Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Spring butterflies on the North Downs

It is a gorgeous day today, sunny and warm with light breezes. I spent about three hours this morning up on the North Downs, in search of butterflies. Not sure where the Small Blues have got to, and I had no luck with Green Hairstreaks either, but apart from that everything was present and correct. I walked back and forth across the hillside about three times, and along the lane below once, at a very slow pace, managed not to twist any ankles on the steep bits, and took about 500 photos with the D700 & BigMac.

It was actually very quiet when I arrived, though the sun had reached most of the hillside, and I worried that I'd see no butterflies at all. This scorpionfly was by the mini-copse of shrubs at the far end where I have previously (but not today) seen Green Hairstreaks.

More insect action nearby caught my eye - a mean-as-hell-looking robber fly clutching its hoverfly prey.

No Adders today but I did find this Grass Snake, resting on top of a bit of refugia that was underneath another (bigger) bit.

Also found two Slow-worms (not together).

As things warmed up, both Grizzled and Dingy Skippers began to appear. I had trouble getting close and was mildly cursing my decision to bring the D700 rather than the D300, but with patience I managed to sneak up on some of them.

This was the most obliging Dingy, though not the most nicely marked one I saw.

I saw a few day-flying moths, including several Mint Moths, a gorgeous Small Purple-barred and a lovely Burnet Companion, but couldn't get good pics of them. Instead here's... whatever this is. I doubt it's IDable from this pic but its superhero-esque pose amused me.

A flower that I can ID - Germander Speedwell.

And another that I can't. This purple thing was tiny, no more than 5cm tall.

My walk down the path beside the reserve produced a treat - a pristine new Large Skipper male, which was stuffing itself on Birds' Foot Trefoil nectar and unconcerned by my shoving a camera in its face.

At the same place I had a go at photographing this Dronefly - the pic's a massive crop but I'm pleased with the sharpness.

Small Heaths are usually really tricky to get close to but I was very lucky with these two.

Common Blues started to appear after I'd been on site for an hour and a half. They are obviously not early risers.

Last species of the day (oh, there was also a female Brimstone or two around) was this tatty but still cute Small Copper.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

A mini-post from Ham Lands

I wasn't that disappointed to learn that Ham Lands is not a land of ham, but a very pleasant area of open flowery, scrubby grassland in south-west London, right by the Thames near Teddington. I went there for a walk with Susan and Paula on Sunday, and took the D700 and the BigMac lens. It was warm and still, and mostly cloudy but with a bit of sun now and then.

We were mainly there to chase butterflies. There were a few Peacocks and a lot of what are now known as 'bastard whites' - unIDed Pieridae which wouldn't settle. One that did was a Green-veined. There were also Orange-tips about. I got no butterfly pics at all, so instead I offer assorted flowers and inverts.

Common Vetch. They were - you know, common.

Wherever grassland met scrubland there was a thick belt of Cow Parsley.

Ribwort Plantain. I didn't flip the pic, it was growing sideways. I appreciated having the extra low-light capability of the D700 compared to the D300, but the full-frame sensor meant it was more difficult to isolate my subject.

Ox-eye Daisy and White Crab Spider, which has caught some hapless little flower-visiting insect.

I had no clue what this fabulous little green critter was when I photographed it. Think I have nailed the ID now as the sawfly Rhogogaster viridis.

We found a random area of Phragmites and I eagerly dived in to look for Odonata, but the reeds seemed to be growing out of dry ground. No Odos at all but several of these dainty green-eyed lacewings, which I have IDed as Chrysopa perla.

While there were no photo-friendly butterflies for me (though Susan had more luck and got some crackers of a posing Peacock), we did meet a couple of day-flying moths. This tiny beauty is Small Yellow Underwing.

And a more familiar old friend, a corking Cinnabar.

