Thursday, 31 December 2015

Out with the old

A morning walk across White Dyke to Rickney and then Lookers in bright sunshine and a brisk breeze for my last outing of the year. A pair of Pintail were a welcome surprise by the caravan park at the end of White Dyke given the paucity of duck around at the moment. A couple of Little Egret were on Down Level and a singleton on Horse-eye and one of the Peregrines was also seen on Horse-eye. The Brown Hare pictured above was in the field to the east of New Bridge road and was a very welcome winter surprise.
Although not seen today the ringtail Hen Harrier was seen on the 20th and 27th along with various of the winter residents, perhaps surprising given the ridiculously mild conditions. Indeed it has been so mild that I put the moth trap on for a couple of nights - no macros but 2 Light brown Apple moths on the 18th and singles of Light brown Apple moth, Common Plume, and Rush Veneer on the 27th were the first moths I have trapped in December! Stay safe.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Great White Egret and the levels perfect ten

Today saw me leaving the house pre-dawn for the monthly WEBS with Hazel, my labrador, for company. The levels rarely disappoint and as soon as we hit White Dyke with the first fingers of sunlight breaking through the heavy cloud a Water Rail was heard squealing while a female Marsh Harrier was watched quartering Down level. Whilst following the harrier a Peregrine burst through my field of view and took out a slow moving Lapwing, a good start for me, alas not for the struck wader.
Unfortunately Henry is unwell at the moment so for todays WEBS I had to take in Horse-eye as well. Two more squealers were in the reed bed and as we headed over to the orchid fields a ringtail Hen Harrier was watched quartering Mappins, more quality! The levels are a tad soft underfoot at the moment so as we headed back towards Down I fully expected Hazel to flush a few Snipe, unfortunately none obliged, along with a distinct lack of duck the only downer of the morning. Walking across Down yielded 2 Buzzard, the resident pair of Peregrine pictured below perched side by side on gateposts mid-levels, and a Kestrel hovering in the distance.

On reaching the small rise mid level I always stop and scan in an attempt to gain maximum advantage from my elevated position. First up, large White Heron on Mappins with carrot for a bill, neither stop press nor frontiers of bird identification I know, but GWE are still thin enough on the ground to make them a good find on the patch. This bird is the fourth GWE I have seen on Horse-eye and Down over the years and my third self found there so all in all the morning was going along swimmingly. Whilst watching the egret a Merlin was picked up flying along White Dyke, another top winter raptor not seen every visit.
Moving back to White Dyke a single adult White-fronted Goose was seen and the GWE was watched feeding on Mappins with a Little Egret for company. Our walk continued along New Bridge road picking up Chiff-chaff and a slightly showy Cettis (our 5th in total including the calling ones) before we ultimately reached Chilley farm for one of the countys' best breakfasts and a mug of black coffee.
Following on from the mornings good birding I headed over to Lookers late afternoon. The Little Owl was on show and a couple of Shorties were intermittently hunting between bouts of sitting in the fields, another squealer was in the reeds here as well. As I headed home via Horse-eye farm one of the Shorties perched up on a fencepost right by the car giving me a proper stare with its glaring yellow eyes. What better to round off a perfect day of winter patch birding than a Barn Owl, and sure enough there was one hunting at the back of Down near Downash in the gloaming. While watching the owl the days final raptor appearred in the form of a female Sparrowhawk scooting low over the fields towards Rickney so completing my levels perfect winter ten birds of prey - seven raptors and three owls, plus the Great White, and not another birder in sight!  

