Monday, 25 May 2015

G is for Garganey and Green-veined Orchid

To say it has not been a vintage spring would be an understatement. The wader passage has been pretty non-existent and the south coast seawatching has been pretty much Pomless. Together with generally colder temperatures than the seasonal average and the expiration of my moth trap electrics things have been pretty bleak.
This weekend though has seen a few bits and pieces with today providing the highlight in the form of a drake Garganey On Down Level. Also in attendance over the last few days have been the usual residents and summer visitors with the Hobbys' in particular putting on a good display chasing both hirundines and dragons.
The weekend has also seen my first sightings of many Dragons and damsels for the year with several Hairy Dragonfly on the wing on Down Level along with my first Variable, Common Blue, and Azure damselfly.
Green-veined Orchids are in full flower on Horse-eye at the moment and large numbers of Small China mark have emerged although all other mothing has been suspended pending a delivery of replacement electrics from ALS!

Sunday, 17 May 2015

A change is as good as a rest

Things on the patch remain quiet despite the influx of rare herons elsewhere in the country! Highlights over the last couple of weeks have been few and far between with single Common Sand on the 10th hardly setting the world on fire, and todays WEBS count being depressingly mundane. Aside from the local Brown Hare population providing a distraction there has been little of note so I have been forced to do a bit of looking around elsewhere to brighten up the notebook. A visit to Abbots Wood in May will (these days) result in a sighting of Pearl-bordered Fritillary so I  wrenched myself away from the levels on the morning of the 16th and stretched my legs amongst the bluebells. Fortunately I soon connected with the target and any number thereafter and had a number of photo opportunities including the one above. Also around were numerous Brimstone, Peacock, and Large White, but has anyone else noted the paucity of Orange Tips this spring. I bumped into Neil Hulme later at Park Corner and he has also noticed the relative lack of this species though was unable to offer an explanation. Perhaps there is room for me to take up a study of this species as it is my favorite and the lack this year is putting a real downer on my spring!
Whilst at Park Corner later in the day I came across my first Large Red Damsel (pictured right) of the year sunning itself on a beech leaf. Also at Park Corner were 2 Adders, numerous Brimstone, though a complete absence of the afore-mentioned OT.
So to today and following the WEBS count I decided to pootle off east and have a mooch about at Rye. Nothing to write home about but a couple of immature Spoonbill and the cacophony of breeding terns and gulls, along with the avian bully that is the Avocet, made for a welcome change. Along with a couple of cuckoo and a few Barwit all very nice.
A final footnote is the continued poor moth catches - I was putting this down to an old bulb and light pollution but having scouted around a few websites and spoken to a few people it seems I am not alone. Lets hope things look up in the near future...

Monday, 4 May 2015

H is for Hobby, hirundines, and herpetology

As is typical at this time of year its' been busy with up and down weather and influxes of birds. Highlight of the weekend has to be Kris Gillams' rumper at West Rise to which I paid a couple of visits. Red-rumps never fail to delight and so it was with this one, although it could be elusive at times disappearing to other areas of the marsh. Whilst looking for it yesterday I wandered off to the north west corner of the main lake and saw the Swallow pictured left. In the field this bird was very striking with the peach-orange underparts and underwing coverts  very different to the creamy white of the typical rustica. My thoughts wandered to one of the southern/eastern races, however typically these would exhibit an even richer rufous tone with the possible exception of transitiva. On researching it seems that separation in the field of transitiva from rustica would be nigh on impossible and that the nominate rustica in the southern/ eastern limits of its range increasingly show this peach coloration on their underparts to perhaps 10 percent of the population. Nonetheless an interesting bird and coupled with the Red-rumped, Sand Martins, House Martins, certainly nominate rustica Swallows, Swifts, Yellow Wagtails, and a couple of Hobby (including one seen to catch a hirundine and proceed to pluck it on the wing), made it an enjoyable couple of visits.
On the patch the highlight has been the proper arrival this weekend of Hobby with a total of twelve visible late morning today, the 4th, on Horse-eye alone. A single Greenshank is still present on Down Level in the company of two summer plumaged Dunlin, and the pair of Gadwall are still in residence on Mappins'. My first brood of Moorhen for the year were seen in one of the ditches off White Dyke with a total of 3 day old or so young.
Finally today I paid a short visit to Park Corner Heath in the hope of seeing some butterflies. All to no avail, however I did manage to see all the reptiles I could have hoped for here in the form of Common Lizard, 3 Slow Worm, a female Adder, and a Grass Snake. Also very worryingly someone had put a note in the log referring to a dead adder they had seen with a crushed head (presumably from a boot). Surely people who visit reserves and purport to care about the environment and wildlife would know better than to do something as ignorant and shameful as that. If not there is little hope for our species....

