Friday, 31 August 2012

Friday 31st. August 2012

Didn't expect to be publishing another post so soon , but after reading Marianne's / The Wild Side , last post which told of good Kingfisher sightings from Willow Hide at Sevenoaks Reserve recently , I made an early start for the Reserve this morning . In comment on Marianne's post , I stated that although many I have spoken to have had birds on the sticks outside the hide , I have never had a single one . The birds that I have managed to photograph on site have all been at distance in natural vegetation . A bit of a culture shock on arrival at the car park , with the car thermometer on 8C. Fortunately I had donned a fleece and a gillet , but after some time in the hide , a coat , woolly hat and gloves would have been ideal , as after a millpond start , the wind got up , blowing straight into the hide viewing flaps . Added to that , there was very little of interest happening outside , not helped by the high water level and subsequent lack of mud around the edges of the lake . I did have one flyby Kingfisher , right to left , but it disappeared towards North Lake . Even the rising sun , which was lighting up the tree tops on the far side of Snipe Bog Lake , didn't lift the temperature in the hide as it stands in the shade of some very tall trees . A couple of birders popped in for a short time , including one who told me that when he looked out last Friday , there was a Kingfisher sitting on one of the sticks . The Canada Geese started to arrive from the fields in their usual noisy fashion , but at least it broke the monotony of the squabbling Coots out front , which were only a small proportion of the species on site , with lots on the East Lake behind . The sun was slowly edging it's way towards the hide , but the two perching sticks were still in the shade , when just before 8 o'clock , from out of the shadows , a Kingfisher glided low over the water , settled
on the left hand perch and looked into the hide . Result . I had the camera set up on a hideclamp and started shooting , expecting the bird to fly as soon as the 'machine gun' of continuous shooting
started , but it didn't seem to phase the bird at all , and it changed position several times , no doubt to
enable me to find it's best profile . Looking back at the shots when I got home , the bird was on the stick for a maximum of two minutes , probably more like one and a half in reality , before flying off again . I can't be sure that it was the cause of it leaving , but as soon as it flew , I heard the sound of footsteps from behind the hide and then the door opening . It was another birder/photographer whose first question was 'any sign of the Kingfishers'? He looked well sick to have just missed the bird , but
we did get a second visit by either the same or another bird , halfway up the right hand stick , in an even murkier position , some seven minutes later . This time the bird stayed in the same position for a shorter period than the first , before it too , flew off . It was then back to the 'nothing happening' situation , and very soon after I left the hide , as much as to warm up as anything . Out of the wind and in the sun , it was very pleasant , so I headed for the small meadow alongside Long Lake . On the
way I found a young Stock Dove on one of the angler's pegs on the East lake . From the small meadow I spotted two Kingfishers , one diving for food , the other looking like it was still roosting in the bankside vegetation . Could have been the birds photographed or another two , but they kept well away from the camera . The sheltered bankside vegetation was also popular with Odonata again , this
time finding a female Migrant Hawker , and shortly afterwards , a male Ruddy Darter . Having got a
few shots of him , a female flew in . As I went to get some shots of her , the male spotted her , and she flew off , hotly pursued by the male . Also around were plenty of fresh looking male Common
Blue Damselflies , but I didn't see any females . A quick look from Willow Hide on my way back to the car park didn't produce any more Kingfisher sightings , but over on the edge of the island a pair of
Gadwall were looking very 'together' .
After lunch , I helped Carol in the garden , which proved almost as good as being out as far a
butterflies were concerned . Species visiting the Buddleias and other flowers included a very
welcome Small Tortoiseshell , Large and Small White , Painted Lady , Speckled Wood , a male

Brimstone and a very aloof Red Admiral . Quite pleasing to record more butterfly species in the back garden than whilst out this morning .
First day of the hedgelaying season tomorrow , not actually laying , but coppicing materials , Hazel stakes and binders , for our first project the following Saturday .
And finally , thanks to Marianne for her post , which enabled me to join the 'seen one on a stick club' .

