Saturday, 20 August 2016

Farmoor: 20 August

Today's forecast wasn't too good, but it still seemed worthwhile giving Farmoor a go this morning, in the expectation that the two Little Stints would still be around. Arriving a little later than originally planned, Mark and Peter helpfully pointed them out to me as I had managed to walk straight past them!

I then found I had forgotten a vital piece of equipment - the tripod & head, but I tried a few shots anyway and quickly concluded it was worth going back to the car to get it, along with my brand new "toy" - a Canon EF 100-400 USM II lens, which is my first ever serious zoom lens.

It proved to be ideal for the Stints that were amazingly tame at times, coming well inside the 3.5m close focus distance of my 400mm DO lens. At their closest approach, 400mm was far too much, so the ability to zoom out was also vital (generally unheard of in my experiences of bird photography!).

There were also apparently a couple of Whinchat on the wires on the west side of F2, but I didn't go that far. I did however notice a few Swifts in among the hirundines - it can't be long before they depart.  

Click here for a (much) larger image

 Little Stint

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Pit 60: 13 August - no GW Egret!

I spent around 3 hours in the Langley Lane Hide this morning hoping for the Great White Egret to show, as it had been last reported as recently as Wednesday. It didn't!

However, there was a reasonable collection of other things to see during the wait. The highlight was probably a Hobby that flew over the hide and caused a juvenile Starling to panic so much it flew into the hide through the observation slit I had open! Fortunately it quickly found its way out again.

Waders included 3 Oystercatchers, 1 Green Sandpiper and several Lapwings. The Common Terns were still around and their occasional close-ish approaches to the hide probably kept me here longer than I would have otherwise. Unfortunately, apart from the odd Little Egret that was about it... Perhaps I should have tried Otmoor for the Purple Heron but, as that is being seen so infrequently, the chances of me connecting with it are virtually zero.

When it warmed up later, I saw Common Darter and Brown Hawker along the lane.

Common Tern

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Grand? Oxon tour: 6 August

With the splendid weather today, it seemed worth visiting various sites in the county for both birds and dragonflies.

Attracted by the superb recent photos on the Oxon Bird Log of juv Cuckoo, I thought it would be worth starting here. Unfortunately (as so often happens to me on Otmoor), there was no sign of my target, although others including Mark Chivers had reportedly had distant glimpses of one along the bridleway much earlier. One had also been heard near to the first screen but I found nothing there as well. The first screen also seemed quiet with only a few distant Mandarins, so I didn't stay very long.

At least as I returned the dragonflies had started to get going, with several Brown Hawkers, one glimpse of a probably Southern Hawker and both Common & Ruddy Darters. Along the Roman Road there were some serious Brown Hairstreak seekers and one brief view of their target in flight. However I left them to it, having previous photos of this charismatic butterfly.

Tar Lakes
This site is developed and managed by the excellent Lower Windrush Valley Project, like the adjacent Rushey Common and also nearby Pit 60. The car parking is at Rushey Common. Unlike these other reserves, the general public has free access to Tar Lakes which is of course a boon for dragonfly watchers but there is the inevitable downside of disturbance from dog walkers and their charges.

It is a site that looks good for Small red-eyed Damselfly on the floating vegetation around the edge of the first lake. However as last year, all I could find were a few Red-eyes at the entrance end and none further on. There were also several Emperors around both at the near and far ends, including 2 ovipositing females that gave me my first photo opp of the day! Other species included 100+ Common Blue Damsels, 1 Blue-tailed Damsels, 1 Banded Demoiselle, 1 Brown Hawker and a few Common Darters. Not a bad collection. although none of these species were particularly notable.

The far lake is newer and had very little of interest around it, apart from a shallow pool at the north eastern corner of the site that had a further Emperor or two and a few damsels. Access is difficult here though.