Saturday, 2 May 2015

Lunar Marbled Brown

Suffice to say that April has been a poor month for numbers of moths in the garden. Whilst this is not a complete surprise with only April 2007 resulting in a total of more than a hundred individuals, and the fact that I am restricted to using an actinic light to avoid disrupting my neighbours' sleep patterns, my return this year of 27 is atrociously low and included 4 nights with nil returns. However by contrast the trap has held 2 new species for the garden in that time in the shape of Brindled Beauty and the Lunar Marbled Brown pictured right which was trapped on the night of the 24th April.
Out on the levels things have been ticking over nicely with no startling records but good birding most of the time. Best of the bunch by far was the Wood Sandpiper on Down level on the 26th creeping around in the reed fringed pools, also on the 26th my first Hobby of the year was on Horse-eye, and 2 Greenshank and a Ruff were on Down.
Today, the 2nd May, Down held Greenshank, Hobby, and Swift, while Mappins' had 2 Gadwall. All the residents and summer breeders now seem to be in and settling down to the business, hopefully the fragments of Lapwing shell I found in the week were indicative of newly hatched offspring and not predation though I am yet to see any youngsters.
On the mammal front Brown hare are an ever present and welcoming diversion from birding. Keep it real.

Woody and the Hudwits

A possible name for a beatnik retro sixties group or alternatively a summary of last weekends jaunts? Very occasionally the force leaves me and I slip into a state of temporary insanity which leads to me driving halfway across the country to see a rare bird. In my youth the insanity was almost uncontrollable and frequently led to bouts of melancholy as well as much joy and happiness and a (semi) respectable list, much of it pre-pager. Recently the madness has left me almost entirely and has been easier to control, until last Saturday morning....
When in my youth I first subscribed to British Birds the first rarities report from that august journal that I read contained the 1982 Hudsonian Godwit record. For some reason ever since, it has been one of the birds that I have hankered after, so when the news broke on Saturday morning I was keen to drop everything and head off to my date with destiny! Life is never that simple though and with the wife's leg still gammy I had to speed shop her round Waitrose first before picking up Nick and Greg and heading west. The drive was testing, a typical Saturday twitch, however we arrived on site early afternoon and quickly connected with the boy (well actually a girl apparently) feeding with a substantial flock of Blackwit at Meare Heath nature reserve. Mission accomplished we were able to enjoy the bird for getting on for a couple of hours before it suddenly decided to up and off with about 30 Blackwit, fortunately for those arriving later in the afternoon it has subsequently returned.
What a quality reserve though. I have never visited the Somerset Levels before but based on this visit hope to pay them a bit more attention as a destination when in the area. Bittern were seen on 4 occasions while we were on site and were heard booming throughout the afternoon (must be great at night). Great White Egret included the bird pictured left in smart spring white heron attire and Little Egret were also present. Other waders included a Greenshank and a spankmongous Wood Sandpiper in speckledy spiggledy summer plumage. A male Bearded Tit was a bonus for me (thanks Nick) and along with various Blackcap, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Sand Martins etc made for a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon out.
The main attraction though was the Hudwit, what a stunning bird, as Nick said not un-reminiscent of a giant Spotted Redshank. I was not expecting it to be quite so striking and when it flew, as it did on several occasions the overall darkness of the plumage along with the striking underwing contrast with the black axillaries and underwing coverts made it very easy to pick out with bins. So to the drive home and a celebratory pint at a little pub in Fontwell which was having a rave. Never mind, can't win them all.