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Tuesday 11 May 2021

Some Surprises, but not all good! - 19th April to 2nd May, 2021

My apologies for the quality of the header image that is present whilst this blog post is current. It is a screen grab from video taken by one of my garden trail cams and features an event that I'll speak of towards the end of this post

The fortnight that is featured in this blog post was one that found me somewhat busy with major chores around the house and garden and with getting sorted out with arrangements for future wildlife monitoring, club activities, and putting a talk together. I did, nevertheless, manage to take some photos, and even got out on a few occasions. There were also a few significant episodes during the two weeks. So here we go!

Monday, 19th April       Garden

After breakfast, which we always have in the conservatory, I noticed a lacewing on the outside of the conservatory window. I went for the camera and managed a shot of its underside from inside. The light was difficult on this tiny insect and the sun illuminated dust spots on the glass (only myself to blame as I'm responsible for all window cleaning!). I believe this to be Chrysoperia carnea.

Chrysoperia carnea - garden
Later that morning, when I went out to the garage, I noticed a tiny spider on the garage back door. This is one of the jumping spiders.

Salticus singulatus - garden
Common Dog-violet grows as a weed in our garden and, in the past, I have tried to keep it down. This year, however, I have left some small patches to get on with it, and we're finding them to be quite delightful.

Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) - garden
The biggest garden surprise of the day, however, was our first Redpoll for the year. I was beginning to think that we'd missed out on a spring visit from this species. 

Lesser Redpoll (Acanthis cabaret) - garden
That night, the moth trap went out. The result was not so good, with just 11 moths of 4 species. However, I did get two firsts for the year with Early Thorn (1) and Brindled Beauty (3). The second image, below, was carefully placed on a leaf to give a more natural-looking background as friend David in Canada prefers it that way! I fully sympathise with this view, but transferring a moth from a trap onto a leaf and getting it to stay there is not often easy!
Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria) - from garden moth trap

Brindled Beauty (Lycia hirtaria) - from garden moth trap
Tuesday, 20th April       Garden
I was disappointed to go into the garden first thing in the morning and find a mass of feathers on the ground and a trail of feathers going out through the Hedgehog hole in the side gate. The feathers looked like Stock Dove and the trail said "cat". On examining the garden trail cams, I saw that I had, indeed, had the two Stock Doves that had been regular visitors for a year or so now, and the black cat that is a real menace in the garden had been around at the same time. I did not, however, get any footage of the attack.

Here is a video clip of the Stock Doves from that morning. I'm trying out presenting video in a different format in the hope of achieving better resolution. I hope that it does not cause too many problems with increased bandwidth - my apologies to Diane in advance if it doesn't work with your slow internet!
While having lunch, a moth bumped into the conservatory window and landed on the outside sill. I grabbed the camera and rushed outside and just managed a few shots before it flew. I had some difficulty identifying it, but @MothIDUK came to the rescue. It was Small Ranunculus, and a garden 'lifer'.
Small Ranunculus (Hecatera dysodea) - garden
Wednesday, 21st April       Garden
Nothing remarkable this day, but I did take a few shots of a Goldfinch outside my study window.
Goldfinch (Carduelis carduelis) - garden
Thursday, 22nd April       Garden
A sunny period brought out male and female Orange-tip butterflies. I got some shots of a female which, although it visited the Garlic Mustard in the garden, showed no signs of ovipositing.
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female) - garden
Friday, 23rd April       Garden
I was busy in the garden for much of the day, but had my camera to hand. It kept the birds away, but I took some shots of insects. Please excuse me not having the time to research what species the bee might have been. To me, it looks a little like a Western Honey Bee, but it was behaving strangely, probing into the lower parts of the grass-like leaves of the 'fibre-optic plant' in our mini-pond.

Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) (female) - garden

bee sp. - garden

Seven-spot Ladybird (Coccinella septempunctata) (male+female in cop) - garden
Saturday, 24th April       Sence Valley Forest Park
Last year, I was invited by Forestry England to survey for odonata at some small ponds in an area recently added to an existing forest park. These ponds were behind a fence and not accessible to the public. I did this a few times last year but in a limited fashion due to the Covid situation and FE's own regulations on volunteer working during the pandemic. This year I have been given the go-ahead for full access. Although it was rather early in the season for any species that might be found in this sort of habitat, I though I should take a look-see at the current situation on site, and check that the key I had worked the locks to the gates. 

As I approached, the Blackthorn blossom alongside the perimeter fence was spectacular.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) - Sence Valley FP
I was not wary enough as I approached the first pond as I was having to watch my foot-fall to avoid the newly planted trees in the area. This resulted in a Green Sandpiper seeing me before I saw it, and taking off, heading towards Kelham Bridge, before I could get a shot. The Mallards, however, that I spotted on a visit (outside the fence) a week or so earlier were still there.
I was disappointed at the state of the ponds, with very little water in the first pond where the sandpiper had been, the next pond being totally dry, the third pond was not in too bad a condition, but the fourth pond (by far the largest) was seriously covered in thick blanket weed. This was almost certainly caused by run-off from the surrounding land which, until a couple of years ago, had been intensively farmed and regularly spread with manure. This place was good for dragonflies last year, but I am not over-hopeful for success this year.

Having checked inside the fence I took a look at the scrapes between the fenced area and the River Sence. These too were well down on water compared to last year.

I then followed the Sence westward, and was heartened by the song of Skylarks way up in the sky above me.

Skylark (Alauda arvensis) - Sence Valley FP
They didn't even stop when a Sparrowhawk came drifting by at a great height - obviously not in hunting mode.
Sparrowhawk (Accipiter nisus) - from Sence Valley FP
Reaching the north west edge of the park I headed into the older area, taking shots of butterflies as I went along.
Green-veined White (Pieris napi) (female) - Sence Valley FP

Peacock (Aglais io) - Sence Valley FP

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male) - Sence Valley FP
I then headed to Usbourne Pool at the far south west of the park and had a good look around, but saw no sign of any dragonflies or damselflies there.
Just before getting back to my car, I took a shot of a Long-tailed Tit near the path.
Long-tailed Tit (Aegithalos caudatus) - Sence Valley FP
Sunday, 25th April       Heather Lake : Saltersford Valley : Garden
I do not usually like to go out looking for wildlife at weekends, especially on Sundays when places can get over-busy. However, there are a few places nearby which are relatively quiet people-wise at weekends.  One of these places is Heather Lake, and on this day I went to check it out as I had not been there for a long while, and I wanted to see if there was any sign of dragonflies and damselflies emerging. 

My first impressions as I passed through the gate that lets onto the track to the lake were not encouraging. There were huge stacks of felled trees beside the track. However, this seemed to have been as a result of thinning out the woodland that had been very densely populated with trees.
On my way down the track I photographed one of the several Speckled Wood butterflies that were around the track.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - near Heather Lake
There was another worrying sight when I reached the lake and that was that the water at the edge of the lake was choked with chopped up reeds floating on the surface. I'm somewhat mystified as to how this has happened as the vegetation on dry land at the edge of the lake was unharmed, but there were virtually no reeds left standing in the water. It was if they had been shredded by someone on the water. I am concerned that this might have ruined this place as an odonata hot-spot.
The usual suspects (Mute Swan, Coot, and Moorhen) were all present on the water, and I suspect someone has been feeding them, as a swan followed me round the lake and a Coot  swam towards me as I approached. The Moorhens, however, were far more wary!

