Shrikes, Stints and missed Wrynecks

Whilst on leave I managed to get a full days birding in on the coast. I started the day by heading out to Winterton-on-sea. Primarily in search of the Red-Backed Shrike that I had heard about. It had been there for a few days but there was no mention of it in the morning but I thought it would be worth a try.

Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike

Once I had located the concrete blocks that everyone had been mentioning, I walked along the path and wasn’t disappointed. About 10m away, sat in the top of a bramble was what I had been hoping to see.

I sat and watched for quite some time and was able to view the bird at quite close proximity. It chose a high prominent perch to survey the area and then would drop for regular meals of beetles and bees. I was surprised at how easily it seemed to find its prey and also the size of the beetles etc it was finding.

Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike
Red-Backed Shrike

I did however manage to not see the Wryneck that had been seen in the morning and subsequently has been seen over the last few days. There was also apparently a Greenish Warbler seen in the South Dunes over the weekend as well. I did manage to see Wheatears and a Marsh Harrier whilst in Winteron, along with many dragonflies that were still on the wing despite the wind.

I then took myself of to Minsmere where I managed to miss the 3 Wrynecks that were apparently present of which two had been rung. Did mange to bag quite an extensive list of waders on the from the East Hide, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff, Curlew Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Dunlin, Little Ringed Plover, snipe to name a few, along with a new one for my list, Little Stint. Whilst I was at Minsmere I took the opportunity to go round to the Island mere hide where there was a female Ferruginous duck, which was a nice one to add to my year list.

Thompson common

I was trying to think of something exciting to call this post, but to be honest if you have ever been to Thompson Common then you know there is no need to call it anything else, the name should conjure up enough excitement anyway!

Common Darter
Common Darter

I visited Thompson back in June and fell in love with the place then. The combination of the wooded areas which let shards of light through the canopy to highlight many of the Pingos, combined with the open grassy areas which have pools full of reeds make this place feel pretty special.

Green-veind
Green-veind White

What this habitat does is provide home to many bird species, it was lovely to be surrounded by the sound of calling Bullfinches and Green Woodpeckers. On my first visit I came face to face with a few Roe Deer which looked more baffled than in fear of my presence. There are also plenty of Butterflies on this occasion, Speckled Wood, Red Admiral, Green-veined white, Ringlet and Common Blue.

Common Emerald
Common Emerald Damselfly

I think one of the things its most known for is the sheer number of Dragonflies and Damselflies. I believe there have been 19 species recorded. On my previous visit I managed to see one of its specialities the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. On this trip it was really rather staggering how many odonate there were around. Literally every step seemed to disturb one or more. I managed to record Brown Hawker, Migrant Hawker, Southern Hawker, Common Darter and Common Emerald this time and managed to photograph a few, with the Southern Hawkers being very willing to be photographed.

Birding up north

Whilst on a recent family visit to the North, I ventured out for a day of birding. First port of call was Pennington Flash near Leigh. It boast to be ‘one of the premier bird watching sites in the North West’ so surely it had to be worth a visit.

Pennington flash
Pennington flash

We called in at the first hide and met some friendly locals who told me many a story about the place. How the flash is a 70-hectare lake created by coal mining subsidence. They also proudly mentioned the list of over 240 species of bird that had been seen there.

Whilst there I saw as many as 6 kingfishers, lots of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs along with lots of wild fowl. The highlights of the trip around the flash had to be Willow Tit’s feeding behind the first hide, unfortunately they were being heavily papped by some seriously large lensed photographers. Another highlight was a female Garganey which was a nice one for the year list. There were a couple of Arctic Terns when I was there and the following day there were up to 9, along with three or four Green Sandpipers.

Pennington flash
Pennington flash

After leaving Pennington Flash I moved onto Elton Reservoir as I has seen there were at least 2 Black-necked Grebes.

