Thursday, 30 June 2022

Thirty Years Ago - June 1992

1st June:

James phoned to tell me that the White-throated Sparrow was back at Fagbury Cliff and so after picking him up in East Ham we headed to Colchester to collect Pete and Jill Pyke before carrying on. Needless to say it was a futile effort as it had once again disappeared leaving several hundred grumpy birders. James wanted to stay the night but I thought it best if I took him home or his Mum may have been a bit annoyed with me…

2nd June:

Last night I swore I not go back for the Sparrow but a call from Johnny Allen send Pete and I heading back up there for another Sparrowless afternoon.  We saw a Firecrest and a Spotted Flycatcher and frustratingly two new arrivals saw the Sparrow for a few seconds without realising that everyone else was out of view 30m further on.  They thought they were the only ones there!

5th June:

The poxy White-throated Sparrow had relocated a short way to similar habitat alongside the Trimley track and had settled in to a pattern so I dashed up after my Friday lectures and thankfully was not disappointed. What a cracking little bird.  There was no sign of the male Black-headed Bunting seen here the day before but at least I got the Sparrow after all the effort I had put in.

[Eds:  This was the golden period of Fagbury Cliff and Trimley with a wave of common and drift migrants and superb rarities that were lured down but the new and ridiculously bright lights of the new part of Felixstowe Docks -  when they were changed under public pressure I believe, this migrant hotspot once more just became a patch of scrub and trees that were not even really on the coast but it was great while it lasted. My notes also say that this is the day that I discovered the mistake in my life list tally mentioned in the May post – I seemed quite distraught!]

7th June:

Another visit to Trimley as part of a family visit to my grandparents in Felixstowe with the added bonus of a singing Greenish Warbler as well as the now showy White-throated Sparrow.  The Greenish was very showy and was bar far my best view of one ever.

8th June:

Sheer bloody madness! I got home from Uni in the afternoon and Stewart rang in a panic. A male Mamora’s Warbler had been trapped and ringed at Spurn and so after getting to Newmarket we sped north through rain and fog. About a 100 people had turned up in the still deteriorating weather and were stood staring at its chosen patch of Sea Buckthorn. 

It was about 150feet long by 30 wide and had been wisely taped off to stop ornithological incursions although the Buckthorn should have deterred most! It had been showing on and off before we arrived but had gone to ground. It was being constantly harassed by tape [Ed: yes, with proper tape recorders the size of a cereal box!] wielding birders but there was not a squeak in response.  At 7.30pm with visibility quite bad it suddenly appeared through the fog on top of a piece of burnt gorse sang loudly and then flew a short way before disappearing once again.  Phew.  Not exactly the best of views but…

Mamora’s Warbler

[Eds: in retrospect this was one of those occasions that we should have stayed over and kipped in the car as the fog lifted the next morning and the bird showed well]

11th June:

A fun day was spent dipping Rose-coloured Starlings in Essex at Manningtree and Layer Marny.

14th June:

Unbelievably a Booted Warbler had been found in the same clump at Spurn that the Mamora’s Warbler had been frequenting earlier in the week. I joined Peter G and Julian for the jaunt north but we tactfully started our day at Fen Drayton so that we would be a little closer if the bird was still there.  The lack of Red-footed Falcon and Red-necked Grebe meant that a phone call to Birdline at 9.30 had us heading north.

There was quite a congregation of birders on site and thankfully our quarry showed within seconds as it sat on top of the Sea Buckthorn singing its heart out.

It hated Lesser Redpolls for some reason and viciously defended its patch to the extent that it would fly all the way to the other end to duff one up! Leaving the Booted Warbler chattering away we headed back to the main car park where an elusive male Rosefinch had been for a week. It had not been seen for four hours but we were in luck and it appeared deep in the Buckthorn for a few seconds when the only bits seen were the vivid strawberry red head and upperbreast, steely grey bill and blackberry eye.


Julian had missed it and still needed Rosefinch so I left them to it and went back to the car, had some lunch, put the radio on and did some revision. When the lads returned they had been unlucky but had news of one a few miles up the road in Patrington.   On arrival at the petrol station we could not work out where to go but suddenly we could hear a Rosefinch singing but still not fathom a way in!  Fortunately two birders mysteriously appeared and showed us the secretive way in!

Once behind the buildings we could hear the birder better – a collection of five eerily beautiful notes but it took a further ten minutes to locate this 1st summer brown male.  It was nice to be able to actually watch one properly for a change.  All my previous sightings had been brief.  Another male started to sing from a Sallow further down the river and others had seen a female being fed by a male.  [Eds: We all thought that this was colonisation time but although the odd pair bred for a few years it never really happened].


We watched the Rosefinch for an hour and then headed for home via Fen Drayton where the immaculate summer plumaged Red-necked Grebe was swiftly found.  This was my first in such a plumage and well worth the wait.  We spent the rest of this beautiful day sitting around looking for Hobbies and talking to the Chapman family.

Red-necked Grebe 

21st June: 

Peter G and I headed down to St Margarets but although the wind was a little strong we still had great views of one of the singing Marsh Warblers.  A long walk along the cliff top did not produce any Peregrines but the Kittiwake colony was thriving. [Eds: is this even here any more?]

