Sunday, 28 June 2015

In Search of Orchids

Just to give you a break from the La Brenne posts and to give me time to sort a few more photographs here is a quick blog from a successful day in Hampshire at Noar Hill and Chappetts Coppice both Hampshire Wildlife Trust reserves.

Jackie and I haven't been to Noar Hill or Chappets Copse for a few years and yesterday we were joined by Liz, Joe and Renee in a search for Musk Orchid and Fly Orchid and of course anything else that might be on offer.
Orchids - Noar Hill © Nick Hull
The above photograph doesn't do justice to the view you get at this wonderful site it just abounds with colour.  With Common Spotted, Fragrant and Pyramidal Orchids, Knapweed Broomrape and much much more.  But our main quarry here was to find Musk Orchid this delicate small pale greenish yellow orchid.  After a bit of a search I found a single specimen and a very nice one at that, but surely there were more there certainly was when we last visited.  We searched on taking in what other wildlife that was around, which were mainly butterflies seeing Marbled White, Small Heath, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue and Painted Lady.  After a while Joe found a very nice Bee Orchid and shortly after I found a small stand of Musk Orchids and it appeared perhaps we were just a little early for this season as many were still developing. As we left we heard Lesser Whitethroat singing but none of us could find it in the hedgerow bushes.
Musk Orchid - Noar Hill © Nick Hull
After and hour or two enjoying this very nice reserve we moved on to Chappets Coppice not too far away.  The last time we were  here we were to late in the season and all the orchids had gone over or nearly finished.  So we were hoping that we had timed it better this year. Walking through the wood we quickly found that all the helleborines had gone over but Jackie soon found the main target for us here Fly Orchid one of my favourite orchids.
Fly Orchid © Nick Hull
After soaking in the delight of this superb orchid we continued our walk to see what other delights were available.  Joe found a fritillary which flew up and landed in the low branch of a beach tree with a little manoeuvring I managed to get to a position to be able to see it.  To my surprise it was a Silver-washed Fritillary and a very fresh individual and our first of the year.
Silver-washed Fritillary © Nick Hull
Not the best photograph but I think it was still drying out after pumping up it's wings. It was also the only one we came across.

We had a late lunch at Old Winchester Hill where we were treated to a fly over Red Kite a nice way to finish our trip to Gilbert White's area of Hampshire.

Friday, 26 June 2015

La Brenne 3 Moths

3rd & 7th June
We had two nights moth trapping whilst in the La Brenne setting the trap at the park's centre which was a super location as whilst sorting through the trap we were able to listen to Golden Orioles singing, watch Purple Heron, Cattle Egrets, Whiskered Terns flying over towards their nest site to feed young.
Scarce Merveille du Jour & Cumberland Gem © Nick Hull
White Satin & Reed Leopard © Nick Hull
Heart Moth & Marsh Dagger - La Brenne © Nick Hull
The above moths were my highlights from the first nights trap all very nice moths to see. I should mention that the Cumberland Gem and Marsh Dagger are not found in the UK.
La-Demi-Lune-blanche-C(Drymonia querna) & Dorset Cream Wave © Nick Hull
The two above moths one the La Demi-Lune blanche (French Name Only I'm afraid) Drymonia querna is only found in Europe and is an endangered species north of the Alps and the Dorset Cream Wave is a vagrant to the UK and has only been seen on four occasions in Dorset all since 1978.  Though we had better numbers of moth on the second nights trapping as it was a warmer night only one moth stood out and gave us a little problem with its identification, that was Euchalcia modestoides this is also an endangered species in Europe 
Euchalcia modestoides - La Brenne © Nick Hull
Don't worry it isn't dead it was just playing dead all the moths were released back to the area where they were trapped.  

