Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Gorhambury Estate and Long Dean (26th June)


Since I was in the Redbournbury area yesterday I paid a brief visit to the Gorhambury Estate.  I was very pleased to locate no fewer than 5 Spotted Flycatchers distributed around the estate, including the usual pair at Mayne Farm, 1 half way up the drive towards Gorhambury House and 2 at Hill End Farm.


I bypassed Longdean on my return and stopped of in search of orchids on the north facing slope of the nature reserve.  Not very many about but did get a few shots of Common Spotted Orchid, and the highlight a Pyramidal Orchid in full flower.

 Common Spotted Orchid

 unIDed Orchid

Pyramidal Orchid

 stunning Pyramidal Orchid

Monday, 25 June 2012

Fen Drayton Lakes with the Watford RSPB group (24th June)

Due to the prolonged period of rain in the past week, all the marshland area, and muddy edges of the lakes were entirely flooded.  Consequently there were very few wading birds, whilst many of the breeders appeared also to have been washed out.  Infact the only birds that appeared to be having any success were the Common Terns, nesting on the specially built Tern rafts, unaffected by the change in water level.  A few birds were however of note, including at least 3 singing Cetti's Warblers, 3+ Hobbies, and at least 6 Garden Warblers (two of which I glimpsed fly into the a hedgerow before vanishing).  Dragonflies and Damselflies, however were our savior and provided the majority of our entertainment for the day.  Bob and Ken, the experts pointed out Scarce Chaser to me as well as Banded Demoiselles and Blue-tailed Damselfly.  The highlight for me was separating the more numerous Common Blue Damselflies from the Variable Damselfly.  Bob patiently explained how to separate the two by the second segment on the abdomen which appears like a golf ball on a tee for Common and like a wine glass on the Variable!  Another speciality were Small Red-eyed Damselflies, a species that was only first recorded in Britain in 2000 and has subsequently spread to further inland sites.  Other species on show included Black-tailed Chaser, Hairy Hawker (self found) and Blue-tailed Damselfly.

 Blue-tailed Damselflies mating

 Variable Damselfly

segment 2 of Variable Damselfly, showing wine-cup shaped black marking

 Blue-tailed Damselfly

   Scarce Chaser


 Hairy Chaser

Small-eyed Damselfly

I had also heard that the site was particularly good for rarer flowering plants, so decided to take some quick pics of the species I came across, here is a selection, I've only bothered to ID one so far, if anyone can recognise the rest I would be grateful for any comment.


overlooking the main marsh

Not much at the Res's but Glow Worms after dark at Dancersend (23rd June)

I left late in the morning to make a few preliminary visits to the res's before joining a group from the Wildlife Trust for a visit to Dancersend for Glow Worms.


Not much change since my last visit only a few days ago.  4 ad. Redshanks still present on the marsh with at least 1 chick.  The breeding pair of Shelduck still with 3 young, 1 Oystercatcher, 1 pair of Greylag Geese with young (the first time this species has bred on the reserve for some time I think).  Most exciting of all were the Little Ringed Plover pair, which were now sitting on eggs on the spit joining one of the islands on the marsh.  The canal neighbouring College Lake also had a Mandarin.


Nothing exciting.  The Swifts were the most obvious bird about, flying low around my head before shooting across the open water.  House Martins, dozens of Sand Martins and 1 Swallow were also hunting over the reservoir followed by a single Hobby.  No sign of the Spotted Flycatchers at the Dry canal, instead I photographed these flowering plants, I would be grateful for ID as I am an absolute beginner on botany.


Unfortunately, I arrived 5 minutes to late to hear the Quails calling and didn't see any during my visit.  However, this was no surprise as it was starting to rain which tends to discourage them from being more active.  Instead I knelled around in the grass photographing flowering plants like a total novice.


Here, I joined a the wildlife trust for an evening walk in the pouring rain in search of Glow Worms, a beetle I have never seen before.  We found a total of 6 Glow Worms low in the vegetation, doing as their name suggests and glowing, a fascinating creature!

 female Glow Worm

with flash

A Tawny Owl also called and there were at least 4 Greater Butterfly Orchids and dozens of Common Spotted Orchids dotted around the site.

