Saturday, 4 July 2015

Hunting for Hairstreaks at Cranford Park

Before I start waffling on like I normally do, I must just point out my photos are not of the quality I would have liked them to be today. I fractured my thumb earlier in the week, and am currently in a splint, so holding my camera was a little difficult. I wasn't intending on going out at all today but the clear blue skies and the lure of the woods was too much to bear....

Anyway, on 1st July Alison Shipley was at Cranford Woods when she spotted a White-letter Hairstreak butterfly. With no camera on her, she quickly grabbed a shot on her phone...

Phone photo by Alison Shipley
As far as we know this could be the first sighting of this butterfly species at Cranford Park.
I went down there today but despite searching along every woodland path, I could not find any.However another friend, Susy Jones, also saw White-letter Hairstreaks today too, but in a totally different location.
 
photo by Susy Jones
These butterflies only fly in July, and prefer woodland rather than meadows. They are particularly attracted to Elm trees, and are most often seen flying high amongst the tree tops. Eggs are laid July-August and hatch the following spring. Hopefully by the end of this month I might find one in Cranford Park like Alison did.
 
There were plenty of other butterflies around....
 
worn looking Speckled Wood

Meadow Brown

Small Skipper
fresh Comma

Red Admiral

tatty looking male Meadow Brown

female Green-veined White

and my first Cinnabar caterpillars of the year
Male Banded Demoiselle
 
It was very sunny and hot today. I was suffering a bit in my splint, but not as much as this Blackbird was. Actually he was probably doing a bit of 'anting' rather than sunbathing. Some birds like Blackbirds, Thrushes, Dunnocks etc like to lay out flat in the sun to encourage mites to come to the surface and be pecked off. Some birds will even lay on top of ant nests and let the ants climb all through their feathers to help clean them. I watched this Blackbird for over ten minutes before he realised I was there, shook himself off and flew away.....
 
 
At the Headland area the Common Whitethroats weren't as visible as last week, with just a couple of fleeting glimpses..
 
 
Whilst I was watching the Kestrels (more about them later) a Heron landed in a nearby tree....

 
Two Red Kites went over as well but I couldn't get both in the same photo...
 
 
I checked on the Swallows nest and it's looking good with another rim of fresh mud added to it since my last visit. I took one quick photo so I wouldn't disturb the birds and quietly left. I'm not going to post the photo, or any that I take of them on the nest in the future, until I know the last chick has fledged. It's quite a big deal having Swallows nesting at Cranford Park and I don't want to see them disturbed. Later in the day I caught one of them out hunting and managed a half way decent snap....
 
 
There are still no signs of any Little Owlets out and about yet, which is quite surprising as for the last two years the first sightings have always been at the end of June. Maybe this year the Little Owls are going to fledge later. Only time will tell.
 
The Kestrels, however, are almost bang on target. I still cant count how many youngsters there are, and they still haven't left the security of the woods yet. I found them on the edge of the woodland and deep in the woods today. They're not yet hunting for themselves and so you hear them before you see them. Usually it's a juvenile calling because it's seen one of the adults with food. But I did get to see both adults see off a Buzzard earlier...photo below...
 
bad photo of a juvenile by the wood circle

adult hunting over the meadows

Adult flying to mob Buzzard
 
Both adult Kestrels to left hand side with Common Buzzard bottom right

adult and Buzzard
Deeper in the woods I heard the familiar Kestrel call and saw one land in a tree just above me. Sheltered from view by overhanging branches I managed a couple of photos but the light was in my eyes and I had to really lighten the photos to show the bird. It looks as if it has a vole or mouse in the first photo.....
 

 
Hopefully next week they'll start the process of learning to hunt themselves. This is when we usually see them on the grass paths in the meadow area, hunting grasshoppers and practising their 'mantling' technique.
Not a bad day despite having my hand strapped up and the weather being just a little on the humid side. Looking forward to my next visit already for updates on both the Swallows and the Kestrels, and with hopeful news of some Little Owlet sightings.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

An overdue visit to RSPB Rainham

I haven't visited RSPB Rainham since last year, so was well overdue a visit. With all of the photos being posted recently on the Friends of RSPB Rainham Marshes Facebook page of the juvenile Bearded Tits, today was as good a day as any to visit.
My old mucker Fewy has never been to Rainham so when I suggested a visit, he jumped at the chance.
I don't drive, so when I visit on my own I get the tube and train. It's not a bad journey if you get the timings right. Today I had the luxury of being driven there by car. Did I say luxury ?? What a massive typo that was. Fewy had worked out his own route of getting there from Hounslow and it involved going through central London. Before we'd even got to the reserve I'd been round Trafalgar Square, the Houses of Parliament and seen the Shard three times. It was an interesting journey....!
 
