Friday, 7 July 2017

June Highlights!

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

Places Visited:  Amwell; France; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Bonelli’s Warbler
Mammal: Green Lizard
Butterfly: Swallowtail
Odonata: Yellow-spotted Whiteface
Insect: Blue Chafer
Flower: Bee Orchid

June proved that it wasn't quite the end of May!’

The weather was again mixed this month. Cloud, rain, some thunderstorms, but with a scorching week around the middle of the month. Fortunately, it was the week I spent holidaying in France, searching for Odonata, with Naturetrek.

This time, it was around the La Brenne/Vienne area – ‘The Land of a Thousand Lakes’. Elsewhere, I paid two visits to Amwell and one to Rye Meads. It was another low total, due not just to the weather, but also to more humdrum appointments that couldn’t be avoided.

This month saw the usual seasonal bird disappearance. There wasn’t very much to see, or to report, only the usual for the time of year. I had, in fact, started to concentrate on invertebrates.

Even though I was primarily in France to see dragons and damsels, I did keep an eye out for birds. There were 86 species seen, 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. Some of which I even managed to photograph.

The only mammals/lizards this month were also seen in France, with Grass Snake, Green Lizard and Slow Worm the star spots. A few scampering Wall Lizards, a fleeting glimpse of a Coypu and lots of noisy Edible Frogs were also seen.

There was a lovely Blood Vein moth seen in Amwell, while my first Burnet Companion was spotted in Rye Meads. The second brood of Small Tortoiseshells have begun to appear, while there were plenty of Holly Blues, Red Admirals and Meadow Browns about.

However, France was again the best place to be, as I came across 46 species of Lepidoptera. Lots of Fritillaries appeared, including Heath, Marbled, Silver-washed and Weavers. Sadly, they all looked confusingly similar, to my, untrained, eye.

Special mentions also go to 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 a veritable Lepidopterists Heaven.

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 also out in good numbers.

However, the month was dominated by Odonata sightings in France, the main reason for the trip. I was overjoyed to find 44 species. The local specialities were seen, Common Winter, Dainty, Goblet-marked, Orange Featherleg and White-legged damselflies.

The dragons included Lilypad Whiteface, Yellow-spotted Whiteface, Orange-spotted Emerald, Southern Migrant Hawker, Southern Skimmer and Yellow Clubtail.

It was a wonderful trip in high temperatures and humidity, making it a good decision to leave the wet-weather gear behind! The locals were very welcoming, especially a ‘Rene’ look-alike at the first hotel, albeit minus the moustache! The food was fantastic (French bread!), all washed down with cold Leffe and red wine. However, one hotel lacked air-conditioning…scorchio!

I spotted well 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 a Wheat Bug. It was yet another holiday where I had to don the kevlar-reinforced trousers!

At home, I spotted lots of Dark Bush Crickets, another Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle - my second in as many months, 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. There were orchids aplenty in France, including Heath Spotted and Lizard.

Only a few outings again this month, but it was dominated by the holiday to France, which was excellent. I’m hoping that the one week of good weather won’t be the last.

How lucky I am to be doing something that makes saying goodbye so hard.’
Winnie the Pooh

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Tuesday, 13 June 2017

May Highlights!

Weather: A month of two halves. The first half of the month started with showers and easterly winds. The second half was more changeable but warmer. There was a notable hot and sunny spell heading in to the final week, which was then compounded by significant thunderstorms across many areas at the end of the month.

Places Visited:  Amwell; Rye Meads; WWT Barnes.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Redshank
Mammal: Water Vole
Butterfly: Painted Lady
Odonata: Large Red
Insect: Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn Beetle
Flower: Bee Orchid

Now is the time to understand more, so we may fear less.’ Marie Curie

Sadly, the poor weather and my poor health continued on in to May. Fortunately, both cleared up by the end of 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. RM again extended its’ lead, with quite a few interesting sightings. The visit to the LWC was a little later in the year than I would have liked, as I missed the Bluebell and Snake’s Head Fritillary displays.

Spring migration is continuing apace. The female Bittern was reported early in the month, but nothing has been seen or heard since, despite a well-organised ‘Bittern Watch’. Cuckoos, Terns and Warblers have all arrived, slowly at first, but then in good numbers.

Even though the wildfowl numbers have dwindled, there are still good populations of Pochard about. There is also a lone Wigeon mysteriously hanging around at RM. Raptors seem to have been few and far between. However, that may be because I haven’t been looking up.

Fewer and fewer waders are about now, most having departed for their summer breeding grounds. However, the ubiquitous Lapwings still remain, with successful breeding having commenced, especially at RM, with one pair producing 3 chicks. Oystercatcher, Redshank and Little Ringed Plover have all paid several fleeting visits to the area. Common Sandpiper and Snipe were last spotted early on in the month.

