Thursday, 31 March 2011

Thursday 31st. March 2011

With the last work party of the year up on the Common being just a morning affair , after a bite to eat , I headed off for the Greensand Ridge , once again searching for reptiles . Although there was a reasonable amount of sunshine , the wind cooled things down and was very gusty at times . My first find wasn't a reptile at all , as one of those gusts blew a very colourful bee onto the vegetation in front of me . It was hanging on for dear life as I photographed it . Mining Bee came to mind at the time , and in the sunshine it's ginger thorax and orange abdomen really looked very smart . I did some searching when I got home , and I think it is Andrena armata ( previously A.fulva ) / Tawny Mining Bee , and I think this is the female of the species . It wasn't long before grey clouds began to roll in , and during such a time I found my first Adders , two males , side by side , waiting for the sun to reappear . The clouds also dropped the temperature even further and things were not looking good . Then , in a short sunny interval , the first juvenile Adder found this year , about the thickness of the power lead to a television . This animal was probably born last Autumn , and at that size is easy prey for Weasels , Foxes , Kestrels and Pheasants . If it survives this year and next , it might well get it's chance to increase the Adder population in the area . Another sunny interval , getting fewer by the minute , placed me face to face with the last Adder seen during the visit , a male . Only other interest found was a catkin found on a small Aspen / Populus tremula . Looking it up when I got home , it appears to be a male catkin . This tree has male and female forms , and both produce catkins , but the female ones are much more colourful . And finally , a phone call from a birder yesterday , to say he had a sighting of a Red Kite over the A20 near Swanley . Same bird that Carol spotted ?

Monday, 28 March 2011

Monday 28th. March 2011

Carol and I were getting ready this morning to go out , when , from the back bedroom , I heard a shout of 'what was that' ? Carol had just looked out the window and seen a large bird that was being mobbed by a Crow . By the time I got to the window , the two birds had disappeared behind the large Eucalyptus tree in our neighbour's garden . While we waited , hopefully for another sighting Carol uttered 'I'm sure it had a forked tail' . After a tense period of time , partial views of the two birds was all that we got . Then , they drifted from behind the tree and out into full view , and Carol's forked tail was confirmed , a magnificent Red Kite . The Crow , probably one of those that are nesting at the bottom of next door's garden , was relentless , and all the time , driving the Red Kite higher and further away . Eventually , with more of the local Corvids joining in , the Red Kite was driven out of view . Not a bad garden siting , especially just 12 miles out of central London . I only had time for a short walk up on the Common when we got back . Plenty of birdsong to be heard , but not a lot in view apart from a Chiffchaff that stopped singing for a very short time to be photographed . A pair of Pheasants frightened the life out of me as they lifted noisily out of some thick vegetation , the cock landing just 10 mtrs. away and swaggered away to find his hen . Only other interest was on an old fire site , where Hairy Bittercress/Cardamine hirsuta had produced a display of white flowers . Interestingly , there wasn't a single plant of the species on the ground surrounding the fire site . And finally , a message for ShySongbird who kindly spent time and effort to ID yesterday's moth . It not always about being right , it's the trying that's important .Thanks again .

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Sunday 27th. March 2011

Another 'not too hot' day today , so after lunch , I decided to have another look at the site on the Greensand Ridge where the Rhododendron had been removed over the Winter . I must admit , my first thought was 'lunar landscape' again , but it's done now , so we must get on with it . I lifted the first pair of refugia and found nothing beneath , not unexpected , as the site is near one of the highest points in the South East of England , and temperatures , especially nightime , are lower there . As I walked to the second pair , I met the other surveyor who monitors the site , and he was just finishing his visit . He had found a single Adder and a small Grass Snake , and after a chat , he made his way and I decided just to have a casual look around . No sign of the Adder that he had found , but did find the small Grass Snake and on the way back to the path , found a much larger specimen , motionless amongst the Bluebells . Speaking of which , further on , I found my first flower spike , in a position that seems to provide the first most years . Then , further on again , on the edge of one of the large fire sites that was used to burn the Rhododendron , Bluebells in full flower . Not many butterflies seen on site , but did record 2 Comma , pictured , 2 Brimstone and 2 Peacock . So far it had been a pleasant walk in favourable conditions , with the odd spot of interest . Arriving at a set of refugia , in a glade that we cut 2/3 years ago , there was nothing under the felt or tin , but rustling noises coming from the brash pile , the material cleared from the glade , just below where I was standing . I thought at first it might have been a Pheasant or even a Deer behind the pile , but soon realised that they would have moved off on hearing me crunching my way on the dried out Sweet Chestnut leaves that litter the glade . I moved closer and then realised that the noise was coming from the brash pile itself , well animals moving in the pile . Then , from out of the middle of the pile came 3 Grass Snakes , writhing and entangling their bodies , and not just the 3 , at least another 3 were moving around in the brash pile too . I think that there was at least one female amongst them , and the males were wanting to do what male Grass Snakes do at this time of year . I sat myself down on a stump and watched the show going on some 5 metres away from me . Eventually , one of the animals got scent of me , and came over to investigate , looking me straight in the eye as can be seen from this shot . Things did quieten down after that , but looking back , I had got over 50 shots of the proceedings , finishing up with this specimen looking tired out on the top of the pile . I left them to sleep it off and headed back to the car , finding on my way , possibly two , or the same one twice , Orange Underwing moth . I attempted to get a shot both times , but as the camera focused , the moth flew off . Finally , a moth that my Warden found last night in his house and asked if I could identify it , which I can't , but I know a man who probably can .

