29 Jun 2014

29 June 14 - Photographing White Legs

Off to the River Stour water meadows next to Canford School in Canford Magna. There is a suspension bridge over the river onto the water meadows on the North side of the river where there is a public footpath. This was to specifically look for White-legged Damselflies, which my mate Kevin had seen a number of the previous weekend.
The River Stour: A great looking river
The River Stour
The White-legged Damselflies habitat: They were resting in the rough grass alongside these banks of Stinging Nettles
Another view of the White-legged Damselfly grass habitat
There were about 10 White-legged Damselflies present. While they were happily perching on the long grass. When disturbed they disappeared back into the Stinging Nettles beyond a barbed wire fence. But given a few minutes, they did return. Superfically, they are another small blue Damselfly, but when they are seen really well, they are quite distinctive & great looking Damselflies.
White-legged Damselfly: Male. Note, the distinctive inverted Y markings on the abdomen
White-legged Damselfly: Male. Very distinctive white legs and obvious orange brown pterostigma
White-legged Damselfly: I'm assuming this is an immature female, but the blue spot on the thorax is interesting
White-legged Damselfly: Another immature female

28 Jun 2014

28 June 14 - First Attempt At Digiscoping The Middlebere Spoonbills

It was about 19:30 before I got back to Poole Harbour, after the drive around the Cranborne Chase looking for birds & other wildlife. Rather than head home, I opted for another couple of hours at Middlebere as the tide was perfect for a rising tide in the evening. The rising tides are always good here as Middlebere Creek is one of the last places on this side of the harbour to flood, thus allowing good views from the hide. Additionally, the local Spoonbills often gather here in the evening, although I've seen them fly off to roost elsewhere before dusk. The tide was higher up than I would have liked and I reckon I would already have missed many of the Waders. Although a party of 24 Black-tailed Godwits on the grass indicated their numbers were still increasing (compared to the 8 seen a few days earlier). But tonight it was the Spoonbills who stole the show, with 7 birds feeding together & occasionally preening each other.
Spoonbill: They were quite a way down the creek & closer to the RSPB hide this evening, so the Canon 7D & 400mm lens was struggling a lot in the evening light at that range
Being well down the creek, gave me a chance to try out the PhoneSkope adapter I've just bought for these situations. I had thought of trying to make one, but decided against that. I figured if it was loose & the IPhone fell off the scope & broke the screen, it would cost me more money replacing it in the long run. Also, I would end up having several trial & error sessions before I got the focal distances correct. So here are the first results. They photos aren't great, but given the distance, I'm fairly happy with the results in the circumstances. They would have been a lot worse had I tried to massively crop & enlarge the photos from the Canon set up. The weak point is the IPhone camera as my scope is a Leica 25 - 50x APO Televid 82 scope. Very nice optically & was the best large scope on the market a couple of years ago (before Swarovski brought out their latest scope).
Spoonbill: 2 adults given the bill pattern & the yellow flush on the breast of the right hand bird. All the Spoonbills I was seeing back in May were immature birds, so perhaps these 2 are newly in from the continent
Spoonbill: They can obvious get to some places themselves
Spoonbill: But for the places they can't reach...... it's good to have friends
Spoonbill: Clearly, this bird is bored of posing for photos or perhaps just giving an opinion on the quality of the photos
Incidentally, one of the Spoonbills present was the same colour-ringed individual that was present on 28 May at Middlebere. The colour ring details are:-
Left leg: Yellow over Red over Metal
Right leg: Red over Yellow Flag over Green
Spoonbill: A close up of the colour ringed bird
This looked to be the Spoonbill I saw on Brownsea on the 21 June (but I only realised that was coloured ringed when I saw the photos & the photo isn't clear enough to be 100% certain). I have sent the details off to the Spoonbill coordinator, but only received a reply saying he is away & very busy at the moment. If anybody has quicker connections to be able to check the history of this bird please leave a comment on the blog with your email address. I won't publish the Comment, but will respond privately by email to establish more details on the colour ringed bird.

