2 September 2015

Barred Warbler at Staines Moor: 2 September

What a day! After several hours thoroughly searching the patch for a Pied Flycatcher or Wryneck, it was mid afternoon before I reached the scrub in the north-west corner. Scanning from a distance, I noticed a large pale warbler crashing about in the hawthorns. Immediately an alarm went off - that really looked like a ******* Barred Warbler! But it can't be, this is Surrey! Approaching slowly, increasingly closer views eventually clinched it as Staines Moor's first Barred Warbler, and one of very few London records. A fantastic bird! Many thanks to Peter Alfrey and Darryl Spittle for help with the ID and providing a much needed sanity check.

1st winter Barred Warbler, Staines Moor, 2 September 2015

1st winter Barred Warbler, Staines Moor, 2 September 2015

The bird spent a fair amount of time gorging itself on blackberries

A couple of videos - best watched in full screen with HD selected (click on the play icon and then the cog icon).



Other grounded migrants included 1m Whinchat (SE corner), 2 Northern Wheatear (east side), 1 Sedge Warbler (SE corner), 2 Common Whitethroat, 5 (2m, 3f) Blackcap, and 1 Willow Warbler and a Goldcrest in with a large Long-tailed Tit flock along the old railway. Noted overhead were 1 Grey Wagtail (over high W), 1H Yellow Wagtail, 9 Sand Martin (mainly S) and 33 Barn Swallow.

Also logged were 4 Hobby, 1 Eurasian Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel (including 1 catching dragonflies), 1-2 Common Buzzard, 1 Bullfinch (west side), 3 Little Egret, c300 Goldfinch (feeding on the thistles at the south end), 1 Grey Heron, 3 Reed Bunting, 40+ Eurasian Starling, and just 1 each of Skylark and Meadow Pipit. To top this lot off, 2 Barn Owl showed very well hunting over the east side at dusk.

Stanwell Moor added 2 Little Owl (first horse paddock), 1 Kingfisher (over the first horse paddock), 1 Red Kite, 22 Northern Lapwing, 1 Kestrel, several Chiffchaff (H) and 1H Cetti's Warbler, and 1 Red Kite and 4 Barn Swallow were noted at Stanwell Moor village.

Other bits that made it into the notebook today were 1 Red Fox, 1m Banded Demoiselle, 2 Comma, 2 Speckled Wood, 1 Small Heath and a Meadow Brown on Staines Moor, and 1 Red Admiral and a Speckled Wood on Stanwell Moor.

31 August 2015

Italy: 26-30 August

Just back from a really fun family break in Tuscany, Italy. Spent much of my time chilling out, reading, shopping in local markets and shops, mucking about with my nieces and nephews, eating and drinking, but I did have some time for a little birding and bugging locally around the villa, with three fruiting fig trees in the grounds of Villa Bordoni being particularly good for inverts.

Managed a half decent butterfly list around the villa, including several European species that were new for me:

Swallowtail Papilio machaon, 1 on 28th
Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius, 1 on 26th, 27th, 28th and 29th
Bath White Pontia daplidice, 1 on 29th (lots of unidentified whites were probably this species)
Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra, 1 on 26th, and 1 on 30th
Clouded Yellow Colias crocea, 2 on 29th, 1 on 30th
Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, 1+ on 28th, 29th and 30th feeding on the figs
Lang's Short-tailed Blue Leptotes pirithous, 1 on 26th and several on 27th
Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, very common and seen each day
Southern White Admiral Limenitis reducta, 1 on 30th
Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta, 1 on 29th around the figs
Painted Lady Vanessa cardui, 1 on 28th, 29th and 30th
Wall Brown Lasiommata megera, 1 on 26th and another near Villa Bordoni on 29th
Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia, the most common fritillary, seen on 27th, 28th, 29th
High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe, 1 on 27th, 1 on 28th
Spotted Fritillary Melitaea didyma, 1 at the reservoir near Villa Bordoni on 29th
Pearly Heath Coenonympha arcania, 1 at the reservoir near Villa Bordoni on 29th
Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus, 3 on 29th, 1 on 30th
Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina, 2 on 27th
Tree Grayling Neohipparchia statilinus, 1 on 28th around the figs
Woodland Grayling Hipparchia fagi, 1 on 28th and 1 on 29th around the figs
Safflower Skipper Pyrgus carthami, 2 on 30th

Two-tailed Pasha Charaxes jasius, Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 28 August 2015. Charaxes is genus of tropical African
butterflies, but this species is also found in along the Mediterranean coast of southern Europe - what a beastie!

Pearly Heath Coenonympha arcania, near Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 29 August 2015

Spotted Fritillary Melitaea didyma, near Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 29 August 2015 - a grassland species

Woodland Grayling Hipparchia fagi, Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 28 August 2015. Tricky to separate from Rock Grayling
Hipparchia hermione, apparently the shape of the inner edge of the white band on the hindwing is one of the more reliable features.

Tree Grayling Neohipparchia statilinus, Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 28 August 2015

A little bird migration was evident although not particularly obvious. Presumed likely migrants included a Wood Warbler in a Long-tailed/Blue Tit flock, 2m Common Redstart and c.150 House Martin (including lots of juveniles) and 4 Barn Swallow amassing on wires (where there was only 2 of the former present the previous day), all along the dirt road near Villa Bordoni on 29th, 1 Common Kestrel over Villa Bordoni on 29th, 1 Short-toed Eagle and a Hobby over the villa on 26th, and 2 (1m, 1f) Common Redstart at the villa on 30th.

