Monday, May 31, 2004

Castor Hanglands insects

Got a phone call at lunchtime from MJW who was watching a male Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa) at Castor Hanglands. After a little thought I decided it would be nice to go and see it. What an insect!

There were also Hairy Dragonflies (Brachytron pratense) on one of the other ponds, and we nearly trod on this Glow-worm (Lampyris noctiluca) larva on the way out (see below). Robin Scagell of the UK Glow Worm Survey kindly confirmed its identity. There are no other recent records of Glow-worms from this area so it will be fascinating to visit again to look for glowing females. The survey's website provides lots of information if you're interested.

Bedford Purlieus NNR

Drove out to Bedford P's this morning. Departure (from home) slightly delayed because some ignorant motorist had blocked my car in! However, while I waited for them to move, a Hobby swooped past my window and added itself to the garden list. Magnificent!

Once I got there, my enthusiasm was slightly dampened, so I just pottered around. Not a lot of note. One area of the wood has been fenced off so deer can't graze/browse, and the contrast between that and the rest of the site is quite dramatic. Lots of Garden Warblers, Song Thrushes etc. singing where the rest is fairly quiet.

Again, the star birds of the visit were Long-tailed Tits (pic above). I watched a group of six juveniles perched in one small tree (presumably one brood exploring the immediate area around their nest). Long-tails are extremely endearing in any case, but the juvs take cuteness to another level. Is it the little pinky eye-rings, or the soft brown and white plumage, or their daft-inquisitive behaviour?

What's in my CD player: If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle & Sebastian

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Bogbumper And The Curse Of The Black Tern

This morning I was woken at 05:45 by a text from Mike 'Early Birder' Weedon which said:

"Blak [sic] tern @ maxey now 5.45am. M"

I neeeeeeeeeed Black Tern for my PBC area list. That was enough of a stimulus to get even me out of bed. I grabbed my scope, bins, camera etc. and set off.

I arrived at Maxey at 06:15 (it would have been sooner if I hadn't gone the wrong way - twice). There was no sign of Weed, and worse still, no bloody terns! I waited around for more than a hour, in the vain hope that they might come back, but there was no sign.

After that bitter disappointment, I went to Castor Hanglands (I'm a sucker for punishment), and had my best-ever views of Grasshopper Warbler. I heard one reeling as I got out of the car, and decided to have a wander up the track to look for it (it sounded close, but they can be quite misleading). Scanning around, I soon saw it sitting low in a tree. After watching for a while, I decided it was worth a digiscoping attempt.

Hardly worth it, but it's fun trying. It's not easy to understand how Groppers sing. They just seem to sit there, open their bills and somehow the mechanical sound spills out. The only sign of any effort is the vibrating tail.

Also at CH were a few Turtle Doves, a couple of Cuckoos, and a lot of young birds.

These Common Spotted Orchids (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) made a nice display.

This flower is pretty, but I don't know what it is...

Update: Mum says it's Goatsbeard, Tragopogon orientalis, otherwise known as Jack-Go-To-Bed-At-Noon.

What's in my CD player: Thriller - Lambchop

Friday, May 28, 2004

Peterborough's Hampton 'development'

To the south of Peterborough city centre, there used to be an important Great Crested Newt colony, and unique ridge-and-furrow habitat (created by the clay extraction for the local brick industry) which was important for insect and plants. Now, much of it is being 'developed' to accommodate Peterborough's share of the hundreds of thousands of new houses that Britain will be building (somewhere) over the coming decades.

Yes, Hampton is here. It really irks me that the land being developed is always referred to as "derelict brickworks" - as if there's nothing of any worth there. There seems to be a presumption that brownfield land cannot be of any worth to wildlife, which is incorrect. There was an excellent feature in the Wildlife Trust for Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Peterborough's recent newsletter which explained exactly why Hampton is a terrible example of insensitive development (I hope to quote some bits from it here in future - when I find my copy).

In the Peterborough Evening Telegraph on Wednesday, there was an article about the latest round of development at Hampton which has just been approved by the city council. That prompted me to look at Hampton's official website, which was quite illuminating.

Looking at 'The Masterplan', you can see just how committed the developers are to wildlife and the environment by the amount of land they have designated a nature reserve. A tiny fragment of land, compared to the vast swathes of housing, industry and 'open space' (what does that mean - manicured, landscapes Teletubbyland?) they have allocated space for. The website talks about how 9% of the area will be a nature reserve - is that like Crown Lakes Country Park at Farcet, where native vegetation had to make way for aesthetically-pleasing, alien planting? [Waxwings seem to like it, though]

Still, at least Hampton will be good if you like to see Canada Geese...

