Monday, 28 July 2014

Aston Rowant and Otmoor RSPB - 27th July 2014

Day 3 of my 'day out' saw us head to Aston Rowant for the 2nd year in a row for the two main targets being Chalkhill Blue and Silver-spotted Skipper. Both were very much evident on the reserve and gave fantastic views. We met up with Sam Viles onsite and he was kind enough to lend me one of his macro extension tubes which allowed for much better photos than I would've otherwise been able to get.
 Chalkhill Blue male
Chalkhill Blue male
 Silver-spotted Skipper underwing
Silver-spotted Skipper upperwing
 Brown Argus upperwing
 Large White underwing
 Meadow Brown underwing
 Chalkhill Blue female underwing
 Chalkhill Blue female upperwing
Chalkhill Blue - showing how pale they look, especially in flight. Very noticeable in the field.
 Essex Skipper. Just about see the black underside to the antennae tips.
Final stop of the trip was Otmoor RSPB to look for Brown Hairstreaks. Here we met back up with Sam Viles and I met Paul Brewster for the first time. We managed to see at least 3 basking on Ash trees. Not quite as showy as you'd wish your first Brown Hairs, but the views through a scope of the hairstreak below walking around on leaves was just brilliant. It was also educational to see one fighting a Purple Hairstreak as the larger size of the brown was evident.
 Brown Hairstreak (Scope views of this wonderful butterfly were much much better!!)
After pleasing views of the hairstreaks, we went to look for the onsite Glossy Ibis which eventually was showing well from the screen.
2 Turtle Doves were seen after going to see the Glossy Ibis including this purring individual. The first time I've EVER heard the purr! So happy I got to see one as I was starting to worry I'd never see another one. My last sighting was 2009 at Spurn! A superb way to end an amazing weekend.

Thanks Steff for driving, Alex for the invite and both for the company!

A two lifer day - 26th July 2014

After an inpromptu night in Preston, Alex and I met up with Steff Leese and headed off due south east with the intention of ending up at the Ouse Washes to see the Pratincole, but en route, we were rudely alerted of the presence of an American Golden Plover in Warkwickshire. Both Alex and Steff needed this, so we popped in on the way down. A short distance away from the reserve, the news changed somewhat and it turned out it was actually a Pacific Golden Plover! I went from saying 'ok, I'm happy to go', to 'GO! GO! GO!'.
The bird showed wonderfully well as it fed and preened and look very settled. The ID was still not 100% confirmed on our arrival, but I was pretty happy from the word go it was a Pacific, but given the extensive black flanks, I could understand why it was put out as an American. The bird showed a hint of white in the flanks and undertail coverts, plus very short primary projection beyond the tertials, so the bird didn't have an elongated rear end like the one American I had previously seen. The legs were also crazy long and the eye was very large, almost like a Grey Plover, which gave it a very Pacific feel. A lovely bird and not one I was expecting to see!

Video of Pacific Golden Plover - Best viewed in HD
The main stop of the day was Ouse Washes RSPB to go and see a Black-winged Pratincole. After a crazy 4km walk from the car park, Steff picked up the bird flying high up with some starlings! This was my first pratincole ever and what a bird it was! I was amazed by how dark it was, and it almost came across like a Green Sandpiper at distance! Obviously with the exception of the Arctic Tern like flight.
Additional species onsite were Temminck's Stint plus self-found Wood Sandpiper and Garganey.

I also managed to pick up two dragonfly lifers in the form of Small Red-eyed Damselfly and Scarce Chaser. A flyby Clouded Yellow and a Painted Lady were also great additions to the weekend list!

Black-winged Pratincole!

After a long day, we decided the drive back up north was a bit too much, so we popped to the town of Sandy and stayed over for the night.

Arnside Knott - 25th July 2014

Alex still needed the Arnside Knott specialities and after a very very long week with fieldwork and my Masters, he invited me along for some respite.
On the way there, I thought Alex might never have seen White-letter Hairstreak, so just before it was too late, I quickly asked as we were about to pass Brockholes. He said no, so I got him to pull off at j31 and before too long, we were at the Bramble Bushes watching a very very very worn White-letter Hair. Great start.
Onto Arnside and as always, Scotch Argus was out in force and once again, I was blown away by their beauty and Alex also felt the same. High Browns have had a poor year, so we only managed to see one, but it was a lovely fresh individual. I was also impressed with a few Brimstones that were obviously freshly emerged as they just didn't want to fly away, allowing wonderful photographing opportunities. I however have already had a great underwing shot, so upperwing was my goal. I got an ok photo, but just a shame it didn't fit in the whole shot. The same story with a Grayling...upperwing photo that has room for improvement!
Scotch Argus
High Brown Fritlliary
Brimstone upperwing...room for improvement
Grayling upperwing...room for improvement!
We popped into my house in Preston on the way back and suddenly found ourselves in the pub and then staying over for the night...again, another nice break from my course! More to follow....

