Sunday, 22 July 2018

Lytchett Bay & a Dorset First

Its not a bird but yesterday at around 14:14hrs, I received a text from fellow patch watcher Ian Ballam that he had just found three dragonflies hawking over the dried up ponds to the left of Footpath 12.  He also added that he thought they might be Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis a very rare species, and could I pop over and give a second opinion.  So I grabbed my camera and walked the hundred metres or so to the ponds and found Ian and the dragonflies.  After a lot of missed and blurred shots I managed a series of three photograph of one in a hover.  So we then quickly walked back home and put them up on the computer and checked the features with the reference book.  It didn't take long for us to confirm that they were indeed Southern Migrant Hawker.  So we put out the news on Twitter and other social media and rang around friends that we knew would be interested in seeing them.  We later checked with the Dorset Dragonfly Group and it appears that these three were the first records for the whole of Dorset.
The two above shot were the two which we were able to confirm the identity that they were indeed
Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis - © Nick Hull
This species quoting from The British Dragonflies Society; "This is a rare migrant but appears to becoming more frequent in the UK, and is a potential colonist. There was a single confirmed record during the twentieth century.  Four were observed in southern England in 2006.  During 2010 many individuals were seen in South Essex and North Kent and with ovipositing being noted at two sites".

This species is usually found in southern and central Europe and all around the Mediterranean, in North Africa, The Middle East and across Asia to China.  It is a migratory species and therefore can be found in some years further north of its usual distribution.

Top view- Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis - © Nick Hull
Side View - Southern Migrant Hawker Aeshna affinis - © Nick Hull
At the time of writing they were still hawking the same dried ponds as yesterday when they were first found. In fact reading the habitat requirement for this species it says "prefers standing water bodies that has dried up over the course of summer, often overgrown with low rushes, bulrushes or reed" which perfectly describes the area in which we found them.

Sunday, 15 July 2018

Unexpected Rewards

Several months back, as someone who volunteers at Arne RSPB nature reserve, I was invited to a vols meeting.  The subject of the meeting was to ask if any of us would like to assist in survey work over the RSPB reserves locally and at Arne.  I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn more about the wildlife and the habitats that live within the Poole Harbour basin.  So I agreed to help with  birds, bats, hoverflies, bees, wasps and reptiles, and time passed over the spring and I thought little about it.  Then an e-mail arrived a couple of weeks ago asking if I was still interested with a number of dates to help out.

Well this week I attended a day's training and what a day!  I hadn't given it much thought about what species we would be expected to survey but when I found out two of them would be British 'firsts',  that's if we found them.  Our list had four insects, a wasp, beetle, bee-fly and a damselfly and two rare flowers. 

Our first location was for the two flowers and the wasp, the latter was going to be a first for me. This was a species I had looked for a number of times and on the very heathland I was now crossing and had not found them.  After about ten minutes we stopped at a small area of bare ground and we were shown a few tell tale signs to enable us to recognise what we were looking for.
Excavation spoil like sugar granuals piled just a few centimetre away from the burrow
Though we were in the middle of a hot spell we had a little cloud and there wasn't any sign of any wasps other than the burrows, so we continued on and were shown some rare botany in Yellow Century and Pale Violet. By the time we arrived back to our lunch spot the sun was out and the temperature up. While the rest of our group went into the shade two of us stayed near the wasp site.  I suppose I should say this isn't any common or garden wasp this is Purbeck Mason Wasp Pseudepipoona herrichii.  It is a nationally rare and important species that is only found on the Purbeck heaths in the whole of UK.  The nearest continental population is in Northern Spain, but these may be a different species. It appears that they parasitise on a single species of tortrix moth called Acleris Hyemana.