Regular readers will know that I like to throw in the odd non-wild creature, so I'll finish today with a pic of Clive, Susan and Paula's gorgeous mini-schnauzer, fetching a stick from the Thames :)

Friday, 22 May 2015

Rainham and the Gentlemen of Science

'Gentlemen of Science' is the collective name for employees of Birdwatch magazine, past and present, and pre-me they were all indeed gentlemen. Yesterday I met up with two of the gents, Ian and Simon, for a birding morning at Rainham. We've been trying to organise this trip since late January, so it was a pleasure and a triumph to finally co-ordinate ourselves to do it. Ian met me at Woodford tube station and from there we drove to the reserve and, after a chat with Howard, went down to the start of the trail.

While we waited for Simon, we were entertained by the musical stylings of this Whitethroat. Soon Si arrived, and promptly found a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. We continued to scan the scrape for a little while, but found nothing else very exciting.

We walked anticlockwise, and I was pleased to see lots of damsels out around the woodland area.These are both male Azures but there were also Blue-tailed about. The first one was doing that wing-cleaning-with-the-abdomen thing, or perhaps just flipping me the bird.

We also saw a couple of dragons round here - a Broad-bodied Chaser which sat down and posed nicely, and a Hairy Dragonfly which didn't.

On Aveley Pools were the rather lame collection of wildfowl you'd expect for May, plus a surprise - a pair of Wigeons. Everything was miles off, though these weed-dancing Great Crested Grebes were just about in camera range. Lots of Swifts zoomed about overhead, a Cuckoo flew over, and a couple of Hobbies frolicked in the sky out towards Wennington.

While the gents scoped the far shore, I stared at the reeds until a Reed Warbler popped out into view.

At the next viewpoint over the pools, this trio of hormonal Gadwalls put on a bit of a show, circling over the water with much argy-bargy between the two drakes.

Ian spotted this magnificent Drinker caterpillar which was bimbling along the raised edge of the boardwalk.

A little further, we paused for me to take a few (dozen) photos of this typically fearless male Reed Bunting which was delivering his boring song from a pathside reed stem. He seemed to have a curiously dingy grey underside, plus that twisted outer tail feather.

Where the path turns left to Butts hide, we noted two distant Kestrels, one of which briefly became less distant. A Common Buzzard drifted high overhead, causing the birds out on Wennington Marsh to stare up at it but not to flush.

On to Butts hide, from where the gents picked out a very distant group of small waders on the shore of the Target Pools - three Dunlins and four Ringed Plovers.

I was more diverted by the two very agitated Redshanks that were calling incessantly and circling the hide, at times so close that they seemed about to come in and join us. We could hear the piping of Redshank chicks nearby, perhaps too close to the path or the hide for the parents' comfort.

At one point, one of them pitched down into the vegetation right by the path, and sat there for a moment looking fraught. Meanwhile, another Cuckoo shot past.

We carried on, taking a moment to enjoy a couple of high-up Hobbies and the many Swifts sharing their airspace.

At the Dragonfly pools, we heard a bit of pinging and a pair of Bearded Tits came chasing over the reeds, sadly not pausing long enough for any photos.

The pair of Mute Swans here have a brood of five small cygnets, which they were leading through the narrow watery cut-throughs at a very sedate pace. They swam under the bridge as we walked over it, and we had very close though not very photo-friendly views of the little fuzzballs.

The Kingfishers nesting by the MDZ are due to fledge any day now. Unsurprisingly nothing happened during the two minutes we spent in the hide.

We actually spent a lot longer watching a couple of Marsh Frogs in the little area of water next to the MDZ. Two were calling loudly, puffing up their impressive face balloons, and apparently in pursuit of a third. I don't know anything about Marsh Frog breeding biology but this did look like courtship behaviour - maybe they spawn much later in spring than Common Frogs do.

A little further along we found a pair of Coots, each one tending a single gawky chick.

That was almost it. On the feeding station by the visitor centre were House Sparrows feeding their fledglings, a charming but too-distant-for-photos sight. And then this still-smart Peacock appeared and posed very nicely. I can't decide which of the pics I prefer so here are both of them.

And finally... as we enjoyed a quick cuppa in the cafe before home-time, this curious thing came floating down the Thames.