Wednesday 24 June 2015

Hovertastic - oh and other stuff too...

It's been a funny old week so far, bouncing around between work, home and hospital to visit recovering Mum. Popped over RSPB Cliffe Pools and had a nice couple of hours escape on Monday evening. Lots of young waders and wildfowl including new broods of Pochard, Tufted Duck and Shelduck. Some of the pools are looking very good and I saw both Black and Bar-tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Ringed Plovers albeit distantly. 

Oh and two pair of Black-winged Stilt on the nest...  I have just added this in August as although I saw three newly hatched chicks and the other clutch also hatched, all were predated within a day by the Black-headed Gulls which was a real pity...

And things were going so well... 22 June

Cuckoos were still very vocal and active and the Black-headed Gull and Common Tern colony was in full swing with many youngsters of the former already making their first tentative flights.  Marsh harriers were spooking everything and a Glow-worm ambled across the path.

The skies darkened and the heavens opened but the resulting cloudscapes were worth the soaking...

And so this morning at work I felt the urge to head out for an amble around the woodland for a bit of quality grubbing.  Hoverflies were my main target and I actually did quite well with the following species seen : Episyrphus balteatus, Eristalis nemorum, Volucella pelucens, Xylota segnis, Syritta pipiens, Topidia scita, Parhelophilus sp, Syrphus sp, Myathropa florea, Eupeodes luniger, Platycheirus sp and a new species for me and the reserve, Epistrophe diaphana

Not at all rare but I find these dark and yellow banded hovers a real headache and getting to the right genera is a good starting point.

Epistrophe diaphana - and thanks to Joan Childs for confirming my id
It was so warm in the Cordite store that most insects were far too active and it does not help that the Hogweed ths year is rampant with some plants over seven feet tall and still growing! This makes watching flies on them can be somewhat frustrating but I did get a nice shot of a Cheilosia illustrata.

Cheilosia illustrata.
The amount of Bramble blossom is hinting at a bumper blackberry harvest and the same can be said of the Dog Roses throughout the reserve. Our Deadly Nightshade is getting a bit swamped but still has plenty of blooms. Not so much leaf damage this year so far so the Bronze Shieldbugs must be leaving it alone!

Dog Rose


Deadly Nightshade
I found a nice rather pristine looking Noon Day Fly - Mesembrina meridiana - but his watch must have been fast as it was only 11:50.... Still one of my favourite inverts, let alone flies.

Mesembrina meridiana
Another of my seasonal stars is the superb, dancing, wing waggling Poecilobothrus nobilitatus. I often get these in my garden at home where the males face off on a pond side leaf, flashing those smoky white tipped wings.  They would just not sit still today and thankfully Phil Collins has sent me a stunning picture from last week that I am sure he will not mind me using!

Poecilobothrus nobilitatus - Phil Collins
I saw several Holly Blues and Speckled Woods and a fine fresh Red Admiral was my first for a while and all the while I was on my stroll I could hear the sound of Reshanks out on the marsh. They have had such an amazing breeding season (along with the Lapwings) and the family parties are starting to bunch up and head out on communal practice flights.  It will not be long before Green Sandpipers start to reappear around the muddy margins and despite the fact that summer will barely have started, we will all be talking up the autumnal return passage of waders and the potential of something special dropping in to make us smile.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Circuit in the Sun

A speedy circuit this morning to open up the hides but quite rewarding in the breezy conditions. It was already pretty warm and there was plenty of insect activity.  Small Tortoiseshell butterflies were out egg laying on the Nettles and the first Meadow Brown of the year (for me) was flying strongly. Several large Tabanus autumnalis horseflies were prowling around the Adventure Playground, lounging on the fence rails waiting for an unsuspecting leg to pass by. They actually allow a close approach and are fairly fearless and this gives you a chance to get up close to those amazing eyes!

Female Tabanus autumnalis - eyes apart
Male Tabanus autumnalis - eyes touching
Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps are singing once again and family parties of both were to be seen along with several young pathside Robins and faecal sack-carrying Wrens. The male Cuckoo was doing what he does best and it will not be long before he starts his long journey back to West Africa.

A few early morning flies were up in the Cordite with plenty of Tropida scita and Parhelophilus hoverflies. A picture taken yesterday of one of the latter by Steve Young may actually have enough on it identify it as P.versicolor which would be a step forward.  

Parhelophilus versicolor - I hope - no little hairy protrusion on the underside of the femur

Speckled Woods were dancing and there were several Dark and Speckled Bush Cricket nymphs catching some rays. Four-spot Chasers were active and Holy Blues were also still on the wing.

The Northern Trail was alive with calling Reed and Cetti’s Warblers and Reed Buntings were in song at several points. The pools were quiet but I did see the Mute Swan family at the west end. They still have five cygnets, which include three white Polish youngsters. They normally have a single in their brood. Let’s hope all five do well.   A Redshank on one leg dissed me from one of the leaning rails and I could see well grown young opposite.

Not a great shot but you can see the two different cygnet colours...

