Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Pitstone Village, Ivinghoe Hills, College Lake and Tring Park (30th July)


My first early start for days.  After a long bike ride to Pitstone Village, I eventually arrived at the wood where the two Turtle Doves were last reported a few weeks ago. The song of a single purring TURTLE DOVE soon became audible over the cooing of the Woodpigeons but despite waiting for some time it never decided to make an appearance.  To my frustration, it was clearly singing only a few metres to the left of one of the gaps through which I could view in the hedge but it refused to move.  Furthermore it was on private property so getting a better view would not have been possible.

 the gap in the hedge, not a very high likelihood that it will miraculously appear in it


Next stop was Ivinghoe Beacon were I hoped to catch up with a few chalk-land butterflies as the morning progressed.  I ended up spending longer at the hills than I had anticipated but it was definitely worth it as I managed to locate 5 DARK-GREEN FRITILLARIES (a life tick).  It took some time for me to eventually find a male that showed very well as it was sunning itself on a bare patch of open ground.  However, after getting lucky once they seemed to materialise everywhere.  Dozens of Chalk-hill Blues were also on the wing, an equally stunning butterfly, including 3 brown females.  Other butterflies of note, included 1 Small Heath, 1 Small Copper, Small Skippers and dozens of Gatekeepers, Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns.  Also about were 6-spotted Burnets and a single Pyramidal Orchid.

 Ivinghoe Beacon

 Marbled White with what appears to be a red parasite on the back of its abdomen, could anyone confirm this for me?

 male Chalk-hill Blue

 female Chalk-hill Blue

 Ivinghoe Hills

 what appears like a leucistic Meadow Brown, must some research into the topic of abnormally pale butterflies

Red Bartsia

female Common Blue Damselfly

 Dark-green Fritillary sunning


College Lake was next on the menu.  The butterflies once again stole the centre stage, despite my intention to search for early migrant waders.  The highlights being 2 mating Green-veined Whites, 1 Small Copper, 4 Marbled Whites, 1 Common Blue, Meadow Browns and lots of Gatekeepers.  A few birds were also about, mostly residing on the marsh.  3 Common Sandpipers, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Red Kite and a hunting Hobby were the highlights.
 Small Copper

female Common Blue Damselfly


With the intention to look for raptors, I sat myself down on the slopes overlooking a band of wooded area at Tring Park (a new site for me).  Unsurprisingly, no rare raptors, however, after some time overlooking the landscape, I noticed something flit up from the vegetation and land in the bush next to me.  It gave its ID away almost instantly as it vibrated its tail, you guessed it, it was a 1st-year REDSTART!  I followed it around for some time as it gave tantalisingly brief views out in the open before moving to a different hedge and then going into dense cover as evening approached.  On one occasion it returned to its perch after catching a Meadow Brown from the grass and it promptly devoured it.

 picturesque chalk downland

 1st-year male Redstart

Six-spot Burnet

Other birds of note during my visit included 3 Red Kites a Sparrowhawk circling over a potential nest site with prey in its talons and a displaying Stock Dove.  A few butterflies were still on the wing by late afternoon, including 1 Small Heath and the usual Marbled Whites and Meadow Browns.  A local dog-walker also pointed out a Common Spotted Orchid to me, one of the last for the season.

Bricket Wood Butterflies (29th July)

My first outing in Herts since coming back from Sheppey.  Colin Everett, my brother Ephraim and I all met up for a walk round the local woodland for a casual get together with the focus for the day being on butterflies.  The predominantly warm and sunny weather made the day rather productive as we located no fewer than 12 Silver-washed Fritillaries, mostly along the open ride, south of the railway track, by far the largest number I have seen at the site!  Even better was seeing a pair mating, providing an excellent photographic opportunity as well as being a rarely seen event!  3+ White Admirals were also on the wing but rarely settled close to us so no great pics.  Other butterflies on the wing included 3 Commas, 3 Large Skippers, 2 Marbled Whites, 1 Brimstone, 1 Green-veined White, 1 Red Admiral and several other commoner species such as Ringlets, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.  Other flying insects included 2 Southern Hawkers, 1 Brown Hawker followed by 1 Large Red Damselfly, a few Banded Demoiselle and 6-spotted Burnets at Mutchetts Wood.

