Monday, 31 May 2010

Monday 31st.May 2010

A typical Bank Holiday Monday , cool , cloudy and out of a sheltered corner , quite breezy . So why did the Blue Tits who occupied the box right at the bottom of the garden , choose last evening/early this morning to leave the box ? The young had been very noisy in the box for the last few days , and twice , Carol has found a small Fox , she says about the size of a cat , sitting underneath the box , with the adults going crazy , so that could well have had something to do with it . The adults had them scattered all around our garden and the neighbours , and their calling for food was incessant . I got the camera out and hoped to get a shot of the parent offering one of the large caterpillars that they had been bringing , but the breeze and the light were against that shot , so I had to make do with this one , a little ball of fluff .
After lunch , needing fuel , I combined a trip to a 'lightly Kingfisher stream' , that a fellow birder mentioned in a hide at Sevenoaks a while back . I wasn't sure when I was told it , and even less so when I arrived , as the stream , The Beck , passes through an industrial estate and part runs in concrete culverts , but I was there , and I had a look . I'll say now , not a sign of a Kingfisher . To one side of the stream , was a grassed area , possibly a sports area for one of the factories , bounded by a high , green metal fence . On the far side , I could see a Fox , feebly attempting to catch Woodpigeons , Magpies and Mistle Thrushes that were fossicking in the ground . Apologies for the pictures , but the light was awful and the metal fence , through which they were taken , was playing havoc with the AF . It was funny watching , as the Fox half-heartedly rushed at a group of birds , they just lifted and then settled again 10 metres away . The Fox made several attempts , which seemed to wear it out , necessitating a rest . After a few more minutes , the Fox seemed to give up , and sloped off into the taller vegetation , or was it a bluff ?
As I moved on , a bird landed on top of the fence , which had me scratching my head for a while , until I realised that it was a juvenile Mistle Thrush , or at least I hope it is . Although I didn't see any other birds with it , there were several Mistle Thrushes on the ground , not too far away . Further on again , the air was full of the unmistakable sound of lots of juvenile Starlings . The parents had 'parked' them on top of another fence , and were backwards and forwards to feed them . It must be something in the water in the area , because there was another Fox , shadowing the Starling flock as they fed , but this one was having the same results as the first that I had come across .
With no Kingfishers found , I headed home , but stopped on the way for a look in at South Norwood Country Park . My first stop was the Great Spotted Woodpecker hole , where I had photographed the young in the nesthole , but , not surprisingly , they had fledged . My second stop was at the Kestrel box in the Scots Pine , and found the male on sentry duty on an adjacent tree . At first , there was no movement in the box , but then a head lifted for a look out . The female , sitting on eggs , or trying to keep her young warm in the cool conditions . A walk around the lake didn't produce much apart from lots of Canada Geese and a couple of Grey Herons . Two families of Coots were very noisy around the main feeding platform , much to the annoyance of the other person on the platform , who was tossing out bread for some rather large Carp that I hadn't realised occupied the water as well . Heading back to the car , the sun appeared for just about 10 minutes , the only time it did so today , and gave a chance shot of a male Greenfinch enjoying it's warmth , if only for a short time . What a difference a bit of sun makes to photography .