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Winter Wols back in Wesidence

As Bawwy Kwipky would say (if you are not a Big Bang Theory fan the reference will be lost on you!). Today (22nd) saw me walk from Hailsham to Chilley Farm in the morning before a later pootle out to Lookers Cottage.
Low light of the day was this Shortie which was on New bridge road between Horse-eye farm and Rickney. Whether this bird was the subject of a collision or not was impossible to say but I would be of the opinion that this would be extremely unlikely given the speed you can drive around the levels at. I turned it over to check for evidence of shot and rings, neither of which were obvious. All very depressing.
On a more positive note this mornings walk produced a couple of Golden Plover over White Dyke, there plaintive call evocative of wild places, a couple of Snipe (flushed by Hazel), 4 Wigeon, 2 Marsh Harrier, 2 Buzzard, Kingfisher, and a showy Cettis', all on Horse-eye/ White Dyke, a Chiff-chaff along New bridge road, and numerous small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare pretty much everywhere.
On the insect front a Buff-tailed Bumblebee was loitering around the last flowering Ivy on New bridge road in close to freezing conditions. The moth trap has finally been moth-balled for the winter now the mild weather is over. The four nights I was able to run this month yielding a total of 10 macros' and 3 micros' the best of which were the male Feathered Thorn pictured right on the night of the 3rd and 2 Silver Y on the night of the 1st.
So to this evenings visit to Lookers where a couple of Shorties were putting on a good display as they hunted the rough areas looking back towards Hailsham, hopefully they will be around for the rest of the winter since they brighten up the dullest of winter days, along with another Buzzard, 3 Kestrel, Little Egret, one of the resident Little Owls, and a spanking sunset a good end to the day.

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Ophion obscuratus and other miscellany

 The moth trap is just about ticking over with the odd late autumn macro. New for the year over the last week have been Large Wainscot (pictured below) on the night of the 22nd, and last night, the 30th, Feathered Thorn and November moth spp along with the striking ichneumon wasp Opheon obscuratus pictured above. Fortunately the last named is readily identifiable from the stiking cream markings on the abdomen and the white mark in the corner of the stigma on the wing illustrated in the cropped images left and right.
Out on the levels things have been very quiet with a distinct lack of late autumn excitement. One of the features of the autumn has been the good passage of finches so a few Lesser Redpoll which were present on White Dyke on the 25th were unusual for the patch though hardly surprising. A Kingfisher appears to have taken up residence along White Dyke, being seen there regularly, and along with subsinging Cettis' Warblers, will hopefully form a weekly padder through the winter.

So finally to todays final of the Rugby World Cup and a fitting triumph for the All Blacks. Sadly I failed in my application for tickets to the final but I musn't complain! What a wonderful tournament, full of great matches, sporting behaviour, and great bonhomie. The four games I was lucky enough to attend were seperated by just 16 points in total and were all absolutely wonderful battles shared with the best of friends and wonderful fans from all over the world. Hopefully my youngest daughter will carry the memory of Japan beating South Africa and everything that that performance demonstrated about teamwork and willpower in her memory bank, but perhaps more importantly the sportsmanship demonstrated by both players and fans on and off the field. For me as a passionate Englishman the loss to Wales was a bitter pill, but the occassion was fantastic and the welsh fans amazing, sometimes you just have to doff your cap and applaud however much you are hurting inside. Well played RWC 2015 and New Zealand, lets hope for more of the same from Japan 2019!

