Sunday, May 31, 2009

When a mummy newt and a daddy newt...


Baby newts are also known as 'efts'. I think this might be one of the offspring of our Great Cresteds, though it's not easy to tell.

Whichever species it is, you can see its gills and spindly legs starting to develop. These little fellows hatch out about a month after the eggs are laid, and in another three months' time, they'll be ready to leave the pond and spend the next couple of years as a land-lubber.

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Another day, another dragonfly

Four-spotted Chaser

This Four-spotted Chaser was a garden year-tick today. When I arrived it was busy seeing off a female Broad-bodied Chaser, which did not return. It then spent the rest of the afternoon (until it was overshadowed by the Ash tree) around the pond, posing very nicely on the Yellow Flag.

More photos on Flickr

I spent 11am-1pm in the garden, watching for Painted Ladies to log for the Butterfly Conservation survey. It seems that the butterfly boat has been missed - I only saw 10 in those two hours.

There was an unexpected benefit, however: a male Banded Demoiselle skipped past south as I was finishing the count! Where did that come from? The nearest habitat must be a good 10 km away...

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Friday, May 29, 2009

Friday night in Cheshunt

A slightly strange evening. We'd just arrived at Sainsburys when I had a call from Steve to say he'd got a Hoopoe on a school playing field in Biggleswade - 5 minutes away! (it had been reported just down the road by persons unknown earlier in the day).

So we went and saw that, and watched it feeding happily amongst the daisies. Said hello to the new arrival on the Beds birding scene, who then added Hoopoe to his already-impressive life list. Then we met with Mark and decided to go for the Lee Valley Savi's Warbler.

And that's how we got to spend Friday night in Cheshunt.

We did hear the Savi's singing ('reeling'), but it didn't show itself. I didn't need it for my UK list anyway, having added it back in May 1991, on my first-ever twitch (and the last one for about 9 years) at Stanwick in Northamptonshire.

It got chilly and frustrating, waiting for the target bird to reveal itself. But instead of boasting loudly about upcoming holidays like most twitchers, we watched and heard what was going on in front of us.
  • Common Terns floating over the pools
  • Clouds of midges
  • A Water Rail swimming across the channel
  • A Hobby catching and eating insects on the wing
  • Reed Warblers chuntering away
  • Coots fighting
  • Nightingale and Cetti's Warbler singing

Best of all was a Great Crested Grebe fishing for its two stripy chicks. We watched the parent swimming around for ages, 'snorkelling' with head under the water looking for prey. When it did eventually catch a fish, it was a large Rudd far too big for the youngsters! One had a brave attempt to swallow it, but without success. Eventually the adult gulped it down, but it looked like hard work...

It was much better than the Savi's Warbler.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

She's a lady

Broad-bodied Chaser

Female Broad-bodied Chaser, by the wildlife garden pond at lunchtime. What a fantastic insect!

Still loads of Painted Ladies flying about tonight, even through the town beer garden where I found myself after work... Butterfly Conservation is asking people to send in their records over the weekend. Do your bit!

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Painted Ladies

Painted Lady

A massive movement of Painted Ladies has been taking place since Saturday. I've heard a guesstimate of 15 million of 'em! Wherever you were at the weekend, it would have been hard to miss them, flying along without stopping, all the way from north Africa.

Where will they end up? How do they know where to stop? Butterfly Conservation want to know where you've seen them.

Two were at The Lodge today in blustery conditions, feeding on Rosemary along with lots of bees.

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wicken Fen

Dyke and wind-pump, Wicken Fen

House Sparrow

My first visit to Wicken Fen proper today (after a pre-work twitch of the displaying Buff-bellied Sandpiper there a few years ago).

In summary:

Squacco Heron: hiding
Little Egrets: grumpy
Konik ponies: fighting
Weather: hot
Hairy Dragonflies: everywhere
Painted Ladies: migrating
House Sparrows: tame, and dining on a superior standard of discarded sandwich and cake crumb

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM or  Canon Powershot A640

Sunday, May 24, 2009


Azure Damselflies
Azure Damselflies

Large Red Damselflies egg-laying
Large Red Damselflies

Today I had the intention of mowing the lawn, planting some vegetables and doing some weeding. I managed to get the runner beans and courgettes sorted out, but didn't have much success with the rest.

Why not? Well, it's warm (21 degrees!) and humid, which makes gardening hard work. And loads of things kept appearing and making me get my camera.

