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Friday 28 August 2020

Garden Magic - 10th to 23rd August, 2020

Each day I realise, even more, how lucky I am in these Covid times to have a garden to help me maintain what vestiges of sanity I had before this whole virus thing took a hold! Nature has wonderful powers, and should be cherished to the full - a concept that too many people in positions of power do not seem able to grasp.

Here are some of the highlights from our own tiny corner of the planet - our garden - in the two weeks nominated in the title of this blog post.

Monday, 10th August

We occasionally get a mixed tit flock visiting the garden. The mix of tits included in the flock is variable.  On this occasion we had (at least) 4 x Blue Tit, 1 x Coal Tit, 1 x Great Tit, and 9 x Long-tailed Tit. I say 'at least' as the garden is small and the tits are darting about all over the place, and difficult to count. On this occasion, they brought a Willow Warbler along for the ride.

I managed a few shots of the Long-tailed Tits, which appreciated being able to have a drink, but were also feeding on what I believe were aphids which were under the leaves of a Cotoneaster. They are, in my opinion, some of the cutest of British garden birds.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 10th August, 2020
I also managed a shot of the Willow Warbler.

Willow Warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus) - garden on 10th August, 2020
Many people are reporting a poor year for butterflies, and I was getting a little concerned how few Small Tortoiseshells were around when compared to the norm. However, numbers have suddenly picked up and we peaked for the week at 7 present on this day.

Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) - Garden on 10th Auugust, 2020
Tuesday, 11th August

A relatively unremarkable day, but I did take a few shots of a visiting Red Admiral. These butterflies have now started appearing with some regularity.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - garden on 11th August, 2020
The other photos that day were taken just before bed time. I went out to the garage to lock up, and a small frog popped out of the bed that is densely populated with poppys. I rushed in to get the camera and managed to fire off just one frame before it shot off at an utterly amazing speed - it struck me at the time that it was as fast as a darting mouse! This was not too encouraging when Lindsay has a frog phobia!

Common Frog (Rana temporaria) - garden on 11th August, 2020
As I closed the curtains in my study before heading upstairs for the night, I noticed this very small spider on the window frame - I have no idea of the species. Both this shot and the one above were taken using the on-camera flash of the Nikon D7200 to which the Sigma 150 macro was attached.

spider species - my study on 11th August, 2020
Wednesday, 12th August

Nothing remarkable this day either, but I took some shots of a Peacock butterfly with natural backlighting.

Peacock (Aglais io) - garden on 12th August, 2020
Thursday, 13th  August

It was a quite good day for birds in the garden, with 15 species putting a foot down. The tit flock was back - still accompanied by the Willow Warbler, although the Coal Tit was not seen. No photos were taken of any flock members, but the butterfly theme continues with a Comma which visited that day. We don't see many Commas in the garden.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - garden on 13th August, 2020
Friday, 14th August

We had the tit flock again and the Coal Tit and Willow Warbler were in there. However, the only photo I have to offer is of a Large White butterfly. This, I believe, will be the last butterfly in this account!

Large White (Pieris brassicae) - garden on 14th August, 2020
Monday, 17th August

The week started well with 17 species of bird visiting the garden this day - a very good number for the time of year. The tit flock was back once more with a full compliment and the addition of Goldcrests. There were at least two Goldcrests, and there might have been as many as four! Britain's smallest bird is rarely easy to photograph and was no more cooperative than usual on this day - here are a couple of record shots.

Goldcrest (Regulus regulus) - garden on 17th August, 2020
My shots of the Willow Warbler were much worse than those of the Goldcrests, but I did take a few shots of a Blue Tit.

Blue Tit (Cyanistes caeruleus) - garden on 17th August, 2020
Wednesday, 19th August
At the end of this day, I did found something strange as I was about to close the curtains in my study where the light had been on all evening. Three shieldbugs, which I think were probably Birch Shieldbug, were on the outside of the window. I do not recall ever having seen shieldbugs attracted to light before. This sighting resulted in rather unusual photos of the undersides of two of them, taken with flash and the macro lens from the inside of the window glass. I suspect that they represent male and female of the species, but I hesitate to suggest which is which!

possible Birch Shieldbug (Elasmostethus interstinctus) - garden on 19th August, 2020
Saturday, 22nd August

The highlight of this day was a count of 28+ House Sparrows. A Collared Dove left its mark on our bedroom window and departed, apparently unharmed. It made for an unusal 'birdprint' photo. From experience, the oil and dust from the feathers is not the easiest to remove from window glass.

bedroom 'birdprint' - on 22nd August, 2020
Sunday, 23rd August

The week ended on a high with a rare visit from a male Blackcap and a visit from a female Sparrowhawk, which we suspect may have eventually taken one of our House Sparrows after a brief chase. Sadly, neither of these birds were photographed.

