Saturday, July 31, 2004

Old Lady

Spent an interesting evening at Cuckoo's Hollow, Werrington, hoping to attract Old Ladies with Stone's Patented Wine Rags.

Yes, it sounds strange, but the Old Lady we attracted with bits of cloth soaked in a mixture of rum, red wine and sugar was a moth, Mormo maura. It's a pretty spectacular, large species - read more about it here at UK Moths.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Woodwalton Fen NNR

[Sorry for photo overkill]

WWF is always worth a visit at any time of year. At this time, it's rather quiet on the bird front, but there are plenty of insects around - ideal for a bit of macro photography. Before I got anywhere, the sightings board at the entrance to the reserve made rather... interesting reading.



Like Bedford Purlieus, Woodwalton is another site where I'm never quite sure of where I am. Fortunately, the site is sort of rectangular shaped, with rides mostly running through it going east-west or north-south, which is helpful. Since it was such a hot, sunny day, there were lots and lots of insects around. Here are a few photos of the ones that didn't elude me.

I found a clump of decomposing, big daisy things (botany is not my strong point). I don't know if they were wild or not, but Speckled Wood butterflies were going mad for them.





This fly-looking thing was interesting...


As usual, I don't know what this moth is, either...


Darters were everywhere, but I had a long wait until I found some that sat still for long enough for me to get a photo. I suppose I need to improve my fieldcraft, or find something not as skittish...



Ruddy Darter


Common Darter

On my meandering way back to the car, I walked past a big bank of thistles, which was absolutely heaving with butterflies and other insects. Here are the highlights:






I didn't recognise Wall at the time, but of course the wonders of digital photography meant that I could show them to Brian later on for instant IDing.


Meadow Brown


Gatekeeper


Tatty, but nice: Red Admiral


Brimstone

I'm a big fan of reeds. When you look close they're really quite beautiful, full of interesting colours and patterns.






What's in my CD player: Ladies Love Oracle - Grant Lee Phillips

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Garden birds



After a few more days, I've seen a pair of Goldfinches on my seed feeder, and attracted about 40 Starlings and 60 House Sparrows with a combination of seed, bread and birdbath. I've heard Greenfinch but Robins are still conspicuous by their absence. I suppose it's that time of year.

The privet bush in the garden is absolutely covered in hoverflies.

What's in my CD player: How I Quit Smoking - Lambchop

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Ringing



Time off work permitted me to join my trainer Chris Hughes for some weekday ringing at Ferry Meadows this morning. Even at 4.30am, it was clear it was going to be a hot and sticky day, and so it proved...

A successful visit with 137 birds trapped. I set a new personal 'best' with 37 birds extracted, of various shapes and sizes, including: Whitethroat, Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Long-tailed Tit, Garden Warbler, Blue and Great Tits and Wren. I am still embarrassingly slow and I insist on making things more complicated than necessary (according to Chris), but progress is being made, which is the important thing. I ringed 18 birds today (probably would have done more if things hadn't been so busy), including the Great Spotted Woodpecker.


Bullfinch


Treecreeper


Reed Warbler


Whitethroat

We took quite a few photos in preparation for a feature I'm writing; however, I won't display them all here - I look like I've been dragged through a hedge backwards. But, for the first time, here is the Ferry Meadows ringing site in all its luxuriant glory:


I probably should have taken a photo of the mud, which, at its worst is like walking through treacle. The key is to keep moving or you'll get stuck and be sucked down into the depths.


Chris at one of the nets

Chris picked up this, which we guessed was a Water Shrew. I don't know what to make of its smart white snout-stripe, though - is it just an aberrant individual, or something more unusual? Water Shrews are meant to have silvery hairs underneath their tail and on their feet, which I didn't notice. Comments, please!







By the time we finished (earlier than usual) at 12.30pm, I had a raging headache (despite drinking two litres of water), but it was fun!

What's in my CD player: Phantom Power - Super Furry Animals

Monday, July 26, 2004

New roost

Have been a bit busy recently with moving house, so birding, blogging and photographic activities have been curtailed. However, when I've had the chance, I've been building up my new garden list.

