Tuesday, 15 August 2017

An American Double

North Kent 15th August 2017
A day off... well I never... After polishing off my July Essex bird summary by 8am and the with the early morning deluge and heavy cloud starting to dissipate I decided to stop moping around and head off toward Oare Marshes and its plethora of waders.

The only downside of my enthusiasm was that by the time I got there the weather was glorious, the tide was right out and the sun was in my eyes which was especially idiotic as I tell people several times a week to go on a rising tide and in the afternoon when the light is behind you!

There was plenty to see with a good splodge of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank still out in the middle of the East Flood and a scattering of Golden Plover and Avocets. The Long-billed Dowitcher was soon found with some Godwits but thankfully came closer before disappearing round a bend and out of sight. It was all just a little frustrating but a kronking Raven that circled overhead will always lighten any day for me.


I suspect that this may well be quite a good record for the site. Yellow Wagtails and great flocks of Goldfinch and Starling escorted me back to the jetty where a quick scan picked up the Bonaparte’s Gull out on the mud but it was now very warm and my camera stayed put. 

And so I resigned myself to go somewhere else and decided that I would try and find Queendown Warren to look for butterflies. 

Queendown Warren - the meadow

Once there I amused myself trying to locate a good flower field and soon stumbled on a wondrous meadow of Birds Foot Trefoil, Clover, Marjoram, Eyebright, Red Bartsia and Wild Basil. 



Red Bartsia

Wild Basil - I think

It was not teeming with butterflies and the sun kept disappearing but I did see several gleaming Adonis Blues but failed to get any images of them perched and only managed some of the stunningly fresh Common Blues also present.   

Common Blue

Common Blue

Small Copper, Small Heath, Brown Argus, Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper were also present but there were no flies of any description and only a few bumbles amongst the numerous Honey Bees.

Brown Argus

I was still feeling dissatisfied from my first Oare visit and so trundled back down the M2 once again and by about 2.30pm I found myself back looking at the waders but now in glorious light and far greater numbers.

That's better...

Over the next hour I was entertained by constantly arriving flocks of whiffling Black-tailed Godwits and associated Redshanks and Dunlin while around thirty sumptuously orange Knots set about having and mass bathe within seconds of landing and thus gave everyone else a shower.

Godwits, Redshanks & Lapwings with Knots to the left!

Dotty Spotted Redshanks strode elegantly amongst the other waders and Turnstone, Ringed Plovers, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Curlew all dropped in. Golden Plover numbers had increased and, when alert they all faced the same way causing the whole flock to almost disappear given their largely summer garb while four young Little Ringed Plovers and two Snipe were feeding on the closest mud.

Black-tailed Godwits - adult and two juveniles

Golden Plover, Lapwing, Starlings and a BHG

The Dowitcher was still probing around and was found actively feeding with the nearest Godwits and gave superb views. I must have a look back to see when I first saw the species here and the chances that it is the same returning adult is not unlikely.  Most of his summer plumage had now been replaced with the grey of winter but there was still some orange on the upper breast and a little on the belly along with a few retained scapulars. The head and tertials were already neat, plain and smooth. 

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher & Blackwits

Long-billed Dowitcher & Blackwits

Given how rarely you see rhynchokinesis in birds, it was quite remarkable just how many times I saw the upper mandible flex up after it caught a prey item.  I have seen it a few times over the years with godwits and Snipe but not repeatedly like the Dowitcher was doing.

rhynchokinesis in action!

Having a scratch... note the widening of the bill tip

It was so close on the final occasion that when it took off I could even hear it call – a quiet ‘kip kip’ so something new to store in the old grey matter. 

Scanning around resulted in at least four adult, a second-winter and three juvenile Med Gulls. One of the adults was green ringed but too hazy to read but a juvenile with a nice red ring appeared easier (right ZHH7 I hope).

adult Med Gull


All it needed now was for the Bonaparte’s Gull to appear and it did just that just yards from the Dowitcher.

Bonaparte’s Gull & Avocets

Bonaparte’s Gull - four or five new primaries and only the old p10 remaining

Bonaparte’s Gull

It had a good wash and brush up before moving back into the throng but although it is one of my favourite gulls it was still the juvenile Meds that lured me back for another look...

Juvenile Med Gull

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hoverating & other things with wings... again

So no sooner had I written my blog post on Tuesday evening than on Thursday yet another new ladybird was added to the RSPB Rainham Marshes list but the ever diligent Yvonne Crouch who specifically came to the reserve to search for Nephus quadrimaculatus.

