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Monday, 31 August 2009

B(l)ank Holiday Monday

A walk around the North Denes and the net posts today revealed zero migrant activity (same as the last 2 days for me!) and just the resident birds 5 House Sparrow, Linnet, Magpie and 2 young Pied Wagtails. Not even a Wheatear was seen.
Arnold's Walk was little better save for 3 Song Thrushes in the brambles and up to 4 Migrant Hawker dragonflies. Very disappointing, sadly any migrants seen here are quickly and regularly flushed by the myriad dog walkers which are seen here all the time.
Meanwhile in the garden 2 young Goldfinch and 2 adults are feeding regularly from the Niger seed feeder. The young Goldfinch is pale buff coloured with with black and white feathering looking like overlapping ovals on the undertail coverts.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Very confiding Kestrel

On a walk down to Horsey Beach from the Nelson's Head pub, 2/3 of the way along the track, a juvenile Kestrel posed down incredibly to just 1 foot as it hunted for food in the nearby field.
It would look intently from the fence posts and then fly into the field before flying back to a post. It must have been a recently fledged juvenile from the nest as it didn't seem to catch anything during the period of observation and it didn't hover once either, preferring short flights and then dropping down to the ground. It drew an appreciative crowd, as camera were whipped out and photo's taken of it, in the manner of papparazi photographing celebrities at a film premiere.
Also seen on the walk down was a fine male Emperor Dragonfly. 
On the beach 2 Grey Seals poked the head up out of the water just a few yards from the water's edge.

Daubenton Dip

Last night I attended a very well organised Bat & Moth Night held at the Eels Foot Inn at Ormesby St. Michael and a boat trip out onto the Broad to look for Daubenton's Bats.
The boat trip was preceded by an excellent slide talk about the 16 species of bat seen in the UK delivered by a very knowledgable bat expert.
Unfortunately, the weather wasn't playing ball and what should have been a lovely summer's evening felt more autumnal with a cold wind prevalent. This put paid to seeing very much, the only moths caught included 2 Herbaceous Hebrew Characters but the organisers had caught some moths earlier in true Blue Peter tradition and they showed us ones they'd caught earlier. These included Garden Tiger, Dark Arches and 3 others which I can't recall the names exactly but may have been called something like Dark Longshanks and a yellow moth called something like Yellow Canary Surprise and Brass beauty. Update, 1/9/09 The actual names of these moths were Dark Swordgrass, Canary shouldered Thorn and Burnished Brass, thanks to Peter C for supplying me with the correct names.
These moths have wonderfully evocative names because they were originally given their names by Victorian clergy.
An exciting boat trip armed with ultrasonic bat detectors which clicked when a bat was near revealed about 15 Pipistrelles in flight but I did not see any obvious Daubenton Bats, oh well I'll have to try again next year.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Southern Stunner!

Yesterday (Tuesday 25th in the afternoon) Jenny saw a wonderful male Southern Hawker Dragonfly, a stunning combination of blue and green markings on his abdomen, resting on one of our roses in the back garden. Here's a pic of a male I saw last September at the "New" Corton Sewage Works!