The male Marsh Harrier came down off the landfill with prey and a Hobby hurtled through at great speed after something only he could see and we still have hopes that the Harrier pair are working on a new family at the moment. The Target Pools are now dry and it will take a deluge of near Biblical proportions to re-wet this area, which is a pity but it has just been so dry this spring. It is a testament to the team here that we have water on other areas where the Lapwings and Redshanks are at their densest and, hopefully, we can keep things wet throughout the summer months and be just right for return autumn wader passage.

Down at the Dragonfly Pools there are now actually some dragonflies with Black-tailed Skimmers joining the Four Spot Chasers. Little Grebes were still feeding young on the Rudd fry in the shallows and at least eight well-grown young Bearded Tits were once again mucking about on their Dragonfly sculpture climbing frame. They are always such entertaining little birds – orange long-tailed tits with beady staring eyes and a fierce looking countenance. As I moved on, a group of fledged juvenile Lapwings came up off the Ouzel Fields and headed off to the river – another sign of success – and fine male Bearded Tit was collecting food opposite the Turnstile Bridge.

Packs of noisy Starlings were out foraging in the meadows and the local Little Egrets must have well grown young by now with the adults spending a lot of time here, catching tiddlers and froglets to feed their every growing offspring. A big dog Stoat appeared on the path in front of me with an adult Water Vole in its maw. He stopped, looked at me, dropped his prize and leapt into the grass. A quick look at his dinner revealed no signs of life so I walked on a few paces. It was my turn to stop and as I suspected Sid very quickly reappeared and grabbed his meal before bounding off. At least his effort and the sacrifice of the vole were not in vain. A quick pop into the MDZ revealed the male Kingfisher sitting on his favourite perch. Hopefully the female is still in the burrow on those new eggs and the whole Fisher Circus will start once again...

A youngster from the first brood...
So all in all an eventful 45 minutes to get the day underway!

I spent some time today topping up our very dry bog garden and took the opportunity to sneak up on some of the smaller wildlife.  The territorial male Wool Carder Bees were in fine fettle around the Mint and Horehound and even stopped occasionally for a rest in there diligent persuit of an insect no-fly zone.
Wool Carder Bee - Anthidium manicatum - 
you can just about make out the tiny spurs on his flanks that he uses to 
'bump' other bees and rivals out of the way with!

The Herb Garden

Three Red-headed Cardinals were seen along with Early Bumblebees (Bombus pratorum) and several other solitary bees while a Greenbottle allowed a close approach. Another fly had me stumped but both Annie and Phil have got us heading in the right direction with species of Chrysophilus.

Chrysopilus sp. (Rhagionidae). Probably C. cristatus

Greenbottle - Lucilia sericata

Red-headed Cardinal - Pyrochroa serraticornis
The Lavender is just coming into bloom and the heady scent is competing with the Rosa rugosa in the front flower beds. Soom they will be cocvered in bees but at the moment it is 'Cuckoo Spit' that is most visible while tiny Leafhopper nymphs develop inside their foamy homes. A chap is doing a project on plant preference for these groundhoppers and the Rosemary was by far the most popular choice for our population. Must remember to send him my sightings...

Lavender and Spit
It got very warm this afternoon and the only extra sighting was of a brood of ten lovely newly hatched Shelduck out on Purflet Scrape.  I wonder how long it will take their parents to navigate them to the river?


Those other three new birds... a retrospective recap

Evening all...  to put the last six weeks into perspective I thought I would load up my other two, tick related write ups that I previously posted on Facebook, this time with some extra images.

Let's start with the the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset...
3rd May 2015:

So, yes, I did only get back home from Lesvos at about 7 last night and yes I did have a nice lie in and nearly 12 hours sleep but then I cracked and headed west to Somerset where this stunning Hudsonian Godwit was enjoyed between showers on the wonderful Meare Heath section of the Avalon Marshes complex. It is 32 years since the last record in Britain and is probably something of a once in a lifetime bird in the UK for most of us. 

As well as this black underwinged beauty there were three Great White Egrets in breeding dress floating around as well as a dozen Hobbies, booming Bitterns, quartering Marsh Harriers and Buzzards, chattering warblers, Cuckoo, my first UK Swifts this year while the Hudwit was keeping company with a smart flock of Icelandic Blackwits, 12 black-bellied Dunlin, Redshank and a male Ruff. 

  The journey home was swift and trouble free with the rain chasing us all the way... A happy Howard....

and then just over a week later..... the Norfolk Double...

11th May 2015 

So... the filthy twitcher reared his old and woolly head again last night and despite having been at work from 3am till close, the temptation of the male Citril Finch in Burnham Overy Dunes was just too much and having Monday off compounded the issue.
The grass that has not been mown this year would have to be left for yet another day and a proper night’s sleep would also have to be shelved. Not long after I went to bed I got up again and headed for Norfolk and by just after 4am I was the sole occupant of the layby on the main road. With a fair walk down I ambled off and enjoyed a quality pre-dawn chorus of Grey Partridges, Skylarks, Sedge Warblers and Cuckoos. Two Bitterns counter-boomed from the reeds and four Spoonbills glided back towards the colony trees while Cormorants headed the other way. A couple of Brown Hares lolloped across the path and several bats were still on the wing. 

