Sunday, 29 August 2010

Bank Holiday Part1

Took the car in for its M.O.T and service on Friday. In the evening heard of five Whinchats and two Wheatear at Norton Green.
Decided to go down first thing Saturday, but the northerly breeze and the clear blue sky suggested it would be unsuccessful, and as it turned out, I was right, everything had cleared out. The only compensation was seeing about a dozen Buzzards in the air, with three coming very close at times. For once, I had my camera.
 A few warblers were found-several ticking Blackcaps and two or three juvenile Whitethroat, and a single House Martin went over.
Decided to drive over to Sandon since I had the camera, but the Red Kites proved elusive. Did not see any Harriers.

Today I went down to Amwell. The pits were alive with martins and it seemed the composition varied through the morning. House Martins predominated over the paddocks, while Sand were abundant over the main water, but every now and again a cluster of House joined them. Seemed to suggest that small parties were continually moving through. Strangely, only a few Swallows were seen all morning.
Bonus bird of the day was seeing two Swifts-probably my latest Herts records as my local birds went three weeks back. One had a deep forked tail, prompting Phil Ball to suggest a 'probable melanistic Pacific Swift'.
The local Hohby's were taking full advantage of the feast and were frequently coming close to us. Only one Buzzard and a few Sparrowhawk were seen as conditions were not ideal for soaring.
A few interesting ducks again. Jan mentioned seeing a Mandarin, but it was out of view all morning. Not a problem as a male and two females flew in around eleven. Diving duck tend to be scarce in summer with only a few Tufties, but three Pochard flew through at noon.
Apart from Lapwing, there were only two Common Sandpipers to add to the day's wader list.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Bird Fair Hangover

Did not plan on doing anything on Saturday-after a long tiring day out I sometimes need a bit of time to recover, and there is the usual lack of anything on the pager to tempt us out.
I did go down to Amwell in the morning-the regulars were out in force today. William had been for the Northumberland Sykes so that provoked some discussion, as did his cancelled Scillonian Pelagic. A number had also been for the Kelling Lesser Grey Shrike and this of course prompted one or two recollections from the old timers about dim and distant twitches-like mine from 1994.
Despite the vast expanse of mud, few waders seem to be present-a couple of Common and Green Sandpipers seemed to be it until two Snipe popped up. There had been a Greenshank in the week. Duck numbers seem to be on the slow increase, though the only new birds seemed to be Shoveller. There have been up to four Mandarin, which is pretty unusual for the reserve, and one sleeping female remained. A few terns remain, and also Black Headed Gull-among them was a first summer Yellow Legged Gull. Hirundines are still around-I missed a large flock of House Martin, though I did see a few Sand Martins go through, and Swallows still remain.
Big problem for me is that just after I got there my back went, even though I was just leaning against the fence. Had to call a halt to the visit after a couple of hours as it was getting too uncomfortable. Spent the rest of the day reading the new books and trying to work out how to use a flash gun-32 years of photography and I have never had one before. Turned out to be bolt it on the camera and press the shutter. Worked even with my all manual, no cpu Zeiss.

Today the back is a bit better. Had a potter round the garden and finally managed to net one of the grasshoppers that have been so hard to capture. Apparently I have Field Grasshoppers.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Bird Fair

Just back from a day at the Rutland Bird Fair, and as usual had a great time.
Weather forecast over the last few days did not look good, but in the end it was generally warm, with cloudy spells and a few brief showers. Did get rather warm and humid in the marquees though, especially towards the end of the afternoon.
Spent a fair bit of time early on checking out the optics-I am looking out for a pair of close focussing lightweight bins. Used the Leica Ultravids as a basis, in particular the 8x32, though I quite liked the 7x42 and 10x50's even though neither would be called compact, but they both felt good in the hands and suited my eyes. The most interesting though was the Swarovski 8.5x42 Swarovisions. They have had a mixed reception, with a lot of people complaining about motion sickness. Did not experience that in my brief test, but I was extremely impressed with the handling and the performance. I think they are currently my favourites. Would have liked to have tried the new Nikons but they were in a cabinet and not available for testing.
Picked up the usual selection of leaflets and brochures offering all sorts of trips, holidays and so on. Ended up with two new books-the latest Lewington Butterflies of Britain and Ireland, and Duivendijk's Advanced Bird ID Guide (not exactly light reading, but looks to be useful). Bird Life were actually giving away some of their publications and I got Raptor Watch-gave them a fiver as I was almost out of money by then.
Stopped off for the usual laugh of Just a Linnet in the lecture Marquee, but everything was over running so there were a few technical problems. Did not like the way the marquee was shaking in the wind.

One new toy-I finally have a flash gun, a week too late but there you go. Took advantage of the show prices to pick up an SB900 with almost £100 pounds off.

Did a little bit of birding. While on the Zeiss stand we picked up a distant raptor-grabbing a spare scope we had decent views of one of the Ospreys, which have tended to frequent the southern arm of the reservoir. Usual selection of ducks and geese-loads of loafing Egyptians soon to be as abundant as feral Canadas and Greylags I think. A few terns were Common-with Blacks turning up inland, I was hoping to pick one or two up. A Whinchat from the Anglian Water Centre, and a couple of Common Sandpipers were the only migrants I could find. Lots of hirundines still, mainly Swallow and Sand Martin from what I could see. The Tree Sparrow hide had, as usual no Tree Sparrows, but lots of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Pheasant. A Marsh Tit was a bonus and a nice surprise for many.Single flyby Hobby and Red Kite and Kestrel on the way back were the only other raptors noted.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Local Stuff

Another quiet weekend with northerly winds and cloudbursts to contend with.
Not too bothered by the latter as I have been doing more work in the garden, and despite the amount of rain we have had, the soil is still quite dry once you get down a few inches.
I appear to be feeding around twenty House Sparrows at any one time-they have had a very good breeding season it appears. Wood Pigeon is on a nest in the (last week) heavily pruned Bay tree still, and there are a couple of new juvenile Robins visiting. Not sure if the Goldfinches have had another brood, or wether I am seeing the young birds that first visited several months back. The Rowan is now full of berries so the Blackbirds and Starlings are tucking in.

