Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Hello shingle my old friend

With a decent push of E/SE wind forecast for this year's Bank Holiday weekend, it was a must that I had a day on the coast looking for migrants. I got in touch with Norfolk birding mate Johnny. He was keen and so we agreed to meet at Cley and give Blakeney Point a go on the Sunday (25/08).

The point is often better in the afternoon, so having met up just after 9am, we started by having a good look at the Cley scrapes from Dauke's Hide. This proved to be a bloody good move as we quickly got onto 5 Wood Sandpipers and a crisp juvenile Little Stint at the back of Simmond's Scrape. Finally, I'd caught up with some Wood Sands after somehow evading them during what has been a bit of an invasion of them during July & August. The Stint was also a welcome bonus.

We then heard the excitable calls of several Wood Sands. We assumed they were the birds at the back of Simmond's. It soon became clear though that these calls were in fact coming from up in the sky! In no time at all, a flock of about 20 birds dropped down from up above and joined the birds already there - and they were all Wood Sands!!! Wow, how mad was that! Several attempts at counting seemed to indicate a total of 26 Wood Sands - I've probably never seen more than 4 or 5 before, so 26 was insane! A paler wader had also dropped in with them and in scanning through them all, revealed to be a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper too. Another great addition!

A fab show of waders, that also included 6+ Green Sands, 6 Knot, several Ruff, a Barwit, Black-Tailed Godwits, Avocets, a summer-plumaged Golden Plover, several Snipe, 1-2 Dunlin. A fab hour an a half or so!

The drop of all those Wood Sands, gave us the impetus we needed to get ourselves round to Cley Coastguards and begin our shingley slog! It was already super hot and was forecast to only get hotter. So after a generous application of factor 15, plus water and snacks squeezed into our bags, it was time to begin!

The walk up soon brought us our first Wheatear and Whinchat, as well as a couple of noisy Greenshank. Further encouragement of birds dropping in came with singles of Green Sandpiper & Whimbrel, plus the awesome sight of 1 then 11 (!) Grey Herons high off the sea. Exciting stuff!

Next we clapped eyes on the first Pied Flyactcher of the day (one of 6 we found during the day). This was part of a really good influx along the E coast during the week. These kind of encounters are why I enjoy birding the point - you get to see things very much out of context and seeing a Pied Fly hopping around on shingle is a pretty odd sight!

The slog through the shingle continued, finding a few more Whinchat, another Pied Fly and a Spoonbill feeding out in the channel. We made our way to the area around the plantation, pretty much the end of our walk. I was hoping we'd bump into a Grayling at some point during the day. This is a species I hadn't seen for a few years, so I was chuffed we managed to at least find one, not too far from the plantation.

Soon-after, we found a Redstart in the tamarisks, although I saw nothing more than a blur, as it flitted away! Earlier on, the plantation had held a Barred Warbler, although it appeared to have moved on by the time we got there. A thorough search here delivered a sneaky Redstart, 2 more Pied Flycatcher, 2 Willow Warblers and a Whitethroat. Whinchat & another 2 Pied Flys were also in brambles and vegetation fairly close to the old Lifeboat House. Finally, just before we began the walk back, a surprise Great White Egret headed over out heads; gone as quickly as it appeared.

The walk back yielded perhaps a few more new birds or maybe ones we hadn't bumped into on the way up. These included more Whinchats, Wheatears, & 2-3 Willow Warblers. A 20 minute pause was also thrown in, to allow me to watch Ben Stokes & Jack Leach do the unthinkable and snatch victory from those Aussies!

The pause produced quite a few birds - a bloody welcome tonic to the nervy scenes of Headingley! A male and a couple of young-ish Marsh Harriers were cruising around the suaeda at close quarters and a Yellow Wagtail went over calling. There were quite a few waders about, with views of Spotted Redshank, a smart summer-plumaged Grey Plover, a flock of vocal, high-flying Whimbrel, Greenshank, several Snipe and Turnstone

A small group of Grey Partridges jumped out from under our feet, scaring the shit of of us! A Tree Pipit popped up out of nowhere, calling as it flew, while presumably the same Pied Fly as the one we had first set eyes on, was in the same area - the last thing of note on the final stretch. Finally about 18:15pm, we got back to the coastguards car park - I was one sweaty mess!! It was then pub time!

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

A morning in the forest

I haven't been out looking at any nature much recently - not really had the time. When I have been out it's been very local and hasn't really produced very much. One constant theme though has been the impressive number of fresh Painted Ladies about; seeing them in numerous places. This is part of a mass emergence on the back of a large wave of them earlier in the summer.

Also on the butterfly theme, I did go for a walk around Bucknell Wood on the morning of Sunday 04/08.

The main highlights were the valesina Silver-Washed Fritillaries - probably 6 in total. One of these in particular was pretty bloody unusual - an aberration ab.ocellata. (directly below). It was a bit tatty but still very cool to see. Would've been awesome to so have seen it when it was fresh!

