Saturday, 25 April 2015

Saturday 25th. April 2015

The reader might remember these 'little jewels' , Emperor Moth caterpillars , which I was entrusted with early last June . Having gorged on Bramble leaves , they 'spun up' cocoons , and that was how
they spent the time from then till earlier this week . I have been checking on a daily basis during the warm spell of weather , and on returning home the other day , heard noises from their box . On
opening it , I found these two stunning males , but all the news was not good . With them was a
female , but she had deformed wings , having not fully expanded . I contacted Martin who had entrusted me with the caterpillars , and he advised me to take the female and 'hang her out' , which is what she would have done if she had been perfect , when the sun was out . The following morning ,
in sunny but windy conditions , I took her to the Common and place her in a sheltered position on some Gorse , the hope being that she would 'call in' a male by releasing pheromones which can be detected by males over very large distances , according to Martin . In that hope , I set the camera up on a tripod and waited , but apart from me getting 'goggle eyed' watching , nothing else happened . I left her enjoying the sunshine as there was nothing else I could do for her . Yesterday afternoon on my way back home , I looked in to see if anything had changed , and found her still where I left her ,
but now with 25/30 eggs stuck to the Gorse , her deformed life had not been in vain . Having read that the eggs are laid in batches , I moved her to some Bramble , in the hope that she might lay another batch there . I have since spoken again to Martin , who advises that the eggs on the Gorse be removed and allowed to hatch , then returned to the wild on Bramble , where the caterpillars can grow , so that is my next task .
In between dealing with the above , I have spent several hours over the last week , trying to catch up with one of many Ring Ouzels that have been passing through on migration . One had been reported on three consecutive days at Lloyd Park on the outskirts of Croydon , and I spent a warm afternoon criss-crossing this large and sprawling park without any luck . That evening I read that it had been recorded again that day , but at a sports field on the edge of the park . The following morning I headed off to the sports field and waited . Plenty of Woodpigeons and Stock Doves feeding on the ground , then after a long wait , a pair of Mistle Thrush dropped in . My attention was then taken by a dog walker entering the field from the far side and seemingly releasing the dog from it's lead , to chase the assembled birds . As it raced towards the middle , a last scan into one corner spotted the
male Ring Ouzel , who must have just dropped in , and I just managed three distant shots before the swirl of birds taking off , took him with them , not to be seen again , and not recorded again since . After lunch , I spent a pleasant couple of hours at Hutchinsons Bank , where Martin does the transect . He emailed me to say he had recorded 3 Grizzled Skipper the day before , so I hoped to see them , but failed to do so . A couple of Orange Tip males , Green-veined White , Peacock , Holly
Blue and several Brimstone , including another courting pair , were the species found . I decided , before returning home , to re-visit the Ring Ouzel site as most records were around 3 o'clock in the afternoon . I didn't have another sighting , but did meet the recorder , a birder/dogwalker , who passes the field every day with his dog at that time , Whilst waiting for a sighting , a noise in a conifer
alerted me to an albino Grey Squirrel , who only allowed two shots , before disappearing towards the top of the dense tree .
Feeling 'robbed' the previous day , yesterday morning I returned to another site near Warlingham , where I had also been looking for Ring Ouzels , and Brown Hares during the Winter . I stopped and looked with binoculars up the hill , and almost immediately spotted a male on the track . By the time I grabbed the camera , he was gone , but eventually it got even better , when a second male showed .
The two were being constantly harassed by the local Blackbirds , and although too far for the lens , managed a few record shots of the pair , in this one with one of the Blackbirds . They were on the far side of a horse paddock that had a diagonal footpath across it to a stile on the fenceline behind the birds in the shot . I did attempt to get closer via the footpath , but with no cover across the paddock , the wiley birds spotted me and flew further up the slope . The attempt wasn't wasted though , as apart
from several Skylark singing and displaying , a minimum of 4 Wheatear were also found , a male and
female posing for the camera , but they too wouldn't let me get close .
