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)

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Last summer we booked, but didn't quite make, a gliding trip.  We booked early this year and chose the Summer Solstice to take to the air and ride the thermals, like a young Buzzard just out of the nest.  A while ago now I took to the air and skydived over the Ouse Washes to see how a Crane or a Peregrine might see the Ely10.  On that flight the curve of the earth flashed by somewhere between the Wash and Stansted.  The cold February air let us see far but the acceleration blurred the streaks of silt and swell and after 8 years I felt the need to take flight without propulsion again. This flight was going to give time to see the Suffolk countryside sedately and with time to drink in the view.  No such thing.

The ascent was rapid and exhilarating and, once the winch was dropped, a decent amount of time was spent learning about and then doing turns, points and stalls.  We went up a couple of times which allowed a few pictures and video of ascent and descent to be taken.  A big thanks to Charley for organising and the Rattleseden Gliding Club (Sarah, the instructor in particular) for making the evening happen in the vein of a Detectorists episode.

Sunday, 18 June 2017


Some good news from the Washes where a second pair of Stilts have 2 young on the RSPB reserve.  Some gorgeous weather either end of the week meant some good weekends for searching out Butterflies, Dragons and Damsels.  Last weekend, at Paxton Pits I watched 5 or 6 Norfolk Hawkers patrolling their chosen pit, full of Water Soldier.  They were zooming around and not settling at all, I was pleased to get any shots of the green eyed beast.  One did clatter around in the foliage, I guess freshly emerged.  I also saw an Emerald dragonfly of some description a couple of times hawking over the Lilies, very distinctive and not like anything I'd seen before I feel confident of the family and it would most likely be Downy Emerald as these do occur into Bedfordshire, however they are not really known in Cambs.

Having received confirmation that the damselflies I had photographed were indeed Variable almost the first Damselfly I saw around Roswell Pits last weekend was also a Variable, however I've not encountered any further.

On Ely Common this weekend up to 9 Marbled Whites were flying and along the drove at Thistle Corner a thriving population was on the wing in the managed field edges.  Further along this path at the entrance to a reasonable Elm copse 20 or so White-Letter Hairstreaks are in residence and being drawn to the brambles, a cracking little site for these butterflies.  A Brown Hawker also took a fancy to this area, my first of the year.

In the garden Ruddy Darter were active around the pond and meadow while our Lesser Whitethroat has started singing again suggesting a brood has fledged and there maybe just enough time to squeeze in a second.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

stilt watch

It's not often you get the chance to see something really special- let alone in such an intimate setting. I was one of the lucky volunteers and staff at Welney to watch over a pair of Black-winged Stilts, as they settled down to nest on the reserve. I spent three evenings sitting in a truck studying the birds, and held my breath every time they left the nest, fearing that one of the nearby gulls would take advantage of an easy meal.
In fact the stilts seemed most alarmed by Coots, and would crane forward, bill towards the threat, every time a Coot blundered too close.
The prospective parents swapped brooding duties every hour or so, and while one bird sat, the other would feed and preen on a small splash nearby. 
Neither bird ever truly relaxed when I was watching, there was always something to shake them from their ease, despite the warm sleep-inducing evening sun. A hare or Pheasant would pass by, and the sitting bird would stretch up and look intently on until danger receded, and then a quick preen of the chest, perhaps a  turn of the eggs or just a change of alignment on the nest- sometimes facing east, sometimes north, south or west, I documented how long the stilts sat in each position to see if I could see a pattern. I had wondered if the Sun's position in the sky might be the factor determining how the stilts sat- but one study of one nest does not a paradigm make.
It seems that all the eggs hatched over the last weekend, but none of the chicks made it through the week. After a brief period where the adults shepherded their brood among the rushes and bugle, something happened, and the pair flew off onto the main reserve with nothing to show for their efforts.
At least they tried, and with the occurrence of this elegant species becoming more frequent, and breeding attempts from all over the country in recent years, we may yet see the stilt become a regular British bird. Brexit means nothing to them.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