The definite star birds so far have been two Hobbies which have passed over. I'd probably have missed them entirely were it not for the House Martins that are breeding in the neighbourhood. When they're up in the air over the houses (which is most of the time), they have to be constantly vigilant for predators. So when they spot a Hobby, they go beserk and start alarm-calling. That's my cue to go outside (or stick my head out of the nearest window) and scan the skies.

The other day, a Sparrowhawk went over. It was quite interesting how they recognised it as posing a lesser risk than a Hobby. Though they gave the hawk a wide berth and made sure everyone knew it was there, they were far less concerned about that than the falcon. That fascinates me. Obviously, they are far more skilled at raptor recognition than most birdwatchers.

Sometimes I hear the alarm calls (a high-pitched 'ziiu, ziiu') from some birds, while others continue feeding. Maybe these are young birds getting over-excited or it could be a learning process.

The martins are still showing a bit of interest in nests, including an artificial cup fixed under my neighbour's eaves. I think I'll get one of those. There's also a barely-started nest on the end of the same house which receives attention every now and then. Perhaps they're thinking ahead for next year? I'd imagine that House Martins must have problems finding mud in urban situations like these. There aren't rutted cart-tracks or ponds to gather nest material from, so there must be a fair bit of travel involved in building their own from scratch. How many beakfuls of mud does it take to build a nest? Where are they getting it from?

What's also interesting is that they aren't always around. Sometimes the air is full of their calls, and other times they're nowhere to be seen. Where do they go? My guess is that they're hawking for insects over lakes and the river, or just out of sight high up. After all, they have to follow their food supply. The same goes for the Swifts which are usually - but not always - visible nearby.

House Sparrows are numerous in gardens here, but I have yet to tempt one onto the feeder hanging from the washing line post. They do forage on the [very scruffy] lawn, but I don't know whether it's for seeds or insects (there are a lot of flying ants about currently).

The crowning glories of the garden are the non-cherry-producing cherry sp. tree in the front, and a big Ash tree in the back. The Ash is the biggest tree in the street so I'm hoping it will 'grab' birds flying over. I'm annoyed the cherry won't produce any fruit (don't ask me why not) but its dense tangle of branches and twigs seems to be popular (for perching purposes) with House Sparrows, Starlings, Blackbirds and Goldfinches.

A Common Tern flew over carrying a fish on the first day so I'm obviously under a flightpath between breeding and feeding sites. Canada Geese have flown past every day so far and there's a constant stream of Black-headed Gulls going over.

On the other hand, I've had to work hard to see a Chaffinch and Dunnock from the house and there's still no sign of Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Robin or Great Tit! But things seem promising, so far...

What's in my CD player: I Hope You're Sitting Down - Lambchop

Friday, July 23, 2004

African vagrants?

I hope the Stonemeister was joking when he made this post to Peterbirder:

From: Brian Stone
09:25 am

Dogsthorpe Star Pit seems to be turning up the goods
at the moment.

Friday morning, 23/7
EGYPTIAN GOOSE, 2
Common Sandpiper, 2 at least but prob 3
Green Sandpiper, 1
Black-tailed Godwit, 1

Brian


Little Egret yes; Egyptian Goose no!

What's in my CD player: Hank - Lambchop

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Little Egret for lunch

Another generous lift from Brian 'Natural' Stone took me and WWoN to "local wader hotspot" Maxey gravel pits. We started off on the Etton Road side of the pits (which looks very tasty indeed), but it was the usual Green Sandpiper and Sand Martin fare. Booooooooring.



There were a few insects around, though, including a Clouded Yellow and an Essex Skipper which I managed to photograph (not very well).


This hoverfly (feeding on the dreaded Ragwort) made a nice picture.


And these Soldier Beetles were... doing what beetles do.


Having established that those pits were lacking in birds, we drove round to the Woodgate Lane section. Another Green and a Common Sandpiper were found, which is about all that can be expected there.

I turned to the hedgerow to look for insect macro 'prey'. There were stacks of Gatekeepers, Pyronia tithonus, but only this one permitted a close approach - it sat still for ages. Mike's a bit gripped off* because he wants to be King of Insect Macro Photography, and he thinks these are better than his! Ha!

We're not competitive at all...




Having enjoyed a pleasant lunchtime in the sunshine (for once), we were thinking about leaving when I spotted a Hobby hawking for insects over the pits. It's always amazing to watch them pass prey (presumably dragonflies in this case) up to their bills.

