Friday, 15 July 2011

High summer, apparently

You know that feeling when the alarm goes off at 5.30am and being awake feels like the worst thing imaginable? Luckily it doesn't last too long. Sunshine was forecast for today, followed by rain all weekend, so I decided to pay a long overdue visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve. Wildlife-wise, my expectations were very low, and they were met (just about). Still, it was very nice to be out in the sun at this early hour.

The walk down to the reserve yielded very little. Young Blackbird eating a squashed apple in my road. Song Thrush going through the leaf litter at Bradbourne Lakes. Great Spotted Woodpecker calling from a tree opposite the reserve entrance. So far, so so.

Walking down the track, I spotted too late that there was a Red Admiral posing on the 'Wildfowl Reserve Only' sign. It flew up into the trees and paused briefly on some sunlit ivy.

After watching Red Squirrels in Scotland, I actually bothered to take a photo of this Grey Squirrel up a tree in the car park, eating what looks like a catkin. They really can't hold a candle to the native species, cuteness-wise.

The Grebe hide had a notice on the way in, warning that wasps were nesting inside. Half the interior of the hide was taped off (luckily the less interesting half) and though I couldn't see the nest I could certainly see plenty of wasps coming and going. Nothing coming to the feeders, not much moving on the lake. I moved on.

I went to Tyler hide next. The lake was about as quiet as I've ever seen it. The odd Lapwing, Black-headed Gull and a bonus Common Sandpiper was about all there was to see. Then a Goldfinch came to feed on the thistle heads in front of the hide.

I retraced my steps and headed up towards Willow hide. The vegetation here has gone nuts in the last few weeks - on some of the smaller trails I had a distinct sense of disorientation as familiar views were obscured by great walls of Teasels, thistles, Brambles, various young trees and whatnot. Though very lush and pleasant, it made for tricky photography.

About the only pic I took from Willow hide was this one, of a handsome Song Thrush in an island tree. Vegetation in front of the windows has grown very tall, making viewing of the fast-drying lake difficult. I could see the Mute Swan pair in the far corner, accompanied by a single small and very white (Polish-type) cygnet. A few Tufties, Coots and Canada Geese were also bobbing around in a desultory manner.

Leaving Willow hide, I heard a Reed Warbler going 'jerrrr, jerrrr' from the very thick mass of willows and reeds by the boardwalk path. I peered into the tangle for a while and was rewarded by a lovely sunlit view of the bird at close range - I don't think it could see me.

By Long Lake I listened for a while to another Reed Warbler in full song. Among its usual phrases were some fine examples of mimicry - I picked out calls of Blackbird, Blue Tit, Goldfinch and Kingfisher, plus a lovely exotic silvery trill which I didn't recognise. Maybe it's an African species, heard by the Reed Warbler last winter.

It wasn't til I got to the mini-meadow at Long Lake that I saw some Odonata. First a Brown Hawker which sprang from its invisible hiding place at my approach and disappeared over the treetops, and then a few damsels - nothing like the numbers of a month ago. A lone Ragwort plant in the middle of the meadow was being demolished by lots of Cinnabar caterpillars.

I went back and sat in Carter hide for a while. Would this become the Kingfisher mecca that it was last summer (albeit not til late August)? Today it was extremely peaceful and I zoned out a bit while gazing across the clear sunlit water, watching the odd fish leaping about. At some point a bird (Woodpigeon I'm guessing) landed heavily on the hide roof, sending down a cascade of dead leaves. Soon after, a dozy juvenile Wren flew up and settled on the hide windowframe, peered in at me for a moment and decided against coming in. When I heard what I thought was the mewing of a distant Buzzard but was actually the squealing of a nearby baby Coot, I decided I'd better move on.

 I went back via West Lake. Pausing to scan from the north corner, I disturbed a young Great Crested Grebe, which gave a small squeak of alarm and dived, surfacing a few feet away. There it sat, eyeing me. Then a disturbance in the water right at the shore revealed itself to be an adult grebe approaching from the right. It didn't notice me at first and swam right in front of me, dipping its head underwater in search of prey. Then it looked up, clocked me, did a double-take and beat a panicked retreat out towards the baby, which - thinking it was feeding time - began to squeak excitedly and paddle over to meet its parent. I felt quite bad - I would have stepped back straight away but it was all over too fast.

I ended my trip with a bit of a mooch around the wildlife/butterfly garden. I'd sneakily borrowed Rob's new lens, a 70-180mm macro, and decided to give it a workout. Here are some of the results:

Purple Loosestrife. One of my favourite flowers, and a sure sign of summer (calendar-wise, at least).

I checked the Corn Marigolds carefully, having found a crab spider here last year. Not today, but this lovely Speckled Bush-cricket was an acceptable substitute.

Although damsel numbers have fallen, there were still some fresh emergees among the ones I did see, like this teneral male Common Blue.

A desperately tatty Ringlet. I include her photo because I'm not sure I've ever seen a Ringlet here before.

Not so shabby, a nice fresh male Gatekeeper. This species appears a few weeks later than the other single-brooded browns, meaning it looks great when they mostly look all worn out.

Finally, a real test for the macro lens. I presume this is a Rose Aphid. I'm quite impressed with the lens, and may well pinch it again in the future.

1 comment:

Alan Pavey said...

Nice post, Marianne, you made not a lot sound very interesting! Some nice pics too, the male Common Blue is a beauty :-)