Saturday, 27 June 2015

Tale of two trips !

 I would like to say that my three daughters have inherited my love of all things wild and natural, they should, they spent a good part of the growing up traipsing around the countryside and enjoying it, or so I thought, but sadly the answer is no.
 My middle daughters love of nature extends only to her two black cats, my son in law has embarked on a deforestation plan in their garden, their Hedgehog  has had to find a new home.
 My youngest daughter flatly refuses to share a room with any creature that vaguely resembles a spider, and lives in a concrete jungle.
 My eldest daughter is interested in photography, not necessarily wildlife photography, she has amazingly, retained some of her bird identification skills, but strangely, hates my dog.
 My wife gets hysterical at the sight of my garden pond inhabitants, (frogs), especially if at any time their paths do cross can be difficult at times.

 So on this 'Father's day' weekend, my eldest daughter was visiting from York and suggested a photography trip out into the country, my middle daughter and Son in law decided to restock my pond with some very nice Koi fish, my youngest decided to grace us with her presence.
Things were looking up.

Time was relatively short so I suggested Rainham RSPB, just a short drive away.

She had never visited an urban wildlife site before, I think she was pleasantly surprised by the habitat and photography opportunities that arose.

The weather was not brilliant, in fact we had some drizzly rain, but we still managed some good sightings.

I went back a few days later alone,when the sun was shining, so this is a compilation of sightings from the two short trips.

Our first stop off was the MDZ area , a short walk along the boardwalk, there has been  reports that the Kingfishers had been clearing out their nesting tunnel after the successful fledging of their first brood, and maybe a second brood was in the oft.
The Hide was empty on our arrival, not a good sign, we decided to give it five minutes to see if any Kingfishers were around. My daughter has never seen a Kingfisher up close and personal, unbelievably, within about thirty seconds the female Kingfisher flew into the pool and landed on one of the perches, it stayed on the perch for at least ten minutes or so. occassionaly preening, a few photographs were taken needless to say, always a bit hazy through the glass of the hide screen, my daughter was pleased with the sighting, things were looking up.

Female Kingfisher
My second trip did not produce a Kingfisher, but a reed Warbler posed nicely on one of the dragonfly sculptures, and a very nice female Four Spotted Chaser posed briefly on a reed stem.

Reed warbler
Female Four Spotted Chaser

We moved on down the boardwalk, checking out the reed fringed dykes for a Water Vole sighting, she was unlucky on her visit, but I did manage a brief view of a Water Vole as it swam across the dyke before disappearing into the reeds.

Water Vole
Plenty of Coots and Moorhens, some with families, some nesting again for a second brood.

Coot family
Moorhen on nest
A Grey Heron posed nicely for us on one of the bridges, on my second trip I watched a Heron flying low, surprising a Coot family on the edge of the reedbed, without landing it reached down and snatched a young coot with its beak and continued flying with the baby coot dangling from its beak, 
I don't think she would of liked that view, nature can be very cruel at times.

Grey Heron

The Marsh Frogs were very vocal, my daughter was fascinated by them and snapped away when ever she saw one, this was my attempt on the second trip, a particular photograph I have been trying to get. I watched this frog for some time, He could hear other male frogs calling in the distance, he was making his way towards them, stopping every  few feet to pump up his air sacs and call, on each call the air sacs would get bigger, until he decided to move off,when they deflated

Marsh Frog calling

We moved on to the dragonfly pools, I casually said that there had been sightings of Bearded Tits in the area, another bird she had not previously seen, unbelievably again a family of Bearded Tits flew in next to us , totally unconcerned by our presence, difficult to photograph in the reeds though.

Bearded Tit juvenile

Just past the Dragonfly pools and the loud call of a Cetti's warbler was heard , and then briefly the Warbler showed itself on some Hogweed, called again and disappeared

Cetti's Warbler.
On my daughters visit the drizzly rain kept the dragonflies away, not so on my second visit, the Black Tailed Skimmers were flying around the pools occasionally landing on the timber boardwalk.

Black Tailed Skimmer
Other dragonflies on show was this female Ruddy Darter, quite a few Emperor Dragonflies were patrolling up and down the dykes, A few Azure and Blue Tailed Damselflies were resting on the reeds and just one Banded Demoiselle.

Ruddy Darter female
Continuing the walk around the reserve alongside the eurotunnel railway this Flowering rush caught my eye, a very attractive reed bed plant

Flowering Rush
Good numbers of the not so rare Little Egret scattered around the marshes

Plenty of Butterflies on show, Meadow Brown, Small Tortoiseshell, Holly Blues, Small Skipper, Essex Skipper and a nice Cinnabar moth.

Small Tortoiseshell
Small Skipper
Essex Skipper ( black tips to antenna)
Cinnabar moth
I always get these initially confused with spotted Burnets, but the Cinnabar clearly has that straight bar along its wing, should make ID easier in the future for me.

Caterpillar of the Drinker Moth
White Tailed Bumblebee
Lots of White Tailed Bumblebees feeding on the vetch around the reserve.

Lots of photo opportunities around the reserve, always worth a visit.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

A Session with the Bee's !

I have been trying to naturalise our garden as much as I can, I have collected and strategically placed dead wood branches around the pond, birds are already using these to make there way down to the artificial waterfall where they can drink and bathe, Robins, House Sparrows and Blackbirds seem particularly fond of bathing and drinking here, rather than the bird baths.