last minute 'lustre

I first saw a Marsh Warbler on a pale evening in Finland. We stopped at a small nettle tangled copse along a gravelled track, and got glimpses of a bird that crept through the undergrowth, singing short bursts of song from near total concealment. My impression of it was of it's big mouth, both metaphorically and literally. It was always hard to see, popping up as it did most unpredictably, and never in the open.
When a bird turned up at Lakenheath, therefore, I was pleased to see a few photos posted on birdguides that implied the chance of better views. 
On a still morning this week I finally decided to have a look, and I was pleasantly surprised to find the scarce warbler in almost constant voice, and continually returning to a favoured perch, not too far away.
When singing, it looked very big headed, with it's broad gape bright, and full throat white in constant tremulous motion. Longer winged and much more olive toned than the Reed Warbler, it's buffy eye-ring and lores were slightly more prominent, though the stand-out difference was it's varied song.
Nightingale, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Swallow, Grasshopper Warbler, House Sparrow and less familiar african species- a bulbul type in particular, were among the many different songs that this bird had borrowed and incorporated into it's songbook. Such a far cry from the more sedate monotonous rythmns of the Reed Warbler, and less frenetic and scratchy than the Sedge Warbler, both species that sang nearby. 
Normally a trip to Lakenheath would centre on the Hobbys, Cuckoos and Bittern, but this morning, despite a Bittern flying past quite close, the highlight was a small, non-discript visitor with perhaps the best skill at mimicry in the country.
By ten o'clock the heat of the day was already too oppressive, so I made my way back, stopping briefly to look at the other warblers with the Marsh Warbler still fresh in the memory.
The next day, the Marsh Warbler was gone, it's beautiful song having failed to attract a mate in this foreign corner of the fens.


Friday, 2 June 2017

Riverboat Song

It's not often I have to dash of in the middle of the night to go birding but last night that's exactly what I did.  A message on Cambirds from Brendan Doe, late in the evening told of a Savi's Warbler reeling at Wicken.  I missed a bird here a couple of years ago that only stayed one evening so I was not going to hang around.  An hour or so later, just gone midnight, I was ensconced within the dark, but ever so still, Fen and the electric buzz of Savi's Warbler was insistent across the reeds.  My second bird this week (or possibly the same??) and a great experience to hear and see locally.  On the local front the Black-winged Stilts did produce young at Welney during the week but were predated very quickly, a great great shame.

With another day of hot weather I took a stroll across the Ely Wildspace and fringes.  I was looking for 2 Dragonflies in particular, both doing well in East Anglia and was not to be disappointed. 

I found 6 or 7 Hairy Dragonfly along Queen Adelaide Way, Cuckoo Bridge and the Settling Beds.

Along the River a single Scarce Chaser was whizzing back and forth.
Red-eyed Damselflies are abundant on the water lilies and Common Blue Damselfly also seen in large numbers. 
I saw a Blue-tailed Damselfly that had a lilac wash that doesn't show so well in the photograph, I think it was the Violacea female form, which can resemble male.  Yesterday I saw the rufescens female form with a lovely peach thorax.
There were also quite a few Banded Demoiselle, which are always a joy to watch.
I took some photo's of this blue damselfly as they were mating.  Looking closely to identify it I think that this is Variable Damselfly but would seek some guidance from anyone who knows them well.
On one of the narrow boats two falcons were tethered, one may have been the huge falcon that Ben saw across the Settling Beds earlier in the year, a Gyr or strong hybrid?  The other was a cracking Peregrine, a really beautiful bird.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

For the Sake of the Song

After the excitement of seeing Glanville Fritillary, the following day was equally exciting.  An early start again to hop over the border to Lakenheath where both Marsh and Savi's Warbler had been singing.  It was a glorious morning and you could almost feel the vegetation growing it was so lush and verdant.  I've not seen a singing Marsh Warbler in the UK so I was happy that this bird had continued it's residency and it sang it's heart out.  The camera picked up some of the song but the phone wasn't bad again at capturing something audible, this bird didn't have quite as much mimicry in the song as others I've heard but there's lots of Chaffinch and a great Blackbird alarm call in there too.



Further along the river bank looking out across a really fantastic looking reedbed with Bitterns booming, Bearded Tits pinging away and a little bit of Crane bugle for good luck.  Underpinning this was the intermittent electric buzz of a reeling Savi's Warbler.  On my last scan of the reedbed I picked up the bird, closer than I had expected and atop a reed head.  Through the scope it was quite a good view and it's gape was huge rotating it's head around to project it's drone across the fen.  The return along the riverbank and across the fen was glorious with Dragon and Damselflies in abundance (see previous post).

Before heading home I popped into Brandon where a Wood Warbler had been holding territory.  Having seen the Wood Warblers in Poland occupying lowland beech and oak woodland in proliferation it seems that there is plenty of potential habitat for Wood Warblers to occupy if there were the numbers passing through.  This male seemd very much at home and had a very small singing circuit which kept low down most of the time.  A delightful bird and song reminding me very much of childhood walks in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and Moors.

On the way home I decided to check a likely looking field for Stone Curlew and found a bird eyeing me straight back.
Can you see me?
Eye, eye