Birds, Beasts & ... Corfu

Paraphrasing the second book ("Birds, Beasts & Relatives") the follow up to his most famous book "My Family & Other Animals" in the wonderful trilogy of my hero, the late Gerald Durrell's account of his childhood experiences in the 1930's on the Greek island of Corfu... Jenny & I have just returned from a relaxing holiday on Corfu.
Gerald Durrell is a very heroic figure and much missed figure because he did so much to raise the plight of endangered species from around the world, he established Jersey Zoo (whose work included pioneering captive breeding programmes of endangered species to re-introduce back into the wild) and even rescue from extinction such species as the Pink Pigeon, the Mauritian Kestrel and others.
Our stay on this very green island coincided with a heatwave with average temperatures rising from 32C to a blistering 37C (and even touching 40c in the valleys!)
My quest was to seek out some of Gerald Durrell's old stomping grounds and share some of the wildlife spectacles he experienced seven decades earlier.
I was delighted to find Lake Scotini, a place Gerald visited as a boy and although there had been much development around it, including a quarry and a few houses nearby it was still there and I was delighted to see Balkan Green Lizards, a European Pond Turtle, Roesel's Bush Crickets, Scarlet & Ruddy Darters, Black-lined Skimmer, Cleopatra & Glider butterflies. Birds included a Lesser Grey Shrike and several Little Egrets, not bad for the heat of the summer.
I was also delighted to find Lake Gavrolimni nearby where several Marsh Frogs were seen near the waters edge. There must have been around 60 of their number around the muddy water's edge, as I approached they all hopped into the water and as I retreated they immediately hopped back out again, a very comical thing to see!
Nearby the chortling calls of 4 Bee-eaters heralded the wonderful sight of these rainbow coloured birds flying overhead. Nearby a restless Small Pearl- bordered Fritillary butterfly flew by.
A visit to Mount Pankrator enabled me to see such species such as Rock Bunting, Blue Rock Thrushes, Black- eared Wheatears but sadly no raptors were seen here. This was redeemed wonderfully later with a sighting of a magnificent adult Golden Eagle near Skipero.
Around our apartment confiding Erhard's Wall Lizards (especially those stranded briefly on the steps!) and at night up to 3 Turkish Geckos on the walls near the lights posed nicely for the camera whilst on a flowerbed by the local bakery, a Scarce Swallowtail also gave good views.
On a local beach at San Stephanos we were treated to a wonderful display of the white flowers of Sea Lilys or Sea daffodils.
On a visit to Corfu town, I witnessed the amazing spectacle of hundreds of Alpine Swifts swooping in groups feeding low over the roofs of the tall buildings here, an incredible sight! In a local park were commemorative statues to the Durrell brothers, Gerald & Lawrence.
Sadly, I never found the former childhood home of the Durrells now reputed sadly to be a ruin.
But on a visit to the White House at Kalami, the famous former home of Gerald's brother Lawrence, we saw 2 young Red- rumped Swallows which sat on wires whilst on a bush nearby several Long- tailed Blue butterflies and Lang's Short- tailed Blue butterfly were seen.
A visit to Peter's Biological garden revealed a colourful Hoopoe on the track ahead and a confiding bathing Icterine Warbler as well as 4 Clouded Yellow butterflies in a nearby field.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Meteor Shower

At about 10.15pm Jenny & I had a 15 minute look for the anticipated meteor shower. Most, so I am told, are smaller than a grain of sand. The sky was part covered with cloud but in the clear sections where we had an uninterrupted view of the stars, we saw 4 in 15 minutes, a white flash of light zipping across part of the sky and then disappearing, impressive! A crick in the neck led to a hasty retreat back indoors!

A "Poplar" Moth

Whilst at work at the Library today, John one of my work colleagues said casually "We've got one of those Hawk moths here" and I went outside and it was rather very precariously perched on the edge of the outside door jamb. I moved the Moth for its own safety, which was a very impressive Poplar Hawk Moth, onto the outside wall. This awakened it and it's wings started whirring and it flew up and away and safe! Poplar Hawk Moths are a common species which usually frequent Poplar & Sallow trees.
It was probably attracted to the outside wall of the Library by the white outside light which is on at night for security reasons. This is the second time I've seen this species of moth outside the Library, we had another exactly a year ago in the same spot!

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Baird's Sandpiper

Hearing of a Baird's Sandpiper at Hickling, after work I paid an evening visit to Rush hills scrape which always a very pleasant walk. Parking at the church and following the footpath past agricultural fields and woods where I often encounter Marsh Tits, this evening they were calling their distinctive "pitchoo" calls. I walked to what must be the most badly designed hide you'll ever see. The open door is facing north so you always have to walk to the far side and then in. The hide is situated quite a way from the scrape so views are always distant. The birds that frequent the Scrape are mostly ducks and waders that feed in this productive area. Whilst inside you either have to stand tall (you need to be at least 5 foot 10 inches tall to view through the square holes (fortunately I am exactly 6 feet tall!) or crouch down and get severe neck ache looking through your scope!
Anyway, there were a lot of Lapwings on the Scrape, with 2 distinct lines of them at the back (of course!) of the Scrape, a few Ruff walked between them and hidden behind the furthest line were several Dunlin and the slightly smaller more elongated form of the excellent Baird's Sandpiper, shorter legs, and it was an adult bird with a uniform grey/ brown scaly pattern (recalling juvenile Curlew Sandpiper) and buff head and chest and slightly but noticeably shorter bills than the Dunlin. It gave the appearance of crouching near the ground with it's flattened oval shaped body. The Baird's Sandpiper is a native of North America and is a rare transatlantic visitor to these shores.
It spent much of its time feeding with 5 Dunlin usually behind some Lapwing but it's scaly back and noticably whiter underbelly meant it could be picked from the slightly larger and browner Dunlin (all in winter plumage) with some confidence even with a telescope with just 30X magnification. When a fellow birder kindly let me look through his Swarovski HD scope with 60X magnification it could easily be picked out.
It later flew to the far left hand corner of the Scrape right at the back where Little Ringed Plovers at least 2 were seen (but could only be picked out at this even further distance with the 60X scope).

