Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Up and at 'em

It's not often I wake up before 6am on a Monday morning, but noticing that it was already shaping up to be another beautiful day I left Rob sleeping and took the D300 down to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.

Late spring's a funny time for birding at a place like this - the leaves have grown in making it tricky to spot passerines, and the wildfowl population has shrunk down to mostly just breeding birds. Some days it's very hard to see anything much. Today I was a bit luckier.

I returned to the spot near Willow Hide where I'd photographed the singing Reed Warbler the other week. He was still there, but so were at least two others - were they recently fledged young? They were quite dopily sitting around in full view and buzzing their wings in a begging manner, but I couldn't see any sign of yellow gape flanges. They did look slightly short-winged, -billed and -tailed though.

What a little poser. He was a delight to photograph, even going so far as to sitting on a well-exposed reed stem for long spells. Thinking about it, he also looks a bit less white-throated than the singing adult male.

 I waited in that same spot for about half an hour. The regular Cetti's was tormenting me, singing from my left and then somehow from my right without me seeing him fly across, then blasting away with that fruity song almost at my elbow yet impossible to see - then briefly possible to see in the depths of a bush but impossible to focus on. But my patience paid off and I finally got a couple of opportunities to fire off some shots. It's been well over a year since I first heard Cetti's here but I didn't think I'd ever get a decent view, let alone any photos. Happy, happy day :)

As if I hadn't been jammy enough with the Cetti's, this Wren singing in view and at close quarters on the main path to Willow Hide was a real treat. I also got pleasing photos of a very approachable male Blackbird and an agitated Blue Tit with a bill-full of squished green caterpillars, and less pleasing photos of a fine Cinnabar moth.

I'd already packed the camera away when I saw this dragon come and land on a high twig. A look through the bins revealed it to be a female Broad-bodied Chaser. I unpacked the camera again and took a selection of pics from various angles. Each time I moved, she took off but unfailingly returned to the same perch after a short zoom around - a handy behavioural trait of the Libellula dragonflies. That was the end of today's visit. I was home before 8.30am - what a good way to start the day.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Kite weather

It was a gorgeous and hot day, and after an exhausting morning of basho training in Bromley, we were delighted to have the opportunity to sit in a sweaty traffic jam in Croydon over lunchtime. Eventually we made it to the M25 and headed clockwise to junction 16 and the M40, a.k.a. 'Red Kite Highway'. Rob has only seen Red Kites in Scotland, when we were going through Inverness on our way to Wester Ross, and there was no time for pics. I hoped that Aston Rowant, in Oxfordshire, would prove as great for the species as I'd remembered.

The original Chilterns reintroduction site is nearby, and has proved extremely successful, with birds now breeding in a wide swathe across Oxon, Bucks and beyond. We saw our first kite at junction 2 of the motorway, but by junction 5 where we turned off, we'd seen two groups of about five birds plus several singletons.

From the reserve car park we followed a trail through a short stretch of woodland and out onto the escarpment. The hill falls away sharply down to the motorway, which provides a constant noisy soundtrack but doesn't seem to bother the kites at all. Rob was soon happily clicking away at them as they wafted overhead.

That outline and pattern makes Milvus milvus one of the most easily recognised raptors in Britain, though the odd Black Kite wandering here from the continent may cause problems. With a view like this there's no confusion though - deeply forked tail, strongly contrasting ginger, black and white plumage and five clear 'fingers' are all Red Kite hallmarks.

The kites were as happy to go around in gangs as to fly solo, and few seemed busy with any pressing engagements. These two weren't as close to us as we'd have liked but provided great entertainment as they chased each other over the treetops.

Aston Rowant used to be a lovely National Nature Reserve with lots of flowery downland and no motorway slicing it in half. That description is no longer wholly accurate, but at least the M40 affords thousands of people the opportunity for close views of Red Kites every day.

I'd hoped to see some butterflies and so we did - Common Blue, Brown Argus, Brimstone and Small Heath to name some of the more interesting ones - but the weather was so hot that they were barely pausing for breath as they swept over the slopes. One that did sit down was the best of the bunch - this Green Hairstreak. Sadly its cute face is obscured by a leaf but you can at least see how very, very green its undersides are, and also that it has no trace of a white 'hair streak'. Looking at some photos on line, I see that the extent of the streak is variable, and streakless individuals are quite common.

Besides kites and butterflies, we also saw one Buzzard and there were assorted warblers in the wood and scrub. I'm hoping to do a return visit in midsummer when there should be goodies like Dark Green Fritillary and Silver-spotted Skipper on the wing. And it would be great for Rob to have another go at photographing those wonderful kites.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Insect nation

Yesterday I had a lovely afternoon walk along a stretch of the Medway near Tonbridge, with Sue. The weather was a bit overcast but it was warm enough to have encouraged a few damsels and butterflies to take to the air. There were some birds about which I failed to photograph, including numerous Whitethroats, Sedge Warbler, Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer and a very distant flyby Egyptian Goose (actually I did photograph the goose but it looks like a speck of sensor dust so I'm keeping those images to myself).

This was the first - a female Banded Demoiselle, brand new and respendent. We saw about a dozen Bandeds in all, far fewer than on a similar walk last year, a couple of weeks later.

Anyone out there good on cranefly ID? Sue was not impressed when I pointed the camera at this little monster but I thought it was quite smart with its bright green eyes.

