Saturday, July 30, 2005

The day the Bee-eaters got eaten...

It was a sad day... The bad news came out on BirdGuides at 10.46am:
"the nest was predated by Foxes last night"
The fourth-ever breeding attempt by Bee-eaters in Britain was over. A week after the RSPB opened its Aren't birds brilliant! watchpoint at Hampton Bishop, Herefordshire, to cater for hordes of Bee-eater pilgrims, they were preparing to pack away the burger stand, the telescopes and the fluffy Bee-eater toys, and shut up shop.

There was a mildly deflated atmosphere on the banks of the River Wye by the time we arrived. The babies were gone but the adults were still around, perching on the riverside trees, hawking for insects and visiting what remained of the nest-hole.

At one point, the pair perched together on a branch and some interesting behaviour went on. One bird crouched horizontally (as if being submissive prior to mating) but the other bird made short flights, returning to the perch and giving its mate a sharp peck! Analyse that one...

When the Bee-eaters weren't showing, there were plenty of other birds around to keep the punters entertained. The best of these was probably the above juvenile male Redstart, which perched close by on a fence.

At various points, the Bee-eaters were joined on their favoured trees by Kingfisher and Great Spotted Woodpecker, with Little Egret flying along the river, Buzzards calling overhead and a Hobby causing havoc among the martins. Swallows darted low over the meadows and an assortment of finches and buntings lined the hedges.

Many people were just as interested in watching Blue Tits as Bee-eaters. A good variety of birds but the stars of the show were on their way out...

digiscoped photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995 + Leica Apo Televid 62 with 16x or 20-60x eyepieces

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Phew! Wot a whopper!

This is a seriously big beetle! I'd guess its body measured at least an inch (25mm) long, with enormous antennae.

Surely beasts like this should belong somewhere in the tropics? It's actually a Musk Beetle, a kind of longhorn beetle, which is supposed to smell nice, hence its scientific name of Aromia moschata, and I found it at Woodwalton Fen NNR this evening.

The only reason I recognised it was because we accidentally caught one while ringing at Ferry Meadows a couple of years ago. I spotted the one above as it clambered around a bramble bush, apparently nectaring on the blossom.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

More garden stuff

Bumblebee (presumably Buff-tailed)


I don't know the name of the plant they're on, but insects were going wild for it! Can anyone put a name to it?

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Tuesday, July 19, 2005


These fine beasts represent the very latest in reserve management tools. They are Manx Loghtan sheep, an ancient breed hailing from, er, the Isle of Man. They're helping restore heathland at The Lodge.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Rubbish place for birds

Femald Emerald Damselfly

Small Tortoiseshell

Thistly things

There was none of your Crossbill rubbish on Farcet Fen this evening, I regret to say. Just some nice insects around the irrigation reservoir which now doubles as a giant wildlife pond.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Summer Leys LNR

Six-spot Burnet moth


Common Blue Damselfly

Blue-tailed Damselfly

Can't identify this skipper (butterfly) - need to look on the undersides of its antennae to decide whether it's a Small or an Essex!

Green-veined White

Tree Sparrow, part of the long-standing colony at this site

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Ringing: Ferry Meadows CP

I haven't been deliberately avoiding ringing but, until today, I'd somehow managed not to do any since mid May. That's not very good for a trainee who really needs lots more experience...

So it felt good to be at Ferry Meadows at 3.45am, on a warm, dark morning with little wind, putting on wellies, waterproof trousers and waxed jacket (yes, even in July), insect repellent and head torch.

The site often reminds me of Henri Rousseau's painting Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!) - not because of the weather (we pack up when it rains) or the big cat population, but because of the luxuriant foliage. Just thought I'd mention that...

The nets were up by 5am as planned and weather conditions looked good. Chris has had some good catches this year already and one of the most interesting factors in ringing is that you never know for sure what's going to turn up...

It turned out to be another record-breaking morning. The ringing at Ferry Meadows is part of the BTO-organised Constant Effort Site scheme which enables numbers of birds caught to be compared year-on-year, as visits are made in the same time periods and with the same numbers of nets up in the same places etc. as far as possible.

