Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Orange Bonanza.

For me it that time of year when birding tends to take a bit of a back seat as other flying wildlife becomes the target for the lens. During a very recent early morning walk around my favourite woodland glade at Hill House Wood on Bookham Common the action was initially a little slow but as the shafts of sunlight began to warm up the area orange coloured fluttering objects began to appear everywhere.

First up was a Comma (Polygonia c-album) initially resting with its wings closed but displaying that distinctive ragged-edge appearance with the mottled under wing pattern plus the white 'C'.
It wasn't too long before one settled on a fern with its wings open to soak up the warmth.

The next beauty was a Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) enjoying the nectar from the flowering brambles.
As expected at this time of year there were plenty of Large Skippers (Ochlodes venata) and again many soon settled onto the sunlit vegetation allowing fairly close encounters.

The star attraction however (in the absence of any sighting of a Purple Emperor) has to be any of the Fritillary species and I am fortunate to have a few locations near home where the spectacular Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) can easily be located from June through to early September. Like many species these have appeared slightly earlier than last year with my first sighting logged on the 8th June.

The females (see above) are much darker than the males and generally flutter about in the shadier areas of the open woodland.

The male which has four bold dark sex bands on the veins of each forewing is much brighter and far more conspicuous as it patrols large areas, twisting and gliding in the pursuit of a suitor, only resting briefly before continuing its aerial acrobatics.

A number of other species were also very active including White Admiral, Ringlet and Meadow Brown plus a voracious predator, the Emperor Dragonfly but I'll save their images for another post.   FAB.

Cumbrian Lakes.

A few more scenic views from our recent excursion to the Lake District.
I have driven over Kirkstone Pass and probably stopped at the same spot (top image) on many occasions to admire the view down into the valley that eventually leads to Ullswater. The only sound when I stepped out of the car was of running water! The lofty view from Whinlatter Pass (bottom left) overlooks the southern end of Bassenthwaite Lake where earlier the same day we were fortunate to see nesting Ospreys, albeit very distant through a scope, from the Dodd Wood  view point.

A short stroll along the north-western shore of Bassenthwaite Lake with the Skiddaw range in the background.  Daily views of soaring Common Buzzards are not uncommon anywhere in the Lake District.

Views across Ullswater from various roadside locations.

During our wandereings we often came across signs by the roadside indicating the possible presence of a species I have not seen in the wild for many, many years so it was a delight to find a single Red Squirrel enjoying a feast of hazel nuts at a forest bird feeding station.   FAB.

Monday, 27 June 2011

In the shadow of Blencathra.

Just in case anyone wondered why the blog has only featured a few scheduled posts during the past couple of weeks ... well we recently spent some time away in the Lake District. So here are some montages of the views we enjoyed every day.

Our campsite at Hutton Moor End was directly under the shadow of Blencathra (Saddleback), one of the most northerly mountains in the Lake District. Every day the views were slightly different depending on the level of the clouds and the length of the sunny interludes.

Typically the weather was very mixed with just a few days of sunshine when the highest point (Hellsfell Top) at 2,848 feet became visible from our watchpoint and the constant trend of daily rain showers didn't stop us from enjoying the local scenery.

The valley around the campsite was a patchwork of fields, small becks and damp meadows filled with a variety of wild flowers bordered by traditional dry stone walls and buildings constructed from the local stone.

The weather wasn't particularly helpful when it came to capturing the local wildlife but at least one of the daily visitors, Mr. Blackbird, struck a pose long enough for the camera!    FAB.

Monday, 20 June 2011

Large Skipper.

A few images of the Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata) which is our brightest and most widespread 'orange' skipper. Single-brooded and is on the wing usually from late May, reaching a peak in mid-July and disappears by the end of August. With the drier spring this year you may well have seen one much earlier.  

N.B. This is a scheduled post and I will respond to comments when we return from Cumbria.  FAB.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Just a few Damsels.

To keep the blog ticking over while we are away here are a few of the different Damselflies that I have seen during May into early June.
Azure (Coenagrion puella) - a teneral male.

 Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum) - Male.

Common Blue (Enallagma cyathigerum) - Male.

Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - Immature female.

Emerald (Lestes sponsa) - Female.

Blue-tailed (Ischnura alegans) - Immature female probably form violacea
This form can mature into into either the andromorph with male-like blue colouring or into infuscans-obsoleta with a brownish thorax according to my field guide.

White-legged (Platycnemis pennipes) - immature (f. lactea phase).

Please feel free to correct me if you feel any of the ID's are incorrect.

N.B. This is a scheduled post and I will respond to comments when we return from Cumbria.   FAB.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

White Admiral.

Last week I saw my first Silver-washed Fritillary for this year, somewhat earlier than expected, flitting through a woodland glade but it was a male White Admiral (Limenitis camilla) that also made my day as it perched on a fern during a short sunny interlude.

N.B. This is a scheduled post but I will respond to any comments when we return from Cumbria.  FAB.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Learning to Fly.

During my recent trip to Rye Harbour N.R. I had the opportunity to watch a juvenile Black-headed Gull as it attempted one of its earliest flying attempts.

Flap .. flap ...

 Do I dare leave the ground?

Up and away at last.

Whoops ... dodgy landing!

