Sunday, 20 August 2017

Sunday August 20

Sunny intervals with a light north-westerly breeze.

I was joined by Dave this morning, and the early signs were quite promising with plenty of common warblers around Netherstead and an unusually large party of 34 Black-headed Gulls circling in the distance, possibly catching flying ants. They seemed to descend towards the flash field, but had disappeared when we finally got there.

The pool contained the Greenshank again, but there was no sign of the godwit. Instead, the flash field continues to hold 13 Green Sandpipers, 11 Lapwings, a Snipe, a Little Ringed Plover, and just half a dozen Teal.

It was left to the return journey to produce the birds of the day. These were a distant Wheatear (my first in autumn for a couple of years), and a single Spotted Flycatcher which showed quite well in a flock of warblers and tits at Stapenhill Wood. A single Willow Warbler was also present in this flock.

Spotted Flycatcher
Good numbers of hirundines continue to hawk insects high in the sky, but our estimate of 100 House Martins and 30 Swallows was likely to be just a ballpark figure because they were so distant.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Thursday August 17

Cloudy with sunny intervals and a few showers. A light to moderate south-westerly breeze.

There was nothing much of interest around Netherstead, but things improved when I reached the pool. A Little Egret, the juvenile Black-tailed Godwit, Greenshank, and Green Sandpiper were all present. The dry end supported the first Whinchat of the autumn and 10 Pied Wagtails.

The main event though, was the presence of a Stoat which was being mobbed by three Magpies, a Moorhen and later on, the three waders.

Stoat and Magpies
I see the odd Stoat here most years, but they typically disappear in a flash. This one, because it was being tormented by its avian fan club, kept dashing into the longer vegetation, only to reappear seconds later. I therefore had ample opportunity to photograph the species for the first time.

Black-tailed Godwit
Inevitably all the waders ended up on the nearest flash, where I spent a pleasant thirty minutes counting and recounting. My back has been playing up, so I had abandoned the scope in the car. The flashes are where you miss it. My final tallies were 21 Teal, 12 Green Sandpipers, the Black-tailed Godwit, the Greenshank, a Little Ringed Plover, four Snipe, and 32 Greylag Geese.

The return journey was enlivened by several small parties of warblers, which included a Willow Warbler and four Blackcaps. Back at the car about 70 or so hirundines were mainly House Martins, but included a single Sand Martin.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Sunday August 13

A warm sunny morning with a very light south-westerly breeze.

A stroll around the Netherstead Farm end produced in flight views of Grey Wagtail and Little Egret.

Little Egret
A short way along the track away from Netherstead I spotted my first Brown Argus of the year.

Brown Argus
Although I believe they do sometimes emerge in spring, I always record them from about mid-August. This year, there are also good numbers of Small Heaths about, and today's list included a rather worn Small Copper, and a Painted Lady.

However, I am starting to get far more interested in birds as autumn approaches, and the pool was to supply me with a juvenile Greenshank to boost my optimism.

I was unable to get past it without flushing it, but it only went as far as the nearest flash. As I approached I could see four snow white blobs, which were of course four Little Egrets. Even if I assume the one over Netherstead was one of these, it is still a record count for the site.

Three of the Little Egrets
I set my scope up to search for the Black-tailed Godwit which Matt W had seen on Friday. Sure enough, it was present. Unfortunately the day was warming up and the heat haze and distance resulted in some pretty ropey (even for me) record shots.

Black-tailed Godwit - juvenile
A scan of the rest of the flash produced just nine Green Sandpipers, five Teal, two Snipe, and six Lapwings. I spent quite a while there, and eventually noticed some birds fly-catching in the hedge behind the flash. Most were phylloscs (probably Chiffchaffs), but one was a year-tick: a Spotted Flycatcher. I think I have never failed to see Spotted Flycatcher here in the autumn, but in a poor year they can appear on one date only, so it was a bit of a relief. Too distant for a photo attempt though.

I started the return journey. Three vocal Kestrels behind the flash field were clearly newly fledged, and so another three in the ridge field meant a record six on site. This is a bit of a soft record and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the numbers on site are now in double figures. Also on the wing were numerous Buzzards, at least two Sparrowhawks, and a single Hobby.