 Greater Butterfly Orchid, taken in near darkness

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Ver Valley Walk with the Watford RSPB Group


I was back in the field today, as I will be for the rest of the summer, this time I joined the Watford RSPB group on a Ver Valley Walk around the Gorhambury Estate and Redbourn.  We were very successful in our attempts to find the key species of the day.  John Fisher (the walk leader) had in mind to first visit Mayne Farm in hope of locating the Spotted Flycatchers which had put up residence for the summer.  We were just leaving when I found a single adult SPOTTED FLYCATCHER fly in and land on the wooden fence surrounding the garden of Mayne Farm.  Also in the same area was a family of 5 Whitethroats and 4 Grey Herons (including 3 juveniles).


After the Gorhambury Estate we caught up with a few more species including a Little Owl at Shafford Farm, 1 Buzzard, 1 Red Kite and a stunning ♂ Yellow Wagtail at the mill.


On my return, I stopped of at Mayne Farm again and was very pleased to relocate 2 Spotted Flycatchers hunting the abundance of insects around the same lawn.

Many thanks John for the very enjoyable walk!

 just the back of the Little Owl

male Reed Bunting

male Yellow Wagtail

 the stunning male Yellow Wagtail

Spotted Flycatcher

Germander Speedwell

Pitstone and College Lake (20th June)


Just a single singing Lesser Whitethroat and a flyover Sparrowhawk were of note on my bike ride to Pitstone Hill.


An early morning rise had me at Pitstone Hill at c.7am following long bike ride.  However, it was worth the effort as I was soon rewarded with my first singing QUAIL.  It classically stayed in cover despite being only feet from where I was stood.  Despite hanging around for some time, it didn't show at all.  Also in the same field and surrounding area were 5+ Corn Buntings, and far more numerous farmland birds including Linnet, Skylarks, Yellowhammers and Small Heath butterflies.  If only all farmland was equally productive.

Pitstone Hill

Pitstone Reservoir


For much of the late morning and afternoon I was wandering around College Lake with some of the regular visitors who showed me the massive variety of flowering plants and butterflies on show (most of which were entirely new to me).  Not much bird wise except for 7 Redshanks (including 3 juveniles), the breeding Shelduck pair with the remaining 3 chicks and 1 Hobby1 Ringed Plover remained as did only 1 Little Ringed Plover (sadly the original pair I had seen only a few weeks before making a scrape didn't breed) and a singing Lesser Whitethroat on the eastern edge of the reserve.  The marsh also had a single Oystercatcher and I was surprised to find a Green Sandpiper amongst the resident Lapwings (a rather unseasonal record).  Insects were also numerous, however, Small Heath was the only one I could recognise .  On the flower front, one of the expert volunteers gave me a private guided walk around the meadows and pointed out a stunning array of flowers that the reserve cultivates including dozens of Bee Orchids, Common Orchid, Pyramidal Orchid, Field Madder, Field Cow-wheat, Corn Camomile, Yellow Rattle, Sun Spurge, Sainfoin, Bladder Campion, Broomrape, Corn Cockle and Pheasants Eye.  On my return, I bumped back into some of the visitors I had met earlier who excitedly told me of a Wood Sandpiper that they had seen from the Lovell Hide on the west side of the reserve, I rushed over with only an hour to spare before closing time.  However I could only locate the juvenile Redshanks which I must admit could easily have been misidentified as the Wood Sand. as I couldn't find any sign of the bird.

 only one of the remaining pair of Little Ringed Plovers

 Pyramidal Orchid


 Bee Orchid

 an unusual variety of Bee Orchid

 Common Orchid

 Field Cow-wheat


 Sainfoin+ the expert

 Pheasants Eye

 plenty of Field Cow-wheat, apparantly found naturally at only two other sites in Britain!

female Common Blue (blue variety)

 one of three juvenile Redshanks perhaps responsible for the record of the Wood Sandpiper


 Green Sandpiper

 sunset at Pitstone Hill complete with calling Quails


I returned back to Pitstone Hill again after the reserve closed in hope of catching at least a glimpse of the elusive Quails.  The wind had picked up and even hearing singing males became a challenge.  However, the conditions calmed down and in the hour before sun set, I counted a total of at least 4 singing QUAILS distributed at relatively even distances around the same field.  I was lying on the ground at one point when one began to sing only 3-4metres from where I was.  All the same it was still impossible to see!