Thursday, 11 January 2018

Wildlife and Weather Roundup 2017 - Part Two


July was a generally unsettled month but it was often warm, especially in the south-east. There were brief hot spells, with widespread thunder. It was cooler from the third week onwards and there was some heavy persistent rain at times.

All of which resulted in three visits - Amwell, Rye Meads and a walk up the River Stort to HMWT Thorley Wash. The local walk was the first and most fruitful outing.

There were a few Buzzards screeching high in the sky; a family of Kestrels, which put on a very good flying display; several Coot and Moorhen families; a Common Tern fishing up and down the river; several Swifts screaming overhead; a Kingfisher which zipped up the river and several Warblers - including a Blackcap and a very vocal Grasshopper Warbler, were all seen on a rare sunny day. Little Egret, Little Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Tern, Swift, Kingfisher, House Martin and plenty of tuneful Warblers were the highlights at Rye Meads. Amwell had Great Crested Grebe, Little Egret, Lapwing, Common Tern and Kingfisher. However, there were few Warblers and very little from the waterfowl sector here.

There wasn’t much in the way of mammals this month. Very few sightings, in fact. However, while a buck Muntjac was seen at Amwell, the highlight was spotting four Water Voles at Thorley Wash, with one of them coming out in to the open, quite close.

Butterfly and Moth sightings continued to greatly increase. It’s looking like a good year for lepidoptera. All three visits resulted in seeing well over ten species. Cinnabar Moth caterpillars showed up at Rye Meads, while the first Gatekeepers, Ringlets and Small Coppers appeared. Essex and Small Skippers showed well along the River Stort. There were numerous Meadow Browns and Red Admirals about.

Despite the poor weather, dragons and damsels flourished. Banded Demoiselles continued to delight, as did several Red-eyed damsels. Black-tailed Skimmers and Emperors were still around, some seen ovipositing. Shockingly, the only Broad-bodied Chasers I saw this year were in France. The season was over for both Large Red damsels and Hairy dragons. However, they were replaced with Common and Ruddy Darters, as well as a few Brown Hawkers.

Apart from the usual insects seen this month, the star spot was another sighting of a Hornet Mimic hoverfly, at Amwell. There were lots of Marmalade hoverfly sightings. I had a lucky sighting of a Robber Fly having lunch, at Amwell. Regiments of Soldier Beetles were seen along the River Stort, while several Thick-kneed Flower beetles were seen in several areas.

The flowers blossomed, as to be expected at this time of year. However, I didn’t pay a great deal of attention, what with everything else going on and they were only helpful in finding invertebrates.

In the UK, the weather was again very dismal. However, a visit to Papua New Guinea was hot and humid. Locally, August began unsettled with showers and mainly westerly or south-westerly winds. This pattern continued until the third week, when it turned warm and sunny. However, the month ended cooler and showery.

A very memorable trip to PNG took up the first fortnight, while the final days of the month saw visits to Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads.

Papua New Guinea was a dream and an ambition come true. I had always wanted to photograph Birds of Paradise from as far back as I could remember. It didn’t disappoint, with 15 species of BoP seen, of which 7 were photographed. Nearly 200 bird species were seen overall. The wonderful wildlife aside, the people of PNG were among the friendliest I have ever encountered.

A full report of the trip can be found HERE.

Brown Sicklebill
Masked Lapwing
Pied Heron
A few days after returning, I visited Amwell, which wasn’t as productive, bird-wise. How could it be? In fact, bird totals were down on all three local visits this month. A Bittern had been seen here, but had chosen the day I visited to be absent. Next up, was a short visit to Rye Meads. Here, at least, I found the usual Kingfisher, plus 2 Little Egrets, 7 Green and 1 Common Sandpiper, a pair of eclipse Garganey, plenty of Lapwings and a fleeting glimpse of a Hobby. Cheshunt was the last visit of the month, with another Kingfisher and 3 very obliging juvenile Chiffchaffs, posing outside the Bittern Hide. However, it was ominously quiet at all 3 Reserves.

