Monday, 26 July 2010

Southern Migrant Hawkers

News broke late last week that a number of Southern Migrant (or Mediterranean) Hawkers in Essex on the 20th were in fact at Hadleigh Castle Country Park. Being in need of something to twitch, Colin and I made our way there yesterday.
Unfortunately we met a couple of guys in the car park who had maps of the site and knew exactly where to go, stating that the directions on the message boards were incomplete. As a result we had a very long walk along the estuary moorings, the wrong side of the railway line. Seeing that they had cocked up, a very pissed off Colin and I retraced our steps and eventually got onto the right path. (The dickheads turned up about an hour later, god knows where they ended up).
Nothing much happened for a while as it was rather cloudy-the temperature was ok though. I ended up in a ditch searching for Scarce Emeralds, and was just getting the camera set up when there was a shout from the main pool. Apparently a Southern Migrant had flown low over the grass and had dropped down into the reeds/sedge in front of us. It did not show again.
Meanwhile a number had gone off exploring-Colin returned with an interesting all blueish hawker on his camera screen so we went and had a look. Turned out to be a dull Migrant Hawker that the camera screen had rendered in such a way that the yellow triangle had gone a bit blue grey in the poor light.

I got my scope on it so everyone had a good look before going back to the main pool and ditch. Colin and I were directed to another pool full of Scarce Emeralds and we some time getting a few decent images-the light was still bad and there was a bit of a breeze at times.

I wandered off to start searching the nearby ditch when Colin gave a shout. A small, intensely blue Hawker had come down from the hillside trees and was flying over the pool. It did a couple of circuits, flying only a few feet from us before I lost it behind some Hawthorns. There was no trace of yellow on it and it could only be a Southern Migrant Hawker.
One thing is certain, it's flight over the water at or below head hight is very different to the normal high flying Migrant Hawker.
I managed to get everyone present over and told them the news. Not long after, and in quick succession an Emperor, a Migrant Hawker and the Southern Migrant Hawker appeared, but the latter did not linger. I believe most got pretty good views of it.
With noon approaching, and lacking food and drink we decided to make our way back to the car. There was a  quick diversion to what was suspected briefly to be a female Southern Migrant (it was not) and a search of the long grass for another all blue Hawker that had been seen briefly, but we were too tired to do much more.

After refreshment and rest, we came home via Hockley Wood and Thrift Wood. Both are Heath Fritillary sites which Colin visits, but I have never been to them. Too late for the Heath's (barring a very late flying individual), all we really saw were high numbers of Gatekeepers, some Common Darters, and a few Southern and Brown Hawkers. Migrant Hawkers were out in both woods, and at Thrift, the pond held some Ruddy Darters, one of which I caught in flight.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Wood Sandpiper

A few days after my visit to Rye Meads, a Wood Sandpiper was reported. They are more or less annual in the Lea Valley, but except for those birders who virtually live there, it can be a tricky bird to see, and in 24 years I must be one of the few regulars not to have seen one. Solitary Sandpiper yes...Wood Sand no.
Even on autumn trips to Norfolk, I have a habit of not finding any, despite their frequency-last week ends trip being typical as several have been seen at Titchwell with the Buff Breast. In fact I have only managed to get one or two decent images over the years.
The Rye bird lingered through the working week, and as FRiday is a half day I kept hoping, and luckily it was reported again in the morning.
I got down at 1330 and discovered that it was a little way off in one of the small bays from Draper hide. Someone kindly pointed out that a few days previously it was seen very close...
The light was not all that great and I had to use the 2x converter to get decent sized images with the 500mm-later on the light did get better and I even stuck the 1.4x converter on too.

 There were several Green Sandpipers moving around-would have been nice to get both together but they did not oblige.
The juvenile Garganey is still present, but was a long way off.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Marsh Helleborine, Quail and a Monty's

Only just got round to sorting out Sundays trip images.
The plan was simple-hit Norfolk, pick up a few good birds and hopefully some insects and orchids too.
Titchwell has had a long staying adult Buff Breasted Sandpiper so it seemed a good place to start-before the heat haze got going, and also because it was the last weekend before they shut the main path.
Tide looked favourable, with lots of loafing gulls and waders to pick through. Large numbers of Ruff including some of the smaller Buff Breast lookalike females seemed to be the big problem, but it turned out to be a different wader that would cause most discussion. Small (ish) with a plain, fine, not at all 'scaly' feathering and a prominent pectoral band, realisation took a long time to sink in-only confirmed when another 100 or so similar Knot flew in. Bit out of practice.
Lots of Godwits, Avocet Oystercatcher and Redshanks of course, one Snipe and a few Green Sands. The gulls were not exciting, just Black Heads and a few Common and Herring.
No sign of the Buff Breast at all-we assumed it was hiding in the vegetation because of the rather strong offshore wind.
The sea was pretty dead of course, thanks to that wind, a few moulting Eider, three or four Little Tern, the occasional Sandwich and someone had a Gannet as well.
Not much happening on the Fen pools either, just a few Common Darters  and Blue Tailed Damsels.

