Sunday, 31 July 2016

Sunday July 31

Cloudy and a little cooler this morning. A very light north-westerly breeze.

I decided to walk along the road through the village and back down to the pool. This route rarely seems to produce much of note, and today was no exception. In fact the whole site was pretty quiet for birds, the only noteworthy events being the presence of several small flocks heralding the onset of autumn; 40 Goldfinches, 50 Starlings, 43 Lapwings, 80 Jackdaws, and seven Green Sandpipers for example.

A juvenile Goldfinch
Most of the Goldfinches were juveniles, and there may actually have been two separate flocks of about 40 birds.

Fortunately, on quiet days other stuff comes to the rescue. The field behind the pool contains a spectacular bloom of yellow flowers which I believe are Prickly Sowthistles.

The field also contains stacks of Red-tailed Bumblebees, and is also a haven for Reed Buntings, Skylarks, Whitethroats, and Goldfinches. While I was searching for birds, a buck Roe Deer appeared and stuck its tongue out at me.

Shortly afterwards it barked its annoyance, and headed off over the ridge. A second buck then appeared and did the same thing.

The day was a little too cool for many dragonflies to be on the wing, but there were enough butterflies  to encourage me to do another 15 minute count. As luck would have it the period produced the two butterfly stars of the day, a Comma and a Small Copper.

Small Copper and Meadow Brown
I was particularly pleased to see the Small Copper as it was my first this year, and has been highlighted by Butterfly Conservation as a declining species. They have never been particularly obvious on the patch, but I expect to see one or two every year.

Finally, I took a photograph of a plant at the dragonfly pools in order to try to identify it. It grows quite readily there, and now seems to be coming into flower.

Not the most spectacular thing, but I have worked out that it is called Gypsywort and likes to grow near water. Which it does.

Thursday, 28 July 2016

Thursday July 28

The forecast this morning suggested it would rain by the time I was half way round the patch, so at Lyn's suggestion I got up early and was in the field by 07.15. Weathewise, the plan worked well. To start with there were a few sunny intervals and not much wind, and it ended cloudy and a bit breezier.

Getting out early has the added benefit that birds are at their most active, so I saw several mixed flocks of Tits and Warblers, and numerous finches. The main bonus came at the chat field where the adult male Whinchat had been loosely joined by two juveniles, a surprisingly early arrival.

The juvenile Whinchats
As I watched them I noticed a vehicle, which turned out to be carrying three agricultural workers, head down the track towards the pool. Here they stopped, got out, did stuff, got onto a smaller vehicle and drove to the other end of the pool, got off, did more stuff, and then returned to their original vehicle before doing something else. Exactly what they were doing I don't know, it may have had something to do with stock fences. From my point of view it meant that the pool contained no waders by the time I reached it.

The Flash field was also a bit disappointing, 40 Lapwings, four Green Sandpipers, two Teal, and 46 Greylag Geese. At one point all the Mallard jumped onto the pool in panic while four Magpies and several other corvids cackled from the hedgerow. I suspected a fox, and a little later and further on a young Fox duly put in an appearance.

The fox headed for the Pheasant pens, but as I had been asked to give them a wide berth, I walked back a different way. In the ridge field I noticed that the recently sprayed Common Ragwort now sported lots of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillar
The rain was a bit late, but I would have got wet, so the early start paid off.

Saturday, 23 July 2016

Saturday July 23

A late start for a rather different sort of day. It was hot and sunny, ideal for the Warwickshire Dragonfly Group meeting I had decided to join on it's visit to Middle Spernal Pools, and later to Morton Bagot.

About 18 people turned up, and Mike and I were initially given the task of waiting for a lady who was a little late so that she didn't get lost. As a result we found we were lagging behind at Middle Spernal, but still saw everything that the rest of the group saw. In fact we may have done slightly better than our companions as we spotted a Hobby, two Purple Hairstreaks, and two Banded Demoiselles which were not on the list which had been compiled by group leader, Peter Reeve.

Ruddy Darter
Shaded Broad-bar

Middle Spernal's Pools are larger than those at Morton Bagot, and the reed-bed is much more extensive, and stuffed full of Reed Warblers. Surprisingly, the Hobby was a patch year-tick for Mike. On the way back we flushed a silent pipit which appeared to be a Meadow Pipit, although Mike said they are not normally present here in summer.

