19 June 2016

Graciosa, Azores: 15-17 June

Back from a trip to the Azores. Visited three islands - São Miguel, Terceira and Graciosa - for endemics and marine life. Loved it. Shall return. Could live there. Highlights from the last island first.

The island of Santa Cruz da Graciosa was our base for three pelagic trips to explore the waters off the north-east coast of the island for seabirds, cetaceans and other marine animals. Here the ocean floor drops rapidly to 1,000 m just 7 km from the coast and further down to over 2,000 m a little further out, a forming a submarine trench that is a magnet for cetaceans. In addition, an area of shallower water known as the Bank of Fortune, creates an upwelling of nutrients attracting a range of seabirds.

Our main target species here was Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi - an Azorean endemic with the total global breeding population of 250-999 mature individuals confirmed nesting on just two islets off the coast of Graciosa - Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia) and Baixo islet (Ilhéu de Baixo).

The first boat trip, on the afternoon of the 15th, was very tough going in rough seas with a nauseating swell and a force 13 wind. Highlights were several Monteiro's Storm-petrel, lots of Cory's Shearwater (but apparently much lower numbers than expected), 3 Roseate Tern around Praia islet, 2 Common Tern, 3 Eurasian Whimbrel, 2 Cuvier's Beaked Whales together and a pod of 3+ Common Dolphin, 1 turtle sp. and 3 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis.

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Common Dolphin Delphinus delphis, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

Cuvier's Beaked Whale Ziphius cavirostris, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

On the 16th a longer trip in calmer sea conditions out to the Bank of Fortune was disappointingly quiet, with c. 10 Bulwer's Petrel, c. 20 Monteiro's Storm-petrel, c. 30 Cory's Shearwater, 1 Common Tern, a pod of c.10 Common Dolphin and around c. 15 Portuguese Man o' War Physalia physalis seen, with not a single bird at the bank itself. At the south end of Graciosa near Ponta da Restinga a sick Cory's Shearwater found floating on the sea was successfully captured and brought aboard to be taken to a rescue centre, and several jellyfish sp. and a small Common Tern colony were also noted.

Monteiro's Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Monteiro's Storm-petrels Hydrobates monteiroi, north-east of Grasiosa, Azores, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, near the Bank of Fortune, 16 June 2016

The trip on 17th was also quiet but did produce a lot more Cory's Shearwater, with hundreds in several rafts on the water. Unfortunately another sick bird was also found, this time in Praia de São Mateus harbour. Also noted were 1 pale phase Pomarine Skua in heavy primary moult, about 40 Roseate Tern plunge diving just offshore from Praia islet along with c. 30 Common Tern, and several Yellow-legged Gull offshore.

Roseate Tern Sterna dougallii near Praia islet, Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii plunge diving near Praia islet, Grasiosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis, north-east of Graciosa, Azores, 17 June 2016

Additional notebook entries from the land on Graciosa include 1 Ruddy Turnstone at Praia de São Mateus harbour on 15th, 1m and 1 juv. Grey Wagtail at Porto da Barra on 15th, several Common Starling at Porto da Barra on 15th, lots of Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii at Porto da Barra on 15th. Abundant House Sparrows were seen at Porto da Barra daily and several Yellow-legged Gull were noted at Praia de São Mateus harbour on all three days of various ages including adults, 1st-S and 2nd-S.

Praia islet (Ilhéu da Praia), 17 June 2016 - one of only two sites where Monteiro's Storm-petrel has been confirmed breeding

Madeira Wall Lizard Teira dugesii, Porto da Barra, Graciosa, Azores, 15 June 2016

2 June 2016

Diamond-back Moth influx: 1-2 June

The last few days have seen a huge influx of Diamond-back Moths Plutella xylostella into Britain, as well as further north in Europe. Large counts were made on the east and south coasts yesterday, including 790 in a small area at Filey, 383 in four traps at Portland Bill Bird Observatory (where only 4 were caught on 27 May) with millions were estimated to be present on the island, and 100 were counted around the observatory and the Moat at Dungeness. Counts of over a hundred were also made at some inland sites.

With the weather being cold for several weeks now, I've not bothered with the moth light. But despite the weather last night remaining cold with a moderate NE wind, I thought I'd fire up the Blacklight last night (1 June)see if any Diamond-backs had made their way to this area of Surrey. Species diversity was unsurprisingly very low but I wasn't disappointed with the number of Diamond-backs!