The dead wood branches around the feeding station  allow the birds to fly in and perch (pose) before moving on to the feeders, I have been keeping an eye on these new perches which now seem to have been accepted and are being used by House Sparrows, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Blue tit, Great Tit, Dunnock Robin and Blackbirds so far, this should make for  some more interesting photographs, rather than on the actual feeders which do not look so good in photographs.

The Buddleia tree I planted last year has grown nicely and I am looking forward to it flowering in the hope that more Butterflies are drawn into the garden, at the moment Holly Blue's are seen most frequent, probably because of the Ivy we have growing on an adjoining brick wall. Occasional visits by Peacock, Red Admiral, Brimstone, Small White, Large White, hopefully these will become more regular when the Buddleia flowers.

My new shady area flower bed under the pear tree, up until recently an area where nothing really grew, looking much better now. complete with genuine pear tree logs, and some nice ferns,  I am hoping these may attract some insect life.

The Flowering Blackcurrants around the garden are a fantastic pollen source for the bees and Bumblebee's from March and April but once these drop their flowers the Bee sightings become less frequent.

 A new shrub called "Libertia grandiflora" that's been flowering from mid May and is still in flower now in mid June, maybe the answer, its providing an excellent pollen source for the Bee's and drawing them back into the garden.
The shrub is a native plant of New Zealand, I first noticed it after a trip to Kew Gardens, I must admit you do not see many for sale in the garden centres, I had to order mine from the internet, its certainly worth looking for, as the Bee's seem to love it.

On a particularly sunny afternoon recently, I noticed  the Libertia was covered in Bee's, the opportunity to get some close up shots was too great to pass up, they seemed unconcerned by my presence, spending a short time on each flower before moving to another.

The majority of the bee's appeared to be Honeybees, to be more precise, the Western Honeybee or European Honeybee (Apis mellifera) , although to be honest there seemed to be a lot of variation in appearance, some of the Bee's were quite hairy on the abdomen  while others had lost the hair on some of the abdomen segments showing orange stripes, hopefully I have got the right identification.

European Honeybee (Apis mellifera)   'worker'

A few other Bee's were seen on the same shrub, heres a couple of shots of a Carder Bee, with its tongue sheath extended

Carder Bee

A few of the smaller Bumblebee's were also taking their share of the pollen, These are Early Bumblebee's Bombus pratorum

Early Bumblebee worker  Bombus pratorum

Early Bumblebee Bombus pratorum  male

This very nice Marmalade Hoverfly was in amongst the Honey Bee's together with another stranger to the garden, 

Episyrphus balteatus  Marmalade hoverfly

This one proved harder to identify, my first thoughts was some species of Hoverfly, but eventually identified as a Tapered Drone fly. Its a type of Bee mimic very similar to a Drone fly.

Sometimes, If you take the time to look a bit closer at those insects buzzing around your flowers you will be amazed at the different varieties visiting.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Short break in Yorkshire !

The 'Buyagift' short break, that our daughter and son in law had gifted us with, was finally put to good use with a trip to the East Riding of Yorkshire and a stay in the lovely market town of Beverley.
 We made our way up the A1 towards the North,  a mobile phone call from our Yorkshire daughter en-route, informed us that it was  raining hard up there, I glanced out the car window to look at the brilliant blue sky and sunshine we were leaving behind.
But we needn't have worried, as we arrived in Beverley the sun was shining, we were ready for a nice evening walk. I tentatively suggested a walk along Bempton cliffs, which was only a short drive away to which my wife agreed.

Fortunately for me, this is also one of England's top seabird sites, there was some fantastic views of seabirds all along the  clifftop, together with some stunning views along the coast line towards Flamborough Head.

Possibly not the best of neighbours, but we all need our space.

Gannet and Guillemots 

One of the birds everyone wants to see is the Puffin, to be honest these were in short supply we only saw one Puffin before it left the cliffs  for the sea.

Puffin & Razorbill

Razorbills and guillemots were very abundant occupying  every suitable ledge on the cliff face.


Kittiwakes seemed to be the other common seabird here, a few Fulmars and a few large gulls patrolling the cliff edges.

As we walked along the cliff tops enjoying the views and the air, we were pleasantly surprised to see not one, but two Barn Owls, one even joining the seabirds on the cliff top, very surreal.

Barn Owl on Bempton Cliffs

The Tree Sparrow colony at Bempton cliff RSPB visitor centre is still thriving, I do not get to see many of these apart from a colony at Dungeness RSPB.

Tree Sparrow
 We planned to visit Whitby today with a short diversion to Blacktoft RSPB near the town of Goole, there had been reports of  a pair of Montagu's Harrier breeding there, which would have been nice to see, no such luck, plenty of Marsh Harriers on view, the RSPB voluntary wardens suggested at least a three hour wait to see them, I could not inflict that on my very patient wife.

Marsh Harrier at Blacktoft Sands RSPB.
On to Whitby near the Yorkshire Moors for some sight seeing, a very nice old fashioned seaside resort, with a 'Dracula' fixation.


Abbey ruins on east cliff of Whitby

This old tourist tour bus caught my eye, you'll notice on the front radiator the company name of 'Dennis', this was also the make of the first Fire engine I rode in when I joined the Fire Brigade back in the 1980s, complete with wheeled escape ladder on the back. 'good old days'

No trip to Yorkshire is complete without a walk on the Yorkshire Moors, we plumped for a walk across the moors via Horcum Hole, very nice walk, Meadow Pipits, skylarks very common, Common Redstart seen as we came back through Horcum Hole.

Very nice county to visit, beautiful scenery, lovely towns and resorts.