Saturday, 30 May 2009

Various bits of Hertfordshire

I spent a few hours this morning at Amwell. Not a lot happening bird-wise, though two Common Sandpipers were present. There were plenty of Damseflies around-Common Blue, Azure and Red-eyed, along with good numbers of Banded Demoiselles. Several Broad Bodied and Four Spotted Chasers were present. Last weekend's invasion of Painted Ladies is still continuing, though rates seem to have dropped.
This afternoon I visited Telegraph Hill high up on the Chilterns. On the way I was distracted for a while by one of the local Red Kites hunting.  The long hot slog up the hills proved worthwhile. As expected for the chalk downland, Common Blue butterflies were abundant, as well as a few Small Coppers. The small Orchid reserve held large numbers of Common Spotted Orchids, and eventually I managed to locate the diminutive Fy Orchids.  

Monday, 25 May 2009

More Orchids

Here are a few more Orchids from the Kent trip on the 23rd.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Another Pratincole

Yesterday was spent in Kent where the main target was the Black Winged Pratincole that had been at Grove Ferry for some time. It has been a long time since we had visited this site, which along with the western portion at Stodmarsh had been a fairly regular late spring destination.
The Pratincole was not viewable from the 'mound' and had been reported from Marsh Hide, a fair walk. We stopped off occasionally to see the vocal Marsh Frogs  and I managed to get some good images of the Variable Damselflies, while overhead several Hobby's hawked. Suddenly a shout alerted us to the fact that the Pratincole was flying back to the mound so we returned.
 Initially on the ground among the ducks and Lapwing the heat haze made things awkward but it was clearly darker than the Collared seen last week. It eventually took to the air where the diagnostic dark underwing and lack of white on the wing trailing edge was easy to see. Photographically it was much harder, the bird stayed high and distant and the fast flight made it hard to track.
Our next stop was Denge Wood where I hoped to find one of the two Duke of Burgundy colonies. I had wanted to visit a site in the Chilterns to see this butterfly last week, but I was put off by the dreadful weather. Unfortunately, the maps in this wood bore little relation to the paths and we spent two hours without finding the right areas. What was obvious though, was that there were large numbers of Painted Ladies on the move, all heading west.   
Park Gate Down is one of the best sites in the region for Orchids, with Monkey being a speciality. This turned out to be one of the commonest, though outnumbered by Common Twayblade. There were small numbers of Common Spotted Orchids and faded Early Purples, one or two  Common Fragrant Orchid and a lone specimen of Lady Orchid.  Again there were large numbers of westward heading Painted Ladies.
Our final visit to Queendon Warren, another orchid site seemed disappointing at first. There were a lot of Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat calling, and a dead tree held calling Woodpecker chicks, but orchids seemed very scarce. We eventually found several stands of Common Fragrant, and there were one or two White Helleborines in the wooded area.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Sunday in Norfolk

Sunday was spent in Norfolk. Over the previous few days, there had been a big influx of the migrants that one would normally expect to see at this time of year-Temminck's Stints, Black Terns, Icterine Warblers and so on. By the time the weekend arrived, the weather had changed and it looked like we had missed the boat.  Still, it looked like there would be a few showers and the wind seemed promising.
Titchwell seemed pretty quiet. We had missed a Spoonbill by a few minutes, and apart from an adult Little Gull and a pair of first summer Mediterranean Gulls there were only a few other things of note-two Common Sandpiper and a few Dunlin and Godwits. The sea held three Eider with a few terns offshore, but along the shoreline there were around thirty Sanderling in various plumages which were quite approachable. 
The fen walkway held a fine stand of Southern Marsh Orchid, and we got to see a Water Vole, but there were no dragonflies.
We left Titchwell and headed to Blakeney Harbour where the main target had been seen, at which point it started to rain. The Collared Pratincole, the first we had seen for at least ten years proved difficult to locate, hawking for insects like a hybrid brown tern/House Martin over the marsh. It remained very distant, and on the ground was often hidden from view, but over a period of twenty minutes the views were sufficient to allow identification.
Nearby we spent an hour or so in the north hide at Cley, where a Spoon bill showed fairly well, but again, there were few migrant waders to see-one Greenshank, a few Godwits, as well as a few Little Terns. Some time after we left, we heard that a Roseate Tern was seen, and one of the other scrapes held a Temminck's Stint.
Our final destination, as it turned out was the raptor watch-point at Swanton Novers, a place we had not been to for several years. It was once the place to see Honey Buzzard in Norfolk, but in recent years the nearby watch-point at Great Ryburgh and part of the same complex of woods had been more reliable. We missed the bird by a few minutes-nothing unusual though as it often takes several visits to get good views. We did see several Common Buzzard, as well as a fly by Red Kite over an hour or so, but the weather decided to deteriorate so we left earlier than expected.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Another Lifer

