Monday, 13 June 2011

Thames path

On Saturday, Rob and I went to Goring to have a walk along the Thames there. Our goal was to see Club-tailed Dragonfly, aka Common Clubtail. I was worried we were already too late for this spring dragon, and so it proved (or else we were really unlucky, or in the wrong place). However, there was sunshine (at first, anyway), and other wildlife around to see.

This stretch of the Thames is quiet, lush and devastatingly pretty, and it winds along from expensive-looking village to even more expensive-looking village. We found a place to park past Goring station and found our way to the riverside in short order. We'd already seen Common Buzzard and Red Kite from the car window so were hopeful of photographic opportunities.

The path took us through flowery meadows, over which hawked House Martins. Here's a bad photo of one, in a cloudy moment. We kept pausing at the riverside to look for Odonata, and saw quite a few Red-eyed damsels on the lily pads, Banded Demoiselles showing off among the bankside vegetation, and one or two Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damsels resting quietly in the long grass. I'd expected more, but despite mostly sunny skies and little in the way of breeze, it was still rather chilly.

We settled down on the river bank by the railway bridge, supposedly the Club-tail hotspot (unless I misunderstood everything I'd read about it) and waited. From here we saw a few Red Kites.

This kite came over fast and low. Unfortunately for him he'd caught the attention of a Carrion Crow, which began a sustained aerial assault. I scrambled to my feet and began taking photos.

This was the last one I managed before the action got too close to fit in my 420mm lens. Quite a sight.

Back at the riverside, a female Banded Demoiselle was ovipositing from a mat of floating leafy stuff, her mate lurking nearby. Unlike most damsels, males of the Calopteryx species don't maintain their grip on their partners during this process, but they hang around in close attendance to see off any potential rivals.

The Thames here is very busy with boat traffic. Little motorboats, canoes, and bigger, grander things with balloons and waving, champagne glass-wielding passengers. Whenever one of the bigger boats went by, a few moments later its backwash would slap hard into the bank. This constant disturbance explains the paucity of emergent vegetation along this river, bad news for some Odonata though not, according to my dragonfly book, a problem for Club-tailed.

One species that has apparently suffered from reduced 'em veg' is the White-legged Damselfly. However, we did see a single individual of this species. Rob spotted her first, clinging to the stem of an unopened water-lily flower and laying eggs. Later she moved to a nearer lily pad for more of the same. Check out those tibias! I am very fond of this species, having spent hours watching them at one of my haunts back when I lived in Groombridge, and it was nice to meet again.

We walked a little further along the river. Rob pointed out this startlingly ginger young Rabbit in a horse paddock, of which I managed only this bad photo before it boinged away. I know some places have populations of black Rabbits, but orange ones?

On the other side of the river, a Common Buzzard was wheeling lazily about. It kept looking like it was coming closer, when actually it was drifting further away.

With the clouds getting thicker and the breeze stronger and chillier, it was clearly time to give up. We wandered back the way we'd came, with a brief pause to negotiate with a herd of cows that had blocked a narrow section of path.

Although the light had all but gone and it was beginning to spot with rain, I couldn't resist taking a few shots of this far-away Great Crested Grebe with its little fluffy passenger.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

100th post!

I think it is anyway. Pity I don't have a mega-exciting day to report, but the weather was against us. Sue and I went to Thursley, looking for dragons. The weather was due to worsen as the morning went on and so it did - we had some sunny intervals/spells/periods at first and then the cloud closed in and it started to rain. Also it was windy, and got windier.

Around Moat Lake I saw a couple of emerald dragons. The only one that I got a good look at seemed to have as bright green a thorax as its eyes - could it have been a Brilliant? It was chased off when the local Mallards piled into the mini-bay where I was standing, I guess they were hoping for a handout of Mother's Pride or something..

There are maybe a dozen Mallards on this pretty, round lake, and two of the females had ducklings - one had two and the other five, but they all looked the same age and the broods kept getting mixed up. The two mothers did their best to maintain order by periodically attacking each other and the ducklings that weren't theirs.

Among the pine trees around the lake there was a family of Nuthatches, which seemed to be munching the ants that were climbing over the branches and twigs.

I watched a parent make several  feeding trips for this hungrily squeaking fledgling.

We walked out onto the boardwalk, keeping an eye open for dragons and damsels. There weren't many to see. The first was this handsome male Large Red Damselfly, unfortunately not one of the special species I'd hoped to find here.

The place was quiet birdwise too, but I could hear Woodlark singing in the distance, with the occasional chuckle from a Green Woodpecker.

We paused at a viewing platform where a few Four-spotted Chasers were cruising about over a small mire pond. This one was caught by a gust of wind and nearly blown into the voracious mouth of my rucksack. It began to rain a little, but the wind blew it over and a longish sunny period began as we went on to the bigger lake where the track swings right along a row of pines.

Here I saw a new dragon at last - male Keeled Skimmer. This small, pretty dragon is very common at Thursley, though it will be a couple of weeks before numbers really build up.

There were a lot of other dragonflies out over the water, but a look through my bins revealed that most were Four-spots, with one or two emeralds of indeterminate species. A Hobby appeared from nowhere, flying just over the surface, and caught one of the dragons in a neat aerobatic flourish before powering away to the denser pines over to the east.

I wandered a bit further around the boardwalk while Sue sat and relaxed. Parts of the boardwalk here have half fallen into the mire, making it an interesting experience. There were several Common Lizards sitting on the wood, trying to absorb a bit of sunshine. I spent some time with this particularly nicely patterned one.

Thicker cloud arrived, soon followed by some more purposeful rain. We hurried back to the car without further interesting sightings, and drove back to Pembury, where we released an Oak Tortrix moth that had hitched a lift with us. By the time we got there, the rain had cleared and it was a really rather sunny (though breezy) afternoon. I spent much of it photographing various baby birds in Sue's garden.

The young Great Tits are thriving, and happily eating fat-balls on their own.

They've been joined by a family of baby Blue Tits, possibly the ones from Sue's apple tree at the top of the garden. There were at least four different individuals, and they too were competently feeding themselves though they were ridiculously approachable. I almost had to lift them off the feeder in order to top up the fat-balls.

Here was a lovely surprise - a fledgling Coal Tit. I haven't seen Coal Tits here before that I recall. Wonder how far away they nested.

Further up the garden, a bunch of Wren fledglings were exploring the fence and making a lot of noise about it.

Later on, I sat in the lounge watching TV and photographing the birds through the open patio door. How decadent. Here are all three tit species together.

As evening wore on things got really busy, everyone grabbing a last mouthful of calories to see them through the night.

The other feeder, which is full of sunflower seeds, saw a lot less action, but one of its visitors was this lovely male Greenfinch. I've seen Greenfinches in the trees around here plenty of times, but this is the first one I've seen on the feeders.