Dawn Marsh Harrier

Dawn Marsh Harrier

Sunday, 28 June 2015

A Lot More at Otmoor

A morning stroll around RSPB Otmoor in Oxon with Sharpy this Saturday. A cracking reserve, well under the hour from home, Every time I visit I wonder why I don't more often. Borderline Midlands, this place has a fantastic diversity of not just birds but wildlife in general. An ideal place for ex-cricketers to have a wander and marvel at the great work of the RSPB.

Birdsong resounded from every hedgerow, field and reed bed as the sun rose and Snipe were drumming overhead but typically for this time of year birds were easier heard than seen. Warblers were everywhere. Reed, Sedge, Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden, Willow and Chiffchaff. A friendly local gave us directions to a field where Grasshopper Warblers were reeling and often showing, but we both managed to misinterpret the directions as we found out later, so the Groppers eluded us. Bittern and Common Crane had both been seen from the screens before our arrival but a hunting Marsh Harrier low over the reeds was enough to keep us happy. No sign of the Common Lizards basking on the dead wood outside the 1st screen today. Maybe warm enough that they didn't need to bask. Aside from the Marsh Harrier the raptor role call included maybe double figures of Red Kite, several Common Buzzards and a Hobby. A Raven treated us to his best sea lion impression from a poplar tree and the ever wonderful Bullfinches made regular though fleeting appearances.

In the now glorious sunshine the resident odonata were a lot more showy than the birds.

Four Spotted Chasers were abundant in a variety of colour forms. I think they do this to confuse novices like me. But I've solved the conundrum with this particular species, I've learned to count to four which has proved a cunning strategy.

Blue Tailed Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly

Broad Bodied Chaser (f)
Broad Bodied Chaser (m)
Black Darter???
The warm morning had butterflies on the wing as well.

Large Skipper

Red Admiral


Blue sp


The walk back towards the car park provided us with the bird we'd been hoping for. Otmoor is one of the few remaining places you've still got a chance of seeing the tragically declining Turtle Dove (incredibly it's LEGAL to shoot these rares gems on migration over Malta).

I can only hope that I can go to see these beautiful birds and hear their stirring purrs for years to come.

We made our way to the car park where we were tipped off by another friendly regular that there were Black Hairstreak butterflies down the Roman Road, and a Spotted Flycatcher in the MOD ground. Drive home on hold we made our way down the Roman Road. We found the spindly Ash tree he'd described and we were soon trying to follow the manic flutterings of a Black Hairstreak. It seemed determined not settle but a new species for both of us. The gate to the MOD ground where the Spot Fly had been viewed was only 50yrds away so we walked down to check it out. Sure enough, there it was.

So it was back to the spindly Ash tree in the hope of a photo opportunity. As we waited an unexpected and much wanted insect life tick appeared before us. The very aptly named Beautiful Demoiselle.

An Emerald Damselfly (I think) put in an appearance as well.

Eventually a thoroughly enjoyable morning in a thoroughly enjoyable place was made complete when a Black Hairstreak rested in view just long enough for a few shots.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bardsey & Back....& Back & Back.

Saturday 13th June. Unlucky for some. 01.00am met up with Sharpy, Bren & Dave and a 5+ hour trek to Porth Meudwy to catch a boat to Bardsley Island where a much coveted Cretzchmar's Bunting was lurking. On arrival the weather was far from mid-June like. More akin to a disappointing day in February as the rain was driven in on the cold wind. The winter coat that I grabbed as a last minute afterthought  on the way out was little help. A wet and bedraggled Kestrel sought shelter on the quayside cliff.

A choppy and wet boat crossing took us to Bardsey where it was a bit colder than the mainland. The Bunting hadn't been located by this time so it was up to us to find it. We didn't and neither did anyone else. A cuckoo being mobbed by Meadow Pipits in the plantation was as good as it got.

A slight detour through Warwickshire on the way home brought some consolation in the shape of a singing and reasonably showy Melodious Warbler.

If I had been asked to name this bird I would probably have opted for Cacophonous Warbler but it was great to listen to and a lifer for my good self so something salvaged from the day.

Needless to say the Cretzchmars was reported early the next morning and every day throughout the next week. Bren and Dave managed to get back over during the week so it was just me and Sharpy for the return trip on Saturday. The weather was looking good as we boarded the boat and indeed stayed that way for the crossing. A few Manx Shearwaters were... well...shearing the water and as we neared Bardsey there were auks aplenty including a couple of Puffins.  Always a joy.

We docked at Bardsey within about 20 mins and as we stood up to disembark the boat a few large raindrops could be felt on my bald pate. A brief passing shower I optimistically decided. Well over an hour later I was stood on a dry stone wall overlooking the lighthouse garden where the bird had been making regular appearances and I like everyone else was soaked to the bone. Unsurprisingly there was no sign of the bird and no sign of a break in the leaden skies across the Irish sea. But eventually the rain did stop and the sky became a lighter shade of grey and 'HALLELUJA' !!!....the holy grail appeared before us.