This species is a lover of old Ivy on trees and so off she went looking and a bit like Andrew Jewels last Sunday, she quickly returned with a wee beastie in a pot and when I say wee I mean ludicrously tiny. Just how she found one let alone four is beyond me but under a hand lens you could see the typical (if slightly elliptical) shape and the four orange spots that give it its name. It is not rare but unsurprisingly had never been recorded here.

Jerry H was around and we amused ourselves with trying to get a shot of this very mobile 3mm long beetle before returning it to its Ivy home. 

Nephus quadrimaculatus - Jerry Hoare

Today was the hottest day of the week and as with so many summer days at Rainham, it was very quiet as people took the chance to escape to the coast rather than tramp around an inland marsh. I spent some quality grubbing time in the Adventure Playground, in the Wildlife Garden and car park and at the end of the ramp, engaging with any who ambled along and showing them the wonders of hoverflies, bees and such like.

Our most beautiful cow on Purfleet Scrape - complete with photobombing Wood Pig!

All the while the sky was full of Starlings who would periodically descend to stuff their faces on overripe Blackberries before heading off to Purfleet Scrape to terrorise the Lapwings, Godwits and skittish Green Sandpipers with their noisy and energetic bathing!

I found several territorial Xanthagramma pedisequum at the path conjunction before the playground and eventually got some good shots while trying not to be distracted by the Lesser and Common Whitethroats feeding in the adjacent Rosehips.

Xanthagramma pedisequum ss

Xanthagramma pedisequum ss

Xanthagramma pedisequum ss
Chrysotoxum bicinctum and festivum were also seen along with several Eristalis arbustorum with their white faces. A Brown Hawker was patrolling the same piece of path as on Wednesday and Dawn Cowan even got a perched shot which is no mean feat and several Migrants and Southerns were similarly looking for prey.

Brown Hawker - Dawn Cowan

female Migrant Hawker

Back in the car park I headed for our only patch of Wild Marjoram and found four Shrill and six Brown Banded Carder Bees enjoying themselves but they were hemmed in by three fat Wasp Spiders who had each already got plump parcels wrapped and waiting.

The area is doing well after the summer lads cut out all of the Sloe suckers and I was particularly impressed by the burrs of the Agrimony that attached themselves to me quite liberally!

Shrill Carder Bee - Bombus sylvarum

Brown Banded Carder Bee - Bombus humilis

Wasp Spider

Lesser Marsh and Meadow Grasshoppers were seen and Roesel’s Bush Crickets chirped but I could not find any Groundhoppers on the bare areas and have in fact not seen any species for two years now.

Long winged form of Meadow Grasshopper

There were more bumbles of both the aforementioned species in the Wildlife Garden along with aggressive Wool-Carder, Common Carder, Buff and Red-tailed with most of the action around the mint bed where tiny, fat thighed Syritta pipiens hoverflies vied for space amongst Mint Moths, Greenbottles, more Eristalis arbustorum and a nice furry Myathropa flora.

Eristalis arbustorum

Eristalis arbustorum - white face as well as rear metatarsel and tibia are both the same girth

Myathropa florea
Mint Moth - not sure of species yet
Wool-Carder - Anthidium manicatum

Green Shieldbug instar

There were several flying ants nectaring and numerous short nosed weevils that I have yet to identify that we kept finding all over the building and each other. I did wonder if this is why the Starling were so mobile and high flying for much of the day?

A large black flying Ant

And so I ended the week with yet another new invert species with a delightfully marked red and black bug called Corizus hyoscyami. 

Corizus hyoscyami

Corizus hyoscyami

I now need to transform this ‘new insect a week’ trend into a new Patchwork Challenge bird a week as things have fallen somewhat flat over the summer and I need a good autumn boost to propel me back up the Estuarine chart!

13th August 2017

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Insect Escapism

Over my nearly fifteen years with the RSPB I would say that the word 'stress' has seldom reared its irritating head but the last few weeks have been trying for a combination of reasons and thus, I have taken any given opportunity to immerse myself in the invert life that surrounds us on the reserve – it’s not that I have forsaken the delights of feathers – it is just that insects often hold me in their thrall this time of year when the seasons are on the cusp of changing once again.

Hen Harrier Day (more of that in another post) was on Saturday and took a huge amount of effort to prepare and host but even the mowing of the Wildlife Garden lawns reaped benefits when a beautiful Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar dropped out of the Osier and onto the lawnmower that Andrew G was pushing around.

Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar

It may not have been as huge as the Privet Hawkmoths we sometimes find (infact I thought it was a small one of these until Annie J correctly identified it) but it was a wonderful shade of lime green with yellow and white pointillism dots, rhubarb and custard spiracles and a pointy electric blue tail.

