30 Jul 2017

30 July 17 - Butterflies on the Edge

In 2014, I spent a lot of time trying to see the regular breeding Butterflies that occurred in Dorset that I hadn't seen to date, as well as, trying to get photographs of as many of the Dorset Butterflies as I could. Photos of  many of the Dorset species were added to the Blog during the year with a couple of round up Posts: Whites, Hairstreaks & Blues & Nymphalidae (Aristocrats, Fritillaries & Browns) and Skippers. At the time, there were considered to be 45 breeding Dorset Butterflies left, with the news that Wood White had probably gone from the county, following its demise at Powerstock Common. So I was probably a few years to late to see a Dorset Wood White. The nearest colony was in Devon. At the time, I was told that they occasionally had flown over the border in previous years, but that hadn't been any recent records that my mate knew of. So I was resigned to the likelihood that I should have made more effort in my earlier years of living in Dorset. But fortunately, people have kept looking & I recently heard one of the Dorset Birders had managed to see some about a week ago. It was then a case of having to hope for decent weather this weekend. Yesterday was far too windy first thing & then went downhill as the rain set in for the rest of the day. Further heavy overnight rain didn't help, but it looked more promising this morning. So following clear signs of blue skies at home this morning, I had a hurried chat with Peter Moore, before we decided to head West. Even better, it was still sunny when we arrived. Soon after we were at the site to find James Lowther & his wife had beaten us there, but no sign of the Wood Whites. We spread out to look & about ten minutes later, Peter had found one at roost. By the time I got there it had flown, but it quickly settled down again in a more promising position for photos.
Wood White: A species I never expected to see in Dorset
Soon after it started warming up & we were regularly seeing sightings of the approximately ten individuals there. They were quite easy to pick out in flight having a much weaker & fluttery flight compared to the true Whites. There were also a couple each of Dingy Skippers & Clouded Yellows there, but neither were particularly photogenic & more flighty. No photos of either as I didn't want to get distracted from the Wood Whites. A lot of the Butterflies seem to be having a good year in 2017 & I guess they have just expanded a little bit onto the Dorset side of the border.
Wood White: Preparations for the next generation. Male to the left
This brings me to 49 species of Butterflies seen in Dorset, having seen vagrant Swallowtails, Large Tortoiseshell (Durlston) & Monarchs (Winspit (1995 & 1999) & Portland (2012)). This excludes the Swanage Maps which are now understood to be an illegal introduction, (surely accidental escape according to the individual involved to escape a potential prosecution - Ed). I guess it's too much to hope that there are still Pearl-bordered Fritillaries tucked away somewhere waiting to be rediscovered in Dorset since they disappeared. Probably the most like species for no 50 for Dorset will be a Long-tailed Blue.

27 Jul 2017

27 July 17 - Young Pipistrelle Bat?

At the moment, I'm working at a company with offices set in fairly extensive grounds on the downs outside Winchester. This is a great site to walk around at lunchtime & has a reasonably good selection of wildlife within the grounds. Today's walk was nearly over & had been fairly uneventful for interesting wildlife, when I saw a small & presumed Pipistrelle Bat fly low over the grass, before landing at head height on a small tree. As I approached I could see it climbing up the trunk, until it froze as it saw my movement. There was time for a few quick photos on the iPhone before leaving it in peace.
Presumed young Pipistrelle Bat sp.
I am presuming it is one of the two abundant species of Pipistrelle Bat. Until the 1990s, it was thought that there was only a single species of Pipistrelle Bat in the UK. Then studies confirmed there were two abundant & widespread species: Common Pipistrelle & Soprano Pipistrelle, as well as, the rare Nathusius' Pipistrelle. These first two  species are best told by the frequencies of their echolocation calls with the strongest calls being around 45kHz & 55 kHz, respectively. Obviously, I didn't have an Bat detector with me, but then it probably wasn't calling whilst clinging to the tree. Therefore, it's identification will probably remain a mystery, unless there are any Bat experts out there who can help to identify this Bat. I was expecting it to have grey brown fur, so was surprised to see the grey colouration of the bare skin. I am assuming it is a young Bat that has only recently learnt to fly & hasn't had time for the fur to grow.