A very worn male Silver-washed Fritillary


White Admiral

male Silver-washed Fritillary

mating pair of silver-washed Fritillary


Bell Heather (a very scare flowering plant in Hertfordshire)

Common Darter

Red Admiral

female Southern Hawker


Southern Hawker

A few birds were also of note as Colin pointed out the begging call of a juvenile Sparrowhawk to us and the difference in call of juvenile Wrens to that of the adult, a very useful skill to have when proving breeding for bird atlas work.

Many thanks for another great walk Colin and welcome back to Herts!

Isle of Harty day 8, Leaving (27th July)

Our final day on the Isle of Harty, despite have very little spare time between packing bags and putting them back in the car, I wandered off towards the farm and was glad to once again locate the purring male Turtle Dove in the usual ash tree.

Isle of Harty day 7 (26th July)


Another walk down to the pier at the Ferry Inn with Ephraim.  This time we counted a total of 7 Whimbrel, 5 Greenshanks, 1 Turnstone, 1 Marsh Harrier and 2 Hares in the usual field.  My brother was still very keen to see the local Turtle Doves so we walked back up the track towards Sayes Court where I had seen them only a few days previously.  Unfortunately, all we saw was a probable Turtle Dove flying away form us in the distance.  However, the flower meadows produced 1 Peacock, 1 Red Admiral and dozens of Common Darters.

The Ferry Inn Pier

Me with early morning uncombed hair

My brother Ephraim who joins me on most of my trips


My parents dropped my brother and I off at Elmely Marshes for 3 and a half hours whilst they went to Minster, just enough time for us look over some of the scrapes.  In total we had 8+ Green Sandpipers, 4 Marsh Harriers (including 2 juveniles with green wing tags), 5+ Yellow Wagtails, 6 Little Egrets, 14+ Whimbrel, 1 Hobby, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Corn Bunting, 1 Ringed Plover, several Black-tailed Godwits in front of South Fleet Hide and a single Snipe sitting out in the open on the edge of one of the pools.  Butterflies included 2 Peacocks, 1 Comma, 4 Red Admirals and 1 Small Tortoiseshell.

the two green wing-tagged juvenile Marsh Harriers


On our return back to the house at c.20:00, my brother and I were still able to locate the resident Turtle Dove in the fading light, a good ending to the day.

Isle of Harty day 6 (25th July)


My dad and I both went on a long cross-country walk through the surrounding farmland towards Elmley Marshes.  I only had a small pair of bins with me and was mainly occupied with recording butterfly and dragonfly species.  However, 10+ Yellow Wagtails, 3 Marsh Harriers, 1 Corn Bunting, 1 Whimbrel, 2 Green Sandpipers, 2 Common Sandpipers and 2 Little Egrets were all on show.  A few butterflies were also about and included both Essex Skippers and 1 Peacock.  The gullies and drainage ditches were alive with dragonflies, with a total of 8 Black-tailed Skimmers and a stunning Emperor Dragonfly.

Black-tailed Skimmer

The Ferry Inn Pier
In the evening, my brother and I both decided to walk down to the pier in hope of locating some crepuscular owls hunting over the marsh.  No sooner had we left the house, my brother, Ephraim, pointed out a Little Owl perched on the corner of the barn, just opposite the house in which we were staying in! seconds later my brother shouts out again, this time a Barn Owl swooped out of the same barn, crosses the path only metres from where we were stood, not a bad turnout so far!  However, the evening didn't get much better as darkness soon fell and it became almost impossible to see any potential predators hunting over the marsh.  All the same, we still managed to locate 1 Whimbrel on the marsh.

