Monday, 3 August 2015

Roe Deer and musings on Crassula, Pennington Flash

I cycled all around the flash tonight and even paid a brief visit to Lightshaw Hall Flash, but to no avail, the four juvenile black terns which had been present all morning had apparently gone. Still, I did get to see the family party of four roe deer from the Teal hide.

Of interest to me, the deer were eating New Zealand pygmyweed Crassula helmsii. This is an invasive alien species which can spread like wildfire from just the smallest leaf on a ducks foot and chokes up ponds making them unsuitable for many aquatic invertebrates such as dragonfly nymphs etc. It's almost impossible to remove from a pond, and has virtually taken over Teal scrape, covering almost all of the exposed mud.  

When I was volunteering at Martin Mere a few years back, one of the methods we tried to remove it was to completely drain parts of the reedbed and allow it to dry, then spray the Crassula. I'm not sure how successful this was. It's a bit drastic and obviouly wipes out everything else in the pond, and moreover since a single leaf is enough for it to return, I wonder if it's worth the effort, but I suppose you have to try something.Yesterday I watched a green sandpiper trying to battle its way through the stuff, which was waist high on the bird.

So it's at least being put to good use by the deer, and in fact it makes me wonder if it's now a vital piece of the ecological jigsaw which has allowed the deer to settle at the flash and raise young.

A sea of Crassula.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Pennington Flash

A juvenile Mediterranean gull was coming to bread on the car park this afternoon. There was also a common sandpiper from Horrock's hide, a green sandpiper from Ramdale's and two green sandpipers from Teal hide.

Saturday, 1 August 2015

Bee-eaters, Brampton, Cumbria

There was never any doubt where we would be going today following the exciting news yesterday that two pairs of bee-eaters have hatched young in a quarry near Brampton in Cumbria and that the RSPB had set up a viewing point. Six adults are in the area, the two sets of parents and two extra male "helpers". So we headed north with great anticipation.

However on arrival it transpired that things were not going to be quite as they seemed from the messages on the various information services, or perhaps our expectations had been unrealistically high. First of all it soon became obvious that the birds were not going to be as easy as expected. Ignoring the first obstacle which was the 400m, mainly uphill walk from the car park, which didn't worry me but did seem to worry quite a few other people on the way up, when we arrived at the viewpoint we found that one nest hole was about 200m away on the other side of the quarry, whilst the second was a similar distance and out of view. We didn't see any activity in the vicinity of this nest during the entirety of our visit.

We spent a long two hours staring at the barren quarry which was devoid of life except for the constant stream of nesting sand martins, with no sign of any bee-eaters. Not even a blade of grass in the quarry, just sand, and as a result of this, the birds were not hawking for insects in front of us as we'd imagined in our dreams the night before, they were in fact  elsewhere in the wider countryside seeking prey, only returning to the quarry to change over at the nest and / or feed the offspring which were out of view and 3m down inside the nest hole. After two hours we experienced the first change over and it was ominously quick, too quick for me in fact and I missed it. A bird swooped in from nowhere and went straight into the nest hole as another came out and disappeared over the top of the quarry. All over in a matter of seconds. Then we had another wait of 45 minutes. I was beginning to think I might leave having not seen them. Imagine that.... dipping on bee-eaters at the nest with an RSPB viewpoint in operation. Several people did in fact leave without seeing them. One bloke made it to the viewpoint gasping for breath, announced that this was his first twitch and then 15 minutes later headed off back to car park having not seen the birds. Top tip: don't take up twitching if you're only going to give it 15 minutes! But I knew that if we waited long enough, I would inevitably see the birds. So we waited and waited.

Finally I saw a bird flying above the quarry. It flew around for a few seconds, before calling briefly and hurtling into the hole. No bird came out, so there were now two adults in the hole. Ten minutes later another bird appeared, and this time it landed on a fence post, giving good scope views. A bit distant for photography but the sun was right on it and through the scope it looked good and was seen to be carrying a bee. After a minute or two, it too went into the hole. Now there were three adults inside. A minute later I had what I would consider to be my best view; a bee-eaters head poking out of the hole for a few seconds before flying out and away. Excellent!

We made our way back to the car park, well satisfied. Yes they had been a bit distant for photography, yes they had made us wait and given us relatively short views, but what a great sight to see bee-eaters at the nest in Cumbria - and still we hadn't finished. On arrival back at the car park, we saw some birders looking through scopes at another bee-eater on a dead tree in the distance. After a few minutes it flew and began hawking for insects over the field. Again a reasonable scope view, but more distant still than the birds at the nest site.