24 Jul 2017

10 June 17 - 7 (00) Up

On 7 June 17, there was a very brief mid-week sighting of an Elegant Tern on the Eastern side of Hayling Island, Hampshire, but so brief that only a handful of locals managed to connect. Searches the following day proved negative, but then another tantalising sighting on Friday 9 June. Despite being another fleeting sighting, it gave hope that it might get pinned down somewhere in the area over the weekend. I spend some time looking at maps of Thorney Island & the surrounding harbour which forms the border between Hayling Island & West Sussex, with a view to try sorting out the most likely Tern colonies that it might be in & potential viewing points. But before I made any efforts to head off East, there was a Mega alert on the pager to say it had been seen one harbour further East at Pagham harbour. This perhaps explained its fleeting visits across the border to Hampshire. A quick call to alert Peter Moore, who was miserably being dragging around the Brownsea reserve by the family & visiting friends. Normally with Peter & family, it is the reverse, but as this was a potential UK Tick for him & virtually on the doorstep, he felt the right to be miserable. It was clear that trying to arrange a rendezvous with my twitching buddy would not work, especially as there was a three line whip to ensure he was back that evening, so I grabbed the cameras & headed off alone.

The pager was telling people to park at the RSPB centre & walk along the coast. I decided to chance heading for the small Church Norton car park, figuring that some of the quick responding locals would be leaving to avoid the arriving crowds. It worked, one spare place in the car park & 100 metres later, I arrived at the viewpoint for the Tern colony. The only problem it had headed back out to sea an hour ago. A group of locals suggested sticking with the Tern colony viewpoint than the beach, as it would be better views there assuming it had just gone fishing. After a wait of well over an hour, there was a shout at the other end of the group of viewing Birders. There was no possibility of hearing any quick directions, due to the usual many close & loud shouts for directions, which drowned out any chance of the required directions. But after a minute or two, word filtered down that it's on the spit. After that there were directions to the spit, which I hadn't noticed, having been focused on scanning the harbour entrance. Perhaps it had returned over the field of view of my scope or having overflown the shingle bank. Either way, it was academic as I could now see it. A long overdue British Tick finally seen. Even better this was species 700 for the Western Palearctic (based on the AERC taxonomy & boundaries i.e. the BWP boundaries). Not a list I take too seriously, but good it has finally reached 700.
Elegant Tern: A crap SX60 record shot as I arrived to find a flat battery in the 7D, with the spare in the house. Surely if the Sandwich Tern was going to stand on another's back to see its rare cousin, it would actually look at it!
I half toyed with the idea of going for one in 2013 on the Shannon estuary, but family commitments really made that difficult. Had I gone, I probably would have dipped, but would have been perfectly placed for the Wilson's Warbler twitch on Dursey Island. But then I might not have made the effort for the cracking Wilson's Warbler on Lewis in 2015, so perhaps best I didn't go. There have been other UK contenders with one in Devon while I was abroad. Also one in Dorset, when I was working in Bath at the time & I belted for, but abandoned the twitch & headed home when news of its departure reached me. There wasn't the time to get there once it was refound & it wasn't there the next day. Neither was I as I had to be back in Bath that morning. Today none of the previous British contenders have been accepted, but now a colour ringed individual with a known DNA pedigree has turned up in the UK, perhaps the authorities with consider accepting some of the previous UK candidates.

I felt sorry for the Hampshire Birders who spent a lot of time, desperately trying to see it around Hayling Island, knowing it was a few miles further East at Pagham. Less than a couple of weeks later, when it turned up on Brownsea, I spent four hours that evening & another two from first light scanning from my Studland patch at the Poole Harbour mouth for it. During that time, I got a call from Paul Morton who runs the Birds of Poole Harbour charity, that he was watching it on their Brownsea camera. But with no access to Brownsea that evening, all I could hope would be it would fly out of the harbour on one last feeding trip that evening or for an early breakfast flight: it didn't. I managed to join a few of the locals on a visit the following evening: a great evening except the main star wasn't there. There were a few claims during the day after it disappeared off the Brownsea camera in the early morning, but none sounded reliable. I will just have to hope it decides to return to Brownsea next ear & stay for a few days. It has been seen in a number of French colonies over the years, so it isn't impossible.

23 Jul 2017

2 July 17 - Still in the Summer Doldrums

In an earlier post, I mentioned I had gone looking for White Admirals in the Nature trail woods at Littlesea on the Studland patch. Whilst looking I decided to have a quick look at Littlesea. Sadly, the lakes Diving Ducks, Coots & their following Gadwalls have been decimated due to the large numbers of Carp that have plagued the lake in the last decade. But I still occasionally feel I need to look at Littlesea to prove to myself it's still largely devoid of Waterfowl. It was. But I did notice a handful of Black-tailed Skimmers in front of the hide.
Black-tailed Skimmer: Male. A relatively common Studland species
More interesting on the lily pads were about 8 Red-eyed Damselflies. This is a species that I wasn't aware occurred on the patch. So it was great to see them, even if they were a bit too far out for photography.
Red-eyed Damselfly: Note the all blue final 2 segments of the abdomen & black shoulders. They are also larger & stouter in build to the Small Red-eyed Damselflies
Even better whilst looking at the photos taken at Littlesea, I realised I had also photographed a Small Red-eyed Damselfly. Frustratingly, it is out of focus, but the black & blue penultimate segment on the abdomen & the chestnut shoulders are still visible. My first Small Red-eyed Damselflies in Poole Harbour. No longer a doldrum day.

