30 June 2013

Eyed Hawkmoths

Found this pair of Eyed Hawkmoths Smerinthus ocellata, copulating on bamboo in the garden today. Only the second record for the garden following one on our front door on 9 July 2004. Absolutely amazing creatures!

Female above, male below


Forewing of female

Hindwing of male. The eyed pattern has been shown to deter predators

29 June 2013

Midsummer at the patch

Unsurprisingly quiet at the patch today. A juv. Cuckoo out on Staines Moor was the highlight. Also logged 3 Red Kite over, 3 Common Tern (2 along the Colne, 1 W), c200 Starlings (mainly juveniles) around the cattle, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Pied Wagtail N and 1 Barn Swallow W. At least 2 pairs of Reed Warbler in Butt's Pond are now feeding young (there's 3 territories in the small reedbed here). Watched a pair foraging at close range and feeding a couple of fledglings. Buggers to photograph though - they didn't stay still for a second!

Adult Reed Warbler, Butt's Pond

Juvenile Reed Warbler, Butt's Pond

1f Broad-bodied Chaser Libellula depressa was also at Butt's Pond, quite a few Banded Demoiselle Calopteryx splendens around, mainly along Bonehead Ditch, and Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum are all over the moor at the moment and must number many thousands.

Male Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum

Female Common Blue Damselfly Enallagma cyathigerum

So far it appears to be another poor year for butterflies. Lots of Small Heaths Coenonympha pamphilus around, but otherwise just 1 Large Skipper Ochlodes sylvanus, 1 Small Tortoiseshell Aglais urticae, 1 Peacock Aglais io and 2 Meadow Browns Maniola jurtina noted. Moths noted today were 1 Yellow Shell Camptogramma bilineata, a few Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae and quite a few Garden Grass-veneer Chrysoteuchia culmella micro-moths.

Large Skipper Ochlodes sylvanus, Bonehead Ditch

Garden Grass-veneer Chrysoteuchia culmella - a grassland specialist, as indicated by the blade of grass

Quite a lot of Water Forget-me-not Myosotis scorpioides growing along Bonehead Ditch. Common, but beautiful!

Gutted most of the pools have dried up. Despite the ridiculous amount of rain we've had over the last year, Staines Moor is very dry. Sadly, no Redshank or Lapwing have bred this year and I was hoping the pools might bring in a Wood Sand this autumn. The moor is desperately in need of some permanent marshy pools with muddy edges!

Stanwell Moor was also very quiet. The best was 1 Hobby hunting, 1 Common Buzzard over west and a Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria.

22 June 2013

Otter Estuary and South West Coast Path, Devon

Down in Devon visiting our good friends Jaffa, aka the Cream Tea Birder, and Helen, aka the Cream Tea Bird. A circular walk around Jaffa's patch, the Otter Estuary, and eastwards along the coast path returning via Otterton, produced very few birds in a strong south-westerly, with 2 Peregrine, 1 Manx Shearwater and 3 Northern Gannet moving west offshore, and 6 Shelduck on the Otter.

1 Red-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis, 1m Thick-legged Flower-beetle Oedemera nobilis and 1 Painted Lady Vanessa cardui were noted, and lots of common wild flowers.

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle Pyrochroa serraticornis

Male Thick-legged Flower-beetle Oedemera nobilis. Popeye Beetle would be a much better name!

7-spot Ladybird Coccinella 7-punctata

Newly fledged Blue Tit, barely able to fly

20 June 2013

Trapless mothing

Yesterday was apparently the hottest day of the year so far, and with warm, humid and slightly overcast conditions last night, it was the best night for moths in the house so far this year. Managed a few reasonable pics.

My first Silver Y Autographa gamma of the year

Pale Prominent Pterostoma palpina - such a bizarre but cool looking moth!

Light Emerald Campaea margaritata

Male Willow Beauty Peribatodes rhomboidaria

Common Marbled Carpet Chloroclysta truncata

Straw Dot Rivula sericealis

Bright-line Brown-eye Lacanobia oleracea

Also this White-shouldered House-moth Endrosis sarcitrella was kicking about the house on 19th. It's darn difficult getting much closer than this to micros with a 100 mm macro lens. Ummm, I wonder how much that Canon L-series 200 mm macro is...

White-shouldered House-moth Endrosis sarcitrella

About the moth trap? Well, after discussions with my good friend Mr Alfrey I'm about to order it, but be warned - when it arrives I'm going to grow my hair, buy a black jacket and a man-bag, wear only shirts that require cufflinks, buy crap-loads of Lush soap, kip on the sofa and rename this blog Non-stop Mothing.

