Saturday, 29 June 2013

Keeled Skimmers in the Cotton

29 June 2013

Hothfield Common

After seeing the Scarce Chasers last week I noticed in the guide that Keeled Skimmer was shown as occurring in Kent. Its specific habitat choice however is very limited and I could only think of Hothfield Common as a potential site. An overcast start to the day had me doing some chores around the garden, but with the sun coming out at lunchtime and a fairly free afternoon I decided to drive down to Hothfield for a look. 

I arrived and walked out onto the Common heading down to the boggy, peaty pools. I was greeted by a very unique sight in Kent - Cotton Grass and Heath-spotted Orchids spread across a boggy heath. 

Heath-spotted Orchid
Heath-spotted Orchid in close up
Cotton Grass
Ragged Robin, Lychnis flos-cuculi 
I continued downhill until I reached the small boardwalk that crosses the main boggy pools. Within a few minutes I could see a Keeled Skimmer but it was too far away for photographs. However with a little patience a smart male came closer and closer giving great views at one time within three inches of my face. An amazing experience and hopefully I managed to capture it reasonably well. At least ten males were flying around and two females, one of which was laying eggs. The only other dragonfly seen being a smart Emperor.

Male Keeled Skimmer

Immature male Keeled Skimmer
There were plenty of Yellowhammer around the heath, two Willow Warblers were singing as was a Chiffchaff in the car park.

Late news 26 June 2013 - Elmley

With news breaking late morning of a Black-winged Pratincole at Shellness/Swale NNR I managed to get home at a sensible time, but not before the bird had been seen to depart high to the West. Rather than sit at home and hope someone else re-found it I put the bike in the boot and drove over to Elmley - a few short miles west as the Pratincole flies. Recalling my youth in the mid-1980's I cycled down to the hides (back in those days I cycled from Rainham to the hides and back every weekend) to see if the Pratincole had found the reserve to its liking - it should have done because it looks superb. I decided on South Fleet hide, offering the most panoramic views and spent an hour and a half scanning over, around and on the flood. Loads of Black-headed Gulls including lots of recently fledged juveniles, small numbers of Avocet and six Spotted Redshank, a single Black-tailed Godwit, a large brood of Pochard, loads of Marsh Harrier, Lapwing, Oystercatcher and a Barn Owl were the highlights. There were lots of flying insects, so plenty of Pratincole food, but only Swifts making the most of the feast. I cycled back to the car and returned home - a nice evening but lacking the hoped for prize. Wonder where it's lurking? 

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Dragons in the gloom

21 June 2013

Stodmarsh, Westbere and Oare

Back in the UK I decided to spend Friday in the Stour Valley. I started at Stodmarsh and walked via the Marsh Hide along the Lampen Wall and back. It was quite overcast and rather cool at times and the wind was fairly fresh. About 100 Common Swift were hawking over the reedbed giving great views, though the only white rump I saw belonged to a Green Sandpiper, and a pair of Marsh Harrier were hunting, the male bringing in a young Coot or Moorhen. There were a few Bearded Tit around and Cetti's Warbler were singing. A Bittern was booming in the reedbed occasionally but never made an appearance. As I walked back a large bird flew across the lake. Without raising binoculars I initially thought 'That looks like an Osprey', but it is late June and Kent, and Ospreys should be much further north, breeding. Still I lifted my bins and casually glanced at the shape, expecting it to be a Marsh Harrier, so was more than a little surprised when it actually was an Osprey! I watched it in the scope as it circled the lake, briefly chased by a Marsh Harrier that didn't like the intruder in its territory. 


A Sparrowhawk flew by and two Buzzard circled over the hill, but after half an hour the Osprey failed to re-appear, so I returned to the car and drove around to Westbere. It was a bit cool and windy for Dragonflies but as I was here I thought I'd have a look anyway. The sun eventually came out and warmed the place up a little but with a little care I was able to locate a few drowsy Dragons and get a some reasonable images, including the hoped for Scarce Chaser. A single Hobby drifted over, presumably in a hungry search for its late dragonfly lunch.

