Sunday, 29 July 2012

Second of the day: Bats, and Cantley

Almost forgot- gave the Bat detector a run out at Strumpshaw Fen on Thursday night. Recorded (I think) 5 species of Bat. The 2 Pipistrelles were common throughout the reserve, Brown Long-eared was recorded near the meadow trail (classic woodland edge habo) and Daubenten's were seen over the pool from reception hide. The frequencies were not as strong here, but the behaviour and habitat moreorless confirms this species as present. For those counting, the 5th species goes down as a possible Serotine, hunting near the pines at reception. Lots to learn here, but Bats are a genuine passion I am finally getting the chance to indulge in.
Today, I went to Cantley Beet Factory. First visit of many this Summer. Always a lot to see here, so a list will have to suffice:

Dunlin 1
Ruff 5
Redshank 1
Green Sandpiper 3
Common Sandpiper 2
Avocet 3
Yellow Wagtail 1- surely a local breeder?
Bearded Tit 2
Lapwing- many!

I checked the back pools too, only one Green Sand here but plenty of (I think) Southern and the odd Migrant Hawker now on the wing. Need to examine these individuals more closely.

                                                                    Yellow Wagtail

Lower Wood NWT, Ashwellthorpe

Birding the fringe- my personal challenge for this Summer. However, there is a reason no-one birds woodland on a cloudy day in July.
Directions- Ashwellthorpe is just south of Wymondham. We parked in the village on the Wymondham road just before the White Horse pub (shut during our visit); a public footpath from here leads to the wood. As we approached the site, the sun was blazing and so we latched onto a few Butterflies. All 3 (possible) species of Skipper were the best bit. Bird-wise, Green Woodpecker (2, maybe 3) Nuthatch, Coal Tit and Whitethroat. On arrival at the entrance, you are greeted by the following sign:

A wood recorded in the Doomsday book (nice little History nugget there) and is full of Hornbeam: Hawfinch anyone? The walk through the wood lasts around 30 minutes, and whilst this would no doubt be a cracking dawn chorus venue or a decent winter visit, today was pretty dead. I don't blame the wood, just our timing. Nice to see some ancient woodland being preserved and carefully managed.
Oh, and by the time we actually got into the wood, it was cloudy and breezy. No sign of the White Admiral pictured on the reserve welcome board, but this is supposed to be a decent site for them.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Big Butterfly Counting

Spent the last couple of days exploring sites old and new, the focus being Butterflies but at Strumpshaw yesterday I managed to get myself involved in adding a few birds to the BioBlitz list for the week!
Ben had emailed me to let me know the Moth trap would be emptied for the public in the morning, so along with a small group I watched in eager anticipation. Many new Moths for me, including Eyed Hawkmoth, Early Thorn, Rosy Footman, Fen Wainscott, Rufous Minor and a Double Kidney; this one had the enthusiasts excited. After the 2 traps were emptied, I stuck around to join in a bird race for an hour. Two fly-by species from earlier (Siskin and Green Sandpiper) could not go on our list, but we did happen across a family of Spotted Flycatcher! New for the week, not seen since Spring. We also managed Hobby, Common Tern, Stock Dove and a juvenile Water Rail. 51 species in total, thanks in no small part to 3 young budding ornithologists who were on the team. As luck would have it, FirstreesJohn was out and about on the reserve, nice to meet the man himself.
That afternoon I conducted a 15 minute BB count on the patch (since there was bugger all else about).
2 Gatekeeper
2 Comma
White sp 7
Meadow Brown 1
Ringlet 1

Not bad, but I had hoped for more considering the blazing heat.
Anyway, a few pictures from yesterday.
 A very content Oak Egger
Eyed Hawkmoth 'warming up'.

Today, I tried out a recommended 'obscure' site near Poringland. I was greeted by purring Turtle Dove and screaming swifts, lovely start. I was quickly aware that this place was a hive of activity and began another BB count.
8 Meadow Brown
3 Gatekeeper
4 Ringlet
2 Comma
1 Small White
2 Large White
2 Large Skipper
1 Essex Skipper

That's more like it! I also saw at least three 6 spot Burnet Moths, a sure fire indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
Some pictures now follow, plus one Butterfly that I am yet to ID. Any comments here appreciated.

6 Spot Burnet Moth
            Unknown? (Appears to be a Meadow Brown not showing off its fore-wing, thanks for that Kieran).