It was nice and warm and so there were plenty of butterflies on the wing - an impressive 21 species in total:

1 Purple Hairstreak
2 White Admiral
28 Silver-washed Fritillary
8 Painted Lady
1 Small Copper
2 Essex Skipper
7 Large Skipper
5 Small Skipper
13 Peacock
1 Red Admiral
1 Comma
3 Brown Argus
4 Common Blue
2 Brimstones
2 Large Whites
12 Green-Veined Whites
2 Small White
11 Speckled Wood
46 Gatekeepers
15 Meadow Brown
9 Ringlet

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Frampton waders

Frampton was once again calling on Sunday 21/07, with plenty of waders on show, a couple of rares about and the potential for more if my luck was in!

With such good offerings on show, it was always going to be busy, so I wasn't surprised to find an almost full car park when I arrived. Luckily for me though, I managed to grab pretty much the last space left - bonus!

I started off having a scan by the visitor centre and quickly found both parent Black-Necked Grebes feeding a single youngster each. This year is the first time Black-Necked Grebes have bred here and will be yet another feather in Frampton's cap if they can establish themselves here. I watched them for a bit, with both the adults and the juveniles diving for food, before the adults would approach the youngster and feed them anyways!

By way of a change, I decided to walk the large loop around the southern edge of the reserve, mainly to look for Turtle Doves. Unfortunately, I wasn't in luck, however I did add a few additions to the day including a Pintail, Greenshank, Marsh Harrier and Common Sandpiper, among the more commoner residents.

I made it round to the area near the top car park, where most of the wader interest was, with both White-Rumped Sandpiper and Long-Billed Dowitcher reported as still present earlier on.

Scanning from the sea-bank produced stacks of Dunlin, as well as a lone Garganey, a Grey Plover and the first of 2-3 Spotted Redshank. A good scan, at quite a distance failed to locate either yanks, so I moved down to the top car park for a closer look.

Still, neither myself or it appeared, anyone else could locate either rare waders, so I went and grabbed some lunch from my car before returning. I then had a look the opposite side, north of the top car park and there amongst a group of Black-Tailed Godwits on the grass, was the Long-Billed Dowitcher. I got a couple of people onto it before it was spooked by something and scuttled off into the vegetation. Almost simultaneously, a load of people had suddenly appeared behind me, as apparently the White-Rumped Sandpiper had just flown in on the opposite side of the path. How lucky was that! It showed really well for quite sometime at fairly close quarters, affording fantastic scope views, albeit into the sun a bit. A treat to see both species in breeding plumage, within a matter of minutes.

I turned my attention back to the area the Dowitcher was some 20 mins previously. After a short while, someone rediscovered it skulking around in the vegetation. It's reappearance caused a massive scrum of people, not the most enjoyable of experiences to be honest. However, just when I thought it was time to wriggle out of the crowd, the bird promptly flew right towards us and plonked itself down right in front, in full view! Stunning views were had for 5 minutes or so, before it really was time to extract myself from the dude swarm!

The rest of my time was spent walking a circuit around the northern part of the reserve, with 4 Spoonbills and lots more Black-Tailed Godwits. I had one more look at the area by the top car park again, hoping to come across a Little Stint or Curlew Sand, however not today! I did though get to have one more look at both the Dowitcher & WRS before I left.

There was one last treat in store. As I reached my car, I was greeted by the sound of a purring Turtle Dove. Setting the scope back up, I soon found two sat in dead branches with Woodpigeons a little way off. The ideal end to another worthwhile visit to Frampton!

Saturday, 3 August 2019

The elusive Emperor

This year, unlike the last few, I've found it quite difficult to get any decent views of Purple Emperors in our local South Northants woods. It's certainly not been a massively bumper year for them, however I've also been really unlucky with the weather. Whenever I've been free, it's been super cloudy or raining and whenever I've been busy, it's felt like the suns popped straight out - typical!

Having said that, I have had a few fleeting sightings in Bucknell Wood and eventually persistence paid off - albeit from an unlikely source!

On what was a really mild, but cloudy day, I decided to take a walk around Whistley Wood, near Brackley on Saturday 13/07, by way of a change - plus a far easier place to get to than Bucknell, while the Silverstone Grand Prix was on.

Whistley is still very much worth a visit and holds most of what Bucknell can offer, just in much smaller numbers, as well as the odd surprise. On this occasion, I was surprised to accidentally flush a male Purple Emperor up from the path in the middle of the wood! It sat up on a nearby branch for a good 20 minutes, having a bit of a bask before zipping off.

Another, presumed female (based on it's size) flew around some nearby oaks before the male returned briefly to the path about 15 minutes later. It didn't however stick around  long before returning to the treetops. Another pair were seen chasing each other a little while later - perhaps two more? These were my first Emperors in here - an encouraging sign!

In addition to the Emperors, an impressive supporting cast consisted of a nectaring Scarlet Tiger moth, basking Common Lizard and Grass Snake, as well as lots of Purple Hairstreaks and several calling Spotted Flycatchers. An epic visit!

When the sun has been out, the local sites, as usual have delivered their great array of butterflies. A few from July below...

