Monday, 29 June 2015

Black Hairstreaks

Following the very successful Norfolk Hawker sightings at Amwell, I had high hopes for Sunday. We had pretty much decided to go down to the Oxford area and search for Black Hairstreaks. I had heard that there were large numbers at Bernwood Meadows about ten days earlier, with many reports coming in from the usual sites. The forecast seemed reasonable, with bright spells and maybe a shower around mid-day.
When Colin arrived it was very cloudy and looked like rain was on the way so we thought that it would be best to do a bit of birding at RSPB Otmoor, and visit the butterfly sites later in the day when it conditions should have been better. We hit rain on the M40 and it continued for several hours, not good. As Otmoor is one of the more regular sites these days for Turtle Doves it was pretty much the target species and although I had a very brief sighting while getting ready in the car park we failed to locate any in the rather damp depressing conditions. Lots of warblers singing-Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, Willow, Sedge and Reed, plus Reed Buntings and various finches. Seems to be a good place for Bullfinch as I saw several here.
We headed off to the main hide, getting rather wet in the process and waited out the rain. Buntings and Linnets were feeding on the track outside, and a nice but rather damp Bullfinch posed in a bush.

After a while we returned to the car to try and dry out, having not really seen much at all. Looking at the rain radar it was clear that it would continue for some time so we went to Warburg to see some of the orchids.
The main rides are looking superb, with carpets of Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids contrasting with the yellows of trefoils, Agrimony, buttercups and St Johns Wort, and the whites of umbellifers. Took some time but eventually around 15 Greater Butterfly Orchids were found. Marbled Whites, Ringlets were abundant in the more open rides.

 No Helleborines, Birds Nests or Lesser Butterflies were seen, presumably that had gone over or got eaten. However after a very long search I managed to see a single Fly Orchid in the garden, having walked past the big yellow stick marking it several times.
As it was warming up, we returned to Otmoor,  as one of the wardens had told us that the roman road was a good spot for Black Hairstreaks with ten the previous weekend. Luckily it had dried out a bit by the time we got back and was pleased to hear several Turtle Doves purring around the car park. Rinlets and Meadow Browns were out, along with many damselflies and by the time we got to the big  Ash tree where the Brown Hairstreak was seen last year we had found a couple of small butterflies flitting around high in the trees. Eventually one came down and I got pretty good views, but getting images was a lot harder, and it did not help that a second Hairstreak was also present, leading to regular fights. In total I think we had three individuals, and eventually had long sustained views. The conclusion  we have come to is that Otmoor with the bonus of good birding (and maybe Bramton Wood near Peterborough) is a lot better for us than the traditional site of Whitecross Green which has always been very frustrating and difficult to work.

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Norfolk Hawker at Amwell

Had a cryptic tweet from Darren Bast yesterday-two new dragonflies for Herts. Further information eventually emerged that another Scarce Chaser had been seen at Amwell, and a Norfolk Hawker, both at Tumbling Bay on Thursday. I couldn't get down in the evening but Barry had seen two oviposting with a third also present. More info here
The weather today was pretty good, though rather more cloud than I would have liked. Surprised to be on my own when I got there around 0930. After 45 minutes, all I managed to see were a few Emperors, plus the usual Azures, Common Blues and Red Eyes and a very fresh Common Darter,  plus a pair of Bullfinch so I went over to Hollycross. Here I met a local couple who had been here a while. We picked up a few Four Spots, Black tail Skimmer and Blue Tails as well as the species mentioned earlier. A few Meadow Browns, Small Whites and a Red Admiral were the only butterflies seen.
After a while we went back to Tumbling Bay where Beachy had staked out a spot, Ade and Tony Hukin arrived shortly after. There was a lot more activity, with many more Emperors, including one or two ovipositing. Four Spots were very active, and these caused a bit of confusion when Ade picked up one of the Norfolk Hawkers over the reeds. Probably two were present, but very mobile and although we got good views they were very brief, according to Ade they were following the same pattern as Friday flying predominantly along the narrow section of water just above the level of the reeds. They proved to be a bit elusive and hard to keep track of, and the only sustained views I got were of one hawking over the far western corner until it was driven off by an Emperor and a Four Spot. To add to the confusion Beachy and Ade picked up another hawker over the buddlejas-this turned out to be a Brown Hawker.
Tony Hukin found another very fresh Common Darter-with all the rare dragonflies turning up I was checking each one just in case one was a  Red Veined. Still need that for my Herts list. My first Comma for June did not stop unfortunately.
Around mid day, the cloud was building up so we all decided to call it a day, though Tony was intending to return if conditions improved.

