Sunday, 26 June 2016

Another Great Dot

The Great Knot is still on the North Norfolk coast, usually seen at Scolt Head or Titchwell, so Colin and I decided to go for it yesterday. It's been almost 20 years since the Teeside bird  (October 96) which we saw reasonably close in before sunrise roosting on Greenabella Marsh and later on the far shore at Seal Sands-hence the dot. The few records since have not tempted us but we thought it would be a good day out, maybe get a few year ticks and there is always a reasonable selection of  good birds at this time of year, added to which we have not been to the Norfolk coast since the start of the year.
On Friday night the Great Knot was actually roosting on Gore Point at Holme but by the time we reached Kings Lynn it had flown east, either to Titchwell or Scolt Head. Knowing that it spends a lot of time on Titchwell beach or the fresh marsh we went there, fortunately it was early enough that the car park was still quiet.
Had to leave Colin at the bench overlooking the Thornham pool while I returned to the car and changed-it was a lot warmer than expected. Encountered a Black Tailed Skimmer and my first (!) Red Admiral of the year while I did this, and heard plenty of pinging Bearded Tits as well.
Found a big flock of waders on the fresh marsh with a few birders scanning them. Predominantly Knot, in various plumages, with a lot of Black Tailed and a few Bar Tailed Godwits. Some Ruff were also around as well. Bumped into Mike Illett who had been to Gore Point earlier and he pointed out the two 1st summer Little Gulls on the far fence posts. We moved to Parrinder Hide in order to get better views of the wader flock, but after about half an hour everyone had concluded that the Great Knot wasn't present, so we decided to head to the beach. We never got there, we got to the path to be told that someone was watching it at Scolt Head.
A quick decision was made and we decided to head to Brancaster beach, as did about a dozen other car loads. It was high tide, but not a big one so the road to the beach car park was passable, then it was just a long mile slog along the hot beach to the western end of Scolt Head, past a lot of rather bemused day trippers. Fishing terns on the way were a distraction-mainly Sandwich and Common, and several Little, but with the amount of boating activity we didn't see much else.
By the time we reached the small group watching the Knot flock on the shore of the western end of the island beside the tern colony the Great Knot had gone to ground. I had just got onto the left of the flock, following directions and had seen it disappear around the back. In the heat haze at that distance there wasn't much to see of it. About five minutes later it was picked up on the right hand side where it promptly sat down. This made it incredibly difficult to locate and even though the precise location was known, not everyone could see it. After a while many of the Knot started to move, joining a much smaller flock and eventually the Great Knot was revealed. It stood up, and during the steadier moments a reasonable amount of plumage and structural details could be made out. Naturally I tried to get some phone images and a video sequence. This is only about half the Knot flock so I thought I'd better add a hint.

After a spot of lunch we had to think of something to do for the afternoon. Titchwell was pretty full when we left so that was out, there wasn't much else along the coast so we headed home calling in at Narborough railway line. Unfortunately the sun was soon behind us though it was still warm and humid. Didn't expect to see many butterflies and this was the case, a few Common Blues and Meadow Browns, a couple of Small Tortoiseshells and Speckled Woods, a Large Skipper and a rather tatty female Brimstone. The Marsh helleborines were not quite out, but really abundant, the Pyramidals looked nice and there was quite a variation in the Southern Marsh. Colin found a few examples of what I presume to be Knapweed Broomrape as well. I tried to get a few shots of some of the bees and hoverflies etc but none are keepers.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Dragonflies at Amwell

