Thursday, 29 August 2013

Chalkhill butterflies

Monday 26th August 2013 Warm, dry and sunny. Loss of the computer for a week co-incided with a week off work, during which time I spent every morning birding come rain or shine. Now I have the computer again I will write about the last day of my late summer break, which was bank holiday Monday. The day started quite early with a walk from Shuart to plumpudding stables, and a wander along the railway embankment, hoping for a few arrivals. As it turned out, there had been a bit of a clear out of birds, there really wasn't much around. I did have the excitement of 2 Tree Pipits calling and flying west, and there were a couple of Wheatears on the coast, plus a sprinkling of the usual warblers. All very nice, but not quite what I was hoping for. Mid morning as i was walking back to the car an alert from Birdguides told me the Bockhill birders had found a Western Bonnelli's Warbler, which would be new for Kent, so I set off in the direction of St Margarets Bay, with Matt Hindle close behind. Unfortunately when we arrived at the site we joined a small group of birders forlorngly looking at a group of trees where the warbler had been seen over an hour previously, but not since. Matt and I didn't stay long, but we did enjoy the many butterflies in the area, especially the Small Coppers. On the drive home I decided to take a detour to the KWT reserve at Temple-Ewell to look for butterflies, my first visit this year. Walking up the hill through the chalky meadows i could see many Chalkhill Blues, some very tatty but others looking pristine.
I met Dave Mairs on the walk, and while chatting we found at least 3 Spotted and 1 Pied Flycatcher. We walked on to the area where I usually see Adonis Blues, and although it was really quite windy we were in luck and found a few of these lovely bright blue butterflies. I also saw briefly a single Silver-spotted Skipper, plus several Wall Browns. A really nice relaxing day out.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Wood Sandpipers at Coldharbour lagoon

Sunday 11th August 2013. Warm, dry with a westerly breeze. I had planned to meet Tim Hodge this morning for a walk around Reculver to look for waders, especially having heard of a Wood Sandpiper being seen yesterday at Reculver. Just before leaving the house Chris Hindle kindly text me to say there were 2 Wood Sandpipers in Coldharbour lagoon. I've only ever had fly-over Wood Sands at Reculver, there isn't really a great deal of suitable habitat to attract them to land, and even Tim said he's never seen one actually in the saline lagoon at Coldharbour. Waders don't normally stay long in the lagoon as the public path runs alongside, and the cyclists in brightly coloured attire, and the joggers and dog-walkers usually flush everything away by mid morning, but not today. When we arrived about 9 o'clock there were 2 rather splendid Wood Sandpipers at the eastern end of the lagoon, along with 2 Common Sandpipers and 6 Dunlin, all giving good views.
We saw a couple of smart Willow Warblers, and walking back we started taking note of the insect life along the paths, noting a few Black-tailed Skimmers, Red-eyed Damselflies, Common Blue Damselflies and a Brown Hawker flew past along the hedge a couple of times, a scarce dragonfly at Reculver. We also saw a few butterflies, including a Wall that Tim picked out, which was a bit flighty in the wind, but nice to see.
A walk near Reculver a little later was entertaining, with around 30-40 Clouded Yellow butterflies, and many more Common Blues. There were a couple of Emperor Dragonflies, planty Common Darters, a single Ruddy Darter, Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies, and 10+ Common Emerald Damselflies.

Monday, 22 July 2013

A trip to Thursley Common

Saturday 20th July 2013. Warm, dry and some sunshine. I set off to Thursley with Patrick Giles and Marc Heath for company, all three of us hoping for a hot sunny day and plenty of dragonflies to enjoy on our day trip away from Kent. The weather all week had been perfect, but our visit co-incided with an increase in wind and cloud. At least on arrival we had some sun to get us started, and pretty soon at the Moat lake we were all enjoying a variety of dragonflies not seen, or uncommon in Kent, although the most common dragonfly was Four-spotted Chaser, they were everywhere. We each had a target we wanted to see, and mine was Black Darter, the male in particular looking really smart, so I was quite excited when Marc called me over to see a lovely female:
Meanwhile Patrick was attempting to i.d an emerald that we presumed was Downy but just wouldn't fly slow enough for any of us to get a proper look at it, and Marc and me were enjoying the Small Red Damselflies:
The clouds rolled over during the day as we wandered the paths and boardwalks, and it was quite noticable the insect activity dropped off as temperature dropped slightly, so much so that if we had just arrived and not seen the chasers and abundant Keeled Skimmers in the morning sunshine we would have assumed there wasn't much to see. There were a couple of Hobbies hunting across some of the ponds, a distant Red Kite and we found a few Silver-studded Blues. Careful searching round the margins revealed skimmers and many Common Blue, Small, Large Red and Common Emerald Damselflies:
As the day wore on we were rewarded with some broken sunshine and suddenly the whole area came alive with activity again. There were several Emperors and the Four-spot Chasers were full of energy. The three of us split up to have a couple of hours on our own, and I managed to get some brilliant views of the diminutive Black Darters:
We met up again at the Moat where we spent a while nailing the Downy Emerald, achieving reasonable views by the end of really enjoyable day. We added Black-tailed Skimmer and Brown Hawker for the trip list, and I watched a grass snake swim out of the shallows across the lake.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Norfolk Hawkers at Westbere

