Friday, 5 August 2016

July Highlights! *

Weather: Changeable. Mainly wet and windy, with one hot and humid spell mid-month.

Places Visited: Amwell; Balls Wood/Hertford Heath/Waterford Heath; Cheshunt; Cornmill Meadow; Paxton Pits; Rye Meads & Sawbridgeworth Marsh.

'Darest thou now, O soul, walk out with me toward the unknown region.'
Walt Whitman

July’s poor-ish weather spilled over into June. There were wet, windy days early on, with one very hot and humid spell in the middle of the month. Thereafter, the weather cooled, with more showery systems coming in from the West. It hasn’t been much of a summer, so far. I blame Brexit and/or Jeremy Corbyn.

My first visit of the month was another trip to Balls Wood and Hertford Heath, this time with a quick, additional visit to Waterford Heath, my first, to see Marbled Whites. I was hoping to see the Balls Wood butterfly specialities, but unfortunately, they remained frustratingly elusive.

However, there were plenty of other invertebrates to see. The swarm of Emeralds and Scarce Emeralds, together with plenty of Ruddy Darters, were again on show. Hertford Heath has really impressed me, with its’ variety of Odonata. We just need a sustained period of warm sunshine for other Reserves to prosper, as well!

Scarce Emerald
Ruddy Darter
Balls Wood continues to impress, too. There may not have been any specialities on show, but there were plenty of other butterflies, with 14 species seen, including loads of Skippers and Ringlets. Indeed, there were plenty of insects to see, including Longhorn Beetles, Soldier Beetles and Speckled Bush Crickets. However, the stars of the day were a gorgeous Roesel's Bush Cricket, only the second one I've ever seen and a Tortoise Bug, a form of Shield Bug, my first ever.

Roesel's Bush Cricket
Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle
Tortoise Bug
The day was finished off with a lovely visit to Waterford Heath. The Heath is famous for its’ Marbled White butterflies and they didn’t disappoint, with several seen.

Marbled White
I was so impressed with HH & BW that I paid a further visit, later in the month, again seeing much of the same. However, this time I added Migrant and Southern Hawkers to the year-list. I also managed to see my first-ever Slow Worms plus another first, a Large Black Longhorn Beetle. Although it was again disappointing not to see any Silver-washed Fritillary, Purple Emperor or White Admiral butterflies. Just unlucky, I guess.

Migrant Hawker
Slow Worm
Large Black Longhorn Beetle
Next up was a visit to Amwell, an unusually long-overdue visit. It was now beginning to get warm and humid, albeit with a cool breeze. July has always been notable for the lack of birds. However, today was all about Odonata. There were quite a lot on offer, with the first Brown Hawkers and Common Darters of the year appearing. These were complimented by Emperors, Black-tailed Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers. Several Banded Demoiselles and Red-eyed damselflies completed the tally.

Common Darter
Four-spotted Chaser
Red-eyed damselfly
The bird species count may have been lower than average, but there were Oystercatchers, Little Ringed Plovers, Kingfishers and a close encounter with a lovely Reed Warbler on show.

Reed Warbler
A Fishers Green visit was also long-overdue, almost two months since my last trip. I was hoping to see if the three Great Crested Grebe nests I had found on my last visit had produced any humbugs. Alas, they were all empty and devoid of any birds. I wasn’t too surprised.

It was another quiet day birdy-wise and so I again concentrated on inverts. There were plenty of dragons and damsels to see, including Brown Hawker, Emperor and Ruddy Darter. There were also plenty of Banded Demoiselle and Red-eyed damsels about. Butterflies were starting to take advantage of the improving weather, with almost a dozen species seen, including Comma and Gatekeeper.

Ruddy Darter
A Red-eared Terrapin, possibly the same one in the same place as before, was a slight distraction. However, a family of Great Crested Grebes, by the bridge, as I headed for home, caught my eye. It was the first time I had seen one of the juveniles, slightly bigger and obviously from the first batch, feed one of its’ younger siblings.