Kittiwake s

22nd June:

Paul Whiteman and I headed out on a purely butterfly based twitch and we spent the morning working out way through the trails of Salcey Forest near Milton Keynes.  Black Hairstreak was our main target and we got good views of several although they liked to stay high up for the most part. We also had White Admirals, Wood Whites, Large Skippers, Meadow Browns. Ringlets, Small and Large Whites, Peacocks, Red Admirals and Common Blues. Brown and Southern Hawkers were patrolling the rides.

A stop on the way home at Totternhoe Knoll near Dunstable with many Small Blues on the Kidney Vetch and we also added Small Heath to the day list.  There were huge poppy fields and swathes of blue Flax and three male Quails busily proclaimed their discrete presence while Corn Buntings jangled around the edges.

Oliver Road Lagoons Bioblitz - 29th June 2022

Yesterday I was invited to help out with a community bioblitz at the old West Thurrock power station fly ash lagoons – now known as Oliver Road Lagoons.  It was hosted by the Essex Wildlife Trust and Thames Chase and gave me a second chance to have a look round after my visit last year.   Amongst those assembled were Yvonne, Phil and Mel, as was Graeme Lyons and I was fortunate to spend the day helping him in the search for the Distinguished Jumping Spider with able assistance from Tiny Recorder.

Tiny Recorder - smiling before he dipped on the Jumping Spider

We may have failed but I learnt an incredible amount in such a short time.  It was not a day for photography with poor light and frequent showers but having someone who could put a name to almost anything that moved regardless of how tiny it was, was quite humbling.  I did not even attempt to note down everything (there were at least four other Jumping Spiders I think) but gleaned a few bits that will aid me in the future.  I am hoping that Graeme can help me with my missing spider names!  There were Crab, Labyrinth, Orbs, Long-jaws, Harvestman, Wolf, Wasp and Money Spiders to sift through.

Heliophanus flavipes

Labyrinth Spider - Agelena labyrinthica

 Odiellus spinosus- Harvestman with short legs 

 Help required please! 

Tiny male Wasp SpiderArgiope bruennichi

Philodromus sp

Xerolycosa nemoralis

It was not all about Spiders and we found a Sand Runner Shieldbug and the nymph of a Blue Shieldbug which Yvonne was overjoyed about along with countless Groundhoppers, three Grasshopper and three Cricket species, four Bumblebees and just three Ladybirds.

Blue Shieldbug - Zicrona caerulea

Groundhopper nymph - not identifiable at this age although I did see an adult Common

Field Grasshopper

Immature pink Field Grasshopper

Tumbling Flower Beetle - Variimorda villosa - My first away from Ranscombe

Oedemera nobilis

Green Dock Beetle Gastrophysa viridula I think

I am trying to remember the name of the Wasps that we found ‘roosting’ under the rocks first thing – sure it will come to me and there were lots of active Anthophora bimaculata hurtling around when the sun decided to show along with a couple of Philanthus triangulum.  A superb Ammophila sabulosa was on the prowl for caterpillars with dashing runs and quivering antennae and a couple of large Ruby-tailed Wasps were noted.

Ammophila sabulosa

Anthophora bimaculata

Astata boops - what a name! Thanks Grant

A biggish Ruby Tailed Wasp possibly Hedychridium sp

A biggish Ruby Tailed Wasp possibly Hedychridium sp

There were very few Butterflies and just a couple of active moths with Burnet Companion and DowdyPlume seen along with a pretty little one called Aethes tesserana.  Graeme showed me the burrow of a Green Tiger Beetle – it has chamfered edges to the entrance but we never saw one of these actual beasts. There were a few leaf mines in the Birches and Antony helped id one as Parornix betulae and there were one or two Stigmella aurella on the Brambles.

Aethes tesserana

Burnet Companion

Parornix betulae 

Dowdy Plume Stenoptilia zophodactylus

Stigmella aurella

Green Tiger Beetle burrow

Dark and White-lipped Hedge Snails

Flies were very thin on the ground with singles of Xanthogramma pedissequum, Episyrphus balteatus and Eristalis tenax representing the Hoverflies and just a couple of RobberfliesLucilia, Pollenia and Sarcs although I think that I had a Satellite Fly - Miltogramminae sp but will wait for Phil’s input.

Haematopota pluvialis 

Kite Tailed Robberfly Machimus atricapillus 

Lucilia sp

Metopia sp - a Satellite Fly

Pollenia sp 

A couple of Emperor Dragonflies zoomed around and Azure Damselfly was the only other Odonata seen and flying things with feathers were fairly sparse but it was good to hear Cetti’s Warblers and singing Lesser Whitethroats in such an industrialised environment.

Peltigera sp of Lichen - thanks to Bob V for the help

Botanically both the Broad and Narrow-leaved Everlasting Peas were in flower, Yellow-wort, Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids and I remembered to look for the Oak-leaved Goosefoot and Sea Milkwort.

Black Nightshade Solanum nigrum

Buck's Horn Plantain - Plantago coronopus

Common Centaury - Centaurium erythraea 

Narrow-leaved Ragwort - Senecio inaequidens - I thought it was American but is in fact South African

Oak Leaf Goosefoot Chenopodium glaucum

Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea - Lathyrus latifolius

Narrow-leaved Everlasting Pea -Lathyrus sylvestris

Common Spotted Orchid

very lilac Pyramidal Orchids

Yellow-wort - Blackstonia perfoliata

All too soon it was time to pack up after an intense but rewarding few hours grubbing around on my hands and knees!

Perhaps Tiny Recorder will come and visit Ranscombe at some stage for some quality botanising?