Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas In Skipton

Made it through the snow and ice earlier in the week up to the snowy, icy wastes of Yorkshire.  Much colder than down in the South and a lot more snow around.

Staying with friends in Carleton, a small village just across the River Aire and the Leeds Liverpool Canal from Skipton.  This is one of many snowy walks around the area.  Pintail, mallard and mute swan on the river, which was pretty much frozen, although it's normally a fast flowing river.

The valley is surrounded by heather covered hills, currently covered in snow and only a few weeks ago this areas was covered in water as the valley is prone to flooding.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Lighter Snow Fall

Today's snowfall is not nearly as heavy as the previous one.  Not much more than an inch in this part of Sussex - although over on the Hampshire border they've had 4-5 inches.  A mixture of sleet and snow and more slush than anything.

Still, I was out topping up the feeders, filling up the bird bath and making sure the birds are fed before I got my breakfast.  Lovely to watch them in the garden - a regular stream of the usual visitors - blue tits, great tits, chaffinch, three greenfinch, similar number of goldfinch and house sparrows, a pair of blackbirds.  Three woodpigeons descended at one point and swaffed everything up.  Four collared doves squabbling over pole position - literally sometimes, as one sits rather precariously on top of the pole feeder, having been booted off the other feeders by the woodpigeon.

The sun is now out and it's thawing. More snow forecast but hope it doesn't impact on Christmas travel plans.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

White-Tailed Eagle On Amberley Brooks

After the cold and snow I thought I'd risk a jaunt over to Pulborough to see if the ice had gone and any of the ducks had returned.

It was a few degrees above freezing and the ice was thawing out on the Brooks but not completely and there were only a few ducks out in the open patches of water.  A few pairs of pintail, a couple of shelduck and shovelers and plenty of teal and canada geese.

The peregrine was in its favourite perch and had recently killed a teal, which it was busily eating, being watched from the hanger by a larger group of visiting birdwatchers.  A sparrowhawk flew in to take a look or to chase it off and shortly after it dropped what was left of the teal and flew off towards Coldwaltham.

The only waders were two or three dunlin out on the ice - just about managing to keep their footing.  The wigeon were over on the fields by Winpenny and there were plenty of fieldfare and redwings feeding on the berries along the edge of the Brooks.  No sign of the large numbers of snipe that had been spotted earlier in the week.

The highlight of the day was of course the white-tailed eagle over on Amberley and my first ever twitch.  Dave and Graham were off to see it as made my way down to the hides.  Having established there really was an eagle and they weren't joking, I decided to join them later.  After all who knows whether it would still be there when they got there.  Surely it must be another of the escapees that seem to inhabit this valley - causing amusement and excitement?

Twitchers at Amberley
After getting frozen out on the Brooks - I headed back to the Visitor's Centre to find that most of the staff had already been out to Rackham to view the eagle and it was still there.  Following Sue's instructions I arrived to find Dave and Graham were still there - along with about a dozen other birders.  All abandoning (and probably gratefully) the Christmas shopping in order to view a rare visitor to Sussex.

It was huge!  Just as I turned up, it had taken off and was being mobbed by crows, so you could see just how big it was, before flying back into one of three trees out on Amberley Brooks.  Several sizes larger than a buzzard and made the crows next to it in the tree look tiny.  There were also three Ruff out on the meadows, slightly closer than the eagle and a herd of the dark fallow deer moving around on the Brooks - oblivious to the large bird of prey sitting the tree above them.

Much speculation as to what it was doing there - definitely not a Scottish eagle, it didn't have wing tags - possibly a young Scandinavian bird that had headed south and by-passed Scotland due to the cold weather conditions - apparently the fact it was an escapee had already been discounted.  It was identified as being a 2nd year juvenille - grey bill, some white on the tail.  Glad someone was there verify the details.  It was a long way off and I could just about make out it's lighter bill and paler breast.

Back to Pulborough in time for a cup of tea and bread pudding - still warm from the oven!

Related links:


Thursday, December 02, 2010

Heavy Snowfall In Sussex


Not as heavy as some parts of the country but to see this amount of snow on the coast in Sussex is unusual.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Birds In An Urban/Suburban Garden

No matter how big or small or where your garden is located, you can still attract birds to your garden.  You might not get hundreds of species but there's still great pleasure to be had from watching your regular visitors and their habits.

Many urban birds that were a common sight are now in danger and the hundreds and thousands of people who regularly feed birds in their gardens are helping to preserve many of them.


Starling, house sparrow, song thrush, cuckoo and skylark - birds we're all familiar with are on the Red List.  Swallows, house martins and dunnock are on the Amber List.

