Monday, 30 May 2011

Monday 30th. May 2011

A quick look on the Common this morning confirmed my suspicion of yesterday , the Great Spotted Woodpeckers have fledged . I waited for about 15 minutes , but nothing was seen or heard , the only calls I heard were some 300 mtrs. away from the nest site .
South Norwood Country Park was my next stop , and at the feeding platform , the Canada Geese had brought their two youngsters for an easy meal . Another pair had three larger youngsters , but these two looked as if they had only just broken their way out of the eggs . The only other youngsters seen on the lake were Coots . I headed off to see what was happening at the Kestrel box , and got there just as the female was leaving . I set up hoping that either parent would return with food , but neither did . At least one youngster was seen in the box , still a bit downy , but the feathers are pushing through . Whilst waiting to see if I would be lucky , I was serenaded constantly by a Common Whitethroat , whilst down at the far end of the lake , a Grey Heron stood sentry . And it wasn't only the birds that were showing off their young . Wherever there is water and food , then there are usually Brown Rats/Rattus norvegicus , and they seem to have had a good breeding season too , with several youngsters darting out from cover to snatch the bread .
On the way home , I made a stop at the Farm lake , just as the cloud was starting to build . Numbers of Odonata are still relatively low , but newly emerged specimens of several species were found lifting off and making their first flights into the surrounding trees . I did however find my first female Emperor Dragonfly , and she was already laying her eggs , inserting each one individually into floating vegetation around the edge of the lake , where the warm water will give a better chance of the eggs hatching . Some of the other species , like this pair of Azure Damselflies in the 'ring' or 'wheel' , are not as far forward . A very strange set up the Dragon/Damselfly mating routine . Unlike most insects that mate joining at the end of their abdomens , these insects have their own unique way of doing things . As the male has grabbed the female behind the head , the end to end abdomen join can't work . So , before grabbing the female , the male places a sperm sack , which is produced in his primary genitalia at the end of his abdomen , into his secondary genitalia , which is found below the second segment of his abdomen . Now , having grabbed his female , in tandem , he encourages her to reach up with her abdomen to take the sperm sack from his secondary genitalia , which is what is happening when they are in the 'wheel' or 'ring' . On the beach where I found the Black-tailed Skimmer larvae on a previous visit , several males , having now 'blued up' on the abdomen , and also got their black tails too , like the one above . A couple of plants found around the lake included Bog Cotton / Eriophorum angustifolium , and the first of several Pyramidal Orchids , which once again seems earlier than usual . Two days working up on the Greensand Ridge awaits .

