Monday, 29 June 2015

Marbled White

We had a tour around a few of the local sites today looking for photo opportunities with Birds, Butterflies and Dragonflies, with Dave also keeping an eye open for any unusual orchids. It made a change to spend some time on a few of the more usual species rather than focusing on life or year ticks.

First stop was Pagham Harbour where a summer plumage Spotted Redshank was to be found on the Ferry Pool. It was a great bird to see but it stayed just out of range of the cameras. This seems to be the norm on the Ferry Pool these days. As I  remember it, in the past we would get birds closer to the road giving much better views. Perhaps it's just the volume of traffic that you now get on the Selsey Road.

The harbour at Church Norton looked really picturesque in the early morning sun but there were very few birds about. We had hoped to get improved shots of the Hudsonian Whimbrel but if it was still there it was tucked into one of the creeks out of sight.

Next stop was the meadow at Whiteways roundabout on the A29. With the morning warming up there were plenty of butterflies on the wing but the real bonus was freshly emerged Marbled Whites. Not only were they in pristine condition but they are a lot easier to photograph when they are perched out drying out their wings.

Freshly emerged Marbled White

All the above shots are males. The females have a shorter body, golden brown markings on the underside (instead of black), and a golden brown leading edge to the upper wings.

Female - Golden brown leading edge to upper wing

Female on the left - picture from June 2014

Other butterflies seen at Whiteways meadow were Ringlets, Small Heath, and Small Skippers.


Small Heath

Next stop on our tour was Lords Piece. If anything there were too many Dragonflies and Damselflies there. The constant movement meant that nothing had time to settle and the insects rarely stayed on a perch for more than a few seconds. This is really a better site for early morning or late afternoon visits but we did get a few shots.

Ovipositing female Emperor 

Broad-bodied Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser

Four-spotted Chaser
- this one has additional dark markings at the wing tips so is probably of the form praenubila

Another unusual sight were these two Blue-tailed Damselflies. Females come in a variety of colours but this one is an andromorph having the colour of a male. I thought the idea was that she would not be recognised as a female and so avoid harassment by the males. She would then change to a green colour when she reached sexual maturity. The strategy does not seem to have worked in this case.

Mateing pair with andromorph female

We stopped off at Pulborough Brooks as I needed to stock up on bird food. We had intended to walk down to the Black Pool to look for more dragonflies but with the time moving on and the temperature rising we decided to skip this and move on to Woods Mill.

There is a reasonably showy Water Rail with a couple of chicks that we wanted to photograph at Woods Mill. Unfortunately I think we left it a little too long and the chicks are now juveniles. We got good views of one but the mother did not show.

Juvenile Water Rail

Dave staked out a tree where we could hear a Turtle Dove purring. Having already photographed it I went off in search of Demoiselles which I had managed to miss so far this year.

Beautiful Demoiselle (male)

Beautiful Demoiselle (female)

Despite lots of purring the Turtle Dove did not show in the open but there were at least more dragonfly opportunities around the pool whilst we waited.

Four-spotted Chaser

I came home with about 400 shots in the camera. My usual keeper rate is about two in a hundred but with the pristine specimens of Marbled White it rose to about twenty five percent today. What do you do with about sixty almost identical pictures of a Marbled White?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Black Hairstreak

Yesterday we got to see the Black Hairstreak butterflies at Bernwood Forest near Oxford. They were a life tick and it seemed like a great day. That was until we got home and found that we had missed ten Bee Eaters in Sussex. There was nothing we could have done about it, which is just as well, as I am not sure which I would have chosen if I had to pick between the two.

We were lucky to find the Black Hairstreaks. The weather had been poor on the way up but started to brighten up as we got there. The forest is large and we would have had little chance of finding the colony if Dave had not been able to get information on it from a contact.

Even then, when you were standing in the right spot, they were hard to see. Much of their time is spent feeding on honey dew in the tops of large trees and they only occasionally come down to nectar, usually on the flowers of Wild Privet. We probably saw about six specimens with a maximum of three flying at any one time. Only one of them came down to eye level and gave good photographic opportunities and as you would expect that was a really tatty specimen. All my shots were taken with a 400mm Telephoto lens with the macro staying in the bag all day.

