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Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Mediocre Minsmere

An afternoon off work for all the extra evenings I am working this week, saw me finally visit Minsmere in the hope of seeing firstly, Roseate tern/s which has been reported every day there for the last 2 weeks. Needless to say, today was the first day when they weren't reported, I certainly didn't see any. I secondly wanted to photograph what i assumed must be a close Spoonbill on the Scrape, it wasn't there, it had gone. 
Indeed I have never seen virtually the whole of the east Scrape completely dry. It was nice to see 2 of the former "islands" colonised by Sandwich Terns with some 120 birds counted.
About 40 Black- tailed Godwits were in evidence mostly around the West & North Scrape areas which still held some water.
On looking out from the open air public hide I counted 25 splendid dusky Spotted Redshanks, lovely birds, but sadly too far away to properly photograph.
At the sluice adult and immature Swallows posed quite well in poor light conditions. Whilst walking around to the South Hide, I encountered a Peacock butterfly larvae crawling purposefully across the path. More Godwits were seen from the South Hide, whilst the cacophony of Black- headed Gulls drowned out virtually everything else from West Hide.
Around 10 Avocets were busy feeding in the water (often close to the hide) busy swaying their distinctive upturned bills from side to side in the water to locate their invertebrate food in the water. An interesting spectacle was of a Grass Snake swimming in the water (they are rather good swimmers rivalling Michael Thelps for speed and dexterity!) and the closest adult Avocets and Black- headed Gulls surrounded it, because naturally the Snake could easily prey on their young chicks and the parent birds headed it off as it swam north to the nearest bank, with the chicks left unmolested.
On the way back a slight diversion to a top secret site I discovered last year, I managed to hear the all too rarely heard soft "purrrr" of a Turtle Dove from a nearby hedge I tried to view the bird but I didn't want to disturb it so I eventually left having not seen it. So sad this species has had such a catastrophic decline in numbers during the past decade or so.

Meagre Pickings!

On Saturday, a visit to Leathes Ham, Normanston Park in the hope of  seeing a Ring necked Parakeet were dashed when I didn't see it. The last one I saw in Lowestoft was in July 2007 which flew over the back garden! It was nice to see single plants of Common Spotted and Southern Marsh orchid at this site. Lets hope more flower next year. A visit to a Waveney Valley site on the Sunday revealed little save for a Grass Snake crossing the path and safely entering the dyke running parallel to it, without any mishap.
Hearing hot news from Colin on the location of some Slow Worms, a Snake-like legless Lizard that I had always wanted to see in the UK, I followed his excellent directions. Which were to walk along the path by the dyke and near the railway cutting I soon located the tin lifted it up and (drum roll.....) underneath it was...nothing! Disappointing to say the least!
On popping in to Tesco Express near Carlton Marshes, I saw a rather unfortunate squashed Pine Hawk Moth on the floor (it wasn't me that had trodden on it!) I've never seen a live one of this species and it would make a nice picture, needless to say I didn't take a picture of the corpse.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Chasing the Dragons!

A very pleasant early evening walk today at Carlton Marshes finally enabled me to take the pictures I wanted of Scarce Chaser dragonflies. The usual male was along the dyke north of the car park, whilst 3 individuals, reasonably showing males perched on vegetation at the side of the dyke running down to Spratt's water. Where have all the females gone, hopefully they are busy oviposting? (egg laying) The Southern Marsh Orchids were flowering here also but not in the numbers of my more local Orchid meadow.
Along the pathway, A Norfolk Hawker was busy hunting "hoovering" up small flies along the path, before it's inquisitiveness got the better of it and it checked me out flying within inches of my face, a marvellous sight! (the Norfolk Hawker at such close range and definitely not my face!) 
A Cuckoo was calling constantly from the direction of Fisher Row, whilst a male Reed Bunting called frequently from a nearby bush.

A Day at the Races?

On Sunday, I drove across the county to Newmarket on the western edge of Suffolk by the edge of the Racecourse, to visit the Devil's Dyke nature reserve in the hope of seeing and photographing Lizard Orchids.
After a very pleasant walk, where I noted Pyramidial Orchids just starting to come into flower and singing birds including Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroats giving their distinctive "scoulding" call. I eventually came across 1 Lizard Orchid which was slightly past its best, but then there were a further 4 plants in peak condition. I eventually counted an incredible 79 Lizard Orchids. 
The Lizard Orchid is so named because the long central lobe of the lip resembles the back end and tail of a Lizard and the shorter side lobes also resemble the hind legs of a Lizard giving a very unusual and unique looking flower.
The flowers also have a strong slightly unpleasant smell, which some authors claims smell of billy goats, I couldn't comment on this as I haven't gone round sniffing goats!! 
The tall spikes can grow up to around a foot and a half tall (almost a metre in height) and one particularly tall plant really did stink in the warm sunshine.
This odour was a smell worth enduring as I got to work setting up my camera and tripod to get the range of pictures I wanted. 

