Tuesday, July 23, 2019

More Dragons

Just a quick visit to SAL today. I couldn't find Mike's Lesser Emperor today, but as always absence of evidence should not be taken as evidence of absence.

A few shots of the odonata bonanza. First up Red-Veined Darter again.

This last pair are Small Red-eyed Damselfly. You can see the 'complete antehumeral stripe' on the female!

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

In search of dragons

A couple of local trips: Firstly to Canvey Island, where we spent time in a ditch. You know the one.

Male Blue-Eyed Hawkers (normally Southern Migrant Hawkers, but I like the new name) were regularly spaced. Mainly in flight, but one did perch up. This is heavily cropped etc etc but those eyes ...

Lots of Scarce Emeralds. Mainly deep in the ditch vegetation but one kindly flew up to be photographed.

Then onto Hatfield Forest in each of Emperors. I was too late in the day, but a few compensations. Our local White-legged Damselfly population still going. The width of those eyes makes it look like a mini hammer-head shark. 

black legs ... going for Ruddy Darter here.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

On the trail of the Red-Veined Darter.

With lots of people seeing Red-Veined Darters it seemed to be a good idea to visit Stansted Airport Lagoons, a traditional site for this species in invasion years and a top spot for local odonata, so when Mike gave me a call it was a no brainer to join him to try and find what for me would be a lifer.

We got to the lagoons, now carefully manicured to remove practically all vegetation, and started the search. It was all quiet until we got to the corner out of the wind in the NW when the mayhem started.

Several Emperors, lots of Black-Tailed Skimmer, a few four-Spotted Chasers and two Broad-bodied chasers. Lots off azure/common, a few blue tailed, and a couple of large-red-eyed damselflies, were all whizzing around in the corner, and in the midst of these several bright red darters. We spent a while looking at these, but it was hard. They were territorial on the edge of the water, but were constantly chasing away larger dragons so getting a good view was difficult. One alighted on the grass with better views, but it didn't have much red in the wings - was it a Common Darter? I got a few shots of a few of them, got excited by some reddish on the wings and list fever was beginning to set in. Mike was as always the voice of calmness and sense so we carefully looked for the evidence, but much was dependent on the quality of my photos, taken with a long lens hand-held. Regular readers could be forgiven for having some scepticism as to the outcome at this point.

It was evident as soon as I downloaded them and checked the photos against my new copy of Dijkstra that we had the Darter! here's some photos. they show the key features, a reddish hue at the base of the wings, pale pterostigma, and on a couple a blue colour to the lower eyes. Fantastic! And that bright red colour will remain in my memory for a while.

the first photo I looked at .... the red in the wings, and the pale pterostigma are really noticeable.
blue colour of the lower eyes here
we wondered about this as it had very little red in the wings, but pale pterostigma and blue lower eyes seal the id of this one too.
Overall there were about five darters of red colour of which we are happy with the identification of three as red-veined.

Whilst all this was happening a Banded Demoiselle flew by and we saw a couple of Small Red-Eyed Damselflies on some vegetation. A Common Tern spent some time, and also 15 Lapwings, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe and a family of Greylag Geese. We had several Marbled Whites on the fields, as well as Ringlet , Essex and Small Skipper, Small Heath, Meadow Browns, a couple of feeding huddles of mainly Large whites but also small and green-veined whites, a Small tortoiseshell and as no list is currently complete without a Painted Lady we had one of those, and also two forms of Latticed Heath Moths

Literally, a red-letter day.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Three go Mad in Suffolk

Minsmere in mid summer. No better place to be. Back in the depths of winter we had promised ourselves this trip with a particular purpose in mind, and weather and opportunity was just right so Mike David and I set off on another magical mystery tour.

Arrived just after 11, straight down to the dragonfly pool where we duly got the first few of many Norfolk Hawkers, a couple of early Willow Emeralds, and Broad Bodied and Four-Spotted Chasers. Then on to digger alley, and Bee Wolfs and Pantaloon Bees. I assume these are not particularly scarce, and I know digger wasps occur in all sorts of paces, but the good folk of the RSPB have got information boards here so it makes appreciating the creatures so much easier.

Then onto the North Wall, and following reading the RSPB blog, we looked for and found Six-Banded Clearwing. a small digger-wasp-like moth. As the blog said, you had to get your eye in, and realise that the small yellow-and-black thing flying around was not a wasp. The method of flying was distinctive, and  when it settled the moth-nature was apparent. There are some great photo's here, and here's mine which is crummy but is mine. Next time I find a mass of birds-foot trefoil I'll know what to look for.

