Monday, 31 May 2010

Boring Bank Holiday

Not much of an update, despite having five days off.
Thursday was spent at the Chelsea Flower Show-I have been going for a few years now. Got there very early, so I got a chance to see most of the gardens before the crowds built up. Spent a lot of time in the Pavilion enjoying the plants, especially the orchids (many hardy Lady Slippers from around the world in particular), carnivorous plants, and all the tropical/subtropical things I have a hard time growing. Also nice to see the vegetables by Medwyn Williams-he 'retired' five years ago and I never thought I'd see one of his legendary displays.
Not much in the way of wild life of course-a few tits and the ubiquitous London pigeons. The Ring Necked Parakeets were very vocal and more visible than on previous visits. Chelsea is a guaranteed (but incredibly expensive) way of getting these as a year tick, though for once I'd already seen plenty already.
Got back home incredibly exhausted-about a month back I dropped something on my foot and thought I'd broken a big toe. It was getting better but seven hours on my feet proved too much for it.

Friday was a rest day. Single Large Red Damselfly over my pond was nice-first one for a couple of years.

Saturday morning I went to Amwell. Bill Last was driving off as I arrived so I knew it was a bit quiet. Pair of Little Ring Plovers and a few Redshank flying around. The ducks are starting to moult into eclipse plumage. The cold wind led to drizzle and finally rain, so no dragonflies or butterflies flying. Must have been plenty of Mayflies and things as there were large numbers of Swifts, Sand and House Martins and a few Swallows feeding low over the water. Eventually two Hobby's  appeared-apart from them the only raptor was a female Sparrowhawk crashing through the reeds.

Sunday afternoon was brighter, slightly warmer but with a strong northerly breeze. Decided to walk through Aston End and up the river Beane, mainly to stretch my legs and get a bit of air. Pleasant stroll, even though the toe is still aching. Single Orange Tip, Green Veined White and Peacock, with a few Speckled Woods in sheltered wood glades. Few birds, though one or two Willow Warblers, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat Garden Warblers and Blackcaps still singing.

Today is cloudy and much colder than expected, so I stayed in. Juvenile Goldfinch on the feeders, and a young Blackbird feeding on the ground.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Hot Weekend

Temperatures have risen considerably this weekend, and as a result butterflies and dragonflies are finally out in good numbers.
I went down to Waterford Heath on Friday, in the hope of finding Grizzled Skipper, even though it is about a month later than I would have usually tried. It took a bit of searching, but I did find two in the southern part. There were good numbers of Peacock, Orange Tip and a couple of Brimstone too. The northern section did not have much at all. A Holly Blue near the car park, and a Large Red Damselfly in the pond.

The plan for Saturday was to stay local, and visit sites in the Chilterns, targeting butterflies and orchids, but we kind of got distracted a bit.
Last week, there were good numbers of Duke of Burgundy at Bison Hill Whipsnade, so we made it our first port of call. The first thing we noticed was that there were huge numbers of Green Hairstreak on every available bush. Working up from the base of the hill, lots of Brown Argus were found, and then several Grizzled Skipper.

Eventually, about half way up the hill I found our first Duke of Burgundy. Unfortunately it was a bit past its best.

PLenty of birds singing-several Lesser Whitethroat, Willow Warbler in particular, and i also had flyby Buzzard and Raven. We were joined by a couple of guys from Northants and spent another half hour searching with them,and not finding any more butterflies, so we decided to leave.
The Chilterns plan went out of the window and we headed off to the Thames. Our aim was to visit the orchid reserve at Hartslock, but poor information meant we could not park any where near it, so instead we went down to the river and hunted for Club Tailed Dragonflies. Despite all our efforts, only one single male was found.  I did see a few Banded Demoiselles on the way back, as well as Small Copper and Common Blue.
Since we were heading south west, the next logical place was Bentley Wood. The eastern clearing was full of Pearl Bordered Fritillaries, as well as a few Small Pearl Bordered. Most were very active in the heat, and it proved impossible to get decent images until Colin located one on a small birch.
At this point we had met up with an old Amwell friend Dick and one of his mates, both of whom are very into butterflies, so I spent a while chatting about our plans this year, and while we were, Jan Hein van Steenis turned up-another Amwell refugee. A huge blur in the grass turned out to be an Oak Eggar Moth which was worth a look. After another long natter, I left them looking for a Marsh Fritillary and headed of to Oakden Wood, aka Botany Bay.
First interesting thing I found was a dragonfly hunting in the woods-turned out to be a Downy Emerald. Past the bridge and following Dick's advice we encountered about twenty Wood Whites. They seemed to be very territorial, and kept gathering on the vetch flowers-up to three per flower head.

