Friday, 24 December 2010

Snow Surprise

I haven’t been out in the snow apart from travelling to and from work. I hate the snow, well actually not really, I just hate the snow in this country. We are totally rubbish at dealing with the smallest amount of snow and it makes the whole snow experience very tedious. Anyway let me talk about waxwings. Kent for once has been invaded by loads of the beauties in big flocks, one at least being estimated at 1,000 birds. Have I seen any, well no, as they have avoided all the berries in my garden and given that I’ve not been out and only been to work, it’s not really that surprising. So yesterday there I was at work in Dartford holding a meeting with some of the folks that I manage, when all of a sudden in the car park appears a flock of waxwings, about 30 birds. Well I did what any sane individual would do, I stopped the meeting and all participants had the opportunity to marvel at these wonderful birds for a minute before we got back to the dull reality of work. I would say that it was probably the best works meeting I had attended or held, although I'm not sure all participants had the same view.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Birding On The Somme

At least that is what it could have sounded like as the machine gun and heavy rifle fire could be heard from the nearby Dungeness ranges. At least the Red-flanked Bluetail didn’t mind as a well behaved small group of folks weighed down by much photographic equipment ran about a bit along Dengemarsh Road.


Saturday, 2 October 2010

Toad Rage

Yesterday evening Lisa and I were on our way for a pub meal to celebrate my birthday. It was not ideal driving conditions, pouring with rain, dark and misty and I was driving down narrow and steep country lanes on my way to Trottiscliffe. So the car that was behind me decides to drive along in my boot with blinding headlights and I’m naturally frustrated by this but there seem to be more doughnuts appearing on the roads these days and i’m generally not intimated by them. Approaching Trottiscliffe village a number of speed bumps have been placed in the narrow lane and you have to slow to 20mph. Luckily for the toads this is what I did (presumably to the annoyance of the doughnut) and saw 2 mature toads just the other side of the first speed bump and in the middle of the lane. I put my brakes on and stopped opened the door and leapt from the car. The car in my boot narrowly missed crashing into me and suddenly reversed back up the lane a ways. At first I didn’t think this was odd as I quickly scooped up the two toads and deposited them safely in the grass verge. It wasn’t until I then got back into my car and pulled away that Lisa mentioned the other driver probably reversed away because they thought I was getting out to ‘have a go at them’, the thought could not have been furthest from my mind but now that she had mentioned it………….

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Happy Solstice

Visited Grain again this morning between 09:00-12:00, wandering around in a t-shirt in the hot weather and despite the clear blue sky, a few migrants were in the coastal scrub. 21 blackcaps, 12 chiffchaffs and singles of whitethroat, sedge and reed warblers. I also had a group of 20 blue tits which seemed to be moving south through the scrub and a coal tit, presumably all migrants. A local fisherman mentioned to me about large green lizards that he keeps seeing near to the sandy beach just south of the outfall, presumably they are common lizards, so something for me to look out for in the future. Also 10 species of butterfly including a wall which is the first one i've seen at Grain for quite a while and thinking back probably the first one i've seen for a couple of years since my first post for Shorne marshes where I had 2. Back home and in the garden were 2 chiffchaffs, a brimstone and holly blue. Whilst gardening I also disturbed around 10 froglets which i'm right chuffed about. My pond is so full of newts that any tadpoles get eaten and never survive. This year I moved frog spawn into a newt free pool and once the tadpoles were large enough moved them into the main pond and it looks as though my strategy has worked.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Catching Up

Luckily for me a couple of rare waders that had turned up in the county had stuck around so I spent part of today having a good time at Oare Marshes looking at a white-rumped sandpiper, plus an excellent high tide wader roost. Whilst the white-rumped sandpiper remained distant other waders were a little more confiding. Large groups of golden plover flew in to join those already settled.

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At one point I estimated the number of golden plovers to be 850. A group of 10 juvenile curlew sandpipers also flew in and started feeding amongst the dunlin and 2 little stints. In amongst the grazing cattle there were also 11 yellow wagtails.
I then moved onto Marshide to a site where a week ago I heard about a colony of willow emerald damselflies that had been found by Dave Brown. Unlike a week ago I had my camera and managed to find 7 individuals that were still in good condition.

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So why a willow emerald? Well the pterostigma on the wings are pale and large and the appendages (this is a male) are pale and contrast with segment 10.
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In this shot you can also see the forward pointing spike (bronzy colour) on the lower left side of the thorax.

