Friday, 23 June 2017

Marsh Harriers in The Fens and a New Dragonfly for Cambridgeshire

19th June 2017

Time for another visit to The Fens to see how the Marsh Harrier nests are going and whether any young have fledged yet. It was going to be a very hot day with temperatures in the 30s, so I arrived earlier than usual and parked myself in the hide with all the windows open to create a flow of air.

Everything was deathly quiet apart from a few Reed Warblers chuntering away in the reeds. Even the nature of the pond had changed since my last visit with several sprigs of Greater Bladderwort pushing their way, without leaves, through the water. But the Reed Warblers seemed less concerned about the heat and put in several appearances quite close allowing a few shots to be taken,

The harriers did eventually appear, but in a rather half-heartedly sort of way, preferring to sit around rather than waste energy on hunting. A couple of females did a few laps of the reed-bed, but there was no sign at any time of hunting, seemingly waiting for the males to bring food in as is often the case.

A lone male did take to the skies allowing a few shots, but disappeared as soon as it had arrived over the trees, never to be seen again.

At this point I thought I would have a look at some dragonflies on my way out. The diversity of species at this rather spectacular dragonfly habitat seemed be fairly restricted with only Azure Damselflies representing the blues. From the hide I had seen Emperor and the first Brown Hawkers, but not a single darter of any description, possibly still a bit early. By far the commonest dragonfly was the Four-spotted Chaser.

However, at the opposite end of the scale, I spotted a demoiselle perched high in a tree. I immediately recognised it and realised its significance so took some record shots. For this was no ordinary demoiselle, but a female Beautiful Demoiselle. normally only found in the south and west of England.

I submitted the photo to the County Recorder who has confirmed the identification and also that it is the first record for Cambridgeshire. So I feel a little chuffed as I drive home.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Pipits, Larks, Starts and Darts at Thursley Common

15th June 2017

Of course the original objective was to photograph the Red-footed Falcon at Frensham Common, but that hadn't been seen since 7.30am, and so after an hour we took the strategic decison to move to Thursley Common in the hope of some Hobbys and Dartford Warblers.

I sensed we might be in for a good day as, just as I was sitting in the boot having a sandwich, I looked up and there in front of me just 8 yards away was a superb male Redstart. Of course by the time I had found the camera it was long gone. I have been to Thursley several times before, but always for dragonflies, so really have no idea what birds are here.

So off we set and not too surprisingly, in view of the fact that we were in an acid bog and heathland, the first birds we came across were Stonechats. I normally photograph Stonechats during the winter months so these, especially the males, were rather more colourful. Also along the boardwalks Goldfinches were posing on the Gorse.

We also saw Redstarts at a few places on our route, and what was noticeable was that it was the males that enjoyed the sunshine, whilst the females seemed happier collecting food for their offspring in the shadows.

I normally go to The Brecks for Tree Pipits, but up on the heath here they were far more numerous and were singing from several trees. One particular individual was particularly confiding and allowed us to approach to within just 8 yards as it posed on a burnt log. Note the thin striations on the flanks, the stouter bill and tiny hind claw compared to a Meadow Pipit.

A little further along the track there were a few birds chasing around low over the heath, eventually dropping into cover. More Tree Pipits? A stealthy approach managed to locate one of the birds which turned out to be, not a Tree Pipit, but a Wood Lark. Once again we were able to get within just 8 yards.

Well, can this day get any better? Yes it can. As we approached the end of the track, we could hear the unmistakeable jangle of a Dartford Warbler. Now these birds are harder than you can imagine. Yes, they are loud and you can get just yards from them. The problem is that they often sing from the centre of a bush, so can be heard but not seen.

When they do eventually break cover, you very often have just a few seconds to grab a shot before they drop down again into cover. However, with a little patience it is possible to hear them, see them and grab a shot which I managed to do. Not the best, but I WILL BE BACK!!!

Thursday, 15 June 2017

In Search of Spotted Flycatchers and Turtle Doves

9th June 2017

We started off the day by looking and listening for Turtle Doves at the Drewers Hide at Fowlmere. One did call just the once to the right of the hide, but then fell silent. However, an unexpected visitor to the stream in front of the hide was a Water Vole. They are normally seen in the chalk stream that runs around the western and northen boundaries, but today one kept on emerging from the reeds and swimming out to break off a sprig of Marestail before returning to the reeds to eat it.

It proved very difficult to get a shot as it swam amongst the Marestail, but eventually it did stop in a minute clearing for no more than a head shot.

Continuing along the anticlockwise track we heard two more Turtle Doves singing, but only one was on show. Unfortunately it was about 70 yards away in its favourite dead tree, but I did manage to get a couple of record shots.

Now on to Wallington and Sandon to try our luck with the Spotted Flycatchers. There was no sign at the churches, but we did eventually manage to track down a pair at another site in Wallington which were fairly obliging. What cracking little birds.