We decided to go down and visit the 'secret' Montague's Harrier watchpoint that virtually everyone knows about. The RSPB signs and the warden sitting in the deckchair are useful clues.
Before we even got there, a slender rakish harrier flew over the car.
We managed to pull over and I got a few shots . Unfortunately when I got the images up on my computer, the lack of a white rump was a problem, so I counted the primaries-five. Damn. A fuzzy shot showed the dark brown body and cream head of a juvenile Marsh. One of those days I guess.
Still, we arrived at the watchpoint to hear that a female had been seen to the north, but had gone down. The vast flock of feeding Swifts proved entertaining, obviously feeding up over the fields before their departure in a couple of weeks. Lots of juveniles of course.

After about forty minutes and still thinking we had seen a Montague's we drove off, heading south west and after a mile or so an obvious ring tail flew over the car. Bit lucky there.

With Marsh Helleborine in flower on the coastal dunes, I had planned to visit Holme, or Holkham, but we headed off to Narborough Railway line instead. Did not take long to find several hundred spikes in the southern hollow.

Plenty of butterflies too, Gatekeeper, Ringlet, Green Vein, Large and Small Whites, lots of Small and Essex Skippers, a few Comma's and Brimstone. Even one Small Copper and a Brown Argus. and there
were a few Common Darters and Brown Hawkers too.

Unfortunately the heat and humidity was building up to uncomfortable levels so we went back up to the old railway line to catch the breeze. Pyramidal Orchids were still fresh, and much of the special chalk flora looked wonderful. I spent some time in a sheltered area with the Harebells.

With time getting on we headed home, and called in at Deadman's Hill on the way. A quick scan revealed a large raptor but when I got the scope out, all I could see was a Kestrel. However not long after, a female Marsh Harrier popped up over the eastern ridge and then a Buzzard came up and mobbed it, before both dropped down again. Shortly after that excitement, I heard at least one Quail calling along the footpath in a filed of low Flax. I was able to get a lot closer, but despite the bird being no more than thirty feet away it never showed.  In all probability a second, more distant bird may have been calling as well.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Rye Meads

I had intended to get down to Symonshide Great Wood to see if any butterflies were out-last year was very good.However the weather has been very poor recently with strong winds and heavy rain. It is still a bit blowy today, and not all that warm so i decided to visit Rye Meads instead.
The Garganey that has been present for a few days was found quite quickly, and for once was not too far away.
On the same scrape, a Common Sandpiper was feeding among the loafing Black Headed Gulls. Small groups of moulting ducks included family parties of Gadwall, Mallard Tufted Duck and also  a couple of Dabchick.
Not much on the marsh, apart from three Green Sandpipers-my first of the year. The north lagoon was full of ducks, all rather far away. However the southern lagoon had a couple of feeding Pochard close in-there were one or two chicks around too.

The tern rafts were occupied in the main by loafing ducks, along with a few families of Black Headed Gulls.

As soon as I walked into the Kingfisher Hide, the female was seen perched on one of the branches stuck into the water. Apparently this has been a very good year for them, and it looks like they may be starting a third brood soon.

It was starting to warm up a bit, and I started to see a few Dragonflies-mainly Brown Hawker, and the occasional Black Tailed Skimmer. A few Azure and Common Blue Damselflies were out too. Butterflies consisted mainly of Small White, Gatekeeper, Ringlet and Peacock with a few Speckled wood and Green Veined White.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010


Took the opportunity to get down to Amwell this morning, before the heavy showers got going. More a social visit to catch up on the gossip as I have not been down for a month now.
Not a great deal happening. One Chiffchaff and one Blackcap singing by the road. Few ducks visible, and most of those are in full eclipse, so looking very drab. Canada and Greylag Geese numbers increasing though. Apart from a few Lapwing, no waders-there have been a few Common and Green Sandpipers recently, and one or two Black Tail Godwits passing through. The usual Lesser Black Back lurking around, and a couple of locally bred juvenile Black Headed Gulls present-the terns are still active as well.
Despite the cloud, several Buzzard up, as well as one or two Kestrel and Sparrowhawk. Up to three Hobbys are around as well.
Hirundines (mainly local Sand Martins and Swallows) high up, and several flocks of Swift flying through from time to time. One interesting thing was one Swallow coming down to the water's edge and collecting mud, presumably trying for another brood.
Not ideal weather for insects. I did see Black Tail Skimmer, Emperor, Azure Damselfly Small White, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Red Admiral. Did not bother to check the dragonfly trail out today-will wait for better conditions and take my camera down.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Making the best of a bad week

