Thursday, August 27, 2015

More Local

A couple of walks out the door between deluges. Some sizeable mixed flocks of warblers, tits, and finches around at the moment. Highlights:

25th - 2 Bullfinch at least with one very chatty juv. Lesser Whitethroat, lots of Whitethroats and Blackcaps, Willow Warblers including 1 singing, Spotted Flycatcher, First Skylark of the autumn flushed from a field, Nuthatch heard from the park.

27th - A Hobby at last! Spectacular views of one with prey in its feet. As often with this species, the House Martins alerted me to its presence. Whinchat 1 in the same place as lat Octobers Stonechat (just up from Feakes Lock). A few Willow Warblers, c30 Linnet, 3 Common Buzzard.

A spectacular plant in the middle of a field. So Large it went off the top of the photo.
There were no birds in this field. Not one. Picture taken to show the fluffy clouds zipping across between downpours.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Disappearing Act

A trip to Hanningfield Res in the rain. I had a hunch the rain might deliver some black terns, but no. There were some decent waders (3 Green Sandpiper, 3 Greenshank, 8 Common Sandpiper, 2 Ruff, 2 Ringed Plover, 1 Knot, 1 Blackwit), and lots of hirundines (100+ Swallow, 30+ House Martin, 1 Sand Martin, + 4 Swift) low over the reservoir.

At one point I noticed a flock of swallows heading over a wood. When I checked back on the res there was not a single hirundine. Where there had been swallows and martins swarming over the surface there was now just open water. The reason became clear when a falcon appeared. Dark blue, with something in its claws. It disappeared behind some bushes and came out the other side going like a train low over the ground. A moment of falcon magic as it tore up the water's edge.

I had thought Hobby but why would a hobby charge up the ground? Peregrine occur here so I guess this was it, and the reason why every hirundine scarpered.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

August in South Sawbo

The usual figure of 8 circuit round South Sawbo, in warm afternoon sunshine after the deluges of the last couple of days. The last weeks of summer are ebbing away. Head-high vegetation all over the uncultivated areas, fields all cut or ploughed. Birds were scarce, again preumably quietly stoking up carbs for winter or migration.

After spectacular beginnnings in 2007-8, SLRS has settled into a pattern as an overgrown shallow pond. There is generally too much vegetation for waders to be happy, and the main bird interest is winter wildfowl. Today, however, there was water over half the pond, and a Green Sandpiper was warily picking its way along the edge.The first for the year for what was a regular species at this spot.

I took a shortcut across the field and in so doing stumbled across a whole series of ants nests. I accidentally stumbled into one taking a side out, exposing a mass of grubs.I think these are black ants but honestly have no expertise in this area.

many apologies little ants ...

other noteable birds were c30 Linnet, 2 Yellowhammer, juvenile Green Woodpecker, and 2 Common Buzzards. As is usual a few frustrations - distant circling birds may have been hobbies but I made the cardinbal mistake of taking my eyes off them and then being unable to find them again not once but twice, and a sharp call from a bean field may have been a Yellow Wagtail which would have been a first for this area this year. Finally a shrill series of calls was, courtesy of Xeno-Canto, probably a juvenile Sparrowhawk.

Finally a couple of Commas confirmed that the butterfly I saw last week was not one of these.

A dash out in the rain yesterday to twitch Little Stint at Amwell. I took a photo. I'm working on getting the Panasonic P60 to take decent shots down a Kowa 883. Measurements have been taken, emails have been sent. Fingers crossed you will not have to suffer many more of these.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Local early August

the extra time has paid dividends. Not just in more time in the field, but a more relaxed approach, more time to stop and observe, not just tick and move on.

In reverse order ... I returned to the house after a walk in Pishiobury Park to find this on the buddleia

Its a Jersey Tiger, which I believe is spreading out of its South London stronghold, and with a 2011 record for Herts being the first for a while this is still a good find, but should be less scarce in a few years.

I had just returned from a leisurely stroll round Pishiobury Park. It was hot, mid afternoon, and windy, so anything with wings was staying put. It was a day of missed opportunities; a large orange butterfly shot past, too big for a comma. Silver Washed Fritillary? I hung round to try for another glimpse, but it had gone. And then a falcon between the trees. Small, direct, surely a Hobby? But it moved on out of site without a clinching view.

The definate items were predictable. Butterflies - a large number (18) of large whites, a small number (1) of small coppers, 4 "blues", Ringlet, many Gatekeepers, some Speckled Woods and a Red Admiral. There were some bees, a surprising number of queens - what are they doing out now?

Magpie was the commonest bird, but there was a Willow Chiff, two Kestrels, and three Common Buzzards talon grappling.There was also these, doing what they do best.