Monday, 19 October 2015

Early Whitefronts and the kick that broke a nations hearts

Another week of rarity filled entertainment on the patch, not. Winter is coming and the harbingers of doom reckon el Nino has a rough one in store, and perhaps this will prove the case since this months WEBS on the 18th yielded 2 adult White-fronted Geese and 50+ Wigeon along with the usual motley crew of residents. Migrant Hawker and Common Darter were both still on the wing along White Dyke. The moth trap continues to provide spartan fare with the best on offer being a Sallow on the night of the 10th and the Yellow-line Quaker pictured right on the 18th.
So to the highlight of the week, the Rugby World Cup, which to coin a cliche is a gift that just keeps giving. Yesterday saw me taking the well worn path back to the cabbage patch for the quarter final between Australia and Scotland courtesy of old friend Mr Paul Chapman. To say this was a meeting where I would qualify as a neutral (hence the donning of my beloved, poorly fitting, old school Tigers jersey) would be an understatement, and my intention was to watch the game and applaud quality football from whomsoever played it while being pretty ambivalent as to the final result. The scarf in the picture below was purchased by James whose colours were firmly nailed to Australia (why I know not, perhaps he too has a criminal past?), however I surprisingly found my supposed neutrality vanishing during the second half... I think this commenced with a "deliberate" knock on which resulted in a barely believable yellow card. My neutrality was wavering and I found myself on my feet when the Scots went over in the corner, before ultimately shouting "Scotland, Scotland" as the game entered the last ten minutes and the Scots took an unlikely lead, although the consumption of beer and a hip flask of the levels finest Sloe gin, used only for myself, Paul, and Paolo to toast quality try time, may have been contributory factors. To say the Scots were robbed would be an understatement, however once again it was another truly great game in a tournament of great games, and ultimately respect to Foley for slotting that final penalty in the Twickenham cauldron. Keep the faith.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Yellow-broweds' at the double

After last weeks first for Britain things were always likely to be a bit of an anticlimax this week, however birding on the whole was pretty good with plenty of bits and bobs to keep up the interest.
Out on the levels things have been pretty quiet with an immature male Marsh Harrier on the 1st and 4th the best bird on show. Common Darters and Migrant Hawkers remain in double figures with the picture below taken on the 1st in particularly pleasant weather. Also on the 1st a single Small Copper was on White Dyke along with a smattering of Speckled Woods'. Moths have been particularly poor recently with nothing at all of note, this may partly be due to the bat spp swooping around the garden the other evening intent on finding its evening meal...
Elsewhere a couple of potters to Beachy over the weekend provided good fare. On Saturday (3rd) a Yellow-browed Warbler was at the top of the lane at Birling along with at least one Continental Coal Tit. A walk around Holywell on the 4th produced the Black Redstart pictured left along with at least 300 House Martin. It has not been a good year for Clouded Yellows' so singles seen on the 1st, 3rd, and 4th were very welcome, with the latter pictured right. However highlight of the week has to go to the Yellow-browed in the bushes at my work place in St Leonards on the 6th, this has to be the best bird I have had on site topping the 4 Waxwings that were present in the car park for a couple of days a few years back! Unfortunately last weeks lowlight was the rugby... Never mind, learn from your mistakes, onwards and upwards, come back bigger and stronger, KEEP THE FAITH!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Empidonax excitement, phalarope, and Welsh miracle

Suffice to say a chaotic week. Following the rugby piggery of last weekend I had a days leave on Monday enabling me to catch up with the Grey Phalarope in the Cuckmere in pouring rain. As always an enigmatic bird providing quality views.
All very nice but better was to follow on Tuesday with the news that Martin Casemore had found an Empidonax flycatcher by the fishing boats at Dungeness, and I had a meeting that I could not dodge at 1 o'clock and no optics (again)! Pegged it out to Dunge in the pouring rain to find that the flycatcher had disappearred, pegged it back to work for my meeting, before pegging it back to Dunge on the news that JE had relocated it in Dave Bunneys' garden. Eternal gratitude to DC who leant me his bins which enabled me to eventually get good views of the beast as it fed from various low level perches including Daves' garden bench and satellite dish. For what its worth, from looking at the pictures and the North American ringing guide, in my opinion the bird was clearly an Acadian Flycatcher. The yellowish underparts and olive green upperparts, with yellowish fringes to the secondaries pointed towards Acadian, Yellow-bellied, or Western. The broad bill, pointed crown, bulky appearrance, and broad tail all point towards Acadian, however the wing formula with P5 (American P6) appearring longer than P1 (American P10), and the absence of an emargination on P5 (P6) are clear indicators of the birds identity.
Elsewhere Henry had a Great White Egret on Horse-eye on the 20th which is reportedly still present today (27th).
Rugby piggery has continued this weekend with a trip to the cabbage patch for the massive encounter with the Welsh. Unbelievable atmosphere, great 60-70 minutes from the men in white, ultimate respect for the level of commitment from the taffs and a quality try in the last ten. I genuinely thought we would be the stronger fitter side at the end of the game, sadly not the case... Finally a word for the man from Cowboy town (he was actually from New Jersey) I was sat next too, what a great trip - I thought I was a rugby pig but this chap has flown over from the States, and been to matches on every day (two matches on one) and was heading up to Leeds straight after the final whistle! When he flies back after the quarters he will have seen every side except Uruguay and Canada. RESPECT!