It was even quieter on the Mammal front. Even in PNG, where all we spotted were a Ground Cuscus and a Macleay’s Forest Wallaby.

The butterflies and moths seen in PNG were out of this world, as to be expected. Locally, Comma, Common Blue, lots of Whites, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood all made appearances.

Silky Owl butterfly
It was still slightly disappointing for odonata, although I was delighted to find my first Willow Emeralds and Migrant Hawkers of the season, at all 3 local Reserves. Banded Demoiselles were still about, as was a late male Black-tailed Skimmer, at RM. Also seen there, were scores of Red-eyed damsels. Hawkers and Darters were now everywhere. I spotted and photographed a few species in PNG, but not until the very last day. They too, were quite spectacular.

Painted Grasshawk
On the insect front, needless to say in PNG, there was some pretty amazing stuff to be seen. Colourful, varied and sizeable. Domestically, an Orange Ladybird, plenty of Cross Spiders, a few Dock Bugs, another Hornet Mimic hoverfly, Mint Leaf Beetles, another Robber Fly, this time without lunch and plenty of Bees and Wasps were around. Although, it has to be said, not in vast numbers.

The local flora, of course, had been gorging on a diet of mainly rain, with some added sunshine. It had led to an explosion, almost hiding everything. A proliferation of mainly Buddleia and Purple Loosestrife were everywhere. However, in PNG, the rain-forests were spectacular.

The summer was notable across the UK for being wetter and warmer than average. Each of the three months exceeded their long-term average rainfall totals in many areas. Broadly speaking, June was wettest in the north and July was wettest in the south, with August a mix of the two. It was the UK’s 11th wettest summer on record. The full summer mean temperatures were slightly warmer than average. June was in fact the fifth warmest in records dating back to 1910. East Anglia was the warmest region in the UK.

The poor weather continued this month, starting with a weak ridge of high pressure. The rest of the month was generally unsettled with an unusually high number of rain days. It was often cool, with frequent winds and belts of persistent rain, alternating with brighter showery weather. It then warmed up later in the month, with mainly southerly winds, but was often cloudy with some fog patches.

After the enchantment of PNG, it was back down to earth this month. There were trips to Amwell and the River Stort/Thorley Wash area. There were also several trips to Rye Meads, which continues to be the place to visit. I also spent a few days in Norfolk.

A walk up the River Stort, to Thorley Wash was first up, on the first day of the month. It was a low bird total; however, I was delighted to find a dozen or more Willow Emeralds, this time much closer to the Reserve than last season, which also had three present itself.

Then came Rye Meads, the first of three visits, followed by Amwell. Birds were still quite scarce, although there were now a few wildfowl arriving. Common and Green Sandpipers, Snipe and Kingfisher were good value at RM, while Kestrel, Hobby and a late Swallow appeared at Amwell.

I spent three days in Norfolk, visiting various Reserves. As usual, it didn’t disappoint, with plenty of wader species to be seen. I was especially delighted to see a pair of Corncrakes.

Mammal sightings were still few and far between, but there was a lovely little Pygmy Shrew seen zipping around, whilst visiting Snettisham. There were, of course, Red Squirrels present at Pensthorpe NR. Konik Ponies were seen adjacent to the River Stort.

The insect season started to tail off significantly. Butterflies, such as the Whites, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood are still about, but not much else.

Willow Emeralds were now out in force, in several Reserves, together with Common Darter and Migrant Hawker. All the usual suspects, in fact. However, it’s good to see WE distribution and numbers expanding.

Of the rest of the invertebrates, Cross and Nursery Web Spiders are now out in some number. Adult Dark Bush Crickets, Dock Bugs, hoverflies, bees and wasps are now all that’s on offer. However, the best sightings were along the canal path, at Amwell, where I found Green, Hawthorn and Forest Shield Bugs.

The flowers? Oh, please. Buddleia and Purple Loosestrife are the only things still noticeable.

