Thursday, 30 June 2016

Great Knot

Nothing much on the birding front recently. We did go up to Norfolk today to see the Great Knot. It was in with a flock of common Knot that was truly spectacular. The wardens at Titchwell Marsh estimated it as between five and seven thousand birds.

A small part of the Knot flock

When they landed, it then seemed an impossible task to pick out the Great Knot from amongst them. However, the locals must be used to finding it and it was soon identified on the edge of the flock.

I am counting it as a life tick but it was a most unsatisfactory sighting. It was a long way off, it was asleep, and with the heat haze running that day a decent picture was impossible. I don't think I would have ever found it without help from the wardens. Could I make the identification myself, which is my criteria for counting the birds? Yes, but it was on the limits of what was acceptable. I really would have liked a better picture.

Great Knot - huge crop from what was the best of a lot of poor pictures

We did not hang about waiting for better views as we needed to get over to Breydon Water for the Caspian Tern that had been resident there for a few weeks. We need not have rushed. It was seen early that morning but by the time we arrived had flown off and has not been seen since.

One other first for me on the day. This Stoat at Titchwell, walking along the path down to the beach. Perhaps not up to the standard of the Springwatch coverage at Minsmere but I was pleased to see it, if only for a few seconds.

It's a long way to go but it was a great day out.

Monday, 27 June 2016

Brilliant Emerald

My last photograph of the day. It wasn't the Club-tailed Dragonfly that I had been looking for, but I was more than happy to find this Brilliant Emerald. It was on the northern side of the new Stopham Bridge and it wasn't in an easy location to photograph.  I tried a few flight shots but it was just too fast for me.

It did eventually land and I managed to get the shot above but this involved leaning out over some deep water to get the angle and in so doing putting some expensive camera gear at high risk. I would have liked more pictures but fortunately it flew before I had a chance to do something stupid.

The day had started at Pulborough Brooks with a stop to check the heathland pools. The sun had been forecast for 0900 but when I arrived at 11.30 it was still overcast and there were only a few damselflies in the air.

Azure Damselfly

I searched the bushes around the top pool and found a couple of female Darters resting up and waiting for the sun to appear. I wasn't too confident on the species at the time but checking the books at home these were Ruddy Darters.

Female Ruddy Darter

With the sun then putting in a brief appearance I managed to find a couple more on the Black Pool but this time with males in attendance. These are not showing the deeper red of a mature specimen so have probably only recently emerged.

They are easily confused with the Common Darter but commons would be showing yellow stripes along the legs.

Male Ruddy Darter

Black Pool also had a good quota of the Four-spotted Chasers, probably the easiest of all the dragonflies to photograph.

Back up the hill to the top pool and I was fortunate to find a pair of Emperor Dragonflies, the female ovipositing and the male appearing to be keeping guard on her.

Female Emperor

Male Emperor

 Or perhaps he had been a busy boy as a second female then appeared. This one with a notch in its left forewing and with different colouration, showing more green in segments one and two, and more extensive brown markings on the other segments. 

I am aware that the blue/green markings on both male and female are temperature dependant but this is the first time I have noted the colour difference on two specimens flying together.

Female Emperor showing green colouration

Other insects of interest on the day, a Large Skipper and a Silver Y moth, both of which were first sightings of the year for me.

Silver Y Moth

Large Skipper

I had only gone out for a couple of hours to try out a new lens so was quite happy to be going home with a decent selection of Dragonfly shots.

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Large Blue

Last year I made two trips to Collard Hill to see the Large Blues. On the first I dipped completely, not seeing a single butterfly all day. I think I was perhaps a little over eager, going as soon as the first reports came through and then picking a cool overcast day. They were, of course, seen in good numbers the day after I visited.

On my second trip I did at least see a couple of specimens but they were very active and I had difficulty getting a photograph. My record shots were so poor that I didn't even bother to put them on the blog. That left me with a butterfly list this year, with the Swallowtail on top, as my last UK butterfly, and the Large Blue in second place. 

This time I waited. There have been reports of Large Blues around for a couple of weeks but the weather has been cool and overcast and the weather reports containing promises of breaks in the cloud cover, have been unreliable. It's a long trip to make if I called it wrong and dipped again.

