Thursday, 26 July 2012

Dungeness heat haze

Dungeness heat haze - a good name for a band, no? Having arranged a trip to Dunge with Phil Sharp (see his ace blog here), I got up super-early to get my run out of the way before it got too hot, and was treated to the sight of a trio of fledgling Kestrels wheeling around the church tower, making a LOT of noise. Back at the cottage, I spent a little time in the garden photographing butterflies.

From the top, Meadow Brown, Red Admiral and Small Skipper. The Gatekeepers are also coming out in force now.

Phil arrived at 8.30 and we set off for Dungeness, kicking off with a look around the main reserve. We weren't expecting much bird-wise but hoped to find plenty of insects enjoying the stillness and heat.

The place is full of flowers which, in turn, are pulling in the insects. Here's a Brown Argus which led us a merry dance before finally deigning to sit still for a few moments.

We were dead right about the birds. Very little on the wing, apart from large parties of mostly juvenile Starlings. A big flock of Lapwings went over at the end of Burrowes Pit and I took photos, focusing on one random bird as they got closer. Unfortunately I picked the scruffiest Lapwing known to man.

This one is an Essex Skipper. Very similar to the Small Skipper above, and you need to see them from this sort of angle to see the difference - look very carefully and you'll see that the Essex Skipper is wearing tiny white stilettos. But if the stilettos have fallen off then check the antennae tip undersides - red-brown in Small, black in Essex. There are other little differences too but the antennae one is probably the easiest/least subjective.

We stayed on the trail to Denge Marsh hide then took a left and followed the public right of way to Springfield Bridge, alongside the river. A lovely walk, this, and it produced a few Six-spot Burnets and this confiding Corn Bunting. At the bridge, we saw a very white-crowned female-type Marsh Harrier over Denge Marsh, and in the river a mini-Pike (the little ones are called 'jack' Pike, as Phil explained).

We retraced our steps from the bridge and were soon back at Denge Marsh hide, noting this Marsh Frog lurking in the ditch beside the hide.

It was lovely and cool in the hide and we made a lengthy stay, entertained by the many Common Terns that were on the rafts or flying about nearby. They were feeling the heat - I saw several taking mid-air dip baths but didn't manage to get any shots of it. On the raft in front of us there were at least two small chicks.

A Black-tailed Godwit flew briskly over the water - one of two seen today.

Linnets were ever-present and as photographically unhelpful as usual. This was the best I managed.

The last stretch of trail between Denge Marsh hide and the car park proved best for dragonflies. There were many Ruddy Darters about, a few of which posed for photos. Less cooperative were the big 'uns -  we saw Emperors, Brown Hawkers and Migrant Hawkers. Common Blue Damselflies were also numerous.

Over the road to the ARC pit. We went to the viewscreen first, and again it was nice and cool here. Not that much to see though. This Little Egret provided a few minutes of diversion, while nearby was a crestless young Lapwing, a few Linnets dropped in, and further out were Pochards, Tufties, gulls and Cormorants.

Heading back, Phil remarked on how the loafing gulls on the shingle bank were quite unworried by our walking past quite close to them. Of course, the moment we stopped, the gulls started looking worried and shuffling away. This Common Gull and Black-headed held their ground and provided a nice size/shape comparison into the bargain.

We finished our very enjoyable though a bit too hot day in the hide on the other side of the ARC pits. Lots to see here, though none of it very close. Ducks included this female-type Garganey, as well as Teals, Gadwalls and Shovelers, and on a shingle spit a Common Sandpiper kept company with a Little Ringed Plover.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Down the lane

Sunshine! I was up early, and went for a wobble down the road on my new bike. I know it's ridiculous for someone of my age but I am very new to cycling... More practice needed before I go and play in traffic, but I found a quiet wide lane with no witnesses and went up and down it a few times. Then back to the cottage to dump bike and pick up camera for a short explore. I didn't go far as my feet were still tired from walking back here from Headcorn yesterday, and also I was wearing Sue's wellies which are too big for me.

I went down past the Green Woodie nest (now empty) and met these lovely horses. Wildlife-wise, there were plenty of Rabbits and much song from Whitethroats, Blackcaps and Yellowhammers.

