31 December 2013

Patch highlights of 2013

Another good year for bird sightings on 'the moors' (Staines Moor and Stanwell Moor) this year, although it did feel very quiet bird-wise compared to other London sites during the spring and autumn. Also, some good inverts and plants found as well. Here's a roundup of the best of 2013.

The later half of winter 2012/13 saw some quality winter birding. Up to six Short-eared Owls continued their stay into February (although I recorded a maximum of three birds), hunting mostly on the east side of Staines Moor but also visiting Stanwell Moor on occasion. They frequently showed very well, attracting a number of birders and photographers, but they could also prove frustratingly elusive at times. Also a Barn Owl was often seen during this period on both moors.

Freezing and snowy conditions during January produced a huge southerly movement of Fieldfare totalling 1,192 - a new record for Staines Moor, and January also produced my first patch tick in the form of two Treecreepers, my first sight record of a Cetti's Warbler on Staines Moor, and a Hen Harrier that I missed by just a few minutes (the less said about this the better) that stayed for two days. In February up to 80 Siskins frequented both moors, including a male ringed a few months earlier in Scotland, and up to four Water Pipits were present on Staines Moor.

One of six Short-eared Owls present into February

Up to four Water Pipits frequented the Colne and temporary pools at Staines Moor in early 2013

Spring arrived very late this year delaying the return of many summer migrants. King George VI's wintering Red-throated Diver departed in early April, circling over Stanwell Moor as it did so and giving me another patch tick in the process. Mid April onwards finally saw migrants arriving in numbers, with good counts of Yellow Wagtail, Whinchat and Northern Wheatear (including several 'Greenland' types) passing through Staines Moor, with a fall of 43 of the later thrashing the previous Staines Moor record. Other notable spring migrants were at least two Grasshopper Warblers (one on Staines Moor and another on Stanwell Moor), several Common Redstarts, two Whimbrel (another long overdue patch tick), Little Ringed Plover, several Greenshank, and a flock of 40 Black-tailed Godwits.

Nesting waders had another terrible year; reflecting the current sad state of Staines Moor after decades of poor 'management'. Redshank appeared to make no attempt to nest, and only a single displaying Northern Lapwing was seen on Staines Moor and sadly didn't stay to breed - a shocking decline of both species here over the last 30 years, largely brought about by a borough council that doesn't seem to care one bit for biodiversity. On a positive note, Cuckoo seem to doing well here - presumably parasitising the broods of both Meadow Pipits and Reed Warblers, and Linnet still breed in small numbers. Also, up to four Hobby showed well throughout the spring and summer.

Summer plumage Black-tailed Godwits overhead in April - a highlight of this year's spring passage

A pair of Hobby gave incredible views to many in the spring (more pics here)

After the very wet summer of 2012, lepidoptera had a much better year. Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns emerged in their hundreds, and Pearl Veneer moths Agriphila straminella must have numbered in the thousands. Small Coppers and Six-spot Burnet moths appeared in good numbers, with smaller numbers of Brown Argus and Cinnabar moths. Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral were both still extremely scarce however. Migrants included a few Clouded Yellows and many Silver Y moths, and Staines Moor's first Marbled White made an appearance.

Other interesting non-avian wildlife seen include: Large Bee-fly Bombylius major, a major emergence of Ephemera danica mayflies, and scarce plants such as Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot Ranunculus trichophyllus and Tasteless water-pepper Persicaria mitis.

Notable bird sightings from other observers in June were a drake Garganey on Stanwell Moor, and 8 Little Egret on Staines Moor - a new site record.

Brown Argus Aricia agestis in August

Large Bee-fly Bombylius major along the old railway in May

Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot Ranunculus trichophyllus on one of the shallow pools on Staines Moor

Autumn was much less eventful for passage migrants but there were still some notable records, including a Marsh Harrier over Staines Moor in September, another Hen Harrier and Staines Moor's second Northern Gannet (another juvenile), both in October (none of these three seen by me), and an excellent day in November that produced Staines Moor's third Great White Egret followed by seven Whooper Swans over east - the first site record of the later since 1956 - that fortunately dropped down onto Staines Reservoirs enabling several birders to connect with them. Also, on Stanwell Moor a female Merlin was caught and ringed (see here).

