Monday, 30 June 2014

Semaphore flies and home turf

I am told that flies are a slippery slope but am finding myself taking more and more notice of them to the extent that I am feeling a book purchase coming on. It was nice to have time to spend back on the patch this week after all the excitement and trips of the past couple of weeks and whilst walking across the levels on Sunday I noticed a lot of these distinctive flies around the margins of the ditches "dancing" around like mini dervishes. A bit of internet searching helped me identify them as Poecilobothrus nobilitatus which was recently given the splendid english name of Semaphore Fly (presumably due to the white wing tips on the males looking like semaphore flags while the males display to the females).
Birding this week has been much more laid back. A work trip to Swindon on Monday produced 4 of the obligatory Red Kites along the M4 corridor as well as Buzzards, and a very quick stop at Old Lodge in the evening (to break up the drive) saw Brilliant Emerald performing well and a male Redstart. Saturday and Sunday saw me back on the levels and happily wading in to the residents, Stock Dove, Lesser Whitethroat, Buzzard, Yellow Wagtail, & Little Egret were all on show and for a change from recent history it appears to have been a good year for breeding birds so far with many "birds of the year" in evidence.
Moving on to the lepids. Aside from the Eyed Hawkmoth trapped on the night of the 25th there have been more new additions to both the year list and garden list over the past few days. Highlights as follow:
23rd June: 58 macro's of 18 species including Barred Straw, Common Wainscot, Heart & Club, July Highflyer, Lime Hawkmoth, Small Elephant Hawkmoth, & Swallow-tailed Moth all new for the year. 25
micro's of 10 species including Acentria ephemerella (Water Veneer), Endotricha flammealis, Limnaecia phragnitella, Lozotaenia forsterana, Paraswammerdamia nebulella, & Udea olivalis all of which were new for me (well in the case of E. flammealis at least, I had seen many before without further investigating - these are very distinctive with an upright stance making them look like they are resting on their wings which have been folded at a forty-five degree angle)
25th June: 37 macro's of 9 species including new for the year Brown-tail and the afore-mentioned Eyed Hawkmoth. 5 micro's of 3 species.
27th June: 49 macro's of 10 species including Clouded Border and Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing new for the year. Dark Arches became the second moth to break the hundred barrier for the year and heads to the top of the list in terms of number of records for the year - no surprises there! 10 micro's of 5 species including a striking male Archips podana (Large Fruit-tree Tortrix) which was yet another new one for me.
29th June: 30 macro's of 13 species including Blue-bordered Carpet, a new moth both for the garden and for me, and Common/Lesser Common Rustic (if you don't know no dissecting please, hence on these pages you will typically find minor spp etc - don't kill it and rip it up to satisfy your curiosity) which was new for the year. 11 micro's of 3 species. Lastly on the lepidoptera front a walk at Birling Gap on Saturday morning produced my first Marbled White and Dark Green Fritillary of the year. Comma was seen on Down Level on Sunday along with many Small Tortoiseshell.
Finally but by no means least, to the Dragons on the levels on Sunday. In the warm and cloudy conditions I managed to see Brown Hawker, Azure Blue damselfly, Variable damselfly, Blue-tailed damselfly, Black-tailed Skimmer, and 2 Emerald damselfly (both males) of which the image below is of a teneral (recently emerged) individual. 
Peace, compassion, understanding.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The eyes have it

In the trap this morning. Nice.

I just can't get enough...

of that Short-toed Eagle. Some birds are just to good to not visit more than once when they are this close to home and this is one of them. So instead of having a Sunday lie in I opted for the get up early to do the moth trap option and then head up to the forest for thirds. Needless to say the eagle was faultless, appearring in a tree top on the Crowborough side of Wren's Warren shortly after eight, before taking off at about half nine, as the sun warmed up its reptilian diet, and eventually drifting off towards Nutley. Also in the Wren's Warren area were Turtle Dove, Dartford Warbler, and numerous Stonechat.
As the eagle had drifted off I decided to move on myself and headed to Old Lodge for a general mooch. Redstart have clearly had a good year and a number were seen around the reserve including several recently fledged scaly looking juveniles still loosely associating with their parents. With Woodlark, Tree Pipit, and Nuthatch all putting in appearrances and my favourite bird song, Willow Warbler, adding a suitably summery soundtrack I was feeling pretty chipper as I headed down to the bottom of the reserve and some insect action.
Old Lodge is a quality dragonfly site so it was time to change focus, and as luck would have it I connected with a male Small Red Damselfly almost immediately in the first area I checked. Superficially similar to Large Red these are much daintier in appearrance and the males have entirely red abdomens. In the same area there were numerous Large Red Damselfly. On the pools the larger Chasers and Hawkers were becoming very active in the warm sunshine. A cracking male Broad-bodied Chaser was quickly followed by a Four-spotted Chaser and several Keeled Skimmers the latter seeming to prefer bare patches of earth for their favoured perches. Emperors were also on the wing. Moving on to the bottom of the valley the dragonfly special on the forest was seen at once in the form of at least one and probably two Brilliant Emeralds watched hawking over the main pools - absolute stunners! Another Four-spotted Chaser was also here along with Brown Hawker, Beautiful Demoiselle, Azure Blue Damsel, and Emperor.