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Wednesday 29th. August 2012

A wet and windy afternoon yesterday and the same this morning , has given an opportunity to catch up on a few recent outings . Last Sunday, I did the High Elms butterfly transect , and although 10 species were recorded , only Meadow Brown and , thankfully , second brood Common Blue managed
to get into double figures . No WHHs and just 4 SWFs , all , like the male pictured , far from their pristine emergent condition , and flying a lot slower too . On Monday , the Down House bird survey produced the average 15 species , with nothing out of the ordinary found . A juvenile Green
Woodpecker was feeding at distance on the main lawn , but by the time I managed to get closer , it
was gone . In the walled vegetable garden , a Robin was trying to keep out of sight whilst moulting . Around the Sandwalk , Violet Helleborine numbers have reached a superb 11 specimens , although a
couple have been badly damaged by slugs . This is the best specimen , it's first flower spike , behind , already in seed , whilst the second , smaller one still in   flower . My arrival at Keston Ponds
coincided with a young angler just landing a rather large Carp . When he got it on the scales , they registered 25lbs.5oz / 11.5 kg. , a 'pb' for the young man who was noticeably well pleased . Only
other interest was a Mallard family resting up on what looked like a Coot's nest . Sevenoaks Reserve was my first stop on Tuesday morning , but apart from Geese , Coots and Cormorants , not a lot else birdwise . Like many other places , growth over the Summer makes sighting birds difficult , but from
Slingsby Hide I did manage to get a few shots of one of two Chiffchaffs feeding on the ripened Elderberries just outside . On the track back around the main lake , a Treecreeper stopped just long
enough to get a couple of shots , before disappearing again . As the temperature rose , I turned my attention to the Odonata present , which consisted of large numbers of Migrant Hawkers like this
male , resting up between aerial skirmishes , a very active male Brown Hawker , continually
searching the small meadow alongside Long Lake for a meal , which did eventually come to rest , allowing a few shots showing his amber suffused wings . After another aerial display , he settled
again , and I managed to get a close up of his 'working end'  , before I got just too close for his liking , and he was gone . Common Darters and Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies were also around in good numbers . Leaving the reserve , I headed up onto the Downs to look for evidence of reptile
reproduction , which I did not find . The Adders and Slow Worms seem to be late again this year giving birth , but did record 11 Adders , like this male , but also sub adults and juveniles ( last year's
young ) , this adult and a juvenile Grass Snake , and 30 Slow Worms . My final stop of the day was at Hewitt's Bank , a Kent Wildlife Trust site , just off the A21 , close to the M25 . I hadn't been there for ages , apart from anything , you have to take your life in your hands crossing the A21 to get there , but hardly recognised the place when I did . The main attraction , a chalk hill , deposited from the digging of a railway cutting / tunnel , which used to hold some interesting plants , seemed very ordinary on this visit , or was it the passage of time ? Much of it is now covered with Wall Cotoneaster / C. horizontalis , but no sign of the Basil Thyme /Acinos arvensis , a striking little
Labiate that I used to find there . Much of the rest of the small site is covered in Goat's Rue / Galega
officinalis , a member of the Pea family . I failed also with the other species that I had hoped to find , Blue Fleabane / Erigeron acer on site , but on my way out , found a few plants on the edge of the golf
course . This species , although a member of the Daisy family , looks nothing like it's more widely found relative , the yellow Common Fleabane , looking more like a 'yet to open' Michaelmas Daisy , to which it is also related .
The weather has dried up some this afternoon , but it remained very windy and cloudy , and didn't
manage to get out today , which left me plenty of time to try and work out how this Coot at Sevenoaks managed to do this !