Monday, 21 September 2015

If Carlsberg made Rugby World Cups...

Embarrassing Dad
"Come on you Brave Blossoms"
This weekend I have mostly been a rugby pig - nothing else to report other than a single L-album Wainscot on the night of the 17th

New friends on Wembley Way - "Come on Argentina"


The Haka

Dan Carter #legend - waiting to clear

James - No explanation required

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The lull before the (autumn) storms and National Moth night

A few weeks have passed since my last post and, while not lacking interest, they have generally been fairly quiet. Birding on the levels in the autumn generally involves more in the way of hedgerow activity than waterbirds and so it has proved recently. Sunday (13th) was WEBS day and true waterbirds on Down consisted only 10 Mute Swan, 8 Mallard, 4 Moorhen, and singles of Coot and Moorhen. Thankfully there was plenty of hedgerow activity with the best being an immature Redstart flycatching from Hawthorns near Rickney, along with 7 Lesser Whitethroat, numerous Blackcap and Whitethroat, flyover Siskin, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Reed Warbler, and 2 Cettis' Warbler. A single Hobby was also seen on the 13th to go with the 2 seen on the 6th. The 6th was a good day for raptors with 6 Buzzard, a Red Kite, and a female Marsh Harrier all seen from White Dyke. Garden bird highlights have consisted of a single Swift on the 29th of August and the occassional flyover Siskin as I have been emptying the moth trap.
Somewhat fittingly national moth night on the 11th produced my best macro catch of the year with 131 moths, it was just a shame that 90 of them were Large Yellow Underwings! Still I really shouldn't grumble as the run of good immigrants continued with what appears to have been a Vestal event overnight on the 29th August! I have only ever trapped Vestal once prior to the 29th when 2 graced my trap, and this was followed by another 2 on the night of the 31st at least one of which was new (being a male, above right, whereas both trapped on the 29th were females, one of which is above left). Vestals seem to have been caught widely along the coast from the 29th according to Dave Walker at DBO with a number caught at Dungeness the same night one of which I saw along with a Convulvulous Hawkmoth and a real rarity in the form of Sickle-bearing Bush-cricket during a flying visit on the 30th.

Meanwhile the garden has been bumping up the pan list no end especially on the 30th August with a new genus for me in the form of barkflies and specifically Valenzuela flavidis, along with the fly Rhingia rostrata, hoverflies Syrphus ribesi (pictured below) and Helophilus pendulus, the beetle Polydrosus cervinus (pictured below), and a 5th instar Palomina prasina (Green Shield bug). Adalia decempunctata (10-spot Ladybird) (pictured left) was seen on the 5th along with Cepaea hortensis (White-lipped snail). Finally although not in the garden Pentatoma rufipes (Red-legged Shield-bug) was new to me on the patch with a single on White Dyke on the 5th (pictured below). Keep the faith.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Black in Bexhill on a recurring theme

