About Two Owls

Sunday 5 December 2021

Back to Patch and Good Birds

I'm starting this monthly blog at the end of October from when we returned from our holiday in Yorkshire.  We arrived back and the Lytchett Patch still held the Pectoral Sandpiper which was found on the fields on the 12th October and we managed to catch up with it on the 20th with distant views as it was at the back of the Sherford Pools Field, a little too far away to get a photograph. So our purple patch was still running and then on the 23rd a call from fellow patch watcher Shaun Robson to say there was a Hoopoe in the allotments off Slough Lane.  So it was into the car and up the road, a few minutes later we were watching a Hoopoe feeding along the allotment drive with no concern for us.

Hoopoe Upton © Nick Hull

It stayed till the end of the month and was seen by many visitors.

October hadn't stopped giving as on the 23rd a Common Rosefinch turned up on Portland but then wasn't seen again and presumed to have left but on the 28th it or another appeared so Jackie and I headed off to Portland Bill.  When we arrived in the lane next to the Obs there was maybe six people waiting for the bird to reappear.  We patiently joined the others and waited, it didn't take too long before the bird flew in. and perched in an elder and was partially obscured by a branch but I took a few shots as you don't know if you will get a better chance.  As it happened I needn't of worried as it crossed the lane and perched on top of a bramble right in the open and took a few more shots before it moved again this time even closer giving amazing views.

Common Rosefinch Portland Bill © Nick Hull

After watching the Rosefinch for quite sometime we went and looked over the strips and managed to add the ringtail Hen Harrier which was quartering the fields near the old upper lighthouse, which was great to see as it was a catchup species we missed in the early part of the year because of lockdown.

We then had a wander over to the Obs Quarry and to our amazement the Little Owl was sat in its usual slot in the rocks, I was able to get a few shots of this this super small owl.  In fact it must be one of the most photographed birds in the county but again another year tick under the belt and brought Octobers birding to a very suitable end.

Little Owl Portland Bill © Nick Hull
The first eight days of November was fairly normal with us just seeing the birds that we would expect to see at the various location we visited. On the 9th we went off to Studland as two Snow Bunting had been found on Redhorn Quay and they aren't that common in Dorset.  When we arrived we walked across the heath checking off a few Meadow Pipit and a Dartford or two, but as we approached the quay we moved very carefully and watched for movement.  I managed to find one in the grass area feeding on the various seeds and as I moved around to get a clearer shot with the camera I noticed movement on the beach and there was the second bird, which eventually moved and joined the other on the strand-line.

Snow Bunting Redhorn Quay © Nick Hull

Our next trip was more of a local twitch as a message came that there was a Red-necked Grebe near the harbour mouth so Jackie and I headed for the Haven car park at Sandbanks.  Shortly after arriving and scanning around the harbour mouth I picked it up out in the middle of the harbour towards Goathorn. We managed good scope views of the bird but it was some way off but none-the-less a good year tick.

It was back to Weymouth for our next trip out for the Little Auk in Weymouth Harbour which had been seen on and off for a few days but was very elusive at times.  We arrived and parked near the harbour a short walk to the RNLI boat mooring where the bird had last been seen, but we were told that it had dived ten minutes before and disappeared.  When I was parking up the van I had caught movement in the corner of my eye of a bird diving underwater but when we started to walk towards the RNLI all we could see was a Cormorant, but what I saw was just a small plop not the ripples of a Cormorant but I kind of passed it off.  We watched for a while with the others and Brett arrived and we chatted for a bit and caught up on what birding we had been doing etc as we waited.  I then mentioned to him about what I saw and he answered well it might have been the auk as it likes that area, Brett and I walked back towards the town bridge scanning the water for movement.  We had walked perhaps a hundred metres or so when scanning towards the boats moored, by where I had parked, I saw a small black and white blob in the water.  Viewing through my bins there it was I quickly walked back and whistled to Jackie and the others that I had found it and rejoined Brett by the boat where the Little Auk was just having a preen.  It put on a great show only a few metres away it was definitely the closest views I have ever had of this super small auk species.

Little Auk Weymouth Harbour © Nick Hull

After having our fill of the Little Auk Jackie and I popped up to Portland Bill in the hope of catching up with Purple Sandpiper which we managed but just a single bird on the rock near the Obelisk with a couple of Oystercatcher.  After which we went off and treated ourselves to a fish and chip lunch before heading home.