Next, Brian was first to catch sight of a Little Egret which had flown in from the north. It went down on the edge of the pit and gradually flew closer and closer, but was never really digiscopable due to a) heat haze and b) tall vegetation.

Little Egrets are everywhere at the moment. There were four at Star Pit yesterday and one at Welland Bank this morning. How many there really are in the area is anyone's guess. It's a post-breeding dispersal which seems to be very marked this year.

Place your bets on where Little Egrets will be first to breed in the PBC area...

* 'Gripped off' is silly twitchers' slang. It means you're jealous of what someone else has seen. You can also say 'I gripped Mr X off', meaning that you've seen something that you know he'll want to have seen.

I once encountered someone who pulled up in a car next to our birding group, leaned out of the window and shouted: "Spotted Eagle! Gripped you!" and drove off again.

It might have happened that way, or it might have been embellished slightly... You get the gist.

What's in my CD player: Radiator - Super Furry Animals

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Moths in the loo

International Moth Rescue was called into action to collect a few moths from the ladies' loo at work. I'm pretty sure the first one is a Scalloped Oak, but I don't know the others. Comments please, ladies and gentlemen (and Brian). Excuse the bad photography but the light was rather poor...







Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Dogsthorpe disappointment (as usual)

Disaster had apparently struck when I read this e-mail on Peterbirder:

From: John Oates
10:04am

Marcus Kohler has just phoned to say Kevin Webb has found an adult male Red-footed Falcon at Dogsthorpe Star Pit at 7.30am today. It was with a Hobby.

John


Aaaarrrghhh! On the busiest day for ages, too... Would we get a chance to look for it? Not until lunchtime, and it was a bit late by then. Again, Brian Stone gave WeedWorld and me a lift to Star Pit on the remote chance of the Red-foot still hanging around.

Of course, it wasn't there, but the Little Egret was, and there were plenty of gulls to look at - if you like that sort of thing... We didn't even neeeeed the falcon for our PBC lists (click here for Phil Ackerman's excellent pics of last year's long-staying Deeping Fen bird).

Mike found a Small Copper, but during his enthusiastic attempts to take its picture, it flew off...

I urgently neeeeeed to take some photos before my blog gets superseded by the two mentioned above.

What's in my CD player: Summerteeth - Wilco

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Swaddywell Pit

Went to Swaddywell Pit at lunchtime with Natural and WeedWorld. Spent most of our brief visit chasing various butterflies but my camera was at home charging up so I couldn't take advantage. It's amazing what a smallish patch of wildflowers and weeds can do, though.

See the boys' posts and great photos at:
The Natural Stone: Swaddywell Insects
Weedon's World of Nature: Swaddywell insects

What's in my CD player: Is A Woman - Lambchop

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Ringing

Another CES ringing session at Ferry Meadows. Didn't take any photos this time - too busy! About 115 birds were trapped today - about 25 of those were retraps. I extracted about 20 birds again - the number only limited by my slowness...! But there's no point rushing - just keep going, learn the ropes: practice makes perfect.

It was looking like being a slow morning to start with; it was very overcast and the sun never came out. But the catch was boosted by 30 birds all flying into one net - mainly juvenile Great and Blue Tits, with the odd Sedge Warbler thrown in. Ringers love Blue and Great Tits... they take every opportunity to peck and nip you, which I suppose is only fair. It can virtually be guaranteed that we won't retrap any of them, but unless you try...

Apart from the juvenile Reed Buntings (scarce on the site, as far as ringing's concerned), the best bird was an adult male Sedge Warbler. Not very exciting, you might think, but this individual has been trapped at FM every year since 1997! It's an amazing feat of site fidelity, and just think how many hundreds of miles those wings have done...

Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers were notable by their relative absence, the same as last time. There were a few unringed adult Reed Warblers on the site - perhaps birds whose breeding attempt has failed during the past week's bad weather.

Incidentally, conditions underfoot were tough - about a foot of water in places, on top of the usual squelchy mud. I slipped over on my arse once, though the only thing hurt was my backside. Again, the growth of willow and other vegetation over the past two weeks was immense. Good job it was only about 18° C. The mosquitos weren't as active as usual, which was a blessing.

What's in my CD player: Nixon - Lambchop