Bullfinches were few and far between at my old local patches but out here there are lots of them, and they are quite confiding.

From this field I went back and walked past the church, seeing this Stock Dove eyeing me suspiciously from a high branch over the graveyard. It's the first Stock Dove I've seen out here, though the place is crawling with Collared Doves...

... here's one of them. Of course there are Woodpigeons everywhere and I've seen a few Ferals but what I'd really like (of course) is a Turtle Dove. Maybe one day, but not today.

I've been lecturing Sue about not cutting hedges for another month or so, because of nesting birds. I'll have to remember to show her this pic. This agitated female Blackbird chinked at me for a while before flying to her nest, in a hedge.

I'd hoped to see some butterflies but my walk was over too early and the air hadn't warmed up enough. So I'll tell you about the ones I saw yesterday on my walk back from Headcorn. One of the lanes, Brick Kiln Lane, is tiny, just about wide enough for a Mini if it breathes in, and is so little used by traffic that there's a line of grass sprouting out of the tarmac in the centre. The lane is bordered by a flowery bank, and this yesterday was absolutely stuffed with Meadow Browns. I don't think I've ever seen so many in one small space. They were busily feeding and trying to seduce each other. I watched them for ages and got very absorbed, having to leap into the hedge quite quickly when a car (a Mini, natch) suddenly appeared. Also here were a few Large Skippers and my first Small Skipper of the year, plus a Red Admiral. Next time it's sunny I'll go back there with the camera.

Photo editing problems have got a bit better. My netbook (retrieved from dad's at the weekend) runs Ubuntu, and I'm a Linux numpty, but I was very determined. After a little trial, error and minor rage I successfully installed UFRaw as a plugin for Gimp - it converts an NEF file to a Gimp-editable format. The process takes way longer than the way I did it on my work PC but as I get used to it I'll hopefully get quicker. Next task is to find a way to view thumbnails of the NEFs before I choose which ones I want to edit.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

More words than pictures

For reasons that... well, let's just say there are reasons, this blog and indeed my life is now a solo venture. I'm temporarily living with my friend Sue in East Sutton. The two main consequences of this as far as the blog goes are that a) I now have access to a new chunk of countryside (plus a lovely rural garden) and b) I am forced to use the most recalcitrant photo-editing set-up it's ever been my profound misfortune to encounter so there may be a bit of a shortage of photos for a while.

So I have lots of places to explore, if it would only stop raining, and hopefully lots of photos to take. But the best wildlife I've seen here so far is stuff I've found when I had no camera anyway. On the first day, we went for a walk just across the local lanes, and I found a Green Woodpecker nest hole in a small apple tree, only a metre or so above ground level. I knew it was a Green Woodpecker nest hole because there were strange squeaky noises coming from it, and when I peered at the hole I saw (for a moment, before it ducked) a pretty much full-grown juvenile Green Woodie peering back out at me.

Doing the same walk, two days later, I passed the nest hole (no squeaks now) and then reached a row of tall poplars just as a bird fell out of one of them with much panicked flapping and scrabbling. It was the baby woodie (or one of its siblings), having a dodgy gravity moment. It plopped onto the ground nearly at my feet, and then began rather inexpertly to climb up the tree trunk while I watched and tried to keep my laughter quiet and discreet.

While out running on the lanes, I've met a Badger, a Fox and on another day a Weasel. Linnets and Yellowhammers have been making their presence known, and I've also seen the peculiar local speciality fly-over - Mediterranean Gull.

A few photos, firstly a Small Red Damselfly which was about the only decent Odonata from a trip to the New Forest in unsuitable weather last weekend. Actually there were Keeled Skimmers and Broad-bodied Chasers too, but not the hoped-for Southern Damselflies. I realised later that this was because I'd been looking on the wrong side of the road.

A couple of Collared Doves, from my walk the other morning.

A Slow-worm. No, hang on, two Slow-worms. These were relaxing under a bit of wood in Sue's garden, and I suspect they represent just the tip of a Slow-worm iceberg.

Finally, a Thick-legged Flower Beetle (male, check out his bulging quads) on some kind of daisy.