On the 21st we met friends for a walk in Bolderwood in the New Forest, we saw lots of Redwing and had a flyover Hawfinch otherwise it was fairly quiet.  On our way home we called into Eyeworth Pond to see if we could find Mardarin but they didn't seem to be at home at least not while we were there.  We did though have a consolation with a drake Goosander which seemed to be oblivious of any people and just busied itself with feeding.

Drake Goosander - Eyeworth Pond New Forest © Nick Hull

Our next trip out was down into West Dorset to visit friends we hadn't seen since before the first Lockdown visiting Seaton Wetlands and Lyme Regis.  We started with a walk along the Lim in search of Dipper and we were successful finding two birds which gave us good views and on our return walk we saw a Kingfisher before heading off to Seaton which turned out to be very quiet.

Dipper River Lim © Nick Hull

At the end of the month Jackie and I decided to have another look around Studland as there had been Velvet Scoter out in the bay which is always nice to get on the harbour year list.   As we arrived in the middle beach car park we heard the squawking of Ring-necked Parakeets and there flying towards us were four birds being typically noisy and they perched up in one of the trees in the car park.  Amazingly we have looked for these birds a number of times, well, almost every time we have visited Studland and couldn't find them, then today they found us.

Ring-necked Parakeet Studland © Nick Hull

After viewing the parakeets we set up the scope and scanned the bay and almost right away found a group of four Velvet Scoter along with fourteen Common Scoter a few hundred metres off shore.  We then moved down to look over Bramble Bush Bay hoping for Sanderling and we weren't disappointed with 15 on the shoreline.  As we looked over the bay and shoreline we had a good variety of waders flying in including 30 Ringed Plover, 45 Dunlin, a single Greenshank and 2 Grey Plover and a good number of Brent Geese.

We crossed on the ferry to go home via Shore Road, Sandbanks with the tide being perfect for the Bar-tailed Godwit to be feeding and we had a count of 66 and 86 oystercatcher with a few Turnstone and Mediterranean Gulls.  A great end to our birding in November.

Sunday 31 October 2021

Yorkshire Mega's Bonanza October Part 2

13th October - In retrospect we probably should have gone to to Flamborough Obs first thing and then headed off to Spurn Point but we didn't, electing to get down to Spurn as soon as we could.  It was a rather breezy day and for much of it, it was overcast which didn't help draw the birds out of cover.  We started our morning visiting ex-CHOG birder Mark Andrews who has moved to Kilnsea and has a wonderful location and garden next to the Humber.  We had a tour of his garden, which has already seen a number of scarce species but none for us, before we walked down the road to see if we could find a Western Bonelli's Warbler that had turned up the previous day.  It had been seen a little before we arrive in the Crown & Anchor car park but after an hour or so waiting and only having heard it call a few times we decided to head off and do a little seawatching and try again later. 

Our seawatch wasn't spectacular but it added a few year ticks in Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter and Goldeneye all missed in the early part of the year because of lockdown.  We also recorded Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Pink-footed Geese, Razorbill, Guillemot, Rock Pipit, Skylark and Brambling.  

Skein of Pink-footed Geese passing by at distance Kilnsea Beach © Nick Hull

After our seawatch we headed back up the road to give the Bonelli's another chance to show but no chance so we headed off for lunch after which we headed to Kilnsea Wetlands before the tide receded and the waders leave to feed out on the Humber mudflats.  There was a good number of wildfowl and waders and we managed to add Spotted Redshank to our year list though we didn't find it in the roosting birds but caught sight of it when it flew out with accompanying Redshank.

We headed back to the Crown and Anchor to try for the Bonelli's again but when we arrived it still hadn't been seen but a message from the Spurn Obs came through to say there was a Jack Snipe on the Obs pond so we headed up the road and around the back of the Obs to join a number of birders already there watching the snipe.  We had great views and we saw a Jack Snipe swim in the pond something we had never seen before.

Jack Snipe_Spurn Observatory Pond Kilnsea © Nick Hull

The Jack Snipe was a fine way to finish our day at Spurn with a pretty good day list of 67 species on a pretty drab poor day, wasn't bad at all.

14th October - Back to Flamborough Obs for the mornings ringing session but it wasn't a great morning the wind had changed direction overnight and there was little migration, best of the morning was a stunning little Treecreeper up close.  So we headed back to the cottage for lunch and checked out up the lane at Buckton but generally had an easy day, fortunately as it turn out. 