I reached the dragonfly pools where all the expected species were available. These included what was either a Southern or a Migrant Hawker (I suspected it was the latter but it just wouldn't land). However, I did at last get the chance to photograph a Brown Hawker as a female was ovipositing, almost the only time they stop flying.

Brown Hawker
A pair of Ruddy Darters were mating, and were therefore also available for the camera.

Ruddy Darters
Back to birds. Numerous hirundines were flying around, and these included a Sand Martin. It eluded the camera as usual. This is the one regularly occurring species I just can't get a shot of here.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Thursday August 10

Sunny with a light westerly breeze. I decided on a shortened visit this morning parking at Church Farm and walking down to the flash field from there.

The wildfowl totals are on the rise, with five Teal, 35 Mallard, and 100 Greylag Geese, while 16 Green Sandpipers was my highest count this year and matched a total Mike counted on August 1. Sadly, my faint hopes that the Great White Egret might still be around were dashed, although I did see an adult Little Egret.

In fact the surprise highlight was a new record count, without trying too hard, of 21 House Sparrows. They were almost all around the hedgerow and new iron clad farm buildings below Church Farm.

House Sparrows
It comes to something when a good count of House Sparrows is the main talking point of the visit though.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Sunday August 6

A sunny morning with cloud increasing by lunchtime. A light westerly breeze. I set out with great optimism but as the morning wore on it became more and more like after the Lord Mayor's show.

The main disappointment was that I could find no sign of the Great White Egret. It was still present by late morning yesterday, but Matt had given me the impression it was still flying around a lot. He was trying to relocate it when he rang. Later, came news that the Great White Egret which had been at Walton Hall until Thursday, had reappeared over Compton Verney. Although these localities are about 20 miles away, the obvious inference is that this could be the Morton Bagot bird.

Unfortunately I was not able to find any other birds of particular note. Two Cormorants flew over, the first since the spring, while the wader tally was 12 Green Sandpipers, nine Lapwings, and a juvenile Little Ringed Plover. A Teal was now present on the nearest flash. Five Swifts flying south was the only sign of passage.

Dragonflies were also pretty run of the mill, so it was left to the butterflies to raise my spirits. A couple of male Common Blues were nice to see, and I later saw a Holly Blue, the breeze forcing it to keeps its wings partially open giving an unusual opportunity to see its upper parts.

Common Blue
Common Blue
Holly Blue
Other butterflies seen included numerous Speckled Woods, and a few Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers. A single Painted Lady, and Brimstone were slightly unexpected, while a particularly nice one was the first Small Copper of the year.

Small Copper

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Saturday August 5

Positive news from Morton Bagot this morning.

Mike and Matt have relocated the Great White Egret this morning, but it sounds as though it is just as flighty again.

It was last seen heading for Netherstead.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Friday August 4 - G W Egret panic

I was just about to head off to Aldi this afternoon when the phone rang. It was Mark Islip. Did I know there was a Great White Egret at Morton Bagot? Hell no!

I was out of the house in an instant and took ten minutes to arrive at Church Farm. I then raced across the fields to find no sign of Mark or egret at the Flash field viewing place. A quick call established that he was by the Kingfisher Pond.

Mark had seen it fly in from the north-east, and it had then ignored the flash field and landed at the edge of the tiny Kingfisher Pool where it had walked out of sight.

Mark had rung me and kindly awaited my arrival. We decided to edge along the back of the pool hoping to see it. Surely a bird that big would be obvious.

Sadly it spotted us and got up, but then landed again at the far end of the pool, again out of sight. I managed two shocking record shots.

Great White Egret
Great White Egret
We decided to circle round to try to see it from the other end. Eventually Mark, who is about 6'4", spotted it, while short-arse me couldn't see anything. It took off again and disappeared back up the other end of the pool before disappearing again. More shots were attempted, but they are even worse than the ones just shown.

We went back to where we'd started, but once again the egret spotted us before we saw it. This final shot was of it scraping over the hedge. Surely it would now be on the Flash, we thought.

Never to be seen again?
There was no further sign of it. Mike Inskip, and Matt Willmott arrived. Matt tried his charm on the farmer who owns the flash field, but to no avail. Access was denied.

A Red Kite appeared over Bannams Wood, while the Green Sandpiper count was 14, plus a juvenile Little Ringed Plover.