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Roseates no show

A very welcome call from Rob at 7pm Saturday evening to say that Andrew was watching 2 Roseate Terns which were perched on a yellow buoy off Ness Point, soon found me at Ness Point. But sadly for the 4th year running I was to be thwarted yet again in seeing my first ever Roseate Terns in Lowestoft. They had just flown, and they didn't return, same old story!
Late June and July can often be a good time to check the Terns on the groynes in the hope of a Roseate, especially if they have been sighted at Minsmere & Breydon which they had been seen during this time.
We did enjoy good views of a close Harbour Porpoise just 100 yards out from the Point and a group of 12 Common Scoters and a few Gannets flying North.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Orchid Meadow bites the dust?

Yesterday, I conducted a survey of a small area of land in North Lowestoft of just 1.62 hectares of "waste ground" which last year held incredible numbers of over 3,000 Southern Marsh Orchids and also 20 or so Spotted Orchid for good measure too.
To see these many orchids out in flower with their gorgeous deep purple flowers providing a feast for the eye in the middle of June is truly a sight to behold.
It is one of the many wonders of nature and was recently voted no.17 in a recent BBC poll of top wildlife spectacles.
However, on conducting my survey this year it was immediately apparent that there were far fewer spikes this year, 2/3 less to be precise.
I counted 868 spikes of Southern Marsh orchid with 24 Spotted Orchid and around 30 hybrid Southern Marsh X Spotted Orchid.
Why is this? There are two reasons firstly, the site is rapidly drying out and where there were ponds, puddles and wet patches there is just dry meadow, certainly not prime conditions for a wet loving marsh orchid. Secondly, there has been the rapid encroachment of bramble and scrub covering around a third of the area since last year.
What can be done about it? I have contacted the Suffolk Wildlife Trust in the hope that either the area can be properly managed to the benefit of wildlife and people or in the last resort the plants can be relocated to a protected area nearby.
My advice is to go and see them now why you still can. You may never again get the chance to wander through a meadow covered with Southern Marsh Orchids in North Lowestoft again.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

At last, Scarce Chaser!

A fourth visit to the Marsh in the Waveney valley, finally reaped dividends when I was lucky enough to photograph several Norfolk Hawker dragonflies including an oviposting (egg laying) female around the dykes bordering the track. I finally spotted the much sought after Scarce Chaser perched on the sword like leaf of a Yellow Flag Iris, it was a mature male with black tipped blue abdomen brownish tinge on the edge of the wings and the all important black smudge on the base of the wings. Unfortunately it was perched on the middle of the dyke and was partially obscured by foliage but I was able to get some reasonable shots.
Elsewhere. the local cow herd disturbed a young family of Pheasants and a distant Cuckoo called.

Orchid Extravaganza!

June is one of the best months to see many of our Orchid species.
Several hundred enigmatic Bee Orchid plants are currently out in flower at a nearby supermarket. Their sepal flowers look like a Bumblebee and designed to attract male Bees to pollinate the flowers. They are very attractive Orchid but are very nomadic and can disappear from sites where they were previously flowering. This is true of Lowestoft currently and it is very sadly a negative return for several sites I have checked for this species.
At a very local site several hundred and maybe several thousand Southern Marsh Orchids are starting to come into flower at a local field. Also out in flower at this time, in the same field are a few Spotted orchids too. Enjoy them while you can!


Saturday 13th June was Butterfly day at the excellent RSPB Strumpshaw Fen near Norwich and there was one particular sought after butterfly which can only be seen in the Norfolk Broads in late May & June. (There is a later flight period in August but fewer are on the wing then.) 
The butterfly is our largest and is of course, the beautiful Swallowtail butterfly.
At reception I was told there were not many about. On the way to reception we were able to see about 5 Bee Orchid plants. On our walk around the fen we managed to see several Norfolk hawker dragonflies which were duly photographed, we heard a Cuckoo and saw 2 very hairy black and brown caterpillars.
We are particularly fortunate that there is a garden bordering the reserve which is superbly managed to attract visiting butterflies and other wildlife including Large Skipper, Painted Ladies and most importantly it regularly attracts visiting Swallowtails. they are particularly attracted to the Sweet William plants. The very genial and accommodating owner allows Swallowtail enthusiasts to enter the garden if they see a Swallowtail and photograph.
On the way back, first one & then 2 Swallowtail butterflies actively fed from the Sweet William plants, with their wings almost constantly flapping. These butterflies are supposed to fed exclusively from the Milk Parsley plant but the Sweet Williams are an exotic aside for them.
Occasionally, the Swallowtails would momentarily relax and a whole plethora of Camera lens simultaneously clicked as the visiting photographers obtained their shots like a crowd of papparazi snapping a visiting celebrity.
All this would not be possible without the very kind and generous permission of the garden owner to allow us to enter his land, I am greatly indebted to you kind sir. 

Extremely Scarce Chasers!