Treecreeper - Flambourgh Obs © Nick Hull

15th October - We were up early and back to the Flamborough Obs with no idea of what the day would bring.  The first net round produced a single bird. the second was much better and added Lesser Redpoll and one of the local Tree Sparrows.

Lesser Redpoll, Yellowhammer,Tree Sparrow & Goldfinch  © Nick Hull

Then came the best bird of the weeks ringing sessions and strangely a species Jackie and I had been talking about over breakfast not having seen one for a while.  The last bird that appeared out of the bag was a juvenile Red-breasted Flycatcher the first we had seen in the hand close up and it was a little cracker.

Shortly after news came to the Obs that a Western Bonelli's Warbler had been found near to the lodge so Jackie and I headed off with a few of the other birders to see if we could catch up with this elusive species and hoped we could get to see this one unlike the Spurn bird.

We arrive at the location and the sun went behind the clouds and we waited for an hour or so, then the sun shone through again and shortly after we heard it calling along with another Yellow-browed.  It was a little further down the path and I manage to spot it moving through a sycamore and called to the others and eventually everyone was getting brief views.  

Western Bonelli's Warbler - Flamborough © Nick Hull

Jackie wasn't satisfied with the views she had so we went for lunch and returned and we both had much better and closer views though it was very hard to photograph as it was on the move all the time.  We left very happy and went out to the viewpoint and tried a bit of a seawatch but only added Eider to our list.

16th October - We started as usual at Flamborough Obs but things were very slow and there seemed to be very little migrations and it was damp and windy.  So we decided to go to Scarborough and start at Scalby Mills a place we've not visited before.  Looking from the sea wall we added Turnstone to our list, otherwise a good number of Wigeon and Oystercatchers with just a singles of Eider, Guillemot and Curlew, a few Redshank and a variety of the more common gull species.  Then news of a Snow Bunting at Bempton Cliffs showing well made up our minds of where to go next.

We arrived and enquired if the bunting was still present and was told it was down by the Grandstand viewing point.  It didn't take us long to get there and it was performing extremely well with no fear of people and allowed for everyone to get great shots of this northern breeding species.

Male Snow Bunting - Bempton Cliffs RSPB © Nick Hull

Whilst we were there on the info services it came on that an Red-breasted Flycatcher had been found at the Flamborough Fog Station.  We didn't panic as we had already seen one so we had our fill of the bunting and walked back to the centre for lunch.  Just as we finished one of the volunteers said had we heard that the Red-breasted Flycatcher had been re-id'ed as a Taiga Flycatcher.  There was no worries of where we were to go next and off to the Fog Station as quickly as possible.

We couldn't have timed it better as we walked across to where all the birders were the bird was flushed and it sat on the fence rail of the Fog Station and gave us good views though a tad distant for ideal photograph with just a 400mm lens.  I managed a few memory shots before it was flushed again by birders and photographer that had been watching it down on the undercliff as they climbed back up to the clifftop path and flushed the bird back down onto the undercliff.  We decided as we'd had pretty good views and that the weather seemed to be deteriorating we would call it a day and what a way to finish!

Taiga Flycatcher - Flamborough Fog Station © Nick Hull

17th October - This was our last real day of birding in Yorkshire, rather wet and drab, we went to Flamborough Head hoping for a bit of seawatching but rather disappointing but we had no room to complain our birding break had been superb with one lifer and four British ticks and a total of 116 species for the 10 days in the county.

Just to add a BIG THANK YOU to all at Flamborough Bird Observatory for all the work put in to organise MigWeek21 it made a great birding break.

Monday 25 October 2021

Yorkshire Mega's Bonanza October Part 1

On the 8th October Jackie and I headed off to East Yorkshire for a birding break to take in the Flamborough MigWeek21 with talks, bird ringing and walks all aimed at seeing migrants fresh in from Northern Europe or further afield. We have taken part in this event previously and had some very good birds such as Red-flanked Bluetail, Yellow-browed Warbler just to mention a couple. We also have had large thrush, finch and goose movements which can be quite spectacular.