I have not managed to see all that many dragonflies, butterflies etc this year as virtually every weekend from April has been cold, cloudy or wet. Up and until today, my Hertfordshire dragonfly year list has amounted to the one single Large Red Damselfly seen in my garden, and there have not been all that many butterflies either.
I was thinking of going up to Titchwell with Colin for the Great Knot today. Its been around for a few days, though rather mobile and with a number of other species there would have made a nice day out. However, yesterdays news of the bird flying off before 8am, by which time the car park was full, and not being seen all day rather put us off the idea of a speculative trip. We had of course seen the legendary Great Dot at Teeside in 1996, initially on Greenabella Marsh at dawn (rather dark but identifiable) and later on Seal Sands al long way off (described by one wag on Bird Forum as partly obscured by the curvature of the Earth) and it would have been nice to see another in better light. Maybe next week as it has been back at Titchwell for much of the day today.
Since it was rather warmer and sunnier than expected I went to Amwell specifically for insects. Roger and Dan were there when I arrived, Trevor and John Bartlett not far behind and eventually William turned up. Not much was happening from a birding point on the lake-no hirundines or Swifts, very few Common Terns and most of the ducks are going into eclipse. The Egyptian goslings are still alive, though I only saw five, one Redshank was seen, and though I only saw two Little Ringed Plovers, there are apparently six around.
After a short while we headed off to Hollycross-my first visit this year. Damselflies were abundant as expected, with good numbers of Common and Azure Blues, some Red Eyes and Blue tails, a few Large Reds and a few Banded Demoiselles (though fewer than I would have expected). On the boardwalk, I picked up a male Broad Bodied Chaser, plus a couple of Four Spotted Chasers-one later seen having a dispute with a female Broad Bodied. At least two Hairy Dragonflies were present, with one female seen ovipositing, and one Emperor was on the wing.
Only a few butterflies were seen, mainly Meadow Browns, with singles of Green Veined White and Speckled Wood. William picked up many insects but the best one was the Ruby Tailed Wasp that proved rather difficult to photograph.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Plant Hunting in the Chilterns

Saturday looked to be a pretty good day, with a slight chance of a shower so Colin and I decided to go out, but with no birds to go for (famous last words) we went out to the Marlow area to look for insects and plants.
I am starting to try and record more than just birds, butterflies and dragonflies these days. Moths are a bit of a problem apart from a few fairly easy families, and the recent bee field guide has opened up a can of worms regarding my old garden list. I'm doing ok on Ladybirds and Grasshoppers but beetles bugs, flies and so on are currently no-go areas. At least my horticultural knowledge is helping with the wild flowers but I don't think I will be taking part in any Pan-Species listing competitions for a long time.
We called in at Remenham on the Thames first thing and had a search for Club Tailed dragonflies. It might have been a bit late really but I had seen photos of recently emerged specimens from the Severn so it was worth trying. Lots of Banded Demoiselles on the riverside vegetation but not much else really. I have a couple of poor bee images to identify, and there were a few Mayflies as well. Few notable birds though Colin's favourite Egyptian Geese were out in force. I had a backup Club Tail site up river at Pangbourne which we were intending to get to later in the day, but the radio announcement of a town carnival meant we never bothered.
Most of the morning was spent at the Warburg reserve. It was rather overcast, warm with high humidity so it was a bit hard going as we explored much more of the reserve than our usual quick circular walk. A few Greater Butterfly orchids were out by the entrance gate, but seemed a bit past their best. The small number of White Helleborines were also looking poor, and there was no sign of any Birds Nest orchids up one of the steep side tracks though a pleasant discovery was the large numbers of Herb Paris plants here.

Back down on the main track, one solitary Bee Orchid was found,though a bit more interesting were the Common Broomrapes among the Hawkweeds.

The main colour scheme of the open rides and meadows was yellow, with the Hawkweeds and Yellow rattle being the most prominent plants with a some pink provide by Common Spotted Orchids, and the buds of Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids. A little bit of blue and pink was also provide by Milkwort.
The map in the visitors centre took us out of the reserve on a long detour across a field to the south west where Green Hounds-tongue was highlighted. I'm familiar with Hounds-tongue but this was a new one on me a quick crib from a field guide in the car before we started failed to highlight the fact that we were looking for a more slender plant with smaller flowers.

We were rather miffed to find a few plants once we had returned to the main part of the reserve though these did not look quite as good. At least we picked up a few butterflies on the trek, with a few Common Blues, Holly Blues and our first Meadow Browns.
We had bumped into a group of butterfly enthusiasts earlier and found them again as we returned. They had had a few Brimstones and Dingy Skippers but weather conditions were not ideal, so we were all very surprised when two Silver Washed Fritillaries flew past. I would not have expected to see any for several weeks and am now wondering if they were Dark Greens (not sure if they occur at Warburg though).
After a bit of lunch a quick run round the wild life garden produced the usual Fly Orchid, and among the many tits on the feeders were a pair of Marsh Tits-a species that somehow has eluded me this year.
A few years back we payed a visit to Homefield Wood to see the Military Orchids and as it was a short distance away we popped in. The two small fields were covered in them, most were caged as usual but some were free of obstruction. The ones in the open were fading but those plants in the shade looked very nice.

