Thursday, 5 June 2014


Well, today was a good days birding, even if it did cost me £75 excess on the insurance to replace a cracked windscreen. We headed up to the commons hoping to find early Silver-studded Blue butterflies and to see a few of the heathland birds. We did not find the Silver-studded but the commons were alive with insects, dragonflies, and birds. We found Woodlark, Tree Pipit, Yellowhammers, Stonechats, but best of all Nightjars.


It was pure luck, we had been watching what appeared to be a female Emperor Dragonfly catching moths and eating them in flight. We were hoping that she would settle somewhere and that we would be able to get a picture. When she disappeared into low gorse bush Dave went to have a look. I found him "quite excited" and pointing through the bush saying look at that. When your brain is switched on to small insects it's difficult to see the bigger picture. All I could see was a couple of old branches and no Dragonflies. With Dave clicking away and getting more and more exited I could see there was something I was missing. Perhaps if he had said Nightjar I would have spotted it sooner but it was really well camouflaged. When I finally got onto it I realised that I was standing about six foot away from a Nightjar with a 500mm lens and 1.4 extender that has a minimum focal length of about 18 feet.

We tried to back off making as little noise as possible and I did manage to get off one shot but as you can see above I could not get the whole of the bird in the frame. Unfortunately, although we must have been over 18 feet away at that point we did flush the bird. Seeing it flying in daylight was a superb sight. A picture would have been great but then you would probably have missed the spectacle completely. When you get these rare moments it is best to just stand and watch.

We left the area, the temptation to go back and try for another picture was great but its the wrong time of year for disturbing the birds. As always with moments such as this you are never sure if it was a great success or a missed opportunity.

I had seen Woodlarks on another common earlier in the year so was not too worried when we only got distant views of these. I was particularly pleased though when we found a Tree Pipit. He was sitting out on top of a tree singing and then doing his display flight and parachuting back down to his perch.

Tree Pipit

There were also good views of Stonechats and Yellowhammers although my pictures of these were not great.


Insects interest me if they will take a good picture but not if I am going to have to spend hours on research just to find out what it is called. There were no such problems when we came across a hornet resting on the brambles. It's big and it's colourful but its quite intimidating. I know that hornets are meant to be quite docile provided you stay away from the nest and don't upset them. The trouble is with a macro lens you need to get quite close to fill the frame. I felt comfortable whilst it was facing away from us but when it turned around to look at us the theory went out the window and I backed off fast. If it's three times the size of a wasp it probably carries three times as much venom



So far this year I have not really found the time to go chasing Dragonflies. However, with the warmer weather they are starting to appear in greater numbers. We saw Four-spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers on the commons as well as assorted blue Damselflies although none of them were stopping to have their pictures taken. I was more lucky at Houghton Wood where this Hairy Dragonfly had paused amongst the vegetation.

Hairy Dragonfly

We thought that we might find a few Fritillary Butterflies on the wing at Houghton but it was mostly very quiet. I did get a first Large Skipper of the year and also a Red Admiral but there was little else visible.

Large Skipper

Large Skipper

Red Admiral looking a bit washed out

Birding days don't come much better than this.

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