24/08/2015

Alfred Russel Wallace

Saturday 1st to Saturday 22nd August 2015
Wallace memorial at Llanbadoc church
I took a wrong turning on my trip to the Brecon Beacons a couple of weeks ago (where the A40 stealthily becomes the A449 at Raglan) and ended up going through the lovely little town of Usk in order to get back on track. So I returned to explore Usk further with Linda on Saturday, and also visited the nearby hamlet of Llanbadoc. Llanbadcoc is the birthplace of Alfred Russel Wallace, who lived here until the age of five. He was born in Kensington House in 1823, and although the house itself is largely hidden by trees, there is a memorial to Wallace at the nearby church to the "Co-discoverer with Charles Darwin of the process of evolution by natural selection".
Kensington House
 I spotted a couple of Orthopteroids near the church:
Speckled Bush-cricket at Llanbadoc near Usk 22/8/15
Meadow Grasshopper at Llanbadoc near Usk 22/8/15
And a Southern Hawker in Usk town:
Southern Hawker at Usk 22/8/15
And I didn't know there were any windmills in Wales:
The nineteenth century Llancayo Windmill, near Usk
I spotted this Harvestman in the garden on Saturday, I think it is of the species Opilio canestrinii (Red Harvestman) - so far one agreement on iSpot.
Harvestman sp. in garden 22/8/15

On a recent day out in Avebury, Wiltshire, I still couldn't find any Tree Sparrows where I used to, but this juvenile Spotted Flycatcher in the churchyard was nice:
Spotted Flycatcher juvenile at Avebury church 15/8/15
Spotted Flycatcher juvenile at Avebury church 15/8/15
Spotted Flycatcher juvenile at Avebury church 15/8/15
As was this Painted Lady between Windmill Hill and the village:
Painted Lady, Avebury, 15/8/15

I spent a great few days camping in the Brecon Beacons recently with Mr M. senior. I love the scenery here and saw a few nice birds too, including several Whinchats and Redstarts including this one:
Redstart - first-winter male near Pencelli, Powys 6/8/15
 And a couple of photos taken from the top of Pen y Fan
Crybyn from Pen y Van
Corn Du from Pen y Van

And some photos from 1st August:
Male Ruff at WWT Slimbridge 1/8/15
A different male Ruff at WWT 1/8/15
Essex Skipper - seen on a butterfly survey at Clarke's Farm, Hardwicke 1/8/15

26/07/2015

Wet Sunday - Turned Out Nice Again

Sunday 26th July 2015
Juvenile Mediterranean Gull
A wet afternoon at WWT Slimbridge ended in a spot of sunshine as I was leaving, when I spotted a juvenile Mediterranean Gull loafing on the roof of the centre café with Black-headed Gulls.
The sun's out!
The Wood Sandpiper was still on the Tack piece and a juvenile Garganey from Martin Smith hide.
Wood Sandpiper - not quite as elusive today
Lego Spoon-billed Sandpiprt, WWT - these Lego sculptures are brilliant
Yesterday afternoon, Linda and I went to Hampton Court Castle and Gardens in Herefordshire for the afternoon. These are fantastic gardens and they looked beautiful on a gloriously sunny day - a different day to Friday and today. I noted six juvenile Siskins around the car park and gardens. Four came down to drink from one of the water features. A Little Grebe was on the lake and a Swift was feeding in the air with several Swallows.
Juvenile Siskin, Hampton Court Gardens

24/07/2015

Spoonbill and Wood Sandpiper Catch Up

Thursday 23rd July 2015
Spoonbill on South Lake, WWT
After missing both I year-ticked both Spoonbill and Wood Sandpiper at Slimbridge WWT in a quick visit, the latter being quite elusive. It was also nice seeing two Garganeys dabbling in front of Martin Smith hide:
 
 
 