The smaller field (more a woodland clearing really) had smaller numbers but the fenced off area was interesting due to the large number of rather variable Fly Orchids, as well as some decent Bee, Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids.

As mentioned earlier we did not go to Pangbourne and with it getting on we decided to call it a day and returned home. Having spent much of the day in a communication black hole-no phone service and no pager signal the news that a Purple Heron had spent all day at Rye Meads was rather devastating. There was no chance of getting there before the reserve shut, and the last sighting was pretty much the same time I first heard about it. Very few records from Herts, the last being at Amwell in 1989, so a much needed tick for most (including me).
A rather gripping image from Alan Reynolds is here

Naturally I had to get down to the Lea Valley on Sunday Morning and hope for the best. I decided to go to Amwell-one or two had suggested that the Heron may have flown in this direction. It was raining when I got there joining Trevor and Roger, and another. Three Little Ringed Plovers were very active, continually flying around and calling. Some of the Black Headed Gulls had chicks as had many of the Coot, Moorhen and ducks. A pair of Egyptian Geese had eight young-they used to breed every year though the young were always predated by Pike (according to Barry, typically losing one every day from fledging so these have lasted a lot longer than usual).
Trevor and co had gone for a walk so I was on my own when a Common Sandpiper flew through calling. Never got a good view as it was some way away when I located it. A Spotted Sandpiper was on Brent Reservoir yesterday, but had departed overnight so it was shame it was little more than a silhouette.
When Barry arrived conversation turned to the Heron, his much needed Black Billed Cuckoo, and other recent retirement trips. John Bartlett arrived and joined in as well, with reminiscing of the early Scilly days and other major twitches thrown in for good measure. The Lammergeier, Dalmatian Pelican and the recent Alpine Accentors featured heavily, as did the Black Winged Kite just across the channel.
Barry had also been to Tyttenhanger during the week to try and find the Downey Emeralds (new for Herts I think) that had been seen there. He had failed largely due to not knowing the right spot but luckily someone who had seen them turned up and filled us in. No news from Amwell about the Scarce Chaser and Norfolk Hawkers this year, though  assuming that they did breed it might be another year before the nymphs emerge. Both Emerald damsels are on the wing at Hertford Heath again, so thats another place to visit assuming I ever get a weekend with sunshine.

Needless to say the Purple Heron was not seen all day.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Great Reed Warbler at Paxton

With it looking pretty good weather for butterflies and dragonflies, Colin and I went out on Sunday, but it didn't quite work out as well as we would have liked.
The weather early on was not all that brilliant, being rather misty and cool and there was no real sign of sunshine until late morning. This wasn't too bad as we called in at Little Paxton to see the long staying Great Reed Warbler. It was a bit chilly on the walk up to the reed bed though I did glimpse a damselfly of some description. The small crowd had been there for a while but had yet to see the warbler. Not hard to get a general idea of where it was as it was singing pretty much all the time we were there, but the reeds were some way off and viewing was a bit limited.
After about an hour, someone managed to find it, low down in the reeds but it moved before he could get anyone on it but a few managed to get a brief flight view soon after, and we had to wait about another hour before someone located it singing at the back of the reed bed.
Scope views were pretty good so I tried to get a phone video clip though the results aren't all that great.
By the time we left the bird, the sun was out and damselflies were out in abundance-though virtually all of them were Common Blues. I managed to get the scope on a large chaser, but had difficulty identifying it as I had completely overlooked the fact that Scarce Chasers were now breeding there.
The Nightingale we saw last time was still singing in the same bushes so I grabbed a record shot

We intended to go to Woodwalton Fen, as it is a superb place for insects, but all the roads in the area were closed, as was access to the nearby Upwood Meadows so it was bit of a wasted journey.
The route back home took us near Huntingdon so we called in at Houghton Mill on the Ouse. The walk east was a bit different to how I remember it from a visit many years ago and I think the bit we visited last time is no longer accessible. The riverside wasn't too bad, with several Scarce Chasers seen, plus Red Eyed, Common Blue and Blue Tailed damselflies but we couldn't find any White Legged unfortunately.