So on to Morton Bagot. The party condensed into four cars, and rather to my surprise opted to park in the long grass by the beehives by pre-arrangement with the Heart of England Forest representatives. I therefore led them down to the main pool where we flushed three Green Sandpipers and then started searching for dragonflies.

Ruddy Darter
At the far end of the pool I located some damselflies with red eyes. Several problems then presented themselves. I had stupidly left my scope in the boot of Mike's car by the beehives, and the damselflies  were landing on the Water-milfoil (I was told by Mike what it was) some distance from the bank. Also, our expert, Peter, had decided to head for the top pond, and was therefore a dot on the horizon. This is one long excuse for the following photographs, which were the best I could manage.

Small Red-eyed Damselflies
When Peter did finally join us, he agreed that we were looking at Small Red-eyed Damselflies and not Red-eyed Damselflies. Small Red-eyed are a recent colonist to the UK, but were found here, in this exact spot, a couple of years ago. Last year the pool almost dried out, and I didn't see any.

Intriguingly, another group member, Mick, took shots of an obvious Small Red-eyed Damselfly, and also what looked from the image in the back of his camera, like a Red-eyed Damselfly. Kay Reeves was somewhat sceptical of his report as it is a bit late in the season for them, and they typically prefer ponds with lily pads. However, it will be interesting to see what they say if they get a chance to look at Mick's pictures.

I jogged/staggered back to the car to get the scope and tripod largely because Mike and I had gone to the flash where we discovered there were waders on the far edge of the most distant flash. They turned out to be Green Sandpipers. It at least gave us the chance to scope the Small Red-eyed Damselflies.

On our way back, Mike and I stopped at the Dragonfly Ponds, which had been ignored by the group, hoping to see or hear the Grasshopper Warblers. There was no sign of any, but we did rediscover the adult male Whinchat.

This bird almost totally lacks orange on its upper breast because of feather wear, and so I think it is likely to be the bird Dave and I saw a fortnight ago, as that also had a very pale breast.

Finally, a look at the pools produced my first Southern Hawker of the year. It showed no sign of landing but I managed to get a flight shot.

A heavily cropped image of the Southern Hawker
I very much enjoyed the day, and learnt amongst other things that no dragonfly watcher likes to use English names for any of the dragonflies. So I was constantly having to translate Lestes sponsa, Aeshna grandis, and various other latin names in my head to work out what everyone was talking about.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Friday July 22

A very warm sunny morning with an extremely light breeze.

Within a few minutes of arriving at Netherstead I became aware that the fizzing overhead cables were being joined by a reeling Grasshopper Warbler, and shortly afterwards by a second reeler. Fantastic, the fourth record for the site. Hearing them was one thing, but could I see them, or even get a photo?

After about 15 minutes I saw one on the fence surrounding the reedbed field, but I missed the shot. A Hobby flew over, briefly distracting me. A little later I saw the second Grasshopper Warbler fly over the hedge, surprisingly distinctive in flight silhouette. Another 15 minutes elapsed and the first bird was back on the fence, surrounded by grasses. I got a horrible blurry image. Fortunately it reappeared and I got a shot in focus...ish.

The Grasshopper Warbler
I had texted and phoned several people, and Sue Matthewman picked up her message and wandered down from the barns to see if she could see it. Typically the bird promptly stopped singing, but just as she was about to give up it started again, and even showed well back on the fence.

After this tremendous start the circuit was bound to be a bit of an anti-climax. The sprayers were out in force again, and the nearest flash is now just a large muddy puddle. Five Green Sandpipers flew off the main pool, 53 Lapwings, four Starlings, and a Little Ringed Plover were on the flash. The hedgerows produced a Willow Warbler hunting insects with numerous Chiffchaffs.

As I am joining a Dragonfly Group who will be walking around Middle Spernal and Morton Bagot tomorrow, I had intended to ignore insects. But there was never much chance they would ignore me. I was frequently bitten, but also saw many Essex Skippers, a probable Holly Blue which flew along the top of a hedgerow, a Red Admiral, and a Silver Y moth.

