Monday, 30 June 2014

Grebe Success

Hello Ben,

We came to the Cathedral Birdwatch on the Sunday and had a great time, thanks.

We thought birders might be interested to know that the Great-crested Grebe pair, which were nesting on the lily pads at the back of Roswell Pits (near Cuckoo Bridge), now have a single chick.  they've been incubating an egg since the end of April and we thought it must have perished as the incubation time seemed far too long.  However yesterday the parents were feeding their chick small silver fish every few minutes.  It's still very downy and can't get very far underwater yet, but it has a lovely black and white striped head and neck.  What dedicated parents birds are!

Best Wishes

Valerie and Tom Sims

Photo by AJ Salveson

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Wicked Whites (and Bad Beehaviour)

Mark G had seen Marbled Whites earlier at Chettisham Meadows so, despite some extensive cloud cover, I took a look this morning.  At the reserve meadows half a dozen were active, they some how manage to fly appearing weak and flimsy but manage to cover a very large area in a short space of time without resting.  I took plenty of pics but none that I was happy with.  Returning to the car I had a look in the adjacent rough meadow and there were at least a dozen flying within a small area of grass.  These were much more confiding and really allowed us time to admire their striking monochrome complexity and I got the open wing shots that I was hoping for. On the walk we also saw 25+ Meadow Browns, 15 Ringlet, 4 White-letter Hairstreaks, 1 Purple Hairstreak, 3 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Red Admiral, 1 Comma, 7 Large Skipper and 1 Essex Skipper.

On the short journey back to Stuntney we called in to see if there were any flower heads left on the Bee Orchids off Norfolk Road, Ely.  We found only 1 but how lovely it was.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Elephants and Dragons

Two can play at this game. there's nothing i like better than a misleading headline to suck you in to a slightly underwhelming reality. What is not underwhelming though, is the outrageous colour scheme of this Elephant hawkmoth found resting in the garden- how it manages to pull off gaudy in such an understated way i do not know. Its arrival coincided with a hatching of Brown Hawker dragonflies in my pond. Five or six empty larvae carapaces still gripped the stems that they had climbed, ghosts of the submarine past, but one adult clung to its shell while it ripened from soft apple green to rich umber.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

White-letter Day

The Solstice has passed and spring's door is shut firmly behind us, a barely perceptible lull occurs before waves of returning waders and flocks of  moulting duck draw us back to the washes.  The moth traps are glowing in the gloaming and binoculars are raised to the treetops and meadow edges searching out glorious butterfly as young Buzzards take to the skies, seemingly over each and every horizon.  The White-letter Hairstreaks, that brought me great joy when I discovered them last year, are on the wing again and buzzing around the tops of the Elm and Ash in Stuntney.  So far they have only allowed me the odd, just passable, record shot as they've gone about their canopy capers but I'm hoping to find one soon, nectaring on the abundant bramble flowers beneath their chosen trees. Having spent some time with some very showy Black Hairstreaks this weekend I am relishing the child like anticipation as I wait to see if  I'm going to get a chance to really photograph these lovely, letter branded, little insects this summer.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

One Swallow makes a day

A trip over to Welney with the Wildlife Trust yesterday evening. Lovely light, with the sun beginning to drop away over the washlands. Some over-summering Whooper swans with the Mutes, plenty of Avocet and Lapwing in evidence and a fine male Black-Tailed Godwit. Two birds of particular interest. Firstly, a Little Ringed Plover, my first of the year. Secondly, a male Ruff in breeding plumage. He looked virtually jet-black against the light but there was a suggestion of perhaps some bottle-green too. He seemed to take particular issue with some Redshank and strutted about somewhat imperiously, occasionally fluffing up his throat feathers (not, I think, his ruff). Later to the Reedbed Hide, where a Barn Owl hunted nearby and Hobby dashed past. The highlight, however, was upon returning to the main obs hide to find that a Swallow had become trapped inside. I managed to gently catch it in my fleece as it fluttered against one of the large window panes. An opportunity to see one up close - it was, of course, beautiful and seemed to weigh next-to-nothing. Taking it outside it sat for a while in my hands before uttering a sharp chirrup and flying up to join its brethren.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Hawks at Welney

You'll have to forgive the misleading title. It has been business as usual around Welney this week including some busier moth catches with a nice selection of hawkmoths this morning (Elephant, Poplar, Eyed and Privet hawkmoths pictured).

As for the birds, a quick evening walk yesterday was quite productive. Still plenty of wader chicks around including some lapwing now fully capable of flight. There were also nice views of singing corn bunting, marsh harrier and garganey. One highlight of the past few days also was hearing bittern booming while walking back from the pub, coming from the washes just south of the A1101.

The barns owls seem to be doing well too, successfully taking at least three small mammals to take back to the nest in about 20 minutes.

Otherwise this weekend has been partly taken up monitoring reed warblers outside the Ely10 in my shiny new wetsuit....much cooler than chest waders but that's for a another time...

