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Saturday 26 September 2020

Still Summer - Just! - 7th to 13th September, 2020

It has been rather a long time since my previous blog post as I have been busy. However, I've now completed the garden path, and so I feel the need to keep things flowing by putting something on the blog. This blog post will be a relatively short one, but I have a feeling that the next blog post might be somewhat longer!

Monday, 7th September

The week got of to a slow start as far as sightings were concerned, and the only photos taken were of a juvenile Woodpigeon. I do not usually bother to photograph Woodpigeons, but I do not remember ever photographing a juvenile one before.

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) (juvenile) - garden on 8th September, 2020
That evening the bat was seen once more at sunset, and was seen every subsequent evening that week except on the Sunday.

Tuesday, 8th September

In the morning, I photographed a hoverfly on a michaelmas daisy. I believe it to be Eristalis tenax, but please correct me if I'm wrong!

hoverfly (Eristalis tenax)  - garden on 8th September, 2020
In the afternoon I went out in search of wildlife. I decided on a visit to Croxall Lakes in Staffordshire as on a previous visit (last year) I had noticed a boardwalk access to a pond that I did not know existed there, and it looked as if it would be good for dragonflies. Croxall Lakes can also be good for birds.

I arrived to find the 'pond' had dried up to the extent that you'd have been hard-pressed to fill a domestic wash-basin with the water left in it. Not a single dragonfly or damselfly was seen there.

I carried on regardless, in the hope of finding birds, and maybe some damselflies by the River Trent at the far end of the site. Cutting a long story short, I didn't find any odonata, and virtually no birds were seen. 

I then returned and cut off eastward under the railway and across the meadow to the hide by the smaller of the two lakes. Soon after arriving at the hide, a Kingfisher suddenly appeared in the distance, hovered for a couple of seconds above the water, dived, and then came out and shot behind trees to my right. During this brief time, I didn't even manage to get it in my viewfinder. I waited an hour in the hope that it would return, but to no avail - I even started photographing trains to pass the time!

DB Cl.66, No. 66 124 (EMD) - Croxall Lakes
The only birds that I was able to to photograph were some Canada Geese.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Croxall Lakes
It was time to move on! As I left the hide, my attention was drawn to something in the grass not far from the hide. It turned out to be the largest field fungus that I have ever seen . Nearby, there were many more. This first one must have been around 10 inches (25 cm) across. If my ID is correct, these were Parasol Mushroom, and are said to be "uncommon" but "edible - excellent". I suspect that I could have collected 4 or 5 buckets full in 5 minutes! However, I would not trust my ID skills, and Lindsay would never contemplate cooking any fungus that had not been identified by an expert. The first image, below, is of the first (largest) one, and the subsequent two images show less developed specimens.

Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera) - Croxall Lakes
My next destination turned out to be even less successful. I headed off to to visit another place that I'd not been to since lockdown - Drakelow NR - and arrived to find a notice on the gate that stated that it was closed for the duration, due to lack of maintenance because of Covid!

Things were getting somewhat frustrating so it was time to go somewhere where I knew I had a chance of seeing something worthwhile. It would only be a very small diversion from my route home to call in at Saltersford Valley so that is what I did!

Having parked, it was but a short walk to the boardwalk at the eastern side of the first lake. I arrived to find a male Southern Hawker dragonfly holding territory at the near end of the boardwalk. I must have spent getting on for half an hour trying to get flight shots of this dragonfly, but got nothing but an identifiable blurry shot before it departed. I then took a wander along the boardwalk and managed to find what was probably my last Ruddy Darter of the year.

Ruddy Darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) (male) - Saltersford Valley
I next set off to the west side of the lake where I found a male Migrant Hawker which kept settling in the reeds in front of me, but always with intervening reeds. I did, however, note an adult Coot on a log in the lake and another adult with two young further out.

Coot (Fulica atra) - Saltersford Valley
When the Migrant Hawker disappeared, I took the circular walk which briefly passes a point on the large lake where I saw Red-eyed Damselfly earlier in the year. This time the walk was fruitless, apart from the opportunity to take some shots of a Speckled Wood butterfly.
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Saltersford Valley
As I passed by the section where I'd seen the Coots, I noticed that one of the juveniles was quite close to me.

Coot (Fulica atra) (juvenile) - Saltersford Valley
I was about to head back to my car when I changed my mind and decided to re-visit the boardwalk. I arrived to find the Southern Hawker had returned to the same spot, and tried once more for some photos, but didn't even manage a blurred one before it departed. I did, however, manage some shots of a rather obliging Migrant Hawker. Here are a few of the many shots I took - I even managed a few flight shots, although far from good.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley
It now really was time to go home as I was cooking tea that evening.