Sunday, 9 August 2009


The Broad- leaved Helleborine is the last local orchid to flower in the year.  During a stroll through a Gunton Woods this evening,  I was delighted to count 14 plants at the usual spot. They have obviously had a good year as most had already flowered, flowering much earlier than last year. The plants were also a lot taller than the previous year, reflecting the excellent growing conditions this year (alternating conditions of sunny weather followed by downpours that we have experienced this summer).
Looking at the second picture, it clearly illustrates why the Broad- leaved Helleborine is so aptly named.

Hot & Sultry

It was a very hot sunny day today and first thing I walked along the Lowestoft North beach seawall. During my walk, I saw lots of Common Terns & several Turnstones plus 2 Dunlin in full summer plumage feeding on the rocks of the old seawall almost completely surrounded by the sea during this high tide. Between the groynes, a Common Seal fished. On the Oval, amongst the Gulls slept the tatty adult Yellow- legged Gull, which as usual was the first to fly off when the groundsmen entered the grounds.
A trip to Southwold with a diversion via the Wolsey bridge at the Hen reedbeds, was in order to try and see a rare Egret. Looking from the style I instantly spotted the excellent Great White Egret, a large white heron from the Mediterranean which sported an all yellow bill, obviously feeling at home on this hot sultry day (the temperature was around 27C) skulked in the far reeds by the pool before flying out over the pool and out of sight.
At Dunwich a very pleasant walk along the beach revealed several Common Blues and at least 1/2 a dozen Grayling butterflies. With several of them landing on the pebbles on the beach posing nicely for the camera!

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Slippery customer

After a visit to the Lowestoft North Beach area yesterday evening, I resolved not to look there this morning as I had seen very little.
This was a big mistake as a Roseate Tern spent the early morning on the groynes there but as usual I missed it, this must be around the 12th time I have twitched one unsuccessfully in Lowestoft and not to mention the countless visits I spend trying to find one myself in this area in July & August. 
Some birders go in for year lists, I could never do this as I have rotten luck I usually miss a lot of birds this way & Roseate Tern is currently my bogey bird this year, I've even missed them at Minsmere this year where everyone else has seen them. Perhaps I should compile a list of birds dipped, I'm sure I'd be the undisputed winner here, last year in the Spring I tried to twitch Thrush Nightingale, Great Reed Warbler, Marsh Warbler, Purple Heron, Temminck's Stint and missed them all I had about 8 successive unsuccessful trips to Minsmere for these birds, this must be some kind of record.
Back in the garden, 4 Painted Lady butterflies were on the Buddlea and at around 11am as I was attempting to hook the washing line onto it's hook, I heard something rustling underneath and I was just in time to see a Grass Snake slither out of sight.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Greenfinch R.I.P.

Yesterday I was out in the garden photographing Red Admiral & a couple of Painted Lady butterflies (after seeing Migrant Hawkers dragonflies flying early in the morning & a Brown Hawker in the early evening) when I heard a rustling noise from the fish pond and a very bedraggled male Greenfinch was literally a foot away from me. It sheltered under a bush, but was clearly something very wrong with it. The bird just stayed put and didn't fly off as you would expect from a healthy bird.
I put out some seed and left the bird. I checked the bush again this evening and sadly found it's corpse. I retrieved it and buried it in the garden, a sad end for such a fine looking bird, but I take heart that it's descendants; juvenile Greenfinches are feeding on the sunflower seed feeders as I type this blog.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Two by two & deja vu!

