Sunday, July 18, 2021

Under attack at Chalkney Wood.

I was attacked today, dear reader, physically attacked by a relentless and determined assailant. 

I went with Dave to Chalkney Wood in search of Butterflies. We have Hatfield Forest close too, but that's a lot of walking in the heat, and Chalkney offered a chance to see all HF can offer and more for an extra half-hour drive and without even leaving the car park. At my age, that's no contest.

Dave has given an excellent write up of the session here and provided some wonderfully spectacular photos. Purple Emperor, White Admiral, Silver-Washed Fritillary, a Hairstreak sp (for me), Painted Lady, and Southern Hawker

But it was as we returned to the car park the assault took place. We saw a Purple Emperor low down round some nettles, and to my surprise and joy it flew towards me, and kept coming, and kept coming, until it buzzed me just overhead, the noise of the wings clearly audible, then returned and buzzed me again, then did this again.

There is no doubt isn my mind this was deliberate. It wasn't just passing close, it was clearly having a go, possibly not liking my movement in its territory. Nevertheless, it was quite an experience to be that close to a Purple Emperor!

One of David's photos from his blog. Found by David quite low down, we got excellent views of the purple sheen as it opened and closed its wing.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Minsmere mid summer

15th July and the first visit this Covid-hit year to Minsmere. Our hopes of sunshine for the insects had disappeared under a forecast of cloud and wind, and we were without Dave due to injury, so feeling a little glum to be without a team member. Still, here Mike and I were at my favourite reserve. 

If, reader,  you are Dave, you didn't miss much mate. It was cloudy and windy, so zero insects, and the birds were nice but just the usual. No point in reading the dull details. Best to stop here and go and get a cup of tea. 

If you are not Dave, Wow! What a day! The fun started on the North Wall when a look up an open ditch revealed a hind Red Deer and a fawn. Here in their natural habitat they grow larger than they do on the hills of Scotland (apparently), and this hind was huge; nevertheless it slipped into the reed bed and disappeared.

Down the beach with Common Terns like a swarm of super-size flies buzzing low over us, then straight dow to the South Scrape public viewing platform to see if the long-staying Roseate Terns were around. They weren't but we had c20 Little Terns, 3 really smart adult/2cy Little Gulls, and a few Sandwich Terns. A fellow birder pointed out 3 Arctic Terns loitering on the mud. I think of these as having grey-breasts and short legs, but in reality that's Common Tern. Arctics have really deep grey breasts and absolutely tiny legs. Also could see the small-dagger shape bill in comparison to Common. Nice - can't rely on seeing these annually in the absence of being able to pop down to a suitable reservoir and string see them in Spring. Also Spotted Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Avocet, c20 Dunlin, a Turnstone, and Mike had a brief view of a mini-wader, probably a Little Stint. We searched, but could not relocate. Oh and a few Barnacle Geese too - nice easy year ticks these. Of course they are wild.

Back up to East Hide, and the full glory of the breeding bonanza was in front of us. C200 Avocets including chicks, Common Tern chicks everywhere, some Ruff, more Spotshanks and Blackwits, and tucked in a corners a Green Sandpiper.

Round the remaining hides, back to the car park for lunch, then out to Island Mere. 2 Hobbies gave a hunting display dashing across the mere - surely one of the best wildlife sights available anywhere, a couple of Marsh Harriers, then on leaving a Great White Egret flew past. On to the Bittern Hide, and from our elevated viewpoint an actual flying Bittern and more Marsh Harriers cruising the area.

