Friday 11 November 2016

Friday 11th. November 2016

Earlier this year , a chance meeting with a fellow enthusiast , culminated in a phone call asking if I was interested in a Peregrine Falcon nest with young . Within a couple of days and being sworn to secrecy re. the site of the nest , we made the journey to a natural hide , perched on the top of a disused quarry . Carefully getting into position and looking some 60/70 metres across and 10 metres down , I got my first view of the
ledge , and on it , two small , white , balls of fluff being fed by the female bird . Apparently , three eggs were laid and hatched , but the runt of the brood had already disappeared during the first few days . The two remaining chicks were left on their own for long periods of time , and the strong sunshine beating down on
the ledge , and with no shade at all , spent the time trying to get in the shadow of the other one , or panting in an attempt to cool themselves down . The female would come back and check on them every now and again
not always bringing food . Once she knew all was well , she would perch on a spot above the ledge , and
 from there , give reassuring soft calls to the two youngsters .
They grew quickly and on the next visit found that the feathers were starting to show through the white down . We didn't realise it at the time , but the male chick , although slightly smaller , was the more dominant of the
pair , always getting fed first and giving the female chick a hard time on the ledge . It was about this time when I got my only sighting of the full family , the female feeding again , whilst the smaller male flew in and sat
watching from the edge of the ledge , and keeping an eye out for any trouble .
The male dominance continued , here , in the heat of the day , he forced himself between the back wall of the ledge and the female bird to get out of the sun , whilst she panted to try and keep cool .
Here , the smaller but more advanced male on the left , tried the same move on the female , but this time it didn't work , and both had to put up with the heat ,
but when cloud blotted out the sun , the male spent much of the time exercising , whilst the female still had several patches of down still in place . I had a feeling that the male would have fledged by the time I visited
again , and sure enough , only the female was on the ledge when I made that visit , though I could hear the male constantly calling to be fed at the far end of the quarry .
It was obvious then why the male had dominated and fledged first , as the female was almost as big as it's
mother , but still wanted to be fed . In between feeds , it was exercising the wings for the female too , and it
was obvious that she would fledge very soon .
This was one of the last shots I took , and within a day or so , she joined her sibling , no longer a prisoner on the ledge , but able to fly and find shade from the sun .

