Monday, 26 May 2014

Chelsea Flower Show and A Long Wet Bank Holiday

The holiday started on a big high on Thursday and then went downhill thanks to the weather, as a result of which there was very little birding done at all, and things like butterflies were a non starter.
Since joining the RHS some years ago now, i have visited a number of gardens and shows, particularly Chelsea which was held last week. Could not go last year for various reasons so I was looking forward to this year, and thought it a good idea to take Sarah with me.
I got down to Sarah and Ed quite early and he dropped us off at Broxbourne Station so that we could get the 0718 train. As a result we got to the show about 20 minutes after the gates opened, so it was very quiet for an hour or so. The artisan gardens were very good this year and with few people around we were able to study them closely and chat to the designers. Think that Sarah picked up a lot of ideas for her garden. We then rushed up to main avenue and got to see the bigger gardens. While there were a few good ones, there was nothing that I would call really special. Much of the planting though nice was a bit formulaic with the same set of plants used by many of the designers-lots of blue Iris, Orlaya. Aquilegias and Foxgloves.
By the time we got through the larger gardens and the somewhat challenging concept displays the crowds were starting to build, and having done a complete circuit of the outside we spent a good two hours in the huge marquee enjoying the nursery displays. Sarah of course went for the roses and veg, while i preferred the more unusual orchids, arisaemas, lilies and herbaceous plants. She did surprise me by taking a keen interest in the carnivorous plants and the only example in cultivation of Primula Ambita.
After leaving the marquee we visited a couple of gardens again, but after six hours of walking we were getting a bit tired and decided to leave. Good job too, as the first raindrops were falling as we got to Sloane Square tube. When we got to the main line at Tottenham Hale, it was chucking it down, with horizontal rain and lightning though by the time Ed picked us up it was more or less over.

Friday was a rest day-I was shattered from our day out. Spent a few hours pottering in the garden.
We have some young House Sparrows, and it looks like the Blackbirds are feeding young in the Bay tree.

Saturday. Cold and very wet. Stayed in.

Sunday was supposed to be wet and cold so Colin and I decided not to do anything. Turned out to be rather nice, so i went to Amwell-what a surprise.
Nothing much out of the ordinary, we are getting to the start of the quiet summer period, breeding is in full swing and the ducks are starting to moult. The Little Ring Plovers are still around, but appear to have failed in their nesting attempt. The Oystercatchers have raised young on the big island this time and I am not sure what the Redshanks are doing. Lots of ducklings and young Coots and Moorhens {aka Heron and Pike food unfortunately} and the gulls and terns are very noisy and active.
Birds of prey consisted of a flyover Red Kite, several Buzzards and at least one Hobby. Lots of Swifts feeding over the lakes and woods, but I did not see any hirundines while I was there.
Lots of Harlequin Ladybirds in the nettles in front of the view point, with a few Two Spots. lots of other interesting beetles, weevils and bugs as well along with  Azure Damselflies and one or two Common Blues. The only butterflies were a couple of Orange Tips and a Peacock.

Today started off wet and cold. Did a bit more gardening once it dried a bit.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Martin Down Butterflies

Having had a break last weekend, we decided to go back down to Hampshire on Saturday for more butterflies. Its been a few years since we have been there, but Martin Down seemed like the best place, and then it was a case of trying a few other places as time permitted.
We got there around 1000, and it was already getting very warm, and this proved to be a bit of a problem as the butterflies tended to be very active and rarely settled. We parked in the lane west of Martin village and walked west along one of the tracks and diverted along a nice hedge lined green lane. Got my first Red Admiral and Common Blues here along with the first of very many Dingy Skippers. Good numbers of Brimstone, Small and Green Veined Whites and Orange Tips as well. Getting to the end of the green lane, we had very active Green Hairstreaks, the first of hoards of Small Blues, and some Grizzled Skippers frequenting damp wheel ruts.
The lowest part of the down is here and we found a good half dozen Marsh Fritillaries, more blues and one or two Small Heaths and Small Coppers. The Fritillaries  were active and very territorial but one or two settled so we got some good images.

Heading up to Bockerly Dyke it was nice to hear a few Corn Buntings among the Skylarks and Yellowhammers. The Burnt Tip Orchids are doing well-the last time we saw them there were only two plants, this year I found six clumps with nine flowering spikes, plus at least one none flowering plant. Surprisingly I could not locate any other orchids as we walked north along the dyke, and butterflies seemed to become less frequent too. Found a few more Green Hairstreaks one of which posed, plus some Brown Argus but there were no sightings of Adonis Blues unfortunately.

