Saturday, 17 August 2019

Recent Happenings

Well since our last post a lot has happened though being honest the birding front has been typically slow as it always is in mid summer, leaving little to write about.  It has been in the insect and reptile world where things have been exciting.  As here a matter of a 100m from home Ian Ballam called me and says I've found Southern Migrant Hawker of the footpath near where they were last year.  So I headed over the road and met him near the drying up pools.  The reason this is exciting is last years records were the first to fourth records for the county and to have them again implied that they had have bred possibly in 2017 season and were undetected.  This year we have had at least four pairs which have been seen in tandem and been seen ovipositing so hopefully this very tenuous potential population will continue to grow adding a new breeding species to the county. 

Male Southern Migrant Hawker - Lytchett Bay © Nick Hull
Staying with dragonflies Longham Lakes also recorded a second record of (Broad) or Scarlet Darter two years after the first one found by Martin Woods.
Male Scarlet Darter or Broad Scarlet © Nick Hull
As many of you are aware I volunteer at RSPB Arne and as part of a small group of like minded people  we conduct the reptile surveys, and help out generally with the public.  One of the advantages in doing this is that every so often during our surveys we will find a Smooth Snake or two.  Recently the reserve had a reptile 'Show & Tell' amazingly we were able to show and talk about five of the six native species the only absentee was Adder and not because its our only venomous snake it's because none were found.  The real privilege is that I get to show the young and old Britain's rarest snake and they are simply the best, they always seem to be happy to just rest in a pair of warm hands and really not mind at all.  Saying this I'm always very aware not to stress them and if I feel the animal isn't happy it is placed back in it's holding tank to relax and chill out.  The show & tell went really well, with many young people and their parents enjoying the chance to see and learn about these precious animals really close up, many seeing them for the first time.

My hand & female Smooth Snake at its release on the day of the Show & Tell photo © Bev Langdon

We always try to photograph all the Smooth Snakes as we do Adders because the head and neck markings are individual to the animal. The aim is to attempt to try to understand their movements, the type and location of heathland they prefer and most importantly to try and understand more about them, so when any conservation work is to be carried out we can reduce the disturbance and do not destroy their prefer habitat.  Unfortunately so little is known about Smooth Snake it makes this work extra important.  I should add that we do this under license and have very strict rules to abide by.

Saturday, 29 June 2019

What been happening in Two Owls World

It's been a busy time and I've had many hours out in the field doing surveys for the RSPB and leading the usual Two Owls walks.  Jackie has manage to have one or two outings where she can drive her scooter though we our now finding the scooter's limitation, but does add a different aspect to a birding trip. 

Since the last blog we have been to Wales on a family holiday to show our grand-children Puffin and then back with our groups we had visits to Keyhaven, Arne and Holt Heath before heading off down to Devon.   Then it was back to Durlston, the New Forest, Lodmoor, and bringing us to date with an evening walk at Martin Down.

Our holiday took us to Wales with the prime aim to take our grand-children, Ben & Leia, onto Skomer Island as we felt it would be the best place so they could get up close to their favourite birds. I can only say it was a terrific success with Puffin walking around right in front of us and flying in over our heads.  On one occasion Ben felt the wind from the wings beating as one past so close to him.
Puffin - Skomer Island © Nick Hull
Puffin coming into land right in front of us © Nick Hull
Puffin with Sand Eels proudly walking towards its burrow © Nick Hull
When we arrived on the Island we were told at our welcome talk that no pufflings had hatch but were due any day.  Well they must have just started hatching as the only reason a Puffin would be flying in with a bill full of Sand Eels is to feed a hungry youngster.  We also added Chough to the kids bird list when a pair came by us giving their "chow chow" calls which Ben thought was "amazing". 
Chough - Skomer Is. © Nick Hull
Keyhaven is alway a nice place to go birding at almost any time of year though autumn is probably when it really excels. We had a good walk with the highlights probably being a Marsh Harrier at the start before leaving our cars, a group of immature Eider resting on one of the marsh spits. We all enjoyed a pair of Little Ringed Plover on Fishtail lagoon, but the prize probably goes to the twenty or so pairs of Avocet which were nesting on the island in the Fishtail lagoon.

Arne RSPB Our walk at Arne produced all the usual species one would expect plus the added bonus of a pair of Spotted Flycatcher and a male Nightjar which flew across the path right in front of the group on Shipstal Heath.  

