Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The beardy butterflier

Not been up to much birding of late, which comes with the time of year i suppose. July sees my attention turn to other winged creatures, which fly more conspicuously among the meadows and hedgerows - places best enjoyed in the summertime. Butterflies!

We've been doing a fair bit of work on the meadow reserves with the trust, and have been surrounded by all sorts of colourful insects. I remarked a few weeks back that I hadn't seen a lot of butterflies this year, but i now retract my statement, as i have now seen loads of them and they have really sparked up my interest again. On the 14th, we were working at Lambley reed pond, cutting thistles to attempt to lower their dominance on the site. It was that day that the butterflies really caught my attention, especially as i have got my 200-300mm macro lens working again! There were loads flitting about all over the place, but especially over near the pond itself, where the vegetation was thickest. Butterflies were busy drinking thirstily from knapweeds, willowherbs and thistles, while the bramble bushes were also alive with them. There were a good number of species but most dominant were Small Whites, Meadow Browns, Peacocks and a few Ringlets. I tried for a while to get some decent shots, but the best i came out with were of the Peacocks and Whites.

The next week we were at Brierley's Meadow near Besthorpe, a tiny meadow reserve but with a good diversity of plants, and with that, butterflies. We were once again clearing thistles, which is a bit of a shame as the insects love them, but there was plenty of knapweeds and other flowers to keep them going. Meadow Browns and gatekeepers reigned dominant here, but they were joined by a number of Ringlets, Small Coppers and a couple of Small Skippers. Later that day we indulged in a bit of Ragwort pulling but attempted to do it in a sympathetic manner as many of the florets were covered with the caterpillars of the Cinnabar Moth, a species specialised to eat the usually toxic Ragwort which are a common sight at this time of year. We left plants which were covered with them and made sure we piled other plants nearby for them to eat.

I have since found a butterfly haven which i have visited twice already this summer, with plans to return. It is at one of my usual birding patches near clifton woods. The fields that are farmed nearby are often full of butterflies, but there are a few patches on the way to Barton-in-fabis that are left as set-aside. There are also a couple of ponds nearby, along with the woods themselves. As a result of this mosaic of habitats, the abundance and diversity of butterflies is pretty high.

In the woods and on its edges, it is not uncommon to find Brimstones flying up and down, especially in early spring. This time of year Red Admirals can be seen regularly, sunning themselves on bare ground where the sunlight breaks through gaps in the thick sycamore canopy. On the edges where the sun is shining, especially where there is thick, raised vegetation such as ivy or blackthorn, Comma butterflies can be seen waiting on a leaf, ready to attack any intruding males, or to attempt a coupling with any passing females. To see a pair of males scrapping mid-air, with the sun bringing out their vibrant colours, is a wonderful sight on a bright sunny day.

On the field edges and in the large meadow which has been set aside from farming, there is a different set of butterflies entirely. Thistles are a common plant here and at the moment are filling the skies with their feathery seeds, but where they are still in flower, many large butterflies such as Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells have been seen drinking from the purple flowerheads. It is impossible to walk a few metres without seeing a White butterfly, but i am not entirely confident of identifying species, especially on the wing, as they very rarely rest for long when you approach. Walking through the vegetation disturbs the species that sit low, such as Meadow Browns and Gatekeepers. Gatekeepers are a little more conspicuous, with their brighter colouration and tendency to sit in the open, but meadow browns are more subdued in their colouring and are excellently camouflaged so that you won't see it until the last minute when it suddenly explodes into flight a few inches from your feet. I have found the latter species to be more abundant however, even though the gatekeepers at first seem more numerous. Other species do reside here, but are not seen as regularly, such as Ringlets and Small skippers, and i have not seen many blue butterflies, but i think as i survey the area more thoroughly more species will turn up.