Here's Mr Banded Demoiselle. It was not really a day for being out on the pull, more for mooching in the dense vegetation, but before long the male Bandeds will be spending their days hanging around at the water's edge, flashing their wings at each other and the girls, in a courtship frenzy. I'll try to come back next week or sometime and get some pics of them 'in cop'.

Not sure when I've ever seen such a fine display of Dandelion clocks. In places they formed a great fluffy carpet.

Orange-tips were out in good numbers, and being quite skittish despite the lack of sun. I was hoping to find one resting on the cow parsley and showing off how effective that underwing camouflage is, but had to settle for this female tucking into a Common Vetch (I think).

In keeping with the 'Mr & Mrs' theme of this post, I present Mr Orange-tip, in a slightly different pose to the one in the 'Sevenoaks in Spring' post and waving his proboscis around in an engaging manner.

In contrast to those lovely pristine Orange-tips, this Peacock (who has of course lived through the winter rather than being newly emerged) has evidently been in the wars. Most of the damage seems to be at the back end - those diversionary eye-spots doing their job.

I was hurling abuse at this Green-veined White for flying away before I'd got a pic, when it suddenly doubled back and settled on a flower almost at my feet. I take it all back, Mrs GVW, you're a very lovely and helpful butterfly.

Back at Sue's having a cup of tea, I noticed a couple of House Sparrows on her neighbour's roof, and got some pics by standing on the toilet of her upstairs bathroom and pointing the camera out of the window. It was quite sparrow-enhancingly sunny by this point.

Oh, go on then, one last butterfly. Speckled Wood in Sue's garden, sitting half in shadow which was a pity but at least it sat still for a little while. We're planning a trip to Aston Rowant on Sunday where hopefully there'll be even more butterfly fun to be had.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Spring in Sevenoaks

The sun's shining (occasionally), the insects are starting to appear and the spring migrants are here. Here's a few photos from our recent trips to SWR.

There's lots of nesting activity among the waterfowl. Today I saw quite a few goslings, and a parent Coot being squealed at by its ugly offspring. This one (Rob's photo from a week ago) is still waiting for hers.

No dragons or damsels yet, but today I found a couple of Stoneflies walking along a wooden handrail. Hope they don't get squashed by a careless hand. Stoneflies aren't the most quick-witted of insects.

Warblers all over the shop. I think I've sussed out the difference between Blackcap and Garden Warbler song, again (this is a tedious annual task). Of course, it helps when you actually get to see the critter in question. This was one of two male Blackcaps that were (briefly) photographable this morning.

And a Reed Warbler! This one was singing close to Willow hide, in a spot where I could actually sneak up on him and see him without being seen. He chuntered away from the same perch for ages. I had time to change lenses and get some pics (like this one) with the Bigmos.

Ah, springtime butterflies. I love the fact that this male Orange-tip (Rob's pic) is feeding from the larval foodplant, Cuckoo-flower (aka Lady's Smock, and a million other names). Also love the fact that he's showing off that fantastic mottled green underside hindwing. Niiiice.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Harbour patrol

Today I joined the Sevenoaks RSPB group on a trip to Rye Harbour. Great bunch of people and a lovely sunny day. Oh, and I 'borrowed' the D300, plus 70-300 and the Bigmos. Found that I managed quite well carrying the camera with the shorter zoom, got the Bigmos out to use in the hides.

On the first section of the walk, we saw a couple of smart Wheatears around the wader scrape, with a few Avocets and a nice sum-plum Dunlin on the scrape itself. Then on to the Ternery Pool.

There are hundreds of Black-headed Gulls nesting here, making a hell of a racket. The other nesting birds (including Med Gulls and Common and Sandwich Terns) are quite sidelined. However, near-total domination isn't enough to stop predation. I took several photos of a bit of a commotion over one of the islands, but it wasn't til I got home and looked at the pics that I realised what was going on - a Lesser Black-back making off with an unfortunate Black-headed chick.

There was a veritable conveyer belt of Sandwich Terns commuting between the pool and the sea. I waited by the path and took lots of photos. This was the only one I decided to keep. More practice needed...

This was a bit of a surprise - Cuckoo apparently 'in off'. Hopefully it will busy itself munching through some of the sizeable Brown-tail caterpillar webs adorning the pathside bushes.

Once we turned in from the sea and headed towards the Long and Narrow Pits, we entered Warbler Central. Dominating the scene were the many Whitethroats, singing lustily from bramble bushes, but the wetter spots held Reed, Sedge and Cetti's Warblers. I include this poor photo of Mr Sedgie because I enjoyed his rollicking, wildly energetic and completely incoherent song so much.

Winding our way back towards the car park via several small new pools, we met several Med Gulls which were desperate to be photographed, and hung in the breeze with such obliging stillness that even I couldn't screw up every shot I attempted. Love the fact you can see its wing-bones.

Birds of prey were thin on the ground, but this Kestrel clutching its Slow-worm supper was a welcome treat. The gulls didn't think so, and gave it an almighty mobbing, which proved rather difficult to photograph.

We saw a few other bits and bobs. Nice views of Reed Bunting. A little group of Whimbrels. Numerous Redshanks, Oystercatchers and Shelducks, a few Gadwalls and a pair of Shovelers. Many Swallows, all of them stubbornly non-Red-rumped. One Swift (to go with the one Swift I saw yesterday). Mistle Thrush. Linnet. Skylark. Ooh, and Hairy Dragonfly. All in all, a most enjoyable day.