Sunday 24 August 2014

More Dragons

Friday was another half-hearted attempt at photographing the Cattle Egret at Marsh Farm. No distant views this time - the little beggar didn't even show. No matter, Liz and I spent the time gathering blackberries and sloes. The blackberries have already been turned into jelly, just the stuff to have on toast on a cold winter afternoon, along with a steaming mug of tea. The right stuff to evoke memories of a warm summer afternoon on the North Wall at Pagham. The sloes will be mixed with a litre of Gordon's finest and will become yet another elixir to banish the woes of winter.

We managed to see lots of Dragonflies, the rifes and ditches throughout the area providing excellent habitat for many species. Capturing them was a different matter as I had only taken my 300mmm lens and that meant photography in stand-off mode. Never mind - some decent record shots.

Back at Breech Pool we met up with Dave Shepherd and passed away the late afternoon waiting for something to turn up. Having turned every gull into an itinerant Osprey I finally managed a tick in the guise of a pale Yellow Wagtail, in a familiar place - the mud at the back of the pool, far too distant to photograph. We also managed a shot of a juvenile Little Grebe, a bird whose large beak was convincing other birders that they were on to something unusual.

With the temperature dropping we took our leave and headed for the World's End at Patching for some delicious "pub grub". As we entered I had another "tick" for the year - a fully decorated and lit Christmas Tree - before August Bank Holiday Monday - a definite earliest record. Am I losing the plot??

In the garden over the weekend we recorded a fine looking Migrant Hawker and another Volucella  species, this time I think V. inanis.


Early on Saturday morning a Staaken Z-21 Flitzer, registration G-FLIZ, flew adjacent to the garden. At first I thought it was vintage but later discovered its year of manufacture to be 1999.  Liz was very impressed and thought it would be cool to own a plane with a personalised registration.



Sunday 17 August 2014

In and Over

Recently the garden has been nearly devoid of birds, just a few of the usual suspects present. Many specimens are still in moult, so they are skulking in the shrubs and making furtive visits to the feeders. Only the Starlings, with their constant bickering, being so brazen to openly occupy the feeder perches. It has been doubly disappointing as my Sister and her friend Bev from New Zealand stayed with us for a few days and I was keen to show them "our" birds.  Bev declared that she had never seen a Robin, a state of affairs that would normally be easily resolved on our small patch. All through the winter we had a resident Robin that became tame, to the point where he would sit in front of the patio doors demanding to be fed. I always obliged and he became accustomed to the rattle of the suet nibbles in the container.

Sadly, after raising the first brood and halfway through the second, he disappeared along with his mate. I had watched these two from their first encounters, more like fighting than courtship, to the full blown display which sealed the bond. We were without a resident for two whole months, but during our guests' stay a couple of juveniles moved in and battle commenced yet again, this time for the territory. It started with that half hearted sub-song and over the last few days has developed into a more strident routine, full of confidence and now performed from an open perch - it's his patch now as the competition can be heard singing the same lament from a good distance away.  That he starts at first light isn't really a problem, though it is usually from a perch just outside the bedroom window - and he continues until after lunch, just to make sure everyone knows he is there. I don't think he is the sharpest tack in the box as when I rattle the nibbles he just cocks his head and watches me as I scatter a few samples on the lawn. As I walk away a juvenile Blackbird dashes in and greedily scoffs the lot. As winter approaches he will lose his reticence, and I hope remain with us until next year.

So Bev if you read this, "our" Robin is now "Bev's Robin" and here he is.

Luckily having the camera to hand to capture the Robin meant that as other birds came in and over the patch I managed to record their passing. First up was a juvenile "something", I haven't really made up my mind what it is but it is very vulnerable as we have more than our fair share of Magpies at the moment.

At this time of year we often have the odd migrant passing through and today was no exception. I just managed to record the passing of a Common Whitethroat as it shot into my neighbour's dense shrubbery, no doubt waiting until nightfall before commencing his cross channel journey.

The neighbourhood Herring Gull flock went into high alert early on Saturday morning, at least twenty birds wheeling in the air and screaming, just to the north of the garden. "Raptor alert" - and sure enough as I looked up a Sparrowhawk was circling above in a clear blue sky, the early morning light giving this sleek grey messenger of death a slightly warmer look.

I thought it somewhat odd that long after the Sparrowhawk had disappeared the gulls continued their raucous calling. It was all explained by three Buzzards circling above the garden on a huge thermal. Slowly they spiralled upwards and eastwards towards Worthing. Then all three made a long shallow dive westwards until they found another thermal over Angmering. Enthralling stuff to watch but never close enough for any decent shots, but obviously too close for the comfort of the resident crows which gave chase.

