Monday 27 August 2012

Cannot get enough of this rain 27 August 2012

After my soaking at Pendeen I know no fear of foul weather. My birding clothes have finally dried out although retaining a slight odour of damp but this was not enough to stop me chancing my arm at Farmoor today. A wet Bank Holiday Monday at Farmoor is just about the epitome of despair but rain often brings down birds onto the reservoir. So there is always hope. I got there late at around 10am and found the Wickster, Clackers and Badger had already 'done' Farmoor and predictably found nothing and were all about to give up and go off  and do various good deeds. Wickster however joined me for a jaunt up the Causeway. It was now raining steadily but Common Swifts suddenly started to appear and by the time we got to the far end of the Causeway we estimated there was in excess of fifty. We also saw a Yellow Wagtail and the Egyptian Goose was still consorting with the hundreds of Greylags lining the concrete bank. Wickster went to the Hide to sit and wait in anticipation of terns arriving on the reservoir with the rain. I decided to walk round both reservoirs looking for the Little Stint and set off round Farmoor One. Just about as far away from Farmoor Two as I could possibly be and Wickster calls on his mobile to inform me that twenty 'probable' Arctic Terns had just flown through and had not stopped! All I could come up with was one Common Sandpiper and a couple of Reed Warblers. I trudged on and coming up to the Waterworks found a juvenile Dunlin and juvenile Ringed Plover sharing each other's company on the concrete bank. Very confiding, they appeared untroubled by my taking their photos and the Dunlin even went to sleep at one point. 

Juvenile Ringed Plover

Juvenile Dunlin showing off its flexible upper mandible
I carried on right round Farmoor Two seeing nothing of interest and re-joined the Wickster. No sign of the Little Stint. We retreated to the Hide and sat morosely looking at a dreary, tern free reservoir and bemoaned our fate. Bank Holiday Monday blues were coming on strong. Stirring ourselves we headed back down the Causeway and arrived at the Yacht Club. There was now no sign of the Dunlin and Ringed Plover. The 'odd' Common Tern was perched on the pontoons so I took its picture. It has been here for some time now and it's bill is all black and its plumage pretty threadbare. I just do not know what to make of it. Seen close to there appears to be a dark line along the lesser coverts which would indicate a second calendar year bird but its hood is completely black. It does not look quite right as though something hormonally is wrong but it seems energetic enough patrolling the reservoir banks but it seems reluctant, unlike most terns to fly out over the water to feed. It would not surprise me to find it dead one morning.

Aberrant Common Tern

Migrant Arctic Terns
Just as we passed the Yacht Club another light rain shower came through. I took one last scan of Farmoor Two and a scattering of white at the far side materialised into a flock of terns. Through the scope I could see they were Arctic Terns-a mixture of adults and juveniles and there were 23 of them. They flew in a loose flock, feeding by dipping down to the water and flying in a ragged line back and fore across the reservoir. After about twenty minutes they settled with some Black headed Gulls sitting on the water. I have only ever seen Arctic Terns settle on the water at Farmoor. Common Terns never seem to do this. They bathed and preened energetically but after a few minutes, almost as one, the entire flock arose and ascended higher and higher, circling until they were almost in the clouds above Wytham Woods and we lost sight of them. There really is something so exciting about seeing such obvious visible migration before one's very eyes

Gone West 25 August 2012

'Large Shear!'

Well where did all the time go? Another August Bank Holiday already. No surprises that the traditional horrendous forecast of gales and rain had everyone moaning apart from manic or is that maniac seawatchers, who commenced planning the long trip west to Pendeen in anticipation of seabirds and a good soaking. To increase the excitement and ratchet up the tension, a Fea's Petrel had been seen the previous afternoon off Porthgwarra the other side of the peninsula. I tried to persuade Badger to come but Friday night was apparently Stella night. We will say no more! So it was that I found myself with the Black Audi going solo and westbound on the M5 at 1am on Saturday morning, aiming to make a rendezvous with a long missed birding pal, Hugh Wright who was staying with his parents and girlfriend Emma at a holiday cottage in Penzance. Hugh is doing a Doctorate on the critically endangered White-shouldered Ibis in Cambodia and has finally finished so had recently bought himself a top range Swarovski scope and was raring to put it through its paces at Pendeen.

Collecting Hugh at the cottage at 5am as arranged we made it in a few minutes to Pendeen Lighthouse, to be greeted with an almost full car park and dark figures resolutely donning anything waterproof, gathering up food supplies, chairs and optical equipment in preparation for the anticipated marathon seawatch. It was not even light yet. 

