Thursday, 30 June 2011

Easy like Sunday morning

Pyrammidal Orchid
Mid Summer is a time for catching up with friends and long put off domestic duties, preparing for the more exciting autumn period, that for us birders begins slowly in early June with the first returning waders, and steps up a gear from mid-July as the variety and number of wader species increases daily and the first gales blow in scarce seabirds. Over the coming weeks long-range weather charts will be studied carefully looking for the right wind and weather conditions to induce a seawatch or an arrival of waders. In the meantime we had a fantastic evening with some close friends, Mark and Janice Hollingworth and Janet Turley, in Greatstone on Saturday. We stayed over and Mark suggested I ran the moth trap in his coastal garden - too good an opportunity to turn down.

On arrival I discovered Mark was the only person I know to have a wild Pyrammidal Orchid growing in his front garden - amazing!  His previous house, in Loose, had a colony of Common Spotted Orchid alongside the beautiful stream that ran through it. Very lucky.

Small Angle Shades
Obscure Wainscot
Cypress Carpet
Small Elephant Hawk Moth

Eight Small Elephant Hawk Moths and five Elephant Hawk Moths were the highlight for me, but a mixed catch included a few new species with a stunning Small Angle Shades, an Obscure Wainscot and a Cypress Carpet. The latter is listed in the book as Uncommon or alien host and was first recorded in Kent in October 1999. However they have apparently become quite regular in the last 12 years and are now quite regularly recorded even in central Kent. The next moth was a real star - quite common but new to me and very distinctive (always a bonus) - especially from the front - The Spectacle.... very aptly named.

The Spectacle
The Spectacle
A Swallow-tailed Moth was a real beauty and the last of the new species for me.

Swallow-tailed Moth

Processing the moths was great fun with Janice and Mark joining in. It is definitely much easier with two other people helping to identify and confirm the species and reading out the range descriptions - thanks guys. After a wonderful cooked breakfast we stopped at the ARC to see a Little Gull and a rather out of season female Goosander, before walking around the RSPB reserve. Back home after lunch left time to do a few hours weeding in the garden and setup the trap for some more mothing. 

A good catch produced two smart new species: Scallop Shell and The Miller, plus an Elephant Hawk Moth and a Poplar Hawk Moth.

Scallop Shell
The Miller

Monday, 20 June 2011

Garden Twitching

More Summer Birding - Lawns, Moths and Gardens

Elephant Hawk Moth, Platt, 19 June 2011
This weekend began with the arrival of 165 square metres of turf. With the recent announcement of what turned out to be the shortest ever official drought (6 days) we had finally managed to order the turf for our new front garden. Saturday was laying day. It began at 07:30 in the sunshine, continued through the lunchtime showers and ended at 17:00, very tired, but finished. Hopefully the predicted rain will continue through the week. 

Pine Hawk Moth, Platt, 19 June 2011
So to Sunday - a well earned day off. I put the moth trap out when the rain cleared away in the late evening. Early morning I checked the trap, potted up the interesting stuff and counted the regulars - 101 moths of 21 species. Not exactly Sissinghurst standards but not bad for my back yard.  My favourites are the Hawk Moths, the biggest and most impressive species we get in this country. The most colourful is the Elephant Hawk Moth and I'd caught my first of the year along with a more cryptically marked Pine Hawk Moth - a very smart species indeed. 

Other moths included three species of Arches - Dark, Light and Green. The latter is apparently locally distributed in Deciduous Woodland and from the maps on the excellent UK Moths website is fairly local in Kent. I also caught a real favourite - a Burnished Brass. This is a common moth over much of Britain but the impressive metallic green sheen across its wings makes it a real stunner. Two new species for the garden were the Minor Shoulder Knot and The Nutmeg, both quite smartly patterned species.