October was predominantly shaped by a mild west or south-westerly airflow, bringing some spells of unusually high temperatures, both by day and by night. However, the winds did turn briefly northerly for the last weekend of the month, bringing the first widespread frost of autumn. Around the middle of the month, ex-Tropical Hurricane Ophelia dragged warm air northwards across the UK, resulting in high temperatures, hurricane-force winds and a red sun. By comparison, Storm Brian wasn’t as big an event; he was just a very naughty boy.

I only visited Amwell and Rye Meads in what was a very quiet month. The 4th quarter is, for me, a traditionally understated time and I always look forward to the New Year.

Amwell was my first visit of the month, just before it was unfortunately closed down for several months, due to maintenance. However, there wasn’t much about and so I cut my losses and spent the afternoon at Rye Meads.

Only the usual stuff was about this month. Wildfowl continued to arrive, but not in any great number. The first Snipe for a long while started to appear, while Sandpipers, both Common & Green were seen, albeit in ones and twos. The Kingfishers still provided lots of entertainment, with a male perching up amongst the red berries, quite close to the Hide. The first Redwings of the season turned up, but their cousins, the Fieldfare, were conspicuous by their absence.

Although Autumn had now arrived, in force, blowing the golden leaves off the trees, there weren’t any decent mammal sightings. I guess they were keeping their heads down.

The few butterflies that were still about included a lovely Brimstone in the middle of the month. Otherwise, only several Red Admirals were seen on the wing and I fear that they would probably be the last for this season.

The odonata season is now sadly almost over as well. Only Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers are still about and only then in small numbers. The last of the Willow Emeralds were seen at Rye Meads, where I found a few pairs egg-laying on a bramble branch – something that even the British Dragonfly Society hadn’t heard of before.

Dock & Green Shield Bugs were seen on a sunny day, early in the month. Other than those, the only decent insects still on show included Dark Bush Crickets and a Hornet. I also noticed that there were still lots of Midges around, reflecting a warm and dry month.

The sunshine was one of the most notable features this month and it ranked the 9th sunniest November since records began. Most areas had above average sunshine, but even then, it wasn’t as sunny as last year. It was a colder than average month for the UK overall. Rainfall was below average for most, with the south east being the driest area of the country.

Thanks to the clearer weather, it was a much better month for trips, with visits to all three LVRP Reserves, or, as I call it, the ‘Lee Valley of the Kings. The work at Amwell had been delayed, allowing people to visit during the week, so I paid three visits myself. The month started with a sighting of a pair of Water Pipits, at Rye Meads. There were also lots of Wagtails about, while Kingfisher showings were getting less and less. A pair of Stonechats showed up on the goalposts in the HMWT meadow. Redwings continued to flourish, but there were still no Fieldfare. Next up, was a trip to Cheshunt, where Bitterns were being seen regularly. However, again, not on the one occasion I was there. Water Rails were good value, though - a pair bickered over feeding rights, out in the open. A pair of Kingfishers flashed up and down the relief channel and there were good views of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Finally, a pair of Reed Buntings flew around outside the Hide. At Amwell, Goldeneyes had turned up. Red Kite and Sparrowhawk were seen on regular occasions. A Water Rail gave a wonderful, close-up view outside the James Hide, where even Phil the Pheasant showed up again! The Feeders brought Coal Tit & Marsh Tit. The Woodland proved disappointing, with very few birds on show, other than Redwing and Goldcrest. However, on the last visit, a flock of Siskin flew through. Waterfowl were still arriving, but still arriving in low numbers.

It was more encouraging on the mammal front this month. A Fox was seen at Amwell, quite close to a Muntjac, who are now starting to appear regularly. A pair of Bank Voles were seen outside the James Hide.

All in all, it was a much better month. The first snow fell on the last day of the month, albeit a few flakes.

Despite a brief cold snap, autumn, as a whole, turned out to be slightly milder than average, thanks in part to a mild October. September was generally cooler and wetter than average, while October was mostly warm, dry and mild. Sunshine was below average in most areas, although temperatures were closer to average. The first widespread frosts of the season came at the end of October. Most areas were somewhat duller during both September and October. November rainfall was below average and was slightly colder, mainly due to a cold final week. It was also
sunnier and slightly drier than average.