We stumbled down the cliff steps and found an elevated position below the lighthouse wall and settled ourselves in amongst our fellow watchers. A dawning wild sky presaged turbulent weather but where were the forecast high winds? Not here at any rate and an increasing realisation sank in that maybe the long journey had been in vain as the forecast was plainly well out. But stoicism is a prized asset possessed by any hardened seawatcher. We were here, there was nowhere else to go and we may as well stick it out.

For quite a time there was nothing, not even a Manx Shearwater but then some good birds began to trickle through although it was slow going in the light wind. A few Arctic Skuas, a Sooty Shearwater, Manx Shearwaters, a Pomarine Skua and small groups of waders. I would like to go through a chronological list of birds seen but just looking through the scope after my marathon drive and no sleep the night before was hard enough work and thankfully, Hugh being conscientious, kept a record of all we saw or should I say all he saw while I saw some of them!

The morning dragged on and we got our first soaking from a short shower followed by a little break of calmer weather and then just as we were drying out another soaking to make our lives miserable again. Thankfully the showers were only short lived. Finally the showers ceased and a break in the sky had everyone's spirits rising but later, glancing northwest to my left I noted the sky had become ominously grey again and I could see the rain literally racing towards us across the sea and on arrival came down with a vengeance. This time it looked like it was here to stay. I glanced over the wall more in desperation than hope to see if it was going to clear as before but there was  no chance. It was grey to the horizon. Not that you could really see the horizon. To compound the misery the lighthouse foghorn commenced booming, as it had become that gloomy. I became more and more wet. I was dripping. The rain was relentless and crept into every unguarded and non waterproof spot of my clothing. In the end the waterproofing on my jacket gave up the ghost. It may be alright for a rainforest Paramo but it ain't Pendeen proof! 

It was now about lunchtime and finally the predicted rise in wind speed had come about along with the un-predicted steady rain. In the end I just stood up to allow the rain to run off me rather than settle in my lap. The rain instantly formed a puddle in my chair instead. I battened down the scope to keep the rain off the lenses and just as I got everything shipshape a hardy soul to my left still looking out to sea shouts, 'Large Shear!' Oh Gawd! Scramble. Fumble. Rain on my glasses, in the scope, tripod leg sticking, focus scope and find the bird in the vast trackless sea in front of me. By the time I got everything set it had passed me by and was gone forever. Desolation. Apparently it was a Great Shearwater. Well that was nice to know and certainly taught me a lesson.

I decided to remain standing as I felt distinctly less soggy that way and more in charge of my increasingly frayed faculties and with scope at the ready I was now in position to take full advantage when the shout went up again. 'Large Shear! Over the middle rock. There's two of them. Cory's'. I got onto these double quick and there much to my relief were a couple of Cory's doing their languid thing over the waves in the mid distance. And so it went on for the rest of the day with regular shouts of 'Large Shear!' modified a few moments later by 'It's a Great or it's a Cory's' and scrambles to find the darn things in the rain and murk. People were shouting for directions but the problem with Pendeen is that once the birds have passed the three rocks that constitute 'The Wra' there is nothing to act as a marker - just miles of featureless sea. Shouts of 'It's just below a Gannet' are meant to be helpful but rarely are as there are always numerous Gannets milling about. So it goes on and you just have to do your best and either find your own bird or hope you get lucky and find the bird with or without the shouted instructions.

Eventually the weather cleared and with the wind constantly strengthening, we all dried out and birds were now coming apace. Manx Shearwaters increased markedly and with them every so often was a chunky Balearic Shearwater. Sooty Shearwaters, possibly my favourite, were regular, some coming so close that you could even discern the silver centres to their underwings and of course every so often a Great or Cory's Shearwater would arrive to keep everyone on their toes.

In between or sometimes coinciding with the birds there was a steady parade of Basking Sharks. They look so menacing in the scope with that huge paddle shape dorsal fin and sickle shape tail fin. Black and sinister - like a submarine but in reality gentle giants consuming nothing more substantial than plankton on an heroic scale. There were also sightings of the crazy looking Ocean Sunfish. Lying on their side like a dustbin lid with a pointed fin flapping feebly in the air like the arm of a drowning man they look as if they cannot possibly traverse the world's oceans. But they do. A first for me was to see four together. I always assumed they preferred their own company but here they were flapping around together like synchronised swimmers, near to The Wra, an apparently favoured location for them. 

It was now approaching 4pm and frankly my reserves of mental and physical energy were just about bankrupt. Hugh's girlfriend Emma arrived and we left soon after and went back to the cottage for reviving cups of tea, scones and for me a change of clothes. I dallied for an  hour or so but I knew if I did not leave soon for the long drive home I was never going to make it. So I set off in glorious sunshine and was home by 9.30 that evening. Looking at the totals below it was a really good day but it will take a couple of days to recover before I can really appreciate all that we saw.

