Thursday, 27 June 2013

Banded Love Hearts

Now that the main course has ended until the autumn, we are just having a couple of weeks of one-off specials. On Wednesday our destination was beautiful Brockadale. It was not the easiest place to get to. At first we were hampered with overnight roadworks which had overran. We were warned the delay would last 15-20 minutes, but the delays actually lasted an hour. There was no way most of the participants were going to arrive for the later-than-normal arrival time of 10. When we did get to the area we found that the directions given in the latest YWT reserve book were inadequate, and google maps recommended the use of Leys Lane & Hodgsons Lane, which weren't labelled as such on the ground. However, people with Sat Navs were able to see Leys Lane on their machines, and they helped everyone else find the venue.

Banded Demoiselles (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Record Shot of Bullfinch
 Chrysalid of Burnet Moth (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Caterpillar of Burnet Moth (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Once we arrived things began very well. At first it seemed a floral delight with Rock-Rose, Kidney Vetch, Marsh Orchids, Gorse, various grasses and Greater Knapweed just starting to flower. A Yellowhammer was singing and then a Bullfinch was heard making its melancholy call, but then it perched in the open for all to see. Shortly afterwards Carole spotted a bright orange large butterfly - she had found a Dark Green Fritillary. This is not a species we see very often in East Yorkshire. Meanwhile a few Marbled Whites flitted about, as did some Chimney Sweeper Moths. We were looking at finches at the top of some Hawthorns when Anthony spotted a distantly perched Brimstone. This was to become a species that punctuated the remainder of our visit. 
Froghopper (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Chafer Beetle Species (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Chafer Beetle Species (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce 
Chimney Sweeper (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
 Chimney Sweeper (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce 
 Meadow Cranesbill (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Clustered Bellflower (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Orchid Sp (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Dark Green Fritillary
 Goatsbeard (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
We followed the path down to a stream (the River Went), and here Jeny spotted an unusual, colourful insect flitting around a large clump of nettles - it was a male Banded Demoiselle. We were then able to see more males, and eventually a female. It was easier to see more standing on the old wooden bridge as we looked down into the reeds. Many participants had never seen these insects before, as they are scarce insects in East Yorkshire.  
Male Banded Demoiselle
 Female Banded Demoiselle
 Banded Demoiselles (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Banded Demoiselles (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Banded Demoiselles (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
 Banded Demoiselles (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
We then went for a long walk in the wood, but the sightings were fewer and further between. The most memorable encounter for me was a strange scratching and stinging sensation near my thumb. Looking I saw an enormous ginger bumble bee. I managed to shake it off before the sting entered too deeply, and sucked out the unpleasant-tasting poison, but a white bubble did blow up during the walk, before eventually subsiding. We heard a Whitethroat singing before entering the wood, and later we could hear a Blackcap, a Chiffchaff, and then very briefly a Willow Warbler sang out. Occasionally we glimpsed the attractive slow-moving river, and there did seem to be some suitable nesting banks for Kingfishers and Water Voles, but both these species evaded our attention. We did discover a Song Thrush which had frozen on a branch with food in its bill. Later, it was clear that it was trying to ensure a Grey Squirrel didn't eat its nestlings. Let's hope it was successful. 

 Chicken of the Woods?
 Song Thrush

We returned to our Banded Demoiselle location where they were actually seen mating. There was a young Chiffchaff in this area, and our arrival was serenaded by another Song Thrush. There were quite a few Brimstones in this area now, plus an Orange Tip and another Bullfinch could be heard.

 Chafer Beetles Species
 Chafer Beetle Species
 Chafer Beetle Species
We returned to the lovely meadow area, and this time great hosts of beetles could be seen flying around and mating on Hawthorn bushes. These seemed to be stubbier, rounder versions of the more commonly found Click Beetles. I'd never seen them before, so I'm unsure what species they are. There were more Marbled Whites and a few Common Blues, but we didn't relocate the Dark Green Fritillary. Everyone agreed it was a lovely reserve in a beautiful setting, which was only aided by prolific Poppy and Oilseed rape fields which surrounded us on every side - so, this green jewel of a reserve was surrounded by gaudy splashes of colour. 

