Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sunday June 29

A bright sunny morning. Heading away from Netherstead I soon came across several Marbled White butterflies frantically battling with numerous Meadow Browns, Ringlets and even Large Skippers for prime position on the flowering brambles.

A Marbled White and a Ringlet
Reaching the pool I noticed one or two Swifts flashing past me taking advantage of the abundance of insects. I managed a single shot of one.

My best effort at a Swift so far.
Having said that I was losing interest in plants in my last blog entry, it was almost inevitable I would find something botanical to puzzle out.

It turned out that this very tall plant was Chicory.

At the flash it initially seemed all was quiet, three Teal and a Green Sandpiper still. The muddy bit has been colonised  by tall thick, and above all annoying, vegetation. A few Lapwings poked their heads out of it. Then in a gap behind it a small wader showed briefly. I thought I knew what it was, but after waiting for a quarter of an hour I could see no further sign. I decided to move further along the hedge to a place where I knew there was a tiny gap in the foliage through which bits of the flash were visible. This was a masterstroke and I relocated the bird and confirmed it to be the first Common Sandpiper of the year.  Could I get a record shot through the hedge?

84. Common Sandpiper
Oh yes. I know its terrible, but I'm really pleased to have got any image at all. I only saw one of these here last year, and this could be the only one again.

Returning past the pool, the adult Little Grebes were as elusive as ever, but I got a clear view of the third bird, a fully fledged juvenile.

Little Grebe
Finally, the long grass by the pond produced a striking day-flying moth.

Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet
The books tell me that the above moth with the very long name could also be a Five-spot Burnet, but that species has never been recorded in Warwickshire and can only be safely identified from examining it's underwing and genitalia in minute detail. So blow that for a lark, its going down as the commoner more exotic sounding species.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Saturday June 28

After a very wet day yesterday I was tempted to check out the flashes this morning. The grass was both long and wet, so I got pretty soaked even though it didn't actually rain.

In the rather murky light I established that the water level had risen and the Green Sandpiper was still there. The only arrival was three Teals.

I returned via the pool, which now contains three Little Grebes. Despite the gloom several Common Darters and various brown butterflies were on the wing, but the real eye-catcher were the numbers of Cinnabar moths taking to the wing along the footpath back up to the road.

Cinnabar Moth
Although they are quite pretty when perched on a leaf, they become truly startling in flight when the bright crimson underwing is revealed.

I took some more flower shots, but my interest in them is starting to wane, something that seems to happen every year. In another month birds will be centre stage once more.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Summer evening

Tonight was a classic still summer evening. Although I arrived quite late there was still enough warmth in the day for dragonflies to be on the wing.

A female Emperor
I had parked at Netherstead hoping that the Grasshopper Warbler might still be present. It wasn't but half way to the pool I was mobbed by an agitated Whitethroat.

No doubt there were some recently fledged young nearby. The pool itself contained a Little Grebe and two Mute Swans, while at the flashes some waders were present; a Little Ringed Plover and a Green Sandpiper. The abiding memory however was of the sun shining through hoards of tiny insects dancing over the water's surface.

Unfortunately, other insects were taking chunks out of my arms, so I headed back to Netherstead.

Back at the reedbed close to dusk for a change, I found that there was a small Pied Wagtail roost gathering, and counted 17 birds until a Sparrowhawk flew over causing the whole lot to take flight and shoo it away.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Patch tick for Mike

Down the road Mike has had a rewarding visit to his patch. The highlight was a Coal Tit, a first for Middle Spernal Pool, he tells me. A wandering Shoveler was also present, and also three Oystercatchers were at nearby Haselor Scrape.

Some sad news is that the owner of much of the land at both of our patches, Felix Dennis, has died of cancer. I didn't know him at all, but judging from his obituary in the Guardian he seems to have led a very colourful life.

I would imagine that his tree planting legacy will be unaffected in the short term at least.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Back on the Patch a surprise is in store

Sunday June 22 is not a date which would inspire me to think I would find a fourth for the patch, but that is exactly what happened.

As it was a hot sunny morning I started by trying to locate insects by the dragonfly pools. I had just spotted an Emerald Damselfly, when from the reedbed beyond came the unmistakable reeling of a Grasshopper Warbler. I say unmistakable, but I must admit that the fact the sound appeared to be coming from the reeds did worry me a bit. But it did sound like a Gropper.

I spent about an hour trying to see the bird, without success. Actually I suspect it was singing from the long vegetation beyond the reedbed, and since getting home I have listened to Grasshopper Warbler and Savis' (the cause of my slight concern), and am happy it was the former.

Eventually I gave up and went back to getting insect shots. Emperor Dragonflies are now on the wing, and I also saw plenty of Four Spotted Chasers and a late Broad-bodied Chaser.

Emperor Dragonfly
The Emperors were very hard to photograph as they spent long periods on the wing. While trying to get into a position in the nettles to take a shot of the Emperor shown above, I emerged to find a caterpillar on my jeans. I have looked it up at home and have concluded it was a Peacock.

Peacock caterpillar
I carefully allowed the caterpillar to return to the nettles and continued searching for mini-beasts.