Elton Reservoir
Elton Reservoir

Now Elton Reservoir is in a place called Bury. You drive through an estate and then out the back you go over a bridge and it looks like to are heading to a prison, which actually turned out to be hospital. I wasn’t sure if the fences were to keep people out or to keep patients in. Either way to get the reservoir you follow a drive way to the sailing club and you come to this beautiful reservoir (well it was on this day I was there as it was beautiful and sunny). There were views over the town and to the hills beyond. There were sailing competitions going on whilst I was there, which made it look very picturesque. Luckily though the boats were only at one end of the reservoir. At the far end I could see large numbers of Coot with several Great Crested Grebe and when I got down there a Family of little Grebe. Then in and amongst this lot were two Juvenile Black-necked Grebe. Looking back through my note pads etc I could find no record of me having ever seen one before so I had bagged myself another lifer.

I suppose its in the name!

Over the last few days it seems like whichever piece of water I look at there has been a Common Darter (Sympetrum striatum) showing. I have seen them at various stages of maturity, showing a varied array of colours, from the vibrant red of the mature male, through to the yellow/gold of the immature male and females.

Common Darter
Common Darter

They’re not the biggest or showy dragonfly that I have seen this summer but they are still exciting to watch and enjoyable to photograph. I love their forward facing wing position that I haven’t noticed on any other species other than the Darters. I also like the way they defend their own little patch of the pond/pool.

As you can see from the pictures they seemed to have a preferred perch within their patch that over hangs the water or protrudes out into the pool so they can catch or literally attack anything that moves through their territory.

Once again it begs the question how do dragonflies and damselflies know its time to emerge. Whats is the defining factor that makes it happen. Well I’m now about to sit down and start reading Dragonflies – Behaviour and ecology of Odonata by Philip s. Corbet. It may take some time but hopefully I will get an insight into the behaviour of these amazing insects.

Common darters and Emeralds a plenty

After the excitement of the Hawker migration and still asking myself lots of questions that I don’t know the answers to, I wondered if the day before was going to be it for the dragonflies on our lunchtime strolls. The Migrant Hawkers seemed to have moved on with only few that were still buzzing around the green.

Common Darter
Common Darter

We headed for our usual spot and came across a Brown Hawker patrolling the margins and also we found what looked like a Willow Emerald Damselfly by the path. Then there were several dragonflies which turned out to be male and female Common Darters. The males being a nice vibrant red and the female that we saw was a stunning golden colour in the sunshine. This was another new one for our year list.

Common Darter
Common Darter
Common Darter
Common Darter

The excitement didn’t stop there and we came across yet another one for the year list on the green and this was the Common Emerald Damselfly and once again the colours were amazing.

Common Emerald Damselfly
Common Emerald Damselfly

Migrant Hawkers take to the air. But why?

Whilst sitting in the office it became very noticeable that there were many Dragonflies around Halesworth. I saw several fly past the office window and then one very kindly perched on the light outside our office enabling me to get some pictures.

I then went off on our daily lunchtime walk to Millennium green. We were actual on the look out for the Kingfishers (of which we did get the traditional fleeting glimpse) or Brown Argus that frequents the folly.

On arrival at the folly we came face to face with the amazing sight of around 50 Migrant Hawkers. Wherever you looked in the sky, there was a dragonfly. It was like nothing I had seen before.

Migrant Hawker - immature male
Migrant Hawker – immature male

Whilst staring in wonderment at what I was watching, I started thinking. What happened to make so many Migrant Hawkers appear at once? Up until this point we had only seen dragonflies in small numbers probably 3 or 4 of the same species at any one time. I have done a little reading and it says the Migrant Hawker can appear in ‘massive migrations’. Well this was a massive migration, but what makes this massive migration happen? They’re not like birds, dragonflies spend the majority of their life in water, so basically in one pool. The questions I started to ask myself were things like:

– Is it when it’s over a certain temperature for a certain number of days? Its been in the 20’s for several days running now.
-I was also reading about Birds migrating at the optimum time after a weather front in the US. They take their opportunity when the time is right after a storm, could this be the same for Dragonflies?
– Was there something that made this the optimum place for this gathering to happen?
– Is it a definitive date in the calendar? Unlikely but is the migration influenced by a full moon (clutching at straws)- Is there something else that influences it like when we saw huge numbers of ladybirds on the North Norfolk coast?

Migrant Hawker - immature male
Migrant Hawker – immature male

I find this occurrence even more fascinating when you look at the life cycle of dragonflies. The larval stage of large dragonflies may last as long as five years, so in real simple terms how did they all know it was the right time to leave the water and take to the wing? Where had they all come from? The questions seemed to go on and on.

