Thursday, 16 July 2015

Phew, what a scorcher!

Sawbridgeworth, River Stort - 1st July 15

Weather: Hot and humid all day. Clouding over early afternoon.

Bird Total: 29
Plus: Large Skipper, Large White, Marbled White, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Ringlet, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies. 5-spot Burnet moth.
Plus: Azure, Banded Demoiselle, Blue-tailed, Common Blue, Large Red damselflies. Black-tailed Skimmer, Emperor, Four-spotted Chaser, Hairy dragonflies.
Plus: 2, 7 and 16-spot Ladybirds, plus larvae; Bluebottle; Capsid Bug; Crane Fly; Flesh Fly; Green Nettle Weevil; Hoverflies; Mayfly; Pond Skater; Scorpion Fly; Spotted Crane Fly; Thick-kneed Flower Beetle; White-tailed Bumble Bee.
Plus: Cow Parsley.

It was the hottest July day on record today, peaking at around 36 degrees. Strangely enough rain is forecast tomorrow. So we were all advised to stay indoors, out of the sun. I chose to take a walk along the River Stort.

As soon as I stepped outside the door the humidity hit me. But after a few minutes I got used to it. Factor50 splashed all over me and armed with a few bottles of water, what could happen?

I hadn't even arrived at the river and I was already seeing lots of Banded Demoiselles, with plenty of females amongst all the males. All were very flighty, going up at the slightest movement.

From the start there were scores of BDs around, along with numerous blues, Azure, Blue-tailed and Common Blue. All going up before I could get anywhere near them. It must be the heat, giving all of them lots of energy. It will be quite a challenge photographing them today.

There were gratifyingly more butterflies about today, the first to show being a few Small Tortoiseshells. They were the most numerous by far today, with Skippers, both Large and Small close behind. Meadow Browns were being seen in some number as well, but the best spots of the day, Lepidoptera-wise, were a Marbled White and a couple of 5-spot Burnets.

I arrived at the first little bridge and found lots of BDs flying around. I had to be quite patient and so sat down for a few minutes while they all settled back down. Once they had I was given a few opportunities. Every now and then a female would fly by, putting up all the local males, who chased after her. If it wasn't a female putting them up it was territorial disputes or the capture of a tasty Mayfly. Then a huge Catfish swam lazily underneath the lilly-pads, scaring up a few damsels.

After about 15 minutes of photography and with the hot sun on my neck, I decided to move on. More BD opportunities presented themselves but the Gods seemed against me early on, as I had to wait patiently for all the pieces of the jigsaw to come together. I had to slowly creep up on the target; the sun had to be in the right position; the target had to be facing the right way and, finally, the wind had to stop moving the reeds they were perched on.

Then a male Emperor dragonfly appeared, flying up and down the river. Actually, he seemed to be following me as I walked down the trail. Either that or there were several of them, as he remained with me for quite a while. Or maybe I was following him?

A little further on, while I was trying to photograph another BD, a Large Red damselfly appeared and posed. Then I thought I heard a Kingfisher call out, but I couldn't see it. A Four-spotted Chaser flashed past, a delight to see! A Large Skipper flew past as well, not stopping to say hello.

A little further on. A Small Skipper then appeared and it did stop to say hello, landing nearby, while a male Hairy dragonfly flew past, checking all the nooks and crannies for females or rival males. Then a Black-tailed Skimmer flew quickly past! I don't normally see many dragons along this stretch of the river and I had already clocked up 4 decent species.

Then, amazingly, the Marbled White butterfly fluttered past me. Unfortunately, it didn't stop and was soon out of sight. That was a great sight to see. It was a good choice to take a walk down here. I was going to visit Fishers Green today, but, because of the hot weather, decided to wimp out and visit here. An excellent decision so far!

I was exposed to the hot sun for the first part of the walk, but then I arrived at the main bridge which took me across the canal to the shady part. Slightly better, in that not only was I now in the shade but that the canal was in the sun, along with the BDs. But the first thing I spotted on this side was a Scorpion Fly, with a snack, probably a Midge.

Apart from the Catfish early on, I could now see some Perch swimming along. The canal was fairly clear today. Most of the Narrowboats were tied up, a few people passed me by, mainly joggers, with dogs. And I did, indeed, spot some doggie-bags along the way. But, on the whole, not too many people braved the heat. And the usual odours and aromas were missing today.

Eventually I reached the apex of my walk today. I didn't want to travel too far, especially after yesterday's 8km walk. The place that I usually sit down and have lunch was in direct sunlight, so I found a nice shady spot and finished off the first bottle of water.

Then, lunch over, I checked the nearby brambles for any interesting insects. I found a few Spotted Crane Flies; lots of Ladybirds, including another 2-spot; a Capsid Bug; a Green Nettle Weevil and a Thick-kneed Flower Beetle. A nice haul!

But, while I was on the hunt for them, I could hear a bird calling nearby. I looked up and, not 3 metres away, was a gorgeous Garden Warbler, balanced on one of the reeds in front of me. It didn't seem to mind me being so close and posed really well for me.

On the dead trees opposite, over the other side of the Canal, perched high up were a couple of ubiquitous Cormorants. Lower down a Dunnock could be seen. I heard another Kingfisher in the area. Surprisingly I didn't see or hear any Skylarks. They are usually in the adjacent fields but seem to be absent this year.

I started on the journey back. Clouds had now arrived, blotting out the sun and, with a cool breeze, it had actually started to cool down a little. Then I spotted a juvenile Black-tailed Skimmer trying to take in the disappearing sun, on the path in front of me. Despite a few joggers and dog-walkers going past and scaring it up, I still managed a few shots of him.

Then a Kingfisher flashed past, flying up the Canal. A Great Spotted Woodpecker sounded off. Then I could hear several Whitethroats calling out and then they appeared on the nearby trees, a family group.

I was just thinking that, around this time last year I had seen Burnet Moths and was wondering if they would show up this year. Of course 2 of them then appeared, in the same area as last year. Both 5-spot Burnets, with one of them flying close and perching up. More Red Admirals and Small Skippers showed.

In between the passing, noisy trains, I could hear, then see a few Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings. Then I was almost back to the start, seeing a few Swallows and Swifts flash past. I hadn't hung about on the return journey, mainly because the sun had gone in and most of the BDs had hunkered down.

Then, just before I got back onto the main road, I was amused to see a Narrowboat, tied up, called 'Firkham Hall'. My sentiments exactly!

Another great day out, even in the heat and humidity. It was valuable training for my French holiday coming up soon.

'I saw a documentary on how ships are kept together; it was riveting.'