In the ET's piece yesterday, Roger Tallowin, director and general manager of O + H Hampton (the developers) "promised the relentless increase in housing – the firm is currently aiming to see 500 built each year – will not overshadow its environmental principles.

"He said: "We are maintaining the concept of having plenty of green areas. "It is very much a green project – both figuratively and literally.""

I remain to be convinced.

What's in my CD player: The Sleepy Jackson - The Sleepy Jackson

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Starling on my patio

It's not exactly a great photo, but I like this pic of a bathing male Starling.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Hoopoe artwork

I've realised I can't really draw birds properly so I might as well go down the stylised route to mask my inadequacies. It's a sort of representation of last month's Hoopoe flying up the Nene valley.

This was inspired by Carry Akroyd, except she does it infinitely better than me, of course. I love her swans especially.

Saturday, May 22, 2004


Click here to read about ringing and for useful links.

An early start this morning for my first proper ringing session at Ferry Meadows this year. Chris, my trainer, had told me that when he visited the site last week, there had been water in places that reached above his knees! I have now ordered a pair of waders, but it's still a waterproof trousers, wellies and waxed jacket job, as usual.

Fortunately, the water level had dropped by this morning, leaving lots of deep, sloppy mud to contend with. At this stage in the season, the vegetation on the site (lots of willow carr, reeds, rosebay willowherb, nettles etc., plus my favourite, water mint) isn't too high, but it grows at a terrific rate and before long there'll be stingers taller than I am!

Chris was onsite before me and had the mist-nets up in record time. Altogether, 40 birds were caught in the nets during the morning (22 of which had already been ringed previously) - not a brilliant total, but considering the weather conditions (breeze and bright sunshine make the nets more visible to birds), not too bad.

A male Great Spotted Woodpecker was certainly biggest and noisiest catch of the day (photo above). Other species trapped included Sedge and Reed Warblers, Blackcap, Garden and Willow Warblers, Long-tailed and Blue Tits, Blackbird, Robin and Bullfinch. Two Reed Buntings were also noteworthy since they don't appear in the nets very often.

As a trainee, I'm on a steep learning curve. It takes many hours of practice, patience and perseverance to learn to ring birds. It's not easy and I'm still learning the skills and particular dexterity needed. Hopefully I'll get there eventually!

While it's a fascinating privilege to see birds up close, what I find most interesting of all is the phenomenon of migration. It's humbling to know that the tiny Sedge Warbler you've just released has been flying back to the same site from sub-Saharan Africa for the past four or five years (read a bit about Sedge Warblers here). It might only weigh 12g!

How does it find its way, which route did it take, where did it go, what did it see on the way...

A Nightingale singing from near the site was slightly unusual for Ferry Meadows.

What's in my CD player: Grand Slang - City Slang 1990-2000 (various artists, including Lambchop (of course), Tortoise, Wheat[us], Yo La Tengo and Calexico. Brilliant!)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Long-eared Owls

I forgot to write about my evening out on Monday. It was infinitely more enjoyable (from my point of view), than last Thursday (too much pizza + cheesecake + small but not very potent quantity of alcohol = intense nausea).

Anyway... Got to site. Sat down. Waited until the correct time. Watched hunting Long-eared Owl in the golden evening light as it glided past - unperturbed by human presence - only metres away: orange eyes, ear tufts, distinctive wing markings, moth-like, deep, soft wingbeats - the works! Owlets squeaking away from the nest site nearby.


What's in my CD player: Rings Around The World - Super Furry Animals

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Frass and slow-worms

Went to Bedford Purlieus for a morning stroll. I was really hoping for Lesser Spotted Woodpecker but since I didn't know where they were meant to be and it's a pretty big site (208 hectares, whatever that means), I just decided to wander about in the hope of bumping into something.

The pic at the top is of three juvenile Long-tailed Tits which were being fed by their parents. There was no shortage of food - caterpillar poo (or frass, as I believe it is known) was literally raining down from the canopy!

This beastie is a longhorn species called Rhagium mordax (click here).

It's a fantastic wood, full of singing birds (I heard Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Coal Tit, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush) and a wide range of flora. I was fortunate enough to meet Bob and Emily, who were on the lookout for slow-worms, and they let me tag along for a while. Looking under pieces of corrugated plastic, we found two - one small and one large (picture below). Never seen one before so it was quite exciting.

More information about slow-worms (and snakes) here.

What's in my CD player: The Beginning Stages Of... - The Polyphonic Spree

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Temminck’s Stint

Went to Welland Bank Pits yesterday evening in search of the Temminck's Stint. Fortunately, just as we were arriving, Will Bowell had relocated it and we were able to view it from next to the pet refuge (to the accompaniment of various animal and bird noises).

