Sunday, 29 June 2014

Ashwell Quail

Yesterday William had tried to get the Quail between Ashwell and Newnham without success. It had been reported again in the evening so I decided to go up this morning and try myself. Not unexpectedly, William was already there when i arrived.
It was a bit breezy, but with bright spells and the Corn Buntings were very vocal-had maybe half dozen singing and flying around. Its a good Yellow Wagtail spot and several were flying around gathering food for their young.
When a third birder turned up, the Quail started calling-we reckon it was around 30 yards out in the barley and there was no chance of seeing it.

I left with the intention of checking out a White Letter Hairstreak sighting near Baldock, but the weather had turned and there did not seem much point in searching the very high hedge and trees, so I went to Letchworth Sewage Works to join William in a search for the Turtle Doves. There had not been any reports for a few days and we could not locate them-presuming they are still there of course.

Amwell Dragonflies

Its Glastonbury weekend and, predictably its rather wet at times.
There was a brief window on Saturday morning, and as I had not really had much success with dragonflies locally, got down to Amwell early intending to spend a few hours at Hollycross. Tony was the only one present, and as the birding from the view point was pretty dead I soon headed off to Hollycross.
A brief stop off at the bottom of Tunbling Bay produced two Four Spotted Chasers and a few Red Eyed Damsels on the lilies.
On reaching Hollycross I spent some time exploring the meadow which was full of Ringlets, Meadow Browns and Large Skippers. Several Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and a single Comma were also seen. There were supposed to be a few Bee Orchids and a Pyramidal but I was unable to locate them-and Barry did not know where they were either when he arrived. Lots of Red Eyes, Azures, Common Blues and Blue Tailed damsels in the meadows and on the pools, and a good half dozen Four Spots from the boardwalk. Took a while but eventually a single Black Tailed Skimmer was found. Tony eventually arrived and after a chat I moved to the newly cleared channel by the seat and found two Broad Bodied Chasers-hunting Banded demoiselles. They were very active and despite many tries I could not get the camera on them, but Tony called me back as he had one perched by the board walk.
This one was a bit tricky as there was a lot of vegetation but I got a few clear images, and not long aftyer the lone Emperor also posed for us.

Back at the viewpoint, I met up with Simon and William. Simon had found a White Legged Damselfly in his garden and also had several Emeralds at Kingsmead. Hope to see a few of the latter at Amwell a bit later.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Surprise Corn Bunting

Woke up this morning and had a hard time deciding what to do. There did not seem to be much point in going to Amwell, and it was a toss up between driving around Therfield and searching for Quail or walking round Aston End and along the river. I chose the latter.
The walk through the plantation and up to Aston End was pretty quiet, as most of the birds are not that conspicuous now. Lots of butterflies though, mainly Small Tortoiseshells and a few Speckled Woods.
Heading down to the ford, Skylarks were singing, as were Yellowhammers along with a what I thought was a rather faint jingle-I assumed I had misheard one of the yellowhammers. As I got closer however, I realised that there were two birds on the wires and one was a Corn Bunting! Back in the 80's there were still one or two birds in the area during the summer, but they died out and the last wintering birds were seen in the early 90's, so it was a bit of a surprise to see one here again.
The walk north was rather warm, and this brought out more butterflies. Yet more Small Tortoiseshells, Meadow Browns and my first Ringlets. No blues which was a bit unusual, though single Small Whites and Brimstones were seen, and three Marbled Whites.
A search of the paddocks failed to produce the Little Owls yet again, but a bit further on one flew out from a small Willow leading me to suspect that it was nesting in a different tree. Not long after this nice bonus, a fine adult Hobby flew over.

Second Helpings

Yesterday was a nice day, but despite the temptation of the Bridled Tern on the Farnes, Colin and I headed south.
We first visited Noar Hill, arriving fairly early, but even then the heat was building. As on the last visit, we parked at the west end, walked up the narrow track and into the quarry. Not long after leaving the car, a Fritillary flew past-I assumed Dark Green, but we never found it again. As expected, the entire site was carpeted in Pyramidal, Common Spotted and Common Fragrant orchids, though many of the latter were going over. We headed up to the top where we had seen Musk orchids before but they proved elusive and it was a long hard search before the first were found. The Frogs were even harder and someone else had to point out the first one for us. We reckon on seeing around 15 Musk and 10 Frog spikes in total. Other distractions included some impressive Knapweed Broorape spikes, single Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skippers, a few Large Skippers, Common Blues, Meadow Browns, Small Heaths and more fritillaries. One of the latter settled while we were talking to another visitor and it became clear that my assumption of Dark Green was correct.

