Saturday, 30 August 2014

Common Darter.

Probably our most widespread dragonfly seen from May through to early December and occupying a wide range of lowland habitats is the Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum)

The above close up of the male shows the two tone, brown and yellowish striped legs and distinguishes this species from its close relative the Ruddy Darter (S. sanguineum) which has completely black legs.

Females and immature males look very similar but I'm reasonably certain the images (above and below) are a female.  With age her abdomen will become much duller changing from ochre to a reddish hue.
 All images taken 'hand-held' with the 450D and 70-300mm lens.  FAB.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Tices Meadow Visit.

With a few interesting species being reported from Tices Meadows I took the opportunity to pay a visit today and set up the scope on the mound overlooking the large expanse of water. As expected a large number of Canada Geese (which I didn't bother to count), Greylag (1), Egyptian Geese (2), Mallard, Tufted, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon (1), Coot, Great Crested and Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Cormorant (2), Black-headed and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Grey Heron (5), Kestrel (1), House Martins, Swift (2), Woodpigeon, Starlings and Magpies.

Egyptian Goose having a stretch.

Mute Swan not wanting to wait around.

Black-headed Gull moulting into its 1st winter plumage.

My main interest however was scanning the distant muddy margins for waders and this proved quite fruitful as apart from the usual Lapwings I located Common Snipe (2), Black-tailed Godwit (3), Ringed Plover (2), Greenshank (1), Common Sandpiper (2), Green Sandpiper (1) and Ruff (8) which added five species to my Surrey Year List.   FAB.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Wet, Wet ..... Wet.

Despite the overcast conditions this morning we decided to get some fresh air and drove the short distance to Bushy Park. On arrival the rain was fairly heavy so we waited a while and when it abated to a fine drizzle we grabbed the brolly and approached the pond.

Just as I prepared to take a few shots of the resident young Grey Heron the heavens opened once more and the brolly couldn't keep both of us and the gear dry!

Initially I thought "this is crazy weather to attempt any shots" but the overriding opportunity of being this close to a Grey Heron without it immediately flying away doesn't happen very often so why not fire away.

The Grey Heron had a totally waterproof outer layer and wasn't at all concerned by the downpour so carried on about its business. With very little wind the rain was well set in so we decided to take cover, return home, dry out and eventually publish the 750th post on this blog.   FAB.

Linking to WILD BIRD WEDNESDAY hosted by Stewart.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Small OR Essex?

For me the similarity between the Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris) and the Essex Skipper (Thymelicus lineola) is an identification dilemma.They look alike, share the same habitat and have a very similar flight period although the Essex appears slightly later at the end of June. The following images were taken of a single individual on 8th July this year.

Now I'm reasonably certain this is a male and one difference between these two species is the shape of the sex brands on the fore-wing; slightly curved on the Small Skipper and straight on the Essex. So based on the above image I'm hedging towards the Small Skipper.

During a recent butterfly foray with members of Butterfly Conservation I asked a couple of 'experts' the question ... "How do you tell the difference?" and I was somewhat puzzled by one response ... "Why would you want to know".  Even after showing them the images on the camera they were still non-committal.

Later on during the walk I watched another 'expert' use a magnifying glass to check the colour on the undersides of the tips of the antennae. Now most butterfly guides mention that this is the best distinguishing feature in order to separate these species. Black tips on the underside for the Essex and orange-brown on the Small. 

This final image could be the clincher. Although at first glance I thought the tip colour was black there is also a hint of brown so I'm sticking with my initial thought that this is a Small Skipper. If there are any experts out there that wish to comment, correct or agree, then please let me know.  FAB.

P.S. - Update: Thanks to some very helpful feedback from Bob and Trevor I am now certain that this individual was in fact a female Small Skipper.

For the latest post on FABirding .. 'The Blues' ... please click the link.

Friday, 22 August 2014

A New Transect for 2015.

Adjacent to my regular patch circuit around Epsom Common Ponds is Ashtead Common National Nature Reserve, extending over 500 acres of ancient woodland owned and managed by the City of London Corporation. In the 1870's the City was concerned that access to the open countryside was being threatened, and as a result promoted two Acts of Parliament to enable it to acquire and protect various open spaces from development.

Last month during a walk with one of the Wardens I offered my services to carry out Butterfly recording over a new fixed route (transect) starting in April 2015. I have walked the proposed route on several occasions recently and this post provides an insight to the varied wildlife I have already encountered.
The start of the transect begins at 'Chessington View' overlooking the fields above Rushett Farm, a good spot to listen to Skylarks in the Spring and to locate Nuthatch at almost any time of the year. During the winter large flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare congregate in the trees in between their feeding forays onto the nearby fields. Carrion Crows, Jackdaws and Magpies are fairly numerous throughout most of the year.
[Eurasian] Nuthatch. (Sitta europaea)

The route climbs gently upwards following one of the main rides through the woodland passing an area that was cleared some time ago and the coppiced Hazel was protected by woven rustic barriers to prevent it being browsed by Deer and it appears to have been sucessful.

This 1st section has already produced recent sightings of Brimstone, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Comma and Silver-washed Fritillary. Bird species seen or heard here include Great-spotted Woodpecker, Robin, Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Chaffinch, Treecreeper, Blue, Great and Long Tailed Tits, Goldcrest and the very noisy Ring-necked Parakeets.

Speckled Wood.

Section 2 is over similar terrain and passes a very muddy coloured pool called Flag Pond where all three species of Newt; Common, Palmate and Great crested have been recorded.