Heading east, we called in at Chappets Copse which was carpeted with Sword Leaved Helleborines. We were the only ones present which was a bit surprising as it was very busy when we last visited a few years ago. The Fly Orchids were ok, one was partly eaten and there were a couple of good flowering spikes. Had a search for Birds Nests without success-the area seemed to be rather overgrown.
A commotion in an ivy covered tree turned out to be an owl which flew out through the woods. Got reasonable views and judging by the long winged appearance and vocalisations I thought it could have been a Long Eared but Tawny was more likely.

It was rather late in the afternoon when we got to Botany Bay in Oakden Woods. Still warm but rather cloudy now. We encountered around ten Wood Whites and one Nightingale. Still a few Bluebells and Early Purple Orchids in flower.

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Bank Holiday Butterflies

A change of pace for the Bank Holiday, we went down to Hampshire for butterflies.
Initially we stopped off at Broughton Down not far from Middle Wallop. It was still a bit cool and I thought that the high chalk down would have warmed up a bit. We certainly got rather warm on the steep climb up to the ridge, and it was pretty amazing as the tracks and ridge were lined in Yew, many rather old and massive. Never seen so many in one place before.
Classic chalk flora though little was flowering apart from Milkwort, and a search for orchids failed to find any, i guess it is mainly late flowering species here. Butterflies were elusive at first, with a few Orange Tips and Brimstones, but eventually we located a few Grizzled Skippers.

Bentley Wood was our prime objective and we arrived just before noon. Unfortunately hazy cloud was starting to build up and there was a bit of a breeze as well. Despite this we found a large number of Pearl Bordered Frittilaries though most were very mobile and hard to photograph.

Had a few Brimstones again, and a nice Common Lizard was seen sunning itself on one of the small bridges. A bonus was seeing two displaying Tree Pipits, though again getting photos was rather hard.

With no Duke of Burgundies seen here today, though one or two had been reported recently so we went to Noar Hill.
We parked in a slightly different place on the western side and climbed the short track to find the hill covered in Cowslips and Early Purple Orchids. A couple of Burgundies were in the small quarry along with a couple of Dingy Skippers and we saw more of both as we explored the hill. No sign of any Green hairstreaks though by now it had got rather dull and windy.

We stopped off briefly at one of the quarries along Coppers Green Road near Hatfield. The Mandarin that are present had unfortunately been flushed shortly before we arrived. Bar Tail Godwit and Grey Plover had also been seen, but judging by the grid ref I obtained when we got home I believe that they were on a different pit

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Wood Sandpiper

I did not know what I would be doing today. Despite an overnight frost it promised to be a sunny day, and reasonably warm so I thought about visiting Waterford heath and try and find Grizzled Skippers. However a tweet from Amwell sent me there instead.
Glad I took my heavy coat as despite the warm sunshine there was still a nasty cold wind to contend with, and even when  I left it was still a bit cool.
The Wood Sandpiper spent most of the morning on the mud in front of the view point, though occasionally the resident redshanks took exception to it and it flew to the main island on a couple of occasions. Being the first of the year for Herts it proved attractive and generated a sizeable crowd.
Yesterday's Common Sandpipers had gone, as had most of th hirundines, but there were a few more Swifts today, and two Hobbys were also seen.

Had a stroll over to Hollycross with William now that the Dragonfly Trail had re-opened. We had a single Large Red Damselfly, several Green Veined Whites, Orange Tips Tortoiseshells and Peacocks. The orchids were just starting to flower, the usual mixed assemblage of Early and Southern Marsh hybrids.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Thorley and Amwell

Bank Holiday started early as I had the morning off today. Not a very nice morning it must be said, being rather dull and with a cold northerly airflow. Typical May Bank Holiday weather.
I drove over to Thorley Wash, parking at the south end as it was a much easier walk than from Twyford Mill. Couple of Common terns fishing on the Lea Navigation, and several Willow Warblers Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the flooded woods alongside. Heard the Cuckoo as I got to the access bridge and shortly after heard two rather faint Grasshopper Warblers reeling. One was to the south and the other seemed to be in the small willows to the north, so I made my way up the path along the Lea. Very windy and noisy and the bird had shut up, though I did see something flitting around-might have been one of the Whitethroats though.
Decided to call in at Amwell, and was surprised to see Trevor's van parked there. Turns out a fair few that I usually expect to see on Sunday visits were there and also Jay.
Lots of hirundines flying overhead, at one point a couple of Swifts appeared, and also many more Terns now. All Common unfortunately, last night's Arctic had gone and I was probably a bit optimistic in betting Black Tern. Two Common Sandpipers were present, the first for the site this year and rather late.
Still one or two pairs of Teal, some Shoveller, three Egyptian Geese and the resident drake Wigeon.
Spent most of the time talking to Jay about cameras and flight photography techniques. Concentrated on the hirundines and of the 200+ images one or two came out well.