Wednesday, 9 July 2014

River Stort, Sawbridgeworth - 25th June 14

Weather: Warm and sunny. Slight cloud.

Birds Total: 32
Plus: Comma, Five-Spot Burnet, Large Skipper, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies. Small Magpie Moth. Various other moths.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red damselflies. Emperor, Hairy dragonflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Crane Fly; Cuckoo Spit; Flesh Fly; Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle; Ladybird Larvae, Harlequin Ladybird; Hoverflies; Mayfly; Sawfly; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle, White-tailed Bumble Bee.

The weather forecast for today was sun in the morning and cloud and light rain in the afternoon. In the event it was sunny more or less all day. Which, of course, was good news.

But, with possible rain in mind for the afternoon, I opted to go for another local walk. Again in search of Banded Demoiselles. The day started quite well and soon livened up even more.

Before I had even left the building I had spotted several, as yet unidentified, moths. And before I had even entered the trail several Swifts were seen and heard screaming past overhead. Not long after I had started up the trail a pair of Common Terns could be seen flying up and down the river. Quite a good start.

All along the trail ladybird larvae were visible in most of their various stages, most of them being Harlequins. Several butterflies could also be seen, mainly Small Tortoiseshells, but with an accompaniment of some Whites.

Then, after only about 5 minutes, I came across the first Demoiselles, males fluttering up as I walked by. They weren't quite in the perfect position for me, I was facing the sun, so I made the decision to carry on as I was pretty confident that more would be seen further along the trail.

Thankfully I was right. Eventually, scores were seen throughout the walk. Mainly males, but also several females. One of the better areas I came upon was just before a bridge. The sun was in the right position, the damsels were in also in the right position and, more importantly, they were up close and accessible.

They kept flitting up every time I moved so I soon learnt to stay still and soon they stopped flying around and posed. Every few seconds one of them would lift off and chase a midge, bringing it back to the original spot to consume. Then, every time a female appeared about half-a-dozen males would fly up and chase her, all looking like
metallic blue comets darting by.

Having photographed most of them from almost every angle I moved on. People were passing by, most bidding me a 'Good Morning', some cyclists, some joggers and some dog-walkers. There weren't as many as the last time though. And the area thankfully didn't smell like a canine cesspit like the last time either. Well, not much.

The sun was managing to avoid most of the clouds and when it shone it became very hot. Factor50 had been applied, especially to the parts burnt by the Madeiran sun last week. More importantly, it was bringing out the wildlife, especially the insects.

Further along the trail I was starting to get my eye in. It wasn't too difficult with the Demos but I also began seeing other damselflies, mostly Common Blues early on, but then some Azures and Blue-tailed were being seen later, all fluttering up as I walked by.

Then I came across my first Thick-kneed Flower Beetle of the year, a small, metallic green beetle with, well, thick knees. Hoverflies were everywhere, some of them flying up close to me, probably wandering what I was. Some were happy to pose for me, some weren't and flew off.

Every few steps more and more Demos appeared. I had photographed many males but what I was now after were the females and they were fairly few and far between. They only usually frequented the river when looking for a mate or to lay eggs. I had spotted one female and was trying to get close to her when I flushed out a Mallard, with chicks, who all swam off quickly, unfortunately scaring up the female, who flew even further away.

I walked on. A Large Skipper appeared, my first of the year, its' bright orange iridescence catching my eye. It flew around the area then landed. Then a Ringlet appeared, another first of the year. It also landed and posed, closing its wings and showing me the reason for its name. I was delighted to see one of these, especially locally. But later on more and more appeared and I soon became a bit blasé about them. Mainly due to the fact that they were particularly skittish.

More and more Demos appeared, again males. More and more Large Skippers and Ringlets appeared. Then, finally, a female Demo appeared and settled, allowing a few photos. It was getting warmer and it was also starting to turn into a very good day. The metallic greens and yellows of the female reflected the sunlight as she kept a wary eye on me to make sure that I didn't get too close to her.

It was fairly quiet on the bird front, that time of year. But I had already seen Greater Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, both noisily flying around, the GSW drumming away. There were also a few displaying Skylarks in the adjacent fields. The males were trying to outdo each other by trying to ascend as high as they could go, before descending, singing their hearts out. For some reason it reminded me of a tune.

