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

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Cors Erddreiniog, Anglesey - 5th June 2014

Today I joined Les Colley at Cors Erddreiniog on Anglesey to look at some of the fantastic biodiversity it has to offer, with the main target being Marsh Fritillary, as this is the last population on Anglesey.
Marsh Fritillary - A fantastically fresh individual!
A mating pair - With the sun out, they seemed to only show the underwing when mating, so getting of photo of this was difficult.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary - One of the freshest and brightest butterflies I've ever seen!
In total, we managed to see about 9 Marsh Frits and just a single Small Pearl-bordered. In addition we had the usual suspects: Wall, Small Heath, Speckled Wood, Small White, Large White, Green-veined White, Peacock, Orange-tip.
red morph female Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly. Really nice to see this. We also had several males too.

In addition to this, a real surprise was a lovely female Keeled Skimmer which I have never previously seen and it wasn't even slightly on my radar for today, so was fantastic to see. I only had my 50mm lens on at the time, so wasn't able to approach to get a photo sadly.

Species list: Keeled Skimmer, Four-spotted Chaser, Broad-bodied Chaser, Hairy Dragonfly, Large Red Damselfly, Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly, Blue-tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly and Azure Damselfly

I have recently got quite into orchids, so was quite eager to see some of the specialities of the Anglesey fens.

Narrow-leaved Marsh Orchid (above 3) - A species I've wanted to see since Steve Culley visited the site last year, but until this week, has no idea what I was looking for! This proved to be quite distinctive the more I saw it and it was by no means scarce at the site being about the 2nd commonest species. It was interesting to see the variation in colour which could be due to wear, as these were coming to the end of their flowering life. The 'one-sided' nature of the plant was really obvious and the lip had three obvious lobes. A really nice plant.
Early Marsh Orchid - The commonest orchid of the day with the normal 'rose' morph being the most common. This is a really distinctive species with the rose flower with a slightly darker top being obvious from quite some distance. The combination of a thick stalk and the leaves 'hugging' the stalk makes for a very chunky looking orchid, compared to the slender Narrow-leaved.
Dark form of Early Marsh. There was a specific area of wet ground where the really dark form of this plant occured. It was getting onto the darkness of Northern Marsh which was educational to say the least.
White form of Early Marsh. I found just this single Early Marsh that was superbly striking. Great to see three different forms/races/subspecies (?) of the same plant at the same reserve.

Getting into Orchid over the past couple of months, you obviously have a few targets that shine out as being the most-wanted. For me, Fly Orchid was my number one. I think they look superb and I really wanted to see them! I was certainly not disappointed! We eventually found about 15 of these, (I say we...I just couldn't get my eye in and didn't find a single one!) and I was astonished by how hard they were to pick out and how small and delicate they were. Up close they really are a stunning little plant and the stalk is a wonderful apple green colour that is almost fluorescent. They say you should never meet your heroes, but in this case, I'm really glad I did (mind you, it has only been my hero for about 2 weeks!)!

Lesser Butterfly Orchid - A species that I only found out about occurring at the fen yesterday, so was very excited to see this. I think these actually came out as my favourite orchid of the day as they are wonderfully beautiful and they have a lovely glow like a ghost or something. I guess because I spotted the first one, they had me won over straight away! Again, this was really educational seeing them at varying life stages, with some showing no hint of the flower at all, but still made them quite obvious to find. I was expecting these to be really big (similarly to my expectations of the Fly) but the vast majority (we saw about 20) were really small. One was about 25cm tall, which was impressive, but most were closer to 10cm.
Marsh Helleborine - Whilst this was by no means in its full glory, this Marsh Helleborine was one of two that Les pointed out and a species I had never seen before and had no idea they were on the reserve, so was a real bonus. I will have to see them again in a couple of weeks time when they are out in full flower.
Northern Marsh Orchid - I have seen this species before, along with Common Spotted and Heath Spotted which were also both present. It was nice however to compare them with the other marsh orchid species I saw. The above is actually a hybrid Northern Marsh x Common Spotted, but I didn't get a photo of a pure Northern!

A really enjoyable afternoon and I can't thank Les enough for showing me around!