I also had 3 red admirals, 2 commas a small white, banded demoiselle and blue-tailed damselfly.

They had all better watch out though cos in the bushes is lurking…

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This beautiful wasp spider was at head height, what a cracker.

I then moved onto Grove Ferry and had great views (albeit slightly distant) of the juvenile Wilsons Phalarope.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Surprisingly …Grain!

I’ve recently been visiting the scrub and coastal bushes at Grain in north west Kent or to give it its proper name Grain Country Park although you wouldn’t see a sign to confirm that. Most of the time the amount of scrub and bushes is just daunting for a single observer to cover and you don’t end up seeing that much anyway but last Sunday was different. On arriving at Grain car park I had barely gone 60 yards and had already noted 1 redstart and 10+ lesser whitethroats. It was already an unprecedented visit and I was mildly panicking due to the number of migrants that I was seeing and hearing all by myself. As I wandered along the footpath that borders what is left of Clubb pits I had a group of 8 Lapland buntings fly west and they were followed by a further group of 4 a few minutes later. I continued to pick up whinchats and garden warblers, whitethroats and blackcaps. I then moved to the scrub areas bordering the Swale and added pied flycatcher and willow warbler. Also managed to clock up 8 species of butterfly as well. A great morning, fingers crossed I get another one like it soon, although it is Grain I’m writing about.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

At last a bird photo!

Mothing over the last two weekends has been influenced by the ar temperature. The bank holiday weekend with its colder nights has certainly started to impact the number of moths being caught, whilst last night was one of my biggest catches of the year with 83 individuals. I’m still catching the odd new species for me though, such as square spot rustic.

Square Spot Rustic
Big and brown, the Old Lady, it looks dead but is quite alive.
Vines Rustic
Agriphila tristella , a dark brown individual which shows off the lateral stripe nicely.

A white point, only the second one I have ever caught, possible immigrant but more likely to be a local breeder.

Centre Barred Sallow

Agriphila geniculea, the trap is full of these common grass moths although this one seems to have lost a lot of scales.

They should look more like this one, although the right way up.

Common Wainscott
My favourite, what a cutie!

Back to my last Biscay trip and a couple of sperm whales, probably a juvenile and mother. We managed to record 20 sperm whales on our trip something that would have been unheard of a few years back.
A pilot whale with its characteristic reverse smurf hat dorsal fin.
2 tonnes of blubber being launches clear of the water in the shape of a Cuviers beaked whale. The animal managed this 5 times in a row.
Bottlenose dolphin, unfortunately fast disappearing from coastal UK waters.

3 adult Sabines gulls, probably the best looking gull in the North Atlantic.

Finally a bit of colour on it’s last legs in the strong breeze yesterday at Grain. Make the most of it as it will soon be xmas, groan!!
Common Blue

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The End Of An Era….. and a record?

Over the weekend of the 21st/22nd I was lucky enough to be guiding for the Company Of Whales across the Bay of Biscay. In fact it was my last trip on the P&O ship the Pride of Bilbao as a Company Of Whales guide as this particular crossing is being stopped at the end of September. What a great trip to end on though with the main highlight for me being the sighting of a single pod of 15+ Cuvier’s Beaked Whales just south of the northern shelf edge. To date this is the largest single group of Cuvier’s recorded in the Bay. The following thinking is purely supposition on my part based on the observation and that of others. The group was of animals of different sizes with large mature types and smaller probably immature types. One of the group saw 8 of the larger animals through a scope and was unable to observe any scarring on the bodies indicating that these were female. Males show scarred bodies as they spar and scratch each other with their teeth. This would suggest that the smaller animals (at least 4) were immature animals and possibly lead to one conclusion that we were looking at a large group of females and immature whales. The pod surfaced 4 times and appeared calm before disappearing. So were we looking at an extended family group possibly even led by a matriarch or some type of cr├Ęche, if so is this a seasonal activity? The frustrating thing is we’ll probably never know.

The two photos below were taken by Rik Addison.

