Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Little Egret.

A sighting 25 years ago of any white Heron in the UK would have been greeted with definite excitement amongst the birding fraternity. The Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) with its attractive white plumes, black legs and bill and yellow feet first appeared in the UK in significant numbers in 1989 and first bred in Dorset in 1996. Its initial colonisation throughout various coastal locations in the south followed as a result of its natural range expansion into western and northern France in previous decades. It is now a resident breeder and a passage migrant with an estimated 666 pairs in the summer (2005-2009) and around 4,500 individuals present during the winter.

I have a clear memory of finding my first Little Egret in an estuary on the south coast in 1994 after spending ages scanning a distant reed bed and locking onto a white blob which eventually took flight and then promptly disappeared again. Now on any visit I would be upset if I didn't see a decent number and I still get excited when there is an opportunity to watch this elegant Egret going about its daily feeding ritual. So here are a few images from the recent archives.


Beside the Towpath.

Last Friday morning found me treading the towpath alongside the River Wey Navigation. 

As usual  I started from the iron bridge but decided on this occasion to head downstream initially enjoying the shade afforded by the waterside trees as far as the lock with just the sound of water seeping through the upstream gates and bubbling onto the murky depths below. 

After crossing the lock my attention was immediately drawn towards an area of brambles, grasses and wild flowers, including Hemp-agrimony and Tansy on which a few butterflies were enjoying the sunshine and nectar.

Peacock and Gatekeeper.

Other species included Meadow Brown, a Comma and Large Skipper.

All along the towpath the waterside plants and grasses were often taller than me thereby restricting any decent views of the water but what did surprise me was the number of male Banded Demoiselles that gracefully fluttered up from the vegetation as I passed by. Throughout just a mile stretch of this waterway I estimated that there must have been over a hundred males but I only spotted one or two females hiding amongst the plants.
A male Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) showing off its iridescent colours; the metallic blue-green body with its very distinctive blue-black wing band. [I will show you some more images in a future post].

With the sun beating down I was very glad to find some more shade beneath another bridge.

Mrs Mallard drifted silently past me.

I sat here for some time enjoying just the sound of water tumbling over the weir on the far side of the river interrupted very occasionally by the mewing call of Common Buzzards floating high above their nearby woodland habitat.  FAB.

Linking to Nature Notes.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Another Circuit of Thursley Common.

Yesterday I paid another visit to Thursley Common around mid morning on another hot, sunny day but with a fairly strong breeze and the chance of a shower or two. 

I decided on a slightly different route and kept away from the boardwalk and headed on a clockwise circuit that would take me through the heart of the bog on a little used path to see what wildlife was about. 

Bird wise it was fairly quiet apart from the 'yaffle' calls of a Green Woodpecker and a small party of Linnet, constantly chatting to one another, flitted from treetop to treetop and always staying one jump ahead of me!

The usual dragons were easily located including Keeled Skimmers and Four-spotted Chasers resting from their early morning activities.
Keeled Skimmer and Four-spotted Chaser.
Out in the middle of the bog I noticed the low cloud building up from the south-west and in a matter of minutes I was overtaken by a rain squall and took what shelter I could find from a large stand of Gorse. 
The cloud quickly moved through, the sun reappeared and the temperature rose bringing a few other species in sight of the lens. A male Azure Damselfly politely perched close by.

A little further along the path I noticed a tiny female 'blue' butterfly settling on the top of a flower and just managed one shot before it flew ahead of me. At first glimpse you might say "it's not blue" ... well the upper wings on females of a number of our blue species are in fact brown but it is the pattern on the under wings that often provide a clue to their identification.
This individual eventually resettled with her wings closed (see below) clearly showing that the black marginal spots on the hindwings are studded with silvery-blue centers, hence the name Silver-studded Blue.
Silver-studded Blue (Plebelus argus).

Just before the path heads into a stand of conifers where the ground was under water just a few weeks ago a female White-legged Damselfly (Platycnemis pennipes) decided to rest in the sunlight and allowed me to get a close up with my pocket Powershot.