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Beaut of a day in Dorset

I've been thinking about getting down to Dorset for a day of reptiles and butterflies.

So with me free to spend the day out, I made my way south on Sunday 30/06, starting at Higher Hyde Heath, near Wool - a reserve that boasts all 6 UK reptile species, together with several other gems.

I arrived just after 10am and began by taking the circular route through what is a really big site. It was already pretty warm, under light cloud initially. Having passed through some woods, I made my way out onto a large area of slightly boggy heath.

I was immediately greeted by the sight of several, mostly pristine Silver-Studded Blues, basking on the heather by the path. The more I looked, I realised they were everywhere - it was ace! It was only the second time I'd seen SSBs and wow, they are a stunning butterfly. Heck of a good start to the day.

A group of 9 vocal Crossbills headed over, before I carried on round, seeing stacks loads more Silver-Studded Blues.

Having completed the loop, I then tried a different track towards the hide and onto the larger heath area. I bumped into three other people, also looking for reptiles. Carefully keeping our eyes out, we managed to see a couple of Common Lizards out basking on low-lying bramble leaves, as well as a Slow Worm. Two down, four to go!

One of the people I was walking around with, was a regular to the site and he next lead us onto the edge of a bit of wasteland that I'd heard about, reading up on the site. Here were a few piles of old broken rooftiles, ideal for basking reptiles and where I had my best chance of seeing a Sand Lizard. Fingers crossed!

As luck would have it, a female Sand Lizard was waiting for us - very chilled on the edge of the largest pile of tiles. Absolute result! I was amazed how beautiful they are and although they don't have the bright green of the males, they have a series of lovely markings down their side and back.

The others left, but I hung around for a while, in the hope of seeing a male. None materialised and so I carried onto the open heath, encountering a fresh female Silver-Washed Fritillary on the way.

Out on the heath, I was chuffed to spot an Adder curled up in some grass, on the edge of a patch of gorse, basking away. I managed a quick photo before it slid away into the undergrowth. 

Four reptile species down, I wandered further onto the heath, encountering several vocal Woodlarks, Stonechats and a few flyover Siskins, as well as constant Silver-Studded Blues.

With no sign of any more reptiles and time pressing on, I decided to head back for one more look for Sand Lizards at the tiles. Again the / a female Sand Lizard was on view, showing fantastically well, while a Common Lizard made a brief appearance too.

I waited a while longer, tip-toeing around. I decided I'd give it a few more minutes, before moving on. Just when I thought I wasn't going to see one, amazingly a beaut of a male Sand Lizard appeared and slowly trundled past my feet, onto the edge of the tiles. YES!

He then slowly moved to the top and sat there resplendent for a few minutes, showing off his beautiful colours. What a creature - I was buzzing!!

On the shortish walk back to the car, I had a quick look in a small overgrown area by the path, where the people I'd met earlier had found a Grass Snake and a Sand Lizard first thing. I was very surprised to stumble across presumably the same small Grass Snake which quickly zipped off. A great end to my visit which had yielded 5 out of the 6 Reptile species - very good going indeed!

While it was quite breezy, the sun was really quite hot now. I had a bit of lunch and then cracked on, driving 15 minutes down the road to West Lulworth. It was time to look for my first ever Lulworth Skippers!

I found somewhere to park in the village, before walking a short way through the village, up Bindon Road and onto the vast Bindon Hill. This is a large hill / ridge overlooking Lulworth Cove and is covered in fantastic, wildlife-rich grassland. It is regarded as one of the better places to see the Lulworth Skipper, in the UK, confined to just this part of Dorset.

Walking the steep incline, lots of Pyramidal Orchids of all shapes, sizes and shades of pink were dotted around. The butterflies were great too with lots of Marbled Whites and unexpectedly, good numbers of Dark Green Fritillaries. As is typical of DGFs, they rarely stopped for more than a second, so I consider it quite an achievement that I actually managed a photo!

It took a little while, however eventually I discovered what looked to be a Lulworth Skipper, being small and dark. It appeared to be a male, however to be doubly certain I'd seen a Lulworth, I needed to find a female which have a diagnostic sun ray pattern on their forewings. As luck would have it, I didn't have to wait long - in fact walking around, there were quite a few. UK butterfly species no. 53!

I spent quite a bit of time wandering around the undulating top of the hill, an ancient Iron Age Hill Fort site, complete with ditches and ramparts. Some of these dips in the landscape proved good for butterflies, offering shelter from the stiff on-shore breeze. 

One such dip, produced a surprise male Silver-Studded Blue for a short while, together with a couple of Painted Ladies and more Marbled White, Dark-Green Fritillaries and Lulworth Skippers closeby too.

Having taken in the views of Lulworth Cove below me, I slowly made my way back down, again enjoying more of the same 

It was now 17:30pm and so I set off back to Northants, completing a bloody successful day, full of highlights.

Hello shingle my old friend

With a decent push of E/SE wind forecast for this year's Bank Holiday weekend, it was a must that I had a day on the coast looking for m...