Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Blean Woods

I know very little about Butterflies other than what I learnt as an infant, which was to know 4 types of Butterfly, namely “a Cabbage White”, “a Red Admiral”, “a Peacock” and “ it’s another type of Butterfly”. With the bird activity dropping off I decided to take advantage of “A Heath Fritillary Walk” arranged by the RSPB at Blean Woods last Sunday. A gentleman by the name of Michael was the lead on this and before we set off he explained that the Heath Fritillary’s were early this year, so the walk was to be more of a general Butterfly walk, this was all the better for me. The weather was very hot and sunny, better than the rain earlier in the week but it did mean that most Butterflies were constantly on the move. This together with the shade of overhanging trees cutting the light level, made decent photography quite difficult (and that’s my excuse for the blurry shots such as this open wing shot of a Heath Fritillary).

Melitaea athalia - Heath Fritillary

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
Michael fairly quickly showed that he knew his stuff, at the very first glade he was pointing out butterflies faster than I could keep up with. Within a few moments a Red Admiral, some Ringlets, a coupe of Small Skippers and a Large White had gone past, but other than the Red Admiral and a Ringlet I didn’t get a decent look at any of them and only this Ringlet waited around for their photo to be taken.

Aphantopus hyperantus - Ringlet

  - Olympus SP590UZ
 After the first glade we went on a bit of a trek, eventually turning onto an old Bridle path where I was introduced to the Common Spotted Orchid. I cannot remember having seen this plant before though I must have.

Dactylorhiza fuchsii - Common Spotted Orchid

  - Olympus SP590UZ
 A bit further down the path we were shown Cow-Wheat, another plant unknown to me, but significant for the Heath Fritillary as its eggs are laid on the underside of its leaves. Then we found some mating Heath Fritillaries who were happy to sit still for camera; unlike the grass stem they were on and the intervening grass which was whipping around in the stiff, breeze.

Melitaea athalia - Heath Fritillary

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Melitaea athalia - Heath Fritillary (a 3rd one tries to interfere)

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
The bridle path had a fair few butterflies along the route, the main three being Heath Fritillaries, Small Skippers and Ringlets, also a Common Blue fluttered past. There were a few moths keeping mainly to the trees and a huge insect with a flash of orange on it, it was about 4cm long, possibly a Hornet or a Humming-Bird Hawk Moth, sadly my photos just show a blur as it was on the move all the time and was about 20 feet away. Throughout the walk Michael had been explaining about the various butterflies found at Blean, their life cycles and how they cope with adverse weather conditions. Michael was both informative and interesting and I really appreciate what he did.

Melitaea athalia - Heath Fritillary

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Melitaea athalia - Heath Fritillary

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

 There was not much bird activity, the usual Tits and Willow Warblers were heard as was a Pheasant and a Green Woodpecker, but as I was trying to concentrate on learning about Butterflies the only positive sightings I made were some Long Tailed Tits, a Jay and a Green Woodpecker. Later at home I read up on the Heath Fritillary in my 1986 Readers Digest and was surprised at its rarity, Blean Woods being shown as one of only 3 places it could be found.  

Aphantopus hyperantus - Ringlet

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Thymelicus sylvestris - Small Skipper

  - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
Home was also the place for the final photo of the day, an Orange Moth f. corylaria which flew into the kitchen, Wendy reunited it with the outside world via a blue beaker (2nd shot).

1924 Orange Moth Angerona prunaria f. corylaria

  - Olympus SP590UZ

Orange Moth - clearer shot of Antennae

  - Olympus SP590UZ

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Oare Marshes

Yesterday I had intended to go to Dungeness, but due to the changeable weather I opted for Oare Marshes instead. I arrived just before and was greeted with the sound of a distant Cuckoo, I made my way up to the river bank and looked out over the estuary to see the tide going out. I scanned the whole stretch for waders – not a single one, however Black Headed Gulls littered the exposed mud with a couple of Herring Gulls in the distance. I heard some warblers off to my left so headed that way first. There was a bank of Reeds in which two were singing from, but none showing, then a third started from my left, he had chosen an isolated plant to sing from which showed him in plain sight. Out with the Canon, however the heavy cloud cover gave very poor light and the wind was strong enough to knock the tripod over, which it almost managed a couple of times. These were the best of the lot. I believe it is a Sedge Warbler (please correct me if I am wrong).

Sedge Warbler - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
Bludgeoned by the wind for 15 minutes watching the Sedge Warbler I turned round and headed East looking for some shelter in or behind the Sea Wall Hide, on the walk there I saw some Shelducks on the Sheppey shore and a Common Tern fishing along the waters edge nearest me, there were also a couple of Oystercatchers and an Avocet on the mudflats near the hide. On the East flood side of the path a few Reed Buntings flew by and I heard both Sedge and Reed Warbler, eventually finding a Reed Warbler in the distant reeds. In the high wind nothing was hanging around for photographs and any bird flying either dove straight for cover or got a tailwind and was off like a bullet before identification of any kind. My next photo opportunity came as I walked up the Creek, my attention was drawn to a number of Greylag Geese who appeared to be running a crèche. I sat and watched them for 10-15 minutes, all this time the adult birds had their necks craned on the lookout in all directions whilst the youngsters grazed.