Sunday, 30 May 2010

Sunday 30th.May 2010

I didn't think I was going to get out today , as I had a couple of 'brownie point earning' jobs to do , and the wind was very strong , driving in more and more cloud . About 3.30 , I had finished the jobs and the wind dropped slightly and the sun started to shine through , so I decided to have an hour before dinner . I decided on Salt Box Hill , just below Biggin Hill Airport , mainly to see if the Dartmoor ponies had been removed , and the access gates unchained . On arrival , I found the answer to both questions was no . I can't believe that London Wildlife Trust have left the two ponies on the site , according to their notices , to eat the rank grasses , when Common Spotted , Man and Bee Orchids will be pushing through , and no doubt making a tasty snack for the pair . Talking of snacks , the pair have effectively ring-barked every tree and shrub on the site , including the Buckthorn that made this site really good for Brimstones over the last few years .
The smaller area is as yet unfenced and so not subjected to the ponies , and it was there that I spent my time . The first thing I found was Colombine-Aquilegia vulgaris . Like many plants growing in the wild with houses around , garden escapes are always a strong possibility . In the far corner , the Deadly Nightshade-Atropa bella-donna , that I posted on my last visit , is now coming into flower . If pollinated , these will produce glossy black berries that are extremely poisonous . I took this shot , then waited for the wind to ease to get a second , the vegetation somewhere below and to the left of me , exploded . I have seen Deer on the site on early morning visits , and seen the flattened areas where they probably spend the night , but did not expect to come across one at about 4 o'clock in the afternoon . I had the 100mm. lens on , the autofocus was set on A1 SERVO , and it was set on continuous shooting . The following four shots were the first of 18 that I managed to fire off , as this female Roe Deer bounded up the slope , and away into the woodland , not to be seen again .
When I caught my breath again , I started looking at what else was about . This Frog/Leafhopper caught my attention , strange , because it seemed to have ears . I've had a quick look , but haven't managed to ID it yet , any ideas ? Now identified , thanks to Phil -
Sharp by Nature as a Horned Treehopper-Centrotus cornutus . Cheers Phil .
Just 3 male Common Blue butterflies and a single Dingy Skipper were recorded. Of interest with
the Common Blue , the wings of the male contain no blue pigment at all , and the blue colour is produced by the diffraction of sunlight by thousands of corrugated scales on the wings , which absorb all colours of the spectrum except blue . Heading back to the car and home for dinner , I spotted this tiny Weevil on a Hawthorn leaf , which I think is Phyllobius viridiaeris , but as usual , I stand to be corrected .

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Saturday 29th.May 2010

As I said on yesterday's post , I had an hour or so after lunch at Spring Park Pond on the outskirts of West Wickham . There was already more cloud than in the morning , and things looked quiet when I arrived . A movement over on the far side of the pond turned out to be a female Broad Bodied Chaser , egg laying in the shallow , warmer water . Chasers , Skimmers and Darters all use this method of egg laying , the female dipping the end of her abdomen into the water , and each time releasing a spherical shaped egg into the water , which sinks to the bottom . This is why they choose the shallow , warmer areas to lay their eggs . Often , the male Chaser will stand guard over the female whilst she lays the eggs that he had fertilised , but this female was alone , and the inattentive male paid the price , when another male flew in and clasped her behind the head , flying off in the tandem position . This male would then clear out any eggs or sperm still in the female , then mate with her , which is done in flight in the wheel position . The female would then return to the water to lay her eggs , perhaps next time guarded by the male . The sun was constantly going behind clouds , and the dragonflies disappeared every time it did so , so I didn't see her return , but in the sunny periods , at least 6 males , impossible to be sure with the speed of the aerial battles , fought for the best perching areas around the pond . When one did settle , you could guarantee that within seconds , he would have to defend his perch , or attack another male who had got too close . As I said , the skies clouded , and I started looking for other interest , and soon came across a very photogenic male Smooth Newt , just about a metre out from the bank , swimming amongst the tadpoles . I have managed odd shots here before , but usually the Newts come up for air and down again almost immediately . This one stayed near the surface for quite some time , before diving back down into deeper water . With not much happening around the pond , I then set off for the small sheltered meadow , about 10 minutes walk away . The meadow produced Large and Small White , Peacock , Common Blue and 3 Orange Tips , all males . This one showing the wear of no doubt many battles and mating over the last few weeks , having lost much of the colour from his underwing , and the orange tips to his upper wings was well past it's sell by date too . They certainly were on the wing early this year , and it will be interesting to see if they manage a small second brood , late July/early August .
I arrived back at the pond , having not found any Broad Bodied Chasers on the woodside vegetation alongside the large meadow , a favourite spot for resting between feeding or mating . I did however find , in almost the same spot as the male , a female Smooth Newt , without the flashy crest of the male , and altogether much more sombre in colour . A couple of minutes later , the male turns up , and gives her a nudge , and I thought , this could be interesting . Now , I don't speak Newt , but I'm pretty sure that I hear the word 'headache' , to which the male turned and sank to the bottom again . Thicker cloud came rolling in , and it got much cooler , so I decided to head home , but as I was leaving the pond enclosure , I very nearly stepped on this female BBC , which could well have been the one I saw egg laying and being mated . She must have been cold , as she made no attempt to move , which gave the opportunity for a really close up shot of one of these insects , the ancestors of which flew 300 million years ago . Even today , they look like something out of a horror film , with massive eyes dominating most of the head , the legs covered in spines to keep hold of the insects it catches whilst in flight , finishing in pterodactyl like hooks , and a retractable jaw , that can extend and grab it's prey . She didn't move a muscle while I was photographing her , but then the sun came from behind the latest cloud , and started to warm her up . She responded by first working her front pair of wings , then the back pair , and soon she was off on the next part of her short adventure as a flying adult , having spent almost a year as a nymph on the floor of the pond . I added one more species of butterfly on my way back to the car , a pair of male Small Coppers , as usual , fighting over the ownership of a flattened molehill , before refuelling on a Meadow Buttercup . The rain turned up at about 10 o'clock this morning , and at mid afternoon , it is still raining .