Monday, 22 June 2015

Amwell Dragonflies

We decided not to travel yesterday, birding is a bit quiet, and the weather did not look good for butterflies etc so I spent a few hours at Amwell.
Arrived at the same time as Tony Hukin-he had been to see the Cretzschmar's Bunting on Bardsey along with Dave Beer so I got the full report on the trip. As I had not been down for a few weeks, and had not seen him for a month I had a long discussion with Phil about last week's Hampshire twitch twitch and other recent good birds. He went down for the Wheatear with William, and also picked up the Whimbrel. As with our experience, it seemed that there was some confusion at Pagham, with the Whimbrel being claimed to be on view in several places at once, though they did eventually have much better views than we did, with the bird feeding in front of them.
Wish the birding at Amwell was as good, but at this time of year with breeding in full swing, lots of birds are hidden away and silent. Huge numbers of Canada Geese at the moment, and the Black Headed Gulls have plenty of chicks. About the only birds in the reeds are the Reed Warblers which seem pretty active feeding their young-one or two were on view in one of the smaller sallows. About the best sight was the pair of Oystercatchers with one fledged chick on view.
I went down to Hollycross with Tony, Trevor et al. We were not really expecting to see a great deal as there was a lot of clouds, and a fairly brisk north-westerly. However we did manage to see a lot of damselflies-Azure, Common Blue, Blue Tailed and Red Eyed, several Four Spotted Chasers and Hairy's, and two Black Tailed Skimmers. Meadow Browns are out, and there were singles of  Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell and Common Blue, along with many day flying moths.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Aviva Women's Tour 2015 Stage 4

Took a day off birding yesterday as the Aviva Women's Tour would effectively seal off most of North Herts during the day. As it turned out, unlike most major events e.g. last year's Tour de France, the road closures were rolling as the stages were somewhat smaller and with a smaller peleton and entourage. The stage set off from Waltham Cross and finished in Stevenage High Street, taking in some of the areas I know very well-Hoddesdon, Hertford, Cold Christmas, Furneaux Pelham, Barkway, Royston, Therfield Heath and the small villages running south from there into Stevenage. A challenging course with a very technical finish as it came in down Rectory Lane, past Alleyn's School, up Walkern road where the flamme rouge was sited, behind the High Street and then a very tight turn at the church to finish outside what used to be the Cromwell Hotel (can never remember it's current name).
Looking at the Stevenage section of the route I had considered a coupe of spots around Vardon Road and particularly the junction of Grace Way and Almond Hill-I thought that would be an excellent spot for photography with a very tight turn following a short straight, so I left at 1130 giving myself plenty  of time to get there and see what it was like on the day. The drizzle started after about twenty minutes, and I did not fancy hanging around Grace Way for an hour as there was no-one else around apart from an event car and a few signs. So I went into the Old Town thinking I might find a suitable spot. Walkern road looked good with the last k flamme rouge set up and I did consider setting up here but carried on to see what the High Street was like.
Amazing to see the transformation with the finish line gantry, the commentary boxes, presentation stage and all the other paraphernalia opposite. I took shelter under one of the cherry trees and decided to phone Sarah about my change of plans. A bit difficult with the load pa system blaring away but we managed to speak, but I had to stop briefly as the legendary dutch cyclist Marrianne Vos swerved past me on the pavement. I think she had just completed the course ahead of the race (she wasn't participating this year, and has been doing the commentary). Can't think of any other type of sporting event where major stars turning up in the crowd is not unusual. She later posed for photos with some of the fans.
I made my way to the finish line, and realised that there was a clear spot by the barrier right on the line. The gantry and it's support was in the way, but I had a pretty clear view of the road and all of the finish line so I stopped there and waited for the peleton to arrive. The commentary was pretty good over the pa, and knowing the roads in the area well I could visualise the race as it approached. After the last 'mountain' climb at Therfield Heath, the rain stared, leading to a few breaks and by the time they had got past Walkern and into Stevenage there were two riders with a small lead, but that did not last and they were all pretty much together as they approached the Old Town. However, the tight turns, wet roads meant that the last 2km was very challenging.
Where we were we were still relying on the commentary but the as they reached the turn into Walkern Road the blue lights of the Police bikes could be seen, followed by glimpses of helmets. All of a sudden they were coming up the high street and it was a case of standing on the barrier, firing the camera and trying to make sense of the finish as the first three crossed the line followed by several groups and stragglers  over the next five minutes or so. Did not expect there to be such a spread and I think everyone was expecting a bunch sprint, but obviously the weather conditions took their toll.
About twenty minutes after the finish, we had the presentation, but due to the crowds it was a case of holding the camera above my head and firing blindly.
In the end I was glad I went to the High Street, despite the rain it was a great to be at such a big atmospheric event.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Hudsonian Whimbrel and Eastern Black Eared Wheatear