Ringing - fitting an uniquely-numbered ring around a bird's leg - means that individuals can be identified on subsequent occasions and information can be built up. Biometrics - weight, wing length - and details of moult and brood patches etc. are recorded. As well as learning more about what individual birds do, it also provides information about what's happening to populations more broadly (for a proper explanation, please visit the BTO website).

By lunchtime we'd processed a grand total of 145 birds of 18 species:
Wren; Dunnock; Robin; Blackbird; Sedge Warbler; Reed Warbler; Lesser Whitethroat; Whitethroat; Garden Warbler; Blackcap; Chiffchaff; Willow Warbler; Goldcrest; Blue Tit; Great Tit; Treecreeper; Bullfinch; Reed Bunting.

The two Goldcrests were very unusual for CES here and we don't get too many Lesser Whitethroats, either. Long-tailed Tits were absent from the scoresheet (though we heard them calling) and juvenile Reed Warblers kept a low profile, as did Bullfinches (only one juvenile caught). Many of the warblers had been munching on berries (but which ones?), as evidenced by their purple chins.

There were some amazingly tatty birds around, most notably Blue and Great Tits, which seem to be prone to losing the majority of their head feathering during the breeding season. There were also a few Chiffchaffs which were in serious need of new wing feathers.

Then there was The One That Got Away. We were at one of the nets when a male Sparrowhawk shot in at the other end. Bad words were uttered as we ran towards it. Unfortunately, the bird decided that that would be a good time to wriggle out of the net and make good its escape. More curses.

As well as birds, the site is also rich in insect life. I helped three species of dragonfly out of the nets this morning - Brown Hawker, Southern Hawker and Four-spotted Chaser - and we saw Emperor, Banded Demoiselle and assorted damselflies. We've seen Musk Beetle (below) there before, too - a Nationally Notable species.

In short, Ferry Meadows is a good place to be on a summer's morning. It's a privilege to be off the beaten track and surrounded by nature. Ringing gives us a special view of what's really going on with bird populations and a sample of what's around on the site.

I could live without the mosquitos and the stinging nettles, though.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005


Large Red Damselflies ovipositing (or trying to)

I've definitely got to put in some more hours at the ponds. I'm convinced there are great shots to be had of red damselflies perching on bright scarlet-pink lily flowers. Getting the insects sharply in focus while they're in tandem is hard because of the thin, elongated shape they make together.

Small Tortoiseshell

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Monday, July 11, 2005

Must get out more

Female (top) and male Common Blue Damselflies. The only half-decent pictures I've taken in a while. I've got to try harder....

I'm rubbish at identifying damselflies (in fact, I've probably got these wrong), but it's another instance where my beloved 995 saves the day. If a damselfly sits still for long enough, I can get a photo and sort it out later (using Britain's Dragonflies by Dave Smallshire and Andy Swash, a fine publication from WildGuides).

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Summer Chafer

Shown approximately 3x lifesize, here is a Summer Chafer I rescued from the pond this afternoon. A couple of his friends weren't so lucky.

For the past few nights, I've noticed large numbers (c100+) of these beasties swarming around the top of my back garden Ash tree at dusk. Though it was getting a bit dark to see, closer examination through binoculars revealed that there was rather a lot of mating going on among the leaves. I don't remember seeing these beetles before but perhaps I don't look hard enough.

A Google search for information on the species doesn't reveal very much - mainly tips on how best to kill them. The grubs eat grass roots so they aren't flavour of the month with gardeners. I'm told that Summer Chafers are a favourite snack for Noctule bats, but I've only seen Black-headed Gulls eating them so far...

photo taken with Nikon Coolpix 995

Friday, July 01, 2005

Waterlily special

Large Red Damselflies, female ovipositing (egg-laying). I didn't really make the most of this photo opportunity. Bit of a rush at lunchtime and an awkward angle.

photos taken with Nikon Coolpix 995