Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Rainham on Monday, Sevenoaks on Wednesday

This is a two-for-the-price-of-one blog post, because Monday's trip to Rainham wasn't terribly eventful but there are a couple of photos I'd like to put up from the day (which was, for those who are interested in such things, a very warm but breezy sort of day with mostly blue skies).

Plenty of Ruddy Darters about, a few even posing on things other than the unphotogenic boardwalk.

Also representing dragon-kind - Common Darters, and of course Migrant Hawkers which were noticeably more numerous than they were a couple of weeks ago (though still not up to the ridiculous levels of last September).

The buddleias near the Tower Butts hide were stuffed with Small Torties, plus a couple of Peacocks. No Jersey Tigers today though.

From the same spot, I was very happy to find two Whinchats. No other passerine migrants around today, though there have been Wheatears and Black Redstarts reported recently.

Lots of tiny young Marsh Frogs around today, and they seem much more confiding than their bigger and older relatives.

Big Starling flocks out on the fields - it was interesting to see a juvenile posing alongside an adult - not too much difference between them now.

A rose bedeguar gall aka 'robin's pincushion', which I have discovered is produced by the wasp Diplolepis rosae.

And that's Rainham. There was also at least one Hobby about and I saw but couldn't photograph a high-speed Clouded Yellow. No waders of note. Now on to today's look at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve, which I visited between 12-3pm because it was at that time that Robert on the RSPB forums got some very nice shots of a Kingfisher from Willow hide. I had expected to find the hide busy but in fact had it entirely to myself for more than an hour.

The lake was very quiet. Close to hand was a Moorhen with a half-grown chick, further out a light scattering of Coots, Mallards and Tufties. Then a Teal flew in, followed by two more, and they spent some time working around the edges of the muddy islands that are appearing in the 'shallow end' of the lake, near the hide.

I noticed a young Grey Heron up a tree on the left-hand island, doing some yogic stretches. Then it flew down to land in the shallow water, and began to slink from left to right, clearly hunting but as far as I could see not managing to catch anything.

In between birds, I tried to photograph the various tandem pairs of darters that were going round egg-laying in the shallows.

It was a half-hour wait before the first Kingfisher arrived. It flew teasingly in a loop around the middle island before settling on the walking stick-shaped stick, from where it fished (like the heron, mostly without success). I took tons of pics of it perched, and fluked a couple of flight shots (no 'splash' pics though - there's always something to keep a photographer going back!). It stayed maybe 10 minutes, then left, then came back for another five minutes of fishing.

Not much else showed up here. A Clouded Yellow flew across the lake, and a trio of Gadwalls landed at the back. I decided to forget about birds and spent the rest of my time photographing plants and insects. The Purple Loosestrife is out and looking lovely, the Common Carder Bumblebees seem to love it.

A closer look at the purple stuff. The flowers are wonderfully ill-disciplined and 'blowsy' when you look closely.
It seems to have been a bad year for ladybirds, even the Harlequins. Saw just one today - in other recent years any summer visit would produce loads of sightings of adults and larvae.

Butterflies today, besides the afore-mentioned Clouded Yellow, were lots of Speckled Woods, one Red Admiral, Large and Small Whites and one tiny  browny lycaenidy thing that I didn't get a decent look at, which could have been any of Small Copper, Brown Argus or female Common Blue. The Speckled Woods were being complete stars, allowing me to get very close with the BigMac lens and only taking off when they needed to chase another butterfly out of their territory.

Back in the wildlife garden, I actually saw these two Common Darters meet each other and have an extremely whirlwind romance in midair, before they came crashing down together onto vegetation by the little pond.

I tried a backlit shot from the other side. I quite like those starburst blobs but from what I've heard most photographers hate them...

Overhead, a male Brown Hawker was hawking about, moving in the extremely unpredictable manner that is typical for this (annoying) species. But I finally caught it against the sky for a (nearly) sharp photo.

And then - wonders will never cease - it actually landed! Where I could see it! It chose about the shadiest spot possible but hey, it's still only the second time I've managed perched pics of this species. A most satisfactory end to the visit.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

After the downpour

With Saturday's filthy weather plus a midday high tide, the place to be was obviously the seawatching hide at Oare Marshes. However, I don't have a car, and none of the drivers I know would really be up for sitting in a wooden box for five hours staring at a rainy estuary, so I didn't do that. I still haven't been able to bring myself to check the KOS website and find out how many Sabine's Gulls I would have seen if I'd been there. However, Sunday was brighter and Rob and I did go to Oare, though we mostly stared at the East Flood rather than the Swale.

The flood was busy with waders, but the first bird that caught my attention was in the ditch between the flood and the road, and it was a juvenile Moorhen with leucism. The individual feathers have white patches which suggests this is developmental rather than genetic (where you'd get entirely white feathers).

There were another three juvs here, and only one had normal plumage. They all seemed healthy and full of beans though.

Little Egrets were sashaying back and forth, on foot and in the air, giving occasional throaty 'gowk' calls.

Sadly most of the roosting waders were some way away, and not really photographable to any decent standard with my lens, but a few called in at the nearest island including this Redshank...

... and this Ruff, which I guess I'd better report to whoever blinged up its legs. ETA - no need, it's well known apparently - it's a male ringed in the Netherlands and is back at Oare for its sixth autumn. Other waders out on the flood included the usual masses of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets, plenty of Redshanks, Ringed and Golden Plovers and Dunlins, and smaller numbers of Ruffs and Greenshanks. Also at least one each of Common Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover.