Even if you live in a suburban area, birds don't distinguish between countryside and towns.  As long as there is food available and places to nest they'll be there.

Put out the feeders, have a little patience and see what turns up.

Related links:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Waterlogged Inside And Out

Many thanks to the hardy few who turned out on a grey and drizzly Sunday for some light clearance of scrub regrowth up on the E-piece.

It started out looking as if, optimistically, it might be a reasonable day.  Although light rain/showers were forecast there was some blue sky and the clouds were lifting shortly before we all met up.  Inevitably, having decided to go ahead, the drizzle set in and became heavier and more persistent.

After a couple of hours and soaked to the skin - we decided to call it a day and headed back to warmth and to dry off.  We managed to clear an area at the top of the slope of small blackthorn, hawthorn seedlings and the more vigorous elder.  Hopefully the rabbits can take over and keep it down.

A great effort despite the weather and limited numbers.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

It's All Happening Today

Now the chiffchaff has turned up and is in it's favourite shrub picking insects off the leaves and branches and being quite acrobatic in the process.  It's so close that my binoculars won't even focus on it.  Lovely little bird and always nice to see such a delicate bird in the garden, which doesn't happen very often.

It's been joined by one of the blue tits and even the coal tit has now appeared in the ribes, pecking away on a sunflower heart before flying off to the woods.  None of them are taking much notice of the fat balls - at least not yet.

One of the pleasant distractions of being able to work from home.
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Wet And Windy Breakfast (And Another First!)

The birds are back in the garden.  After a lull last month when they're more likely to be making the most of the autumn harvest, with the drop in temperature they're back in the garden.

The fat wood pigeon is pecking at the fall-out on the ground.  The blue tit flits too and fro from feeder to bush - there appear to be two of them but they're hard to keep track of sometimes.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) Princetown, Devon, E...Image via Wikipedia - photo by AvicedaOMG a coal tit just did the same! And b**gger me - I'm sure that was a nuthatch!  Only caught a glimpse of it's beak from the other side of the feeder.  Two more firsts for the garden!

You're getting the action as it happens, as I sit here eating breakfast, watching the feeders.  The house sparrows have also now flown in for their breakfast and a great tit is also out there with them.

The greenfinches tend to be more sedate - taking their time, pecking seed but also having challenging the other birds on the feeders - other greenfinches and sparrows.   There's also a dunnock moving around in the bushes.

The blackbirds are also back (not right at this moment) but they'll make regular visits until the berries are gone - both on the fence and in the front garden, so I can look out for them from the sitting room window - and anyone else who decides to turn up.

Final visitor for breakfast is the goldfinch - delicately picking at the niger seed, which he gets all to himself.  I've also counted four blue-tits now and a male chaffinch has also flown in to compete with the wood pigeon.

Well the coal tit is still around, so hopefully that will become a regular visitor.
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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Lullington Heath

A change of location for today's task - from Blackcap where we were a couple of weeks ago to Lullington Heath NNR, north of Friston Forest and a combined task with the Eastern group and Lou Parkinson from Natural England.

A much colder start to the day than the mild weather we've had for the past few days but not yet requiring the thermals.  Also an earlier start than normal as I'd agreed to meet the Eastern Group at Seven Sisters rather than drive over to Stanmer only to drive back this way.

And with an earlier start we were out on the hill and working just after 10.  The others didn't turn up until 11!  Clearing scrub around Old Winchester Pond but some discussion about just how much scrub we needed to clear.

Although the idea was to open up the view across the reserve - birds and wildlife in general need a bit of cover and walkers could also benefit from a few sheltered patches - especially on exposed areas of the Downs.

We focused on the gorse, bramble and regrowth of hawthorn and blackthorn, clearing it back from the pond and also clearing a path along the fence-line.

The fire took a while to get going but by lunch-time was roaring away.  We quickly cleared away everything that had been cut in the morning and also dragged out scrub that had been cut and left from an earlier task.

Finished off earlier than normal and headed off back to Seven Sisters - still stinking of smoke and with a few more scratches.  One knee resembling a pin-cushion but all aches and pains and odours washed away with a good soak and should sleep like a log.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Twitchers A Very British Obsession

Training spotting for birders?

Just watched BBC4's programme "Twitchers A Very British Obsession".  Now I love my birds, I enjoy spotting different species and yes, I do make lists of the birds I see when I'm out and about but I'm not that obsessed. 

I wouldn't class myself as being vaguely Twitcher-ish.  For me it's about what I see and observe it the natural environment.  You never know what might turn up and occasionally it's a rarity but you wouldn't get me jumping in the car and driving for 15 hours just to tick off a bird which is essentially in a totally alien environment and stands little chance of survival.