Purbeck Mason Wasp Pseudepipona herrichii with Acleris Hyemana caterpillar © Nick Hull 
Acleris Hyemana the tortrix moth that the Purbeck Mason Wasp  parasitises © Nick Hull
It took about ten minutes before we spotted the first female flying in and I captured a couple of shots before she disappeared down her burrow.  By the time we had left we had recorded at least four with possibly another and found two more burrows.  Fortunately this isn't the only colony but they are a species that is of conservation concern.  We also found a sand wasp Ammophila pubescens which just happened to be the rarer of the two species of Ammophila that inhabits the Poole basin heathlands.
Sand Wasp - Ammophila pubescenes ©Nick Hull
Our next location was just a few miles away for two species and both I have seen before Southern Damselfly and Mottled Bee-fly.  The latter was picked up within a hundred metres from where we had parked and as we walked towards the mire where we hoped to see the damselfly we had several more. These are more fly like than there smaller relatives which many people have visiting there gardens and do not have the straight proboscis that sticks out front like a small javelin.
Mottled Bee-fly - Thyridanthrax fenestratus ©Nick Hull
The Southern Blue Damselfly was pretty straight forward they have quite specific requirement calcareous water that trickles through the heathland in this case from the Purbeck hills. We saw around six of this delightful damsels and watched a pair in tandem egg laying.
Southern Damselfly Coenagrion mercuriale  Nick Hull
Segment showing dianostic mercury mark
It was then back to the cars and a short drive down the road and out on another piece of heath this time for a Heath Tiger Beetle, another first for me, and once we had walked to the right area of the heath we started to find them, not many but sure enough they were still present and appeared to be doing ok.  We also checked out another area for the Purbeck Mason Wasp but didn't find any, though Kat and I did see a Heath Potter Wasp which is also a recordable species.
Heath Tiger Beetle Cicindela sylvatica © Nick Hull
On our way back to the cars we added a Slow Worm which rounded our day off very nicely.

Big Thank you to Peter from RSPB Arne and Sophie from 'Back from the Brink' team for an excellent day's training and to come away with a 100% success in finding all the species was brilliant.

Monday, 2 July 2018

We're Back.

Hi everyone, well Jackie and I have returned from our holiday in France which was one of those kind of up and down type holidays.  There will be more on that later but for now, we have had a few walks which have been interesting in different ways.

Our first venture out after our return was with our Tuesday group on 26th at Sugar Hill, Wareham Forest.  This is a location where almost anything can turn up though it is more of a general nature walk at this time of year and indeed it did turn into a bit of a Butterfly and Odonata walk.  Though we picked up all the usual forest bird species that you would find in June with Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Coal Tit and the ever present Siskins calling overhead, plus good view of Common Buzzard perched and soaring also displaying overhead.  A Green Woodpecker gave us a good show and we heard siskin flying overhead and around us almost continuously throughout our walk.
Scarlet Tiger Moth-Sugar Hill_Wareham Forest ©Nick Hull
It was the Butterflies and Dragonflies that caught everyones attention from the start.  We had Small and Green-veined Whites, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood, Large Skipper, Small and Common Blue and shortly after we started to pick up Silver-studded Blues in profusion, it appears they have had a very good year. Keeled Skimmer male and female and one of my favourites the large Golden-ringed Dragonfly cruised by us as it searched for its insect pray.  I then picked up a Scarlet Tiger flying across the path and fortunately it landed on a pine and everyone had a chance of seeing this super looking moth, equal in beauty to any butterfly in my opinion.   Ann found a couple of Bee Orchid spikes almost hidden in the long grass and we continued with more butterflies with Ringlet, Peacock, Red Admiral and we ended the walk with the appearance of the butterfly of the day two Silver-washed Fritillaries.
Golden-ringed Dragonfly-male Sugar Hill ©Nick Hull
Our next walk with our Wednesday group was in the New Forest, on reflection it was more a day of quality that quantity which made it a really super walk.  We began with Goldcrest and Coal Tit singing in the parking area then quickly follow with Song Thrush and Stonechat the latter species we kept coming across and seemed to have had a successful breeding season so far with many family parties being seen.  Linnets and Swallow, Meadow Pipit, Wren and Common Buzzard soon followed.