However, we arrived in one piece just as the draw bridge was being lowered.
 
There's only one route around the reserve and I think everyone who visits has their own preferred way of doing the route. I always like to spend the morning investigating the cordite and woodland area. So we went there first. There were plenty of critters around....
 
Two male Thick-legged Flower Beetles - I'm seeing these every where I go at the moment
 
Holly Blue - probable female

female Large Skipper

Red Admiral - probable male

male Small White
 

female Blue-tailed Damselfly

male Blue-tailed Damselfly
Jury is still out on identification

There were also lots of Ladybird larvae out in various stages of growth....
 

 
We also found the below. I've shown two photos, one heavily cropped, and one showing its size and location on a bindweed leaf with a bindweed flower bud as a size comparison. I still don't know what it is yet, though suggestions have been made it's a spiders or weevils nest......


 
Whatever it is, we found four of them on the same bindweed plant but not on any others.
 
Round by the feeders an almost adult Robin took a great interest in us....
 
 
and when we moved to watch a Chiffchaff the Robin came with us.....

 
I get the impression that he/she has had a lot of interaction with humans already in it's short life, probably being fed a few tidbits from any visitors to the bench. At one point he/she flew towards me as if to sit on my shoulder then changed its mind at the last minute. I even felt it's little wings against my face.
 
Despite being watched at eye level by the Robin I did manage one quick photo of the ChiffChaff that had caught our attention.....

 
We heard a Cuckoo calling whilst in this area but despite scanning all the viewable trees, we drew a blank and didn't hear it again for the rest of the day.
 
After a brief bite to eat in the cafĂ©, we made our way to the Purfleet Hide and just in time too as the forecast rain started. Earlier in the morning we had seen from the path, a pair of Shelduck with several ducklings in the Purfleet Scrape area, but when we sat in the hide we couldn't spot them at all. Then a pair of Shelduck flew in and landed at the back of the scrape. Within minutes they emerged with nine ducklings in tow. Shelducks share the responsibility of raising youngsters with other Shelducks, so the nine ducklings probably don't all belong to the same pair. The adults share 'baby-sitting' duties. Luckily for us they got closer and closer to the hide, with the adult birds chasing off any Little Egret, Mute Swan or Heron that was too close for comfort and the ducklings were happily seeing off any Redshanks too....
 




 
Although we counted nine it was near on impossible to get all nine in one photo shot, the ducklings were shooting about everywhere.
 
From the same hide we also saw Goldfinches, Linnets and plenty of Lapwings...
 

 
When the rain ceased we headed back out. We got a fleeting glimpse of a Kingfisher at the MDZ, watched Swallows fly low over the water and under the bridge to feed their loudly cheeping young by the turnstile exit and saw a Redshank using a handy perch to call out his territory..

 
There was a Little Grebe family in the channels...
 

 
along with a couple of calling Marsh Frogs....
 
 
Finally we reached the Dragonfly Ponds where the Bearded Tits had been photographed so much.
 It wasn't just the Beardys that liked this area, there were several Reed Warblers popping up....
 


 
at least three Sedge Warblers flitting about including this little lovely below....
 

 
and of course the Bearded Tits, or Bearded Reedlings to give them their proper name.
It was hard to tell how many there were flitting around pipping. At one point I had three within my view, but I'm sure there were more.
 
It was mainly a male that we saw today, and he was incredibly active feeding his second brood. The chicks from his first brood have already fledged (my last photo is the juvenile fledged male) and the adults are now on their second brood. The adult male was flying out of the same spot in the reeds, gathering insects at the bases of some other reeds then flying back to the same spot. This was repeated over and over again. Fewy and I had taken up different viewing points by this stage, and when I wandered back over to where he was standing he said.....
 'I must be scaring that male coz whenever he emerges from the reeds, he takes a dump'
 
In fact what Fewy was seeing was the male bird removing and dropping the fecal sacs made by the chicks. Great description by the Fewy though. Sadly I couldn't get any photos of this behaviour, the male was just too quick, but I did manage to get some other shots. Not my best by far, but the birds are so quick....
 
 




Juvenile male Bearded Reedling
Because of these beautiful birds we didn't make it all the way around the site, so there is probably loads that we missed.
 
On the way home, thanks to Fewys Australian voiced TomTom, we went past London Bridge, Harrods and Hyde Park. I know there's an easier way to get to Rainham from Hounslow, but as I get the tube and train there it's not something I've bothered looking at before. But anyway, thanks for driving Fewy, at least we had a good laugh about it.
 
So it was a great day, apart from the small rain shower the weather was pretty kind. We met some friendly people and saw some interesting birds and critters. Another visit due soon I reckon.