Meadow Brown
There are now plenty of Meadow Browns out along with many Large Skippers, Small Heaths, and about six Marbled Whites which unfortunately wouldn't settle.

The pool and flash contained no surprises although I did take my one bird shot near the latter.

Green Woodpecker
I'm not sure if it was the heat, or the fact it was feeding on ants that caused it to pose with its bill open. More insects followed.

A newly emerged Common Darter
Caterpillars (not sure which moth)
Mother Shipton - a day-flying moth
I returned to the dragonfly pools and again heard the Grasshopper Warbler, but it had moved and was now in or behind the hedge between the pool field and the barns. I still couldn't see it though.

Evening update: Jon Yardley and Mark Islip heard the Grasshopper Warbler this evening and also had a returning Green Sandpiper at the Flashes.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

The twitch

Thursday June 21.

What this holiday needed was a rare bird. That's what I told Lyn on Thursday, and she was up for it. A housing estate in suburban Lowestoft, lovely.

As twitches go it was pretty much perfection. The directions were easy to follow, and we arrived to find a dozen slightly gloomy twitchers (including Lee Evans who seems to be everywhere) muttering that the bird hadn't been seen for 45 minutes.

We clambered out of the car and took up a position opposite someone's back garden. Our fellow twitchers wandered off to "look for the bird", and Lyn and I were left with one other birder. Five minutes later a small group of Starlings flew out of the garden, and the Rose-coloured Starling was with them. I bellowed "there it is," and it perched obligingly in an ornamental conifer.

The boy !
The others hurried back, but we were ready to go. Bird in the bag. I wish twitching was always this easy.


Tuesday was ear-marked for a visit to Minsmere. Well you've got to go haven't you.

Part of the attraction for us is that several of the hides are wheelchair accessible for Lyn. Unfortunately these were not necessarily the best ones for birds. One thing I approved of was that the reeds had been cut back in several places along the path allowing good views of the local dragonflies, which included this little beast.

Red-eyed Damselfly sp
Unfortunately the one shot I got doesn't show the key identification feature very well so I was left to look at supporting features to decide whether it was Small Red-eyed Damselfly or Red-eyed Damselfly. Pale blueish legs and yellow antehumeral stripes (if its not light reflection) point to it being the former.

Post-script added July 19. The more I look at this photo the more unsafe my identification looks to me. It could be just a Red-eyed Damselfly. So it is now Red-eyed Damselfly sp.

Beyond the little pools one or two Hobbies flew about, and eventually a Bittern flew over. At Bittern hide another two were seen briefly, but it was otherwise a bit disappointing. Eventually I made my way to the East hide, which as happened last year, produced far more birds. About 80 Avocets vied for attention with a good selection of terns and plenty of photo opportunities.

Sandwich Tern and Kittiwake disputing occupation of a wooden bar
Little Tern
The Little Tern was my first for several years (birding Morton Bagot all the time has its drawbacks), and was certainly the star bird. Once pretty common here, the recent population decline is now affecting even the Suffolk coast.

The mid June malaise affected the wader population, and apart from the Avocets and a few Oystercatchers, I only saw a handful of Black-tailed Godwits. The field which last year produced distant Stone Curlews contained only a forest of Ragwort, and the cold northerly blowing down the beach added to a slight feeling of disappointment about the visit.

Snape Maltings and Warren

We visited Snape Maltings on Sunday. Lyn keeps saying its her favorite place in all the world (pottery, paintings, and art and craft shops). Our friends, Jane and Bill, tagged along, while I headed for hills. Well actually I explored the other side of the estuary and found an area of heathland called Snape Warren.

Before I got there, a Barn Owl flew from a fence post and got snapped before it disappeared.

A better picture than I managed of the Morton Bagot bird. The reedbeds produced another hidden Cetti's Warbler plus loads of Reed Warblers and a few Little Egrets.

The sign at the entrance to the Warren promised me Woodlarks and Dartford Warblers., and in no time at all two of the former flew from the path, and perched up obligingly. They then flew off, but I quickly tracked one down.

These were my first Woodlarks for several years. The Dartford Warblers proved trickier, but eventually I heard one singing before seeing it in flight and then perched some way off. I chose not to trample about trying to photograph it after it disappeared into a bank of distant gorse.

Sutton Hoo

A good place to visit in Suffolk is Sutton Hoo near Woodbridge. Forget the birds, you go there to see the ancient burial mounds and artifacts found when an Anglo-Saxon ship burial was found in the late 1930s. Great museum. Also, there are still a few Anglo-Saxons wandering about.

The natives are friendly, honest!
As for birds. I did at least see a photogenic Skylark.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Holiday in Suffolk - the Hen Reedbeds and Southwold

The reason for a dearth of recent posts is explained. We have been on our hols. Suffolk again.

Wall to wall sunshine for the day we journeyed there, and the day we journeyed back. For the rest of the time, mostly cloudy. Oh well. We stayed in Wangford again, and I was surprised to discover that the hedge behind the cottage contained a singing Cetti's Warbler. I never saw it all week. I am sorry to say that I allowed the World Cup to get in the way of some potential birding time, but I still managed to get to the Hen Reedbeds reasonably frequently.

