Friday, 26 May 2017

26th May - Its Burning In My Heart

Summer has arrived this week!  Warm days and balmy evenings towards the end of the week, was enough to convince me to put out the moth trap.  This morning the decision proved to be a good one with several species in it.  Some old favourites and a few micro moths that I have taken the time to identify.

This is a Freyer's Pug

An aptly named Green Pug.

 A Common Marbled Carpet.

A Small Phoenix

Then some old favourites, a Buff Tip

A Peppered Moth, we have seen these almost every year since I have had the trap but they are a lovely moth.

The Pale Tussock.

These are not that frequent, but I have caught them before, a Treble Lines.

And a Bright Line Brown Eye

But it is always the anticipation of catching one of the Hawk Moths that grabs you as yo go to the trap in the morning.  With the warm weather and plenty of flowers around the garden there was always the chance, so I was pleased to find one of the favourites, a Poplar Hawk Moth.

Probably the commonest of our hawk-moths, it has a strange attitude when at rest, with the hind-wings held forward of the fore-wings, and the abdomen curved upwards at the rear. If disturbed it can flash the hind-wings, which have a contrasting rufous patch, normally hidden.

There is usually only one generation, but a partial second can emerge in the south between August and September. The adult form does not feed, and bizarrely the female comes to light before midnight, and the males after midnight, in greater numbers.  I am not sure whether this is a male or female.

Today was glorious, clear blue skies, and a warm breeze, a perfect lunch time for hopefully Damselflies at the pond, and some butterflies around Old Down Wood

As I pulled up to the pond I could see many insects over the water, but no sign of any dragonflies.  Walking around the pond on the sunny side the bushes and periwinkle on the ban was full of damselflies, mostly Azure Blues, but also a few Large Red Damselflies.  They were settling but not staying long.  Finally I manged to find one that would stay still.

The Large Reds were even more difficult, but again one stayed long enough for me.

But they were worth the wait, and I had the chance to get in close.

I was keen to find some butterflies so headed off to the Wood, as I walked up to wards Old Down Cottage a Great Spotted Woodpecker called, and I found it with a bill full of food on the telegraph pole.

The reason for its frantic calling was a apir of Crows in the Oak tree on the other side of the lane.  I can only suppose there was a nest in the tree, but I could not hear the familiar constant calling of the young in the nest hole, maybe the calls from the adult had quietened them.

I didn't go straight into the wood, but walked along the field usually a good spot for butterflies, and with todays weather I expected to see quite a few.  The reality was there were none.  It was very strange.  A little way along the path goes into an open meadow that has been left to grow, without any cutting.  The meadow looks perfect for butterflies, but today in the warm sunshine it was totally empty.

I turned back to go into the wood, and found a butterfly at the style, a Red Admiral, the first for awhile, and maybe a migrant turning up on the southerly winds we have had recently.

On the wire above the road a Song Thrush perched, and for once it stayed and didn't just fly away.

I walked through the wood with Chiffchaffs singing along the main path, and then as I headed west the song came from Blackcaps.  Once again though, no butterflies.  As I came back I saw one Speckled Wood fly past me, but that was the sum total of butterflies seen.  Not sure why, it is a strange time for butterflies.  There is the early emergers, and then about now they fade away and there is a lull before the summer butterflies such as the Meadow Browns appear.  But in the weather I would have expected some.

As I walked back to the pond I could hear the calls of a family part of Long-tailed Tits, and found them in the oak trees.

The young birds are very distinctive with a red ring around the eye, and a dark brown patch around the eye, unlike the grey of the adult.

The Long-tailed Tits all headed off, and were then replaced with a family of Blue Tits.  The young again sitting in the trees and waiting for the adults to bering them food, probably caterpillars.

I made my way back to the car, and walked around the pond once again.  There were the calls of Moorhen coming from the small pool at the back of the pond, but no sign of the Mallard family.

The Irises were now in flower, and the bright yellow petals were contrasting with the inky blackness of the water.  The Azure Blues were swarming around the flower heads, but never settled so I had to make do with just the flower.

The lack of butterflies continued once I got back home in the garden, It seemed very strange, today's heatwave was perfect for them.  But then late afternoon I wandered into the garden, and a very powerful flying butterfly was zooming around the garden, and crossing into next door and coming back.  Then finally it alighted on the plants in the pot outside the kitchen.

Wings closed at first, then they slowly opened to reveal quite a bit of wear which probably means this is a migrant just arrived, and backs up my thoughts about the Red Admiral earlier.

It was quite flitish, and set off on a circle of the garden once again, this time settling on the hydrangea leaves.

It has been around the garden for quite awhile, and persistence paid off when I finally managed to get a shot with the wings wide open.

So finally a butterfly, and a quality one, I am still a little disappointed at the lack of variety today though, I had expected much more.  Then to end the day a male Orange Tip around the flower bed at the bottom of the garden.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

16th May - The Finger Prints of Strangers

We have finally lost the cold north easterly winds, and this meant some sunshine and warmer winds over the weekend, but also a few welcomed showers.  The weekend saw a trip to the New Forest (details here), and as a result of that the possibility of an interesting story surrounding the life of a Wood Warbler which has had a geolocator fitted to find out where it spends the winter.   This is one of the many mysteries of the summer migrants that visit these shores that are slowly being unraveled by utilising the latest technology.  Hopefully I will learn more over the months.