I've never seen so many smiling faces on so many drowned rats. Relief and euphoria all round. Funny ol' lot aren't we. The bunting fed in front of us for 5 mins or so before flying off but returned 10 mins later for an encore. When it flew the 2nd time it was agreed that a well earned cup of tea was in order. We set off towards the island's cafe and by now the sun was making a proper appearance. A party of resident Chough seemed to be enjoying the turn in the weather as well.

Even a great lumbering Grey Seal lifted his idle head in appreciation.

A pot of tea for two and a chinwag with fellow triumphant birders, all gradually drying out in the sun, was just what the doctor ordered. Feel good factor was in the air. With time to spare before our boat back we couldn't resist another go at the star attraction, so we made our way back to the lighthouse where our bunting friend (we weren't calling him that last week) obliged us with two more appearances. Great stuff. All's well that ends well.

Bardsey Island is a beautiful place to while away a day, especially when the sun shines and you see a Cretzchmars Bunting.

The local people who made this twitch possible for all of us deserve a great deal of praise and appreciation. Steve and his team at the obs, Colin and co on the boat and the warm and friendly lady at the cafe. This bird had them run off their feet for nearly 2 weeks and yet they could not have been more welcoming and accommodating. Many many thanks on behalf of all us loony tune twitchers.

So knackered but happy we set off homeward bound. As we approached the Welsh English boarder, Sharpy asked me to pull over as he needed to relieve himself. Fair enough I thought. When ya gotta go and all that. Little did I realise what he had in mind.

Note the red face.

Unfortunately for him the Knockin shop was closed so no pulled pork sandwiches to be had but another great day out it was. Here's to the next one.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Another Hen Harrier Murder Blights a Good Weekend

After a pleasant day in East Anglia with Sharpy last Saturday, my intention was to do this write up on Sunday morning before taking the mad wife car shopping. Unfortunately I spent Sunday morning pacing the garden like some caged bear, blood virtually boiling out of my ears, following the breaking news that YET ANOTHER male Hen Harrier had been murdered on the Bowland Estate by the Grouse Moor Mafia. Oops I shouldn't say 'murdered' should I?. After all the 4 Bowland males and the Geltsdale bird may have ALL very suddenly and coincidentally died from natural causes. That reminds me, I twitched a flock of pigs circling over Stockers lake today. The huge boar was skydancing for his sows.

These vile atrocities will never stop as long as there is such a thing as 'Driven Grouse Shooting.' Time has run out for talking, negotiating, compromising. Brood meddling? Hawk & Owl Trust hang your heads in shame. We have all but lost this magnificent creature as an English breeding species as these criminal thugs are hell bent on rendering them extinct.Evidence is like the proverbial needle in a haystack and even when prosecutions are successful, sentences are pathetic at best. Please look out for Mark Avery's forthcoming  e petition at http://markavery.info/blog/ and think about signing and persuading anyone you can think of to do likewise. Hen Harrier Day 2015 is on 9th August and the more people who could join us the more publicity we can raise. Please try if you can. Watch for further details at http://henharrierday.org/index.html.

Anyway, now that my bloods calmed to a simmer,back to Saturday and a visit to 2 of RSPB's finest. The last 2 years running, myself and Sharpy have attempted to get up close and personal with a Swallowtail Butterfly... and failed. So Stumpshaw Fen was our destination. When we arrived the sun was rising nicely but a stiff breeze wasn't a great sign. Unsurprisingly there was not a butterfly to be seen around the favoured spot outside the visitors centre, so a circuit of the reserve was in order. The first find of note was a 4 Spotted Chaser in an intermediate stage between teneral and adult giving an eye-catching colour scheme.

The breeze wasn't going to dampen the ardor of a pair of Large Red Damselflies.

This chappy caught my eye but my entomological ignorance means I'm none the wiser as to it's id. Some sort of mimic fly?

A fine male Marsh Harrier was busily patrolling the reed beds.

A Peacock Butterfly offered some hope but with circuit completed, still no Swallowtail. So back to the visitors centre to play the waiting and hoping game. Just another Peacock and the wind was now blowing a hooley. But then, like some flamboyant headline act the prized quarry appeared. It certainly packed a hefty punch of wow factor as it fluttered over the bed of Dames Violet.

So 3rd time lucky and the stunning Swallowtail finally ticked. We decided to see out the day at Lakenheath. A little Bittern was giving itself up very occasionally and well. it's just a nice place. A Hairy Dragonfly was another insect first for us.

Hobbys were out in force with displaying males being a treat to watch.

A good crowd were gathered at the Little Bittern pool and apparently the bird had shown briefly but well in a short flight half an hour before we got there. It had been singing constantly but the gale was now such that you couldn't hear it. We didn't devote too much time to this notorious skulker and carried on round the reserve. If any beetle buffs can help with this little jewel I'd be very grateful.

As we made our way back to the car park a fly past cuckoo brought a nice conclusion to the day.