What made this occurrence even more fascinating to me was when I returned home, about 30 miles away and took a walk to my local lake there were migrant Hawkers in large numbers there as well. I hadn’t seen one there this year so on the same day 30 miles exactly the same thing was taking place!

Migrant Hawker - immature male
Migrant Hawker – immature male

Millennium Green: Slow start but comes up trumps

Early on in the year I said to myself I would endeavour to take a walk in my lunch hour and ensure that I didn’t sit at my desk every lunchtime. Near to the office in Halesworth is an area called Millennium Green and this was the obvious place to head out to.

I was joined by the New Web developer who had similar interest in wildlife. Early on in the year we started to wonder if this was a place devoid of life. We saw very few birds and next to nothing else. We set ourselves the challenge of seeing 50 species of Bird, 15 species of Butterfly and water ever else we could see would be a bonus.

In spring the green just simple came to life. Birds started to arrive, and as them months have gone on Butterflies, Dragon and Damselflies, mammals and reptiles. One reptile that we have seen many of that I’m not ashamed to say I had never seen until this year was a Slow Worm

Slow worm
Slow worm

By all accounts they are not uncommon around here and every time I mentioned not seeing them I was getting some funny looks.

I started to think why had I never seen a Slow worm before? Was it because I wasn’t looking in the right place? Was I just simply over looking them? Was it because I spent so much time looking at other things i.e. Birds? Or had I never really made the effort? I had seen Grass snakes before and Adders but not Slow worms.

Slow worm
Slow worm

Well on todays visit to the Green we saw 4. The last time we made the effort there were as many as 6. They ranged in colour and size and were in various locations.

On the numerous occasions I have now seen them I still have a feeling of excitement and also appreciation of how lucky I am to live and work in the area of the country I do. I also have come up with the answer to my earlier questions. I think Im ashamed to say I didn’t make enough of an effort.

Norfolk Dragon invades Suffolk

Millennium Green came up trumps again today. Whilst on our almost daily walk, Scott Guiver (creator and writer of the blog 27butterflies) and I came across the wonderful Norfolk Hawkers patrolling the reeds.

These have got to have been the most aggressive dragonflies I have noticed the behaviour of so far. I noted that at least one of them was willing to tackle anything from moths, butterflies, damselflies and also the Four-spotted Chaser that dared to cross its path.

Norfolk Hawker - Millenium Green
Norfolk Hawker – millennium Green
Norfolk Hawker - Millenium Green
Norfolk Hawker – millennium Green

The Norfolk Hawkers with their green eyes and a yellow triangular mark on the second abdominal segment stood out and looked very different to the Chasers and the Hairy Dragonflies that we had been seeing on a regular basis throughout the last month or so.

The Four-spotted chasers didn’t want to miss out on the photo shoot and were happily sitting waiting for a piece of the action

Four-Spotted Chaser - Millenium Green
Four-Spotted Chaser – millennium Green

Dragons and Damsels

Today the sun was shinning and I only had a couple of hours spare, so I decided to have a stroll around my local patch. Its been a warm day in the twenties, with little or no wind and very little cloud cover. For me this meant one thing, Dragonflies and Damselflies. These have become my new obsession, so I set my self the challenge of looking down, instead of looking up which I invariably do on most of my walks.

Within the first 15 minute of my walk I came across this Dragonfly. This was about as far away from the Lakes as I could be without being sat in my home. I spent a while watching its activity in a woody area just behind the latest housing development. It eventually settled long enough for me to get a few photos before it vanished into the distance over field of barley.

Southern Hawker
Southern Hawker

I continued my walk to the lake, and on route I was distracted by numerous butterflies. Tortoiseshell’s in large numbers, Meadow Browns and one Large White, and there was also a Five Spotted Burnet posing nicely on a thistle. This has now got to be the most photographed day flying moth in the county.

