17 July 2015

High Brown Fritillaries at Aish Tor: 7, 8 and 9 July

Visited Aish Tor on Dartmoor a few times over the last few days to look for High Brown Fritillary and other butterflies. Sadly, the High Brown Fritillary has declined in Britain by 90% since the 1970s and extinct over 94% of its former range. Categorised as Critically Endangered by the IUCN (one of only two Critically Endangered butterflies in Britain, the other being Large Blue Glaucopsyche arion), south-west England is now the species stronghold. There is some good news though - last year their numbers increased by more than 180% compared to 2013 - a ten year high.

A walk from Aish Tor to Newbridge and back on the 7th produced at least 8 High Brown Fritillary (including a female egg-laying beneath the bracken), 1 Dark Green Fritillary, 1 Painted Lady, 1 Comma, 2 Brimstone, 1 Red Admiral, 2 Small Heath, several Gatekeeper, lots of Meadow Brown and several Ringlet, and lots of unidentified fly-by fritillaries. A single Greater Butterfly-orchid Platanthera chlorantha still in flower beneath the Bracken at Aish Tor was a nice surprise, and 1 Grey Wagtail on the River Dart and a Yellowhammer were the best birds noted.

A quick visit late afternoon on the 8th found just a single High Brown Fritillary, 1 Dark Green Fritillary and a Red Admiral. A few Stonechat and a Yellowhammer were also noted.

Several hours from dawn on the 9th were best for photography, when there was a short window between the fritillaires emerging from the bracken and becoming too warm to settle for long. Along with several High Browns a Silver-washed Fritillary was also seen. Birds noted on the 9th include 2 Raven, 2-3 Bullfinch and 1m Stonechat.

High Brown Fritilary, Aish Tor, 9 July. A worn individual but a shot of the underwing showing the diagnostic ocelli just inside the
outer margin on of hindwing.

High Brown Fritillary, Aish Tor, 9 July

High Brown Fritillary, Aish Tor, 9 July. Note the missing third dot from the apex on the forewing on this one (compare with above).
Saw a few like this - an aberration perhaps?

Female High Brown Fritillary egg-laying, Aish Tor, 7 July

10 July 2015

Western Bee-fly: 10 July

Spent some time watching Western Bee-flies Bombylius canescens, at Chudleigh Knighton Heath Devon Wildlife Trust reserve today. Found a colony of around five or six that were firing eggs into the nest burrows of their host mining bee species. Not still for a second, these are darn tricky to photograph! All were females as far as I could see (eyes do not meet at the top).

Female Western Bee-fly Bombylius canescens firing eggs into the nest hole of a mining bee by flicking their abdomen downwards,
Chudleigh Knighton Heath, 10 July

A bee-fly's view of the target - a mining bee burrow entrance, Chudleigh Knighton Heath, 10 July

Two or three were often depositing eggs into the same mining bee nest at a time

They periodically collect dust from bare patches of soil with the tip of their abdomen, to coat each egg to give it extra weight to help it
reach it's target

You can clearly see the 'basket' of dust and soil collected on the tip of the abdomen in this shot

They spent very little time resting. Note the dark femora as well as the dark bristles amongst the pale hairs behind the eyes which
help distinguish from the even rarer Heath Bee-fly Bombylius minor.

Western Bee-fly is a very scarce species, mainly restricted to south-west England, south Wales and eastern Ireland. They fly from May to August.

28 June 2015

Pagham Harbour RSPB: 28 June

Twitched the Hudsonian Whimbrel at Church Norton. Figured most people would have seen it by now, and at one point I was watching this tenth for Britain on my own. A striking bird once you got your eye in - the pale ground colour on the head created much more contrasting eye-stripes and crown strips, looking almost black and white at times, and the pink basal half to the lower mandible was very bright (after the bird had spent some time bathing). To me the markings appeared finer than those on Eurasian Whimbrel and the bird had colder tone overall. In flight the secondaries and secondary coverts were noticeably pale, contrasting with the darker primaries and primary coverts. Oh, and the dark rump of course. Structurally it appeared longer billed than the two Eurasian Whimbrels but had the same bend at the distal third.

Watched it for a few hours - great scope views but just out of DSLR range. It was finding a lot of food - mainly crabs, which it caught and took to a patch of water to clean before breaking off the limbs and swallowing. Also watched preening for a while. It didn't associate with the 2 Eurasian Whimbrels present and in the evening at high tide it roosted alone.

Poor record shots of Britain's tenth Hudsonian Whimbrel, Pagham Harbour, 28 June

Also in the harbour: 2 Eurasian Whimbrel, 11+ Eurasian Curlew (including a leucistic individual), 25 Black-tailed Godwit, 4 Grey Plover, 11 Northern Lapwing, 4 Ringed Plover, 3 Dunlin, 12 Oystercatcher, 1 ad. Great Crested Grebe, 7+ Little Egret, 8 Shelduck, 1+ Little Tern (as the tide came in) and 2+ Common Tern. Around Church Norton and along the west side 3 Sand Martin, several Barn Swallow, 1-4 Linnet, 1H Reed Warbler, 1f Greenfinch and 2 Common Swift were also logged. A tatty Painted Lady and a Garden Tiger Arctia caja caterpillar were also seen.

