Saturday, 31 May 2014

Cirl Bunting

I think the wife had been getting a bit fed up with my always being out birding or butterflying, so she decided that we should have a short break away, with some nice walking and good food. Sometimes you just have to go along with these things so I booked up a couple of nights for us in East Prawle down in south Devon. It looked a very undeveloped piece of coastline with good walking and there was a traditional pub, the Pigs Nose, that had numerous CAMERA awards for good beer and decent pub food. It sounded like the ideal, get away from it all, short break. You can imagine my surprise then, when I found out that it also has a small colony of Cirl Buntings and if the sun ever shone I might also find Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary and Marsh Fritillary butterflies close by. Sometimes you just get lucky!

The problem was that we were not lucky with the weather, overcast, drizzle, low cloud and cool. We did a couple of stretches of the South West Coast Path. I have no complaints about the scenery. You get miles of unspoilt paths with very few people about and with wild flowers growing everywhere. All you needed was a bit of sun to bring out the butterflies. The closest I got was a Speckled Yellow Moth.

Speckled Yellow Moth

There were plenty of birds about but not the ones that I really wanted to see. Still I always have time for a Dunnock one of my favourite birds.


We did about ten miles along the coast on the Thursday. We could probably have done more but I was stopping to check out every tree and cluster of undergrowth in an attempt to find a Cirl Bunting. We had no luck and by the time we got back to the car park my spirits were starting to sink. We were leaving the next morning so it would have to be an early rise and a couple of hours birding before breakfast. We did one last circuit of the car park, I had given up but my wife, an occasional fair weather birder, thought she had heard the Cirl Bunting song in the distance. I was sceptical but we went and had a look anyway and sure enough she was right. We had a male bird sitting out on the top of a bush singing for all he was worth.

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Its strange how one moment can transform a day. I was now happy to go home and was looking forward to celebrating with a couple of pints of the local brew in the pub that evening. But birds are like buses, once one comes along they all turn up. We only had a mile to drive to get back to the B&B but halfway there I spotted a buzzard perched on top of a post. It was a very pale colour so worth a look and it should have been a great picture as I don't think that I have ever been able to get so close to a buzzard before. Unfortunately we were at the top of a hill and in low cloud so diffusion through the water droplets has meant that I have lost all the detail in the picture.

Juvenile Buzzard

When I turned around to walk back to the car I found I had eight of the Cirl Buntings sitting up on the power cables. No chance of a close up picture but at least I will know where to look next time.

One of eight Cirl Buntings on the power cables

Friday, 23 May 2014

Glanville Fritillary

The Glanville Fritillary is named after Eleanor Glanville, an ecentric 17th and 18th century English butterfly enthuisiast - a very unusual occupation for a woman at that time. She was the first to capture British specimens in Lincolnshire during the 1690s. A contemporary wrote:-

This fly is named for Eleanor Glanvil, whose memory had like to have suffered for her curiosity. Some relations that was disappointed by her Will, attempted to let it aside by Acts of Lunacy, for they suggested that none but those who were deprived of their senses, would go in pursuit of butterflies.           Moses Harris 1776

The population has shrunk a little since those days. Now the only reliable place to see them is on the south coast of the Isle of Wight. There have been small colonies reported on the mainland at Hurst Castle, Wrecclesham in Surrey, and in the Avon Gorge but I have not seen any reports of these so far this year. That leaves Hutchinson's Bank near Croydon as the only reported sightings on the mainland. These are probably the result of a relocated population by a member of the public from the Wrecclesham site.

Hutchinson's Bank is certainly a promising butterflying location with 29 reported species. I searched it for a couple of hours today but only managed to come up with one Glanville and I only had that for about 30 seconds. I was momentarily distracted by a Jay flying through and when I turned back it was gone never to be found again. The second I took my eyes off it I knew I had made a mistake but it was too late. Fortunately the 30 seconds was long enough to get a couple of record shots.

Glanville Fritillary (Female)

Glanville Fritillary

Strange to think that if I could only find this one butterfly it may well have been the only one of its kind flying in mainland UK today.

Hutchinson's bank also yielded a number of Common Blue and Speckled Wood, two Small Heath, two Dingy Skippers, one Small Blue, one Peacock, and dozens of Brimstones. There seems to be large numbers of Brimstones at every site I visit.


Common Blue

Common Blue

Speckled Wood

I also stopped off at Mill Hill NR to look for the Adonis Blue. The photographs never seem to reproduce the vivid colours you see on the Adonis in the field.

Adonis Blue

Adonis Blue female

Green Hairstreak
Small Heath

Still no sign of the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in Sussex

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Turtle Dove

Well, it may not be the best picture ever of a Turtle Dove but I came home very happy that I had seen it and managed to get a picture. The description on SOS of within 100 yards of the Whiteways car park was accurate but I was just not sure which direction to walk in. Fortunately once you got away from the traffic it was not difficult to pick up the purring call. There were at least two birds calling at the same time and I think there was probably a third close by.