Wednesday, 9th September

Nothing remarkable in the garden this day, but I did get some shots of a Comma butterfly that was in a rather bright condition.

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - garden on 9th September, 2020
Thursday, 10th September

This day brought us some excitement in the form of visits from a Nuthatch, a Willow Warbler, and (not seen for some weeks previously) a Stock Dove. Sadly, I only managed photos of the Nuthatch, but was happy to get these as this is a species rarely seen in the garden. It was busy hiding sunflower hearts in nooks and crannies and, at one time, seemed to be playing hide-and-seek with a House Sparrow.

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - garden on 10th September, 2020
Sunday 13th September, 2020

There was then little of significant interest in the garden until the end of the week, and on this day the Nuthatch returned, but any photos taken were rather less acceptable than those above. Most excitement was caused, however, by visits from two dragonflies, neither of which stayed long enough for a photo. The first was a male Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum), and the second a male Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea).


That brings me to the end of this blog post. As mentioned above, the next blog post is likely to be a long one, and might well be a couple of weeks in the production process! In the meantime, stay safe and well, and look after nature so that it can look after you.

Tuesday 15 September 2020

Exciting Times and Other Observations - 24th August to 6th September, 2020

I reverted back to the old Blogger user interface in the hope that they'd sort o
ut some of the problems in the interim. Some of them seem to be sorted, but I still have issues with the inability to present images at a specific size

This blog post covers just one long trip out with many photos taken, and an update on my garden observations with some exciting days but few photos taken.

Tuesday,  25th August

This day was remarkable for me in that I managed a count of at least 35 House Sparrows in the garden - which probably explains why we also had a brief visit from a male Sparrowhawk. It was also good to see a Willow Warbler visit that day too.

Thursday, 27th August

I happened to look out of my study window at dusk, and spotted a bat flying around the garden. It seemed to be contained by an invisible force-field at the garden boundaries. Since then, I have made a point of looking out at dusk and it seems that this bat is a daily visitor. I'm wondering what species it is and where it roosts at night during the day.

Friday, 28th August

There was real excitement when I checked the garden trail cams as we were visited by an extremely small Hedgehog. This is the first time ever, after many years with Hedgehogs, that we've had the pleasure of seeing a'baby' Hedgehog. I'll save the video for the following night's sighting.

Saturday, 29th August

The video of the young hog on this day showed that it was fending well for itself and was adept at finding its own food, even to the extent that it knew to roll its prey to clean it before eating it. I subsequently had my suspicions confirmed that we had two young hogs visiting, and both are growing very quickly - as they need to if they are to survive the winter. At the end of the clip, I show one of the larger of our other visiting hogs, just to give you a size comparison. 

Monday, 31st August

We had further excitement when a female Blackcap visited the garden briefly during breakfast in the conservatory. Sadly, my camera was not to hand. By the time 4 Long-tailed Tits arrived with 3 Blue Tits and a Great Tit I did have my camera with me and managed a couple of shots of one of them. I missed getting a shot of the Willow Warbler that they brought with them, however.

Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - garden on 31st August, 2020

For the past few years we have let some of the sunflower hearts from the bird feeders grow in the garden - please note, however, that I do have to sweep up most of the spillage each night as sunflower hearts are loved by Hedgehogs, but are bad for them as it weakens their bones. I find the differences in the resulting plants to be quite remarkable. Most have single flower heads, but some have multiple heads and are quite showy. Here is one of them.

Sunflower  var. (Helianthus var.) - garden on 31st August, 2020

Wednesday, 1st September
This day started with a forecast of sunny spells with little breeze, and relatively warm temperatures for the time of year, so I decided to have an afternoon out, taking a picnic lunch with me.  I had two prime objectives, the first being to see if the Willow Emerald Damselflies had managed to establish a presence at Eyebrook Reservoir after them being a 'county first' for the species last year, and the second being a follow up on a tip-off from my old pal John Truman about a Red Kite location in Northamptonshire. 
I arrived at Eyebrook and had a quick check around on the bridge, spotting a Kingfisher in the Willow by the inflow, 100 metres away. Not detailed shots of a Kingfisheer at this range, but I'm quite pleased with the atmosphere in these images.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I had a quick picnic lunch before doing a thorough check of the brook below the bridge. Day-flying Silver Y moths were very active.