Holt Heath is always been one of our favourite places to take our groups to see Nightjar and Woodcock and it provided excellent views of both species on our evening visit.  Though one thing was obvious that the heathland is getting very overgrown with scrub and the birds were not as easy to see.  Though saying this I managed to find a spot where we had a male and a female really close to us which gave amazing views.  The male circled myself and Phil four times and then as the remainder of the group caught us up circled again and then chased off after a female.  All this, and we had at least two possibly three different Woodcock buzzing over head, plus we saw other more common heathland species making it a good evening's birding.
Nightjar - Holt Heath Two Owls archive photo.
Woodcock - Holt Heath © Nick Hull
Our next event was a long weekend down in Devon based at Dawlish Warren we visited Challacombe Farm, Yarner Wood, Labrador Bay, Post Bridge, Exminster Marshes and Darts Farm.  We saw around 88 species and had some tremendous luck as we found a single male Red-backed Shrike on Dartmoor which was totally unexpected.

We later met one of the RSPB's scientific officers for the area who was checking the Pied Flycatcher boxes at Yarner Wood and I asked him how many were left as I was concerned we were a little late in the season to see them and told us that they had all gone, after finding out who he was I reported to him about the RB Shrike and asked him if he was aware of it.  It turns out that he wasn't so we described where we saw it.  He then kindly rewarded us by telling us that their was a single pair of Pied Flycatcher left still feeding two young at box 433. We thanked him and headed off and duly found the box and had good views of both male and female flycatchers.  Jackie who stayed behind along the main track gripped us a little when she told us that she had a pair of Goshawk fly out of the wood over her whilst we were watching the flycatchers.
Male Pied Flycatcher Yarner Wood © Nick Hull
Other highlights were five Arctic Skua from an early morning seawatch from the hotel grounds, an adventurous cub Fox at the Warren, Redstarts, Merlin at Challacombe Farm which always has produced a good bird or two whenever we have visited.  Of course the other species which is always on the hit list  with Dipper at Post Bridge and Cirl Bunting at Labrador Bay.
Cirl Bunting - Labrador Bay © Nick Hull
Durlston Country Park was a visit that could have been in better weather conditions though it stayed dry for our visit.  We had a nice walk around the park and saw most of the common local species which one would expect to find.  One obvious absentee was Yellowhammer, I used to see many here in the past but there seems to be very few certainly around the park which is a little worrying.  We had some nice Bee and Pyramidal Orchids and good views of Guillimot and Razorbill sitting on the sea off Tilley Whim.
Bee Orchid - Durlston CP © Nick Hull
Lodmoor.  Well our visit to Lodmoor was very well timed as the day before a Marsh Warbler had been found singing at the seaward end of Beachdown Way.  So we had little choice where to start and it didn't take long once we were in position to see the bird, in fact most could hear it's varied repertoire before we were able to set up our scopes to look for it. The following walk you might say was a bit of an anticlimax but we saw all the usual birds that Lodmoor could produce on the day.
Marsh Warbler - Lodmoor RSPB © Nick Hull
Scarlet Tiger Moth - Lodmoor © Nick Hull
Other wildlife sighting here were Bee Orchid and Scarlet Tiger Moth. Though not wildlife we also had a very unexpected Spitfire in D-Day markings which gave us a fly over.
Spitfire over Lodmoor RSPB © Nick Hull
New Forest - I had two ladies out in the Acres Down area of the New Forest on a birding Birthday present.  The day started very quiet in the woodland so as the day was warming quickly I decided we should get up to the top on to the view point with hope to see a few raptors.  This turned out to be the right thing to do as we we joined two other birders we almost immediately had a distant Goshawk and then another.  A short wait with intense looking before two buzzard appeared one was obviously a common the other looked very flat winged.  As we watched this lower flat winged looking bird was joined by another which showed the same 'Jizz' as they soared higher in the scope you could see the longer tail and small head and broad wings look of Honey Buzzard.  Before continuing our walk we had a pair of Hobby before adding Redstarts, Tree Pipit and Woodlark singing and all the other usual suspects for the area.
A very cropped & slightly photoshopped shot Honey Buzzard © Nick Hull
Martin Down Our evening walk mainly for orchids and butterflies with the added bonus of Turtle Dove and what else should give itself up went well, though very hot and sticky, it made a very nice evening walk around what is becoming a rare habitat. As this is very much a general wildlife walk taking in anything we can id you never know what we might find.  One of the first was this burying beetle Silpha tristis. 