The Wra
Totals @ Pendeen 0550-1600
Wind NW 4 increasing 7 @ 1200
Heavy rain showers then sun mid afternoon

Great Shearwater 4
Cory's Shearwater 6
Large shearwater sp 2 - too distant to ID
Sooty Shearwater 9
Balearic Shearwater 9
Manx Shearwater 800+
Great Skua 9
Pomarine Skua 1
Arctic Skua 14
Northern Gannet 1000+
Sandwich Tern 6
Commic Tern 26
Arctic Tern 3
Storm Petrel 4
Fulmar Petrel n/c
Kittiwake 5
Dunlin 10
Ringed Plover 6
Turnstone 23
Whimbrel 50
Grey Plover 50
Oystercatcher 6
Common Scoter 34
Northern Shoveler 2
Peregrine 1
Rock Pipit 1


Ocean Sunfish 7
Basking Shark 15
Common Dolphin 8

Thursday 23 August 2012

Great White Egret 23 August 2012

Managed to catch up this evening with the Great White Egret which was found today by Clackers at Pinkhill, Farmoor Reservoir and then relocated at Cassington GP's this afternoon. After fighting my way down and through a very overgrown footpath with fearsome nettles I made it to the designated spot.  It was seen very well on the far side of a shallow flooded pit feeding and looking superb in flight against a backdrop of dark green trees. I had never noticed how small their head is. It is barely wider than the very thin neck. This one gave much better views than my first one for Oxfordshire which I saw at Otmoor RSPB a few years ago

Supporting cast of 5+ Grey Heron, 1 Little Egret, 20+ Common Snipe, 120+ Lapwing, 20+ Northern Shoveler and 30+ Common Teal

Tuesday 21 August 2012

Hold that Tiger! 21 August 2012

At last a real cracker of a moth to admire. A Ruby Tiger! Not unusual, in fact relatively common but what a beauty and a new one for me. As you can ascertain from my enthusiastic tone it really took my fancy and it was great to see it. Nice and docile when posing for the camera as well. Apparently the "tiger" comes from the black spots giving the impression of lines or stripes on the body. The body is really bright red and comes as a surprise when the moth spreads its darker red upper wings to reveal the body in all its glory plus bright pink hind-wings!

A few new moth species for me this morning so all in all a good session. I am really getting into this and enjoying the identification problems posed each morning. Still very much the novice but getting there by applying the same principles as employed in bird identification. I just love the realisation that all this beauty is flying around and about in our garden at night as I lie asleep. I just never knew but now I do and just cannot get enough of it. Just in case anyone is concerned all moths are kept safe and released either that same early morning or the following evening in the dusk after the birds have retired for the night

Ruby Tiger

The Magpie

Green Carpet

Rosy Rustic

Willow Beauty
Did you know that many of the pubs in Harlow, Essex are named after moths? My sister lives in Harlow and right next door is the Archers Dart - now sadly closed. I have also been in The Willow Beauty - very nice and The Poplar Kitten. Drinker must surely have been considered as a name for one of the pubs but sadly it doesn't exist nor does Manchester Treble-bar. What a shame

Moths caught last night:

Ruby Tiger; Green Carpet; Flame Carpet; Dark Arches; Flame Shoulder; Ear Moth; Lesser Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing; Large Yellow Underwing; Lesser Yellow Underwing; Rosy Rustic; Flounced Rustic; Single Dotted Wave; Riband Wave; Willow Beauty; The Magpie; Setaceous Hebrew Character; Orange Swift; Brimstone Moth; Iron Prominent

Monday 20 August 2012

Birding by Pager 19 August 2012

Sunday dawned glorious and sunny as predicted and by prior arrangement myself and Badger were destined for the New Forest for one final attempt to see a Honey Buzzard. Time is running out to see them this year as they have already been seen heading south in various coastal counties. I had failed miserably in three previous attempts to see this most elusive and unpredictable of birds in the New Forest this year but was up for giving it one more go. I duly collected Badger from Abingdon at 8am and the Black Audi was pointed southwest down the A34. Badger has a pager which alerts him literally within minutes to anything and everything birdwise that is found on a daily basis. A pager is an essential tool for what we get up to-namely chasing after rare and not so rare birds at a moment's notice. In fact I believe the pager may be part of Badger's anatomy so closely does he keep it by his side. And no bad thing I say as I have also got the full benefit of his regular pager updates. 

