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Tuesday 27 October 2020

Scilly Sojourns - September/October, 2020 - Pt.1

For several years, we had been trying to get a late September or early October booking at our favourite property on the Isles of Scilly. Last year we were told that our wish had been granted. The property always offers it's visitors the same slot for the following year, and this offer is usually taken up without hesitation. It is, therefore, almost a case of waiting to step into dead men's shoes. 

The main reason for wanting to book at this time was that it is the start of the bird migration season on the Scillies, but summer avian residents and the insect life are still around. This last aspect is something that does not feature much during our March stays.

My main observation/photographic objectives for the visit were modest ones, rather than seeking out some 'mega' rarity. There had been recent reports of several Wryneck on the islands and I have only had the pleasure of seeing and photographing this species once before. This was, therefore, a target species. The Scillies is a good place to find Hummingbird Hawkmoth and I have only previously managed five sightings and a couple of record shots, so this was my second objective. I have never seen dragonflies on the Scillies, so this was number three. Finally, the Scillies is home to its own subspecies of Speckled Wood butterfly (ssp. insula) and I have only previously achieved photographs of a very tatty specimen.

At the time of booking, there is no way that we could have foreseen the problems that Covid-19 brought in 2020. My wife, Lindsay, and I are both in the Covid 'vulnerable' category, mainly due to our age, and for the previous six months, since we left the Scillies in March, we have been being extremely cautious, avoiding shops, people, and public places. This visit was going to be a challenge as there was no way we could get to the south-west of England without several 'comfort stops' en-route,  we'd be sitting with other people in an airport lounge, and - the biggest challenge of all - we'd be flying on a plane in close proximity to other people. Furthermore, we'd have to go shopping for supplies, rather than rely on home-deliveries. It was not going to be easy!

Sunday, 27th September

Having packed a picnic lunch for the journey, we set off from home at around 10h00 with a full tank of fuel. It was an uneventful journey with several comfort stops and a picnic lunch break in the car park at various motorway service areas en-route

We'd booked an overnight stop at the Redruth Camborne Travelodge in Cornwall, and arrived there at approximately 15h30. This is a relatively new Travelodge and in quite nice condition. Sadly there was a crisis in progress when we arrived with a gentleman being locked in his bathroom for an hour when his door handle broke, so the receptionist (who was the sole member of staff present) was somewhat preoccupied, but did have time to explain that she only had one tea bag she could offer us for the complimentary refreshment tray - usually there's an unlimited supply. 

After a long journey with me doing all the driving, we did not fancy venturing out for a meal, and Lindsay volunteered to pop over to KFC, the other side of the car park, for a take-away to eat in our room as our evening meal. While sitting eating our meal beside the window which overlooked the car park, we made some wry comments about the goings-on in the car park.

We turned in early that night.

Monday, 28th September

Our flight was booked for 12h36, with check-in between 11h36 and 12h06. We also had specific instructions to not enter the terminal until check-in opened for the flight. This timing gave us a gentle start to our day and a relaxed breakfast that we had brought with us. 

Checking out of our hotel just before the 10h00 deadline we set off to the airport, stopping in Penzance to fill up the car with fuel ready for our return journey the following week. We found ourselves getting close to the airport somewhat early, so continued past the airport turning and headed to Land's End, noting that it was getting rather misty. Seeing that the car park was £7 and it was too misty to see much, plus we only had half an hour to kill, we turned round and then took the road down to Sennen Cove, had a quick look, and went to the airport. We were allowed to pop in before the hour to use the loos, and I was told that flights were on hold due to the low cloud, and recommended not to try checking in before 12h00 as the terminal was getting rather full of would-be passengers..

Knowing that flights (and sailings) to the Scillies can be a bit temperamental we'd booked a second night at the Travelodge which we could cancel without charge before 12 noon. We now had a dilemma on our hands - do we keep it or cancel it? We decided to keep it. 