We left Dorset early in the morning and as we couldn't book in to our cottage at Buckton until after 17:00hrs we figured that we would have time to fit in a visit to Blacktoft Sand RSPB reserve near Goole.  As there was a White-tailed Lapwing a very sought after bird species in Britain as there has only been ten UK records the last was in July 2010.  It's a species that is also on the Dorset list from Abbotsbury in July 1979, which is another story.

So around five and a half hours later we were pulling in to Blacktoft and the first person we saw was fellow Lytchett patch birder Shaun Robson who had called in to see the lapwing on his way to Newcastle and he told us just where to see the bird.  When we arrived at the hide only six people were there so we took a vacant seat and scanned the pools out front and quickly picked up what turned out to be our first mega of the trip, over the next thirty minutes is performed well and gave unbelievable views.  So we went off and had our lunch then visiting the other hides before leaving to get to our cottage.  Adding Curlew Sandpiper and Ruff, Marsh Harrier plus the more common species to get our Yorkshire list up and running.

White-tailed Lapwing - Blacktoft RSPB © Nick Hull

9th October - Our first morning we spent at Bempton RSPB as they had a ringing demonstration that morning and we had arranged to meet friends later.  We were greeted by the sound of chirping Tree Sparrow always a joy to see and we made our way to where the ringing was to take place.  The first few net rounds produced several of the common species Robin, Dunnock, Blue Tit etc.  Then the first of the autumn for us a Yellow-browed Warbler popped into the net and we had close up views of this stunning eastern gem.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Bempton RSPB © Nick Hull

When the ringing slowed and our friends arrived we headed off down to the breeding cliffs to checkout the Gannets colony as many still hang around for sometime after the breeding season is over and we had some great views of bird plunging in the sea for fish and gliding effortlessly by the uplift of the wind along the cliff edge.  There wasn't much migration going on, though we did have a few Chaffinch and Skylark coming in and moving over also a Mistle Thrush which isn't common here.

Gannet - Bempton Cliffs RSPB © Nick Hull

10th October - Out again early this time to Flamborough South Landing and Observatory.  The mornings ringing brought in very little in fact much the same as the previous day with the highlight being another Yellow-browed Warbler and a nice male Bullfinch.  We headed back to the cottage and Jackie went for a rest and I headed off up the lane/footpath to see what was around locally.  In fact there was very little as the area is quite intensively farmed but after about a mile I met RSPB's Mark Thomas a local birder.  He was investigating a sighting of a Yellow-browed Warbler in a small copse and invited me to join him which I duly did.  We had hardly arrived when we both heard the 'shweee' call of a Yellow-browed and in due course had good views as it moved around in some elder and thorn before heading back into the sycamore where we first heard it.  It was then that I realised the time and had to head back to the cottage for lunch.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Buckton © Mark Thomas

In the afternoon we headed to Hornsea Mere usually a good place to catch up with Little Gull and it didn't disappoint but we only had a single well marked 1st/winter bird, we added a flock of Barnacle Geese that flew in and a number of common waterfowl species but the Slavonian Grebe couldn't be found.

1st/winter Little Gull_Hornsea Mere © Nick Hull

11th October - On the Friday we arrived a real mega wader was identified a Long-toed Stint at St. Aidan's RSPB.  Jackie and I decided we would risk not going straight away, to avoid the crowds of weekend twitchers by going on a week day and Monday suited us best. So an early start and after an hour and fifty minutes we were pulling up in the reserve car park and getting directions to where the bird could be seen.  It was a pretty long walk possibly three quarters of a mile.  We arrived to find around a dozen birders present and they made room for us at one end and directed us to where the bird could be seen.  We had to wait for it to walk around from the back of a small island to come into sight but it appeared next to a Lapwing and looked really dinky in comparison.  Long-toed Stint is an Siberian breeding species that winters in Thailand through Malaysia to Australia and has only been recorded in Britain and Ireland on three previous occasions Marazion, Cornwall in 1970, Saltholme RSPB, Cleveland 1982 and Ballycotton, Cork in 1996.  Due to the distance we were from the bird I only managed a few memory type shots but it was a fantastic bird to catchup with.  We also saw Bittern and I had two Red Kite while Jackie had gone to get sandwich's for lunch.

This is the small island the stint frequented and the boxed area is expanded below

Long-toed Stint_St. Aidan's RSPB © Nick Hull

The dark rufous crown and prominent supercilium, long tertials with no primary projection and pale yellowish legs were very noticeable. When viewing through the telescope at high magnification the legs also seemed long for a bird of its size and seemed very flexed almost like a Jack Snipe much different than with Little and Temmick's Stint. In fact It reminded me more of a Least Sandpiper.

