Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sevenoaks flying visit

This morning I had an impromptu visit to Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve with Shane and Karen, after we checked the forecast for the week ahead and decided today was our best chance of good weather. It was fairly sunny, and felt rather close and muggy. At my instigation we headed straight up to Long Lake, as yesterday Penny had texted to tell me that the Downy Emeralds were out and making a proper exhibition of themselves - thanks Penny :)

From Grebe hide, a Great Crested Grebe family was swimming by, appropriately enough - parents and two well-grown chicks. A few Blue and Great Tits were visiting the feeders - no juveniles as far as I could see - and it looks like the Wrens in the basket have fledged. On the way towards Long Lake, this little Mint Moth caught our eye as it flitted over the riverside nettles.

A couple of Banded Demoiselles were by the little reedy pond just east of Willow hide.

At Long Lake, a Downy Emerald appeared straight away at the first swim, but then the sun went in and it did its vanishing trick. We walked along to the far end, where from the swims on the meadowy patch we could see lots of Red-eyed Damselflies conducting their business over the lily pads.

Over the meadow, other damsel species were about, including many tenerals. I'm sorry to say that my first Common Blue Damselfly of 2014 was this young male that blundered into a spider's web and was immediately pounced upon by the spider.

We walked on to the big field, and paused there a while to coo over the many various-aged Greylag and Canada goslings, and also this baby Rabbit. Then the sun came out again and so we returned to Long Lake to have another go at the Downy or Downies.

There were at least two males on patrol. As usual, they hovered beautifully until I thought about raising my camera, and then they nipped off to hover in a different spot. But I got a lucky shot after a little while. I'd like to come and try again sometime soon, and spend a bit more time here.

We walked all the way back to the visitor centre, and then did the other half of the reserve, stopping first at Tyler hide. No photos from here as everything was too distant, but Shane won 'wader-finder of the day' by locating a Common Sandpiper and a Little Ringed Plover. Also on view was a Great Crested Grebe on its nest and others on the water, an Egyptian Goose pair with small goslings, a smattering of Mallards, Tufties, Cormorants, Lapwings and Pied Wagtails, and a flyby Kingfisher.

On to Sutton hide. En route we found examples of both Black-headed and Red-headed Cardinal Beetles. There was almost literally nothing to see from Sutton hide (a Lapwing and two Tufties as I recall). We could hear a Reed Bunting singing and so went on to Slingsby hide to see if we could see it.

We could - it was singing from a small bare tree that sprouted out of the reedbed, a bit far off for photos. However, there was also a pair of Reed Warblers here, behaving just like the pair I was watching at Rainham on Sunday. This is the female, in between her nest material-gathing forays. She's the only bird to make it into today's blog, on what was a rather quiet day.

 I do have one more Odonata to add, though. I saw this from the hide window. Preposterously enough, it's the first Large Red Damselfly I've seen this year.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Rainham all day

Gorgeous weather yesterday. Bad luck for Rob, he had to work. But as his work is not far from RSPB Rainham Marshes, I asked him to drop me off there on his way in. With a full day to spend, I really took my time and, while I didn't see anything mega-exciting, it was lovely to be able to sit, wait and watch. And I took about 1,380 photos.

Walking down the access road, I noticed a couple of speck-sized raptors circling over the reserve. Closer inspection showed they were Peregrines. Even closer inspection revealed both were streaky-fronted young birds.

A Collared Dove, which didn't object to me walking up and basically poking a camera in its face. There are invariably lots of Collared Doves close to the visitor centre, as they make full use of the feeding station.

I headed clockwise, towards Purfleet hide, but didn't go in. Instead I hung around this patch of reeds in the hope that one of the three or four Reed Warblers singing in it would appear, and one did (or half of one at least).

A few groups of Shelducks were flying about, moving between the river and the marshes. I suppose most Shelducks at the moment are 'off-duty' and just waiting til moult time, with just a few adults in charge of creches of ducklings (wherever they are - not sure where Shelducks breed round these parts).

Carrying on past the wet meadows, I noticed all the Lapwings were up and in noisy agitated mood. And this was why - a gorgeous Marsh Harrier was going by. I generally see these miles away over Aveley Marsh so this was a nice surprise.

Even nicer (and more surprising) was that it flew directly over me, rather than wheeling away in the opposite direction as usually happens.

Apparently the Kingfishers have fledged from the nest at the Marshland Discovery Zone. I didn't go in, anyway, but instead took a few shots of this perky Wren which was singing from the tops of various tall plants nearby.

One of the buddeia bushes near the Butts hide was the chosen song perch of this Sedge Warbler, the first of the day. I sat on one of the benches on the raised decking and waited for him to do a songflight, something I've been trying and failing to photograph for the last couple of years.

The Sedgie duly obliged, and couldn't really have been any more helpful. Got a few sharp ones (and lots of blurry ones).

One of lots of approachable singing male Reed Buntings on the return loop.

Heading into the woodland, I noticed (thanks to a couple of other birders who were standing there pointing their lenses at it) a Whitethroat singing from the top of a dead tree. It duly songflighted - not nearly as close as the Sedgie though.