Dark Arches
Light Arches
Green Arches

Minor Shoulder Knot
The Nutmeg
Burnished Brass

Mid morning we left home on what can only be described as a garden twitch. We drove to  Broughton Manor, which lies just north-west of Banbury in Oxfordshire.  The Manor is set in 350 acres of gardens, parkland and farmland and has been the subject of extensive renovation by its current owners since 1992. The reason for our visit was the impressive terraced walled garden, designed by the eight times Chelsea gold medal winner, and one of my garden design heroes, Tom Stuart Smith. The gardens are opened to the National Gardens Scheme up to three times a year, so it was a real privilege to be able to experience this wonderful space. The garden is quite mature having been built in 2000. It features strong structural planting of lime, beech and pencil yews, surrounded by luxuriant naturalistic summer planting of phlomis, geranium and salvias mixed with miscanthus and calamagrostis. The terraces are linked by a contemporary canal that falls into a large square pool crossed with geometric stepping stones leading the eye into the distant landscape and beautiful surrounding vistas. The lower terrace is a maze of organic box parterres containing a range of colourful planting and is finished with a stunning long border of nepeta.  Just in case I'm sounding all knowledgeable, my wife, Mandy is a Garden Designer - never again can she take the mickey about twitching a rare bird....though at least with a garden there is no chance it won't be there when you arrive!

A couple of birding highlights included my first Spotted Flycatcher of the year, a very sad fact demonstrating the incredibly sad crash in the population of this once common breeding bird, and the amazing sight of over 40 Red Kites soaring over the Oxfordshire countryside - a great way to test my new Swarovski EL's..... These always stunning birds are easily seen along the M40 particularly around Stokenchurch, where there numbers have built to amazing levels since the reintroduction project. One unfortunate bird was laying dead in the central reservation, a casualty of the high-speed traffic. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Kentish Summer Birding

New inspiration
Dainty Damselfly, Coenagrion scitulum, Isle of Sheppey, Kent, 11 June 2011

Back from the excitement of the Madeira pelagics with a bang! Birding in Kent during the Summer is generally fairly predictable. There is still room for a surprise, but they are few and far between. Many birders therefore fill their long summer days, at least until early July when the autumn wader passage gets properly underway (save the really early Spotted Redshank and Green Sandpipers that arrive back from breeding as early as the beginning of June), with other wildlife activities. I have been running a Robinson moth trap in my garden through the Spring most weekends. Being some way from the coast I haven't had much migrant action, but thankfully the various moth-ers at Dungeness are willing to share their immigrant interest - adding variety and spice.

As many of the moths I catch are new to me there is plenty of discovery each time I open the trap and check the contents. On 4 June I happened to check my email before heading outside with the Moth book. Tony Morris had obviously got up really early to check his catch down on the coast near St Margaret's, Dover and had reported four Rannoch Loopers among the more common species. For a moment I sat and wished there might be such a surprise in my trap. I usually look through the catch finding anything that looks different and carefully placing them in plastic pots for identification. I collected everything and then spotted a moth hanging on the side of the trap with its wings folded over its back, similar to a butterfly. I carefully potted it and took the pots over to the table for inspection. After working through the various common species I checked this last moth - unbelievably it was a Rannoch Looper. 

Rannoch Looper, Platt, 4 June 2011
In British terms this moth is restricted to mature woodlands of Central Scotland, only occasionally occurring elsewhere as a continental migrant. Clearly the unseasonably strong NE winds were blowing them in. Over the next few days more and more were recorded throughout the south east and as far west as Portland and even Cornwall. The maximum was a catch of 56 at Sissinghurst, a site rapidly becoming famous for the number and variety of moths being recorded.

Here are a few other moths caught over the last few weekends:

Grey Dagger
Large Nutmeg
Light Brocade
Pale-shouldered Brocade

Rufous Minor

The Clay
Birding highlights have included a superb Hobby dashing over the garden last weekend, the third year in succession they have been over here. On 11 June I had a pleasant day avoiding the rain showers and viewing some rare breeding birds, before I decided to boost my dragonfly list with a visit to the Isle of Sheppey and my second ever dragonfly twitch!  Within minutes of arriving I had seen a superb female Dainty Damselfly, followed half an hour later by an equally impressive male. 

Female Dainty Damselfly, Isle of Sheppey, 11 June 2011
These tiny little creatures were thought extinct in Britain since 1953, when catastrophic floods destroyed their only known breeding pools, in Essex.  Then just last year Gill and John Brooks discovered a few breeding on The Isle of Sheppey. I had met the Brooks back in May while looking for the Vagrant Emperor at Dungeness and Gill's story and photos had inspired my interest. It was therefore very exciting to be able to see these enigmatic creatures at such close range just a few weeks later.

Female Dainty Damselfly, Isle of Sheppey, 11 June 2011
Male Dainty Damselfly, Isle of Sheppey, 11 June 2011