                                                                 Essex Skipper, I think.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Frits and Skimmers at Holt

The day began splendidly, whilst enjoying lunch at the King's Head in Letheringsett a family of Kestrels busied themselves behind us.
Our real reason for heading in this direction was of course the Butterfly fest ongoing at Holt Country Park. Arriving at the pond, one chap picked out a White Admiral- our first target of the day. We were lucky enough to see more of these as the day progressed, and I would imagine they go under-recorded in many of our woods in Norfolk. The pond itself was brimming with life, Broad-bodied Chasers manning their perches and chasing off the likes of Common Darter and Four-spotted Chaser. We also saw Banded Demoiselle, Large Red, Emerald, Azure, Common Blue and Hairy Dragonfly. An incredible range, especially for someone relatively new to Dragonflies.
Heading out onto the Lowes, it was difficult to avoid the heat but our efforts were rewarded with some male Keeled Skimmers- our second target of the day. I was surprised at how small they actually are. I have to admit I did not see one of these at Surlingham earlier in the year; that must have been a Black-tailed Skimmer. Out on the heath and away from the bogs, we found a Grayling Butterfly.
Back to the woods, and it did not take long to find our last species on the hit-list: Silver-washed Fritillary. Frustratingly, only one individual rested for us to admire for a few seconds but we were treated to some excellent fly-by views of this powerful Butterfly.
 Large Red Damselfly
 Holt Lowes
 Keeled Skimmer- note the amber pterostigma
Female Broad-bodied Chaser

Monday, 23 July 2012

Purple Emperor visit

Super weekend in Hertfordshire at a friend's wedding, which began with 3 Red Kites cavorting overhead as we enjoyed champagne and canopes on the lawn, and ended with crippling views of a near-mythical Butterfly species.
I had read somewhere (probably Birdforum) that there was a site in Northamptonshire were Purple Emperors were clinging on, but upon looking this up it turns out the wood in question was not really on the way home. However, my search turned up another site that was certainly within reach and so at 11am this morning I arrived at Broxbourne Woods to blow the cobwebs away after a night of dancing, eating and drinking with great company. 
There were certainly Butterflies on the wing, in numbers not seen so far this year. Small Copper, Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Red Admiral and Ringlet were all nice to see. A possible Silver-washed Frit powered through, lost to view. Despite the heat, there were some birds for company too. Crossbills called overhead, Nuthatch, Coal Tit and surprisingly a Ke-wicking Tawny Owl. 
Nearing the end of my circuit, I came across an open area and a friendly warden approached me and we began to discuss what was about. Before I could begin a species list, a large Butterfly flew up from beneath us. "Ah, Purple Emperor!" he exclaimed. I couldn't believe it. Apparently, this individual often rests up on the fence that borders the track, and feeds on the horse muck. I waited for his return, with another forest ranger who was passing. No luck. Still, I had been lucky to at least see one.
Walking back to the car in a shaded area, a Butterfly flew low across the track. Initially, I thought it was a White Admiral. Nope, this thing was huge. Take a look at these:

The purple sheen not really on show in these photos, although in the field when the light caught the wings this insect looked magnificent. I know I got lucky today. A real privilege and a wildlife memory to savour.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Catfield Fen

Not the easiest place to find this, and not even a reserve welcome board to greet me! Still, it seemed only right that my first Big Butterfly Count should be at a reserve funded by the Butterfly Conservation Trust. Although breezy, the sun did break through from time to time. My 15 minute count included a Swallowtail and 3 Ringlet. Great to see a Swallowtail this year, but had hoped for a little more variety. Further round the reserve trail which led to nowhere, I managed another Swallowtail, 2 Red Admiral and 5 Small Tort.
My first Brown Hawkers of the year were on the wing, as was a Norfolk Hawker. Black-Tailed Skimmers aplenty, and singles of Blue-tailed and Azure Damselfly.
Being so out of the way, I would imagine so super stuff gets missed here in this sprawling and remote area of fen. 3 Marsh Harriers played together in the sky, a female Sparrowhawk patrolled the reed bed and a single Lapwing was on a muddy scrape which looked newly 'scraped'.
With only a week until my annual 6 week holiday, my thoughts are turning to birding and wildlife targets during an often quiet time of year. I think I am going to make an effort to visit obscure and poorly signposted local nature reserves in Norfolk. This will also allow me to scout out some suitable rural pubs, sample some good ale, and generally potter about having a think. Lovely stuff.
If anyone has any recommendations of hidden gems or anything that fits the loose criteria above, do leave me a comment or a PM on Birdforum (jimbob, on the Norfolk thread from time to time).