Monday 3 October 2016

Monday 3rd. October 2016

Well , the end of September should mark the end of the butterfly transect recording period , but , at High Elms LNR , where I have recorded weekly since the first week of April , my first September visit found the Conservation Field cut and laid in whinrows for baling . Added to that , the area left as an insect bank , 30% according to the management plan , was less than 5% . Contacting the managers of the site , I got glib comments like ' It's cut now , so there is nothing that can be done ' and ' I'll have to be more on the ball next year ' , and this coming from people paid to look after this LNR / SSSI . So , the freshly emerged  2nd. brood Brown Argus and Common Blues recorded on my last August visit to the Conservation Field , are no longer . These would have mated and the offspring having over-wintered as larvae , emerged as adults in late Spring /  early Summer next year . On my 2nd. visit after the destruction , the cut grass and flowers had been collected and removed from the site . What hope of 1st. broods for those two species next year ? Needless to say , very little was recorded during September weekly transects in the area , with the exception of a
migrant Painted Lady , no doubt wondering why it was all on it's own . To add insult to injury , the Orchid Bank was cut mid month and a start made on Burnt Gorse before the end of the month .
Up on the Common ,
a pair of Robber Flies / Asilidae sp. , had just one thing on their mind ,
although not seeing an adult this Summer , I found 8 Beautiful Yellow Underwing larvae feeding on Heather ,
and an unusual brick red coloured fly , which I believe to be Linnaemya vulpina .
A visit to Bough Beech proved worthwhile , finding 4 juvenile Ring Plover ( lefthand bird ) and a Little Stint ,
the first I've seen there for quite some time . Also seen was a Perch , just before it became lunch for this male
Kingfisher , and a close up Common Sandpiper on the causeway .
Gone now the golden brown underwings of the 'hutchinsoni' form of Comma , with fresh emergents sporting their much darker colouration . Also found , or should I say , dropped down in front of me , was this unusual
looking wasp/hoverfly , as I walked along a path , hence the poor shot . A bit of digging pointed me to the Ectemnius species , and think it is a Big-headed Digger Wasp / E.cephalotes , a species I haven't seen before
Meanwhile , in the garden , Carol was wondering what was decimating a Cotoneaster on the patio . With a clue of a large amount of black droppings below the plant , the culprits were found , 8 larvae of the Vapourer
moth , there could possibly have been more . Slowly over the coming days , droppings reduced ans did sightings , until none were seen at all . Then Carol spotted one on a potted minature Rose , and when I had a look , it had that just about to pupate look about it and sure enough , over the next few days it spun it's
cocoon and was no longer visible . Having read up about the species on the web , I found out that they over-winter as eggs/ova which could be a problem to this specimen to pupate , emerge and breed with Summer all but finished . I have since covered the pot with a net bag from purchased oranges , in the hope that the occupant of the cocoon might be a flightless female , who , according to what I have read , would release pheromones , 'calling in ' a male to mate with her . I have seen lots of males , every one passing in a zig-zag flight at speed , I have never seen a male at rest , or a female for that matter . Now it's wait and see . By coincidence , I was tidying the shed at the bottom of the garden , and came across this .
Had I not read the Vapourer article , I might have dismissed it as spider eggs or something similar , but I recognised it as the eggs of the Vapourer , layed by the female on the outside of her cocoon , attached to some plastic netting . Almost impossible to count , I think there are 200/250 eggs there . So these seem to be doing what the article said , it will be interesting to see what happens on the Rose .
No such worries for these Rose-ringed Parakeets , the male getting rather physical with his mate .
Another visit to the Common found another migrant , a nicely marked moth , Rush Veneer ,
and a hoverfly that can only be identified down to family , Syrphus , to go further , the colour of the hind femora , yellow or dark would be needed to be seen , as it could be one of three species .
At Keston Ponds , things are also winding down with just a few Odonata still on the wing . Two female
Brown Hawker were found still busily ovipositing , along with a single male Migrant Hawker , Common Darters and Common Blue Damselflies .
A look up on the Greensand Ridge failed to find any neonate Adders , in fact very little was found apart
from this Common Lizard and very close by , a male Adder , just as well he wasn't hungry .
And finally , I have spent some time on the Downs , just over the border in Surrey , where the sky has been

 full of Red Kite ( at least 5 ) , Common Buzzard ( at least 8 ) and Raven ( at least 4 ) ,

but no sign of any hoped for migrating Ring Ouzel . Mind you , the local corvids were not very pleased with
the raptors as they passed overhead .