Friday, 28 May 2010

Friday 28th.May 2010

As the forecast for tomorrow is rain , I decided to do the High Elms butterfly transect today instead . On the way , I stopped off at the Common for a look around . I headed straight for the heathland area , checking on the Brimstone eggs that were laid some weeks ago . They were difficult to find , but , now that they are hatched , I looked for Buckthorn leaves that had been chomped , and it wasn't long before I found some . I found several of the well camouflaged a caterpillars on the eaten leaves , some , like the one pictured above , were well on the way to the next stage of their growth . I shall look for the chrysalises again , but I have yet to find one , as they look like a leaf . Just one butterfly , a male Common Blue was recorded , but moths did much better , with lots of Common Heath , a male with feathery antennae pictured , a couple of Speckled Yellows and several Mother Shipton were recorded . Although one LTTit's nest was predated , at least one of the others were successful , with a family of the same feeding on the Gorse . Back at the car park , I found Wood Avens/Herb Bennet-Geum urbanum , having just come into flower .
The transect at High Elms started slowly , with the day flying moth Burnet Companion being the most numerous on the wing . Eventually , the butterfly species began to show up , and it was soon obvious that Common Blues had exploded since my last visit , with 5 females , 2 of them egg laying were recorded . Just before the fenced off section of the Conservation Field , I found my first Man Orchids of the year , and later found more on the Orchid Bank . The flower shows well how it got it's name . Also on the Conservation Field , a stunning Bird's Foot Trefoil caught my eye , showing how it gets it's common name Bacon and Eggs / Eggs and Bacon , depending on where you live . Mind you , it has about 50 other common names as well . By the time I had reached Burnt Gorse , the Burnet Companion had been well and truly pushed into second place , by hundreds of Garden Chafers-Phyllopertha horticola , they were everywhere . Another egg laying Green Hairstreak was found here , and whilst watching her , I noticed another female Common Blue , minding her own business , when a male flew in and made advances . They both flew high into the sky , and were soon joined by a second male , before returning to the ground . A lot of pushing and shoving went on , until one of the males managed to join with the female . The losing male and several others tried to oust the winner from his prize , but together , after several flights , they found some peace and quiet , and got on with the matter in hand .A check on the Birds Nest Orchids revealed still 2 at the original site , an increase to 36 at the new site and another single , bringing the total up to 41. Heading back towards the car , a single Peacock , one of the last overwintering specimens , was found . In all , 11 species were recorded - Dingy Skipper (13) , Common Blue (54 including 5 females , 2 egg laying , and a mating pair ) , Green-veined White (5) , Green Hairstreak (5 including 2 egg laying females ) , Grizzled Skipper (1) , Large White (3) , Speckled Wood (2) , Small Copper (2) , Small White (1) , Brimstone (1) and Peacock (1) .
After lunch , I had an hour at Spring Park Pond , but will write that up tomorrow , whilst it's raining .

