Sunday, 29 June 2014

Right place, right time

29 June 2014

Ashdown Forest

The Short-toed Eagle seemed to have settled into a routine again this week around the Wych Cross area, and showed occasionally from the path south of Long Car Park on Saturday. The weather and sightings suggested it might have roosted again in the area and with the sun predicted to shine on Sunday morning I couldn't resist another attempt to see this stunning bird of prey. 

I arrived quite early and wandered down the path. It was quite overcast and quite cool, but the views across Ashdown Forest were superb. A pair of Linnet, a surprising Reed Bunting, and two Skylark serenaded me. A group of birders were gathering a few hundred metres along the path, but I continued until I reached an isolated patch of pine trees. I saw a photographer drop down to the left so I followed him down finding an area with nice views across a clearing. I carefully scanned the trees but there was no sign of the Eagle. A couple of young Green Woodpeckers and a Stonechat kept me entertained while I stood alone overlooking the clearing. I quite liked the view and decided to hang around to see what might appear. It was still early, about 09:15, and I figured the Eagle might not appear for another hour. Then as I looked up I caught sight of something flapping out of the trees on the far side and crossing the clearing - instantly I realised it was the Short-toed Eagle. I got some fantastic views in the scope as it flew low through the isolated trees.

The Short-toed Eagle flaps across the clearing
It went behind the clump of trees behind me so I grabbed my scope and ran up the hill expecting to intercept it along the ridge. Three birders walking down toward me we slightly surprised as I came racing around the corner waving at them to turn around. We all emerged onto the path overlooking the heath on the other side of the wood. But there was no sign? I walked slowly down the hill on the path, and through the gorse found the Eagle sitting on a low dead tree. The views were spectacular - it's large yellow eyes looking back at me. 

The Short-toed Eagle perches in the open
Unfortunately a couple walking their dogs spooked it and it took flight.  However it used the ridge below me to gain height, and I was perfectly positioned as it gave amazing views circling up until it was high overhead. 

The Eagle circled high and drifted around searching for breakfast, and after five minutes dropped back down into the back of the trees bordering the clearing. Unfortunately it was not visible. I had a look for a Woodlark that began singing further down the path, but it stopped before I could locate it and I walked back to the hill. Just as I arrived someone found the Eagle sat distantly in the top of a tree. After a few minutes a couple of marauding Magpies encouraged it to take to the air. It circled high over the wood then drifted back towards us, before starting to hunt along the ridge. It spent some time hovering into the wind giving great scope views from below; its legs acting as a counter balance keep it stationary while it searched for snakes.

The Eagle glides over at height
Hovering overhead

Hovering while hunting

Legs counter balancing, tail spread
After fifteen minutes it drifted north east and was lost to view. Very happy with my morning I walked slowly back to the car and drove around to Old Lodge. I walked around the reserve stopping for some time around the pools, which were full after yesterday's rain. I found about six male Keeled Skimmer, five Four-spotted Chaser, two Broad-bodied Chaser, Azure Damselfly, Large Red Damselfly and just one Small Red Damselfly. Young Common Redstart were quite obvious and Tree Pipit vocal around the heath. A couple each of Green and Great-spotted Woodpecker, the odd Redpoll, Chaffinch and a young family of Long-tailed Tit were also seen. As I walked back I found a Golden Ringed Dragonfly which caught and ate a Bee while I photographed it. A brief Silver-washed Fritillary flew before I could get a photo but was nice to see in the sunshine.

A young Common Redstart
Common Redstart
Keeled Skimmer
Keeled Skimmer
Keeled Skimmer
Keeled Skimmer
Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotetd Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser
Small Red Damselfy
Small Red Damselfly - eating its prey
Broad-bodied Chaser exuvia
Four-spotted Chaser
Golden Ringed Dragonfly
Golden Ringed Dragonfly
Close up of the Golden Ringed Dragonfly eating a Bee
And even closer

Monday, 23 June 2014

Dragons, Damsels and an Eagle (almost)

22 June 2014

Ashdown Forest

I ran the moth trap on Friday night in my garden in St Mary's Platt. A small, but varied catch included a single Treble Brown Spot, a Poplar Hawk Moth, a True Lover's Knot, a Spectacle, 2 Buff Arches, a Buff Tip, and the second f. conversaria Mottled Beauty I've caught, both in the last two weeks.

True Lover's Knot
I tried using the macro ring to capture the iridescence of this Burnished Brass 
Mottled Beauty, f conversaria

A late morning start on Sunday had us visiting the Ashdown Forest, in East Sussex. This is not an area I know at all, but we fell in love with the spectacular scenery and far-ranging views. We started at Old Lodge where we wandered out across the heathland seeing three Stonechat, a family of Redstart, a Spotted Flycatcher, lots of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and six Tree Pipit. We dropped down into a valley where a few boggy pools attracted a Brilliant Emerald and a Broad-bodied Chaser. Further up the hill another drying pool held a few Azure and Large Red Damselfly, and a pair of Broad-bodied Chaser. The next larger pool finally produced the hoped for Small Red Damselfly. Having mis-identied their larger cousins in the New Forest a few weeks ago I was really pleased to get to grips with this diminutive species, alongside its larger relative for direct comparison. There was another Broad-bodied Chaser and a pair of Emperor around the pond edges. 

Small Red Damselfly - red legs and all red body

A female Small Red Damselfly
Large Red Damselfly - black legs and black striped tail tip

As we walked back to the car several Redpoll, Goldfinch and Chaffinch were heard and a couple of Green Woodpecker flew across the path. I was delighted to locate a superb Golden-ringed Dragonfly, which perched beautifully, unfortunately over a wire fence.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly
We drove along the road to the Gill's Lap car park and found a surprisingly large crowd expectantly awaiting the arrival of the Short-toed Eagle, which had been roosting in the valley here for the last few evenings. It has clearly eaten most of the snakes in the area and therefore started to hunt further to the South, only returning to roost - at least that is what we hoped.  Fortunately an ice cream van in the car park provided a temporary distraction before we wandered away from the crowd and the car park to get a better view across the valley.

A couple of Buzzards circled up over the distant ridge, a Grey Heron drifted over high up and a few Herring Gulls flew south. At about 16:20 I said we'd give it until half past. A Buzzard drifted high over the valley and dropped below the ridge. About five minutes later a young guy with a camera ran down the path from the car park asking if we had seen the Eagle? I was a little surprised as he suggested it had flown over the road and dropped into the valley - surely I hadn't missed it? 

I scanned the ridge and almost immediately picked up a large bird of prey lifting out of the distant woods and joining a circling Buzzard. Its pale underparts and pale rump patch quickly confirmed it was worth checking. I got it in the scope, got Mandy on it and called the other birders, sharing views as it tumbled and tussled with the Buzzard, before it dropped below the ridge and vanished. The plumage suggested the Eagle but size (it was the same size as the Buzzard) and jizz challenged this ID. The pale bird disappeared below the ridge. 

We had to leave to meet a friend at home so left shortly after this sighting. Reference to photos of the Eagle confirmed that while superficially similar on plumage the white rump was more distinct and the underwing pattern wrong. The size and jizz also confirmed the Eagle had not returned, perhaps put off by the weekend crowds.