Thursday, 17 August 2017

A hot streak

The title cannot of course refer to the relatively mild mid-summer weather, but instead subtly alludes to a summer that has seen me connect with a number of new species of Butterfly in a short space of time (one of those of course a Hairstreak).

Early August, the now Bradley clan descended on the peaceful Cotswolds, first for a 10-mile pub crawl consisting of 8 pubs and at least as much local ale (Rose and Debs bit-part players in this quest it has to be said) but secondly for relaxation and some Blue Butterflies. The weather made seeking out the specialist species difficult, but I was thrilled to find 2/3 Adonis Blue on the chalky hillsides of Rodborough Common. Chalkhil Blue was very much the default Butterfly of these parts, so when I finally stumbled across a flash of electric blue, I knew instantly I was dealing with my target. Fantastic.

Whilst the same wow factor did not follow when I found a single male Small Blue, I will at least remember traversing the slopes of Selsley Common, stepping over many a Brown Argus, and finally giving up and ascending the common, only to stop in my tracks as my second of 2 targets flitted away from a patch of scorched grass. Taking all things into consideration, this was Butterflying to a new level. Small Heath, Small Copper, Silver-washed Fritillary, Brown Argus, Common and Chalkhill Blue were 'easy'. Throw in the real specialists, and the fact that I was outside peak season, and the southwest with its calcareous soils really does merit another visit.

I was priviliged to meet up with local Lepidoptera aficionado Peter Hugo, who invited me to go through his Moth trap one morning. His house overlooks the town of Stroud, and the garden list boasts Duke or Burgundy, Silver-washed Fritillary and White-letter Hairstreak. Although the previous night had been chilly, there was still a decent haul to go through which included a Beech Green Carpet and Nut Tree Tussock, both new for me.

Back home, numbers of Moths have been up and down due to the clear nights. However, I was lucky to come across a Sharp-angled Peacock, a coastal species with very few inland records attached.


A couple of day trips have yielded success on the Butterfly front. on Tuesday, James Emerson and I headed to Chambers Farm Wood in Lincolnshire as planned to hopefully see Brown Hairstreak. We spent as much of the day there as time would allow, enjoying crippling views of Purple Hairstreak on the ground in front of us, but only flight views of Brown. The mix of Ash, Blackthorn and a variety of plants to nectar on made this wood an ideal spot for this elusive Hairstreak, and as we began a slow trudge back to the car we both I think felt a little frustrated that the crippling views others had enjoyed were not to be permitted to us. Finally though, a female stopped James in his tracks a few feet from us. She then flew into an Ash, wings open, allowing us to see the large Orange blotches at an albeit acute angle. I then picked up a male nearby, and the set was complete. Job done, and a return visit in May is already being discussed for Marsh Fritillary.


Yesterday, I was very privileged to join Mr. Bird Therapy for a look at a small colony of Clouded Yellow. The site is private, and sadly may soon be up for sale and who knows what. I saw around 10 Clouded, including a Helice female. These Butterflies rarely come to rest, and are a speedy proposition to photograph over the trefoil. I am sure you have seen Joe's excellent photographs on Twitter though, wings open, so it does happen! Very lucky to be at the heart of this species' attempts to colonise the county. I wonder what will be next?

Looking back with anger, I noticed that Sally, one of the Norfolk Montagu's Harriers, has died under suspicious circumstances. I was privileged to see the family late in July, but the news was a stark reminder of how fragile their existence is here in Britain.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The dulcet tones of summer, and a guided tour

Inland migration has slowed right down, and the soft tones of Summer have set in, albeit with oppressive levels of heat during the last 30 days. Today the garden has finally had a good dump of rain which the flowers we have been planting will enjoy.

With avian interest naturally dipping,  Lepidoptera are keeping me busy. Some nice firsts in the garden trap, including Scorched Wing, Figure Eighty, Cream-bordered Green Pea, Small Angle Shades, Puss Moth and a garden record count of 174 Moths of 64 species on the night of the 24/25 June.

