Friday, 30 August 2013

Whinchat on the Patch (30th August)

I didn't managed to get out until late this afternoon as I was finalising the arrangements for my trip to Spurn Bird Obs.  Having only one day to make the transition between Portland and Spurn didn't give me much time but my brother and I just about squeezed in a visit to the patch between 6:30-8pm.  It was certainly worth the effort as we found 3 WHINCHATS at Balls Pond Farm, yet another patch first for us both!

patch Whinchat!

Portland and the Obs (25th-29th August)

We (my brother and I) were off to Portland for a couple nights to stay at the obs and jam in on a couple early common migrants.  This involved all round the clock birding and mothing with no exception!  It was tough going as we trudged diligently around the Bill, Top Fields, the East Cliff, seawatched and checked the quarries on a daily basis.  In short a brilliant experience as we did not only encounter a huge array of birds and moths but some knowledgeable birders too!

The only downside has been my computer which has decided to change all my cropped photos to plain white images!  As a result I've lost the majority of my favourite pics so I can only share a couple of my worse record shots.

Portland Bill

Weather conditions were hot and dry with light winds blowing (rarely from the east) so not much hope for rarer or scarcer migrants.  Dozens of Wheatear and Yellow Wagtails were a daily experience as were numerous Clouded Yellows with on average a dozen seen per day.

We arrived at the Bill by bus and headed straight for the coast (along with all our luggage) for a short seawatch.  A couple distant unIDed shearwaters passed before a Balearic Shearwater did the honours of passing close past the Bill affording excellent views!  Other species of note on the first day included a couple dozen Common Scoter, Small Heath, Clouded Yellows and the first of many Painted Lady butterflies.  Already tired with the trip behind us and a decent afternoon wandering the isle we were finally convinced to twitch the Icterine Warbler that had popped up in 8 Kings Quarry just down the road (only a couple hundred meters from were we had been birding oblivious to its presence!)  Thanks to Joe (Assistant Warden) we soon had a lift to the site but we were soon thrown off the land by a rather disgruntled lady for trespassing.  In short, another dip.  A grueling 3 hour wait the following day did not pay off with the Wryneck that we hoped to refind in the quarry.  However, after returning later that afternoon we struck gold immediately as we were treated with brilliant views of the WRYNECK that we had been hoping for!

Wryneck in the Obs Quarry

The early morning route around the bill produced hunting Sparrowhawk, a Hobby chasing a passerine, a Peregrine chasing feral Pigeons and the first Whinchat of our visit.  I also encountered my first ever Clouded Yellow of the helice form!  The east coast quarries rewarded us with 2 Redstrats and a Little Owl scolding a  Red Fox.

Little Owl in the obs quarry

Whinchat at the bill

Kestrel with prey on the East Cliff

I got up even earlier the following day so as not to miss out any of the ringing activity.  The early hours of the morning produced 14 Tree Pipits in flight over the obs and a later check of the traps produced a single Convulvous Hawkmoth!  Top Fields produced our first Pied Flycatcher of the year, 2 Redstarts and a Spotted Flycatcher.  Heading downhill again we entered the East Cliff quarries were I located a skulking Acro warbler (unfortunately the two brief glimpses I had of it were insufficient for a certain ID).

A 1stCY Yellow-legged Gull in the fields north of the obs was a welcome addition to the day list along with another Redstart.  I only bothered with a brief stop at the obs before heading out again, this time alone and connected with the Little Owl in the obs quarry, 3 Whinchats, 5 Stonechats and a Pied Flycatcher.

The 28th began with a relatively late start but the West Cliff hosted 4 Whinchats before I had to head into town for food supplies.  After shopping, I had a short walk around the Easton Quarry produced 2 Whinchats and a Redstart.  Yet another visit to Top Fields after returning to the obs where I connected with a further 10 Whinchats, 1 Redstart, 2 Spotted Flycatchers and a Nightingale in the obs quarry.  A surprise Dunlin flying north was an unusual sight as it was traveling with a  flock of Starling!  That evening, we also added Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover to the list as we heard them calling in flight in the dark.

Our final day at the observatory so I aimed to cram in as much as possible before we left.  An early morning seawatch reward Alex Berryman and I with 6 Balearic Shearwaters (3 W, 3 E).  I also heard a Curlew in the distance, 1 Common Sandpiper on the rocks below the obelisk and back at the obs I located a Pied Flycatcher in the garden.  Ephraim's seawatching from rewarded us all when he found us a pod of 20+ Bottlenese Dolphins!  Other things of note included a Reed Warbler at Culverwell, another helice Clouded Yellow, 2 Spotted Flycatchers in 8 Kings Quarry along with a Pied Flycatcher, a calling Redstart at East Cliff and yet another 2 Pied Flycatchers back in the obs garden.