Sunday 4 September 2016

Sunday 4th. September 2016

A catch up on sightings over the last few weeks include :
A female Stag Beetle around the woodpile in the corner of the garden .
At  Keston Ponds , a male Small Red-eyed Damselfly caught on the wing ,
a pair of mating Black-tailed Skimmers ,
and two of four Brown Hawker females , ovipositing on floating logs and other debris .
A visit to Leybourne Lakes at New Hythe didn't live up to expectations , but did produce female Tufted Duck with broods of 4,7 and 8,
and a female Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing whilst being buzzed by a male Common Blue Damselfly .
The annual visit of Kent Butterfly Conservation to High Elms fell short of what was expected , having found a single White-letter Hairstreak in the bottom glade before the group arrived , it had moved on before we reached the glade , but 16 species were seen , which was below average , but did include Silver-washed Fritillary and White Admiral , the other two target species . An Alder Moth larva was a bonus find . Needless to say , a week later I had 9 WLHs on transect . An opportunity also arose to photograph male
and female SWFs , nectaring on the same Hemp Agrimony head , female on the right . That species is also
one that has done well this season , with several females seen oviposting on tree trunks . When this one
moved on , I found several eggs . On my last transect , I found a very freshly emerged Painted Lady , but it
doesn't look like a mega influx of the species this year . A bonus was a Jersey Tiger day flying moth , found
nectaring on Hemp Agrimony near the Orchid Bank , a species which seems to use railway lines to extend their range . Forest Hill in SE London is it's unlightly stronghold .
Below Biggin Hill airport , Chalkhill Blue numbers increased to 69 including three mating pairs ,
and with males well out-numbering females , competition was fierce , with three males here attempting to couple with a single female . Another female gave an opportunity to get an open , topwing shot , seemingly
 not bothered with attracting searching males . Also found on site , Soapwort / Saponaria officinalis , a
member of the Pink family .
A trip down to Marshside , near Reculver in search of Willow Emerald Damselfly proved difficult , with both
heat and wind a problem , but with much searching , singles then a pair in tandem were found and finally a
mating pair , making the journey well worthwhile . A stop on the way home at Cliffe Pools , though very
short on Odonata , did produce male Emerald and Scarce Emerald Damselfly , but sadly not the hoped for
 Southern Emerald Damselfly to complete the trio .
On a site near Hutchinsons Bank , it was an all male affair , with 3 Large Whites contesting the ownership of a Buddlihia bush with a male Brimstone , bottom left .
Amongst the grass , the pretty day flying moth , Oncocera semirubella was found .
On Hutchinsons Bank itself , I saw my first Small Copper of the season . Usually by now I would have
recorded many , but this year the species seems to be having problems all over the country . One day on leaving HB , I decided to look for WLH eggs on the Elm where I photographed larvae earlier in the season . The seach proved fruitless for eggs , but it did turn up a Comma larva , behaving strangely under one of the
Elm leaves , and looked to me as if it was getting ready to ' hang up ' and pupate . I left it to do his thing ,
and a week later , went back to see if I was right , and there under the leaf was a Comma pupa . A phone
call from Martin had me heading back to HB in the hope of seeing one of the Clouded Yellows that had
taken up residence . After much chasing , not good in the heat , I managed to get a few shots . On the same
visit , a Common Buzzard soared overhead looking for a meal .
With news of Southern Migrant Hawker showing up again in Essex , an early morning start for myself and Keith found us at the West Canvey Reserve , and with no other cars in the car park , a long , hot search
started . Halfway round and no sign of SMH , but we did find a small number of Wall , worth the trip on their
own , and whilst photographing them , were treated to a Peregrine cruising overhead looking for breakfast . Eventually we did find the target species in a ditch alongside the sea wall , but they were distant and constantly charging about in the lush vegetation . Another diversion came in the form of 2/3 Short-eared
Owls that flew up from the long grass as we passed only to be mobbed by the local corvids before disappearing again . On the way back to the car park we found a pair of mating Hornet Hoverflies /
Volucella zonaria , who moved several times in front of us , the sound of their wings incredible , being so close . With very few photo opportunities with the SMHs , we decide to head for a nearby reserve , and
there we had better luck , so a long , hot day finished well , with even the M25 behaving on the way home .
Up on the Common it has been really quiet with not a single Purple Hairstreak or Small Copper being found and even more common species such as Brimstone in short supply . On one visit though , I did manage to
snatch an open-winged shot of a female Large White , unusual for the species , and on another visit found a web of the Labyrinth Spider / Agelena labyrinthica , and managed to coax the occupier out into the open by
vibrating the web with a seed head . The other interesting find was on one of the paths , where mining wasps
, probably Ectemnius sp. , had dug their nests . Whilst watching them , I spotted a Ruby-tailed Wasp , but it
looked different to ones have seen before , having a ruby band on the thorax as well as the tail . I believe this to be Hedychrum nemelia , also a Cuckoo Wasp , which lays it's eggs in unattended nests . When hatched , the larvae feed on the larvae of the host , before emerging as adults . Mind you , the host is no angel as it
preys on hoverflies . This one on the left , struggling to take it's prey underground of feed it's larvae .
My latest visit to the Biggin Hill site found 3/5 Clouded Yellows , the windy conditions and highly active butterflies making a positive count and photographs impossible . In a sheltered corner , I did manage to
photograph a freshly emerged female Brown Argus , and one of several Small Heath , that seem to have
bucked the trend and had a reasonable season .
 And finally , a couple of birds to finish with , a Common Tern at Bough Beech Reservoir ,
and a Green Sandpiper outside Willow Hide at Sevenoaks Reserve .