2 female Migrant Hawkers were seen in the garden this evening hawking for food, one of them perched for some time of the wooden pagoda, whilst 2 Painted Lady butterflies also sunned themselves too.
Whilst relaying a tale to a work colleague this morning about being stung by a Wasp for no apparent reason when it alighted onto my finger whilst I was in Norwich market place yesterday, I heard an irritating buzzing noise near my left ear and I swotted the offending insect away, it was another Wasp and it got its revenge by stinging me on the neck!!

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Hawk Moth caterpillar

A large black 2 and a half inch caterpiller seen feeding on the lower leaves of my runner bean plants proved to be the larvae of an Elephant Hawk Moth.
This caterpillar was mostly black with the telltale spike at the near the rear of its body, a couple of brown eyelets near its head and the tail end showing a distinct trunk-like appendage giving the moth its name.
Apparently Elephant Hawk Moths often feed on Honeysuckle plants and we have several at the moment which have been in flower for several weeks.

The Return & Summer Surprise

A very pleasant early Sunday morning stroll from 8am along the Lowestoft North Beach seawall,
was initially disappointing with no hoped for birds in Links Road car park.
On the old groynes several Common terns were seen and on another they were joined by an immature Kittiwake. On the seaweed encrusted rocks (a wreck of the original seawall) a group of Turnstone and 3 Dunlin, one bird in still reasonably good summer plumage (rufus back and black belly patch) fed on invertebrates amongst the seaweed. 
Amongst the Gulls on the Oval stood a roosting adult Yellow- legged Gull, which when disturbed by the groundsman flew past me and eventually settled on the groynes.
At Ness Point, a very welcome but unseasonal fine summer plumaged Purple Sandpiper, complete with dark cap more rufus back and black mottled band on its breast with more streaking on its back than the more usual ones seen in the winter, fed on the seaweed encrusted prominentary or "finger"
Nearby, a fine resplendent white headed juvenile Yellow- legged Gull stood on another groyne.  

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Dashing new garden tick!

As I drove back from my visit to North Norfolk, I drew into the road where we live at precisely 7.53pm this evening and I immediately saw the dark lithe dashing shape of a Hobby fly west over the garden across the road then over the car and west towards Blundeston.
I always like seeing Hobbies, these athletic Falcons are summer visitors and prey on flying insects such as Dragonflies and Cockchafers.
This was a brand new record of this species, at this particular location. Funnily enough when I first moved into my previous residence in Oulton Broad one had flown up the road there also. 
Also seen in the garden this morning were several Peacock butterflies, Large Whites and singles of Small White, Painted Lady & Gatekeeper. 

Second chance for Great Spotted Cuckoo

Just over a week ago, a Great Spotted Cuckoo, usually a summer visitor to the southern Mediterranean, had made landfall at Weybourne in North Norfolk on the Thursday & Friday but had disappeared by the weekend. This is a very rare visitor to these shores and the last one , indeed the only other British bird I had seen was a bright immature seen at Aldeburgh, Suffolk in early November way back in 1992, some 17 years ago! 
However the Norfolk bird was seen again briefly today first thing this morning, then reported as still being by the Weybourne camp radar station. 
Hitching a lift with John, we parked at Kelling and took the mile long footpath to the beach. Where we immediately saw the wonderful adult type Great Spotted Cuckoo perched on a distant wire fence above the compound. It was a somewhat faded bird but a stunner nonetheless!
It quickly flew right and we eventually picked it up perched on a green bush, much nearer to us.
It fed on at least one caterpillar, perched in tall vegetation hunting for food and grubs before it eventually flew over the hill. 
Also seen especially by the beach area were literally hundreds, if not, thousands of Ladybirds of the 7-spot variety, one fence post had over a hundred clinging to it and around 30 alighted onto my person. John had even more on him and was even bitten by them twice! They obviously liked me because I wasn't bitten at all. 
In the last 10 days there have been more 7-spot Ladybirds seen locally but not in the number seen here where hundreds could be seen on the beach sadly squashed. 
The explanation of why there has been so many maybe linked to the rotating weather conditions of hot sunshine and showers which have provided ideal for an explosion in their numbers.  
I remember way, way back during my late middle school years in the summer of 1976, some 33 years ago (I am now 44 years old) seeing literally thousands flying along Worthing road as I walked to Harris Middle school in Lowestoft one morning. They had followed on, weeks after there had been literally tens of thousands of Greenfly, it was almost like a biblical plague.