Monday, 22 June 2015

Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour

For the third time this year, this evening I found myself birding at Pagham Harbour, in West Sussex for yet another rare bird. Yesterday news broke of a Terek Sandpiper in Pagham but I was busy doing a bird ringing display on the Leckford Estate, in the Test Valley, and just could not get away. Fortunately, Terek Sand is a species I have seen a few times in the UK, including in Hampshire, and also on various foreign trips. I haven't seen one for a few years now, so again, I was keen to see it. With the bird being just down the road, I decided to go after work, the bird was in view almost immediately after I arrived. It was feeding on the edge of a shingle spit in the middle of the estuary, and would occasionally go out of view, but was generally showing well when it was in view.

According to Birds of Sussex this is the fourth record for the County; the previous records were 1951 at The Midrips, 1969 at Church Norton and in 2008 again at The Midrips. There appears to be a bit of a theme here! Although the light was good and the bird was close enough for scope views. it was a little too far for my trusty 400mm Canon lens so the images have been heavily cropped, but at least I got some images.

Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour
Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour
Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour 
Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour
Terek Sandpiper - Pagham Harbour

The Hudsonian Whimbrel was still in the harbour also, but by the time I had finished watching the Terek it had walked out of view, so I didn't try for it, but instead headed home from yet another successful twitch.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

A stag in the moth trap

With the euphoria of yesterday still very evident I headed to Manor Farm Country Park to check the moth trap. Duncan, the site ranger, had put it on last night, but as I hadn't run it at this location for over a year I was intrigued to see what was in it. It had been a mainly overcast night from midnight, which meant it was mild and therefore I was optimistic of a good haul. It turned out to be just that, with over 150 moths of 50 species trapped. However, it was not the moths that stole the limelight but a stunning male Stag Beetle, which had presumably been 'blinded by the light'!

I have seen Stag Beetles at Manor Farm Country Park before, but never in large numbers, and not for a few years so this beast was a real treat. It was an absolutely pristine individual with complete antlers and antennae, and was a pretty docile beast that posed beautifully.

Stag Beetle - Manor Farm Country Park
Stag Beetle - Manor Farm Country Park
Stag Beetle - Manor Farm Country Park
Stag Beetle - Manor Farm Country Park

The moths were pretty dull by comparison, even with single Pine and Lime Hawkmoths in the trap. A scattering of migrants were in the trap, including Rush Veneer, Silver Y and Small Mottled Willow along with a few woodland species; Brindled White-spot, Little Thorn, Bordered White and Crambus lathoniellus. The most abundant species was Scorched Wing with 27, followed by Orange Footman with 16. Treble Lines, White Ermine, Ingrailed Clay, Pale TussockHeart and Dart and Buff Tip were also well represented. 

Lime Hawkmoth - Manor Farm Country Park
Angle Shades - Manor Farm Country Park
Brindled White-spot - Manor Farm Country Park
Little Thorn - Manor Farm Country Park
Bordered White - Manor Farm Country Park
Crambus lathoniellus - Manor Farm Country Park
Peppered Moth - Manor Farm Country Park
Scoparia ambigualis - Manor Farm Country Park
Small Mottled Willow - Manor Farm Country Park

Other species recorded included Light Emerald, Willow Beauty, Green Silver-lines, Small Magpie, Large Yellow Underwing, Scalloped Hook-tip, Spectacle, Dark Spectacle, Peppered Moth, Common Wainscot, Light Brocade, Gold Triangle, Shoulder-striped Wainscot, Buff Ermine, Clay Treble-lines and Chinese Character.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - Acres Down, Hampshire

There is something about wheatears that always fills me with a touch of excitement, but when they are rare, in Hampshire and a Hampshire and British tick, you can imagine, my excitement was near bursting point. I had a busy day planned but news of an 'Eastern' Black-eared Wheatear Oenanthe hispanica melanoleuca at Acres Down in the New Forest, meant that all plans went out of the window, and boy was it worth it. An absolutely cracking 'dark-throated' spring male giving fantastic views. There was nothing cryptic about this bird, it was just stunning, and a species I have been waiting to see in Hampshire for a long time. 

According to the Birds of Hampshire (Hampshire Ornithological Society, 1993) there have been three previous records of Black-eared Wheatears in Hampshire, at Farlington Marshes in 1954 and 1987, and at Keyhaven in 1992, although this latter one had not been accepted at the time of publication but was considered by HOS to be acceptable. All of these previous records were considered to have been Western Black-eared's O. h. hispanica . All have only stayed for one day so there was no messing with this one and leaving it till tomorrow, and let's face it, just look at it, why would I risk it!

Eastern Black-eared Wheatear - Acres Down
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear
Eastern Black-eared Wheatear

Friday, 12 June 2015

A Hudsonian Whimbrel and Kestrel Pulli

For the second time this year the British Isles has been graced by the presence of a Hudsonian wader. In May I twitched the Hudsonian Godwit in Somerset, which was a cracking bird and not a species I thought that I would ever see in the UK. This week news broke of a possible Hudsonian Whimbrel at Pagham Harbour in West Sussex. It was not long before it was confirmed and so being only 25 minutes down the road I had to go. 

