Thursday, 19 July 2018

Some Recent Images

The heat over the last few weeks has become rather intolerable, and I haven't had much enthusiasm for going out on trips. The mornings can be nice and pleasant, but it tends to heat up rather quickly and by lunch time Ive had enough, though the same could be said for the wildlife.
A couple of weekends back, I thought it worth paying can early morning visit to Danemead and Broxbourne Woods. Both sites were full of butterflies of course-Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers, Skippers, Ringlets and Whites of course, and lots of Silver Washed Fritillaries. The larger dragonflies were also very evident, with Brown and Southern Hawkers very active.
Danemad was very dry, and as a result flowering plants were hard to come by, with only a few bramble patches providing nectar and the odd meadow plant still surviving in the more shady spots. No sign of any orchids. I had recently learnt that the rather scarce for Herts Fragrant Agrimony is present here, but the only plant I could locate was the more common variety.
Broxbourne seems to be getting better now following the work in recent years with signs of the heath returning-Brooms in particular being more prominent. However it is still hard to find Purple Emperors and White Admirals, though one of each was seen while I was there (the Emperor was seen flying over my car a few minutes before I got back to it). The pond was a nice place to stop, being very shaded. Azure, Common Blue, Blue Tailed and Large Red damselflies were present, along with a family of Moorhens. A Purple Hairstreak kept dropping down to drink-it was a bit too far away for a decent image though.

Last Saturday I went out with Colin to Derbyshire. We had intended to go to Sheffield for an Audoin's Gull, but unfortunately it departed shortly after sunrise. However I had anticipated this and had a couple of alternative sites in mind. A few miles west of Chesterfield we searched an an area of moor hoping to find a spot to stop off and explore for dragonflies. Everything seemed to be fenced off though, with no-where to stop and no apparent access points so we carried on to Padley Gorge.
We had visited some years back and enjoyed the scenery immensely. Being a rather nice day (humid though as they had had rain here the day before, lucky b..gers) it was very busy but still enjoyable. Didn't encounter any of the birds I had hoped to see-Wood Warbler Redstart and Pied Flycatcher. Instead it seemed to be full of Nuthatches, tits and Song Thrushes. Up on the moor we found a couple of Common Hawkers, and the butterflies included Small heath, Speckled Wood, lots of Whites and a Dark Green Fritillary.
We then headed up the Hope Valley a bit to a place called LeadMill. We used to stop off here in the days when we visited the upper Derwent and Ladybower every year as it was a reliable spot for Dippers. Not this year, though there are only a few small sections of the river that we could access.
Nice day out, but it would have been nice to see at least one of the target birds.

Monday, 2 July 2018

I forgot these Images Yesterday

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Insects around Aston End

The heat has been rather unpleasant over the last week and the garden is starting to suffer, but thanks to judicious recycling, we have been keeping things going. Had to top the pond up though, as it had dropped considerably and the birds were no longer able to get to the water to drink. I have had several damselflies this year, and currently there are a few Azure Damsels around.

While there have been a few interesting things reported I didn't really want to do anything too taxing, and have largely stayed in during the day. However, this morning I left an hour or so earlier and took a stroll around Aston End-I haven't done this for a while and was hoping that it would produce a few butterflies. With hindsight, I think I should have saved a bit of weight, and kept the 100-400 zoom behind as everything could be done with the very nice Olympus 60mm macro.
Initially, just after 8am, birds were active, as it was still reasonably cool but as the morning progressed they tended to get a bit more elusive. Lots of Coal Tits singing in the Lanterns Lane plantation, usually I hear one or two birds but there were at least eight. Blackbirds, a couple of Song Thrushes and a few Robins were also singing around here. Blackcaps were vocal as well, and they seemed to be present in most stretches of wood and scrub. I would have expected singing to have stopped now, but perhaps the late spring has something to do with it.
The first butterflies were found along the lane as I approached Aston End-Large and small Whites and a few Meadow Browns. Heading down to the ford, Ringlets and Gatekeepers started to appear and I saw my first Marbled White. The river at the ford was bone dry of course (though one or two pools survived in the shady areas upstream) and a lovely red band of poppies could be seen on the other side along the Walkern Road  (a designated roadside habitat).

