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Wednesday 31 May 2023

Seven Days in Early May - 9th to 15th May, 2023

header image (while this post is current) - Coot family at Heather Lake on 15th May, 2023

In early May, we started to see some improvements in the weather. Conditions were getting warmer, and we had a few dry days! This gave me the opportunity for a couple of outings - one local, and one to another country - to supplement my observations from our home. Here's a summary of what, for me, was an interesting seven days.

Tuesday, 9th May                    Garden

The last Large Red Damselfly seen to emerge from our mini-pond was on 7th May. This day, however, we had a Large Red Damselfly visit us. I was a little disappointed that it was a male, rather than an ovipositing female.

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (male) - garden on 9th May, 2023
Wednesday, 10th May                    Garden

Although primarily a butterfly of woodland rides, we do sometimes get Speckled Wood visiting the garden, even though there is no woodland close to our home.

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - garden on 10th May, 2023
I also photographed an Orange-tip which took a fancy to our Forget-Me-Nots. Only the male of the species has orange tips to the forewings.

Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (male) - garden on 10th May, 2023
Thursday, 11th May                    Garden

Looking into the mini-pond, I noticed what appeared to be a newly emerged Mayfly, with one wing either deformed or not yet fully extended. I believe this to be Cloeon dipterum.

Mayfly (Cloeon dipterum) - garden on 11th May, 2023
In one part of the garden, I have driven in four vertical  thin wooden posts and each time I prune something giving me a straight stick I lay it between the posts so that it builds up into a wall of sticks. This is intended to provide a home for invertebrates. As the sticks at the bottom decay, they are replaced by new prunings on the top. We refer to this as 'the hurdle'. On this day, for a change, I managed to get a shot of a male Bullfinch away from a feeder - it was on the hurdle.

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (male) - garden on 11th May, 2023
Saturday, 13th May                    Wolseley Bridge Nature Reserve ; Whixall Moss

I had recently been told that Wolseley Bridge Nature Reserve, the headquarters of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, was an excellent place to watch and photograph Kingfisher, and so this was my chosen destination this day. I arrived to find the overflow car park rapidly filling up. Undaunted, I set off for the favoured location for the Kingfishers and got there to be told that they'd not been seen for a few days, following some very bad weather.

I spent a while here, but was soon disenchanted by the crowds of people, many of whom were accompanied by noisy children and/or over-inquisitive dogs. The only photos that I came away with were one of a very dubious duck which seemed to be at least partly Northern Pintail, and a rather cute Mallard chick - a singleton, not straying far from its mother.

Northern Pintail cross? - Wolseley Bridge NR
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos) (chick) - Wolseley Bridge NR

My thoughts then turned as to what to do now. I had the bold idea of heading off to the Welsh Borders at Whixall Moss, to see if I could find White-faced Darter dragonflies. It was quite a long drive and I arrived at the Reserve Base as a number of other people were also arriving. I was asked for my name so that I could be ticked off on the list, and when I pointed out that I was not booked on any event, I was told that the event was a short bird-watching walk and that, if I wanted to stay beyond 16.00, when the gates would be locked, I should make my way to the alternative car park , and was given directions. I subsequently learned when looking at the map of the reserve that I'd parked in Wales and then, after having my picnic lunch, walked back into England where the bulk of the reserve is located.

There is one area of the reserve which is generally regarded as the best place to find White-faced Darters. On my way to that location, I had three brief sightings of female White-faced Darters but, mainly due to my inability to find them in the viewfinder (the greatest problem that I haver with the new camera), I failed to get any photos. I did manage some photos of a day-flying Moth - the Common Heath - a species that is very variable in appearance.

Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria atomaria) (male) - Whixall Moss

I saw a few damselflies on my way to the favoured area, but was too busy looking for the darters, to bother with them. I spent quite a while at the usual location and didn't see a single darter. I did see a distant exuvia of what I believe was probably a Four-spotted Chaser, as it looked rather large for that of a W-f D.

dragonfly exuvia - Whixall Moss
While there, I got into conversation with two other people, one of whom kindly took us to see a Raft Spider that he'd found. This is a semi-aquatic predator, and a species where the male will often be eaten by the female during, or after, copulation. I was told that, by the size of the pedipalps, this was probably a male.

Raft Spider (Dolomedes fimbriatus) (probable male) - Whixall Moss
This same gentleman then told me that he had seen Green Tiger Beetles along a path that I had not yet traversed. We soon found some, and I even found a pair in cop.

Green Tiger Beetle (Cicindela campestris) - Whixall Moss

It wasn't until I watched some video that I'd taken of this pair of beetles that I realised that the female had an ant clamped in her jaws. I understand that one handles this species at one's peril as they can give a very painful bite!

