Monday, 26 June 2017

Even More Butterflies

Colin and I had a short day out yesterday, visiting a couple of sites new to us in Northamptonshire. It was supposed to be ok weather-wise, with warm sunny spells, but it started off dull and cool so we weren't expecting to see much.
We started off at Glapthorn Cow Pasture, not knowing that we were 20 minutes early for a guided walk of the reserve. This is a key Black Hairstreak site, which had actually peaked a few weeks earlier than usual but we were told that there were still a few tatty individuals around.
We went in on our own and I found a hairstreak almost immediately. I didn't get good views but obtained a distant photo and assumed from zooming in that it was a White Letter, but it turned out to be a Black with rather worn forewings missing the orange edging. We had lots of Silver Washed Fritillaries, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, Commas, Tortoiseshells  and Skippers, plus several Brown Hawkers.
In the next ride we were joined by some of the walk leaders and soon after one of them picked up a Black Hairstreak that posed quite nicely.

Eventually we carried on picking up a few Purple Hairstreaks, a female Common Darter and a Southern Hawker. For some reason I had a lot of trouble getting the camera on this Purple Hairstreak and Colin managed to capture the purple in the wing really well.

We spent the next couple of hours in Fermyn Wood which has over the last week or so been very popular for very good reasons. I saw more Purple Emperors in two hours than I had done in the last ten years, and we never got to to bit where they are most abundant.
Our first two were seen outside the gate by the road which were in constant danger of being run over by cars being parked. A chat with a regular sent us a short distance down the ride where there was a birch which was the location of White Letter Hairstreaks, but by now the cloud had built up and we never managed to locate any here or anywhere else (and everyone else seemed to be unsuccessful as well). Joining a guy from Norfolk we followed him westward to a large open ride with lots of brambles roses and honeysuckle in flower. Several more Purple Emperors here and a number of White Admirals provided a good size and shape comparison. Silver Washed Fritillaries of course, plus all the usual butterflies enlarge numbers.
Colin and I eventually returned to the ride and headed south to an elm and bramble patch where the White Letters are usually seen, and we then carried on to the outskirts of Lady Wood with a couple of others, which is supposed to be a good spot, but of course failed. Did get to see even more Emperors, White Admirals and Fritillaries though. Returning to the birch, a Hairstreak finally appeared, but it settled high up and largely hidden and only two of us managed to get on it-unfortunately the other guy realised it was a Purple which my two poor images confirmed.
I reckon we saw  at least 15 Emperors, a similar number of White Admirals, and perhaps 30 Silver Washed over the course of the day. Not a bad haul considering the rather poor weather conditions.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Some Butterflies

Today has been rather cloudy and breezy. We were supposed to get a few showers, but they seem to have missed this area. It was still rather warm though, but at least the excessive heat of the last few days has gone, so I thought I'd try for a few local butterflies.
I wasn't expecting to see or hear many birds at this time of year-adults moulting  and juveniles in hiding of course, and I only managed 26 species. A few Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats are still singing, but otherwise it was anonymous cheeps and chirps from deep in the undergrowth. A few Swallows were feeding around the fields near the water tower in Aston End, and there was one or two House Martins with them (my first locally this year). Never saw any Swifts, but one over the garden this afternoon (now a garden rarity) was a surprise.
I had a couple of Speckled Woods around the plantation, and a few browns in the lanes, but nothing else until I reached a few patches of sheltered thistles along the river. They were teeming with Meadow Browns and Ringlets, a few Tortoiseshells and a Marbled White. Lots of hoverflies, bugs and ladybirds here as well.
Further on I found many more Marbled Whites, a few Small Skippers and a single Essex Skipper, plus one or two Small Heaths.No brassicas in the fields around here this year, so the one Small White seemed a bit lonely.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Norfolk Hawkers at Amwell

This weekend has been a real scorcher, and its been a real effort to get out and about, even in the mornings, so I haven't achieved a great deal.
I did get down to Amwell yesterday for a while but a couple of hours in the blazing sun was enough for me. I was hoping to get down last weekend as the rarer Dragonflies had been showing really well, but the Elegant Tern was a bit more important, but they were still being reported during the week.
I got there reasonably early and for a while at least the heat was tolerable. Barry and Phil were the only ones present so naturally we talked about the tern.
There wasn't much of note on the bird front. One Little Ringed Plover is still around, there is a family of Egyptian Geese again, and Swallows were collecting mud so presumably nest building is still taking place. One Ring Necked Parakeet flew over, but raptors were in short supply-I saw a couple of Buzzards and one Sparrowhawk.
I called in at Tumbling Bay for a while. The Norfolk Hawkers proved surprisingly easy with two or three patrolling the narrow section leading to the southern arm. The big problem was the dominant Emperors that kept driving them off, but i got a few decent images of one perched.