The Swallowtail was always high on the agenda in June, as I had been asked to privately tour a small group with this target species in mind. I had been successful at Wheatfen (4) and Strumpshaw (3) during June, but with poor weather seeing out the month I had to move the tour to early July. Thankfully, the group were not disappointed and we achieved views of 2/3 Swallowtail at Strumpshaw Fen. I think though that they were won over by the White Admirals and the sheer volume of Comma we saw on the day. I have decided I need to formally advertise these guided tours, as I have completed a few over the last few years and thoroughly enjoyed it. I have added a tab on the homepage with testimony. Hopefully more to come. Being keenly aware of my own knowledge base and skill set, the private tours would suit folk who are perhaps visiting the area or who are unaware of what is local to them. If you know of anyone at a loose end who ticks those boxes, send them my way! Ultimately, I enjoy sharing what I know and helping people connect with nature. The teacher bit does at least come in handy.

The evening dance of the Purple Hairstreak is something Matthew Oates has written about. A colony was present on Oaks in Claxton last year, but my max count was only around 5. However, on a humid but grey evening last week I counted at least 15 so I am pleased to report the colony has expanded. I have been re-visiting, but have drawn a blank in less favourable conditions so far. Down on the marsh, a Barn Owl has been seen carrying food, 3 juvenile Kestrel were brief sentinels atop a wooden gate, and a Hobby can occasionally be seen commuting over the house.

News from Wheatfen- Silver-washed Fritillary are back for the first time since 2014, and have been seen egg laying. I managed 2 on a quick visit with Rose in the beech woodland 2 weeks ago. Smashing orange tanks these things, real purpose to their movements. A great addition to the patch.

Arse end of a Frit

Friday, 7 July 2017

That night in King's Forest

I have put a fair few hours in over the years in the Thetford Forest complex, searching for Long-eared Owl. My best views of this crepuscular species have always been on migration, but that all changed when Ricky and I descended into the forest in early June following a tip-off and a from Shaky which suggested I might finally achieve the views I had craved. Locations will not be given out for obvious reasons.

Arriving at the site around 9pm, we inadvertantly flushed 3 young birds which had been roosting on the ground, a slightly different spot to a day or so ago. Stepping back, we listened as the Owls began to squeak. Naturally curious, it did not take long for the young to begin a few practise flights, one particular bird confident enough to fly past us as we stood flabbergasted in the ride. I knew as I watched this unfold, this was a wildlife highlight I would look back on with fondness for the rest of my days. Feeling as if we had taken up enough of their time, and to allow the adults to arrive with food, we left just after 9.30 and headed back. On route, we had a Nightjar veer overhead against an almost purple-tinged sky and at least 5 were heard churring that evening. At the clearing where we started, I commented that it was really too dark to pick out an adult hunting on the far side. I need not have worried, for right on cue an adult passed a metre or so above us and proceeded to hunt a margin in front of us! The perfect evening had just got better. What was most intriguing, was trying to pin this adult down to a nest. For, after another short walk, we picked up another 2 young at a different nest. A lack of Tawny Owls in the area was a good sign that quietly, these birds have established themselves here over many years and are doing OK. Throw in the Tree Pipits, Viper's Bugloss and a moon that ate up the sky, and I had finally nailed Long-eared Owl in The Brecks in the best possible manner with an accompanying cast of thousands.

Photo courtesy of a West Ham fan.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Raptor's steal the headlines in May

Red Kites continue to make their push eastwards, and the bird below was photographed (badly) today on Claxton Marshes, coming out of an aerial duel with a Marsh Harrier and continuing to search for food. Another, perhaps the same, was seen on the 13th in the same location. On the 16th I observed one passing the window, from the couch!

Huge excitement ensued on the 3rd. when a juvenile White-tailed Eagle made landfall at Buckenham that evening. This individual, assuming it is one and the same, has been touring Norfolk and Suffolk for a few weeks now and this was a rare opportunity to add it to the 'seen from patch' patch list. In brisk chilly weather, I parked at the Beauchamp Arms and walked east to a small hut presumably used for monitoring sailing or fishing competitions. This gave me an elevated view over Buckenham Marshes, and the Eagle was easily picked out on a gate post. Needless to say this was a giant of a bird, and the Oystercatchers were very brave indeed to want to harass it. I watched as the bird left for roost around half 7, trailed across the marsh by the local Waders, Geese spooked by the predator making a racket. Quite a scene so close to home. Avocet on the pools were also NFY.

The Swifts arrived back en mass over the 5th and 6th, and already seem to be getting on with nest building in the local houses. An evening walk to Rockland on the 6th was still wooly hat weather, but Common Sandpiper and Garden Warbler (3 territories now) were welcome year ticks. A Cuckoo was heard, and these would remain in short supply until later in the month.