We lunched at St Aidan's before moving on to tick off another RSPB reserve at Fairburn Ings, our purpose here was to see if we could find Willow Tit.  We needn't of worried we checked in at the centre and were told to try the hides where there were feeders as they had been getting regular visits from Willow Tit in the morning. So we headed out and only went as far as the centres feeding station and lo and behold there on the fat balls was a Willow Tit.  None-the-less we did a circuit of the reserve and glad we did as we added two possibly four Great White Egret, two Cattle Egret, Grey Heron and Little Egret to our Yorkshire list.  Jackie also caught up with a Red Kite that circled right over us on the return path to the centre.  

Red Kite over Fairburn Ings RSPB © Nick Hull

At this point I'd just like to thank Alan Davis of 'The Biggest Twitch: Around the World in 4000 birds fame'. (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Biggest-Twitch-Around-World-birds/dp/1472918606). As we approached the centre, via a boardwalk, the corner to turn to get off and return onto the path was too sharp for Jackie's scooter to  drive around.  Instead of Jackie having to reverse all the way back Alan, who happened to be behind us, suggested to help me lift Jackie's scooter and spin it around the corner, which  between us we managed to do. 
Marsh Tit - Fairburn Ings © Nick Hull

We ended our day here as we started with Willow Tit at the centres feeders.

Willow Tit Fairburn Ings © Nick Hull

12th October - It was back to Flamborough for the early morning ringing session and it turned out to be pretty good with some thrush and finch migration.  With Redwing predominating a handful of Song Thrush and Blackbird the first Fieldfare and Brambling moving in off the North Sea all of which were seen in the hand except for the Fieldfare.  

A few of the birds we saw close up at the ringing demonstration

It was interesting to see the Blackbirds which they identified as most likely to be Scandinavian birds as they had longer wings and were slightly heavier birds also the plumage appears slightly sooty black compared to local birds.  The Song Thrush and Redwing were also Scandinavian birds, and Jackie was allowed to release one of the Redwing which was placed on her open hand on it's back where it stayed momentarily before righting itself and flying off.  

To be continued in Part 2

Monday 4 October 2021

September Birding & NocMig Ortolan Bunting's

Jackie and I visited eleven locations in September not all of them were necessarily productive but none-the-less we added species to our year list.  On the 1st we went over to Stanpit Marsh but we missed the tide and the birds had gone into the marsh to roost which made it hard to pick them out amongst the long marsh grasses. The highlight here was our first Grey Plover of the year which a really smart summer plumages individual though there was a few signs that it had started it's autumn moult.  We had been there sometime scanning looking for the reported Curlew Sandpiper but we couldn't find them anywhere but as a consolation an Osprey came over and quartered the harbour and gave us pretty good views as it dived to catch fish 
eventually it was successful and flew up towards the River Avon.  Jackie found our only Wheatear of the day which was in around the gorse patch on Crouch Hill.  Otherwise it was very much the usual species that were to be found.  Jackie and I popped around to Mudeford Quay to the public loos and had a view across the harbour to see if we could add anything and got lucky finding two Curlew Sandpiper and five Knot on the sandbar which finished the mornings birding off very nicely.

We had a morning walk out to Old Harry from Studland on the 7th where we had good numbers of Whitethroat and a steady passage of Swallow, House Martin and a few Sand Martin making their way South for the coming winter. We also had a couple of Wheatear out on the head and we had the usual gull species.  It was the insects that were the highlight with our first Clouded Yellow Butterflies and my first Field Sand Digger Wasp Mellinus arvensis which I found as it took a fly on some bracken which it will take back to her burrow as food for her young after she lays her egg on to the fly. 

Clouded Yellow Ballard Down © Nick Hull

Sand Digger Wasp Mellinus arvensis Ballard Down © Nick Hull

Our next visit was out of county to Keyhaven and Pennington Marsh, it has always been a bit of a favourite site for us particularly in the autumn as you always can find a good assortment of birds there almost at anytime of year.  Our target species here was Spotted Redshank but as always we were finding everything but this species.  We found Little Stint, Curlew Sandpiper and a forty or so Yellow Wagtail on Pennington Marsh but it wasn't until we were making out way back to the Keyhaven car park that I spotted a wader in the back of the Fishtail lagoon and scoping it found our target bird a Spotted Redshank.  I know they aren't a particularly scarce species but we seemed to been missing them in the field pools at Lytchett so it was nice to get it on the year list.