I had today pencilled in for a possible visit. I would have preferred a promise of sunshine but at least the temperature looked as though it would be warm enough to get them flying. I couldn't afford to wait any longer, so I picked Dave up and we headed off towards Collard Hill.

It did not look promising when we arrived but we spotted our first butterfly within a few minutes of climbing the hill. It flew a short distance landing in this bush where I managed a quick picture before it disappeared into cover deep in the bush. We staked it out waiting for the sun to come out and for the butterfly to reappear but it didn't happen.

We had an early lunch and with the cloud thinning a bit, the temperature rose and we started to get the occasional sighting of Large Blues. This time the cooler conditions probably helped us. The butterflies were flying but they were not hyperactive. If you could spot where they landed when the temperature dipped, you had a good chance of getting a photograph.

We stayed about three hours and probably had ten sightings in that time. I am sure some were of the same butterflies but this was far better than I had last year.

I was happy to get the pictures but there is still scope for some improvement. Perhaps with a little more sun I could get a better depth of field. I can see that I will be going back next year for another go. Maybe next time a mating pair.

And below some of the supporting cast including my first Marbled White of the year.

Marbled White

Meadow Brown

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Norfolk Hawker

Dragonflies seem to be in short supply in Sussex. We had another look for the Club-tailed at sites on the Arun on Wednesday but could find no sign of that or of the White-legged Damselfly. Even a quick relocation up to Thursley Common left us distinctly underwhelmed.

Strumpshaw Fenn, however, was a different story. Our main target was the Norfolk Hawker, a large brown dragonfly, with green eyes, that is found only in a small area around the fen-lands of east Norfolk. It was all very quiet when we first arrived but as the temperature increased more and more dragonflies appeared. They are very territorial, so get too many close together and it is almost impossible to get a picture. They don't settle and are constantly in skirmishes to protect their space.

Fortunately we found one Norfolk Hawker that was very obliging and gave us some good picture opportunities.

Norfolk Hawker

The only Dragonfly that you are likely to confuse with the Norfolk Hawker is the Brown Hawker, but this flies mid to late summer and does not have green eyes or the diagnostic yellow triangle on the second abdominal section.

There have been a few sightings of this dragonfly in Kent where it tends to be referred to by its name of Green-eyed Hawker which is perhaps more realistic given its largely European distribution.

We would have gone home happy with just a sighting of this dragonfly so it was great to be able to get some reasonable pictures. Our search also gave us a number of other good finds.

Black-tailed Skimmer  Immature male Scarce Chaser

Hairy Dragonflies

Scarce Chaser (female)

And, the ever present Four-spotted Chaser.

Four-spotted Chaser

Dragons and Damsels found at Thursley Common on Wednesday include

Keeled Skimmer

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

Small Red Damselfly

And this looks like a Downy Emerald. There were a number flying but none would put down to give a chance of a picture. In the low light levels this was the best I could manage.

Downy Emerald

With the exception of the Strumpshaw Fen visit, Dragon and Damselfly encounters have been very slow so far this year. Lets hope we have now turned the corner and the next couple of weeks give me sightings of the Club-tailed Dragonfly and White-legged Damselfly. Check back for more information.

Swallowtail Butterfly

The race of Swallowtails that occur in Britain (Papilio machaon Britannicus) is one of the rarest and most beautiful butterflies in the world. It is endemic to this country and exists in just a few sites in Norfolk.

Being our only endemic species, I had decided to keep it to the last, in my quest to see all the UK butterflies, a total of fifty nine in all. Perhaps not a good idea, the first fifty eight took me about eighteen months but then I had to wait a further six months for the Swallowtails to emerge. Monday came, the conditions looked right and so I set off for Strumpshaw Fen just east of Norwich eager to complete the challenge.

Well, I saw it, but it wasn't really the event that I had been looking forward to. The weather was cooler than predicted and I only saw two Swallowtails all day. The first disappeared high over the trees probably going to roost until it warmed up. The second was making regular visits to the small garden by the visitors centre happily nectaring on the plants. Great, except that I had to share it with about a dozen other people - a butterfly twitch.

Swallowtail in the nectar Garden - I think the flower is Dames Violet

Not easy to photograph on a bright white flower

I walked around the meadow and the Fen Trail and made regular visits to the "Doctors Garden" but I could not find any other specimens.