Other avian notables were a Turtle Dove seen from the car on the edge of Florence on 26th, 1 Eurasian Sparrowhawk from the car at Greve in Chianti on 27h, 1m Stonechat at the reservoir near Villa Bordoni and a brief male Italian Sparrow at the villa on 28th, 1f Common Whitethroat at the reservoir and 2 Hooded Crow along the dirt road near the villa on 29th, and a male Sardinan Warbler in the villa grounds on 30th.

Also logged in the villa grounds were several Hummingbird Hawkmoths Macroglossum stellatarum seen each day, 1+ Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa violacea on 27th and 1 on 29th, a Vestal Rhodometra sacraria on 27th, a Feathered Footman Coscinia striata on 28th, and several Italian Wall Lizards Podarcis sicula seen each day.

Feathered Footman Coscinia striata, Villa Bordoni, Greve in Chianti, 28 August 2015

24 August 2015

Birdfair 2015

Last weekend was my ninth British Birdfair running a stand with Rachel to represent REGUA. This year I attended just Saturday and Sunday (22nd - 23rd) and had more time than usual to explore the Birdfair and catch up with friends properly, especially our good friends Andy and Cristina Foster from Serra dos Tucanos and their lovely daughter Olivia.

As with previous years, lots of interest at the stand with plenty of people coming by to tell us they are booked at the lodge or have recently been. It was great to finally see Tom Kompier's book A field guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of the Serra dos Orgaos in print and we completely sold out of the new REGUA publication Field Guide to the Birds of the Serra dos Órgãos and Surrounding Area by Daniel and Gabriel Mello and Francisco Mallet-Rodrigues (review to follow soon).

Attended an excellent talk with Pete Alfrey by Stuart Ball on hoverflies and I finally managed to get hold of a good condition copy of Eric Hosking's Owls - the book that had by far most influence on me as a child. No time for any birding over the weekend but a kingfisher in Stamford town centre on 22nd and a Red Kite over the A606 by Rutland Water on 23rd were noteworthy.

Rachel and I would like to thank Sue Healey, Andrew Proudfoot, Alan Martin and Ken Sutton for their invaluable help on the stand.

The REGUA stand team (minus Ken Sutton) - from the left: Sue Healet, Andrew Proudfoot, Rachel Walls, me and Alan Martin
(photo by Dominic Mitchell)

16 August 2015

Staines Moor's forth Great White Egret: 16 August

My first visit to the patch in an age went rather well. 2 Whinchat associating with an early Stonechat and, bizarrely 2 Common Whitethroat, at the north end was a good start. I had only been on site an hour and was just despairing at how overgrown the moor is with Creeping and Spear Thistles, when I glanced up and noticed a Great White Egret heading low north. After dropping down onto Stanwell Moor, the bird returned an hour later where it proceeded to be harassed by the local Grey Herons while trying to fish in the Colne. After almost being chased off over KGVI Reservoir by a Grey Heron it returned and showed well beside the Colne where it managed to catch at least one fish. This is the forth record for Staines Moor (my third) following 1 on 10 November 2013.

A little vis mig overhead with 10+ Common Swift, 2 Sand Martin E, 1 House Martin E, 19 Barn Swallow (mainly SW, some E), 5 Northern Lapwing NW, 1 alba wagtail E and small numbers of Goldfinch SE. Also noted: c200 Goldfinch feeding on the abundance of thistles (mainly at the southern end), 1+ Little Egret, 2+ Linnet, 1 Common Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 4 Stock Dove, just 1-2 Skylark, 1 Meadow Pipit, 2 Grey Heron and 7 Canada Goose E. Lots of Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens, Meadow Brown and a few Small Heaths around today as well.

Stanwell Moor added 2 Hobby, c6 (5H) Chiffchaff and 1H Blackcap.

Staines Moor's forth Great White Egret, present on and off from 14:48 until 17:05 today and showing extremely well at times






Rather overshadowed by the egret was today's Stonechat - an early autumn passage record for Staines Moor

I've never seen Staines Moor so overgrown with thistles. The area north of the channel in the SW corner and the whole of the SE
corner is smothered (these are Creeping Thistle Cirsium arvense). I despair at the the so-called 'management' of the moor by
Spelthorne Borough Council.

2 August 2015

Smartphone wildlife macro photography

Back in May I bought a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone and discovered that the camera is excellent for macro photography. While not quite the same quality of the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, the Note 4's 16 MP front camera doesn't do a bad job and is great for those impromptu photographic opportunities.

The camera settings are as follows: mode: auto; ISO: auto; white balance: auto; metering: centre-weighted; HDR: off; tap to take pics: on. I usually magnify by 1.3 x and set the screen to maximum brightness in strong sun. I can't find any manual control of aperture but maybe another app allows this? All the pics below were taken with the phone, and have just been cropped a little and had some unsharp mask applied. Not bad results.

Common Carder Bee Bombus pascuorum, Worcester Park, Surrey, 28 July 2015

Five-spot Burnet Zygaena trifolii on its larval foodplant Greater Bird’s-foot Trefoil Lotus pedunculatus, Brook Manor, Devon, 9 July 2015

Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelipipedus, Bramley, Surrey, 13 July 2015. The eye is out of focus in this pic, but I was really
rushed at the time.

Yellow-legged Mining-bee Andrena flavipes next to its nest burrow, Riverford near Buckfastleigh, Devon, 8 July 2015

Volucella inanis, Worcester Park, Surrey, 25 July 2015

Small Skipper Thymelicus sylvestris, Hampton Court, Surrey, 1 July 2015. This pic was taken in low light in a marquee at the
Hampton Court Flower Show.

High Brown Fritillary Argynnis adippe, Aish Tor, Devon, 9 July 2015

Leaf-cutter Bee, probably Megachile centuncularis, sealing it's nest in my bee hotel with a leaf, Worcester Park, Surrey, 2 August 2015

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.