Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Of Starry Skies, Yellow Horns, Skydancers, Minor Royalty & Quality Hoverating

It has been an interesting couple of weeks at work at RSPB Rainham Marshes with a host of events, sightings and gatherings that has left scant time for free thought let alone anything else (bar a brief Blue Chicken Run).

The 30th July saw us tackle the marsh itself for Big Wild Sleep Out and somehow we managed to keep 62 guests entertained throughout the evening and through to the following morning with nocturnal pond dipping, an obliging Barn Owl, the International Space Station hurtling twice overhead and some great mothing that included a Poplar Hawkmoth and a couple of beautiful Garden Tigers.

Cracking Garden Tiger in full 'bugger off' mode

It was then one week to go for Hen Harrier Day but even with all the preparations for this great rally we still managed to catch and confirm id on another of those interesting orange bodied horseflies. As such we have now added the nationally scarce Hybomitra ciureai – Levels Yellow Horned Horsefly to the site list. Both so far have been females so I was very pleased today to discover our first male and unlike the others it was actually outside the building and not on it!

Female Hybomitra ciureai – Levels Yellow Horned Hosrefly

Male Hybomitra ciureai – Levels Yellow Horned Hosrefly -
from today
And so the 6th August arrived... Hen Harrier Day

An early start saw the team setting up the final few banners, signs, car park and enormous tin foil Hen Harrier before opening the doors to the public at 8am.

By 9.30am the vibe was amazing and the area in and around the visitors centre was a hubbub of chatter, laughter and some sombre faces as the distressing facts about the plight of our Hen Harriers was discussed. Our four speakers were mingling among the throng with Mark Avery, (scientist/naturalist & former RSPB Conservation Director), Charlie Moores, (co-founder of Birders Against Wildlife Crime), Dr Mike Clarke, (RSPB CEO) and Chris Packham (naturalist and BBC Springwatch presenter) all chatting with the other attendees. In the centre the last of the placards and my Hen Harriers on a stick were handed out and coffee and cake was being consumed in preparation for the rally to come.

Chris & Henry

We mustered the troops at 1030am and headed down toward the Marquee Field beyond MDZ. It was a sea of waving harriers, with t-shirts and homemade banners amongst the procession as we headed along the trail where we were serenaded movingly en route by Peregrina EnChantica.

The crowd started to collect in the field and I was repeatedly being asked how I had booked such a lovely day and a very short time before we started the answer literally appeared when Graham White and Alistair Wilcock found a Red-chested Sunbird - Cinnyris erythrocercus -  (basically the African, Asian Hummingbird equivalent) as it flew overhead and perched up on the river wall bushes. It would appear that one had been seen in a Chingford garden in recent weeks and with being shiny blue-black with orangey red breast seems to tie in with our bird but whichever way you look at it, the escape from a private collection was certainly the most aptly named of birds to oversee our wondrous gathering.

Sunbird on the river wall - Alasdair Wilcock

And the likely culprit Red-chested Sunbird - Cinnyris erythrocercus taken by Paul Scott in a Chingford garden in recent weeks

What followed were four of the most impassioned, emotive speeches I have heard on the horror afflicting our uplands – and do remember that it is not just Hen Harriers that are being persecuted – any predator and even Mountain Hares are targeted for removal and the environmental effects are catastrophic on both local and global levels.  This was joined up thinking with a definite goal.

Chris, Mark, Mike & Charlie

By the time Chris Packham wrapped up proceedings our spirits were raised with a glimmer of hope that things would change; that we had got the grouse community rattled and that people were starting to take notice.

The 534 people sweltering in the sunshine began to disperse and amble back while the female Marsh Harrier and one of her youngsters tumbled in their own mock Skydance overhead.

Book signings, ice-creams, cold non-alcoholic beer (thanks Louis and Gosia) and much chatting and mingling followed on what was surely the most rewarding day any of us as staff or volunteers had ever had on the reserve. Let’s hope it makes a difference...

According to certain 'authorities' it was a very poor turn out....mmm...

And so we get to Monday 8th with a skeleton crew and some still pretty zombied people in attendance but we muddled through helped by Clive showing me an image of a Hawker not far from the building that had me scurrying back with him to discover what I hoped would be there... a fine Lesser Emperor. This is the third or fourth for the site but the first ever to sit still and pose for the cameras.

Lesser Emperor

This morning dawned bright and clear and it was actually a little chilly as I set out at 0730 to look for yesterdays rare Odenata.  Little Egrets were chasing tiddlers across the ever reducing waters of Purfleet Scrape and I counted 44 in the shallows. A Greenshank was likewise running about with its bill scything through the surface. 


I spent the next 90 minutes basically Hoverating down and around the woodland where I picked up a pretty good range of hoverfly species most of which I was happy to identify... Picture splurge to follow.

The furry Myathropa florea

Syrphus ribesii

Volucella inanis

Volucella zonaria

Volucella zonaria

Dasysyphus albostriatus

Dasysyphus albostriatus

Eristalis arbostorum

Eristalis arbostorum

Episyrphus balteatus
Eristalis intricaria

Helophilus pendulus

Helophilus pendulus

Bumblebees of several species were nectaring in Large Bindweed and very nicely made up Painted Ladies and blushing Red Admirals were particularly attracted to the white budhlias.

Chiffchaffs, Whitethroats and Blackcaps were all calling and a scaly Green Woodpecker yaffled in the chestnuts as it flew in from the play ground. 

Bombus hortorum

Painted Lady

Red Admiral

Willoughby’s leaf cutter bee
Megachile willughbiella

Southern and Migrant Hawkers were patrolling the tracks but there was no sign of the Lesser Emperor but is now probably out hunting over a ditch somewhere. I finished my walk up with a nice juvenile Marsh Harrier drifting over, several ever growing wasp Spiders and a delightfully tame backlit Speckled Wood.

Deadly Nightshade is looking good

Deadly Nightshade still flowers too

Southern Hawker
Marsh Harrier - interesting underwing
Speckled Wood
Blackberry stuffed juvenile Blackbird

A yet to find/eat a mate Wasp Spider

Being a Tuesday in the school holidays, the rest of the day was spent engaging with the families arriving for pond dipping and mini-beasting with little time for personal escape but if just one of these kids catches the spark to go one and become a budding naturalist then all the daily repetition from me is worth my time and effort...

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