Saturday, 30 August 2014

Deja Vu all over again

Yesterday Barry Reed located a Wryneck at the old landfill site at Stapleford-almost a year to the day since he found one there last year. Unfortunately with the car in for a service, I could not get down there, and apparently it was not seen after his initial sighting.
With the car back, and no news I decided to go down to Amwell, and just as I arrived, I got a tweet from William-he had seen the Wryneck but it was very elusive. When I got there, only 15 minutes later, there was no sign of William, or for that matter anyone else.
Thinking I was in for a long lonely wait, I settled down to scan the area. I saw another birder drive up the lane, and not long after, the Wryneck flew out from the bushes that William had seen it-the same bushes last year's one preferred and drop down in scrub to the east. With the other guy now on site, we scanned the area but could not locate the bird-a Yellow Wagtail flying over being the only bird of note. After about twenty minutes we decided to concentrate on the more favoured bushes, and with other birders arriving it was not long before it was relocated. Unfortunately it proved very elusive and over the course of an hour I only managed a glimpse and a second flight view.
Around 1100 the land manager arrived to advise those of us parked off road in the lane that large farm machinery was on its way, so I left. On the way back, a Swift was seen north of Stapleford-probably my latest ever Herts record.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

River Beane

Probably going to be a quiet weekend-not much happening, the weather is rather cool for the time of year and the car is acting up, so I am reluctant to go anywhere until it gets seen to later next week.
Thought I'd take a walk around Aston End and along the river as it's been a while since i last did it.
Not a lot to see in the plantation, one or two parties of tits and a Jay-certainly a lot more visible now than they used to be. Another one is Nuthatch, one of which was heard as I approached Aston End. Always used to be a hard species locally, with only one or two woods where they were reliable, but they seem to be cropping up in all sorts of unexpected places now.
Most of the fields have been harvested, and though there were lots of corvids and pigeons feeding in the stubble there were no larks, and no sign of the Corn Buntings i found earlier in the year. Did see a few Linnets, Yellowhammers and Chaffinches though.
Not much over High Wood as I crossed the ford {still got a flowing river!} apart from one Buzzard and one Sparrowhawk. Expected a few more raptors considering the conditions.
All along the walk i had been hearing Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps calling from every large hedge and wooded area, and while I was hoping for a migrant Whinchat or Wheatear I got the feeling I would not find much. However, one small tatty bit of  hedge crossing one of the fields seemed to be full of sylvia warblers. I first heard the characteristic hard tak of Blackcap-and eventually a male and female appeared, along with a brief juvenile Whitethroat which then flew out. Several other birds were more difficult. I could hear a softer tak and suspected  Lesser Whitethroat but it took ten minutes of fleeting glimpses to confirm the identity. Eventually two were seen well, with a third suspected. Always enjoy seeing Lesser Whitethroat, not the easiest of warblers to see well and very smart looking birds.
Things then went a bit wrong. I had been walking the hedge along the Walkern to Watton road and was intending to cross the river as usual on the footbridge east of Lords Farm, only to discover it was severely damaged and closed for safety reasons. My dilemma was wether to return to the ford, retracing my steps or continue towards  Walkern where hopefully the bridge near The Croft was ok. Luckily it was and I was able to get back to the right side of the river and check the usual trees for the Little Owls-not today. I did get to see a few butterflies in this spot, a couple of Large and Small Whites. Speckled Woods were the only other species noted on the walk almost everywhere., being more suited to cool conditions and could be found almost everywhere.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Brown Hairstreak

With birding still a bit quiet, and Sundays weather not looking all that good, we decided to try for Brown Hairstreaks which have been flying for a week or two.
The initial plan was to go to Bernwood Meadows, where we have had little success in recent years, followed by Whitecross Green. However Colin had done some research and found a number of reports from RSPB Otmoor, not far from the car park. Not having been there before it seemed worth a visit.
It was reasonably sunny and warm when we arrived, but gradually cloud built up over the course of the morning. One or two butterflies were seen on the Summer Trail-Common Blues in particular, and grasshoppers of various species seemed abundant, but without my guide book I was a bit lost. Red Kites are common in the area, but it was still nice to get an almost eye level flyby.

 We made our way up past the feeding station to the grazing meadows and pools. A Greenshank was a nice find, but we missed a Wheatear that others were trying to relocate. Heading east to the Roman road, a pair of Bullfinch were seen, and a chat-I assumed Robin, but a juvenile type Redstart was seen here by one of the reserve wardens.
Following his directions we found the Ash trees and a couple of guys, who had found a female Brown Hairstreak, high up. With the breeze picking up it proved difficult to photograph-I was attempting to digiscope with the RX100 and an adaptor that i had knocked up over the last week or so. ~I was also using a Lensmaster Gimbal for the first time and although the scope is a bit light for it, I was very pleased with the performance.

