Monday, 28 September 2015

Day of the Hornet !!!

 European Hornet   Vespa crabro

Just the sight of a 'Wasp' or 'Bee' is enough to strike terror into some people, there may be screaming, there may be hysterical waving of the arms, some people may even be reduced to an evacuation, heaven help those trapped in a car when a Wasp pays a visit.

Hopefully these people will not encounter the Hornet, a 'beast' of the wasp family, armed with a stinger reputed to be very painful to humans, and I must admit quite intimidating when flying close to you.

In reality, these magnificent creatures are only aggressive in defence of their nest, I doubt if the humble Bee feels quite the same way.

I have only see the odd Hornet on occasion  in the woodland,  rarely in the garden, when the usual Hornet sighting turns out to be the familiar Hornet mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria. shown below.

Hornet mimic Hoverfly Volucella zonaria.

So as the summer recedes and we move into autumn, my wife and I encountered large numbers of Hornets today at our local patch at Ashenbank woods, while walking our dog.

No hysterics from my wife, thankfully, just a lack of enthusiasm that this species deserves I felt, maybe the Asian Giant Hornet would have triggered the appropriate reaction.

Unusually we were seeing a good number of Hornets mainly in flight around the sunnier glades within the woodland, some around the perimeter of the woods again in the sun.

It's about this time of year in their life cycle as autumn approaches, the Queen Hornet's egg development  changes to produce Drones and new Queens instead of  'workers'
The Queen Hornet has now reached the end of her life cycle and dies soon after, along with the remaining workers in the old nest.

The new 'Drones' and 'Queens' mate , the drones dying shortly after, the new Queens fly off to seek a place to hibernate for the winter before emerging next spring to start a new nest.

Maybe it was this dispersal we were witnessing, there were certainly a lot of Hornets on the wing.

After many abortive attempts to get close enough for a photograph, I finally caught up with one taking in the warmth of the late autumnal sunshine on a bramble leaf, closely followed by a second very close by in a spiders web.

My first thought was how unlucky for the Hornet to become entangled in the spider's web, until I realised it was the Spider that was unlucky and had just provided a meal for the Hornet.

Hornet v Spider

Strangely the following day, no Hornets were seen at all.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Troglodytes troglodytes !!

Such a big name for such a small bird, this secretive little bird has been giving me the run around for the last few months ever since I caught sight of a juvenile Wren drinking from the bird bath, back in July.

It's given me the briefest of views as it's moved through the Ivy and shrubs around the garden, never lingering long enough for a good view, just enough to let me know that it's there.

To be honest it's quite a drab looking bird when viewed from a distance, it's one of those birds that you usually hear before you see it, not only a big name, but a big voice to go with it.

It's quite a common bird in its woodland habitat, but not in my garden, I get quite excited when something like this visits the garden, it appears my summer time feeding station is paying dividends now with more and more birds visiting.

So as I sat in the garden enjoying some late summer sunshine, a movement through the shrubs caught my eye, the Wren was back and moving around one of the 'fatball feeders', still very wary, but it posed just long enough for a couple of photographs.

A lovely little bird, which hopefully will become a regular visitor to our garden.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Pear Tree Surprise !!!

As I went about my daily chores in the garden, I glanced over to the sunflower feeder, easily the most popular feeder in the garden, especially with the Goldfinches and Greenfinch. we have had up to fifteen plus Goldfinch flying down from the pear tree to feast on the sunflower seeds at any one time. a lovely sight, but I digress, on this occasion there were two small finches feeding with the Goldfinch with yellow bar on their wings.

I was taken aback, I knew what they were as soon as I saw them "Siskins" a species I have not seen in our garden, in fact I usually see these only in the winter, and then only at selected sites. and I don't recall seeing any last winter.

As they flew up into the Pear tree with the Goldfinch, I took the opportunity to grab my camera and wait to see if they returned. after a short wait one of the Siskins returned allowing me to get some record shots of this rare bird in our garden.


I discovered an interesting fact in relation to these birds, our local bird observatories at both Sandwich Bay and Dungeness have been reporting large influx of Siskins coming into the country.
Sandwich Bay have noted large numbers of Siskins from late July, some involving large flocks, Dungeness, have reported a steady trickle from early September.
 It was also stated that the possibility of Siskins stopping off at garden feeders was a high possibility as they pass through.