Another month and another mega rare American wader in the form of a Hudsonian Whimbrel. And yet another trip to Hampshire.
The Whimbrel appeared at Church Norton/Pagham Harbour on Tuesday and has been showing well at times, seeming to be tide dependant. Did not really expect it to be still there this weekend, but it was and so with a sense of deja vu headed off down to the Hampshire coast. We decided not to leave too early just in case alternative parking arrangements would be announced-Church Norton doesn't hold many cars and Pagham's visitors centre isn't much better. We were lucky and found a couple of spaces outside the church. Unfortunately a returning birder told us it had flown to the far north of the harbour a little while earlier, having shown well a times.
We met up with a group scanning the far distant shore, but birds were so far away even things like Shelduck were hard to make out, so after a while we moved further north finding another group including a few Tyttenhanger luminaries. Over the next two hours we were able to make out a few Whimbrel on the northern shore and in flight dark-rumped birds were noted on a couple of occasions. A few Whimbrel and Curlews were also seen on the large grassy island in the middle of the harbour. With the tide dropping, bird activity gradually picked up and around 1100 I noted a Whimbrel fly down from the shore and drop down into a gully on the island. It seemed to me to be rather pale with gingery tones to the brown plumage and so was a very good candidate, but no-one else saw it.
Waders were starting to come out onto the new muddy edges, including some Dunlin, Bar Tailed Godwits, Oystercatcher and Lapwing. Five Whimbrel were showing quite well at times-all had white rumps though, but around 1200 two birds were picked up in flight, and one lacked a white rump! A long way off, they were tracked for a few minutes and dropped onto the island where they could occasionally been seen over the next hour. At that distance making out head details in the heat haze was difficult but I am certain that from time to time it was the Hudsonian we were watching.
We returned to the car at 1300 suffering somewhat, as we had not brought anything to eat and drink, not expecting to have to wait so long to see the bird.
Our original plan had been to perhaps return via Thursley for dragonflies or visit somewhere in the area for plants and butterflies. However the mid morning news of an Eastern Black Eared Wheatear at Acres Down in the New Forest changed all of that.
Bumped into one of the Kent birders that I used to see regularly in the 90's at Rownham Services, and   met many more when we finally arrived at Acres Down. lucky again to get a space in the car park as cars were lined up either side of the lane for some distance. Even more luckily the Wheatear showed quite well when we reached the crowd, initially perched in a tree and then dropping down onto a log where it posed for the cameras. Some familiar faces from Royston arrived moments after the Wheatear flew off strongly-unfortunately Dave was not one of them as his back was causing problems again-hope you recover soon mate.
Following advice from a  local we carried on along the path and up to the raptor watch point. Stonechats and Tree Pipits were everywhere as usual, but the only raptors were Buzzards, though apparently Honey Buzzards and Goshawks have been seen recently. I heard a distant Woodlark-this years bogey bird so headed off in that direction. We then noted a couple of excited birders ahead with more arriving. The Wheatear had been re-found. This time it was a bit more distant on some burnt gorse, being mobbed by a Dartford Warbler. Mobile, it ranged over some distance but at times came reasonably close until passing horse riders caused it to fly off. Luckily everyone was able to get stunning views, and many more were still arriving as we left. We also managed to see at least five Woodlarks, which was a bonus.
Turns out that my only other Black Eared Wheatear, the 1993 Sitffkey bird was a Western, so I am now hoping for a split at some time in the future.
Just a note that the images were taken with the 500mm lens with both 1.4 and 2x converters so image quality is not the best to put it mildly.

Monday, 8 June 2015

More Dragonflies and a few Orchids

When I spoke to Colin on Friday, the plan for Sunday was going to be pretty straightforward. We have not been to the Broads for a while in June, so its been some time since we had photographed Swallowtails, Norfolk Hawkers and so on. Found out that there was going to be some sort of family/kids event so that plan was cancelled and we therefor went for Plan B and Woodwalton Fen. No-one told us about the Tour of Cambridge.
We were heading up towards Woodwalton village and had pretty much decided to have a quick detour and look in at Upwood Meadows as there might have been a few Green Winged Orchids left, plus its good for other plants as well as insects. Thats where we saw the first road closure sign for the afternoon, giving us only a few hours or be stuck tip late afternoon, so we went straight to Woodwalton.
As expected, the best bit for dragonflies was the main drain outside the reserve where you park. Plenty of Four Spotted and Scarce Chasers, a few Red Eyed Damsels on the Yellow Water Lilies, and Azure Damsels in abundance. Add a Lesser Whitethroat, a distant Cuckoo and Common Terns fishing and it was hard to move on.