Yesterday we visited the delightful Seaforth Docks Liverpool to try and see the Pallid Swift that had been present for over a week. Colin had hoped that we would be able to go on the Bank Holiday Monday, but I did not fancy a trip up the M6  and the traffic that would be encountered (instead I spent the morning at the Lea Valley Park with the singing Savi's Warbler). Luckily the Swift lingered into this weekend.
We arrived at 0930 to find a small crowd scanning the huge flock of swifts over the lake, but with no real chance of finding the Pallid among them. Suddenly it appeared over our heads and flew overt the Seaforth reserve where it performed, as they say, very well. Having studied the literature, which mainly concentrates on the more frequent and harder to identify autumn juveniles, it was surprisingly easy to locate, even at a distance. The flight action was a little different different to Common Swift, with a slower wing beat, and the browner plumage showed very well against the blue sky and blue dock buildings. After a good twenty minutes, it flew off, and so did the assembled crowd.
 Our next stop was a sheep field at Blackmoorfoot, high in the Pennines west of Huddersfield. The attraction was a small trip of Dotterel, including two females in full breeding plumage. Despite the wind and the threatening cloud, they did not disappoint, and neither did the Golden Plover and many Wheatear also present.
 We spent the remainder of the day in the Pennines, gradually driving over the moors to the upper reaches of the river Derwent. Unfortunately the cold wind kept most of the wildlife down, and apart from Red Grouse and a few Buzzard we did not really see anything. The hoped for Ring Ousels at Cutthroat Bridge, and the Dippers at Grindleford were conspicuous by their absence.

Earlier this morning, while filling the feeders, I noticed my first immature Azure Damselflies in the irises around my pond.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Double Whammy

The chances of me getting to see new birds in the UK get harder each year as the more I see, the fewer there are left, and most of those are either very rare, or rarely stay for any length of time. 
The Collared Flycatcher that turned up at Portland earlier in the week was one of those. The migration route in spring and autumn takes it well away from the Uk and only 28 have appeared-all in spring, usually on remote islands and mostly for a day or two.
Remarkably it stayed, singing in a back garden until yesterday (no sign so far today) enabling Colin and I to get great views. It spent a lot of time in a cherry tree, and the nearby sycamores where it was often chose a shaded branch. Never still, it was very hard for me to photograph, but I managed to get a few decent images.
An even more mythical rarity also turned up earlier in the week, a Crested Lark at Dungeness. The last one that was twitchable, at Landguard in 1996 was only really available for an afternoon, and previous to that the last long stayer also at Dungeness was in 1975. Despite breeding just across the channel, only twenty have been seen, so few birders have ever seen one in the UK. Remarkably it is still present as I write.
The 200  mile drive from Portland to Dungeness turned out to be fairly pleasant, most of the traffic problems seemed to be in the other direction and we arrived in the early afternoon.
Unfortunately the Lark had been lost to view so we joined one of several groups to search the shingle. With only a brief possible sighting we returned to the most regular area and waited. Sure enough after a short wait the bird was located, but out of view for the majority before flying off again. The next hour was very frustrating as the Lark flew from one area to another, and flight views, being brief were not all that satisfactory. Finally it was seen on the ground and I managed to see the bird for a minute or so as it moved through a gap in the bushes, crest erect.
Exhausted we spent an hour or so unwinding at the RSPB reserve picking up a few new birds for the year list and enjoying the spring evening.