Yes, I enjoyed seeing the snow-geese and bar headed goose over at Pulborough last year - although they were highly unlikely to have flown in 'accidentally' - more likely escapees from a nearby collection.
Let's face it, I have enough trouble identifying some of the migrant waders and I'd get excited if I saw a long-tailed tit in the garden ... so perhaps the appeal of twitching isn't the same.

The idea of hordes, in fact often hundreds of 'twitchers' all directing their scopes at some poor bird in a bush,  just doesn't appeal.  It's a bit like watching animals in a zoo.  You get to see creatures you'd probably never see in real life but it's not really 'real'.

I did come across a horde of twitchers (what is the collective name for twitchers?) at Farlington Marshes.  It was years ago and there was a rare warbler in the said bush - I think it might even have been a Cetti's Warbler.

That said - some of these twitching rarities have now become commonplace.  Little Egrets were a rare sight not so very long ago and I remember getting excited seeing my first Egyptian goose (another escapee) up in Norfolk and that Cetti's Warbler is not as rare.

I've no idea how many birds I've seen so far.  I might get a little competitive and notice when I hit a personal best at Pulborough but that's about it ... maybe I ought to update my Life List ...
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

RSPB Feed The Birds Day

Today is the RSPB's Feed The Birds Day.  With the clocks going back this weekend, now is the time to clean off those feeders, stock up on good things to keep your birds happy over the winter.

http://www.rspb.org.uk/feedthebirds/

If we have another cold winter many birds will rely on food sources from gardens to survive.  You may also get to see birds you don't normally see.  Fieldfares and redwings were frequent garden visitors last year.

  • Clean your feeders and tables regularly to avoid build up of mouldy food and disease.
  • Provide clean, fresh water for drinking and washing.
  • Put out a variety of different food from a variety of feeders to attract different birds.
  • Don't be too tidy - seed heads provide food and hiding places for insects. 

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First Garden Goldcrest

A lucky spot in the garden today - a little goldcrest in the flowering currant (Ribes) near the backdoor.  I just happened to be taking a break from work and it caught my eye as I walked past.  Only a brief glimpse as it then disappeared from view.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus)Image by nutmeg66 via Flickr
It's the first time I've seen one in the garden - having seen them at Pulborough last weekend.  There are plenty of trees around, so it's not too surprising - I've just never spotted one in the garden before.  Of course they are pretty small and could be easily missed.

Who knows what's out there when I'm not watching.
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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rainbows Over Pulborough

Over to Pulborough for a little bird watching - not realising that it was Autumn Fair day, so the car park was packed to overflowing and I was parked out along the access road.

Great for business as it meant things were busier than usual and a few more people venturing out onto the reserve.  I started to rain just as I arrived - only a shower so it didn't stop me heading on out to the reserve.

I have to say there wasn't a huge amount out there today.  Plenty of the usual suspects - large numbers of wildfowl had arrived but no waders.  Not a single one!

Lovely to see so many pintail and the wigeon are wonderful with their gentle calls.  Teal, shoveler and shelduck also out on the water and a large number of lapwing on the banks.


Another shower or two during the afternoon, followed by sunshine resulted in an amazing double rainbow above Pulborough.  The photo really doesn't do it justice but you can just about see the second rainbow forming.  It became much brighter and the main rainbow formed a complete arc over the North Brooks.

A few highlights even without the waders - a bullfinch sitting in the bushes just below The Hanger and also a couple of redwings feeding with three song thrushes and what we think was a fleeting glimpse of a fieldfare as it few past.  A buzzard also flew over a couple of times - being given a hard time by the crows but not bothering the other birds.

In the woods and bushes along the way I also spotted nuthatch, a treecreeper and several goldcrest which is quite unusual.  They're often up in the tops of trees and hard to see.


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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Blackcap

Before
Another trip to Blackcap, near Lewes and more scrub-clearance.  A fairly small patch to clear which was overgrown with bramble, some small trees and bushes and plenty of willow-herb and wild marjoram which added a lovely scent to our work.

We were being 'buzzed' by the hang gliders who were flying up and down along the ridge all day.  Two or three of them whizzing by at great speed.

There was also a sparrowhawk flying along the woodland edge and calls from woodpeckers (green and greater-spotted) throughout the day as well as smaller birds wondering where their cover had disappeared.

After
There were only four of us + Gary (with the brush-cutter) but in just a few hours we managed to clear most of the slope.  Luckily most of it was pretty light stuff and burnt well.  Great views across the Weald in a mix of Autumn sunshine and later showers.
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Friday, October 15, 2010

Blog Action Day 2010: Water and Wildlife

London Wetland CentreImage via Wikipedia
Whilst we're busily washing our clothes, drinking our cappuccinos and tapping away on our computer and smartphones, we're using up a precious resource.