An early evening return visit to the Marshes in the Waveney Valley on Friday 12 June resulted in us not seeing the Chasers again, however the windy conditions were against us and Jenny & I did see a pair of Norfolk Hawker dragonflies chasing after prey items.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Tree Rat!

A lot of young birds have been seen in the garden in recent days with families of Blue Tit picking up grubs from the Wisteria, a Great Tit family (2 adults & 3 youngsters) feeding on the peanut feeders, a young Starling family was seen around the roof top too.
With all this activity, it has inevitably caught the attention of the local Sparrowhawk and a grey backed male whizzed low over the garden first thing this morning. His mate, the female repeated this aerial feet an hour later.
The local Green Woodpecker was also for a time perched on in one of our trees at the back calling but by the time I retrieved my camera it had buried itself deeper into the foliage of the opposite tree.
A Tree Rat, sorry Grey Squirrel, spent over an hour perched on the apex of our garage roof and performed nicely for the camera before I shot it (photographically)!
Grey squirrels are, in my opinion vermin and should be eradicated from this country.
They were originally introduced from America, their original country of origin.
They do untold damage to trees stripping the bark off mature trees, they take birds eggs (leading to the decline of woodland species where the Greys are prevalent) and they not only out compete our lovely native Red Squirrel but they have also forced out the Reds from many areas where they used to live. They also carry a virus which quickly kills off our native Reds.
To some people they make look nice and cuddly in our local parks but they have done untold damage to our native wildlife.
I fully support and endorse the recent comments made by Prince Charles about the problem of Grey Squirrels. 

NOT A Suffolk tick!

A "burn" down the A12 (makes a change from the A47!) resulted in me visiting Felixstowe Ferry, in the company of Andrew & Rob, visiting Felixstowe Ferry in order to see a newly found American Golden Plover. We were told it was distant but when we eventually reached the spot, it was on the near muddy bank bordering the river giving reasonable views through the telescope. A 1st summer bird, it appeared to be an AGP because  compared to Golden Plover, it was a greyer bird lacking the goldish- buff tinge on the neck and breast and sporting a distinct wide whitish supercilium but still showing some golden plumage. The greyer part of the plumage was even more readily apparent when it walked in front of the blue keel of a moored boat nearby. Stucturally, compared to Golden Plover AGP's are slightly smaller, with a more attenuated rear end and are slightly longer legged, although these features were difficult to ascertain on this bird, (appearing the same size as a Golden Plover) as the only other waders present were Common Redshank. It spent some of its time with its feathers puffed out to insulate it from the biting east wind, making it look rather plump compared to an AGP. Again there are no pictures because it wasn't that close and we observed the bird quite poorly in very windy conditions.
POSTSCRIPT Having seen photo's of this bird, I am now not convinced and have come to the conclusion it is a grey 1st year Golden Plover, I'll have to wait a little longer to add AGP to my
Suffolk list! 
An excellent Yellow Wagtail called and flew past as we walked back.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Third sight of Black- winged Pratincole

A one hundred and forty mile round trip, to some arable fields just inland of Thornham in North west Norfolk was required this evening after work in order to see my third ever Black- winged Pratincole. The exact site was viewed from a small road, looking through a gap in the hedge into an arable field sporting nesting Lapwing and even nesting Avocet too! Looking closer, I could see the dark Bourneville chocolate- coloured back of the Black- winged Pratincole and compared to Collared it showed more black on its bill with the red restricted just to the base of the bill. It also showed noticeably more black on its lores than Collared. The pale cream throat bordered by a thin black line did not stand out so much against its whitish breast. The Black- Winged Pratincole is a very rare vagrant to these shores, which was almost definately blown across by the strong easterly winds we experienced in May. It is only my second Norfolk record of this species and my first sighting of this species since I saw one at Titchwell in July 1999 & Livermere in West Suffolk, 16 years ago in September 1993. Its breeding range is restricted to the steppes of south-east Europe and southern Russia. This bird is almost surely the same bird that commuted between 2 sites of Grove Ferry and Stodmarsh in Kent, earlier in May. This bird is also following the same pattern commuting mainly between Titchwell RSPB reserve and the arable fields at Thornham and occasionally visiting Holme too.
The bird sat for most of the time during the evening, situated just a metre left of the Lapwing. It then walked around from time to time once flicking its wings showing its distinctive black underwings and repeated this action several time before sitting down again, occasionally disappearing from sight behind a clod of earth (its back was a much darker brown than the colour of the clods of earth around it)
It then crouched right down looking for the world it was roosting before it suddenly stood up again. A wonderful bird which sadly didn't hawk for insects due to the cold weather and overcast conditions, a real contrast to the weather from a week ago. No photos I'm afraid as the bird was too far away to photograph but reasonable views were obtained through the telescope. At the back of the field, a Hare ran and a male Marsh harrier patrolled the edge of the field.
Back at a supermarket site neat Great Yarmouth, the first Bee Orchids were starting to flower today.
Yesterday morning I also noticed Spotted Orchids starting to flower near Corton woods.