My onward route took me across the open heath to a small field bordered by trees and around a area of brambles a few butterflies were found but only in single numbers,
[Clockwise from top left] Large Skipper, Small Copper, Ringlet and a male Gatekeeper.

Nearly at the end of my two hour walk I rejoined the boardwalk and had another chance at capturing a shot of a male Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa).

Further along the boardwalk a Common Lizard was sunning itself. Normally I would expect to see them every foot or so but this appeared to be the only individual brave enough to show itself or maybe they knew the weather was due to change again.

A Kestrel hovered high over the bog and I saw four Swallows perched on the overhead power lines but only caught the last one to depart! With the cloud base building up it was time to depart for home.

Wherever you are I hope you have a glorious wildlife watching weekend. We are expecting thunderstorms and a lot of rain!   FAB.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Female Black Darter.

Despite several attempts the male Black Darters (Sympetrum danae) on Thursley Common have been very uncooperative so here are a few images of a female taken very recently.

From a distance the female does look very much like other darters but her all black legs, a black triangle on top of the thorax and the very distinctive row of three yellow dots within the black median stripe on the side of the thorax is the best way if identifying this species.

The females are more active during the late afternoon and like this one tend to perch amongst denser vegetation to avoid harassment from the males. This ensures that the females will mate with males that are more accomplished at seeking them out.

Typical habitat is shallow acidic, nutrient poor pools with abundant emergent vegetation on heathland, moorland and bogs. Usually in flight from mid July to mid September.

  All images were taken with 70-300 lens, handheld.  FAB.

Linking to NF Winged.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Admirals, Fritillary and a rare Emperor.

During a recent visit to Bookham Common I finally managed to grab some images of several butterfly species that can be found in sunlit woodland glades although the numbers on the wing are definitely much lower than this time last year.

 Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

 White Admiral (Limenitis camilla)
Although traditionally found in broadleaved woodlands this elegant species is very tolerant of the shade which has helped its expansion into mixed conifer and deciduous plantations.
It has a powerful gliding flight and I had to wait a long time for one to come to rest in the sunshine.

Like many species the under wing pattern and colours are totally different but they never wanted to pose in quite the right place for a clear shot!

 Silver-washed Fritillary [male] (Argynnis paphia)

The males, distinguished by the four bold sex brands along the veins of their forewings, were very active chasing one another hither and thither, while trying to hunt down a receptive female.

Silver-washed Fritillary [female] (Argynnis paphia)

However the highlight of my visit came around midday when I joined two other wildlife watchers and witnessed a number of 'dog fights' between two male Purple Emperors high above the master oak. Whilst I found it too difficult with my limited lens to capture this fascinating activity I did manage to snap a record shot (heavily cropped) of one male perched on the very tip of one of the highest branches.
Purple Emperor (Apatura iris)

Friday, 19 July 2013

Friday Foray.

Another visit to Thursley Common on a lovely warm sunny morning but with a stronger breeze blowing so this initially meant that very few dragons and damsels were posing for their portraits. 

As I waited for the heat to build up I inadvertently disturbed a Common Snipe who was obviously enjoying the shade underneath the boardwalk and it jinked away to hide on the far side of the bog; a Hobby made a brief hunting foray high overhead; juvenile Green Woodpeckers were constantly calling from their hidden perch in a stunted pine tree and an adult  parent flew out of the grass to join them, probably with a tasty meal. A Goldfinch twittered as it flew overhead and a male Stonechat was on sentry duty. A single female Mallard was on the bog pool, a family of Canada Geese were feeding amongst the grass and Carrion Crows made brief appearances while Great Spotted Woodpeckers called from within the nearby woods plus a very distant view of a drifting Common Buzzard..

As the sun lifted the temperature under a cloudless sky eventually a Broad-bodied Chaser took a well earned rest.

A male Keeled Skimmer soaked up the sunshine on the boardwalk. This seemed to be the most prolific dragon on the wing today .... I stopped counting after I logged over 50 separate individuals.