First record shot

You always feel a lot happier once you have that first record shot. You can then relax and start the endless process of trying to get a decent picture. The shot above was actually the second Black Hairstreak that we saw, the first having been disturbed by a bee just as I was about to press the shutter release.

Not only were the butterflies staying high, they were also being silhouetted against a very bright sky making it hard to get a decent picture.

The very bright Wild Privet flowers do not help.

But at least most of the specimens we saw looked to be in good condition.

The shots of the Black Hairstreaks came out better than I had been expecting although you are rarely  satisfied with what you get. It feels good to have this one in the bag though, as I was expecting it to be a lot harder to find.

For once there are no other pictures. This was really a search for one butterfly. No mission creep, that could distract us from our target, being allowed. A succesful day, it's just a pity about the Bee Eaters.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Terek Sandpiper

This is just a quick blog to record the Terek Sandpiper at Church Norton today. I was otherwise engaged for most of the day so we did not get down there until about four o'clock.  This was just after high tide and the bird had been missing for some time. It was a disappointment but it seemed to be worth waiting a while to see if it would come back as the tide dropped. Sure enough about four thirty we got our first views of it, It was distant  and the pictures were poor but it was a life tick for me so I came away happy.

Terek Sandpiper

Finding plenty of food

Size comparison with Black-headed Gull

and Oystercatcher

Terek Sandpiper

Distant record shots but better than nothing. A great bird to see, I am glad we went.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

High Brown Fritillary

I am gradually filling in the gaps in my UK butterfly collection. On Monday I detoured to Collard Hill on a return journey from Wales. I didn't get there until about four thirty so did not have long to search for the Large Blue but I did get to see one. The record shot is really awful so I am not putting it up here but I was just happy to have seen it.

Today was a trip down to Aish Tor on Dartmoor in search of the High Brown Fritillary. A long day, seven hours of driving and about seven hours searching for butterflies, but at least the driving was shared with Dave. More importantly we did get to see the target butterfly.

It was hot and the butterflies were very active so finding one that would stay still long enough to get a picture was difficult. We also had the problem that the Dark Green Fritillary flies at the same site and from a top view they are difficult to tell apart. However if you can get a view of the underwing it is easy tell the difference between the two. I was going to try to explain this but in the end decided to lift this explanation from the UK Butterflies site.

UK Butterflies - Similar Species

The Dark Green Fritillary and High Brown Fritillary are most easily distinguished by their undersides, since only the High Brown Fritillary has a row of "ocelli" just inside the outer margin. In addition, as the name suggests, the High Brown Fritillary has a predominately brown hue to the underside, whereas the Dark Green Fritillary is predominately green.

Dark Green Fritillary (left) and High Brown Fritillary (right)

It is much more difficult to distinguish the Dark Green Fritillary from the High Brown Fritillary based on their uppersides. However, the first row of dots from the outside edge of the forewing upperside do give a clue - the 3rd dot from the apex of the forewing is in line with the other dots in the Dark Green Fritillary, but indented toward the body in the High Brown Fritillary.

Dark Green Fritillary (left) and High Brown Fritillary (right)

Armed with these sort of details we expected to be able to identify the High Browns easily. In practice the butterflies were so active that we struggled to even get shots of the upper wings. Still, here we go , starting with the easy bit first.

Dark Green Fritillary - no ocelli showing

High Brown Fritillary - with additional row of ocelli

High Brown Fritillary
- but not showing much of an indent on upperwing spot three

Dark Green Fritillary - no indent towards body on spot three

High Brown Fritillary - showing third spot indented

High Brown Fritillary

The High Browns are also supposed to show a slightly concave outside edge to their forewing whilst the Dark Green has a more rounded profile. You can see this on some specimens but on others and dependant on the camera angle it gets more confusing.

High Brown ?

You then have the problem of individual variations. This last picture looks like a High Brown but I did not see the under wing and cannot be sure. I also wondered about hybrids between the two species but cannot find any references to these on the web. If you want to be one hundred percent sure you really need to see the underside.