We were approaching  the divergence of the M27 - left to Ringwood (New Forest) and straight on to Portsmouth when Badger checked the pager and announces 'Spotted Crake at Farlington Lagoon near Portsmouth'. Dilemna. We are travelling at 70mph and filtering right to Ringwood. "Shall we divert and go straight on to the crake? Its not far". 'You're the driver it's up to you entirely to decide' says Badger helpfully. I carry on to the New Forest. "The Spotted Crake can wait - maybe after we have seen the Honey Buzzard?" I somewhat optimistically reply.With my luck we are going to be fortunate to see a Honey Buzzard at all so will probably be in the New Forest all day. We arrive at Piper's Wait at around 9.15am (the irony of the second part of this name will not be lost on Honey Buzzard watchers) and install ourselves in our chairs to scan, from an elevated position, a wide area of forest before us where it is rumoured Honey Buzzards may appear. Fifteen minutes in and I have already eaten all the sandwiches which are meant to last me all day. Why do I do this? I have always done it since I was a child. Thirty minutes have passed and what happens? No. Wrong. A glorious male Honey Buzzard, grey on the upper-parts and white below appears in front of us in the sky and soars around for five to six minutes before disappearing below the tree line. We cannot believe our luck and eagerly await the next appearance. But it never happens. Literally just a few Common Buzzards soaring overhead. I fall asleep and at 1130 by mutual consent we decide there is more to birding than staring at an empty sky. 

                                                                            Nice hat!                                                                       
Badger's pager has confirmed the continuing presence of an adult Night Heron at Pennington Marshes which is relatively nearby on the Hampshire coast. We set off in the now blistering heat and via a car crash (not us) at Beaulieu and gridlock in the miniscule car park at Pennington eventually find ourselves on a bank overlooking some marshy pools. This is not where the Night Heron is but a perfectly acceptable collection of waders parade before us comprising six Wood Sandpipers, three Green Sandpipers and a juvenile Ruff. The Wood Sandpipers to me, always appear so much more graceful and slimline than the Green Sandpipers which always manage to look clumsy and obtuse alongside their more elegant cousins. But where is the Night Heron? Some local birders give us directions and we head off on foot in the opposite direction from the car park to find a small lake with a marvellous show of white water lilies. A small island in the lake has a large Willow tree growing on it and near the base is a Little Egret preening but higher up is our quarry, perched absolutely still. The Night Heron. I would like to say we saw it well and we did but only bits of it at a time as in typical fashion it was well hidden in the depths of the tree, obscured by twigs and leaves, so all of it was not visible at one time. I saw it's yellow legs and feet, its dove grey front and when it imperceptibly moved its head, a wine coloured eye and a black cap. We watched its various bits for thirty or so minutes and then took up the original pager challenge and headed for Farlington Lagoon. 

I know this area well as it is a former haunt from when I lived in nearby Sussex so we soon arrived at the lagoon where the Spotted Crake had been regularly reported on Badger's pager throughout the day. It was now around 4pm but we had timed our visit right as the tide was fully in and the sun was behind us, so the lagoon was filled with waders waiting for the tide to turn and the viewing conditions nigh on perfect. All very well but first let's find the crake. Badger and I were separated along the seawall with other birders in between us. I looked at the muddy fringes of the reeds on the other side of the lagoon and there was the crake bang slap in the middle of the scope."Badger. Over here!" I called. A sea of faces turned towards me. From previous experience when you shout to your colleague everyone supposes you have found the bird and deluge you with requests for directions. This is all well and good but it had been a long day and I was not yet ready for this. I adopted the pose of someone just calling to his friend about nothing in particular. Badger wandered over and casually I told him where the crake was and he found it with little bother. Then and only then did I alert the others but even with specific instructions it was a struggle to get some of them onto it. 

This is always the dilemna in these situations. You locate the bird, want to see it and watch it but know if you announce you have found it you will waste valuable time assisting others with directions. It was not so critical in this case but if you have been waiting hours for an elusive skulking bird it may be only seconds you have to see it. Even with the crake, although we found it quickly a friend earlier had to wait 3.5 hours to see it. The crake eventually put on a grandstand performance for us, bathing and preening in the open but always remaining close to cover. 

The lagoon was alive with other birdlife. The evocative calls of the various waders and the constant movement providing a counterpoint to the incessant background vehicle roar from the nearby M27

I counted the following waders on the lagoon.

Common Redshank 410
Black tailed Godwit 275
Oystercatcher 273
Grey Plover 100+
Whimbrel 2
Common Greenshank 3
Ringed Plover 2
Common Sandpiper 1
Little Stint 1

 and Port Meadow thought they were having a good run!

Behind the lagoon a Whinchat and a family of European Stonechats were perched on a wire fence.We watched the crake for an hour before it finally disappeared into the reeds. We walked back down the seawall to the car. "Fancy seeing an Osprey?" 'Don't mind if I do' replied Badger. "Come on then there is just time and I know just the place". 'You're the driver'. We went a few miles east to Thorney Island just into West Sussex.  A look over a five barred gate at Thorney Deeps and there to round off a now perfect day was an adult Osprey perched on a post

Nice one!