Isle of Harty day 5 (July 24th)

A four hour bird race with Ephraim was the theme for the day and set off in opposite directions at 12 noon.  Given the time of day, time of year and limited time, it was unsurprising that both our totals were rather poor.  To make it even more difficult, I was not allowed to use my scope as it would otherwise have been unfair on my brother as he does not have one.  In total I recorded only 36 species, the highlights being a single Bearded Tit at the Swale NNR, 3-4 Whimbrel, 1 Little Egret, 3 Marsh Harriers, 1 Turtle Dove and my first COMMON SANDPIPER of the year (I missed all the spring migrants due to exams).  A few butterflies were also on the wing and included 1 Peacock and 1 Red Admiral amongst the commoner Small Whites, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.  On my way down to the Swale, I also encountered a Stoat, which crossed the path not far ahead of me, bounded away from me, before crossing the path once again and disappearing into the field, something I would otherwise rarely have seen in Hertfordshire and definitely brightened up my spirits for the day.

The Swale NNR

Common Sandpiper at the Ferry Inn Pier
Whimbrel on the marsh

Isle of Harty day 4, Shell Ness and The Swale NNR (23rd July)

I was only up and out the house by late morning but staying outside in the scorching sun isn't very fun so it was only possible to stay outside for limited periods of time.  From the house we where staying I cycled to Shell Ness, a beach comprising solely of shells!  As well as this, it is a national nature reserve with a large area cordoned of to reduce human disturbance to the nesting and roosting birds.  The trip there produced 1 Corn Bunting and 3 Yellow Wagtails.  Butterflies were a little more productive and included 1 Red Admiral and the numerous Small Whites, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

 Common Darter


At Shell Ness NNR, birds were more dominant and included my first autumn migrant WHEATEAR of the year, 3 Golden Plover, dozens of Sandwich Terns, 10+ Ringed Plover and several Whimbrel.  The most numerous birds about were Oystercatchers, which literally littered the shoreline, roosting in their hundreds on the shingle bank and similar numbers of Curlew roosting on the marsh.  15+ Dunlin also flew in and amongst them a further 14+ Turnstone, still in their breeding plumage finery.  Also of note were 5+ Red Admirals, 3 Small Coppers on the beach, 2 Marsh Harriers and 1 Common Seal just off shore.  On my return, 1 Corn Bunting was giving its jangling song just west of Shell Ness, followed by 2 Commas, 1 Emperor Dragonfly and most bizarrely of all a Hedghog crossed the path in front of me before ambling into the rapeseed field.  The day wasn't over yet as I still had to catch and release a Large White that had found its way into the house, not an easy job catching butterflies!

Shell Ness

hundreds of roosting Oystercatchers

Dunlin, juv. Ringed Plover and Turnstone

Friday, 27 July 2012

Isle of Harty day 3 (22nd July)


I went back down to the estuary once again, to revisit The Swale.  Not much change but an improvement in the weather meant a lot more butterflies were on the wing including Gatekeepers, Small Whites, Meadow Browns and 1 Small Heath1 ad. win. Mediteranean Gull remained in the Black-headed Gull flock and the resident Turtle Dove was once again on show in and around the farm.

one of the two male Turtle Doves purring from the wires

Other butterflies of note included several Small Skippers, Essex Skippers and 1 Red Admiral.  The pond infront of our house became even more productive as I found 1 Emperor Dragonfly, 2♂ Black-tailed Skimmers, 1 Blue-tailed Damselfly and several Common Blue Damselflies.  My aunt and I also went down to the Swale, this time to sketch the landscape (she being an artist and me just having finished an A-level in art, it was a great idea).  All the same, I couldn't resist going off to search for more butterflies and birds.  A single Whimbrel flew past and Gatekeepers were on the wing along with 1-2 Small Tortoiseshells.  In the end we ended up searching for butterflies, and together saw 2 Red Admirals and a Comma.


Common Darter

Emperor Dragonfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Black-tailed Skimmer

Grass Snake, soon disappeared behind the bins

dead unIDed caterpillar species


With a few hours of sunlight left, I cycled down to raptor watchpoint only c.2km down the road.  Not a great deal about except for 3 Marsh Harriers, 3 Yellow Wagtails and 3+ Green Sandpiper3 Black-tailed Skimmers were also defending their territory near the Pump Hill.

Grass Snake, a very sad road kill, only just run over minutes before I arrived

male Black-tailed Skimmer

Peacock caterpillar