Clouded Yellow of the helice form

Pied Flycatcher in the obs garden

Alex and Ephraim sped a little ahead of me and thanks to their searching before I arrived I didn't have to do much to be shown 2 Hummingbird Hawkmoths and a Grayling!

Hummingbird Hawkmoths on the East Cliff


Overall, a brilliant stay with a selection of common migrants making the highlights along with a couple butterfly and moth surprises.  As migration is only just kicking off, moths were a good distraction.  Martin Cade's efforts paid off with a Tamarisk Peacock and Shining Marbled (both very rare with only 4 or 5 British records for the later species!)

Shining Marbled

Tamarisk Peacock

Thanks to all who educated me and made the stay such an amazing experience.  Special thanks to Martin for all his effort in the upkeep and running of the obs that makes Portland such a brilliant place to bird!

More visits to the KL Clouded Yellows (20th and 21st August)

Several Clouded Yellows still present Tuesday morning (20th August) along with Small Copper and a couple Common Blues at Barnes Lane.  A late afternoon visit on the 21st didn't produce any Clouded Yellows at the usual site but I did see one Clouded Yellow flying across KL School playing field and 2+ Purple Hairstreaks were once again at the edge of the Nucket.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Back to the Patch (19th August)

I couldn't resist another sneak peak at the Clouded Yellows that are now showing so regularly just down the lane!  I dragged Ephraim and Theo along with me (the former a little more reluctantly!)  A full scan over the KL playing field produced nothing of note but compensation when we were once again surrounded with Clouded Yellows!  Only a fraction of what was on the wing compared to this mornings report but stunning butterflies none the less.  The rest were most probably resting in the meadow as it was still fairly cool and occasionally cloudy.  3 PURPLE HAIRSTREAKS flitting about at the top of the oak/beech trees bordering the field were great to see as they represented the first I had seen in Britain, not to mention yet another patch tick!

Purple Hairstreak

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Full Day Patching (18th August)

I set the alarm for 6:45am but only dragged myself out of bed after 10.  Patching would surely have been more productive had I got up earlier but it was still eventful.  First up was a check over the KL School playing fields where 53+ Pied Wagtails had reached their biggest peak so far.  On arriving at the Clouded Yellow field there was no sign of any thanks to the clouds so I opted for a bit of scanning across the valley for raptors.  It was still rather chilly but 4 Red Kites and 5 Buzzards were thermalling together along with a Sparrowhawk.  After several hours, the sun eventually came out and Clouded Yellows appeared all around!  I spent several enjoyable hours wandering around the two fields and clocked up a total of 7 in the first and 8 in the second field!  This may have involved some overlap but after some proper coverage and counting I estimate there were at least 13!!  A couple of other lepidoptera on the wing too including 1 Small Copper, Common Whites, Large Whites, Small Tortoiseshell and Silver Y moths.  Unfortunately, I missed the Brown Argus that Ephraim got some gripping photos of on the opposite end of the field, still a tart tick for myself.

More scanning over the opposite side of the valley paid off with a Raven circling between Bedmond and Long Dean, the second on patch in the past 3 days and a Red Fox strolled through the field in front of me in broad daylight.

Patching continued into the later part of the day in the field behind the RSSKL where I heard a Little Owl calling from Langley Lodge (a newly discovered site for this species on patch!)  A short "tsee" call from overhead alerted me to a flyover male Yellow Wagtail, my first on patch for the autumn!  3 Ring-necked Parakeets also flew south over Langley Lodge (they represent the first I have seen north of the Berrybushes Wood boundary).

Patching is really kicking off!!!

Clouds and Clouded (17th August)

I'd been working outside all day so only came in to check RBA later in the afternoon.  I was startled to say the least when I came across a report of 5 Clouded Yellows only a couple hundred meters down the lane!!!  I called Ephraim and together rushed out to check, we barely even gave the female Wheatear a second glance that Ephraim found on the KL School playing field.  Unfortunately, the dense cloud cover put off any Clouded Yellows from showing.  We eventually gave up and headed back but half way home there was a gap in the clouds and there was a brief spell of sunshine.  A quick rush back and I caught a short glimpse of a single CLOUDED YELLOW in flight before it landed near the middle of the meadow affording brilliant close up views as it rested in the grass.  Another first for me on the patch!!!

patch Clouded Yellow!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Raven makes it to the patch list! (15th August)

My first day back in Kings Langley after a great holiday abroad with my family in Germany.  Ephraim and I decided on a little patch effort and despite the rain we still made an effort to walk to Scatterdells Wood.  Nothing of note (as usual) until we arrived at the other side of the wood and did a short circuit around the Balls Pond Farm area.  The short excursion soon paid off when I caught sight of a large dark Buzzard-sized bird circle low over Scatterdells Wood heading gradually towards us.  I managed to bring Ephraim to his senses by calling RAVEN!  Sure enough it approached closer flew low over the road and the field we were stood in before continuing south.  The bill was held partially open (despite not calling), a habit I've noticed recently on other Ravens.

patch Raven with dramatic grey clouds for a backdrop

Calais Gulls (13th August)

From the ferry in Calais, my brother and I had the opportunity to check out the gulls from an elevated spot.  There wasn't any chance for observing them closely as the boat soon pulled out of the harbour so it was a matter of frantically photographing anything that made a fly past.  After reviewing my pics a little more closely today, a 1CY Mediteranean Gull popped out among the lot and plenty of 1CY Common Terns were also circling the boat both good opportunities to check out some plumage ages I don't often see in the UK.