Cuvier's Beaked WhaleCuviers Beaked Whale 1

Cuviers Beaked Whale 2

So why are they Cuvier's and not northern bottlenose whale? Well, you can make out a sloping beak, and shallow dip behind the small melon. Slightly more tenuous is the fact that you can see the head and dorsal fin in view at the same time when they surface, the chances are that in bottlenose whale, being a larger cetacean, you probably wouldn’t see that.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Tiger In The Garden

Suddenly there seems to be a lot of postings about moths on various blogs and it is good to see an upsurge of interest in this exciting group of insects. This blog is no exception and once again over Friday night I was running my mv light trap although I was slightly concerned about the slim prospect of rain but in some way wishing it would as the garden is parched. On checking the trap in the morning in between the heavy rain showers, I was pleasantly surprised to find a Jersey Tiger on one of the egg boxes. This moth species, I suspect, is an immigrant and recently has been cropping up in gardens within London.
Jersey Tiger
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In the 20 odd years I have been mothing, albeit at a very erratic pace, I have only ever caught two tigers. This one and a garden tiger that i found sat on my old 8W Actinic trap that I used to run when I lived at Hoo St. Werburgh. Other species that I photographed were:
The Nutmeg
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Pebble Prominent
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Lime-speck Pug
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During the day in the garden I noticed this day flying pyrallid moth feeding on some marjoram, Pyrausta aurata 10_08_07_longfield_076_Pyrausta_aurata

The best of the bunch I placed into pots as I was leading a butterfly walk for Dartford Borough Council later in the morning at Darenth Country Park and given the wet overcast conditions I wanted to ensure that anyone who turned up would at least see some good moths.
The walk actually went well with the sun peaking out from behind the clouds at just the right moments and a good few butterflies were on the wing.
Today (Sunday), i’ve now gone down with a cold but not really being able to stay in, Lisa and I went to Trosley C.P for a walk in the sunshine. There are some great looking violet helleborines in flower with around 12 plants all looking fresh and one or two being tall with many florets. Walking the chalk down land section we were rewarded with 10 species of butterfly, including some fresh chalk hill blues and a couple of small coppers. Notable by their absence though were any peacocks! What has happened to them all? I think I have only seen one all year. One insect that has clearly had a welcome revival though is the 7-spot ladybird, with loads of them there and oddly enough I haven’t seen many harlequins.
Back home and enjoying a cuppa, I suddenly ended up with two new dragonfly species for the garden, common darter and brown hawker, couldn’t believe it! The darter decided to use one of my raspberry canes as a perch and stayed for 15 minutes, superb.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

A Day In The Garden

A couple of picks from the overnight moth trap.
Pale Prominent, excellently freaky.
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Lathronympha strigana a rather striking member of the Tortrix group of moths. Although a common southern species the first one I have caught.
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Noticed a large dragonfly patrolling the garden and finally caught it settled on a cotoneaster.
Migrant Hawker
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Tuesday, 27 July 2010

More Moths….and a free cream tea!

Oncocera semirubella
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Blood Vein
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Early Thorn (2nd Generation)
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Black Arches
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Also went back to Cliffe this time looking for two species of rare Odonata and failed to see either but never mind as the day was rounded off with a free, yes free cream tea at Milbrooks Garden Centre. Before you go racing off, you do need a voucher from their calendar though.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Infantry vs Tanks

At first glance all seems quiet in the garden but on closer inspection, today heralded a major offensive….

The Battlefield
10_07_25_longfield_230_ox_eye_garden7-Spot Ladybird Laagar.
10_07_25_longfield_223_ladybird_laagarAnt front Line and the 7-spots are on the move.
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Direct hit, one aphid down.
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Counter attack but it’s a heavily armoured predator and the best the ants can hope for is to drive it away.
10_07_25_longfield_149_7_spot_ant_attackThe opposition are too many so withdraw, check damage and clean up.
10_07_25_longfield_194_7_spot_clean_up Rest and regroup, ready for the next attack.
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A pleasing total of 12 7-spot ladybirds in one small area of the garden today along with several harlequins. At one point I was watching 7 ants defending and losing against 2 7-spots. The life of the infantry is tough, what chance do they stand against tanks?

Elsewhere in the garden…

Brimstone feeding amongst the sweat peas.
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Scaeva pyrastri
10_07_24_longfield_125_Scaeva_pyrastri Hairy Eyes
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Out amongst the hoverflies was this amazing beastie.
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I’ve no idea what it is but it would ambush hoverflies, hold them in it’s long legs and appear to sting them and then let them go. I’m assuming it was laying an egg in or on the hoverfly. It also had some very fierce looking pincers and extremely large eyes which definitely helped it to track the hoverflies. The preferred prey species seemed to be Episyrphus balteatus but that may be because they are the ost numerous amongst the ox-eye daisies and valerian.

Ran the mv trap on Friday night but a full moon lit night affected the number of the species caught. A couple of nice waves though.

Dwarf Cream Wave
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Single-dotted Wave
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