Thursday 22 March 2018

Wet Flies and Limp Moths

RSPB Rainham Marshes 22nd March 2018 

I rescued a fly from the water trays by the bird feeders at work today as not only was it flailing around helplessly but it also looked like a hoverfly which made it doubly interesting.

I fished him out and put the poor little bedraggled beast on a leaf while I continued topping up the feeders before transporting him back into the centre.

About as wet as a fly can get

I could immediately see that it was probably not an Eristalis as the shape was wrong and the lack of fat femurs ruled out tenax and the dark feet pertinax.

He was so wet that at first the eyes looked deformed and pitted before a hand lens revealed that the peaks were actually little clumps of hairs stuck together. There was a rim of blond hairs around the side of the thorax like on some of the smaller mining bees and the wings were very long.

Slowly drying out

It felt like a Cheilosia but this group of Hovers are notoriously difficult but I went with my hunch and searched through Ball & Morris anyway where much to my delight the rather fluffy, long winged early flying Cheilosia grossa fitted the bill even down to the now visible black antenna and orange femurs. This was a new species for both me and RSPB Rainham Marshes and fine start to the Hoverating season.

Cheilosia grossa - feeling better

Cleaning those wings...

It took about forty minutes for him to sort himself out and after some superb washing and cleaning action I took him outside and let him out onto the blooming Rosemary.  Hopefully he will find some nice sallow to feed up on after his near fatal skinny dipping session.

And to continue the insect theme for a cool March day we were lucky enough to watch a newly emerged Angle Shades pump up his wings before heading out into the world...

Tuesday 20 March 2018

Crests & Throats - A brief dally with Dungeness

20th March 2018: 

Having worked the cold and bitter weekend at Rainham it was good to have a couple of days off. Yesterday was spent in the garden with my Dad, re-doing my ridiculously rampant, largely Hazel hedge before the leaf is out. It was bitterly cold and blowing a gale so a break to pop down to Dungeness for two frozen White-spot Bluethroats was filed under 'inadvisable’ with another cup of tea taking a more important role.

So today I played it cool and unusually for me, waited on news as with a biting northerly still blowing, new migrants were unlikely and I suspected it would almost be a one bird trip. Eventually the news came through that the male White-spot was still present in Denge Marsh Gully so I trundled off and arrived in under an hour in sunshine and blue skies and within just a few minutes this stunning little bird was parading out in front along the gully edge picking morsels from the watery edge.

The assembled small gathering had more than their fill over the time I spent there and it sometimes headed up into the gorse only to reappear higher up to hop around on the rabbit cropped mossy turf.

Even I took just over a hundred single shot photos so I have no idea how the assembled big lens carriers cope with the multitude that they were taking at machine gun pace.

The white spot itself typically sporadic in its appearances and would only show if the bird either stretched its neck up or fluffed out and even then it varied in size from a few white feathers to a full kidney shape and sometimes the whole throat looked solid blue.

Having only seen singing birds many moons ago in Belgium, I wonder if they use it a bit like a flash light to catch the attention of the females?

Two or three lime, white and orange Firecrests zipped around in the Gorse out of the wind and always seem even brighter this time of year and are as ever a joy to behold.

Ravens kronked overhead and Cormorants cut across the point but it was otherwise very quiet and even a visit to the Lighthouse produced nothing except the Lighthouse...

A pleasant little jaunt to tide me over...

Saturday 3 March 2018

Mallorca 24th-27th February 2018 : Day Four

27th February: Day Four:

Dawn did not really arrive, so much as blearily poke its head from under the duvet and climb back under. It was grey and breezy with moisture in the air and a noticeable drop in temperature. We were packed up and on the road by 9.30 and after a provision stop at Lidls we headed for the hills with a single Swallow to remind us that March was not far away...

The dive west on the Ma10 was superb and certainly one of the best mountain roads I have driven. It was only disappointing that the weather had closed in with persistent sleet and descending cloud base.  There were almost no cars and only hardy lycra clad cyclists to negotiate on the climb. Robins, Song Thrushes, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, a couple of Redwing and even Hawfinches flew up from the verges as we passed by but there were very few places to pull over.

