Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Canvey Island

Five years ago, Colin and I spent a very hot August day on Canvey Island looking for dragonflies, and ended up in a soon to be RSPB Bowers Marsh. This Bank Holiday Sunday, we decided to do it all over again.
Not much has changed at Bowers Marsh, so it seemed when we got there-minimal facilities, a basic car park, and the whole area criss crossed with public footpaths and tracks. Even at half past nine it was hot, and with very little shade it proved rather exhausting doing the 5km circuit.
While we went primarily for dragonflies, butterflies and other insects, we ended up seeing very little and it was the birds that turned out to provide the highlights. Small Heaths were abundant, as were various White butterflies and we also saw a couple of Common Blues, Small Tortoiseshells and Peacocks. Common and Ruddy Darters were out in small numbers and we also saw several Migrant Hawkers. We were hoping for Southern Migrants, this area being their stronghold but despite checking every hawker, none were seen. The area is good for Emerald and Scarce Emerald damselflies, but again none were found-just a few Bluetails and Common Blues.
A few waders were present on the lagoons-Black Tailed Godwits, including one that insisted on sitting on the path, one Green Sandpiper and a Curlew. Larger gulls flying down from the nearby landfill included a couple of Yellow Legged. One Kingfisher was a bit of a surprise.
The landfill fence was the best bit, with a flock of Linnets, one Yellow Wagtail, one or two Stonechats and a couple of Whinchats. Other probable migrants included a few Chiffchaffs, Blackcaps and Whitethroats.

After lunch we called in at RSPB West Canvey for a an hour or so, but this proved to be rather disappointing. This was the place for Southern Migrant Hawkers last time, but the ditches were overgrown, the more open areas of water didn't exist any more and we didn't see anything of interest. Butterflies and dragonflies were a repeat of Bowers Marsh, but in very small numbers and we didn't see many bird either apart from gulls and geese.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Willow Emerald Rye Meads

No sign of the Bee-eaters since they were last seen Thursday afternoon unfortunately. They were not the first for Herts, as there were four previous records-all a long time ago and I wouldn't have thought any were twitchable.

This morning I spent a few hours at Rye Meads. Initially bright and warm, it gradually clouded over and the wind picked up, which was a bit unfortunate as I was hoping to get images of some of the dragonflies.
The Draper Hide was entertaining. The Gadwall Tufted Ducks and Mallards are going out of eclipse and there were several Teal and Shoveller present. Two Lesser Blacked Gulls were busy dive bombing the ducks, without success, so turned their eyes on the Little Grebes and their chicks which consequently spent a great deal of time underwater.
One Little Egret, one Common Sandpiper and maybe four Green Sandpipers were also present, and Stock Doves seemed to be coming and going on a regular basis.
I encountered one Southern Hawker and a Brown Hawker outside, and a bit further on I noticed a movement in one of the Hawthorns, which turned out to be a Willow Emerald, my first for the reserve.
Two Commas some Whites and a couple of Speckled Woods were the only butterflies on the wing.
The four Garganey were seen on the north lagoon from the Gadwall Hide, but remained distant. Several small flocks of hirundines were feeding over the far side, mainly House Martins, but a few Sand Martins and Swallows were with them, and also two rather late Swifts.
I bumped into Colin Wills and Maureen, and had chat when I got back to Draper. The Sandpipers were a bit more obliging, and the hirundines and Swifts remained on view for us.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

First Bee-Eaters in Herts

A few days after we went up to see the Bee-eaters, we heard that the nesting attempt had failed and they departed the site, flying off south. However they were then seen in Leicestershire, and have been reported for the last ten days or so. It was a bit of a surprise when I got a tweet from Mike Illett that the (presumed same seven) flock had been seen in a garden in Bayford yesterday, and were still showing.
That was just after lunch when I went through the messages, so I hung on until three, when I could finish work and was down there just after 3.30. Unfortunately they had last been seen about an hour earlier flying north towards the station and Brickendon (which is actually east but never mind). I drove down to Brickendon checking where I was able to pull in and then returned to the small group outside the garden they were last seen in.
We spent a lot of time chatting and eventually most drifted off to search. I hung around for a bit and then walked up towards to top of the village for a bit, meeting up with Simon, Ian Bennell and one or two others. Apart from a lot of hirundines over the fields, plus the usual pigeons, crows etc there wasn't much around. After a couple of search parties returned around 5pm, with negative news, I decided to leave.
Maybe they will stick around the area for a few days, just hope they get refund as there are an awful lot of disappointed Herts birders at the moment (plus a few very lucky individuals able to get down in  time).

Monday, 14 August 2017

A Butterfly Day

Yesterday Colin and I spent a day out in the Chilterns mainly targeting butterflies which, for me at least have been in short supply recently.
We started off at RSPB Otmoor, which has become a bit of a favourite at this time of year. Seems like a lot of others had the same idea as the car park was a bit full by the time we arrived.
The RSPB had opened up a seasonal trail through the meadow adjacent to the car park and it was full of insect life. Lots of Common Blues and Small Coppers (my first of the year) and large numbers of Common and Ruddy Darters. We kept our eyes open for the Turtle Doves which were still around, having been seen earlier but we were out of luck.
Walking over to the Wetland Watchpoint hide, we scanned the fields for waders and migrant chats-none seen. The Cranes proved to be too elusive and the best birds turned out to be some feral Barnacle Geese. We encountered more darters, some Brown and Southern Hawkers, family parties of Reed Warblers and Whitethroats and a few geese and swans. Lots of distant raptors proved to be Red Kites and Buzzards, but perhaps we should have payed attention as there had been a summering Hen Harrier, and a flyover Osprey though I think the latter was seen after we left.
The Ash and Oaks along the Roman Road were reasonably productive with both Purple and Brown Hairstreaks, though unfortunately they all stayed up in the trees. We found at least two Browns, which the visiting group were pleased to see-if the stickers in the cars were anything to go by, some had come a long way to see them.

Our next stop was Aston Rowant and by now it was getting rather warm. Again a lot of visitors were butterfly hunting and it was very productive, probably the best we've had here. Purple Hairstreak in the car park, whites all over the place, large numbers of very fresh brimstones and we hadn't actually got to the hillside. Silver Spotted Skippers were very abundant (in fact they were the only skippers seen all day), and Chalkhill Blues, Common Blues and Brown Argus were all over the hillside. We bumped into someone I knew vaguely, formerly from Hitchin and now Chelmsford, and he mentioned that he had found Adonis Blues at the bottom of the slope. I didn't know they were here, and neither did a few others I talked to on the way down. Fortunately at least one was picked out and posed quite well.
I spent a bit of time failing to locate Autumn Ladies Tresses but I did find a lot of Autumn Gentians.

We finished the day in a very hot and humid Warburg, another of our regular summer destinations. I knew from Bird Forum that we would be lucky to see any orchids as all the Narrow Lipped had been eaten. As it turned out so had the dozen or so Broad Leaved, and while we did see a few tiny plants in the cages where the Violet and Narrow Lipped occur it was rather disappointing. Yellow Birds Nest should have been there too but a search was fruitless.
Another failure were the Chiltern Gentians, though I found a few plants in bud that looked promising and compared to previous August visits, Autumn Gentians were scarce.
We encountered Marsh Tits in various spots, but otherwise birds were quiet, and butterflies were hard to find. Brimstones, Common Blues, Brown Argus and Peacocks were around, and the car park held Southern and Migrant Hawkers. A bonus was a single Silver Washed Fritillary bringing our day list up to a respectable 20 species of butterfly.