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