I have only properly looked at a small area of the site too so i will be returning over the coming weeks to see what else there is to find. I'm also attempting to take some good photographs, which is difficult as they always seem to fly away or sit somewhere where some foreground vegetation blocks the cameras view, but i'll keep trying! Their ecology and natural history, as well as their breeding cycles are all very interesting too, as is learning about their conservation and the threats to our native populations. I have been reading an excellent book which describes each species in detail and gives a good account of all aspects of their lifestyle, along with brilliant paintings of each stage in their life cycle, The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington (ISBN 978-0-9564902-0-9). I have the hardback, which cost me 25 quid, but it is well worth it as it is more than an ID guide but really delves into the world of our native species, with much passion and knowledge. Its not one for taking into the field though, so i must really get a smaller field guide at some point!

I'll post some pictures as soon as i have sorted through them all. that could take a while!

Summer Time

I have attempted a bit of birding since my last report, i had an evening ride to netherfield again, but it was a very sunny evening and i couldn't actually see anything on the main part of the lagoons without getting blinded by the sun! I didnt stay very long but i did notice that the starlings have begun flocking here to roost in the reedbeds. Numbers will grow over the next few weeks but i don't think they'll peak til october, like last autumn. Still, it is a sight to behold.

Earlier in the week, i had a bikeride to a couple of meadow reserves in nottingham, to see what was growing there, as this time of year also brings out the botanist in me. A lot of plants are turning to seed now, but there are a host of other species which are just coming into flower and will continue to do so until autumn, sustaining the bees and butterflies and anything else that relies on them. I am but a beginner in the realm of botany, and i find just getting out there and sitting in a meadow with a good ID book (i use Francis Rose's The wildflower key) is a great way of getting to know the different species. It can be frustrating separating a specimen from a host of lookalikes, but once you have found out its amazing how much knowledge sticks. Its a slow journey but its good to make some progress.

The first meadow i went to was Kings Meadow, but i didn't stay long, as although there was a good mix of wildflowers, there are some dodgy folks around there and rustling in the bushes, along with shady looking people hanging around didnt make me want to stick around, especially with an expensive camera and lens in my bag. I went instead to Wilford Claypit and am glad i did. I've been here a few times to look at the dragonflies and wildflowers, as well as doing a bit of conservation work. Its a lovely reserve which doesn't look much at first, but once you explore it in finer detail then it reveals some nice surprises. My trip that evening was no exception and i spent the evening photographing a variety of plants, including the weird-leaved but beautiful Yellow-wort and best of all a host of Fragrant Orchids, a wonderful plant with a heady aroma, tall pink flowerheads and individual flowers which are perfectly formed, with a large spur which dangles tantalisingly down from each floret. There were a couple of Twayblades which had gone to seed (i've never seen one in flower) and a few other Orchids which i still haven't ID'd.

While photographing the Orchids, a juvenile Heron alighted on the dipping platform nearby, and i managed to get some good shots of it, my best heron photos yet in fact, and it happily sat preening itself, eyeing me up occasionally while i stood pointing my lens at it.

Last wednesday, me and Michelle went to Attenborough! This was the first time i've been since april! I can't believe its been that long, especially as last year I managed to go 2 or 3 times a week. I have been especially busy this summer so i suppose that's my excuse. We were there only a while, and it was eventful, but once we'd had a circular walk rainclouds had started forming and we were both hungry. We were there in the evening so the hides were unfortunately closed but we saw a fair few birds, including a few Little Egrets which have been seen regularly there over the last few weeks. One was showing especially well, standing alone in the middle of the wet marsh, looking incredible, especially as its breeding plume was at a jaunty angle. A couple of Oystercatchers were seen running around on the island on clifton pond, and there were a lot of Lapwings about. Their numbers peak here in july and august, i had counts of up to 400 last summer. On the river path behind clifton pond we also saw a Weasel, which was amazing. It did the same thing most weasels and stoats do when i've seen them, which is dash across your path before popping out and inspecting you inquisitively for a while before disappearing once again. It reappeared momentarily before bounding down the path, doing a little jump and burying itself once again amongst the vegetation beside the path. A wonderful sight!