All pictures courtesy of Badger productions

What the ****! 18 August 2012

Just setting up the moth trap when this comes over the house at just above roof top level, blotting out the light and setting the neighbourhood dogs barking. I must say I am really impressed by these Robinson moth traps. They say they are the best and I have to agree. Not only do they attract a host of moths but helicopters and now hot air balloons. It will be the Red Arrows next .The balloon was so low that some joker in the basket shouted down a drinks order to my wife in the garden - 2 lagers and a packet of cheese and onion crisps! She told him to chuck down a tenner and she would see what she could do. They landed in the field just behind the house. Some new moths caught later that night were Magpie; Chinese Character; Canary-shouldered Thorn; Green Carpet and the dark form of Coxcomb Prominent.Nothing rare or unusual but nice to see them close up.The moths that is!

Saturday 18 August 2012

Farmoor again? 18 August 2012

Yes I know, after all I said about Farmoor but what can one do? A two mile run followed by a Rico's pizza and a bottle of Chateau Red Infuriator yesterday evening had me all fired up to go and find several species of terns at Farmoor. Somewhat blurry I hit the grey rather than yellow concrete road between the two reservoirs this morning and found - well, one somewhat shabby adult Common Tern. I stayed at Farmoor  for six hours but never saw a sign of any other tern. I did however, despite this, have rather a nice time. Although still at first, a strengthening easterly breeze kept things tolerable concerning the soaring temperatures as the day progressed. I walked first round Farmoor Two and the bushes were alive with Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. A female Tufted Duck chaperoned her two well grown young from the bank and four Common Sandpipers flew across the still water to the far shore. Various butterflies were nectaring on Blackberry flowers in sheltered, sunny corners and I found Gatekeeper, Meadow Brown, Speckled Wood and Red Admiral

Eventually I got to the convergence of the central causeway and the perimeter path and scanned the geese ranged along the concrete edge of Farmoor One. Greylags and Canada's everywhere but there was also an Egyptian Goose in amongst them. Just as I went to walk on further a long shape slithered across the concrete behind me making for the grassy bank leading down to the pumphouse. Cripes Scooby ! A Grass Snake! What on earth was it doing here on all this concrete? I followed and it put a spurt on and headed rapidly for the grass. We arrived at the grass together and blow me another Grass Snake joined the first. I followed both of them down the bank but one disappeared into a hole. The other however fell into a small concrete quadrangle and was effectively trapped. Adam Hartley and his son arrived and we took photos of the unfortunate snake before attempting a rescue. This from previous experience requires extreme caution as if you pick them up they exude the most noxious, foul smelling anti-predator secretion from their body which lingers forever on your skin and clothes. I was not going to risk it but eventually Adam flicked it with a stick so it landed on the grass and effected a rapid exit. Such excitement. 

We then met up with the Wickster who informed us that he had seen a Common Redstart and a Mediterranean Gull but nothing else and we all wandered down the central causeway noting nothing apart from a Yellow Wagtail. At the end of the causeway a juvenile Wheatear stood erect on the wall and a few more Yellow Wagtails chased insects in the grass. I then pulled off a bit of a coup by entering the yacht club and boldly asking if birders were allowed to purchase food and drink here or was it exclusive to yacht club members and wind surfers?  A very nice lady said birders were more than welcome anytime, she assured me she does not bite and to tell all my friends. They even do breakfasts. All that is required is that you make a donation of £1.00 to the RNLI for use of the facilities, over and above the food you purchase. I ordered up a Cheese bap, Mars bar and a cup of tea @{£2.20- a bargain - plus £1.00 donation to the RNLI.  I then had a snooze on the bench outside at no extra charge and on waking and in a fit of madness walked round Farmoor One. Needless to say it was virtually useless apart from three more Common Sandpipers and the flock of moulting Tufted Duck came to127 and with no sign of anything remotely resembling a Scaup. Sadly I have to confess to deciding on my way round to count the geese on the northern bank of Farmoor One and then all those along the central causeway. There were an incredible 537 Canada Geese, 353 Greylag Geese and 3 hybrids of the two aforementioned species.