The usual Red Eyed, Azure and Common Blue damsels were around.
I spent a good 90 minutes on Hollycoss trying to find the Scarce Chasers. Like the Norfolks, they were initially seen two years ago and both were expected to emerge this year, which we presume they did-the first successful breeding in Hertfordshire.
Plenty of Four Spotted Chasers and the belligerent Emperors, more damsels including Large Red, Blue Tail and Banded Demoiselles. I found at least one Black Tailed Skimmer and a rather early Brown Hawker, and out on the water a few Broad Bodied Chasers were seen. I was joined briefly by Barry and Phil, and when they had departed, Tony Hukin turned up.
We tried hard but apart from a very brief flyby of a large male blue Skimmer (seemingly too 'clean' for Black Tailed Skimmer and too big for a Broad Bodied) we never conclusively found a Scarce Chaser. We had a few Butterflies though, Meadow Browns, Ringlets and a Red Admiral, but best of all a fly through Silver Washed Fritillary. By about 1130 the heat was getting intolerable so I left Tony to it and headed home. I later learned that a male Scarce Chaser was seen in the afternoon.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Elegant Tern Video

As usual, Blogger has screwed things up and the video doesn't appear in some browsers. Don't know why it does this so

Elegant Tern at Pagham

Way back in 2002, Colin and I made several trips down to Dawlish Warren where a large orange billed tern had been seen on and off. We went on the off days. It was presumed to be an Elegant Tern, and was later seen in Wales, but there seemed at the time to be a lot of confusion, since the photos of the Welsh bird looked rather different to some of those taken at Dawlish.
Adding to the problems were that Lesser Crested Tern can look very similar, both species have been known to hybridise, so identification of large orange/yellow billed terns has for a long time been a bit of a minefield. I believe that one or two Irish records have been accepted, but all of the British records are still work in progress.
On 7th June, a ringed bird was seen fishing off Hayling Island, and photos allowed the bird to be identified as one of three (bird C) ringed in a Sandwich Tern colony on the Banc d'Arguin in France in 2003, where it has been seen on a regular basis since then. It has also been seen in wintering in South Africa on one occasion. DNA samples were taken at the time, and proved conclusively that all three birds were pure Elegant Terns so this bird was the first British and Irish record which cannot be doubted.
Problem was it wasn't seen again over subsequent days , and checks of the accessible Sandwich Tern colonies came up negative as well, but luckily on the 10th it was pinned down to Pagham Harbour where it was seen to be paired with a Sandwich tern, and showed fairly well for those who could get there in the afternoon.
Despite having had a couple of bad days and nights I was up for the trip and Colin and I went down on Sunday morning, getting there around 10am. Didn't expect to park at Church Norton, and the RSPB car park was full too, but luckily the lay by down to road had been overlooked, so we pulled in and set off on the 1.5 mile walk along the sea wall, and reached the massive crowd in a reasonable time. I scanned the masses and found Phil Ball, having come down with Ian Kendall his usual chauffeur. Tony Hukin was with him, as was Darryl and I soon realised that most of Amwell was here too. They had missed the early sighting when the bird flew out to sea around 7.30am and was presumably out fishing somewhere.
Lots of gulls on the island, Black Heads of course also but around 100 Mediterranean Gulls-never seen so many in breeding plumage in one place before. Terns coming and going all the time, sometimes dropping down onto the closer mud for a rest. Red billed (Common), black billed (Sandwich) and yellow billed (Little) standing side by side was lovely to see, but nothing with an orange bill. Every now and again the birds would go up thanks to the Peregrines flying over but we had to wait over an hour in the building heat before rumours started to filter through the crowd that it was on the island somewhere.
Directions eventually arrived in our group but as usual with Chinese whispers there was a lot of confusion and contradiction but it eventually transpired that it was with a couple of Sandwich Terns at the back end of the island and obscured by vegetation. A couple of times I glimpsed a bird preening,flapping its wings and saw a yellowish bill so was reasonably sure I was on the bird. Luckily it flew on two occasions, if only for a few seconds each time, and most of us got very good scope views despite the range (300+ yards).
I noticed Barry and Bill move off with a few others and assumed that they were leaving but they stopped near the hide and set up their scopes. Some of us realised that views of the terns were likely to be better there and soon joined them. It only took a few moments of scanning with the scope to pick up the Elegant Tern, on the deck and despite the heat haze the views weer pretty good. My scope was commandeered for a while as the building crowd needed directions and it was simpler for them to have a quick peek than try to describe the location. I eventually got it back, and then decided to get some photos. I had the GX8 with me along with the 100-400 lens (for hoped for fly bys) but expecting distant views  also had the 500mm F4 Nikkor, and stacked 1.4 and 2x converters so thats what I used. The results were awful thanks to the heat. Heres the best still.

