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Thursday 31 January 2019

Fourth Attempt at the Jack Snipe - on 18th January, 2019

I'd only, as far as I can remember, had three sightings of Jack Snipe in my life - twice in the Scillies and once as Cossington Meadows, Leicestershire. However, I'd recently had three attempts, without success, at seeing the Jack Snipe that has been showing regularly from Crake Hide at Rutland Water.

We had an extended period of dismal weather, culminating in a fall of snow on the night of 17th January. I was getting stir-crazy, having not had a sensible birding session for over a week, and decided something had to be done about it - I'd have another attempt at the Jack Snipe. So off I set mid-morning (I'd had a late night the previous day) on the Friday.

I took my usual rural route and spotted a Buzzard in a field near Hungarton. The snow had all but totally disappeared by then.

Common Buzzard (Buteo buteo) - near Hungarton
I stopped for an early picnic lunch at my usual place, and was delighted to see the Little Owl there again. Sadly the light was awful - as was the photography!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.34
As the prime objective was the Jack Snipe, I made my way directly to Crake Hide, not stopping at any of the intermediate hides on the way. The hide was empty when I got there, but I was soon joined by another person. It was quite a while before my companion suddenly spotted movement in the reeds about 40 metres away and confirmed it was a Jack Snipe. It took me a while to find it through my binoculars at this distance, and even longer to find it through the camera lens. We must have watched it for well over half an hour before it totally disappeared from sight, and it never once emerged from the reeds! 

This fairly well illustrates what I could see through the binoculars on one of its more 'showing' positions:-

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - from Crake Hide, Rutland Water
And this is the one occasion I managed to catch it showing its diagnostic dark stripe on the crown and a short bill:-

Jack Snipe (Lymnocryptes minimus) - from Crake Hide, Rutland Water
I stayed for approximately another hour, during which time the only shots I took were of Little Egret.

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - from Crake Hide, Rutland Water
At least I'd seen the Jack Snipe, even if I hadn't got any decent photos. I then set off to see what I could find at some of the other hides.

I didn't get further than Shoveler Hide before I got stalled by what was there. I've always thought Great Crested Grebes look fabulous in their summer plumage, but rather uninteresting in the winter. A relatively close view of a bird on this day changed my mind. I thought it looked wonderful!

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - from Shoveler Hide, Rutland Water
Great Egret has now become firmly established at Rutland Water, and it seems that several of this species have decided to over-winter there. I suspect that we might get them breeding in 2019. This species is now as common as Little Egret was a few years ago. Here are a couple of images of Great Egret from that day.

Great Egret (Ardea alba) - from Shoveler Hide, Rutland Water
I'm not very good with the less common ducks but, while scanning around, I saw what I think might have been a female Scaup. It might have just been a female Tufted Duck with a large white base to the bill, or it could have been a Tufted Duck x Scaup. I'd welcome any opinions on the matter. It stayed at a great distance.

possible female Scaup - from Shoveler Hide, Rutland Water
While looking at the above bird, I also saw another duck which I am not able to positively ID, although I suspect that it's a female or juvenile Pochard - comments welcome!

possible Pochard - from Shoveler Hide, Rutland Water
Goosander are far from uncommon in these parts at this time of year, but I don't often get the chance to photograph one at relatively close quarters. I was, therefore, delighted when this female appeared in front of me and had a spell of preening. In the fourth image, I think she is trying to disguise herself as a dead fish!

Goosander (Mergus merganser) (female) - from Shoveler Hide, Rutland Water
I couldn't stop late as, that evening, I was attending a talk by a good friend on the subject of a photographic trip he'd made to Costa Rica (great talk!). I made a quick visit into all the other hides at this side of the reserve in the hope of finding Smew, but was unsuccessful. I then had to take the quick route home and saw nothing more of interest. It had, however, been another extremely enjoyable afternoon at Rutland Water - and I had seen the Jack Snipe (just!).

I suspect that my next post will feature a return to my garden wildlife. 

Thank you for dropping by.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Some Garden Highlights - April to August, 2018

It has been a while since I produced a blog post featuring the wildlife that we enjoy in our small suburban garden in North-West Leicestershire. Our garden, and indeed our lives, had been much influenced by the building work that continued on the small plot of land behind our garden during this period. How four tiny bungalows being built on behalf of the Local Authority take from spring 2017 until two weeks before Christmas 2018 for completion, I just don't understand! At times it has been extremely noisy. At other times, the plot stood idle for weeks on end. The birds and other wildlife would just get used to the peace and quiet and then it would all start up again.

Anyway, enough of the bickering - it has all finished now, and the bungalows are occupied by Council tenants.  Below are some of the wildlife that I've manged to catch on camera. There's nothing rare here, although some species were quite uncommon in our garden, and there are many others that I didn't manage to catch on camera.

14th April, 2018

Long-tailed Tit only visits on relatively rare occasions, sometimes in small flocks (up to 8 birds). They are rarely still, so photography is not easy. 