Less that 1% of the world's water is available as fresh water and with a rapidly expanding population there are more and more demands being placed on this limited resource.

As people compete for resources, wildlife and nature come under even more pressure.

Worldwide, wetlands cover 6% of the world's surface, an area larger than the USA.  Half their area has been lost in the last century.
  • 300-400 million people live close to or depend on Wetlands.
  • Rice provides 20% of the world's dietary energy and is grown on wetlands.
  • 40% of fish species come from freshwater habitats.
  • 5 million people die each year from poor water supply.
They are an important ecosystem for people and wildlife, providing feeding sites for hundreds of thousands of birds.  These ecosystems collapse as water is extracted for agriculture and manufacturing.

We build on natural floodplains, drain marshy areas for redevelopment, concrete over large areas and build up river banks.  Rivers, lakes and floodplains slow down and absorb floodwater.  Wetlands absorb storm surges and coastal flooding.  Without them, the impact on loss of life, lack of clean water and disease is far greater as is the cost of clean-up and repairing the damage.

Today is Blog Action Day - one day in the year when blogs focus on one topic.  This year it's water.  Help reduce your consumption and preserve this precious resource.

Related links:

Blog Action Day 2010 for more blogs and info.
Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust saving wetlands for people and wildlife across the world.
Check your Water Footprint - http://www.waterfootprint.org
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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where Were All The Birds?

Just back from a week in Turkey on the south-west Aegean coast and disappointing from a birding point of view.  Not that I was there for that purpose but it's always nice to see different species when you're in a new place, especially abroad.

There was very little around - perhaps it's just not the right time of year or it's just not a good area.  It was a very touristy, purpose built resort, so I wasn't expecting flocks of rare or exotic species but a few residents would have been nice.

There were certainly plenty of magpies and sparrows.  Hooded crows were a common sight away from the town but there was a lack of raptors which I'd hoped and expected to see.  A fleeting glimpse of a falcon-like bird on a bus journey was at close at it got.  There were egrets along some of the wetter areas and grey wagtails at the poolside in the resort.

My friend heard a nightjar one night and there was a small owl of some description near to our apartment in the evening - heard but not seen.

We weren't too far from the birding sites of Lake Bafa and the Menderes Delta but didn't have the time or transport to get there - we were more focused on enjoying the break, relaxing and taking in a few archaelogical sites.

There was evidence of storks in many of the towns with nests on any tall structure and some columns built for the purpose.  They storks themselves were long gone - back to Africa.



Turkey is meant to be great for birds but they weren't much in evidence.
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Sunday, September 26, 2010

RSPB Arne - Osprey and Spoonbills

RSPB Arne Reserve,Image by Lisa Lawley via Flickr
A lovely sunny day with a cool Autumn chill and a perfect opportunity to stop off at the RSPB's reserve of Arne on my way back from Dorset.  Situated on the western edge of Poole Harbour, it's not that well sign-posted but head out of Wareham to the village of Arne, along a pretty much single-track road across heathland and you'll find it.

The small main car-park was pretty full when we arrived.  No doubt  people were there to see the osprey - which we had too - well I had, not sure about my travelling companion who was along for the ride.  First stop was the hide across Coombe Heath where two of them had been seen during the week.  The heather is almost over but there still a few splashes of purple around and the Autumn colours have just started to appear.  Swallows and house-martins still around in numbers and plenty of small birds.

Within minutes of entering the hide, the osprey put in a brief appearance - it flew gradually closer over the inlet and then headed off out of sight.  A buzzard circled high up over the trees but no more osprey.  Never mind - it was enough to have seen it.  My first sighting of an osprey in this country.

Back to the car park where we were pointed in the direction of the roosting tawny owl - way up in the top of a pine tree on the edge of the heath, near to the car park.  All you could see was a dark blob in the trees and it's feathers.  A few smaller birds, including a nuthatch spotted it and started calling loudly before moving on ... as did we, for a walk to the other part of the reserve.

Past a herd of Sika deer feeding in the fields, around the farm and onto the shore near Shipstal Point.  Here out of the wind and in the sunshine it was lovely and warm.  The tide was in, so very little mud for the waders around.  A few gulls, little terns and cormorants taking off overhead. On the saltmarsh little egret and a curlew.

From the viewpoint up on the heath there's a wonderful view of the reserve, Bournemouth on the far shore
and island in Poole harbour along with the expanse of salt marsh and mud flats.