13/07/2015

Purple Patch

Sunday 12th July 2015
Purple Emperor, Oversley Wood, Warwickshire
After refusing to not let an unfavourable weather forecast put me off last Sunday, and successfully ticking White Admiral in Glos., I applied the same optimism this Sunday. Setting off for Warwickshire in cloudy conditions, with rain forecast and no apparent prospect of sunshine, I pinned any hopes of seeing Purple Emperor on the weather differing from the forecast. As I travelled towards Tewkesbury northbound on the M5, some patches of blue sky were already appearing. Not only that, but the car's temperature gauge was showing 19oC, already 3 degrees higher than forecast. But had I left it too late in the day, it was already nearly 11am as I reached Ashchurch, to see any PE's at low level? I reached Oversley Wood at just before 11.30am, and some sunshine was coming through, and it felt warm. I soon spotted a couple of White Admirals and five Silver-washed Fritillaries, and a Hornet.
Silver-washed Fritillary
White Admiral
No PE's by midday however, and the sun was giving way to cloud and some spots of light rain. I decided to walk the circuit and stop for tea and a snack half way round. By then the rain had become more frequent and it felt colder. By the time I reached the furthest point from the car park, it started raining heavily. I sheltered under trees, but the water soon began dripping through. I was getting wet. The heavy rain lasted for around 20 minutes, enough to soak me quite successfully, and lead me to think the game was over, and time to get back to the car. Had the rain started nearer the car park, I would have given up and headed for home. The fact that I was a good 30 minutes walk from the car allowed time for the rain to stop, the sky to clear, and the sun to shine. Within a matter of five minutes from the last rain drop, it was a different day. By now it was gone 2.00pm, and so I thought my best chances of PE would be distant treetop views, or seeing an egg-laying female come down later if I could stick at it long enough. Several Silver-washed Fritillaries and a few more White Admirals later, a large butterfly floated past me. It was on the ground. 20yards in front of me. It was a male PURPLE EMPEROR.
Purple Emperor showing the incredible 'eye' marking
The photographs here were taken over the course of the next hour as it obliged by tucking in to a lump of animal faeces on the path, occasionally flying up to perch in a nearby Hazel, but always returning. It was still there when I left it, and after a several passers-by had admired it and photographed it. The moral of this tale: don't be put off by a rubbish forecast. I left in glorious sunshine and 23oC.
What a show-off, and who can blame it?
My longest ever views of Purple Emperor
Taking a short rest from licking poo
On the ground and, briefly at least, not on poo
The sunshine really intensified the colours in this shot
A different perspective
Habitat shot - Oversley Wood

05/07/2015

Butterflying Weekend

Saturday 4th - Sunday 5th July 2015
Large Blue - all the individuals seen were males
On Saturday I took Paul F and Matt, who travelled from the Birmingham area, to Daneway Banks for Large Blue. Conditions were pretty much ideal and it wasn't long before we started finding our target species. We counted at least six Large Blues most quite fresh looking, but one very worn and almost unrecognisable. Other butterfly species included two Small Heaths, two Silver-washed Fritillaries, many Marbled Whites, Ringlets and Meadow Browns, Small Skippers, Large Skippers, a Common Blue and three Speckled Woods (two of these at Siccaridge Wood nearby).  I also saw my first Silver Y moth of the year.
Large Blue
Marbled White
Small Heath
Strawberry Banks
Notable plants on the visit included most notably of all a Greater Butterfly Orchid at Siccaridge Wood and on Daneway Banks we noted Common Spotted Orchid and Pyramidal OrchidCommon Centaury, Yellow Centaury, Dark Mullein, Common Thyme, Wild OreganoField Scabious, Agrimony, Self-heal, and Red Clover.
Greater Butterfly Orchid - brightening the woodland shade
Common Centaury
Yellow Centaury
Dark Mullein
Not forgetting birds, we recorded two Green Woodpeckers, two Ravens, a  Buzzard, and two flyover Siskins over, all contributing to a fantastic morning, finished off nicely with a little refreshment at The Daneway.
White Admiral, Cannop - a Gloucestershire tick
This morning, after a number of attempts at various sites in previous years, I finally saw White Admiral in Gloucestershire. I am indebted to Shane who I bumped into at  at Cannop and had detailed directions from Bruce P. We saw three in total, which was brilliant, and to think I almost didn't bother going because the forecast didn't look very good. Up to three Silver-washed Fritillaries were also seen, also a beautiful butterfly, but it was the Admirals that stole the show.
Silver-washed Fritillary, Cannop
The Cannop White Admiral site

19/06/2015

Melodiuos Warbler at Marsh Lane

Friday 19th June 2015
Melodious Warbler - posing nicely
I travelled to the West Midlands this afternoon to meet up with Paul Fitzgerald and do a bit of a twitch. After eight days, the singing male MELODIOUS WARBLER at Marsh Lane, near Hampton in Arden, was thankfully still present. A very obliging bird, and regularly singing its incredibly varied song, it was a real joy to observe. Further interest was provided by a Hobby overhead and a Painted Lady.
It favoured a perch near the top of the foliage
Singing for quite extended periods - the song full of mimicry
What a beauty
 
The MW favours these bushes, along the bridleway east of the A452 at GR SP227803, south of Mill Covert:
Habitat view
After having our fill, Paul took me to the fantastic nearby Marsh Lane Nature Reserve. The best bird here was a summer-plumaged Black-necked Grebe, present for its second day on Railway Pool. We had to avoid parking in the car park as a Little Ringed Plover pair had set up home right in the middle of it. Although the nest is protected by a cage, I'm not sure it's the safest of nest sites.
It was a bit distant, and elusive at times, but I got this record shot from Oak Hide
Little Ringed Plover
Railway Pool viewed from Oak Hide
Another highlight was the Orchids: Common Twayblade, Southern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid. The latter were a particularly spectacular display.
Common Twayblade
Common Twayblade
Southern Marsh Orchid - just coming into flower
More advanced Southern Marsh Orchid
Common Spotted Orchid
Several Common Spotted Orchids