Friday, 24 August 2012

Friday 24th. August 2012

With a change in the weather about to arrive , I decided yesterday to make a visit to Old Lodge Reserve on Ashdown Forest , in the hope of finding some migrants before they left , and also in search of a couple of Odonata species . Arriving at the car park , all was still and quiet , with none of the song of the Summer migrants heard on previous visits , but also hardly a sound from any bird . With the sun just getting above the trees on the top path , it was like that all the way down to the dip , halfway along the top fence . The silence was not broken there , but a couple of small birds flying out
of , then returning into a Silver Birch , provided me with my first shots of the day , Spotted Flycatcher . After watching them doing what their name suggests for several minutes , they moved on and so did I , back into the previous silence , apart from an odd Corvid call and an impossible to see Nuthatch in the tall trees around the house at the end . The temperature was rising , but at the four small ponds on my route , there was not a single siting of any Odonata . Heading down to the small valley and stream , no sign of any Stonechats and definitely no Tree Pipits , was it going to be one of those days ? Down at the stream , where I found Golden-ringed Dragonfly this time last year , I checked both sides but found nothing . I was just about to head up the other side of the valley , when
I noticed something just above water level on the stem of one of the emerging plants in one of the more open areas . As can be seen , I couldn't see exactly what it was , but knew it wasn't an Odonata nymph , but a beetle of some kind . I retraced my steps , crossed back over to the other side , and tried to get as close as I could to the mystery species . Unfortunately , the terrain on the other side was not so photographer friendly , and without a plank , dump truck or person named Ron to call upon for help , got as close as I could without chancing myself and camera finishing up in the drink . Through
binoculars , my suspicion was confirmed , and from it's size , about 3-4 cms. long , my guess on site was Great Diving Beetle . Whilst watching it , it moved slightly as if just adjusting it's grip , but nothing more , but what was it doing out of the water ? I have had brief glimpses of the species in water but never seen one out of it . After about 5 minutes it climbed slightly higher up the stem and I was ready to try and get a shot of it flying , but when the moment came , it just dropped back into the water . Reading up when I got home , the Great Diving Beetle / Dytiscus marginalis , in both larvae and adult stages , is a fierce carnivore and preys on frogs , newts and fish , and flies mainly at night  using moonlight to find new ponds or as here , running streams . With that excitement over , I headed up the other side of the small valley , back into the silent state , without even a sound never mind sight of a raptor , often seen in numbers in the area . As I approached the woodland at the top , a small bird caught my attention as it alighted briefly on a gate post . It almost immediately disappeared into the trees , where other birds could be seen . As I reached the gate and looked along
the fenceline , what looked like a family group of Common Redstarts , with three sat out on the fence . Beyond the gate , I sat on a large boulder , and waited to see what was about , and after a short
while the family came closer , and I managed a few shots , but the adult male kept well back . The other birds feeding in the trees and bracken included several Chiffchaffs , Blue Tits , Coal Tits , Chaffinches and a couple of Wrens . The rest of the circuit provided many 'Phylloscopus hueets' without sightings , and the odd Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker . The usual busy gully from the dead trees back to the top path was non eventful , but I found another Redstart family at the top , close to where I found the SpFly , they must have been late risers . Being warmer than when I arrived , I returned to the ponds to see if there was any Odonata action , but between the four , I only saw 4 Common Darters , one Brown Hawker and not a single damselfly . That was until I was just about to head back to the car , when I noticed a red one flying over the brown acidic water . It settled on the edge and I managed a few shots of the Small Red Damselfly , a species restricted to bogs and
heathland pools . Apart from the size , the main differences between this and it's Large relation are red legs and pterostigma ( the coloured spots on the ends of the wings ) , both being black on the LRD . Not a sign of a Black Darter , which was the other species I was hoping to find . On the way home , I made a quick stop at Bough Beech Reservoir which was also quiet , but did get a distant shot
of both Common (left) and Green Sandpiper , but they never came any closer to each other to get a better comparison shot . When I did arrive home , Carol told me that she had had a Painted Lady nectaring on the Buddleia , so I went down the back garden to see if it was still there , which it was .

From it's size and the broad abdomen , I would say it was a female , she stayed for about another ten minutes , then was on her way , refuelled .
Other interest this week included 12 species of butterfly on Monday at High Elms , but again no WLHs but another 10 very fresh Peacocks . It was encouraging to find 5 second brood Common
Blues , including two females , this being one . On Tuesday following a trip to the Council dump , a walk around South Norwood Country Park found two of the three Great Crested Grebe youngsters still around and fending more for themselves now , and whilst trying to photograph a Common
Whitethroat , got a glimpse of a slightly larger bird in a nearby tree . Unfortunately , the only shot I managed was with the head turned away . Although it looks 'Dunnocky' in the shot , it was much larger than that . On the ground , even though made from the roots of the plant , the aroma of Horse-
radish / Armoracia rusticana , a member of the Cabbage family , was everywhere . On Wednesday , before doing the butterfly transect at the set-aside farm , Carol informed me that we had a Hornet on the back wall of the house . Although almost the same size as a Hornet , it turned out to be one of the
largest hoverflies Volucella zonaria . The weather closed in almost as soon as I started the transect , so the results were not great , apart from Meadow Browns , given that much of the main meadow has been cut for hay . The fresh green shoots of the grass did however encourage the Fallow Deer herd to
come out of the woods to graze , 18 animals in total . Also around , spooked by a horse rider on the bridlepath , two Roe Deer , possibly the pair seen last visit , that careered around the meadow , before
diving back into the wood for cover . On the way home a look in on the Common only found a well marked fly of interest , which I thought would make it easy to ID . Of course that was not the case ,
but I think it is a female Alophora hemiptera , but as usual , stand to be corrected . When I got home ,
a walk around the back garden found a female Southern Hawker around the pond , looking to lay her eggs .