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The patio delivers again prt deux

I wasn't able to get out to do any nightjarring despite the excellent conditions, overcast, still and warm.  I wasn't able to get out to join the old boys playing football either.  I cajoled Geordie Steve to join me for a beer on the patio (phase 2) under the pergola (phase 1) and after a fly through Barn Owl and a little purring from the Turtle Dove, a Quail piped up and gave 3 rounds of it's distinctive triplet song.  It would be difficult to underestimate the hours I have accumulated listening for nocturnal birdsong hoping that I would eventually hear a Quail out there.  Ironically Whimbrel, which I optimistically thought would be an almost annual spring flyover, has also finally made it onto the garden list this evening.  A bird whistled twice on it's way over while I spent a further hour listening for the Quail to no avail.  All in all a very good way to break in the new garden hardware.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Ely Cathedral Birding

Today felt like the last day of Spring, the humidity was up and the sun was warm, undoubtedly a summers day.  We spent 6 hours birding from the top of Ely Cathedral's West Tower and showing visitors the birds of Ely from a different angle.  The day was split into a morning session from 7.30 - 10.30 and an afternoon session from 12.30 - 3.30 and during this time an hourly turnover of visitors span upwards and downwards through the tiny gothic turret.  We had done a morning session, in overcast conditions, the previous day and got a handle on how to get the best out of the big sit approach at this stunning location.  Down on the ground today the early morning was bright and we were looking forward to extensive views across the Fens, however once we were higher up it was far from clear and although in bright sunlight the visibility was very poor limited to less than two miles for much of the time.

We enjoyed plenty of Little Egret action and during the morning our count pushed into double figures with a surprising number flying over the city itself.  Jays screeched below and birdsong drifted up from the leafy parks and gardens.  A Barn Owl was seen hunting off and on over the water meadows along Queen Adelaide Way and Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were also seen in this area. The visibility did make it very difficult to pick up soaring raptors, although Buzzards were seen.  The local Marsh Harriers that had shown reasonably the day before were hunkered down or hunting beyond our visibility range and it wasn't until the afternoon session that the potential for raptor watching from the Tower was realized.

Swifts were a continual focal point throughout the day and during the early morning birds could be seen slamming the slats on St Mary's Church tower and entering and leaving nest sites.  Lots of close flypasts were thrilling as birds whizzed across the top of the tower just meters away.  The peak estimate occurred during the early afternoon with around 90 birds visible with binoculars.

On ascending the tower in the afternoon it was great to see that mist had burnt off and the visibility was now tremendous with features within the panorama allowing us to locate Cambridge to the south, Bury St Edmunds to the east, Wisbech to the north and Huntingdon to the west.  Buzzards became evident with as many as 20 sightings during the afternoon, Marsh Harriers could often be seen but required some searching as they were often lower and below the horizon, a few though did allow lengthy views moving across the whole panorama as well as the more sedentary local birds.

A Peregrine was seen over towards Haddenham and in a flurry of activity a Red Kite drifted north distantly in the same area, it or another was seen later offering prolonged views as it headed eastwards.  Hobbies were seen ripping across the skyline now and again and towards the end of the watch a bird drifted across and towards us giving great views as it flew over the tower carving between nervous packs of Swifts.

The 3 sessions of birding from the tower over the weekend were great fun.  From a birding perspective it was most akin to seawatching and I feel excited about the prospect of trying watches at different times of the year and in different conditions.  A squally NW blow in September may produce some Skua movement and visible migration counts in the autumn could be intriguing.  It was great meeting and chatting with lots of interesting folk throughout the two days who were keen to see the birds and enjoy the novel setting.

I would like to thank John, the tower guide for getting up early and looking out for our safety so well on both days. Andrew Balmford and Sallyann Ford helped greatly in getting the idea of birding from the Tower into a feasible event very quickly and big bad Ben Green continued to be great company and help in all sorts of ways throughout.  Hearty thanks to all.

It wasn't all blue skies and Buzzards....

Wonderful Welney

I do have a soft spot for Welney WWT reserve.  Mainly because it gives me the opportunity to do some birding whilst also offering cake, coffee, coloring crayons and ice cream to keep both my girls happy.   A couple of recent visits have been fluff filled with chicks and fledglings all over the place.  Little Ringed Plover young are almost fully winged but still staying close to parents and Redshank young are also pretty well on.  Lapwing fledglings are still fairly fluffy and most of the Avocet chicks I have seen have all been at the very cute ball of fluff stage.  My absolute favorite though was a Snipe chick in russet browns and blacks.  When I first picked it out, back to me and head down, slowly creeping through tangled vegetation I thought I'd found a Baillon's or Little Crake.  I wasn't so disappointed as I've seen more Baillon's and Little Crakes than I have Snipe chicks, which I shouldn't really be too proud about.

As cute as they come, an Avocet chick tries a bit of Phalaroping

I also enjoyed some ace views of singing Reed Bunting which put on quite a display to remind me what an absolute belter of a bird they are.