Tuesday, November 19, 2019

A Day in Essex

Just Mike and myself as David continues to be unavailable (get well soon!).

Start at The Naze to see if any of last weekends star birds were still around. On the walk down to the end we heard some zizz-zizz-zizzing and eventually two Firecrests revealed themselves. Still an unusual bird for me - just the second of the year - a treat to see these avian jewels.

On to the beach and up towards Stone Point, and a Shore Lark flew ahead and landed. Possibly a bird of the year as not as vivid yellow and no horns as some, still a terrific sighting. Just after  a Short-Eared Owl flew towards us and gave excellent views as it was mobbed by Meadow Pipits. A Peregrine shot past in full hunting mode. There were no Snow Buntings at the end but we had several Marsh Harriers, and a typical selection of coastal waders - Grey Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, Redshank, Curlew, Turnstone, a few Ringed Plover, and Oystercatcher, and the usual accompaniment of Dark-Bellied Brent Goose.

Sandwiches, then Abberton. From the Layer-De-La Hey causeway we had two distant Black-Necked Grebes, 3 Scaup, a female Smew, and over 30 Goosander. Someone kindly pointed out the Little Auk, swimmingly merrily around, diving, flapping, little more than a spec but very cute.  Then a short trip round to Wigborough  Bay, and a Bewicks Swan, a few Pintail, c10 Black-Tailed Godwit, 2 Ruff, Lapwing, Dunlin, and a couple of Stonechat. Back to the centre and the island hide and two close-in Long-Tailed Duck including a splendid female, and that was it apart from a drive by tick of 4 Cattle Egret just south of Billet's Farm.

A splendid day in Essex.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Little Bittern at Amwell

Ping! A text from Mike telling me there was a Little Bittern at Amwell. Quick explanation to Mrs D and I was on my way. At the viewpoint some folks were looking round aimlessly but a fellow birder turned up and indicated where we needed to go. 

Five minutes later after a brisk walk that took us to the 'less explored' parts of the reserve we joined a small crowd queueing up to look through a scope at some brown streaks in some vegetation. It took me ages to find it as I hadn't realised it was so close, just about fifteen yards away. It wandered slowly through dense bushes and I resigned myself to ticking most but not all of a Little Bittern.

Then, miracle, it flew! The kinked neck, the long bill, the dark primaries and secondaries! And then, knock me down with a feather, it landed in a large bush in the open and proceeded to sit there for a good half hour preening itself, occasionally stretching, having a look around.

What a bird! The shape, the beady eye, the long solid bill, the long feathers of varied colour, the bristles forming a kind of beard. I drank in the views, unlikely as they are to be repeated.

Eventually it stretched and flopped down into the long grass invisible to us. So just a few chats with fellow local birders and on my way.

Twitching at its best. If I'd seen that abroad I'd have given it 5 minutes and then been on to the next tick, but here it is the standout star of the show.

That's Little Bitterns done for me. I'm not going for another one. What would be the point in hanging around for ages somewhere to get a view not nearly as good as the one I had today?*

No photos from me. Alan Reynolds was there, as always a pleasure to bump into, and has already posted some great photos.  

* If that sounds a little maudlin I'm reminded of something a birder said many years ago after a talk he had given on his 'once in a lifetime' visit to Siberia. He said, to paraphrase, that of course it's a 'once in a lifetime' trip. why would you repeat it when you can go somewhere else for a different 'once in a lifetime' trip? Similarly, why spend my petrol money and use my birding tokens up on another Little Bittern for worse views than I got today when I can use them on a new different bird and a new experience?

Monday, November 11, 2019

End of Autumn at Cley

I thought Autumn was done. I spent 31st October morning at Canvey Point in a SE wind with a number of local stalwarts in anticipation of a host of sea birds being blown into the Thames and ... nothing. I was resigned to a year without a skua, or any notable sea movement. But the forecast for Tuesday 5th November showed a strong onshore wind in north Norfolk for the afternoon, so perhaps the chance for some fireworks? (sorry).

Dave was unavailable so just myself and Mike pitched up at Cley around 10. There was already a big crowd at the coastguards. We took the opportunity of light winds in the morning to walk up to and beyond the East Bank with a view to concentrating on the sea alter when the wind was forecast to rise.

Mike saw a Woodcock flying strongly over Arthur's Marsh, and we watched it hurtle into the fence along the beach, Tumble over and land in the beach. It seemed to be stunned, possibly injured, so we went towards it taking some time to observe this gem of a bird, nestling into the pebbles and observing us with its large eye. Surely one of my favourite birds. As we got closer it took off and flew out to sea and along the beach, so presumably all well.