We then went to Thursley Common, arriving late morning. Luckily it was still pretty quiet around the moat and we were able to search for dragonflies in peace. Hoards of Common Blues Red Eyes and Azures around the sunny spots, some Four Spotted Chasers and several Emerald Dragonflies. Three or four proved to be Downy, but one was Brilliant-my first since I saw one with Sarah and Ed in Scotland.

The walk south along the boardwalk produced many more dragonflies-Keeled Skimmers, more Four Spotted, one Emperor, and hoards of Blue, Large red and Small Red Damselflies.

Lots of Lizards sunning themselves as well.

The woods at the base of the hill held a few birds-a singing Cuckoo being mobbed by a Pipit, several Tree Pipits, Spotted Flycatchers and a nice male Redstart.

Having pretty much seen all that we had expected, we had a nice drive east to Ashdown Forest. The Short Toed Eagle had been pretty reliable here at Gills Lap for the last week, and there have been some amazing images of it hunting snakes posted on line. Unfortunately we got to the car park and discovered it was showing a bit further south so we headed off and joined a rather large crowd. It was sitting on top of a small tree some distance away, though with the somewhat cooler conditions the views were rather better than what I had at Morden Bog earlier this month. Apart from moving it's head occasionally it did not do much. Colin did at least get some good images. I had hoped that there might be other birds worth searching for, but a chat with a local birder was not helpful so we headed home.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Stevenage Peregrine

Last week a Peregrine was seen  on Southgate House, and it has been present on and off since then. Like the previous individual, it liked roosting  on some of the letters bolted to the side {the O seems particularly favoured}.
I stopped off on the way to work this morning. Just pulled over at the bottom of Cutty's Lane got the bins out and saw a large brown blob sitting on the O. Rather distant views but a nice quick drive by twitch.

Spectacled Warbler

After the rather damp Saturday, the Norfolk trip on Sunday was very different, getting rather hot at times.
We left reasonably early, calling in at Chosely Barns not long after 0800. We had hoped that the Turtle Doves would be present, but they weren't. One Stock Dove, a few Yellowhammers and two Grey Partridges were feeding on the spilt grain, along with the ever present Chaffinches and Wood Pigeons.
Titchwell was empty when we arrived and remained rather quiet all morning, not surprising as June is not the best month. Found the 1s Little Gull fairly quickly and had the drake Garganey pointed out. A family of Red Crested Pochard was a nice bonus and it is always enjoyable to see the Bearded Tits forage along the reed edges. We picked up a couple of Greenshanks, three Spoonbills and an increasing flock of Black tailed Godwits held some Bar Tails and a two Knot.
The sea was rather quiet, with a few Sandwich and Little terns feeding offshore. A huge very distant flock of Common Scoters was out near the wind farms and a few Gannets flew by.

Lots of Red Admirals here {and elsewhere}, some Wall Browns and a single Meadow Brown were the butterfly highlights and dragonflies included Emperor, Four Spotted Chasers, Azure and Blue Tail damsels. May have seen a Skimmer or two but they were very quick. The regular Chinese Water Deer put in an appearance.
Bumped into Ade who sent us round to the Fen Trail for Turtle Dove, but we didn't find one and no-one else we spoke to had seen or heard one. More dragonflies here including Red Eyes and a decent showing of Southern Marsh orchids.
I had hoped that by getting to Burnham Overy in the afternoon-actually just past noon, it would be a bit quieter and easier to park, but it was rather busy. Had a quick chat with Dave Holman just in case there had been any news of the two Montague's Harriers in the area but the last sighting was six hours earlier.
The trudge out to Gun Hill was long and hot, enlivened by our first Painted Ladies and a Little Tern feeding along one of the grazing marsh channels.
The Spectacled Warbler was hidden when we got to the end of the boardwalk, but the singing gave it away. After about ten minutes it popped up briefly before flying east dropping down right by the boardwalk. It proceeded to show fairly well on and off for the next half hour though it was always mobile.

We had seen the Landguard bird in 1997, feeding at the crowd's {around eight of us!} feet and though there have been one or two since-this is only the sixth, the singing and nest building made it rather special.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Wet Whitethroat

Given that we were expecting heavy rain and thunderstorms today, it did not seem worth making any plans. Having woken up to fairly bright skies and light drizzle i went down to Amwell for a while.
The weather looked worse the further south i got, but it was ok when i arrived. Tony was the only one present this morning. Not much to see, though there are a lot of young Herons and Egrets at the moment. The Little Ring Plovers seem to have gone though Oystercatchers and Redshank are still here.
Spent some time photographing the Sedge Warbler in the Hemlock and a rather desperate singing Whitethroat. The rain arrived around 45 minutes after I got there and gradually got worse-did not stop the Whitethroat though.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Short Toed Eagle Clip

I was able to get a few HD clips of the short Toed Eagle and posted on YouTube.

