Despite the generally miserable cold, wet and windy weather I have managed a few interesting wildlife encounters over the last week since my wondrous walk last Tuesday. An after work drive out saw me sitting on the ramp at Grove Ferry at 7pm on a still evening with the sound of purring Turtle Doves mingling with the other denizens of the marsh. I have certainly not heard this warming summer sound in the UK for several years so it was a real treat and to think from looking back at my journals from 30 years ago that they were so common that I merely mentioned their presence at almost any site I went to. They even nested at Rainham Marshes in the last years of the 1990s but had gone by the time the RSPB acquired the site in 2000.
I closed my eyes and was transported back to those heady days with only the raucous croaking of the now ubiquitous Marsh Frogs reminding me of the intervening years.
A pop into Grays Gorge on Friday morning to have a look for Orchids prior to a visit to IKEA was successful with the Man Orchids coming on a treat and I counted 137 spikes in various forms of development around the Sarson stones. All were short but some had lower flowers already completely open. They will be superb in a couple of weeks time.
I walked down towards the other chalky area but only found a couple of Spotted Orchid and Twayblade rosettes although they latter were budding and the Round-leaved Wintergreen was not far off flowering either. It was bitterly cold though and I did not linger too long and was only momentarily distracted by the fact that nearly every Holm Oak leaf was infested with the mine of Ectoedemia herignella while fly mines on Old Man’s Beard seem most likely to be Phytomyza vitalbae.
|Common Spotted Orchid
|Stigmella aurella - moth mine
|Phytomyza vitalbae or similar on Old man's Beard
|Phytomyza ilicis on Holly
|Ectoedemia herignella on Holm Oak
A tiny Jumping Spider on the roof of my car was potted and snapped later on and with help from the UK Spider FB group was identified as the beefy armed Ballus chalybeius.
chalybeius - he is only 3mm long
The weekend at RSPB Rainham Marshes was spent staring out at the car park but given the cold, wind and periodic lashing rain it was not such a bad spot to be with Swifts zooming by and occasional Hobby sorties. The sun popped out every now and then and a quick scurry to check for insects produced a couple of fresh Orange Tips and the first Bryony Ladybird of the year on the new growth by the shop.
It did not last long and the deluge that greeted me when I got home was deafening!
The farmer engagement project is progressing slowly with some contact now made but I am awaiting dates to actually go and meet them so I thought I would pre-empt this and go and have a look around the Orsett end of the Land of the Fanns and walk a few footpaths to see what I could find.
I had a circular walk mainly through winter Wheat and Oilseed fields with broken hedges dotted with old Willows and Ash and with a fairly botanically rich looking margin around some of the fields. It was not particularly warm and there was basically no invert life whatsoever but I was pleasantly surprised with the birds...
|This patch was full of Bristly Oxtongue and Groundsel
|Green Longhorn Moth
I had the best part of twenty singing Skylarks, three territories of Reed Bunting four of Yellowhammer, seven of Yellow Wagtail and a remarkable flock of 26 Corn Buntings which seemed to all be split into pairs within the top of a group of Ash trees with most of the males singing at the same time. They dropped down into a wheat field to feed. I can only hope that the cold has delayed them from starting to breed and soon there will be jangling across the whole area. I am not sure that even Ruth has seen more than one or two out here in recent years so it was even more surprising but also encouraging too.
The Oilseed fields were also being used by several male Whitethroats and surprisingly Dunnocks and I picked up several males singing from the tops.
|A good ditch with Lesser Reedmace and flanked by Cow Parsley
Red-legged Partridge pairs were seen in the margins and Pheasants crowed and I saw a single Red Kite and a couple of Buzzards. One or two spots looked perfect for Nightingale, Turtle Dove and to my mind’s eye, Golden Oriole but there were just Blackcaps singing away and a few Song Thrushes. Hopefully I can get access to some of the copses here and see what else may be lurking out there.
|Just how good does this patch look?
I had a meeting at lunchtime and then spent some time up the garden where it was momentarily sunny and almost warm. Flies appeared as if my magic along with a quite a few Micro Moths. There were lots of Fannia zig-zagging around with the male flashing their slightly swollen red hind femora at the ladies! Phil has helped narrow it down to a likely group of these Lesser House Flies.
|Fannia cf. lustrator
Eight Hoverfly species included Epistrophe eligans and two Platycheirus along with many Helophilus pendulus lingering around the pondlets and furry friendly Myathropa florea coming to sit on me as I sat and watched them which is great to have happen but difficult from a photography point of view!
|Epistrophe eligans and Myathropa florea
|Platycheirus scutatus agg
Female Anthophora plumipes were still attending the Dead Nettles and I saw both male and female Nomad Bees that looked like Nomada flava. I only saw two Andrena – one A. haemorrhoa and the other A. scotica (thanks to Tony M). Four Bumblebee species were in and out but the only Butterflies I saw were single Speckled Wood and Holly Blue.
|Nomada flava type
I managed to get some shots of the Micro moths dancing around including one golden looking Longhorn and Antony has sorted out the id despite my poor images.
Just like the woodland floor at Ranscome last Tuesday, my own patch is also now alive with scurrying spiders and amongst the brown looking Pardosa were some smarter species that have been identified as Alopecosa pulverulenta.
|Segestria florentina is still living in the walls of my house
|Green Shieldbug and Dock Bug
I sorted out the greenhouse and moved the Fucraea foetida giant succulent ‘palms’ outside at long last as well as potting up and few bits and bobs. It is all starting to come together quite nicely now and even the Sundews and Pitcher plants are starting to flourish although they can spent their time in the greenhouse in the warm.
|thanks Jim W!
The mega Bee-opolis is now fully finished with the Penthouse apartments being fitted out with some last minute quality furnishings. It just needs to warm up a bit to get things started. Blue Tits were in and out with food to one of the boxes and I found Slow Worms in two of the compost bins including a gold striped youngster.
|Rowan in bloom
A drive out this evening to find fish and chips whilst avoiding the downpours saw me having a quick look at Lower Rainham Dock were a couple of Brent Geese paddled around and then onto Motney Hill where there were more Brents but no Turtle Doves but it was momentarily calm and the all I could hear were the sound of chuntering Reed Warblers, shouty Cetti’s and the occasional distant grumbling of the Brents and a couple of caoowing Med Gulls.
|Think I had my HDR on the phone but I do like them