Wednesday, 28 September 2016

BBC Wildlife, October 2016

Just a short one. If you happen to buy BBC Wildlife magazine this month (or you're a subscriber), check out my 'Island Odyssey' feature, starting on page 66. The feature covers my June trip around the Scottish isles, from the Hebrides to St Kilda, North Rona, Shetland and finally Orkney. I'm very, very happy to be in this brilliant magazine for the first time - as happy as this Razorbill :)

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Dungeness delights

On Friday, Phil and I went to Dungeness, arriving in fairly bright and breezy conditions at about 10am. The first bird we found, from the access track to the main reserve, was a Cattle Egret, and it was gratifying to see other birders watching 'our' bird later on. Actually it was Phil's really, he found it.

Cattle Egret hanging out with its bovine chums. Sadly very distant.

A couple of first-winter Wheatears bounded off the track as we continued, this one pausing briefly on a stump by the track to eyeball us.

The first hides - Frith and Makepeace - proved quite productive. We started slowly with a couple of Pied Wagtails...

... but then on the more distant islands we started to find waders, including this Ruff, and also a few Ringed Plovers and Knots, a Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper.

There were Common Terns going back and forth and also a small dark tern way out across the water which was, of course, a Black Tern but I couldn't get any worthwhile flight pics of it - all were blurred.

Eventually it went to an island to rest, alongside its bigger cousins, and I was able to take some photos (still distant but at least in focus).

A big gang of Cormorants came steaming along, clearly following a fish shoal. They were keeping close together and diving repeatedly, surfacing with small fish.

There were a fair few Greylags on the water too, including a creamy leucistic one. Other Anatidae included Tufties, Teals and Shovelers.

The walk round to Dengemarsh hide was insect-filled, with lots of Common Blue Damselflies among the bushes, and dragons including Common Darter, Emperor and Migrant Hawker.

There were also a few butterflies about, including Gatekeepers and this Small Copper.

At Dengemarsh hide, there were still Common Terns with well-grown young on the rafts. This young Black-headed Gull showed up and started haranguing one of the adult terns.

A Great White Egret flew across the back of the lake, keeping its distance (alas).

A bit closer to hand were these two Mute Swans.

We walked on, back to the visitor centre. We were nearly there, walking along the short and as far as I can see pointless bit of boardwalk just by the main track, when Phil exclaimed 'Stop!' and I looked down to see that I'd been about to step on a truly immense and stunning Great Green Bush-cricket.

I lay down flat for these pics. After we'd both taken plenty, I picked it up to ensure no-one actually did step on it, and also so that Phil could take pics of it on my hand (to show how enormous it was). But it wasn't keen on this idea and clumsily leapt/flew off into the shingle.

The weather started to turn gloomy after this, and so did the birding, a bit. We found another GWE from the small hide by the visitor centre, and then went over to the ARC pit where we met Phil's friends Terry and Martin, who informed us we'd just missed a flyover Honey-buzzard. D'oh.

From the ARC hide we could see many sleeping eclipse-plumaged ducks, one of which was allegedly a Garganey but neither of us could pick it out. However, this beautiful leucistic Pintail stood out like an anaemic thumb.

The viewscreen offered nothing new, though we did have a fly-by Hobby on our way there. We decided to go to the sea, despite news from Terry and Martin that there wasn't much going on there, and as we drove along the coast path it began to rain.

We took shelter in the lea of the seawatching hide, and had a look out over a very grey and grumpy sea. A few Sandwich Terns were heading west, all at quite a distance. Some gulls, including this juv Herring, went by closer. The rain got heavier and we decided to call it a day.

Rainham and not enough waders

Rainham's been raking in the waders lately, with both stints and Wood Sandpiper all seen in the last week or so. When I went there on Wednesday with Graham and Shane, we didn't have a lot of luck wader-wise but the usual late-summer Hobby-and-Migrant-Hawker-fest was in full swing, on a mostly sunny day.

We did the walk clockwise. Pretty much the first bird was this Stock Dove obligingly zooming past at close range.

There was little to see from Purfleet hide - vegetation in front of the windows was very tall and lush. We hung around long enough to unearth a couple of Snipes. On leaving the hide we just about got a look at a Kingfisher as it sped by.