We have three plum trees in the garden and it has been a good year for fruit. However, two of the trees have been devastated by the constant attacks from Blue Tits, Blackbirds and Magpies. The third tree, a Victoria has suffered not one attack. I knew that the family of young Crows were visiting the garden on a regular basis but I was amazed to find out the reason why. A neighbour's pear tree was obviously satisfying the sweet bills of these omnivorous raiders.

Then today, Sunday, the garden was alive with birds again, Blue Tits, Coal Tits and Great Tits, accompanied by two Greenfinches, ten Goldfinches and a lone Chaffinch. The Starling flock has grown to fifteen and the House Sparrows are feeding another brood in the crab apple tree. Even a Wren paid a visit, picking up insects from the undergrowth around the pond.

Finally, just as a heavy rain shower was breaking, a Wilchiff appeared. I always have difficulty deciding whether it is a Willow Warbler or a Chiffchaff.  The canary yellow of this bird and its yellowish legs have me going for Willow Warbler on this occasion. God knows how bright it would have been in full sunlight.



Not only have the feathered flyers increased but there has been a notable surge in insect life. Hoverflies are not my strongpoint so if they are incorrectly identified I would be more than happy to be put right.
Volucella zonaria - a Hornet look alike
Eristalis pertinax - perhaps??


Monday 11 August 2014

Long-tailed Skua

With a rather blustery south wester blowing, and some pretty hefty rain showers forecast, we had a change of plan and started the day at Woods Mill. Instead of going to the beach for the Long-tailed Skua we decided that some more Turtle Dove shots would be good. Unfortunately nobody had informed the Turtle Dove and even though it showed in its favourite tree, it did not hang around for long.

We waited for it to return but sadly it didn't materialise and even the purring tailed off. Time for another venue, this time the Downlands Project at Steyning Rifle Range, to find a Brown Hairstreak. Unfortunately the weather conditions here meant that few butterflies were about and a message that the Long-tailed Skua had been sighted at Church Norton. it was time to move again.

We located the bird where it has been residing for the last few days, at the end of the stretch of houses on the beach between Selsey and Church Norton. The bird adopted the same pose for the duration with just minor stretches and the occasional stand up. Unfortunately the strong winds made getting sharp focus difficult and I wasn't really happy with the results. Never mind some decent records of a cracking bird.

Monday 4 August 2014

Turtle Dove

It has been a couple of months since my last birding tick, in fact it was twitching the Short-toed Snake Eagle in the Ashdown Forest, which seems ages ago. With the butterfly populations on the wane and my photographs up to date, I decided that it was time to re-join the birding scene. Several times on butterflying outings I have heard the distinctive purr of Turtle Doves but never had visual contact. So a visit to Woods Mill where a pair have been residing, and unlike other birds, have not been shy. In fact one bird has a preference for a perch in a dead tree that stands over the lake.

As I took the camera gear from the car I could hear a bird purring away in a high tree at the end of the lake. I located it immediately and sat down to wait for it to occupy its favourite perch. Actually it took some time before the action started and I wasn't really prepared for what happened next. The Turtle Dove was happily calling away when an interloper in the shape of a Great-spotted Woodpecker arrived on the scene. The woodpecker took an instant dislike to the TD and sent it away in a most violent attack, something that I never expected to happen. I sat and waited for the return of the TD as it was some distance away but still calling, Two kind birders then informed me that it was in a dead Ash tree just the other side of the leat path. I found the bird and snapped away to my hearts content, the bird not being spooked by passing families and noisy children - so much for the description "shy".



As always, photographing a bird in silhouette never produces the best quality and despite constant tinkering with the exposure, I never got that shot that says - nailed it. Still they are a lot better than anything else I have had so far and there is always tomorrow.

I then decided to check up on the progress of the "grebelings", well I can report that at least two have survived and grown well. Each occupies its own raft of water lilies and both are constantly diving for food. Every now and again each makes a call to the parent bird which now studiously ignores them.

Next venue was Anchor Bottom, specifically to find and count any Silver-spotted Skippers that might be present. The upshot was that I found only six, just to the east of the large rabbit warren. It is encouraging that the rabbit population hasn't been persecuted so much recently and their activity is creating a better environment for the butterflies. The upside is that the specimen that I managed to record on camera was a female and that she laid at least two eggs, one of which I recorded.


Finally a quick visit to Houghton where I found nothing exciting, just the usual suspects. The Painted Lady appeared fresh and was happy to be snapped nectaring on the Hemp Agrimony.