I should be up at my Sister's in Scotland, and targeting the Dragonflies as well as various Butterflies and Orchids. Plus I was hoping to get about fifteen bird species onto my year list (including Surf Scoter and King Eider). Unfortunately the stomach bug reappeared and I did not think it would be feasible making the long journey to her remote location.
However, there has been some improvement after the last couple of days, and as Colin had a great time with the Purple Emperors in Broxbourn Wood, I thought I'd go down this morning for a while. I called Colin and we met up there about 1030. No activity for a while, though there were huge numbers of Ringlets along the main ride. A group down near the seat had a brief glimpse so I went down to them. Not long afterwards, a male Emperor appeared flew around us and went off, but soon reappeared. It spent most of it's time resting on people (to their frustration) and enabled a very close approach.
It became apparent, that Colin's group back up the ride also had one. For a while it was a bit elusive, but eventually came down and settled. Unfortunately Colin was not able to get any images.....
 Eventually it was possible to coax it down to a pile of dung, and as Colin's time was limited I took him round to some areas he did not know.
The old heath  is looking rather poor at the moment, dominated by bracken. The Agrimony, what little there is presumably due to the very dry spring is not quite in flower. Also the Wood Sage looks to be past it's best. We carried on to the pond where a single White Admiral was seen.
We then turned off into the open meadow where I hoped to get eye level images of Purple Hairstreaks, but the few I saw stayed near the tree tops. Another White Admiral appeared, and I got distant images.
 There were also large numbers of Small/Essex Skippers though none stopped for a close look. Meadow Grasshoppers were everywhere too.
Birds were a bit scarce-it was a bit warm, and many of the adults would be in their post breeding moult. We did hear a singing Chiffchaff, and a Blackcap, and several Crossbills were flying around.

Monday, 5 July 2010

New Forest and no Quail

After a couple of weekends out of action with a stomach bug it was nice to get out again over the weekend.
Unfortunately, thanks to the illness, I've missed a fair bit in the latter half of June, and a lot of good insects and orchids have finished. Hopefully will be able to catch up on the birds over the next month or so.

We decided to hit the New Forest on Saturday, as reports on Bird Forum suggested that some of the special orchids were out. Also of course the more localised butterflies and dragonflies should be abundant.
We arrived at Long Beech enclosure just before nine. It was sunny, with a nice cool breeze. A couple of guys were getting back in their car and gave us directions to the Bog Orchids. Did not take long to find the spot, which was looking nice with the yellow Asphodel and Sundews. After more than an hour of searching I finally managed to spot a tiny spike-even though there were supposed to be lots about.

Difficult to get images of it due to it's tiny size, and the very unstable ground.

After this we headed down to Dibden Enclosure. It is supposed to have Heath Fragrant Orchids. Well we searched quite a bit of the (northern) side without success. The stream was very good, with large numbers of the more regular dragonflies-Broad Bodied and FourSpot Chasers, Keeled Skimmers, Azure, Common Large Red and Small Red Damselflies and a few Beautiful Demoiselles. The heath held huge numbers of Silver Studded Blues.

Also fairly abundant were the Large Skippers.

With no sign of the fragrant (let alone the Heath Spotted which is supposed to be abundant all over the forest) we moved off to Hatchet Pond. Several Dark Green Fritillaries were nice, and yet again, Silver Studded were abundant. Unfortunately the wind had picked up and the smaller damselflies were hard to locate. I though that I had found a Scarce Bluetail, but close inspection of the image when I had got home proved it was just a Common Bluetail. For once we went quite a way upstream searching for the Scarce Bluetail but we never found anything apart from the ubiquitous Keeled Skimmers.

Knowing that Crockford Bridge would be more sheltered we made it our last New Forest destination. Southern Damselflies were by far the most common, though everything so far mentioned was found here. As usual, the Golden Ringed were the most photogenic.
A search of the more open area for Grayling was fruitless, though we did get to see a few more Dark Green Fritillaries and Silver Studded Blues.

More Sundews were found again-including some in spots I would have thought were too dry, but they seemed happy.

Heading home we called in at Noar Hill. Most of the orchids we saw last visit were going over, though the Pyramidals were perfect. The Musk Orchids proved to be a bit more difficult to locate until I sat down for a while and took a close look at the turf. Once you get your eye in they are pretty easy to see.
Plenty of Butterflies-Common Blue, Large Skipper, Ringlet and Marbled White.

 Sunday morning was nice and sunny, but very breezy. I went up to the Wallington/Dead Mans Hill area to search for Quail as there are several this year. I was not successful, though some were heard in the evening. What was nice was the large number of Corn Buntings in the Wallington area. There were a few raptors present-Buzzard and Kestrel, though Red Kites are present. Would have expected Hobby as well. Will have to try again when conditions are more suitable.