There were also some tatty specimens of Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries flying and lots of Green Hairstreaks.

Green Hairstreak

A few Painted Ladies looking very worn but perhaps the start of a big influx.

Painted Lady

and a single Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

It was along way to go but it was a great day out. I am going to need one or two trips to Scotland to finish off the set.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Goshawk Chicks

I have never been close enough to a Goshawk to be able to get a decent picture so when I had the opportunity to observe a ringing team I leapt at the chance. I had a vision of cuddly little chicks but it did not quite fit the reality. Cute they may be but cuddly they are not. Even at around three weeks they are already showing the large talons, the beak, and the attitude that makes them such a fierce hunter.

Goshawk chick - singleton in nest three

I met up with the guys at a remote car park and we set off to investigate the first of six nests. This one had been abandoned as had the second but the last four nests held a total of nine chicks. The Goshawk will lay between one and five eggs but the normal size brood is now three with only the occasional nest holding four.

In the UK the Goshawk has the highest level of legal protection being listed as a schedule 1 bird. The ringing and nest checking helps extend our knowledge of the bird, but the data is also fed to landowners and forestry interests, so that they can ensure that the birds are not disturbed by tree felling or other activities during the nesting season. Many of these nests will have been reported by rangers and game keepers.

A bit of history first. In Britain Goshawk breeding had mostly ceased by the 1880s due to deforestation and persecution. Goshawks were re-introduced by falconers with large numbers being imported in the 1960s and 70s. Many of them escaped or were deliberately released and these established scattered breeding populations. Despite ongoing persecution, from theft of eggs and chicks and the killing of adult birds, they have gradually extended their foothold and there are now estimated to be about five hundred breeding pairs in the country.

Moving on to the birds, the first problem was the walk into the nests, I am not quite as fit as I thought. The second is getting to the nest. They can be as low as ten to twelve metres but the four trees climbed today had nests at over twenty metres with the highest being twenty seven metres. For this you need someone that knows what they are doing.

Rob on the way up

and nearing the nest

The Goshawks favour Larch but will also nest in pine trees. They will return to the same nest site year after year often reworking the existing nest but occasionally starting a new nest in the same area. The nest is substantial and needs good support. They are usually built at the bottom level of the canopy giving the parents access routes under the trees. The one above is easy to see against the open sky but in denser woodland even a large nest can be hard to spot.

Three Chicks from nest four

The chicks age is determined by measurement of the length of the primary wing feathers. With the females being larger and heavier than the males, the width of the tarsus and the weight of the chick enable the sex to be determined. This is usually done after 18 to 20 days although it is often evident before this time.

Two males at the back with female at the front -
Although born last the female is already twenty percent heavier than either of the males.

but the males tend to be more feisty at this early age

Nest five was a bit unusual. It appeared to have a male sitting on the nest. It is possible that the female was away feeding, but the male would normally bring food to her on the nest. When the two chicks were brought down it was clear that one was not getting enough food.

These two chicks are about the same age but the one on the left is much lighter in weight. It does however, have a full crop of food so there is a good chance that it could survive. 

It is possible that something has happened to the female and that the male is attempting to fledge the chicks by itself. Unfortunately, despite their legal status, the Goshawks are still persecuted and if the female has found an easy source of food picking up Pheasant poults on one of the local shoots it could have run into trouble.

Nest six was at twenty seven metres but it was the only one where you could get a partial view into the nest from higher up the hill. This again held three chicks.

Do you get the impression that he is eyeing me up as a food source?

Nest six three chicks

A fantastic day out and so much learnt about this wonderful bird. A nice picture of a female, sitting out in the open, would have really finished off the blog on a high point but despite seeing a number of males and females none of them offered picture opportunities.

I think I could now spot a female Goshawk, but, with the fleeting views that you get, I am still not sure that I could separate out the male from a Sparrow Hawk.

My thanks to Jerry for allowing me to tag along, to Rob for all the climbing, and to Scott and Natalie who are training to take on the role in the future.