There were a few Migrant Hawkers over the ditches, and an unseen Bearded Tit pinged from the reeds around the dragonfly pools. We spotted our first Hobby round here, and the Tower Butts hide provided good views of at least five Hobbies hawking over the marshes.

A male Migrant Hawker taking a rest from chasing and being chased.

The viewpoints over the pools on the return loop produced some waders - a couple of Ruffs and a few Black-tailed Godwits. Also more Little Egrets than I've ever seen here before, including a group of about a dozen all perched together.

A fine Wasp Spider near the Ken Barratt hide. As is usual with these spiders, her position low in the grass made it very difficult to photograph her properly.

The Willow Emeralds are out but when we reached their spot it had become a bit cool and overcast, and we couldn't see any. We continued into the Cordite store and found insects aplenty here.

Female Common Darter, Green-veined White, and a Common Carder Bee having a spot of bother getting out of a Greater Bindweed flower.

On the way out of the Cordite store, Shane spotted this Hobby perched on a happily leafless side branch of a big Horse Chestnut tree, and it put up with us staring at it for some time before lifting off to get back to slaying dragons.

A nice male Holly Blue on the last bit of path... just before we found...

... this glorious male Southern Hawker, which was really mellow and let us approach closely for photos. What a stunner.

Ridiculous close-up of his lovely eyes.

We didn't go back to the visitor centre but on to the Purfleet hide to begin another mini-loop, pausing on the bridge to take bad photos of this Small Red-eyed Damselfly. 

The customary walk back along the riverbank didn't produce a lot, but we did add a couple more butterflies to the day list.

A Common Blue and a Small Heath. The sun was back out by this point, and shone on us all the way home.

An hour at dawn in Hastings

It's been a while, in fact ages, since I took my camera to Hastings, but last week I did and it and I spent an enjoyable hour or so on the beach photographing gulls, early on a sunny morning before the holiday hordes descended.

The first pic shows Lesser Black-backed with an adult Herring and a juvvie Great Black-backed. Lesser BBs are not regular round here so that was (very slightly) exciting. There were a few Fulmars wheeling about well offshore, and a sparse passage of Swallows overhead.

To pad this extremely short post out a little, here are a few recent bits of artiness.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Just a quickie to very proudly announce the publication today of Birds: Myth, Lore and Legend. My co-author and I are so delighted with this book - it's a bit of a departure subject-wise for me but it was great fun to write, and the design team have made it look very pretty indeed. A happy day :)

Friday, 19 August 2016

Of local interest...

I've been to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve a couple of times lately, armed just with my macro lens (oh, and the camera to stick it to). Seen nothing of any great note but here are some photos of various (mainly) insects for you.

As usual for the time of year, damsel numbers have thinned out a bit and I've not found a single Azure, but there are Common Blues aplenty. Also some Red-eyed, Blue-tailed and Banded Demoiselles but none of those have been in the mood for photos. Dragon-wise there are unphotographable Southern and Brown Hawkers.

Butterflies, too, have been the usual suspects. Here a Red Admiral, Green-veined White and Speckled Wood. There are still plenty of Gatekeepers around and a few Meadow Browns too.

The impressively huge Hornet Hoverfly, Volucella zonaria. I've also seen a couple of actual Hornets.

I noticed this mad little beast scampering along a weeping sedge stem in the wildlife garden. I thought it was an ant at first, then I thought it was a spider, and then I looked at it properly and realised it was neither. I have since found out it's the nymph of the Ant Damsel Bug, Himacerus mirmicoides, and it's a crazy-looking little critter indeed. The adult isn't at all ant-like - you can see pics of it at various ages here.

Bird-wise, I've not seen an awful lot on the reserve, no waders except Lapwings, no new wildfowl yet. Here are some of the resident Canada Geese against a fetchingly cloudy sky.

While checking out the big sheep field I did enjoy the sight of this ewe suckling her monster lamb.

A quick glance at Knole Park the other day produced a Small Copper butterfly which skipped off before I could photograph it. The deer are in mellow pre-rut mood, this white buck not even bothered by the local flies holding a meeting on his face.