28 June 14 - The Best Of The Rest On The Chalk

In the last post I covered some of the birds seen on a drive around the Cranborne Chase border of Dorset & Wiltshire. But I also saw some other interesting wildlife.
Brown Hare: Near Sixpenny Handley is a small area of set aside close to the road, allowing excellent views of these great Brown Hares
Brown Hare: A second animal trying to dry itself after a heavy downpour. Note, the long black tipped ears, long legs and overall bulky appearance. I had always assumed they were native to the UK, but it is believed they were introduced in Iron Age times to the UK
Rabbit: A common species that all UK residents will immediately recognise. This is a young Rabbit just over half size. Note, the small ears, gentler face, smaller build & shorter legs compared to the Brown Hare. They are also smaller & prefer areas of short grassland as well as arable fields, whereas, Brown Hares are predominantly found in or near arable fields. Rabbits were introduced into the UK by the Normans & for several centuries were a delicacy of the nobility with strict penalties for any commoners found poaching them. I always assumed they were native to Western Europe, but was surprised to read they are native to the Iberian Peninsula & Southern France, and introduced by man elsewhere in Western Europe
I found a great small roadside quarry just to the North of Win Green. This had a good selection of Butterflies in it.
Marbled White: A very distinctive rough grassland & downland Butterfly
Large Skipper on a Pyramidal Orchid: Female. Large Skippers have this bright mottling markings on the upperwing, whereas the other common Skippers, Small Skipper & Essex Skipper, have a plainer orange upper wing. This is female as it doesn't have a broad black line in the upperwing which the males show
Large Skipper: Another view of the same female
Large Skipper: Male. This shots shows the distinctive black line in the upper wing. This is a sex brand of specialist scent scales (Crowle Moor, Yorkshire, 1 July 12)
Large Red-tailed Bumblebee: One of my favourite Bumblebees & one that seems to regularly come to light if I run a moth trap in my garden
Pyramidal Orchid: There were about 10 of these in this small quarry
Pyramidal Orchid: A close up of the flowers. The tight head of flowers in a pyramidal shape makes this a distinctive Orchid to identify. Apparently, the flowers are shaped to only be pollinated by Butterflies proboscis

28 June 14 - The Laurel & Hardy Of The Chalk

After finishing at the White Mill, Sturminster Marshall, I had intended to pop a couple of miles up the road to the nearby Badbury Rings to look for Dark Green Fritillaries. But it was getting quite cool & overcast by this point, so I switched into a hurriedly make up Plan B: to head up towards the Cranborne Chase area along the Dorset/Wiltshire border. I had driven through this area on the way back from Goring-on-Thames a couple of weeks before & was keen to see a bit more of this stunning countryside on the Wiltshire side of the border. I started on the Dorset side of the border, spent some time weaving West on back roads before finally crossing back into Dorset again. I drove around a lot exploring the stunning downland countryside around Sixpenny Handley, Bowerchalke, Win Green & Tollard Royal, before heading back home. The key part of Plan B was to try to get photos of one of the Downland birds, that I was particularly keen to photograph. I succeeded & managed to find it & get the desired photos. They are in this post, so it not a rare bird. However, as I will be coming back to that species in a future Photospot, I'm not going to reveal which bird was my target species at the moment.
Charlton Down: A view of this stunning downland immediately West of Win Green Down
Charlton Down: The view of the plain to the North of Charlton Down
I should have taken more scenery shots, but the Sixpenny Handley & Bowerchalke areas were heaving with cars as there was a big history festival, the Chalke Valley History Festival, being held in the area. A lot of people were heading off, following a heavy rain shower. This made stopping & enjoying the scenery more difficult on these narrow side roads. Fortunately, I started to get away from those cars as I got closer to the Win Green area. By this time, the rain had cleared & the sun was back out again. The wet weather wasn't surprising given it's Glastonbury weekend & this always seems to be a wet weekend, regardless of the weather in the surrounding weeks.
St Martin's Church, Fifield Bavant: Apparently, this 13th Century church is the smallest church in Wiltshire & second smallest in England
As I drove around, I bumped into a number of the typical Downland Bird, Mammal & Butterfly species.
Red-legged Partridge: Sadly, the upper classes still think it's important to introduce birds like Red-legged Partridge so they can shoot them. Not only do I object on principal at this pointless so called sport, but it also makes it more difficult for the UK to object to the whole scale massacre of migrant birds by countries like Malta. Malta continues to flout EU law over the killing of Spring migrant birds & their hunters target many species of European migrant birds. The hunting continues inside & outside of the season when they are only allowed to shoot 2 species (Quail & Turtle Dove). But this doesn't stop them killing Birds of Prey, Storks and many species of Songbirds (that don't look anything like their supposed quarry). Neither that it stop some of them intimidating people who object to this killing. Please support the excellent work by Birdlife Malta to try to stop this Spring Massacre on Malta that Chris Packham has highlighted so well here
Lapwing: Good to see breeding success. I stopped the car to photograph the adult, but then spotted this young chick. I grabbed a couple of shots, but left immediately as didn't want to stress them given it was raining
There was a good juxtaposition of a Meadow Pipit & a Corn Bunting at Win Green, but sadly not in the same shot. Their respectively shapes reminded me of the great silent movie screen double act of Stan Laurel & Oliver Hardy. See if you can see the similarity.
Meadow Pipit: Clearly the Stan Laurel
Corn Bunting: Oliver Hardy lived in the pre-PC world when you could describe somebody as fat & you're not going to get a fatter songbird in Wiltshire
Corn Bunting: They have a great jangly song