The first week was mostly mild, but much of the early part of December was cold with significant snowfall in some areas and numerous frosts in most areas. Many places had a rather dry month, but with strong winds.

The year ended quietly, paying a visit apiece to Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads.

First up, was a trip to Cheshunt, ostensibly for Bittern. It was a very cold day, having snowed the previous day. My thought was that, if the lakes and lagoons froze over, it might bring a Bittern out. I was pleased to see that my reasoning and logic were both rewarded. A bonus sighting was a redhead Smew. Also seen, were Water Rail, Goldcrest and Sparrowhawk, making it an enchanting day out. Then it was Amwell, where the works party had been very favourable to Birders. The highlights here were Coal and Marsh Tit, Treecreeper, Goldeneye, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Kingfisher and Siskin. Rye Meads proved to be the last visit of the year and it was a fairly quiet end, seeing Sparrowhawk, Water Rail, Snipe, Kingfisher, Redwing, Cetti’s Warbler and Chiffchaff.

The Bank Voles, at Amwell, continued to delight, while Muntjac, Fox and Grey Squirrel all made appearances.

And so, on to the annual stats:
I made a total of 59 trips out this year, the lowest annual total yet, since my retirement.
The commonest birds of the year were the Mallard and the Woodpigeon, both seen 58 times. Can you guess where I didn’t see them?
The commonest Mammal was the Grey Squirrel, seen on 18 occasions.
The commonest Butterflies were the Red Admiral and the Speckled Wood, with 20 sightings.
The commonest Damselflies were the Blue-tailed and Common Blue, making 18 appearances, while the Common Darter Dragonfly appeared 15 times.
The most seen invertebrate was the almost-ubiquitous Midge, with 37 appearances. Although, it did seem that they were everywhere, all of the time. My most exciting sightings were the appearances of several Chafer species.
The most interesting flower this year, was the Bee Orchid, seen on 4 occasions.

166 bird species were seen in total this year, in the UK, slightly up on last year. Of which 48 were the most seen on one day, at Amwell, in early January. Together with the world total I spotted 391 species this year.
The most Mammal species seen, on one trip, was 9, whilst visiting Norfolk, in mid-September.
14 species of Lepidoptera were seen, on two separate days, in July, at both Amwell and the River Stort/Thorley Wash.
10 species of Odonata were seen, on two occasions, visiting Amwell, during early to mid-June.
30 invertebrate species were seen whilst visiting Rye Meads, on one memorable day, in early June.

Rye Meads was the most visited Reserve this year, with 25 trips. It also takes the top honours for being the most interesting place to be, in the UK, with a fair few excellent sightings. Kudos goes to the staff for the rescue and recuperation given to a juvenile female Bittern. A ‘special mention in dispatches’ goes to Jenny and her team of volunteers at Amwell. They and other Reserve volunteers do a magnificent job.

The Annual Bearded Tit Awards (ABTAs):
Bird of the Year: The Birds of Paradiseof course!
Mammal of the Year: Water Vole
Lepidoptera of the Year: Lesser Purple Emperor
Odonata of the Year: Southern Migrant Hawker
Invertebrate of the Year: Rose Chafer
Flora of the Year: Bee Orchid
Weather of the year: Aurora Borealis

And finally, my respect and thanks go to all my fellow wildlife enthusiasts this year, who, like me, spent many an hour dodging dog-walkers, cyclists & joggers, whilst also sat patiently watching tall trees and empty ponds.

A special ‘thanks’ goes to Ron, Mary and Katy, for providing great company and lots of laughs.

Roll on 2018!

Tinkety-tonk old fruit and down with the Nazis!’
Sign-off originally used by the Queen Mother in a letter dated February 1941.

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Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Wildlife and Weather Roundup 2017 - Part One

Welcome to my end-of-year summation – briefer, skinnier and healthier, but with an unmistakeable international flavour. It’s undeniably wildlife-friendly - I can confirm that the flora & fauna remained safe and well, despite my incursions.

This roundup is an alternative to the Paradise Papers. We are still in a Brexit-free zone. This will only be one article, not fifty. During the year, not one hand touched one knee. I correctly predicted every major European general election result this year - except for the UK, Germany and France. Everything you read here has been fact-checked – you won’t find any fake news or be DUP(ed).