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Eyes, Burning Like Fire

On Tuesday we had a one off visit to a large reserve we’ve never visited before.  I had the good fortune of being chauffeured by Chris Cox, so it was a comparatively stress-free start to the day.  We followed  the sat nav rather than the directions given out by the reserve, and it’s a good job we did as there were no official signs pointing us in the direction of the reserve.
We arrived just before 9 o’clock, but rather surprisingly the reserve didn’t open until the relatively tardy 9.30.  There was a very new visitor centre, but this must get rather congested at weekends, as there is only 1 disabled toilet for everyone to use.  We were given maps of the site to negotiate our way, but warned there were no seats, no hides or screens yet.  They didn’t warn us of the vast distances between A and B.

Black-Necked Grebe (c) 2013 Chris Cox
 Large Skipper

We started off through top of the range slick gates along a broad tarmacced road with excellent warbler habitat on our left and a lake on our right.  There must be many songbirds on the left in May, and we did still hear Whitethroats, Willow Warblers, a Chiffchaff and a family of Long-tailed Tits.  On the water there were Tufted Ducks, Cormorants, Coots, Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Lapwings and a single Redshank.  There were many Black-headed Gulls and their offspring, and on the small islands that the gulls ignored there was a healthy population of Common Terns.  
Record Shot of Meadow Brown

Along the way we were surprised to see some illegal Giant Hogweed growing along the banks of the river with more Whitethroats singing.  Then we came across our first Meadow Browns and Large Skippers of the year, plus a single Cinnabar Moth.  After a walk of over an hour with virtually no stops we reached the crossroads we’d been aiming for.  We crossed a narrow strip of land and ahead of us a pair of Swans and their 4 cygnets crossed from one lake to the other.  The parents kept looking behind them, and no wonder as another male (Cobb) was steaming towards them.  He even dragged himself out of the water and crossed the path a few feet ahead of us and then set off after the family across the other lake. 
Illegal Giant Hogweed
 Parent & Child Black-Necked Grebes (c) 2013 Chris Cox
We reached another crossroads and were debating which way to go next when 2 insignificant dots on our right drew our attention.  It was what looked like an immature Coot and a darker ball of fluff.  On inspection through binoculars it was clear that this was a Black-necked Grebe parent and its chick.  The parent worked hard collecting minute fish every few seconds, and fed them directly to its offspring.  This continued for a long while and the birds began to drift north.  It was then a big squabble occurred as an adult Little Grebe swiftly made an attack.  It seemed to pull at the Black-necked Grebe chick which disappeared under water, while its parent called plaintively.  This is where the Springwatch story developers would have frozen the film, and asked “What happened?”  The answer would have been revealed the following evening, but we were kept in the dark for only a few seconds, as the chick eventually resurfaced and parent & chick were reunited.  The Little Grebe also resurfaced near the reeds, saw us & then quickly dived under again never to be seen again. 

There was only one parent feeding the chick, so possibly the male had departed, but I prefer to think this was the male feeding the one surviving chick, whilst the female was nearby on a second brood - well, one can live in hope!
Black-necked Grebe with Small Fish
 Immature Black-Headed Gulls
We went a different way back to the visitor centre, which took us past a rough grassland hilly area.  We passed many Reed Bunting territories with an occasional Meadow Pipit and Skylark performing their song flights.  Through the reeds we could see a Pochard and her chicks some Tufted Ducks, and an adult Heron was spotted flying from one place to another.  Above the hillside a female Marsh Harrier soared for awhile being mobbed by Black-headed Gulls.  As we reached the visitor centre some Kestrel chicks were being observed on a monster piece of mining machinery.  Apparently, 5 chicks have been observed, and some had fledged, but I could only see 2.  Anyway, it was an uplifting conclusion to a very long uphill struggle.   
Record Shot of Kestrel Chick
It was great to see the site, which I was considering as a possible future winter venue.  However, it’s a very open site, and I don’t think a normal class visit will be appropriate before seating, hides, screens, and more toilets  have been added.  We could only visit in winter if no wind or rain was forecast to ensure everyone who sets out, also makes it back to the visitor centre. 