After lunch , I set off to look for the first Orchids if the year , parking up at Cudham Recreation Ground , and enjoying a very pleasant walk across the farmland towards Strawberry Bank , with more Skylarks , half a dozen Swallows and a couple of House Martins . With Bluebells in full
bloom , it's always nice to find the odd white one . Along the track , in exactly the same place that I first found it many years ago , Moschatel - Town Hall Clock / Adoxa moschatellina is in full flower ,
with it's four flowers ( clock faces ) on each side , and one on top for good luck . Reaching the orchid site , which I haven't visited for a few years now , I could only find 11 flower spikes , when they used
to be counts of 100/200 on previous visits . Hopefully it is just a blip this year , as nothing seems to have changed on the site . A bit further along the track is Strawberry Bank , a small chalk grassland site managed by LB.Bromley . I found a couple of Early Purple Orchids here in the past , but none this time . On the way back to the car , a few Labiates , plants with square stems were found ;
Yellow Archangel / Lamiastrum galeobdolon ,
Bugle / Ajuga reptans ,
and Ground Ivy / Glechoma hederacea .
Only other interest found was up on the Common on the way home . Looking like a wasp , but in fact a Cuckoo Bee , Nomada signata , I believe .

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Sunday 19th. April 2015

With the first female Adders emerging up on the Greensand Ridge , I started wondering if I would be treated to the 'dance of the Adders' again this year . To my surprise , when I visited last Saturday , one
of the females was already mating with the only 'silverback' male that I had found on the site . I
visited again on the Sunday , but found everything quiet , the female sunning herself and looking very
satisfied with the situation , the male more mobile , being found in three different places on the visit , but seemingly with no tension between himself and other males who hadn't donned their 'silverback'
status . I did find a second 'silverback' male , but he was a good distance from the first , probably searching for a female of his own . Since then , the whole race to breed seems to have stumbled to a halt .
The second full butterfly transect at High Elms LNR proved a slight improvement on the first , but still not requiring a pencil re-sharpen , but did add Orange Tip and Small White , the first non-over wintering species found on site . On the way back home , a visit up on the Common found what must have been a mass emergence of Green Tiger Beetles . Usually I find 1 or 2  on a visit at this time of year , but this time they seemed to fly up in front with almost every step taken . I even found a pair
making sure that the species will be around next year too . On the bottom lane , the Rookery contains
10 nests this year , a steady increase , and on the wires , the first returning Swallow was found .
A visit to Hutchinson's Bank , just over the border in Surrey , in search of more Orange Tips , failed ,
but it did produce an early Green Hairstreak , which was most unexpected . A male Holly Blue was also found , but refused to get into the viewfinder . Less shy were several pairs of Brimstone ,
performing their 'aerial ballet' courtship routine , here the male below the female . When I got home , Carol had had a Holly Blue in the garden .
An amphibian survey with fellow volunteer Marcus in his local Country Park , produced 9 Great Crested Newt ( 6M ) , 17 Smooth/Common Newt (2M) and a single male Palmate Newt . With the lack of rain this Spring , the pond level was well down , which meant that the surrounding log piles , which produced good numbers of all 3 species on last year's visits , had dried out and were not being used by the newts , so all were found by netting . It's a privilege to help Marcus , who has a licence to handle these protected animals , and to get the opportunity to see the animals close up . The male in
this shot , on the left with the white tail stripe is about 10 cms. in length and the female slightly longer . Along with dragonfly and damselfly nymphs , several Caddisfly larvae in their decorated
homes , were also found .
With news from Phil/Sharp by Nature and Alan/Snodland and Surrounding  Area that the first Nightingales had arrived back at New Hythe , I couldn't wait to make a visit , but even though Phil had mentioned that there was work going on on site , I wasn't expecting to find the carnage that I found on my arrival . A new water supply for the surrounding area is being put in , right across the Country Park , but it looked more like a motorway was being constructed , with a great swathe of Nightingale territory having been torn up , and , the managers deciding to remove most of the vegetation from the Water Vole's favoured ditch at the same time . I heard a few Nightingales in the
distance , but it was a Common Whitethroat that was first to pose . In the same area I spotted another
one , this time collecting nesting materials alongside the Water Vole ditch . Down by the diver's bridge , a few ripples gave away a Water Vole amongst the little emergent vegetation that had been
left , which eventually swam out to the middle of the ditch and preened on a half submerged log , only to be disturbed by four men with a strimmer working at the end of the ditch . I then moved
across the other side of the millstream where I got the first good view of a singing Nightingale , only for the bird to be disturbed , by the same four men . I saw the bird fly over towards the diver's bridge , but stayed put having heard another Nightingale sing a few notes by the bridge over the millstream .