Greylag Geese & Goslings - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
The creek held nothing other than more Gulls, mainly Black Headed, as I neared the sluice I looked out over the East flood there was a nice bit of variety on and around the nearest island including Teal, Black tailed Godwit, Redshank and Coot. I turned towards the road and walking along the path I heard a Pheasant from the Pheasant Farm Extension and several calls from a large clump of bushes ahead which sounded like a Lesser Whitethroat. I sat on a nearby bench and watched the bushes, after 5 minutes I was rewarded with this little fellow who popped out and stood on a Bramble, then sat down on the Bramble as his legs got tired waiting for his next food delivery. I believe it is a Whitethroat (though I am not discounting Lesser Whitethroat perhaps those more learned than I can confirm).

Juvenile Whitethroat - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
I never saw the parent birds and as I did not wish to scare them off from their offspring I did not hang around too long either, instead I moved on to the East Flood Hide. From here there were clear views of Tufted Duck, Cormorants, Avocets, a Little Grebe and some more Common Tern. During the day I had seen a family of Swallows feeding their young on the wing, but in the high wind they had not hung around at all, now as I had neared the hide I had seen them take off from some nearby fence-posts so when I left the hide I did so quietly and yes, they had returned. Sadly the distance, the wind and the low light (it was now heavily overcast) did not help with photography, but I had to show this one of the youngsters with mouths agape waiting for food, a parent is the blur above the left hand youngster swooping in with food. 

Swallows awaiting food - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
As I was doing this I heard a nearby squeaking, it took about a minute to trace and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was a young Swallow not 15 feet away. A post was in the way however every few shots I edged out to get more of the tail, eventually it flew off with its parents.

Juvenile Swallow - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
The excitement was not over yet, as I walked back to the car I was passing the wooden landing stage when an aggressive Avocet forced a group of Mallards on to the bank, then a Little Egret landed there and was also immediately set upon, I am not sure what the Avocet was defending as I could see no birds sitting nearby. It was almost comic the way the Avocet menaced the larger bird with its upturned beak looking like a bent sword, the Little Egret moved off, but at its own leisurely pace.

Avocet disagreeing with Little Egret - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
After this a nearby gentleman called my attention to a Marsh Harrier, it cruised by over the flood towards the Creek being mobbed by various birds as it progressed. Then a Heron in the flood dropped down by a small island and was immediately mobbed by some Common terns.

Heron - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
The final spot of the day for me was 3 linnets who flew past me on my way back to the car park. Sightings on this walk not mentioned above were Blackbird, Carrion Crow, Lapwing, Magpie, Wood Pigeon, House Sparrow, Starling, and Swift. Heard but not seen was a Sky Lark. Not a bad day all round, shame the bad light affected the photos.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Riverside Country Park

 Yesterday was the first time I had been out properly since my tooth removal, I decided to go to RiversideCountryPark as it is fairly close, got nice amenities and I had not been there for quite a while. For those who do not know it, R.C.P it is in Lower Rainham and covers the area around Horrid Hill looking across the Medway towards Kingsnorth Power Station. Parking is free and the other facilities include a cafeteria, toilets and visitor centre, be warned though on a sunny weekend although they open up adjacent fields for parking you may still have trouble. The other attraction for me is the local history attached to the area; firstly this is where the Dutch fleet would have been seen approaching up the Medway in 1667 when they captured the British flagship HMS Royal Charles, secondly Horrid Hill got its name from the prison ships that were moored there, providing inhuman conditions for incarceration of French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and then some time after.

Anyway on to the walk, I headed west taking a footpath into the wooded area and the bridleways, it was here that I saw the first of many Whitethroats, singing from a perch then making a short fluttering song-flight to return to the same perch, you would have thought I would have got a picture, but no, I was too busy being distracted by a beetle which I believe was the pupa stage of a ladybird, there are 2 in the picture, the lower one being quite a bit darker.
I believe 2 Ladybird Pupae - Canon 400D + 18-55MM

The wooded areas were quite noisy with bird calls, I quickly identified a distant Curlew, Chaffinches, Blackbirds, Great Tits and Blue Tits, though surprisingly I did not see either of the Tits during my walk. I then found a Robin singing away quite merrily and was able to get a few nice shots.  

Robin - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Walking on I could hear a Green Woodpecker, in the distance behind me, when I came across another singing passerine, this time a Dunnock whom I was able to capture in mid song.

Dunnock - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
I came out of the woods onto the riverbank at high tide. This was planned as there is an island about 75 yards from shore where you usually get a smattering of waders waiting for the tide to go back out. This gives a nice opportunity for photography with static birds. However this was the highest I had ever seen the tide here, the island was completely submerged! All that was left was this pair of Oystercatchers.
Oystercatcher - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
I made my way back to the car through the woods following the sound of a Nightingale, it sadly remained hidden unlike the Lesser Whitethroat and the Green Woodpecker who were both too quick for the camera. A male Blackcap though was happy to pose for me.