The day wore on, with flights showing as delayed and then, after a couple of hours delay, changed to cancelled. When ours eventually was cancelled we got transferred onto a flight at 16h20. At 17h45 we were informed that flights were now closed for the day and offered a booking at 12h55 the following day.

Departure Board at Land's End Airport
We set off back to the hotel, checked in again, and discussed our options for dinner that night. We went for the easy option which was to return to KFC for another take-away. Lindsay volunteered, once more, as she'd experienced the procedure and felt confident about it. In the event, she found the situation in KFC chaotic this time (she'd been full of praise for the set up on her first visit), and was more than a little concerned about activities in the car park. We were now convinced that what we'd suggested in jest the previous day was, in fact, a reality.

Tuesday, 29th September

In the morning, we breakfasted on biscuits and crisps that were intended for the return journey, but at least the hotel was able to supply tea bags. 

We had a bit more time to play with before our flight, so parked in the car park above Sennen Cove, where the contactless payment machine took a bit of working out! We had just parked when a Stonechat landed in front of the car. Lindsay sat in the car while I went for a walk on the hillside that slopes down to the beach in the hope of finding a Stonechat to photograph. I had no such luck.

view from above Sennen Cove
It's now confession time. At one time, a group of four small birds flitted up into a distant tall bush and I grabbed a shot before they departed. I felt that they might have been Linnet. It's only when I looked at the photo that I'd managed that I found that they were Dunnock. This is a species that I see daily at home, but have not seen in this environment before and never more than three together.

Dunnock (Prunella modularis) - above Sennen Cove

We arrived at the airport to find things somewhat more promising. We were checked in without any problems, the plane was boarded in number order of our boarding slips, and we were on our way at the allotted time. It was a bit of a bumpy landing at St Mary's aiport but, otherwise, a pleasant short flight of about 15 minutes duration. Paulger's Transport were there to meet us and take us to the entrance of the property. 

On arrival, my first job was to head to the Co-op to pick up our provisions for the week. We'd placed a click-and-collect order for the previous day, and they had kindly held onto it for a further 24 hours. All I had to do was go to the back entrance where someone wheeled it out to me in a shopping trolley that I was told I could take away with me and bring back later when I'd finished.

It was a sunny afternoon, although rather breezy, and I had a missed day to compensate for, so headed out. There had been reports of Wryneck on Peninnis Head so I set off in that direction.

The property we were in backs onto Littleporth beach, which is the west end of Porthcressa beach. and as I passed along the beach-head I was delighted to see the 'Porthcressa Three' were present. These three feral ducks are inseparable friends and spend much of their time on the sea and beach of Porthcressa. More surprising, however, were the Sanderling - I have never seen Sanderling on this beach before. There were three of them. Here's one of them:-

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Porthcressa
At the eastern end of the beach, I noted a bird on the water that looked a little strange, but too distant to identify via my binoculars or on the camera at 500 mm. I gave it little thought and moved on and, just round the corner, noted a Wheatear on the rocks at the end of the beach. This was the first time I'd ever seen a Wheatear by a beach.
Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - Porthcressa
From the east end of Porthcressa I made my way up the hill towards Buzza Tower, stopping to grab some shots of a Kestrel, mindful that the previous Kestrel that I'd photographed on the Scillies had turned out to be a Lesser Kestrel which caused quite a stir. No such luck this time!

Common Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - Buzza Hill
I then made my way up King Edward's Road to Peninnis Head. On the way, I saw several rabbits. Rabbits are quite numerous on the islands and I was sorry to see, later in the week, that Myxomatosis is in the rabbit population on St Mary's.
Rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus) - Peninnis

By the windmill ruin I spotted a very tatty Painted Lady butterfly. I am showing this as I believe that, sadly, it's the only one of this species that I have seen this year.

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) - Peninnis
Peninnis tends to be a hot-spot for Wheatear, and I found one on a gorse bush.

Wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe) - Peninnis
 There are usually Rock Pipits around the rocks on Peninnis Head.
Rock Pipit (Anthus petrosus) - Peninnis
Shortly after taking that last shot, a fellow came hurrying towards me and asked if I'd seen two people looking for the Wryneck. I hadn't, but he also told me that just a couple of hundred metres away there was a Lapland Bunting being watched by three birders. It was worth a look! Shortly after I arrived, the fellow returned with his two friends - a father and son who I'd been chatting with during our long wait at Land's End Airport the previous day!
The bird soon showed and I got some shots that I was reasonably happy with before it disappeared.
Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis
People then dispersed, and the pair with their friend kindly asked if I'd like to accompany them back down to Hugh Town. I declined as I wanted to have another go at trying to find the Wryneck. I didn't succeed and, having given up, my route took me back past the Lapland Bunting location - and it was out again! I stood still and waited as it slowly made its way towards me, giving me some far better photographic opportunities. I will probably never get the chance to photograph this species again so please excuse several images.

Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis
I have a soft spot for Stonechats, and so this report on this stay on the Scillies might feature this species in a disproportionate abundance. Peninnis is the most reliable place I know for Stonechat and rarely fails to deliver.
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (female) - Peninnis
Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) (male) - Peninnis
Whilst up on Peninnis Head, messages started coming through on the WhatsApp Bird group, concerning a 'whistling-type' duck being seen at Porthcressa. This was identified as a Fulvous Whistling Duck, and disparaging remarks were made about its pedigree, which is not surprising as it is a native of Central and South America! I realised that this must have been the distant duck I'd seen on my way to Peninnis, so headed back to investigate. On my way, just before arriving at the beach, I spotted a small but attractive leaf beetle which Mark Telfer kindly identified for me - thank you Mark.
leaf beetle (Chrysolina banksi) - near Porthcressa
I found the duck resting on the beach in front of 'Dibble and Grub' cafe, totally unperturbed by anything going on around itself. It was not wearing bracelets and, as I understand it, was gone the next day, never to be seen again. I'll give it the benefit of the doubt in my caption!

Fulvous Whistling Duck (Dendrocygna bicolor) - Porthcressa
The Sanderling were still on the beach.

Sanderling (Calidris alba) - Porthcressa
By now, I'd decided that I rather liked open-wing shots, so here's another.
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus) - Porthcressa
It had been an interesting and rewarding first afternoon with pleasant weather on the Scillies. That eveneing we unpacked and relaxed.
Wednesday, 30th September
The day started wet and windy, and there was little point in going out until later in the morning. A Song Thrush came to investigate us while we were having breakfast in the conservatory, and became our constant companion for the rest of the week, coming to say 'hello' at the door each morning.
Song Thrush (Turdus philomelos) - our garden at Littleporth
On the WhatsApp Wildlife group someone had posted a picture of a Salp on Porthcressa Beach, saying that there were lots of them and asking what they were. From previous postings to the group, I knew what they were and had wanted to see them so, as soon as the rain passed in the late morning, I headed for Porthcressa beach. At first I was only seeing punctured specimens of this sea squirt but, eventually found some intact specimens nearer the east end of the beach. Not an easy thing to photograph in situ due to their transparency. You can read more about Salps here:-
Salp sp. - Porthcressa Beach
I couldn't resist trying for a shot of some incoming Oystercatchers.
Oystercatcher (Haematopus ostralegus) - Porthcressa
Having returned to base for a light lunch, I set off for an afternoon out on what had now turned into a warm day with some sunshine, although it was still very windy.

Just before Buzza Tower, I stopped to photograph Ivy Bees - a species not found in my part of UK, but plentiful on the Scillies and one of the latest bees in the year to be out, due to the late flowering of ivy.