The Hairstreak briefly opened it's wings in sunny spells though my camera missed it-superb visually in the scope at 50x though, and eventually it flew to another part of the Ash. At least one, maybe two others, presumed males were also seen in flight at this time. We also picked up one Purple Hairstreak in a nearby Ash tree while trying to relocate the males.
With the wind seeming to pick up we returned to the car for a coffee and thought about where to go next. One possibility would have been Aston Rowant, but the weather did not look good for that so since it was on the way home and only a short distance away we went to Whitecross Green.
Not much sunshine, but it was warm and fairly sheltered so we made our way to the Ash trees near the pond. The most abundant species seen were Common Darters, which along with Migrant Hawkers were hunting up and down the rides. Common Blues, Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns and Small Coppers were the only butterflies noted. Silver Washed Fritillaries had been seen, and I did see a small Hairstreak sized butterfly briefly. We decided not to stay long, and on the way back found a Field Vole {only the second mammal species I've seen here, the other being a somewhat larger and more noticeable Red Deer}.  

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Pine Ladybird

Had a late night when I found this in the kitchen. About 2mm long.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Amwell Dragonflies and Bertha

Bit of a quiet weekend. I was not feeling all that great, and the only promising birding being a Cornish sea watch on Sunday courtesy of ex-Hurricane Bertha we decided not to do any travelling.
I was feeling reasonable on Saturday, and with it being bright and sunny thought it would be worth going to Amwell and try and find some of the recently reported dragonflies. Ruddy Darters and Small red Eyes have been seen most days, and there have also been a couple of Emeralds, which are rather scarce for the site.
Heard a Nuthatch while getting out of the car. Tony was the only one present when I arrived, but Simon turned up moments later asking if we had seen a family of Black Tail Godwits, which he had seen heading this way from Kingsmead. Unfortunately they were not seen again. The only waders present apart from Lapwing were one or two Common Sandpipers. A few duck have also arrived since my last visit-a few teal, Shoveller and Wigeon.
I went down to Hollycross with Simon, stopping off at Tumbling Bay where we saw a number of Red Eyed  and Common Blue Damselflies, plus  Migrant Hawkers {everywhere in abundance}. More of the same on the Hollycross boardwalk, plus a few Common Darters and a lot of Blue Tailed Damsels. No sign of any of the hoped for species, I suspect that the heavy rain on Friday, plus the cool breeze may have had an effect, there were vey few butterflies flying all morning. One of the local Marsh Tits flew over-first I'd seen here for some months.
Tony and Mick Cotton arrived so I had another search with them, but still to no avail, so we made our way back. Stopped off on the bridge and spent a while watching the trout, saw more Banded Demoiselles than usual-for some reason, maybe the winter floods, numbers have been way down. Being sheltered, one or two Speckled Woods were flying but the large buddlejas only had a worn Red Admiral and a Comma.

Sunday was a bit of a let down too. The promised heavy rain failed to materialise for us, with light rain on and off all morning. Had a brief thunderstorm in the early afternoon, with a  heavy shower, and it was a bit windy at times. Missed the floods and tree damage that some seem to have received. The sea watching in the far west was nothing special either, small numbers of shearwaters were seen, but it was more or less typical for August.

The weather system cleared by early evening so we were treated to a fine 'super Moon' moonrise. If I had a decent view from the garden I would have tried to get a few images, but a Stevenage cul de sac is not all that photogenic.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Poplar Hawk Moth

Found this while shopping after work. Locals concerned that some of the more unsavoury characters would do something to it so I took it home and released it in the garden.

Rye Meads

Something  bit different to the usual morning in the Lea Valley, I went to Rye Meads. The successful breeding of Black Necked Grebes has been noteworthy, but I have somehow managed to not go and see them, and with only one juvenile bird remaining, it was now or never.
Three Green Sandpipers were on the Draper scrape when I arrived, along with numerous Dabchicks and Grey Herons. A few moulting Gadwall and Mallards were loafing on the banks.