Night totals:
48 Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella - by far the largest total I've recorded at home in one night.
1 Pale Mottled Willow Caradrina clavipalpis
1 Vine's Rustic Hoplodrina ambigua
2 Heart & Dart Agrotis exclamationis

Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella, dark form, Worcester Park, 2 June 2016

Diamond-back Moth Plutella xylostella, light form, Worcester Park, 2 June 2016

Also, the pair of Magpies nesting in a Scot's Pine in a neighbour's front garden have successfully bred, with 5 fledged young and the 2 adults kicking about the back gardens from our living room this afternoon.

30 May 2016

Thursley Common NNR: 30 May

Met up with friends and fellow ecologists Jess Smith and Nick Archibald for a late afternoon wander around Thursley Common. A couple of hours walking around the boardwalk and Shrike Hill in heavily overcast and cool conditions produced 1 Eurasian Curlew in flight over the mire (plus others heard), a flock of 5 Woodlark (Shrike Hill), 1 Common Cuckoo, 1H Tree Pipit, 4 (2m, 2f) Common Stonechat, 1 Linnet, 1m Reed Bunting, and 3 (2m, 1f) Tufted Duck (mire).

Found some Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia and lots of Bogbean Menyanthes trifoliata in flower at the mire, along with a superb fresh Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata. Jess had her trusty bat detector with her (Jess doesn't leave home without it nowadays!) and managed to find us 4-5 Soprano Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pygmaeus and a couple of Common Pipistrelles Pipistrellus pipistrellus around the Moat Pond and the west end of the boardwalk. A juvenile Common Starling seen by torch light roosting beside the boardwalk was also noted. A really pleasant few hours in great company.

Four-spotted Chaser Libellula quadrimaculata, Thursley Common NNR, 30 May 2016 (taken with Samsung Note 4, uncropped)

Round-leaved Sundew Drosera rotundifolia, mire, Thursley Common NNR, 30 May 2016 (taken with Samsung Note 4)

Weather: Heavily overcast (8 oktas), windy and cool.

22 May 2016

Staines Moor: 22 May

Not quite sure what happened to spring, but just like that it is now summer, with a few very quiet hours at Staines Moor today producing naff all passage migrants.

A Lesser Whitethroat flicking between bushes in the SE corner (my first ever on this part of the moor), 1 Red Kite over N, 1 Common Swift E and a Barn Swallow W could all have possibly be moving through rather than local birds, but no other movement was evident.

Other 'highlights' were 2 Gadwall (flew onto the Colne), c.200 Eurasian Starling (mainly adults but some juveniles in tow, with many towards the southern end of Bonehead woodland, around the livestock and in NW corner), 2 (1m, 1f) Common Shelduck E, 2 Egyptian Geese W, 2 Redshank (Colne and east pool), 1+ Hobby, 1 Common Buzzard (local bird), 3 Common Tern (Colne), 1+ Little Egret (Colne), 5 Sedge Warbler (2 pairs and a lone ringed male in the swamp - see below), 5H Common Whitethroat, 2H Common Chiffchaff, 2 (1m, 1H) Blackcap, c12 Common Pheasant (1 very tame male torquatus, and 1 female with c.10 very young chicks in the swamp, a couple of which I almost trod on!), 7 Reed Bunting (6m, 1f), 1 Grey Heron, several Linnet and lots of Meadow Pipit and Skylark.

No sign of the Grasshopper Warbler or the pair of Stonechat, and still no Common Cuckoo - the first year of absence that I can remember and I really hope we haven't lost them as a regular breeding species.

Ringed and unpaired male Sedge Warbler singing in the swamp today (coordinates/grid reference of recovery: 51.442805,
-0.512438/TQ 03482 72584). I think I've managed to piece together the ring number from photos - 3N46271, and the pic bottom
right seems to say MADRID and the word AVES above it, so perhaps this bird was ringed in Spain by the San Sebastian/Aranzadi
(Spain) ESA scheme. Hopefully I'll find out some history soon. Many thanks to the Lakes and Pennines, the BTO and Lee Barber
on Twitter for their feedback (right-click on image and open in a new tab to enlarge).

A Roe Deer spooked in Bonehead woodland was my first daylight sighting at the patch, 1 Downlooker Snipe-fly Rhagio scolopacea was my first this year, and plenty of Yellow Iris Iris pseudacorus are now in flower. 12 horses are now out to graze.

1 of about 10 Common Pheasant chicks with a hen, encountered in long grass in the swamp today. This bird and another were frozen
to the spot right by my feet.