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Sunday 29th. May 2011

No let up in that wind today , and early on the cloud cover was thick too . Regardless , I decided to do the Down House bird survey this morning , calling in on the Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the Common on the way . At the nest site , I could hear an adult calling , but no sign of movement or sound from the hole . Eventually the male arrived with food , which started calls from within the nest hole , but I think there was just a single youngster at home . During the half hour I was there , the female never showed , and the male only searched for food in the trees surrounding the nest . I think the female had encouraged the other youngster out of the nest , and was feeding it elsewhere , leaving the male to do the same with the other one . I fully expect the nest to be empty next visit .
Arriving at Down House , the wind was even stronger , being high up , but it also meant that the cloud cover was broken up and some pleasant sunshine followed . It was very slow to begin with , especially as calls were lost in the rustle of the trees , so once again , it became a double survey , with butterflies being recorded as well .The first butterfly found , was also the tattiest one found . a Small Copper that had definitely seen better days . All of the species seen were well worn , but , with two more broods hopefully to come , one mid July/August and the other late September/November , it won't be the last we see of them . Nine Meadow Browns were recorded , this male being one of them , but many more were probably sheltering down in the long grass . Another male found was this Brown Argus , identified as a male by the 'blueing' on the abdomen , and the orange spots fading out as they reach the leading edge of the forewing . A distraction was a plank of wood on the side of the large meadow , and underneath two Slow Worms . Both male and female Large Skipper were also found in the same meadow , the female having just the mottling on the wing , whereas the male of the species , and that of all the 'Golden Skippers' , carries a distinctive dark line , also known as a sex brand , on the top of it's forewing .
Common Blue , Small Heath and Large White were also recorded , then , a flash of orange , carried on the wind , as it lifted from the long grass . A short chase ensued , and my first Dark Green Fritillary of the year was in the book . A species of downland , it gets it's name from the distinctive green wash on the underwing . This means that a visit to Lullingstone Country Park will be on the cards in the near future .
Birds were being recorded as well , and two hirondine species were amongst them , Swift and Swallow , but apart from those and Bullfinch and Yellowhammer , nothing madly exciting .
But , that couldn't be said as I crossed the stile from the Cricket Field into one of the small meadows . The area adjoining the Sandwalk Woodland proved to be a sun trap and also sheltered from the worst of the wind . The grass at the woodland end was very long , and as I moved in that direction , a doe Roe Deer and a fawn strolled out from the bushes and started grazing . I still had the macro lens on for the butterflies , so dropped on one knee , and as quickly as I could , changed to the large lens . When I looked up again the pair were still there . I fixed the camera and lens onto the tripod and gingerly stood up . I managed 4 shots before the doe spotted me , and with a call , the two of them legged it back into cover . I'm pretty sure that this is the animal that I photographed last month , that was seen to be carrying young . I felt well chuffed that I had managed to get those shots and carried on . A Red Admiral was my next target but once again I had the wrong lens on . It was on the Dock leaves , top left of the shot , but then flew down and right . I was too near , but then noticed those white spots in the background . I once again quickly changed lens , and managed a single shot of another fawn , lying quietly in the long grass , just a couple of metres away . With that , the doe appeared again , and gave a call , and the fawn leapt up from it's hiding place , raced to it's mum , and they both disappeared into the cover of the woodland , a truly magical moment . Still shaking with what had just happened , I spotted a small bird land on one of the outer branches of the woodland trees , and with binoculars , made out a juvenile Nuthatch . Once again , the wrong lens was on the camera , so I just moved towards the bird , thinking it would fly . It didn't , so I stopped and changed lens again and set up the tripod . It looked like this youngster had been 'parked up' , whilst the parents searched for food . It was quite unperturbed by my presence , and had a long preening session . I even managed to move for a better shot , and it was funny watching the youngster asking for food from any bird flying by . I had hoped the parents would return and feed it where it was , but a call from deeper in the woodland , and the youngster was off .
Things quietened down after that , with just Speckled Wood being added to make it 10 butterfly species on the visit .One flower made it to the camera today , Corn Cockle/Agrostemma githago , a member of the Pink family , once found on almost every cornfield .
The bird survey ended up with a very respectable , for the site , 25 , which made the visit even better .
Returning home , the butterfly day list went up one , when this very fresh Small Tortoiseshell stopped for it's lunch on Carol's Pansies on the patio , whilst we were having ours .

Saturday, 28 May 2011

iSaturday 28th. May 2011

Firstly , another senior moment on yesterday's post has been corrected by Dean/DDD . The longhorn moths are in fact Nemophora degeerella , not as stated . Thanks very much Dean .
Also following on from that post , one of the people I talked to at Stodmarsh about lunchtime , had visited the Heath Fritillary site and then , like me , arrived at Stodmarsh . It now transpires that he has been following this blog for a while now . Good to meet you Mike H , I hope we bump into each other again soon .
Back at Stodmarsh , some other highlights that were heard or seen but not photographed , included a male and female Peregrine hunting high over Harrison Drove hide , one , maybe two Cuckoos , one of which had an unusual call , a Turtle Dove that stayed well concealed in a scrubby area , and at least two Nightingales along the river bank . What was very noticeable by their almost absence , were any Odonata or butterflies , just one Green-veined White and a handful of damsel/dragonflies . The absence of the dragonflies was the probable reason why just three Hobbies were seen , all at a distance . As I said yesterday , the ditches were alive with Warblers , and although I tried all during the visit , it wasn't until just before I left that I manage a couple of shots of the Reed Warbler . The Bramble and Comfrey covered banks of the river produced young of many species feeding or being fed by parents , including Blackcap and Chiffchaff , but by far the most numerous were the young , fluffy Common Whitethroats . Near the viewing ramp , a male Reed Bunting was going through his counting routine , 1 , 2 - 3 , whilst in the nearby ditch , a female had more important things on her mind , filling the ever gaping bill of her young . By the locked hide , I stopped for a while , hoping that a Water Vole might appear , one didn't , but in the water this tiny , at the moment , predator , a Jack Pike , was lying in wait of it's next meal . In all , the visit produced 54 species of birds , which helped make up for the lack of butterflies , damsel and dragonflies . A large threatening cloud encouraged me back towards the car , and on the way found the papus of the Goatsbeard/Jack-goes-to-bed-at-noon .
I decided to head home via the Fritillary site , deciding whether or not to stop depending on the weather . That weather was reasonable as I approached , and on parking the car , found the couple from Nottingham still there photographing . They said that they had had a few sunny intervals , which had encouraged the butterflies to get airborne . I just happened to strike it lucky , as , shortly after taking this shot of two Heath Fritillaries roosting in the overcast conditions , the sun came out , and as if by magic , they opened their wings to warm up . The male is the brighter coloured specimen on the right , the female being slightly drabber . Just before the sun disappeared again , I managed to find a mating pair , and also in the shot , the food plant of this colony , Common Cow-Wheat/Melampyrum pratense , a member of the Lousewort family . The colony in Essex also use this plant , the one on Exmoor use Foxglove/Digitalis purpurea , a member of the Figwort family , whilst in Devon and Cornwall , Ribwort Plantain and Germander Speedwell are used . Very soon after taking this shot , the sky darkened and a heavy shower descended , that was my cue to head home . The couple from Nottingham were still there , but I felt for them as the road reports on the radio told of massive holdups on the M1 in the Nottingham area and to the South , I hope they made it OK .
The surprise find in the garden as were sitting down to eat last evening was a mangy looking Fox , down the bottom , scratching itself ( sorry it wasn't more exciting Warren ) . I only had the 100mm. macro lens on and took this through the patio doors . By the time I got outside , it had jumped our fence into next door , and was just clearing their fence into the next garden .
This morning , it was cooler and windier than yesterday , but I had to go up the Common to check on the Greater Spotted Woodpeckers . As I approached the nest , I could hear an adult 'chipping' in the distance , but no constant call from the hole . Then a single 'chip' from the hole , so I set things up and waited . The male was the first back with food , anf if he looked worried before , then he relly looked worried now , with the youngster almost hanging out of the hole to get it's food . I'm still not sure whether there is 1,2 or 3 young in the nest , my best bet would be 1/2 . Even when the parents are away , the youngster(s) spend a lot of time at the entrance hole , taking in what this big new world is all about . One thing I did notice though , the female fed from down the trunk , encouraging the youngster out of the hole , perhaps a prelude to making it leave the nest , in return for it's food .

