Saturday, 29 August 2015

Aston End

I went for a walk this morning around Aston End and up the river Beane. The weather did not look all that great for insects, being cool and cloudy, but in view of my last visit I took a longer lens. Some parts of the country seem to be full of migrants-Winchats, Wheatear, Spot Flys, Tree Pipits and so on so I was hoping to find a decent bird or two.
The first stretch, from the conifer plantation to Aston End did not produce a great deal, a calling Coal Tit, a few Chiffs and crests and a calling Nuthatch. A flock of Swallows over the village seemed to be mainly juveniles, and a Sparrowhawk went over-not seen any here for a while.
The fields were largely empty as I crossed the ford and walked up to the Walkern road, no larks pipits or buntings, only a few distant corvids. Even though the sun was breaking through and warming up, there were no butterflies either. I came across another Nuthatch as I walked down to the river and by the time I got to the paddocks there were a few birds popping up. Most were Robins and Chiffchaffs, with one or two Willow Warblers, a Garden Warbler was trying to sing and a big female Sparrowhawk was flushed from a tree. No sign of any migrant chats, Whitethroats and I think I can safely say the Little Owls are no longer in the area, unfortunately. A high flock of large gulls was not the usual Lesser Black Backs but a party of nine Herring Gulls-not something I see all that often here.
On the way up to Chells Manor I picked up a few butterflies, mainly Large, Small and Green Veined Whites, a Holly Blue, a Peacock and a Speckled Wood.  A Bullfinch and a Blackcap helped boost the small bird list.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

A hot butterfly day

Temperatures climbing rapidly today, predicted to hit 28-30C this afternoon. Glad I am not going to the Bird Fair, the heat and humidity in the marquees must be unbearable.
Had a chat with Colin and we decided to stick to the Bucks/Oxon Chilterns as it would be a good butterfly day, and there have been many reports of Brown Hairstreaks over the last week or so.
We first went to Bernewood Meadows. We have not had much luck with Hairstreaks here though it is supposed to be a good site. Meadow Browns, Gatekeepers and large numbers of Common Blues were abundant and we had a Silver Washed Fritillary, a Brimstone, a Purple Hairstreak and a couple of Small Coppers. I have probably seen more Common Blues this morning than I have the rest of the year. Very few birds, it is rather quiet. Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers were also seen.

Our back-up plan was to go to Otmoor next as we knew it is reliable. On the way I heard that Mathew Oates had seen 76 Brown Hairstreaks at Shipton Bellinger on Salisbury Plain, rather too far away unfortunately and a bit of a big area to search considering I knew nothing about the place. Still we arrived at Otmoor, feeling inspired. Got out of the car and the heat and humidity really hit us.
Walking up the roman road, Colin walked straight past a female Hairstreak nectarine on an umbellifer. Luckily it remained on view for us and a couple of others  for a few minutes. We then carried on up to the ash trees and waited for a while. Probably three more Brown Hairstreaks were seen here though all were high up in the trees. A problem was the oak tree nearby which had several Purple Hairstreaks in it. More Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters, lots of Speckled Woods, browns and whites plus another Silver Washed Fritillary added to the mix as we made our way back to the car park. Another Brown Hairstreak at eye level kept us and others busy for a while.

Again few birds of note-Goldfinches and Linnets were very vocal, a family of Spotted Flycatchers remained largely hidden and a few warblers were heard, including a Willow practicing it's song.
As the heat was starting to be a bit of a problem we went to Aston Rowant for an hour then came home. Chalkhill Blues were present in large numbers, though most looked a bit past their best, there were a few Common Blues, and a Brown Argus or two, plus one or two very small (Small?) Blues which we never got close to. The Silver Spotted Skippers were pretty easy to photograph this year even though it was quite breezy on the top of the ridge, but the one Essex Skipper was too flighty.
We met someone who had seen Clouded Yellow just before we arrived but could not get to it before it flew off. A new photographic tick for me was the Stripe Winged Grasshopper.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Day Out in Norfolk