Today's leucistic Eurasian Curlew at four or five times the distance of the Hudsonian Whimbrel, hence the even worse pic. Still, I've
never seen one of these before so it deserves a place on the blog.

At Sidlesham Ferry Pool late evening: 1 ad. summer Spotted Redshank, 3 Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 26 Black-tailed Godwit, 22 Avocet, 7 Shelduck, 1 Eurasian Teal and a Kestrel.

26 June 2015

Bat surveys and Surrey heath nature

Back at Acorn Ecology in Guildford this week and next on the second part of the work placement part of my Certificate in Ecological Consultancy course.

Had three bat dusk emergence surveys in a row since Tuesday. A hunting Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus gave great views during Tuesday's survey in Caterham, but Wednesday's survey near Jacobs Well was particularly good - a Brown-long-eared Bat Plecotus auritus hovering in half-light around the willow I was surveying was a nice bonus, but after the survey Jess, Nick and I spent a magical half hour watching 1-2 Daubenton's Bats Myotis daubentonii hunting just above the surface of the River Wey, with the Duet detector switched on the whole time so we could hear what was going on (and also recording them on the Anabat Express for sonogram analysis later) and were treated to a great view of a fly-by Barn Owl by torch light.

On the mornings of the 24th and 25th I visited Thursley Common NNR and Hankley Common to look for inverts and plants before work. Highlights were an emergence of Silver-studded Blues Plebejus argus - with a single male at Thursley Common NNR on 24th and shed-loads at Hankley yesterday - most were males but I did find a single female at Hankley. Silver-studded Blue is a heathland specialist - adults feed principally on heather Erica spp. and the main larval foodplant is Bell Heather Erica cinerea. They are a UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) priority species - they have a tiny distribution in Britain and are sedentary, rarely moving more than 20 metres in their life, and do not readily colonise new areas.

Other noteworthy inverts were a Silver Y Autographa gamma and lots of Red-banded Sand Wasps Ammophila sabulosa at Hankley Common on 25th. Found a nice colony of Oblong-leaved Sundew Drosera intermedia at Thursley on the 24th.

Best of the birds noted over the last few days were a Common Cuckoo was seen over the A3 in the centre of Guildford at 10:30 on 24th, 1m Stonechat at Thursley on 24th, and 2 Tree Pipit (singing and displaying), 2H Dartford Warbler, 1H Woodlark, 1H Skylark, 1m Stonechat and a family party of 1 ad and 4 juv Coal Tit at Hankley on 25th.

All photos in this post were taken with my Samsung Note 4 smartphone and have had minimal cropping, levels and sharpening applied. The quality and speed of the 16 MP rear camera on the Note 4 is, well, bonkers frankly!

Male Silver-studded Blue, Thursley Common NNR, 24 June 2015

Male Silver-studded Blue, Hankley Common, 25 June 2015 (taken with a Samsung Note 4)

Male Silver-studded Blue, Hankley Common, 25 June 2015 (taken with a Samsung Note 4)

Female Silver-studded Blue on Bell Heather Erica cinerea - the adult's main food plant, Hankley Common, 25 June 2015
(taken with Samsung Note 4)

Oblong-leaved Sundew Drosera intermedia, Thursley Common NNR, 24 June 2014 (taken with Samsung Note 4)

12 June 2015

Titchfield Haven NNR: 12 June

Decided on an impromptu visit to Titchfield Have in Hampshire today instead of another slog around the patch. Spent an hour or so mid morning watching the adult Greater Yellowlegs showing well, though a little distantly, feeding and roosting on Posbrook Flood, before it flew south with a group of Black-tailed Godwits. Also at Posbrook Flood were 1 Green Sandpiper, 150 Black-tailed Godwit, 2 Northern Lapwing, 2 juv Pied Wagtail, 1 Common Cuckoo, 2H Cetti's Warbler, 1H Reed Bunting, 14+ House Martin and a few Barn Swallow.

Greater Yellowlegs at a distance on Posbrook Flood this morning. Way out of DSLR range, I thought I'd try some phone-scoping. Well,
I'm crap at it - no amount of sharpening is going to improve these (taken with Samsung Note 4 through a Swarovski STS 65HD and
20-60x zoom eyepiece)!