Sunday 14th July 2013. Another hot day and with the wife at work I decided to have a stroll down to Westbere to have a look for Scarce Chasers. I didn't see them at the start of summer in their splendid firey-orange/brown immature colours, but the adult males are still quite smart. The first dragonfly I saw as I strolled along the path beside the lake, heading south to the river, was a rather nice Brown Hawker, twisting and looping after insects. A little further on I saw a medium-sized hawker briefly out the corner of my eye, and it appeared light brown with pale green eyes. It was gone in a flash along a dyke behind some tall reeds, and despite hanging around a while I couldn't relocate it. With such a brief view I was reluctant to put any news out, but I needn't have worried because a bit further on patrolling the dyke on the other side of the path was an adult Norfolk Hawker, giving excellent views.
Shortly after I saw Mike Gould walking up the path towards me, so I walked over to tell him I had the hawker in view, and he had just had a glimpse of one himself. At this point I should have worked out there were 2 Norfolk Hawkers, but he and his partner joined me watching the second insect which was showing really well, and we spent a while taking a few photos and enjoying it flying back and forth slowly along the dyke. A little later Marc Heath joined us and confirmed there was a second Norfolk Hawker he had been watching while I was with Mike, presumably the first insect I saw.
Other dragonflies seen on my walk were 2 Brown Hawkers, an Emperor, I'm pretty sure there was a Hairy Dragonfly go past while I was watching the Norfolk Hawkers, several Scarce Chasers, loads of Black-tailed Skimmers, Banded Demoiselles, Red-eyed Damselflies, Common Blue, Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Large and Small

Wednesday 10th July. What started out a nice sunny morning soon turned grey and chilly when the n/e wind brought cloud in off the coast. In the afternoon I took a drive over to Wye, where the sun was just about breaking through the low cloud, and a sheltered spot along the walk had good numbers and variety of butterflies, including Large Skipper and Small Heath.
The last few days have seen several pairs of Large Red and Azure Damselflies ovipositing at the new garden pond, and regular visits from Blue-tailed Damselflies.

A couple of woodland walks

Monday 8th July. Warm, sunny and the continuing n/e breeze. Despite having the day off work, home life restriced my opporunities to get out in the sun. Eventually I managed a walk in Church Woods behind the house, and although I only had a couple of hours it was lovely to be outdoors. The butterflies were restricted in variety, but plentiful in numbers, with many Ringlets and Meadow Browns in the verge grasses and ferns. I was hoping to see some Heath Fritillaries again this year, and in the same spot as the last couple of years there were a few easily seen, but not the large numbers seen in other local woods. However, what was rather pleasing on the wander round the woods was coming across more Heath Fritillaries in 3 more areas of the woods I've not seen them I before. The habitat now looks prefect and it's obvious the woods are being managed to encourage them to colonise. I also saw a few Speckled Woods, Common Blues and a single Common Darter.
Tuesday 9th July - weather as yesterday. Another frustrating day at home, I didn't get out until early afternoon and made the decision to have a look around Denge Woods for Marbled Whites. My notes froma couple of years ago suggest they should be plentiful by now. It was a really noce, peaceful walk, and eventually I came across around 20 Marbled Whites, full of energy in the warm sun. There were a few warblers still singing including Blackcap, Garden Warbler and Whitethroat, plus a Sparrowhawk drifted overhead.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Difficult darters

Sunday 7th July 2013. Very warm, sunny and a stiff n/e breeze. A quick look at the new garden pond this morning on the way out to meet Tim at Thornden Woods and a female Broad-bodied Chaser flew round without stopping long. We had a short stroll to watch the Heath Fritillaries enjoying the hot sun. We saw our first Ringlets of the year, plus there were a few Large Skippers and Meadow Browns.
Next we made our way towards the Reculver area to look for dragonflies, and quite a variety were on show. Matt Hindle had phoned earlier to say there a lot on the wing this morning, including many darters that appeared recently emerged. Adult male darters aren't difficult to identify, but immatures in various stages are quite tricky. A tip I learnt from my old pal Patrick Giles when we were abroad last year looking at 'yellowish' darters was to look at the leg colour and the shape and size of the moustache as i.d tools. Hopefully the following are correctly identified: Immature male Ruddy Darter (black legs, slightly pinched and short abdomen, rather long moustache, dark veins)
Immature Common Darter (pale colouring along the legs, short moustache that doesn't droop on the frons)
Adult Red-veined Darter
There were loads of Black-tailed Skimmers, Emperors and a Four-spotted Chaser which is a rather uncommon dragonfly around Reculver.
We came across a single teneral male Emerald Damselfly being blown about by the strong wind, making photography aukward.
After all this excitement Tim decided to head home to watch the tennis, and I headed over to Chambers Wall to look for more damselflies etc. An hour or so produced only Red-eyed Damselfly and a Banded Demoiselle.
To finish the day off I had a look along Marshside and found quite a few Azure Damselflies.