Great White Egret at Staines Moor in November

Whooper Swans at Staines Reservoirs South Basin in November after flying east over Staines Moor (Photo by Rob Innes)

A wet and stormy December produced great views of Woodcock feeding at night on Staines Moor, several Jack Snipe sightings, and up to four Water Pipits. On Stanwell Moor, the second Merlin of the year made a brief appearance for one lucky observer, and a Bittern reportedly reappeared.

Woodcock at Staines Moor in December

I wonder what 2014 will bring? A wintering Long-eared Owl roosting along Bonehead Ditch perhaps? Or maybe a spring passage Honey Buzzard or a Hoopoe around the anthills? Looking forward to finding out.

Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Rob Innes for permission to use his photo of the Whooper Swans.

30 December 2013

A crisp winter's day at the patch

A good but rather protracted session at the patch yesterday in very icy but bright conditions. An hour and half night-birding before dawn produced two good but brief views of a Woodcock on the ground near the iris channels in the north-west corner, as well as 7(5H) Common Snipe, 1 Skylark, 1 Grey Heron, 8 Redwing calling overhead and 3 Rabbits.

The first hour after dawn saw some good Woodpigeon movement with 1786 counted, mainly heading SW and in flocks up to 500 strong - smashing the previous site record of 520 over south on 23 Oct 2005. Other highlights were 4 Water Pipit with Meadow Pipits around the largely frozen floods at the south end, another 10+ Common Snipe, 2 Chiffchaff along Bonehead Ditch, 47 Linnet (including 42 leaving the roost just after dawn), 30 Meadow Pipit and 5+ Pied Wagtail feeding on the frozen pools, 2 (1m, 1f) Stonechat, 2+ Little Egret, 1 Red Kite N, 1 Common Buzzard S, 2+ Little Grebe, another Skylark, another Grey Heron and 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker.

One of four Water Pipits at the southern end of Staines Moor today

Water Pipit

Part of a strong south-westerly movement of Woodpigeon for an hour after dawn

Woodpigeons over south-west

26 December 2013

The Wraysbury River floods at Staines Moor

A quick visit to the patch this morning found a fair amount of flooding on Staines Moor after the recent heavy rains, and the Wraysbury River having burst it's banks and flooded much of the south-west corner. The water level of the Colne is also very high, but the artificial raised banks created from material dredging from the river bed in the last century have so far preventing the river from flooding.

4 Little Egret, 4+ Common Snipe, 49 Meadow Pipit and 100+ Black-headed Gull were on the floods and along the Colne, 80+ Fieldfare were still present in the NW corner along with 32 Redwing, 8 Linnet, 8 Skylark, 22+ Starling, 1 Reed Bunting. Some movement noted overhead: 85 Woodpigeon SSW in small groups, 5 Gadwall SE, 1 Common Buzzard W, 9 Pied Wagtail (mainly NW). Also noted were 2 Grey Wagtail, 1m Stonechat, 3 Little Grebe on the Colne and a distant possible Woodcock at dawn in the NW corner.

Found a Mottled Umber Erannis defoliaria floating on one of the pools. It was still alive so I rescued it by placing it in a tree, then slapped it on the Moor's moth list!

The flooded Wraysbury River in the south-west corner

The artificial raised banks of the Colne at Staines Moor, created from material dredged from the river bed, usually prevents the river
from flooding nowadays - a major reason why the Moor no longer supports large numbers of wintering waders and wildfowl.

Pools on Staines Moor viewed from The Butts. With the banks of the Colne raised, the pools on Staines Moor form only after heavy
rain and are only able to persist with a high water table.

Flood victim - a barely alive Mottled Umber Erannis defoliaria

20 December 2013

Woodcock at the patch

Another successful night-birding session at Staines Moor this evening. Quieter than last night but then it was quite windy and it started raining at 18:15, but 1 Woodcock showed very well in the north-east corner, and 7(1H) Common Snipe and 5 Mallard dropping into one of the pools were seen.