28 June 14 - The Moral Of Not Carrying The Book

After some help from my mate Kevin, I was off to try another site on Dorset's River Stour. This is further upstream on the site tried on the 23rd for White-legged Damselfly & near to the large village of Sturminster Marshall. After driving through the large village of Sturminster Marshall, the road crossed the Stour next to the White Mill. There is a small National Trust car park here. Walking upstream & away from the Mill, for about 50 metres brought me to a path leading to the river bank. Very quickly, the path opens up into the first of several fields alongside the river bank. This is the site for the White-legged Damselflies. There are a lot of Stinging Nettles alongside the river as well as areas of other plants & bushes, but the vegetation in the first field had been severely strimmed. There were excellent numbers of Banded Demoiselles along the full length of the main river bank with about 10 or so Scarce Chasers in the first field & an Emperor Dragonfly hawking over the river. The path then carried in into a couple of short grass Cow fields. The Stinging Nettles along the riverbed edge of the fields were good for Banded Demoiselles, but little else.
Looking downriver along the main river bank
Looking upriver along the main river bank
Little Egret: Closer to the Mill. Once a national rarity, now a common sight in Dorset
Mallard: Male entering its dull eclipse plumage which they adopt during their moult phase (when the replace their feathers)
By the entrance into the first Cow field, there is an alternative path into long, thin sided field of rough grass with a sloping bank alongside an overgrown ditch. There were about 6 Common Blue Damselflies & one White-legged Damselfly in the long grass in this field. Despite checking the book before I left the house, I ended up failing to appreciate the potential confusion of the immature female Common Blue Damselfly (which look different from the mature blue females). As a result, I ended photographing a couple of Damselflies, thinking they were White-legged Damselfies, which I later reidentified as Common Blue Damselflies (when I checked the photos against the book). I did manage to see & photograph a real White-legged Damselfly, but the photos aren't as good as they would have been, had I realised my error at the time: as I would have spent longer photographing it. Still I always think you learn, & more importantly remember, more by making these mistakes. It also shows the importance of having a camera to get some photos of these insects to be able to check all the features. 
The side field: This looked more interesting habitat & I did finally see one White-legged Damselfly in the long grass, with a couple of immature female Common Blue Damselflies
Common Blue Damselfly: Male. Nice & easy to identify as lots of blue on the abdomen and the head & shoulders marking on the second segment (which separates it from the other small blue Damselflies)
Common Blue Damselfly: Immature female Common Blue Damselfly. Mature adult females would still be as bright blue as the males. They have this missile like marking on their abdomen and crucially some white on the legs
Common Blue Damselfly: Another photos of the immature female Common Blue Damselfly. Again note the white on the legs
White-legged Damselfly: The legs are more white, the tops of the eyes are blue & the pterostigma markings are light brown (black on Common Blue Damselfly)
The Scarce Chasers & the Banded Demoiselles were dominating the main river bank. The Scarce Chasers were very active and rarely settled. When they did settle, they would fly at the slightest movement even several metres from them. When they met another male, both would go an impressively fast vertical climb for about 20 metres, in an attempt to other climb each other.
Scarce Chaser: Male. Due to the angle of this photo it's not possible to see the black base to the hind wing. However, the lack of yellow-orange edges to the sides of the abdomen & the dark pterostigma still confirms it is a Scarce Chaser
Scarce Chaser: Male. This tatty male shows how limited the black on the hind wing is the Scarce Chasers here 
Scarce Chaser: Male. Finally a head on view
Banded Demoiselle: Male
Banded Demoiselle: Female. We think they look great, the Bug this female is eating wouldn't have agreed they are anything other than dangerous predators
Banded Demoiselle: Female. I couldn't resist a final photo
The sunny conditions were also good for Butterflies. There were reasonable numbers of Small Tortoiseshells, a few Red Admirals & Meadow Browns & a Green-veined White.
Green-veined White
Red Admiral
Red Admiral: They become a lot more cryptic when they close their wings up
Small Tortoiseshell: Although not as common as they were when I was a kid, this species seems to be around in better numbers than recent years