Carrion/Burying beetle -Silpha tristis © Nick Hull
We then could hear Turtle Dove singing from two locations eventually one was found and we had good scope views in fact over the evening we probably had at least five birds singing and saw three.  Then Sandra and Joe had brief views of a Barn Owl which the rest of us missed.  We needn't have worried as a little while later a dark plumaged bird possibly a female flew out and along the fenceline and then perched up on a fence post at the far side of the field, before disappearing again.
Turtle Dove & Wood Pigeon - Martin Down © Nick Hull
We carried on with our walk when I stopped and quietened the group to listen as I thought I'd had heard a Quail calling.  But because there was a Song Thrush which kept putting in a phrase that sounded similar, I discounted what I had heard to being the Song Thrush.  The thought then occurred to me, if the Song Thrush was mimicking Quail there must be one around for it to have learnt the phrases. We walked on only for me to hear the 'wet my lips' call again this time heard by Margret and Liz. Good I wasn't hearing things.  In fact we heard it calling a few times and there may have been two.  

Joe stopped and said 'moth" I took a look and there in the grass was a Small Elephant Hawk-moth and excellent find so we had a little photographic session before releasing it in a safe place.
Small Elephant Hawk-moth - Martin Down © Nick Hull
We just finished when calls went up Barn Owl I quickly turned to see the owl not far away and thought I had to try a shot even if I had a macro lens on the camera instead of a long one. The result I think is just passable.
Barn Owl - Martin Down © Nick Hull
We ended the evening very happy with a nice list of butterflies and some quality birds which is the best way to end any visit.  Thank you all who came along and made it such a nice evening visit.

Answers to questions and Identifications

When you are leading any group obviously you always have question asked and sometimes you can't always answer straight away, either because you do not know or because you're not sure and do not want to give an incorrect answer.  

On one of our recent walks around Lytchett Bay we came across an Oak tree that had a good many galls scattered around its canopy, most were Oak Apple Gall but there were a few Oak Marble and Knopper Gall as well.  Though many in the group knew what they were none had ever seen the wasp that are responsible, so I've had a search and found a few photographs.

Oak Apple Gall Wasp - Biorhiza pallida
Oak Apple Gall found on a variety of Oak species
Knopper Oak Gall Wasp Andricus quercuscalicis
Knopper Oak Gall found on Pendunculated Oak
Oak Marble Gall Wasp Andricus kollar 
Oak Marble Gall found on Turkey Oak
This week whilst at Arne Fran found a flying insect or rather it found her by landing on her arm, I did know by its look it was most probably a sawfly species. It turns out it's a  Sawfly, Strongylogaster multifascia that feeds on bracken and ferns. 
Strongylogaster multifasciata ©Nick Hull
Also recently whilst on our walk at Martin Down we came across a web tent with caterpillars which I couldn't remember what they were.  So a delve into the reference I soon up with the answer they were Small Eggar Eriogaster lanestis.  

Small Eggar Eriogaster lanestris

Monday, 20 May 2019

Early Summer Catchup

Hi I can't believe it's been so long since I've written a blog, so here I'm going to try and summarise as so much has happened since the spring blog.  

April 
A visit to Blashford on the 13th April gave us a few year ticks with Little Ringed Plover (5), Swallow, Sand and House Martin also Common Tern and a female Goosander along with the usual common species.
Little Ringed Plover - Ibsley Water Blashford Lakes © Nick Hull
Then we had visits to Lytchett Fields RSPB and another to Holton Lee we recorded all the usual woodland species and a few of the common migrants.  Whimbrel, Blackcap, Reed Warbler, Cuckoo and an Osprey were all seen.  Our next outing was our around Poole Harbour day visiting a number of sites. Middlebere at the end of April again produced an Osprey with a large mullet on the nesting post but we had a number of migrants walking to the hide. Cuckoo, Reed Warbler, Swallows, House Martin, Blackcap, Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler. Bestwell and Swineham produced Swallow, House and Sand Martin, Swift, Whimbrel, Blackcap, Reed Warbler. 