Essex Skipper
Small Skipper
Red Admiral
Small Tortoiseshell
A male Black-tailed Skimmer
Back at Netherstead I found two adults and a juvenile Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler, and the Grasshopper Warblers, this time at the edge of the seedbed, while my earlier report that the Tufted Ducklings may have perished turned out to be unfounded as two were still bobbing about on the largest dragonfly pool.

Grasshopper Warbler
I couldn't resist one more shot.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Weird butterfly photographed at Stratford

This afternoon, strolling around Stratford with friends, we came across this astonishing butterfly. Unfortunately only a mobile phone was available for the shot.

Giant Swallowtail
A North American species, but the proximity of Stratford Butterfly Farm is certainly of relevance to the record.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Sunday July 17

A very warm, humid morning.

I have recently rejoined Butterfly Conservation and decided to take part in the Big Butterfly Count having read that it has been a very bad season nationally. My 15 minutes produced the following:

Marbled White          -      9
Meadow Brown        -     31
Small/Essex Skipper -    13
Large White              -      3
Ringlet                      -      3
Large Skipper           -      2
Gatekeeper               -      1

The reason I was cautious regarding the Skippers was that most were seen in flight, and later examination showed that both species are now present.

A female Essex Skipper
Outside the allotted period we saw many more butterflies including a couple of Common Blues, three Small Tortoiseshells, and several Small Whites.

As it got hotter, it became increasingly difficult to photograph insects as they became extremely unwilling to settle. Dragonflies were especially difficult, and although we saw at least four Brown Hawkers, new for the year, there was no chance of a photograph.

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned birds yet. In fact it wasn't terrible for them, but it was frustrating. A Reed Warbler was singing, but remained hidden, and I got the impression that there were additional birds calling, so perhaps they have bred.

An unusual feature was the presence of a flock of House Martins perching on a hawthorn hedge.

House Martins
They may have had a good breeding season. I also noticed a single Sand Martin flying with them at one stage.

A single female Tufted Duck at the pool may have been the bird I saw with two ducklings at the Dragonfly Pools on Friday. It would seem that the ducklings haven't lasted too long. The Flashes were a bit disappointing, just six Green Sandpipers and 23 Lapwings.

The bird of the day was an escape (but a pretty good one). Dave spotted a yellow and black bird perched with Goldfinches in the hedge by Kingfisher Pool. With brief thoughts of Golden Oriole floating through my mind I got the scope up and shifted to a position where I could see what the bird was. Right colours, wrong size, it was in fact an adult male Yellow-crowned Weaver (aka Yellow-crowned Bishop). It was a stunningly attractive bird, but as my camera came out the bird decided it was time to fly off. It actually circled the entire field before disappearing into the distance.

This may be the bird which we saw in 2014, when it was a more dowdy immature, but I suppose it could be a completely new one. Continuing the theme of missed opportunities, Dave rounded the
corner of the hedge at Kingfisher Pool before I did and walked straight into a perched Kingfisher. I saw only the perch!

Back to insects, the first Grasshoppers are now showing, but not stridulating yet, and we noticed a small moth which I reckon is a Yellow Shell.

Yellow Shell
The Swifts are down to single figures. Autumn beckons.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Friday July 15

A cool, cloudy morning with a light north-westerly breeze.

I was joined by two friends, both also called Richard, who were keen to be shown some wildlife. To begin with they were kept on their toes by a succession of little brown jobs; Whitethroats, Reed Buntings, Linnets, and the like.

In fact, the best discovery on the outward journey was a patch tick for me, albeit deceased and not a bird.

An ex-Mole
I was aware that Moles occur here, the occasional molehill giving their presence away, but it was interesting to see an example of the actual species.

The pool produced an adult and two juvenile Little Grebes, while the flash field served up two newly arrived juvenile Little Ringed Plovers and a handful of Green Sandpipers and Lapwings.

At the Kingfisher Pool we were startled by the call and flash of blue of the first Kingfisher of the year to arrive (and depart). About 30 Swifts were still careering over the unsprayed field, while employees of the Heart of England Forest Project got on with spraying the ridge field.

Our last notable discovery was a female Tufted Duck with two ducklings on the Dragonfly Pool.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Sunday July 10

Mostly cloudy with a fresh south-westerly breeze, but also quite warm.