I was surprised at how damp it was in the shade up here-the cool nights have led to heavy dew in the mornings. Most of the Marbled Whites I saw were along this stretch, perhaps a dozen along a 100m stretch. Many roosting Ringlets were here in the shady bits with lots of Meadow Browns as well. Had a few Skippers as well-Large and Small, and a few bees, bugs and flies.

 Eventually the poppies fizzled out and so did the insects, though I was starting to see  Small Tortoiseshells on the footpath, and Meadow Browns were still flitting around. I stopped for a bit by the wooden bridge over the river as it was nice and cool in the shade. Watched a young Whitethroat feed in the lush vegetation in the river bed for a while. Scanning the skies was productive, with several distant Kites and Buzzards in the thermals. One Swallow was seen (there are usually several active nests in the stables near here so obviously not a good year for them) and a small flock of Swifts over Aston far to the south.
The path near the stables was nice and shady, and there was still some water in the river bed. No sign of any dragon or damselflies unfortunately, but I did find several Speckled Woods and Commas along this stretch. It was getting close to 11am now, the heat was really getting up and birds had pretty much disappeared. I had hoped to see a few more butterflies and insects on the stretch up to Chells Manor but the usual areas were very overgrown and rank, and apart from a few whites and browns I didn't see anything of note.
Couple of things. No blue butterflies anywhere, or Small Heaths, and while there were lots of Small Tortoiseshells, and a couple of Commas, where were the Red Admirals and Peacocks? There weren't all that many beetles or bugs on the Knapweeds thistles and umbellifers either, and what I did see were limited to a few species.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Thursley Dragonflies and Woodland Butterflies

Colin and I spent Sunday in Surrey with the intention of seeing a few dragonflies. My year list up to that point was 13 which was ok, and by the end the day we had seen a total of 19 species. We also managed to see a decent selection of butterflies and plants as well. The only drawback was the heat which by early afternoon had risen to the point that we had to call a halt.
The morning was spent at Thursley, and based on our previous visit a couple of years ago, we did a circuit to include the heath running up to the south-eastern woodland and then came back via the boardwalk. This enabled us to cover most of the habitats and so pick up the greatest number of species.
The first thing was spend a bit of time around the Moat Pond. The lily pads held Red Eyed, Common and Azure Damselflies. One or two Emperors and Brown Hawkers were also present but Emerald Dragonflies are the main target. There were several Downy Emeralds, all very active and impossible to photograph. The first one we got good views of was assumed to be Downy at first but having got my eye in it proved to be a Brilliant Emerald.
Out on the heath, searches of suitable areas failed to find any Graylings but we did see a few Silver Studded Blues, though not the numbers that we tend to see in the New Forest. One Dark Green Fritillary was also seen, plus a few Whites, Large Skippers and a Brown Argus.

Large Red, Small Red, Blue Tailed and Emerald damselflies were abundant as were Keeled Skimmers, Four Spotted Chasers and Common Darters. One or two Broad Bodied Chasers, Black Tailed Skimmers and Beautiful Demoiselles were also seen.

Birds were hard work at times. We failed to find any Redstarts or Woodlarks which was disappointing and there weer no Hobbies, Martins, Cuckoos either which tend to be seen most visits. There were two or three singing Tree Pipits, several families of Stonechats and lots of Dartford Warblers-we found pairs/family groups in at least three different locations.

Having recently got a nice Olympus 60mm macro lens for the GX8 I am trying to spend a bit more time photographing plants, partly for identification purposes. Having an interest in carnivorous plants, the Round Leaved Sundews were a special target. I also accidentally took a rather poor photo of an Oblong Leaved Sundew as well.

Most of the insects on the heath proved too difficult to photograph, but everywhere we went  small wasps could be seen in the sandy spots and they were pretty easy to get. Not sure yet what they were but I did watch some dragging prey back to their burrows.

We spent an hour or so after lunch at Oaken Wood (Botany Bay). It turned out to be a bit late for the Wood Whites (though one had been seen the previous day) but there were a lot of other whites flying, plus Large Skippers and Speckled Woods along the main ride. Silver Washed Fritillaries weer everywhere and it soon became apparent that this is also a pretty good place for White Admirals-we saw good 20 or so. Met a local who had rescued a fresh Purple Hairstreak that appeared to be either very fresh with weak wings or rather poorly. He had seen at least a dozen Purple Emperors and sent us to a suitable spot, but mentioned that activity had dropped off rapidly due to the heat. One was still flying but it never really settled.

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.