Banded Demoiselle (Male) were particularly numerous
Banded Demoiselle (Female)
Black-tailed Skimmer (Female)
Blue-tailed Damselfly 
Red-eyed Damselfly
Red-eyed Damselfly
Scarce Chaser (Female)
Scarce Chaser (Male)
Scarce Chaser (Male) 
Variable Damselfly
Cardinal Beetle, Pyrochroa coccinea
As I drove home I decided there was just time for a visit to the wonderful Oare Marshes KWT reserve north of Faversham. The tide was out so I wasn't expecting much and it was still very windy. However the wind forced about 150 Common Swift to feed low over the reedbed and over 300 Black-tailed Godwit were feeding on the flood. I spent quite some time checking the Swifts - a brief white rump quickly turned into a House Martin. A Peregrine caused concern among the godwits as it circled high overhead, though it chose the Wood Pigeons across Faversham Creek for dinner rather than disturb the waders. I heard a few Mediterranean Gulls flying along the Swale and overhead, seeing five separate birds (three adults and two first summers). As I scanned the flood a moulting drake Garganey appeared with some Shoveler, its summer plumage rapidly fading, though still showing a reasonable white supercilium. The biggest surprise were two Little-ringed Plover that appeared on one of the close islands and gave good views as they fed around the edges. A lovely end to a nice day out.

Antalya, Oymapinar Reservoir and Side Ancient City

18 to 20 June 2013


We had extended the standard InnTravel walking holiday to include two extra nights in Antalya. The main objective was to try for the Western Brown Fish Owls at Oymapinar Reservoir, though I had mis timed the trip to avoid two special OWl watching tours, one the day before our arrival and the other two days after we returned home. We stayed in a superb hotel in the secluded streets of the Old Town, and managed to hire a car from nearby to enable a speculative trip out to the reservoir. 

The view over Antalya Old Town
What a lovely way to create some shade

Roman remains surround the Old Town
Laughing Dove
We left early and eventually found the reservoir and the Green Canyon Restaurant, which turned out to be the epicenter for lake tours. 

The owner told us all about his specialist Owl tours and offered us a personal tour, but the price was way too high. I opted for a trip out on the standard tourist boats and crossed my fingers that we would be told when we were in the right area. The morning was spent picking up the coach parties and touring the main reservoir, taking a cooling swim in the water and enjoying the scenery.

Oymapinar Reservoir from the Dam
The hydro-electric dam

One of the boats on its way to pick up the tourist parties

Grand Canyon
After a superb buffet lunch back at the restaurant we returned to the boat and sailed out to the 'Grand Canyon'. The boats normally go here, but seldom slow down for a look at the Owls, so any views would be brief. 

Sailing up the Grand Canyon
Fortunately a Turkish bird photographer had also joined the boat and we were well positioned on the front of the boat as we approached the nesting area. With a little luck we each picked out an Owl - as it turned out Mustafa had seen the well-hidden adult and I found a well-grown juvenile that was sat in a narrow crack in the rock. We both fired off our cameras and only realised we had seen different birds when Mandy looked at the images on the back of the cameras. The boat soon reached the end of the Canyon and turned around, so we had a second chance. This time I focused on the adult and managed a few reasonable images as we cruised past.

Western Brown Fish Owl (Juvenile)
Western Brown Fish Owl (Adult)
After the excitement of actually seeing the Owls we drove back toward Antalya. I had read about the extensive and well preserved Roman town at Side and wanted to take a look. I was not to be disappointed - the ruins were amazing and the area hosted a nice selection of birds as well. I found a pair of Rufous Bush Chats nesting in the ruins and feeding their chicks and several Eastern Olivaceous Warblers singing in the scrub.

Intricate stone masonry

The Roman Amphitheatre at Side 
A baby Tortoise

The Roman archway
Rufous Bush Chat 
Rufous Bush Chat 
Yellow-vented Bulbul
We spent the last day in the Old Town, relaxing. Our first trip to Turkey - what wonderfully welcoming people, superb food and some fantastic hotels. InnTravel had once again excelled themselves providing faultless logistics and a wonderful itinerary throughout. The days off between the long walks were much appreciated and made this so much more of a holiday. While some of the walks were quite challenging (the rough and inconsistent ground made going tough), the rewards along the way and at the end made it very worthwhile. We rarely met another person and enjoyed the remote solitude and isolated villages. We were also very fortunate to have several of the hotels literally to ourselves. This is by far the best InnTravel holiday we have so far enjoyed and I would recommend all of the others!