Sunday, 22 May 2011


Went down to Amwell for the usual Sunday get together. Arrived at the same time as Barry and he pointed out the Spotted Flycatcher which seems to be spending its time in the woods opposite the access track.
 A bit windy at times, often cloudy and with a spell or two of light drizzle made it a bit frustrating. The usual birds present, with hoards of Swifts and Hirundines feeding low over the water. One Little Egret was feeding with a group of Grey Herons, including some young ones. Bonus bird was a male Yellow Wagtail that flew in briefly and landed on the main shingle island.
Went for a walk in the hope of picking up a few dragonflies. Not much on the lily pads so I waited on the bridge. Found a few Banded Demoiselles and Azures which was a good start. Heard a couple of Marsh Tits, and as the other Sunday regulars arrived, five young Marsh Tits flew out from the surrounding bushes and some landed on the old road bridge putting on a good show for us.
 TheHollycross trail was very difficult due to the wind. I found some Blue Tails and Azures, but not much else. The Southern Marsh and Early Marsh hybrids looked pretty good.
Back at the bridge, a longer wait in the sunshine produced more damsels and eventually two Hairy Dragonflies appeared.
At the watchpoint Simon and the other Colin were present, and they noticed two large corvids fly over-the Ravens are still around.

Kent Orchids

Spent Saturday in Kent visiting a couple of Orchid sites.
Started off at Yockletts Bank and walked south along the upper path. Found a few poor White Helleborines and a couple of well past their best Lady Orchids in a clearing. Unfortunately Colin slipped down the bank and damaged his camera. We carried on down to the southern-most part of the wood, finding a lot of Twayblades and a few Broad Leaved Helleborines-one of which appeared to be in bud.
We returned along the lower path, finding a large chalky clearing with a few fresh Ladies, some Flies, and more Helleborines.

Did not encounter any other Orchid species. No butterflies which was a bit odd as it was warm and sunny. Birds were pretty quiet too, apart from some singing Blackcap and Garden Warblers and a family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

We next went to Park Gate Down where I was not expecting much as I had heard that the Chiltern Monkey Orchids were pretty much over. Seemed to be the case here as there were only a few spikes in the first field around the old chalk pit. Lots of Fragrant spikes coming up though. The second field turned out to be  full of Monkeys, with a good 50 or so, looking a fine sight. At least a dozen wild Columbines were flowering at the top of the bank, but we did not see any Lady, nor Greater Butterfly. No-one we spoke to had seen Man Orchids either and a long search proved fruitless.
One interesting sight was a Cuckoo mobbing a Rook on the ground.

Had intended to visit a few more sites, but Colin wanted to get his camera into the repair centre so our day was a bit shorter than expected.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

More Weekend Images

A few more images taken last Weekend.

River Thames Hambledon Lock

Fly Orchid Homefield Wood

Miltary Orchids HomeField Wood

Ring Ouzel Cuthroat Bridge. Bit embarrassing as its still my best Rouzel pic.

Reservoir near Strines Moor.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Orchid Sunday

Following a fairly abbreviated visit to Amwell on Saturday curtailed by a migraine (not much happening, though plenty of Swifts and Hirundines, plus the usual waders) we decided on a fairly short Sunday trip down to Henley and do a few orchid sites and maybe get some dragonflies too.
Homefield Wood is the 'public' site for Military Orchids. Had heard on Bird Forum that they had started to flower last weekend, so thought it would be a good idea to get down now. In the small field we located a good 50+ spikes with quite a diverse range of form and colour-the shaded ones tending to be darker and taller but we did find a few dumpy robust specimens including a double spike. One Common Spotted Orchid was in bud, and a very short flower was also seen. While chasing a Common Blue butterfly I found one of several Fly Orchids as well as a couple of almost flowering Fragrants and a single Twayblade. In the wooded ride to the north we saw a few White Helleborines and I also located leaves of what appeared to be Broad Leaved Helleborine and what may have been a Violet Helleborine.
 The smaller more wooded field held 30+ Militaries and a single Fly.

Birds were pretty much what one would expect in woods the area-lots of Willow and Chiffchaff, various tits, Nuthatch, Goldcrest and so on. Did not have any big lenses with me which proved to be a mistake as we had a few close encounters with Red Kites-now almost ubiquitous.
 At Amwell Phil Ball the 'Gomphus Guru' talked up his research site on the Thames at Remenham, and being a few miles away, we took a look. Unfortunately, the wind had got up, as we also had some light showers. This did not seem to affect the Banded demoiselles and Mayflies which were abundant, but despite a long search we did not see any Club Tailed Dragonflies. I did see a black and yellow insect fly up from the footpath some way off, but did not get anything on it-no idea of size or anything. Might have been a hoverfly or a Club Tail just dont know. On our return to the car I met another Amwell regular and his partner who had also been talking to Phil and having heard of our failure decided to go to the pub and try later. We also gave them directions to Homefield Wood.