Male Kestrel Keyhaven © Nick Hull

Wheatear - Keyhaven © Nick Hull
It wasn't until the 19th that we managed to add another species to our year list with Ruff which had been on the Sherford Pools field along with Little Stint, Green Sandpiper, Hobby, Marsh Harrier and Jackie managed to get to see her first Kingfisher of the year.

We ended the month with a walk around Greenlands Farm and back via the Agglestone Rock with the only highlights being a couple of Crossbill and Wheatear and a single Whitethroat.

Since I started recording the sounds of birds on nocturnal migration going over Lytchett Bay I've recorded an assortment of different species from Common and Green Sandpiper, Redshank, Greenshank and Spotted Redshank, Whimbrel, Curlew, Redwing, Fieldfare and Song Thrush, Ring Ouzel and Pied Flycatcher, the Pied Flycatcher was possibly the best I've record up till now.

Other friends who have been doing NocMic recording around the harbour have recorded a number of Ortolan Bunting but not me, well until now that is. Because on the morning of the 5th September at 01:46hrs I found 5 calls from a single bird flying past and comparing the sonogram with recordings on the Sound Approach website they appeared to match an Ortolan Bunting.  I sent a copy of the audio to Paul at the Sound Approach who was able to confirm the record as being indeed a Ortolan Bunting. At last I had joined the Ortolan Club.

Four days later I was going through the nights recording as before and came across another recording of what sounded like another bunting passing over this one was slightly closer and at a quieter time of the morning at 03:05hrs the sonogram looked slightly different but it was within the correct frequency range but I wasn't 100% so sent off another audio file to Paul and yes a second record of Ortolan Bunting for the Lytchett Bay airspace.

What will be next?

Friday 17 September 2021

August surprise Aquatic Warbler

August I think is always a slightly strange month as summer isn't quite over and autumn hasn't really begun but usually we see the start of the return migration.  This year was no exception with returning Common Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Spoonbill and Great White Egret all being seen locally in the first week of the month.  Otherwise it was very much the usual summer species that is until the 17th and typically it was a morning when Jackie and I had decided to have a bit of a lay-in. It was around 06:56hrs and my mobile pinged an alert which is for the local Lytchett What's app group.  It had to be good at that time of morning, so checking it was a message from Shaun who was ringing out in the reedbeds in the bay.  The message 'We have just caught an Aquatic Warbler if you want to see it get to the water works asap'.  We jumped out of bed and fifteen minutes later we were gathered at the waterworks and Shaun arrived and produced a stunning juvenile Aquatic Warbler. What a surprise as the wind was all wrong and conditions wasn't at all right for the species to be in the UK and at Lytchett Bay.

Juv. Aquatic Warbler Lytchett Bay © Nick & Jackie Hull

The next day we decided to have a walk out across the fields and catch-up on some waders that were lacking from our list and as we were leaving Ian messaged to say he had found a Little Stint on the Sherford Pools.  We arrived shortly after and Ian kindly pointed us in the right direction and Little Stint went on the list along with Ringed Plover for the patch.  

Our next real birding trip out was on the 23rd when we popped down to Lodmoor and had a very nice mornings birding.  We didn't get anything much out of the ordinary but had some really nice conversations with a number of different visiting birders enjoying the day.  Highlights of the day were Green and Common Sandpiper, Bearded Tit and no less than three Great White Egrets.

Great White Egret - Lodmoor © Nick Hull

Our next few walks didn't produce anything new until we had a visit to Sunnyside Farm it is here that we often add Whinchat and Yellow Wagtail to our harbour list.  So after visiting Arne to top up on bird food we had a quick stop off at Sunnyside and almost straight away we heard Yellow Wagtails and eventually managed to find them out in the field with the cattle.  

A family walk in Wareham Forest produced very little but we ended the walk with excellent views of Spotted Flycatcher which brought the month's birding to an end.  

Spotted Flycatcher - Coldharbour © Nick Hull

Roll on September what could be waiting for us to see or find.  We are 11 species short of the 200 species with three months still to go it's going to be interesting and close run thing this year.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

The promised blog at last

 Hi all, sorry this has taken so long we have been a little busy of late with domestic duties etc. but here are a few of the other inverts we saw on our Hartland Moor walk.