From a birding perspective the day was rounded off very nicely with a Honey Buzzard at a site in the east of the county. Top notch stuff.
Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the moth trap. Forty macro's overnight of fifteen species the undoubted highlight being the Maple Prominent, pictured left, which was new for the garden. There were also first appearrances of the year from the Flame, Lackey, and Treble Brown Spot, and Heart and Dart became the first moth to break the hundred mark for the year.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Summer solstice and Devonian dragons

The summer solstice is a day to celebrate - the longest day. All that daylight to do whatever you want in, so, as its all downhill from here until the winter solstice, I thought it would be for the best to make the most of it and headed west for a day in Devon visiting my parents, opting not to take drugs at Stonehenge as the sun came up. 
The problem for the keen amateur at this time of year is that there is so much going on you find yourself struggling to keep up with it.
The moth trap has been busy this week with newbies for the year as follow:
15th June: Buff Ermine, Buff Tip, Clouded Silver, Lychnis, Rustic, Scalloped Oak, & Small Clouded Brindle. The last named was also a new macro for the garden.
17th June: Plutella xylostella (Diamond-back moth) was a new micro for the garden.
19th June: Double Square-spot, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, & the micro Notocelia uddmanniana (Bramble Shoot moth).
The temptation of paying a second visit to the Short-toed Eagle, which I did on Friday afternoon, and the trip to Devon on Saturday, didn't leave a lot of time for other activities! The Eagle was watched hunting over the Wren's Warren area late on Friday languidly hovering, characteristically dropping its talons while doing so, before drifting off towards Kings Standing. Happy days.
So onto the weekend and a Saturday spent in glorious sunshine visiting Bowling Green Marsh and then Aylesbeare Common, all within throwing distance of Mum and Dads. Well not quite throwing distance as Bowling Green is six miles - Aylesbeare is only a hundred yards away though. First stop had to be Bowling Green since Dad still needed to see the 1st year Ross's Gull well.On arrival the bird was present in the roost though frustratingly out of sight behind a bank. Fortunately the gulls were milling about a fair bit and it wasn't long before the Ross's appearred on the water before flying around on several occassions and finally settling on the back of the spit. Unfortunately my camera was not up to the job hence the lack of piccies but the views through the scope were satisfactory. Several Mediterranean Gull were also here including a couple of stunning second year birds and a summer plumaged Spotshank was roosting with the Redshank, Barwit, and Blackwit at the back of the pool. Back to base for a most excellent luncheon including seconds of Asparagus quiche (a personal favourite), necessitating walking off via the dragonfly pools.

Whilst walking over to the pools and adjoining streams and runnels I kicked up a Four-dotted Footman - a new moth for me - along with numerous Small Heath and a couple of Meadow Brown. The main target though were the dragons and we were soon tucking into a veritable feast with Azure Damsel, Broad-bodied Chaser, and Emperor all easily seen. We quickly connected with one of our targets in the form of a superb Golden-ringed Dragonfly at the bottom of the pools, quartering its section of the stream to chase off allcomers and returning to the same perch in between forays. This was quickly followed by a Keeled Skimmer also pictured and a male Beautiful Demoiselle. However a bit more effort was needed to get our final target the Southern Damselfly. These are found in the runnels between the pools and are fairly weak flyers. The latin name (mercuriale) is from the black marking on the upper abdominal segments which is reminiscent of the helmet of the greek god Mercury, although they are only safely identified by examination of the anal appendages. Finally to round off a quality day a Hobby was watched hawking insects at close range over the pools.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