So, sit back, stay snug and safe, as I warmly regale you with my efforts at getting down and dirty, trying to spot and photograph wildlife over the last twelve months. From local haunts to the uttermost end of the world, you’ll be whisked off to a paradise lost and found.

I even managed to make it safely back home for tea and medals!


The Weather:
2017 was the second-hottest year on record, only being surpassed by the previous year and was the hottest year without the short-term warming influence of an El NiƱo event.

It was also the fifth warmest year for the UK, since records began in 1910. February to June were all warmer, whereas the second half of the year saw temperatures nearer to average, with the exception of a warm October. Mid-June saw a significant hot spell. The coolest months were August and November. When considered as a whole, 2017 had a rather average year for rainfall. Sunshine was generally above average. Notable extreme weather events during the year included Storm Doris in February. Autumn and early winter saw notable storm systems, while widespread snow fell over much of England in December. The hot spell in June saw the highest temperatures in that month for over 40 years and, unusually, brought temperatures above 30 °C somewhere in the UK for five days in a row.

Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.’
Albert Einstein

Although this year’s ‘trips’ total was the lowest for a long time, it was, in fact, another momentous year for wildlife watching. The stats were around the same mark as last year, as I again concentrated on quality rather than quantity.

The highlight of many highlights, this year, was a fantastic trip to Papua New Guinea, fulfilling a lifelong ambition I had dreamed of, for over 50 years. It delivered exactly what it said on the tin. A few months earlier, I had cruised along the coast of Norway, a magical trip, to view the breath-taking ‘Aurora Borealis’. Together with a wonderful trip to France, to see oodles of odonata; plus some amazing sights at home, it proved to be yet another year to remember.

The year started with a northerly incursion, introducing mostly dry, settled and fairly cold conditions, with some overnight frost. The weather then turned mild and unsettled, with some cold snaps and snow in several places. There was a prolonged settled spell, with high pressure in charge, during the second half of the month, which brought mild temperatures for some, but cold frosty weather for others. It turned mild, wetter and changeable towards the end of the month.

A record number of outings for January saw several trips out to Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads, as well as visits to Abberton/Mersea and Mistley, plus my first visit to Wallasea Island.

Rye Meads continued to be the Reserve to visit, demonstrating it wasn’t just cream that floated to the top. There was an early view of a Bittern, this time outside the Kingfisher Hide. What with great views of Water Pipit, Water Rail and Marsh Tit, it proved to be a great start to the year. Having said that, it was Mistley that came away with the honours this month. There was some high-quality stuff here, including Pintail, Goldeneye, Avocet, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Greenshank and Turnstone. Amwell was notable for Smew, Goldeneye, Marsh Tit and Siskin. The visits to Cheshunt were mixed, but there was a drake Smew seen; the first in the area for a couple of years. I also spotted my first Goosander of the season there. The combined trip to Abberton and Mersea was ok-ish - it gave up similar fare as Mistley, but all were quite distant. It was also very cold that day, with most of the lagoons frozen over. Wallasea Island is a new-ish Reserve, a typical RSPB place, quite open. However, it did yield up a pair of male Hen Harriers and several Short-eared Owls.

I was delighted to discover Water Voles reappearing at RM, wildlife that were very conspicuous by their absence last year. A cute little Bank Vole appeared in the usual spot, at Amwell. There were also lots of Hares bobbing around at Wallasea.

February was a milder than average month. It brought winter to a close with above-normal temperatures for all areas. South-westerlies brought wet and windy weather across much of the UK, early on, while easterly winds and Storm Doris brought snow for some in the second week. The third week was generally mild before turning wet and windy towards the end of the month.

This month saw the eagerly anticipated trip to Norway, to see the Aurora Borealis. It was a spectacular sight, over two nights. In fact, it was so good, I’m tempted to pay future visits.