We then went through a patch of butterflies and dragonflies finding many Silver-studded Blues, Small Heath and Common Blue backed up with Emperor dragonfly, Four-Spotted and Broad-bodied Chasers, and Keeled Skimmers.  There were also, Beautiful Demoiselle, Azure Blue and Large Red Damselflies.
Male Keeled Skimmer © Jackie Hull
Continuing on we had singing Reed Bunting and Willow Warblers, these were usurped by watching more distantly a Honey Buzzard and for good comparison a Common Buzzard. Moving on we heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker and then saw Redstart fly across our path,  then a flyover Peregrine and it was while watching this speedy falcon that Jackie called "Sparrowhawk" then with quick realisation  said "No"! I quickly checked where she was looking and to my surprise there in my bins was a Honey Buzzard doing a little wing clapping and then it soared more or less over us, before moving off, a wonderful bird.
Honey Buzzard © Nick Hull Archive photograph
We followed this with a sighting of three Woodlark which kindly flew up and perched long enough for us to get good views before they moved off again further out into the heath.  We hadn't walked far when a Spotted Flycatcher put on a little show for us before we moved through an area of mature Oak. Here I picked up our first Silver-washed Fritillary on the year a super looking butterfly followed further on we by Large Skipper. As we walked over the stream we could here Blackcap, Willow Warbler and a Tree Pipit singing and another fifty metres Jackie found the Tree Pipit at the top of a dead tree, we finished our walk watching a small feeding flock of adult and immature Swallows fly catching over the heath.

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Our third walk was an evening walk on the 30th at Martin Down, just into Hampshire an excellent chalk downland which is superb for butterflies, orchids and birds.

We started very quickly getting one of our target birds when Fran found a singing Turtle Dove at the top of a tree further up the trail, we quickly followed with birds flying and others singing. Yellowhammer, Whitethroat, Blackbird, Bullfinch, Song Thrush and Dunnock were a quickly checked off.
Turtle Dove © Nick Hull archive photograph
Then we had a cluster of butterflies with Large Skipper, Marbled and Green-veined Whites, Meadow Brown then Jackie found a group of Small Skippers starting to go to roost.  Our next sighting was a brief one as a male Sparrowhawk popped over the hedge and very quickly past us and was gone in an instant.  We continued with butterflies with Ringlet and a Green Hairstreak many of the butterflies were going to find evening roosts.  Turtle Dove were all now singing from a number of areas which I think everyone enjoyed as its not a sound that we hear much these days.
Large Skipper © Jackie Hull
On our return we added few bird species but Corn Bunting, Skylark and a single Grey Partridge which was heard and later seen flying low over the Down disappearing into the long grass.  it was then we started picking up Dark-green Fritillary a stunning grassland butterfly.  Shortly after we began to see Scarlet Tiger moths not the odd one or two but many, obviously we had hit on a large emergence of this stunning moth.  Blackcap, Starlings more Turtle Doves and Wood Pigeon were seen or heard to the backdrop of Skylark on a beautiful evening.

We only had a single dip on the evening our first time in probably five years of visiting here at this time of year the Barn Owl didn't show.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Light Crimson Underwing confirmation

This is just a quick post for all of those that joined Two Owls at Bentley Wood.

Do you remember the caterpillar we had at lunch time in the car park.  I thought I recognised it but couldn't put a name to it at the time.  Well when I got home I did a little checking and quickly realised that if it was what I thought, it was a pretty special species to find.

So I sent photograph to Phil Sterling and he was able to confirm from the photographs that I was correct that it was the caterpillar of the Light Crimson Underwing, a rare species found in mature Oak woodlands the larva are rarely seen as they believe they feed in the high canopy.

Light Crimson Underwing © Nick Hull
For a little more information and to see the super looking adult moth follow this link.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

Part 2 Bentley Wood on Hampshire - Wiltshire Border

Part 2 continued from previous blog.

Our next walk took us to the Hampshire/Wiltshire border at Bentley Wood famous as a site for Purple Emperor Butterfly it is also good for birds though our visit here was a general wildlife walk.  The morning didn't promise good weather and we had heavy downpour on our way and as we gathered in the car park there wasn't to much optimism, but I said a little humidity would be good for the butterflies.  It didn't take long to pick up Brimstone both male and females, then I found the first Pearl-bordered Fritillary of what turned out to be many, they seemed to have done pretty well here this year.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Bentley Wood © Nick Hull
Also common here is Speckled Yellow a species of day flying moth which larva feeds on Wood Sage.  Another day flying moth which you can find here is the Argent & Sable which is a scarce and local species in the south more common on Scottish moors. The larva spins the leaf of Bog Myrtle of Birch to form a cocoon and we found a number on these on the birch tree around the clearing and later I found a single flying adult which landed long enough to get a couple of shots of.
Argent & Sable- larva spun leaf cocoon and adult moth © Nick Hull
We also came across a couple of other day flying moths one Pyrausta aurata a micro moth sometimes called Mint Moth the other was a Cinnabar Moth whose yellow and black caterpillars are found on ragwort plants. I also saw a single Burnet Companion but it disappeared into the grass before others managed to see it..
Pyrausta aurata ©Jackie Hull and Cinnabar Moth © Martin Wood
These are a few more species seen on our morning walk ranging from Oil Beetles, Broad-bodied Chaser and other butterfly species like Green-veined White, Grizzled Skipper and Speckled Wood.
female Oil Beetle © Nick Hull - Broad-bodied Chaser and Speckled Wood © Martin Wood
Grizzled Skipper upper side © Martin Wood - Underside © Nick Hull
We also came across a small stack of rotted wood where we found a number of Common Lizard soaking in the sun and warmth.
Common Lizard © Nick Hull
Bird highlights recorded were both Garden Warbler and Blackcap, Cuckoo, Tree Pipit, Kestrel, Buzzard and a male Goshawk as well as the more commoner species.

