Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Migrant Hawker.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) is a late-summer and autumn dragonfly often seen flying at tree top level but fortunately for me today this male had dropped down lower for a rest.  
Something I hadn't realised until I checked my ID guide was that on cooler days the predominantly blue mature male colouring may change to lilac-grey similar to the immature coloration.      FAB.  

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Flutters in Disguise.

The dancing unhurried flight of the Gatekeeper with its striking orange-brown colour and pattern is easy to spot. Like many species when at rest with wings closed its underside pattern presents a totally different view but is still fairly easy to pick out against its usual background of bramble leaves or ragwort flower heads.

Many other species have more cryptic underwing camouflage so I thought I would share a few with you.
Probably the most widespread of our butterflies is the Meadow Brown, distinguished by the single eye spot on each forewing. The male is almost totally brown whereas the females show much more orange. However, at rest with wings closed, the underside pattern often provides a good match with its surroundings, especially dried grasses and leaves, an excellent defence against its predators.
When fresh the Ringlet has dark velvety wings with a distinctive white border. This soon fades and they can look like male Meadow Browns but without any trace of orange although the eye-spots are usually visible in flight. However when it flops to the ground the underside spots are clearly visible but often only when you get down to their level for a closer look.
The Speckled Wood prefers dappled woodland glades and has a greater tolerance for shady places. When basking in the sun the upper wing pattern is usually fairly easy to spot against its background perch. However when resting with the wings closed its underwing patterns can provide excellent camouflage especially against the leaf litter.
The best example of cryptic camouflage is the Grayling, often only encountered when disturbed as you walk by. Its flight pattern is a series of bobbing and gliding and then dropping quickly to the ground where it disappears from view. At rest it tilts itself towards or faces the sun to regulate its temperature but also to significantly reduce any shadow it may cast. The underwing colour can vary according to the surrounding soil type (chalky to almost black) and with its more prominent upper wing patterns fully enclosed it blends in perfectly with its background.

Have a good weekend wherever you are and whatever you are doing.   FAB.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Hanging On.

A Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) hanging on for dear life as the strong winds battered both the stems across the water meadows and the photographer.

PJB Update: A recent CT scan revealed nothing so his total lack of awareness, cognitive response, movement etc. has been identified as oxygen starvation and so the experts have warned us that there is unlikely to be any chance of any recovery. The hospital say he will initially be moved to a Nuerology Ward where they will keep him comfortable and hopefully pain free while everyone awaits the enevitable outcome.....however long that may be. Doubtless a few or possibly many more sleepless nights while those that care wish him a peaceful release while holding onto the happy memories of all those past years........FAB.

Windy Birding.

Why do I seem to pick the windiest days when I venture south or eastwards to do some coastal birding?
Just over a week ago I headed southwards to Farlington Marshes and completed a full clockwise circuit;  wandering alongside the stream watching Little Egrets and Black-tailed Godwits feeding; then out to the sea wall with high tide some 2 hours away the mudflats appeared empty until I used the scope then various waders and gulls came to life. I stopped to chat to a delightful couple who requested confirmation that we were all looking at two Little Stints (addition to the year list but no pics) feeding alongside a Common Sandpiper.
As high tide approached the main pool started to fill up with waders including 20+ Greenshank, Redshank, Dunlin, Lapwing, numerous Black-tailed Godwit plus Grey Plover sporting their black waistcoats. Attempts to digiscope the waders in such windy conditions did not produce the quality I had hoped for. 
Yesterday I drove eastwards to Oare Marshes on the North Kent coast and it was even windier so in the words of at least one other birder 'not the day for photography'... that was an understatement! A clockwise walk took me along the seawall looking out over the mudflats and then alongside Faversham Creek producing 50+ Common Ringed Plovers, Curlew, Dunlin, Redshank, Grey Plover, Black-headed and Herring Gulls, and flock after flock of Black-tailed Godwits flying into the East Flood on the rising tide.
I estimated that around 1500 Black-tailed Godwits eventually congregated on the flood but too far away for a clear photo. I did manage a passable shot of 3 Common Ringed Plovers feeding with a Ruff and one of many Black-headed Gulls. Also present were 15 Avocet, Little Egrets, Grey Herons, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Mallard, Shoveller, Coot, Shelduck, Lapwing and a single juvenile Little Stint. Other sightings included a Yellow Wagtail, Meadow Pipits and Bearded Tits... typically heard but not seen.
Despite the wind there were other views to maintain my interest as I wandered across to the West Flood with brief sightings of butterflies; a male Clouded Yellow, Gatekeeper and a Common Blue maintaining its grip in the strong wind and a male Ruddy Darter. As a Kestrel hunted overhead a Kingfisher flashed past me across the meadows. I headed for home as the skies darkened and eventually drove through the heavy oncoming rain storm.   FAB.   