Ovipositing Emperor

Pit 60
As I was driving back, I made a spot decision to try Pit 60 for the Great White Egret. Arriving at the Langley Lane Hide, initially there was no sign but after a bit I spotted it right down the far end, appearing and disappearing into the reeds. No point in any photos from that range! Apart from a few Little Egrets, Common Terns and a flock of Lapwing that was about it. I saw no dragonflies worth noting here either.

Shellingford Pit
My last site visited today was Shellingford Pit - my favourite local patch site for dragonflies. Unfortunately the water levels here are once again dreadfully low with only two small pools left. As a result this site is a shadow of its former self and may well shortly dry up completely which would presumably be catastrophic for the dwindling Odonata population that continues to hang on. That would be a great shame but it is unclear why the water levels have gone down so much in recent years. Possibly it is due to the active quarry over the road digging ever deeper and presumably pumping out water to avoid flooding. From discussion last year, it seems that the OCC, that own the Pit are powerless to do anything about this.

Given its decline, it was good to find a few Small Red-eyed Damselflies out on the floating vegetation. However most were well out from the bank which made for difficult photography. This site is one of very few in the county for this species. I have now seen them every year since 2006 here but it remains to be seen for how much longer they can hold on.

Remarkably, there were also 3 Green Sandpipers here as well, but as ever they were very wary

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Wat Tyler CP, Essex: 30 & 31 July 2016

As most keen Odonata hunters will know, Wat Tyler CP is the place for the very rare (in the UK) Southern Migrant Hawkers which are generally seen in a very narrow 2-3 week time window running from the 3rd week in July until early August. Last year we visited in mid August and were too late for anything other than an unusual female that had taken on some of the male's blue colouration.

This year I was keen not to miss out, and following news that they were again being seen, this weekend seemed the best time to go. However, with a marginal forecast it seemed touch & go as to whether it would be worthwhile or not. In the event, quite late on Saturday morning we decided to give it a try and set off on the relatively long trek via M4 & M25. Arriving at around 13:15 we parked in the marina car park, as last year, and headed round the back of the adjacent pond to the concrete ramp. Here we were told we had just missed a most obliging male by no more than 10mins! But surely it would re-appear shortly they said. However the brief slightly brighter spell came to an abrupt end and by around 15:00 there had been no further sign. With the weather not looking good, we decided to head off to the nearby RSPB West Canvey Island Marshes reserve where c. 12 had been seen earlier in the week. Of course we saw none!

Returning to Wat Tyler, it was the same story - overcast conditions and not a hint of any rare blue hawkers. At around 17:30 it was getting cooler by the minute and it was clearly a waste of time staying any longer. So we headed off to our pre-booked room at a rather grotty and very warm Premier Inn in Basildon - right by a major dual carriageway. These places are not designed for summer temperatures it seems with almost no ventilation and no A/C.

Fortunately, it was a completely different story the next morning when we were amazed to see blue skies - much better than forecast, unlike the previous day that had been worse than forecast. Arriving back at the ramp mid morning, it was great to find immediately a settled male being photographed from all angles by an appreciative small crowd. Thereafter there were regular sightings all morning, of up to 2 males and 1 female. According to others they were settling more often than last year but flight shots were more difficult as they seldom hovered for more than a second or two at a time.

For a larger version of this image, click here 

Southern Migrant Hawkers

Thursday, 21 July 2016

A Brilliant trip to Esher Common: 19 July

Last year I had visited Esher Common in Surrey on a sweltering hot day in early July and had had some partial success with Brilliant Emerald flight photography, so this year I was keen to try again. With the recent poor weather and various family commitments, there hadn't been a suitable day until this week when the conditions suddenly improved dramatically. So I decided to take a rare day off work and head back there.

Leaving around 09:30 I hoped to miss the worst of the rush hour, and despite some congestion on the M25 I was pulling into the convenient lay-by before 11:30. I then headed directly to the south west corner of Black Pond where there is small bay. Last year at this spot there was at least the possibility of Brilliant Emeralds flying slowly enough to get some photos.