16 June 2013

Pacific Swift, Trimley Marshes, Suffolk

Twitched the Pacific Swift at Trimley Marshes SWT in Suffolk today, but frustratingly this turned out to be the most unsatisfying successful twitch I've ever done! Saw the bird four or five times in a two hour period mid afternoon with a large number of Common Swift and House Martin, but always distant. Had some reasonable scope views and was able to see the key identification features, but it was hardly a joy to watch. Judging from the photos it seems yesterday was the day go for decent views! Nevermind, maybe in 20 years time another twitchable one will turn up and I'll get a better look? Padders noted include 1+ Hobby, 1f Marsh Harrier, 1 Spotted Redshank, 1 Black-tailed Godwit, 35+ Avocet, 1m Bullfinch and 1 Common Tern. Several recently fledged Blue Tits and 2 juvenile Pied Wagtails also logged.

Juvenile Pied Wagtail doing what the Pacific Swift didn't - showing well

To see what the swift actually looked like see David Campbell's blog.

11 June 2013

Orchid confusion in Northumberland: 7 June

This week I've learned that Dactylorhiza orchids are 'fracking' hard to ID! And I'm not talking Reed/Marsh Warbler hard here, more like Alder/Willow Flycatcher hard! Not only do Dactylorhiza species look incredibly similar, but there is a huge amount of variation within species and hybridisation is very common. Even Kew struggle to put a name to them (see here), so as a notice botanist what chance do I have?

At Lindisfarne on Sunday we found quite a few orchids growing in the sand dunes at The Snook and in the dunes along the north shore of the main island. I identified several as Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella but noted a large variation in flower colour and shape. But after a little online reading I started to doubt my identification, so back on Lindisfarne this morning I took a closer look at them.

Dactylorhiza orchids, The Snook, Lindisfarne. Note the variation in size, shape and flower colour.

I think both the pale pink and darker purple orchids we found here are Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella. Both have similar shaped flowers with a similar pattern of deeper purple lines and spots on the lip (lower petal) and a whitish throat, as well as unspotted leaves (although apparently some purpurella can have dark spots on the leaves too).

Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, The Snook, Lindisfarne

Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, The Snook, Lindisfarne

Note the similarity in the flower shape and pattern of deeper purple lines and spots in this pic and the pic below

Maybe the flowers become lighter as they age?

Animalia were easier to name but thin on the ground at Lindisfarne today. Lepidoptera were keeping their heads down in the cool easterly wind, with just a single Wall Lasiommata megera butterfly and a few The Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae moths seen, and still no sign of any Dark Green Fritillaries. 3 Common Swift over north and several Ringed Plover, 5 Dunlin and a few Common Eider were picked out on the estuary were the only birds of note.

Wall Lasiommata megera, The Snook, Lindisfarne. These butterflies have declined severely over the last several decades and are
now found mainly in coastal areas. Northumberland lies at the northern edge of their range.

The Cinnabar Tyria jacobaeae, The Snook, Lindisfarne

A quiet hour or so this afternoon at Newton Pool logged 1m Yellow Wagtail, 2m Common Teal, 4 Ringed Plover, several Pied Wagtail, 1 ad. Kittiwake, 4+ Sand Martin, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 juv Stonechat, a juv Robin being fed by an adult and a couple of Willow Warbler (H). No sign of yesterday's Barnacle Goose though.

Today was our last day in Northumberland and we're really sad to leave. Northumberland is teaming with wildlife and we've had a great week taking in the seabird spectacle and wild flowers. We're really looking forward to coming back - maybe in the autumn for some east coast migration?

6 June 2013

Long Nanny to Newton Pool: 6 June

Rachel and I spent the day walking the St. Oswald's Way along the coast from Long Nanny south along Newton Links to Newton Pool Nature Reserve. Several nesting Little Tern (the wardens told us 10 pairs at least this year), hundreds of nesting Arctic Tern, a few Common Tern, 8 summer plumage Sanderling, 2 Ringed Plover and 2 Shelduck were logged at Long Nanny, and 3 Stonechat (1m, 2 juv), 1 Barnacle Goose, 2m Common Teal, 2 Common Swift S, several Willow Warbler, 3 Sedge Warbler, 2+ Reed Bunting, 2 Shelduck and 2+ Sand Martin at Newton Pool.

Arctic Tern, Long Nanny - never tire of 'em!

Arctic Tern, Long Nanny

The Arctic Tern colony at Long Nanny is the largest on the UK mainland with around 1000 pairs

1 of 2 juvenile Stonechat, Newton Pool

Barnacle Goose, Newton Pool - summering or plastic?

Also, several Wall Lasiommata megera butterflies were noted, as well as a number of Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella along with lots of with common wild flowers.

Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, Newton Links

5 June 2013

Northumberland National Park: 5 June

Explored a little of Northumberland National Park today. A walk along the Beamish Valley to Linhope Spout produced 1 Common Sandpiper along the river, 2 Spotted Flycatcher, 4 Whinchat, several redpolls overhead, lots of Willow Warbler (only 1 actually seen), and a small flock of extremely tame Chaffinches (several males and females) that didn't like our posh M&S raisins one bit. A hike up to Simonside Ridge in the afternoon to look for Emperor Moths Saturnia pavonia drew a blank for the moth in cool windy conditions, but we did find 3-4 Red Grouse, 1+ Curlew, a superb Carabus nitens ground beetle, and some cool plants including mosses Juniper Haircap Polytrichum juniperinum (I think) and Common hair-cap moss Polytrichum commune, and lots of Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus and Common cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium.

Carabus nitens, Simonside Ridge

Male Chaffinch, Linhope Spout (this was as soft as I could get it Jaffa!). Note the fine hair-like feathers on the nape? The
females also had these (click to enlarge).

Juniper Haircap Polytrichum juniperinum?, Simonside Ridge

Common hair-cap moss Polytrichum commune, Simonside Ridge

Bilberry Vaccinium myrtillus

Simonside Ridge, Northumberland National Park

Also witnessed an interesting but tragic piece of animal behaviour. While driving along the B6342 a few miles south of Rothbury, we saw a Skylark pecking vigorously at something in the road. Pulling over, we realised that the 'something' was actually a dead Skylark! Concerned the live bird might also get hit by a car, we moved the still warm corpse (an adult bird) off the road, and took a few pics in the process. Presumably the live bird was trying to encourage the dead one to move? Rachel and I have also seen this behaviour before, with a flock of Redshanks pecking at a dead one in a road in Iceland in 1999.

Skylark foot - check out the length of that hind claw!

4 June 2013

Wild flowers - Craster to Howick: 4 June

No birding today but plenty of wild flowers noted on a circular walk from Craster to Howick returning along the Northumberland coast path, including Spring Squill Scilla verna, Northern Marsh-orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella (with some dark spotting on the leaves), Ivy-leaved Toadflax Cymbalaria muralis, Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis, Common Comfrey Symphytum officinale, Red Campion Silene dioica, Herb-Robert Geranium robertianum, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Bush Vetch Vicia sepium, Greater Periwinkle Vinca major, Lesser Periwinkle Vinca minor and Bush Vetch Vicia sepium.

Spring Squill Scilla verna, coast path south of Craster. This plant is found on grassy cliff tops mainly on the west coast of Britain
and east coast of Ireland.

Lungwort Pulmonaria officinalis, near Howick. A garden escapee now common in the wild across Britain.

2 Wall Lasiommata megera butterflies were the most notable Lepidoptera seen today.

3 June 2013

The Farne Islands: 3 June

It's been a very long time coming but today I finally visited the Farne Islands for the first time, and what an absolutely fantastic place! We sailed with Billy Shiel's Boats - shame it was so busy with people and we were crammed into the boat like sardines (the whole experience reminded me of my trip to the Galapagos), but well worth the visit. I feel slightly ashamed it's taken me so long to get here, but I'll definitely be coming back.

Spent two hours on Staple Island in the morning and then two hours on Inner Farne in the afternoon. On Staple Island lots of Atlantic Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Common Eider, Shag, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and 1 Oystercatcher, 1 Rock Pipit, Herring Gull, 3+ Mallard were noted, and on Inner Farne lots of Arctic Tern, Sandwich Tern, Common Tern, Atlantic Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Fulmar, Kittiwake, Shag, Black-headed Gull and 1 Rock Pipit and several Barn Swallow. Also seen were small numbers of nesting Great Cormorant on Inner Farne, lots of Great Black-backed Gull, and 1 Sand Martin over north at Seahouses Harbour. Plenty of Grey Seal Halichoerus grypus were seen in the Outer Farnes and lots of Sea Campion Silene uniflora flowering on Staple Island.

Arctic Tern attack, Inner Farne

Arctic Terns nest right next to the boardwalk on Inner Farne. And I mean right next to the boardwalk! The birds were still on eggs...

...and aggressively defending their nests against unwelcome tourists


As it says on the Farne Islands blog "our Arctic Terns are now pecking hard - you have been warned!"

It's impossible to beat the views of Arctic Terns that you get on Inner Farne

Atlantic Puffin, Staple Island

Atlantic Puffin, Inner Farne

Atlantic Puffin, Inner Farne

Atlantic Puffins, Inner Farne

Female Common Eider on nest, Staple Island

Northern Fulmar, Staple Island

Common Guillemots, Staple Island

Sea Campion Silene uniflora, Staple Island

Inner Farne