Two Barn Owls quartered the meadows and a Bittern flew by and ditched into a small channel where it instantly became invisible. Being so early meant that the dune section was thankfully quiet so that I could concentrate on not putting my foot down a rabbit infested hole and only a couple of Wheatears, a very stroppy Oystercatcher and two early rising Buzzards were noted. 
Once down at the dune hollows that border the pines where the bird was hanging out yesterday, it quickly became apparent that almost no one had gambled on a first light visit, preferring to wait on news. 
Under an hour later the shout went up and we scampered to where the bird had been seen. Over the next half hour we saw the Citril Finch on several occasions, all in flight, but thankfully some at close range allowing the vibrant yellow in the wings and rump and even the grey nape to be seen and it was quite vocal too and most often picked up calling before we saw it. It was not pushed but was obviously fidgety and to be honest it was not surprising that on one of its more energetic circuits it headed over the pines and to the best of my knowledge never came back again all day.
We all spent the next couple of hours searching but there was no sign although I did pick up seven Tree Pipits and 12 Yellow Wagtails heading over along with a stream of west bound hirundines. There was more Spoonbill and Barn Owl action and I found a very late adult female Hen Harrier and a tail shivering male Redstart. Offshore a huge raft of Scoter bobbed just feet offshore and Little Terns ‘kiricked’ up and down while a pair of adult Med Gulls noisily proclaimed their presence. The walk back was punctuated with hopeful words for those arriving and good views of Marsh Harriers and several Red Kites.

Looking back to where the crowd was dejectedly waiting....
Some Stone Curlews and breakfast at the Deepdale Cafe restored me somewhat before heading for the trip of 17 hazy but smart, stop-start Dotterel in a huge field at Choseley that was more flint than soil. Yellowhammers, Corn Buntings, Skylarks and Grey Partridges added to the feel of a bygone countryside. Down to RSPB Titchwell for a short walk that added some smart Bar and Blackwits, Turnstone, Common Sandpiper and a silver back male Scaup to the list but the wind was getting up and I decided to head homewards...

Well that was before the news of a male Moltoni’s Subalpine Warbler broke from Blakeney Point. This new split has only been properly documented a couple of times in the UK before and so another tick was up for grabs but the sheer thought of seven miles of shingle horrified me and it was only news of a boat in 45 minutes time that sent me to Morston (narrowly avoiding the Biking Birder on the way – good to see you Gary and hope you got it!). Fifty people had gathered but the news on the bird was negative and the fact that it was a one way trip did not help and a long walk back down the Point to Coastguards and then back along the coast to Morston only compounded the impending trauma. 

But when the boats arrived we all got on and headed out on the critically low tide passing some Arctic Terns and Brents on the way. It was like a birders Normandy landing with boats grounded, planks out and fully equipped passengers unsteadily out. Amazingly the bird had been re-found and now had a female for company and within a few minutes the stunning male with his completely pink washed underparts was in full view in the canopy of the fresh leafed Sycamore in the plantation. The female was lurking lower down but unfortunately neither called while I was there. 

Moltoni's Warbler - cheers to Gary Prescott for the shot!

The Sycamore of Happiness (related to one at Channerwick on Shetland)
I spied Dave Norgate heading back to his tiny charter boat and quickly asked if there was room and having had my fill of this lovely little bird I turned tail and ran for the boat before the tide made an escape impossible. Launching was a bit hairy as I had to push the boat out and leap on board while getting off onto a floating, wobbly pontoon back at Morston was even more challenging but submerged sandals rather than up to my waist in the creek was a small price to pay for not having to spend the next few hours walking shingle and tarmac. 
The boat back....
Feeling elated I headed south to my previous intended final stop of RSPB Lakenheath where I had the place to myself until I left just before seven. Bitterns boomed, Marsh Harriers skydanced, Beardies pinged and several Hobbies hawked for dragons. No sign of the Cranes but a fully plumed Great White Egret was superb and two Cuckoos in a mad duet were thoroughly entertaining.

And so what had started out as a mad twitch had transformed itself into a full on bird filled extravaganza with not one but two new birds for my UK list (and no, I am not telling you what it is). The last time that happed was 21 years ago when Song Sparrow was watched among the Zinc bars at Seaforth in Merseyside and my only Greater Yellowlegs was enjoyed as it chased tiddlers in the idyllic setting of Rockcliffe in Cumbria.

Tomorrow will mostly be about resting although I may leave the grass for a while longer and find somewhere else to go birding....

And so, there you have it, the two amzaing days that awaited me when I came back from my Lesvos break. And who would have thought that within a month another two tick day would present itself.  Would I have liked to see the Great Blue Heron and Cretzschmar's Bunting?  Yes, but I resent day tripping the Scillies as I always want more and to be honest the same could be said of a first visit to Bardsey but I am not greedy and I think that I am getting more enjoyment out of my birding now than I ever had...