Having seen Downy Emerald, we decided to call it a day and not pay a quick visit to Thursley Common.

This morning at Amwell was just as hot as yesterday. Little in the way of exciting birds-a feral Barnacle Goose isn't exactly much to write home about.
Plenty of odontae though. Large numbers of Red Eyed Damselflies are out on the lily pads, and the Hairy Dragonflies are also out in good numbers. Naturally Azure, and to  a lesser extent Common Blue damsels are starting to build up. I also encountered a few Large Reds, and the river held some Banded Demoiselles.
Its been a long hard wait, but finally insects are starting to happen.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Oriental Pratincole

Saturday morning saw us at Framton Marsh where the Oriental Pratincole has been for a week. The weather was pretty good for once, warm and sunny, but with a bit of a breeze.
PLenty of waders to see on the way to East Hide, with a few summer plumage Curlew Sandpipers among the Dunlin. Lots of Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, but we missed the Temminck's Stint despite a long search. Only other thing of note was a fine drake Garganey. We arrived to hear that the Pratincole had gone missing, so spent some time in the hide enjoying the birds. A call brought us outside, and for about twenty minutes the Pratincole flew over a grazing marsh, always very distant. However, the views were sufficient to allow identification-the short tail, lack of white trailing edge to the dark underwing etc. Never got a good photo though.
Nice to hear a few Corn Buntings, though the only Bunting to pose was a male Reed.

With little else to do regarding birds, we headed off to a reserve near Peterborough called Upwood Meadows. The ancient ridge and furrow fields are full of Green Winged Orchids, Cowslips and Adders Tongue Fern, along with an abundance of more common species.

While searching, I encountered my first Dragonflies of the year-Four Spotted Chaser and Azure Damsel.
The final visit was Hayley Wood a Cambridge reserve which may be a remnant of the Wild Wood. Large areas are full of Bluebells, and among them are some Early Purple Orchids. Oxlips are also present, though I suspect that what I saw were mainly Cowslip hybrids.

On the old railway line bordering the wood, we watched two male Orange Tips fighting.

This morning at Amwell was pretty quiet, with nothing new present. A pair of Oystercatchers are coming and going as are Egyptian Geese. One or two Hobby's are also present but with few insects to eat its hard to see how they are surviving. The usual Redshanks appear to be displaying and there are still many warblers singing. Had pretty good views of a Cuckoo, but even better was hearing one from the garden first thing.

Friday, 7 May 2010


Since I finish work early on Friday, I decided to visit several woods hoping to get a few images of the Bluebells which are pretty much at their peak.
A recommended site in Graffridge Wood, part of the Knebworth complex was worth a visit and I got a few good images, though wether the composition do justice to the woods is debatable-I was using an old 20mm lens, which is decent optically, but not the best available.

Having got them, I decided to drive around the hamlets east of Stevenage and visit some of the woods that I have not been to for many years. Many of the roadside verges look superb, with Bluebells and various umbellifers such as Cow Parsley in bloom. Unfortunately, my main target, St Johns Wood looked to be pretty poor and I did not stay.
Lots of Pheasant on my drive, along with a few Partridge, Blackbirds and Song Thrush, and at least two juvenile Robins.