Downlooker Snipe-fly Rhagio scolopacea in the swamp today (taken with a Samsung Note 4)

Weather: Sunny (2 oktas in morning) becoming cloudy early afternoon (4 oktas by 13:00 and 8 oktas by 14:00), very light SW wind, damp early morning.

12 May 2016

Staines Moor: 12 May

For me, birding is all about finding my own birds. I have little interest in seeing birds that others have found, even on the patch. This spring I've been determined to find a good bird at Staines Moor, especially as last spring was so piss poor on the patch. Over the last week alone I've been up before dawn three times and spent no fewer than 29 hours traipsing around covering every millimetre of the patch, with one eye fixed on the sky. While seemingly every other London site has been awash with Arctic Terns, Little Terns, Black Terns, Sanderlings, Wood Sandpipers, flocks of tundra Ringed Plovers, Grey Plovers and Wood Warblers, Staines Moor has yielded nothing!

But with a good passage of waders through London over the last few days I was hoping today would produce a Wood Sandpiper or some other wader along the Colne. Imagine then how I felt when soon after arriving on site this morning, another birder arrives, walks past me, then comes back a few minutes later and tells me there are two Bar-tailed Godwits along the Colne! Now maybe I am being greedy and ungrateful (and well done to the birder who found them as this is a great patch record), but really, FOR FUCK'S SAKE!

Staines Moor records today: 2 Bar-tailed Godwit ((1m and 1f in summer plumage, seen feeding and resting beside the Colne where they appeared to be catching a lot of food, and also on the east pool. The female was ringed and flagged - I'll try and find out where it was ringed), 20 Common Swift (mainly N), 2 Barn Swallow N, 1 Grasshopper Warbler (heard several times and probably glimpsed in flight), 3 Hobby (hunting together over the NW corner), 3 Redshank (2 Colne, 1 east pool), 1m Gadwall (Colne), 1+ Common Tern (Colne), 4 Common Whitethroat, 4 (1m, 3H) Blackcap, 4 (3H) Sedge Warbler, 3H Chiffchaff, 10 Reed Bunting (8m, 2f), 1 Little Egret (Colne), 4-7 Red Kite (1 high W and the others presumably local birds), 2 Stock Dove (Bonehead Ditch), 1m Kestrel, 1 Pied Wagtail W, 2 Common Buzzard (including 1 pale phase NW), 1+ Grey Heron, 1 juv. Robin, and plenty of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Linnet. No sign of the Stonechats today in a brief search, and still no Cuckoos!

Today's pair of summer plumage Bar-tailed Godwit - check out the size different between the male and female. Still present
beside the Colne at 13:39 when I left.

The female was ringed as follows - left leg: pink flag top, yellow ring bottom; right leg: metal ring top, red ring bottom. Can't make out
much on the metal ring - perhaps 147..? I've reported it to the BTO so maybe they can shed some light.


Found some Yellow Meadow Ants Lasius flavus on an anthill on the west side - only my second ever sighting at Staines Moor (or anywhere for that matter) as the workers rarely stray above ground, and butterflies today included my first Green-veined White of the year and a Small Copper.

One of a few Yellow Meadow Ants Lasius flavus on my camera bag today. A terrible photo (I think I've found the limit of macro
photography with the trusty Samsung Note4), but you can see the hairless lower sections of the antennae and the tibiae,
which are diagnostic of this species


Stanwell Moor added 1 Reed Warbler and 1 Little Egret W.

So I think I am done with this spring and with the patch for a while - it's all far far far far far far far too much effort for little reward and I'm desperately trying to remember why I keep bothering. Who knows though, maybe I can muster enough energy and motivation for one more day this spring of finding bugger all?

Weather: Sunny with some thin cloud, freshening NE wind, rain previous night.

7 May 2016

Staines Moor: 7 May

Little change from two days ago with passage migrants again almost non-existent in the fine weather, presumably passing straight through high overhead. 2 Spotted Flycatchers together at the south end of Bonehead Ditch were the highlight, and 1 Reed Warbler (in scrub at the north end of the Colne), 4 Common Swift and 8 Barn Swallow (4S, 3N, 1W) were the only birds seemingly moving through.

