Monday 30 July 2012

Flying a Kite 30 July 2012

Unwittingly the RSPB at vast expense but with all good intentions have established a temporary feeding station for Red Kites at Otmoor. It is operational during the Spring and early summer months and specifically designed to provide a round the clock supply of Lapwing chicks for the local kites with supplemental feeding of Redshank chicks if no Lapwings are available. Doubtless DEFRA will soon be called in to control the kites which are becoming increasingly emboldened, show no fear and according to local media have been flying off not only with Lapwing chicks but when the Lapwing chicks run out will soon be doing the same with small children especially those clutching cheese and pickle sandwiches. We are in such a mess with our good intentions. No sooner do we try and create a solution to one problem than that very solution creates other unforeseen problems and so it goes on.

Still support the RSPB. Although they do daft things at times the good they do in protecting our birds far outweighs anything else and without them we would not have nearly so many good places to go birding and incidentally also to watch dragonflies, butterflies and assorted wildlife

Sunday 29 July 2012

Pestilential Parrots - Really? 29 July 2012

Rose Ringed Parakeets are noisy, exotic, beautiful but non native to the UK and their population is now burgeoning in the southern counties of England. They form huge roosts which in themselves are a sight and experience that in my opinion is well worth visiting.Yet now there are rumours that the RSPB are intimating that they should be controlled i.e culled as their large numbers impact on our native birds.The hired guns of DEFRA cannot be allowed to go silent now there are no Ruddy Ducks left!  

I do hope the rumours are untrue although after the RSPB's public relations debacle of the Ruddy Duck cull I have my doubts. I would suggest that the RSPB might like to consider what the release each year of 40 million non-native Common Pheasants may be having on our native bird species. However Common Pheasants are an industry that equals money, privilege and have Royal patronage and in this land of inequality that seems to stand for everything these days and please don't get me started on Canada Geese!

Its a car - stupid! 29 July 2012

Surely after the non-native Common Pheasants that are released every year in their millions across our fair and enchanted isle and that we see parading across our roads in rural areas, Woodpigeons are the most suicidal of birds. Common Pheasants at least have an excuse for being 'stupid', being raised and fed artificially for release into the countryside for the chinless ones to blast out of the sky at the earliest opportunity or for Black Audi drivers to run over on the road. Try the A44 by Blenheim Estate near Woodstock any time after October to see the pheasant carnage on the road.You can hardly move for bodies and feathers! 

Woodpigeons however are a native species that regularly insist on walking or standing in the middle of the road and allowing vehicles to approach dangerously close as if almost to invite collision and violent death. They just stand there eyeing any oncoming car as if they cannot quite believe that the on-rushing  vehicle will really not slow down and drive ever so graciously around them. By the time they work out that this is not going to happen it is often too late and a blizzard of scattered white feathers marks the demise of yet another Woodpigeon. 

I have found no real answer as to why they are so slow on the uptake. Let's face it all other birds give moving vehicles a healthy wide berth and certainly do not stand there watching their impending doom approach at speed. There is a theory that Woodpigeons do not perceive cars as moving as fast as they actually do but surely over time they would have evolved a strategy to realise that they best fly out of the way when a vehicle approaches as they represent extreme danger. They do after all fly off PDQ when they see a human on foot- especially round here where anything with feathers or fur is considered fair game. 

Hedgehogs have fairly rapidly realised it is not sensible to curl up in the middle of the road when the four wheeled monster approaches but to continue running for their lives. Maybe for Woodpigeons, as a species, evolving a rapid fly away strategy is not worth it as no matter how many are killed by cars or shot by farmers there appears to be no diminishing in their numbers. Indeed in the autumn large numbers can be seen making mass movements into the UK. Are they all coming to die with our native birds? Are they not happy to dice with road users on the Continent? Looked at closely Woodpigeons are really beautiful birds with their pastel shades of pink and grey but this beauty apparently does not go with an innate sense of self preservation..We shrug at their supposed stupid ways and think nothing of their bodies scattered along our roadsides, there are so many of them after all, but remember the Passenger Pigeon and what happened to that unfortunate bird

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Back to Bernwood 22 July 2012

A Purple Patch

True to my word I was back for another Emperor extravaganza and I was not disappointed. An absolutely glorious sunny morning meant that God, the weather forecasters and anything or anyone else involved with 'wevver' were forgiven. Memories of rain and cloud so sharp last week dissipated in an instant as the sun turned me a delicate shade of pink and the woods now in their full, blousy summer pomp shone in the sun. Purple Emperors were liberally scattered the length of the main track through the Forest, making the most of this opportunity, just like the rest of us. I found six myself at various locations and reports from others confirmed there must have been at least twelve seen.Word is definitely out and the track near to the Car Park was inundated with enthusiasts looking for Emperors. Today I fancied an Emperor experience that was a bit quieter and less intrusive so headed for the far end of the track where I had the woods to myself and the company of no less than four Emperors. I watched two feeding close together on the track for over an hour undisturbed by anyone and serenaded by a Blackcap in the adjacent Oaks. Time seems to be suspended whilst watching Emperors like this, with the passing minutes and hours marked only by the increasing heat and brightness of the sun. Imperceptibly the fresh, optimistic morning atmosphere transcends into the heavy and oppressive heat of mid day, feet become noticeably heavy and the spirit within reflective. Oliver and his Irish Terrier joined me at the two feeding Emperors. I used to have a dog but now would not want another but if I did then it would be along the lines of Ted. He really is very appealing.