Darters and skimmers

Saturday 6th July 2013. Very warm, sunny and dry with a light n/e breeze. Another Saturday morning at work was frustrating with a lovely sunny day outside, but home by 2pm, changed and fed and ready for a walk. Before leaving home I had a quick look at the new pond and now there were Common Blue Damselflies as well as Large Red, which was nice. Next I met Tim near Reculver and we took a walk to look for the Red-veined Darter(s) seen the last few days. There were loads of Black-tailed Skimmers, several Emperor Dragonflies, a few Common Darters, many Blue-tailed, an Azure and hundreds of Common Blue Damselflies and of course the Red-veined Darter.
Tim went off home for a rest and I nipped down to Brook to look for demoiselles. The small stream there is nearly choked up, and no demoiselles were to be seen, though it was early evening by the time i got there so perhaps they weren't active. I did see a few Commas on the bramble bushes by the railway line.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A few more insects in the sun

Sunday 30th June 2013. Very warm, sunny and dry with a light breeze. This morning started with a return to Thornden Woods where I enjoyed the Heath Fritillaries in large numbers, and very active even before 8am.
Then I took a trip over to Chambers Wall to look for damselflies. There were stacks of Red-eyeds on the floating vegetation, but they are quite twitchy as I approach. Must be nice to be a little shorter in stature and able to creep up on insects without spooking them. I found a little spot where a Red-eyed kept flying off and returning so I lay down in the grass and muddy edge of the river and waited. Eventually the damselfly I had been watching came back and I took a few photos.
A walk along the wantsum was really enjoyable and relaxing, and a little surprise was disturbing a Kingfisher from a tree along the water's edge. Not often seen in this part of Reculver in mid-summer. Later I had a walk around Shuart where i saw my first Painted Lady of the year, though it wasn't very approachable. Altogether a lovely morning, spoilt slightly by the hayfever taking hold by late morning. It became all too much so I headed home around 1pm for some lunch and a bit of time with the family.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

A new pond and early visitors

Saturday 29th June 2013 Warm, broken sunshine, winds easing. I am fortunate to have a garden with 2 ponds. One I dug out myself a few years ago, and a pond that was already in the garden when we moved in 16 years ago. The old pond was overgrown but we did have Large Red and Azure Damselflies breeding. Large Red are a favourite of mine, they don't seem in the least bit wary of people round the pond, and in past summers will regularly sit on the page of a book I'm reading, or on the end of an outstretched finger. Anyway, the old pond sprung a leak last summer and almost dried out through the winter. After much discussion the wife and I decided to have it relined (at great cost) and start again. We employed The Whistling Gardner from Eastry (and yes he did whistle while he worked), and after 2 days hard slog the pond was rebuilt and had a selection of the gardeners favourite pond plants round the shelves. The plants have been chosen to attract wildlife such as the damselflies. Today was a lovely sunny day and I was hoping to get out for a walk in the woods, but a call from work spoilt my plans. I had to spend the whole afternoon at work, and feeling dejected I took a few minutes to look at my new pond before leaving home. There to my surprise, the day after the gardner finished filling the pond were Large Red Damselflies flying round it, and even better a pair landed on the floating pond weed. Hopefully next year's generation of damselflies are on their way. Made my day.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sunshine and dragonflies

25th June 2013 Warm, sunny and clear skies, and a gentle breeze. I was on a late morning start at work today, so with the sun shining and air temperature promising to reach high teens I took the opportunity to look for Keeled Skimmers at Hothfield Common. Although it was a chilly start to the day, on the drive over the temperature guage on the car suggested it was about 15-16C by around 10am. I took a walk over to the bogs where the skimmers are most easily observed, but I could only see a single male sitting some way from the boardwalk, sitting in the grass or making occasional brief flights. I hoped it was only because it was still relatively cool, rather than lack of insects, that meant there was little activity. I took a walk round the common and saw a few Broad-bodied Chasers buzzing around some small ponds. There were Yellowhammers, Whitethroats and Blackcaps singing away, a single Crossbill flew west, Common Buzzards flew over quite high and 2 Grey Wagtails flew west. Back at the bog there were loads of male skimmers chasing around low over the vegetation now it was warmer. They are cracking little dragonflies, really quite petite and unobtrusive. Eventually a pair flew in tandem and landed near the path in some vegetation. Nice to spend some time relaxing before work.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Evening insects