The annual dawn chorus walk with SYWG at Church Marsh was a little disappointing this year in terms of species, but the attendees received good renditions of a variety of songs, including Grasshopper Warbler, and I was most pleased to see Nuthatch in the wet carr woodland. A week later, and although the wildfowl and waders survey was equally dull, I was thrilled to see a pair of Marsh Harrier prospecting on site. 

The first Hobby was recorded on the 13th, and and another bird was seen at dusk over the Beauchamp arms on Friday night. 

Mothing is slowly improving, and I have had a few first over the last few weeks: May Highflyer, Rustic Shoulder Knot, Least Black Arches and Cloud Bordered Brindle. None especially rare, but I didn't trap a lot this time last year so I am still getting to grips with even the common Spring species. Eyed and Poplar Hawk Moth have graced the trap, and this morning I awoke to a decent haul finally, (at second count) 13 species of 25 Moths.

Debs, Rose and I had a walk at Strumpshaw this afternoon in the hope of catching up with an early Swallowtail. No luck there, but Damsels were out and about- Azure, Variable and Blue-tailed. I also came across a couple of Hairy Dragonflies on my village run this morning. 

A year all about Raptors so far, with an over-wintering Hen Harrier, the arrival of the Kites and a patch addition in the shape of a Sea Eagle. Still time for a May mega to see out the month, and with half term a week away I am hopeful of adding to the list.



Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Winds hit their mark in the Yare Valley

Although the end of April and early May has been chilly enough to warrant a woolly hat and jacket, the winds from the east and north have bought with them some decent birds on the patch. Having been laid up for a spell after Scotland with an infection, I was finally getting better on the 23rd and headed to Church Marsh to conduct a Wildfowl and Waders survey, whilst at the same time noting any Bearded Tit or Marsh Harrier behaviour. Shelduck, Gadwall and Teal were paired up on the lagoon, and a single Snipe landed out of view. A male Marsh Harrier was circling over the western corner of the marsh but no sign of a female with him. I heard a couple of pings from the resident Beardies but nothing conclusive. Reed Warbler and Grasshopper Warbler although late were new for the year. The following evening I enjoyed decent views of the latter on Claxton Marsh, exciting to find new territories of this elusive Locustella.

A walk round the patch on the 29th threw up a beautiful Wheatear on Rockland Marshes behind the broad, not an annual bird for me and one often encountered close to the river on migration. 2 Common Tern on the broad were also new for the year, if expected. On the 30th, bird of the month bombed up river and onto the marsh- a Whimbrel! With the nights pulling out I hope to be able to add a few more migrants in the coming month before birds settle down to breed. Finally, as we entered May, Debs and I heard our first Cuckoo of the year singing near Coldham Hall.

If you are local, I am leading the South Yare Wildlife Group walk round Church Marsh on Sunday morning. Meet at the Surlingham Ferry Inn at 5.30am. Hopefully we get some nice birds to kick start the Sunday  .http://southyarewildlifegroup.org/upcoming-events/

I had to share some awesome sky shots of Claxton, and of course a record shot of my Wheatear.



Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Scotland jaunt

I made my way up to The Highlands again this April, an annual visit at this time of year and my fourth year in a row. Having nailed avian targets bar Capercaille and Scottish Crossbill on previous visits, my only real target was the former this time so I was able to try some new sites and finally take part in a distillery and tasting tour at Tomatin (the trip highlight!)

It was a fairly bleak week weather-wise, but with clear skies forecast myself and 2 friends went to the Findhorn Valley on the afternoon of the 10th. One distant Golden Eagle and a pair of cavorting Peregrine were the Raptor highlights amongst the munroes, and a pair of Curlew were calling on territory. As the promised weather failed to deliver, we made for Loch Ruthven and enjoyed 3 Slavonian Grebe on the water close to the hide.