We did catch several hawk moths which are a particular favourite of Jackie, lots of Elephant and Small Elephant, a single Pine, several Poplar and Eyed Hawk moths. In total i think we recorded nearly 115 species of mainly macro's in the two night and that's pretty good I think certainly compared to my garden.
Eyed Hawk Moth & Poplar Hawk Moth © Jackie Hull

Thursday, 25 June 2015

La Brenne - Part 2

Since the La Brenne has become a Parc Naturel Regional, and the development of  any commercial business is restricted, the local population has gone down with people moving out of the area to find work so tourism is becoming one of the only sources of income in the area.  The other main income is from the export of fish mainly carp to eastern Europe.  There is also some dairy and arable farming but much of this is outside of the park. 

Though this isn't very good for the people living in the area it is good for those of us visiting to see the local wildlife, as there is little traffic and an abundance of wildlife.

1st-3rd June
Continuing, on one of our walks at Etang des Essarts we came across a couple of interesting insect the first was the Caterpillar of the Hedge Burnet and the second was found by one of the group and it was a Mole Cricket a first and a second for us.
Hedge Burnet-Aglaope infausta caterpiller © Nick Hull & adult internet photo.

Mole Cricket-La Brenne © Nick Hull
Later in the day we we had an 'orchid fest' when Nigel took us to a superb piece of unspoilt grassland where we found Greater and Lesser Butterfly, Loose-flowered and new to us was Tongue Orchid another really stunning plant.
Tongue Orchid - La Brenne © Jackie Hull
This site was excellent for Nightingale as is the La Brenne as a whole, they seem to be in every hedgerow where ever you go. The following recording is a Nightingale and a Blackbird that seemed to be getting annoyed with its load neighbour.

Other birds here were Turtle Dove still seemed relatively common in the area, Corn Buntings Marsh Harrier and Black Kites were seen daily on our walks around the La Brenne.  We also learnt the sound of Marsh Cricket here which resembles Grasshopper Warbler though perhaps not so loud.  We had our alfresco lunch at Romefort and during lunch had fly by Stag Beetles which always look amazing when they fly. Here we also recorded Brown Argus, Proveçal Short-tailed Blue.  After Lunch we headed off to see Bee-eaters which are always great to see though to far away to get any photographs unfortunately.  The Bee-eaters had there colony along a high river bank with Sand Martins as neighbours.

On our way way back to the hotel we came across some resting cattle and amongst them were the usual accompaning Cattle Egrets. What was quite interesting was that the cattle were quite content allowing the egrets to catch flies and take them from very close to their eyes but the egrets seemed to know that when the fly was near an eye they seemed to take great care to catch the fly without stabbing the cow.
Cattle Egret about to take fly from near the eye of the Cow © Nick Hull

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

La Brenne, France

As the La Brenne was so wildlife packed I'll report on our wildlife highlights over a few blogs as it would be to long to summaries everthing in just one.

It was earlier in the year when Jackie and I met Nigel Spring and during our conversion he mentioned that he was planning a trip to the La Brenne which would be a general nature trip.  This appealed to Jackie and I myself and we asked him to keep us informed as we would be interested.  In due course we found ourselves on the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen and then on a long drive down through the centre of France.  We stopped for lunch at friends of Nigel, Nick and Julie here we had a chance to look around their property which abounded with wildlife.
A small part of Nick & Julie's property France.
In their wood we had our first orchid for the trip with Greater Twayblade and we had our first butterflies here with Heath Fritillary, Small Heath, Small and Large Whites and a single Swallowtail.
Heath Fritillary © Nick Hull
We also heard Black Woodpecker call from the wood and watched Great Spotted Woodpecker coming to their feeding station.  They had an amazing amounts of bees coming to the flowers in the garden many were the Common Carder.  Though one stood out from the rest, the Violet Carpenter Bee which would buzz by you and because of its large size would almost make you jump.
Violet Carpenter Bee © Nick Hull
Our visit here was brief and far too short but we had continue our journey south and en-route we occupied ourselves in spotting and identifying any wildlife.  Whilst traveling the motorway we were able to pick out Yellowhammers and Cirl Buntings many corvids and the odd Common Buzzard and Kestrel etc.  