Blackcap - Canon 400D + 100-400mm
Not far from the car park at R.C.P. is a small sunken pond with a boarded walk through it, set up as a mini reserve it is home to a small number of very timid Moorhens, however this was not the case with this years offspring who were happy to strut around no more than 10 feet from me. Normally the place would also be alive with small birds but the feeders were empty and the juvenile Moorhens were my only company.

Juvenile Moorhen - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Other than Wood Pigeons, Collared Doves, Carrion Crows, Magpies, House Sparrows, a solitary Shelduck, Mallards and Chicks, a Mistle Thrush, the usual smattering of various Gulls and a small flock of Goldfinches that was my lot for the day. A short list again, however I was more than happy with the day’s photography, I had also gone out to observe some of the flora (a complete vacuum in my knowledge) and was more than happy with my initial discoveries amongst which were Scarlet Pimpernel and Dog Rose, common maybe, but new and interesting to me.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Foremark Reservoir, Derbyshire

I have been out of action for the last 2 weeks due to a tooth removal which left me in quite a bit of discomfort (and that is an understatement). However a couple of days before its removal I had gone up to Burton-on-Trent and although it was a “working” weekend (helping a mate out) did get a chance to go out for a couple of hours on the Friday. But first the trip up there. Whenever I go up North I try to take the M40, the reason is that I always like to stop at Stockenchurch a small village which lays at J5 of the M40 and it is from here that you can see Red Kites; lots of Red Kites. If you ever want to see Red Kites, this is the place; on this particular day I counted 25 different individuals circling overhead. Despite my best efforts, I have still to take a decent picture of them but here are the best that I took that day.

Red Kite - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 

Red Kite - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 
Red Kite - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 

Red Kite - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 

Whilst in Burton-on-Trent I had planned to spend any spare time at the RSPB reserve at Carsington Water, but lack of time meant I went with another option and that was Foremark Reservoir, a Country Park owned by Trent Water, only 10 minutes from where I had been staying. A Little bit about the reserve, it costs £1.50 for parking no matter how long you stay and its pay on entry, it has two car Parks and the various facilities include toilets, cafeteria and a visitor centre. The area around the car parks is fairly open but with some wooded areas and they both look out over the Northern end of the reservoir.

Bad timing meant I got there at and managed to walk for two hours during the hottest part of the day. Still I took a long look over the reservoir and was saddened by the lack of anything other than a couple of distant Cormorants and a Mute swan on the opposite shore. I decided to walk South towards Carvers Rocks an SSSI looked after by Derbyshire Wildlife Trust. This route took me mainly through a wooded area, the path running from between 10-30 yards from the shore of the reservoir. Once away from the car park I was assailed by a large number of bird calls from the depths of the woods, which went to highlight my lack of knowledge in this area, though I was able to pick out a few of the commoner birds such as Chaffinch, Blackbird and Robin. I kept to the woodland path where about ¼ mile south of the car park I heard a group of Blue Tits moving around in the upper canopy, however I was quite pleased to pick out a fledgling Coal Tit with an attendant parent constantly on the hunt for food moving around in the lower branches. I watched them for over 15 minutes with my camera at the ready, but neither bird sat still for a moment and with the sun fighting to get through the foliage these were the best shots I got.

Fledgling Coal Tit - Canon 400D + 100-400mm

Coal Tit - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 

Coal Tit (Parent with insect) - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 
After the Tits, things got a little quieter and I reached the area of the SSSI. There was a pond there upon which there was a small amount of activity, I picked out a newt which shot off as I saw it and there was a solitary tadpole sunning itself in the middle of the pond (the white specks are dirt on the water, not on my lens).

Tadpole - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 
Also flitting around at the pond were a number of Large Red Damselfies, whilst in the woods at the back I could hear a Great Spotted Woodpecker and in the distance a Green Woodpecker. Looking along the reservoir from the Southern tip I picked of 20+ Great Crested Grebes, a small number of Coots, a pair of Tufted Ducks and a pair of Mallards.

Large Red Damselfly - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 

The return to the carpark was a revisit of what I had seen on the outward walk, however this time I stopped at the waters edge by a stream inlet with a weir; here I found half a dozen Sand Martins flying close to the bank picking up insects, however their turn of speed was such that this was the best photo I got (heavily cropped).

Sand Martin - Cannon 400D + 100-400mm 
Other sightings for the day included a Song Thrush who was so shy I could only pick out his head from the bush he was singing in, a fledgling Long Tailed Tit though its parents remained hidden, Blackcap, Goldfinch, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Carrion Crow, Pheasant, Magpie and Great Tit. Although I did not see too much, I believ that had I got there a lot earlier, say , I would have nearly doubled my 23 sightings, a nice site and one I will return to.