This local patch is an area of reeds and pools created by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in 1998 adjacent to the Blyth Estuary. The makers proved the adage "if you build it they will come" as it was soon populated by Bearded Tits, which I saw frequently, Marsh Harriers, and Bitterns.

A female Marsh Harrier
A male Marsh Harrier
Across the road the area extended on the landward side of the estuary wall, so you can get a choice of waders on the estuary or marsh birds on the other side. Waders were at a premium, being mid June, and all I saw were Black-tailed Godwits, Curlews, Oystercatchers, and a single male Bar-tailed Godwit. The pools on this side were overlooked by hides, so you could sit in comfort to look at the Greylag Geese, Little Grebe, and other dross occupying them. However, it also allowed good views of the odd Little Egret.

There was a breeding colony of these in the trees at the head of the estuary, and they were commoner than Grey Herons.

Naturally the holiday was also about tourism, so we visited nearby Southwold with its iconic beach huts, impressive church, and numerous retail opportunities.

The interior of St Edmunds
I will leave this post with a mystery Gull photo. The landfill tip hidden by trees behind Wangford ensured that about 400 large gulls were constantly present. Nearly all were in first-summer and second summer plumage, and for an identification puzzle I found them a nightmare. Certainly plenty were Herring Gulls and and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, but it may be that some were Yellow-legged or even Caspian Gulls. I took some random photos hoping to figure them out later, but this is easier said than done.

Answers on a postcard please
Grey feathers in the mantle suggest Herring, Caspian or Yellow-legged, but it looks rather slender structured to me, like a Lesser Black-backed. Whitish head could be good for Yellow-legged or Caspian ? Dull brown tertials may also point that way, but very worn. I'm not sure what it is.

Monday, 9 June 2014

A good bird for Mike

This evening I had a call from a very chuffed Mike. He has seen a Barn Owl at Middle Spernal Pools. His first record for the locality.

Great stuff.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Sunday June 8

Warm and sunny. Dave rang to say he would not be joining me, so I had the place to myself. Although today would be dominated by insects, I began and ended with some significant birds.

At the little reedbed I finally managed to get a shot of one of the two singing Reed Warblers.

83. Reed Warbler
Not a great shot by proper photographer standards, but a photo year-tick. Further up the road a juvenile Pied Wagtail was just begging to have his picture taken.

juvenile Pied Wagtail
I then walked through the village and along the bottom of Bannam's Wood recording singing birds before turning to walk down the hedge towards the pool. The hedge produced two nice dragonflies and my first Speckled Wood of the year.

Broad-bodied Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser
Speckled Wood
At least one Little Grebe was still present at the pool, while at the flashes the long grass is now denying me the chance to look at the furthest flash, the near one producing four Grey Herons and a Redshank.

Returning my attention to the insects I saw my first Large Skippers of the year were now on the wing.

Large Skipper
The Large Skipper is actually a very small butterfly, its just bigger then the other Skippers. I also saw a female Common Blue butterfly, and got a chance to photograph an obliging Banded Demoiselle damselfly.

Banded Demoiselle
Approaching the end of my circuit another new dragonfly for the year appeared, a female Black-tailed Skimmer.

female Black-tailed Skimmer
They look quite different from the males, and I hope to see and photograph one of those on a later visit.

Back at the dragonfly pools I was a bit disappointed that there were no Emperor Dragonflies on the wing, and I also saw but failed to photograph any of the handful of Common Blue Damselflies which were mixed in with the Azure Damselflies. I did get a shot of a male Large Red Damselfly though.

Large Red Damselfly
Finally, I mentioned there would be another significant bird. There was indeed. As I was driving away I picked up a Red Kite flying over Bannams Wood. I stopped and tried to record it for posterity, but kept missing it, and it soon got away.

A good end to a mid-summer insect extravaganza.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Flaming June

June is upon us, and today was exactly what you would expect. Hot and sunny with no birds.

To be fair, there were plenty of birds of course, just no migrants. The Little Grebes have settled in and are now nest-building. Dave and I also saw two family parties of Blackcaps, a family of Long-tailed Tits, a definite female Cuckoo (it did the bubbling call), a pair of Ravens, and a newly arrived pair of Mute Swans.

A photo-tick became available when I found that the House Martins were collecting mud.

82. House Martin
Meanwhile, although there were no waders etc on the flash, the Coots were engaged in a territorial Mexican stand-off.

The summer's saving grace is the the insects. Although we didn't see too many butterflies, we did better with the odonata. Several Beautiful Demoiselles and one Banded Demoiselle flew by, and at least one Four-spotted Chaser was also present. None of these was available for a photograph, but the Broad-bodied Chasers were more co-operative.

A female Broad-bodied Chaser
A male Broad-bodied Chaser
I spent a frustrating half hour trying to get shots, conscious that I was irritating a pair of Sedge Warblers which had a nest somewhere on the other side of the pool, and also Dave, who decided he might as well head home.