First, a Common Blue butterfly, but that had disappeared by the time I returned with the camera. Next, an Orange-tip (which didn't stop) and a series of Painted Ladies which kept on migrating north.

On the pond it was damselfly day. The number of Azure Damselflies reached 9, but only a few lucky males seemed to have females attached (literally) to them. A couple of pairs of Large Red Damselflies were egg-laying.

It's been good to see that the male Whitethroat seems to have found a mate, who spends her time creeping about in the cow parsley around the edge of the garden (glad I didn't chop it). And a female Yellow Wagtail came to have a bath in the pond. She liked it so much she came back for another dip.

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Saturday, May 23, 2009


Scarce Chaser

Scarce Chaser
Scarce Chasers

Banded Demoiselle

Banded Demoiselles
Banded Demoiselles

Hairy Dragonflies mating
Hairy Dragonflies mating

Swan and cygnets
Mute Swan with nine cygnets!

Went back to Roxton today, in search of Scarce Chasers. I had rather grand plans to walk further south along the river, but in the end we walked about a mile in total!
It was very successful, however; the total number of Scarce Chasers seen was 45! All were orange (i.e. no mature males, which are bluish); females are supposed to have more black on their wingtips but I'm not sure how reliable that is.
We also bumped into a few Hairy Dragonflies, including two mating, plus Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Red-eyed Damselflies, and loads of Banded Demoiselles. And a family of Mute Swans with nine cygnets, which seemed a lot (BTO BirdFacts says 4-7 eggs, but 12 have been recorded).
photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Friday, May 22, 2009

Search me...

Why would anyone want to search for this?
  • do smooth newts eat fog
But I can kind of understand:
  • great crested newt swim speed 
  • how to make perfect newt habitat in the garden
  • lady bird watching [ladies birdwatching, or ladybird watching?]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scarce? Pah

Scarce Chaser

Wow. This was a surprise. I was minding my own business, waddling around the gardens at The Lodge after eating pie for lunch, when a dragonfly flew over. Thought, hmmm, that looked orange... what was that? Fortunately, it landed in the flowerbed a few metres away and stayed there.

I got some photos and then went to get one of The Lodge's resident insect experts, Ian Dawson. He was able to confirm my identification (I was pretty sure but it seemed improbable) and let me know that it was the first-ever record for the reserve! Perhaps this immature male had gone wandering in search of new territory, or maybe he just got blown off-course. But where did he emerge from?

Scarce Chasers only started breeding in Bedfordshire in 2003. I had a fantastic morning watching them along the River Ouse at Roxton last May, but now I don't have to go there this year. Only joking. Think I'll go back.

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The bees have it



The bees certainly seem to like these blue flowers. I'm starting to look more closely at bees. I think the second one might be an Early-nesting Bumblebee, Bombus pratorum, and maybe the first one is another Buff-tailed Bumblebee, B. terrestris. Of course, feel free to tell me I'm wrong...

The Natural History Museum bumblebee page is very helpful for bee ID.

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Awright Starlin'


Two Starlings caught in the same mist-net.

The female (right) has a nice story: she was rescued from an attack by another female Starling back in February. She got a bad pecking, but recovered and was ringed and released.

Today we retrapped her with a male Starling. She has a 'brood patch' (a patch of featherless skin for incubating) so obviously has gone on to breed.

You can tell male and female Starlings apart by looking at the base of the beak: blue for boys and pink for girls

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Thursday, May 14, 2009

It's grey in May

Large Red Damselfly exuvia
Who lived in a skin like this?

Large Red Damselfly
'I did, the Large Red Damselfly'
I found this poor cold creature at The Lodge today. It couldn't fly off, but tried to hide behind the skinny stem. I think the waving legs were to scare me.

Where rain collects

Found some nice raindrops amongst the plants, though the light was terrible

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What goes in, must come out

Azure Damselfly

We got the pond dug and filled in time to receive our first batch of damselflies and dragonflies last spring. Nearly one year on, our first home-grown damsels are emerging!

It's been grey and grotty all day here today, so I didn't expect to see this when I got home. Two Azure Damselflies had emerged and were clinging to the Yellow Flag leaves, right next to their exuviae. Poor things. I wonder what triggered them to do it today? It's far from ideal damselfly weather. I hope it doesn't rain too hard overnight - they could easily get washed in and drown.

Photo taken with Canon Powershot A640

Sunday, May 10, 2009

This is the BBC news

Broad-bodied Chaser
'We interrupt this blog to bring you BBC news...'

