Friday, 25 April 2014

A short but serious post about Malta

Long-term readers of this blog might remember that in April 2010 I went to Malta, to take part in BirdLife Malta's 'Springwatch' camp. The point of this is to observe, report on and hopefully discourage hunters who illegally shoot protected birds during the migration period - this is, sadly, a massive problem in Malta. It was one hell of an eyeopening and upsetting experience - here's my blog post about it.

At the moment, Chris Packham is in Malta and doing a nightly video diary about what he's observing. It makes for pretty grim watching. Please take a look, and share if you feel like it - his website is here. All the video diaries are there, plus tons of other info and links for various things you can do to help - eg sample letter for your MEP. Thanks.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Babes in the woods

It rained heavily all day on Easter Sunday, AND I had no easter eggs. So let's just move on to Monday, which was a beautiful, sunny and warm day. I spent the morning painting my flat for some reason, but in the afternoon met Rob down at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve.

I had the camera out with macro lens attached for the walk down there, and took a few flower pics. This Ivy-leaved Toadflax seems to be gazing imploringly at the heavens.

In keeping with the vaguely ecclesiastical theme, these freshly opened Copper Beech leaves reminded me of stained-glass windows.

At the reserve now. It was very busy (with humans), as expected on a sunny bank holiday. Found this White Deadnettle which had a whorl of flowers but no leaves on top.

Part of a large patch of 'feral' Forget-me-nots growing outside of the Wildlife Garden.

Weird angle on a droopy Bluebell flower.

My first BIF (bee in flight) shot for 2014. It's our old friend Anthophora plumipes, a female, rocking her orange knee-warmers and trying to figure out how to play the Bugle.

Anyone recognise this spider? It's not one that I know (but then I can only ID about six spider species). It posed very nicely even though it was watching my every move with at least two of its eyes.

Having established by the miracle of a phone call that Rob was in Willow hide, and about to head for Long Lake, I left the Wildlife Garden and headed that way myself, first swapping the macro lens for the birding lens. Luckily the birding lens can cope fairly well with insect subjects as long as they're biggish, like this male Green-veined White.

It's always a happy moment to find the year's first alderfly. This was one of several seen today. I had high hopes of also finding my first Odonata species but had no luck in that department.

When I reached Long Lake, there was no sign of Rob, but the Garden Warbler of last Friday was there, warbling away, so I got to work trying to stalk it. The bird held all the winning cards of course, being small, brown, able to fly and with lots of fresh leaf cover to hide behind. At some point Rob did arrive and added his efforts to the hunt. Eventually the little blighter (the warbler, not Rob) popped out into view and let me take a couple of pity-photos before vanishing again.

Rob was still chasing the warbler when I got distracted by this hoverer - a Drone-fly? It seems to be doing a bit of mid-air yoga.

There were a few hirundines chasing about overhead on and off through the afternoon, mostly House Martins, but at least one Swallow too.

On the way back, we went into Willow hide (I hadn't bothered on my outbound walk). Things were very quiet - Canadas and Greylags, Mallards, the pair of Great Crested Grebes (which really need to be getting on with a nest if they're planning to breed), the Mute Swans (one still on the nest) and a lurking Grey Heron.

We might have walked straight out again, but a couple of the geese were having a good old bathe and doing forward somersaults, which is always good for a laugh.

You've heard of a drive-by shooting? Well, this is a swim-by shouting.

Back out again and heading back, we disturbed a Moorhen pair with four chicks on the Darent. Todays baby-count also included three Cootlings with their parents on North Lake, and a female Mallard with three ducklings on the marshy floody bit just beyond Willow hide.

Oh yes, and this little heartbreaker, plus at least one of its siblings. And a female Chaffinch carrying nesting material, and Blue Tit in and out of a nestbox. It's all happening.

A sort-of obliging Blackcap near the bridge by Willow hide. Warbler-wise we had lots of these, one Willow Warbler, at least one Chiffy, but so far there's a total lack of Reed Warblers on the north side of the reserve.

Friday, 18 April 2014

Two patch ticks

Shane and I visited Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve this morning, and it turned out to be a bit of a corker of a visit, with two bird species I've not seen on the reserve before. One of them is to feature rather heavily in this post. Weather - mostly bright, and warm in sheltered spots, but chilly with a stiff breeze elsewhere.

This one ISN'T going to feature heavily in this post, because it was a long way off. But a Whimbrel, guys! I've had generally no luck finding passage migrant waders on the reserve so this was a real treat. Also from the Tyler hide were a couple of LRPs plus the usual summer water birds (ie not a lot).

On to Sutton and then Slingsby hides, with a few near-misses with good birds en route. A Buzzard slipped behind the trees out of sight. We flushed a resting Sparrowhawk, couldn't quite draw a bead on a singing Reed Warbler, and were laughed at by a hyperactive Blackcap. The year's first House Martins wheeled overhead.

We headed back and up towards Willow hide, stopping for a while to enjoy this Goldcrest, which was singing and actually sitting still for long enough to be photographed.