It was now time for me to start wending my way home. Near the favoured W-f D area I again photographed a Common Heath moth. This one was somewhat different to the one shown above.
Common Heath (Ematurga atomaria atomaria) (male) - Whixall Moss

Having failed miserably in my quest to photograph dragonflies, on my way back to my car, I paid a bit more attention to the damselflies, although these were not present in large numbers. Here are a couple of them.
Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) (female) - Whixall Moss
Azure Damselfly (Coenagrion puella) (immature male) - Whixall Moss

Thus ended an interesting, but frustrating day.
Sunday, 14th May                    Garden
Whilst having our lunch in the conservatory, Lindsay noticed that an extremely small moth had landed on a food container. It was difficult to see any detail with the naked eye as it was so small (about half an inch, or 13 mm long), but a close-up photo enabled an identification of this micro-moth. 
Esperia sulphurella - from conservatory on 14th May, 2023
In the garden, I photographed another micro-moth. This was the common, and a little larger moth often referred to as a Mint Moth.
Pyrausta aurata - garden on 14th May, 2023

In the pond, I noticed the exuvia of some aquatic creature. 'Obsidentify' suggests it is a Large Red Damselfly, but I don't think so, with those small wing-like protruberances along the sides of the abdomen! I think that it is probably the exuvia of a Mayfly.

exuvia - garden on 14th May, 2023
The Holly Blues were still around and putting in frequent appearances.
Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - garden on 14th May, 2023

The daily appearance of a pair of Stock Dove had, by now, dwindled down to an occasional visit by just one. Sadly, I believe that a cat was to blame for this situation.

Stock Dove (Columba oenas) - garden on 14th May

That night, the moth trap was put out, and resulted in a rather meagre catch of just 7 moths of 3 species. Four of these (all male) were the rather charming Muslin Moth

Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica) (male) - from garden on 14th May, 2023

One was a beautiful Small Phoenix.

Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata) - from garden on 14th Mat, 2023
Monday, 15th May                    Heather Lake
Heather Lake is one of my favourite local places for looking for dragonflies but, last year, it became almost impossible to walk round the perimeter because the path had become so overgrown with brambles. In my quest to photograph my first dragonfly of the year, it was time to give it another visit.
On the walk down to the lake, I stopped for a Speckled Wood.
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) -near Heather Lake

Arriving at the lake, I soon found a teneral Common Blue Damselfly
Common Blue Damselfly (Enallagma cyathigerum) (teneral male) - Heather Lake

A clockwise circumperambulation of the lake produced nothing until I neared the far end, where I was greeted with the charming sight of an adult Coot, leading a group of six chicks. This can be seen in the header image to this blog while this post is current.
Coot (Fulica atra) (chicks and adult) - Heather Lake

The west side of the lake was now passable, but little was seen. I did photograph this very distinctive fly, however.
fly (Tachina fera) - Heather Lake

I also came across this extremely small long-horn micro-moth, which made up for its lack of size by its amazingly long antennae! The length of these indicates that this was a male.

Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) (male) - Heather Lake

No dragonflies were seen, but it had been a most enjoyable short visit.

This brings me to the end of this blog post. My next blog post, as usual, will probably be in about a week's time and looks as if it will feature several more visits to locations around the county. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature.
Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard 

Wednesday 24 May 2023

Breaking New Ground & Other Observations - 2nd to 7th May, 2023

The following is an account of some highlights from the first part of the month of May.

Tuesday, 2nd May                    Watermead Country Park

With a trio of Black-crowned Night Herons being reported from Watermead Park for a few days, and this being a place that I'd never visited, in spite of it only being half an hour from my home, I decided that I should give the place a visit.

The outing did not start well as, having got about 10 miles down the road, I realised that I'd left my wallet at home and had no means of paying for the car park there. I had to turn back and pick it up. The further complication was that, with the extra miles, I'd have to re-charge our car as I'd originally left home with just enough charge to get me there and back with not much extra in hand. I gave it just under an hour's worth of charge and set off again.

I arrived at Watermead Park to find that the recommended car park, unlike others at this place, was free of charge - grrrrrrr!!! 

The location for seeing the Night Herons was very close to the car park, and I found others already there, bemoaning the fact that the birds had not been seen that day. I stayed a while but, haveing been told of a Tawny Owl that was not far away, I went to check it out. It was very high up in a tree, and impossible to get a clear shot at. It's a long while since I last saw a Tawny Owl, and it will probably be a long while until I next see one, these were the best that I could manage.

