Thursday, 30 August 2012

Two hours in a hide

The ex texted yesterday morning (yes, we're still on speaking terms) saying he was at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, enjoying a total Kingfisher fest from the Willow hide. He sent photos later for confirmation (and very nice they were too). So that's where I went this morning, setting off at about 5.30am under a still dark and unsettled sky.

I went stomping down the trail towards the hide in one of those agitated thought-storms that stops you from noticing anything around you. When I realised this was what I was doing I forced myself to slow down and take my time (I still saw no birds to speak of though). The hide was empty so I positioned myself at the end nearest the Kingfisher sticks and waited.

Late August has, in past years, been pretty good here, with Grey Wagtails and Green Sandpipers prancing about on the mud right in front of the hide. This year, though, the water levels are still high and there's no exposed mud. On the water, a dozen each of Mallards, Gadwalls and Coots, the resident Mute Swan pair which seem to have had total breeding failure this year, a few Moorhens, a pair of Tufties.

I settled in for a long wait. About 20 minutes in, a Kingfisher flew by at close range, then it or another returned the other way some 10 minutes later. Then the same or yet another approached from opposite me and landed on the more photogenic of the two perches. I took a couple of shots, and then it flew and that was it for Kingfisher action.

I stayed put anyway. It was pleasant - the sun gradually rising behind me and lighting up first the treetops and then the water and making everything look very lovely. Flyby birds included Jay, heard-but-not-seen included Long-tailed Tit and Great Spotted Woodpecker, and a Grey Heron and a Cormorant joined the water birds. No mind-bending excitement, just two quiet and peaceful hours with a few old friends. Here's a few photos...

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Last ditch damsel

I was looking at Howard Vaughan's blog on the RSPB website the other day. For those who don't know, he's the warden at RSPB Rainham Marshes, and he is a very prolific blogger. One recent post showed Small Red-eyed Damselflies, which are on my 'haven't seen yet' Odonata list. I hadn't realised the species occurred at Rainham, and decided I would go ASAP to see them. I emailed Shane and Graham to see if they fancied coming too, and they both did - we agreed to have a day there on Thursday 16th.

So we met at the visitor centre at opening time and headed out onto the main trail, going anticlockwise for a change. It was pretty warm but there was rain in the air, and it was breezy. I was concerned that this would keep the damselflies tucked away out of sight but held out hope that things would improve later on.

Rainham is replete with luscious flora at the moment. This first bit of trail is lined with beautiful Chicory - my photo doesn't do its lovely blue colour justice.

From the start we were accompanied around the trails by darters, both Common and Ruddy. The top pic shows a male Common, the bottom a female Ruddy. They frequently rested on the boardwalks and handrails, drawing warmth from the wood.

We were near the Peregrine pylon when a raptor came fast and low over the marsh. It wasn't the Peregrine though but a Sparrowhawk. I was willing it to turn around and head back our way, and happily it did, wheeling directly overhead and causing three cricked necks.

On we went, noting little birdlife (the pick of it a Black-tailed Godwit on the edge of one of the shallow pools). The constant racket of Reed Warbler song that followed us around on our last visit was silenced, though we did see the occasional Reed Warbler scooting across a gap in the reeds. The Ragwort clumps held a few well-grown Cinnabar caterpillars. This one had left the Ragwort and looked ready to pupate.

At the far end of the reserve, we found a big stand of Buddleia, which had attracted several 'aristocrat' butterflies - a Peacock, a few Red Admirals and some Small Tortoiseshells, including this one. The bush and its blooms were being buffeted quite violently by the wind, which didn't seem to annoy the butterflies nearly as much as it annoyed the photographers.

Can't remember where we were when I took this pic of a blue-form female Common Blue Damselfly. Pretty girl, isn't she? From above, not so attractive as the abdomen is black along the top.

I also can't remember where it was that we saw this Common Lizard, except that it was definitely on the return stretch of boardwalk. There were two of them, and with care and patience we got close enough for photos without freaking them out.

Aw. This was one of four Little Grebe chicks we found swimming about (and squeaking noisily) in a reed-lined channel alongside the main trail.

We hadn't had much luck with any of the hides until we reached the last one, which is also my favourite (though its huge windows probably discourage the wildlife from getting too near). Graham found this Whimbrel pottering about by itself a long way from the hide, hence heavy crop.

Crossing the last bridge, I clocked a damselfly skimming the water, and after a bit of staring we found several, many coupled up and egg-laying. We could see they were some kind of red-eyed but I had to check the photos to confirm that we'd found our target - the black X at the abdomen tip makes this a male Small Red-eyed Damselfly. Happy days!

We went into the centre and had tea and cake, then took a short extra walk along the trail clockwise as far as the one-way crossing to the riverside path, and made our way back alongside the Thames. On the way we were entertained by this Kestrel, which at one point very excitingly swept right over our heads at more than frame-filling range. Sadly my extreme close-ups are blurry, so this is all I can offer.

Flowers for Dianne

Sorry for the long time no post situation. I am back in my flat in Sevenoaks but haven't got internet yet... and won't have for a few more days. So I'm writing this from Michele's house.

On Tuesday last week Dianne came to see me and we went on a plant-hunting walk. Dianne's interested in medicinal plants and has lots of knowledge, wheras plants and I have never really hit it off that well.... Between us we IDed most of what we encountered, and it was a pleasant novelty to focus on the green stuff and pretty much ignore birds/insects for a change.

Rosebay Willowherb. I actually photographed this a few days before but thought I'd include it here as we were discussing the differences between Rosebay and Great Willowherb (sadly I forgot to take a pic of the latter). There is a fine stand of this growing in front of Willow hide, and somewhat blocking the view of the very few wildfowl on the lake beyond.

This one is Angelica, a new plant for me (by which I mean one I hadn't noticed before). Very attractive it is too, with its balls of tiny white flowers. We saw other umbellifers including the rather small Yarrow (ETA - not an umbellifer but a daisy - thanks Greenie!) with its much-divided, thread-like leaves, and Hogweed (or was it Giant Hogweed - ETA - probably not, see Greenie's comment below) - very big, rather ungainly beast.

We IDed this fabulous-looking flower as Orange Hawkbit. Gorgeous colours and smart square-cut petals make it a real stunner.

OK, so I didn't completely ignore the insects. This flying flower is a Comma, which rested on a leaf as chiselled-looking as its own wings. I did get a closer shot of a different one, but I actually like the more distant pic better...

Comma the second. Bigger but more boring, in my opinion.

Some of the plants that we didn't know but figured out from our field guides were: Self-heal (mint family, short stem, cluster of purply flowers at the top), Black Horehound (another mint, longer-stemmed with small purple flowers all up the stem), Hemp Agrimony (big shrubby thing with big heads of curiously furry little pink flowers) and Water Mint (another pink fuzzy thing, but little, with the flowers in a short, rounded spike).

And a final attempt at artyness - a very noisy low-light shot of some thistledown blowing across the car park as we were leaving, the sun having long departed.