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Twite Update - 25th June 2014

 
Several juvenile Twite giving crippling views today.
The majority of the readers of this blog might think that I have hung up the binoculars for the summer and focussed on the non-feathered flying animals. This is far from the truth as I've only really been looking at insects and flowers on my few days off from my Masters fieldwork. Most days I am in the Nant Ffrancon valley seeing what the Twite are getting up to. In the last week, I have managed to locate a few family parties of Twite indicating a successful breeding season for at least a few pairs. It is of course still early, so I'm expecting numbers to increase dramatically over the next month, but we shall see.
Today I was rewarded with wonderful views of a party of 14 Twite feeding 15-20ft away in a sheep pen including 10 juveniles. Shortly after this, I located 'another' flock of 10 also featuring 8 juveniles. I am really unsure whether or not this is the same flock as previously seen, which is probably more likely given that this was only 200-300m away from the other flock. Sadly, whilst the entire flock is still unringed, I can't make assumptions. Whether or not I saw 14 birds or 22 birds, I don't know.   
In addition to the Twite, there's still a couple of singing Cuckoo, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler reappeared today. In addition, I've had intermittent sightings of Sedge Warbler, Wood Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher and Kingfisher.
Beautiful Demoiselle female
There's some real nice quality of insects in the Nant Ffrancon too, including Beautiful Demoiselle, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Small Heath, Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary and what I think was a Chimney Sweeper moth yesterday.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Southern Damselfly et al. - Cors Erddreiniog and Great Orme - 22nd June 2014

Southern Damselfly
Southern Damselfly
I spent most of the day with Chris Jones on Anglesey focussing on Dragonfly, Butterfly and Orchids. My personal main reason for going was because I wanted to look for Southern Damselfly at Cors Erddreiniog, but given that these were at the back of the reserve, I had to save these til last. Eventually we arrived at the area, and after a decent amount of time searching, I spotted an incredibly small and dainty damsel in flight. A quick binocular view revealed the characteristic 'mercury mark' on the 2nd segment confirming ID of this very rare species in the UK.
As far as I am aware, they only occur in 11 10km squares in the UK as their requirements of shallow, flowing streams with chalky runoff. Anglesey isn't famed for it's chalk, so they are only in an area of about 50m square! A real honour to observe the smallest blue damsel in the UK! 
Keeled Skimmer
Last visit to Cors Erddreiniog saw me see my first UK Keeled Skimmer and today, there were loads of males. It took me a while, but eventually got photos of a perched male.
Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly
My third trip to the Anglesey fens and my third time of seeing this really nice damselfly. Similar to Southern Damsel, they're quite specific in where you'll find them (usually over a bit of open marsh). It was great however to see one perched on the same bit of rush as a common Blue-tailed Damselfly. Great to see the size difference and difference in markings side by side.
Hairy Dragonfly
A lot of Hairy Dragons out today. Nice to get an ok photo of one too as I've failed in the past.
Marsh Helleborine
Orchids were the other main focus of the day as Chris is even newer than me, so after a trip to Plas Newydd to get Greater Butterfly Orchid, Cors Erddreiniog proved brilliant with everything from last visit except Narrow-leaved Marsh. This meant that most species were going over, so Fly Orchid were very faded, although the paler stalks made them easier to find this time. Marsh Helleborine were out in flower today which was a first for me! My first helleborine in flower and what a stunner! Lovely plant. We ended the day at the Great Orme seeing Pyramidal Orchid taking the day tally to 9 species.
Eristalis intricarius
A few hoverflies made for further entertainment including this nice bee mimic, plus 2 lifers in the form of Xanthogramma pedissequum and Chrysotoxum festivum. Two real stunners!
male Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - thinner black border to the upperwing and noticeably smaller than the nominate race
male Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - note the silver studds in the lover orange spots.
female Silver-studded Blue ssp caernensis - bluer centre and daker base, plus smaller size making this pretty striking
Grayling ssp thyone - smaller, paler/duller and less contrasting than the nominate race.

We ended the day on the Great Orme hoping for an early flowering Dark Red Helleborine, but no joy. The main target however was the get some great views of the two endemic butterfly races. thyone Grayling are emerge several weeks before the nominate race and are only present on the western side of the Great Orme. Remarkably constricted! After a release of 90 caernensis Silver-studded Blue in the Dulas Valley in 1942, close by, this race is no longer confined to just the Great Orme. These were really out in force today though and proved really obviously different to the norm.