Eyed Hawkmoth caterpillar

What a beast! After a quick whizz around the centre for a show and tell session I placed him back on the Willow to continue on his journey but not before he had squeezed out the most ridiculously large hexagonal piece of frass! Now that had to smart...

The Echinops is now in flower and is attracting both Honey and a variety of Bumblebees but it is the two large Volucella hoverflies that lure me in with their striking colours and enormous yellow noses.

Volucella zonaria

Volucella inanis

Volucella inanis

After the exertions of HHD I took some time out on Sunday at the end of the ramp to chill and chat with the visitors which included Andrew Jewel who had popped in to drop off some book and then confessed to his love of Ladybirds. I merely mentioned that I had not ever recorded on the reserve the otherwise quite common 16-spot species and he said that he would see what he could do et voila – one was safely delivered to me in a little pot a short time later before being returned to its favoured Sea Beet clump.  Another tiny species, like the 22 and 24 spot species that he also found and looking very much like a number six dice.

16-Spot Ladybird - Tytthaspis 16-punctata

While waxing on about Ladybirds both Shrill and Brown banded Carders and the large black Andrena pilipes bees were feeding on the nearest crucifer.

And so to today where a short breathing space this afternoon allowed an escape for an amble in the surprising sunshine with a view to finding myself some insects and hopefully a passage Flycatcher, Redstart or the much fantasized Wood Warbler. 

Birdwise I may have drawn a blank but there was plenty to become absorbed into and with Jerry H and his trusty hand lens and net we had a pleasant hour in the Cordite area where Dasypoda hirtipes – the Pantaloon Bee were seen stuffing outsized pollen baskets on the Bristly Ox Tongue with slow flying Neomyia Greenbottles sluggishly moving amongst them. 

Dasypoda hirtipes
I know that I should not be even suggesting that I can id a different Greenbottle genus in flight but I suspect that that is the birder in me and I was actually correct each time I checked – sorry Phil, but at least it is thanks to you that I actually pay attention to them nowadays!

Hairs were counted and the pair of presutural acrostichial bristles and three pairs of postsutural dorsocentral bristles even allow the identification of this one to Neomyia cornicina. It is amazing what the brain retains.

Neomyia cornicina - bristles aside - the green betwen the eyes will at least get you to Neomyia rather than Lucilia
and this is a Lucilia sp....

Another fun little fly was the punky arsed Eriothrix rufomaculata - a tachinid who was so busy feeding that it did not notice that its buddy was being wrapped up by a Comb-footed Spider - Enoplognatha ovate.

Eriothrix rufomaculata

Enoplognatha ovate with dinner

Common and Holly Blues were numerous and I eventually found a Brown Argus while Speckled Woods were dancing in the trees. 

Speckled Wood

Jerry had caught himself a little Lasioglossum bee to study when a vivid blue hawker flashed through before turning round and flying straight back at me with wholly blue eyes blazing. I shouted ‘Blue-eyed hawker!’ and Jerry’s little bee was hastily put to one side. He is still trying to identify it...

He zoomed around for several minutes showing off his blue non-stripy flanks and generally vivid blueyness and regularly went up to battle Migrant Hawkers which had also suddenly appeared but he would not land and ended up disappearing over the trees into the Cordite. I later found several hanging Migrants but not this blue eyed beauty.

male Migrant Hawker

female Migrant Hawker

female Migrant Hawker
David Lee also saw one on the northern Trail on Friday and his shots capture the brilliance of this species.

David Lee's BEH from Friday...

Brown and Southern Hawkers were also patrol but as usual the former never seem to land while Ruddy Darters predominated amongst the Sympetrums with only one Common seen.

male Southern Hawker
male Ruddy Darter

male Ruddy Darter

female Common Darter

We found several more Volucella zonaria on territory and a nice plump Eristalis tenax with the hairy eye stripes, the furry white bummed Eristalis intricaria (who is one of the most consummate of hovering hovers) and the black and yellow wasp-like Chrysotoxum festivum.

Eristalis tenax

Wasp Spiders, now fat and round, had laid their traps in the taller areas of grass but I suspect that the forecast rain tomorrow will cause a few problems for them.

Wasp Spider

Dark Bush Crickets chirped from the undergrowth but I caught one out on a bench and sewing machine Long-winged Coneheads seem to now be the commoner of the two species present on site.

Dark Bush Cricket

I left Jerry to continue on his way round to lock up and pottered back on the return loop munching a few specially selected Blackberries and day dreaming of a good night’s sleep.