Highlights from the Moor during the day were 1 Common Chiffchaff along the mainline railway embankment, 1 Red Kite NW, 1 Common Buzzard W mobbed by Carrion Crows, 1 Little Egret, 110+ Fieldfare still at the north end, 5+ Redwing, 2(1m, 1f) Stonechat along the Colne, 1 Egyptian Goose E, 1 Little Grebe, 3 Mute Swan, 6 Green Woodpecker, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 6+ Linnet, 2 Skylark S, 7 Meadow Pipit (mainly N), 1 Common Snipe, 1+ Kestrel and 15 Magpie (a high site count). The pools on the Moor are filling up nicely with all this rain.

Woodcock this evening at Staines Moor

Part of the large Fieldfare flock currently present at the north end

19 December 2013

Night-birding at Staines Moor

Spent two hours from dusk night-birding around the Moor, until the heavens opened and lightning started flashing across the sky, when I thought, bugger this I'm off! Highlights were 2+ Woodcock scurrying around the anthills at the north end, 2 Jack Snipe accidentally flushed from one of the iris channels (and another probable that flew up from the Colne) and 15(11 H) Common Snipe.

In the afternoon 7 Little Grebe (my highest site count), 1 Little Egret, 1 Grey Wagtail, 2(1m, 1f) Stonechat, 122+ Fieldfare at the north end, 1+ Pied Wagtail, 3 Mute Swan, and 10 Linnet coming to roost were noted. On Stanwell Moor c25 Common Teal, 2 Shoveler, 3 Mallard, 1 Kingfisher, c40 Goldfinch and 1 Kestrel were logged.

14 December 2013

Jack Snipe at Staines Moor

An afternoon at the patch produced the hoped for Jack Snipe, with 1 seen well in flight (although you'd never know it from the photo), along with 1 flighty Water Pipit along the Colne, 1 Peregrine over distantly SW, 3 Red Kite over NW, 1 Common Buzzard on the west side that flew off east, 2 Common Snipe, 1 redpoll sp. over S, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1m Stonechat, 1m Reed Bunting, a fantastic flock of 190+ Fieldfare at the north end, 17 Redwing, 4 Pied Wagtail, 1+ Little Grebe on Colne and 1+ Grey Heron. Also, a flock of Great, Blue and Long-tailed Tits were along the old railway.

A record shot of today's Jack Snipe

One of three Red Kites over NW today

19 November 2013

A few Moroccan reptiles

A belated post showing a few photos of some of the reptiles seen in Morocco back in March. It was a shame we didn't have time to search for more species.

Male Atlas Day Gecko Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus, Oukaimeden, High Atlas, 10 March 2013 - a Moroccan endemic found only
in the Toubkal Massif and the High Atlas Mountains.

Female Atlas Day Gecko Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus, Oukaimeden, High Atlas, 10 March 2013

Duméril's Fringe-fingered Lizard Acanthodactylus dumerilii, east of Erg Chebbi, 15 March 2013. This well-marked
individual is presumably a male (compare below).

Duméril's Fringe-fingered Lizard Acanthodactylus dumerilii, east of Erg Chebbi, 15 March 2013

Podarcis sp. cf. Podarcis vaucheri, Oukaimeden, High Atlas, 10 March 2013

Podarcis sp. cf. Podarcis vaucheri, Oukaimeden, High Atlas, 10 March 2013

Spanish Terrapin Mauremys leprosa, Lake Sidi Boughaba National Park, 20 March 2013

Check out the diversity of reptiles and amphibians found in Morocco on the excellent website Morocco Herps.

17 November 2013

Great grey dusk

Spent a couple of hours at Thursley Common this afternoon. The Great Grey Shrike showed well near dusk in very gloomy conditions, but I managed a few record shots. Also 54 Fieldfare, 3 Redwing over, 2 Meadow Pipit and a redpoll species over SW were noted, but otherwise things were very quiet.

Great Grey Shrike

10 November 2013

A great day at the patch

The 10 November 2013 will go down as an excellent day at the patch, with a third record for Staines Moor followed by a second in quick succession. The first was a Great White Egret that dropped into the Colne for all of three minutes at 12:23 before flying off high west. This is the third record for Staines Moor, following 1 on 6 September 2002 and 1 from 22-24 December 2007.

