Monday, 14 April 2014

Monday 14th. April 2014

First , a quick catch up on the weekend , which involved a Bird Walk for one of the LNRs , which went well , even though the sun disappeared as we were starting . Highlights were , good views of a pair of Treecreepers , great views of two Stock Doves , plenty of Blackcap , Chiffchaff and Wren song , and watching a Blue Tit with nesting materials , drop into a hole in a tree just above our heads . Surprisingly common species like Chaffinch , Greenfinch didn't show , but a Mistle and Song Thrush on the ground together , gave good views of their differences . A close up view of a female Slow Worm found under a piece of felt was enjoyed by some , others noticeably eased to the back of the group , but all in all , the group seemed well pleased with what was found .
On Sunday , a visit up on the Greensand Ridge was treated with two short spells of combat , nothing

like the 36 minute epic battle though , and this time it was mostly amongst the vegetation .
This morning , I decided to go and look for Nightingales , and arrived at New Hythe just after 0800 to sunshine , but with it a very chilly wind . Walking in from the industrial estate , bird song was almost non existent , and by the time I arrived at the scrub areas , I was still waiting to hear a single note . Turning left along the ditch , it wasn't until I had almost reached the diver's bridge before I finally heard a few notes . Heading up towards the railway crossing , a couple of other birds broke into song , but not in full stream . In all , I heard 5 possibly 6 singing males , but when one of the rangers came by on his electric cart collecting rubbish , with camera at the ready on the seat beside him , he said he had heard 10 singing males on his round , but like me , hadn't seen a single one . I made my way down towards the fisherman's car park , usually a good spot and en route met Alan / Snodland and Surrounding Area ( link on my side bar ) , who was just returning with his two dogs from that area , having found none there either . We chatted , and I mentioned his brilliant shots of the over wintering Hoopoe ( please use the link and have a look yourself , especially the ones when a raptor was probably overhead ) . I said that I would love to see the bird , but couldn't work out where it had been seen . Alan then kindly offered to show me on his way home , so off he set with the dogs , whilst I headed back to where I parked the car , then drove to meet up again on the other side of the site , near the Shell garage . A short wait after parking again , then along came Allan and dogs , and we headed up some footpaths , climbing most of the time . Suddenly , Alan leading took a worn path to the right and came to a stop at a fence , overlooking an area of short grass at the back of a big house . Alan had not seen the bird on his way down earlier , but quickly spotted it , almost as far away as it could get , but it was there . Alan headed off home , and I watched the bird , feeding and resting , but hardly moving out the 1m. square that it start in . Not knowing how things would pan
out , I attempted a few distant shots like this one . An hour went by , and still it had hardly moved ,
but I was able to point it out to two birders who arrived . Slowly , very slowly , it came a bit closer ,
and whilst I waited for it to get closer still , I managed to get several shots of a pair of Green
Woodpeckers , a species that I normally only manage the odd shot before they fly off . This was the
closest the Hoopoe came , after which it slowly made it's way back towards where it started from , and I left it in peace . Had it not been for meeting Alan , I would never have found the bird , so a big thank you to him . Arriving back at the industrial estate and making the same entrance , it appeared that all the birds were having a siesta , with hardly any song at all . I did find a family of Coot
youngsters , waiting for their parents to return with food , and in the ditch heading down to the diver's
bridge , a Water Vole watched my every step as I passed by , and by the diver's bridge , found the
first of two Large Red Damselflies , the other one in the scrub on the other side of the ditch . A couple of very short burst of Nightingale song from deep in the scrub , and where the path passes under the power lines , another hidden singer , this time a Reed Warbler in a small reedbed .
A look under the refugia on the side of the scrub produced lots of slugs , a few Slow Worms and this
Devil's Coach Horse /Staphylinus olens , a member of the Rove Beetle family . Butterflies seen on site , Sm.Tortoiseshell , Orange Tip , Speckled Wood and Peacock , this one nectaring on Ground
Ivy /Glechoma hederacea , a member of the large Labiate family . Before leaving , a last look where I
found the Water Vole found it eating lunch , and had me wishing I had brought some with me .
And finally , I've looked every time I've passed by without success , but on my way home , on the
wires outside a barn on the bottom lane , my first 'local' Swallow .