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Doe and Fawn.

During a late morning stroll on Monday I came across a Roe Doe quietly grazing in a field with her young fawn. Fortunately the wind was in my favour (a very strong breeze from my right) and my outline was partially hidden by the field boundary vegetation so moving slowly to gain a better view I waited to see if I could obtain some clearer images. 
Every now and then the Doe would stop feeding, stand up and sniff the breeze, occasionally looking in the direction of the watcher but not picking up any noticeable scent she continued her feeding activity. 
Her young fawn copied the mother and also peered towards the watcher but was also unfazed by any slight movement the watcher made to get a clearer view. 

Roe Deer (Capreolus capreolus), also known as the Western Roe Deer or chevreuil, is an Eurasian species of deer and are native to Britain, having been present since before the Mesolithic period. Forest clearance and over-hunting led to roe deer becoming extinct in England by 1800 but following several reintroductions during Victorian times their subsequent, natural spread aided by an increase in woodland and forest planting in the 20th century has meant that roe deer have become widespread and very abundant today. They are small and elegant; easily identified by their white rump patch with short tush in females; a black nose, white chin plus their bounding gait when alarmed.
The rut takes place in late July or early August. The females are monoestrous and after delayed implantation usually give birth the following June, after a ten-month gestation period, typically to two spotted fawns of opposite sexes.

All images were captured with the 70-300 zoom and have been cropped as these creatures were approximately 80 - 100 yards away.   FAB.

Saturday, 21 August 2010

A Full Backpack Day.

To satisfy the curiosity of a number of my readers here are images of the new backpack that was fully loaded in readiness for a day out with Graham yesterday who kindly acted as taxi driver and collected me at 6.45 am. 
Our first port of call was Epsom Ponds where we managed to spot a female Mandarin Duck hiding amoungst the waterside vegetation. Also present were Black-headed Gull, Mallard, Grey Heron plus Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Robin were heard. 
Graham then drove to the Wey Navigation close to the remains of Newark Priory where we followed the towpath towards Walsham Lock producing more Mallards, Mute Swan, a pair of Kestrels hunting over the water meadow, Lapwing, Jackdaws, Starlings, Woodpigeon, Collared Doves, noisy Parakeets, House Martins, Swallows, Blue and Great Tits. a Great-spotted Woodpecker plus a Goldfinch. We also had an interesting conversation with the local farmer who explained that his cattle loved eating the waterside Himalayan Balsam with apparently no side effects. A few Banded Demoiselles were also resting just above the water.
Further along the towpath this barge owner stirred up the water, much to the annoyance of the fishermen, while attemting to move his craft 'Wendy Woo II' away from its overnight mooring. 
We stopped again and chatted to this fisherman who was interested in my camera gear and revealed that he raised butterflies and is releasing Brown Argus at a site very close to where I live. The only flutter we saw was a Speckled Wood plus male Common Blue Damselflies. We crossed over the weir to check around the lock for any Grey Wagtails but there was no sign of them today. While retracing our steps back to the car we picked up the call of a young Common Buzzard and eventually watched it fly to leafless tree but our efforts to get closer for a photo proved unsucessful as it moved further away.
The weather forcast suggested light showers at around 10.00 am so Graham suggested a trip over to Kempton Park Nature Reserve as he has the necessary codes to gain access. This reserve was created in 1995 by Thames Water but I have never visited before so this this would be a new location to explore and it has hides in case the wether turned foul.
As you can see the water levels are very low and much of the old reservoir floor is covered with sphagnum moss. From the first hide we located Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Cormorant, Mallard, Coot, Moorhen, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, a single Greenshank, several juvenile Pied Wagtails, Sparrowhawk, Black-headed Gulls, Parakeets flying over and Swallows. On our casual stroll to another hide we watched Common Darters, Meadow Browns and Common Blue butterflies. Bottom right image is a very tatty female Common Blue. Blue and Great Tits were also seen at a feeding station.
While eating our packed lunches in the last hide a young Reynard appeared from amoungst the vevetation and sat at the side of the water intently starring in our direction. After an apprehensive look at the water he eventually crossed to the other side and disappeared only to return and swim back while all the resident Mallard and Coots gathered together, totally unfazed by his presence, to watch him get wet again. After a quick shake down he then decided to run back and forth just like a young teenager letting of steam before disappearing back into the leafy undergrowth.
We also had slightly closer views of the Greenshank feeding together with a Common Sandpiper and one of the Grey Herons and a Mute Swan came close enough for the camera. A number of Green Woodpeckers were also spied around the reserve. Another enjoyable day out in good company...thanks Graham.   FAB.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Waterside Wildlife.

