Monday, 25 June 2012


23 June 2012

Garden Mothing

With a major pre-lawn laying weeding session planned for the weekend (never remove the old lawn and leave it for two months, particularly though a drought like the one we've just experienced - hosepipe ban indeed) I ran the moth trap on Friday night. I wasn't expecting much as it was quite windy, but caught 25 moths of 17 species, including two spectacular Lime Hawk Moths that were sat on a Rosemary plant outside the trap (my first ever of this relatively common species). A Treble Brown Spot was possibly the best, though still a couple to identify. Otherwise a Blackcap sang throughout the weekend, a Chiffchaff joined in briefly, and several House Martins suggested local breeding. It remained windy and occasionally wet throughout, but we got 3/4 of the garden de-weeded. Many thanks to my parents for their help - it would have taken me weeks on my own.

Dark Arches
Birds Wing (one of my favorites)
Treble Brown Spot
Lime Hawkmoth

Sunday, 17 June 2012

A weekend for gardening

17 June 2012

Dene Park Wood

Saturday was spent working in the garden. Sunday dawned sunny but still rather windy, and with my hayfever getting rapidly worse I decided only to have a short walk around Dene Park Wood. Last year I was surprised when I found a Beautiful Demoiselle along one of the rides, so I hoped to find some more and maybe grab a photo. I soon located a smart male, with his iridescent blue body and black wings, flickering over the ride. However he would only perch briefly and only high in the trees. Further along the ride I found a couple of green females with their brown wings hunting over the bracken. They were very flighty and hard to approach, but with persistence one allowed me close enough for some reasonable images, though only into the sun. I walked right around the wood finding maybe a dozen females and three males, but I just couldn't get close to the males who stayed high up and out of view.

Beautiful Demoiselle (female)
While watching the Demoiselles a larger dragonfly appeared and landed on a Hawthorn where it sat motionless in the sun, high up but within reach of the 400mm zoom. It showed a brownsh, downy thorax, yellow flashes at the base of its abdomen and a clubbed tip. The abdomen was bronze over the latter 3/4. I believe this is a Downy Emerald - a new species for me. 

Downy Emerald
Downy Emerald
A four-spotted Chaser and a blue damselfy were the only other odonata and butterflies were in extremely short supply with a single Green-veined White, 4 Specked Wood and a Large Skipper. A few families of Blue and Great Tit, a couple of singing Blackcap and a Treecreeper were the only notable birds on a quiet walk.

Speckled Wood
Speckled Wood
Back home for lunch a a pair of Large Red Damselfly were the first this year.

Large Red Damselfly

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Breeding season

9 June 2012


Barn Owl, Bempton, 9 June 2012

For many years I have wanted to visit the seabird breeding cliffs at Bempton on the Yorkshire coast, but have never found an excuse or reason to make the journey. The arrival of a European Roller in a field at Aldbrough last weekend nearly enticed me north, but with the Bank Holiday traffic I decided against it. When the bird was still present on Friday, showing well in a tilled field I made plans and decided to head north on Saturday. After a good journey through the early hours I arrived at the site at 07:30. A single Red Kite, a Barn Owl and three Buzzards enlivened the journey north. As I drove along the lane I noticed three birders scoping the bird in the field, but didn't stop for a brief look, instead driving to the kindly organised car park at the nearby farm. I strolled along the lane and up to the birders. The Roller had flown north east and was lost to view somewhere over the back of the field. As so often is the case the regular reports of its presence on the information services had lulled me into assuming it was largely on view. I stood at the edge of the field for an hour. A few Yellow Wagtails, Grey Partridge, several Hares and a couple of distant Marsh Harrier provided some interest, but as time ticked by I started to wonder if the bird had kept going...

Suddenly a Lapwing rose from the field and mobbed a bird flying from a distant hawthorn. I raised my bins and a flash of turquoise confirmed the Roller was heading back - flying straight towards us. It flew to within 75m and dropped onto the muddy field. WIthin seconds it lunged onto an unsuspecting earthworm, then flew 15m to grab another. It gradually worked towards us then flew across the field onto a post, from which it hunted, dropping down to the field, each time grabbing a large worm. It then flicked up onto the electricity cables above our heads, before turning and flying back to its hawthorn to digest a belly full of slimy worms. What a stunning bird! I have seen a few in Spain and Morocco but somehow, set against the dull sky and brown Yorkshire soil the vivid colours looked even more impressive.

Roller, Aldbrough, 9 June 2012
Roller, Aldbrough, 9 June 2012
Roller, Aldbrough, 9 June 2012

Roller, Aldbrough, 9 June 2012

Roller, Aldbrough, 9 June 2012

Bempton Cliffs
Gannet, Bempton Cliffs, 9 June 2012
Having seen the weather reports I was keen to get to Bempton in order to beat the predicted rain due later in the day. I arrived at 09:00 before the crowds and walked out towards the cliffs. Tree Sparrows were everywhere - a welcome sight these days. A superb Barn Owl was hunting over the meadows giving good views in nice light for a few minutes.

Tree Sparrow, Bempton, 9 June 2012
Barn Owl, Bempton, 9 June 2012
I first walked to the south enjoying excellent views of Gannets as well as hordes of auks sitting on the surface of the sea - Guillemot, Razorbill and several Puffin. Fulmars and Kittiwakes joined the throng. The smell of fishy guano rising from the colony was quite pungent.