However, it wasn’t just the Northern Lights - I also managed to do a bit of birding during the daylight hours. King and Common Eiders were seen, together with Long-tailed Duck, Common and Velvet Scoter, Goldeneye, Goosander, Red-breasted Merganser, White-tailed Eagle, Purple Sandpiper, Black Guillemots, Coal Tit, Nuthatch, Hawfinch, Bullfinch, Siskin and Snow Bunting. We even managed to spot a Yellow Wagtail - unheard of, in winter!

However, locally, due to the poor weather, I only managed two other visits. One combined trip to Amwell/Rye Meads and one to Cheshunt. On the combined trip I saw Water Rail, Goldeneye, Sparrowhawk, Red Kite, Siskin, Kingfisher, Shelduck, Grey Heron, Chiffchaff, Green Sandpiper, Grey Wagtail, Buzzard and Little Egret. On a slightly better visit to Cheshunt I managed to spot Smew, Little Egret, Water Rail, Jay, a pair of White-fronted Geese, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Kingfisher. I even managed to see what was probably the same pair of Great Crested Grebes in courtship and nesting mode, along the same relief channel as in previous years.

Muntjacs were seen in both areas. However, on the Norway visit, we saw plenty of Reindeer and a wonderful Moose.

It was a rather dry and mild winter, with relatively brief unsettled spells, in contrast to recent winters. Only three ‘named storms’ occurred, compared with eight by the same stage last winter. December ranked as the eighth mildest for the UK in a series since 1910, although some way below the exceptional mildness of the year before. January was also rather mild. December was very dry over southern England, whereas January was particularly dry. February was rather mild, but dull in many areas, with rainfall closer to average.

The weather was changeable, early on, with westerly and south-westerly winds, bringing some wintry showers, but it was mild for most. The first half of the month continued to be mild and changeable, but with some quieter interludes. The weather briefly turned colder by the third week. Several dry, sunny days followed, under sustained high pressure. It turned wetter towards the end of the month.

Seven trips out this month, split between Amwell, Cheshunt and Rye Meads, with a combined trip to Abberton/Mersea Island.

We had reached the point where the winter migrants started to disappear, while the spring migrants started to arrive. However, this created an overlap, producing a few lean times.

The weather was starting to warm up, with the hottest days of the year, so far. The month started brilliantly at Rye Meads, with a spectacular sighting of another Bittern. RM continued to be the Reserve to beat, as the Bittern was seen again later in the month. Shelduck, Sparrowhawk, Oystercatcher, Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and Kingfisher all gave very good views. Elsewhere, Amwell improved, with the last showings of Goldeneye and the ever-dwindling wildfowl. Also seen, were Red-legged Partridge, Redshank, Barn Owl, Coal Tit and Treecreeper. The one trip to Cheshunt afforded a wonderful courtship display by a pair of Great Crested Grebes. I again checked for dogs at the same time. Ahem. Other than a close-up view of a pair of Egyptian Geese, it was an otherwise quiet visit. The combined trip to Abberton/Mersea proved to be a little disappointing, mainly due to the weather, which was foggy for most of the day. All the usual birds were about, but special mentions go to Brent Goose, Goosander, Goldeneye, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Curlew.

Mammal sightings improved this month, as well. The Bank Vole continued to provide some great entertainment at Amwell, while there were more brilliant views of a Water Vole at Rye Meads. Fox and Muntjac both showed well.

The first butterflies of the season appeared, with lots of Commas early on. Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell followed soon after.

Invertebrates also began to appear, with the first Dock Bug of the season showing at Rye Meads. Bee-flies are always one of the first insects to show, a few of them giving some particularly good views. Ladybirds, Bees and Hoverflies were all out in large numbers.

Flowers were now blooming, thanks to the sunshine. The last of the Crocus and Snowdrops were replaced with Daffodils, Hawthorn, Lesser Celandine, Pussy Willow and Primrose.

April started with a weakening area of low pressure, which brought a few showers. It was reasonably warm early on, with plenty of sunshine. From then onwards, temperatures were mostly closer to average, with some cool nights. However, the dry, anticyclonic theme continued, with a late cold snap towards the end of the month and a northerly outbreak which brought scattered wintry showers and some overnight frosts.