18 Jul 2017

21 May 17 - Green Hairstreak on the Patch

I'm catching up with a backlog of photos from earlier this year & came across this Green Hairstreak photographed at Greenlands Farm on the Studland patch. Greenlands Farm can be a good migrant pocket for Wheatears, Whinchats & Warblers and has produced some of the rarer passerines on the patch over the last few years with Rose-coloured Starling, Red-backed Shrike & Richard's Pipit (along with a bonus Hoopoe). But there were few migrants around at Greenlands on 21 May this year. However, I did get my best photos of Green Hairstreak from the patch. Some Birders are purely into Birds & don't look at other wildlife & therefore would have been disappointed in the morning. But having a wider interest can help brighten up an otherwise dull Bird day.
Green Hairstreak
Green Hairstreaks are a species that occur in low numbers on the Studland patch. I suspect they are probably not uncommon around the Nature Trail around Littlesea, but as this isn't a migrant area, I rarely spend much time there during May when Green Hairstreaks on the wing.

15 Jul 2017

9 July 17 - A Recent Dorset Immigrant

In 1999, the first Small Red-eyed Damselfly appeared in Essex from Europe. As with the Estuary accent, it has continued to spread out from there. Unlike the unpleasant accent, Small Red-eyed Damselflies are a welcome addition to Dorset's still water lakes & ponds. They have become established at a few locations in the county, as they continue to spread West into Devon & South Wales and as far North as Yorkshire. I've seen them at Longham Lakes & Weymouth. I've looked for them in Poole Harbour in the recent years, but I haven't managed to find them so far. But given how far they have spread out across the country, then surely they will appear at some point within the harbour boundaries. The obvious places are Swineham (but there is no access to the water's edge unless you enjoy flushing the resident Birds in your canoes), Creekmoor Ponds (not tried) & Hatch Pond (which I've looked at in the past).

They tend to stayed well out on weed & lily leaves in the lakes at Longham, making it tricky to photograph them. But finally while unsuccessfully waiting for the Scarlet Darter to reappear at the large pool at Longham Lake, I spotted this one perching up right at the water's edge.
Small Red-eyed Damselfly: They are smaller & daintier than the commoner Red-eyed Damselflies. Males are another of the blue & black variation of Damselflies & can be separated from male Red-eyed Damselflies by their less deep red eyes, brighter red shoulder stripes & broken blue on the final two segments of the abdomen

12 Jul 2017

9 July 17 - Brown Hawker

I've struggled to get good photos of Brown Hawkers in the past. Partly, as they don't seem to be around the Studland area where I obvious spend most of my local time Birding. But they are reasonably common at Longham Lakes, but have always been very active. So I was pleased that when I was hanging around the large pool hoping the Scarlet Darter would reappear, to see a Brown Hawker perched up.
Brown Hawker: my best photos of this species
Brown Hawker: Looking at the photos I can now see the reason why it was perched up, some small unfortunate orange & black-spotted insect. Any ideas? In the next photo, it starts to drop it so had presumably just finished on the edible parts. Love the legs which suggest that few prey items easily get away

9 Jul 2017

9 July 17 - Scarlet Fever

Every summer we get a few days of sunshine with rising temperatures & Britain ends up in meltdown with everybody desperately heading to the coast or some nearby park to sunbathe. If I am going out, I try to get out early & then either find some sheltered woodland to look for Butterflies or try to avoid the worst of the sun. Not today. The plan was for an early visit to Studland, where Brands Bay produced a few Waders including a couple each of Whimbrel & Dunlin (neither unexpected for this day), an early Grey Plover & just under 125 Med Gulls (a good total for this date). I planned to go out later to trying to get some Butterfly photos somewhere sheltered from the sun.