Next time I'll remember to keep my head up!    
Wherever you are, have a great wildlife watching weekend.   FAB.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Adonis under blue skies.

Just over a week ago I paid a mid morning visit to Denbies Hillside, a chalk escarpment on the North Downs. With the wispy clouds being brushed across the blue skies by a fairly stiff breeze I headed downhill through the rich wild flower grassland of Steer's Field. 

There was plenty of insect life around my feet but the butterflies were less obvious due to the windy conditions although I did catch glimpses of Common Blue, Peacock, Comma, Speckled Wood, Small Heath, and Meadow Brown.
Anyway I wandered the various pathways and tracks before finding a suitable location to rest the weary legs and waited patiently for my intended quarry while enjoying the fabulous panoramic southward views.

 Adonis Blue (Lysandra bellargus)
Despite my apprehension my luck eventually paid off and one male perched for a few moments allowing me just a couple of shots of this gorgeous blue butterfly with its distinctive white and black chequered wing edges.

There was plenty of other wildlife to keep me entertained including the various hoverflies, beetles and day flying moths (a Burnet Companion) plus I watched a hovering Kestrel, singing Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler, Common Buzzard being harried by Crows and added a Raven to my Surrey year list as it flew overhead.  I have made a mental note to return to seek out the other downland speciality, the Chalkhill Blue, sometime during July.  FAB.

Rye for a Sandwich.

Last weekend, during a very early morning visit to Rye Harbour N.R. on another sunny but extremely windy day, I appeared to be the only occupant on this extensive shingle foreshore. With high tide many hours away the peace and quiet was regularly interrupted by the distinctive, loud, grating 'kerrick ... kerrick' calls of one of the nesting Tern species as they headed offshore to hunt for a meal. I don't profess to be particularly adept at photographing white birds in flight ...... it is definitely a challenge .... but with time on my hands I felt it was worth waiting to see what might be possible. 
Initial shots were like the one above with the birds returning from fishing but all too distant for the lens.... but eventually my luck changed as a few flew nearly directly overhead. However they constantly decided to either jink left or right before disappearing at an alarming rate of knots towards their nesting colonies on the adjacent inland pools. My patience was wearing a little thin but after trying numerous different settings .... success.  

 Sandwich Tern (Sternus sandvicensis) carrying a fishy meal.
[Shot at 1/1600; f.11; ISO 400 @ 130mm]

Not easy to pick out its distinct features from below but the complete black cap combined with the yellow tip on the long narrow black bill plus the large wingspan (typically 85 - 97cm) clearly says this is an adult in its full summer plumage. 

This side on shot of another individual clearly shows the darker outer primaries ... this wedge shape will eventually darken with wear. The partial white forehead indicates that this is an adult but still showing signs of its winter plumage.  FAB.

Check out WORLD BIRD WEDNESDAY for more glorious images from around the globe.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Broad-bodied Chaser.

Broad-bodied Chaser (Libellula depressa). This male was very active as it patrolled a very shallow pool of water during a sunny but breezy day during a recent visit to Ashdown Forest. This species often perches for reasonable periods interspersed with periods of rapid flight but on this occasion it tested my patience by not returning to the same perch very often!   FAB.  

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Windswept Wander.

A week ago I took a wander around the lowland heath at Thursley Common in the hope of getting some images of maybe one or two of the specialist species that inhabit this landscape. 

What I didn't bargain for was the ever present blustery wind which kept most species, including Woodlark and Tree Pipit, far too distant for the lens although I did enjoy some decent views albeit brief through the bins.  

Even the male Common Redstart made life tricky as it flitted from branch to branch and then disappeared with its tasty morsel destined for a growing brood somewhere. Other species sighted included a pair of nesting Lapwing; a Common Buzzard hounded by Crows; a Hobby zipped past in purposeful flight and several Stonechats called from their windswept perches. Needing some respite from the blustery conditions I entered an area of mixed deciduous woodland and immediately my ears picked up the incessant calls of young Great Spotted Woodpeckers (Dendrocopos major) begging to be fed. I quickly located the nest hole and found a convenient resting place at the base of a nearby tree and waited.  

Both adults share the very similar black and white plumage including the large white oval shoulder patches plus the saturated red vent and barred black and white flight feathers. The first adult to appear was the female distinguished by her totally black crown.

Some five minutes later the male, who sports a red patch on its hindcrown, eventually worked his way down to the nest hole ......

 ... and then one of the youngsters appeared and gratefully accepted a meal. This species produces one brood with a clutch of 4 to 6 eggs. After an incubation period of 14 - 16 days, mainly by the female, fledging usually takes another 20 to 24 days. As there is only room for one chick at the nest hole it is definitely a question of 'first come .. first served'. Unlike most other species the parents do not remove the fecal sacks so I guess the nesting cavity becomes a little rank over time!    

I felt very privileged to monitor this constant feeding activity for over 30 minutes as both parents regularly returned with tasty insects for their new family before leaving them to their endeavours.  

Back at The Moat pond Mrs Mallard was overseeing the movement of her recently fledged young through the knee high waterside vegetation and every so often raised her head to ensure that they were complying with her instructions to stay out of view.   FAB.

For more images from around the world please check out WORLD BIRD WEDNESDAY. 


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