Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Pulborough Brooks Brown Hairstreak

A disappointing days birding. The promised brighter skies did not turn up and neither did the birds. It was one of those dull, overcast and oppressive days, not good for photography and very little bird song, the birds don't seem to like them either.

We started off at Waltham Brooks with good views of Willchaffs and Lesser Whitethroats. None close enough or still long enough for a good photograph but a promising start. We gave the ducks a once over but obviously missed the Garganeys that Alan Kitson saw around the same time. I would probably struggle to spot the difference between female Garganey and Teal but I hope I did not miss a male.

We had one heart stopping moment when a buzzard flew towards us from the south. In flight it had a profile with very flat wings and the call sounded unusual. Could it be a Honey Buzzard? It looked a possibility but we will never know as did not come close enough to confirm the distinguishing features.

The sewage works gave us distant views of Grey Wagtails but again the picture opportunities were limited.

Grey Wagtail

At about 11.30 we headed off to Pulborough Brooks which was surprisingly empty of both birds and bird watchers. I had thought that with the the previous couple of day's crowds searching for the Broad-billed Sandpiper there would still be a hangover of people. It wasn't the reason we had gone there but perhaps we would be lucky, miss the crowds and get the bird. No such luck, more Willchaffs and Whitethroats, distant views of Common Sandpiper, Greenshank, and Mandarin Ducks but nothing unusual.

It was left to the butterflies and dragonflies to rescue the day again. We missed the real prize a very large Brown Hawker that kept threatening to put down but eventually flew off. the consolation prize was that in chasing it we came across a couple of Comma Butterflies. Nothing unusual in that except that one of them looks like it may be an aberration, probably ab. carbonaria. I know that overwintering Commas do have a darker underwing but this looks exceptional.

Comma - It looks normal from the top view

but it has a very dark underwing

At least the dark colours show off the white comma which gives this butterfly it name. It's strange how the more you get into butterflies the more you find there is to see and learn.

As we headed down towards Nettleys hide we passed under some Ash trees with Buckthorn growing underneath them. Dave commented that it should be a good place for Brown Hairstreaks but neither of us was really looking. I stopped to photograph a Scorpion Fly that disappeared before I could get the macro lens out but when I turned around there was a female Brown Hairstreak resting on some bracken. A soft approach through the bracken was not really possible and I did eventually flush it back up into the trees but at least I got a record shot.

Female Brown Hairstreak

So another attempt to get back to birding that ended up focusing on Butterflies. Things should improve over the next few weeks as the migration start to take hold and the waders begin to return.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Common Sandpiper

The autumn migration is underway and I have been trying to plug a few of the gaps in my year list caused by missing the birds during the spring. Wednesday saw a reasonably successful trip over to Pagham Harbour. I managed to pick up Little Ringed Plover and Green Sandpiper on the Ferry Pool and a Reed Warbler on the North Wall but they were all too far away for a picture. That left me with with just a butterfly and a dragonfly to show for the day out. So much for my first day back on serious birding.

Holly Blue

Migrant Hawker

I had not managed to find a Common Sandpiper on the trip to Pagham so Friday I took a couple of hours out and went to Arlington Reservoir. With the water in the reservoir low there were a surprising number of birds there, loafing on the exposed mud. The Canada and Greylag geese along with various gulls were the most numerous but there were other interesting birds as well.

Juvenile Egyptian Goose

This juvenile Egyptian Goose had me wondering for a few seconds until the adult, displaying the more familiar dark eye patches and white wing bars, came into view.

There were at least three Common Sandpipers on the dam wall. The first was very flighty but the other two gave good views. The pale edging to the wing feathers and barring on the back suggests the second bird is a juvenile.

Common Sandpiper

Juvenile Common Sandpiper

Other birds on the wall were a Ringed Plover, a Juvenile Dunlin, and the usual juvenile Pied Wagtails.

Ringed Plover

Ringed  Plover (the other side)

Juvenile Dunlin

Pale or warm brown fringing on feathers and silvery V on scapulars
 show this as a juvenile bird

There were lots of "little brown" birds in the hedgerows but I did not have time to stop and look for anything unusual. A pity really as I still need a Lesser Whitethroat for this years list.