Hudsonian Whimbrel is a species I have seen many times in the USA and Canada, but this was only the 9th record in the UK, so not a species I had expected to see, and so close to home. It is a cryptic species, that is very similar to Eurasian Whimbrel, but with good views is actually quite straightforward to identify.  In flight the back, rump and upper-tail coverts are concolourous with the mantle and therefore very different from Eurasian Whimbrel that has a white rump and the distinctive 'V' up its back. The underwing, auxiliaries and flanks are also densely barred with a ground colour that is warmer than that of Eurasian Whimbrel. When not in flight the striking head pattern should be the first clue to a bird being a Hudsonian Whimbrel, since it is much stronger, with the pale/white supercilium and crown stripe contrasting strongly with the darker feathers. 

I nipped down to see this bird on Wednesday morning, and it was interesting to see how obvious the head markings were. I was unable to get any photos of it unfortunately but as it is still there I hope to pop down again for a second look and may get some.

Today (12th June) I popped into Manor Farm Country Park to check the Kestrel boxes and see how they were getting on. If you remember, two weeks ago the chicks were too small in one box so I didn't check the other. Today, the chicks in the first box were doing very well, and we were able to ring four very healthy chicks. There were five much younger chicks in the second box, one of which was half the weight of the others, and may not survive, but they were all big enough to ring, so fingers crossed they will all fledge.

A brood of four Kestrels - Manor Farm Country Park
A brood of five (smaller) Kestrels - Manor Farm Country Park

After ringing and a quick stroll around the woods I headed home and opened a net in the back garden. It had been a dull and humid morning and by mid afternoon, when I got home, there was a little bit of moisture in the air but no wind, so almost ideal. I only ended up catching about ten birds, which included juvenile Blue and Great Tits and Great Spotted Woodpecker, also adult Greenfinch, Robin and Nuthatch. In recent weeks I have had four Stock Doves feeding in the garden, today one strayed into my net, as did a Wood Pigeon for comparison. The iridescent green on the side of a Stock Dove's neck really is quite striking and it lacks the white that is present on Wood Pigeon. Note also the iris and bill colour.

Stock Dove - Funtley
Wood Pigeon - Funtley

Whilst waiting for birds to fly into the net I worked my way through the moth trap, that I had left out overnight. I had caught over 100 moths with nothing particularly of note. The highlights for me were Marbled Brown, which is not that regular in my garden and a few migrant species, Diamond Back Moth and Rush Veneer. The main highlight though was a Dusky Cockroach, a species that I have occasionally caught in the past, but never that frequently. This is one of three native cockroach species in the UK, the others being Tawny and Lesser Cockroach. There are of course pest species that have colonised so it is always worth checking if you find one in your house, to make sure it's not a native species.

Dusky Cockroach - Funtley

Monday, 8 June 2015

A buff moth and other bits and bobs on the Isle of Wight

The last three days have been what I can only describe as pretty full on. Friday started with an early start and late finish on Friday. It continued with an early-ish start and a full day on Saturday and another full day on Sunday.

Friday 5th June - Today began with a 6am start in order to carry out a breeding bird survey on a nearby estate. The birds recorded during the survey were not particularly noteworthy, with Garden Warbler, Yellowhammer and Stock Dove the best species. The star was in fact a mammal, in the form of an adult Badger that was still out feeding in broad daylight. Earlier we had also found a dead badger cub, which was not such good news, and we did wonder whether the adult badger was searching for the cub, but can only speculate on that. Its fur was a bit ruffled but there was no obvious sign of injury, a shame to see that it had died at such an early age. After the survey I checked a Barn Owl box for any sign of breeding, it was full of pellets and some down feathers, but no chicks.

After the survey I headed back to the office until 3pm, and then a team of us headed off to the Isle of Wight ferry. We had been asked to help out with surveys to monitor the rare Reddish Buff moth, which now only occurs on the Isle of Wight. Rob, Ed, Megan and I packed our kit and set off to meet Jamie on the Island for what was likely to be a long night. We got to the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trusts (HIWWT) Ningwood Nature Reserve at 8pm and set up ready for dusk. This reserve is one that I had not visited before and it was nice to be moth trapping whilst being serenaded by Common Nightingales and screeched at by a hunting Barn Owl. Unfortunately, the weather was not ideal, it was quite breezy and with a clear sky the temperature dropped fast, to a low of 5.2 centigrade by midnight. But it was worth the effort, as we recorded two male moths, one in a mercury vapour trap and one in an actinic.

Those of you that are into mothing will know that the Reddish Buff moth is not one of the most glamorous moth species, in fact it could be described as one of the dullest. But it is now an endangered, Red Data Book Species and protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended). Our work was covered under a Natural England licence and was part of a monitoring project to assess the success of the on-going conservation work. It was good to catch two, but further survey visits throughout its flight period will hopefully record more.