Tawny Owl (Strix aluco)  - Watermead CP
I had been chatting with other people whilst looking at the owl, and was encouraged to explore the area further, in spite of realising that I was going to be at least an hour later home than I said I'd be. I was fortunate in being able to accompany a keen birder who knew the area well.

The greatest find for me on that walk was a Whitethroat - not a rare bird but another species that I don't often see - I last photographed one in 2017! I got some shots of it on barbed wire, and then some distant shots of it in a more natural environment.

Whitethroat (Sylvia communis) - Watermead CP
Before departing, I had another look for the Night Herons, but to no avail. As I stood there, a Canada Goose came drifting by. It was now time to go home.

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) - Watermead CP

Wednesday, 3rd May                    Garden

The Large Red Damselflies were still emerging from our mini-pond. I got some shots of this one before it departed. 

Large Red Damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula) - garden on 3rd May, 2023

Whilst checking the pond, I found a pair of flies mating, and took some shots.

Fly (Sarcophaga sp.) in cop - garden on 3rd May, 2023
It then occurred to me that the scene might be better conveyed if I took some video.

If you would like, you can also see this in slo-mo, below.

I then photographed a Blackbird, singing in the top of our Elder. 

Blackbird (Turdus merula) (male) - garden on 35rd May, 2023
There's nothing like the song of a Blackbird to lift the spirits so, again, video seemed to be required.

This female Orange-tip seemed to be ovipositing, but I have only found one Orange-tip egg this year and failed to find the caterpillar after it hatched.
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female) - garden on 3rd May, 2023

The moth trap went out that night, and only one moth was caught. It was a rather fine one, however!

Waved Umber (Menophra abruptaria) (male) - from garden moth trap, 3rd May, 2023

Thursday, 4th May                    Garden

One of the Azaleas in our garden was blooming more beautifully than ever. 

Azalea - garden on 4th May, 2023
From the conservatory, I noticed a strange insect on the edge of the mini-pond. I grabbed the camera and went out to find this fearsome-looking creature.

Ichneumon stramentor (female) - garden on 4th May, 2023
Friday, 5th May                    Garden

Although Bullfinch visit the garden fairly frequently, they usually make straight for the feeders and then depart again. It has, therefore, been a bit difficult to photograph them. On this occasion I managed a shot of a female - not a good shot, but at least it's a shot of one not on a feeder!

Bullfinch (Pyrrhula pyrrhula) (female) - garden on 5th May, 2023
Saturday, 6th May                    Garden

The damselfly emergences from our mini-pond were tailing off now, and the Robin was having to look elsewhere for food for his youngsters in the nest.

Robin (Erithacus rubecula) - garden on 6th May, 2023
Sunday, 7th May                    Garden ; Saltersford Valley Country Park ; Thortit Lake

This year seems to have been a very good year for Holly Blue butterflies and lately I have been seeing them almost everywhere I go. A feature of the Holly blue is that it tends to rest with its wings closed, and it is often necessary to wait quite a long time for it to open its wings just enough to see whether it has dark tips to the upper side of the fore-wings - denoting it to be a female. I had never managed to photograph one with its wings wide open.

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - garden on 7th May, 2023
 - - that was, until this day! What a little beauty !!!!

Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) (female) - garden on 7th May, 2023
That afternoon, I took a trip out to a couple of very local spots, in the hope of finding my first dragonflies. I failed in this respect, but there were other things to keep me entertained.
As I approached the boardwalk I was greeted by a bright stand of Marsh Marigold.
Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) - Saltersford Valley CP
From the far end of the boardwalk, I watched a male Reed Bunting, although it was not very cooperative from a photographic point of view.
Reed Bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus) (male) - Saltersford Valley CP

Here are some of the other items that appeared in front of my lens during my wanderings.
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) (female) - Saltersford Valley CP on 7th May, 2023

St. George's Mushroom (Calocybe gambosa) - Saltersford Valley CP
Alder Leaf Beetle (Agelastica alni) - Saltersford Valley CP

Bog Bean (Menyanthes trifoliata) - Saltersford Valley CP

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) - Saltersford Valley CP
Having not found any Odonata, and with some time in hand, on the way home I dropped in for a brief visit to Thortit Lake. I didn't find any Odonata here either, but a Common Tern was fishing on the lake. I'd not yet had any real success with the new camera with birds in flight, so thought I'd have a go here. The situation was quite difficult, with a fairly small bird at some distance, against a confusing back drop as far as autofocus is concerned. I was relatively surprised and pleased with the results.
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo) - Thortit La
This brings me to the end of this blog post. My next blog post will probably be in about a week's time and will probably feature more visits from home. In the meantime, please take good care of yourselves and Nature.
Thank you for dropping by - - - Richard