Noted on the reserve itself were 3 (2 ad, 1 2nd-summer) Mediterranean Gull, 4 (3H) Cetti's Warbler, 4+ Little Egret, 1 Grey Heron swallowing a ridiculously huge eel, 70+ Black-tailed Godwit, c 20 Avocet (including c 10 juvs and at least 3 adults on nests), 2-3 Oystercatcher, 2 (1m, 1f) Northern Shoveler, 1H Common Cuckoo and 2 Linnet. Later in the afternoon the Greater Yellowlegs was seen on the reserve, this time on the River Meon from the Suffern Hide.

Spent some time searching for bugs along the Scrapes Trail, the best of which were 2 Painted Lady, 1 Large Skipper, 1 White Plume Pterophorus pentadactyla, and a few Blue-tailed Damselflies. An approachable Red Fox was also watched along this trail.

One of two Painted Lady butterflies along the path at Titchfield Haven NNR

A very fresh Large Skipper at Titchfield Haven NNR - my first of the year

Large Skipper

Male Blue-tailed Damselfly Ischnura elegans

6 June 2015

The patch: 6 June

My first visit to the patch for a long time, concentrating on the east side of Staines Moor today. Between my ecological consultancy course, building the new REGUA website and other commitments, I haven't had very much time for birding at all this spring.

Staines Moor produced 1 very elusive Grasshopper Warbler in the thistles and sedges in the SE corner that showed fairly well briefly mid morning though was wasn't particularly vocal, 3 Redshank (1 off from the Colne NE and a very territorial pair beside the Colne, possibly with chicks nearby but I couldn't see any), 1m Lapwing with them that was also behaving a little territorially, 2+ Common Tern (fishing along the Colne and overhead), 1+ Little Egret, 1 Kingfisher and a single Coot all along the Colne, and 1m Tufted Duck flew W from the Colne early morning.

Also a flock of c250 mixed adult and juvenile Common Starling around the livestock, 1 Cetti's Warbler in the NE corner along Bonehead Ditch showed briefly, 3 Sedge Warbler, 5+ Linnet, 6 (5m) Reed Bunting, 1f Sparrowhawk, 2+ Kestrel (including 1 first yr m harassing a female), 2H Reed Warbler, lots of Meadow Pipit (several carrying food) and Skylark, 2 (1ad, 1 imm) Grey Heron, 4H Blackcap, 4H Chiffchaff, a flock of fledged Long-tailed Tits, and 2 (1m, 1f) Common Pheasant in the SE corner.

Logged overhead were 2 (1m, 1f) Shelduck NNW, 2+ Hobby briefly, 3 Red Kite, 3+ Common Buzzard (including presumably the same pale individual), 2 (1m, 1f) Tufted Duck, 4 Barn Swallow, 9+ House Martin, several Common Swift and 2 Egyptian Geese low S.

Redshank are down to just a single pair this year from a peak of 23 adults and three young on Jun 12th 1999. Re-wetting the moor and encouraging winter flooding would almost certainly improve their numbers.

I didn't spent much time looking for bugs today, but a Cinnabar moth was my first this year, and several Banded Demoiselle and Common Blue Damselflies and lots of Downlooker Snipe-flies Rhagio scolopacea were noted amongst the irises.

Botany-wise, Staines Moor has turned yellow with Meadow Buttercups Ranunculus acris and Yellow iris Iris pseudacorus, with patches of Marsh Stitchwort Stellaria palustris, and along Bonehead Ditch lots of Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides. Just a single Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis seen in flower today.

A fair amount of Marsh Stitchwort Stellaria palustris in flower today. This species requires areas where there is standing water in winter
and has declined considerably in southern and eastern England due to the drainage of wetlands and eutrophication from agriculture.
Now classified as Vulnerable on the Vascular Plant Red Data List for Great Britain and a UK BAP priority vascular plant species.

Stanwell Moor added 3(2H) Common Whitethroat, a pair of Canada Geese with two young and 4-5 Shelduck SE.

23 May 2015

Moth dip at Thursley: 23 May

Made a late afternoon/early evening trip to Thursley Common to try and attract an Emperor Moth using pheromones (many thanks to Keith Kerr for the loan). No Emperor Moth (too cold maybe?) but some nice lowland heathland inverts, plants and birds.

Freshly emerged Four-spotted Chaser

Mangora acalypha - a small orb spider found locally on heaths mainly in south-east England

Pleurota bicostella - a common heathland specialist preferring damp areas. The larvae feed on heather. LOTS of these around today

Brassy Tortrix Eulia ministrana - prefers woodland but we found this one on the open heath

Plenty of Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata flowering on the mire at the moment - an aquatic species of acid bogs, widespread but
scarce in south-east England now that many of the regions wetlands have been drained

Birds noted include 1m Dartford Warbler, 1 Woodlark, 2(1H) Tree Pipit, 3(1H) Common Cuckoo, 1m Stonechat, 1 Curlew, 2m Reed Bunting, 1 Skylark and 4 (2m, 2f) Tufted Duck. Also a few Common Lizard were seen on the boardwalks.