At the other hide - overlooking the saltmarsh I spotted the spoonbill.  When we first arrived they had their heads tucked in, so looked much like the egret - although their size and stance probably gave them away.  As they stuck their heads out to preen, their spoon bills were clearly visible and in the end there was a flock of ten standing together.  Resting up on the saltmarsh were hundreds of curlew, well, certainly a hundred or so - they were everywhere.  A few of them were out feeding along with oystercatchers and four dunlin busying themselves along the edge of the mud flats.

The occasional black-tailed godwit also came in to view - especially from the higher of the two hides where there are really good views of the roosting birds waiting for the tide to drop.  Dozens of cormorant and oystercatchers, plenty of little egrets with their bright yellow feet, a few shelduck and teal.

All in all a great few hours at a lovely reserve with a mix of heathland, woodland, saltmarsh and mudflats - I'll certainly be back.
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Friday, September 24, 2010

Working Horse Day - Telscombe Tye

A pair of Shire horses ploughingImage via Wikipedia
Come along to the WORKING HORSE DAY on Telscombe Tye, tomorrow Saturday - 25th September starting at 10.30 am.

Follow the horses and help plant the seed. Ice cream and light refreshments available. Cart rides for children and adults.

All are welcome and we look forward to seeing you there.
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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Marsh Harrier And Flycatchers

Western Marsh Harrier, female or juvenile.Image via Wikipedia
Fantastic day over at the RSPB Pulborough.  Not only was the weather great - a cool start but warmed up nicely but a very special sighting of a juvenille Marsh Harrier out on the North Brooks.  Lovely dark chocolate colour with a light, creamy head.  Another first for me, although not a rare sight here.  Pulborough is always full of surprises.

Also out there in amongst the teal and mallard were a couple of shelduck, a single snipe, dunlin and a green sandpiper as well as a fleeting glimpse of the Hobby flying up over the trees.  Two barnacle geese were also feeding in with the canada geese.
It was extremely cold under the trees at Jupps View which was out of the sunshine the other side of the trees, so we warmed up at the picnic area and were treated to a brief view of a Brown Hairstreak - we even found an egg!  A lovely male Brimstone also flew in and settled on a bramble and there were Speckled Woods and dragonflies around too (see how that butterfly course has come in handy).  There were also three spotted flycatchers in the picnic area - flitting out from their perches around the area.

 I was joined for lunch by parents who haven't visited Pulborough, despite driving passed regularly - like many others.  We had the usual delicious lunch in the cafe and they loved the bread pudding too, walked off with a circuit around the reserve.  We saw the flycatchers again as well as the waders and the hobby - above the trees rather than over the brooks.

After they'd left I went over into the heathland area and watched two nuthatch feeding in the top of the conifers along with a goldcrest or two and a coal tit.  I caught a very high glimpse of a sparrowhawk circling over the heathland before moving off into the distance.  There are still plenty of swallows and house martins around on the reserve, although they won't be here for much longer.
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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Telscombe Tye - Kent Gap

The newly installed Kent gap on Telscombe Tye, at the bottom of the funeral track, leading out onto the south coast road.



Aimed at keeping unauthorised vehicles off the Tye, while allowing access for cyclists and walkers (and horse-drawn carriages - not that we get many of those on the Tye).

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Stanmer Orchard Clearing Undergrowth

Up at Stanmer this morning for another task at the Orchard.  Plenty of windfalls in the new orchard near the village and they've been busy labelling up the trees.  Some recognisable varieties like Bramley but other old fashioned varieties that you don't see very often and certainly not in your average supermarket.

Two new volunteers joined us today, so we were about eight in all.  Having collected tools we set about the undergrowth in the old orchard.

Somewhat limited with tools but all things considered we did a pretty good job in a few hours.  Amazing what you do with a couple of slashers.


Although the butterflies, beetles and crickets might not have appreciated their home and food source being cut back down to ground level.  There were quite a few common blues flying around.

A few toads were also off to find new homes.  We managed to clear about two thirds of the undergrowth - leaving the remainder for the next task group and the brush-cutters, which were due in later in the week.


We had a lunch break back in the main orchard with the chance to pick-up a few windfalls to take away with us and admire the bee-hive and the hedge-laying which was completed a couple of years ago to keep the horses out of the orchard.

It's Apple Day up at Stanmer on September 26th - a free event to find out more about apples, eat them, juice them and buy them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Three Young Goldfinch

Three immature goldfinches in the garden on one of the feeders.  Similar to the adults but without the face and chest markings of the adults.  They're also pretty 'assertive' - chasing off the pair of greenfinch that have also appeared - rowdy teenagers.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Young House Sparrow

There's a young house sparrow in the garden.  He's spending most of his time on the ground and looks slightly confused.  I thought at first that perhaps he was stunned having flown into the window but I can see a slight yellow gape and he's able to fly up on to things but seems to prefer it on the ground. Not good with so many cats around, so I'm keeping an eye out as much as I can.