Finally, ever wondered what goes into your drinking water. This pipe has been exposed by the low water levels. I am sure the water must be OK by the time it gets to you but it doesn't look very healthy.

Emptying into Arlington Reservoir

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Cattle Egret

I first saw the reports of a Cattle Egret at Marsh Farm near Sidlesham whilst I was away on holiday. I had seen one once before but then my pictures were analysed by experts at Birdguides who decided that it was actually a Cattle/Little Egret hybrid. Click here to see details. I had been feeling guilty about ticking off the Cattle Egret on my life list so seeing this bird was a high priority.

Fortunately it was still around when I got home. It looks like a juvenile and has probably been displaced from the near continent. It will be interesting to see how long it stays around. It has four separate dairy herds that has been moving between so it clearly has plenty of food. It will probably take a good frost to see it heading off south again.

Cattle Egret

I went looking for it late Sunday afternoon and found it in a field just south of Marsh Farm. The herd was close to the edge of the field so I had reasonable views. The bird seemed quite happy in amongst the cows but it was keeping an eye on me and moved away if I got too close. It seems strange and a little sad, that it should be so comfortable moving around under the feet of the cows and yet is wary of people coming close.

I had about half an hour viewing the bird before the farmer opened a gate at the far end of the field and the cows began moving over in that direction with the Cattle Egret staying in close attention. They were probably heading for the milking parlour. I am not sure if the bird will be waiting outside for them or if this is when it relocates to one of the other herds.

A look that says you are getting too close

Walking back to the car I found five Wheatears flying along the rocks on the south side of the North Wall. After about twenty minutes I had still not managed to get a decent picture of any of them but I did see the unusual sight of three Black Swans over in White's Creek.

Originally from Australia and with all of the birds in the UK descended from escapees, there are probably now more pairs of Black Swans breeding in the wilds of the UK than there are of many of the rarer birds on the UK list. I have seen estimates of forty or more breeding pairs which must start to put them close to a self sustaining population.

Black Swans

Its nice to see one bird population that is not in decline.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Brown Hairstreak

Today I picked up what will probably be my last butterfly species of the year the Brown Hairstreak. Reports from Steyning Rifle Range were a bit patchy and we had already spent a couple of hours there without success so I decided to play safe and visit Alners Gorse in Dorset where Dave had seen White, Purple and Brown Hairstreaks on a visit a couple of weeks earlier.

The site looks great and we did get to see Browns and Purples even if they were not in the best of condition so this is a place I will be coming back to next year.

The weather was patchy cloud cover with a few showers and there was no sign of the Browns during the morning. We did see a few Purple Hairstreaks but they were in a very poor state. So much so that Dave had difficulty convincing me that the first one we saw was actually a purple and not the brown I was looking for.

Purple Hairstreak - it has an eye marking on the underside of its wing.

I did get a slightly better record shot later on, it shows a trace of purple and the eye marking is visible. I would have liked better but I will have to settle for this for now.

Purple Hairstreak

We saw three female Browns in the early afternoon of which two settled with open wings whilst the third just kept going into the distance. One of the two that settled flew off almost immediately, the other walked into the depths of the Blackthorn, possibly to lay an egg, then that one flew off as well, so no closed wing shots.

Female Brown Hairstreak

It was a two hundred mile round trip but we had seen the butterflies and I was happy. Although I have to confess that a message from Dawn and Jim, saying that there were a number of Brown Hairstreaks showing well at the Steyning site, just a few miles from home, did take the shine off the day just a bit. Click here to see what I missed.

The supporting cast on the day was quiet good. These are a few of the less tired looking ones.