It was then decided by yours truly that another spell on the bench was required and after another hour of contemplation I finally managed to tear myself away from all the excitement. There were a couple of other highlights: No less than three Kingfishers with one flying over the yacht club and a Sparrowhawk mobbed by a horde of Swallows, House Martins and one Sand Martin

Friday 17 August 2012

Damn them all 17 August 2012

Our village is surrounded by miles of farmland but you hardly see or hear a bird these days except maybe along one of the hedges that have been allowed to remain. There was a book called Silent Spring written by Rachel Carson  in 1962 in which she highlighted what the dreadful consequences of wantonly drenching our crops in pesticides was having on our birds of prey. The pesticides were eventually banned and our birds of prey recovered. Problem solved? Well no.The pesticides were simply sold to those third world countries where there was no law against it, they knew no better, were frankly, totally irresponsible and corrupt or had other priorities. So we in effect polluted and still do the very countries we often seek to visit on birding holidays to see more birds and species than we can ever now encounter here. Fifty years on from Rachel Carson's book and our land is now saturated with 'safe' pesticides and herbicides. The result is a drastic reduction in the supply of weeds, seeds and insects for farmland birds to feed on and now these farmland species are almost as endangered as the birds of prey were in Rachel Carson's time. And what of our so called healthy population of raptors, fifty years on from its nadir? Why, the totally irresponsible and inane (Mark Cocker's words not mine) Minister for the Environment, Richard Benyon tries to introduce an outrageous scheme this year (the fiftieth anniversary of Rachel Carson's book) via the emasculated body called DEFRA, to have Buzzards killed, to save the estimated 2% of Pheasants taken by Buzzards and other raptors out of 40 million Pheasants released each year, to be slaughtered by him, his mates and anyone else who cares to purchase a shotgun. Hen Harriers breeding in England? No chance. Not one pair managed to breed this year. According to the RSPB there is suitable habitat in England for over 300 pairs. I repeat 300 pairs. They are however relentlessly and illegally culled by gamekeepers sanctioned by irresponsible and arrogant landowners, even royalty, to save a tiny percentage of game birds for shooting by a rich and privileged minority. The landowners do not care about any laws as they know their gamekeepers will take the rap and then be re-employed. The landowners are to all purposes safe to assume they are immune as their actions are tacitly sanctioned by the very same self interested Government Minister who is meant to be protecting our heritage of wild birds but not if it involves birds of prey or conflicts with his landowning chums interests. Why do we put up with this and them? It makes the continued royal patronage of the 'Royal' Society of Birds an insult to its members and frankly indefensible. It's an insult. Prince Harry and Richard Benyon to give two prime examples of privileged arrogance must be laughing at our seeming myopia and thrall when it comes to the privileged rich with their selfish and self interested attitudes towards our birds of prey. Yes, OUR birds. Come on RSBP.  Drop the 'Royal' and become the PSPB - Peoples Society for the Protection of Birds.You might even get a whole load more members

Thursday 16 August 2012

A Swift Exit 16th August 2012

Every year it is always a source of poignancy to realise that the last of the Swifts will be departing our village in the early part of August. It always seems far too soon. They should have gone already this year but there were still a couple screaming in the evening skies above the village last night but they too will soon be on their way South. 

I watched Swifts earlier this year, in May, flying purposefully in from the sea and over the Sussex coast and now I am watching them go back. As they prepare for their long journey I reflect on what has apparently been a disastrous breeding season for them due to the awful weather. They are already declining in numbers for other reasons but this latest setback cannot have helped. In my rural village of Kingham, houses are being bought up by wealthy and often absent owners and what seem perfectly adequate homes are immediately surrounded by scaffolding and 'the builders' are called in to improve the properties by adding extensions and sealing up redundant chimneys and holes in eaves. Consequently the Swifts have even less options as to where to go to nest. It is seemingly a nationwide problem as we seek to improve older dwellings or build watertight, double glazed, new build fortresses against the great outdoors. 

I further reflect that we, the human race, are rapidly becoming a scourge. Far from acknowledging we share this planet with many other species who have just as much right as us to live here, it would seem our general selfishness and unwillingness to recognise responsibility for other life forms and their right to co-exist on this earth will soon make this planet a far less enjoyable place to live. Here in our small and affluent village we seem to be a microcosm of this malaise. If not attempting to add value to their already considerable property by constant building and alterations then some of my fellow residents are complaining about the House Martins which also visit our village though in less and less numbers each year.What a mess their droppings make, what an inconvenience the noise of the young in the nest are so early in the morning right over our bedroom window and I have even witnessed admissions about knocking down nests from under the eaves when the martins are away during the winter so as to deter them from breeding when they return. 

Personally I consider it a privilege to welcome these charming birds that have flown all the way from southern Africa to grace and enrich our lives with their all too brief stay. They make a supreme effort so why cannot we do the same in our attitude and tolerance towards them.