On into the cordite store. As usual on a sunny day, it was BAKING in this very sheltered little spot and I felt disinclined to spend too long here. This male Blackcap was wisely keeping to the shade.

Carrying on, I went along the bit of boardwalk that is screened off with viewing slots over a small patch of reeds, as I was hopeful that a) there would be Reed Warblers in there and b) if there were, they would be easier than usual to observe, thanks to the screen. Both a and b proved to be true - a Reed Warbler was singing vigorously from low in the reeds, while his mate was being more showy, climbing to the reed tips to collect their filmy fronds for her nest.

Her task required lots of acrobatics, and produced some amusing moustachioed moments.

From this same spot, if you look the other way you have an uninterrupted view across the northern side of the reserve, with wet meadowland right in front of you. Also you can see pylons, as in the background of this Lapwing pic.

First lap completed, I photographed this Starling on the railing along the ramp down from the visitor centre.

And then this Magpie. And then I decided not to go in but to begin lap 2, but to have a good long sit-down in Purfleet hide at the start.

Before I got there, though, there were young Starlings to photograph.

These youngsters are still pretty helpless, and spend their whole time following a parent around, shouting incessantly for food.

This parent was perched on the post, trying to feed its chick which was perched below, but couldn't quite reach and ended up falling off.

I didn't see much from Purfleet hide (though it's still a very pleasant place to while away a bit of time. There was a Coot family out in front, and a Little Grebe family tucked around the corner. A single Swallow sped past. I topped up my suncream, gulped some water and carried on.

A slightly surprising sight - two Skylarks on the track ahead. It looks like they've had a row. Sadly I couldn't get any closer because people were coming the other way.

I had a short sitdown by a ditch to photograph damselflies. Here is a pair of Azures in tandem. Bet her neck aches.

There were also several Blue-tailed Damselflies here, including this lovely rufescens form female.

This male Mute Swan was shepherding seven small cygnets on the big ditch between the reserve and the river bank. No sign of the other parent.

Over by the Butts hide, I could see three very distant Hobbies swirling about in the direction of the landfill site. Then a three-bird flight of Gadwalls came over, the (presumably) paired-up male very vigorously discouraging the interloper by attacking his rear end. This is the vanquished male heading back to the marshes.

I stopped by the buddleia again, this time hoping to catch a glimpse of the Cetti's Warbler that was singing from the main middle bush. The Sedgie was still there and chuntering away but the light was now no good for photos of him.

The Cetti's didn't oblige, but one of the Hobbies came a bit closer.

I think that's a damselfly that's about to get nailed.

There must have been at least 10 Little Egrets scattered across the reserve today. This is the one that flew closest to me. I like the way you can see its ulna and radius.

Still near Butts hide. A pair of Redshanks were apparently nesting on the field and were getting up often to chase crows etc. The light was a bit tricky for the photographs.

Return loop now, and here's a half-grown Drinker caterpillar which was really shifting as it climbed down this reed blade.

Almost all the adult Coots I saw today were tending (or 'tending' may be the wrong word... see below) chicks of various ages. This one seemed to be relishing its lack of responsibilities as it had a vigorous bathe.

I did stop at the visitor centre after this, for a restorative cup of tea. Then went out one more time. The third loop didn't produce a great deal of new stuff, so not too many more photos to go...

Right at the bottom of the ramp, this Whitethroat was flitting about, carrying what I thought was a faecal sac but actually seeing the photos properly I'm not so sure, it looks like it has legs (or at least one leg).

White I was watching the Whitethroat, there was suddenly a huge uproar from the Starlings, and I realised that there was a Carrion Crow in the field among them, and it had caught something. I grabbed a few photos of the action before the crow flew into a dip and I couldn't see it any more. I presumed its victim was going to be one of those dopey Starling chicks, but the photos show that it was actually a Coot chick.

A happier scene of Coot chicks, from the bridge by Purfleet hide. The pair here had about six tiny chicks. But as I watched, I saw that things weren't really that happy after all.

I remember being very shocked years ago by a scene in one of the Attenborough programmes, which showed Coot parents aggressively attacking and eventually killing their own small chicks. It seemed this Coot was doing the same thing. It kept grabbing one of the two chicks (always the same one) and shaking it - as I recall the programme called this 'tousling'. Apparently Coots habitually reduce their brood sizes in this way, and perhaps the 'tousling' helps them identify which chicks are strong and which are not. It was not nice to see though, especially because of course the poor little chick had no choice but to continue to stay close to its parent and squeak to be fed.

I stopped at the damsel ditch again and this time got a shot of a Blue-tailed with prey.

The Azures had called off their mating activity as it was now heading towards late afternoon (damsels like to do it in the midday sun) and were resting on plants at the water's edge.

Last photo - a Dock Bug which for some reason is sitting on a bird dropping. Each to their own.

Also today I heard Bearded Tits on 2/3 loops but no sightings. Quite a few Linnets about. Heard a ton of Cetti's Warblers but only managed glimpse-ettes. Saw one Chiffchaff. Butterflies out and about included Orange-tip, Brimstone, Peacock (loads), Holly and Common Blues.