The following day was the only planned 'day in the field' and we made an early start searching for Capercaille. How close we came. I have in my possession 2 feathers found on a track, which weren't there on the way through the forest, so the bird/s in question must have crossed our path. A rumble in the heather and a brief glimpse of a sizeable bird flying away was probably a female, but I can't be certain on that view. The only other people we saw had indeed seen a female not far from this spot. The woods were excellent for Crossbill and Siskin, and although I left disappointed I feel like I am a step closer to finally seeing this bird in the flesh. Maybe next year. During the rest of the day, we had a couple of Red Squirrel, a pair of Ring Ouzel on Cairngorm, a pair of Osprey at Loch Garten and a pair of Red-throated Diver on Loch Morlich. It's easy to be spoilt in The Highlands. In a vain attempt to to see the White-billed Diver at Burghead, we instead watched Gannets fishing and had the first Sandwich Terns of the year pass west.

With the serious birding done, we spent a good deal of the 12th exploring new sites, namely Corimony RSPB. Here they offer Black Grouse safaris, but not fancying another early start we were content with picking out 4 birds on the moorland in this beautiful isolated reserve. Other bits included Brambling, Grey Wagtail at Glenn Affric and a close encounter with a male Sparrowhawk.

Our final day was spent sampling the best of the local Whiskey at Tomatin. The tour was fascinating, although by the end I was impatiently awaiting my first dram. The 14 year old is without doubt the finest Whiskey I have tasted, and we left for the heady heights of Inverness more than a little jolly.

Hopefully I will return next year with the girls in tow, and although I won't expect either to join me on any early starts for my nemesis I hope to be able to show Rose a Red Squirrel.



Friday, 7 April 2017

The arrival of the Red Kite, and getting in on the Emperor action

 Like buses, Red Kites. Hot on the heels of one on patch and 2 just off around Hales, I added a further 3 birds yesterday and I feel like this species has now formally announced its arrival having briefly popped in earlier in the year. 2 birds were spotted high above Wheatfen by my cousin Ben Moyes, and a further bird was seen close to home at Claxton marshes late in the afternoon of the 6th. A superb addition and surely here to stay.

Looking back over my notes since my last post, a singing Blackcap on the 25th of March was my earliest record for the patch. Others have since piled in and are vocal throughout the valley in gardens scrub and woodland. Debs and I finally connected with some Hirundines with 4 Sand Martin and 2 Swallow following the river west at Buckenham Marshes RSPB. Swallow soon followed this side of the river, when at least 2 were seen hawking for insects with a House Martin on the 6th at Surlingham Church Marsh. I had to wait until April the 3rd for the first Willow Warbler song, an absolute joy to hear as always, and since then another 2 birds have made the presence known at Church Marsh.The first Sedge Warbler was at Claxton Marshes on the 4th and at least 3 were at Church Marsh yesterday. Such an exciting time of year, I love adding the migrants to the patch year list and watch them settle in for another summer here.

It was a real privilege to observe a pair of Nuthatch in private woodland adjacent to Church Marsh. They have become a patch certainty with the Wheatfen bird/s, and with a lone male on patch at Church Marsh last winter I hoped for a further range expansion, but didn't expect it so soon. Having heard nothing from them this year, yesterday was a pleasant surprise. With a vocal male showing well (see below) a female soon joined him and the pair were observed mating. More great news for the patch and its seemingly growing diversity. I was pleased that team Moyes got to see them.

Having left Church Marsh and been to Rockland Broad, Colin Ben and I returned to Claxton Marshes to pick up Ben's Emperor Moth lure. I didn't hold out much hope for this, and the excellent Norfolk Moths website showed a paucity of records in my square and surrounds. It was therefore with great shock and excitement that as we approached the lure, a male Emperor Moth launched itself into the air. This fantastic looking beast refused to settle for a photo, but the 3 of us didn't mind, stunned though we were. Where on earth had this thing come from, and had we just got really lucky, or picked the location wisely? I will certainly be purchasing my own lure and will try again at this site soon. Stay tuned for more Emperor action!

With it being the Easter Holidays, the garden trap has been out these last few dry nights. Frosted Green, Purple Thorn and Muslin Moth the highlights so far. Need to sit down this weekend and get my sightings uploaded. Holly Blue, Red Admiral and Orange Tip have been other recent Lep additions. I am yet to see a Comma, and that will be a genuine fist pump moment as over the years they have jumped ahead of the pack as my favourite local Butterfly.

A quick walk down to the river today, more Raptor activity with Buzzards and Harrier distantly displaying. The cry of the wild- a Curlew made it onto the year list.

After the Nuthatch photos is the image of the possible Sinensis Cormorant from early March. I would appreciate any feedback on this individual.