Monday, 4 December 2017

Carrot Prossbills

On Saturday Duncan, Mark W. and myself made an early morning trip over to Santon Downham to try and find the Parrot Crossbills that had been reported for a few days. We were nearly in luck from the off when Duncan and Mark heard one in the car-park trees, but the bird flew off. A short while later a group of 5 crossbills flew overhead but couldn't be identified further - and they weren't stopping. The next 3 hours were spent covering quite a bit of ground but to no avail. Lovely to be out, as ever, and some other avian treats, such as Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Marsh Tit, but no further sign of any crossbills - nor, by all accounts, for any of the numerous other birders that were combing the area (though a number were apparently treated to views of a confiding Otter). We had to leave around noon and, needless to say, reports came in from several locations later that afternoon. More reports followed on the Sunday.

A day off today then left me with the option of trying my luck again and the very favourable forecast tipped the balance - it was definitely going to be a day better spent outside than in the armchair. A train to Brandon and on to the Little Ouse Path. Not the best of starts to discover a sign proclaiming that the path was temporarily closed for resurfacing work. However, a sign next to it stated that the work would be completed by October 30th. Which was right? I decided to plough on as the riparian path seemed the nicer of the 2 options, offering as it did the chance of Kingfisher and perhaps even Otter. I hadn't expected such instant results as, just a short way along the path, I nearly trod on this little chap.

For all the euphoria of such a close encounter with a normally elusive creature it was immediately apparent that this was a far-from-happy Otter. There were no obvious signs of injury but I then realised that one eye was decidedly milky and the animal was also very thin. Showing no wish, or ability, to flee from me the Otter was at risk from any passing dog or bike and I was pretty sure it wasn't going to get any better by itself. A call therefore to the RSPCA who immediately despatched one of their officers. Whilst I waited for their arrival a Sparrowhawk shot by, a Chiffchaff picked through the willows and a pair of Egyptian Geese flew overhead. Fortunately, the Otter was still with us (in both senses) when the RSPCA officer arrived and she was able to box it up, ready for transit to a wildlife rescue centre. Fingers crossed that it made it and can pull through and three cheers for the RSPCA (a donation to them would surely make a better Christmas present than another pack of novelty socks).

Eventually on again and I decided not to carry on with the Little Ouse Path but instead take the safer option of the St Edmund Way (the correct decision as it turned out, as the former path was indeed still closed at Santon Downham). A very pleasant walk, much of it through deciduous woodland, the sun slanting through Silver Birch and Oak and a woodpecker drumming as I reached Santon Downham. Headed to the level crossing and then cut north into the pines, where many of yesterday's reports came from. No joy, but a pleasant enough walk and becoming decidedly warm in the sunshine. Warm enough, in fact, for a late Red Admiral to be on the wing. As I reached Harling Drove a figure approached from the west. If it had been later in the day the sense of isolation and sandy, pine-clad surroundings may have conjured up thoughts of the supernatural guardian in the BBC's adaptation of M.R. James's 'A Warning To The Curious', ready to insist that there should be "No Digging!", but in the bright sunshine it seemed more benign - even when it resolved into no less a person than Ben! He had been scouring the pines for several hours, also to no avail and had just about had enough of the pursuit. I accompanied him back as far as his car at the level crossing, but I decided to carry on the hunt.

I walked on, intending to take the riverside path further east. However, shortly afterwards beeping behind me caused me to turn, to see Ben gesturing to return and dive in his car. He'd spoken to another birder who had come back from the St. Helen's picnic site, where the Parrot Crossbills were apparently 'showing well'. Off we went and there was no doubting their continued presence, as a large group of birders had various lenses trained up into a small pine that grew out of the surrounding branches of a Beech tree. We joined the throng. The first crossbill I saw, a nice dusky red male, had a surprisingly small bill and I'd be lying if I said a little doubt didn't cross my mind. Thankfully, however, other birds popped into view and there was no doubting their credentials - bull-necked and seriously well-appointed in the beak department. The next hour or so was spent happily watching the flock as they moved round the St. Helen's site. Individuals would frequently ascend to the top-most branches where they were picked out in the sun and several times groups of birds flew about giving their piping calls. A few even landed briefly on the ground. It was particularly intriguing to watch how they dealt with cones, prising them open and extracting the seed inside. It was equally intriguing to watch how Ben could turn just a handful of pencil marks into a perfect representation of their character. An excellent afternoon, in good company and lovely winter sunshine, with great views of a interesting and attractive bird (and a new addition to the life-list). And a lift home to boot.