Short Toed Eagle

Saturday morning was spent as usual at Amwell. I met Phil on the bridge, watching a family party of Cetti's Warblers-there appeared to be at least three young flitting from one side of the bride to the other, and we were joined by William.
After Phil departed we spent some time scanning from the view point but little was on show so we decided to make our way to Hollycross checking insects on the way. By far the most noticeable were the Harlequin Ladybirds which were everywhere though there were some Two and seven Spots as well. William found various bugs and beetles as we made our way to the boardwalk where we lingered for some time.
The Herts and Middlesex Trust were running a Dragonfly and Orchid walk-rather unfortunate as with the generally dull and cloudy skies there were few things flying. The majority of damsels were Blue Tails, though some Azure and Common Blues were seen. Around noon, the cloud cleared for a bit, and some Large Red Damsels and Hairy Dragonflies came out. We saw a number of other insects at this time-some Scorpion Flies, and day flying moths including Mother Shiptons. The best find was the Water Ladybird which William potted to show the walkers.
While we were there news came of a Short Toed Eagle near at Morden Bog Wareham in Dorset. This was greeted with some scepticism until the images started to appear on Twitter. It disappeared but late afternoon and roosted in a tree. As this was potentially the first twitchable bird since the first on the Scillies in 1999 {the second a flyby along the Devon coast a few years back was seen by few} it was going to be a very busy and frantic Sunday morning.

I was expecting the bird to roost until mid morning at least so Colin and I decided not to get down for first light like the majority I knew and got down there just before 9am. Jay, William and Ron Cousins crew were leaving as we unpacked and a it was only a short but brisk walk to the hill where the roost tree could be seen in the distance. I needed help from some guys i knew from Essex to get the scope onto the right spot as the eagle was tucked in the middle of the pine. It was a nice view but in the heat haze rather poor and as the majority were on the main public footpath we made our way down, passing Barry Reed and Mike illet on the way. We were now only a couple of hundred yards away, the heat haze was still a problem but the views were rather stunning. The Eagle did not exactly do much apart from doze, ruffle it's feathers occasionally and poop from time to time. Around 10am it decided that it was warm enough to think of feeding and flew low and away from us, before reappearing soon after and gradually drifted off west. At one point a comparatively small Common Buzzard joined it in the thermal and as it got further away it was mobbed for a bit by 'small' corvid which turned out to be a Carrion Crow and then a Hobby which the Eagle dwarfed.
It was lost to view so most of us left, though it later returned but there was a late afternoon 'possible' report from Poole Harbour and then back at Morden Bog in the evening.

Other birds seen here included a couple of Mediterranean Gulls, some Tree Pipits and one or two Dartford Warblers. Did not see or hear Woodlarks, but while scanning I was surprised to pick up a Golden Ringed Dragonfly. Lots of Green Hairstreaks and Small Heaths were also seen.

Hoping to see more Dartford Warblers and maybe some reptiles we went the RSPB Arne, a reserve that we last visited some 20 years ago. Like most RSPB reserves it has been developed  with a small visitors centre and a much enlarged car park, as well as numerous trails. We walked to Shipstall Point along the designated trail which was very different to how i remembered it.
There was  little to be seen in the woods apart from some Hornets and Red Admirals feeding on Pine Sap and the estuary when we finally got there was rather quiet. Scanning the shoreline and Brownsea Island produced a few egrets, loafing gulls, Shelduck and Oystercatchers and a few Common Terns. Checking the heather and gorse was fruitless but a persistent search of a likely area produced two Sand Lizards. One lingered long enough to get a couple of images.

The herd of Sika deer in the meadow attracted attention from a number of visitors.

After a quck stop off at the car we walked onto the heath where there is a small pond which was supposed to be good for Raft Spiders. Never saw any, but there were lots of Four Spotted Chasers, Emperors and Large Red and Azure Damselflies.

Heading for home, we called in at Bentley Woods where a twenty minute stop off produced at least four Small Pearl Bordered Frittilaries and one probable Pearl Bordered. Being rather warm they were rather difficult to photograph as there were few plants in flower with available nectar.

A final stop late afternoon on the Thames at Cholsey was a bit of a waste of time. This is supposed to be a good site for Club Tailed Dragonflies which I knew had been seen recently, but a search up river along the river path failed to find any, though there were plenty of Banded demoiselles.