He's quite happily pecking around but then stops for a nap and seems to like 'nestling' in clumps of grass or plants, as though he's missing the nest.  Perhaps he's just fat and lazy as there's so much seed on the ground below the feeders.

A few other sparrows flew in and were up on the feeder.  They seemed to ignore each other.  He's not calling or behaving like a baby when other birds are around.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Golden Ringed Dragonfly

Out in the garden in a brief spate of sunshine and spotted a large dragonfly with black and gold rings.  Now the only dragonfly I know like this having seen one at Pulborough, is the cannily named Golden Ringed dragonfly.

I've seen dragonflies, damselflies and hawkers in the garden before but I don't usually see enough of them or for long enough, to identify them.  As it's the only large dragonfly with gold and black rings I think I'm on to a safe bet with this one.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chalk Downland Butterflies

As I left Harting it was autumnally cool and misty.  Not a good day for spotting butterflies.  Fortunately as I drove further west it brightened up but arriving at Mill Hill LNR, although sunny it was very windy.

Having gathered in the correct car park we set off down the hill for a brief overview from Simon about what we were looking for.  Neatly grouping the butterflies into their six main groups with identifying features and again eliminating those we were unlikely to see.

We quickly spotted a Wall Brown - unusual but very pretty and one of the 'brown' group - along with the Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper.  Distinguished by their overall colour - brown with orange or orange with brown.

Adonis Blue
Blue butterflies were also appearing - quickly identified as Adonis and one was unceremoniously (and very carefully) grabbed by Simon, so that we could see the colour, the black lines and the underside.  In fact we were pretty much surrounded by Adonis Blue - they were everywhere!  I was expecting us to be lucky to catch a fleeting glimpse of maybe a handful.

Further down the slope, there were also the paler Chalkhill Blues and the purple tinged Common Blues.  There were so many of them that we were able to see all three, often close together.  Making it easy to see the difference between them.

Chalkhill Blue
They seemed to favour settling on bare patches of earth and lumps of dung.  We spent a happy few minutes wandering over the ground at the bottom.  Also identifying plant species from yesterday, then heading back up the hill via the slightly gentler path, rather than the straight down the slope approach - to the car park and off to our second site near Steyning.

Having negotiated the vagaries of the Steyning parking system, we wandered up the hill for a lunch stop in the sunshine watching the gliders and spotting a Hobby, catching a quick glimpse of a Green-veined White and Holly Blues on the track up.  The 'whites' are difficult to identify as they rarely settle and disappear up and away pretty quickly.

We were here to look for Brown Hairstreak and were in luck.  Neil Hulme from the local Sussex Butterfly Conservation Trust was on the site and had already spotted one.  He and a couple of others were busily photographing a female.  We joined them and got amazingly close to a  female egg-laying.

Unfortunately my photographic attempts were too blurred but you can find decent images here but I did get one of a Speckled Wood.

Speckled Wood
At 2.30 the females went back up into the trees and that was pretty much it for the day.  They're very precise with their timing and Neil knows their habits and behaviour intimately.

We walked further up the hill and then spent a good few minutes watching whatever butterflies were around.  Two Wall Brown's made an appearance, as well as several Common Blues, a Small White, Gatekeepers and Meadow Browns.

There was masses of wild marjoram which left a lovely scent as you walked through it and the bees and butterflies loved it.  I found a huge bumblebee on the marjoram.  No idea what species but it was huge.

Back down the hill to the cars.  I stopped off briefly at Woods Mill on the way back but it was clouding over and getting cooler, so not much around.  In fact very quite.  I did spot Holly Blues and a rather ragged Comma and fleeting whites.  I spent a bit of time trying to get a few shots of a male kestrel sitting on the dead tree in the meadow area.  Not great but good practice.

Further photos - http://www.flickr.com/photos/claree/sets/72157624751965448/

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Chalk Downland Wildflowers

Today's Sussex Wildlife Trust course on wild flowers of the chalk downland, started at Singleton Village Hall.  The early arrivals having set the room up, we set about important things like tea and coffee while the others arrived.

Simon Curson, our guide, gave us a brief introduction of the flower groups that we were likely to see and an excellent overview and explanation, including his two minute explanation of 'how the Downs were formed'.

Carline Thistle
If you feel overwhelmed by the pages of potential thistles, hawkweeds and hawkbits in your identification book - it's reassuring to know that actually there are perhaps just a handful of species that you're likely to see in any particular location, so once you know this you can eliminate most of the others.