The Long-Tailed Duck was still on the pool near the shelter on the east bank, and also Pintail, Brent Goose, Wigeon, Shoveler, Teal, and a Marsh Harrier spooking them all. We carried on beyond the path at East Hide and had some tantalising small birds but they were Goldfinches and a Linnet. I spotted some Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew out on the marsh and Mike pointed out a pristine winter Spotted Redshank much closer in - a splendid sight.

So, back to the coastguards and the sea. Our totals for occasional watches on our walk and then a concentrated with in the afternoon was as follows:

All 3 Divers in flight, 2 Black-throated and one Great Northern

Gannet over a hundred. A flock of 70 or so moved slowly west, repeatedly diving into the sea from height. surely one of the great sights of watching sea birds. All stages of plumage were seen well and close in as the wind developed.

3 Velvet Scoter, hundreds of Common Scoter, 1 Merganser, plus a few Goldeneye. All going west.

9 Pomarine Skua, 3 Arctic Skua, 3 Great Skua . All well out at sea apart form a Great Skua along the beach, and all going west.

Kittiwake in their hundreds heading east.

Little Auk 2 flying west.

Personally the highlight was the skua passage. Like most birders, I love Skuas and don't see enough of them. In particular, I don't see many Poms, so this was a chance to get to grips with them. If you haven't seen me at sea watches, I'm the guy at the end going 'what was that?' every time a skua flies past. But today my diagnosis of what I was watching chimed in with what others were saying. A heavy, consistent flight with big powerful wing beats and a substantial frame seem to fit the bill for Pom, whereas something dashing around looking for prey seems more likely to be Arctic. Crikey, next I'll be self-identifying Caspian Gulls!

And those ID books in my shelf. 'Skuas and Jaegers' by Klaus Malling Olsen and Hans Larsson. Quite the book in its time. Now rendered completely useless by the internet. So much better to go onto Youtube and see the birds flying rather than just reading up about it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Why Cudmore Grove? Why not The Naze?

As Autumn is drawing to a close and winter looms we decided to head for Mersea Island for some relaxed birding. We pitched up firstly at Victoria Esplanade and had a look through the forest of beach huts for our intended quarry, and sure enough Mike found what we were looking for; a Black Redstart. In drab female colours but possibly juvenile male due to some paleness in the wing. We spent a while watching it flycatch from a range of available perches. This stretch of shoreline, backed by pleasant West Mersea houses, has a year list for me that apart from the above has Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe, and Mediterranean Gull. Better than my list for our next destination at the other end of the island, Cudmore Grove Country Park!

We arrived, paid the parking fee, and headed to the sea where we found a flock of Wigeon with a female Pintail, and a few Common Scoter close enough to see the pale head and stiff tail. A Red Throated Diver was close in still with a hint of a red throat, a couple of Diver sp few distantly, and as we headed off the path towards Stone Point there was a pair of Stonechat, Rock Pipit, and at the end a Sanderling in sparkling winter plumage.

It was high tide now and on the estuary-side of the park was a total of 54 Little Egrets, and plenty of Brent Goose, Curlew, Redshank, Grey Plover, Black-Tailed Godwit, and Dunlin. Shoveler and Teal were in every marshy pond, and today there were constant Skylarks in flight around the area.

Back toward the Strood to head off to Abberton. In my simple mind a high-tide at mid-day is always a high one (as the moon and sun are aligned), and we queued for a while to get off. It was entertaining working out who was going to try and get across first, and see the lorries coming over with water spraying over the cab., and we saw more of the same waders and geese plus a few flocks of Golden Plover flying around. For future reference, I reckon the causeway is closed an hour each side of high tide, possibly more.

Then Abberton Reservoir. And a lifer for me - the end of a rainbow. As we stood on Layer De La Hay Causeway we could clearly see both ends in the water just beyond the tideline. Birds were a bit less forthcoming, as the wind appeared to have pushed every diving duck into the inter-causeway area against the light. We had a Great White Egret on the shore line, and as we were about to go Mike called out 'Long-Tailed Duck' and a female flew around the bay and then over the Causeway into the mass of ducks. A nice way to end a relaxing day and a tidy list.

I'm not sure why I keep coming back to Cudmore Grove. My last decent bird there was a pair of Velvet Scoter a couple of winters back. The Naze is another thirty minutes away and gets far better birds, but it is hard work, and unless you get there at dawn then its hours spent waiting for small birds to flit in front of you. Today there was Little Auk and Pallas's Warbler there, but I know from my twitter feed that many birders go and miss everything, not just me. Perhaps it is best to view the Naze's rarities as prizes for those few intrepid individuals who regularly patrol the place and spend the hours searching through sycamores and hawthorn.

So that's half the answer, but the other half is that these days I trust my instincts. Like when my children ask why we don't take a particular short-cut and cut through that estate rather than queue on the main road, its because life is often best when you go with the flow and aren't fighting it. Cudmore Grove has a mix of waders and wildfowl, it has beach, sea, river, and trees. It has a good selection of waders and wildfowl in easy reach, it's always a relaxing and bird-filled trip. Perhaps it is ,as Van Morrison says, to "smell the sea and feel the sky, let your soul and spirit fly."