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday 11th. April 2014

A catch up on the week starts with the first full butterfly transect at High Elms LNR . Being elevated and cooler than the surrounding area , always a slow starter , but I was pleased to record 2 Small Tortoiseshell , 9 Brimstone ( all males ) , 11 Peacock  , 1 Orange Tip ( female ) and one Comma . The
main butterfly areas were very quiet and most were found in warmer , small glades containing
flowering Bluebells . As I walked the butterfly-less  Conservation Field , 4 Common Buzzard were
calling and interacting overhead and alongside the golf course , a very confiding Chiffchaff allowed a
few shots , not like the male Blackcap in the same tree . Back home in the garden , Brimstone ,
Speckled Wood and both male and female Orange Tip were recorded .
An afternoon look up on the Common found several Cowslips / Primula veris on the open glades , no
doubt the seeds brought in on the grass cutters which mowed them at the end of last year . Lots of Brimstone were seen , including at least 4 egg laying females . I spent quite some time chasing them
around , and was rewarded with a shot of one of them actually laying one of her eggs . If you look closely , the egg is just emerging from her abdomen and about to be stuck to the Buckthorn plant .
And here's what it's all about , the lozenge shaped egg that will continue the species . Also found ,
another Green Tiger Beetle / Cicindela campestris , a more colourful specimen this time .
This morning I had a run down to Old Lodge Reserve on Ashdown Forest . A chilly start with a keen breeze , opened into blue skies before closing back up again . Lots of Chaffinches as usual and good numbers of Willow Warblers singing as I walked the top path . At least 3 pairs of Stonechat were


on the way around , along with a Green Woodpecker that flew up from the ground , and for once ,
didn't hop around the far side of the trunk . Sight and sound of the visit was on the high ground bordering the MoD land , where up to 6 Woodlark were singing / displaying , and every now and
again , acting like Black Grouse on a lek  , but still carried on singing . After a scrap , they would
carry on feeding and singing till the next one . At one point , three took to the air together and with a
couple more singing on the ground , made for a few minutes that I won't forget for a long time . I heard the 'cronk' of a Raven a couple of times but never saw it , then on a third occasion , I followed it with the camera as it flew behind trees and as it passed a small gap I managed just three shots , the
first was out of focus , the second reasonable and the third it had gone behind trees again . I had three glimpses of Common Redstarts , all in the valley of the little stream , but never managed a shot . By the time I got back to the top path , that blue sky was gone , but another distant 'cronk' alerted me to
another Raven who was sorting out what looked like a Common Buzzard , but it was too far off to be certain .
On my way home , I stopped off to see if the Early Purple Orchids were out on a verge . I could only

two plants on the verge , but there were more in the small woodland behind .

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Tuesday 8th. April 2014

A visit to Sevenoaks Reserve this morning was mainly to see how the Treecreepers were getting on with their nesting . Arriving at the tree , I was devastated to find a large area of bark missing , exactly
where the nest entrance had been . On the ground , at the foot of the tree , was the missing piece of
bark . I have no idea what the cause was , but from the look of the bark , it was pretty rotten and could have come down in the wind , I just hope it wasn't someone after their eggs . Dismayed , after a quick look from Willow Hide and finding just Canada and Greylag Geese , I walked round towards Tyler Hide , finding the area directly in front almost devoid of birds apart from a few Lapwing . A scan over the islands wasn't much better , but it did produce my first of three migrant species , being a
Little Ringed Plover , looking minute against a Gull on one of the furthest islands from the hide . A scan of the sky produced the other two , a single Swallow and minimum of three Sand Martins , all hawking for insects over the far side of the East Lake . A look down the far end around Sutton Hide was non eventful , but on the way back , in the fenced off area where the goats were during the Winter , the descending call of a Willow Warbler made my fourth migrant . It could possibly have
been six , with several Blackcaps (male pictured) and Chiffchaffs in song on the way round . From the Reserve I moved onto the Downs , primarily to see if the Early Purple Orchids were in flower , having seen some on a Dungeness posting . I did find 25/30 rosettes of spotted leaves and three
flower spikes , but the best one will not be in flower until the weekend at the earliest . I had just found my first Adder , when a text from Carol telling me that the people had arrived to take down a large conifer in the neighbour's garden , but almost on the fenceline . They were going to give us warning so we could try and protect the plants in our border under the tree , and by the time I got home , only the main trunk remained . Fortunately , not too much damage was done to our border .
After lunch , I headed up to the Greensand Ridge , not an original intention . On the way to the
combat / mating area , I passed another male guarding , if you could call sitting on her neck guarding , a female . This could prove to be another area for action in the future . Within 5 metres of where the big black/white male mated the big female , I found the male again in mating mode with a
female , but I was pretty sure it wasn't the large one . To be sure , I went and found her , on her own , and looking very content . Back at the action , I watched the big male attempt to mate three times with the new female , and three times she refused . Once again , the mating attracted other males into
the area , and there were three 'spats' , I couldn't call them combat , as each only lasted a few seconds , the large male seeing each one off in turn . The third attempt to mate was well out in the
open , but once again the female was having none of it . Don't know what it is about this Spring , but it is certainly turning out to be an interesting one Adder-wise .
As I got home , I had my first Kent Speckled Wood , when one landed on the front window as I
walked down the path . Perhaps it was inspecting the paint job .