Following on from my last post a recurring theme began to occur whereby I would drive to Bexhill, fail to see a Black Stork, and then return home. This occurred on consecutive days until Wednesday (19th) when I decided to stake out Little Common recreation ground (the home of Little Common Ramblers CC for those who are interested in such things) where there had been intermittent reports of Bexhill Black in flight. So it came to pass that at 09.55 the aforementioned juvenile Black Stork appearred from the local gardens and gained height over the cricket pitch before drifting off towards Sidley. Clearly there is a lot of Heron fodder available in Little Commons multitude of sub-urban gardens with Grey Herons dropping in periodically along with the Stork, which is still present at the time of writing and periodically perching on fences, by ponds, and in the road for the fortunate few...
Out on the levels the autumn hirundine gatherings are taking place with birds preparing to head south. On the 21st I watched 3 Hobby hawking dragons over Horse-eye, consuming them on the wing, and a Kingfisher was watched along the drain at Hankham. The main reason for visiting Hankham was to look for Small Red-eyed Damselflies which was successful with at least two males seen. Other dragonflies included Ruddy and Common Darters, Emperor, and Brown and Migrant Hawkers.
Continuing the insect theme the Hornet Hoverfly, or more correctly, Volucella zonaria, pictured right was in the garden on the same afternoon.
Mothing continues to provide interesting immigrants with the Scarce Bordered Straw pictured left found on my Tomato plants on the 24th. Other immigrants and moths of interest over the past week as follow: Swallow Prominent (15th), Common Carpet (17th), Bordered Straw, Dark Sword-grass, Dingy Footman, Hoary Footman, Peacock, Sharp-angled Peacock, Yellow-barred Brindle, and Yellow tail (20th), Gold Spot, Orange Swift, and Satin Wave (21st). Peak night was the 20th with 88 macros' of 31 species and 28 micros' of 12 species. Over the same nights two new micros' for the garden turned up in the form of Acleris variegana (17th) and Acleris laterana (21st), other bits and pieces included Cydia splendana (pictured above right) (20th) and Cydia amplana (21st).

And so to return to my opening theme of cricket, hence the reference to Little Common Ramblers, Sunday saw myself and middle child taking the trek to the Oval for an urn lifting experience to follow on from Edgbaston day one. My eldest daughter has been fortunate indeed in that her first live experience of ashes cricket was day one at Edgbaston, oh Jimmy Jimmy, and that she has not had to experience the eighteen years of hurt that both myself and Mr Paul Chapman, noted lister and mother extraordinaire had to put up with prior to my last urn lifting experience on the final day of the 2005 series. Regrettably aforementioned PC's rain dance (pic left) failed to get England out of jail despite filling up Justin Langers ditch, reprise "are you standing in a ditch" c2005, however any day you get to see the urn lifted is a good one! The cricket pictured below is a Speckled Bush-cricket found in the garden on the 12th that I have just got round to identifying, a somewhat tenuous series of links I know, but one that I like, better anyway than the Gooch, lbw, bowled Alderman I had in my younger days!