We started out with a walk up the hill from Singleton, in the drizzle - making slow progress as we kept stopping every few steps to check the species on the rough grassland which was overgrown with spear and creeping thistle, field pansy, willowherb sp., woody nightshade and sow thistle sp.

Sp = species, i.e. haven't identified the exact plant but it's from that family.  A good let off when you don't want or really need to identify the specific hawkbit plant.

There was a further distraction identifying the Roesel's Bush-cricket before we finally made it onto the chalk grassland.  Long antennae = cricket, short antennae = grasshoppers.

Clustered Bellflower
Along the hedgerow was majoram with a lovely small pink flower and minty/herby scent, wild basil, hemp nettle, white dead nettle.  On the grassland, plenty of ragwort, yarrow and small clumps of self heal and wild thyme.  Back down the hill and more crickets and grasshoppers, common speedwell, scarlet pimpernel and more bittersweet/woody nightshade.  Apparently it tastes bitter, then sweet, then you're dead!  Pity the person who worked that one out?

A short comfort break before heading up the hill past the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum onto the Trundle - where we had lunch and then walked down from the car park to the strip of grassland beside the track.  In the next two hours we managed to progress a few hundred yards down the track busily identifying many of the plants we'd seen slides of and recording over 20 species in just that one area.

We also identified a few butterflies while we were at it, saw three buzzards circling overhead and watched the rain over Bognor Regis.  We finished off in time to get back to the cars before the next wave of showers hit us.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Oystercatchers, Curlew And A 'Pale' Gull?

A walk down to the seafront this evening and the tide was well out.  Plenty of seabirds roosting on the shore in amongst the seaweed or bathing in the pools - mainly herring .  A group of twenty or so adult black-headed gulls in varying stages of moult.  Some have completely lost their black heads and others still have a faint outline.

There were a few greater black-backed gulls and I think, but don't quote me on it, a glaucous gull.  Now it was a way off on the shoreline but it was definitely paler than all the other herring gulls - adults and juvenilles.  Similar size but overall pale, creamy colour rather than grey and different from all the other varieties, shapes and sizes of bird.  I'll admit that I need to get my 'seabird eye' in, as I do have difficulty with all their different stages of plumage.  It's also a bit early in the season as they tend to be more winter birds.

I did count at least 10 oystercatchers feeding along the shore, a couple of little egrets and after much scanning, a lone curlew in amongst them all.  There was a fulmar up on the cliff, a couple of rock doves and a pair of swallows flying over the clifftop.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Seafront Walk

A walk/jog/run along the seafront this morning for a change of scenery and the first piece of serious exercise in a while.  The blackberries are just starting to ripen and I picked a couple from a passing bramble on the way - the first blackberries of the year.  There were several female blackbirds in the park in what looked like a family group with one male.

The tide was in and there were plenty of gulls on the seashore along with several dogwalkers, one of whom was a lady who'd done the Brighton marathon last year and had already signed up for the next one - that put me to shame!

A few oystercatchers around and three little egrets flying along the shoreline but I was in exercise mode and didn't have my bino's with me, so other than looking at what I could see close by, I didn't see much else.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Bees And Butterflies

The wind has dropped, the sun is out and insects are everywhere.  Bees on the lavender, hoverflies on the fennel - they love it and I keep at least one large clump growing, which does result in it seeding itself all around the garden - especially if I don't dead-head it soon enough.

There are plenty of butterflies around - blue and brown ones.  They spend more time fluttering than settling, so are difficult to identify and even then, I've got the book in hand trying to work them out.  The pictures have them nicely settled with open wings and more often they've got their wings closed, not so helpful.  However, I did identify holly blue, meadow brown and a gatekeeper (two white spots in the black eyespot).

I'm doing a course this weekend on butterflies so I hope to have improved my fluttering butterfly identification skills.  Especially the little blue and brown ones you see out on the downland.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Breeding Blackbirds?

I think the blackbirds may be having another brood.  The male has just been down gathering as many seeds in his mouth as he can before flying off towards the trees.  He takes a couple for himself first before ending up with a beak-full of seeds.

Also in for breakfast are a pair of great tits (don't seem them very often), a blue tit, a pair of goldfinches and a noisy female chaffinch.  The male usually appears later in the day and is equally noisy.  My cue to check there's not a cat around.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Brean Down Country Park

At the end of the road to Berrow, bypassing the caravan, holiday and leisure park and the bird garden is Brean Down Country Park.  A large lump of rock jutting out in to the Severn Estuary.  There's a steep flight of steps from the car park and cafe at the base which takes you up on to the top and a spectacular walk along the top of the Down with it's closely cropped grass, ancient field systems (remaining as a faint outline) and steep cliffs on either side.