Great White Egret, Staines Moor - the third record for the patch

Great White Egret, Staines Moor

Great White Egret, Staines Moor

Great White Egret, heading off west over Staines Moor

Great White Egret along the Colne, Staines Moor, briefly before flying high west

Then 18 minutes later, a flock of 7 Whooper Swan flew high over heading east, before appearing to drop down onto King George VI Reservoir. A quick text to Rob Innes resulted in Rob relocating the birds on the south basin of Staines Reservoirs, and fortunately I managed to get there before dusk to see them swimming around (many thanks to Rob Innes for following this up and relocating them). This is the second record for Staines Moor - 1 adult on 11 February 1956 being the only other record.

4 adult and 3 juvenile Whooper Swans high over Staines Moor at 13:48 (what do you mean you can't tell what these are?) - the first
record here since 1956! Fortunately, I had much better views of these birds this evening at Staines Reservoirs. They were also
seen over Lavell's Lake LNR, Berkshire, at 11:27 - pic here.

Other bits seen today include 3 Water Pipit together around the south flood, 11 Common Snipe, 3 (1m, 2f) Stonechat, 4 Common Buzzard over S, and 1 Goldcrest.

Common Buzzard - 4 over south today

1 Small Copper, and three Common Darters (included a pair mating and egg-laying) were also noted on Staines Moor. At Staines Reservoirs in the evening 2 Black-necked Grebe on the south basin and a Curlew flying west were also noted.

8 November 2013

Late autumn at Staines Moor

A few hours at Staines Moor today produced 1-2 Water Pipit along the Colne, 5 Common Snipe, 5 Stonechat (2m, 3f), 1 Grey Wagtail, 4+ Pied Wagtail, 16+ Meadow Pipit, 3 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 1 Little Egret, 2 Little Grebe, 37+ Black-headed Gull on the Colne, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker and 3 Green Woodpecker.

Some vis mig: a meagre 276 Woodpigeon SSW (an incredible 50,800 were reported over Swanscombe Marsh today), quite a lot of Starling moving W (and another c100 around the cattle), 4 Skylark SSW and 18 Goldfinch. The best bird of the day was a probable Jack Snipe flushed, that I just didn't get enough on.

First of today's male Stonechats

Second male. Oddly, three of the five Dartford Warblers that have turned up at the moor were associating with Stonechats?
I'm keeping my eyes peeled!

Lots of Parasol Mushrooms Macrolepiota procera around at the moment, and Ragged-Robin Lychnis flos-cuculi is still flowering in the wetter areas.

13 October 2013

Atlantic Forest moths, REGUA, Brazil: 13 October

Our final day at REGUA. As part of an ongoing study by a small group of us to identify the moth species present at REGUA, I've been keen to photograph more moth species on this trip. So like on most other days over the last week or so, I spent some time this morning at the lodge photographing moths and bugs at the moth wall. In particular I've been hoping for another specimen of the unusual Bombyciid I found in September 2012 to make an appearance.

October is spring in south-east Brazil and usually an excellent time of year for moths. But unfortunately, due to the relatively low temperatures and humidity at REGUA at the moment, the number and variety of moths appearing at the light traps has been rather poor. Just one species of Bombyciid was logged on the whole trip (see below), however, we did find a number of very beautiful and bizarre looking species, including one (as yet unknown) species not previously found at REGUA. Here's a selection from the trapping sessions over this last week or so.

Olceclostera amoria, REGUA, 13 October 2013 - the only Bombyciid to visit the light traps this trip. You can see why this family
has earned the name 'head-standers'.

Pachylioides resumens, REGUA, 13 October 2013. This mid-size Sphingid is distributed throughout the Neotropics and is very
common in southern Brazil and the Serra dos Órgãos region of the Atlantic Forest, where REGUA is located.