 Monday saw some more welcome rain, but today up until about mid afternoon there were sunny spells and very warm and muggy feel.  However by the time I arrived home high clouds had rolled in, and there was even the threat of drizzle in the air.  Despite this I decided to go out for a walk.  As I left the house there were many House Martins flying around the estate, as is normally the way in still conditions when the threat of rain seems to increase the amount of airbourne insects.

I estimated well in excess of thirty birds around the houses and over the trees, which matches up with the total number of nests I have counted around the estate, in all there are 16 nests that are in the process of being repaired or being built.  Unfortunately this area does not fall into one of the squares selected by the BTO for recording.

At time the House Martins would swoop quite close over my head, making it a challenge to track them through the air.

I walked up Brislands, which now is almost completely enclosed by the leaves of the mature trees, the one tree that is still to come into full leaf are the Ash.  Every year I quote the old tale that "Oak before Ash we are inf or a splash, but if it is Ash before Oak we are in for a soak", and every year for the last five years the Oak has come into leaf first, and it hasn't made the slightest difference to the weather, with years of heavy rain throughout the summer (2012 & 2014) and average for the others.  There must though be a reason for this wives tale.

I had hoped to find the Swallows around the stables as I crossed into Old Down, but there was no sign of them at all.  In the woods it was still, and relatively quiet.  A distant Chiffchaff could be heard, and along the main path a Blackcap sang.  Sometimes known as the Nightingale of the north, the Blackcap's song is along with that of the Wood Warbler one of my favourite warbler songs, and for me very much up there with that of the Nightingale

The Blackcap belongs to the family Sylviidae, members of this old world warbler family are sometimes known as "Typical Warblers".  the genus name Sylvia is from the modern Latin name for a woodland sprite

All are strongly built, with stouter legs and a slightly thicker bill than many other warblers.  The plumage is in varying shades of grey and brown, usually darker above and paler below.  Many of the species show distinctive male and female plumage.  In the Blackcap, the male is almost all grey with the distinctive black cap, while the female has a chestnut red cap.  They are active warblers usually associated with open woodland, scrub, hedges or shrubs.

For once this male was quite happy to sing out in the open.

I decided to walk through some of the more denser areas of the wood, in the hope that I might locate some Roe Deer.  The frequency of sightings in Old Down has definitely fallen in the last 18 months, and i doubt this year I will find any family groups.  The field that is usually where the kids get is now being used for grazing cattle.

My walk took me through the woods, taking the main path, then heading out on to the southern perimeter coming out at the ash tree plantation.  I searched this area for any possible signs of Spotted Flycatcher.  This has been a productive area in the past, and the time from mid May is the best time to look for them as they pass through.  Unfortunately I couldn't find any birds let alone a flycatcher.

I took the diagonal path through the Beech trees.  There were still some Bluebells about and I had to take one more final scene before the canopy finally condemns them back to the wood floor.

We look forward to them arriving, but every year they seem to come and go so quickly.

As I walked out of the wood I passed at least two singing Song Thrushes.  Turning onto Brislands I could hear a Yellowhammer in song, and as I came from under the oak trees into the open, with the hedges on both sides of me, I thought about how this area was once a good spot for Whitethroat, and that over the last two years I hadn't seen one here.  No sooner had I had that thought a brief snatch of Whitethroat song came from the elder bush alongside me.  I stopped and could see the owner skulking behind the leaves of the Elder bush.

Then, bizarrely and quite brazenly it flew onto the hedge on the other side of the road, and burst into song.

Normally the Whitethroat is difficult to see, its country name "nettle creeper" describing its habit over moving through the brambles, nettles and hedgerows out of sight.  This individual appeared to be scolding me.

A great opportunity too for some clear and open shots.

Just like the Blackcap, the Whitethroat is a member of the Sylviidae family of warblers, and you can see the similarity in the bill, and structure.  Like the Blackcap, male and female are slightly different, the male having a grey head, and white throat, while the female lacks the grey head, and has a much duller throat.

It then moved to the top of the hedge to continue the scratchy song.

As it delivers the song the feathers on the white throat patch move revealing a darker colour beneath.

This is a bird of open country and cultivation, with bushes for nesting. The nest is built in low shrub or brambles, and 3–7 eggs are laid.  Over the last five years records have been sporadic locally, with the majority of sightings coming from the Plain Farm area.  It was good then to find this male singing here along Brislands.

It stayed quite happily singing, allowing me to get very close.

I left it singing and made my way home without anything else of note.  Around the house the House martins continued to fly, while in the air I could sense rain about to fall.  The forecast for the rest of the week is for a spell of heavy rain on Wednesday and then fresher conditions to the end of the week.  we definitely need the rain, but I hope this is not the start of a wet summer which has been the pattern in previous years following a pro-longed dry spell.