Only five trips out this month, due to poor weather and poor health. Three visits were paid to Rye Meads, with one each to Amwell and a walk up the River Stort, encompassing Thorley Wash.

The weather was generally disappointing this month, but it was also offset by a hacking cough, which kept me in for the last half of the month. Temperatures were down on the previous month and this time last year.

The month started out brightly enough, with several visits to Rye Meads. Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Jay and Reed Bunting all showed well. The first of the Warblers also appeared, with Reed & Sedge the vanguard. A Tawny Owl, with young were a surprise, appearing in the Kestrel Box outside the Kingfisher Hide. The one visit to Amwell brought three Garganey, which unusually showed quite well. They normally hunker down during the day, hiding in the reeds. The first walk up the River Stort proved fruitful, with the first Swallow and Blackcap seen. Indeed, warblers started to show up regularly now, with ever-increasing totals of Reed & Sedge Warblers.

Brown Rat, Fox and Muntjac appeared, albeit in low numbers, at Rye Meads, but the star was again a Water Vole, which gave more great, close-up views. A Grass Snake appeared, fleetingly, in between Kingfisher sightings.

Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood butterflies all made their first appearances and looked to be in good form.

No Odonata this month, for me, but they were certainly about, with lots of sightings being reported.

New-for-year insects continued to appear. Alderflies, Banded Snail, Common Carder Bee, Dock Bug, an unidentified Ichneumon, Long-jawed Orb Spider and Nursery Web Spider all showed reasonably well. A few St. Mark’s Flies also appeared, a few days earlier than they did last year.

I was more than happy to see the first Bluebells emerging, at Amwell and Rye Meads, always a great sight. Cowslip, Cow Parsley, Cuckoo Flower and Forget-Me-Knots were all now flowering.

Showers and easterly winds dominated during the first half of this month. The second half was more changeable but warmer, with a notable hot and sunny spell during the final week. It was then followed by significant thunderstorms across many areas at the end of the month.

Sadly, the poor weather and my poor health continued on in to early May. Fortunately, both cleared up by the second week and I was able to get out and about. I paid three visits to Rye Meads with just the one visit to Amwell, plus my annual trip down to the London Wetland Centre in Barnes.

Spring migration was now in full swing. Cuckoos, Terns and Warblers all arrived, slowly at first, but then in goodly numbers. Waders were still around, but most had headed off to their breeding grounds. The Tawny Owls all successfully fledged. Raptors and Hirundines seemed rather low in number; probably because I hadn’t been looking up very much. The LWC provided all the usual captive birds, plus a few extras, such as Little Ringed Plover and Redshank.

No mammals to speak of, this month, other than the star at RM, the Water Vole, which again posed wonderfully. ‘Ratty’ is sooo cute!

Invertebrates were now in full ‘creepy crawly mode’. High numbers of Brimstone, lots of Holly Blues, the last of the Orange Tips, several Peacocks and Red Admirals, a few Small Whites and Speckled Woods all appeared. There was a lovely sighting of a Painted Lady, near to the Kingfisher Hide, at RM, while the LWC presented me with a Common Blue. Mint and Silver Ground Carpet moths were the first to appear, while my moth trap also started to bring in a few species.

The Odonata season finally kicked off! Blues at first, led mainly by Azures, followed by lots of Large Reds and a few Red-eyed. Then my favourites, Banded Demoiselles started to show. The first dragons also started to appear, with the usual Hairy Hawkers leading the way, followed by Black-tailed Skimmers.

The true insects started to come out in large numbers. Seasonal flies, like Alder and St. Mark’s disappeared. The last of the Bee-flies were seen at Rye Meads. Bees themselves, were also out in large numbers. Cuckoo Spit appeared nearly everywhere, indicating a successful Froghopper season. Dark Bush Cricket nymphs were appearing, as were Dock Bugs, Green Nettle Weevils, Green Shield Bugs, Mint Leaf Beetles and even a pair of Green Tortoise Beetles. My first Leaf Beetles appeared. There was the usual swarm of Mayflies, providing a veritable feast for everything else (Note to self: don’t come back as a Mayfly!). Several Red-headed Cardinal Beetles were seen and then I found two Black-headed Cardinal Beetles at RM. Finally, battalions of Soldier Beetles were out in some number, as were Spotted Crane Flies and Thick-kneed Flower Beetles. I even managed to spot my first-ever Rose Chafer, in RM. A Fire Bug and a Ruby-tailed Wasp were seen, fleetingly, at the LWC. However, the star of the month was undoubtedly a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle, found at RM.