After what seemed a pretty long day we arrived at out hotel in Mézières-en-Brenne and not surprisingly it was very typically rural French building with plenty of character and as it turned out very comfortable rooms, good food and nice staff just what you want when you go on holiday.
Our stay lasted a week and we would go out for an early walk at around 06:30hrs and arrive back at the hotel for breakfast around 08:30hrs then start out again around 10:00hrs after Kathy and Nigel had provisioned food for our alfresco lunch, which due to the weather we were able to do every day.

Like all wildlife holidays you have your highlights though there were too many to write about all of them here.  Jackie and I had a few species that we wanted a chance see, a few of them we had seen before but some years ago and others would be new for us in France.  A species that we had seen before but not for a few year was Whiskered Tern and the La Brenne is probably one of the best places certainly in France to find them.  They like to nest of mature lilly pads and as there are around two thousand ponds and lakes in La Brenne and most have lillies in them so there is a good number of breeding sites available.  Over the week we had many opportunities to see and photograph this lovely tern.
Two Whiskered Tern- La Brenne © Nick Hull
There were a few species of Butterfly that Jackie and I wanted to catch up with and one of them, the Woodland Brown, has always been classed as scarce and local in the La Brenne area but Nigel knew a couple of locations where he felt we stood a good chance of finding them.  As it turned out he was correct but we also realised that this particular butterfly has had an increase over recent years and is fairly common and as we hit the peak period for emerging and we found them in many places.
Woodland Brown - La Brenne © Nick Hull
Another butterfly that was really nice to find was Spotted Fritillary which we found whilst out searching for orchids one day.  This is a superbly marked fritillary which gave great problems for us to get an identification as it was a very hot day and it insisted on keeping its wings open on landing and we needed to see the underwing to confirm our id.
Spotted Fritillary - La Brenne © Nick Hull
Another butterfly which we came across in the same location was Marbled Fritillary, equally as beautiful as the spotted, though we did find this species in other localities during our break.
Marbled Fritillary 
This is end of the first instalment of our trip and time to sort through a few more photographs before we share with you a little more of the La Brenne experience.

Martin Down

This remnant of unimproved downland on the Dorset and Hampshire boundary is a superb site for seeing downland birds butterflies and orchids.  Our visit yesterday (23rd) was no different though a little quiet on the bird and butterfly front we still did pretty well.
Botany rich Downland- Martin Down © Nick Hull
One of the joys of this site is the numerous Skylarks which were constantly singing during our visit another of the regulars here is the Yellowhammer and we had several males which were in good voice during our walk.  Whitethroats were in evidence most were still feeding young and we watch a number to and froing from bushes laden with caterpillars for unfledged young.

Three weeks ago on our way home from the La Brenne we recorded a freshly emerged Dark Green Fritillary in Normandy and usually it's around two weeks later that ours are on the wing and our luck was in as Kate picked up a butterfly perched on the vegetation on the dyke bank.  Getting it in the scope I could see it was a Dark Green Fritillary that was trying to warm up in the morning sun.
Dark Green Fritillary - Martin Down © Nick Hull
For those of you who wonder why they are called Dark Green Fritillary it because of this beautiful green wash on the underwing.
Two Owls archive photo © Nick Hull
On our walk we had lots of Pyramidal, Common Spotted and Fragrant Orchids and one of my favourites Greater Butterfly Orchid.
Greater Butterfly Orchid - Martin Down © Nick Hull
Continuing our walk we heard Garden Warbler and Blackcap singing from the thorn scrub and some managed to see a pair of Bullfinch, then one of our target species of the day which took flight and landed out of sight further down the path.  So we approached with care and were reward with close views of a Turtle Dove who seemed happy with our presence and began to sing. 
Turtle Dove - Martin Down © Nick Hull
 We ended our walk with views of a family party of Long-tailed Tits, Large and Grizzled Skipper, Marbled White, Small Tortoiseshell, Adonis and Common Blue and of course Yellowhammer and Skylarks singing, a perfect end to our visit.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