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Sunday 19th. August 2012

Following the good number of reptiles earlier in the week up on the Downs , I did the survey up on the Greensand Ridge , hoping for similar results . Well , it turned into a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' , as after a very hot and humid visit , just one male Adder , still in his breeding
colours , laying out on a fallen tree , was the only one recorded . Once again , Slow Worms were found in good numbers , with 32 being recorded . Five Grass Snakes , including one very large , probable female , that didn't hang around for a photograph , and in one of the heathland areas , a
single Common Lizard that had climbed to the top of the Heather to get a good tan , made up the list . In the same area , I disturbed a male Brown Hawker , who was probably also getting some rays , which took off and chased around the area like something possessed . Eventually though , he did
settle again , and I was able to get a few shots . A look around up on the Common on Friday was also
draining , with not a lot to show for the effort . A Syrphus sp. hoverfly , there are several that look
very similar , and a male Migrant Hawker were the best of the bunch , but on the butterfly front , Brimstone , Peacock , Small Heath and Holly Blue were amongst species recorded .
A pre-planned visit with fellow enthusiast Keith , hoping to find the probable last two species of butterflies to emerge for the season , saw an early start , arriving at Denbies Hillside about 0830 , but the temperature was already in the low to middle 20sC Our target here was the Silver-spotted Skipper , which I saw but failed to photograph on my recent visit . Whether it was because of the heat , but Chalkhill Blue numbers were noticeably down on the previous visit , but still plentiful , and
it wasn't too long before we both found our target species . I liked this shot , as it looks like the spider has a crab's claw , the way it's legs were positioned . To get the best of the 'Silver-spots' , a shot of the
underwing shows how the species gets it's name . Keith was looking on the lower path , whilst I seached the upper one , and a call from him had me making my way down to him , hoping he had found a mating pair . It wasn't to be , but it was the first Wasp Spider that I have seen since finding
one here last year , about the same time , and this female was doing exactly the same as the previous
one , feasting on the plentiful supply of Chalkhill Blues . I have still to find a male of the species , probably as they go the same way as the Chalkhill Blues , after mating of course . Following Spock's comment after my previous visit , a Surrey Butterfly Conservation field trip only found two second brood Adonis Blues , I was hoping to find many more , given the good weather recently for emergence . But , despite spending the whole morning on the hillside , 2 , possibly 3 pristine males ,
like the one here , were all that we could find , and like the SSSs , were very mobile in the conditions . We had heard calls several times through the morning , and as we headed back to the
car , a very tatty looking Common Buzzard flew over , looking like it was well into it's moult . By now the temperature was around 30C , but at least our search for our other target species , Brown Hairstreak , would be on flatter ground . We arrived at the first of three sites around Gatwick Airport full of hope , but , although we searched every Blackthorn bush , or so it seemed at the time , we failed to get even a glimpse of a single specimen . As we were leaving the site , a friendly dog walker stopped and kindly told us of another site , only 5 minutes away , but that visit finished the same as the original site . Arriving at the third site , a few Gatekeepers raised , then dashed hopes , and even scanning the known 'master trees' failed to find the target . A mating pair of Common Blues was little
compensation , but as they are having a bad year too , at least they give hope for next season . Drained , hot and sweaty , we decided that it wasn't going to happen , and headed back to the car
along the small river , where at least the Banded Demoiselles , like this male , put on a good show , as usual , squabbling over the best bankside positions , from which to grab a passing female . The floodplain of the river was covered in Himalayan Balsam , Purple Loosestrife , Water Mint , and
several small areas of Gypsywort / Lycopus europaeus , with it's white spotted purple flowers in tight whorls around a square stem , indicating it is in the large Labiate family . The Water Mint also provided the last species photographed , a rather special Comma . The underwing of the species is normally dark , sometimes getting on for almost black , similar to that of the Peacock , but early
Spring caterpillars produce the form 'hutchinsoni' , with their golden brown underwings . Another enjoyable outing , which could have been brilliant had we managed to find our second target , but there is always next time .