My gut feeling is that it is still there somewhere, but I'm tied up tomorrow, so I have to keep my fingers crossed for Sunday.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Sunday July 30

We were greeted by a sunny morning, although cloud built up steadily and we were caught by a shower late in the morning. A light south-westerly breeze.

As we approached the pool we were treated to a fantastic aerial battle between two adult Hobbies and a Swift. The latter got away eventually but the speed the swooping Hobbies got up to was something to behold.

The pool was as disappointing as it was on Friday, but the nearest flash pool held a Little Egret and a few Green Sandpipers and Lapwings. We then managed to find a place where better views of the flash could be obtained without trespassing, and this revealed at least eight Green Sandpipers. Dave spotted a Sand Martin, which I missed.

A hawker dragonfly perched helpfully, and was revealed to be a Southern Hawker.

Southern Hawker
A bit further on I was counting a small party of Swifts moving through, 10 altogether, when Dave nudged me to point out a Kingfisher. At this point I had intended showing the video I took, but I am having trouble with YouTube, so you'll have to make do with a photograph.

Finally we found a deceased Mole. I don't think I've ever seen a live one. Exactly how it died is unclear, maybe the recent heavy rain has something to do with it.


Friday, 28 July 2017

Friday July 28

Cloudy and cool with a moderate westerly breeze, and persistent drizzle setting in. These are exactly the conditions you don't want when you are showing a friend around your hallowed patch.

I walked around with Richard Brooke after making the schoolboy error of revealing my wish list of potential year-ticks as we drove there.

We saw very few interesting birds, and the passerines we did see, such as Lesser Whitethroat, disappeared into the hedgerows within seconds of popping out. The main pool still has a substantial muddy edge but no waders, and the furthest flash remains full of water and screened by long grass.

The nearest flash did produce an impressive 12 Green Sandpipers, and 25 Lapwings, while two Roe Deers, which charged across the field, flushed a single Snipe.

With very few insects on the wing we were left to look at mammals, which consisted of another Roe Deer, a Brown Hare, and a Fox (on the drive back).

Roe Deer trotting along a tramline in the wheat field
The ridge field contained lots of Ragwort, and each plant was being fed upon by Cinnabar Moth caterpillars.

Finally, we decided that the champagne moment was a Sparrowhawk which powered low into the field and emerged abruptly pursuing a small bird (possibly a Goldfinch) in a brief aerial dog-fight before giving up and heading away.

Even on a rotten visit, you always see something.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Sunday July 23

After some torrential rain over the last few days, we arrived to grey skies and a few showers. Coats and wellies were donned, and inevitably the weather proceeded to warm up over the course of the morning, with blazing sunshine by mid-day.

The hope was that there might be some more water in the flash pools and main pool resulting in some new and exciting wader turning up. Well one out of two isn't bad, the flashes now both contain water.

There were some encouraging signs, such as five Green Sandpipers, and an adult Little Ringed Plover. We flushed an adult Little Egret from the main pool, while the hedgerow margins hosted plenty of young Common and Lesser Whitethroats.

Little Egret
As the morning warmed up we saw more and more butterflies and dragonflies, but nothing especially unusual.

Painted Lady
Small Red-eyed Damselfly
A coupled pair of Common Darters
Veering away from familiar insect groups I also spotted an impressive hoverfly, Volucella inanis, which mimics Hornet in order to parasitise its grubs, and a common grasshopper, the Meadow Grasshopper.

Volucella inanis
Meadow Grasshopper
Finally, I sort of saw a long overdue first for Morton Bagot, as Dave, walking a few paces ahead of me, suddenly gave a yelp and leapt backwards. He had almost stepped on a Grass Snake. I just about witnessed it slithering rapidly into the long grass where it disappeared.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Sunday July 16

A cloudy morning, but quite warm, with a very light westerly breeze. A light shower late in the morning.

The early signs were quite promising, with a large tit flock in the copse near Netherstead, and a Sedge Warbler carrying food in a hedgerow by the dragonfly pool. As we approached the pool I noticed a falcon sitting in a dead tree near Stapenhill Wood. The scope, and camera, revealed it to be a Hobby.