Australians going "walkabout" in the New Forest

Well Jackie and I have been busy of late so here is a catch-up on what has been going on over the last ten days or so.  On the 30th May I met Ken Cross and a group of Australians exploring the New Forest. Starting at Stoney Cross and went on to Fritham and Eyeworth.  Our first birds of the day were a nice little group of Stock Dove accompanied by Wood Pigeons, Rooks and distant Lapwing and just after as we passed the end of the old war time runway I picked up a Wheatear.  Around the Eyeworth Pond we had the usual ducks Mallard, Gadwall and the all colourful Mandarin, and several tit species including Marsh Tit.  Walking the track north we added Common Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher both always good to see and of course Goldcrest and a singing Firecrest which gave good song comparison.
Our next location was Bolderwood and, thanks to Olly Framton who gave us some super info from a day earlier, we only walked a few paces before we heard Wood Warbler.  Though the group had heard and seen this species earlier in their trip in Wales they hadn't expected to be treated to the performance we were about to have.  This super male was trilling by the path and when we stopped to view him he flew closer and then over our heads to another perch and sang again and he repeated this several times totally oblivious to us watching it.  It came so close that members of the group were getting shots on their mobile phones no long lenses required with this bird. 
Wood Warbler - New Forest
Our next location was Acres Down here we were to look for Raptors, though we had some success we apparently missed Honey Buzzard by an hour but we had lots of Common Buzzard, a distant Peregrine and Goshawk, Red Kite, Raven.  Plus a brief view of Hawfinch flying by and some of the best views of Wood Lark that I've had in a very long time which was really good for the group to get to grips with.  We also had a mammal tick for them here, a very smart Roe buck paraded itself out on the heath giving excellent photography views. 

We lunched at Lyndhurst before going on to bird Pig Bush and Beaulieu Road here we added Little Egret which was a sub-species tick for the group, Common Redstarts all out catching insect to feed their young gave excellent views.  We also had a bit of luck when a Cuckoo which had so far only been heard flew in and sat on a dead tree stump giving tremendous views.  They were able to listen to the display calls of Curlew over the bogs and later we had good scope views of a bird feeding out on the heath.
Archive shot of a Curlew © Nick Hull 
We were still absent of Honey Buzzard and Dartford Warbler so I thought as we needed to be back across to the North West side of the for our pub dinner we would head off to the Blackgutter area and see if we could find a few extra birds for our day list.  I took them to a favoured view point on the way and it turned up trumps with a distant Goshawk and a much closer Hobby which had a go at a nearby Sparrowhawk.  Arriving at Black Gutter we added Skylark, Stonechat, Meadow Pipit to go with the many Tree Pipits we had seen earlier in the day. Here we added another mammal to their growing list this time Fallow Deer a herd of around thirty individual feeding along the far side of the gutter.  The interesting thing was there were two Black melanistic individuals in the herd which contrasted greatly with the usual pale brown white spotted form.

After our excellent pub dinner we headed off to Holt Heath and Whitesheet Plantation our last venue for the day.  Here we had two target species Nightjar and Woodcock and we hadn't walked too far before a Nightjar gave it's characteristic churring song.  After a bit of searching we managed to locate the bird sat on the branch of a Silver Birch tree and watched it for several minutes flighting out giving its 'kerrwick' flight calls and wing clapping.  Whilst watching the nightjar both Jackie and I heard the 'tasip tasip' of a Woodcock and looking up a roding bird flew over us along the edge of the ride.  In fact whilst we were there it went over a further four occasions giving very good views.
Nightjar Holt Heath © Nick Hull
I'd just like to thank Ken and his group for a very enjoyable day showing them our local birds and wildlife I enjoyed all the Aussie banter it made for a great day.