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Back in the homeland for a family visit, and a chance to get a truly rare bird on the list!

A stop at Fairburn Ings on the way back south, and a walk down Lin Dyke at the western edge. There was a Great White Egret but that was not the target. A Sparrowhawk shot through the bushes much to the consternation of several Blue Tits and some Redwings that erupted from nowhere, and then there it was, that harsh call I hadn't heard for years. Two of them, one each side of the path. I eventually got some great views of one of them, my first Willow Tit this century!

Here in East Herts the Willow Tit's close cousin the Marsh Tit is something of a speciality, so I've had a good look at them over the years, and the immediate things that struck me abut Willow Tit was all the things the books say; the bib was more diffuse over the lower region, that pale wing panel was clear, the cap was noticeably matt, and the cheeks seems higher and paler, the black cap more of a wide black line when seen from above. But the call is the clear and obvious thing.

Other than that, a Curlew, then off to St Aidans's and Marsh Harrier, Pintail, Stonechat.

I got to asking myself when the last time I saw a Willow Tit was, and its hard because I have not been the most assiduous record keeper in my birdwatching career, I tend to make a note of the main birds as I see them at the time, and given my travels round the country and the decline of this species it was not obvious the last time I saw them that I wasn't going to see another one for ages. I certainly haven't seen one this century. Trawling through my notes I used to keep reasonable year-lists with dates,  and I suspect it was 20th June 1987 at a local North West Leeds site. I was just finishing up at Uni and the following month would catch the train south to start my career, and in a few months would be seeing Sabine's Gulls in strange corners of South West London, but not Willow Tits.

Monday, September 30, 2019

RSPB Frampton Marsh - a review

Westerlies, rain on its way, not much around, where to go ... Frampton Marsh RSPB reserve! A new venue for me and David, Mike had called by a year or so ago.

The journey. It's about 100 miles and just over 2 hours away, as is every other place on the Norfolk/Suffolk/Wash coast. We did the M11, Road of Death (A14), A1, then the Peterborough ring road at rush hour which was 'interesting', then the A16. It was straightforward and relaxing (apart from the bit when we went round a multi-lane roundabout three times in the wrong lane much to the amusement of the locals). A good journey makes the day go so much easier.

The reserve. On the plus side, its big but not so big you cannot get round it all. It's flat, which is a definite plus to a trio of gentlemen who have acquired the heft and solidity that comes with age, and it has a range of water-related habitat. It has a centre which does coffee and snacks, and some decent hides. It has helpful staff, and a couple of car parks. On the negative side, it is possibly not a full day for the active birder, and there isn't an obvious second place to visit (Freiston shore? Deeping Lakes). However, we weren't that active today.

The birds. We arrived at the centre to see thousands of Black-Tailed Godwits roosting at high tide. We were sent down to the far corner for the Pectoral Sandpiper. On the way we stopped to be shown a couple of roosting Short-Eared Owls that had been driven up by the high Spring tide (there were 7 earlier), a Peregrine on a post and 5 Marsh Harriers. If you do this in the morning then as you look into the reserve with the sun behind you, which is a distinct plus.

We got the Pec at close quarters, then carried on round to the Marsh hide via a sign advertising Sea-Aster Mining Bee, right by some Sea Asters with accompanying bee. Not much on the mud apart from an Avocet at the first hide, then 5 Ruff at the Reedbed hide, then on the way to the 360 degree hide Mike picked up a Little Stint in flight which duly settled in front of us at reasonable distance for about 15 minutes before flying off. The 360 degree hide had plenty of Wigeon, c20 Pintail, and the Stint although now quite distant.

Coffee at the centre then back down to the sea wall. We walked back along to the Pec, still rooting around in the mud, and spent an hour studying 3 Spotted Redshanks and 5 Greenshanks all showing well, flying around and calling frequently, so quite educational for me given I don't usually encounter Spotshanks in calling distance. A couple of juv Yellow Wagtails showing well on the marsh too. We must have had a hundred or so Meadow Pipits over south in small flocks, and some small parties of Swallows and House Martins.

I'd recommend a visit if you haven't been. I'd suggest trying to have a high tide in your visit as the coming and going of thousands of Blackwits with accompanying Golden Plover was spectacular. It has the feel of a place that can get passing migrants and has the records to prove it. It's up to you whether you like a leisurely day or have some other site you want to combine it with, but I'll happily head back to spend another highly pleasurable day getting quality views of notable birds in great company.

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.

Commonly Spotted Orchids

We are fortunate in the UK in that the commonest orchids are also amongst the most beautiful. I spent a morning photographing some on the lo...