Born to munch ...
Earlier in the morning I had popped into Pincey Brook on my way top Stortford. Back in the spring there was some decent mud, and I had birds such as Wood Sandpiper, 200 Golden Plover, Shelduck, and Little Egret, quite an impressive list for a flooded inland brook. My heart sank when I saw the field was heavily flooded and the mud gone, but I my worries disappeared when a Creamcrown (prob juv) Marsh Harrier rose from the flood and quartered the area, even diving toward the ground at one stage. A Red Kite appeared and the Harrier flew off toward a neighbouring field, but in its brief time airborne it had put up c50 Lapwing, 2 Teal, and caused some consternation amongst the c40 Greylag Geese.

Yesterday was Rye Meads, an RSPB that has benefited from some recent effort to atrract intersting birds. There were 2 Green Sandpipers at thge Draper Hide, and at the Gadwall Hide a local had identified a juvenile Meditrerranean Gull amongst the 50-100 Black Headed Gulls. He offered to direct me but I took the challenge and ended up finding 2. Here is a very poor shot of one of them. It's the one on the right. Clearly.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Local Red-Tailed Bees

A mid-day walk round the usual South Sawbo. It was quiet, possibly due to the prolonged deluge yesterday. Of bird note were c20 Stock Doves, 3 Linnet , 1 Yellowhammer, and a Common Tern amd a Kingfisher that were both seen over a field; the tern coming from distance and the kingfisher cutting a corner.

A number of butterflies and dragonflies were out as well as a variety of bees. I  saw the one below on the path by the park and took the usual out-of-focus close up, but I think it is Bombus Rupestris, common name either Hill Cuckoo Bee or Red-Tailed Cuckoo Bee. It was lounging around not doing much, which is apparently what Cuckoo bees do as they leave rearing the young to the host bee (hence the name). From an id point of view it has a shiny hairless back and dark wings that are apprently characteristic of cuckoo bees.

So what of the host? I reads that cuckoo bees lay their eggs in the nest of one species only, and for Rupestris this is Bombus Lapidarius the Red-Tailed Bumble Bee. This is a frequently seen bee, and we have a nest in the garden - its a hole in the ground under a bush. The bush itself has a number of bumblebees on it - mainly Tree Bumblebee and the other white and yellow banded ones, but not Red-Tailed. I had seen the workers coming and going for a few days, but on a visit last week found a queen staggering around the lawn near the nest not seeming to know where it was going. There were lots of white dots all over the back, and I thought this may be some kind of parasite. A quick look on the net and it would seem to be mites which I read may not be too harmful for the bee, so possibly not the reason fot the poor state of this creature.


Bees are a recent addition to my list of wildlife interests, and its been like my first year or so of birdwatching, in that the books don't seem to describe what I am looking at, and there is lots of scope for variation not covered by a few pictures in a guide. Its fun to be back at the start of the learning process, and I will no doubt be making lots of mistakes.

Finally a tune in honour of yesterday's deluge.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

homeward bound

In a few weeks I will be taking a break and saying goodbye to the daily commute. As commutes go its quite a good one. Decent and reliable trains, good company to share the journey, and nearly always a seat.

The trainline runs through a damp valley so there's plenty of birdlife to see and hear. the approach to Sawbridgeworth station has Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler often quite close. A recent addition is a strident Cetti's Warbler from the end of the platform, and there's usually something toi breighten the morning - woodpecker, bullfinch, or sparrowhawk.

Cetti's Warbler at the end of the platform ...
My normal walk home from the station takes me up into the village and down the main road to my house, but in summer the ground is sufficiently dry for me to be able to walk home along the river/canal without undue risk to my suit.

First up is Lawrence Moorings on the far Essex bank, home of the mosquito. Not the one that bites your ankles and exposed parts in mid summer, but the De Havilland sort that conducted lightning raids in WWII. The is the site of the former Lawrence Furnishings factory that made the fuselage and wings. Along hear there is regular Grey Wagtail, a colony of House Martins, Swifts, and occasional Common Tern flying along the river.
Home of the Mosquito
Across Sheering Mill Lane the river continues beneath overhanging willows. The path is lined with houseboats. There are fewer birds down here but regular warblers and finches. I turn off just before we get to SLRS and the occasional ducks and gulls.

so overall a decent walk home, and one I will do for leisure in the coming months no doubt.

Finally an appropriate tune from a few decades back.

Sunday, July 05, 2015


Yes folks, its time to dust off the binoculars, clean up the camera, fix the tripod, and boldly ride out once more.

I had a brief flirtation over here, but my circumstances didn't permit consistent postings or any depth to the posts. Now, however, circumstances are changing. The children are getting older, and some free time is looming as I take a break from the 9-5. Also my interests are changing, so expect some variety.

Somethings haven't changed, and the more dedicated readers will be delighted to hear that despite my best efforts the standard of photography is the same. Here's an example of what you can expect in the months to come.

Finally there may be some more than just lists of what's around. Some musings on life, some analysis, even some music. Here's an old favourites from my teens that seems appropriate. I saw them at Crystal Palace in 1980. There's points for anyone who knows who topped the bill. And we know what points mean. Happy viewing.