Reddish Buff Moth - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight
As well as the Reddish Buff, we recorded 25 other species, the noteworthy ones being Bordered Straw, Dark Swordgrass, Silver Y, Orange Footman, White-pinion Spotted and Four-dotted Footman. We called it a night before 1am as the temperature had dropped too low by that point.

Saturday 6th June - Despite finishing at 1am we had left some traps running and so returned in the morning to check on our haul. As expected there was very little in the traps, the most noteworthy being another (or the same) Bordered Straw, Silver Y, Small Square Spot and a Mottled Beauty.

Bordered Straw - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight

We had purposefully booked a later ferry home and spent the next hour wandering around the site looking for more Reddish Buff moths and other Lepidoptera. Obviously being daylight it was now the time of the butterfly but we did record Speckled Yellow, Mother Shipton and Straw Dot moths. Butterflies were not abundant, but what we did see were all quality species with Small Heath the commonest, followed by Grizzled Skipper, Common Blue and single Brimstone and Large Skipper. The Brimstone was in the throes of egg laying and would settle in to the vegetation between laying each one. Jamie and I did also get a glimpse of a fritillary that I thought was Glanville, but it was quickly lost from site in the windy conditions. I was convinced it was a Glanville but Jamie mentioned that Small Pearl-bordered had also previously been recorded on the site, so I guess it could have been one of those.

Small Heath - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight
Large Skipper - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight
Grizzled Skipper - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight
Brimstone Butterfly (resting after egg-laying) - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight
Brimstone Butterfly egg - Ningwood Common, Isle of Wight

Another of our target species for the trip was Glanville Fritillary so our next destination was Wheeler's Bay, near Ventnor. We stopped en-route at the Trust's offices at Bouldner to pick up some bits, and ticked off Red Squirrel, although I dipped on that, and then headed across the Island. By now the wind had really got up, but the sun was out and before long we had picked up our first Glanville Fritillaries. They were staying low sheltering in the vegetation but in the good light we were able to get some decent shots. The underwing of fritillaries can often be their best side, unfortunately where it was quite chilly whenever they landed they would always open their wings to bask so I didn't manage to get any shots.

Glanville Fritillary (Male) - Wheeler's Bay, Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary (male) - Wheeler's Bay, Isle of Wight
Glanville Fritillary (Female) - Wheeler's Bay, Isle of Wight

There were of course plenty of other bugs to see with Eurydema oratum being the most striking. There are several similar species of shieldbug like this but as I understand it the greyish coloured stripes down the sides of the wings are consistent in this species. Apparently this is a recent arrival to the UK, but is now established in  Dorset, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and other places along the south coast. It was first recorded in the UK in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, I would imagine where we saw it.

Eurydema ornatum - Wheeler's Bay, Isle of Wight

As we were concentrating on insects it was easy to overlook the vegetation. But nestled among the dog turds, which were appallingly numerous, were a few Bee Orchids. They were just starting to go over but those that hadn't been trampled were still looking good.

Bee Orchid - Wheeler's Bay, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Finally, no visit to the Island would be complete without the obligatory Wall Lizard photo. As usual they were common along Wheeler's Bay and as it was a popular walking location they were quite used to people, albeit keeping a watchful eye as this individual.

Wall Lizard - Wheeler's Bay, Ventnor, Isle of Wight

Sunday 7th June - We were pretty exhausted after the exploits of Friday and Saturday but all had to work on Sunday. Rob and I at the HIWWTs Woodfair, so no wildlife watching for for us, although we did get to go through the moth trap, where the highlight for me was a Fox Moth. Ed at HIWWT Blashford Lakes reserve, where he is a reserves officer and Megan had to do an event in Dorset for Butterfly Conservation.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Gone Batting..

This last week has been a bit like my days as a bat surveyor and full of bats. On 29th May I thought I would go for an after dark stroll around the meadow at Funtley and along the disused railway track. It was a chilly night but I still recorded three species of bats. Two of them were expected, Common and Soprano Pipistrelle but the third was a bit of a surprise, Nathusius' Pipistrelle

I was using the new Echometer Touch detector attached to my phone.  It was a complete change for me as I am used to using a Petterson D240x time expansion detector and identifying bat calls in Sonobat. The Echometer provides an instant sonogram for looking at calls as you hear them and also has an auto ID function, which appears to be pretty accurate, but I intent to test it further. Calls can then be exported to my laptop so that once again I can analyse them in Sonobat.

On Sunday 31st May I decided to go and check on the bats at Hook Barn, it was pouring with rain so I wasn't intending to go birding. I was pleased to see some fresh long-eared type bat droppings, and urine staining, indicating that bats were still using the barn. Looking up in the apex of the roof there were also two Brown Long-eared Bats; one awake and one roosting.

Brown Long-eared Bat - Hook Barn
Brown Long-eared Bat droppings
Torpid Brown Long-eared Bat - Hook Barn

Last night (2nd June) I had to do a bat survey in Selborne. I was checking a building for emerging bats but also recorded any other bats passing by. As it turned out I did not record any emerging bats but did record three species foraging, Common Pipistrelle, Serotine and a Natterer's Bat.
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