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Sunday 6th. April 2014

Well , after all the excitement of Friday , I would have liked to have spent some time up on the Greensand Ridge to see if there were any further developments , but visiting was on the cards and a late return home meant no time to post details of a 45 minute visit I managed to squeeze in before heading off .
The early coolness was starting to burn off as I arrived , and I headed straight to the area of Friday's combat , unsure of what I would find . Disappointingly , it turned out to be an area , totally devoid of any Adders . Moving on , I found several males , all in breeding colours , moving quickly around , tongues continuously flicking , no doubt trying to lock onto the scent of a female , and taking very little notice of each other when they came into contact . At one point I found a female surrounded by a triangle of three males , all watching and waiting . Another female , quite close , had no such attention , probably because female Adders only come into breeding condition every other year , so she most probably bred last year , and would not be giving off the scent that the testosterone charged males were searching for . A couple of non-breeding males were enjoying the sun's warmth , and a pleasing find of a fifth juvenile , born last Autumn , was great . I probably spent as much time looking at my watch as the animals during the visit , but with time running out , I couldn't leave without one last look at the combat area , and on the edge of a mossy area I found the female and the
victor from the combat , but no cosy side by side posing this time , as the male was slowly moving over the female in slow , jerky movements that I can only describe like watching an old silent movie . Having witnessed this behaviour before , I knew exactly what was on his mind , but the same thing happened this time as it has in the past , the pair wanted some privacy , and moved into the surrounding vegetation . Through a small gap , I could see the pair writhing around , their tails whipping around searching for the other's . The reproductive organs of Adders are almost at the tail in both sexes , so marrying the two organs together proves somewhat difficult . After a short while , what I have described in the past as being a carousel ride began , where both animals spin around like
a top , which probably helps them line up their bodies . Eventually the carousel slowed down , and
the only movement was their two tails flicking about , then the first sighting that they had joined . Another look at the watch , and out of the corner of my eye , I see another good sized male just two metres away , avidly scenting the air as he closed in on the pair . I watched his approach , not
knowing how this would turn out , especially regarding the large mating male , but he took no notice at all , and the visitor , having had a good close up look as to what was going on , slithered away into the vegetation and wasn't seen again . With the place to themselves , their movements slowly brought
their bodies , well that of the male anyway , more out into the open , and the mating was confirmed . With that , I left them to it and hot-footed it back to the car , thinking along the way that if they are successful and produce young in the Autumn , their offspring should be a bit easier to find , assuming they take after the parents .
Now it's down to processing the photos , no hardship today as it's already raining .

Friday, 4 April 2014

Friday 4th. April 2014

Have spent the week mainly painting the outside of the house , but , every now and again , getting away to do a quick visit .
Just such a time , was the bird survey at Down House , which produced a better than average 24 species , with the only possible migrant being a single singing Chiffchaff in the Sandwalk Woods . The most pleasing find was a pair of Pied Wagtails , busily removing any insects that could trouble the batsman or bowler on the cricket square . They usually breed around the pavilion , but I failed to record them at all last year , so good to see a pair back . Also in the Sandwalk Woods , lots of
Toothwort / Lathraea squamaria , a parasitic plant on the roots of it's host , seemingly , like many plants this year , earlier than usual . On the way home , a stop on the Common , found a female
Brimstone , along with several males . She later landed on a Buckthorn bush and appear to lay an egg , but on searching , she was just kidding .
In good conditions , a couple of trips up onto the Greensand Ridge , found Adder numbers rising slowly , with good numbers of females emerging , and yet another juvenile , born last Autumn being
found . I was determined to finish the painting today , and got started in cool , grey conditions . So it stayed for the morning , but towards lunchtime , a few sunny spells opened up . They got the brush working quicker , and soon it was done , my gear grabbed , and off to the Greensand Ridge . As I arrived , the cloud could be seen rolling in , but it was still pleasantly warm . I made my way straight to the area where the male guarding the female were found , but just before that spot , was halted in my tracks by two male Adders in combat , and for once , not amongst the leggy Heather . I got myself sorted and started shooting , the pair taking no notice of me at all , just 4 metres away . One was the freshly sloughed large animal photographed with the large female on my last post , the other , the first non-white and black animal that I have seen in combat . I don't know how long the combat had been going on , but it was relentless , with each trying to dominate the other and keeping them subdued . 36 minutes later , with 590 shots taken , the black and white animal saw off it's opponent , but looked totally drained from it's efforts . I haven't even looked at all the shots yet , but here are a few of them , hopefully to give a feeling of the encounter .
Getting towards the end of the combat , I noticed the tail end of the brown / black animal was turning
white / black , as the effort was removing his slough , and showing his breeding colours .

This was within a split second of the end , with the white / black animal dominant and keeping the
other down . With that , the brown / black animal slithered off , pursued by the victor , but he quickly
gave up , and last I saw , he was resting up under some Heather . 36 minutes had passed by like 5 , as

I had a look around for the female , which had to be around . Sure enough she was , looking as if butter wouldn't melt in her mouth .
This is now the 8th. time I have been privileged to witness the ' Dance of the Adders ' and was by far the best yet , being more in the open , and making it easier for the camera to focus . I look forward to the 9th.
Some may say it's just male testosterone , but when I got home I looked back at some of the shots
taken on previous visits , and found this one of the brown / black animal , snugged up with the female . The white / black animal was photographed in the almost identical pose on my last post !!
Sunday's weather looks wet , a chance to process the rest of the shots .