After the troubles yesterday I was glad to get out today with Colin. With the first hints of autumnal drift migrants appearing on the east coast we decided to go up to Norfolk and see what happens.
A fairly uneventful drive saw us get to Titchwell at 0930, and surprisingly a fairly empty car park. Plenty of Chiffs and Blackcaps calling as we unpacked and walked through the wood to the centre. Had a chat with the guys working there but there was no real news on what was about-Ray was out but had not reported back. One thing we were promised was Spotted Redshank, impossible to miss they said-and bet us we would not fail. They refused to pay up when we got back.
The large pool on the Thornham side has been drained for months now, despite the vast expanse of mud there were no waders on it. However the fresh marsh was full of them. Plenty of Avocets of course, some Black Tailed Godwits, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Redshank, hoards of Ruff and Dunlin (all sizes and bill lengths), a few Ringed Plover and Snipe and brief views of a Common Sandpiper. A few Swifts and Swallows went through, and there seemed to be a lot of Wagtails flying around-mainly Pied but two adult and two juvenile Yellow Wagtails was  nice to see.
Lots more waders on the beach, Bar Tailed Godwits, Curlew, Sanderling etc as well as a sleeping Common Scoter. The sea was a bit quiet despite the north westerly breeze and clear air. Gannets feeding well offshore, a few Sandwich and Common Terns, and not for the first time a Marsh harrier (juvenile) about half a mile out heading west. Not sure why they fly offshore and this one came unstuck off Holme when it was attacked by an Arctic Skua.
On the way back we stopped off at Parrinder Hide for a bit to scan the fresh marsh from a different angle. A sleeping Spoonbill is not unexpected at this time of year. Eventually I picked up a Wood Sandpiper. Hard to see as it remained close to the bank and out of view of most of the hide.
Pleased to see large numbers of Wall Browns on the way back now it had really warmed up. Used to be a regular garden visitor before they became extinct in Herts, now very much a coastal species for me.

After lunch we went to Burnham Overy where the Icterine Warbler was still being reported. Unfortunately Whinchat and Pied Flycatcher had apparently gone. It was a long walk out to the boardwalk in the hot sun, enlivened by more Wall Browns, and a  few Common Blues and Gatekeepers. Fennel seemed to be abundant on the banks but the blue of Larkspur was a surprise-I don't remember seeing it here before.
The Icterine put on a good show now and again, sometimes going missing for a bit. Not much else in the bushes, just a few Linnets and a juvenile Whitethroat. There were a few Grayling in the dunes here as well.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Amwell Waderfest

Having had some work done to the car earlier this week, and with a day off I went to Amwell this morning. Yesterday, in the rain, two Little Stints had been seen, but there was no sign this morning, however Turnstone had appeared.
When I go there it was dull damp and murky, with rather poor visibility and there was no sign of any waders apart from the usual Lapwing. A few Common Terns were still around, with one young bird on the raft still to fledge. A few hirundines were feeding low over the water, and three Swifts went through.
When Ron arrived, the Turnstone popped out from nowhere and dropped onto Terry's Island, but I missed it. Two suspected Common Sandpipers were glimpsed largely hidden by the purple Loosestrife and they eventually were confirmed when they emerged. The Turnstone finally flew off the island and dropped down in front of the view point where it was lost to view for some time.
Ron mentioned that the two Stints were still present and had been seen earlier by Phil. Took a long time as they were very elusive and hard to see on the mud-sometimes only movement gave them away. Ron had to go to work but Bill and Ade arrived, had excellent views of the Turnstone and got to see the Stints after I left.
I was intending to visit Sarah and Ed, but discovered that the car was still playing up, taking ages to start so it went straight back to the garage. Obviously the work they did based on the computer diagnostics had not been all that effective.