My wait was rewarded , when the bird moved closer to where I was standing , and gave lengthy views and sang beautifully . Moving back towards the scrub areas a few more Nightingales were heard and another down in the car park , I would estimate 6/8 birds in total . I was also treated to at
least two Willow Warblers in song , this one along the path between the two scrub areas . Several
singing Blackcaps were also found , this one on the entrance to the car park . A few Slow Worms
were found under refugia and at least 4 Speckled Woods all freshly emerged , my first sightings this
year . The only other butterflies seen were  Peacocks , which numbered 15+ , this one nectaring on Blackthorn flowers . I did meet one of the rangers who tried to assure me that when all the remedial work had been done and new plantings , the area would be better than ever . Trouble is , what damage has been done to breeding species this year , and future years before the planting matures ?
Yesterday morning I led a bird walk for the Friends of a local Country Park , arranged a couple of months ago . I arrived for a scout round an hour before the start time , on admittedly a very cool morning . I got back to the car park just before start time to find 2 members of the Friends and three people who had seen the notice and come along , making 6 of us in total . We did the walk which went down well , and even the sun came out towards the end . I don't think I'll be saying 'yes' again .
In the afternoon , a look up on the Common in cool conditions didn't find much apart from a male ,
from those feathery antennae , Common Heath moth , and a hoverfly , which I believe is a female
Eupeodes corolla . 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Saturday 11th. April 2015

A round up of the week :
The first butterfly transect at High Elms LNR , failed to produce the hoped for Orange Tip or early
Skipper . The two and a half hour visit in good conditions didn't blunt the pencil with 9 Brimstone , 2 Peacock and one Comma being the only butterflies going into the book . I must say that it might be a blessing in disguise as apart from Primroses and Violets and the first Cowslips , there are very few nectar plants in the 'scalped' glades and meadows . Even the Bee Fly / Bombylius major had to resort
 to the Primrose too . Along the bridleway through the golf course , Coltsfoot / Tussilago farfara , a
member of the Daisy family , and a species that flowers before it's leaves appear , was found , and just before the car park , the flower buds of the Horse Chestnut / Aesculus hippocastanum , had just
burst open . In a short time these will become the erect stalked clusters of flowers ready to be pollinated and produce the conkers in the Autumn . On the way home , I stopped off up on the
Common where the 3/4 Chiffchaffs were singing , and as I photographed one , the faint 'hueet' contact call of it's mate was heard , as she looked for a nest sight below .
A trip to Bough Beech Reservoir found the water still very high , with almost no muddy edges , there is very little hope of any waders stopping in to refuel . A Cuckoo , calling from behind the Oast and a singing Blackcap at the far end of the reserve , where I looked for Orange Tips amongst the Cuckoo Flower along the hedgeline without success , were the only highlights . Moving on to the small
reserve with feeders , I was greeted as I arrived by a pair of Treecreeper and also heard the Bullfinches , but never saw them . With several Common Buzzard heard and the odd one or two
drifting into view , I found my first Grass Snakes of the year . This probable female from the size allowed a couple of shots , but a smaller specimen was too quick for the camera . When I arrived back home and unloading the car , an insect , looking somewhat like a honeybee , caught my attention as it moved across the carport floor . I grabbed a sheet of paper and the camera and it obliged by walking a short way on the paper before flying off . I have got to admit that it would probably gone in my 'to be identified' folder , had it not been for a photo on the Rye Harbour webpage the previous evening . It was in fact a Black-horned Sawfly / Zaraea lonicera , one of the
less seen species . Like many of the Sawflies , it's name reflects the plant with which it is associated , Honeysuckle .
I left it quite late for a visit to Sevenoaks Reserve , but even so arrived in a pea soup , but the warmth of the sun could be felt through it , and after an hour or so , it was gone . From Tyler Hide on my arrival , I couldn't see the first island , so headed down to Slingsby Hide , hoping for Water Rail or
Reed Warbler , but only a single male Reed Bunting was seen . With the islands now showing from Tyler Hide , two Little Ringed Plover were seen in flight but when landing , were on the far side of the furthest islands . Along the main track towards the sheep field , 3 male Blackcap were singing ,
one down by Long Lake just made it into the viewfinder , but no sign yet of a Garden Warbler . From the gate I scanned the sheep field , but failed to find the juvenile White Ibis , but last night I noticed that an immature White Ibis touched down briefly at the London Wetland Centre at Barnes , before carrying on westwards . I can't imagine that it wasn't the Sevenoaks bird , so the long staying attraction has moved on , perhaps it ran out of worms in the sheep field .