Six spotted Burnet
Five Spotted Burnet

When arriving at the lakes I notice plenty of activity in the water, with Carp rolling on the top with lots of smaller fish jumping. There was no sign of the local Kingfishers but there were lots of Damselflies and Dragonflies. Around the lake there were plenty of Azure and Common Blue Damselfly, many of which were in the process of reproducing. I Also had the pleasure of seeing Male and Female Broad Bodied Chasers patrolling the margins. I have seen Large Reds before and there were a few today, but I also added some new species Red-eyed, Blue Tailed Damselflies to my newly created Dragonfly and Damselfly list.

I also had the pleasure of the elegant Banded Demoiselle which are stunning when seen in the right light, the colours are truly amazing.

Banded Damioselle
Banded Damioselle

On the walk back I stumbled across a small patch of long grass in and amongst the nettles which had several Essex Skippers, which kept me amused for several minutes. Once they stopped battling with each other and settled they were suitably snapped for possible several frames too many.

Essex Skipper
Essex Skipper

Now this is where I thought the highlights of the walk would be over, but there was one more new tick for the patch list and this was the Common Blue butterfly. This took the total butterfly count to 8, which matched the Damsel and Dragonfly count for the day as well.

Common Blue
Common Blue

When someone next says there’s nothing to do. I would suggest getting up and going for a walk. There’s plenty to see and even better its free!

Barcelona

I’m lucky enough to work in the world of conservation and in this role I get to meet some pretty inspiring people. On 5 June I was asked to visit one of the charities project partners Accionatura who are based in Barcelona. They wanted to discuss many things and one of those was an interesting project called CompensaNatura. I met the Team Francesc and Stefan who have had to cope with lots of changes in the organisation but seem to still have them motivation and drive to work on for something they really care for and believe in. I had never been to Barcelona and I can say now after a couple of days there I will certainly being going back. The architecture is quite frankly amazing. Obviously one of the big influences on the city was Gaudi and the Modernist movement. Due to the lack of time available I had to do the full on tourist bit and I took a bus tour of the city taking in many sites including the home of Barcelona FC. I was most interested in seeing the Gaudi though and it certainly didn’t disappoint. The bus went past Sagrada Familia basilica, Casa Batlló and then finally onto Park Güell where I departed.

Sagrada Familia basilica
Sagrada Familia basilica

Park Güell is a strange place. It’s very obviously unique and this is when you start to question was Guadi genius or just quite frankly crazy. I think to be honest he was a bit of both. I told that he was heavily influenced by nature and that’s why lots of his structures have an organic appearance to them. The buildings in Park Güell just don’t look real, even like gingerbread houses and the mosaics a beautiful.

Park Güell Barcelona
Park Güell Barcelona

This is when the birding started. Whilst in Park Güell I saw Barcelona’s Monk Parakeets, Hoopoe and my first life tick of trip Alpine Swifts. Once Francesc heard of my excitement he invited me to his place in the mountains that overlooked Barcelona, with the promise of several more life ticks before my flight on the Saturday morning.

View from Francesc's
View from Francesc’s

I took the early train out-of-town to where I was told to meet Francesc. I was a beautiful day, the train follows the coast which added to the journey. We then took a short drive to his place and I can say I stunned. The views were incredible and straight outside his house were more Hoopoes and at least 4 Turtle Dove calling. In his ‘garden he regularly gets Golden Oriole which I was very excited to hear. However on this morning there was no sign of them and I thought this isn’t going to go well. However within 5 minutes of being there I had another lifer, the Sardinian Warbler. Just round the corner there was a Bonelli’s Warbler calling, which we would later see (life tick number 3 of my trip). We continued our walk and came across a pair of Woodchat shrike (Tick). We then heard Crested Tits and then found them showing well in the pines in the image below (Tick). Then there was the Subalpine Warblers (Tick) and we also heard Fan Tailed Warblers calling.

Francesc's Pine trees
Francesc’s Pine trees

We watched dragonflies and damselflies by the pool that has been created as part of the filtration system. We ended our walk back at the house eating Nectarines straight from the tree in the amazing veg garden that he has on the go.

Veg patch
Veg patch

Francesc rents part of his place out to birders and with regular ringing parties going on there is certainly plenty to see. I fell in love with the place, and maybe the fact I had so many life ticks added to that but it was beautiful and he is a true gent. I say that, he did text me when I was at the airport to tell me that I had missed out on yet another Short-toed Eagle