As for the title of this piece, an excellent slip-of the-tongue from Sophie when mentioning these birds, and one which I will find hard to dislodge.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

brown,blue and green

As High Summer reaches it's zenith the garden meadow is stroked by the wings of jewelled-flutterers. Brown Argus have emerged alongside Common Blues. They wait like pennants on tall grass stems, until the sun breaks free and energises them, and they flit low between knapweed flowers. Gatekeepers and Skippers already foreshadow the orange-brown autumn colours, but for now the garden is for the butterflies and bees.


A hatch of Ruddy Darters keep low to the ground, but a  metallic green needle appears and rests in the longer grass. It's a Willow Emerald, larger than it's common cousins, and gone before it's importance has sunk in. The next day it's not to be found, but a squadron of Migrant and Southern Hawkers make sorties across the open space, darting speedily until the clouds force them to retreat to the shelter of the plum trees, awaiting the oncoming shower.

Friday, 14 July 2017

Red Eye

I did record a bit of bird activity last Sunday on the Wildspace.  A Little Ringed Plover took flight from the settling beds and called voraciously over the river and onto the Potters site - it would be great to see some juveniles in a few weeks time.  An adult Garden Warbler was also a real surprise beneath the big Oak tree in the middle of the Wildspace.  I was on the lookout for Black-tailed Skimmers to add to the Big Year list and there was plenty of Odonata on the wing.  Ruddy Darter and Brown Hawker were evident around the first nettle bed along the riverside.  An Emperor hawked high above the in the canopy and following this it had an altercation with a Damselfly hanging high above on a bare branch.  Once it returned to it's lookout it looked like a Willow Emerald and taking a photo was able to crop in to see the spur on the thorax that confirmed it's identity, the first of the year for this recent arrival, first recorded for the county at Roswell Pits.  Around the corner I took a rough path through the scrub and onto the edge of the partial lagoon in the bend of the river.  Watching the damselflies here I thought they looked to have upward bending bodies and they appeared small but when I looked at the photos I had taken they didn't seem to have the X shape on the last segment that would have confirmed Small Red=eyed Damselfly.  However when I returned home and looked at the pictures a couple did show the distinctive marks, a new damselfly for the Wildspace.

From Cuckoo Bridge a Kingfisher patiently eyed the waters below and caught several fish before taking on back to some very vocal young hunger calling from the nearby willows.
Along the river bank I found a Black-tailed Skimmer resting on the bare earth, exactly as it should have been.  Further around an Emerald Damselfly along a stagnant ditch was my first of the year and on a small pond in Springhead Meadow a femal Broad Bodied Chaser was ovipositing, in constant movement and a Four-spotted Chaser looked on from a reed.  Purple Hairstreaks were evident on each of the Oak trees I checked, great to see these in numbers.  A great little spell out in the Wildspace.


Thursday, 13 July 2017

Purple Reign

Midsummer indulgence over a couple of weekends in Ditton Park Wood, Newmarket enjoying a very healthy show of Purple Emperors.  It is a cracking site and an easy visit with a two year old in tow, so family friendly that we took 4 young uns out and while the adults absorbed themselves in Iris the kids disappeared into the woods to make dens and go native.
Himself twice and Her Majesty, on one leaf

Purple Hairstreaks are having a bonanza, every Oak and Ash combination have hairstreaks whizzing within their canopy and at Ditton Park Wood the canopy has been heaving with them in the right spots.  We were lucky and did follow one down, after several hours, onto a low level Hazel leaf.  Buzzing around nearby was a freshly emerged Emperor Dragonfly, just gorgeous.


Sunday, 25 June 2017

At One With The Birds

When I left my job last year I was very touched by a gift I received from a lovely family, they had given me a day flying Falcons. It took me some time to put a date in the calendar but when the day did come I had a tremendous time.  Fenland Falcons in Wisbech St Mary couldn't have been more accommodating.  Following a good look around the birds I was given plenty of guidance and advice in how to use the lure and fly the falcons.  An Essex Skipper was the highlight of the meadowland butterflies and after some practice I watched some flights and then tried to put a bit of what I'd learnt into practice.  Everything changed when a real Lanner Falcon was coming at me with 40mph behind her.  

Atlas - The gorgeous Lanner I was flying

As with the gliding earlier in the week a great buzz and experience, I loved the flying.  Thanks to Michael for the patient training and to the Morris family for  the gift.  The birds at the centre were gorgeous and I was particularly taken with the male Red-footed Falcon, American Kestrel and the Ural Owl.  On the journey home I stopped in on Roswell Pits to look for Dragons and Damsels.  Plenty of both but the scarce ones remained unfound although a showy Comma performed, it's an excellent year for them so far.

  Ruddy darter (m)

Blue-tailed Damselfly (fm)

 Scarce Chaser (m)