Coot (Fulica atra) - Heather Lake

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Heather Lake

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Heather Lake
There was absolutely no sign of any odonata activity, so I departed to check out one of my other dragonfly locations - Saltersford Valley. No signs of any odonata activity here either, but the visit was not without interest.
I was pleased to see a very distant Jay.
Jay (Garrulus glandarius) - Saltersford Valley
At the lake which is furthest from the entrance, I noticed an interesting-looking midge-like creature on the surface of the water. The experts assure me that it is a non-biting midge of the Chironomini group, but there's not enogh detail there to take the ID further.
Chironominid - Saltersford Valley
A Great Crested Grebe was out on the water.
Great Crested Grebe (Podiceps cristatus)  - Saltersford Valley

Further round the loop I saw this insect which I took to be a type of wasp. I am now relatively certain, however, that it is a Flavous Nomad Bee.
Flavous Nomad Bee (Nomada flava) (female) - Saltersford Valley
Back at base, and doing a bit of gardening in the afternoon, I found this very small, but strikingly coloured, beetle in a dark corner - hence the poor photo!
Scarlet Lily Beetle (Lilioceris lilii) - garden
Tuesday, 27 April       Garden
Another unremarkable day in the garden. However, I did grab a shot of one of the Carrion Crows that occasionally visit the garden, but usually hide themselves behind branches. This one was on the back fence, and a bit more out in the open.
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone) - garden
I used to set the timers on the trail cams to switch on half an hour after sunset, and switch off half an hour before sunrise. More recently, as the nights get shorter, I have not re-adjusted the settings, so I am getting some daylight recordings. I found this next clip of Starlings having their bath before bedtime, in what we jokingly refer to as "the duckpond", to be amusing.
 Wednesday, 28th April       Garden
My latest spring record of Siskin in the garden had been 20th April (in 2016) so it was good to be able to record that this species was still with us at this late date.

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (male) - garden

Siskin (Spinus spinus) (female) - garden
Not to be outdone, however, the male Bullfinch put in an appearance.
Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden
Friday, 30th April       Moira Junction Nature Reserve

In discussion with the local Community Ranger of Leicestershire County Council's Country Parks Service about monitoring the dragonfly situation at Saltersford Valley CP, he told me of a local site that I was totally unaware of. This was Moira Junction - a relatively small site at a former railway junction, where the long disused Burton on Trent to Nuneaton line once joined the still used Burton to Leicester line. There used to be a railway yard here, serving the local coal industry. Now it is a nature reserve, with two small, but long, ponds, and it has dragonflies. I decided I should take a look.

I arrived to find that, over the winter, much thinning of the local woodland had taken place and the brush used to build barriers in an effort to stop dogs getting into the water. This seems to have worked well as I was delighted to see Moorhens with young chicks on the ponds.

Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus) - Moira Junction NR
There was also an extremely attractive information board on site.
Information Board  - Moira Junction NR
I look forward to checking this place out when the dragonfly season gets underway - it seems to have stalled at the moment!
Saturday, 1st May       Garden
I was pleased to see that the remaining Stock Dove paid us a visit, but it was also a rather sad occasion as it didn't feed. I got the impression that it had just returned in the hope of finding its partner safe and well. 

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden
I was, nevertheless, somewhat cheered by a pair of Bullfinch being more obliging than usual. The male had a bit of an arguement with a female Chaffinch!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) + Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) (female) - garden

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male)- garden

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female)- garden
I still maintain that Bullfinch are the messiest eaters in the garden, as witnessed in the above image!
Sunday, 2nd May       Garden

This day brought the biggest surprise we'd had for a long while when I looked out of the bedroom window as I got out of bed and saw a pair of Mallards in the garden. These were a garden 'lifer', and although we have what we call "the duck pond" its surface area is about the size of a kitchen sink and is not as deep as one. At Lindsay's suggestion, I ran down stairs, stark naked, and grabbed the camera but, without risking exposing myself, I was not able to get a usable photo. However, fortunately, the trail cams captured the event.
This was not the only surprise, however. The trail cams also captured a visit by a Fox. Sadly, this vixen has a problem with her front right leg. It appears that she has lost her foot, or maybe more.
This brings me to the end of this blog post. I am hoping that we will soon get an improvement in the weather situation so that, now that the rules condone such travel, I will be able to get out and about more and bring a little more variety to what I present on my blog posts.
Thank you for your visit. I'm not sure when I'll be back but, in the meantime, take great care and stay safe.