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Breeding Birds at Surlingham

Some great birds around on the patch, Sunday evening. Good to have a second pair of eyes, and it was those belonging to Ricky that picked up the Kingfisher chicks (2, maybe 3) who were awkwardly perched atop the roof of the small pumping station across river. Both adults were in the area, presumably attending to these  newly fledged young. Fantastic stuff. Whilst watching the family, a Common Tern breezed upriver, in doing so smashing my record for number of Terns in a year (one, to two!). Further breeding species included a Chifchaff with brood, Gadwall and Magpie.
I did not hold out much hope on a walk to the Little Owl tree, which I had assumed was still being used by Egyptian Geese. Wrong.
That folks is an action shot of one of two Little Owls seeing off a marauding Magpie family! A closer approach and we were met with some hissing from one adult, we retreated hopeful that there are indeed young inside the gnarled tree. Brilliant! I wonder where the Owls have been all year?
Back on the circuit round, the Gropper continues to reel, and amongst the freshly cut reeds and grass we found a slug/snail orgy:

That folks, is something else altogether. look at that one with the yellow shell- should he be doing that?

I prefer a Ringlet if I'm honest.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Come in come out of the rain!

An excellent visit to the patch on Friday night. 3 Green Sandpiper flew over the lagoon calling, one belted off towards Wheatfen and the other 2 settled out of sight, so I was unable to age any individuals but these are my first returning birds of the year and a welcome sight on the patch once again. Another welcome return of sorts was a singing Grasshopper Warbler at the foot of the ruins. This bird has probably been present since May (when I last saw/heard it) but perhaps now is looking to breed again, after the wet weather put pay to an initial attempt? Who knows.
There are two male Marsh Harriers around now, one is a washed out individual and a little smaller than the smarter, older bird. The former was seen disturbing a nest, possibly of a Great-crested Grebe, bursting out of a small reed bed on the other side of the river. Thankfully for the Grebes, no chick in talons.
Still struggling for Butterflies, but a Comma was seen twice this week and a new for the year here was a Ringlet, pictured below. I was pleased to record Norfolk Hawker here at Surlingham; at least 2 dykes hold this species. A Hairy Dragonfly at rest was a nice find, again a picture to share below.
The much abused sightings board in the hide took a twist this week, the reserve being visited by not only two red data species but also conservation royalty. If you believe everything you read, that is.

                                             That's my writing, above that of 'Dr. Mark Avery'.
                                                                    Hairy Dragonfly

Monday, 2 July 2012

Thorpe Marshes Norfolk Hawker

Courtesy of Debs!

Update required.....

...but not much to report!
First off, some breeding records at Surlingham Church Marsh. A female Tufted Duck appeared on the lagoon last weekend, accompanied by 7 Ducklings. Not sure where she has come from, but more than welcome! Also here was a Chinese Water Deer with Fawn at the water's edge, I have never seen a youngster before so a bit of a treat. Further round amongst the scrub, a calling Marsh Tit was a nice suprise, and even better were 1/2 fledged young. I had assumed this would be a bird I encountered only during Winter, so to record breeding has given me hope of more regular sightings. A new bird for the year list (finally) was a Common Tern hunting over the Yare on the 24th of June. Whilst I watched him fish, I scanned the lily pads and sure enough, just as 'the' book suggests, there were some Red-eyed Damselflies zipping around before resting.
A couple of even visits involved some midge/mossie bites to savour, reeling Groppers at Strumpshaw and a good few 55khz Pips out and about. Debs and I also popped to Thorpe one evening last week, good views of Norfolk Hawker in the ditches and a singing Skylark, which I see was a tick for James, although at the time it had not sunk in that this was hardly prime Skylark habo.
Great Moth trapping session at home with the rents on Saturday night into Sunday morning. A Maple Prominent (I believe, see below) looks to be a new species for me. Buff-Tip, Buff-Ermine, Dark Arches, Burnished Brass, Privet Hawk Moth (5 of the beasts!) Common Wainscott, Marbled Minor and Hebrew Character are what I have managed to ID so far, but I shall have to email a few to my expert! Some pictures below, that Buff-tip is incredible, never trapped one in such great condition before.