The flower of the month was a lovely Bee Orchid, seen at the LWC, only my second sighting of this lovely flower. Other orchids were now in bloom, with the Orchid Garden at Amwell, looking particular beautiful. All areas were now awash with blooms, of all shapes, colours and sizes.

It was generally a warm and rather dry Spring. It was warmer than average during March and early April, but the second half of April was cooler, with some cold nights and numerous late frosts. May was predominantly warm, especially early and late in the month. April was much drier than average for most areas, while May was somewhat wetter. Sunshine was above average for Spring in most areas.

The month was notable for being both warmer and wetter than average. Early June was largely unsettled, bringing significant amounts of rainfall to most areas. Very warm air was then drawn up from the south, briefly bringing the highest temperatures to the country since 1976. Fresher air followed within days and low pressure became established towards the end of the month, bringing rain to many areas.

This month saw a visit to France, for Odonata again. This time, around the La Brenne/Vienne area. Elsewhere, I paid two visits to Amwell and one to Rye Meads.

The month saw the usual seasonal bird desertion. There wasn’t much to see, or to report, only standard stuff for the time of year. However, there were 86 species seen in France, including Red-crested Pochard, Honey Buzzard, Black-winged Stilt, Turtle Dove, Hoopoe, Bee-eater, Black Redstart, Firecrest, Red-back Shrike, Cirl Bunting, Bonelli’s Warbler, Little Bittern, Short-toed Eagle and Whiskered Tern. Not bad, considering it was an odonata trip.

The only mammals/reptiles seen were also in France, with Coypu, Grass Snake, Green Lizard and Slow Worm all a delight to see.

A Blood Vein moth was seen in Amwell, while a Burnet Companion was spotted in Rye Meads. The second brood of Small Tortoiseshells began to appear, while there were Holly Blues, Red Admirals and Meadow Browns aplenty. However, France was the best place to be, as I spotted 46 species. Lots of Fritillaries appeared, including Heath, Marbled, Silver-washed and Weavers. Other notables were Black-veined White, Grey-banded Grayling, Large Chequered Skipper, Lesser Purple Emperor, Map, Swallowtail and Wood White. Moths included Cream Spot Tiger, Fiery Clearwing, Hummingbird Hawkmoth and Scarlet Tiger. It was quite a good haul.

Skimmers and Chasers were starting to appear at both Amwell and Rye Meads, including a lovely male Scarce Chaser at Amwell. Large Red, Red-eyed and my beloved Banded Demoiselles were out in respectable numbers. However, the month was dominated by sightings in France - the main reason for the trip. 44 species were seen, including Common Winter, Dainty, Goblet-marked, Orange Featherleg and White-legged damselflies. The dragons included area specialities, such as Lilypad Whiteface and Yellow-spotted Whiteface, plus Orange-spotted Emerald, Southern Migrant Hawker, Southern Skimmer and Yellow Clubtail. It was a fantastic trip in high temperatures and humidity.

I also managed to find over 60 other species of invertebrate there, too. I was especially delighted to see lots of Blue Chafers, Fire Bugs, a Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, Mediterranean-spotted Chafer, AC Milan bugs, Raft Spiders and Wheat Bug. Back home, I spotted lots of Dark Bush Crickets, another Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle, Scorpion Flies, Speckled Bush Cricket and a few Thick-kneed Flower Beetles.

On the flora front, I managed to find my 3rd Bee Orchid at a 3rd Reserve, in as many weeks. This time at Rye Meads, after seeing several at Amwell. There were orchids aplenty in France, including Heath Spotted and Lizard.