Seeing them, however, was a different problem. They were high up in the trees and were very difficult to pick out. I stood there for three hours waiting for a picture. Three other birders came and went whilst I waited, happy with the glimpses they got as the bird relocated to hide in even denser foliage. But, there was no way that I was going to leave without a record shot.

The only picture opportunity available, was on the very top of a tall tree, when the bird made a short display flight and returned to a perch. I could only get the picture direct into the sun and it only did the display flight twice (from that tree) in the time I watched. Fortunately the second time the sun was behind a cloud

Turtle Dove

Last year the best I could manage was a view of the Pagham North Wall bird from about three hundred yards and a picture where it was difficult to even pick out the shape of the bird from the noise in the shot. This was a big improvement but after waiting a couple of years for a picture, I fully expect to look out into the garden tomorrow morning and see one sitting in our pear tree.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Medmerry Black-winged Stilt

I was in two minds about going out today. The weather did not look so good and the birding has been a bit slow of late.The decider was a pair of Black-winged Stilts still being reported at Medmerry. I had seen a pair down at Dungeness a few weeks ago but these were Sussex birds and so a patch tick.

I started the day off at Pagham Harbour Visitors Centre with another two hours wasted trying to get a picture of the resident Cuckoo. Again I had plenty of views but I just could not get it in the viewfinder either perched up or flying - very frustrating. The consolation was a Wood Sandpiper on the back of the Ferry Pool. I managed a couple of record shots but it was too far away for a decent picture. Fortunately a couple of friendly birders let me have a look through their telescope and I was able to see the diagnostic features.

No pictures of the Cuckoo or Wood Sandpiper so you will have to make do with a Chaffinch

The Black-winged Stilts had been reported on the scrape at the end of the footpath on the Earnley side of Medmerry. It's a long walk in, particularly if the birds have flown when you get there, but if you don't look you don't get to see so walk it was. I am glad I went. The Stilts were still there as were some other interesting birds although they were all a bit distant.

Black-winged Stilts

Given that the environment is only about a year old the bird population is building up nicely. I just hope these are new birds and not just ones that have been attracted away from Pagham Harbour. There were a number of Avocets there and they appeared to be sitting on nests. I only saw one younster but that was being well cared for by the parent who was seeing off any Gulls or Crows that came close.


The Avocets are very protective parents and even the Stilts were expected to keep their distance.

Not really a threat but see it off anyway

There was also a Curlew Sandpiper putting in an occasional appearance. Again very distant but this time the record shot is just about acceptable. You can see the diagnostic features, long black legs, pale stripe over the eye, slightly downcurved bill. The white underside is gradually disappearing as the bird moults into its red summer plumage

Curlew Sandpiper

I had a couple of hours left and a choice of things to do. I could head off to Whiteways and look for the Turtle Dove or have a look around Church Norton for a Flycatcher or other migrants. I chose Church Norton which was probably the wrong decision as the Turtle Dove was found at Whiteways.

Nothing was found by me at Church Norton apart from the rather odd behaviour of a cock pheasant. He was stood on one of the old gravestones as I walked through the church yard and he was still there when I came back half an hour later. I went over to investigate and he was rather reluctant to move away, letting me get within five or six feet before he moved off. There was no name on the gravestone, it had worn away with time, but I did wonder if he had found the remains of an old game keeper or poacher and had been dancing on their grave.

Pheasant on gravestone

I also took a couple more pictures of butterflies when I was out on Monday. Not enough for a blog but they are worth adding here.

Common Blue

The Wall Brown has to be one of the hardest to photograph. I am used to chasing Brimstones or Orange Tips over long distances but at least they stay at a reasonable height. The Wall likes baked hard bare mud where it waits until I get down alongside it laying on my belly when it then takes off and lands ten feet away. This is a game that we pursued over a couple of hours in the hot sun on Monday afternoon. I got my record shots but it was hard work and I am going to have to do it all over again to try to improve on the ones that I got.

Wall Brown

Wall Brown closed wing shot.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Wood White

There may not have been many opportunities for bird photography over the past couple of days but the butterflies have more than compensated.

As I was up at Iping Common looking for Tree Pipits and Woodlarks I decided to head over the border into Surrey to visit Botany Bay Wood in the hope of seeing Wood Whites. I did not attempt to count them but just along the main ride there must have been thirty to forty of them flying. I was also pleased to find that they are an easy butterfly to photograph. They do not seem to be concerned by a close approach or by the odd bit of gardening to give a better shot.

Wood White

Much darker markings on this one

There were also dozens of a little orange moth flying which I later identified as a Speckled Yellow Moth.

Speckled Yellow Moth

The rides also had lots of Brimstones and for a change they seemed to be settling to feed regularly giving plenty of picture opportunities.


On the way home I called in at Kithurst meadow. I already had lots of shots of the Duke of Burgundys but I wanted a Small Blue and I knew they had been seen there. I struggled to find one at first but then someone suggested that I look outside the meadow on the bank by the side of the road and sure enough there were two specimens out there.