There is however one big downside to this site - the frequent dog walkers and their charges that like nothing better to engage in doggy water sports (endless cries of "good boy" - as another wretched mutt retrieves a ball or stick from the exact Emerald spot!). All this commotion of course makes for a temporary lack of dragonflies, so there is option to wait it out until they move on. At least on a weekday there were slightly fewer interruptions from this than last year when I visited on a Saturday.

Unfortunately after almost 2 hrs of waiting, although I had seen several Brilliant Emeralds, none had presented even the faintest chance of a shot. Dis-heartened I decided to seek out a couple of small pools that another Odonata hunter I met recommended. These are marked on the 1:25,000 map and are about 1km directly to the east of Black Pond. The highlight here was 2-3 Black Darters, as well as Emperor and Brown Hawkers. It was also amazingly hot out in the full sun!

After awhile here, I headed back to the Black Pond for another go at the Emeralds, and this time as the sun had moved round, I positioned myself on the western side of the bay, on the edge of the dog walkers path. Finally, a Brilliant Emerald appeared that provided a momentary opportunity for a couple of in-focus frames, one of which was a definite improvement on last years attempt. So success after about 4hrs on site - and time to head back in time to avoid the worst of the evening rush.

Brilliant Emerald on Black Pond
Goto to my website for a larger image 
Black Darter on one of the small pools to the east

Monday, 18 July 2016

Cothill Fen, Parsonage Moor & Shellingford Pit 16 July

Great to have a bit of warm weather at last today, although the amount of sunshine was limited. Also the strong breeze wasn't helpful for Odonata.

Cothill Fen
This tiny NNR was somewhat sheltered from the wind and had its usual rare residents - Small Red Damselflies (about 10) and 2m & 1f Keeled Skimmer, but getting photos of both took some time and patience as well as a fair amount of risk from the treacherous conditions underfoot!

Keeled Skimmer

Small Red Damselfly

There were also plenty of these tiny leafhoppers - thanks to Jeremy Dexter and Mike Flemming who answered my appeal on its ID on the Oxon Wildlife Blog.

Cicadella Viridis

Parsonage Moor
I never find this BBOWT reserve very productive and today was no exception although the wind may have been somewhat to blame. It was much drier than Cothill Fen and all I found of note was 1 Keeled Skimmer and a coupled pair of Large Red Damselflies.

Shellingford Pit
My favourite local site is once again suffering from dreadfully low water levels, but at least the main shallow pool was somewhat sheltered from the wind and had 2m Emperors and 1 ovipositing female. I spent some time trying for flight shots of these, as they were being slowed down by the wind in places, and got lucky very quickly. This is probably my best flight shot of Emperor - I have been trying for these for almost 10 years now! 


The only other notable species was a good number of Black-tailed Skimmers. There was no sign of any Small Red-eyed Damselflies yet. 

Oh and there was an early Green Sandpiper - a sign that autumn has arrived already!

For all the latest dragonfly sightings in the County, go to my website page for 2016 records

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Farne Islands: 6 July

We spent a pleasant week in Northumberland recently with the highlight definitely being a 6 hr birders boat trip (run by Billy Shiels) to the Farne Islands. This landed on both Staple Island and Inner Farne and provided brilliant opportunities for Puffin shots, especially those in flight - which was my main target.

Here is a small selection of the 2500+ shots I took! To see these images larger and several others go to my website 

Sunday, 26 June 2016

M40 compensation area and Childrey: 25 June

Having never seen a Black Hairstreak butterfly before, I thought I'd make an effort this year to try to connect with one. However with the awful recent weather, opportunities have been limited, especially at weekends. Today was probably my last opportunity to see one this year, so I made the mistake of believing the forecast. This indicated some sunny intervals until about midday before heavy showers started. In the event it didn't turn out quite like that!

