Friday, 29 August 2014

Rye Meads - 29th July 14

Weather: Very hot, slight cloud, cool breeze.

Birds Total: 42
Plus: Brimstone, Common Blue, Green-veined White, Holly Blue, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Small White butterflies. Cinnabar Moth caterpillar.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies; Black-tailed Skimmer, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Southern Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Flesh Fly; Hoverfly; Scorpion Fly; Pond Skaters.
Plus: Konik Ponies; Water Vole.

There had been a few interesting sightings at RM in the last few days, Black-tailed Godwit; Greenshank; Garganey and Snipe to name a few. So I decided that it was time for another visit. Even if they weren't still around there were always the Black-necked Grebes and the Kingfishers to see. And I might even get to see a Water Vole.

It was still very hot and humid out, the run of very good weather still with us. On the way down to the Reserve I spotted a pair of Common Terns overhead. And while I was setting up I could see Greenfinch; Great Tit; Chaffinch and Pheasant.

But the bad news was that I was told the Draper Hide was closed for renovation. Fairly annoying as this was the Hide that the interesting sightings were seen from. Had I known I would probably have gone elsewhere.

Anyway, as I was here I continued on. By the first pond I spotted a few Cinnabar Moth caterpillars on the usual Ragwort. There were a couple of Blue-tailed damselflies and there was also a Scorpion Fly present.

I reached the wooden walkway and immediately spotted a male Banded Demoiselle damsel, the first of several seen today. There was nothing to be seen out over the meadow, other than the Ponies. I hung around the newly named 'Water Vole Corner' and finally got my first glimpse of Ratty, darting across the stream. I decided to hang around a little longer and was rewarded with a much better view as it swam into view and posed, eating a few strands of grass. My first sighting of one this year.

A Pied Wagtail could be heard flying overhead and there was a Brown Hawker patrolling the area. Moving further up the trail a Common Darter appeared and also posed for me. I reached the Draper and did indeed find it closed. Frustrating.

Butterflies started to appear, Common Blue; Green-veined White; Holly Blue; Small White and Speckled Wood. A male Blackcap appeared, chacking away. Then a Green Woodpecker sounded off.

I had a quick look from the Twin Hides. Apart from BHGs and Coots only Common Terns could be seen from the Tern Hide. The two juvenile Black-necked Grebes were on their own now, their parents had disappeared. They were at the far end of the lagoon, diving under every now and then. There was also a Little Grebe family in the area.

I spent an hour or so in the Kingfisher Hide. The Kingfishers didn't give as good a display as before, that was nearly impossible. But almost. There wasn't much else about though. Not even very many people, it seemed a bit quiet today, a little bit puzzling in this lovely weather.

On the trail down to the Warbler Hide I spotted a Gatekeeper butterfly then a pair of Chiffchaffs 'hueeting' to each other. Then a Red Admiral, a Brimstone, another Common Darter and a lovely Southern Hawker, who posed for me, all appeared.

There was nothing to report from the Warbler Hide. On the way back I spooked a Song Thrush, which flew angrily off.

I spent another hour or so in the Kingfisher Hide. It was the same as before but with the addition of hearing a Cetti's Warbler; a Water Rail and a Great Spotted Woodpecker. A little Wren was darting about just in front of the Hide.

On the route back there was a Little Egret on the one of the lagoons - Egrets, I've seen a few! I found the Draper Hide had re-opened and while I was in there I spotted a pair of Mute Swans with 5 Cygnets; 2 Grey Herons, one of which was sporting a new line in footwear; a pair of Garganey; a Little Grebe family; 1 Lapwing; 4 Green Sandpipers and at least one Snipe. But there weren't too many other birds about, as to be expected.

It turned out to be a very good day out, despite the closure of the Draper Hide.

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.

Monday, 25 August 2014

RSPB Rainham Marsh - 24th July 14

Weather: Very hot and humid. Slightly cloudy at times with a fair wind.

Birds Total: 39
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Common Blue, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Green-veined White, Large Skipper, Meadow Brown, Painted Lady, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood butterflies. Cinnabar Moth caterpillar.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle Fly; Lizard; Marsh Frog (H); Wasp Spider.
Plus: Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Small Red-eyed damselflies; Brown Hawker, Emperor, Common Darter, Ruddy Darter, Red-veined Darter dragonflies.

***My 100th Post***
It's been very therapeutic!

It was another very hot, humid day and so I made a decision to head down to Rainham Marshes for another visit.