Ammophila sabulosa Sand Wasp ©Nick Hull

The Dorset heathland have both species of sand wasp but Ammophila sabulosa is the commonest of the two they are fairly difficult to tell apart but A.sabulosa tend to be larger and have a bluish sheen to the black segment at the end of the abdomen which you can just make out on this shot.  They are a parasitic wasp which predates on moth larvae which it stocks it's burrows before sealing up the burrow. When her  hatch the young then feed on the caterpillars.  The adult will often return and check to see if more food is required at a later date.

Bee Wolf - Philanthus triangulum © Nick Hull

This is another species that burrows into firm sanding soils and it specialises in Honey Bees which it paralyses and stock several cells in her burrow and the covers in the burrow entrance They were formerly rare but in recent years have expanded their range and are becoming quite common around areas that have suitable habitat for them.

Ruby-tailed Wasp - Chrysididae Cuckoo Wasp species ©Nick Hull

We also saw one or two Jewel or Ruby-tailed Wasps the above photograph was of one I found in our conservatory there is quite a large number of species in this group and they need microscoptic examination of the genitalia to get to individual species.  There are others which can be identified from good photographs but still pretty tricky.  

These are parasitic also but they lay their eggs in various other digger wasp species burrows, it often helps to identify the host species burrow which indicates which is the likely ruby-tail species.  For example if the ruby-tailed pictured was Hedychrum niemelia its host would be Cerceris digger wasps.  If it should be Chrysis ignita its host species would be Wood nesting Mason Wasps.

In the last blog I posted a little about the Purbeck Mason Wasp  and during our walk I mentioned that they feed by taking the nectar from the heather flowers but because they have short tongues they short cut by snipping through the side of the flower.  Whilst out surveying after our walk I came across some heather where they had been feeding and took a couple of shots to show what I was describing. 

Snipped out base of heather flowers to enable access to the
nectar by the Purbeck Mason Wasp

To finish today's blog one of the last we came across, digging a burrow then found a few feeding, was a bee with big yellow baskets on the hind legs.  I tentatively identified it as Pantaloop Bee, having not seen a female of the species before, just a male in our garden and that was only for the first time this year.  So I took a few photographs and checked the id at home and indeed they were Dasypoda hirtipes the Pantaloon Bee named for obvious reasons.

Female Pantaloon Bee - Dasypoda  hirtipes © Nick Hull

The next blog will be the August bird and wildlife highlights.

Saturday 7 August 2021

July Birds and Wildlife

July is always a month that is usually slow for birds though often a rarity will turn up somewhere. Though the best recently have been a five hour drive away with Elegant Tern in Wales and Black-browed Albatross at Bempton RSPB which I have to say is still there as I write and is very tempting.

July is generally a month to catchup on the domestic chores to clear them for the autumn and fitting in a walk or two targeting certain species.  So our first highlight of the month was a evening trip out to Hartland Moor and Arne, where we had superb views of a Hobby hawking over the copse at the Stud farm for around fifteen minutes after which we moved on to Arne for Nightjar.  To save Jackie having to walk far we watched over Hyde's Heath area and saw both male and female Nightjar which performed well for us and I was able to get a few audio recordings of them.

A few weeks ago we had promised friends that as soon as we were back from our Welsh holiday we would arrange to meet them and take them to see Stone Curlew up on Salisbury Plain.   So on the 15th Jackie and I met with them at RSPB Winterbourne Downs reserve. Jackie and I haven't always been lucky here and have to go out on the plain itself to find them or to other locations we know.  So as we walked up the footpath to the screen that overlooks one of the Stone Curlew fields we weren't expecting to see very much.  As we approached the screen I heard a Stone Curlew call and saw a single bird flying across the field and pitching down and called to others and looking through the scope found four birds. Then another two Stone Curlew appeared though they all were on the opposite side of the field to us we could see them well.  Our friends were really pleased as they hadn't seen Stone Curlew for a few years. Little did we know at that point what the future was going to bring.  As we watched them moving around they seemed somewhat restless as all of a sudden they all lifted off calling and circled around and some going one way and some another.  They then settled again in the same area accept one bird which I picked up was flying directly towards us.  I called it to the others and we watched it fly in and pitch down just 20m from where we were behind the screen, only to be joined by two others just afterwards.  They were very alert and nervous and we realised that some people were walking the footpath the other side of the field and must have spooked them.  So we had excellent views very close before they decided it was ok to go back to where they had been a few minutes before. 