May
Jackie and I had morning visit to Hartland Moor on the 6th May and tried out her new scooter along the tramway and we managed Dartford Warbler, Cuckoo, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and had our first Wall Brown butterfly along with Green Hairstreak and I caught up on Swift which Jackie had on the Swineham visit that I had missed.  Next day we had a group at Arne RSPB and had a very nice walk around the reserve seeing a good 50 species.  

On the 11th May we had our Two Owls visit to Portland and Weymouth, over the previous two days the migration was good but on our visit it was very slow and hard work to find birds.  Starting with a seawatch we managed to get the usual gull species and of course Shag, Guillemots and Razorbill and a couple of Fulmar, several displaying Rock Pipit and a pair of Wheatear gave us a good show.  We lunched at Ferrybridge and added three species of tern to our day list and had 25 Little Tern in flight together over the Fleet. Also here we had three Whimbrel and a handfull of summer plumaged Dunlin.

We ended the day walking around Lodmoor RSPB and though we saw nothing particularly rare we had some good sighting of Bearded Tit which we came across a number of time during our walk. Reed Warblers and a couple of Sedge Warbler more Dunlin and a good number of Common Tern. Several sightings of the male Marsh Harrier on our walk round and a good number of Pochard drakes, the females must have been hidden away sitting on their nests. Jackie picked out a single 1st/sum Mediterranean Gull and we ended with more Swift flying in a group across the reserve.
Bearded Tit - Lodmoor © Nick Hull
To bring us up to date we visited Martin Down this morning, this is always a site for quality rather than quantity.  We started with Skylark, Yellowhammer and Whitethroats,  and not long after added two Red Kite and Lesser Whitethroat. We then came into a number of butterflies, Common Adonis and Small Blue, Brimstone males and females, Grizzled and Dingy Skippers and then Marsh Fritillary one of which looked so fresh it appeared to have only just pumped up. We had several pairs of Raven flying over probably going towards the pig fields east of Tidpit. The piece de resistance of the day were the Turtle Dove of which we had at least four singing and good scope views of two.   Has it has recently been reported that there is only around 200 pairs left breeding in the UK we are very lucky to see them. We took great care not to disturb them as we started our return walk back to the cars.  We had another sighting of a Red Kite, Buzzard and Kestrel along with Red-legged Partridge.

Turtle Dove - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Just for Phil, the butterfly whisperer, who was with me today had a close encounter with a very fresh Marsh Fritillary, I've included the next shot.
Phil's finger & Marsh Fritillary © Nick Hull
To finish this blog I had to include a photograph taken by Carolyn Newman of a Nightjar that she took in a friends garden this morning, just how lucky can some people be.
Nightjar © Carolyn Newman

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Spring Catchup

It's that time of year with bird and reptile surveys and Two Owl walks, plus keeping an eye on Jackie so she doesn't try to do to much as she recovers from her operation.  Which seems to be going in the right direction this time, though it is going to take time.  
Male Adder - Swineham Point © Nick Hull
So, what's been happening since our last blog, well I managed to acquire a reptile survey license and will be surveying reptiles for the RSPB at Arne and with ARC in the Lytchett Bay area.  

We have had visits to Radipole, Lodmoor, New Forest Acres Down and Eyeworth, also Keyhaven and Pennington. At this time of year it's we are in a transition period with the wintering waterfowl, divers and grebes leaving for their northern breeding grounds and our summer breeding species returning from climes further south.  A time for keeping an eye out for our scarcer breeding species and passage migrants and maybe a rare overshoot. 

Highlights from our walks were the long staying Ring-necked Duck, now in adult plumage at Radipole, as well as the resident Bearded Tits. At Lodmoor the long staying Lesser Yellowlegs is moulting into summer plumage, which at the time of writing it will probably have completed and will be leaving soon.  Plus Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tits, to add a spring time feeling several Chiffchaff singing and four Wheatears.
Ring-necked Duck-Radipole Lake 1st/winter and adult plumage © Nick Hull
In the New Forest we had an hour or so watching Goshawk and listening to Woodlark along with Marsh Tits and Firecrest and we recorded our first Sand Martin and Wheatear of the year.  At Eyeworth we had a good number of recently arrived Blackcap, a couple of pairs of Mandarin Duck and two Red Kite which soared off towards the North.  At Keyhaven and Pennington we had all the usual species though there were very few waders and the numbers of duck had reduced considerably, but eight Ruff and a number of Chiffchaff showed evidence that migration was underway. We also had a Peregrine sat on a post out on the marsh and a pair of Eider flew east over the Solent.