We ended our day visiting the RSPB Winterborne Downs reserve at Newton Tony in Wiltshire where we were looking for downland species and successfully seeing Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting, Whitethroat, Lapwing, Linnets, we also had an immature Red Kite drift over us showing signs of moult in its inner primaries.  Our target species had been seen by others but for us was keeping well out of sight.  It's good job that Jackie and I had a backup site not too far away and we headed off there.  Fortunately it took me just a minute or two scoping across the arable field to find one at the edge of the grass-line and the cultivated ground not just one but two an adult and a chick Stone Curlew.  Martin then picked up the other adult just a little way to the right and we were able to get good scope views of these amazing looking birds.  A little while later Ann and Tim managed to find another pair in the adjacent field and a Red Kite flew over us a perfect end to an excellent day.
Stone Curlew ©free internet photo
Thanks to all that came along for making it such a good and varied day.

Monday, 28 May 2018

Three Counties Wildlife Part 1


Well, it's that time of year when you're out walking and you come across all sorts of wildlife, though here at Two Owls we are primarily looking for birds we never pass anything without pointing it out.  From beautiful Orchids, Butterflies, Dragonflies right down to bugs, beetles to the larger mammals we think it makes for a better more interesting walk.

So here today as usual we are catching up with highlights from our recent walks locally and further afield in fact from three counties Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.

Our walk in the Wareham Forest was fairly uneventful other than we had a chance to get back to basics and used our ears to listen to many of the common species and identify them from their songs and calls, which everyone enjoyed and some surprised themselves with recognising a number of species which they don't have locally to them.  A Mistle Thrush, always nice to hear sat as is usual at the top of an oak singing well and gave a photo opportunity.  We also heard and watched the singing display flight of Siskin, Meadow Pipit and Greenfinch, also watching Dartford Warbler, Linnet, Stonechat and nicest of all screaming Swift and a Cuckoo.
Mistle Thrush aka "Storm Cock" Sherford Bridge ©Nick Hull
Our next walk was to Holt Heath, near Wimborne.  We started in the car park with Goldcrest singing in the Scots Pine over our heads, as we moved off out onto the heath we started checking off all the common species such as Robin, Chaffinch Song Thrush and migrants such as Chiffchaff and Blackcap. Once out on the heath itself we watch a Common Whitethroat doing its display song flight and had several Linnet singing and Swifts screaming through the sky above us along with a couple of Common Buzzard.

As we walked on Jackie heard our first Tree Pipit but it took us a while before we managed to locate it singing from the top of a dead tree.  Also we were serenaded by Woodlark and its relative Skylark just before seeing our first Dartford Warbler which seemed to be busy collecting food.  We located several Stonechat on our walk but only heard a single Cuckoo and Kestrel.  Though probably the best of the bird sightings were the three pairs of Curlew that were displaying over the bog.

During our walk we came across a couple of large beetles which always seems to add interest.
Minotaur Beetle (male) Holt Heath © Nick Hull
Ground Beetle Carabus arvensis Holt Heath © Nick Hull
Adding to the variety of wildlife recorded we added Beautiful Demoiselle, Azure and Large Red Damselflies and Broad-bodied Chaser, Brimstone, Common Blue, Green Hairstreak and Green-veined White Butterflies. Also we found our first Common Spotted Orchids for the year.
Green Hairstreak Holt Heath © Nick Hull
To be continued:-