I went specifically to try and see Water Vole; Ruddy Darter and any Lizards that may be about. In the event, I saw plenty of Darters but only one tiny Lizard. I didn't get a sniff of any Voles.

But the bonus species I spotted were about a dozen Wasp Spiders in the same place as last year; a Painted Lady butterfly; a pair of Bearded Tits; a Marsh Harrier and a pair of Black-tailed Godwits. I think I also photographed a female/juvenile Red-veined Darter. If I'm correct it's the first one I've ever seen.

The Reserve was quite packed with people, the dog-walkers thankfully being kept to the public paths. Although it was sweltering in the sun there was a nice cooling wind about to keep the temperature down.

I decided to go around the Reserve clockwise today, mainly to try and see the Water Voles by the bridge, just before you get to the Purfleet Hide. On the way I spotted plenty of butterflies as I did all day. First up were Meadow Browns and Small Whites, followed by a few Cinnabar Moth caterpillars. Blackberries were everywhere.

Out over the meadows, in amongst all the cattle, were Little Egrets; Grey Herons and Lapwing. I reached the bridge and stood there for around 20 minutes but unfortunately there was no sign of Ratty. But I did get to see a few Small Red-eyed damselflies. An Emperor dragon was patrolling the area. I would have liked to have stayed a bit longer but the heat was quite oppressive and so I sort out the coolness of the Purfleet Hide.

I settled in and looked out seeing, amongst all the vegetation, a dozen or more Lapwing; a few Little Egrets and more Grey Herons. All the usual fowl were swimming about, including a pair of Teal.

I moved on, slowly around the trail, keeping an eye out for dragons and lizards. I soon came upon my first Ruddy Darters. A pair, embraced in courtship, flying around the area. They soon landed on a reed, the male keeping hold of the female. As I walked on more and more Darters appeared. In fact, the Ruddy was more common here than the Common. I think I only saw one Common Darter all day.

Looking out over the stream I could see a Little Grebe family. There were a few Reed Warblers flying about and at least one Reed Bunting. Actually it was very quiet on the Warbler front. I only heard Blackcap and Whitethroat calling, the rest were all very quiet. I could see lots of Swallows flying around overhead.

A Common Blue butterfly flew past, obviously way too busy to pose for me. Then I spotted a Demoiselle flying in the distance. I couldn't quite make out which one but it was probably a Banded. My eye was then caught by one of the Skippers. On closer inspection it turned out to be an Essex.

I then reached the Marshland Discovery Zone but only discovered one Little Grebe and one Coot. One of the Reserve Volunteers was present with some pond dipping kit, trying to attract the children.

I soon found myself walking a bit quicker, as I could see a couple of guys, with tripods, looking out over the nearby ponds. Just before I arrived I could hear the tell-tale pinging of a pair of Bearded Tits and then I spotted them flying around the reeds. The guys confirmed it when I arrived at their position. I stood for a few minutes and managed to see the birds several more times but they didn't get any closer.

I headed off, looking out over the fields and in the distance I could see a Marsh Harrier gliding around. I then passed by the Firing Range area and walked along the stream where we saw a few Water Voles last year. It was quite overgrown and, despite looking for around 20 minutes, I failed to spot any.

Sitting in the Shooting Butts Hide looking out I could see a Mute Swan family; a lone Little Grebe; more Little Egrets; a flock of Linnets flying over and plenty more Lapwing. Break for lunch.

Moving on I came across a large Buddleia bush where I found, in amongst all the Peacocks and Small Torts, a very drab Painted Lady, my second one of the year. This was the area where the suspected Red-veined Darter was found.

Gatekeeper butterflies started to show as I entered the Northern Boardwalk area, a few more Meadow Browns amongst them. There were quite a few birds out on Aveley Flash including a lone Common Tern, perched up on one of the poles; a pair of Great Crested Grebes and a pair of Shoveler, all in amongst the Canada Geese; Coot and ducks.

The trains continued to speed noisily by as I walked around the area.

Then I found myself sitting on some comfortable cushions in the Ken Barrett Hide. There were a few people in here, from Maidstone, making their first visit. They seemed quite impressed with the Reserve. Unfortunately, there wasn't much about outside, other than a Grey Heron fly-by. Another Ruddy Darter landed on a reed right in front of us.

I headed off to the woodland area to try and spot some Shield-bugs. On the way, photographing yet another Darter, I spotted the only Lizard of the visit, a tiny one, not much bigger than a salamander, dart across the path and disappear. And, just before I got there, I came across a couple of guys looking for Wasp Spiders in the same area I saw them in last year. The spiders, not the guys. They helpfully pointed out several females, mostly attended by one or two much smaller males.