A Bittern flew over, then from the scrape hides 6 Spotted Redshank, 3 Green Sandpipers, 2 moulting male ruff, 6 Little Gulls, and a few Little Terns, Avocets, Mediterranean Gulls, 2 Stonechat families then back to the centre with a Marsh Harrier on the way, and lunch.

Six-Spotted Burnet moth 
Then the woodland walk. An early quiet and shaded walk, we had 6 White Admirals, 2 Silver Washed Fritillaries, 3 Purple Hairstreak, lots of Norfolk Hawkers and Ruddy Darters, Ringlets, and a pair of Marsh Tits.

White Admiral. The best I could do was from this side.
Despite an excellent list across all wildlife classes, we weren't finished. Our two main objectives were yet to come. I enquired in the centre where we might see these, and a very helpful ranger got a large scale map, and marked two areas with a pen. We went to the first, Westleton Common. I thought the late hour may be against us, but soon David was frantically waving, and on coming over we saw he had some Silver-Studded Blues. The underwings were much in evidence, and a tatty male with lead-blue and brown upper wing was showing. (for better photos see David's blog) Also amongst the heather was a large Queen bee. It was huge, over an inch long. It clambered slowly round the heather as if it had all the time in the world, which in a sense it had, its life cycle being the epitome of free-riding. The shiny back, and yellow fur edgings on the tail indicted cuckoo bee, and I assume, as it is the commonest in my area, Vestal Cuckoo Bee.

an absolute unit. Presumed Queen Vestal cuckoo Bee
After a visit to the Eel's Foot at Eastbridge for an excellent meal, we went to our last venue,  Westleton Heath for much hoped-for Nightjar, my previous experience being of just one brief view many years ago. We waited for a while, and at 8:50pm churring commenced, and then a repeated frog-like call. Mike, with more experience than I, called this as the flight call, and after a frantic scan we managed to locate one flying round the area and into a group of trees - result! But then more calls, and the bird came back, flew just a few yards from us, and settled on a branch about 30 yards away where it started to churr! We got the scope on it and even though it was now 9:30ish, still got excellent scope-filling views of the bird churring. It didn't seem possible to fit those elegant long wings and tail so evident in flight into the compact log-like apparition sitting on the branch. What a fantastic sight, and I now realise why so many birders are fanatical about Nightjars!

There was lots of other wild-life around too. We saw 10 Red Deer - mainly young but some large hinds, move slowly through, a Hobby flew over, a Dartford Warbler sang unseen, and we could hear the weird calls of Stone Curlews in the distance, and then David called one flying over. As a magical hour drew to a close we walked back down to set off on the two hour journey back to Stortford.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Man Orchids in the rain.

The orchid season is short, and given that it is exam season and Dipper taxis are on call, opportunities have to be taken when they arise. So I found myself this morning at Chafford Gorges. Specifically, having googled a bit, at Grays Gorge. In search of Man Orchids.

Well, having descended the steps to the gorge floor, and having wondered round a couple of times seeing plenty of Common Spotted Orchid and Common Twayblade, and a flower I'm guessing is Round-leaved Wintergreen, I was no closer to breaking my Man Orchid Duck. And it had started to rain. So, I did the obvious thing, and rang the EWT. The lady on the phone was very nice, and asked a few people, but now-one knew precisely where they were. I mean, its a bit churlish to complain, but why don't they put the location on the signs? Its exasperating to say the least to have signs that say 'we have rare flowers here, but we are not telling you where they are!'

So I did the next obvious thing, and googled. I eventually found a blog post where the writer had been counting Man Orchids on the escarpment above the gorge. ah ha!

And so I found them. If you find yourself at a sign on the circuit at road level above the gorge going on about Sarsens, then they are just there, by the Sarsen stones. And a nice bunch of men they are too.

Round Leaved Wintergreen? Well, it has round leaves
Common Spotted
Man orchid.
Another Man orchid. Note the rain drops. I suffered for this.
there were a few ...
A Broomrape of some sort.
Here. Behind this sign. The one with rocks on. This is the place.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Sawbridgeworth Marsh 2 June

A walk round Sawbridgeworth Marsh, currently in peak condition.


Southern Marsh Orchid. Two regions, 9 in the first and more in the second in the southern part.

Obviously lots of others, but I noticed this one below, possible a creeper on another plant, and am thinking its a garden plant that has made a bid for freedom.

Banded Demoiselle - lots, in places clouds of them
Azure Damselfly - quite a lot of these - I assume this rather than Common Blue
Large Red Damselfly - about 5 of these

Blue tailed Damselfly 1 seen
Hairy Dragonfly - 1 in the reeds

A large Blue one, whizzing round like a mad thing.