1st CY Mediterranean Gull

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Sangweiher (12th August)

Sangweiher is the closest marshland site and despite covering a tiny area (barely 300 square meters!) the heavy rain kept a couple waders on the muddy fringes.  4 WOOD SANDPIPERS, 2 Snipe and 2 Common Sandpipers were the only birds representing the waders.

Wood Sandpiper

Despite the rain worsening and blowing directly into the hide I could just make out a family of 5 Red-backed Shrikes on the far side of the reserve!  This was my chance to check out a juvenile bird so in a short lull in the rain I headed to the other side of the marsh.  From here I had decent views of a couple juveniles, something I was looking extremely forward too for a while.  A Great Grey Shrike also braved the rain and despite showing only shortly and rather distantly it was certainly a bonus treat!

male Red-backed Shrike

one of the juvenile Red-backed Shrikes

Great Grey Shrike

Other birds of note included Water Rail and I reconnected with a single Hawfinch on my morning round of the Germany Patch visit.

Germany Patching (11th August)

Once again woodland birds were on the agenda the highlights being 9 Hawfinches, Marsh Tits, and Crested Tits (including a individual that I caught in the act of foraging around a deciduous tree!).  Firecrests were once again a welcome sight among the conifers.

A walk around the nearby crater lake (Meerfelder Maar) was certainly worth the effort as not only were 3 Clouded Yellows on the wing but I was lucky enough to get a brief encounter with a PURPLE EMPEROR that came gliding over the poplars and landed in a nearby tree!  I fired off a couple record shots to help separate it from Lesser Purple Emperor and after leafing through the books I’m certain of the ID!

my first ever Purple Emperor!!!

Other butterflies included Purple Hairstreak, Silver-washed Fritillary in the surrounding woodland and yet another Silver-washed Fritillary back home in my grandmas garden!  The family of nesting Black Redstarts had also raised at least one fledgling!

female Black Redstart

I was still keen to connect with the juvenile RB Shrike up the road but yet again the hours visit didn't reward as I had planned.  The reappearance of the Turtle Dove was promising and a Fox prowled around the field and just as I gave up the search a stunning Honey Buzzard flew west through the valley, an awesome end to the day!

Die Mosel (10th August)

My brother and I invested a whole day in search of our most sought after target species of the day, Rock Bunting.  The steep valleys, rocky slopes and vineyards that wind their way along the Mosel (a nearby river) are one of the only spots in Germany where we had the chance to track down this scarce breeder.  Unfortunately, another dip!  It seems late summer is a bad time of year to connect with this species so we’ll need to try a spring visit.  We did have partial compensation when 2 HONEY BUZZARDS drifted over the edge of the valley.  The first dark morph individual was a little less showy but a second paler male showed relatively well and circled low overhead affording excellent views and a brief opportunity for photography.

Honey Buzzard (a male)

Black Redstarts were easily the commonest species on the mountain side and were perched in and around almost every hedge.  2 Peregrines, Marsh Tits and a Hawfinch made the highlights and as always, butterflies made the trip all the more enjoyable.  Species on the wing included 2 Brown Hairstreaks, Wall Browns, 1 Clouded Yellow and lots of Jersey Tiger moths.

Same Old Same Old (9th August)

A midday visit to the Altenberhütte watchpoint.  Half an hour into the watch and a Black Stork flew over!  A nice start but it didn't get much better.  Other birds included Red Kites, Buzzards and 3 Black Redstarts.  Butterflies included Purple Hairstreak and Pale Clouded Yellow.

Next up was a visit up the road leading to the nearby church of Buchholz in search of the juv. RB Shrike that my brother had photographed only half an hour prior to my visit.  Despite scanning the area for an hour, there was no sign.  A Tree Pipit was partial consolation.  The nearby deciduous woodland and cherry orchard was a little more productive as 6 Hawfinches were a decent reward.

More Woodland (8th August)

More woodland and yet more Crested Tits!

Next a long walk with relatives to the nearest town of Daun (12 miles away).  We walked through territory after territory of Firecrest, plenty of foraging Crested Tits and 3 Black Redtstarts.  Butterflies included 1 Clouded Yellow, 11 Silver-washed Fritillaries and 2 Map Butterflies.