Sunday, 16 August 2015

The day of the Greenshank

It's been a great week on the moth front with the highlight being the Convolvulus Hawkmoth my eldest daughter found on my boxers which were hanging on the washing line on the 9th. This represents my 3rd record for the garden but is comfortably the earliest, and the freshest as the picture above demonstrates, with the others being in September 2005 and October 2006.
 The garden moth list has also had
two new macro additions this week in the form of the Webbs' Wainscot pictured left on the night of the 11th, and the Straw Underwing pictured right on the night of the 13th. Whilst the overall numbers remain down it seems that immigration is the best it has been for a few years, Small Mottled Willow, an immigrant I had not trapped before has now reached a total of 6 with a singleton on the night of the 5th and two on the night of the 13th. Another immigrant, Dark Sword-grass was trapped on the nights of the 5th and 9th with an unprecedented 6 on the 13th. New moths for the year list included the second Lunar Thorn for the garden on the 9th pictured below, along with Pale Mottled Willow on the night of the 5th, Blood Vein, Cabbage Moth, and Pebble Prominent on the 7th, Lychnis, Poplar Hawkmoth, and Yellow Shell on the 9th, Cypress Pug, and that harbinger of the autumn Setaceous Hebrew Character on the 11th, Copper Underwing, and finally Maidens Blush on the 13th. 
Micros' have been booming as well with new for the garden Calamatropha paludella (pictured below) on the night of the 5th, Epinotia nisella on the 9th, Galleria mellonella (Wax moth), and Ypsophola scabrella on the 11th, and Pyrausta purpularis on the 13th. Calamatropha paludella is a scarce moth of fens and marshes the larva of which feeds on Bulrush so perhaps it is not surprising one has found its way into the garden! The nights of the 11th and 13th yielded my first Cydia amplana of the year.
Out on the levels "Bexhill Black" was searched for but unfortunately not connected with, quite where this Black Stork gets too who knows? I trawled the area from Cooden Beach north to Hailsham on the 15th with no joy at all, perhaps he heads east to Filsham? Todays WEBS count was a step up on recent efforts with the recent rain having refreshed the flashes to such an extent that proper waders were present! In fact Down and Horse-eye were covered with them, relatively speaking that is, with 12 Greenshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, and 7 Snipe on Down, and a further 11 Greenshank, and 25 Snipe on Horse-eye. Raptors included another indicator of autumn with an immature male Merlin together with one of the semi-resident Marsh Harrier mooching around the dykes. The regular Red Fox was on Down and 3 Brown Hawkers were seen along White Dyke. Floral accompinent was provided on White Dyke by the Amphibious Bistort pictured above right.
Finally to a few other bits and pieces from the garden in the form of the Acorn Weevil pictured left which was frequenting the moth trap on the morning of the 14th and the fly Volucella inanis pictured below which was pottering around the garden on the 16th. All useful additions to the pan list along with the leaf hopper Iassus ianio which was also seen on the 14th. Keep smiling.

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Its a jungle out there

Well its been a while in the making but the night of the 3rd saw my 300th macro species for the garden in the form of the Dark Spinach pictured right. Also on the 3rd my 100th micro species for the garden was trapped - Hypsopygia costalis or Gold Triangle - and my 101st - Dioryctria costalis. I am slowly getting to grips with the micros' now and know that if the conditions are calm and warm there are going to be plenty of them about so better get the pots lined up! Mothing has been pretty quiet over the past week with clear cold nights and a bright full moon resulting in only 22 moths of 8 species being trapped on the night of 27th July, truly appalling, but things have now picked up again with the 3rd producing a total of 104 moths of 40 species.
The weekend saw me wandering around Hankham and Manxey as well as Horse-eye and Down in pleasant enough weather. Bird wise things were very quiet with the only sign of return migration being a couple of Sand Martin mixed in with the Swallows at Rickney. Buzzards were much in evidence with birds recorded all across the levels and 4 together were soaring over Herstmonceux on the evening of the 3rd. Bird highlight though were the small party of Crossbills that chipped there way over the garden early on the 2nd as I was sorting through the moth trap. Dragons comprised Brown Hawker at Downash along with the commoner blue damsels on Hankham and Down but no sign of any Small Red-eyeds despite searching. The Water Plantain pictured right was out on Hankham on the morning of the 1st.
In fact the levels were so quiet on the 2nd that I resorted to pottering in the garden in an attempt to get the Pan species list up. Top of the garden potter was the fly Sicus ferrugineus pictured at the top of the page. First things first - this creature isn't winning any beauty competitions - it looks singularly unpleasant with its brown and yellow colouration and unusual posture. Secondly if you have buddhist leanings better hope you are not reincarnated as an insect, this particular fly is a parasitoid of Bumble-bees, all of which is rather unpleasant... Other additions to the garden pan list were the fly Neomiya viridescens, and hoverfly Eristalis pertinax, along with the spider Steatoda grossa pictured above. This species is one of the "False Widows" that cause periodic hysteria in the press and whilst it looks quite intimidating (for a beast about an inch across) its bite is unlikely to cause much more discomfort than a bee or wasp sting unless you are unfortunate enough to be allergic to the venom.