Monday, 7 May 2018

Poole Harbour & Beyond

It seems to have been a very long and enjoyable week of birding for us, on Saturday (28th April) we joined the Birds of Poole Harbour early Birdboat down the Wareham Channel.   We had plenty of migrating birds to keep us busy, starting with a single Swift over Poole Quay and shortly after a group of Common Tern flew high over the boat heading north.  As we entered the mouth of the Frome and we were all watching Bearded Tits giving their "pinging" call in the riverside reeds, Nick called Osprey overhead and as it started to soar a Raven hassled it away towards Arne.
Swift over Poole Quay © Nick Hull
We had more Swifts, with Swallows and Sand Martins with just a few House Martins hawking over Swineham. Along the river a Kingfisher sat allowing good views as did Common Sandpiper momentarily landing then flying back and forth along the river.   We had calling Cetti's Warblers, plus a distant Cuckoo.

Around off Arne we had the usual Common also known as Harbour Seal and passage waders with Whimbrel, Dunlin, and Bar-tailed Godwits, also Common and Sandwich Terns fishing in the harbour which will soon be nesting on Brownsea Island lagoon.  Jackie picked out a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers along the Brownsea shoreline which is an unusual sighting for the time of year.

On Sunday 29th, we had a group out on a very early morning walk at Bolderwood in the New Forest, starting from the Canadian War Memorial.  Mistle Thrush, Blackbird and Chaffinch were singing as we got ready and Siskin flew overhead, our first migrant was a Wheatear on the heath opposite.  Wandering on  we had the usual Blue, Coal and Great Tit, Wren and Robin of course, also Chiffchaff.  Then the first Hawfinch flew over, the first of many this morning, though not always easy to get a good view of one settled.
Nuthatch © Nick Hull
Stock Dove called and then the Cuckoo started, we could hear Redstart but we struggled to see it then we heard Wood Lark singing.  Such a beautiful song, we stopped and listened and looked for the songster, it was hidden just out of our view.  Eventually it took to the air and we could see it well and then another, making a pair.  There were several Meadow Pipits also displaying here.  Back into the wood and we stopped to watch Treecreeper and a Blackcap.  Then two pairs of Crossbill were seen sat on top of  their respective conifers, the male looking resplendent in their red plumage.

A Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming somewhere in the beech wood but not found, as were Firecrest singing in the top canopy of the conifers.  Nuthatch and Marsh Tit were more obliging and walking back to the cars we had singles of Buzzard and Grey Heron.

We popped to Eyeworth Pond, Fritham on the way home though we only saw one drake Mandarin Duck, we were entertained by the woodland birds with Marsh, Coal, Great and Blue Tit and Nuthatch coming to the feeders.

Nick was taking two ladies from London out birding from Monday to Friday which was very successful, including seeing male and female Golden Orioles on Portland, Bonapartes Gull on Longham Lakes, summer plumaged Black-necked Grebes at Blashford Lakes and Wood Sandpiper at Pennington Marshes.  He will be writing up his report soon.
female Golden Oriole Portland Bill © Nick Hull
Meanwhile I met our Wednesday monthly group in the wind and rain on the 2nd May at Middlebere, but it was all worthwhile.  We arrived at the hide to find a single Spoonbill in the field to the right of the hide, along with several splendid Grey Plover mostly in summer plumage and a few Dunlin, plus a lone Bar-tailed Godwit.  On the opposite side of the channel were a group of Black-tailed Godwits and lots of Shelduck, a couple of Little Egrets while a Common Tern was hawking over the channel.

The rain started to clear and a Swallow dashed about in front of the hide and a couple of Meadow Pipits.  Waders were starting to move off but no apparent reason for a while, then a Hobby dashed past the hide, then suddenly it was in front of the hide coming straight at us (Anthea even ducked), he swerved right over the top of the hide, awesome.  A Whimbrel flew past and two more came and landed in front of the hide giving great views.  We had actually left the hide but one of our group was very late and decided to go into the hide to see what he had missed and Osprey came in and landed on the nest pole, this was lucky for us as we all back into to have a look.
Osprey at Middlebere © Joe Baldwin
Walking back up the track in sunshine brought out a few birds, by the cottages looking over the reedbed we had two male Reed Buntings, several Reed Warblers singing and sat on top of one bush a Wheatear.  Tony had another one a little later and we added Kestrel, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs, Stonechat and Song Thrush to the list, finishing with a Swift over the cars.