Sunday, 15 July 2018

Seven Days of Sun, Inverts, Mud Men, Pink Ponies and a Globud

Another hot week on the ranch although the mornings have been generally cooler apart from Monday which was unbearably humid until 7pm as the Late Night opening got going!  It was a quiet evening but we did eventually get a sneaky sunset for three and a half minutes!

As with last week I managed several ventures into the wildlife garden but no circuits out onto the trails.  My early morning prunings of the car park and entrance road did not yield any goodies so I had to be content with what was closer to the visitors centre.

The Fleabane by the bog garden is now flowering and just like last year is attracting Osmia spinulosa with the slightly patterned eyes and characteristic way of vibrating the pollen onto the underside of its abdomen. It is nice to see a small bee that is relatively straight forward to identify!

Osmia spinulosa

Osmia spinulosa

The Fleabane also attracted a tiny hoverfly that I watched for ages before it eventually landed. It was only about 4mm long but I have been able to get it to the Paragus genus and from there down to two species but we need to play around with the male genitalia and quite frankly I will leave that up to someone with more time and inclination...

Regardless, it was a new genus to me and I was pleased that my gut told me Hover even in flight rather than Sepsis fly which it resembled on landing as it stuck its wings out at ninety degrees.

Paragus sp

Paragus sp

Paragus sp

A big fat Eristalinus aenus and several Sphaerophoria scripta were also feeding there along with a grey leafcutter that Jerry Hoare was able to key out to Megachile ligniseca thus adding another new species to the site list.

Eristalinus aenus - half hairy eyes

Megachile ligniseca

Megachile ligniseca

Megachile ligniseca

The raised bed was still very popular with bumblebees with male B vestalis still being the commonest species present along with B pratorum and humilis.

Bombus humilis - Brown Banded Carder
Bombus humilis - Brown Banded Carder

Bombus pratorum - Early BB

Wool Carder Bees were still putting on a great performance in the herb bed...

Wool Carder Bee
A few Large White Butterflies were found amongst the Smalls and Green veined and Ringlets have started to visit the beds now along with some immaculate Peacocks and Commas.


Large White

Large White




Several people have been finding the striking bug, Corizus hyoscyami recently so it was nice to find a mating pair of this still scarce species.  They was in the Eryngium bed out the front which becomes more fragrant as it warms up during the day when the odour of a rather overfull dog poo bin wafts through the air.

Corizus hyoscyami

Various flies are unsurprisingly attracted including Lucilias and the spiky Tachinid, Eriothrix rufomaculata that I saw last week, Out here Bombus terrestrisBuff-tailed BB, seems to be the commonest with only a few B vestalis, humilis, pratorum and pascourum and singles of hypnorum and male lapidarius.

Eriothrix rufomaculata

Bombus vestalis

Bombus terrestris

Bombus lapidarius
Not sure what this Bombus is yet - help welcomed

Several large Andrena pilipes with their shiny black bodies, smoky patterned wings and double white pollen basket hairs were noted along with gingery Andrena flavipes and another as yet unidentified species. Some tiny ones were also seen but I am leaving these to Jerry H. 

Andrena pilipes

Andrena pilipes

Andrena pilipes - Dawn Cowan
Andrena flavipes - Dawn Cowan

Andrena flavipes

Andrena flavipes
Some stripy black and yellow digger wasps were identified with help as Ornate Tailed DW, Cerceris rybyensis and this one actually seems to be quite a straightforward id once you know what to look for which is handy.

Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp, Cerceris rybyensis

Ornate Tailed Digger Wasp, Cerceris rybyensis

A female Syrphus hoverfly with a dark base to the upper femur told me that it was something different from the normal S ribesii and once I had been firmly pointed in the right direction I was able to confirm after trapping it that it lacked hairy eyes and was the common, but unrecorded at the marsh, S vitripennis.   

Syrphus vitripennis

Three spotty eyed Eristalinus sepulchralis were nectaring too and I could clearly see the wholly hairy eyes compared to the E aenus seen on the Fleabane.

Eristalinus sepulchralis

Eristalinus sepulchralis

The week also saw the arrival of yet another Spoonbill with an immature that had spent Tuesday and Wednesday in the Ingrebourne Valley and then paddled around on the dwindling Aveley pool till Friday.  It is not our one from last week as it has more colour in the bill and black wing tips. I think that is our 7th on the reserve this year.  Three Ruff, the Black-tailed Godwits, Snipe, LRP and a couple of Green Sandpipers are still around and the first returning Greenshank and Dunlin were seen.

Spoonbill - Andy Tweed

The Marsh Harriers have been stealing the show with at least five juveniles now on the wing including two with varying degrees of white in the plumage making them look like slightly odd juvenile Black Kites or even Booted Eagle at a distance. I have a feeling that both may be raising a few eyebrows when they move on.

Marsh Harrier #1 - Mark Phillips

Marsh Harrier #2 - Dave Warren
The first young Cuckoo is now on the wing with surely more to follow and a few more House and Sand Martins have been seen while the duck brood counts continue to rise with additional Shelduck and Tufted Duck to add.

