Monday, 23 July 2012

Emeralds and Sapphire skies

22 July 2012

Cliffe Pools, RSPB

The wader roost at Cliffe

After a full day laying a new oak floor in the studio on Saturday I needed a rest. I intended to head back to Oare for the high tide at 14:30, after a short walk out to the Cliffe track here I had seen Southern Emerald Damselfly last summer. I parked near the village and walked out - a good decision with huge pools and puddles in the many potholes along the track. Despite the beautiful sunshine I was surprised by the lack of butterflies and dragonflies along the main track. A Greenshank and a Green Sandpiper were feeding on the edge of the Radar Pool and a few Little Egret were evident out on the islands where Black-headed Gulls and Common Terns were still noisily breeding.

The Black Barn pool was very full, but the next two pools hosted a couple of hundred Black-tailed Godwit, the usual Avocets, nine Greenshank and four Ruff. Along the damselfly path with a little help I managed to find my first ever Scarce Emerald Damselflies. They were feeding low down on the far side of a ditch and sitting occasionally on some reedy stems, but never really close enough. Managed some reasonable shots with the 400mm zoom without  falling in the ditch.

Male Scarce Emerald Damselfly

Further along I checked the grassy area where I found last year's Southern Emerald, but with no luck. Returning to the start of the bank I found a female Emerald sitting on a woody stem. It allowed some images at close range with the macro lens. I wasn't sure at the time but with the help of the brilliant Birdguides dragonfly ID app and some zoomed up images I am confident its a female Scarce Emerald Damselfly.

Female Scarce Emerald Damselfly 

With the tide rising I headed back along the track noting similar birds on the pools. I checked the ditches near the Black Barn trying in vain to find a Common Emerald Damselfly, instead enjoying good views of a smart Marbled White butterfly, a distant Water Vole and a Small Red-eyed Damselfly.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly
Instead of walking to the car and then driving to Oare I decided to explore the pools to see what potential there might be for a decent wader roost through the autumn - a wise decision as it turned out. Heading out towards the Flamingo Pool I located a significant roost of some 1,500 Black-tailed Godwit. Mixed in were eight Bar-tailed Godwit including a smart summer plumaged bird, seven Dunlin, about 100 Redshank, a Curlew and seven Greenshank. Six Whimbrel and a Common Sandpiper were along the back of Flamingo Pool and a reasonable roost of Black-headed Gulls was on the new beach with a few large gulls. A Curlew flew in and then the Avocets started to arrive - over 2,000 of them by the time the last birds landed. So with now 2,000 each of Black-wits and Avocet it was quite a sight. Nothing unusual but surely potential for the autumn - I'm sure I'll be back soon.

Avocets arriving to roost

Monday, 16 July 2012

Fragile lifecycles and short seasons

15 July 2012

Oare and East Blean Woods

The last couple of weekends have been spent preparing and laying a new lawn and decorating Mandy's new studio. I have run the moth trap on a couple of dry evenings but caught little of real note (numbers or species). I was very ready for some relaxation in the great outdoors. Finally a day dawned sunny and bright after seemingly months of endless, and at times very heavy, rain. So mid morning on Sunday I headed over to one of my favourite autumn (sorry for any non birders, but autumn for many birds begins at the end of June) venues. With return wader passage well underway and numbers of Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits in their smart red summer regalia building up in numbers it always makes for a great couple of hours either side of high tide.

A couple of smart summer plumaged Wood Sandpiper were feeding along the spit, when the overly attentive adult Avocets left them alone for more than a few minutes.

Wood Sandpiper

Walking around the east flood I found two broods of Common Whitethroat feeding in the brambles. Quite how these summer visitors have found enough food in the damp conditions to raise their broods astounds me.

juvenile Common Whitethroat

An Essex Skipper feeding on a thistle head along the path was one of several butterflies seen on the walk.

Essex Skipper

And a Peregrine circled menacingly overhead surveying the roosting waders from the safety of the sun.

 The views across the Swale were spectacular.

Looking east toward Castle Coote
Looking north across the Swale to Harty Church
 Many of the Black-tailed Godwit were roosting at the eastern end of the marsh. A couple of moulting Ruff and a summer plumaged Knot hid in the grass.

Icelandic Black-tailed Godwit
As I walked around the flood a Water Rail squeeled and half a dozen Bearded Tits 'pinged' from within the reeds. Six Whimbrel and five Greenshank were flushed by a hunting Marsh Harrier over on the Harty side. Back at the road I joined a small crowd of regular locals including Murray Wright, Geoff Burton, Mick Southcott and Mike Gould. The four Golden Plover that had earlier circled the flood had returned to roost along the bank, and a dozen smart Dunlin were feeding on the limited muddy fringes. Three Mediterranean Gulls dropped in briefly to the roost.

I decided to try my luck at East Blean Wood. As I arrived the sun had vanished behind the clouds and it cooled down - not ideal conditions for butterflies. I walked around the car park and was surprised, so late in their season, to find numbers of Heath Fritillary. 



The butterflies were still coupling and mating in the glade, so hopefully producing next years generation. Some were showing signs of wear and others demonstrated just how fragile and short lived these beautiful creatures are.

The end of its short lifecycle
I finished the day with a walk through a local meadow. A very tatty and moulted Common Buzzard circled overhead and a smart Common Darter showed well.

Common Buzzard
Common Darter