Video was slightly more successful.

It was recorded in 4k but this had to be cropped severely to 520P. At least for a brief moment you get a clear view of the bill.
Unfortunately by midday I was starting to feel a bit rough again, and we decided to quit and headed back to the car. We did consider going for the Red Footed Falcon at Frensham, but thanks to the M3 junction closure traffic was a problem on all the main roads around the M25, so we took a slow but steady scenic route home instead.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

New Forest and Martin Down

Colin and I went out on Saturday, hoping to catch up on some of the butterflies and dragonflies. The weather was supposed to be pretty good, but it turned out to be a bit windy, a bit cooler than hoped and occasionally rather cloudy. Not good, but we managed to see a fair bit, with one or two unexpected bonuses.
We started off at Reaulieu Road station, parking at Shatterford and walking down to Denny Enclosure. Siskins and Goldcrests in the car park conifers, Mistle Thrushes by the railway, and House Martins collecting mud from a track puddle started the walk off nicely.

There were several family parties of Stonechat as usual, and we picked up a couple of Tree Pipits as well as one or two Meadows. I found some Heath Spotted Orchids off the main path, but dragonflies were hard to find-all we managed in the breeze were a few Large Red and Azure Damsels. On reaching Denny, it didn't take long to find the Redstarts (in the same trees as our last visit a couple of years back) feeding young. Never really got a good camera angle but Ive never photographed a juvenile before.

We had hopes for Dartford Warbler and Woodlark, having seen them here in the past but we weren't successful.
Our next stop was at Crockford Bridge, which has seen a lot of maintenance since our last visit with a lot of scrub clearance. Don't know if that was the reason, but Southern Damsleflies were everywhere. We also had Large and Small Reds, a Four Spotted Chaser, a Broad Bodied Chaser, possibly Keeled Skimmer and Beautiful Demoiselles. No butterflies and no Golden Rings.

We have been meaning to visit Acres Down since the Black Eared Wheatear twitch two years ago, and conditions looked good for raptors, but we only saw multiple Common Buzzards. pity as a coach party had been watching several Hobbies and judging by a back of camera slide show, a male Honey Buzzard had been displaying at extremely close range mid morning. I did hear Tree Pipits, at least one Woodlark, but Dartford Warbler couldn't be found. We also Missed  Spotted Flycatcher and Hawfinch. The pond to the north gave us a Pair of Broad Bodied Chasers, several Emperors and Azure Damsleflies, as well as some of the ponies.
The decision to forgo a search for Scarce Blue Tailed damsels due to the increasing cloud and went to Martin Down instead. Due to traffic problems on the A31 and several road closures and diversions it seemed as if we wouldn't get there and with increasing wind and cloud it like we had wasted our time. However the sun finally broke through and it warmed up a bit.
Walking up the track from silent Lane, we kicked up a few day flying moths and one or two Small Heaths, and eventually a few Small Blues were found. The muddy puddles which had been so good in past visits had gone and we never saw anything else until we reached the Dyke. The Burnt Tip Orchids were looking good, and had been for a week or two. One clump had gone over but the other three were fine. Common Spotted, a lone Pyramidal and lots of Chalk Fragrant were also seen. More Small Heaths and Small Blues, one Painted Lady and three Adonis Blues were flying in the more sheltered environment. No Green Hairstreaks though, and apparently its been a poor year for Marsh Fritillaries-one guy I spoke to had only seen a couple in four visits.