Each year, I let some of the sunflower heart spillage from the feeders grow and flower. The flowers are attractive to some insects, including bees, although you would not know it from the image, below! The sunflowers come in a quite wide range of variety. Most are single-flowered, but a few very large ones are multi-headed with up to ten large flower heads.

Sunflower (Helianthus) - garden on 23rd August, 2020
The garden is visited by good numbers of juvenile birds in late summer, with the most numerous, after House Sparrow, being Goldfinch. Some of the juveniles are already showing signs of adult plumage, but this one hadn't reached that stage of maturity yet.

Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) (juvenile) - garden on 23rd August, 2020

This brings me to the end of this edition of my garden account. 

My next blog post will probably feature a couple of ventures out into the wild, with one of them a little different to the usual from me. In the meantime, take good care and stay safe, but don't forget to get out and commune with nature whenever you can!

Saturday 22 August 2020

Leicestershire Wildlife Sessions - 27th July to 9th August, 2020

I have got rather behind with my blog posts. I must try and catch up. In the meantime, here is an account of several visits 'into the wild' to seek nature and some photo opportunities.

Thursday, 30th July

It had been many months since I had visited the eastern part of the county and so this was my destination this day.

I set off late morning, stopping for lunch at a gateway that I favour as picnic site. I was delighted to see that it looked as if I would have company - albeit at rather more 'social distance' than was necessary. My companion was a Little Owl which was sitting in a tree at a distance of around 200 metres.

As I parked, I saw a small bird on a post opposite, a little too far away to positively identify through my binoculars. Having reviewed my photos, I can confirm that my suspicions were correct - a Redstart (probably a juvenile)!

Redstart (Phoenicurus phoenicurus) - near my Little Owl site No.34
A gentle amble down the road before lunch took me to a place only 70 metres from the Little Owl. I took a few photos, and it was only when I got home and looked at the photos on the screen that I realised that, as well as the adult that I'd been photographing, a juvenile was present. It only featured in my shots as the adult had been so far away. Both these tightly cropped shots feature both owls - you might struggle to see the adult owl in the second shot?

Little Owl (Athene noctua) (juvenile and adult) - my LO Site No.34
These next two very heavily cropped images show just the adult.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.34
After a quick lunch I took a stroll down the road again and took some more shots of the adult owl which was now out on a branch, and I still didn't notice the juvenile which had also moved and can be seen in the second less cropped shot.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my LO Site No.34
My next destination was Eyebrook reservoir. I was hoping to see some birds, but I also wanted to check and see if the Willow Emerald Damselflies - a species new to the county in 2019 - were in evidence.  En route I made a brief stop to visit a small pond in the hope of seeing some dragonflies. I only had a brief view of a male Emperor which I couldn't re-locate, but I did spot a couple of day-flying moths.

Brown China-mark (Elophila nymphaeata) - near Stockerston
Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata) - near Stockerston
I spent some time looking for the Willow Emerald Damselflies at Eyebrook, and was briefly fooled by a female Banded Demoiselle behaving like a Willow Emerald and landing in the willow tree on the south side of the bridge. In the event, nothing axciting was seen or photographed in the way of birds, and I spent my time with dragonflies and damselflies.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Eyebrook
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (female) - Eyebrook
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Eyebrook
It was a warm day, and a Ruddy Darter started obelisking - a raising of the abdomen to point skywards to reduce the amount of heat absorbed. I fluffed the final shot, but include it here as I have never seen the underside of a Ruddy Darter's abdomen before, and was quite surprised by the markings!

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Eyebrook
It was time to head homeward as I wanted to call in to see our daughter on my way home. I made a quick stop at Launde Abbey to look at the pool there but found, to my dismay, that the pool had dried up to the extent that I could walk across it without getting wet/muddy feet. I took a shot of a Small Skipper while there.

Small Skipper (hymelicus sylvestris) (male) - Launde Abbey
I had a very pleasant hour chatting on the drive of our daughter's house while social-distancing (I'd taken a folding chair with me) before I need to depart for personal comfort reasons!

Stopping at a convenient point on my way home, I diverted to look at a pond that I'd not previously found to be overly productive, and took a few more shots of dragonflies and damselflies. Sadly, at this time of the afternoon, I was shooting into the sun. I managed a poor shot of a rather tatty Emperor, and some slightly better shots of an Emerald Damselfly - my first of the year. 

Emperor (Anax imperator) (male) - near Cropston

Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - near Cropston
It was only when I got home that I found that a distant Red-eyed Damselfly, that I'd grabbed a couple of frames of before giving up because of the poor situation and lighting conditions, was in fact a Small Red-eyed Damselfly - a 'lifer' for me - and so will appear here in spite of being 'just a record shot'.

Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum) (male) - near Cropston
Friday, 31st July

I made a late morning visit to a local dragonfly location. It was breezy and nothing unusual was seen but I did get a few photo opportunities. 