Small Blue

Small Blue

I also found a Dingy Skipper. Not unusual  except that that this is the first shot I have taken of one with closed wings.

Dingy Skipper

And a Damselfly which I am reasonably confident in identifying as a Variable Damselfly which would be a first for me. I got it wrong, its an Azure Damselfly, wishful thinking on my part.

Variable Azure Damselfly

A couple of other Butterflies spotted the next day. The first is a Speckled Wood at Park Copse Pagham Harbour. Nothing unusual in the butterfly but the lighting is good.

Speckled Wood

And an Orange Tip taken just north of the Black Rabbit.

Orange Tip

The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is the next butterfly on the list.


With the improving weather, Wednesday and Thursday were meant to be birding days but I got it all wrong. I went inland on Wednesday when there was a large fall of migrants along the coast and I went to the coast on Thursday when all the migrants had moved inland. It wasn't a complete disaster, I saw a few birds and even managed to get a few photographs of them but in the end both days were rescued by butterflying opportunities. I have put all the butterfly pictures in the next blog.

My targets on Wednesday were Tree Pipits and Woodlarks and I headed up to Iping Common where I had seen both in previous years. There were plenty of birds flying. Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs seemed to be everywhere, there were a lot of Yellowhammers around, but strangely I did not see a single Stonechat in the time I was there.

Willow Warbler

Target birds - there was no sign of the Tree Pipits. This is usually a reliable site for them and they are a relatively easy bird to spot if they are about. Perhaps I just had the wrong time of day. I did see Woodlarks but frustratingly I just could not get a decent picture of them. They were either in cover or I was taking the picture straight into the sun. My best effort is below, poor technique but I did try. It does, however, show how effective the birds camouflage can be.

Woodlark - heavily photoshoped so you can at least recognise the bird

There were a lot of other shots of various birds to a similar standard and the recycle bin on the computer has been kept very busy.

I always do a dog count at Iping as it has so many ground nesting birds and lots of notices asking people to keep their dogs on leads. Today it was one on the lead, seven off the lead, and one out of control running through the undergrowth. I have given up challenging people, you just get so much abuse and aggression. It's not what I want on a lovely morning on the common.

Wednesday night I read lots of reports of good birds down on the Selsey peninsular so Thursday morning it was down to Pagham Harbour. "You should have been here yesterday" - they had all moved on. Even the usual birds seemed to be keeping their heads down.

A couple of hours pursuing a Cuckoo at the back of the Visitors Centre gave me lots of views but no pictures and a visit to the Severals did not produce the hoped for Garganey.

The North Wall seemed even less promising. It was high tide and the water levels in the Breech Pool where well up so there was little chance of waders. I have yet to see a Reed Warbler this year and today was no exception. Their were plenty of Sedge Warblers showing but the Reed Warblers seemed to be staying down in cover. Perhaps the highlight of the day was a good view of a Cetti's within six feet of me but of course it was gone before I could get the camera on to it.

Sedge Warbler

Sitting down to eat my sandwiches and to contemplate a disappointing birding day my spirits were raised when the local Kestrel flew in with what looked like a Water Vole and joined me for lunch.

Kestrel with lunch

All a bit gruesome but fortunately I only had peanut butter in my sandwiches

To finish off the day one of the Robins in the horse stables was feeding a youngster.

Should keep it quiet for a time.

See the next blog for the Butterflies seen over the two days

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Hairy Dragonfly

Life gets busier. Birds, butterflies, and now dragonflies as well, all to keep me occupied and away from the dreaded DIY. Its just as well that I am not into orchids or counting Poms on the seafront.

Both dragonflies shown here were found whilst out chasing birds and butterflies. They are two of the early fliers and as with all dragonflies they are such stunning insects that it is impossible to walk past without taking a picture. The first, a Hairy Dragonfly was on Kithurst Meadow where we were searching for the Duke of Burgundy butterfly. The Large Red was at Pulborough Brooks.

Hairy Dragonfly

Hairy Dragonfly

Large Red Dragonfly

We did find Dukes at Kithurst. Five possibly six, not as big a colony as in my earlier blog on Heyshott but good to see them closer to home

Duke of Burgundy

We also found a large colony of Green Hairsteaks further along the downs towards Chantry Hill. I would estimate forty to fifty seen both as singles and roosting in groups of up to a dozen. Quite an amazing sight, especially after having spent a couple of hours finding a single specimen at Mill Hill NR.

Green Hairstreak

There have been plenty of other butterflies on the wing. A quick walk around Houghton Forest gave me Brimstones, Orange Tips, and Green-veined Whites. I tracked the Brimstones and Orange Tips for ages in an attempt to find them perched out in the open. When I finally caught up with a Brimstone I found it had a damaged wing. The Orange Tip was even harder, I could not get anywhere near them. I think a few early morning visits are called for, to catch them whilst they are still roosting.

Brimstone - pity about the damaged wing

Orange Tip

Green-veined White

Can't wait to get out again but it looks like wind and rain through to the end of the weekend. Picture opportunities will be limited.