Small Tortoiseshell developing in a chrysalis, hanging above the doorway to my grandmas house!

unIDed butterfly chrysalis

Woodland and Farmland (7th August)

The local habitat to Rheinland-Pfalz isn't all much different from UK woodland and farmland albeit on a much larger scale.  Thanks to the substantial mixed forest, cereal and pastoral fields there’s also a couple more species than back in my normal Herts patch.  5 Clouded Yellows, 2 Pale Clouded Yellows, 2 Map Butterflies and a Silver-washed Fritillary definitely proved as such.

Other species of note included 3 Black Redtstarts and a Tree Sparrow.  The coniferous part of the woodland produced Crested Tit but attempting to track down woodpeckers wasn't worth the effort as they've become a lot more elusive as the breeding season progresses.

Crested Tit

Ephraim joined me later and we headed in the direction of Buchholz (a road leading up to the nearby church) once again passing through farmland and woodland. The woodland produced more Crested Tits, Firecrest and 3 Willow Tits.

Willow Tit, just about in the frame

Farmland, on the other hand was equally good with 2 Red-backed Shrikes, 1 Turtle Dove, Tree Sparrows, 2 Hares and 3 Black Redstarts in the village.

Red-backed Shrike

Turtle Dove

Altenberghütte (6th August)

Despite arriving late yesterday evening I set the alarm early, rolled out of bed at 6am and was heading towards my favourite raptor watchpoint (Altenberghütte) that overlooks a wooded valley, ideal for migrating Black Storks.  My aunt Mariana also made the effort to join me and together we saw 2 Hawfinches and 2 Red Kites fly over but it was still too early and cool for most raptors.  A prob. Honey Buzzard was the only other bird of note in the valley.  The surrounding farmland produced Lesser Whitethroat, a single Whinchat that sprang into view and a Raven flew over.  Butterflies were once again more numerous and included 2 Clouded Yellows, 2 Small Coppers, 1 Painted Lady, Purple Hairstreaks and my personal highlight, 2 PALE CLOUDED YELLOWS!

Pale Clouded Yellow

my best effort at uperwing shots to help clinch the ID

Small Copper

Map Butterfly

A later visit with my brother produced a rather different set of species.  A high flying prob. Black Kite looked very promising with its all dark appearance, shorter and shallowly forked tail.  However, it was safest to leave the ID unresolved due to unclear and distance views.  This proved to be a good idea as later sightings of Red Kites were rather confusing with their outer tail feathers not yet fully grown (making the tail appear shorter and shallowly forked) as well as being unusually dark in colour!

Thanks to Ephraim, we got two butterfly lifers, a single MALLOW SKIPPER and 2 QUEEN OF SPAIN FRITILLARIES!  Both worthwhile species to catch up with when outside the UK.  More Painted Ladies on the wing along with 7 Clouded Yellows and a Map Butterfly.  Yet more Purple Hairstreaks in the woodland and 3 Silver-washed Fritillaries to boot.

Queen Of Spain Fritillary

Mallow Skipper

Purple Hairstreak

Clouded Yellow

Birds were once again in the minority and included 1 Black Redstart and a Garden Warbler in the roadside bushes.

Hols to the Continent (5th August)

The holiday abroad to visit relatives in Germany started (as always) with the Dover-Calais sea crossing, something I’d been looking forward to for a while.  Thanks to the offshore winds from France, the sea passage was almost non-existent with 3 Common Scoter and a prob. Bonxie making the highlights.  Even the Gannets decided to stay distant and the sea was too calm for any shearwater activity.

My brother and I decided to choose Platier d'Oye as a half way stopping point and with kind consent of the driver (Mum) we had two or three hours to explore the place.  Butterflies were the obvious high-point with double figures of Painted Lady, 7 Grayling, 2 Clouded Yellow and something that appeared to resemble the aegeria subspecies of Speckled Wood (something to check out in more detail on my next visit).  Other commoner butterflies included Essex Skipper and Red Admiral.  Southern Emerald Damselfly was another insect I was keen to get record shots of.  Unfortunately, after double checking the ID on the pic of the damselfly below, it turns out it is in fact a Blue-tailed Damselfly of the form infuscans.

Blue-tailed Damselfly, form infuscans


Painted Lady

Clouded Yellow

It’s probably about time birds got a mention.  Unfortunately, not much to report thanks in part to the hunters prowling the edge of the wetland but we still managed to clock up a total of 8 Whimbrel, 11 Common Sandpipers, 1 Green Sandpiper and a Snipe.  The nature reserve was a little more productive and held 3 Avocet and 12 Spoonbill whilst 2 Little Terns hunted offshore.

As we pulled up outside my grandma’s house that evening a Black Redstart was already perched on the overhead wires.