I left Oliver and Ted with the two Emperors and wandered onwards to the end of the track where a Silver Washed Fritillary astounded me by actually landing on the ground and remained relatively still before ascending onto some Blackberry blossom. 

Every other one I saw today, and there were lots, were doing their usual unwavering hurried fly past. A White Admiral floated along the edge of the track but was soon gone. At the end of the track a very tatty Emperor was feeding on the ground but had not read the script and after a couple of fly pasts disappeared powerfully and fast up into the oak canopy. But today was not all about Emperors as there was plenty of other butterfly life to see. Marbled Whites fluttered in the grasses and Large Skippers and Ringlets were everywhere. Occasionally a Purple Hairstreak would be fluttering around some Oak before becoming seemingly invisible as, marvellously camouflaged it settled in the bunches of oak leaves. I headed back to the Car Park and Clackers hove into view from one of the grassy tracks running off the main track announcing to anyone who would listen that he had just seen three White Admirals in a clearing back down the grassy trail. Sure enough they were still there floating ethereally in and out amongst the pines and beech saplings. 

By lunchtime I had had enough but still could not resist an invitation from Oliver to go to a nearby wood to look for female Emperors laying eggs. It looked pretty hopeless as we were now in mid-afternoon and we only saw Ringlets and Silver Washed Fritillaries as we strolled up the track. We walked back to the gate and as we did saw two Emperors gliding around above a Sallow but they quickly split up and disappeared in the tree tops. Enigmatic and elusive as ever.

Saturday 21 July 2012

Bernwood Forest revisited 21 July 2012

By Royal Appointment

A sunny day was too much to resist. Purple Emperors would surely be on the wing and with a three week life span the days are running out fast to see them. The Audi was pointed south and at 1045 I was wandering down the track through Bernwood Forest to make a rendezvous with Badger. Meeting up we wandered onwards down the track and just past the stream by the meadow came across our first Purple Emperor regally feeding by the side of the track. Apparently oblivious to our close proximity we watched it,  photo'd it, video'd it, and ooohed! and aahhed! at it, marvelling at its long yellow proboscis probing the gravel for nutrients. 

It remained there for at least an hour during which my camera battery ran out! I went back to the Car Park to get a spare and on the way walking back came across no less than four more Emperors scattered singly along the edge of the track feeding on savoury dog turds. Rejoining Badger and friends and after more homage to the still static Emperor we then walked back towards the Car Park but had only gone a few metres when we found another Emperor on the ground. More video for Badger, but no more photos for me as it was settled on a large dog turd but then his Majesty ascended into an Oak to sun himself. That's better!

A lady came past and told us she had just seen three much further back along the track in the other direction. It did not take much persuading for Badger and myself to turn round and head in that direction.We encountered three more Emperors on our walk bringing a total of around ten individuals seen during our morning amble. Some were looking fairly worn with gaps in their wings while others looked almost pristine. 

Its such an enjoyable and pleasant experience just wandering around looking for and finding them. Everyone who passes even if not specifically looking for butterflies is interested and a general air of bonhomie and goodwill pervades the area. Even the dog walkers not usually known for their consideration cooperate and control their pooches. Just standing looking at these marvellous creatures for long periods prompts me to ponder about various aspects concerning their appearance.Why does the purple on the wings show so much better when the insect is viewed from head on rather than from the rear? 

Why are they called purple when the iridescence is really blue? Mind you Blue Emperor does not have the same pizzaz as Purple Emperor does it? And purple is after all the traditional colour of Emperors.Why is it that only the males seem to want to come to feed on the ground? What do the females feed on? This day was really exceptional and do you know tomorrow is meant to be even more sunny and warm.Guess where I am going!

Supporting cast seen along the track were Silver Washed Fritillaries, Purple Hairstreaks, Marbled Whites, Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Large White, Large Skipper, Emperor Dragonfly, Brown Hawker, Common Darter, Beautiful Demoiselle and a Hornet

Wednesday 18 July 2012

Purple Emperor at Bernwood Forest Oxfordshire 16 July 2012

His Imperial Majesty comes to Earth

Years ago I recall reading a book Ramblings of a Sportsman-Naturalist by D.J.Watkins-Pitchford who wrote under the pseudonym BB. He was an all round naturalist and one of the chapters was devoted entirely to recounting how he studied and followed the lives of Purple Emperor butterflies in a Northamptonshire wood near to his home. This stimulated a youthful desire within me to see this wonderful but elusive butterfly but I only managed to satisfy the desire a year ago in Bernwood Forest. 