On Saturday, the dilemma was wether to go travelling with Colin, get wet and probably not see much, or stay in the county and still get wet without seeing much. Chose the latter.
Violet Helleborines have been in flower for a while, with a site in Lincs being recommended. They are supposed to be in Box/Pryors Wood in Stevenage anyway, but we decided to go to Bricket Wood as this is the prime Herts site. Never been there before, and although it appears in the local birding books as a good site, I had a lot of trouble getting information on the orchids. As a result we turned up not knowing where to go.
Spent a couple of hours walking round-its a nice area of remnant heath and broad leaved woodland, but we never did find any orchids. Got a bit wet though.

With the forecast for the day of heavy rain from noon, plan B was implemented and we went to the nearby Butterfly World. At least we would be warm and dry.
Decided to wander round the various gardens that had been laid out by a number of designers. A few of the conceptual designs were a bit off the wall for what were meant to be wildlife friendly gardens, but some were entertaining. Gave me some ideas about plant associations that I might try. Not much insect activity though, as it was a bit cold and overcast. The big surprise was that wasps were very attracted to some of the Persicarias and also the purple heads of Angelica Gigas. Trying to get decent images hand held with the limited depth of filed of my Zeiss 100mm were very tricky as I did not have much light to play with. Got a few though.

With showers approaching we hit the tropical house and then had to spend five minutes waiting for steamed up glasses and cameras to acclimatise. The light inside was not good, and without flash it was a case of trying to keep to a decent shutter speed and aperture while using iso 400-800. Even so, 1/160 to 1/250 at F4 was not enough and many images were under exposed by a couple of stops-salvagable but not nice. I need a D3s. At least ten species were on display and it made change to see some of the exotics. Dont know what all of them were, as the display boards seemed a bit out of date but here is some sort of Swallowtail.

Over the course of the next year, a 100m biome is being built, which will house butterflies, Humming Birds and other tropical animals. Will definitely be going back.

We  dodged a number of very sharp torrential downpours on the M25 and called in at Danemead on the way home. A number of tit flocks were encountered, containing Blue Coal and Great, plus a few Treecreepers. Two or three Crossbills flew over and their calls appeared to cause a Nuthatch to respond which was confusing for a moment. On the north side of the reserve, by the stream, I found a small group of Broad Leaved Helleborines. Most had gone over, but one seedling had a single fresh flower, and another large spike was fading. A single Southern Hawker over the small pond, one Common Blue butterfly, one Meadow Brown and a couple of Speckled Woods were the only insects noted.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Quiet couple of weeks.

Have not posted for a bit.
Unable to go out last weekend due to other commitments.
Not much happening this weekend-autumn migration is under way, but as yet there is nothing worth spending a fortune in petrol. There have been one or two odd reports of Southern Emeralds and a Yellow Winged Darter at Winterton, but no follow up as I write. News on late flowering orchids is also limited, though the dry summer has had a big impact in some areas.
Had Friday off to get some tyres and work on the garden. While waiting in Stevenage Old Town, a few Swifts were feeding. The first few days of August sees the local birds heading south, so any later sightings are a bonus. Afterwards, I went up to the Sandon area. At Dead Mans Hill, there were a lot of big raptors, though most were a bit distant in the heat haze. Two Red Kite, one Marsh harrier and four Buzzards were identified. I had a drive around and went down the Kelshall road where the Kites were seen again-one came down in the road onto a dead pigeon. I got within 20 feet-no camera of course.  Four juvenile Marsh Harriers were seen from Coombe lane in one of the fields and I came across a family of Kestrels.
Working on the garden in the afternoon (having visited the local Pioneer Nursery-50% off everything and fatal for my wallet) I heard a number of Swifts go over the garden, and among them were several House Martins. Believe it or not the first House MartinsI have seen from my garden for two years. Used to be a common sight in summer too.
Saturday involved more work. This time it was a couple of parties of Swallows in the morning and a large northward movement of Black Headed Gulls late afternoon. One bonus was the two Holly Blues among the resident Gatekeeper and Small Whites.
Today I went down to Amwell in the morning. Pretty quiet still. Two Common Sandpipers were the only passage birds though I got the feeling that some of the Swallows were heading south. Two Sparrowhawks were the only raptors for some time until a pair of Kestrels went up, along with single Buzzard and Hobby.
Decided to go for a wander with  resident photographer Brian Hewitt and look for dragonflies. The usual stuff was seen, but numbers seemed a bit low. The only abundant species was Common Blue, and Common Darter was  a long way back in second place. Single Emperor and Banded Demoiselle, Brown and Migrant Hawker plus a few Blue tails and Red Eyes and only one Small Red Eye.
Lots of Buddlea  in flower but few butterflies feeding on them, in fact apart from Speckled Wood and Small Whites we only saw singles of Small Heath, Comma and Red Admiral. Got back to the watchpoint and the lack of excitement was obvious. Hopefully things will pick up soon.