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - our garden
Starling is a common visitor. and is with us in numbers on most days. However, its plumage is rather fine at times, if in good light, and so presents an interesting subject for photography. The Council built a fence just a foot (0.3 metres) away from our existing fence. It was a little higher than our fence by the time they'd put a trellis on top. The narrow gap between fences meant that there was no way we could maintain our fence, and so I had to take ours down, We gained a very small amount of land but the fence that the Starling is sitting on in the image below has now gone, and a far less photogenic trellis is now dominating the boundary.

Common Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) - our garden
7th May, 2018

We used to have a large koi pond in our garden but, several years ago, I converted it into a flower bed, just retaining an extremely small part (about the size of a domestic kitchen sink) to act as a bird bath. Occasionally, a frog will find it, as it did on this day. I love the 'polished bronze' colour in a frog's eyes!

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) - our garden
18th May, 2018 

The Holly Blue is a frequent visitor to our garden during its two flight seasons, but this tiny butterfly rarely stops to allow photography. On this occasion, I was lucky to get one from the first season!

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) - our garden
19th May, 2018

The following day, a Wood Mouse was active in daylight at the far end of the garden. I usually only see these on the wildlife cams at night.

Wood Mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus) - our garden
5th June, 2018

If we are lucky, some years we get a Jay visiting our garden.  When we do, it usually hangs around for a while. 2018 was such a year.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - our garden
7th June, 2018

I photographed the Jay again two days later. We also had a very unusual visitor in the form of a Pied Wagtail. Amazingly, although the Pied Wagtail is a common bird, it is rarely seen in our garden, whereas the far more scarce Grey Wagtail visits us every year. 

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) (male) - our garden
Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - our garden
9th June, 2018

The Pied Wagtail had obviously been pleased with our garden. as it brought one of its offspring to visit us.

Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) (male + juvenile) - our garden
20th June, 2018

Not usually a garden butterfly, a Large Skipper visited on this day.

Large Skipper (Ochlodes sylvanus) (female) - our garden
3rd July, 2018

With the pond gone, dragonflies and damselflies rarely visit our garden, but always cause excitement when they do. This was the only female Black-tailed Skimmer that I saw anywhere in Leicestershire in 2018. They were a bit thin on the ground, with me seeing only one male elsewhere in the county.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) (female) - our garden
5th July, 2018

Most years we have a visit from a Great Spotted Woodpecker and, once a bird has found us, it usually returns for a few weeks. Some years we get birds that are obviously feeding young, and then they bring the young to visit. This year a juvenile GS Woody seemed to find us on its own initiative.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (juvenile) - our garden
7th July, 2018

The Jay was still visiting from time to time.

Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - our garden
12th July, 2018

This day we had a visit from a second brood Holly Blue.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) - our garden
14th July, 2018

The Peacock is one of my favourite garden butterflies. The upper side is absolutely exquisite, although the underside is very drab.

Peacock (Aglais io) - our garden
17th July, 2018

Three days later, I was photographing another one.

Peacock (Aglais io) - our garden
18th July, 2018

Whilst in the garden, photographing butterflies, I noticed this bug. It seems that they feed on nettles, but we don't have any!

Liocoris tripustulatus - our garden
4th August, 2018

Occasionally I have a wander round the garden with my camera in hand. On this occasion I photographed a hoverfly. However, I have no idea what species this is - hoverflies are a whole new ball game that I dare not get into! My thanks to 'Conehead54' for the ID on this one, and to Adrian for trying!

hoverfly (Myathropa florea) - our garden
The Painted Lady is a species which does not breed in UK but arrives as a migrant from Africa or mainland Europe most years. It is always a real treat to find one in the garden. The underside of this butterfly is gorgeous, but I did not manage to capture it on this occasion.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - our garden
6th August, 2018

The plume moths are some of the strangest micromoths around, adopting the familiar 'T' shape when at rest. This one had found its way into our conservatory, and was photographed on the window glass using flash.

Beautiful Plume (Amblyptilia acanthadactyla) - our conservatory
There are two rather similar garden micromoths which are sometimes referred to as mint moths - Pyrausta aurata, and Pyrausta purpuralis. I believe this to be the former, in spite of it being on a thyme, which is usually associated with the latter. Please let me know if you disagree.

Small Purple & Gold (Pyrausta aurata) - our garden
There were plenty of Red Admirals in the garden last summer.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - our garden
7th August, 2018

The moth trap was deployed in the evening. Although the haul was not recovered until the following morning (8th) it is convention that the date recorded is that of deployment. As well as 24 species of moth being identified from the haul, there were several that escaped before being identified, and there were also a few 'foreigners' in there too. 

I've already shown this image in my blog, but can't resist showing it again.

European Hornet (Vespa crabro) - from our garden
This ladybird was in the trap - it's only the second time I've seen (noticed) this species - anywhere! This is a woodland species and feeds on mildew on Sycamore and Ash trees

Orange Ladybird (Halyzia sedecimguttata) - from our garden
Totally bizarre was this shieldbug which had found its way into the trap!

Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) (adult) - from our garden
Possibly my favourite moth from the trap that day was the Lychnis - a common moth, but my first of this species.

Lychnis (Hadena bicruris) - from our garden
8th August, 2018

The Common Blue butterfly deserves its name - but not in our garden, where it is a rarity, being a country, rather than urban, species. It was, therefore exciting for me to see it. Sadly, I only manged to catch it with its wings closed before it disappeared over the fence.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) - our garden
Until the building work commenced behind our garden, Hedgehog was a regular visitor. As part of the Planning Application, following a letter from myself, the Council's Ecologist recognised that the land was habitat used by Hedgehogs, and recommended mitigating measures, including the provision of hedgehog holes in all boundary fences and that all holes and ditches should be covered or provided with means of escape during the construction process. 

Sadly, these recommendations were ignored. At the planning meeting, one councillor even expressed concern that cats and dogs, and even babies, would escape through these 15 cm square holes!

On this day, the Site Manager attracted my attention over the (old) fence and told me he'd got a Hedgehog down a hole that had been dug in preparation for a fence post being put in - could I help? This was a Wednesday and the site had been deserted since the Friday - it was anybody's guess as to how long the Hedgehog had been down the hole. Although I was standing less than 10 metres from the Hedgehog, the fence formed an impenetrable barrier and so I made the journey of  over half a mile (about 0.9 km) by car to get to the site.

Once there, I was escorted to the hole. Fortunately my arm was just long enough to reach the Hedgehog and the whole just large enough in diameter that I could work my (gloved) hand round the Hedgehog to lift it out. Having taken it to my car, and realising I'd not thought to put a box in the car, I put it on the floor and started to drive home - whereupon it came to life and buried itself under the passenger seat. It took longer to extract it from here than it did to get it out of the hole!

Once home, I put it in one of our three hedgehog houses, and sat and waited to see if it moved. I was somewhat surprised when, instead of coming out through the entrance, it pushed the lid of the house up, and squeezed its way out before dropping to the ground.

I soon had confirmation that it was 'one of ours' when it made its way directly into one of our two hedgehog feeding stations. Suitably refreshed, it then came out, staying very flat to the ground (possibly through fear) and made its way through the shrubs, and out of sight. I'll never know how this one fared in the end. By the time the work had finished, we were down to one Hedgehog (which, I believe, is currently asleep in one of our hedgehog houses). Here's the rescued hog coming away from the feeding station.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus) - our garden
10th August, 2018

Perhaps two or three times a year we get a visit from a Willow Warbler or Chiffchaff. Often I cannot tell which of the two it is because the visit is brief and I do not get time to check the visual differences. Also, they are never vocal when they visit! Sometimes, however, I do get to check. This one had the right colour legs (quite red when in the light) and long primaries to enable identification as a Willow Warbler - although neither aspect shows well in this image, chosen because it appeals to me!

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - our garden
 13th August, 2018

There's a story behind this one too - but I'll keep it short! Lindsay alerted to me to a dragonfly that had alighted on what we term 'the stump' - a substantial chunk of tree that I stuck in the ground and drilled with holes to fill with food for the birds - it will appear in several of the photos on this post. I started to take photos and then got excited because of the red colour appearing on the wings. With no experience of the species, I got excited by the thought that I might have a Red-veined Darter - and then I noticed the colour of the eyes. Just a Common Darter - but a nice dragon to get in the garden anyway.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female)  - our garden
14th August, 2018

For a while, we had regular visits by a female Great Spotted Woodpecker. We hoped that she was feeding young but, if she was, she didn't bring them to see us. Here she is - on the stump.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) (female) - our garden
15th August, 2018

Most years we find a shield bug or two (usually Common Green Shieldbug) in our garden. 2018 seemed to be a bumper year for them, with four species seen. Here's a Hawthorn Shieldbug from this day. This is a 5th (final) instar specimen ('instars' are the nymph stages before adulthood) on a Sunflower.

Hawthorn Shieldbug (Acanthosoma haemorrhoidale) (5th instar) - our garden
17th August, 2018

Two days later, I was photographing a Common Green Shieldbug, also on Sunflower. This one is an adult - it has wings.

Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) (adult) - our garden
21st August, 2018

A garden session produced an image of the rather attractive underside of the Red Admiral butterfly.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - our garden
22nd August, 2018

This was the day I discovered our 4th species of shieldbug. There were two Hairy Shieldbugs on Sunflower. This was the first year that I'd let spilled sunflower hearts germinate and grow, and I hope to be doing the same this year.  I had only seen this species once before, and that one was distinctly hairy. These ones didn't look as hairy from above, but you can clearly see the hairs in the second, side-on, image.

Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum) (adult) - our garden
25th August, 2018

Whilst photographing a Hornet, I noticed that the Hairy Shieldbug numbers had increased. Here's one Sunflower head with five on!

Hairy Shieldbug (Dolycoris baccarum) (adult) - our garden
29th August, 2018

I couldn't resist another shot of a Red Admiral.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - our garden
This has been a long enough blog post already so I'll stop here. A future post might cover the garden from September, 2018 to January, 2019, and will feature a rather different set of visitors. My next post, however, will probably be totally geared to our avian friends.

Thank you for dropping by.