Great Crested Grebe family
The next day I decided to pay a visit to Sawbridgeworth Marsh, my local patch. The flora here, like everywhere else, had grown enormously. Fed on a diet of hot sun and constant rains, day after day, it had thrived.

Although the bird drought continued, I did manage to spot Green Sandpiper, Common Tern, Kingfisher and plenty of Warblers.  There were only 7 species of butterfly, including Small Tortoiseshell, with not too many insects about, despite putting on my best sleuth suit.

There weren’t too many dragons or damsels either, possibly due to the vegetation encroaching on the ponds and lagoons. However, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a newly-emerged Common Darter, whose wings were still developing. That and a Banded Demoiselle, snacking on an unfortunate Mayfly, were the highlights of the day.

Common Darter

Banded Demoiselles
Although it was still humid, especially at night, the Weather Gods were still being unkind, continuing to keep a stubborn cloud cover over the area, day after day.

Then it was time for my annual pilgrimage to Cornmill Meadow. This is an outstanding place for Odonata and today didn’t disappoint. Although the flora here was also quite overgrown, it wasn’t as bad as at other Reserves.

The birds first. The species count remained low again, but included some quality stuff. Three Green Sandpipers were in front of the only Hide on the Reserve, the Wake Hide. In addition, there were several Lapwings and a Grey Heron. There were quite a few Swallows and House Martins flying over the lagoon, constantly dipping down for a drink. A female dark-morph Pheasant looked odd, marching across the near-empty lagoon. A Kingfisher flashed past me a few times. There was even a noisy Ring-necked Parakeet flyover, towards the end of the day.

However, I was here for the dragons & damsels. I didn’t see anything for the first 30 minutes, but then they started to appear. Banded DemoisellesBroad-bodied ChasersRuddy DartersBrown Hawkers and Emperors all showed well.

Banded Demoiselle 
Broad-bodied Chaser 
Ruddy Darter 'obelisk'
And then the British summer arrived. Finally, although it felt like an Italian job. It seemed to bypass the usual slow build-up and went straight from cold and wet to hot and humid. Scorchio, even. I wasn't expecting or wanting the summer to arrive all at once. Still, one mustn't complain, although it was a shock to the system.

It was a very satisfying visit, with plenty of dragons & damsels on show, 10 species in all. I discovered several little areas where Odonata was plentiful and spent a happy hour or so, snapping away.

Summer arrives!
The British summer continued the next day, as I decided to visit Amwell again. I had intended to visit Rye Meads, to see if the Kingfishers would fledge, but a Lesser Emperor dragon had been spotted recently and I was lured down.

I didn’t see it, unfortunately, but I did get a distant view of a Norfolk Hawker, which was a surprise. However, it was the hottest day of the year, so far, which made it tough going. I was definitely treading on deadly ground, in this weather.

An above average bird total, for this time of year, included Little Egret, Red Kite, Kingfisher and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Eleven species of Odonata, including Red-eyed damsel, Black-tailed Skimmer and plenty of Darters, both Common and Ruddy, were a delight to see, as always. One of them even performed the ‘obelisk’ for me.

Black-tailed Skimmer
Ruddy Darter - another 'obelisk'
A similar amount of butterflies were seen, but not too many invertebrates, again. Maybe it was a tad too hot for them, too. By the end of the day, I was hot, bothered and knackered and had to give in to the elements. It was like a deathtrap, out there.

Later, in the evening, I read that the Rye Meads Kingfishers had fledged. To cap it all, thirteen Black-tailed Godwits and a pair of Garganey had appeared as well. The dirty rotten scoundrels! C'est la vie!

Scarce Emerald
After my second visit to Hertford Heath and Balls Wood, I paid my third visit of the month to Amwell. I had arranged this with a friend, some months before. It was a quiet day, with the weather still hot and humid, but thankfully, this time accompanied by a few clouds and a welcoming cool breeze. I had started to dress down by now, that or dressed to kill!

It was a Saturday. I don’t usually ‘do’ weekends, because Reserves are usually full of families, all usually without a clue. However, my friend couldn’t do weekdays and so we arranged a Saturday visit. In the event, it wasn’t too busy, despite the schools also breaking for the summer.