Bellatrix Prominent Crinodes bellatrix, REGUA, 9 October 2013 - this amazing Noctuoid mimics a nut (the seed, not a crazy person)

Langsdorfia franckii, REGUA, 9 October 2013 - a member of the Cossidae family

Green-windowed Deadleaf Trygodes musivaria, REGUA, 12 October 2013 - a beautifully patterned Geometrid

Pale-winged Gray Iridopsis ephyraria, REGUA, 5 October 2013 - a rather pug-like Geometrid

Automeris annulata, REGUA, 5 October 2013 - one of the more common Saturniids at the light traps here. The eye-spots
on the hindwings are revealed to ward off predators.

Unidentified Geometrid sp., REGUA, 13 October 2013 - this moth, whatever it is, is new for REGUA

Cosmosoma sp., REGUA, 6 October 2013 - species in this genus of Arctiids are very tricky to identify.

12 October 2013

REGUA, Atlantic Forest, Brazil: 12 October

Nicholas, Rachel, Sue and I spent the morning assessing an area of land adjacent to REGUA in the upper Matumbo Valley that is up for sale. A stunning property situated at about 400 m altitude, acquiring this plot would help us stem the rapid growth of holiday homes appearing in the forest bordering the reserve and preserve some good quality lowland forest, but at the moment funding is unfortunately difficult to come by.

Birds seen during our short visit here include a superb Rufous-thighed Kite hunting cicadas, 1 Sepia-capped Flycatcher, 1f Chestnut-bellied Euphonia, and a few Green-headed Tanagers. On a neighbouring property a group of kids pointed out the male Red-billed Curassow, first seen in this area back in June 2012, calling from the top of a tree, and nearby a very unhappy Black-fronted Grosbeak was calling from a cage in the garden. Thankfully, around REGUA at least, caged birds appear to be becoming less commonplace - perhaps REGUA's values are beginning to rub off?

Male Red-billed Curassow Crax blumenbachii, Matumbo Valley, 12 October 2013 - believed to be the only surviving
offspring from REGUA's reintroduction programme

Also noted today, a Cliff Flycatcher, 2 Fork-tailed Flycatcher, 2 White-rumped Swallow, 1 Grey-breasted Martin, 1 Rufous-capped Motmot, and a large flock of very low Biscutate Swifts with a few White-collared Swifts mixed in were logged in the morning along the dirt road from Casa Pesquisa to the reserve, and in the lodge garden an Argentine black and white Tegu Tupinambis merianae showed well (these appear to be getting a little less shy).

Spent the afternoon chilling with a BBQ and wine on the veranda of Nicholas and Raquel's house with, Rachel, Andy and Cristina of Serra dos Tucanos and their daughter Olivia, Nicholas, Raquel and Thomas Locke, and Sue Healey.

10 October 2013

Pauraques at the wetland: 10 October

Not much birding done today, but had time for a walk around REGUA's rapidly maturing restored wetland. Spent some time watching and photographing 2 incubating female Pauraques - one sitting on two eggs, the other on a single egg. The second bird (pic 2) was quite nervous and, nesting right on the edge of the trail, a little vulnerable to disturbance. Amazing birds, and fantastic to observe them at close quarters.

Female Pauraque incubating two eggs

Second female incubating a single egg on one of the unmarked trails

The nest is a barely discernible scrape in the leaf litter, but the egg not as camouflaged as I expected.

Nice facial hair!

Also at the wetland, 1 Rufous-sided Crake, 5 Neotropical Cormorant, 2 Capped Heron, a singing Chestnut-capped Blackbird, 1 Blackish Rail (H), 1 White-chinned Sapphire, 1+ Ringed Kingfisher, 2 White-headed Marsh-Tyrant, 1 Rufescent Tiger-Heron, 2 Short-crested Flycatcher, a Yellow-lored Tody-Flycatcher building a nest were noted.

Warmer and sunny today, and much better at the lodge moth wall this morning. 1 superb fresh Xylophanes tyndarus hawkmoth was the highlight, and a cracker butterfly was also present. At the lodge, a probable Sharp-shinned Hawk flew over briefly, and a White-browed Blackbird was noted along the dirt road to Casa Pesquisa.

Xylophanes tyndarus on the moth wall