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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Very Scarce Chasers

A visit to an area in the Waveney valley just south of Lowestoft is always a delight in late Spring and Summer. This is to search for a number of dragonfly species, in particular the Scarce Chaser.
It lived up to its name admirably by not showing at all today. Their flight period is between late May and late July so they should really be around. But although the weather was hot there was also a strong cooling North wind, not ideal weather to photograph Dragonflies! 
However, up to 5 Four Spotted Chasers were seen and 4 Hairy Hawkers flew around the dykes.
A Cuckoo called in the distance, whilst 1 of 2 singing Garden Warblers eventually showed itself to me in bushes beside the path just past the meadow.
Near the railway line a Marsh Tit and 2 juvenile Long- tailed Tits were also seen.
I'll have to visit the site again soon and try again!

Back in the garden in the late afternoon, a Painted Lady butterfly briefly alighted onto a stone beneath the pergala. Whilst a Speckled Wood butterfly and Large red Damselfly were seen during the morning around the wildlife pond, which also held a sunbathing Frog.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Marvellous Mammals- 1, 2, 3!

An early start at Breydon hoping to clear up the great Knot controversy, only muddied the waters further, the finder had seen the bird earlier but it had flown off at 5.45am. A bird pointed out to me as THE bird by twitchers already there, was definately a Knot in winter plumage, 3 other Knots joined it including one fine Red Knot. They posed next to an Oystercatcher and appeared to me the same size as the bird last night.    
Incredibly an Otter (only my 2nd sighting of one, my first had been a pair of Otters swimming along the Island Mere at Minsmere in May 2007 & marvellous mammal no.1) swam left down the channel, it clambered briefly onto the muddy bank and looked at us briefly. It then flopped into the water and disappeared from sight. Later on a Common Seal (marvellous mammal no.2) swam up right along the channel.
Around the approach road, a Cuckoo called incessantly, I saw it very well in flight briefly but sadly this species eluded my camera lens yet again!
I then undertook a 2 and a 1/2 hour journey to College Lake near Tring in the Chilterns in Buckinghamshire in the hope of seeing some usually rarely seen European Polecats. 
European Polecats had been hunted to almost extinction in England in the past because they were considered a "pest" for sometimes hunting feral poultry. The European polecat stronghold in the UK is in central Wales. I had heard reports of up to 4 cub Polecats being seen regularly hunting, drinking and playing at a manmade pool overlooked by a small hide called the "Window in the Woods". The Reserve is very well run and having paid my £1 donation, I was given excellent directions to the hide. I had to wait just 5 minutes outside before I was ushered into the hide (there is standing room only for about 8 people at a push)!
After a 2 hour wait, where we were treated to views of Smooth Newt, feeding Jay and several Speckled Wood butterflies, one excellent juvenile European Polecat (marvellous mammal no.3) appeared suddenly really close in front of the left hand side of the hide. It was like a diminutive ferret it looked up at us showing its creamy brown face, the brown appearing like a mask and it also had a very brown back too. The Polecat then ran right in front of the hide and darted in and out of the vegetation and nettles. Over the next half an hour, we were treated to some very confiding but mostly obscured views of this rarely seen creature; hunting at the back, leaping on prey (probably a small rodent) and drinking from the pool (unfortunately right behind a log giving us again very obscured views). Once it must have stood on it's head up because a head suddenly appeared from above the vegetation at the back left, where it then bounded off to the right behind the pool. It was a real privilege to see to see this rare and elusive but marvellous mammal.
NOTE 6/6/09 Simon King & the Springwatch team are still struggling to film Polecats near Lake Vrnwy in Wales they should come to College Lake to film them! 

The great Knot controversy

A call at 6.15 pm led me to hot foot it over to Breydon Water in search of a "mega"!
A "mega" is twitcher's  slang for a very rare bird rarely seen on these shores, usually one seen less than 20X ever in the UK.
A Great Knot (normally seen in Asia in place like China) had been spotted from the south shore of Breydon Water by 2 very reliable observers and I joined a small throng of observers who were watching it. Only 4 have previously seen in Britain. I personally had seen several Great Knots before in China in 1999. The only problem was the bird was very distant, but looking at it through a 60X and 80X telescope, I could not see anything other than a pale grey back, (I could see no dark centered feathering or for that matter any brown on the plumage, but it did show a dark cap) a diffuse high pale grey chest band. In my opinion, the bird just didn't look big enough for a Great Knot. Although it was distant and the only other bird for comparison was an Oystercatcher, which positively dwarfed the bird. I was having serious doubts about the identity of the bird.
Structure wise, the length of the bill appeared equal to the width of the head (Great Knot should have a longer bill) it didn't appear particularly pot-bellied which I remember was a feature I saw on the birds seen in China and the legs appeared to me too short for a Great Knot.
Before you ask, I was looking at the right bird as it was initially pointed out to me by one of the finders.
I am not doubting the original identification made by the finders (they saw the bird much closer) but maybe the bird flew off before myself and the other twitchers arrived and an error was made and we were all looking at the wrong bird, a Knot?