Common Terns have arrived and have even managed to sneak a few spaces on the rafts at both Amwell and RM. However, Black-headed Gulls continue to dominate and crowd them out. Chicks are now abundant, all fluffy and cute.

The first Cuckoos were heard and then seen. One lucky lady saw 3 together, at RM! Now, that’s just being greedy. I eventually managed to see a female, on the dead tree, outside the Kingfisher Hide.

The Tawny Owlets, at RM, finally fledged, with one or two still being seen around the area. Hirundines are still scarce, for me anyway. Again, probably because I’ve not been looking up. Swifts are also now present, but again, in low numbers. I really must look up on occasion.

The resident RM Kingfisher pair fledged their first brood, right at the end of the month. At least 5, maybe 6, fledglings were seen. I, of course, turned up the next day.

The over-wintering Cetti’s and Chiffchaff numbers were swollen with incoming migrants. They were ably accompanied by goodly numbers of Reed, Sedge and Blackcap, with sightings of Willow and Garden. The passerines were now mostly absent, probably tending to young.

These were all either at Amwell or RM. My visit to the LWC provided sightings of birds I wouldn’t normally get to see. It’s the reason why I visit. A high total included Bewick’s Swan, White-headed Duck, Eider, Black Swan, Whistling Ducks, Red-breasted Goose and Southern Screamer. All of them close up and a delight to see; especially at feeding time.

Plus, of course, they also had the birds I do normally see, including Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Common Tern, Smew, Goldeneye and Sand Martin. Oddly, not many Warblers were heard or seen. Possibly because of too much disturbance - i.e. families?

There weren’t too many mammals or other such-like about this month. ‘Ratty’ the Water Vole was the star again, at RM. A Grass Snake was seen, fleetingly, as were several Brown Rats.

I was delighted to discover that the invertebrate season was now in full swing. More and more butterflies were now on the wing. Respectable numbers of Brimstone, lots of Holly Blues, the last of the Orange Tips, several Peacocks and Red Admirals were now about, while a few Small Whites and Speckled Woods started to appear. There was a lovely sighting of a Painted Lady, near to the Kingfisher Hide, while the LWC presented me with my first Common Blue of the season.

Several Mint Moths were also now starting to appear, as were Silver Ground Carpets. My moth trap was starting to bring in some interesting stuff, including Bee Moth. When, of course, I remember to keep the corridor window open!

The Odonata season has finally started! Deep joy! Blues at first, led mainly by Azures, followed by lots of Large Reds and a few Red-eyed. Then my favourites, the Banded Demoiselles started to show. The first dragons started to appear, with the usual Hairy Hawkers leading the charge, being ably supported by Black-tailed Skimmers. It was a good start and I’m hoping it will continue.

More and more Ladybirds, of varying spots, were being seen. The seasonal flies, like Alder and St. Mark’s came and went. The last of the Bee-flies were seen, at Rye Meads, early on - it’s been a good season for them. Likewise, it was also good to see plenty of Bees out in large numbers, always pleasing to witness. Cuckoo spit appeared nearly everywhere I looked, indicating that a large number of Froghoppers will soon be appearing. Dark Bush Cricket nymphs were about, as were Dock Bugs. There were sightings of Green Nettle Weevils, Green Shield Bugs and even a pair of Green Tortoise Beetles.

My first Leaf Beetles appeared. There were lots of Mayflies and Mint Leaf Beetles. Several Red-headed Cardinal Beetles were a delight to see, but I then found two Black-headed Cardinal Beetles at RM. Finally, Soldier Beetles were out in big battalions, as were Spotted Crane Flies and Thick-kneed Flower Beetles. I even managed to spot my first-ever Rose Chafer, which was a lot bigger than I thought they would be. A Fire Bug and a Ruby-tailed Wasp were observed, fleetingly, at the LWC.

However, the star of the month was undoubtedly a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle, found at RM. It was only my second-ever sighting of one.

I was already in ‘Insect Heaven’. I’ll have to start digging out the ‘kevlar-reinforced’ trousers again!

The flower of the month was a lovely Bee Orchid, seen at the LWC, only my second-ever sighting of this lovely flower. Other orchids were also now in bloom, with the Orchid Garden at Amwell, looking particularly beautiful. All areas are now awash with flora, of all shapes, colours and sizes. There are some fantastic displays about now, especially at the LWC and Amwell.

All in all, despite only five visits and a poor(ish) month, weather-wise, it turned out to be an excellent few weeks. Summer is now almost upon us and I’m hoping that it won’t turn out to be another wash-out, like last year. It’s also holiday season and I’ve got some excellent trips lined up!