I saw them on Lesbos last year but hadn't in the UK - until now.


What's in my CD player: Automatic For The People - R.E.M.

Friday, May 14, 2004

Temminck's Stint at WBP but I can't go and see it!

Yes, of course, with the application of Sod's Law, it was a Temminck's Stint at WBP. Well done to Will Bowell for finding it. It's just about the only night I couldn't go out after work and see it. I hope it hangs around... I neeeeeeeeeeed it for a PBC (and British!) tick.

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Stuck without a stint

Just finished an enormous mountain of work and have heard about a possible Temminck's Stint at Welland Bank Pits. But, even though I have a car, I cannot go for it because I'm going out! Gaaaaaaaaaahhh! Hopefully, it'll turn out not to be one, then I won't feel like I've lost out...

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

Monday, May 03, 2004

Why does it never rain when you want it to?

Since it was a showery day, I decided to go to Orton Brick Pit to try for Arctic/Black Terns. Of course, there were none (not even any Common Terns). The best and most fascinating bird there by far was a Nightingale.

The strange thing about it was the noise it was making. At first, there seemed to be a Chaffinch calling (the Greenfinchy, wheezy kind of call) and something that sounded like a frog going 'frrrrrrrrrrp!', coming from the same area of vegetation. Then, the Nightingale revealed itself for a few seconds, and it was clearly producing both the sounds, almost simultaneously! Very odd indeed.

We waited in vain for a rain shower to bring down some migrants, but, of course, this failed to materialise. So the next stop was Ferry Meadows, where Mike Weedon had reported a first-summer Little Gull. That was still there, and there were plenty of Common Terns around, a passage of House Martins, Swallows and Swifts, and the usual evening Starling flights from north to south (birds which had been feeding on the Milton estate returning to their nest sites in Orton, or vice-versa?). But no Arctic or marsh terns. And no rain.

Ended up at Eldernell, where it also did not rain. Nice evening for it, though.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Waste of time at Woodwalton

Well, it looks like the unscheduled trip to Woodwalton could have cost me a PBC tick - Black Tern! Two were seen at Eldernell today. Yes, I still neeeeeeeeed Black Tern though I ticked White-winged Black at Welland Bank Pits last summer!

Oh well. You can't be everywhere at once and some things need to be checked out...

The spectacular creature below is a hunting (as opposed to web-spinning) spider called Pisaura mirabilis, which I watched confront another smaller, darker spider. Dark Spider approached, waving its forelegs and antennae things (sorry, I'm not an arachnologist). Big Spider tolerated it for a while, before threatening to grab it and sending it scuttling for safety. I'm getting to enjoy watching minibeasts close-up.

What's in my CD player: White Blood Cells - The White Stripes

The Drinker

I'm informed that the furry caterpillar I saw at Woodwalton this morning is that of The Drinker moth.

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

Washes waders

Spent a large part of yesterday afternoon/early evening on the washes. Spring wader passage seems to be at its peak so far, which is good 'cause we didn't really have any at all last year! Bar-tailed Godwit, Grey Plover, Sanderling, Little Ringed Plover and Greenshank have all been seen in the past week - not bad for an inland area.

We were just about to go home when Steve called "Temminck's Stint - flying along the bank, past the Shelduck, past the Mute Swans, over the drove - now!" He ID'd it on tail pattern - all white with a black central stripe. Pretty impressive.

Unfortunately, it's such a big area that it was nigh-on impossible to get onto a titchy wader flying hell-for-leather. I saw it as it flew over the drove, but didn't get anything on it at all - bugger!

Had a phone call this morning about "four or five Wood Warblers singing at Woodwalton Fen". In the PBC area, that's definitely worth checking out, since the species is only a rare migrant, and I neeeeeeeeeeeeeed it.

Sadly, by the time a small group of us had arrived, there was no sign of them. Actually, "four or five" in a small area does sound a little odd, since it's practically a vagrant to this area and they were "doing that trilling call" - I thought Wood Warbler's call was a bit like Bullfinch? Anyway, it's not the end of the world... There was the usual array of warblers, including Grasshopper and Garden Warblers. So not entirely wasted.

What's in my CD player: Gold - Ryan Adams

Saturday, May 01, 2004

No Red-rump

Another trip to Ferry Meadows. Not a lot about, though I heard (and saw) my first Garden Warblers of the year, which is always nice. For me, their song compares favourably with Nightingale, and they're not featureless and boring...

I was really hoping for a Red-rumped Swallow (they seem to be everywhere else, so why not Peterborough?), but drew a blank, though there were loads of House Martins zipping about. Don Gardener and Matt Webb saw six Arctic Terns but I didn't.

What's in my CD player: Feast Of Wire - Calexico