Wednesday 15 August 2012

Farmoor Reservoir 15th August 2012

I try to like Farmoor Reservoir, I really do but so often it is such a let down. It has all the charisma of a Motorway Service Station but still holds an ongoing attraction both to birds and birders. The hours wasted wandering its miles of soul-less concrete finding very little or nothing do not bear recounting and yet it does have its good days and good birds. I recall Bonaparte's, Sabine's and Franklin's Gulls, American and White winged Black Terns, a Long tailed Skua and even a male Surf Scoter amongst others occuring here but such times and birds are very much in the minority. 

I still go there every so often, ever hopeful, and let's face it if there are no birds it can be quite social as there is a good chance of meeting most of the other regular Oxonbirders at one time or another. I can only admire and wonder at the persistence of Dai and Nick Hallam who visit virtually on a daily basis.They are obviously made of stronger mental fortitude than myself. 

It's just all that concrete stretching for miles and miles. I pretend it is like the sea shore but of course it's not and never will be but irrefutably it does attract good birds. I had one of my optimistic and 'to hell with it' days today so made a visit after work in the early evening. A very strong easterly wind was blowing but the rain front had passed on and there was now bright sunshine. An obvious tight flock of seven Yellow Wagtails fed in the grass by the Thames Water Works and two Common Swifts passed over, high above me, tacking on the gusts of wind with others skimming the water. No sign of any Black Terns but there were up to five Common Terns in amongst the windsurfers and a juvenile Mediterranean Gull was riding the surf with Black headed Gulls in a distant windblown corner of Farmoor One. Two Common Sandpipers decided the crashing surf was too much and flickered low over the waves to the more sheltered far side of the reservoir. 

Tripping lightly through the copious goose turds strewn on the path and circumventing the enormous flock of Canada and Greylag Geese on the grassy surrounds I counted the Canada Geese as I passed. Counting the Canada's is a regular occurrence at Farmoor as there is often little else to do and it uses a few more minutes before having to admit it is crap and retreating to Dix Pit to finish the day on a low. I amassed a total of 248 Canada's this time, well 247 to be precise as one was a hybrid. Where is DEFRA when you need them? Why do I get a frisson of excitement when I encounter one of the almost regular exotic goose species in with the garrulous Canada's and Greylags? This time it was a Bar-headed Goose and the nearest to Mongolia this one has ever been is probably the other side of Farmoor Two or an away day to Blenheim Park in Woodstock. Never mind it was nice to see it. 

I trudged onwards down the central causeway and then something happened, as occasionally it does, that made all the effort worthwhile. A juvenile Turnstone, ridiculously confiding and possibly never having seen a human until its arrival here, was feeding on the concrete at the water's edge of Farmoor Two, with another juvenile a few metres away. It looked up at me and then carried on about its business heedless of me trying to photograph it. I watched it pass a few feet beneath me and wondered at its travels. Had it come from Greenland or somewhere else far to the North? Flying with its colleague through night skies over foreign lands and trackless seas, unseen, to arrive in Oxford. 

Such an exiciting journey and place of birth compared to the mundane, concrete structure it was now gracing. Where would it be going on to? This is the charm of migrant birds especially waders. They bring a sense of unbounded, uncaring freedom and a wonderful mixture of mystery and hint of lands far away. For a few minutes I forgot all about my dismal surroundings, the problems of my human world, my worries and cares. Looking at my fellow but alien inhabitant of this planet I was in my mind transported as the romantic song goes to 'those far away places with strange sounding names' and briefly anything seemed possible.

Juvenile Turnstone

Sunday 12 August 2012

Dragons and Damsels at Parsonage Moor 12 August 2012

So taken was I with this delightful little reserve that I returned today for another morning's dragonfly hunting with the camera. Like many of BBOWT's reserves it is discreetly tucked away, seemingly deserted and has its own intrinsic charm. I had it to myself until unexpectedly encountering Badger who had the same idea as myself. We were the only two people present for the entire morning and wandered undisturbed through the swampy ground serenaded by the rustling of reeds and the odd burst of Reed Warbler song. Unlike yesterday I came prepared with a pair of wellingtons which allowed me to penetrate deeper into the wetter parts of the reserve and thus to search more areas suitable for Keeled Skimmers. However the sun was reluctant to shine until late morning so for a couple of hours we saw very little apart from a few damselflies, a couple of Brown Hawkers and lots of reeds. Just as expectation was retreating into resignation a short rain shower arrived to be followed by clear skies and the sun shone. This was the magic moment. Suddenly 'dragons and damsels' were everywhere.We stood by the small acidic pond where we had seen the Keeled Skimmer yesterday and a pond that was apparently devoid of dragonflies and damselflies was suddenly  transformed. Keeled Skimmer? There he was together with a male Southern Damselfly, a Small Red Damselfly and many ovipositing Common Darters. Where had they all been hiding? The paired Darters were almost frantic in their egg laying, dipping down on the water in rapid succession as if they knew that they must take every opportunity to complete the process. A Brown Hawker swooped overhead, dark and menacing carrying off what looked like another smaller dragonfly. The Keeled Skimmer eventually disappeared and we retreated back to the boardwalk. Badger unfortunately had no wellingtons so had to take care where he trod and could not go onto the wetter parts of the reserve. I pioneered out on to the reserve following a small acidic stream with marshy surroundings whilst Badger remained high and dry on the boardwalk. I had visited this spot earlier and it was then completely devoid of insect life but now with the sun shining I found a male Keeled Skimmer, then another and another until there were up to five on this small stretch of marsh. The exclamations of rapture emanating from yours truly finally persuaded Badger to take the plunge metaphorically and he followed me into the swamp regardless of the consequences to view the skimmers. Try as we might we could not locate any females but that was just a trifle. Eventually the cloud moved over the sun, the dragonflies became still and the reserve sank back into a still and humid contemplation. What a lovely and rewarding way to spend a Sunday morning. 