Monday, 3 May 2010

Bank Holiday Monday

Typical weather for the Bank Holiday-freezing cold northerly wind, with rain and hail coming down horizontally.
Went down to Amwell and spent most of the morning in the hide, sheltering with everyone else. The Grasshopper Warbler was reeling as I arrived, and the air was full of hirundines. A male Yellow Wagtail was a nice surprise, even more when it was flushed by a Kestrel revealing at least one female (and maybe another in it's talons). In the hide, the pair were seen frequently on the various islands, and appear to be settled.

Three Little Ring Plovers are present now, with at least one Ringed Plover and a single Redshank.

In the woods, I managed to see a Garden Warbler high in a Willow singing. The Blackcaps were of course deep in the bushes and not visible.

A single Orange Tip in a brief spell of sunshine was the only butterfly. As everyone left, a single Hobby was seen hunting over the wood.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

First Orchids in Kent

Have been planning a visit to Samphire Hoe near Dover in Kent for some time now, primarily to see the Early Spider Orchids. Having heard from the warden that the first were seen last weekend, we decided to try over the Bank Holiday. With several good birds, yesterday seemed ideal.
On the way down, we called in at Chatham to see the Iberian Chiffchaff which has been singing for a couple of days. Having not seen one since the Portland bird in 1999 I did not know how easy it would be to locate. Luckily it's classic, distinctive song and call was just about the first thing we heard when we reached the area where it had set up territory.

Over time we managed to get incredibly good views of the bird. At one time it did break into typical Chiffchaff song, though even so it did not sound quite right. The bright yellow supercillum and lemon wash to the undersides really stood out in the field-almost like a Wood Warbler.
Eventually we left, though did not have to travel far, as a Hoopoe at Lenham Heath was feeding in sheep fields adjacent to the Eurostar line. Unfortunately it was always distant. and rather worryingly standing on the railway bridge we may have given the impression of train spotters (and twitching is nothing like that is it?:). Had a chat with a birder I've known for years, reminiscing about past events. I'd bumped into him for the first time in quite a while last May Bank Holiday where the birding was even better (Collared Flycatcher and Crested Lark on the same day). I mentioned Dungeness and the Purple Herons which we would be visiting and he said that they had been seen carrying sticks, suggesting nest building. With a singing Bluethroat in Norfolk, its is starting to look more like Holland.
We eventually got to Samphire Hoe mid morning, with low cloud over the White Cliffs, though it was fine at sea level. Did not take long to locate our first Orchids.

There was a fine stand adjacent to the car park, though many more were eventually found as we walked down by the railway. Few birds were seen, apart from Stonechat and a few Swallows moving through. Eventually we made our way to the eastern edge, where under the cliffs, we knew that Black Redstarts could be found.

As usual, a male bird was found on the break water, and would not tolerate a close approach, though a stop and wait on top of the wall, as it fed among the rock resulted in one or two fairly good images.

At one point, the local Peregrine flew over at cliff top hight. The camera was not set up for flight shots so, the images were not satisfactory.
WE left Samphire, and drove through heavy rain to Dungeness, where it was windy but dry. High water levels meant the main pits did not have much to offer, but at Denge pits, the surrounding farm land was attractive to waders, where a flock of Whimbrel was seen. There were huge numbers of hirundines feeding, mainly Swallow, but with the occasional Sand and House Martin. Thoughts turned to Red Rumped Swallow, but none were seen.

The main attraction was the Purple Herons. It took a while but eventually I managed to locate one low over the reeds, but very distant. It appeared to be carrying a stick. As it dropped down, the second appeared and followed it. A short period of brief flights then ensued before one decided to move to another reed-bed to our east, unfortunately still out of camera range. We decided to head down and try to scan the reeds from a raised path to no avail before heading back to the car.
A brief sea watch at the power station outfall produced large numbers of Common terns among the gulls, but the winds were wrong for passage skuas and so on. We did however encounter another Black Redstart inside the power station.