1 of 2 Spotted Flycatchers at the south end of Bonehead Ditch today


Migrant Reed Warbler singing in scrub along the north end of the Colne today

Summering warblers were very much in evidence today. The Grasshopper Warbler showed briefly twice, and 1m Garden Warbler (singing in the west hawthorns), and 1 Reed Warbler (bridge to Stanwell Moor), 9 (1H) Sedge Warbler, 13 (2H) Common Whitethroat, 1H Lesser Whitethroat (west hawthorns), 6 (4H) Chiffchaff, 9 (3H) Blackcap (inc. 4m, 2f), and 3 (2H) Cetti's Warbler (Butts Pond, bridge to Stanwell Moor) were also logged.

Other summer visitors noted include 3 Hobby (hunting insects over the two wooden bridges late afternoon), 1+ Common Tern (Colne), 2+ Redshank (Colne), 2 Common Shelduck E, 10 Reed Bunting (6m, 3f) and plenty of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. Found a Long-tailed Tit building a nest close to the predated nest and another pair nest buiding in a hawthorn in the NE corner, though I couldn't get close enough to find it. Also found a Carrion Crow sitting on a nest in the Bonehead woodland. Worryingly, where are our Cuckoos?

Long-tailed Tit nest in the early stages of being built in the NW corner today

Also noted were 1m Stonechat with what was probably the female, but very distant (SE corner), 2m Goldcrest (both singing in Bonehead woodland), 3+ Little Egret, 6 Red Kite, 1f Kestrel, 1-2 Eurasian Sparrowhawk, 2 (1m, 1f) Pied Wagtail (Colne), 1 Coot (Colne), 1 Mistle Thrush, 2 Canada Geese S, and 1 Grey Heron.

3m Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens along Bonehead Ditch were my first of the year, and butterflies seen include 1 Speckled Wood, many Orange-tip (including 1f), several m Brimstone, and 2 Peacock. Finally, found a dead Grass Snake beside the Colne at the north end today - only my second record for Staines Moor (thankfully my first record was a live one).

5 May 2016

Staines Moor: 5 May

With high pressure over central Europe and a low situated just north-west of Britain, the airflow over southern England finally switched to a southerly today. But with warm temperatures and bright clear skies there was little hope of grounded migrants at Staines Moor today.

2 singing male Garden Warblers (1 NE corner, 1 west hawthorns) were the first of the year and not on the usual territories so presumably migrants. A very secretive Grasshopper Warbler was reeling intermittently and showed only very fleetingly, and Sedge Warblers have now arrived in force with at least 9 (1H) counted, with 3 in the Lesser Pond Sedge in the swamp, including 2 birds paired up (although this is not a site-wide count and many more must be present).

Lots of singing Sedge Warblers on site today, including this one in the swamp

Record of today's Grasshopper Warbler - extremely elusive, even by gropper standards

I had higher hopes that the sky would produce something, but 5 Red Kite (1 purposely high N and 4 presumed locals), 1 Common Swift high N, 2 Sand Martin NE and 12 Barn Swallow (mainly N) was all I could pick up. 2+ Eurasian Hobby were probably our local birds returned.

Also noted were 1 Reed Warbler (reeds by bridge to Stanwell Moor), 2(1H) Lesser Whitethroat, 4(1H) Common Whitethroat, 2(1H) Chiffchaff, 2 (1m, 1f) Stonechat still in the SE corner (though no sign of any nesting activity), 4 Common Shelduck (1m, 1f on The Butts, and 2 south, landing on the Colne briefly), 4 Redshank (Colne and east pool), 3+ Little Egret (Colne), 2+ Common Tern (Colne), 1 Northern Lapwing over W (probably a Stanwell Moor bird), 25+ Linnet, 5 (4m, 1f) Reed Bunting, 1 Eurasian Sparrowhawk, 2 (1m, 1f) Kestrel, 1 Pied Wagtail (Colne), 9 Eurasian Starling (around the cattle), 1 Common Buzzard (presumed local), 2H Cetti's Warbler (Butts Pond and north end of Colne), and lots of Skylark and Meadow Pipit.

Quite a few butterflies flying today at Staines Moor including 1 Small Copper, 1 Red Admiral, lots of Orange-tip, 2m Brimstone, 1 Peacock, 3 Small Tortoiseshell and 1m Small White. Sadly the Long-tailed Tit nest I found on my last visit looked like it had been predated and pulled apart.

Stanwell Moor added 3 Northern Lapwing, 2 Barn Swallow N, 1 Common Buzzard and 4 Common Shelduck E.

Weather: Calm early morning then light S-SE wind developing, warm, sunny with some hazy cloud at times.