Starlings were making the most of a birdbath top up!

It was a week of odd eccentricities with the ritual sacrifice of a pink My Little Pony helium balloon that had had the temerity to not only scare the birds across the marsh but then got caught on the electric fence causing it to lose voltage.  Balloons are bad at the best of times but these shiny horrors should be kept chained up indoors.  Please note that no fun with the expelled helium was had in any way whatsoever.

Sim, pre-sacrifice, having subdued the beast that is Pinkie Pie...

The same day saw the discovery of a Budgerigar on the trail – now we probably see one or two of these colourful little parrots at large each year but never has one been picked up and given to me on reception just as we were closing. My evening was then spent digging out an old cage at home and Globud is now currently being fostered until she goes to her new home.


However, the Coot that was caught in a tiny back garden in Rainham and brought in to us was easier to sort out and we just released it onto the perimeter ditch without it maiming anybody!

Saturday was my first chance all week to actually get out on the trails as my monthly Kids Birdwatching Club was in and it started well with the kids and me looking at the plethora of butterflies on the river wall including some pristine Brown Argus but as we approached Aveley Bay my proclamation of ‘oh look... there’s a seal up on the mud’ turned quickly into ‘actually that’s human’.

The man was over 100m out from the bank at the lowest point of an already low tide and was floundering around on his face to begin with before conducting himself in disorientating circles.  To cut a long story drastically short, I called the emergency services  -  all of them -  as it was 30c, late morning and from the lack of tracks I suspected that he had come off a boat and could have been there for a long time. He was obviously exhausted and bewildered and there was nothing we could do except call for help.  By the time the troops arrived 40 minutes had past and the tide was rapidly coming in. I had found his boozed up buddy on the river wall having a beer (negating the overboard theory) but he seemed not overly worried by the fact his mate was quite possibly going to perish and sat back down to finish his beverage. I shouted at the mud monster to stay put and that help was on the way.  He suggested that I may wish to go forth and multiply and was not amused at me insinuating that he was in a spot of bother. 

Fourteen emergency vehicles descended on the site in a blaze of red, white and neon with flashing lights.  There were ambulances, paramedics, police, emergency response teams, three fire engines and eventually even the inshore RNLI rib which was my first suggestion when dialling 999.

Part of the entourage - John Humble

It an effort to save himself further embarrassment Mr Stinky hauled himself the final yardage to the saltmarsh, refusing any assistance, emerging like the proverbial monster from the black lagoon. He would not let the paramedics attend to him and at this point I have to admit to wanting to cover him in feathers and let him dry out in the sun – preferably while staked.

I pointed the Police in the direction of his mate where a further animated discussion ensued (after a quick drug search!) about the fact they had shut a dog in their van. 

RNLI - John Humble

I had had enough at this point and I slunk away, slightly embarrassed at having depleted the whole of East London of any emergency response capability for the sake of an ungrateful idiot who thought he could walk on mud and could well have died if I had not seen him.  At least I had quite possibly saved a dog from a horrible death...

One of big bull Harbour Seals came to see what all the fuss was about before slipping back beneath the mill pond surface.  I imagined amorous advances being made on Mr Mud’s incumbent and vaguely pinniped like form and at least this made me smile on the hot walk back.

Back at the centre I noticed a few bottles poking out of the rubbish bin downstairs.  This is for general rubbish and not for recycling and I regularly pull out those visible. However in a fit of pique I took the lid off donned some gloves and went through the lot.  It was depressing.

Ok, so I think that we need some more signage about having a recycling bin upstairs but even so I am sure we can all do better than this.  We now only sell water in cans in an effort to reduce single use plastic but as you can see it really does not make a difference as glass, aluminium and plastic are only recyclable if they are actually put in the correct bin...

Today was even hotter, if that was at all possible and by the time we opened it was already reading 28c. The reserve was unsurprisingly quiet today with very few visitors out in the shadeless environs but from the airless centre we did get to watch the Marsh Harriers quartering the marsh and periodically spooking the Black-headed Gulls and a few Black-tailed Godwits from Aveley Pools.  Small parties of Sand Martins were moving east during the day with a few Swallows amongst them.

I headed out along the river wall at just before one to meet up with the Thurrock 100 walkers who had left Rainham station in the full heat of the day some time before.  As I stood waiting for them opposite the turnstile gate I played chase with the little Brown Argus butterflies that never seemed to alight long enough for a composed shot. Some of them were miniscule and I had momentary hopes of a Small Blue! 
Thurrock 100 walkers

Brown Argus

Wild Carrot
Eristalis tenax

Cinnabar moth cat

The mid tide was lapping at the silvery mud where Black-headed Gulls and two Greenshank roosted and the air was filled with the Snap Crackle and Pop of countless thousands of Tufted Vetch pods twisting in the heat, splitting and catapulting their little black cannonball seeds in all directions.

On the shimmering Thames a beautiful barge headed up river while a Naval Frigate – the F930 and the mighty Viking Star cruise liner headed out in quick succession.

It has been a long but entertaining seven usual...