Monday, 25 May 2009

Military Beauties

After feeling a bit narked for missing last weeks Melodious warbler, I needed a pick me up and what better than a trip looking for some really rare and attractive orchids. I particularly wanted to get some sharp digital pictures of Military Orchids as taken and not "improved" using Photoshop! As Oliver Cromwell once memorably said when commissioning a painter to paint his portrait "Remark all these roughnesses, pimples, warts and everything as you see me, otherwise I will never pay a farthing!"
I think I know what he would think of Parliament's latest troubles and he would condemn them vociferously and another famous Oliver Cromwell quote springs to mind "In the name of God go!" but that's enough of politics.
Military Orchids are one of the "mannikin" Orchids where the flower or sepal resembles a human figure and its Military name stems from the "coal scuttle style helmet" which it wears on its "head" recalling to my mind (and another Oliver Cromwell link!), the helmets worn by the Roundheads during the English Civil Wars.
Also on the "body" of the sepal are 2 rows of dots "threads" running parallel down the "body" seemingly like buttons on a soldiers battledress.   
The Military orchids beauty coupled together with its extreme rarity in the UK (there only a couple of sites where the public can visit this magnificent Orchid species) make it a highly desirable species to see. Luckily, one of those sites is in Suffolk at the Rex Graham reserve near Mildenhall, managed by the Suffolk Wildlife Trust.
Unfortunately the reserve is open on only 1 day a year! That day is the Spring Bank Holiday Monday. This, indirectly, caused a three year wait before I could go down and photograph them, because if you remember the weather for the previous 2 Spring Bank Holiday Mondays, we had torrential rain that poured down all day (typical bank Holiday weather, or should I clarify that to typical Spring bank Holiday Monday weather!)
On Thursday of last week, according to the weather forecasters the weather for the Monday was predicted to follow the same course as the previous 2 years, but fortunately the forecast thundery rain was delayed. 
The weather in fact, turned out to be bright and hazy changing to cloudy conditions and I was able to visit the site deep in a Pine woodland glade. It was well managed by a number of SWT volunteers. Indeed, the scene when I arrived,  resembled the red carpet premiere of a Hollywood blockbuster movie with the "stars" and substitute the Military Orchids for the "stars", being photographed by a myriad of photographers jostling for position (or rather quietly queuing and waiting their turn!) and a crowd of general admirers. The site has a series of walkways leading around the site and the SWT had even put a mat down for a special "photograph the orchids area", very considerate! 
A few Common Twayblades were also in evidence but were inevitably being overlooked by most visitors for their gaudy cousins.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Damsels & Ladies

With bird migration having virtually petered out, attention turned to the garden where 2 Large Red Damselflies were seen around the pond area. Painted Lady butterflies are migrants from the Mediterranean and not usually seen until July but with the pre-ponderance of easterly and south- easterly winds over the past few weeks several have been seen locally recently. I have even encountered some at the Gunton old rail track and the Sparrow's Nest park in the last few weeks.
I have been particularly keen to add them to my digital portfolio of shots having drawn a blank with them photographically over the last couple of years. So I was delighted to see 2 in the garden this afternoon and evening. Initially they were very wary and kept flying off when I tried to get closer shots. But as often happens, they get used to your presence and were eventually quite confiding and I finally got my digital shots!

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Landguard Blues

I received a message early morning stating that a rare warbler, a Melodious warbler had been sighted at Landguard Point. It was frustrating as I couldn't twitch it until mid afternoon. With regular updates stating it was still being seen, I decided to try for it. I drove down to the Landguard Point, which is an area of land jutting out between Felixstowe seafront and the huge Felixstowe Docks. and because of its position receives a lot of exciting migrants and Sunday morning was no exception. 
Sadly, by the time we got there, the weather had worsened and we battled a southerly gale and the news that bird had since long gone to ground, and flown off thus ending my proud record of never having dipped anything I had twitched at Landguard. Incidently, Melodious warbler is my big bogey bird. A bogey bird, is a bird you just cannot seem to see whilst all your friends have seen it!
I have tried twitching Melodious warblers at a variety of places including Walton on the Naze, Lowestoft, Scilly Isles and tried several times to see it in its stronghold of Spain and other parts of Southern Europe to no avail and I can now add Landguard Point to this ever burgeoning and sorrowful list.
On a more positive front, in the front garden this morning a recently fledged juvenile Starling showed very well and posed very nicely for photos by sitting in the Rose bed and then feeding underneath the Pyracantha bushes (planted to attract Waxwings- they haven't occurred yet but fingers crossed for December/ January/ February time).
Annoyingly the bird showed again the next day but not in the evening when I tried again, very frustrating!