More locally this week Jackie and I have recorded our first Swallow, House Martin and Osprey and as I write Little Ringed Plover and Little Gulls, Redstart, Willow Warblers are all returning and passing through. Out to sea spring passage with Common Scoter various divers species, Manx Shearwater and Gannets along with Skua.
Gannet - English Channel © Nick Hull

Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Web Cam Links

Hi everyone, sorry no real posts of late, that's mainly down to me looking after the invalid that is Jackie.  The good news her operation seems to have been a success and everything appears to be going in the right direction. Though being the number one carer at the moment is leaving me little time to blog.

Out with our group Sunday (17th) at Arne we had a few highlights with seven Spoonbill and Mick spotted a Great White Egret which quickly disappeared into the marsh out of sight.  We had some nice views of Dartford Warbler and had a chance to listen to one singing.  Otherwise it was fairly uneventful with all the usual species being seen.  Though there were lots of Siskin flying over everywhere and at the feeding station. There was also some signs of Meadow Pipit starting to move and a few that looked like they were back on territory.

Sand Martin, Wheatear and Chiffchaff, Osprey have all been recorded locally so the Autumn migration has certainly started so keep your ears and eyes open you just don't know what might turn up next.

During conversations with the group yesterday, I promised to put up a few links to some webcams just for interest.

This is the camera on the Osprey nest at Manton Bay Rutland the female returned on 17th March St. Patricks Day.
https://www.ospreys.org.uk/webcam/

For those of you that like big falcons here is a Hungarian webcam of a nesting Saker Falcon thats already sitting.
https://www.mavir.hu/web/mavir/feszekmegfigyeles

Another from Hungary is this one of Black Stork.
http://gemenczrt.hu/media/feketegolya-feszek/

Sticking with birds of prey this is a webcam in Decorah Iowa of a Bald Eagle. This page has links to other webcams on various other species.
https://explore.org/livecams/bald-eagles/decorah-eagles

If you want to compare your home feeding station to a feeding station in Ontario Canada this link is good as a starter.
http://cams.allaboutbirds.org/channel/38/FeederWatch_Cam/

How about checking on a Barn Door nest on occasions here is a link to White-tailed Eagle nest in Estonia. (When I checked it today I could here Common Crane calling nearby.
http://www.looduskalender.ee/n/en/node/2172

Well that's a few to start and as soon as the breeding season continues and I come across a few more sites I'll post the links for you to check out.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Identifying Marsh & Willow Tit

We have been out on a couple of walks around the New Forest recently seeing a few of the forest specialties.  Though I have to say it's been fairly quiet period, but we had encounters with singing Crossbill, and a group of ten Hawfinch was particularly nice.  We also recorded singing Woodlark and Skylark, Goosander and Mandarin Duck, in what has been very spring like weather for the time of year.

We also came across several Marsh Tit during our walks and the question that always comes up 'what is the difference between Marsh and Willow?' So I said I'll look out a photograph or two from the archive so the differences can be seen.  Though the main thing to remember is Willow in this area is the rarer species by far certainly in Dorset and the New Forest.  Marsh Tit is the commoner species though they do seem harder to find in Dorset in recent years.


In general Willow Tit look more robust with a thicker or bull necked look

1. The black chin/bib is smaller on Marsh though tends to vary but overall Willow has a larger bib.

2. The bill is dark on both species but Marsh has a pale patch at the base on the upper bills cutting edge. This is absent on Willow.

3. Marsh has a glossy cap and Willow always seem dull black cap.

4. The cheek colour on Marsh in two-toned White going into a pale tinge or buff.  In Willow the cheek through to the rear of the neck is white.


5. Marsh Tit do not show a marked pale panel on the secondaries edges. In Willow there the pale edges forms a pale panel but this does vary a little with individuals and time of year in my experience..

6. This feature I think in harder to see and judge is the tail, Marsh has a more square edge feather tip. In Willow the outer tail feathers are more rounded.

7. This is audible and arguably one of the best feature is the birds calls are quite different.