The ladies always say 'when you're feeling jaded a little bit of retail therapy always helps'  so I waited in this morning for a parcel to arrive following an on-line purchase of a new camera rucsack yesterday. Delivery made, parcel unwrapped, gear strewn out over the floor, somehow I got everything in and a little bit more so what now? Time for a field test, so I headed off for a stroll at Riverside Country Park.
The only activity on the Wey Navigation was the usual floating Mallard.
At the head of the lake there was a lot of sounds coming from the reeds as a number of young Reed Warblers flitted around but mostly out of sight. Overhead a Chiffchaff was feeding and then along the path I was joined by a mixed flock of Long-tailed, Great and Blue Tits who quickly scampered away when a cyclist sped past me. A Common Whitethroat uttered its hoarse nasal tone from somewhere deep within the shrubbery and a Great-spotted Woodpecker called from some distance away.
A gap in the reeds produced Great Crested Grebe with youngster in tow.
It's been a long time since I've managed to get reasonably close to this species and the parent was constantly diving for fish to feed to its young charge. The lake also held Tufted Ducks, Mute Swan, Coots, Moorhen and Egyptian Geese hiding on the island plus a fly-over Black-headed Gull. I also noted a Brown Hawker, Emperor Dragonfly and some damselflies patrolling the waters edge so decided to park my behind and wait to see what turned up. 
 Red-eyed Damselflies mating. (Record shot only - poor focusing!)
 Common Blue Damselfly.
 Where there's one there is always more very close by wanting to get in on the action.  

Finally a very accommodating male Common Darter.
Even managed to capture the black and yellow legs.

Walking back via the lock a Sparrowhawk alighted briefly on the handrail before moving off behind the lock-keepers house to seek prey somewhere else. I was delighted with the new purchase (Lowepro Flipside 400 AW) and it will be further tested when I visit my parents tomorrow (probably find somewhere on the journey to stop for a stroll) and a day out on Friday when, weather permitting (the forecast is not brilliant), I will be accompanying and helping one of my readers to find some wildlife as we stroll around a few of my regular haunts. At least it will keep my mind away from the other issues.  FAB.  

For more Watery Wednesday images please click this link.

Still Pondering.

The spider spun a silver web

Above the ground last night
It was round with little spokes
And such a pretty sight
This morning there were drops of dew
Hung on it, one by one;
They changed to diamonds, rubies red.
Then they were lit with sun.
A spiders nice to have around
To weave a web so fine
On which to string the drops of dew
That catch the bright sunshine.
(Anon and slightly amended)

PJB Update: A scan earlier this week apparently didn't reveal anything new to report. Eyes open and some minor physical movement but not responding at all so being referred to the Neurology Team. Doctors say 'be prepared for the worse scenario'.....so the wait goes on.   FAB.  

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Keeled Skimmer.

Keeled Skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens) captured during recent visits to Thursley Common where this species prefers the boggy acidic conditions.

Typical pose when resting... wings held forward and eyes everywhere.   FAB.

Black Darter.

Black Darter (Sympetrum danae). A small darter that appears in late summer and the mature male is easily recognised by its obvious black colour, black legs, black pterostigma plus the waisted abdomen but not so easy to capture on a windy, overcast day are the three yellow spots on black patch on the side of its thorax! The females and immature males are yellow changing to an olive shade as they age. 
This pair were very fidgety during copulation which made focusing somewhat of a challenge.
Females have a small yellow patch at the base of the wings that is just visible in these last two images.
Next time I'll try to pick a sunny day with no wind!    FAB.

P.S. Update on PJB - Now breathing unaided but kidneys not working (hence continued dialysis) and liver only working at 25%. Expected to have a scan sometime tomorrow when hopefully we may learn if there are any other complications. 

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Treading the heathland again.

Just over a week ago I made another visit to Thursley Common, an area of lowland heath, and although conditions were not ideal, with overcast skies and a constant stiff breeze (so what's new), I tramped around for a few hours at my usual casual pace.
Keeled Skimmer resting on the boardwalk.
The main boardwalk out to Pine Island was being repaired by the warden and helpers so after a search for any other dragons I headed off in a different direction and went diagonally across the the heathland where the other boardwalk, usually under water in winter, is also looking a bit worse for wear. It was very quiet apart from the occasional calls from Stonechats and a brief distant sighting of a hawking Hobby.
Views around the reserve.
(Clockwise from top left - Gatekeeper, Grayling. Silver Y Moth (I think!) and Black Darter.
The Black Darter and the Grayling were nice finds and I'll post some other images in future posts. Hearing the sound of a woodie tapping away for a meal high in the pines I wondered if it would hang around long enough for a photocall......happily he did.
Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopus major)
The forecast for the days ahead is not brilliant but I'm hoping at some stage to get to the coast and find something different to post.  FAB.


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