This is a good place to search for Dragonflies and Damselflies.
Ruddy Darter. (Sympetrum sanguineum)

There are over 2,300 ancient pollarded Oaks across the common which play host to an amazing variety of wildlife; bugs, insects and nesting opportunities for many species of birds. A year ago I noticed that some of the Birch trees had been 'ring-barked' which prevents the sap flowing upwards and now a few have felled themselves ... just one of the many simple and natural methods employed in managing the woodlands.

The woodlands can often be surprisingly quiet until the peace is shattered by the very distinctive loud burst of song from one of the many resident Wrens.

A juvenile Wren. (Troglodytes troglodytes)

My route then passes around an area of archeological significance, the site of a 1st and 2nd Century AD Roman Villa, Bath House with adjacent tile works.

Excavations were first carried out between 1924 to 1929 and again in 1966, 2006 and more recently during August to September 2013 by the Surrey Archaeological Society. As expected nature has very quickly recolonized the diggings with grasses, nettles, ferns and brambles providing dense ground cover.

The open area below the 'King Oak' should be a very good spot for butterfly species. I have already logged Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Gatekeeper, Small and Large Skippers, Comma and Peacock. This part of the common with its mix of Oaks and Sallows is also an excellent place to see Purple Hairstreak and the handsome Purple Emperor.

As my boots brushed past the grasses lining the narrow path numerous Grasshoppers of different sizes and colours hopped from stem to stem.

I don't know if this is typical but every time the lens got close they all tried to move around the grass stem to hide!

A young Roe Deer patiently watched my progress before heading off into the undergrowth.


There are a number of seats along my route providing convenient spots to rest awhile and watch the wildlife. 

Sometime I find someone has also used it for other purposes ... the remains of a recent Hazelnut snack by a Grey Squirrel.

At the end of section 6 close to my rest stop I spotted a Hornet and a resting Migrant Hawker.

Various gates and fences are encountered all over the common and many of the latter form the boundaries to specific areas that are grazed by cattle on a rotation basis to maintain this special landscape.

Some of the main open rides are designated bridleways but access to many other pathways is restricted by the use of natural Birch filled barriers that need to be regularly topped up during the year. 

Silver-washed Fritillary.

The final two sections of the transect follow part of the north-western  boundary overlooking Rushett Farm where it is not uncommon for me to find a Common Buzzard, which nest in the adjacent wood, perched on one of the old Oaks or soaring above the fields.

If all goes well with the arrangements for next year I'll look forward to providing weekly wildlife updates between April and September from this interesting location.  FAB.

I'm linking this post to:
Saturday's Critters hosted by Eileen
Camera Critters hosted by Misty
I'D-Rather-B-Birdin' hosted by Anni

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Behind the Pond Fence.

Recent strolls around my patch at Epsom Common Great Pond haven't produced much in the way of bird sightings apart from the usual Grey Heron, Mallard, Moorhen, Coot, an increasing number of visiting Canada Geese, Black-headed Gull, one Swallow and the occasional soaring Common Buzzard so the lens has been focused on other wildlife.

A Ruddy Darter sunning itself on the top fence rail.

White Admiral nectaring on the other side of the fence.

A very fresh 2nd brooded Holly Blue.

Access to the far side of the pond via the main gate proved a little problematical!! The odds were definitely stacked against me as the cattle, brought in during late Spring to help manage the landscape, weren't going to give up their tiny spot of shade plus the underfoot conditions were very unsavory so I decided to seek out another way. 

The alternative route to access the rear of the reed bed hidden behind the Gorse also provided its own particular challenge! Fortunately I managed to overcome this obstacle without getting 'hot wired'.

 Common Blue Damselflies in mating wheel.

Keeled Skimmer.

Finally a reverse view across the pond from within the reed bed towards my usual viewing point.  FAB.

Linking to Good Fences hosted by TexWisGirl.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Preening (Part 1)

Second only to feeding, preening is a common bird behavior easily observed in a backyard or out in the field.

Little Egret making sure its flight feathers are in alignment.

Birds can have up to 25,000 feathers so regular grooming that may take up to several hours each day is very important to keep them in tip top condition for various reasons; efficient flight, waterproofing and insulation, removal of parasites and lice that may carry disease, removing tough sheaths from newly moulted feathers and improving their overall appearance to attract a mate.

Black-headed Gull in winter plumage.

Egyptian Goose reaching those difficult to access areas.

Even youngsters like this Juvenile Blue Tit have to learn this tricky and important art very quickly in order to survive.

And finally Mrs. Mallard.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Adonis Blue.

Another visit today under a very cloudy sky to Denbies Hillside and after a bit of leg work I caught up with the rarest of our downland blue flutters, the brilliant Adonis Blue (Lysandra bellargus).

This species has particular habitat requirements; needing short, herb rich turf with Horseshoe Vetch, its exclusive larval foodplant, on sunny south-facing slopes; but its range along the North Downs has definitely contracted within the past three decades. Like the Chalkhill the Adonis larvae are tended by Myrmica or Lasius Ants.

These fresh looking males are from the second brood (usually early August to end of September) when they are often seen in the company of the Chalkhill Blue.

Identifying the 'blues' by their underwing patterns can be a challenge. In the above image the Chalkhill Blue male is on the left (slightly larger with far more silvery-blue scales near the body) and the Adonis Blue male with its browner underwing colour is on the right.

I will share some other species seen during this foray in a future post. FAB.

Linking to NF Winged.


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