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Saturday 26th. March 2011

With the cooler possibly damp forecast , I decided that today , I must catch up with maintenance and sharpening of my chainsaws and hedgelaying tools , which have been sat on the garage bench looking at me for the last week . The weather was just as had been forecasted , Carol went shopping and I got on with my jobs . From nowhere , the sun appeared and the temperature rose considerably .Thinking of the good day had on the Downs yesterday , the tools were put down again , and I was off to the Greensand Ridge to see what was about there . On arrival , the temperature was perfect for reptiles , warmth from the sun through thin cloud and feeling a bit clammy . The fact that it was not sunny , blue sky and hot , would mean that animals would be further out from cover to get that warmth . So it was with this Common Lizard , which did not move an inch as got closer and closer . In fact , it was so laid back , that the lens hood was almost resting on it's nose when I took this shot , prehistoric or what ? The away from cover also worked on the first Adder found , making an interesting shape as it soaked up the warmth . Not quite so out in the open were these three male Adders , but by now , the sun had gone again andit felt much cooler without it , so the three were huddled together to retain the heat between them . Just as the shutter went , the one on the top right of the trio realised I was there and was moving back under cover . The head of the second is easy to see , and the head of the third is about half an inch to the left of the second . At the same time , it started to drizzle , which became light rain , which continued off and on , mainly on until about 1400 , but it did mean I made my way home and finished the job that I had started . On returning from shopping , Carol wasn't at all surprised that the car was missing . Only other interest found on the short visit was a Peacock , it too warming up before getting the showers .

Friday, 25 March 2011

Friday 25th. March 2011

With temperatures set to drop over the next few days , I decided to look for reptiles up on the Downs today . The closer I got , the thicker the mist , until on arrival the visibility was down to less than 25 mtrs. Not exactly what I had planned , but in minutes the sun broke though the mist and 10 minutes later , what mist ? It wasn't too long before the first Adder was found , as all so far this season , a male . A bit further on , a pair , flattened out to absorb the maximum warmth from the now pleasant sunshine . After the initial excitement , things went quiet apart from the odd Common Lizard or Slow Worm , until a fluttering butterfly caught my attention , some distance down a slope . The getting down , and up , was worth it though , as it turned out to be a Small Tortoiseshell , nectaring on the Common Dog Violets that were carpeting the slope . Another quiet spell , till a call from an Ivy clad tree , told me that it could be my second singing Warbler of the year , a male Blackcap . I'm pretty sure that it was in the same place as my first of the species last year . By now , the temperature had risen somewhat , and the Adders , like me , were finding things a bit warm , and had retired into the vegetation to get some shade , like these two , if only I could have . Once again , it was just Common Lizards and Slow Worms that were found for quite some time , until , unexpectedly these two males were found , under one of the tin refugia , the first two Adders found under refugia , anywhere , this year . It wasn't just the Small Tortoiseshell nectaring on the Violets , just one of many Bee Flies seen today , nectaring whilst still on the wing . Apart from the Violets , Primroses and the odd Dandelion and Daisy , not much else has come into flower yet , but on the edge of the woodland , Wood Spurge/Euphorbia amygdaloides is doing it's best , even if the flowers will open greeny/yellow . Whilst passing , another look at the Early Purple Orchids , harder to find as everything else around them is grow and enveloping them . Once the flower spike shoots up , they will be easily seen again . Other butterfly species recorded today included 2 Comma , 5 Peacock and at least 15 Brimstone , all males . The were using the Primroses as refuelling stops , as they charge around the woodland edge . One particular individual lifted off just as I took the shot , and gave a not very often seen view of the upper wings , as normally , they close their wings as soon as they land or settle at rest .
In total , 9 Adders , 7 Common Lizards and 7 Slow Worms were recorded , and shortly after lunchtime , the sunshine went milky , the temperature started to drop with the breeze and things really started to go quiet .