There were impressive totals of Odonata, Lepidoptera and bird species today. However, nothing too exciting. The birdy highlights included an Egyptian Goose family, Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Common Tern and plenty of Reed Warbler action, plus a very pretty Stock Dove.

Stock Dove
Of the 14 species of butterfly we spotted, Brimstone and Holly Blue were the picks of the day. Mint Leaf Beetle and Soldier Beetle stood out from the rest, on the insect front.

All the usual dragons and damsels were about. We were given good, close-up views of Red-eyed damsel, Black-tailed Skimmer, Brown HawkerCommon Darter and Emperor.

Blue-tailed damselflies
Common Darter
Brown Hawker ovipositing
A few days later and I paid my first visit to Paxton Pits. I had heard great things about this Reserve. It covered quite a large area but I wasn’t quite able to see all of it. Although it looked like an excellent place to visit, I came away slightly disappointed. I’m not quite sure why. They do serve a nice cup of tea, though.

It was quite an open place, with plenty of lagoons and ponds, but they weren’t very accessible. There were good views of a pair of Kingfishers, as well as Red Kite and Common Tern.

Another early Migrant Hawker was a delight to see, at the start. Followed by more Odonata on the trails. Although there were plenty of dragons and damsels to be seen, they were difficult to approach without disturbing them. ‘Frustration’ was the word of the day.

Migrant Hawker
There was a glimpse of Grass Snake and a couple of firsts. I spotted my first Bird-cherry Ermine moth and Twin-lobed Deerfly.

Bird-cherry Ermine moth
Unsurprisingly, there were quite a few noisy families, as to be expected at this time of year. However, irritatingly, there were also dog-walkers and cyclists around the place. One or two joggers also proved to be a distraction. In a Nature Reserve! Joggers running in this heat and humidity! Homo Sapiens: a special kind of stupid.

However, it was good to be able to visit a new Reserve. Further visits are needed here, especially in the winter, to get a more rounded impression. A little voice told me that we were just unlucky today.

The end of the month saw my quarterly visit to Rye Meads. It was a surprisingly good visit, for birds anyway. DunlinGarganey, Green Sandpiper and Kingfisher all put on great shows. There were more noisy families present here, but they were what I would term as ‘clinically enthusiastic’!

Green Sandpiper
However, it was very disappointing for invertebrates, with nothing much about. The only bit of excitement, odonata-wise, was when a Coot tried to sneak up on an ovipositing Brown Hawker. The Hawker escaped. The main reason was probably the end of the British summer. It was very overcast, with a hint of rain. The humidity had given way to a chill north-westerly wind.

A lucky escape!
Then there were the resident family of Little Grebes, just in front of the Draper Hide, who were really good entertainment.

Little Grebe family
Before I had set out that day, I had discovered a Jersey Tiger and a Large Yellow Underwing right outside my door!

Jersey Tiger
Large Yellow Underwing
So, ten visits in total, another high one for July. All in all, a very enjoyable and satisfying month. It wasn’t much of a summer, though!

As ever, my thanks go to my good friend, Ron, without whom I wouldn’t be able to visit half as many Reserves. His bucket of patience with me is bottomless. Together, we are like a couple of second-hand lions.

'Let it not be said, and said unto your shame,
That there was beauty here, before you came.'

Sunday, 3 July 2016

June Highlights!

Places Visited: Outer Hebrides; Amwell/Balls Wood/Hertford Heath; HMWT Thorley Wash and London Zoo.

WeatherMostly showery, with a few sunny periods.

June’s weather was quite poor overall, which meant a paucity of outings this month. I guess a week-long trip to the Outer Hebrides early on, was a reason, too.

Although, the weather up there was actually outstanding. Bright, warm, sunny skies and a flat calm crossing, both ways. Quite unusual for the North Atlantic, I was told.

I ventured up there with two targets in mind. One, to set foot on St. Kilda and, two, to see the endemic St. Kilda Wren. Everything else would be a bonus. And there were plenty of them!

