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Wednesday 29 August 2018

European Hornet - August, 2018

The European Hornet (Vespa crabro) is Europe's largest native eusocial wasp. It is rarely aggressive, unless threatened, but is said to have a sting somewhat more powerful than the Common Wasp (Vespular vulgaris).

Until a few years ago, I'd never knowingly seen a Hornet in UK. However, approximately three years ago I started seeing them in the Midlands of England. The occasional sighting turned into relatively frequent sightings and this year, for the first time ever, we've started seeing them in our garden. 

It has now got to the point where, on a sunny day, we'll probably have a few sightings.  

8th August, 2018

When I came to check what I'd got in the moth trap that I'd put out the previous evening, I found a Hornet in the trap. It had been eating the moths - as witness, much debris in the bottom of the trap.

European Hornet (Vespa crabro) - garden moth trap from 07/08/2018
11th August

It can be quite difficult to photograph Hornets, as they are usually on the move. On this day, however, I spotted one land on a section of one of my bird feeder set-ups, and it stayed there while I went to get my camera. It was scraping rotten wood and rolling it into a ball, presumably for for nest-building purposes. A Hornet's nest is a magnificent structure, made of paper-like material created by the Hornet.

This hornet wasn't in a very convenient position, but I did manage to get some close-up shots.

European Hornet (Vespa crabro) - our garden on 11/08/2018
20th August

The moth trap had been out again overnight and, in the morning, I found that it had attracted three Hornets. This was my first, and so far only, sighting of multiple Hornets in UK. Time was limited, however, and I didn't take any photos.

25th August

A Hornet had been around for much of the day, and Lindsay noticed it drop down into an area of wild Thyme in the garden. This area is a favourite with bees, and it seems this is what the Hornet was after. It grabbed one, and took it to one of our Buddleia bushes. By the time I'd got my camera out the Hornet was hanging by its back legs, and and was using its other four legs to manipulate the bee, and had processed it to a point that it was no longer recognisable as a bee. It seems that the Hornet uses a similar process to that it uses on wood to chew up its prey before consumption or taking it to feed its offspring.

This time the Hornet was in a very difficult position for photography, and I didn't feel inclined to move it! My shots are not good, and I had to use flash. This seemed to cause the Hornet to turn its back on me and then fly threateningly close to my ear as it disappeared behind me.

Here are a few shots of what I did manage:- 

European Hornet (Vespa crabro) processing a bee - our garden on 25/08/2018
I'm quite happy to have the Hornets visiting our garden, but Lindsay's not keen! I just wish they'd leave the bees alone, and stay out of the moth trap. I'd also prefer that they didn't build a nest in our garden as I fear an uncomfortable decision would have to be made if they did.

Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure what my next post will feature as I've got a lot on my plate at the moment and not getting out much - I might have to draw on material from somewhat earlier in the year.

Friday 24 August 2018

Another Five-Owl Day - It's Magic! - on Saturday 18th August, 2018

The annual International Birdfair, at Rutland Water, is a major event in the birdwatching calendar. In 2017 it attracted over 24,000 visitors over its three days in August (I don't have figures for this year yet), and there were more than 450 exhibitors! ~You can learn more about Birdfair here .

To cut to the chase, for the past few years, I've done a turn of duty on the stand of the Leicestershire and Rutland Ornithological Society (LROS) at Birdfair, and this is always a highlight of my year. My turn was the morning shift on Saturday 18th August, and this necessitated me setting the alarm for 05h00 so that I could be on my way to Rutland Water by 06h30.

To save time getting to Rutland Water, I bypassed parts of my usual owling route there. However, I did stop briefly near my Little Owl Site No.42, and was pleased to spot two juvenile LOs on fence posts 130 metres away.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juveniles) - my LO Site No.42
I arrived at Rutland Water in good time to beat the traffic and found Sue and Jim Graham (LROS stand organisers) already there and checking out the stand. It turned out that they'd passed me whilst I was at my No.42 and wondered what the car was doing there!

Birdfair was to its usual excellent standard - possibly better than ever. As always the LROS stand was opposite that of the British Dragonfly Society, and it was great to have a chat on their stand before and after my turn of duty. Being on the LROS stand is always a very enjoyable experience and gives the opportunity to to catch up with old friends and meet new and interesting people, whilst promoting LROS membership, and issuing Annual Reports to members (saving LROS fierce postage costs).

At the end of my duty, I went off to the 'Local Produce Marquee' to buy a couple of highly-recommended sausage rolls for my lunch. I sat and ate these in the company of a couple of friends before heading for the Egleton Visitor Centre in the hope of finding they still had a stock of Double Raspberry Magnums (or should that be 'Magna'?) to fortify me before taking a tour of the fair. They had, and one was eagerly consumed.

There was a time when I found I needed two full days at Birdfair, but these days, disciplining myself to only visiting stands which are relevant to my interests for the next 12 months (avoiding expensive 'optics' and exotic foreign destinations, for example),  I usually manage to do what I want to do in a half-day. 

I was away from Birdfair by 16h30, just managing to beat the close-of-day traffic jams, and headed back homeward on my usual owling route. I wasn't having any luck to start with, and had phoned Lindsay to say that I'd be home by about 18h30.

At my LO Site No.34, where I'd seen an adult and a juvenile LO two weeks earlier, I only found a Kestrel.

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (male) - at my LO Site No.34
Following the catastrophic destruction of the nest tree at my Little Owl Site No.41 early in 2017, the last time I'd seen an owl here had been in June, 2017. I was, therefore, more than a little excited to spot a Little Owl fly up into the remains of the nest tree as I approached.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult) - my LO Site No.41
I drove up the road and parked my car in the field on the opposite side of the road to the tree, and found that I could just about detect, through the leaves, where the owl was sitting. There was no way I could get a clearer view without disturbing the owl, so I just sat there and waited, keeping watch through the open window on the far side of my car.

I was soon rewarded with even more excitement - a juvenile LO flew up from behind the hedge into the fallen remains of the old nest tree. It had me spotted instantly, and started  that delightful head-bobbing that juvenile LOs do when they're trying to puzzle out something that's new to them.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my LO Site No.41
Most of the time, however, it was exploring its surroundings, occasionally coming back to see if I was still there.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my LO Site No.41
Eventually it moved to the back of the remains to a position where I could still see it but photography was out of the question. I turned my attention to the adult that still, from time to time, poked its head out to look at me, and then started to get relaxed with the situation. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult) - my LO Site No.41
At about this time I phoned Lindsay to say I was going to be late home! The adult owl left its watch-station and flew to a position behind the hedge. It stayed out of sight for a while before flying back up. It seemed curious about my presence, but relaxed, and spent more time closer to me and out in the open.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult) - my LO Site No.41
It was during one of the times that the owl was out of sight that I turned to look behind me and noticed another adult Little Owl on the far side of the field. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult No.2) - my LO Site No.41
I wondered, briefly, if the first adult had done a crafty move, unseen by me, but then the original adult appeared in front of me - three Little Owls! The second adult barely twitched a muscle the whole time I stayed there, so I concentrated on what was in front of me.

The first adult was getting more and more relaxed, and even started preening in front of me. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (adult No.1) - my LO Site No.41
The light was fading fast, and so I set off home after a delightful hour or so at this site. 

For over a year I'd been living in a Little Owl wilderness and now, in the space of two weeks I'd had two five-owl days, seeing 8 owls over 4 different sites. It got me wondering what the influence was - and then I understood !! The answer? :- Double Raspberry Magnum!!!!!

On both occasions I'd enjoyed the delights of a Double Raspberry Magnum.  These are not only absolutely delicious, but obviously have seriously magical qualities.  There can be no other explanation!

For those not familiar with Magnum ice creams, I will explain. The Magnum ice cream is, essentially, a chocolate-covered ice cream on a stick. They come in several different guises (covered in nuts, mint ice cream, white chocolate, etc.). Occasionally, a 'limited edition' Magnum is produced, and I fear that the Double Raspberry is a new one of these. It's a raspberry ice cream, dipped in a chocolaty coating, then coated in a thick layer of tangy raspberry sauce, and then coated in milk chocolate.  I'm licking my lips as I write this!

The sad thing is that, if this is a limited edition, I'm probably going to have to go out and buy another freezer so I can stock up on them. Five-owl days don't come easily these days!


All the above was written in the evening of Wednesday, 22nd August. Yesterday (Thursday, 23rd), Lindsay and I met up for lunch with my brother and his wife. On our way home we stopped so that I could introduce Lindsay to the delights of a Double Raspberry Magnum (needless to say, I had one myself also!). Guess what - 5 Little Owls on the way home!!!!! Surely this cannot just be coincidence, especially when there have been non-productive, non-Magnum, days between these occasions.

Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure what the subject of my next post will be, but it will possibly be a short one with a sting in the tail!

Monday 20 August 2018

Ticknall Limeyards - on 24th July, 2018

Ticknall Limeyards, just over the border into Derbyshire from my home, is one of my favourite local spots for communing with nature - even though its history is industrial! It can be very good for dragonflies, and is one of the best local spots for Red-eyed Damselfly. This visit, however, turned out to be not quite as productive as I hoped it would be. 

Ruddy Darters were here in greater profusion than I'd previously seen at this place.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male + female  - in cop) - Ticknall Limeyards
I briefly saw a probable Southern Hawker, 2 probable Migrant Hawkers, and there were a couple of Brown Hawkers that were playing hard to get. A lone Black-tailed Skimmer occasionally settled in an accessible place.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
I spent some time trying, unsuccessfully, to photograph an Emperor dragonfly in flight, but it very rarely came close enough, and frequently left the area when having skirmishes with one of the probable Migrant Hawkers. I even found myself photographing other things that caught my eye - I'm not even sure that this next image is of a bee, as there are a few bee-like insects out there. Thanks to Adrian for giving the ID as being of a Honey Bee

Honey Bee - Ticknall Limeyards
I had just decided that it was time to go home when I noticed the Emperor had settled - unfortunately, not in a very convenient place. With contortion, and a risk of falling in and getting very wet, I managed a few shots.

Emperor (Anax imperator) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
I've had better visits, but at least I didn't come away without any shots in the bag! AND, in all honesty, I did have a very enjoyable time. AND I've ended up with, what is for me, a relatively short blog post, which has to be a bonus!

Thank you for dropping by. I fully expect my next blog post to feature more Little Owls!

Wednesday 15 August 2018

A Five Little Owl Day - Saturday 4th August, 2018

Those of you who have been visiting my blog for a number of years will probably remember that it largely featured owls until around a couple of years ago. Partly through lack of investment in time to search out new sites, somewhat influenced by a decline in my stamina, but mainly due to a loss of owl sites due to destruction or predation, my sightings of owls dropped dramatically.

One of my main 'owling routes' was that from my home to Rutland Water which, as a volunteer on the Rutland Osprey Project, I used to take regularly. On a good day I could reckon on seeing between five and ten Little Owls, and only seeing two or three was considered a bad day. Last year it got to the point where I considered myself lucky if I saw one!  It will probably sound daft, but I found myself getting increasingly despondent about the situation and avoiding disappointment by staying away.

Just lately, however, I decided to put a toe in the water and see what was happening at some of my old sites. My first two outings drew a complete blank. However, I felt a visit to Rutland Water was in order to check out the dragonfly situation (I've done little in the way of Osprey duties this year), and resolved to take the old 'owling route' rather than the quickest route.

On my way, finding an owl on the barn at my Little Owl Site No.23 nearly brought tears to my eyes .

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
I had no further sightings before arriving at the Egleton Visitor Centre at Rutland Water. Here I bought myself a Double-Raspberry Magnum (for my overseas readers, that's a rather exotic ice-cream) in celebration, before setting off to seek dragons. I'd only just stepped outside the door when I heard a voice say 'hello Richard' and turned to see a face that I did not at first recognise behind a new beard - it was my old pal, Andy - the 'Hooded Birder'. We chatted, and he updated me on some of the owls he'd been seeing, as part of my 'owling route' is on a daily commute for him. This gave me the resolve to stay late at Rutland Water and time my arrival at potential owl sites as dusk approached.

I didn't fare particularly well at Rutland Water, my first hour being spent trying to photograph Southern Hawker dragonflies in flight. The effort wasn't helped by the location being in shade and the water surface being 'muddled' with complex reflections from the surrounding trees . 

I totally failed with with the hawkers in that area, but did get some shots of a Ruddy Darter dragonfly and a Comma butterfly.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Heading further on the southward side of the Visitor Centre didn't reveal anything of interest, so I set back and then took the trail to the north of the Visitor Centre, dipping into some of the hides as I progressed, but without any decent sightings of anything. It was a bit breezy and the first damselflies I saw on this side of the Centre were by the hedge alongside the eastern edge of Sharples Meadow.

Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (immature female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I ventured as far as Buzzard Hide, near where I saw this Small Tortoiseshell, before turning back towards the Visitor Centre.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Beside Sharples Meadow again,  I noticed a Brown Hawker dive into the hedge, closely followed by another. I managed to find one of them, but not the other. 

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Further along, I stopped to photograph a female Ruddy Darter.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
At around 19h30 I set off homeward via my owling route, stopping for half my picnic evening meal at my Little Owl Site No.42. Here I spotted a juvenile LO on the door of the barn. Wandering along the grass verge of the busy road, I took a few photos of this bird. 

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.42
I got back to my car to find a second bird had appeared on a fence post behind the barn. This was 130 metres away (measured on Google Earth), and I only had my butterfly binoculars with me so couldn't make out whether this was a juvenile or adult.

2nd Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.42
I had the second part of my picnic at my Little Owl Site No.34. Here I found an adult LO.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
I then noticed another LO in the next tree down, and took a 'record' shot, before going down the road to try and get a shot from a better location. This is the 'record shot' of what I subsequently found to be a juvenile.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.34
Having gone down the road, I couldn't relocate the second bird. Meanwhile the adult owl was being quite active, but now at a greater distance.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
Eventually I did manage to find the second bird, and determine that it was a juvenile, but didn't succeed in getting a shot that was significantly better!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile) - my Site No.34
My last Little Owl sighting of the day was back at my LO Site No.23, where the owl was now out on the apex of the roof, and it was getting rather dark by then.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.23
Thus ended a truly heart-warming day - my first 5-owl day since April 2017 - although the photo opportunities hadn't been that great. My thanks to Andy for the tip-off information - I hope to see you at Birdfair at the weekend.

I think I'll probably be back to dragons for my next post.

Thank you for dropping by.