At last, some bird migration to report. Dave and I had reached the Chat Field, and he was scanning across it when he noticed a potential Stonechat. Any Chat in the field seemed unexpected in July so I got the scope up and was able to see that it was actually an adult male Whinchat, and a bit of a stonker at that. Some stalking was required to get an acceptable image of it.

The Whinchat
I would have been reasonably happy if that had been our only good find of the morning, but no, year-ticks were lining themselves up at the Flash field.

At least one Little Grebe was showing on the pool, but much more interesting was the sight of a muddy edge around the nearest flash. I quickly spotted a Greenshank wading through the shallow water, and we were later to find that two were present. Unfortunately they never approached one another, so I can only depict this first bird.

Also present were six Green Sandpipers, a Little Ringed Plover, three Teal, and a Common Sandpiper, which was another year-tick. It remained on the shore at the back of the flash, so only a terrible record shot was possible.

Common Sandpiper
We continued along the hedge, and just beyond the Kingfisher Pool we flushed a flock of Ravens off what turned out to be the carcass of a sheep. They quickly scattered, and we eventually counted 11 individuals, which I would imagine was made up of two family groups. This beats my previous record count, which was on the same date in 2011, by one.

Scanning to the west we picked up a Buzzard carrying prey, which appeared to be a Crow. Proof, if it were needed, of another successful Buzzard's nest.

Buzzard carrying a Crow
Finally, the Ravens flew up in the distance before heading back to their lunch.

Only 10 Ravens in this shot!
So I have managed to go a whole visit without mentioning insects. Well ok I did see a Comma butterfly, which I think was a first for the year.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Friday July 8

Sunny intervals and rather too breezy, but reasonably warm.

I headed for the flash field where I was pleasantly surprised to see a few more waders than of late, although the long grass still makes them hard work. The counts were 21 Lapwings, eight Green Sandpipers, a Little Ringed Plover, and a juvenile Redshank.

Three Lapwings with the juvenile Redshank
The presence of the Redshank is intriguing. It could fly, so was probably not home grown, but given the difficulty of watching the flash pools it is tempting to wonder whether it could have been hatched here and eluded me before it learnt to fly.

At least three Teal were also present, while I counted/estimated 105 Swifts which continue to dash back and forth over the unsprayed field. At one stage they went into mobbing mode, but the target of their anxiety turned out to be a Cormorant.

However, just after I had packed my camera away I noticed a Red Kite flying through the Swifts (which were ignoring it!) I still had time to get the camera out and get a terrible record shot before I lost the kite behind trees.

Red Kite
The wind was by now blowing the grass stems about, so photographing insects was hard work, but I still managed some decent shots.

Green-veined White
Bluebottle sp, probably Calliphona vicina
Noon Fly - Mesembrina meridiana

Greenbottle sp, probably Lucilia sericata
There were good numbers of dragonflies about, and these included a probable Ruddy Darter.

Drone Flies, possibly Tapered Drone Flies - Eristalis pertinax
I intend to try to check these Fly identifications with experts eventually.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Sunday July 3

A sunny morning with only a very light south-westerly. Dave joined me and quickly picked up an adult Hobby as it flew over the Netherstead dragonfly ponds.

As far as birds are concerned we never quite beat this sighting, although the Swift gathering continues to impress. The largest count we got raised the site record to 145. An adult Little Grebe was on the pool and I may have had a brief view of a juvenile before it disappeared. At the flash pools there were at least five Green Sandpipers and a Little Ringed Plover.

Green Sandpipers and Pied Wagtails keeping their feet dry
New insects for the year were several Small Skippers, while Marbled Whites are now flying in good numbers, Dave logging 28 as we walked round.

Small Skipper
There were also loads of dragonflies on the wing, with increases in numbers of Emperors, Four-spotted Chasers, and Black-tailed Skimmers.

A female Black-tailed Skimmer
A male Black-tailed Skimmer
Four-spotted Chaser
I flushed a small moth and tried to photograph it. The trouble with moths in the daytime is that they only ever want to be on the shady side of the leaf/grass stem. So you end up with photos like this one.

After considerable time I managed a fuzzy photograph which at least enabled me to identify it.

Udea lutealis 
Dead common apparently.

Fox cub
Just dead.