Just time to return to South Scrape to see if the Roseate Terns had reappeared. Scan their favoured island in the southern corner, and what's this? Two light-pink flushed breasts amongst the mass of Sandwich and Common Terns? pale ivory-grey backs - check; all black bills - check; bright red legs - check; metal leg-ring - check. OH MY GOD Mike! Mike! THEY ARE HERE! We spent a good half hour plus marvelling at these beauties. Slightly bull-headed, a funny trotting walk, and really quite aggressive - one bird chased off the Little Gulls. We put some others onto them (between the Little Gulls and the Arctic Tern, yes that's it, with a Med Gull just behind it). Whilst we were revelling in these birds Mike spotted 2 Spoonbills flying in to join the third one just in front of us (What? How does a Spoonbill slip in near to you unnoticed?). They fed, pecked, argued, generally gave a great display, then flew up to the East Scrape, then West Scrape. 

After an hour or so when we admired a summer-plumaged Sanderling, another Ruff, and the various waders, we realised we couldn't find the Rosy terns any more so we set off back. Just a quick look off the beach at all the terns, a couple of littles in there with their much faster wing beats, then another tern with a faster wingbeat, not a Little Tern, all black head and bill, and smaller and paler than the passing Commons - we'd found another Roseate, presumably one from the scrape.

It's not just the breadth of species, its the scale. Minsmere is full of people just out for the day, or who bird watch occasionally, and why not? An obsession with lists, rarity, and species count can blind one to the spectacle, both visual and aural, of a mass of breeding and post-breeding birds. Being on the platform on the south scrape is like being a kid in a toy shop; fantastic birds wherever you look. Both variety and quantity. Just an unbeatable place when it is on form like this.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Putting the band back together at Hickling.

With jabs done and Lockdown easing it was time to get David out to join me and Mike for a day out. The always excellent and informative Birds of The Heath had reported a veritable smorgasbord of mediterranean rarities at Hickling, so we decided to head there for a change. I'd had a brief visit in 1984 before news of a candyfloss-pink Ross's Gull at Twitchwell had us running for the exit, so this was effectively new territory for me.

A pleasant surprise was how good the roads were until a few miles from Hickling. Apart from the 20 minute wait for road-works, at which inevitably no-one was working. The less pleasant surprise was the bright warm sunshine of Hertfordshire had been replaced with a sea fret of dull, cold, and drizzle.

We got the list rolling with a tick-and-run visit to the Roller at Icklingham. A UK lifer for David, barely a week-old repeat tick for me. Then Hickling and a walk out to Stub's Mill along Brendan's Marsh. This was pristine wader habitat, and delivered with 2 Black-Winged Stilts, 2 Wood Sandpipers, 2 Green Sandpipers, a calling Greenshank and a multi-coloured collection of Ruffs in addition to the resident Avocet, Redshank, and Lapwing. the Swifts and Hirundines swooping over the marsh were joined by a Hobby belting through. We reached Stubb's Mill and had two Chinese Water Deer to add to our list - a lifer for me - and 2 Spoonbill in the waterlogged wood.

Back to the centre and round the reserve path. Slower going here - no sign of the breeding Cranes, and unsurprisingly the Swallowtail butterflies were keeping out of sight too. We had Marsh Harriers food-passing, a male Marshy over our heads, then a Cuckoo working its way through the reeds, and a fly-over Great-White Egret. Back to the View point along the road on the eastern edge of the reed bed overlooking the marsh, and here finally we had the Stilts parading around in the open with those ridiculous outsize kinked red legs. We added Dunlin and Little Ringed Plover to the list, found a further 3 Spoonbill to bring our tally to 5; quite a bit of flapping, flying, and preening from these fantastic birds. A flock of waders over was 5 Curlew and two noticeably smaller birds allowed us to add 2 Whimbrel to the day list. 

And that was it. Any disappointment we may have had from the weather and consequent lack of insects was outweighed by the sheer relief of being out with great company enjoying good birds. The time spent at the view point with mediterranean birds visible amongst a wealth of waders and associated waterbirds was just exceptional birding. Will take quite something to beat that.

My year-list now stands at 148. I find, given constraints and ambition, that a target of 200 works for me. Much more than that and I would need to be out much more and much further afield. A look through the list and I think with a decent second half I can still make 200. A great start today. Can't wait for the follow up maybe next week. 

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...