Ivy Bee (Colletes hederae) - Buzza Hill
From Buzza Hill I wandered into Old Town and Lower Moors Nature Trail. Here I found the first of my targets - a Speckled Wood ssp. insula in nice condition and of a relatively strong orange colouration.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria, ssp. insula) - Lower Moors
As I was photographing the butterfly, I felt something crawling on the side of my face and brushed it off. I was a shieldbug and, fortunately, my action was quick enough for it not to have time to exude its 'stink' on my face!
Common Green Shieldbug (Palomena prasina) - Lower Moors
From the screen beside ISBG Hide, I took some shots of a Greenshank on the far side of the pond.
Greenshank (Tringa nebularia) - Lower Moors
I'd just photographed the Greenshank when I had a WhatsApp message from Lindsay who was back at the property. She'd had one of my prime objectives, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth, feeding for around five minutes on blue flowers only about 2 metres from the kitchen window! I was feeling somewhat miffed, but then I then found my second objective of the stay - a dragonfly!
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Lower Moors
I was busy photographing the above and looking to then investigate a rather deeper red specimen further up the path when a group of people came towards me, frightening off the dragonfly as they passed. I was too busy trying to 'social distance' to see where either of the two dragonflies went. I hung around for a while, but they didn't return so I continued on the path to Rosehill. Here I found another Common Darter.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Rosehill
Continuing on to Porthloo, from the slipway I spotted another Wheatear - this time, actually on the beach! However, the photos were very much sub-par. I then headed back to Old Town church via Porthloo and Moorwell lane past the dump.

Just past Old Town church, on the path towards Carn Léh, I stopped to photograph some butterflies. Here's one of a Red Admiral in reasonable condition.
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) - near Old Town church
I then continued onto Peninnis in the hope of finding the Wryneck. On the way I photographed one of the wonderful rocks to be found on the peninsula. I suspect that this rock might have a name - it certainly deserves it!

rock - Peninnis
I couldn't find the Wryneck, although it was reported as still being seen, but there were now two Lapland Buntings being reported on Peninnis. I think that this one - not my last, after all! - was probably the same one as on the previous day.
Lapland Bunting (Calcarius lapponicus) - Peninnis
I also photographed what I believe to be a fluffed up Linnet in winter plumage but also wondered if a Twite, although the bill seems to be the wrong colour. I'm still a novice birder!
Linnet? (Linaria cannabina) - Peninnis
After this, I headed back to Porthcressa, where a kindly gentleman who was feeding the Porthcressa Three kindly pointed out two Mediterranean Gulls that were on the water. This is one of them:-
Mediterranean Gull (Ichthyaetus melanocephalus) - Porthcressa
Having missed the Hummingbird Hawkmoth at the property, I headed up to the Garrison Sally Port, which is a favoured place for that species. I found that there was a good amount of Red Valerian up there (a favoured plant of the species), but it was all in deep shade at that time of day. I needed to be there in the morning. Thus ended another good day on St Mary's.
I think this post is probably too long already, so I will stop now, and save the rest until Pt.2 - and there may even be a Pt.3?

Until the next time, take good care.

Friday 9 October 2020

The Very End Of Summer? - 14th to 27th September, 2020

Firstly, my apologies for my absence from Bloggerland for a while - I have recently returned from a break on the fabulous Isles of Scilly. A blog post (or two) on that subject will follow this one, when I have had time to process the over three thousand frames I shot with my camera whilst away!

This post covers the two weeks before our departure for the Scillies and will almost certainly represent the end of summer in these parts. WARNING - this is also a rather long post!

Monday, 14th September

Nothing of significant note in the garden, although I did photograph a common, but nonetheless spectacular, Garden Spider.

Garden Spider (Araneus diadematus) - garden on 14th September, 2020
That afternoon I decided it was time to make my first visit to Rutland Water since the start of the Covid pandemic. As I approached my old Little Owl site No.42, where I had not seen an owl for a very long time, I noticed a suspicious shape poking out from behind the roof of the building. I nearly ignored it but, at the last moment, decided to park the car and walk back along the road to a place where I could check with the binoculars - there it was, a Little Owl!