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Lush & verdant!

With the onset of some long overdue Spring rain (we had no April showers this year!) the foliage on the local trees is becoming very thick and luxuriant, making it very hard to spot avian spring migrants.
A 4 hour walk around the Lowestoft area yesterday afternoon, revealed a few migrants including a fine male Whinchat in the Corton Old Sewage works compound, whilst overhead a combined tally of 19 Swallows all flew south. Nearby at Dingly Dell at Corton old rail track, a particularly sunny spot revealed a singleton of both Spotted & Pied Flycatchers often seen in active feeding flight. Both these species are particularly acrobatic in their feeding flight and need to be to catch the insects. A particularly "kamakazi" Bank Vole spent a lot of time feeding and running around right in the open on the wide track just past Dingly Dell!
Painted Lady butterflies were noted at Gunton old rail track and Sparrow's Nest park. Whilst viewing the pollarded area of trees behind the Oval, from Gunton cliff a pair of Blackcap showed well briefly and nearby 3 Chiff Chaffs and a newly fledged Blue Tit were seen feeding on insects and caterpillars.  

Thursday, 14 May 2009

More Black Terns

A stop off at the idyllic Filby Broad, in Norfolk after working at Martham in the early evening was very productive revealing 4 fine Black Terns hawking over the water. They spent much of their time at the back of the Broad and often high up in the sky, but a very welcome sight nonetheless. Later on they flew up even higher and away and out of sight.
These migrants have been blown in by the recent spell of easterly winds that we have experienced and follows on from the one I saw flying south off Corton Cliffs yesterday evening. Several Common Terns sat on the rafts provided as artificial nesting sites, and 1 of their number also flew over the Broad.
A rather dark plumaged and confiding Great Crested Grebe vied for my attention, however that was soon diverted onto excellent telescope views of a dashing Hobby flying low over the water obviously feeding on dragonflies and the myriad other insects. I was very pleased to finally see Hobby this Spring after several unsuccessful attempts, now I just want to get that elusive photograph of one now! 

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

An Easterly blow

For the last few days, we have had strong easterly winds, but so far I have seen none of the expected migrant birds. However, a brief 1/2 hour seawatch in the early evening from Corton Cliffs reached from just off the Baker's Score, revealed a super soot-black Black Tern struggling against the strong east winds to fly south at 6.20pm and a close Fulmar which flew north shortly afterwards.

Monday, 11 May 2009

A Tale of 2 Orchids

With the relatively harsh winter we have recently experienced delaying the flowering of Early Purple Orchids (which are still out in flower in the Gunton area and nearby at a local tourist attraction) I was pleased to spot that several Green Winged Orchids were out in flower too.
I spent an enjoyable 30 minutes or so obtaining shots of these diminutive purple goodies with 7 plants counted near a local tourist attraction and around 9 elsewhere.  

Westleton Heath Wonders

As a Football Manager might say, the 10/11 May weekend was a game of 2 halves. Saturday was virtually completely birdless for me (May so far, has been a very lacklustre month for me birdwise- let's hope it changes very soon, the omens are good with strong Easterly winds  and bad weather forecast for the coming week) failing to connect with Hobbies or indeed anything else around the Ashby/ Waveney Forest area, yet again I failed to see Adders.
Sunday, by complete contrast, was just sheer bliss. A trip to Westleton Heath was an instant success with a fairly tame Wood Lark running around the car park. 2+ Nightingales were seen singing and showing in bushes in a nearby wood and the main object of the trip, 2 fine Broad- bordered Bee Hawk Moths feeding actively from the purple blooms of a Lilac bush, looking for the world like exotic diminutive Hummingbirds! The Lilac flowers also hosted feeding Red Admiral, Peacock & Comma butterflies. A Cuckoo calling constantly from nearby Pines was glimpsed occasionally in flight.
While nearby a male Linnet sang from a nearby bush and a couple of Dartford Warblers flew around the heather bushes on a distant ridge, hopefully the Magpie seen nearby hadn't gorged itself on their young.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

Shakespeare & the "Long Purples"

Early Purple Orchids are starting to flower locally in the Gunton area of Lowestoft with at least one plant in Gunton Wood and around 20 along the edge of a local tourist attraction.
Actual numbers of this Orchid seen so far are well down on previous years, hopefully more will flower soon. They are very late in flowering though due to the colder winter weather we experienced this year.
Early Purples are the first (together with Early Spider Orchids) Orchids to flower in Britain.
They are even referred to by Shakespeare in his famous tragic play Hamlet where he refers to Early Purple Orchids as "long Purples" and he also states "but unlike cold maids do Dead Mens Fingers call" referring to another old country name. other country names refer to them as the "Adder plant" and the "Cuckoo plant" referring to the first sighting of both these species after emerging from hibernation and migrating back from their winter quarters in Africa respectively.