OK, it's a Broad-bodied Chaser, a maturing male (the blue is coming through). The first dragonfly to visit the pond in 2009 was joined briefly by a Large Red Damselfly and Blue-tailed Damselfly, but they didn't wait for photos.

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

A funny day

Gransden Wood

Blackcap, Robin, Wren and Mistle Thrush woz ere

In a last-ditch attempt to squeeze in my early Breeding Bird Survey visit before the mid-May deadline (nice weather has been in short supply lately), we got up at 4.45 this morning.

It started well, with a Grey Wagtail lurking (breeding?) around the sewage works, but unfortunately it wasn't quite within the boundaries of my square. I resisted the temptation to cheat, but never mind, it'll be in the atlas instead.

There were plenty of Robins, Blackbirds, Wrens, Blackcaps, two Yellowhammers, a Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat in the first few bits of the transect. So far so good.

Transect section number 4 brought us into a pleasant pasture, which contained a horse. It came to see what we were doing, which was fine. That was perfectly OK until it tried to chew my foot, through my welly. I went off it a bit after that.

Next, two members of the landed gentry came to interrogate Darren about what were doing. I was trying to find the correct route out of the field (the footpath signs had vanished), but he'd already climbed over an electric fence. Ouch. They were concerned about the horse. Maybe they should have worried about whether it was trying to gnaw innocent passers-by.

Anyway, it was good to see that the signage below (photographed last year) is still in place, though the car has gone:

Keep Out

Moving on, we started the second part of the route, in the village. The contrast between the farmland and woodland, and the built-up area was striking. So many more birds, of more species! We added House Sparrow, Starling, Swallow, Swift, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Collared Dove, Long-tailed Tit, Moorhen and Stock Dove.

The best finds of the square came late on. Walking between two tall, old hedges, it was hard to see what lay the other side. Ears are really important for surveying. 'Prrrrrrrr, prrrrrrr, prrrrrr, prrrrrrr' went the Turtle Dove. Yessss! I was really pleased with that. Turtle Doves are getting hard to find in many areas.

Then, a bit further on, a Lesser Redpoll called as it flew over. I wonder where that came from, or where it was going? Breeding hasn't been confirmed in the county since 2002...

So that was the first part of the day, until 8am.

At Sutton Village Hall, that well-known nitespot, I witnessed some of the most extraordinary, extravagent, outrageous dancing I've ever seen, and from someone I perhaps wouldn't have expected it from. 'nuff said. That was funny. I only wish I'd videoed it.

Then, I drove home. While fumbling with the door key, at just gone midnight, I heard some trilling calls. 'Wiwiwiwiwiwiwi.' 'Wiwiwiwiwiwiwi.' One slightly lower-pitched than the other. It took me a while before I twigged that they must have been Whimbrels, migrating over in the bright moonlight, calling to each other. Garden tick number 92! Darren's gutted; he was in bed asleep.

And there ended my funny day.

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Thursday, May 07, 2009

'We've got a suicide bird!'


This is what woke me up this morning.

Tap. Tap tap. Tap. Thud. Tap.

I couldn't work out what it was, so was forced to get up and investigate. And there was the culprit. A male Chaffinch trying to attack his reflection.

The sustained assault on our window continued until we left for work, with only brief pauses to sing.

On our return this evening, our neighbour came out and said 'We've got a suicide bird!' and described perfectly the antisocial activities of the Chaffinch. The evidence of his continued activity was all too clear, along the windowsill, and high up on the panes were dozens of scuffs. As far as I know, Chaffinch beaks do not have the same glass-cutting properties as diamonds, so they should wipe off.

We put a bit of clingfilm on the outside of the window, to break up the reflection.

I expect he'll be back tomorrow morning, bright and early...

photos taken with Canon EOS 30D, EF 300mm f/4L IS USM

Ah. If only nestboxes weren't full of fleas...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Bee, flower
Purple/blue flower with...

Blue or purple?
... and without honeybee

Buff-tailed Bumblebee

Found this dead bumblebee by the wisteria (overdose?), then a helpful page on the Natural History Museum website to identify it as a female Buff-tailed Bumblebee

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640

Disapproving hare?

Inspired by Birdchick's Disapproving Rabbits... this disapproving Brown Hare was munching barley in the field this morning

photos taken with Canon Powershot A640 + Leica Apo Televid 77 with 20x eyepiece thru double-glazing