That plan changed when I saw a photo on the local Birding email group of a presumed Red-veined Darter from one of the local Birders. Martin is just starting to get into Dragonflies & so perhaps it's not surprising that he had assumed that was what it was. However, the photo started ringing alarm bells for me as I could remember looking at the extremely rare Scarlet Darter in the books & it looked a very good fit from my memory. However, my memory wasn't so good on where I had placed the Dragonflies books I had moved yesterday, but eventually I found them & sure enough it looked a like a Scarlet Darter to me. Knowing Peter Moore was already on his way to look for it & feeling rough enough to take a hay fever tablet, then I thought I would give it some time for the tablet to kick in before heading off to Longham lakes. As the tablet started to work, Peter rang to say they were watching the presumed Scarlet Darter on a large pool at the Southern end of the South lake. It's not that far as the Dragonfly flies, but it was a slow journey this morning due to the heavy traffic. Once there, I found Peter had moved on and was trying to photograph a Lesser Emperor on the side of the lake. This year seems to have produced several individuals around the edge of the lake, perhaps suggesting the species is starting to get itself established at the site. Having spent several hours failing to see one the previous day, then I wasn't going to repeat that again, especially with a Scarlet Darter only a few minutes walk away. About ten minutes later, I arrived at the small lake to see about six others looking for it. They confirmed they had seen it a few minutes earlier, but it was coming & going, but occasionally settled on low vegetation at the lake edge. After a five minute wait, it reappeared & flew low over the large pool, before disappearing again. It was such a deep & obvious red in flight, that I was already pretty happy that I had seen the right individual. After another five minutes, it reappeared & fortunately, one of the guys further right from me had seen it land. He carefully walked about a few metres & called us over. It was good to see everybody was well behaved & hung back, rather that try & get in close to get a frame filling photo. Had this been a Hairstreak at one of the well known sites & more general wildlife photographers, then I'm sure somebody would have felt obliged to be more selfish. But good that everybody behaved. After a couple of minutes, it was up on the wing again & I found all my photos were out of focus. I was probably just a few inches too close from the 3.5 metre minimum focus on the 400mm lens. Fortunately, it was back in the same area about five minutes later & this time I was a few inches further back, (but probably should have still be a little further back). After a few more flight views, it briefly landed further down the track, before flying off.  Another brief flight view & we lost it. I stayed at that end of the large pool, before spending another hour at the other end. But there were no more sightings. The previous day it had been seen on vegetation on the main Southern lake which was just the other side of the causeway path, so presumably it disappeared back onto the main lake. Despite a lot of other locals, as well as, Dragonfly peeps from further afield arriving, there were no more sightings over the next four plus hours. Hopefully, it will be pinned down again in the next few days & people will start to get a better idea of its behaviour & favourite haunts.
Scarlet Darter: Male. There are few UK records with the first UK sighting being in 1995. There are records from Hampshire & the Isle of Wight, but this looks to be the first Dorset record
As for me, after spending about five hours in strong sunlight by the lakeside, with no sun cream, I'm likely to almost as red in the morning.

Will anybody heading there in the next few days, park on one of the local roads or the Haskin's Garden Centre. The fisherman's car park is only for permit holders.

2 Jul 2017

2 July 17 - Summer Doldrums

Since the late spring, the local Birding has been very quiet, apart from the excitement over the Elegant Tern. I've been cracking on with dull jobs around the house & garden, especially gardening. With the prospect of another day of gardening this weekend, I decided it was about time to head out to look for White Admirals locally. Soon after moving to Dorset, I started a ten miles from the house list. Not because it was another list to keep, but primarily as it would encourage me to spend more time Birding & looking at wildlife on my doorstep. White Admirals are one of few Butterflies that occurs locally that I've not managed to see. The easiest place to see them is on Brownsea, but usually summer apathy has meant I've not got around to going over to Brownsea at the right time of year.
Silver-washed Fritillary: A pity about the knackered forewing
Silver-washed Fritillary: Hopefully this will help maintain the next generation
A recent tweet indicated that a White Admiral had been recently seen on the nature trail at Littlesea. So with the prospect of them flying on the Studland patch, the gardening plans were shelved. Not knowing exactly where to look meant I was going to have to walk around & around hoping to bump into one. After 90 minutes of searching, I hadn't found any, although I had seen a number of Silver-washed Fritillaries, Commas, Ringlets, Speckled Woods, Meadow Browns, Red Admirals & Large Skippers.
Comma: There were quite a few flying, but all looked a bit beyond their best. Whereas, the ones I've seen in my garden this weekend, look a lot fresher
Comma: Showing how it got its name
Then I bumped into three other locals who had seen a White Admiral earlier that afternoon, as well as, a more showy individual elsewhere on the nature trail about a week ago. I was invited to tag along with them to check out the site of the showy individual, but after 20 minutes of looking, it was a no show. Back to Plan B to return to the site of their earlier sighting this afternoon, while they headed off to check out another historical location. No sooner than I had arrived at their site, which I had briefly looked at earlier that afternoon, then one flew down & started nectaring. It didn't stay long, but was good to finally see one locally. I was joined by the others after about ten minutes. Over the next hour or so, we all had repeated sightings of at least three White Admirals coming down to nectar for a few minutes, before disappearing back into the trees.
White Admiral: Finally on the patch list
White Admiral: This one stayed around long enough to try with the SX60