At the end of the point is the remains of a Fort on the seaward end.  Mainly built in the 19th Century but used during the World Wars.  The original buildings apart from being gutted are in much better condition than the crumbling concrete constructions that were built later.

From the top of Brean Down you realise how massive the Severn estuary is.  On either side is a vast expanse of water - straight ahead to Wales in one direction, to Exmoor and the Bristol Channel and up river towards Bristol.  Weston-super-Mare in the bay behind with it's newly built pier.


Thankfully there was a constant breeze otherwise it would have been extremely hot.  We spotted a lovely stonechat and a number of pipits on the way back.  There's a small herd of goats on the way up and a herd of  lovely and very impressive horned British White.

Luckily the trek up the steps and the attractions further along the beach probably put most people off, as there were relatively few people around but still some of those that were, were inappropriately dressed - although I was slightly over-dressed for the heat.  It was cool and cloudy when we left the house.
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Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spotted Flycatchers Return

The spotted flycatchers reappeared in Harting a few days ago.  Very late in the season if they've only just arrived, so perhaps they were nesting somewhere else and have moved here for their second brood.

They've certainly taken up residence in their usual nesting place by the front door and we've all got fingers crossed that this year they successfully rear their brood and the nest doesn't get attacked by magpies or jackdaws which is what happened last year.

The parent bird(s) appear every now and then on the telephone wire or on one of the over-hanging branches before visiting the nest.

Lovely to see them back again.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tame Blackbirds

I've got a very tame pair of blackbirds in the garden.  The male frequently comes down to feed when I'm sitting out and doesn't seem to be the slightest bit concerned by my presence.  Having given me a wary look he just carries on feeding.  This morning he was attempting to stuff as many seeds into his mouth as possible, so they still have young to feed somewhere.  Either first brood that should be ready to fledge by now or perhaps on their second brood.

The female has just come down too.  It's either a young female or a tail-less adult as she has no tail feathers.  Also very tame and flew up onto the trellis when I came out to top up the bird bath, watched me and then flew back down as I went back inside.

I hope they're a lot more wary if a cat appears.  In fact I've just put the bird table back out with some feed as it's off the ground and safer from the danger of cats sneaking up on them.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pulborough: Nightjars

Another great Summer BBQ for the volunteers at Pulborough.  Out in the front of the centre this time, so we didn't disturb the nesting barn owls.

After the meal several of us hung around as it got dark and went to see and hear the nightjars on the heathland. It got darker and darker and I got more and more bitten but no sign of them.  There was one distant, short churr around 10pm and after another 15 minutes I decided to give up and head back to the car.  At which point I heard one very clearly and quite close.  Finally!

We rushed round to view its perch and saw it flattened out along a branch and clearly heard it calling.  It flew off after a few minutes but it was lovely to hear it and worth staying late for.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Stunned Nuthatch

Over at my parents and the usual array of small birds on the feeders.  I brought over a large sack of seed as they get through it so fast.  Plenty of young, yellow newly fledged bluetits.

While sitting out in the sunshine a hobby flashed by.  At least, from it's fleeting shape I guessed that's what it was.   There are several swallows around although they've not nested in the bottom shed.

A little later I found a stunned nuthatch outside the back door.  It had obviously flown in to the window.  I put it in a shaded area to see if it would recover.  Sadly it looked as if it might have broken a leg and died a few minutes later.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Arundel Wildfowl

Another visit to Arundel Wildfowl Trust and quite a few changes since last time I was here.  The Wetlands Discovery Area is complete and well established with a 'quiet' path around the area and two hides close to it.  One was closed and the presence of young children running around screaming didn't exactly make it the tranquil area it was intended.

Plenty of young chicks around - mallardcoot and moorhen mainly with a few young shelduck on the ponds.  Coot and moorhen chicks that only their mum could love, nothing like the cuter and fluffier shelduck chicks.

The Scrape area has been opened up and there's a new sand martin hide overlooking the riverside pools that hadn't even been started last time I was here, although no sand martins around.

Quite a few warblers - ReedSedge and Cetti's.  There was a buzzard and kestrel flying over the woods and a number of woodland birds in the woodland walk area which comes out in the reedbed.

Probably not the best time to come on a sunny weekend when there are plenty of family and weekenders around who are more interested in feeding the exotics and fluffy duckings than being aware of the 'wild' birds.

It's probably one of the reasons why it's not one of my favourite locations.  Possibly better in the winter or on a weekday and I'd like to see what's out in the Discovery area.