in view of the limited time we decided to just explore a small part of the reserve north of the entrance.  As on previous visits, the wind was rather frustrating at times but the more sheltered areas were very productive. As well as more chasers, we found a few Hairy Dragonflies, a female Emperor, some Large Red and Common Blue Damsels. I am not sure if they occur here, but I checked as many as possible for Variable Damselflies without success. Birds were on the whole quiet, though Blackcaps, Garden Warblers and Willow Warblers were still singing, plus we heard a Water Rail.
We left after 9- minutes and were able to get away from the road closures by heading north west to Barnack. In previous visits this has been a bit of a disappointment. It is supposed to be one of the best places for Man Orchids, but we have never managed to find any, as recent years have been very poor. However I had heard that it was much improved this year though still hard to find. Took all of five minutes to find the first, and another five to find around twenty more plants. Must have been several hundred in the end even though we only covered a small part of the site. Found a few Chalk Fragrant Orchids, and some of the Pasque Flowers were still out, though most had gone to seed. Heard a Tree Pipit, but struggled to see any butterflies apart from a few Common Blues.

There are several local reserves in the area, and we found potentially two interesting woods and went to Bedford Purlieus as it is supposed to be about the best botanical site in Cambridgeshire, possibly the UK. Only just read up on it and was reminded that it featured in the Time Team TV program when they investigated the Roman Iron working. Its a vast area and despite advice from a regular visitor we struggled to find much. Rather too early for any interesting butterflies, but we encountered some Scarce Chasers, Common Blue and Azure damsels, what appeared to be a Hairy Dragonfly and we met a couple photographing Weevils who had seen several Broad Bodied Chasers. We found a couple of white flowers Common Spotted Orchids, and a  large patch of Twayblades, but failed to locate Greater Butterfly and Birds Nest Orchids. Its also supposed to be good for  Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers-we found a nest hole and assumed Great Spotted though with hindsight it did seem a bit too small a hole.

Our advisor also mentioned things like Fly Orchid in the northern section, Pyramidals in the paddocks and an abundant selection of fungi (much too early for most though). Looks to be a place to visit in the future.
Another much smaller wood was supposed to have some of the orchids we missed, but with time getting on we headed home. We stopped off at Baldock Services and explored the verge by the Newnham road. Pyramidal Orchids were starting to flower, and we found a few Bees-which I had missed last year. 

A stop at the manure heap produced a few singing Corn Buntings but no Yellow Wagtails. The fields were sown with wheat and beans, not sure if either would be ideal for Quail. Same situation at Deadman's Hill, with a Corn Bunting plus a few distant Partridge and not much else. Very few raptors in the area despite the conditions, with a couple of distant Buzzards. Not really expecting it but with recent Marsh and Hen Harriers it would have been nice if one had stuck around.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

More Dragonflies

Rather quiet at Amwell today when I arrived. Brian was the only one at the view point. Four or five Little Egrets were loafing around and there were a lot of Grey herons, including young birds out towards the back of the lake. I had missed an Egyptian Goose, and the Ringed Plover and Oystercatchers could not be found, though the Redshank were still present.
Rather windy, though warm when the sun came out, and as a result there were a lot of Swifts around, but very few raptors noted-two Buzzards and a Kestrel. Have not yet seen a Hobby here yet. One Cuckoo still calling, and plenty of activity in the reed beds from its victims with lots of Reed Warblers feeding. Brian had noted a mammal earlier, presumed to be a Fox in the reeds. We were surprised when a female Muntjac suddenly emerged, tail up and barking. It returned to the reeds but continued calling for some time. Can only presume there was a fawn somewhere and the (probable) Fox had done something.

I left Brian to feed the viewpoint Robin and went down to Hollycross. The wind was a concern and it took a long time to find anything. I eventually found abundant numbers of Azure and Blue Tailed damselflies in the grass, along with a few Common Blues and Large Reds.
Lats night, the first Scarce Chaser for Herts had been found at the far end of the trail and I spent some time here but could not locate it. Not surprised as a search last evening was unsuccessful.

Picked up a few Banded Demoiselles on the way back, and the only large Dragonfly, a Hairy in the shelter of the bridge.
With not much else here I decided to go down to Wake Pond at Epping. Took a bit longer than expected driving through Roydon and Epping as the traffic was pretty bad in places and I got there around noon and only remained  around half an hour . Ran into Darren Bast as I got to the pond and soon after picked up several Downy emeralds in one of the sheltered bays, plus a few pairs of Large Red Damsels and an Emperor. Also got a nice birding tick as I had completely forgotten about the Mandarins that nest here.