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.42

My reasons for wanting to visit Rutland Water were twofold - I felt that it was about time I photographed some birds, other than those in my garden, but I also wanted to check on the dragonfly scene there. On arrival, I went to the gate by one of the ponds not open to the public and had a sighting of a male Southern Hawker which very briefly landed in a tree before a strong gust of wind sent it on its way again, and I only managed a rather poor shot.

Southern Hawker (Aeshna cyanea) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I then took the trails towards the north of the site, and observed several Common Darters. Strangely, every one seen was a female!

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
A Comma butterfly was exhibiting the reason for its names (both common and scientific).

Comma (Polygonia c-album) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
Along the edge of Sharples Meadow I was hoping to find a number of Migrant Hawkers as this has been a good spot for them in the past, but I just found one, and not in the best of positions.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
I was more than a little nervous about entering hides at Rutland Water, as these can get quite busy at times, and the car park had been virtually full. I did, however, risk popping my head into Crake Hide which overlooks the northern end of South Arm III. There was no one there but, disappointingly, the vegetation in front of the hide had grown so tall that it was difficult to see much. The only bird I photographed was an incoming Grey Heron.

Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) - Rutland Water, Egleton Reserve
After half an hour or so, I had to give up and beat a hasty retreat as I was scheduled to visit our daughter on the way home. It had been an interesting session, but not as good as I had been hoping for.

Tuesday, 15th September

The garden highlight of the day was a male Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta), which briefly settled on a branch in our Rowan and departed as I went for my camera.

Wednesday, 16th September

Two garden highlights on this day, the first being a female Southern Hawker dragonfly which passed through without stopping, and the second being a rare visit by a Chiffchaff.

Chiffchaff (Phylloscopus collybita) - garden on 16th September, 2020
It was also good to see Coal Tit, as these have been very thin on the ground for a couple of years.

Coal Tit (Periparus ater) - garden on 16th September, 2020
Thursday, 17th September

There was real excitement this day as we had a visit from a Humming-bird Hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum). This was only the second I have seen in the garden and only, I think, the fifth that I have ever seen anywhere! I was just raising my camera to it when it departed, never to be seen again.

The day was not lost, however, as I managed to get some shots of the Hornet mimic hoverfly, Volucella zonaria - the largest British hoverfly and a garden 'first'.

hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) - garden on 17th September, 2020
Friday, 18th September

It continued to be a good garden week when we had a visit by a pair of Nuthatch. Sadly, I only got a shot of one of them - which is better than I did with the Southern Hawker which also visited this day and avoided the camera!

Nuthatch (Sitta europaea) - garden on 18th September, 2020
Lindsay and I went out for a picnic lunch that day, and enjoyed the company of a Little Owl at my site No.34, although it was difficult to spot it in deep shadow. I have had to do some image manipulation to get it visible in the images below. This was the first time in two years that I have seen an owl in this tree.

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.34
After lunch, we headed off towards Burrough Hill, but had not gone far before Lindsay alerted me to three small birds in the hedgerow. I was delighted to see Whinchat, and managed to get some shots of one of them.

Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra) (female) - near Burrough on the Hill
I had passed by the entrance to Burrough Hill Country Park, the site of a huge Iron-age hill fort, but had never visited. As this was a sunny day, even if a bit windy, we decided to investigate. The wildlife was a bit thin on the ground, probably due to the wind, but the views were wonderful - some of the best in the county, in my opinion!

part of Burrough Hill Iron-age hill fort

View from Burrough Hill Iron-age hill fort
Our homeward route took us past my old Little Owl site No.41 where it must be at least two years since I last saw an owl after the nest tree collapsed just above where John Truman and I had installed a nest box a couple of years or more before, after a previous catastrophe to the nest tree. I was just about to raise my binoculars to investigate a dark 'splodge' on top of the nest box when Lindsay exclaimed 'there's an owl!'