By three o'clock it had cooled even further and there was no real chance of seeing any more Swallowtails. I headed off for the three hour drive home, happy to have my final butterfly but a bit disappointed by the overall event.

Fortunately my birding buddy Dave was keen to see a Norfolk Hawker Dragonfly so Thursday we made an early start and by 5am we were on the road back to Strumpshaw to see the dragonfly and hopefully a few more Swallowtails.

It was overcast and cool when we arrived but by eleven o'clock the sun was out, the temperature rose rapidly and within a few minutes the Swallowtails were on the wing. As we approached the "Doctors Garden", the first one came flying in to nectar on the flowers in the border and within a few minutes we had four to photograph.

Getting a picture is easy. They take no notice of people or cameras but they will head up into the trees to roost if the temperature drops.

I am happy with the pictures but they do not really do justice to the butterfly. They have a wingspan of 6.5 to 7.5 centimetres, a slow fluttery wing beat, and a presence that cannot really be captured in a picture. If you get a chance go and see them.

Perhaps the other disappointment was that we could only capture pictures of them nectaring on garden flowers. We saw a number of others around the fen footpaths but they were all flying through. It would have been nice to get them on the the wild flowers growing on the fen or perhaps on Milk Parsley the caterpillar food plant that the species relies on.

Other butterflies around the fen were Brimstones, various whites, a Brown Argus, a couple of common blues and a lot of very tatty Painted Ladies.


Brown Argus

There were three bonuses from the day. The first, Dave heard a couple of Grasshopper Warblers reeling away and after some effort he managed to locate them. I haven't seen one for a couple of year so this was a great find. I wasn't much help in locating them as their song is well above my hearing range.

The second, was sight of some great moths, courtesy of the Strumpshaw Fen Moth trap. The trap had been emptied early in the morning and the moths put out on the fencing for people to see. We must have walked past them four or five times without noticing them but when finally tipped off to their presence, at about four o'clock in the afternoon, we went back for a look. I was surprised that they were still there. I could have done with more light but these are better record shots than I had at the start of the day.

Elephant Hawkmoth

Eyed Hawkmoth - unfortunately not showing its eyes.

Poplar Hawkmoth

A second Poplar Hawkmoth

Our third bonus was that we met Mick Davis wandering around the meadow looking for dragonflies. I haven't seen him since his move up to Norfolk but he seems too be enjoying life up there and he was his usual source of information and helpful detail. A great loss to the Sussex birding scene.

A much better day with the Swallowtails, some good moths and I haven't even mentioned Dragonflies yet. They will be appearing in the next blog.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Great Reed Warbler

Reports were still being posted of the Great Reed Warbler singing his heart out every day at Paxton Pits. This has been going on for over three weeks now and with the numbers of visitors probably starting to reduce it seemed to be time for a visit.

Any location, that involves me having to travel around the M25, takes some serious consideration before I decide to take it on. However, this would be a life tick for me, so in the end I decided to go. An early start saw me on site by around 08.30. A fifteen minute walk got me to the location, at the southern end of Washout Pit, where I found about half a dozen people already waiting for a view of the bird.

The reports had been correct. It may not show that often but it sings non stop. I spent the next three hours trying to spot it and to track its movement from the song coming from deep within the reed bed.

The song was loud and distinct and you always felt that it was close by and about to show. It did, eventually, and we had about five minutes of it sitting out on top of the reeds still belting out the song.

I had been wondering why the bird had stayed in the same location for so long. It turns out that it is protected by a large expanse of water. It is probably just as well. We all feel that we are the "special one" and should be allowed a much closer view than everyone else. Without the water someone would have got too close and flushed it by now.

My shots are a big crop but they are the best I could get and it was nice to come away with a record shot as well as a life tick.

Not much else photographed that day although there were Hobby and Nightingales at the site. I got a few shots of Damselflies that will be in the next blog and then later a pair of juvenile Grey Partridge attempting to blend in with the background......

...... and a bit of colour with a Cardinal Beetle.

The day turned out to be a bit more of a twitch than I would have liked and it involved a lot of standing around and waiting but I can't complain at the outcome.