The juvenile Grebe was on the 1st lagoon, and remained rather distant all morning. The water levels {presumably because of the Grebes} was a lot higher than usual for the time of the year and as a result there were no exposed mud or  stoney areas for waders.
The walk up to the Meads produced many Brown and Southern Hawkers, Common Darters and Black Tailed Skimmers. Willow Warblers, Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Garden Warblers were feeding up in the bushes but generally were hard to see. I did not stay long at the Kingfisher hide as it was full of noisy photographers firing away despite the pair of birds staying well away from the hide. Lots of orange and blue dot shots seems a bit pointless to me.
Back in the relative calm of the Draper Hide some of us were talking about the recent  Garganeys when my eye was drawn to two bird on the mud to the left which were clearly juvenile birds-for some reason in view of the pair earlier in the year I was expecting moulting adults. Two ladies had also picked them out, and consulting their field guide had pretty well decided they were Garganey, but the volunteer warden seemed to be convinced they were young Gadwall, but we managed to convince him in the end. The ladies had also seen a Clouded Yellow, though the best I could manage were Brown Argus and Common Blues.

Titchwell and Ouse Washes

After the last few trips which were rather on the hot side, it was nice o go out on Saturday in cooler and fresher conditions, though as it turned out, the weather eventually let us down.
I did not expect it to be a good butterfly or dragonfly weekend, so as the first autumn birds have been moving through, we decided to visit the Norfolk coast, starting at Titchwell and seeing how things panned out. Also with indifferent weather, maybe the area would be less crowded.
We left reasonably early {for us} and arrived just after eight encouraged by the empty car park. Got set up pretty quickly and headed directly to the fresh marsh where the small group were watching the Spotted Crake. Used to see them on a regular basis here on an almost annual basis but the mud adjacent to the hide seems to have gone off the boil recently. At least for once the bird showed extremely well-unlike many of the others. While watching it feed on the reed bed edge, we were entertained by juvenile Sedge Warblers-some looking rather 'Aquatic' like, Reed Warblers and Bearded Tits. A nice moulting Spotted Redshank, and several orange Black Tailed Godwits posed well.

A scan of the marsh for scarce waders proved fruitless-like many I was searching for Stints and Curlew Sandpipers among the hordes of Dunlin, Godwits and Ruff. No interesting Gulls either-so I thought.
The walk to the sea produced family parties of Pied Wagtails and three juvenile Little Ringed Plovers.

The sea was rather empty, not surprising with the off-shore winds and the lack of visibility. Eider were the only birds on the sea, and there were lots of Sandwich Terns and a few Gannets passing through. Flocks of Sand Martins were feeding over the dunes, and up towards Thornham Point we found some Sanderling. One Arctic Skua was lurking off the point harassing the Terns, and on the other side of the shore, six Spoonbill were sleeping.

The walk back to the car via the Fen Trail loop did not add a great deal, apart from a moulting adult Mediterranean Gull that reserve volunteer Ray Tipper had found.

With little else happening on the coast, the report of the Black Winged Pratincole on the Ouse Washes again was tempting and we got there fairly quickly on the roads by 1330.  Unfortunately the Pratincole was at the far northern end right by the railway viaduct 2.5 miles from the car park and the sun had come out and it was getting rather warm.  It was a bit of a slog done mainly by switching off and walking on automatic but several Clouded Yellows,Painted Ladies, Emeralds and Common Darters were distracting. Tried to find Ruddy Darters and variable Damsels without much success.
Bad news when we got to the last two hides-the Pratincole had flown south about half an hour earlier. Needed a rest anyway so we spent some time in the last hide, but apart from a flock of Ruff, a Marsh Harrier and aHobby there was not much to see. After about half an hour someone on a bike popped in-he had been checking the pools right by the bridge without success for some time, so Colin and I decided to go back to the car checking some of the hides on the way. Two other groups headed up to the bridge pools and I kept an eye on them as we headed south.
About 2/3rds of the way back we stopped off at Stockdale hide where was plenty of suitable areas to check, and the guy on the bike decided to go back and check the bridge pools again. Inevitably, the Pratincole was back up there and he put it out on the pager. After some serious discussion, Colin and I decided to go back despite it being another hard slog. Yet again, I got to the last hide to be told it had flown off this time towards the far bank. i got the impression that it did not show at all well for some of the half dozen there and one only got very brief views.
So we returned to start the 2.5 mile trudge back to the car. Luckily the Sun had gone in, so it was a bit cooler. Unfortunately this was because it was chucking it down and of course we got soaked. It got rather surreal though when two figures approached, and because it was so out of context it took a while to register that they were guys I used to work with-Dave Asquith and Graham Stevens back in the days of Marconi. Had no idea that they were into birding, and as they were going for the Pratincole and a Little Stint our conversation was rather brief. Dont think it was reported at all that evening so no idea if they got it, but the Stint was.
Absolutely shattered when i got home. Must have done eight miles going up and down the Washes in the heat and rain with  nothing to show for it.