A superb day and I'm really thankful to Chris for driving as we got a lot done!

Thursday, 19 June 2014

A real motley crew of awesomeness! 19th June 2014

If there is such a thing as a recipe for a brilliant day, I think I'm about to give you the ingredients!


Adrienne invited me to join herself, Tony, Kelvin and the Osprey monitors in ringing a simply amazing brood of three Welsh Ospreys! Needless to say, my answer was yes and before I knew it, I had some Ospreys plonked on my lap ready to ring them! What a truly wonderful experience to get so close to birds I have grown up having a special affinity for, being a Brockholes birder. Every year, I scan and scan and scan the horizon waiting for that moment when you get a migrant moving north. This time however, I came to them and loved every moment. They are such well behaved birds and just sit there being amazing!
The two adults kept a close eye on us, giving fantastic views low overhead. I LOVE OSPREYS!
Just when you think the day is over and it can't get much better, I go along with Kelvin and Tony to ring a brood of two Red Kites! This was up a 40ft tree, which Tony fetched down and we ringed them and wing tagged them. A species I have, again, always loved, however this is a species that is missing from my Brockholes list despite many an hour of scanning! I gave Tony a break for a while as I decided to put the birds back up the tree myself. This required a rope-assisted tree climb, followed by an abseil down, which was real fun, despite my depressing lack of upper body strength!
After this, the day was far from over as we headed to the coast to do a Kestrel clutch and before long, we were on the business end of four Kestrel chicks that were kicking away at us. These were colour ringed and hopefully will be resighted once fledged. This is the second time I've handled Kestrel chicks and this time, they were much more fluffy...very cute!
The third  new species for me today was this amazing female Fulmar which Tony expertly caught off the nest. Super aggressive species and even smellier if not respected properly! Love my tubenoses!

Tony then abseiled down and ringed 4 Shag chicks followed by Tony and me heading off to try and do a Chough brood, but after an hour of searching for the nest thing tall bracken and very thick bramble, gorse and nettle, we found it and realised it really wasn't as easy to get to as we imagined, so we decided to call it a day and get back in time for the England game...shame Suarez didn't play by the book and continue the theme of today, being incredible!

A very very memorable day! Thank you so much for the invite Adrienne!

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

White-winged Black Tern - Cemlyn Bay - 17th June 2014





I went over to Cemlyn with Robin Sandham and Henry Cook to see the wonderful White-winged Black Tern found last night by David Wright. What a super showy bird. It even went across and landed on the rocks with the breeding terns on the islands which was nice to compare, as well as see the amazing red legs.

Several Med Gulls on the islands including a rather cute chick being fed by an adult.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The best bird I've ever seen!

What an amazing bird!
Last week I joined Tony Cross on his work on Nightjars in Wales. We had an all nighter trying to catch them for the purposes of radio-tracking. After some fantatic views of hunting and displaying birds, we finally caught an adult male at 01:15. I could write a whole book on how amazing an experience it was handling this fantastic species and seeing its amazing adaptations such as the comb on their central claw for cleaning their facial whiskers! I will keep it simple though and say this was the best birding experience I've ever had overtaking the hawking Little Swift at New Brighton and more importantly overtaking my experience in the Eider Hide in Norway! An unforgettable night!

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Greater Butterfly Orchid - Plas Newydd - 10th June 2014

This afternoon after fieldwork, I decided to hop on the train to Llanfairpwll (a station I've never previously actually ever got off at (leaving Valley and Prestatyn on the North Wales line to alight!)). I made the short walk to Plas Newydd: a National Trust site along the Menai Straits of Anglesey.


The main target here was Greater Butterfly Orchid which grows here and nowhere else on Anglesey. It took me ages to find the area where they are, but eventually found about 20 specimens. With Lesser Butterfly Orchid fresh in the mind, it was nice to compare the two looking at the column in the centre of the flowers with Greater getting wider to the bottom and Lesser being parallel sided. This were also noticeably more green/cream toned at a distance than the very white Lesser Butterfly. A lovely orchid and my 13th species.
I was temporarily excited as I saw the above orchid and it looked like Southern Marsh to my untrained eye. Closer inspection revealed it to be a very large and robust hybrid Common Spotted x Northern Marsh. Several hybrids and seemingly pure examples of both species were present in the arboretum.

Also managed to come across these two superb bumblebee mimics, with Volucella bombylans completely fooling me until I got home! Astonishing to think this is a hoverfly and not a bumblebee
Volucella bombylans
Cheilosia illustrata