The day of the Short-toed Eagle

As my youngest daughter is so fond of saying "Oh my days...". After my morning WEBS count I thought that it may be a good idea to go and have a look at some dragons and do some walking on Ashdown forest following the report of a Short-toed Eagle there earlier in the week. Anyway while I was pottering around between Camp Hill and Crowborough the beast was refound from Gills Lap no more than a couple of miles from where I was, but alas, there was no phone signal deep in the valley... As I started to climb back to the car park to meet Sharon and the girls the phone went off and it was Nige with news that the bird was being watched just up the road, unfortunately I might as well have been at home in bed as it was going to take me that long to get to the site. Needless to say by the time I got to Gills Lap the boy had drifted out of sight. But all was not lost - it was clearly still in the area. A brief and unsatisfactory sighting and some claims were followed by a phone call from DC, who had just had it in Old Lodge, and then news that it was currently showing up near the old air strip from Long car park. In to the back of PC's van and off past the hatch at what felt like breakneck speed as I bounced around in the back. Then an erroneous message on twitter sent us scurrying back the wrong way before returning to Long in IB's wagon (sorry Paul but I was scared in the back) to find GH and Nige with news that the bird had dropped out of view and had not been seen for twenty minutes. But then what is this, a shout twenty yards to my left, "Its in the top of the tree"! Cue sudden sprint, "in the "v"shaped gap" says PM and suddenly there it is, griffonesque, perched on top of the pines, "s**t the bed"! After I guess about 15 minutes of stunning views through the scope the boy decided enough was enough and time to go snake hunting. Take off was followed by a brief period of low level circling before it drifted out of sight towards Chelwood gate. What more to be said apart from thanks to PM and  IB for lifts between car parks and ND, PM, DC, JE etc for calls on site. Oh and a big wet kiss for PM for going back to his van to get my camera which in my panic I had left in the back and without which I would not have any pics at all!

Pink and green elf warriors and micro mayhem

Elephant Hawk-moths are back - I am undecided as to whether they are elf warriors or green and pink goblins, in the mean time I will keep taking the pills.
However it has been a very cool week on the moth front with good numbers and new year ticks aplenty and new species on the micro front. Respective counts were as follows:
9th June - 40 macro's of 18 species - New for the year: Coronet, Elephant hawk, Magpie, Poplar Grey, Riband Wave, Small Blood-vein, and Straw Dot. 7 micro's of 3 species included Eudonia delunella.
11th June - 17 macro's of 10 species - New for the year: Fan-foot, & Mottled Rustic. 2 micro's included Eudonia mercurella.
13th June - 37 macro's of 17 species - New for the year: Barred Yellow, Buff Arches, Common Footman, & Shears. 18 micro's of 10 species (serious headache) included new ones as follow: Chrysoteuchia culmella, Crambus pascuella, Dichomeris marginella (Juniper Webber), Pseudargyrotoza conwagana, & Scoparia ambigualis. I have posted a couple of piccies of the more striking ones below together with a Buff Arches pic as they are one of my favs.
On the bird front today (the 15th) was WEBS day so necessitated an early morning bike ride across the patch. As to be expected at this time of year things were pretty quiet the highlights being 2 Hobby in one of the hay fields, grounded by the overcast and cool weather reminding me a bit of Spitfires winged in battle, Cuckoo still present on Horse-eye, Lesser Whitethroats (which still seem to be rattling from every hedgerow), the ubiquitous Meadow Browns which are now well on the wing, and the usual variety of assorted damselflies. Yesterday a Little Owl was watched hunting from the telegraph poles at Downash, a Red Kite flew over Amberstone on the 12th, and an evening walk at Arlington on the 10th produced a purring Turtle Dove (a quintessentially english summer soundtrack). Other bits and pieces included a stunning Grass Snake while fishing in Herstmonceux as well as Cuckoo and the resident Buzzards but unfortunately I had omitted to pack my camera...

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Spring into Summer

Things are very settled on the levels at the moment with little to speak of beside the usual residents and summer visitors. On the butterfly front Small Tortoiseshell are very much in evidence and look to be having a good year with large double figure counts on White Dyke and the "brick arch" track. By contrast Wall Brown has only been seen in single figures so far. On the Dragon front Variable Damselfly also appear to be having a good year. I counted 20 in a brief walk along the "brick arch" track last Sunday (1/6) and they were the single most abundant blue damselfly that I saw both on that day and on the afternoon of the 6th on White Dyke. Hairy Dragonfly and Broad-bodied chaser have also both been seen regularly hawking the ditches and dykes.

On the moth front things are beginning to accelerate as the birds settle down, no more great urgency to look for passage migrants as everything eases into the intensity of breeding. Suffice to say however, that my new found micro interest is a challenge! New micro's for the garden over the past week included Monopis obviella and Cochylis molliculana both of which are pictured. In addition Ephestia unicolorella ssp woodiella, Epinotia bilunana, and Pandermis cerasana (Barred fruit tree tortrix) were also new additions. Macro numbers are also picking up with Snout, Silver-ground Carpet, Dark Arches, Nutmeg, and Currant Pug all new additions for the year on the night of 31/5. The night of 2/6 also added Green Pug, Light Arches, Scalloped Hazel, and Dusky Brocade to the year list.
Birds as previously mentioned are beginning to take a back seat in terms of migrants however on the breeding front it was nice to watch a female Marsh Harrier quartering Down level this evening being persistently mobbed by the resident pair of Redshank.