Seen today:
Brown Hawker; Hawker sp.probably Migrant or Southern; Keeled Skimmer; Common Darter; Ruddy Darter; Southern Damselfly; Azure Damselfly; Blue tailed Damselfly; Common Blue Damselfly; Small Red Damselfly

A word of warning about the pub opposite the Car Park. The Merry Miller is very appealing but if you go in make sure you have lots of money. £6.50 for a lager shandy and two bags of crisps! Ouch!

Southern Damselfly
Blue Tailed Damselfly

Small Red Damselflies mating
Common Darters mating
Common Lizard

Keeled Skimmers

Azure Damselfly

Marsh Badger

Saturday 11 August 2012

Four wings instead of two 11 August 2012

Lets face it it's a dead time for birds although waders now appear to be moving through and are appearing at Port Meadow and Otmoor, when you can see them! I met up late with Badger who was recovering from one of his Stella Friday nights so it was a mid morning start at Otmoor as we meandered around looking for Dragonflies to video and photo. Mind you I had been up since five emptying my moth trap. Obsessive moi! Surely not! No helicopters but another good haul which kept me occupied for a couple of hours identifying them before heading for Otmoor. My wife bless her became very concerned about the cobwebs around the back door (we live in a very old house and spiders just love our architecture) through which the night's captives were released by yours truly, thinking they would get entangled and Incy would devour them. She attacked the webs with some gusto using an Ostrich feather duster we obtained in Zimbabwe some years ago to clear the way. I knew it would come in useful someday. Otmoor as far as dragonflies were concerned proved disappointing. We found a male Black tailed Skimmer which did pose for us but the two Emperors we found just cruised around and never came to rest. What superb insects they really are and very, very territorial. They even buzzed lumps of thistle down blowing across their chosen pond. I wandered off to walk along the Roman Road while Badger chased dragonflies along the bridleway towards Noke. In the sheltered parts of the Roman Road there was a good selection of the commoner butterflies Meadow Brown, Gatekeeper, Brimstone, Comma and Peacock but sadly no sign of any Brown Hairstreaks. Badger suggested we go and try to see Keeled Skimmers at Parsonage Moor - a BBOWT Reserve. After wandering around for a while we eventually found a male patrolling a tiny acidic pond. This quite made my day as I had never seen one before. There are other unusual dragons and damsels here and I am pretty certain I saw some Southern Damselflies in the same pond but by now the early start with the moths was having an effect and I was flagging badly. We called it a day and I headed home via the Merry Miller pub conveniently and very temptingly directly opposite the reserve car park. Only a shandy mind you. No Stella!

                           Some Dragonflies and Butterflies on Otmoor and Parsonage Moor

Ruddy Darter male
Black-tailed Skimmer male
Black-tailed Skimmer male
Broad-bodied Chaser male
Keeled Skimmer male                                            
Common Fro
OK I just know you cannot wait any longer to hear what I caught in my moth trap so here it is:
Poplar Hawk Moth; Common Footman; Scarce Footman; Bird Cherry Ermine - its tiny!; Swallow Prominent; Large Yellow Underwing; Lesser Broad bordered Yellow Underwing; Autumnal Rustic; Common Rustic; Heart and Dart; Single Dotted Wave; Riband Wave; Cream Wave; Marbled Beauty; Marbled Green; Willow Beauty; Shaded Broad Bar; Common Carpet; Red Twin Spot Carpet; Large Twin spot Carpet; Purple Thorn; Early Thorn; Coronet or was it?; Yellowtail; Flame Shoulder and Spectacle. There were also loads of micro moths but life is just too short. Really!

Coronet? Superbly camouflaged whatever it is
 The Stealth Fighter of moths
Early Thorn
Purple Thorn