Sunday, 3 June 2012

Sunday 3rd. June 2012

At 6am. on Saturday morning , with steady , heavy drizzle falling , I met Keith , a fellow wildlife enthusiast , on a mission to see and photograph the Swallowtail butterfly , which I had seen at Strumpshaw Fen last year . Then , with all species emerging so early , I felt cheated only finding a few specimens , so , given that the first one was seen about a week ago , the hope was that there would be good numbers on the wing . Crossing the Thames at Dartford , the drizzle became rain , falling from ever greying skies . Those conditions continued up the M11 until we got to the Cambridge area , when a glimmer of hope in the form of brighter sky in our direction of travel towards Norwich . The forecast was for cloud and sunny spells  , becoming cloudier in the afternoon . When we got out of the car at Strumpshaw Fen , the sun was shining , hardly a cloud in the sky , with a cool breeze keeping the temperature down , but it wasn't raining . We set off straight away to the area where I found the butterflies last year , close to the Doctor's house , but found none . We crossed the railway track , re-entered the reserve , and checked out the breeding area , once again without a sighting , so we decided on a circuit of the reserve , allowing things to warm up . Surprisingly , given such a large area of reedbeds , only a few Reed Warblers were seen or heard and not a single Sedge Warbler , last year there were lots of both . As we headed for Tower Hide , Keith got a high flying raptor in  his binoculars ,
and then casually mentioned , 'that's an Osprey' , and so it was . Unfortunately , Keith had his macro lens on the camera so couldn't get a shot , but I had the zoom on and managed a few , even though it was high up and drifting away along the river Yare , what a start !
Plenty of sightings of Marsh Harrier , but like last year , when they showed they were always at distance , never at an ideal photographic distance . We also came across three Bearded Tits , but they flew into the reedbed and disappeared from view . Just before arriving at Tower Hide , we found a male Pheasant , looking like it was sitting on a nest on the edge of the path , in the same place that I
photographed chicks last year . He wasn't on a nest , but got up , had a good shake and a crow , and casually walked past us and into the vegetation . The hide produced nothing more exciting than Little Egret , Greylag and Egyptian Geese , Black-headed Gulls , Common Terns , a few duck species and the odd Lapwing , until Keith spotted a Bittern in flight , a good distance out in the reedbed , that I didn't get on to  . Last year I spent some time chasing a Cuckoo along the far bank of the River
Yare , without getting a single shot of it , but this time I was more successful , albeit at distance . A bit further along the track we found 3/4 Pheasant chicks , fossicking for insects on the edge of the
vegetation , but the soon headed for cover . The walk down to Fen Hide , where Swallowtails had been sighted recently was very quiet , and with just Grey Heron and a Mute Swan outside , we didn't stay . We did meet someone who had just seen a Swallowtail pass by , blown by the wind and not stopping . We got a fleeting glimpse of an adult and juvenile Water Rail , but it was very brief . I looked into the meadow where orchids were abundant last year , but all I could see was Ragged Robin . In an area that we could not access , a pink hue amongst the grass proved to be Marsh Lousewort / Pedicularis palusttris . By the time we finished the circuit , things had warmed up some , but it was still very breezy , but after a quick drink at the car , we retraced our steps down the lane towards the doctor's house , passing a few more people looking for the Swallowtails . When we got to the area where I photographed the butterflies on Thistle last year , a movement over the back proved to be our first Swallowtail sighting of the day . With Thistles still to come into full flower ,
this specimen was nectaring on Red Campion I fed quickly moving from flower to flower , making getting shots difficult . A second specimen arrived and did likewise , before the first flew a short
distance and settled , open winged . We only had them for 3/4 minutes , but in that time Keith's camera sounded like a machine gun , and he had a big beaming smile over his face . A little later whilst talking to a local dad and his son , a single specimen arrived , and the son was able to get some shots , and some people just wanting to see this beautiful butterfly , were able to do so , before it also flew off . We headed back across the railway track , this time finding more damselflies and dragonflies on the wing with the warmer temperatures ., but still no butterflies around the breeding area . We met a couple who has seen a few flybys further along the track , so we headed there . Whilst searching we also started photographing Odonata , like this Four Spotted Chaser , with the
sunshine catching the colour of it's wings nicely . More sightings of Marsh Harriers , and amongst them , a sighting of a large Corvid , which at one time had a bit of a spat with one of the Harriers .