The only birds photographed that morning were Mute Swans. It was good to see the pair with cygnets looking comfortable.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Saltersford Valley
Common Darters were the mainstay of the dragonflies showing that day.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male + female) - Saltersford Valley
Ruddy Darters were also present.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Not long before I left, a female Brown Hawker, came alongside the boardwalk and decided to oviposit on the boardwalk support, in deep shade. I took several shots in the few seconds before she disappeared under the boardwalk, but most of the shots were totally unusable - which is not surprising as the lens was at its full 500 mm and the shutter speed came in at 1/60s! This one just about makes it.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (female) - Saltersford Valley
Wednesday, 5th August

It's not often in these Covid times that I manage to get out with Lindsay as she doesn't have the ability to walk far without sitting down for a rest, and neither of us are going anywhere where we will find ourselves unable to social-distance from the rest of the population. This day, however, was very windy and Lindsay felt she needed to get out into the fresh air. We did a bit of a drive around, looking for places where we might be able to park and take a short stroll in the countryside. In this, we were not very successful. We found ourselves parking on the dam of Cropston reservoir and taking a short walk (I went on a rather longer walk), and afterwards heading for Swithland reservoir where, again, we parked on the dam in order to have a brief walk about. I did take the camera' just in case', but little was seen. Here are a few very common items.

Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus) - Cropston Reservoir

Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Cropston Reservoir
Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) - Cropston Reservoir
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus) - Swithland Reservoir
Friday, 7th August

I had another day out, departing late morning, and taking a picnic lunch with me. My main objective was to try and find Small Red-eyed Damselfly again near Cropston. This turned out to be a somewhat unproductive visit, with little seen or photographed, and no sign of the hoped-for damselfly.

Blue-tailed Damselfly (Ischnura elegans) (male + female in cop) - near Cropston
Emerald Damselfly (Lestes sponsa) (male) - near Cropston
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) -near Cropston
I then moved on to Cossingtom Meadows in the hope of finding some birds to photograph. On arrival I waited for two gentlemen with cameras to exit through the gate, who kindly informed me of what they'd seen, which included common fare, and "lots of dragonflies which refused to settle". 

On entering, I was soon delighted to find my first Brimstone of the summer.

Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) (male) - Cossington Meadows
I soon saw what the gentlemen had mentioned - there were numerous Brown Hawkers around, none of which were obliging. 

I didn't get clear views of any birds until I got to Tern Pool, and here I only found common camera fodder.

Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (female) - Cossington Meadows
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) - Cossington Meadows
Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo) + Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Cossington Meadows
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Cossington Meadows
Having reached the northern end of Cossington Meadows I cut over westward to the River Soar and made my way southward. I was seeing many more Brown Hawkers now. At one point I stopped at a point where I had a reasonable view of the river - it had been hidden from view by tall vegetation for much of the way. I noticed a couple of damselflies, and couldn't believe what I was seeing at first - two Small Red-eyed Damselflies! I'd had a self-found 'lifer' just eight days before, and here I was with two more of the same species at anothewr self-found location. 

I watched these two males for some time from the high river bank. They had several altercations with each other, but they never came near for decent photography, but at least my shots are good enough to confirm the species!

Small Red-eyed Damselfly (Erythromma viridulum) (male) - River Soar, Cossington Meadows
After this, on the hottest day of the year, it seemed a long walk back to my car, where I had a break for my lunch before heading to my next destination. 

My last stop of the day was at Sence Valley Park, where I thought I'd have another check of the area that I'd been invited to monitor. I have to admit that I was flagging somewhat by now, and my survey was far from thorough. 

Soon after entering the area barred from public access, I was delighted to spot a Common Blue butterfly, and then another as I reached the first pond. I have seen worryingly few of these this year.

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) (male) - Sence Valley
Although in smaller numbers, there was a similar mix of Odonata to that on my previous visit. However, I didn't see Broad-bodied Chaser, but there were now Common Darter present, which there hadn't been on my previous visit. The other thing of note was the absence of females.

There was an obliging Black-tailed Skimmer which decided to perch on a stem, rather than on the ground.

Black-tailed Skimmer (Orthetrum cancellatum) - Sence Valley
One of the Common Darters was also fairly cooperative.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Sence Valley
As I was about to leave the pond area, I found a large aquatic beetle had climbed out onto a stem. I do not know what species this was, but suspect that it might have been Colymbetes fuscus.

aquatic beetle - Sence Valley
By now, I was feeling the results of being on my feet and out in the heat for several hours, and it was time to go home and cool off.

This brings to a close my account of my forays for the fortnight.

Thank you for dropping by. I'm not sure what my next blog post will feature, but suspect that it will either be my garden observations or more excursions away from home. In the meantime, take great care and stay safe.