Since then i have been very busy, but i have been out a few times in search of butterflies... more on that later.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Netherfield Lagoons 8th July

Had to decide on friday, spend the day in the kitchen, doing menial tasks, finding stuff to do, inevitably getting bored, or go out on my bike despite the frequent heavy rain showers and foreboding looking clouds, inevitably getting wet.

Obviously i got on my bike. Went once again to Netherfield lagoons. I wanted to go to Attenborough this week at some point but it is quite a lot further afield, meaning that if I'm restricted by time, then a shorter ride is certainly more appropriate. So i made sure i packed my raincoat, and headed out.

I got about halfway before the heavens opened so got my coat on. What had begun as a bit of rain soon turned into a heavy downpour, and with a couple of miles to go i was resigned to getting wet. Even the raincoat didn't afford much protection, and somehow the inside of the arms got wet, but i kept going knowing that once i got to the reserve boundary there was a nice big train bridge to hide under while the worst of the weather passed.

I ended up spending most of my visit to the reserve under here. The rain persisted until i got under the bridge and continued on and off for around 45 minutes, but there was an end in sight, as to the west there was some brighter skies, i just had to wait. The wait wasn't actually ever so bad, there was plenty of wildlife to look at while i stayed dry. Sand Martins and Swallows were continually passing through, the former passing by within a few feet, the latter performing breakneck aerial maneuvers chasing each other defending their territories. There's a large colony of these birds which nest each year under this bridge, providing quite a welcome as you enter the reserve.

Finally the weather improved so I emerged from my shelter and made my way to the main paths round the reserve. Upon cresting the top of the steps, i looked behind me and saw that i potentially didn't have long to wander round, as some extremely dark clouds were gathering in the distance. Some i saw were already depositing rain down over Gedling and others had just passed me by and were hanging low over Radcliffe on Trent. Luckily, where i was the rain seemed to pass either side, leaving me relatively dry except for one small shower which lasted only a couple of minutes.

The weather must have been keeping the birds at bay, as walking around there wasn't too much to look at, although there were a few Warblers about and a Song Thrush was belting out its song from the woody areas. The lagoons however were bustling with life, i guess birds which live near water don't mind getting a bit wet.

I stopped soon after i joined the central path which runs between the two main lagoons, as i had heard a Green Sandpiper had been spotted to the far left of the reedbed a few times this week. And sure enough amongst a lapwing, a few Mallard and even a couple of Teal (first i've seen in a while), there was a tiny little wader nipping in and out of the reeds. I have seen these birds before and they just didnt seem so small, in comparison to the Lapwing it was minute. I watched it for a while, making sure of its ID and it all added up, but it was very difficult to observe, as it was in a patch of reeds which were obstructed from view. Still i was happy enough with the sighting as its not a species i see often.

Looking out over the rest of the lagoon, there was a good diversity of birds about, and there were loads of them too. The water level was very low, as is the norm in the country this summer, and as a result, there was lots of exposed mud and aquatic vegetation. On the far left there was a group of Lapwing moving about feeding in the detritus. Further along were a group of ducks snoozing on the waters edge, mostly eclipse plumaged Gadwall and a handful of Pochard. As i scanned further to the right there were groups of different birds all clumped together. There were lots of ducks and coots, and the right half of the exposed mud and shallows was almost completely dominated by Gulls and a couple of Terns. Most were Lesser Black Backed, of varying ages, but there were a few Greater Black backs which were easy to compare when standing amidst some lessers. Black headed gulls of a range of ages were also scattered here and there.