In the woodland I finally started to hear some warblers, Blackcap and Whitethroat. But the search for shield-bugs proved fruitless. Actually I wasn't sure if it was me but I didn't spot too many insects at all, especially around this area. But there were plenty of posing Darters.

That was the end of the circuit but I couldn't resist having another quick look for Ratty. No show unfortunately, it was probably too hot even for them. So I had another quick look in the Purfleet Hide. I'm glad I did because a pair of Black-tailed Godwits turned up, quite distant but good views nonetheless. Just behind them to the right, a lone Green Sandpiper could be seen, bobbing its tail up and down as it walked around.

That was it for me, it was way too hot. I headed off about 4-ish for the 2 hour journey back. A mixed bag today, some disappointments but some bonuses. And all in the hot sun.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Amwell Nature Reserve - 22nd July 14

Weather: Very hot and humid, some light cloud. Quite windy early on, settling down later.

Birds Total: 32
Plus: Green-veined White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Red Admiral, Six-spotted Burnet, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies. Cinnabar Moth caterpillars.
Plus: 7-spot Ladybird; Bank Vole; Hoverfly; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Solder Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Red-eyed Damselflies; Black-tailed Skimmer, Broad-bodied Chaser, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor Dragonflies.

It was forecast to be rather overcast and cloudy for this area today. In the event it was quite sunny with only a few clouds. But it was rather hot and humid too, sapping the energy levels. Yesterday's long stint may have had something to do with cutting the visit short as well.

But another reason was the lack of birds. It's that time of year when most birds, having finished their parental duties and fledged their young, start to moult into their migratory feathers, for the long journey back. So the total today was markedly down on previous visits, notably yesterday's local visit.

But, at this time of year, knowing that the birds disappear for a while, we Birders start looking for other things. For me it's Dragons and Damsels.

About 40 or so Canada Geese were waiting to greet me as I arrived on the trail down to the Reserve. 3 Greylag Geese were actually on the trail warily watching me pass by, the male hissing at me as I went. A party of Long-tails made their way through the branches, calling to each other.

I was passed by lots of cyclists and joggers but, this time, not too many dog-walkers. There weren't too many Birders about either, possibly wisely keeping in out of the hot sun. Or maybe they had made an earlier visit just after sun-up.

Walking down the track I noticed lots of blackberries ripening into their juicy-looking black form. Is it me or is that a little early this year?

Just before the bridge to the watch-point I spotted lots of Cinnabar Moth caterpillars dining on their favourite Ragwort.

Looking out from the watch-point I could see lots of Peacock butterflies close in; a pair of Little Egrets; 5 Grey Herons; a lone Common Sandpiper; a lone Great Crested Grebe with 3 Humbugs; several Common Tern and a couple of dozen Lapwing. There wasn't much else about, other than BHGs and Coots and Mutes. There weren't even many ducks about.

The sun was beating down on me already and I craved a bit of shade so I started off up the trail towards the James. On the way a Speckled Wood fluttered by and then landed nearby, while a Green Woodpecker sounded off somewhere in the distance.

Looking out from the James Hide the Feeders were practically empty. There wasn't much to see other than a pair of juvenile Moorhens swimming about. The Reserve Warden, Jenny Sherwen and some volunteers were working out to the right in the reedbeds.

I decided to head up to the Dragonfly Trail. At the twin lagoons there was only about a dozen or so Red-eyed Damselflies on the lilley-pads with the odd Blue-tailed and a Green-veined White butterfly on the buddleia.

Just into the Trail itself I spotted a Thick-kneed Flower Beetle and a Small Skipper. For the next hour I walked the boards seeing Broad-bodied Chaser; Black-tailed Skimmer; Common Darter; Brown Hawker and an Emperor. A female Emperor later turned up, ovipositing. Lots of Blue damsels were about.

There were a couple of other Birders here as well and we delighted in seeing the inter-action between all the dragons. Most of them (the dragons) posed quite close in. They all looked amazing.

I eventually headed out to the river to try my luck but there wasn't too much about to be seen but I at least heard a Kingfisher. I also spotted a Reed Bunting flitting through the branches. The only other thing I spotted was a Comma butterfly which refused to play ball, eventually disappearing. And just before I left the Trail I saw a 6-spotted Burnet, which at least settled for a shot.