I took a walk to the sea wall to see if there was a fantastic seabird passage underway. There wasn't. I did see a few little flocks of Dunlins, whizzing up and down looking in vain for some exposed shoreline to sit on.

A Sandwich Tern, almost in full winter plumage, was sitting on one of the posts by the slipway. The tern on the more distant post was a Common, and there were several more of these on the East Flood.

Back at the flood, about half of the herd of cows came around the edge of the flood, crossing the little wooden bridge in front of us with great care and trepidation. The other half of the herd opted to take a more direct route to the other side. I watched with interest, as I had often wondered how deep the water out here is.

A bit deeper than you'd think, it turns out. The first cow made it across but didn't seem too happy about it.

The next few cows followed suit, all getting soaked and emerging with muddy tidemarks halfway up their sides. The last two in the herd lost their nerve and reversed, taking the long way round at a gallop (except for the bridge crossing) in their anxiety to rejoin the others.

Another wander along the sea wall produced this Yellow Wagtail - there had been several overhead earlier.

There was also a light hirundine passage going on - first half a dozen Swallows, then a dozen House Martins including this one, then more Swallows.

On our way back from the second sea wall visit we saw a distant Sparrowhawk, but it was surely something bigger that put up all the birds on the flood. Avocets, godwits, ducks, even the Little Egrets took off and glanced anxiously skywards as they flew, but could we see what it was that had scared them? No, we could not.

Some worried waders and wildfowl - Golden Plover, Teal and a mixed flock of Shovelers and Gadwall.

As usual, though, it was the common birds that provided the best photo opportunities. House Sparrow males, eclipse drake Mallard showing a few green feathers, and a Mute Swan family waiting for the tardy fifth cygnet to catch up.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

RSPB Rainham gearing up for autumn

Shane, Graham and I have been trying to organise a get-together for three weeks now - we could only meet on Wednesdays and the last two were a bit dodgy weather-wise. Last night the forecast was looking much better and it only remained to decide where we would go. I put in a vote for Rainham Marshes - had planned to go there on Monday with a certain Mr Sharp, but unfortunately said Mr Sharp banjaxed his shoulder over the weekend (hope it's on the mend, Phil!). Shane and Graham were amenable to this, and so we hit the reserve trails at about 10am.

From the first bridge, we found a Water Vole, but it was very tucked in and difficult to see. Then it took to the water and swam under the bridge. It was carrying a large chunk of some kind of root, and it settled in a much more viewable spot, very close to us, to devour the treat.

More viewable, but not any better lit. Still, we all took a few shots, and the vole showed no interest in us whatsoever. That root must have been really delicious.

Today was a good butterfly day. One of the first posers was this male Common Blue, feeding from Creeping Thistles along the trail.

Lots of Gatekeepers around. Also a few Meadow Browns, though these are now looking very worn out.

There were a handful of waders on view from the Purfleet Scrape hide, the closest of which was this lovely juvenile Common Redshank.

Much further off, two smart Greenshanks. There was also a Snipe lurking almost invisibly among long grass, plus a couple of Teals. A Linnet or two dropped in, and over the fields beyond a big old Starling flock was swirling about.

Migrant Hawker numbers are low, a far cry from what they will (hopefully) be by early September, but there were a few around, patrolling the ditches in their usual manner. Also on the wing were Common and Ruddy Darters, Brown and Southern Hawkers, Blue-tailed and Small Red-eyed Damselflies.

Up by the Target Pools we heard Bearded Tit noises, as we'd hoped we would. While waiting to try to see one, we heard a rustling low in the rushes nearby and then the nose of a Weasel appeared from a gap on the boardwalk edge. It clocked us and quickly disappeared again, and my best squeaky noises failed to persuade it to emerge. However, the Beardies did eventually show - I personally saw two different juveniles, not sure how many were around in total. And then we found a juvenile Water Rail lurking at the edge of one of the pools. Lovely views but I was (and still am) just too short to manage a photo of it - reed tops in the way.

On towards the Tower Butts hide. We paused to check the big stand of Buddleia on the way, but our arrival coincided with the sun going in and there were few butterflies around. What there was, though, was this - my very first Jersey Tiger moth. What a stunner. It didn't hang around but it was great to see it in flight, revealing wonderful pink hindwings.

Small Tortie in the same area. A lovely spanking new individual.

Nothing much was on view from Tower Butts so on we went. The return loop was much quieter but did produce a Brown Argus. It also produced a mystery wader on one of the pools, which I didn't pick up until it was pretty much too late. It was pretty pale and lacked any obvious white markings on wings/tail/rump. I am confused.

The wooded 'Cordite' area produced another lycaenid - this lovely female Holly Blue. Buddleia here was attended by Commas, Peacocks, whites and a few Silver Y moths. Birds here - none, really.

On the last bit of path we walked pretty much through the middle of the big Starling flock mentioned earlier.

Back at the start, we found that Superconfident Water Vole was in the same place as before and still enjoying brunch.

We had tea and (in Graham's case) cake at the visitor centre. While we were there the receptionist received a message via walkie-talkie that four Yellow Wagtails had just arrived on Purfleet Scrape, but we couldn't see them from where we were. We finished our refreshments and returned to the hide overlooking the scrape but it was wagtailless.

We walked to the turnstile and then cut through to the river path. A Whimbrel went by, giving its celebrated seven-note call, but didn't land in view. Last interesting sighting of the day was of two distant circling Sparrowhawks over the reserve, the only raptors that we saw.