Although once again distant , with a larger bulk , heavy bill and slower wing beat , we were both sure that it was a Raven , but it never came close to be certain . Soon after we met up with a chap that Keith recognise , a birder that he knew well from many years ago . While they caught up , I wandered back towards the breeding area , at last finding a few more Swallowtails , but these were just flyovers , dropping down into the reedbeds and out of sight , but good to see anyway . It also
gave me the opportunity to photograph a male Reed Bunting that had eluded the camera a few times
before . Later on , I got a female collecting food on the edge of a ditch . Having caught up on his youth , Keith caught up with me and , getting a bit peckish , made our way back past the doctor's house , where we found him mowing the lawn . We commented on the flowers in full bloom in his front garden , grown specifically for the Swallowtails , and were surprised to hear him say that he hadn't seen a single one yet this year . He was pleased to hear that we had seen a few , but said he was fearing that it was going to be a bad year for the species , along with many of the others . His wife then called him in for lunch , so went to get ours back at the car .
With the sun still shining and lunch quickly eaten , we headed off round the circuit in the reverse direction . Keith got some male and female Orange Tip shots near the visitor centre , and also had a Painted Lady , but it was chased off by the male . A quick look from the screen by the visitor centre wasn't exactly exciting , just nesting
Black-headed Gulls and a Great Grested Grebe on it's nest . A brick red dragonfly with red suffused wings , which I mistakenly IDd as a Norfolk Hawker , which is brown with clear wings , caught my eye just out front  , but never settled for a shot . As we walked further on , a group of walkers were lunching at a picnic table and behind them I spotted a similar or the same dragonfly again , but again it never settled , and no shot was obtained . A female Hairy Dragonfly was also seen settled on a large leaf , but she decided not to be photographed today , annoying as she would have made a nice shot against the green leaf . The trouble is now , what was the red dragonfly , about the size of a Southern Hawker . I can only think that it was a migrant species , but , without a shot of the specimen , I can't take it any further . With the wind getting stronger and clouds starting to build in the distance , we checked out the ditches for other Odonata . Plenty of male Hairy Dragonflies , as
usual , permanently on the move , until one zoomed upwards , caught an insect , and brought it down to the side of the ditch to feed . Also taking insects on the wing were good numbers of Swifts ,
always a challenge to get into the viewfinder , but out of many , the odd one or two made it , even if was a greying sky behind . With the temperature falling , we decided to call it a day and turned around on ourselves , finding a few Azure Damselflies intent on carrying on with the next
generation , despite the weather , and almost at the end of the last ditch , having just seen the pair
mate on the wing , a female Hairy Dragonfly started laying her eggs . The sun had gone by the time we got back to the car , so leaving this wonderful wildlife reserve wasn't too painful , but we had a long journey back and we did see and photograph the target species . A great day out with really good company , incredible weather given what we drove through , and if it wasn't for Keith I wouldn't have seen that Osprey , nor did all but one of the people we met on that circuit . On our way home , we started making plans for another two target species that will be on the wing soon , the Large Blue and the Marsh Fritillary . If we can have similar success on that trip , it would be fantastic . At home , I made it 57 species of birds and 5 species of Odonata , + 1 ?
Today , horrible conditions , the feeders are alive with young Tit , and Finch families . Taken through
double glazing , a couple of shots of what family life does for parent birds . The adult Great Tit on
the right , worn to a frazzle trying to keep up with the insatiable appetite of it's offspring , who
already looks as if it should be on a diet , and the same could be said for the young Blue Tit . All the
commotion also attracted a female House Sparrow , hopefully to occupy the communal nest box soon .


Marc Heath said...

Lovely session, love the Swallowtail shots.

alan woodcock said...

Hi,great day out and birds.

Warren Baker said...

That was an excellent wildlife crammed day out Greenie, pleased for you taht you got your Swallowtail quarry.
Today was a bit of a write off though eh?

ShySongbird said...

It's taken me all day to get to read your excellent post Greenie and it wasn't for the want of trying! Connection problems all day resulted in a dead router, a race to the shop with minutes to spare before closing and thankfully...a new and functional router! It was worth it though, what a great visit you had, well done on the Osprey or perhaps I should say well done to Keith! As for those beautiful Swallowtails, how I would love to see them, so lovely. So much of interest as well as those, what a shame you couldn't ID the dragon though, quite a mystery!

Phil said...

Great stuff Greenie. Those Swallowtails are stunning, i've only ever seen one in Spain.
Well done with the Osprey too, a great day out by the sound of it..