Collage of Stone Curlew shots - © Nick Hull

We had a nice picnic lunch and a catch-up with our friends and then left us so could get back for their dog which they left at home but not before adding Red Kite, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard to our day list.  We had decided to Langford Lakes nature reserve near Salisbury to see the 2cy Red-footed Falcon that had been there for a few days, hunting over the meadows.

When Jackie and I arrived at Langford Lakes it appeared fairly quiet so we wondered if the falcon had gone, but as we were there and hadn't visited the reserve for a few years we would take a look around anyway.  We spoke to a birder who was leaving and he said if we hurry the falcon was perched out the front of the hide to the left.  It was a good job Jackie had her scooter as we had to go to the furthest hide but it was worth it as we entered and joined around six other birders the bird was sitting more or less right in front of us on a dead upright wood perch.

2cy Red-footed Falcon - Langford Lakes Wiltshire © Nick Hull

We were very lucky as a minute or two later it took off and started catching dragonflies and eating them and a crow came and landed on the perch and she went off over the meadows behind the hide. Jackie and I decided to leave and we checked out over the meadow and found the Red-footed Falcon sat on an electricity post across the far side of the meadow but very distant. 

July is always a slow month for birding so we tend to go out looking for other local wildlife such as orchids, butterflies, dragonflies, wasp's and bee's. Starting with the botany I had promised Jackie that I would show her Lesser Butterfly Orchid which I was involved with surveying for Back from the Brink project but as 2020 was so restricting for travel we never got to see them.  So things eased this year and so I took Jackie to see these rare orchids and without too much hunting we found 15 spikes but later I heard their were many more which was very good news.

Lesser Butterfly Orchid © Nick Hull

A few days later we had to go to Arne to buy bird food and stopped off en-route and checked if the Marsh Helleborine's were out in flower and found three spikes but later heard there were around 25 a week later so we had obviously saw them right at the beginning. 

Marsh Helleborine © Nick Hull

At the end of the month I had a chance to do a little surveying on the local heaths and caught up with a few of the local specialty inverts like Heath Potter Wasp, Purbeck Mason Wasp also Heath Tiger Beetle and Mottled Bee-fly.

This Heath Potter Wasp is mining clay suitable for making her pot which she will place in the heather or in a gorse bush or sometimes attached to grass. She then catches and encloses a caterpillar into the pot lays an egg and then seals the pot, then starts again with the next.

Heath Potter Wasp © Nick Hull

The Purbeck Mason Wasp has a very localised distribution on our local Purbeck heathlands and is listed as endangered and was one of the Back from the Brink primary species.  They are a stunning wasp that exclusively predates on Acleris hyemana moth caterpillars.  She digs the burrow which will have 1-3 chambers which she will create cells in starting from the bottom. She will provide up to 20 caterpillars and once she has filled the chambers she will seal the burrow with a clay plug to disguise it.

Purbeck Mason Wasp - © Nick Hull

The day I went out with a friend to see this tiger beetle it was perfect conditions hot sunny and little wind, we only walked a couple of hundred metres and recorded 16 of these rare beetles.  They spend much of their life in a burrow in the ground and are only in their adult form for a few weeks a year to find a female and mate, job done.

Heath Tiger Beetle © Nick Hull

Mottle beefly are one of the host species of the Heath Sand Wasp Ammophila pubescens so can often be found in the same locations.
Mottled Bee-fly © Nick Hull

During a reptile survey on the 27th at Arne other than seeing a number of Sand Lizard Stewart managed to find a couple of female Hornet Robberflies a species which has had a 20% decline over recent years. They lay their eggs in manure preferring horse dung but they will use other animal manure if available. They are the largest of the robberflies and are quite a beast at up to 28mm but can be up to 35mm and will take large pry such as grasshoppers.

Hornet Robberfly © Nick Hull

That brings me to the end of July with 183 species to our birding list so far for the year and a nice list of scarce invertebrates coming along.  

For all of you that joined me for the walk on Tuesday I will put together another blog with a bit more about the digger and sand wasps we came across soon, just to help you remember what we saw.