There wasn't anything of note on the return leg. Back at the Bridge I spotted a lone male Banded Demoiselle, fluttering up every few seconds to snap up a midge.

Back in the James Hide, just before lunch, there was a Grey Heron impersonating a statue. But it must have got bored because it took off and left lunch to me. It was eerily quiet, so I decided to move on.

I soon found myself in the White Hide. Where a film crew was present. I didn't ask any questions but just sat in the corner, keeping quiet. After about 15 minutes they all left me to it. There wasn't much to see out on the lake, just another Common Sandpiper on one of the small islets.

On the walk back to the watch-point I spotted what, at first, I thought was a little brown leaf blowing along the trail, but turned out to be a little Bank Vole. It turned around and spotted me. I wasn't sure who was more surprised. But, before I could bring the camera to bear, it scampered off.

Too hot, too few birds. But I managed to see lots of dragons. On the train home a Kestrel flew parallel with me for about 50 yards before flying into land on a tree.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

River Stort and Thorley Wash Nature Reserve - 21st July 14

Weather: Humid, overcast with sunny intervals. Short rain shower.

Birds Total: 37
Plus: Comma, Essex Skipper, Gatekeeper, Green Veined White, Large Skipper, Large White, Meadow Brown, Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Small White, Speckled Wood Butterflies.
Plus: Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue damselflies. Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Emperor, Southern Hawker dragonflies.
Plus: Ladybird Larvae, 7-spot Ladybird; Bluebottle; Dark Bush Cricket; Flesh Fly; Grasshopper; Green Shield Bug; Hoverfly; Mayfly; Red-tailed Bumble Bee; Scorpion Fly; Soldier Beetle; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.

Today I decided to visit Thorley Wash NR, which is a little place a couple of miles north of where I live. I've never been to this Reserve before and a friend of mine had heartily recommended it. It's looked after by the Herts & Middx Wildlife Trust, and has been designated as an SSSI.

I had to walk up the River Stort to get to it and I had only just entered the trail from the main road when I noticed a lone male Banded Demoiselle take off and land on a reed right beside me. When I tried to get close he flew off, but I then noticed another half-a-dozen on the little stream that was flowing adjacent to the river.

I had only gone about 10 yards but soon began unpacking my gear. I could still see and hear traffic on the road behind me and there were a few people walking by. As I was snapping away I heard, then spotted, a couple of dozen Swifts flying high above me, all screaming away; a Reed Warbler, with food for young, flew past me towards the bridge; lots of Feral Pigeons were flying back and forth under the bridge and a Moorhen family with at least a couple of chicks were floating on the river. A pretty good start!

A few steps further on and a few female Demos also appeared, together with a few Common Blues, a pair of which were lovingly entwined. Then, unbelievably, I spotted an Essex Skipper, it's black-tipped antennae giving it away. It sat up perfectly for me.

Unfortunately, just then the sky became overcast as lots of slow-moving fluffy cumulus blotted out the sun. Still, mustn't grumble! It was still warm, it wasn't raining, yet and I was discovering lots of interesting stuff already. I think I must suffer from a form of Biophilia - human attraction to non-human life. If you have ever smelt an aromatic flower or stroked a purring cat, you'll know what I mean. Today I was going to overdose on it.

Dark Bush-crickets appeared, as did a lovely Scorpion Fly. The first of many Peacock butterflies appeared. Then a Sawfly species buzzed in. It looked like it was going to take me quite some time to get to the Reserve today.

I tried to walk further on. A few people were out and about, mainly dog-walkers and a few cyclists. One of which zoomed past me just as I was trying to get a shot of one of the female Demos. It flew up, disturbed. Well, at least he said hello as he sped by. I also spotted a lone Mayfly, doing its' bouncing up and down dance. It was probably wondering where all the others had gone.

Every few steps I took brought up a few more Demos, mainly males. By the time I got back home I had spotted scores and scores of them. But I then came upon a male and a female, both caught in a web. There was no movement and it looked like both had gone to meet their maker. But, below and to the right of them, a very much alive Green-veined White butterfly was gorging on nectar.

I walked on, trying to ignore the Demos, waiting for the sun to re-appear or for them to give me an original pose. I spotted a Collared Dove, singing its signature 3-note song and then I could hear, then see a male Greenfinch, his wheezy call giving him away, high in the trees, over the river. A couple of Goldfinches flew over me, bubbling away.

I eventually left the narrow-boats that were anchored up and the newly-built Flats behind me and found myself with lots of fields around me. Some cattle were grazing on the other side of the river, some of them looking up at me, chewing the cud, idly watching me walk by.