 So it may be worth keeping an eye on those feeders for this beautiful little finch.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Ivy Bees are out !

Its that time of year again when the Ivy is beginning to flower, there appears to be increased activity around the flower heads. Look closely and you realise that the Ivy Bees have arrived, in reality the males have been around since late August, the females emerging in early September.

Ivy Bee

The Ivy Mining Bee is a solitary Bee, its full name Colletes hederae. it's a smart looking Bee with brown hairy thorax, the abdomen black with fairly equidistant yellow bands. Its relatively new to our shores, first noticed in 2001, now quite common around the southern coastal counties.

Honey Bee
The photo above is of a Honey Bee on the Ivy flowers  for comparison, the abdomen is quite different, the Honey Bee is slightly larger than the Ivy Bee as well.

You can sense how important these Ivy flowers are to the Ivy Bee by the sheer numbers of Bees visiting the flower heads.

Ivy Bees

These lovely little Bees are a type of solitary bee, nesting in the ground usually on a south facing grassy bank or a lawn, and sometimes in high numbers. They are one of the last species of Bee to appear in the year, timing their emergence with the flowering of the Ivy.

 The female lays an egg in each cavity and gathers a quantity of pollen and nectar for the larvae to feed on, they have a relatively short life span,  about six weeks, most have disappeared by early November.

 Enjoy them while you can.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

"Stone Barges"

A slightly extended walk was planned for today, with a walk around the Rainham reserve and then on down the river wall of the Thames towards the "Stone Barges" a local landmark known to many who visit this area of the country.

A good start as we walked up to the reserve visitor centre, one of the tall ships that have been visiting London was making her way down the river towards the Queen Elizabeth bridge.

This is the Eendracht one of Holland's largest three masted Schooners,

We checked out the "cordite store" in the woodland, not too much on view, the ivy flowers were alive with Bees, my initial thought was Ivy mining Bees, but they all appeared to be Honey Bees.

Honey Bee.
There were several Red Admirals on the last remaining Buddleia blooms, and a Migrant Hawker resting up in a Hawthorn tree.

Red Admiral

Migrant Hawker
Not so many Wasp Spiders on view today, with just one being seen in the long grass as we left the woodland behind and headed towards the "Troll bridge"

Wasp Spider

The Troll Bridge was the area where I saw my first Willow Emerald Damselfly, a fact I was mentioning to my wife as we approached the bridge, I couldn't believe it, as I glanced over the timber bridge, there was a Willow Emerald, almost on the same patch of reeds where it was seen before. now my wife doesn't share the same enthusiasm as I on finding this little beauty, so she wandered off to find a bench and read her book, which she just happened to have with her, I think she was anticipating moments like this. while I tried to improve on the photograph I got last year. in all two Willow Emeralds were seen.

Willow Emerald Damselfly       Lestes viridis

After spending as much time as I dared with the Damselfly, I rejoined my wife and continued our walk around the reserve. We spent a short time in the Shooting Butts hide, seemingly void of any birds apart from a few dabbling ducks and geese. enter the Hobbies, three in all, who treated us to a fine flying display in front of the hide hawking for Dragonflies, I suspect soon to leave our shores.


Lunch at the Dragonfly pools in the sunshine, was very relaxing, not many Dragonflies around, just one Migrant Hawker and three Common Darters, one pair still laying eggs on to the surface weeds.

A female Kestrel was seen hunting over the marshes.

It was here we left the reserve and walked along the River wall towards the "Stone Barges", still a few butterflies around, Red Admiral, Small White in large numbers and a comma, but sadly no Clouded Yellow's to view.

After a couple of miles we approached the "Stone Barges", my wife was unimpressed, but it was nice to revisit the area, I used to come here in winters past to look for Water pipits that seemed to congregate around the barges.

The Diver at the Stone Barges

The 'Stone barges' were rumoured to have been used in the D-Day landings and the construction of a so called 'Mulberry Harbour', but there does not seem to be any substantial evidence to confirm this,
There is evidence that a number of these barges were commissioned in 1940 to serve as petrol carrying barges or PB 200s.

The sculpture in front of the derelict  barges named as The Diver-Regeneration, was constructed by a local sculptor in memory of his grandfather, who worked in the London docks as a diver.

They now provide a relatively safe haven for roosting birds at high tide.