 With a few hours left before I needed to get home we called in at Warburg, a place we had enjoyed last year. The White Helleborines were easily located, though it looks as if many had been eaten by deer, but the Greater Butterflies were a lot harder as they were few in number,fairly short and predominantly in bud. Another couple of weeks and they would look as good as last years visit.
 Along with a couple of others, we struggled to locate the Birds Nests and in the end only two small spikes could be found in the birch copse. Suspect the very dry Spring may have had an impact.
More Red Kites in the area, and I found a Marsh Tit in exactly the same bush as last year. One thing we did not get this time were Crossbills.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Peak District

Had a day off yesterday and went up to the Peak District, for birds and landscape photography. Weather was a bit hit and miss, cold at times, warm later and an on off wind.
Arrived at Strines Moor around 0830, and immediately came upon a number of Red Grouse. Most were distant and did not make good photos. Couple of Tree Pipits singing-until one decided to chase off a Cuckoo. A few Curlew and Lapwing as well as the ever present Meadow Pipits and Skylarks.
Parked by Cutthroat Bridge an hour later and walked up onto the moors. Met a guy who had not seen much at all-not a good sign.  Did not take long to find a Stonechat, and then bumped into another guy who put us onto a very distant Ring Ouzel near the top. Pretty handy as I have not heard of any passage birds locally this year. With him, we also spent a while photographing two pairs of Whinchat.

We were joined by a couple and after taking a few images we walked back and they drew our attention to another Ring Ouzel up one of the valleys but this was even more distant than our one.
 We next went to Padley Gorge and parked by the quarry on the road. A walk along the track did not produce many birds apart from one or two Dippers flying down river. The gorge itself was very photogenic.

We got to the station and met another birder who led us up onto the western side where we encountered several pairs of Pied Flycatchers. Up on the top, another Tree Pipit was singing, but we never found any Redstarts or Wood Warblers.

 On our way back, we hoped to get a few orchids. One site near Leicester we could not find at all, so we ended up at Barnack Holes. The wind had got up, and despite searching for well over an hour we could not find any Man orchids. Apparently according to a local, it has not been a good year.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Delayed Lunch

Was expecting to knock off work around 1230 as usual-until I glanced at the pager and read Black Tern Fairlands Valley 1100 am at least. Managed to get out at 1130 and called in-it was still showing, along with a circling Red Kite,  so went home and grabbed the camera.
Spent the next hour or so with a couple of local birders, and various passers by explaining what the bird was and why we were so interested.
Had a lot of trouble with the af on the 300mm lens and 1.7 converter as I have not had time to try various focus settings to optimise for birds in flight. As the Tern was quite small in the finder, I usually ended up focussing on the trees opposite. In fact some of the best images were manual focus-the lens was stopped down to about f10 and with an iso of 3200 the shutter speed was kept very high.

 First one for me in  Stevenage, and with the recent Little Gull and Barwit, a nice run for me in Herts.
Eventually got home at 1330, very hungry and thirsty and with a nasty bout of hay-fever starting up, but it was worth it.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Quiet Long Weekend 2

Went to Amwell today.
Simon was leaving and mentioned that the Bar Tail Godwit was still present, and William had his scope ready for me. This is quite a rare species for Amwell, and this one was part of a very large inland passage.  Not long after, I found the Common Sandpiper, which along with Redshank, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Little Ring Plover and the Snipe I did not see made it something of a wader day.
The easterly wind was rather unpleasant, and I started to get rather cold despite the sunshine. Lots of Swifts started to appear around 0930, along with parties of House Martin, but surprisingly no other hirundines. Raptors were elusive and only a coup,e of Buzzards managed to get up.
 There were a large number of common Terns, mainly fishing  down in the southern end. There were a few Lesser Black Backs and Herring Gulls as well as the Black Headed Gulls on the raft. Just before 1100, some of us glanced at a Black Headed flying north, did not pay any attention of course until it was almost out of sight. William then spotted the black underwing and realised it was a Little gull. A few of us got to the bridge and picked it up before it was lost to view.
Had to leave then as the cold wind was getting to me and I was starting to feel a bit unwell.

Quiet Long Weekend

Did not do a great deal this weekend, despite the two days extra holiday.
Friday and Saturday were largely spent in the garden, as I had a bit more work to do with the pond before the plants really got going. Missed the Royal Wedding as a result, but could not avoid the repeats all evening despite my best efforts.
Sunday was another quiet one. Not much to go for nationally, so we decided to stick with the Chilterns and butterflies.
Arrived at Bison Hill Whipsnade a bit before 0900 and found it a bit windy. Despite that, we found the first of many Grizzled Skippers on the path down from the car park. We split up and I covered the lower slopes, but apart from a few Dingy Skippers the wind proved a bit annoying and little else was seen. Plenty of Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat in the scrub.

 I eventually made my way up the slope, and having lost Colin I encountered another butterfly hunter. We spread out and covered the upper slopes, and having searched the top, I returned and found him down lying down in a track I had searched earlier. Before I got to him I found my own Duke of Burgundy, and soon after several more. Colin then arrived and we reckon on having seen around nine or so.

 We eventually returned to the car park, having got more Skippers as well as a large number of Green Hairstreaks.

 We next went to Aldbury Nowers, not far from Tring.
My first Small Heaths were seen near the lay by as we made our way up to the Ridge Way. The slopes of the reserve proved hard to work. Got more Green Hairstreaks, Dingy and Grizzled Skippers and various whites. Colin reckoned to have seen a Fritillary as well. I had expected to see orchids, but I suspect we should have visited the southern section for these as the steep slopes were not ideal.
 Our last site was Sewell Cutting near Dunstable. We had been told that Small Blues were flying. Unfortunately the cutting was more like a wind tunnel and little was flying.  We did see Common Blues and a single Brown Argus, along with yet another Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper.