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A Field Notebook
  Updated 1/1/70 1:00:00
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Webmaster Colin Davies
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Relieving the cabin fever at the Nene Washlands
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I seem to be spending most of my time during the week these days ensconsed  in a hotel in bird free deepest Buckinghamshire. Everytime I check Birdguides / Nearby it tells me there's a Quail still singing at some RSPB reserve I've never heard of in a county called Oxon, wherever that is. Sounds like it should be somewhere near Oxford. Surely that would be Oxfordshire though? Anyway there's never anything else reported on Birdguides, it's been that way for three weeks now and I'm not confident it's going to get any better in July. Birds just don't exist in this part of the world at the moment, and I can't even look for inverts this week, with the sun now a distant memory and dull drizzly weather day after day. I feel like I'm getting the Premier Inn version of cabin fever, so allow me at least this indulgence.

Today, just for laughs, in an attempt to inject some excitement into my week and faced with the prospect of another afternoon in the hotel room, I decided to head up to Northampton and have a look for the female bufflehead which has been at Clifford Hill Pits on the Nene washlands. This is a large flood defence system, similar to Hesketh Out Marsh or Donna Nook, the difference being that it's inland, but it serves much the same purpose, designed  to relieve the pressure on Northampton and surrounding area should the River Nene flood. The bird has received scant attention so far from birders, partly because of the time of year I guess, but also because it's sporting a metal ring on its right leg.

Ducks seem to be guilty until proven innocent these days, the attitude seems to be, if it's wearing a ring it must be an escape, yet the reality is, thousands of wild ducks are ringed every year, including buffleheads, and in fact the ring may ultimately prove it to be a genuinely wild bird. Perhaps somebody has read the ring, but I don't think so. Unless people try we'll never know. Anyway I decided to give it a go, because I was bored and I've never seen one in the UK before so let's call it an insurance tick, plus I'd never been to the Nene washlands before so it was a new site tick, which is always worthwhile for future reference.

I'd gleaned a few site instructions from Bird Forums so I had a reasonable idea how to find the place, but I wasn't prepared for the scale of the washlands. Obvious I suppose really, if you're going to build a flood defence system it needs to be big, but this really is on Hesketh Out Marsh scale, possibly even bigger. Anyway, to sum up it was a hell of a walk. The place where the bird had last been reported was actually close to the entrance, but I couldn't find it, and in the end I walked all of the way round. I'd more or less given up, but decided that it was either go back to the misery of the hotel room or keep trying. I walked over again to where it had last been reported, and guess what?  There it was. It must have thought that I needed the walk when I went past first time, which is probably true.

Fortunately I'dinadvertentlymanaged to"trap it"in a narrow part of the lake so it couldn't swim very far away from me and I fired off a few photos, but it was very nervous and after a few minutes it took flight for 100m, joining a small flock of tufted ducks. It was very nervous..... I've seen them much closer in Central Park in New York, where they also seem tamer. Not that tameness proves anything one way or the other.

Before I saw the bird, I'd had the vague hope of reading its ring through the scope but there really was no chance of that today. Hopefully somebody else will manage to read it or better still photograph the ring on a better day. Surely it's worth the effort? Oh well, excitment over, time for another pub meal.....



Invertebrates, June 2017
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June was a generally a very dry month which included a two week spell of very hot weather, with temperatures reaching 30'C on several occasions in the middle of the month. At times it was almost too hot for invertebrates, and during the hotest periods there was clearly a midday lull in hoverflies in particular.

It was the month that the impressive bumblebee mimic hoverflyVolucella bombylansappeared in numbers.My first of the year was at Pennington Flash, but soon they were a regular feature everywhere. LikeMerodon equestris, this species can mimic more than one species of bumblebee. The form in these photos resemblesBombus lucorum, the white-tailed bumblebee. Interestingly, the larvae even live in the nests of bumblebees, feeding on the debris at the bottom of the nest.



This is alsoVolucella bombylans, of the mainly black form with a red tail which resemblesBombus lapidarius, red-tailed bumblebee.


Amongst the many highlights in June, finding the Currant clearwing mothSynanthedon tipuliformison currant bushes in my back garden must rank amongst the best. Clearwing moths are day flying and mimic wasps. They are often thought to be best seen by the use of pheromones which attract the males, but although I have used lures to see these insects in the past, I have also seen at least three species of clearwing simply by looking in suitable habitat as I did in this case.


Currant clearwing with a currant!




Silver-studded bluesPlebejus arguswere out in their hundreds on the Great Orme, Llandudno in the middle of the month, these two males were on common rockrose.

TheVolucellahoverflies are amongst the largest and most impressive in the UK, this is the largest of all, the hornet mimicVolucella zonaria, photographed on bramble in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire.


Xanthogramma pedissequum, Arnside Knott. A wasp mimic hoverfly.


Ferdinandea cuprea. This actually looks like a fly mimic hoverfly, but I can't think why a hoverfly (which is just a type of fly anyway) would want to mimic a fly.



Scaeva pyrastriis a migrant hoverfly which like the red admiral and painted lady butterflies is present each year in the UK in variable numbers. This individual was photographed at Burton Mere Wetlands. Note the unusually bulging frons which is a feature of this species.



Volucella pellucens, great pied hoverfly was recorded at many sites in June.


Chrysotoxum arcuatum, another wasp mimic hoverfly at Arnside Knott. This is one of a group of five hoverflies which are difficult to seperate in the field. However on range alone four of the five can be eliminated, since they are more southerly species. Also a feature ofChrysotoxum arcuatumis that the 3rd antennal segment is longer than the first two combined, a feature which can clearly be seen in this photo.



Another one of the difficult five, this isChrysotoxum cautumphotographed in Aylesbury.Note the differences in antennal segmants to the previous hoverfly,with the third antennal segmant shorter.
Range again can also be used, this time to rule out C. arcuatum, which is a north-westerly species in the UK, with very few recorded occurances in Buckinghamshire.


Microdon myrmicae/mutabilisat Arnside Knott. This is most likelyM. mutabilisfrom the habitat, but it is impossible to split these two species at the adult stage. The larvae live in ants nests.


Merodon equastris, another bumblebee mimic hoverfly.


This is one of the best markedEristalinus sepulchralisI've ever seen. The lack of dull patches on the glossy looking abdomen, and the fact that it was on the saltmarsh at Leighton Moss point to it being possiblyE. aeneus, but enquiries on the Facebook group UK Hoverflies suggest that it is more likelyE. sepulchralis. This is another species of hoverfly which appears to be mimicking a fly.


One of several very similar honey bee mimic hoverflies, this isEristralis horticola. This is a bright lookingEristraliswith a dark mark in the centre of each wing.


Eristralis arbustorum,the main identification feature is the unmarked face.Most other similarEristralishave a dark line running vertically up from the antennae.


Parhelophillusspecies are very difficult to seperate  and this particular individual can only be calledParhelophillus sp.


However this is a maleParhelophilus frutetorum, identifiable by the long-haired tubercle on the hind femur. On hogweed at Pennington Flash.


This, on the otherhand, can safely be calledParhelophilus versicolor, since the male clearly lacks  the tubercle.


The micro moth,Olethreutes arcuella.


Semaphore FlyPoecilobothrus nobilitatus. This is the male in Dingle Gardens, Quarry Park in Shrewsbury.



The male semaphore fly flicks it's wings at the female in display, hence its name.



Hydrometra stagnorum, water measurer, Sorrowcow pond, Pennington Flash.


Pirata piraticus, a pirate spider carrying its babies on its back, Sorrowcow pond, Pennington Flash.


This photo was taken in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. This four-spot chaser had flown into the web of the spider,Larinioides coruntus. I would never have believed that just a few strands of web would be capable of holding such a large and powerful predator as this chaser, or that the spider would even consider approaching such an intimidating insect, but the web held and the spider kept its nerve and proceded to spin more web around the dragonflies wings and legs, before killing it by biting it in the abdomen as you can see here.


Ramshorn snail, Sorrowcow pond, Pennington Flash.


The day flying moth cistus forresterAdscita geryonwas out in good numbers on the Great Orme in mid June.


Nemophora degeerella
The Magnificent Great Orme
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The Great Orme at Llandudno is one of my top 10 favourite places in the world, and June is one of the best months to visit. Not only does it have breathtaking views comparible with anywhere you might like to mention, it also has an array of flora and fauna to keep the naturalist happy for days on end.

Today we parked at the West Shore and walked clockwise around the Orme, taking the track up and over the limestone pavement from Llys Helig to the Rest& Be Thankful cafe, and then following marine drive back to Llandudno.

Almost immediately it was obvious that there had been a mass emergance of the butterfly silver-studded blue. They were everywhere, hundreds of them, on the roadside verges, in the gardens, even landing in hedges or on the road itself.  To see them at their best though you need to get onto the limestome grasslands where the perfect photo opportunity is to get them feeding on common rockrose, a limestome loving plant that flowers on the Orme in profusion at this time of the year. I've never seen silver-studded blue in such numbers anywhere before, and it was worth the walk just to experience this spectacle.


Male silver-studded blues on common rockrose.


A female silver-studded blue.

These grassy hillsides on the west side of the Orme are the best places to see silver-studded blue in my experience.

The views of the Conwy estuary ain't half bad from here either!


A little higher up we came across lots of the day flying moth, Cistus forester. This is quite a scarce species in the UK, and is usually found where it's favourite food plant common rockrosegrows. Although there is plenty of common rockrose at lower levels, in my experience this moth is best seen on the Orme on the grasslands either side of the limestone pavement.

Common rockroseHelianthemum nummularium.


Superficially similar, but this is a much rarer plant. Hoary rockroseHelianthemum oelandicumis a speciality of the rocky Welsh coastline wherever there is limestone, but it is seen at its best on the Great Orme.


Hoary rockrose.


Hoary rockrose.

Another rarity of the  Great Orme limestone grasslands is Spiked speedwellVeronica spicatta.

The Rest& Be Thankful cafe is a good place to stop and refuel for a while, before continuing the journey down Marine drive and back to Llandudno. I like walking back down Marine Drive because offers a whole array of different plants growing on the limestone cliffs.


One of the most striking and beautiful of plants in June is bloody cranesbillGeranium sanguineum, a real limestone specialist which is common along Marine Drive.


Red valerianCentranthus ruberis an even commoner plant of the limestone cliffs.

Grayling butterfly on Red valerian.

The views on this side of the Orme aren't too bad either. The main seabird colonies are on this side of the Great Orme, and include many hundreds of guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, cormorants and fulmers. A more recent arrival is the chough, which now breeds on the Orme and today we saw about 10 during our walk along Marine Drive.


As you walk along Marine drive you can sometimes come across seepages in the limestone such as this. The solubility of limestone in naturally acidic rainwater over millions of years results in the caves, pot holes, underground rivers and grikes often found in limestone regions. Where water runs down or through limestone, organic acid from the soil above increases this action and in caves can form stalactites and stalagmites.  The rock in this photos looks like it is melting, and you can see what looks like a mini stalactite forming. The rock here is soft, almost like mud to touch, and virtually no plants can tolerate living in such a calcareous position, not even bryophytes. Yet if you look over to the left of the photo and you can see that there is a small plant growing and that it is almost covered in the limestone solution! How can this plant survive here when others cannot?

The answer is that it is a butterwortPinguicula vulgaris, an insectiverous plant which derives most of its nutrients from small insects which stick to its leaves and are then digested. In an environment such as this the plants roots are pretty much used just to anchor it down.



The Orme always offers something unexpected, and today it was this pyramidal orchidAnacamptis pyramidalisgrowing next to the road on Marine Drive. I don't think I've ever seen this orchid on the Orme before.



Elegant Tern, Church Norton, Pagham Harbour
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Britains first confirmed Elegant tern was found at Hayling Island in Hampshire on Friday. Orange billed terns such as this can be difficult to identify, and just to confuse matters further, they do have an unfortunate habit of hybridising. However this particular individual has previously been in France where it was ringed, and DNA samples taken at the time have proved that this bird is a pure elegant tern, making it an opportunity too good to miss.

For the first day or so it  was very hit and miss, and it didn't inspire me to go, being seen at two or three different places in the Hayling Island area and never staying anywhere for very long. However by Saturday afternoon it had been pinned down and was apparently spending a lot of time at a small tern colony at Church Norton on Pagham Harbour, a place I know quite well, because a couple of years ago a Hudsonian whimbrel was frequenting exactly the same spot.

I decided to call in today"on my way to work", and I arrived at Church Norton at about 7am. I'd woken up at 1am unable to sleep and decided to give it a go. At least the traffic would be quieter if I travelled at that time of day I reasoned.  The bird had been seen flying out to sea at about 5:30, presumably to fish, and had not returned when I arrived. However after an anxious wait, it reappeared at about 8:15 but immediately disappeared into the middle of the tern colony where it was completely obscured by long grass and plants.

Over the next 90 minutes or so it showed only very occasionally, usually just flying up for a second and then dropping down again and always landing completely out of view. You had to be looking permanently through the scope at the spot where it had landed to have any chance of seeing it when it flew, it was that brief.


Eventually though, somebody picked it up on the deck in amongst the colony where it could be seen displaying to the Sandwich terns. Nice to see it display of course, but even now it was only a distant and partially obscured head view.

I was running short of time, needing to be at a job just north of London in the afternoon. I'd expected it to show much better than this, but I consoled myself with the thought"at least I've seen it", a line which us birders often roll out to hide our diappointment.  Still, it was only 10:00 and I had nowehere else to go, so  I decided to hang on as long as I could, just in case it decided to perform a little better. Thank goodness I did.


Finally at about 10:30 it flew up and around the island and then landed on a sand bank with Sandwich terns at about half the distance it had been. What a view it was now! Funny how these days we seem to define a good view by the quality of photographs we can get, but honestly it was a cracking view, whatever the photos here may tell you. A good old fashioned, pre-digital great view!

Through the scope I could clearly see its crest and the bling on its leg. It walked into the water an splashed around for a bit and then walked higher up the bank for a preen. After about 10 minutes it flew up and landed back in the colony and was lost to sight again. My cue to go! A local who birds this site everyday said it was the best view he had had of the bird, so I figured that it was unlikely to show much better than that in the short time I had left.

I love these orange-billed terns. It reminded me very much of theroyal tern I saw at Llandudno in 2009, albeit in less exciting circumstances.




I counted at least 101 Mediterranean gulls on the island, which was a record for me!
Grass snake
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I came across this grass snake whilst checking felts during a reptile survey in Buckinghamshire. This is only one of a handful of encounters I have ever had with the species.
A quick visit to Donegal
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Today I had a flying visit to County Donegal, one of the few Irish counties I had never been to before. On the evidence of today it's a very beautiful part of the country which deserves a much longer visit. I made my way to Dunfanaghy on the north coast because that is one of the last remaining strongholds of corncrake on mainland Ireland.


Although there are corncrakes here, it doesn't look anywhere near as good as many places in the Outer Hebrides, just a handful of fields. However, following a meal and some Irish folk music in a bar in the town, I headed for this field and heard a corncrake  at quite close range, but it was a real pain to see. 




Nearby Horn head is a spectacular a piece of coastline as  any I've seen in Ireland. There are choughs here and a reasonable size seabird colony,



Lough Beg, Church Island to Paddy's Dubh
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Description: I've long hed the opinion that Lough Beg is one of the finest birdwatching sites in Ireland. I always seem to do well here, and so with a bit of free time late afternoon I decided to have a walk to the south west corner which along with the adjacent Mullagh is the part I know best.


I was delighted to find this osprey fishing near Church Island, whilst at Paddy's Dubh a pair of garganey flew past, and waders included two summer plumage ruff and seven dunlin.


Access is always difficult when visiting this Lough, my book tells me to park at Annagh farm and walk out to the banks of the Lough, then north along the shoreline to Coney Island and Church Island. Sounds easy, but last time I was here in winter 2015 the water was nearly up to the point I was standing when I took this photo! It has receded considerably since then and it is now almost a mile walk across very boggy ground to the shore of the lake.


However this is a normal occurance in summer, because the Lough is actually a flood plain, and it leaves behind some wonderful water meadows with breeding redshank and lapwings, and drumming snipe.



I was surprised to find at least 25 whooper swans still present at this time of year.


Invertebrates, May 2017
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Description: Here are a few of my favourite inverts from May 2017, almost all taken locally and likely to be mainly hoverflies but also anything else which takes my fancy, starting with a non-hoverfly contender for the invert of the year award....


Dark-edged Bee flyBombylius majorPennington Park 8th May 2017. What an amazing creature, my first was at Penington Flash but this was a much better view.



Chrysotoxum festivumis a largely southern species of hoverfly which is spreading north. This individual was photographed at Pennington Flash.


This is the hoverflyMicrodon myrmicae/mutabilisphotographed at Torbarrow Quarry near Leighton Moss. These are a pair of hoverflies which are not seperable at the adult stage even from specimens, and identification can only be confirmed at the larval stage. However Ball and Morris in"Britains Hoverflies"state that the only confirmed records ofM.mutabilisare from Northern Scotland (Mull and Inverness), whereasM.myrmicaeis scarce but widespread. Therefore I was going to say it's most likelyM.myrmicaedue to locality, but then I noticed that Alan Stubbs states that a larvae ofM.mutabiliswas found at nearby Gaitbarrows and is in the Liverpool museum. Stubbs also states that the ecology of the 2 species are"very different", withM.mutabilisprefering"dry well drained sites, including limestone pavement"whereasM.myrmicaeoccurs on"wet heaths and poor wet grassland". Both Gaitbarrows and Trowbarrow are limestone, though the latter is a disused quarry. I realise that this doesn't prove it either way, and we'll bever know for sure from an adult specimen, but surely it sways the arguement more towardsM.mutabilis?


Microdon myrmicae/mutabilis


Microdon myrmicae/mutabilis


The hoverflyAnasimyia lineata11th May 2017.This was one of thehighlights of the early part of the season, we found a decent size colony of these hoverflies on bramble and buttercups at the side of Pennington Flash, adjacent to Sorrowcow Pond.


The long snout ofAnasimyia lineatastands out well in this photo.



These hoverflies can easily be picked up where they occur by their comical and interesting courtship behavoiur. The male searches for a perched female, which when found he buzzes around for a while before dropping down suddenly and taping her abdomen as if to let her know he is there. Then he rises up and buzzes around again whilst the female repositions herself to allow the male to drop down and mate. It's all over in a second, though the male usually continues to buzz around the female and often drops down to mate again over a period of a few minutes.



This maleAnasimyia lineatalooks yellow because it is covered in pollen.


Rhingia campestris,a hoverfly with an even longer snout! I've been trying to find one of these for a while, and finally managed it in a glade on the south side of Pennington Flash.


Although it will probably visit a varierty of flowers of all colours, this species seems to prefer pink flowers.


Rhingia campestris.


Leucozona lucorum.Another new species for me, a very easy insect to identify, until you see an individual which has a completely dark abdomen, like the male in the following photo.


MaleLeucozona lucorumat Pennington Hall Park.


Myathropa floreaon wild garlic.


The hoverflyMerodon equestris, a bee mimic, Burton Mere Wetlands 2017.


Merodon equestris


This is alsoMerodon equestrisbut probably of the varietynarcissi.Amazing that the same species of hoverfly can mimic several differnt species of bee.




Here's another bee mimic, the not so convincingEristalis intricaria.


Epistrophe eligans


The metallic green hoverflyLejogaster metallinaat Burton Mere Wetlands


Lejogaster metallina


Eristalinus sepulchralisanother new species of hoverfly for me in May, and another species from Sorrowcow pond at Pennington Flash. It's one of only two species with pale eyes with dark spots.


The hoverflyTropidia scita. One of the main identification features of this hoverfly is the small  tooth on the rear edge of the hind femora. Although it occurs on many wetland plants, it seems to particularly like the flowers of yellow iris. This individual was at Leighton Moss, but they are a widespread species and also occur at Pennington Flash.


Swollen-thighed beetleOedemera nobilis


Water lily leaf beetle on the Leeds/Liverpool canal at Pennington Flash.


Xysticus cristatussitting in wait for any unwary insect which might visit its flower. 


Tree bumblebee.

 
Picture-winged fly sp. at Pennington Flash.


Banded demoiselles. This is the first time I have managd to photograph a pair mating.


This male banded demoiselle was guarding a female while she egg layed. He flicked his wings like this to partially ward off other males, but also to encourage the female to lay.


Female banded demoiselle egg laying. The reason for the colouration of the female is obvious when you see one egg laying.


Male broad-bodied chaser.


Azure damselfly at Sorrowcow pond, Pennington Flash.

Blue-tailed damselfly


Anania funebris, white spotted sable, one of the most beautiful of all moths, photographed here at Gait barrows. This is one of the pyralid moths.


The mothPseudopanthera maculariaSpeckled yellow at Gait barrows.


Battered it may be, and this red-necked footmanAtolmis rubricollis. may never fly again, but it was a first for me. This is a migrant species of moth, probably brought into the north west, in this case Trowbarrow, by the recent hot weather and south easterly winds.


Small pearl-bordered fritillary.
Another Sibe
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We were on our way to Bempton Cliffs today when we got news about a female Siberian stonechat at Flamborough Head. This was a long awaited UK tick for me, so we made the short diversion to South landing and what a great little bird it was, showing well in the bright conditions.

UK Life: 424 (Siberian stonechat), UK year: 205


White undertail coverts, white throat and distinct supercillium, all good pointers to this being Siberian stonechat. At this time of year a typical female British stonechat would have a dark throat.

The white unstreaked rump is also an identification feature of Siberian stonechat, but from this photo it's impossible to be sure if the rump is unstreaked, though it does look pretty pale.

On our way home we called in at Blacktoft near Goole and had great views of the female Montagu's harrier which has spent the past three summers on the reserve. Only in the first year did it breed, since the other vital ingrediant, a male, has not returned since. There was also a fine supporting cast on the reserve which included a pair of garganey, wood sandpiper, yellow wagtail, four spotted resdshank in pristine summer plumage, two greenshank and bearded tits.










Gannets at Bempton Cliffs
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It's always great to see the gannets at Bempton Cliffs, and today a small group performed particularly well at close range on a great day for photography. Meanwhile another group collected nesting material from the top of the cliff, where it was great to see them in amongst the masses of flowering red campion.

Whilst it's true that the UK has internationally important numbers of breeding northern gannets, with some of the largest colonies in the world and holding a significant percentage of the entire world population, Bempton Cliffs is by far the most accessible and is the only mainland gannet colony in the UK and the only English gannet colony.








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