Silver Y (Autographa gamma) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I soon spotted my first Willow Emeralds with a pair in tandem on a fence post. This was more than a little exciting for me as Willow Emeralds had been out for a month or more in the south of England, but my recent visits to Eyebrook had not revealed any.
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female in tandem) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I very soon found a lone male.
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
- and then a lone female, but in a very awkward postion for photography - this was taken with the lens at the full 500mm (as were most of my shots from this session) and then heavily cropped. 
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
 I spent some time trying to photograph a mating pair, but they kept stopping in extremely difficult places, but I did eventually get a brief opportunity for a reasonable shot.
Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female in cop) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I did, however, get several opportunities to photograph pairs in tandem.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female in tandem) - Eyebrook Reservoir
The single lone male also gave me some reasonable photographic opportunities and I managed some closer shots with the lens wound back a bit. The second of the two below shows the side of the thorax with the spur that is a diagnostic ID feature for this species.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
Whilst there, I saw at least three pairs of Willow Emerald, plus one single male and one single female. I also saw Southern Hawker (male) (not successfully photographed) and a male Banded Demoiselle.
Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) (male) - Eyebrook Reservoir
I also took some photos of what, at the time, I believed to be a hoverfly. However, I now think that I have photographed two different species! The first, with its 'snout', is Rhingia campestris. However, the second, although it looks a little similar, does not have the diagnostic snout, and has a uniform bronze-coloured thorax. Any help with this one would be appreciated! My thanks to 'Conehead54' for suggesting that this is
Ripponensia splendens.
Rhingia campestris - Eyebrook Reservoir

probable Ripponensia splendens - Eyebrook Reservoir
I needed a rest from waving the camera about, and so decided to depart and head to the Northamptonshire location. It took a little finding but, having been aided by a helpful and friendly local person, I found it in the end, taking the recommended public footpath.

As I entered the area I saw a Red Kite on the ground in the middle of the next field to the one that I had entered. I'd only got a few metres down the footpath before it took off and departed.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - Northamptonshire
The next 'red kite' I saw was somewhat different!!

Taylorcraft J-1N Alpha G-AJYB - Northamptonshire

This little gem was even older than I am (just!), being built in 1945. It sports a De Havilland engine.

I spent an hour on the footpath, sitting on the stile that separates the first field from the second, and had just four very distant sightings of Red Kite, with almost no useable photos. This next shot is the best that I could manage.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - Northamptonshire
It even got to the point that I was looking for anything I could photograph, including a passing Woodpigeon!
Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) - Northamptonshire
I decided to give up but noticed a Red Kite lurking in a tree at the far side of the ploughed field and so decided to walk a bit further up the footpath which ran at an angle to the bird's position so that I was not walking directly towards it. Halfway up the path I took this record shot.
Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - Northamptonshire
I had just taken this shot when another Red Kite appeared and decided to put on a performance for me. Here are some of the shots I managed and am quite pleased with.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus) - Northamptonshire
I noticed that all the Red Kites that I had seem seemed to be in partial moult of their feathers, and this might be why they were not showing so well as it seems they usually do. 
It was now time to head back to my car for some much-needed liquid refreshment, and to start my journey homeward.
My route took me back via Eyebrook and so I stopped at the bridge to see if anything else was showing. I'm glad I did as I saw a pair of Willow Emeralds on a distant willow branch over the water, with the female ovipositing into the branch - as they do. I think that the image gives the impression that the female is having to put quite a bit of effort into drilling to deposit those eggs. When the eggs hatch, the new larvae drop into the water.

Willow Emerald (Chalcolestes viridis) (male + female (ovipositing)) - Eyebrook Reservoir
When on the bridge, an extremely well-worn and over-mature female Common Darter alighted on the parapet.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Eyebrook Reservoir
My day was now done, and I headed home after a very rewarding outing.

Saturday, 5th September

Nothing remarkable was observed in the garden until this day, when a Willow Warbler again arrived with a small mixed tit flock which included a Coal Tit - a species that has been elusive this year. All I photographed, however, was a Magpie.
Magpie (Pica pica) - garden on 5th September, 2020
Sunday, 6th September
We end this reporting period with another minor 'high' in that we were visited by a male Blackcap (the previous one at the beginning of the week being a female), and the Willow Warbler returned. Sadly, neither of these two were photographed, so all I can offer from that day is a juvenile Woodpigeon.

Woodpigeon (Columba palumbus) (juvenile) - garden on 6th September, 2020

Thus ends my blog post. My next post will probably feature an outing from last week and a couple of items from the garden - and maybe a bit more, as well!

Take great care and stay safe.