It was quiet on the Warbler front, hearing Chiffchaff back at the start of the trail. A few Blackcaps were about but it was mainly Whitethroats in evidence. Surprisingly, I didn't hear one Reed or Sedge Warbler this time out.

I then came across another pretty good area for Demos. I began playing with the settings of the new camera to see which gave the sharpest shot. It was while I was doing this that I was a little surprised to see a Mayfly flutter by. Their flight season is actually from April until September but the book says that they fly mainly at night. The Sawbridgeworth Mayflies have obviously not read the book. Later on more and more appeared, fluttering up from the river, some being taken by the birds, some being taken by the Demos. It all looked like a popular take-away. I made a mental note not to come back as a Mayfly.

Cuckoo Spit was about, the frothy blobs clinging on to various plants and I was pleased to see lots of Bees also buzzing around the area. They seemed to be doing well here, which is good news. More butterflies appeared, Speckled Woods amongst them and then I spotted a Red Admiral, my first sighting of the year in Hertfordshire. Although, annoyingly, it didn't stop to say hello.

I then arrived at the apex of my walk. I had decided to stop at the same place as last time. I didn't want to get caught out in the forecasted rain. As I sat down for lunch more Demos flew all around me. I heard, then saw, a Kingfisher flash past. On the opposite side of the river, high up on a dead tree were a pair of Cormorants, looking down, surveying their domain. The recognisable bubbling sound of about half-a-dozen Goldfinches could be heard above me and I saw them fly over to land on one of the bushes opposite. High in the sky a Buzzard could be seen utilising the thermals.

Lunch was soon over and it was time to get back to work. As I continued to watch the Demos I spotted a male fly up as a female flew past. He managed to grab onto her and force her down onto a leaf. There was none of the usual elaborate courtship here, both forming the usual heart-shape and copulation beginning immediately. A couple of minutes later it was all over. The male let her go and then, surprisingly, flew off. I, of course, recorded it all, for posterity.

Whilst I was photographing them a Small Tortoiseshell butterfly flew past me and landed, also posing nicely. I gratefully clicked away at it. Then I spotted a male Demo caught in a spider's web. It was still struggling so, after taking a few photos, I helped set it free. Hey, that's the kind of guy I am.

I started on the return journey and saw pretty much the same thing. More pairs of Demos were creating future generations. More Whitethroats appeared, flying back and forth with food then a party of Long-tailed Tits flew by, one of them pausing to have a look at me. I tried singing its' 3-note call but it ignored me and flew off. Maybe I was out of tune.

Then I spotted an unidentified beetle fly in and land on a leaf. It looked like one of the longhorns. I later identified it as a Golden-bloomed Grey Longhorn beetle - my first ever sighting of one!

More Demos presented themselves for immortality. I was just thinking that the obvious omission from the list was a sighting of some dragonflies, when along came a Hairy dragonfly. It didn't settle, of course, just continued to fly up and down, protecting his piece of turf.

Then I found a dug-out area by the river obviously used by fishermen. I sat down and watched as a few Demos flew up close and settled back down. As I was taking photos of them I noticed a pair of mating Large Red damselflies fly in. They looked quite small compared to the Demos. The other red species of damselfly, the scarcer Small Red, must be really small. They landed and the female soon began ovipositing. His protection job done, the male then flew off and landed on a nearby reed, looking out for midges to feed on.

A little further down the trail I came to a small area that kept me occupied for about 20 minutes. First up was a Comma, which landed on the path in front of me. Then my first sighting this year of a pair of Five-spot Burnets, who, after about 10 minutes of fluttering around finally landed, allowing a few quick photos. Then a pair of mating Common Blue damselflies flew in. Everyone was at it!

Another Large Skipper flew by and then landed right next to a Ringlet. I wondered if they were passing the time of day, or exchanging notes? Another Whitethroat flew in and landed nearby on a branch, seemingly wishing to get in on the act or maybe he was eyeing up the tasty Mayflies that were here. And, lastly, for this little stint, an Emperor dragonfly was seen flying past.

There were, of course, several more Demo photo opportunities but a person could only have so much excitement in one day.

For a local walk it was surprisingly fruitful. I managed to get back home before it clouded over completely.