I left the house in encouraging conditions, but things had already gone down hill before I arrived at the Bernwood Forest car park (the scene of previous more successful Purple Emperor hunts). From here it was about a 30min walk to the M40 compensation area, which, given Adam Hartley's excellent directions, I found quite easily. En-route the only sighting of note was my first Emperor Dragonfly sighting of the season.

Unfortunately, although it was only mid-morning, it started to rain almost as soon as I arrived at the M40, and in the next hour and a half there was little or no sun and a fair bit of rain. Of course, there was no sign of any Hairstreaks in these conditions, and very few other butterflies were about, apart from this obliging Marbled White.
Marbled White
With no sign of conditions improving, I gave it up as a bad job, and trekked back to the car park through continuous heavy rain!

After a change of clothes and some lunch, I headed out in the afternoon to Childrey to see if I could get any photos of the Spotted Flycatchers, which turned out to be reasonably cooperative in between heavy showers, thunder and lighting - probably a reflection on the Brexit vote!

Spotted Flycatcher
Click here for a larger image

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Otmoor again: Saturday 18 June - my first FIF!

Arriving mid morning at Otmoor conditions were far from inspiring with some rain and a temperature of only about 12C. Heading along the Roman Road I could find only a couple of Azure Damselflies hunkered down in the vegetation. Along the bridleway, it was also quiet with only a distant and briefly drumming Snipe worthy of note. I somehow managed to miss the Turtle Dove that others heard and saw in its usual area by the pump house. Further on, there was a Common Tern fishing along the ditch right by bridleway but I didn't manage to get any worthwhile photos of it in the poor light.

At the first screen, it was also quiet but I did manage a glimpse of a Hobby and saw a very distant Marsh Harrier. The only bird that came close enough for the lens was this Tufted Duck, which I managed to track in from some distance out.

Tufted Duck
Click here for a larger image

Venturing as far as the second screen I was rewarded with a voluble Lesser Whitethroat in the adjacent hedge and more distant Marsh Harrier views. Nearer to, one of the Common Terns came very close several times on its fishing circuits. It was interesting to see the large chick on their nesting raft sheltering under the half pipes - must be very handy for dodging predators such as Red Kite. 

Common Tern

By the time I was ready to head back, it had warmed up sufficiently for a few more insects to show themselves and there were good numbers of Azure Damselflies to be seen along the bridleway and the Roman Road, including this one tucking into an unfortunate aphid! There was also an immature  Darter that I believed to be an early Ruddy from its black legs.
Azure Damselfly
Click here for a larger image

Along the Roman Road, there was even a hint of sun and the surprising sight of a couple of large flies hovering in the centre of the track, conveniently at about head height. Naturally I couldn't resist the tempetation of trying for my first FIF (fly in flight) shot using my 180mm macro! 

I first posted this image on the Oxon Wildlife blog and thanks to Gareth Blockley for almost immediately suggesting an identity for it - a Pellucid HoverFlyVolucella pellucens. This image was sufficiently unusual to be definitely the highlight of the visit, even if it wasn't a dragonfly or a bird! 
Pellucid HoverFly, Volucella pellucens
Click here for a larger image

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Otmoor: 11 June

Its been sometime since I last visited Otmoor, so this visit was overdue but unfortunately not favoured by the weather. Although warm, there was light cloud and some rain without any sun.

I did however manage to see most of the birds that make this place so special in spring and summer. Despite it being early June, drumming Snipe were much in evidence, and coming reasonably close to the bridleway at the cattle pens and further along towards the hide. Photography was hampered by the light which wasn't good at all for dark objects against the sky!

Drumming Snipe

One Turtle Dove was purring away from hidden locations along the bridleway near the pumping station, but did come out one briefly onto the wires and post on the corner. There was along a Marsh Harrier and Cuckoo about.

Odonata weren't much in evidence due to the conditions, but the Roman Road and the bridleway between there and the main track had large numbers of Azure Damselflies (c. 100) and about 3 Large Red Damselflies. I also caught a glimpse of a probable early immature Common Darter. A Hairy Dragonfly was also reported.

Large red Damselfly