Watch this space!

I've been searching all over the world for a cure to my travel bug.

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Tuesday, 9 May 2017

April Highlights!

WeatherAt the start of April, an area of low pressure brought showers, building up from the south. It was then reasonably warm until the 9th, with plenty of sunshine for much of the country. From the 10th onwards, temperatures were mostly close to average, with some cool nights, but the dry, anticyclonic theme continued. There was a late cold snap towards the end of the month, when a northerly outbreak brought scattered wintry showers and some overnight frosts.

Places Visited:  Amwell; River Stort/Thorley Wash; Rye Meads.

Star Sightings of the Month:
Bird: Green Sandpiper
Mammal: Water Vole
Butterfly: Small Tortoiseshell
Insect: Bee-fly
Flower: Bluebells

Once the travel bug bites there is no known antidote
and I know that I shall be happily infected until the end of my life.Michael Palin

It was a tale of two halves, this month. The first two weeks were quite productive, whilst, unfortunately, the final two were disastrous, due to ill health.

However, before the illness, I managed visits out to Amwell, Rye Meads and the first outing of the year along the River Stort, ending up in HMWT Thorley Wash.

It was also a case of ‘April Showers’ this month, as most days were either wet or overcast. However, of the five days that I did manage to get out and about, all were sunny, warm and with clear(ish) skies.

First up, was a visit to Rye Meads, continuing its’ fine run of form and lead on the merit table. Two more visits were made, later in the month and sightings included Shelduck, Little Ringed Plover, Redshank, Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Jay and Reed Bunting. The first of the new seasons’ Warblers showed here, with Reed & Sedge giving sporadic views.

The Green Sandpipers performed admirably, walking right up to the Hide, giving some great close-up views, in the sunshine. The Grey Wagtails did the same, while the resident male Kingfisher flew up on to the nearest stick, delighting everyone present. A pair of Redshank weren’t as accommodating, but were nonetheless a great sight to see.

If that wasn’t enough, a Tawny Owl was spotted nesting in the Kestrel Box, outside the Kingfisher Hide. A little later, it was confirmed that at least 2 chicks were also present. They weren’t good views, but it was fantastic to see them poking their little heads out, looking at us looking at them.

The one visit to Amwell brought me Little Egret, Garganey, Sparrowhawk, Oystercatcher, and Reed Bunting. The water levels were still quite high, meaning not much action was seen on the wader front; apart from the Oystercatchers and Lapwing. However, it was the 2 male and 1 female Garganey that were the stars of the day. All eventually giving some terrific views from the Watchpoint and the White Hide.

The following week I decided to try my luck with a stroll up the River Stort, towards HMWT Thorley Wash. It was a very good decision. The walk allowed me to spot my first Swallow and Blackcap of the season. There were plenty of other warblers about, including more Sedge Warblers. A couple of Buzzards were seen, screaming high in the sky and I even heard the brief, but distinctive call of a Water Rail.

Due to the wet weather, it wasn’t too surprising to see plenty of wildfowl still about. Although, numbers were noticeably down this month.

On the Mammal front, Brown Rat, Fox and Muntjac appeared at Rye Meads. However, the star of month was again ‘Ratty’ the Water Vole. It showed up again, in the same place as before, giving more great views, as it chewed on the bark. A Grass Snake appeared, fleetingly, in between Kingfisher sightings.

More and more butterfly species appeared. Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Orange Tip, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood all showed well. There were further sightings of Brimstone, Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell. Unfortunately, no moths have showed yet, despite my homemade ‘moth trap’, where I keep the corridor windows open, overnight.

The Odonata season has begun without me, illness unfortunately keeping me in. The Dragonfly Trail is now open at Amwell and I’m extremely keen to pay my first visit. In fact, I’m desperate to pay a visit to see Odonata anywhere at the moment.

New invertebrates continue to appear and in some numbers, too. Alderflies, Banded Snail, Common Carder Bee, Dock Bug, an unidentified Ichneumon, Long-jawed Orb Spider and Nursery Web Spider were all new-for-year. A few St. Mark’s Flies also appeared, a few days earlier than they did last year.

Despite the mainly poor(ish) weather this month, it was good to see lots of insects about. It’s always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

The first Bluebells appeared, at Amwell and Rye Meads, always a delight to see. Cowslip, Cow Parsley, Cuckoo Flower and Forget-Me-Knots were all flowering now.

So, after a good start to the month, everything then went downhill. I’ve come to the conclusion that ‘over-the-counter’ medicines aren’t much good.

Hopefully, the weather will warm up and the sun will shine, enabling me to see my first dragons and damsels of the season very soon.

Revolution must be spontaneous.’ Rosa Luxemburg

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