Friday, 27 May 2011

Friday 27th. May 2011

I didn't decide until the last minute this morning whether to go looking for another Fritillary butterfly in woodland near Canterbury , but in the end decided to go . The sky was grey and it was cool , not butterfly weather at all . That weather didn't improve on the way down , and it was even cooler when I arrived on site . I was there before 9.00 , but there were already people there , two of them having left home in Nottingham at 3.00 . A fleece was definitely needed , and there was no sign of any breaks in the gloom . Searching around , roosting butterflies were found , and they were only too happy to get warmth from our fingers . And this is what it was all about , one of the rarest UK butterflies , the Heath Fritillary . This species is only found in a handful of sites , all in the South of England . After about an hour , a 30 second spell of sunshine was enough to encourage some of them to open up and show their topwings . In the same short spell , large numbers of longhorn moth/Adela reaumurella took to the air as well , but the sunshine disappeared as quickly as it arrived , and the grey gloom descended again .
I made the second executive decision of the morning , and left the woods heading for RSPB Stodmarsh , about 10 minutes away , thinking that if the weather improved , I would stop at the woods on my way home later . Arriving at Stodmarsh , the fleece and a jacket were donned against a very keen wind . I set off from the Grove Ferry end , heading towards the centre of the reserve . Every reed lined ditch was alive with Reed and Sedge Warblers and good numbers of Cetti's Warblers were heard , but as usual rarely seen . The wind seemed to be keeping the birds well down in the vegetation , but the Konik ponies were showing off their new arrivals . I saw four mares , three foals and a single stallion with a broad grin on his face .
The first of several Marsh Harrier sightings came when a large flock of Starlings lifted off en mass when this male flew over them . I tried to get a shot of the flock lifting off and chasing him , but was thwarted by the tall reeds , and by the time I got to a gap , he had gained height and was off . As I said , plenty of Warblers , and this Sedge Warbler already had young in the nest , from that bill full of insects . On one of the open water areas , a pair of Mute Swans were already caring for two youngsters , but in this ditch , the pen was still sitting tight , with the cob patrolling close by . In the air , three Cormorants were doing their version of the Red Arrows , with an 'in line' fly past , and from the many Swallows , House Martins and Swifts that I attempted to photograph in flight , this was one of the few passable efforts . Heading back to the car to pick up my lunch , a distant view of a female Marsh Harrier , and along the track , one of many young Rabbits that were seen on the site . I'll leave it there for tonight , and will post the remainder of the site visit , plus the return to the woods , and an unexpected garden visitor when I got home , tomorrow .