The main pool was, as expected, still losing water through evaporation. A Little Egret stalked behind the island, while the large areas of mud contained several Pied Wagtails and a single juvenile Little Ringed Plover.

Little Ringed Plover
The flash field was even more disappointing. The furthest flash has no muddy edge and contained a few Mallard and a Coot, while the nearest flash is almost entirely drying mud and held a couple of Grey Herons.

Inevitably our attention turned to insects. A bumblebee-mimic hoverfly, Volucella bombylans, showed well. They can apparently mimc either Red-tailed or White-tailed Bumblebees, this one looked like the latter.

Volucella bombylans
There were plenty of butterflies still in evidence, but the only new one was a Small White, and I took too long trying to get a shot. One pool which still had plenty of water also contained a Kingfisher, and the first brood of Tufted Ducks of the year.

Tufted Duck family
Numerous little grass moths fluttered up, but we generally ignored them. However, I did recognise several Shaded Broad-bars, and a micro called Agapeta hamana. I think I have seen them here before, too.

Shaded Broad-bar
Agapeta hamana

The most interesting insects we saw were the crickets. There were loads of them. Most were Dark Bush Crickets, but Roesel's Bush Crickets were also well represented. We also found a couple of Long-winged Coneheads. I have probably seen one of these here before, but on that occasion I didn't get a shot and I left it as a probable. This time, the first was a nymph, in other words one stage away from being a full grown female, and the other was an adult male.

Dark Bush Cricket
Roesel's Bush Cricket
Long-winged Conehead - nymph
Long-winged Conehead - male
Finally, Dave headed off, and I stopped at the farm by Bannam's Wood to get some eggs. I then decided to back track to the new pool just outside the hamlet in the hope it might hold a Common Sandpiper (with the site drying up I am beginning to fear I will miss this species this year). It didn't, but I did get a notable species.

Adult male Grey Wagtail
More typical later in the autumn, a July record is unusual here.

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunday July 9

A largely sunny morning with a very light westerly breeze after another week lacking precipitation.

I was joined by Dave who quickly swung into action by spotting an owl in a sallow on the far side of the pool at Clowes Wood Farm. It was difficult to see well, but we eventually established that it was a Tawny Owl.

Spot the Tawny
As with last week butterflies abounded, with rather more Gatekeepers but fewer Ringlets and Meadow Browns. All three Skippers were seen, along with several Marbled Whites. However, we managed to find a butterfly which is probably fairly common here, but is rarely seen. This is because its preferred habitat is the top of oak trees. Dave picked out the first one, but it disappeared before he could be sure. We then went to the other side of the hedge, to get the sun behind us, kicking up an adult and two juvenile Pheasants in the process. After about thirty minutes of brief views we were finally treated to excellent views as one of the butterflies flew down to eye level and landed on a bramble leaf. I refer to the Purple Hairstreak.

Purple Hairstreak
We headed for the pool to see how much water was left in it. The answer was not a lot. Unusually the pool was playing host to 59 Lapwings, as well as the first Green Sandpiper of the autumn and a Little Egret.

The Lapwings
Green Sandpiper
Little Egret
We moved on to the Flashes and found that the furthest one was full of water, but obscured by long grass, while the near one was almost bone dry.

I suggested we move back to the main pool to see if we could find any Small Red-eyed Damselflies. In the event we did find one red-eye sp, but it refused to land. More obliging was a female Emperor which was egg-laying.

Other dragonflies on view included a Black-tailed Skimmer, a Ruddy Darter, and earlier a Brown Hawker. None of these was at all willing to pose for a photograph.

We were running short of time, so I suggested we head back via the dragonfly pools. A family of Kestrels has clearly fledged as we counted five individuals on wires in the ridge field. The dragonfly pools revealed the next surprise as it was full of mating Small Red-eyed Damselflies. I had never seen one on these pools before.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Also showing well were an adult Ruddy Darter, an immature male Common Darter, and a few Black-tailed Skimmers.

Ruddy Darter
Common Darter
Black-tailed Skimmer
Another enjoyable visit comes to an end.

One thing I should have pointed out is that the Little Egret is clearly a juvenile. Events at nearby Arrow Valley Lake have been very exciting, with at least one Little Egret incubating with an uncertain outcome, but possibly a second pair tucked away out of sight. Could this bird be proof that the second pair was successful?