I walked round the side of the tiny reedbed before going into the hide, and here found patch tick 2 - a long-overdue Mandarin, a drake in full glorious breeding plumage. From the hide, we had great views of this little stunner, which seemed to have attached himself to a pair of Greylags. They seemed quite happy to have him around. Maybe this is the goose equivalent of a young couple adopting a labradoodle.

They might have been thinking about getting their pet neutered though, because the Mandarin seemed in frisky mood. They all swam very close to the hide and the two geese began their synchronous honking routine, which spurred the Mandarin into full-on display mode.

What a beautiful boy. Showing off his whiskers, crest and sails in courtship display.

And now he's having a bath.

And now he's... Oh. Well, that's just CHARMING.

Time to look around at what else is about. The answer - not much. Several Greylags and Canadas, a couple of Mallards and Tufties. The Mute Swan pair, one on eggs and the other on the prowl for potential danger. No sign of the Egyptian family, just a single bird flying over. On the upside, for the first time in three years or so we have a pair of Great Crested Grebes on this lake, which were doing some rather lacklustre headshaking in between fish-catching. And here's a distant Jay.

On to Long Lake, where we found the day's first (in fact only) Garden Warbler, an unusually obliging bird that sang from assorted open perches, and I really should have managed better photos than I did.

Another warbler, this one's a Willow. There were at least three singing around the reserve today.

On the way, we noted a dust-bathing Wren, and this food-carrying Robin. Also a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few butterflies.

Here are the few butterflies. Green-veined White, Orange-tip and Speckled Wood. No vanessids around today.

There wasn't much activity in the wildlife garden. Here's a little baby Hop leaf resting on top of a grown-up Hop leaf. We decided after this to go on to the Downs to see if any of the more exciting butterflies are on the wing yet.

No sooner had we arrived than a pair of tiny grey flutterers rose from the grass and spiralled around each other for a while. Then they separated and both settled - two pristine Grizzled Skippers. Lovely.

That actually turned out to be almost it for butterflies though. Just one male Brimstone was added to the tally. Things should improve over the next couple of weeks. We did find a couple of Slow-worms, and had a most interesting chat with a guy who was doing temperature monitoring of the refugia, and of any snakes he found underneath them, to work out when the snakes will use refugia and when they won't. I'll finish with a shot of one of the Slow-worms - a tiny individual, maybe 15cm long.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Macro only

For various circumstantial reasons, I found myself at Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve yesterday armed only with camera and my 180mm macro lens (aka the BigMac). No birding lens and no binoculars. It was a lovely afternoon, though, and there was no shortage of suitable subjects for the close-up stuff.

We stopped on the way at Bradbourne Park Lakes, the duckponds off Bradbourne Park Road. This is the local dumping-ground for unwanted pet ducks as well as home to some actual wild Mallards like this one. There's also a little weir in here which explains why I've sometimes heard Grey Wagtails in the vicinity.

Still not at the reserve yet - a few photos from gardens on the way. Some nice variegated Holly.

Some kinda heather, out a few months ahead of our various native species.

And we're there. The wildlife garden proved a good hunting ground, with lots of Primroses growing on the grassy banks.

And now my plant ID skills start to show their shakiness. I think this is Bugle, about to flower.

More confident of this one - it's Green Alkanet. An extremely common 'wayside' plant and looking its best right now. Why it's not called 'Blue... something-or-other' I don't know.

I think the Cowslips in the wildlife garden are planted rather than naturally occurring.

Ditto the Forget-me-nots. It took a while to find a cluster of flowers that included a pink, newly opened one.

Another uncertain ID - Honesty?

Two people were sitting on the grass right in front of the particular 'minibeast hotel' that I wanted to investigate, as it seemed to be attracting much attention from bees, so I couldn't get hear it. Then they up and left while I was elsewhere in the garden, and when I went back to that spot I found that one of them had left her handbag behind. So I was obliged to take it to the visitor centre and hand it in. I decided from there to look at the rest of the reserve.

Elderflowers in bud. The walk to the Willow hide and back was very nice, though didn't yield many photos. Blackcaps and a Willow Warbler were singing, and from Willow hide we watched as a pair of Egyptian Geese carefully shepherded 10 tiny goslings into the water at the far side (only to hastily shepherd them out again when a raucous gang of Canada Geese and Greylags crashed down in the centre of the lake).

There were a few butterflies on the wing. Here's an Orange-tip. I also found an Orange-tip egg on a Cuckoo-flower bud. And there were Speckled Woods out and about.

Back at the wildlife garden, I caught a Bee-fly in its hovering flight, about to stick its javelin schnozz into a Ground Ivy (?) flower.

A Peacock with slightly mangled hind wings but plenty of joie de vivre led me a merry dance before finally joining its shadow on the bench for a moment.

One of the ginger bees investigating holes in the minibeast hotel. I think this is Osmia rufa.

And this one... isn't, because I saw it alongside the one above and it was much smaller. I expect this is the least helpful angle for ID but does anyone have any ideas?

Heading home now, and I stopped to take a pic of these lovely crinkly opening leaves. Not even going to make a guess at the species.

And finally, one of my favourite flowers, Herb Robert, growing in a shady corner but spotlit in a stray sunbeam.