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Thursday 27th.May 2010

It was mid afternoon before the skies started to clear after rain or drizzle from early morning . The first sign of the sun had me heading for the Farm lake . needless to say , by the time I got there , the sun had disappeared again behind grey clouds . I found very little happening on the lake , apart from the single , young , surviving Coot , which seemed very subdued , nothing like the 'I'm hungry , feed me' that is usually heard . As I walked around the bank , I noticed a new family , tucked away on the floating platform , were three Moorhen chicks , and the parents must have told them to keep still , as they stood like statues , without uttering even a 'cheep' . I don't know where the one on the right gets it's eye make up from ! Everything was serene , until someone strayed into someone else's territory , when a fight broke out between an adult Moorhen and Coot . It didn't last long , and was more like 'handbags' at three paces . Still just one Little Grebe showing , but , watching that one , I'm still pretty sure that the female is on a nest in amongst the Yellow Flag Irises , as this assumed male had found a tasty morsel , and had brought it to his partner . Nothing like banking a few 'Brownie points' . Whilst watching the goings on , a small bird flew into one of the Silver Birches around the lake . It turned out to be a male Yellowhammer , and later I heard him singing , something about 'cheese' or the lack of it . On the far side of the lake , I found the female Mallard , preening , and in the grass to her left , the one remaining duckling , but no sign of the Mandarin family . On my second lap of the lake , in the opposite direction , a surprise was waiting for me back at the floating platform . The Moorhen brood was four not three , and both parents were in attendance too . I also tried to photograph a pair of Green Woodpeckers , but my stalking let me down big time , and they flew off well before I got into camera range . Just a few teneral damselflies were seen , but this lake is fed from an artesian well , and cool water from 200+ feet below the surface and the fact that it is in a frost prone valley , always means that emergence is later that at other sites . Just one Green-veined White butterfly was recorded on my visit .

Monday, 24 May 2010

Tuesday 25th.May 2010

Having been volunteering the last two days , and again tomorrow , and working in the yard on the new shed , I have seen very little wildlife , apart from a Fox cub that crossed the lane in front of me on my way to the yard this morning . At the yard , the nest box which was occupied by the pair of Nuthatches is causing me concern . Last week I only saw one bird looking into the box , and very little calling from the male , as he did continuously when they were collecting nesting materials , and for the period when I assumed the female was laying . I photographed the nest material collection on the 15th.April which is getting on for 6 weeks ago , giving ample time for incubation , and I would expect to see constant feeding at this time . I think that either they changed their minds on the nest site , or something has happened to one or both of the adults . I'll give it another couple of weeks before checking the box . Back to Sunday , when on the way to Burnt Gorse , I stopped off at an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Keston where House Martins nest in variable numbers every year . After a poor year last year , I was glad to see and hear good numbers hawking insects overhead . I couldn't get to all the outbuildings , but I did count 11 occupied nests and one under construction/ refurbishment . There was much coming and going , and some birds , probably males , were returning and feeding their mates in the nest . This was the project under refurbishment , turning a previously detached property on the right into a semi-detached . Some were quite happy just to hang loose and watch the world go by . Whilst watching for birds to return , another nesting pair caught my eye on the roof of one of the adjacent outbuildings . They were a pair of Grey Wagtails , the male , with the black bib , was very wary of my presence , but the female , without the bib , was quite at ease , and made many more visits to the nest , which was located beneath some missing slates on one of the roofs . I just hope that these birds are successful with their breeding , as my hopes diminish for the Nuthatches back at the yard .