Then, over the field on my side, above me, I could see a couple of Sand Martins flying around, mouths open wide, shoveling up all the midges. There were Reed Warblers singing away nearby, hidden in the reeds; more Peacock butterflies appeared and there were plenty of Soldier Beetles about, some clumped together like regiments.

Trains and Planes were noisily passing by every few minutes. A Chiffchaff was trying to compete but was drowned out. A Blackcap joined in but, he too, was also defeated and soon gave up.

A little further on again and I could hear a Song Thrush singing in the distance, but only when the trains and planes allowed it. A Meadow Brown butterfly appeared but didn't stop to say hello. While I was watching it, I spotted another Scorpion Fly, a male. Its' up-turned tail was showing, for which it was named. And, a little further on again, while I was photographing a Thick-kneed Flower Beetle, I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling. Unfortunately, it never appeared.

Gatekeeper butterflies started to appear, some settling down for a photo. Peacock caterpillars were all over a few flowers, about a couple of dozen of them. Obviously the second batch of the summer.

I was still seeing plenty of Demos but the cloud cover was still around, dropping the humidity a little, thankfully. A Brown Hawker was patrolling this part of the river but didn't look like he was about to perch up for me. An Emperor was seen a little further on from here, but he too never paused for breath.

Then I came to an area, by the river, which was forested, the tree branches hanging out over the river. I slowed down a little and then spooked up a pair of Wrens, who were only a few feet away from me.

I passed by the first Lock, Tednambury. Just after, I came across a Large Skipper resting on a leaf. A Comma flew by whilst I was trying to get a shot of the Skipper. Beside the Skipper there was another Thick-kneed Flower Beetle.

Then I came across a pair of adult Coots which were diving down every now and then, bringing up food for their noisy youngsters who were continually squeaking away, reminding me a Tom Cruise film - 'I feel the NEED! The need to FEED!' Well, something like that.

A couple of Cormorants flew over then a Red Admiral flew up and over me, in to the nearest bushes. While I was photographing yet another pair of Demos I heard, then saw, a pair of Green Sandpipers fly overhead. Now, that was a surprise!

I soon arrived at next Lock, Spellbrook. Just past it, on some bushes, I spotted an early instar Green Shield Bug. While I was busy with the Bug I heard the high pitch call of a Treecreeper. I looked up to a dead tree and a minute or so later it appeared, hopping upwards until it disappeared around the other side of the tree and then I saw it fly off.

A large group of Tits flew through the trees, chattering away, most of them Long-tails. There may have been the odd Chiffchaff amongst them. A Green Woodpecker yaffled its' call somewhere behind them. A male Pheasant joined in the chorus.

Finally I spotted the sign for the Reserve. I sat down when I arrived, took a drink of water and then heard and spotted a Kingfisher zoom past me, under the bridge, flying down the river, like a bright blue and orange bullet. Reed Warbler and Reed Bunting were singing while a Brown Hawker flew around in circles.

The Reserve itself is shaped like a figure of eight, with the bridge entrance the center point. I opted for one of the circles and set off.

For the next hour or so I was entertained by more Demos; Common Darters; lots of butterflies, notably dozens of Peacocks; Speckled Woods; Commas; Green-veined Whites; Red Admirals; at least 3 Small Tortoiseshells; various Grasshoppers and Mayflies. Lots of Warblers were about, mainly Reedies. A lone male Reed Bunting was singing out its' 3-note call somewhere, but, despite taking a few minutes to search for it, remained elusive.

I spotted some more Mayflies, again all doing their up and down dance. I idly wondered if I should tell the earlier lone Mayfly that its friends were here on my way back.

I was really impressed with the area and was about to start the other circle when it inexplicably started to drizzle with rain. I quickly sheltered under a nearby tree and, when it stopped after a few minutes, decided to head back home. But, before that, whilst sheltering, a Bee buzzed up and landed in front of me. It was all white and I wasn't sure which species it was. But I have since read that older bees turn white with age.

I saw pretty much the same thing on the return journey, including a Mute Swan take-off, but, thankfully, the sun finally made an appearance again and gave me some good opportunities to photograph some Demos.

I was out for over 7 hours and was pretty exhausted by the time I returned home. But I really enjoyed the day and was very surprised at not only the bird total, but at the variety of wildlife right in my own backyard! A return visit is certainly on the cards!

For more of my photos please visit my Flickr site.