                                                     My first ever Purple Emperor 

In this most dreadful of summers the weather finally relented if only briefly and the forecast was good. So seizing the opportunity I headed once again for Bernwood Forest to try and find a Purple Emperor. This butterfly is probably the most desired of all the species that grace our land. No other butterfly has stimulated its admirers to think up such names as 'His Imperial Majesty' or the splendid 'Sultan of Morocco'. What makes it so charismatic and creates such interest? Try these for a start; its sheer magnificence as the sun catches the purple-blue iridescence on the wings, its disdain for humanity, totally ignoring anyone or anything as it feeds and allowing approach to within inches, its enigmatic and unpredictable appearances and a powered flight that is a wonder to behold. Sheer arrogant royalty in the air and yet when it descends to earth demonstrating the most disgusting feeding habits, preferring animal faeces or decomposing animal remains from which it extracts the minerals it needs to survive. Most people who go looking for this butterfly these days know this and it is not unusual to see grown men furtively and longingly looking at piles of dog poo along the track through the forest that is so heavily used and abused by dog walkers. So it was that this morning I made my way along the selfsame track, in intermittent sunny spells and eventually found myself in one such sunny spell with several other enthusiasts looking at a male Emperor feeding by the side of the track. True to form it allowed approach to within inches, so much so that it was difficult to get a photo of it as everyone else was also attempting to get as close as possible trying for the ultimate photo. My fellow admirers included people from far beyond Oxfordshire. One person had even driven especially from Wales. 

The iridescence does not show unless you view it from a certain angle and then usually only on one wing but sometimes luck plays a part and the full glory of purple-blue on both wings can be seen to good effect. We admired the Emperor for a good twenty minutes before it rose majestically and swooped around at least five times, as if looking to land on one of us but then in an instant shot off with powerful wing beats away and up into a sallow never to be seen again. We wandered to and fro along the track but there were to be no more royal appearances. Silver Washed Fritillaries and a couple of early Purple Hairstreaks added some gloss to the morning but it was all over. So another encounter with this most beautiful and enigmatic of insects touched my life and made it all the richer for the experience. I can certainly relate to it's preference for sunning itself in the treetops, gently swaying on a leaf in the breeze high above the humdrum goings on at ground level. How appealing. Maybe in another life?

Thursday 5 July 2012

Planned Defra cull of Black Audi's 5 July 2012

You heard it here first

Sources close to Government have alerted me to the fact that DEFRA having been forced after a huge public outcry to drop their Common Buzzard culling scheme sanctioned by one Dick Bent-One, Posh Party and Minister for Destroying the Environment are now coming up with a scheme to cull or take into captivity car drivers in rural areas. After the Country Alliance conducted a three hour scientific random survey on the A44 near Woodstock entailing counting dead pheasants on the road and the number of vehicles especially Black Audis in the vicinity it has been decided that there is conclusive scientific evidence that drivers are impacting seriously on the enjoyment of the landed gentry by killing their pheasants senselessly on our public roads. A well spoken Old Etonian Government spokesman was recently heard to announce " There are 34 million vehicles on our roads, God knows how many are Black Audi's and our birds just do not stand a chance. Pheasants should be allowed to wander at will and undisturbed on our country roads. It cannot go on like this. Something must be done. There is going to be a three year pilot scheme in rural Oxfordshire where gamekeepers will conduct a trial cull of Black Audi's to see if this will save the critically endangered 40 million non native Common Pheasant that are released and wantonly run down by New Labour voting drivers on our roads. After all these cars have brakes don't they and all cars should give way to pheasants and posh people on horses". Vorsprung durch Technik!

Seriously folks watch this space.Our Birds of Prey are under continued threat and "they" will be back with another self interested scheme. Defra having had one scheme kicked into the long grass have openly stated "new research would aim to establish the impact of birds of prey on Pheasants first, before control measures were considered". It ain't over yet

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Top billing at Startops 4 July 2012

A first summer Sabine's Gull should normally be far from these shores, either out in the mid Atlantic or somewhere near its Arctic breeding grounds but as is occasionally the way one of these lovely birds turned up about as far inland as possible in Great Britain at Startops Reservoir near Tring, Hertfordshire. How it arrived there is anyone's guess but presumably the endless rain and strong southwest winds in this awful spring and early summer had something to do with it. Being only just the other side of Aylesbury and relatively near to my home it was only right that I should go and pay homage, especially as it is not often one  gets the opportunity to study at leisure a bird of this species in first summer plumage. Collecting Badger at Kidlington we soon found ourselves at the reservoir and after a short search found the gull resting on one of the straw bales which are floated in the reservoir to keep the water free of algae. After a few minutes this gem took to the air and put on a grandstand performance swooping down like a tern and deftly picking invertebrates from the water's surface. 

Indeed so grandstand was its performance that it came within literally a few feet of us as it patrolled the water alongside the bank. We looked down on this apparition of black, white and grey as it flew along below us apparently totally without fear. I wondered if it had ever seen humans before? It had two favoured areas in the reservoir, one close to the bank where its admirers stood and the other further out. After a spell of flying around feeding it would retire to the straw bales to rest and even sleep but soon would resume its feeding. Such a delicate and gentle bird with a buoyant languid flight it really was very appealing as they always are. We watched it for around two hours  and then left only just making it to the Black Audi before a deluge, in the form of yet another  heavy rain shower, arrived