Speckled Wood
Orange Tip


Reed Bunting 3 males, possibly 4
Cetti's Warbler - 2 singing
Chiffchaff 1 singing
Sedge Warbler - 1 singing
Blackcap singing, 
Jay 1


Fox - 1 young one
Vole sp - 1 small blackish one by the waters edge. Much smaller than a water vole.

Hatfield Forest insects

Took the camera for a walk in Hatfield Forest. Here we go ...

Bees generally seem to have been scarce this year, but in the Forest there were a few clusters mainly on Houndstooth. ID of bees not my strong point, but I see no reason to go beyond the obvious - Vestal Cuckoo Bee here.

Mating Common Blues

Female Black Tailed Skimmer, and although I tried to turn it onto something else, Azure Damselfly.

Finally, Scorpion Fly

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Back in The Dales

My birding developed during my teenage years when I lived in NW Leeds. As my interest developed I became aware that some of those birds in my Hamlyn Field Guide that I used to spend my evening studying spent the summer not far away. So on 30th May 1978 I made my way to Ilkley and Heber's Ghyll Wood. There I found my first Wood Warblers, immediately entranced by that descending trill and shivering song - what a performance! And that bright yellow throat! I saw three males in total.

Over the years I heard that song in more and more places locally, until the notion of going all the way to Ilkley seemed ridiculous. But time, relocation, and the degradation of the natural environment has led to Wood Warblers becoming much scarcer in The Dales and certainly much scarcer on my list.

Recently I've been googling to see if they still occurred in Hebers Ghyll, and drawn a blank. But the other day I had a tweet in my feed with a photo of a bird from the woods, and so almost 41 years later to the day - 29th May - I found myself back at Hebers Ghyll Wood on a detour from a family visit to see if they still make the long journey.

The first thing I heard on getting out of the car was that shivering song. I found the bird courtesy of a photographer carefully positioned nearby, and watched this gem for about half an hour. What a great bird. I climbed the path towards the moor - I'd forgotten what a beautiful wood it is - and came across two more singing males. Just the same as 1978.

So then up to the moor itself, and again some changes from when I was last here - mainly for the better. Plentiful Meadow Pipits, Willow Warblers, Two pairs of Stonechat with singing males, Reed Bunting, and Red Grouse - I didn't think these would be so close to the town.

The famous grouse
God's Own County
With the passing of the years my wildlife interest has expanded so I was particularly keen to see Bilberry Bumble Bee Bombus Monticola. Well, there was lots of Bilberry, and lots of a likely looking bee. So I spent a happy half hour snapping my first Bilberry Bees, although I did think that the raspberry-tail was meant to cover over half the abdomen? Needless to say, when I got back and checked, I'd spent my half hour snapping Early Bumble Bees. Well, I suppose we learn one mistake at a time, and I will at some time get to enjoy the thrill of seeing my first Bilberry Bees all over again!

An Early Bumble Bee. Clearly not a Bilberry Bumble Bee. What fool would think that?
Then finishing the day at the usual place - Strid Woods. The weather was closing in - one thing that hasn't changed in Yorkshire - so just a few Pied Flycatchers, Redstart only heard, Spotted Flycatchers, Nuthatch, Common Sandpiper, Siskin, Oystercatcher, Redshank. The usual.

... and some of these too.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

A Day on Dunstable Downs - 16 May

A late post but my computer has been playing up. One OS upgrade and boom! it turns a Ferrari into a Trabant. Anyway ...

The three amigos set off for Bison Hill NE of Dunstable only to find the car park closed. we drove around for a while until we stumbled on the National Trust car park. We were unsure where to go but walked across the grass NW and found the tracks down onto the slope. We were soon finding butterflies and in particular Green Hairstreak - a new one for me. A few Skippers appeared and we added Dingy Skipper and Grizzled Skipper to the list.

But the one we were in particular after - the Duke of Burgundy - was being more difficult. Eventually we found an area at the bottom of a track that looked like it had been cleared deliberately last year to allow low level regeneration. I said "this looks like it has been cleared specifically for Dukes" and Mike said "and here is one!"And so another lifer was added to the list. What a great little butt - those white wing edgings are really neat.

then back to the top for the splendid view and lunch, just time to take a photo of what I think may be clustered bellflower.

And so on to Totternhoe Knoll. We had a target species in mind - Small Blue, and were told they were down in the quarry. As we went down David was doing his usual grumbling about how he doesn't seem to find much stuff these days when "Oh look - Small Blue!" and a finger-nail sized dollop of pristine chocolate gorgeousness was perching on a blade of grass. We found a few more, then in the quarry had still more and some repeats of Dunstable Downs including Grizzled Skipper again.

and that was it. My first trip to this northern tip of the Chilterns, but not the last I suspect.