About Two Owls

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.

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.