Thursday, 16 June 2016

A Day with the Macro at RSPB Lakenheath Fen

5th June 2016

At this time of year when birding goes a little quiet between the main migration periods and most birds are sitting around with their young, I dust of the macro lens and go in search of suitable specimens such as flora and insects. And for such an adventure, what better place than Lakenheath Fen.

I had hardly got more than a few metres along the trail when I came across this magnificent example of Comfrey. And better still, unlike birds, it didn't fly away or go and sit deep in shade inside a bush. I think all birds should be sent on this training course. Just a little further on a freshly flowered Hedgerow Cransesbill was in full colour.

Now on to the insects. After the recent cold snap dragonflies and damselflies were not too numerous, although Azure Damselflies were well represented. Unfortunately, the expected Variable Damselfly was nowhere to be seen. The only other damselfly that was present in reasonable numbers was the Large Red Damselfly

Hoverflies are more difficult to photograph and even more difficult to identify, as you need to photograph them from different angles to make sure that you capture the key features. I didn't have the time for this and so for a couple of shots my identification is limited to family rather than species level (see sub-title under each photograph)

Cheilosia species
Helophilus species
Myathropa florea
Xanthogramma pedissequum
It is now ladybird time and the first one is the UK old favourite the Seven-spot Ladybird. The next two are both intruders, different forms of the Harlequin Ladybird which only arrived in the UK in 2004. The last photo is of a larva of the Seven-spot Ladybird.

Spiders were also well represented, although in two very different forms. The first is an adult Nursery Spider which unlike other spiders does not spin a web to catch food but hunts instead. The second photo is a nest of young Garden Spiders which at this stage are bright yellow with distinctive black markings.

The next genus I came across was moths starting with an adult Yellow-barred Longhorn Moth. Judging by the length of the antennae I would suggest that this a female, as in the male the antennae are four times the length of the body. The only other moth that I saw was a Drinker caterpillar which are particularly common here.

There were loads of snails around but the only ones that I inspected more closely were all Brown-lipped Snails.

One insect that was particularly common was the Garden Chafer. The first photo shows it covered in pollen but the other three are probably a little more photogenic. The only other beetle on show was this female Thick-legged Flower Beetle, a female because she didn't have thick legs!

So that was the end of the macro day, but then I had to put the long lens on to get some more Great Spotted Woodpecker photos. Rather surprisingly the nest from the last visit was still active and I was able to get some shots of the male and female bringing food for the young.

However, further down the track was another nest where at least two young had fledged and were moving about but keeping close to the nest hole. They eventually plucked up courage to have a short fly around and ended playing tag. What a great way to end a fantastic day.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Garganey at Rye Meads

4th June 2016

It was an odd time of year for a pair of Garganey to turn up at Rye Meads but, as they had be there for a couple of days, time to investigate. The scrape in front of the Drapers Hide was fairly quiet, as you would expect for the time of year. The resident Tufted Ducks and Pochards were still looking splendid and it was a nice surprise to see that one of the female Pochards had a brood of ducklings. Pochard do breed in the Lea Valley but nowhere near as much as the tufties.

Most of the action on the scrape came from the Common Terns which were flying to and fro the other lagoons but also indulging in a bit of bathing. This provided some opportunities for flight shots.

But now down to the business in hand.. In previous years the Garganey have normally spent much of their time asleep on one of the islands making photography difficult especially when they were in long grass. However, today they were feeding voraciously to the left of the hide, and were always in full view. Unfortunately when they feed they have their head underwater for most of the time and therefore it is necessary to wait until they come up for breath or haul out for a rest.

I suspect that this was a non-breeding pair or one that had failed, as the male was already entering eclipse plumage as can be seen by the number of brown feathers starting to appear.

The female is a particularly dull bird and can be separated from a female Teal by the pale stripes above and below the eye.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

A Purple Heron at Rye Meads

11th June 2016

It was a casual start to a Saturday morning and I was just checking my emails when Sarah Harris, who was carrying out her Breeding Bird Survey around the HMWT reserve at Rye Meads, tweeted "PURPLE HERON just flew over my head, low, over Rye Meads toll road - heading towards Roydon." It is a massive area with lots of water, most of it hidden, and so didn't give too much hope of being re-found, although I kept an eye on Twitter.

Rather surprisingly a few minutes later it had indeed been refound sitting in a tree to the east of the toll gate and north of the road. I therefore set off, but all the way expecting it to have left by the time I got there. I drove straight past the RSPB visitor centre and parked by the side of the toll road before the toll gate. It was here that I was told that it had indeed flown off towards Stanstead Innings.

I decided to press on as this was still the shortest route to the Stanstead pit should it have been relocated there, but when I was standing by the toll gate speaking on the phone to Barry Reed getting an update, I heard someone shouting that it flown back. I therefore couldn't be far away. I soon joined the assembled throng of the usual suspects including Colin Wills, Darrel Bryant, Laurence Drummond, Toby Austin, Mike Ilett and Barry.

The bird was sitting quite high up in a willow, although luckily on the outside and not too obscured. It did have a couple of branches obscuring the view but with a little re-positioning down the track and peering through the smallest of holes I was able to get some shots.

This was my second Purple Heron in Hertfordshire, the first being at Amwell on the 6th August 1989, so a great big thank you to Sarah.

Now, what was I planning to do today?

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Today I have been mostly photographing Yellow Wagtails

24th May 2016

The plan today was to try and photograph some warblers and Adders at Fingringhoe Wick and then move on to Abberton Reservoir for possibly some waders or terns in front of the hides and Yellow Wagtails on the Layer Breton causeway. In the event the birds and Adders had other ideas as Fingringhoe was pretty quiet apart from this single cooperative Chiffchaff, and the Adder bank was now considerably overgrown compared to our last visit just a few weeks ago.

So straight on to Abberton and on this occasion even the car park had more birds than Fingringhoe. A rather odd mixture with the ever-present Sky Larks but also a lone Rook which perched patiently on a fence post waiting to have his photo taken. I assume that other Rooks find them attractive.

Sadly there were no waders in front of the Island Hide, but this 1st summer Black-headed Gull was strutting round right outside to prove that they do indeed get their chocolate brown head in their 1st summer, but much later than the adults. There were also a few Common Terns flying to and fro to add to the activity.

Out on the reservoir were two pairs of Coot and the two males were were obviously having a territorial dispute, although with 1200 acres of water at their disposal seems a little unnecessary. Interesting to see that one of the females just sat and and watched from a safe distance.

On the foreshore was a rather smart Pied Wagtail which was collecting food for its young, although the nest must have been a long way away.

But then one of the stars of the show, a male Yellow Wagtail, turned up and gave a fantastic display right in front of the hide, and further along the trail a female gave us a watchful eye on one of the fences. The Yellow Wagtail is certainly one of the most exotic UK breeding species.