Yesterday I took Carol to friends near Rye and after a quick cuppa , disappeared . I headed first for Pett Level and was frustrated before even stopping to see a pair of Mute Swan mating in the middle of one pool . It looked like the cob jet-skiing on the pen . As I pulled up , it was over and as I unpacked the camera they did a 'ballet thing' , but as I was ready to take a shot , they split up , gutted .To add to the frustration , ripples from the edge of the ditch in front of the pool turned out to
be a Water Vole feeding on emerging reed stems , but it steadfastly refused to come out into the open . The only other interest was a pair of Shellduck , way over on the far side . My second stop was at Rye Harbour NR  in now somewhat hazy conditions . Lots of families on the path out to the mouth of the Rother , so I headed out to the right and beyond the caravan park . The tide was out , but the
number of birds around were few . A Curlew was feeding in the water on one pool , and not far
away , one of two Avocet , the only two seen on the visit . The air was full of BhGull calls , interspersed by a few Skylark battles involving two or three birds at a time . This one had just had a
spat with two other , and was taking the chance to look for food . A few Linnets were seen on the way to the hides , where the noise level increased by each step from nesting Gulls . Almost all were
Bh , but way out on the pool were a few Meds , but they never came close , and when did come
ashore , it was always on the far side of the island . A Redshank was much more willing to pose . Making my way along the metaled road between the reserve and the beach , usually a good spot for Yellow Wagtail or Wheatear , hardly a bird was seen or heard , apart from another Skylark that lifted
up overhead in full song . Near the mouth of the river , I met up with the 'last of the summer wine' , three old boys , all must have been well into their 80's , out on a day's birding . They too were hoping for migrants in the area , but hadn't found a single one . After reminiscing about how it used to be in the 'old days' , we went our ways . As I turned to follow the river back to the car park , I looked over to where I had stopped and chatted to the three . They hadn't moved far , and I smiled and thought to myself , it won't be that long before I could join their club . My next move was to Dungeness , where before going to the reserve , had a look down the Gully . Very little apart from an LBJ that dived into the gorse , and a report from a returning birder that he hadn't seen a single migrant . Still , I parked up and had a look around and was as pleased as punch to find two male Wheatear , looking very dapper ,
one of which was more obliging than the other , which made the bumpy ride back up the track much more satisfying . Arriving at the RSPB reserve , not a sign of a Tree Sparrow , or any other species at the feeders at the entrance , and a slow drive along the track only produced one singing Reed Warbler and a female Kestrel of interest . Few cars in the car park didn't bode well , plus the fact that I was running out of time to pick Carol up , so I did a quick circuit , not going into any of the hides . A distant Marsh Harrier and several calling Cettis Warblers and swarms of black , 'mosquito type'    insects and the odd Peacock butterfly was all that was seen as I approached the 5 bar gate near the track to Dengemarsh Hide , when my progress was slowed instantly by two bursts of Sedge Warbler song , from Brambles either side of the gate . As usual , it was some time before I saw movement , never mind a bird , but patience paid off . One bird suddenly appeared on top of the Bramble , as if
trying to out-sing his rival , before disappearing back into cover . With one eye on my watch and the other on the other Bramble patch , again my patience was rewarded when the bird defiantly appeared
in a small tree to post his response . Almost immediately , both birds were spooked by four people on horseback , and all went quiet . The hoped for 'boom' from a Bittern didn't materialise , but just before the return track to the car park , I met two birders who told me that a Hoopoe , probably the one seen in the trapping area at the Bird Observatory yesterday , had been seen within the last 20 minutes in the area . There was no way I had time to look around , so left them to it , but searched on my way back , without success . Back at the car park , I was told by another birder that when seen , the bird flew off immediately , without a chance of a photo , so it could be anywhere on the reserve , or even flown off altogether . I finally picked Carol up 'well late' , but it was described as 'to be expected ' !