A rather poor iPhone digiscoped image of one of the Stints.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Redstart at Aston End

The car has been playing up over the last few weeks, with starting problems, usually after I have been out. Most of the time it is ok but on a couple of occasions it has really let me down and I have been stuck for a long time before it eventually gets going-then its perfect for maybe a week or two. Cant really trust it so I have only gone out when I really have to-hence no visits to Amwell or Deadman's Hill for some time.
With Colin otherwise engaged this weekend and being stuck locally I went over to Aston End this morning. As the birding was expected to be quiet I only took my short lenses for insects and landscapes. As it turned out I did not find anything inspirational and the butterflies etc were in rather short supply.
The walk through the plantation and down through Aston End did not produce anything apart from a few cheeps and tweets from young tits, crests and Robins. I stopped off near the water tower to admire the view, and the young Whitethroats and tried to puzzle out a call. Must have been the heat but it eventually dawned on me that there was a Bullfinch in the hedge-a female when it finally flew out.
The walk up to the Walkern-Watton road was uneventful with a few Gatekeepers and Whites being the only butterflies seen. I often stop off at the logs blocking the field entrances as they host an interesting collection of fungi.

Walking down to the river I was thinking as I usually do at this time of year about the less usual migrants I have found here-Redstarts being seen every two to three years (not bad considering I only walk round here once or twice a month), the occasional Wheatear and Spotted Flycatcher. Its been many years since a Turtle Dove was seen but I live in hope.
I got to the paddocks by the model aircraft club and noticed a bird flit out from the barbed wire-a female Redstart! It spent a lot of time hidden in a large Hawthorn, which also held a juvenile Bullfinch, three Lesser Whitethroats and a young Green Woodpecker. Overhead several Swallows were feeding. This little section of the river always seems to produce good birds, unfortunately the local Little Owls were not seen again, hopefully they are still around.
There were very few thistles on the way up to Chells Manor, so butterflies were less numerous than my last walk, though there were several Common Blues, a species that seems to be doing poorly at the moment. One fresh Brimstone on the  burdocks was photogenic.

Back home in the garden, I have had several peacocks today, plus Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood and Holly Blue. Also a few Large and Small Whites now that the Nasturtiums have got going.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Black Darter and Purple Emperor

After a few weeks break I arranged to go down to Surrey?Hampshire with  Colin today. The forecast of warm sunshine suggested that it would be worth visiting Thursley Common for the dragonflies.
We arrived at 0930 to find that it was a bit on the cool side with thin hazy cloud. A quick scan of the Moat pond revealed absolutely nothing apart from a moulting flock of Mallards, and a few calling tits crests and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A few insects were active as we headed off to the south and we thought we saw one or two Black Darters along the sandy track but failed to pin them down. About the only things on the boardwalk were lizards, including many young ones. In the pines around Shrike Hill we heard a Redstart calling but the heath was pretty empty bird wise apart from a flock of Linnets and two hunting Hobbys.

The lack of activity was frustrating and we met a number of others in the same boat but around 1030 things started to improve with two Small Red damselflies, several Emeralds and the first of many Azure and Common Blue damsels. Larger species eventually came out, lots of Four Spotted Chasers, several Keeled Skimmers, an Emperor and a Southern Hawker. Probably saw Broad Bodied Chasers too, but the views were fleeting. Eventually darters were seen, Common being, well, common and a very nice male Black Darter posed very well.

Back near the car park a few butterflies were seen, mainly Gatekeepers and Graylings.

Although it was getting a bit late in the season, Purple Emperors are still being reported-a couple have been seen at Broxbourne recently and odd ones seem to be popping up in various places. Alice Holt was not far away and has had a very good reputation in the past so we went there after lunch. Straits Enclosure has been one of the best parts of the wood but we were concerned on meeting a local couple to find out that forestry work had cleared much of the favoured area and they had not seen an Emperor  for some time.. Silver Washed Fritillaries were seen frequently, along with Gatekeeper Purple Hairstreak and a fresh Brimstone. A family party of Spotted Flycatchers was a big bonus.
Shortly after we got to the look out tower, I noticed a butterfly flying inside a big Sallow. Initially I suspected a White Admiral but as it emerged it was clearly a big butterfly and once settled we could see it was a female Purple Emperor. As it was spending much of the time inside the Sallows flitting from branch to branch we assumed it was egg laying.

We were going to try for more butterflies on the Surrey heaths but cloud was gradually building up, as was the traffic around the M25 so we called it a day.