Fulmar, Bempton Cliffs, 9 June 2012
The main Gannet colony on the chalk arch
The nesting birds all evenly spaced
Lines of nests made of weed and fishing nets

Gannet, Bempton Cliffs 9 June 2012
Gannet, Bempton Cliffs 9 June 2012
Gannet, Bempton Cliffs 9 June 2012
Some younger birds were active above the colony

As well as some non-breeding adults
Gesturing and gathering nesting material were common pursuits to attract a mate
Practicing for next season 
Who is watching who
Birds were flying into the offshore breeze and trying to land on the clifftop
Landing gear lowered and air brakes on
A group of adolescents looking for a mate
Further along the cliffs birds were breeding on the chalk stacks
Other birds nesting along the cliffs included Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Fulmars. Many of the nesters had young chicks.

Guillemot keeping its chick safe on the ledge
Guillemots nesting on very narrow ledges
Razorbill, Bempton Cliffs 9 June 2012
Puffin, Bempton Cliffs 9 June 2012 
Puffin, Bempton Cliffs, 9 June 2012
I had expected to find Puffins nesting in burrows at the top of the cliffs, so was surprised to find them lower down in cracks in the chalk cliffs, often alongside ledge nesting Razorbills and Guillemots. There were very few on show, but good numbers on the sea or flying into the cliffs. There were several pairs of Rock Dove along the cliffs, all of which looked pretty consistently plumaged. This one got a little too close to a nesting Fulmar and was warned away with a customary fish oil squirt.

Rock Dove, Bempton Cliffs, 9 June 2012 
Kittiwake, Bempton Cliffs, 9 June 2012
The beautiful clifftop meadows in bloom
An adult Rose-coloured Starling had been seen at nearby Flamborough Head earlier in the morning so I drove there for a walk. Unfortunately the starling flock with which it had been associating had split up and the Rosy lost. People were spreading out to look but with no luck. I had a quick look out to sea - hundreds of auks including Puffins were passing north back towards the colonies, but little else was going by. Then the rain arrived. I avoided the worst but still got wet on the way back to my car. I decided to return to Aldbrough for some more Roller views. The drive south was made quite treacherous due to the incredible storm of rain, hail, thunder and lightning causing flooding along the roads. I passed out the other side of the storm as I arrived at Aldbrough and stood watching it passing down the coast. Soon the heavens opened and for the next hour I stood as the rain poured down. Eventually it stopped and instantly the Roller returned for more close up views, before the next downpour sent it back to its hawthorn. 

I decided to call it a day and drove south. As I crossed the Humber the rain eased, then stopped, so I called into Bonby Lodge just beside the A15. Easily finding the site I joined two locals looking for the Pallid Harrier. They had seen it earlier and while showing me some photos expressed concern that it was a Montagus Harrier. The bird promptly appeared and good scope views were had as it quartered the nearby fields. To my eye the long, narrow wings, held in a high V, the lack of obvious pale collar and the extent of white around its eyes clearly suggested Montagus Harrier. It had started to moult its inner primaries on both wings - apparently since Tuesday. It dropped onto prey and disappeared out of view. With a three hour journey ahead I departed leaving the locals with some more opinions - hopefully some better photos will be obtained and resolve this soon.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Up close and personal

2 June 2012


The usual start to June and rare birds are thin on the ground and residents are busy breeding. At this time of year attention turns to mini beasts - moths and recently dragonflies & damselflies. Last year I bought a decent macro lens and I was keen to test it out so a mothing session on Friday evening and two short trips into the field for dragons and damsels proved entertaining. I'm still working on the identification aspects of both groups so if you spot a mistake please do let me know! 

A pretty good haul of moths produced 138 individuals of 48 species. Nothing out of the ordinary but the first two Hawk Moths of the season (Poplar and Pine), two Spectacle's, a super Lobster Moth, three Light Brocade and two immaculate Angle Shades were among the haul. 

Angle Shades
Light Brocade 
Lobster Moth

Plain Golden Y
Silver Y

4 June 2012


I wanted to photograph Banded Demoiselle, a fairly common streamside damselfly, that I have seen many times along the Stour between Westbere and Fordwich. It was a cool day, with occasional brief bursts of sunlight, so I figured if I could find them they might be more approachable than normal. On sunny days these beauties can be found fluttering over riverside vegetation like butterflies performing their aerial dance. The males are exquisitely metallic blue with a black band across fore and hind wings giving them their name and distinctive appearance. 

Male Banded Demoiselle
Male Banded Demoiselle
The females lack the wing banding and their bodies are metallic green.

Female Banded Demoiselle
Female Banded Demoiselle
I walked slowly along the river in both directions, finding many groups of sleepy damselflies, taking the opportunity to try out the macro lens. The dull conditions, while making the damsels easier to approach, made close up photography challenging. Many of them look surprisingly similar and telling one species from another is certainly a challenge to the beginner.

Azure Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly 
While looking at the regular damsels I spotted something different - my first ever Red-eyed Damselfly. Thankfully it stayed put and allowed some nice images to be taken.

Red-eyed Damselfly
Red-eyed Damselfly
Variable Damselfly

Variable Damselfly

Other insects were also awaiting some warmth and included this impressive golden and bronze fly.

And an interesting spider waiting in hiding below a reed frond.

Umbellifer's were flowering everywhere along the river bank and provided further photographic opportunities. 

Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Whitethroats were plentiful along the river. Reed Warblers were nesting in the reed stands beside the lakes and two smart male Marsh Harrier's were hunting over the reedbeds. 

5 May 2012


I had intended to check for Dainty Damselfly at one of the sites on Sheppey, but in the event the force 4 southerly prevented any meaningful investigation. It was fairly cool and I found good numbers of Blue-tailed Damselfly in sheltered areas going about their business, and a few other photographic opportunities, including this small humbug striped snail. 

Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Blue-tailed Damselfly
Common Blue
I decided to drive up the Elmley track to the farm in the hope of finding a few birds within photographic reach. A couple of Lapwing teased before one kindly stood its ground and allowed a couple of shots.

And a glossy and iridescent Starling allowed for one last photo as I left for home.