In a sunlit space within Pine Island I spotted female Black Darter who entertained my memory card for nearly half an hour ... I'll share some other images fairly soon. Back out alongside the boardwalk I logged a few of the distinctive dark males but they were too busy chasing one another for any additional pics ... maybe next time!

Two species of large dragons, the Common Hawker and Emperor Dragonflies were highly visible as they toured their territories and as midday beckoned damselflies were also in abundance, including Common and Azure Blues, Small and Large Reds and a couple of Emeralds.

  Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) that always rests with open wings.

No opportunity again today for any Hobby photos but at least one of the resident Kestrels made a lower pass over the bog.

Plenty of colour from the Bog Asphodel.

Wishing everyone a glorious wildlife watching weekend, wherever you are.  FAB.

Linking to Camera Critters.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Black Darter.

Another dragonfly that enjoys shallow acidic water pools on the heathland bog at Thursley Common is the small Black Darter (Sympetrum danae). Mature males are the only resident black darter to occur in Britain with its distinctive yellow markings an waisted abdomen. [In North America it is called the Black Meadowhawk].

The harsh sunlight and dark background didn't help to focus on this male who was constantly fluttering its wings in the light breeze.

In the past I have only ever caught a female 'in cop' with her partner so it was pleasing to find one perched amongst the emergent vegetation.

Immature males and females can be distinguished from other similar looking darters by their smaller size, entirely black legs and the black triangle visible on the top of the thorax.

Their flight season is usually from mid July through to mid September so I still have plenty of time to hopefully spend some more time with this special little darter.   FAB.

All images taken with the 70-300mm lens, handheld.   Linking to NF Winged.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Brood Parasitis.

Avian interspecific brood parasitism is a reproductive strategy whereby the parasitic bird lays all its eggs in the nests of other species, sparing themselves the expense of rearing their own offspring. (Intraspecific is where they are laid in other nests of the parasite's own species).

For the parasite the benefits are greater allocation of their resources towards mating and egg production without the need to defend nests, incubation and subsequent feeding of their young. For the host species the issues range from diminished nestling growth rate due to competition by the parasitic offspring (e.g. Cowbirds) to total loss of their own eggs and nestlings through eviction by the early-hatching parasites (Cuckoos). As far as I am aware the most commonly studied avian brood parasites are Cowbirds and Cuckoos but I only have limited experience of witnessing the outcome of the latter species' breeding success and subsequent rearing by a host species.

Females of the Common Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) generally lay their eggs in the nest of the species which raised them and Dunnock, Reed Warbler and Meadow Pipit are their current favoured 'hosts'. The males will fertilize females of all lines thereby ensuring adequate gene flow among the different maternal lines. A single female may visit up to 50 nests each breeding year and in order to prevent rejection she is able to mimic the colouration of the host species own eggs, albeit they are often larger in size.

The hosts: Reed Warbler, Meadow Pipit and Dunnock.

Some years ago I was alerted to the fact that a juvenile (Common) Cuckoo had taken up residence in a specific area of a garden where I was working. It didn't take me long to locate the begging 'sree, sree, sree' calls, much like other small birds but very penetrating, and there it was perched for a photo call. So here are the results taken with my trusty old Olympus OM1, a little rough, as they were scanned from the original photos.

What I didn't expect to see was the juvenile Cuckoo being fed by its host parent, a Dunnock (Prunella modularis) which made constant forays into the undergrowth to locate suitable titbits to satisfy the constant begging and voracious appetite of its fast growing charge. 

Although I didn't get an image I also watched a Robin join the Dunnock and it also presented food to the Cuckoo but was that just a case of mistaken identity or the result of another inter-relationship!

After an extensive feeding session it quietly hunkered down to presumably await the next feeding session. It remained in this location for several days and then disappeared so I always wondered if it ever made the long, hazardous journey to its wintering grounds in Africa and did it ever return as an adult to add to the gene pool of this parasitic species.    FAB.

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday where you can view all manner of species from around the globe.


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