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Monday 21st. March 2011 (4)

I did my usual slow drive down to the Harty Ferry Inn and back , making several stops along the way . The wires provided interest as usual , with a smart male Kestrel using them as a good lookout over the ground below , and another three Corn Buntings , two of which flew off as I stopped , but one stayed just that little bit longer . As I said in the last post , at least six Marsh harriers were seen , some still patrolling the ditches , searching for the next meal , but others were in show off mood , chasing and calling as they did so . Even though the tide was right in , there was little to be seen at the saltings behind the Ferry Boat Inn , and definitely no sign of the Spoonbill that has been seen there recently . As I reached the Fleet on my return journey , a pair of Oystercatchers seemed to be settling down to roost , both on one leg , perhaps it's a Sheppey thing . As I reached the top of the hill , an orange lamb caught my attention in the field on the left . When I stopped and got a better look , it was the second of a pair of lambs , and had probably been born as I was driving up the hill . The whiter lamb , steadier on it's legs , was probably the first born . Back in the car and driving down to the main road , a small flock of 5/6 Red Legged Partridge appeared from the hedge on the right and started running in front of the car like Pheasants do . The majority took off and flew into the field on the left , but these two 'roadrunners' almost reached the main road before they gave up . The last sighting of the day was the same as the first , a Brown Hare on the edge of the field the RLPartridges flew into . The only difference with the first sighting was that this Hare was taking the late afternoon rays with a female Mallard , another Sheppey thing ? I finished up with 63 species on the island .
A few shots from today whilst working up on the Common in milky sunshine , but very pleasant conditions . We had non stop song all day from a Chiffchaff that seemed to be visiting every tall tree in the area to spread it's message . Also seen and heard toing and froing amongst the tall Gorse were a pair of Long-tailed Tits , let's hope they are luckier than last year when the nest was predated , probably by a Magpie . Still just butterflies that have hibernated as adults seen today , with 5+ male Brimstone , 2 Comma that seemed to spent all their time and energy fighting amongst themselves or with two Peacock that wanted to call the area theirs .

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Monday 21st. March 2011 (3)

Leaving 'the sauna' to the group , who had been moved on from the Wellmarsh hide by a bigger group , I started my way back to the car . Along the ditch that I was following , several 'plops' were heard , and with many holes along it's length , I was hoping for a Water Vole , but they turned out to be frogs , like the one seen watching me pass , amongst the debris on the surface . A bit further along , I managed to get a shot of one , just before it , a Marsh Frog , joined in with the 'plop chorus ' . Apart from more birds moving from the Swale to the scrapes as the tide reached it's peak , things were quiet on my walk back . Just before reaching the car park , a Goldcrest was busily flitting amongst the trees looking for it's next meal .
On the drive back along the track , a Little Egret was much more confiding than any seen earlier . The Lapwings were displaying along the length of the track , and I stopped to watch what I thought were a male and female . The suspected male was strutting around , with it's back end always towards the female and the preferred nest site , whilst clucking like a mother hen . The suspected female seemed uninterested for a long time , but then came closer and joined in the clucking . Eventually , she tried the site for size , whilst doing a bit of housework to improve it . Sorted I thought , but how wrong I was as after a lot more housework and clucking , she got up and walked away , leaving him with a blank look .
From Elmley , I did my usual run to Capel Fleet , arriving as the sunshine was starting to get milky , and one of my first sightings was a Marsh Harrier , carrying quite a sizable piece of nesting material . This proved to be first of at least six Marsh Harriers seen there , but more of that tomorrow .
A few shots from today , having escaped the yard and got onto the Greensand Ridge , I found my first two Grass Snakes of the year , the first too quick to photograph , but the second stayed for a short time , before it also exited at speed . And , on a deep cut bank , the first Wood Sorrel/Oxalis acetosella that I have found in flower this year .
News from the garden when I got home , Carol had two Brimstones this afternoon , and a pair of Blue Tits are building their nest in the box on the garage , let's hope they will be successful .