Wednesday 19th June 2013 Warm, sultry, overcast. I was keen to get out for a walk after work and have a look around the Chislet marshes for dragonflies. This time last year Marc Heath found an immature Norfolk Hawker whilst out looking for Barn Owls, so I figured just maybe they were breeding in some of the many dykes or streams around the marshes which aren't watched regularly. I had a couple of hours walking but failed to see much. There was no sunlight, and perhaps that's why very few insects were flying, though it was over 20C while I was out. All I saw were a few Azure and Blue-tailed Damselflies, although it was nice to hear singing Turtle Doves, Cuckoo, Yellowhammer and Yellow Wagtails.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Heath Fritillary at last

Saturday 15th June Very windy, some showers, sunny start then mostly overcast, 13 - 16C This morning I was picked up by my old pal Patrick Giles who was on a visit to Kent for a long weekend. NOt the best weekend weather-wise, but we make the best we can. The Heath Fritillaries around east Kent are normally on the wing by now, but I haven't seen any yet this year. Patrick was keen to have a look for them, so as it was quite sunny 1st thing we headed over to Thornden Woods for a look. In my experience they are seen in Thornden several days earlier than in East Blean. After a short walk we came across 3 pristine butterflies enjoying the sun.
We failed to find any more butterflies in Thornden woods, so we went over to Reculver where we saw several damselflies, a Broad-bodied Chaser and a Small Heath. After enjoying a bit of shelter from the wind and watching a few more common insects we took a trip to Faversham to look for the Black Kite. We spent nearly 3 hours in the area where the kite had been seen earlier in the day, but we were out of luck. Birds we did see were Hobby, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard, plus a Yellowhammer. We took a walk late afternoon round Oare Marshes, but this wasn't the best decision due to the very strong winds blowing acros the marsh. There were a huge number of Swifts feeding low over the flood, and the usual selection of waders but it wasn't much fun in the gusty conditions. Probably the biggest thrill was when a Vulcan Bomber flew low over our heads. All in all a fun day, but hoping for calmer conditions tomorrow.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Late evening raptors

Sunday 9th June Cold, dull and strong northerly wind again today. I spent several hours wandering local woods this afternoon just trying to keep out the biting wind. Very little to see, but some lovely bird songs, including Blackcaps, Garden WArblers, Chiffchaffs, Willow WArblers and a Nightingale gave a few short bursts late afternoon. This evening I took a trip up to the road running from Faversham to Selling, hoping to connect with the Black Kite that had been hanging around all day. By the time I arrived it was already about 7:20pm, and I didn't hold much hope of it taking flight as the air was cold and the wind still howling. When I arrived there were a couple of birders looking, but no reports for nearly an hour, but at least I knew roughly where to look. One chap left and another couple arrived, and just as most of us were thinking about giving up I picked out a large raptor very distantly low over some trees, and soon we were all enjoying the kite as it drifted back and forth over the fields, then soaring high above the tree line, before dropping down out of sight again. Other birds seen during the half our or so we were there were Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Hobby and a Kestrel. So today wasn't so dull afterall.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Butterflies of Wye and nearby woods

6th June 2013 Warm, sunny and a strong northerly breeze. Today started late morning with a short stroll around the Wye Downs looking for butterflies. The wind was howling across the top of the hills but I managed to find a couple of places which offered some shelter, though it was difficult to avoid it completely. Nevertheless, it was lovely to be out on a sunny day, and I quickly came across a few firsts for the year: Common Blue, Small Heath, Meadow Brown and several Wall butterflies. I spent a bit of time trying to take some pictures, but apart from the Small Heath, which settle down deep in the grass, the wind was blowing too much for photos. There were a few Yellowhammers calling nearby, a Buzzard flew over and a Kestrel seemed quite happy perched on a branch of a tree by the path. To escape the breeze I headed a few miles north to some woods where I spent a few hours enjoying the warmth of the sun, the songs of a few Blackcaps and one or two Garden Warblers, and loads of butterflies. Along the roadside verge where I parked there were Speckled Woods and several Orange-tips flying back and forth, and with a bit of patience I saw a nice female land for a while. Only one dragonfly today, but i didn't really expect many in the woods at this time of year, but a Hairy Dragonfly is always nice to see. There were plenty of Common Blues, Peacocks and Orange-tips on the wing, a few Dingy Skippers and I found 2 rather worn looking Duke of Burgundys; perhaps the last I will see this year. A couple of Crows were heard mobbing a Buzzard, but not many birds were seen.