Little Owl (Athene noctua) - my Site No.41
Sadly, looking at the entrance hole, it does not look as if this box is being used, other than as a perch.
It is also sad to reflect that here I was on a Friday, getting excited about seeing my third Little Owl in a week. A few years ago I'd have been disappointed if I had made this same journey in one afternoon and only seen three Little Owls. 

Saturday, 19th September

Little of note this day, other than an unphotographed visit by a Southern Hawker dragonfly - this time a male.
The young Goldfinches are nearly all in the process of getting their adult plumage now, and this one hasn't long to go before it 'comes of age'. In the meantime, it looks rather scruffy!
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden on 19th September, 2020
Lindsay and I are both fond of Grey Squirrels, although they are a controversial subject. However, at this time of year, they can be a bit of a nuisance as they like to bury hazelnuts from our tree all over the garden, including in the lawn. This year I reckon that I have had to dig up well over a couple of hundred saplings from their unrecovered hoardings.

Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) - garden on 19th September, 2020
Sunday, 20th September
I'd very recently read an article about German Wasps (Vespula germanica) in UK, saying that they were very similar to our Common Wasp, although a little larger and more aggressive, which probably explains why the only time I have ever been stung by a wasp was at Peenemunde in Germany - not the worst thing to have occurred at that location! The article explained that the easiest ID point was markings on the face, so I set out to photograph a wasp face. 

Common Wasp (Vespula vulgaris) - garden on 30th September, 2020
Monday, 21st September

While out trying to find a male Migrant Hawker seen in the garden, I happened on some ladybirds. I confess to having been almost totally ignorant of the lifecycle of ladybirds so was, initially a little confused by what I saw. Having returned home this week and studied my photos, I now have a better understanding, and am concerned to find that these were Harlequin Ladybird - an alien species which predates other ladybirds, and poses a threat to our native species. I have now re-checked the location and all have disappeared except for empty larval shells.

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis var. succinea) (nymph) - garden on 21st September, 2020

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis var. succinea) (pupa) - garden on 21st September, 2020

Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis var. succinea) (emergence) - garden on 21st September, 2020
Harlequin Ladybird (Harmonia axyridis var. succinea) (adult) - garden on 21st September, 2020
I also photographed some hoverflies that day. The first I am relatively confident is an Eristalis species but cannot be identified specifically without more details.
hoverfly (Eristalis sp.) - garden on 22nd September, 2020
The second, I believe, was Syrphus ribesii, but I'm happy to be corrected !

hoverfly (Syrphus ribesii) - garden on 22nd September, 2020
Tuesday, 22nd September

Seeing a window of reasonable weather, and probably my last opportunity before our forthcoming visit to the Scillies, I paid a short visit to Saltersford Valley to check on the dragonfly scene.
On my way to the boardwalk I stopped to photograph a Speckled Wood butterfly.
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Saltersford Valley
From the boardwalk, I only managed to spot a male Common Darter.
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Saltersford Valley
Seeing little, I left the boardwalk and made an anticlockwise circuit of the site. One of the juvenile Coots was trying out its wings for size. It looked rather amusing to me, particularly when it turned its back.

Coot (Fulica atra) (juvenile) - Saltersford Valley
Other than this, my circular perambulation yielded nothing of interest and I returned to the boardwalk. Here I found two female Common Darters.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Saltersford Valley
The real bonus came, however, when a male Migrant Hawker arrived and I was able to get some perched shots, and some better flight shots than I have achieved of this species this year.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Saltersford Valley
This brings me to the end of this post as observations for the rest of the week were less because I was busy preparing for our visit to the Scillies.
I will now start to work my way through all those frames shot in the Scillies - I may be gone some time! 
This virus thing seems to be getting a lot worse again (unless you're a fan of Donald Trump),  so take great care, avoid the idiots, and stay safe. Best wishes - - - Richard