive with both Purple and Brown Hairstreaks, though unfortunately they all stayed up in the trees. We found at least two Browns, which the visiting group were pleased to see-if the stickers in the cars were anything to go by, some had come a long way to see them.

Our next stop was Aston Rowant and by now it was getting rather warm. Again a lot of visitors were butterfly hunting and it was very productive, probably the best we've had here. Purple Hairstreak in the car park, whites all over the place, large numbers of very fresh brimstones and we hadn't actually got to the hillside. Silver Spotted Skippers were very abundant (in fact they were the only skippers seen all day), and Chalkhill Blues, Common Blues and Brown Argus were all over the hillside. We bumped into someone I knew vaguely, formerly from Hitchin and now Chelmsford, and he mentioned that he had found Adonis Blues at the bottom of the slope. I didn't know they were here, and neither did a few others I talked to on the way down. Fortunately at least one was picked out and posed quite well.
I spent a bit of time failing to locate Autumn Ladies Tresses but I did find a lot of Autumn Gentians.

We finished the day in a very hot and humid Warburg, another of our regular summer destinations. I knew from Bird Forum that we would be lucky to see any orchids as all the Narrow Lipped had been eaten. As it turned out so had the dozen or so Broad Leaved, and while we did see a few tiny plants in the cages where the Violet and Narrow Lipped occur it was rather disappointing. Yellow Birds Nest should have been there too but a search was fruitless.
Another failure were the Chiltern Gentians, though I found a few plants in bud that looked promising and compared to previous August visits, Autumn Gentians were scarce.
We encountered Marsh Tits in various spots, but otherwise birds were quiet, and butterflies were hard to find. Brimstones, Common Blues, Brown Argus and Peacocks were around, and the car park held Southern and Migrant Hawkers. A bonus was a single Silver Washed Fritillary bringing our day list up to a respectable 20 species of butterfly.

Monday, 31 July 2017

Bee-eaters and Waders

 After a long break, Colin and I had a birding day out on Sunday. There were quite a few options available to us-lots of sea-birds on the south coast over the last week or so, Stilts and a long staying Marsh Sandpiper in Kent for example but the breeding Bee-eaters  at East Leake near Loughborough were more tempting. I've seen a few over the years, but my only photographs were of the Durham birds back in 2004 , taking in heavy rain with my old D1x and to put it mildly were little more than coloured noise, so the chance to get some better ones have been on my mind over the last few weeks.
 We had a lot of rain overnight, but conditions improved and it was warm and sunny all morning, though a bit breezy it times. The AA sign posted car park was easy to find and it was only a short walk along a bridleway around the dis-used quarry to the view point. Two Bee-eaters were perched up on a distant tree, and another three to four were in a dead bush on the banks of a small lake. All the time we were there at least five birds were on view, either perched or flying around hawking for insects. To say the views were excellent would be an understatement and we had a very enjoyable time, spoilt only by one or two guys with big lenses who had to block others views. Well worth the fiver for the car parking.
 Cant really say how many birds are currently there-reports suggest seven, but there are supposed to be three nest holes (which are not viewable) and I di=ont know how successful they have been.

 After a very enjoyable morning we headed off to RSPB Frampton Marsh for the afternoon. Weather was a bit mixed with a lot more cloud and the occasional light shower but again very enjoyable.
 At first it didn't seem all that promising as a lot of the scraps seemed rather dry and empty apart from cows and Avocets with huge numbers of hirundines-mainly Sand Martins feeding over the reeds. We headed off down the road to the sea wall where a small crowd could be seen in the distance, and presumably where the good birds were.
 The large expanse of muddy pools inland from the wall was covered in waders-large flocks of Godwits, Redshank, Ruff and Dunlin, half a dozen Spotted Redshanks, some Curlew Sandpipers, Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, two Little Stints and a rather elusive Pectoral Sandpiper tucked into a clump of sedge. On the salt marsh some Curlews and Whimbrels were hard to pick up.
 From the East Hide, many more godwits, shanks, stints, Common and Wood Sandpiper and four or five Knot. Among the hoards of Little Egrets were two Spoonbills.
 Walking back to the 360 hide a photographer had stopped-showed me the back of the camera and asked me to identify his photos-a juvenile Cuckoo. Unfortunately it had flown some way and although I got good scope views my photos were rather poor.