The walk back to the visitor centre produced a nice juvenile Wheatear on the fore-

Finally as we left the reserve, another Tall ship  came down the Thames, the Zawiza Czarny, owned by the Polish Scouting Organisation as a training ship. originally a fishing boat, which interestingly has a ship's motor taken from an old U-boat.

Once again a lovely walk with some interesting sightings  around the River Thames.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Little Gem at Oare !!!

Now I could be talking about the little gem of a reserve that is Oare Marshes, situated on the Swale estuary in Kent, but on this occasion, I have another little gem in question which will be revealed later in my report.

Oare Marshes has always been one of my favourite reserves, it always turns up some interesting natural delight of some sorts, and if it doesn't, there's always the views out across the Swale to the Isle of Sheppey and beyond, or the sheer numbers of Wading birds that gather on the East flood swirling around the flood when disturbed by a passing raptor.

So on a warm sunny morning I arrived in the car park, as I parked up I could see the brick red sails of a Thames sailing Barge moving slowly beyond the sea wall. I love watching these "tacking and jibbing across the Swale, I quickly made my way up on the sea wall where I could see the  barge, it was the "Mirosa" a sailing barge I photographed here last year.

The interesting fact about this particular Thames sailing Barge is that she earns her living under sail without the use of an auxiliary engine.
She was built originally as the "Ready" at Maldon back in 1892,  used as a Timber lighter at Heybridge. Her name was changed to the "Mirosa" in 1947, a few changes in ownership and a restoration see's her looking in fine form.
She has also been one of the most successful racing barges of recent years, an event I am yet to witness, maybe next year.

 Now  used for charter to carry people who want to experience a piece of the last century.

Out on the Swale I could see another Barge cruising in, this one obviously using its auxiliary engine.
It was the "Greta" built at Brightlingsea Essex in 1892,
The "Greta" was chartered by the Ministry of Supply, in World War 2, to carry ammunition from Upnor near Rochester, Kent, to naval vessels anchored out in the Thames estuary. This one
even took part in the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, so a special little Barge.

Why a sudden interest in these sailing barges, well we have decided to take a trip on the Thames Sailing Barge called "Hydrogen" sailing from Gravesend, up river to the Tower of London and back again, should be an interesting trip.

So, back to the marshes, as I walked along the sea wall around the floods, I disturbed three Yellow Wagtails and a Juvenile Pied Wagtail. Only the Pied wagtail allowing a photograph.
Juvenile Pied Wagtail

Looking inland across the east flood, a herd of Konik ponies have been brought in to graze on the marshes, must admit they do look at home, although the numerous signs warning not to touch the ponies as they will bite, a  reminder of their wild ancestry.These Ponies are semi feral, the breed originating from Poland
It appears quite a few of the local reserves are using these ponies to graze on these wet marshes and meadows,  There's even a small herd of Exmoor Ponies now on the Firehills near Hastings .

East Flood at Oare

Konik Pony, a sturdy looking beast

The East flood was full of Waders, I noticed without the use of binoculars, Black Tailed Godwits, Redshank, Avocet, Ringed Plovers, Turnstone, Dunlin, Lapwing and Golden Plover.

A walk out to the West flood revealed not much at all as usual, being very overgrown.
 More ponies required I think.

As I came out of the Hide on the West Flood  I glanced at the wooden fence post  by the gate and this tiny little gem of a wasp caught my eye, A Ruby-Tailed Wasp, I have wanted to see one of these for years , having never come across one before, it was sunning itself undisturbed by my presence. I only had my zoom lens with me this time, so it was very difficult  to get a sharp photo.

Ruby Tailed Wasp  Chrysis ignita

I was very pleased with this sighting, this beautiful little wasp is one of the many species of solitary bees and wasps, that can be found around our countryside.
Most build a nest, which they stock with pollen, laying a single egg in each cell. 
The Ruby-Tailed wasp are a little lazier, they lay there eggs in the nest of other solitary bees and wasps, usually Mason Bees, another Bee on my 'to see list'
When the eggs hatch, they eat the larvae of the Mason Bee which helps there development.
this is where the Ruby Tailed wasp gets its other name of  'Cuckoo Wasp'

A few Dragonfly were also seen mainly Ruddy Darters, Migrant Hawkers and Common Darter

Another interesting visit to Oare Marshes was over, and I  was very happy with my new sighting,
 I wonder how long before I see another.