The highlight, aside from the Green Sandpiper however, was a Little Ringed Plover, which was seen by chance as the sun shone upon it. It was only really visible when it was dashing across the mud, in its usual style. Its a species i haven't seen at this reserve, and although i've seen quite a few this year, especially at besthorpe, it was still nice to see something a little different. Compared to the other birds this little thing seemed absolutely tiny, its a surprise one of the gulls hasn't picked it off.

I scanned the lagoons a while longer, picking up on a few Grey Herons, and some wildfowl which i hadn't expected to see at this time of year, around 6 Shoveler and 2 Eurasian Wigeon. There were loads of Reed Warblers singing from the reeds and a few were also showing particularly well. Also of note was the sheer number of juvenile birds on the water. A huge family of Gadwall were present, with loads of tiny ducklings, there were countless mallard chicks and the Coots were aggressively defending their young from any birds which strayed too close. It really was very busy on the lagoon today. A kestrel was also seen hunting above the path, always good to see.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

couple of trips

Feeling loads more refreshed after last weekends festivities, and i have been out on my bike a few times too, as well as having a great day volunteering with the wildlife trust on friday (even though it was only Balsam Bashing!)

Earlier in the week i visited Clifton, for the first proper birding trip i've had there in a few weeks. It was all in all pretty quiet unfortunately, but that is to be expected at this time of year, especially with it being so warm. One thing i noticed is that the lush green vegetation that dominated the landscape earlier in the year has faded as the weeks have gone by. Most of the spring blooms have gone over and set seed and the smaller plants have been overtaken by tall grasses. High summer truly seems to have settled in.

There was very little going on around the fields as we walked around, not even many small passerines, obviously the breeding season is over and most birds will be resting up for a while. A group of swallows were seeing feeding just above the wheat crop on the weir field, and there seemed to be a good number of swifts feeding in the skies above. Aside from the odd chiffchaff and the calls of a number of wrens, even the woodland was pretty dead. The only places where there was any activity was near the water. The river had plenty of common terns and gulls flying up and down, and Holme Pit was busy with a family of coots, which seemed to have raised a second brood, chasing off the remaining two juveniles which had almost fully grown. Elsewhere on the pond were a few swans, a scattering of ducks, and lots of singing reed buntings and the scratchy sound of reed warblers was also obvious. A common tern quartered the reeds while we sat enjoying the sunshine, and it was great to see it diving spontaneously into the lake every now and again to attempt to pick off some prey from the surface of the water.

The highlight of the day however was spending an hour (in two sessions) down by the river, at a location where i have noted Kingfishers a few weeks back. Me and Fred sat there quietly, watching a pair of these wonderful birds flying to and fro catching fish and taking them back to where their nest must be. They were sticking to our side of the river, and were only a few metres away, an absolutely fantastic experience, and they would often cross the river to fish over the other side. We were careful not to disturb them and they seemed unfazed by our presence, coming in and out repeatedly. An amazing experience. Some very good photos can be found on Rob Hoare's website, as he went down following my 'tip-off' a few days later and spent a few hours watching them. http://cliftongrovebirds.co.uk/latest_sightings.html

On saturday evening i was perusing the local bird sightings and came upon a report of some Black Tailed Godwits arriving at Netherfield Lagoons. It was pretty late by that time but i decided it would be a nice evening for a bike ride. The godwits had been present in the morning so i wasn't too sure of whether they'd be there when i arrived, and sure enough they weren't.

I spent around half an hour enjoying the balmy evening, despite getting eaten alive by midges, scanning the slurry lagoon with my scope. There were loads of birds on the lagoon, although it was difficult to view due to the sunlight right in my eyes. There were loads of loafing gulls, mainly black headed and LBBGs, there may well have been a med there as one had been reported but i couldnt see one in there! A few lapwings made up the only waders on the lagoon, and otherwise it was mainly ducks and coots. A little egret and grey heron were also seen in clsoe proximity to each other, the first little egret i've seen in notts for a while!

will probably go back again this week, as there seems to be quite a bit being reported. might even go to attenborough too! who knows?