In the 360 hide we got better views of the egrets, the Knot, some flyover Snipe and a somewhat unexpected Whooper Swan that presumably injured had over summered. We had been seeing family parties of Yellow Wagtails from the sea walls and managed to get decent but distant views of some of the juveniles on one of the islands. Weirdly despite the large variety of waders present, Oystercatcher Turnstone and Sanderling, always expected around the Wash, seemed to be absent.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

In to the Valley

I'm still not 100%, the chest infection seems to have cleared up but there are periods where I get very tired and achey, hay fever flares up now and again, and there are days where I don't really feel up to doing much at all.
Last Sunday I popped over the Sandon again for a few hours. About a dozen birders were lurking round the church and green, including Jay and Kevin from Amwell, and we were graced with the presence of Colin Wills as well, so it was an entertaining morning despite the non appearance of the Laughing Dove. Someone said he'd seen it briefly around 9am before flying over towards the barns, but an extended search of the area failed to locate it. We had a Hobby go over and eventually the two Spotted Flycatchers put in an appearance in one of the gardens.

This morning I went to Rye Meads. I haven't visited the Lee Valley much over the last few months, the combination of weather and health taking its toll. Added to which its been rather quiet at Amwell,  even by the usual mid-summer standard, but last week Colin mentioned that Rye was probably a better bet as it has been pulling in the odd thing or two. 
Lots od moulting ducks, with ducklings of course. Tufted Ducks and Gadwall seem to have been pretty successful, and there were a few Shoveller kicking around as well. There was supposed to be a pair of Teal and a summering Wigeon which I failed to locate. Most of the Tern rafts are occupied by Black Headed Gulls, and the Common Terns seem to have nested on the rocky islands on the lagoons.
I managed to find three Green Sandpipers, and one Common Sandpiper, but the Little Ringed Plover family eluded me.
The Kingfishers have had at least one brood and I wasn't expecting to see them, but both adults were hidden, sitting just above water in the big trees by the nest bank and only their constant calling gave them away. One did appear briefly, sat on a branch by the nest hole then vanished under the trees again.
When I got back to the Draper hide, it was full of binocular-less photographers firing away at anything that moved. They got very animated when everything went up but failed to notice the female Marsh Harrier that had caused all the disturbance.
Being rather dull, and maybe because of last nights heavy rain dragonflies were absent, bar a single Blue Tailed Damselfly, but there were a few butterflies. Speckled Woods and Gatekeepers were seen all over the reserve, with singles of Holly Blue, Common Blue, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell. A very bright orange butterfly was very confusing. I thought Comma, saw a lot of black and white and assumed Painted Lady, but when it settled it turned out to be a Jersey Tiger moth. First one I've seen in Herts outside of the moth trappers test tubes.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Spotted Flycatcher

Had to go and see the doctor last week, the health problems throughout June were not going away, and I ended up being signed off for rest and recuperation. Unfortunately, its back to work tomorrow, and having spent the last week doing basically nothing I thought I'd better go out for an hour or so this morning.
At some point I would like to get up to Therfield as the Chalkhill Blues are out and there are also a lot of Dark Green Fritillaries around. It was still dull, cool and a bit drizzly when I left, and so I headed off to Sandon.
I spent around forty minutes in the churchyard surrounded by low flying House Martins, Swallows and Swifts. Not something that happens in Stevenage anymore. Nether was the family of Spotted Flycatchers. Once upon a time, I could go out anywhere in the Stevenage area, and expect to find them in any reasonably sized wooded area, and occasionally gardens, but like so many insectivores the population has plummeted and I am lucky to see more than a handful in England every year. They are hanging on in the more rural parts of north east Herts, and villages like Sandon and Wallington still hold breeding birds.
I only saw two flycatchers as they were rather elusive, sticking to the big Sycamores and Horse Chestnuts, only making the occasional foray out of the canopy.
Sandon also has a Laughing Dove-got to be an escape but a few have been to see it 'just in case', largely because it was found at the same time as the Cornwall Amur Falcon, and could conceivably have arrived on the same weather system. Its been rather hard to find and I never managed to locate it.

I then drove up the road to Deadmans Hill and stopped for a while. Several Corn Buntings and Yellowhammers were in the hedge by the gate, and eventually one distant Quail was heard calling from one of the wheat fields.
Since it was still cool and breezy I decided to forgo Therfield and returned home via a drive around Wymondly. The local Raven wasn't around and I couldn't figure out a good place to park and check out the Peregrines.

Edit. The Dove was seen about 30 minutes after I left the Church.