I had also ventured up there with my wet weather gear, plus lots of winter woollies, as I expected it to be both wet and cold. In the event, I wore t-shirts most of the time.

Not only did I see and photograph a St. Kilda Wren, I also spotted around 60 other species of bird, including lots of Wheatear, Willow Warbler and Common Snipe. However, it was the quantity of seabirds that took my breath away. Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Arctic Terns, to name but a few. Together with Eagles, Golden and White-tailed and Skuas, Great and Arctic. The sights, sounds and smells will stay with me forever.

The endemic St Kilda Wren
St Kilda village

Gannet around one of the Sea Stacs
White-tailed Sea Eagle
There was also plenty of Cetacean action, as well. 3 species of Dolphin, 2 of Seal and lots of Minke Whales. Lots of Harbour Porpoises and a sighting of up to 7 Otters, on one day, were a thrill to see. Then there was the odd sight of seeing Primroses blooming right next to Bluebells! There were many more highlights, too numerous to mention. I would certainly visit again.

Common Dolphins
I returned home to find the weather had deteriorated, somewhat. Over a week later, Ron suggested we pay a visit to Balls Wood and Hertford Heath, with Amwell tacked on, at the end of the day. I hadn’t visited BW for a few years, while it was my first visit to HH. At the Heath, I was delighted to have my first-ever sightings of Scarce Emeralds. The first Ruddy Darters of the year appeared, too. Other ‘firsts’ included Common Emeralds, Black-tailed Skimmer and Emperor. In all, there were 14 species of Odonata seen that day.

Common Emerald 
Ruddy Darter
Scarce Emerald
On the insect front, I was ecstatic in finding a Black-headed Cardinal Beetle, plus sightings of a Longhorn Beetle, Speckled Bush Cricket and a fantastic view of a Ruby-tailed Wasp. There were plenty of butterflies on show, with lots of Skippers, plus first sightings of Cinnabar Moth, Meadow Brown and a Yellow-tailed Moth caterpillar.

Black-headed Cardinal Beetle 
Longhorn Beetle
The birds weren’t ignored, with 45 species seen. Red Kite, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, Common Tern and plenty of Warbler action, being the highlights.

It was an excellent day out, thanks to my driver, who gets a special mention.

Black-tailed Skimmer
Ruby-tailed Wasp
Next up, was a walk along the River Stort to HMWT Thorley Wash. Ron hadn’t visited before and was keen to have a look. We had another excellent day.

The bird list was quite low, the highlights being Common Tern, Swallow, Grey Wagtail and, again, plenty of Warblers.

Banded Demoiselles along the River Stort
However, it was the invertebrates that we had come to see. There was, of course, plenty of Banded Demoiselle action. In fact, scores of them, delighting us. We also managed to spot all the usual Blues, a few Large Reds and one Hairy dragon. Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshells were among many butterflies seen.

Common Tern

Dark Bush Crickets, Dock Bugs, Green Nettle Weevils, Longhorn Beetles, Mayflies, Mint Leaf Beetles, Scorpion Flies and Thick-kneed Beetles were all fantastic to see. We spent most of the day with our eyes down.

For my last trip of the month, I decided to pay my annual visit to London Zoo. Always worth the effort, for all the exotic bird species on show. I concentrated on them, rather than anything else.

I had to, really. There were hundreds of children about, looking at all the ‘stars’ of the Zoo. It was also a bit pricey, to be honest. Hey, it’s only once a year!

Humboldt Penguin
Pekin Robin
Splendid Sunbird
The exotic birds are always a delight to see, but the penguins were also good value. A visit to the Butterfly House was excellent and there was even a Broad-bodied Chaser to be seen, flying around the ponds.

Blue Morpho
Indian Leafwing

So, only 4 trips this month. Blast the weather! However, they were all excellent days out, though St. Kilda was undoubtedly the highlight. It was definitely a case of wearing a Kevlar-enforced pair of trousers this month!

'Where would we be without a SatNav?'