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Catching up with Tophill

The forecast was appalling for Thursday, so we switched to Tophill Low. Before everyone arrived an immature Great Spotted Woodpecker landed in a tree near the old visitor centre & then various young and adults flew around for 30 mins or so. It started raining virtually as soon as we set off, so we visited North Lagoon hide first to escape the downpour. There were 4 drake Pochard here, as well as a female Shelduck, and a pair of Tufted Ducks. Whilst we were in the hide we were serenaded by a Sedge Warbler from the river bank opposite.
Bee Orchid
As we continued along the road we were intrigued by some strange growling noises from the reedbed near the road. The sound was a little like a Tufted Duck in flight, but louder. We popped into the strange ramped hide to try & connect with it. There were other Tufted Ducks to see whilst the noise continued from the reeds, a party of 3 Reed Warblers, and a whole family of Blue Tits too impatient for the male to pluck insects for them from the reed heads. The strange sound may have been a Tufted Duck growling from deep within the reeds. 
Little Grebe
South Lagoon hide provided a Little Grebe, 2 drake Tufted Ducks and a female. The screen over O Reservoir resulted in even more Tufted Ducks. We travelled all the way round to the back to back hides, but the only overlooking SMW was devoid of birds, as it had been drained, the other overlooking SMW was a different story.  We found one Bee Orchid next to a marker, but then in the afternoon a botanist on the group found another 4 unmarked specimens. 
Mute Swans
 Mute Swan
 The female Marsh Harrier was seen a couple of times, as she went out hunting or brought back food. The chicks hatched on 15th June, so she needs to keep them well fed. While we were waiting for the Harrier, 4 times an explosive song rocketed from a bush close to the hide. This was a Cetti's Warbler, which has been seen recently removing faecal sacs. We didn't see the bird, but its amazingly loud song ensured that 8 jaws at a time were hanging pretty loose. We could also hear a Lesser Whitethroat here, and we had a brief glimpse of it later, as it flew around the back of a bush. A female Grass Snake was sunning herself on a grass pile, but she licked the air, smelt us, uncoiled herself and disappeared into her tunnel. She remained a little longer for the pm group, and I think everyone managed to see her before she repeated her disappearing act from the morning.
 Is it a Bird?  Is it a Hare?  Is it a Fox?...
 No, it's a female Roe Deer
 Roe Deer
The L-shaped hide resulted in a couple of Reed Warblers, whilst there were some wildfowl on the island, plus Gadwall & Mute Swans on the water. However the highlight was found by Claire. She saw something brown moving in the long grass. At first it wasn't possible to tell if it was a female Mallard, but then some ears, came into view. Was it a Fox? or a Hare? Then a large head appeared, and finally the body and long legs - it was a Roe Deer. 
Female Grass Snake
 Little Ringed Plover
Little Gull, Wigeon, and moulting other duck species, 2 Herons and at least 3 Cormorants were seen at Watton Borrow Pits, whilst another Lesser Whitethroat could be heard singing in the distance. A Peregrine was sat on a pylon, but to the frustration of the am group it seemed immovable, so they queried its reality. The pm group could have told them, as it had completely vanished when they arrived.  
Alleged Peregrine Falcon
 Bee Orchid
 Dryad's Saddle
 Mayfly Species?
 Silver-Y Moth
 Nearly Redundant
In the afternoon we popped in at SME hide to see the Little Ringed Plover in her safety cage. The forecast was completely out of kilter, as it didn't rain once in the afternoon, and although at least one person was bitterly disappointed we didn't go to our original location, we saw many more bird species than we would have seen on the peat lands. Birding becomes ever more difficult in June, but there was plenty of birds, orchids, a snake, a mammal and several insects to see to make the 2 hours fly by.