So in total I reckon we saw four birds, but never more than one at any one time. In the first photo below you can see a bee-eater on the left, with the nest hole in the bottom right. It's NOT the obvious round looking hole, it's the squarish looking hole just above it partially in shadow.

Year: 241 (bee-eater)

Friday, 31 July 2015

Pennington Flash

Black tailed godwit from Ramsdales hide today, green sandpiper from the Teal hide and green sandpiper and common sandpiper from Horrock's. On the flash itself, 70 mute swans, 3 common terns and hundreds of coots.

The view from Ramsdales hide.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Appleton Reservoir, Warrington and Pennington Flash

At least five little grebes on the reservoir today, two adults with a juvenile on the western edge, another adult in the south west and a single juvenile in the north east. No sign of the pair with two juveniles in the southern bay, but it looks as though at least two pairs have bred, possibly three. Also today 15 tufted ducks.

At the flash today, three green sandpipers, two at Ramsdales and one at the teal hide.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Some more stuff from Essex

Abberton Reservoir

Black-necked grebe, Abberton reservoir.


Egyptian goose

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Bits and pieces from Essex

I've been working in Essex today and as always, plenty of bits and pieces to discuss here without saying exactly where I've been. This morning I was walking along a particularly unimpressive looking hedgerow bordering an arable field, when I noticed several tiny skippers flying around in the field margins. Clearly too small for large skipper I thought, in fact they looked to be about the smallest skippers I had ever seen, which immediately raised my suspicions. I managed to spot one land and the dark tips to the anntenae immediately identified them as Essex skippers. Small skippers have and orange tip, and large skippers, apart from being bigger, have a more marked underwing.

Essex skipper, a first for me.

In the late afternoon I moved to a more coastal area. I noticed a damselfly perched on vegetation in a ditch and moved towards it to photograph it. The insect flew off and I turned back to the path and froze in my tracks. Right in front of me, a foot away at most, was an impresssive looking adder! I must have walked right past it. How I didn't stand on it I'll never know!

This looks like a gravid (pregnant) female from the size of its middle. A good 2 feet long, it was probbaly the largest adder I've ever encountered.

Also today, lots of holly blues on the wing.

Ruddy darter.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Pennington Flash

Three common tern at the flash today....

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Arnside Knott

The Silverdale / Arnside area is one of the most biodiverse regions in the UK, with Arnside Knott arguably the jewel in the crown. Many rare and unusual species occur on the Knott, for example a couple of years ago I was shown Teesdale violet which grows only here and on the sugar limestone at Teesdale. Today we spent our day bug, butterfly and plant hunting on the Knott and saw a decent selection of what the place has to offer.

Undoubtably the star of the show, a freshly emerged high brown fritillary. This is a rare butterfly in the UK with Arnside Knott and other limestone crags in the area such as Gait Barrows and Warton Crag amongst its few UK strongholds.

It's very difficult to seperate this species from dark-green fritillary, you really need a good look at the underwing, but fortunately you can just about see here the two diagnostic red "polo mints" near the base of the underwing.

Not far behind high brown fritillary comes Scotch argus, here at one of only two UK locations outside Scotland. The species is right at the start of its flight season, so this individual must be freshly emerged. Even so it's pretty tatty looking already!

Even rarer and more localised than high brown fritillary, this is dark-red helleborine. This orchid grows on limestone,mainly along the North Wales coast, in North West Scotland and here at Arnside, as well as a few place in the Pennines.

Dark-green fritillary. Many of these are starting to look faded and worn now.

Northern brown argus. Definately faded and worn!

Even without the butterflies and plants, Arnside Knott is a great place to visit and one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places I know.

We also called in briefly at the new Public Hide at Leighton Moss. Not a lot to report from here, except this poor coot with a grossly deformed bill. It seemed to be feeding ok though.


Thursday, 23 July 2015


We camped for five nights near Stonehenge and today we called in for a look at this most impressive place. Rather than pay £15 each or whatever it cost to get into the visitor centre, we paid a fiver on the car park and walked the mile and a half to the monument, which at least gave us the opportunity to take in the countryside on the way, and included some of the best butterfly watching we had experienced all holiday.


Large white.

Marbled white. Notice the hoverfly zooming in on the bottom right of the photo! If I'd wanted a photo of a flying hoverfly I bet I couldn't have got one so sharp and so good even if I'd taken a 1000 pictures!

Silver-washed fritillary 

More photos of silver-washed fritillary.

I don't care how touristy it may seem, Stonehenge is a really impressive sight and gives me goose bumps everytime I see it.