Magpie Moth

Small Copper

Common Blue

Female Common Blue


I have't put the macro lens away yet. I have seen all the target butterflies but there is still the possibility of improving on a few of the record shots and who knows there might still be a Swallowtail, Long-tailed Blue, or Queen of Spain to come yet.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Long-tailed Skua

I have been tempted by the attractions of the Dark Side (butterflies) for most of the summer and the force is strong but the thought of spending the winter counting butterfly eggs was too much for me. So today it was back to birding and a very successful if somewhat disappointing day. Successful in that I got a decent picture of a Turtle Dove, something I have been trying to get for a long time and also a picture of a Long-tailed Skua. The Skua is a life tick for me, I have probably seen them before but I only count them when I have a good record shot. Disappointing in that both birds only really gave us one pose before flying off. I got plenty of shots but they all looked the same. The Long-tailed Skua was my own fault in that it changed positions once and I missed it and then when it flew off I failed to get a single flight shot.

First stop of the day was Woods Mill Nature Reserve where the Turtle Dove has been showing well and does not seem to be disturbed either by groups of exited children running about or by the local Great Spotted Woodpecker with whom it disputes some of the best perches.

Turtle Dove

I was a bit disappointed with Woods Mill when I visited earlier in the year. Cleaning out the pools seemed to have drastically reduced the insect populations which would have a knock on effect with Dragonflies and other creatures higher up in the food chain. However, recent visits have shown a much more vibrant environment.

We had a quick stop at the Steyning rifle range as I still need to see a Brown Hairstreak but with the wind picking up and frequent showers it was soon clear that it was not going to happen. Reports were still coming in of the Long-tailed Skua on the beach between Church Norton and Selsey so we decided to give that a go.

Parking up on the east beach we had about a half mile walk eastwards to where we fond a couple of birders observing the Skua roosting on the beach. It had apparently just relieved some of the local Terns of their catch and it was now happily sitting digesting its hard won meal.

Long-tailed Skua

The bird seems healthy enough, feeding and flying well, but it seems strange that it should be hanging about on a beach in Selsey for five days now.

On the way home we stopped off at the Ferry Pool to have a look at the Black-winged Stilts. The family of two adults and three young were present so they seem to have abandoned Pulborough Brooks and returned to the Selsey area. They were showing well but with back lighting on them and with a strong wind still blowing it was not worth taking any pictures. It is strange how a bird that I had not seen until a few months ago is now so common place that it's not worth a picture. Not entirely true though, if they stay I will be returning on a better day to improve on my existing record shots.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Baltic Gull

Well. I am just back from holiday, a two week cruise around the Baltic. Plenty of food and culture, Stockholm, St Petersburg, etc. and with the benefit of a days mini Paleartic cruise across the North Sea at the beginning and end of it. I can really recommend sitting out on the balcony, in the sun, with a cold beer just waiting for something like a Storm Petrel to turn up. The trouble is that nothing did turn up. I had seen Petrels before as well as other sea going birds but this time it was just Herring Gulls and Gannets.

Herring Gull


Things improved slightly as we moved north through the Baltic with the Herring Gulls gradually being replace by Baltic Gulls. I had not expected the Baltics to be much different from a Lesser Black-backed but these were a much more elegant looking bird with longer wings and a very dark back.

Baltic Gull

The idea then was to immerse myself in the culture of the places we visited and to enjoy a different type of holiday. The trouble is that I have a camera that just refuses to take holiday snaps and gets very excited when birds or butterflies come near. There were very few opportunities for pictures but there was always the unusual that showed that you were not back in England. Flocks of Barnacle Geese on most of the lakes where I would have expected Canada Geese and Carrion Crow replaced by Hooded Crow.

Barnacle Goose

Hooded Crow

and a Sand Lizard, perhaps not unusual but I cannot remember the last time I saw one in England.

Sand Lizard

The butterfly sightings were equally flat. I chased after a few whites whilst in St Petersburg hoping that I had an Appolo or a Black-veined White but they were all Green-veined.

Green-veined White

I did have one find, a Queen of Spain Fritillary which is a first for me. I did think about putting it in a box and bringing it back to England ... but that would be cheating.

Queen of Spain Fritillary

I left the sun and temperatures of thirty degrees plus in Sweden and Russia and I have come back to rain and gales. I need it all to clear up quickly as I still have that Brown Hairstreak to find. It should be my final butterfly of the year and I will then be able get back to the birding. That is, unless the Queen of Spain puts in a late autumn appearance over here as it did at Chichester a few years ago.