Eventually I found one and as we pulled into a deserted picnic area a Crossbill flew up from a puddle. The stinging sleet was teeming down now but Barry and I still had an explore amongst the boulder strewn evergreen oak woodland. Hawfinches were calling all around and occasionally showing well and a flock of 40 bounded over. Crossbills were vocal from a pine but remained out of view and Goldcrest and Blue Tit also added themselves to the trip list.

I was a little worried about the sleet turning to snow before we had reached the top and the reservoirs so we pushed on. The views were occasionally revealed and at last a layby allowed a scan around. It was a shear drop to woodland below that echoed to the sound of countless singing Song Thrushes and a single Griffon soared at eye level over the adjacent cliffs with the sea in te background fading in and out of view.

Griffon's eye view with the sea beyond



Griffon - such majestic birds

A couple of bends further on we drove under an old aqueduct and pulled over for a coffee at an otherwise deserted roadside establishment. A hot brew was most welcome as it was now bitterly cold.  Two Firecrests called and Ravens kronked overhead.  Two Vultures appeared of the next ridge – one each of Griff and Black.  There is something about distant vultures that is almost more impressive that having them close. They still look huge and command the sky and made a Red Kite closer to us look quite tiny. 

Black Vulture country just before the tunnel into Gorg Blau

Black Vulture over that distant ridge

While this one came a little closer from the west

Through a tunnel and out we popped at the Panta de Gorg Blau with a suitable car park to look along the length of the lake. Song Thrushes and Robins sung from the hillside and three Griffon and two Black Vultures cruised the escarpment. One of the Blacks even perched up and looked fine through the scope although I would not actually like to guess the distances involved!

Panta de Gorg Blau

Ummm... well...

Black Vulture

Cormorants were the only birds on the lake itself and a Grey Wagtail flitted alongside. Continuing on, we soon came to the Cuber Reservoir but the visibility was deteriorating and nothing was added but it was a fine place to sit for lunch with a view.

Cuber Reservoir

The wiggly road continued westwards with occasional stops to take in the views, albeit briefly for fear of losing an extremity. One such stop had signs up about ‘Big Game Hunting’ and the attempt to eradicate Coatimundis that have been released! The usual suite of species were encountered but once again it was the wall of sound from countless Song Thrushes that mesmerised me and yet only one or two were seen.  I presume that these are wintering birds here but with so little other sound it was spellbinding.

Narrow-leaved Mock Privet Phillyrea angustifolia looks like a tiny black olive

Asparagus albus with sharp thorns


Port de Soller

Cloud pouring down the mountain

From here we dropped down the mountains to sealevel and on hitting the Ma11 I turned north to Port de Soller.  The journey across had not taken as long as I hoped due to the inclement weather so with time to utilise we went for another coffee in this delightful harbour resort. Like everywhere else it was deserted but we found a nice cafe alongside the river into the sea and could watch the Yellow-legged Gulls and an obliging Shag from the warm interior.   

Port de Soller

Shag - Barry Jackson

Yellow-legged Gull

Some House Sparrows came mumping once we were back outside and below us on the river about 60 graceful Crag Martins were careening up and down catching invisible insects.

Three House Martins were with them too and White Wagtails and a Common Sandpiper bobbed their respective tails along the margins.  

Best I could do with the Crags in pant light!
The little park that led back to the car was full of Chiffchaffs which were grovelling in the grass and a couple of Black Redstarts and several Serins joined them. Everything looked frozen.

Black Redstart


I decided to continue along the Ma10 as it hugged the coast passing through amazing twisted ancient olive groves and the lovely hillside town of Deia with its literary links before a sign lured me to descend down to the little village of Port de Valldermossa. Let’s just say that the zig-zag road could be described as interesting, narrow and challenging or possibly just terrifying but I made it down to the quay to stretch our legs and get sprayed on by the sea and to get some superb views along the rugged coast. The drive back up was just as much fun.

Port de Valldermossa

This was to be our last stop; the weather was properly closing in and so we decided to head to the airport in Palma early for our 9pm flight home. All went well and we touched down not long before midnight and were home by one to a eight inch covering of snow with more already descending from the leaden skies after a lovely four days spent with good friends.