Monday, 23 July 2012

Invertebrates Galore

Lovely summer sunshine, but a little breezy. I popped over to Tophill in search of dragonflies and butterflies today, and was not disappointed. So far the summer has been a disaster for both with many affected by the heavy rains.

My first quest was for Marbled Whites which normally would be about in their dozens by now. North Scrub did give up half a dozen or so, but they kept quite low in the breeze, perhaps laying eggs while they could. Other butterflies seen today included Meadow Brown, Ringlets, Large Skippers, a single 7-Spot Burnett, Speckled Woods, and a couple of small Tortoiseshell and Red Admirals.
Marbled White

Marbled White
The stars today were the dragonflies. The wind presented a few problems, but where there was some shelter there were plenty to see. By far the numerous were the Common Darter, but there were also a few Southern and Brown Hawkers around the reserve. And there was plenty of food available for them.

Southern Hawker

Common Darter

Common Darter

Head-on Common Darter

Male Common Darter

Long-Horned Beetle
From a birding perspective we are still in that quiet period of the year, and wait for the autumn migration to really start. Tophill has recently seen a couple of Green Sandpipers, and today there were a couple of Greenshank stopping in at Watton Burrow Pits on their way south.


Saturday, 21 July 2012

Garden Visitor

Life in the garden continues to do well despite the weather. Overhead we have numerous Swifts and Swallows picking up on the flies between showers; in the garden itself we are regularly visited by at least 4 male Dunnock, fledgling Blackbirds coming for the apples I continue to put out; and plenty of House Sparrows, Chaffinch, Tits (Great and Blue), and Starlings.

The Robin has been noticeable by its absence, but we have now started to see our Wren again. The Song Thrush that has been so melodious over the past few months has gone quiet – hopefully it has found a mate rather than moving on to a new area.

The Tree Sparrows have raised a second brood from the nest box on the corner of the house. The parents have worked industriously, fetching food and disposing of faecal sacks, but the box has now gone quiet, and we wait to see if they try for a third success.

Yesterday evening we had a return visitor, one of which we have not seen in at least three years. I appreciate that for some readers the sight of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the garden is far from unusual, but for us, this visit caused quite a bit of excitement. The bird was very alert all the time it was attacking the peanut feeders, often seeking sanctuary in the plum tree when it saw me taking photos. After quarter of an hour it flew off towards the larger trees further down the village.

This morning I am going to pick up some suet and will mix it with peanuts to see if we can’t tempt our new friend back again.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Hunters and the Hunted

It’s funny how some of my blogs seem to write themselves without any pre-planning. Today’s is a case in point.

Today I returned to Tophill. My primary targets were the otters, but the only one I “saw” actually sped past me under water, leaving a trail of bubbles as it brushed the submerged weeds. It didn’t surface until almost out of view! So much for that.

It wasn’t a total loss at North Marsh, as I was able to see two Water Voles and three Wood Mice that seem to have taken up residence under the hide. Both could have made tasty snacks for the Otter!

My next planned targets were the Barn Owls, so off I went to North Scrub and Hempholme Meadows to see if I could find the resident pair. As the weather was fine it was almost a given that I would find at least one bird. As it was, both the male and female birds were out and about looking for mice and voles for their fast growing brood. They gave me some great views.

On the way back to the car park for a welcome cup of tea, I came across an unusual sight in ‘D’ woods. I had been watching a pair of Blackcap when my attention was drawn to another Wood Mouse climbing a Red Campion that had gone to seed. It was a bit of a struggle for the mouse, but eventually it reached its goal, secured one of the seed pods for itself, and climbed back to the floor. Luckily Barn Owls tend not to hunt in the woods!

After a cup of tea it was on to the south end of the reserve. The next target species was a Grass Snake. The weather was just perfect – a chill wind with intermittent sunshine from the breaks in the cloud. As expected there were a number of snakes of different sizes sunbathing on the various hay bales placed around the reserve. Some were a bit sluggish, but others that had really warmed up zipped off into the undergrowth as soon as I was spotted.

On the path to Watton I found a number of tiny Common Toads. Had they not moved I probably wouldn’t have seen them, and covered them with my size ten’s. Part of this year’s spawning, I couldn’t help wondering how many would escape the intentions of the Grass Snakes and survive to breed next year.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

King for the Day

Yesterday’s heavy rain lasted nearly all day, so I wasn’t able to get out. However, the forecast was for a bright start to Saturday, albeit with a little mist to begin with. I decided to chance my arm and try for a few shots of the otters at Tophill. I wasn’t worried about the 4am start, but the “little mist” seemed to have turned into something much thicker.
Gradually though the mist began to lift, and after 45 minutes of quiet waiting a dog otter turned up. I think he must have heard the shutter of my camera going for he turned to face me for what seemed like 30 seconds before moving off into the mist and out of view. Judging by the photos – the quality of which reflects the light conditions – the otter could see me well enough and seemed to be staring me down.

Watching you watching me.... at 4.50am
Gradually North Marsh came back to life after the otter's visit. It wasn’t long before the Reed Warblers began scouring the reeds for food, with some adults being pursued by fledglings. There was also a prolonged visit from a Water Vole, busily devouring vegetation as the light came up.

Water Vole at breakfast

Fledgling Reed Warbler waiting for breakfast

More watching you watching me
Not long after came the first visit from a Kingfisher – a juvenile male bird by the looks of things. This too stayed for quite a while, diving and catching three minnows. I love these birds! So majestic and colourful. However, the light was still not great for really good photos, and after quarter of an hour or so it flew off, presumably to digest what it had caught and eaten.

Another period of calm followed, and eventually, and in much better light conditions, the Kingfisher returned. This time it stayed for fully thirty minutes or so, catching more fish and posing beautifully as if it were a professional model. I just wish I was a better at capturing the bird’s dives into the water. Nonetheless, it was fantastic to witness this show.

Going, going......


Now, where's the next one?
I finished early as I had chores for the day. On the way out, however, I came across the biggest slug I have ever seen. Measuring over 6 inches in length, it was like a throw-back to some primeval world (not that I would describe Tophill in that way!). My subsequent researches have identified the beast as a Great Grey or Leopard Slug. I’m not sure I would want to meet one of these in the dark.

Leopard Slug - coming to get you

Friday, 6 July 2012

Singing for his Supper

Over the spring and summer I have continued to put out a couple of apples each day to help the thrushes and Blackbirds. My garden has become a bit of a magnet with regulars turning up most days. We have the occasional visit of a very timid Mistle Thrush, but each morning and evening we are entertained by the glorious sound of a Song Thrush. It has adopted the tree in next door’s garden, using it to mark his territory.

I am not convinced that there is a female Song Thrush about, for this bird – and one that responds from the other end of the village – continues to sing day after day and has done so since March. I had always thought that the cock bird quietens once he has found a mate, but this bird continues at full blast for hours at a time. I’m not sure whether to feel sorry as he forlornly sings for a mate, or to just enjoy to sounds that he makes.

Wear and Tear

While at Tophill I popped into North Marsh. My aim was to collect more shots of the Reed Warblers – a challenge I always relish because they really don’t hang around for long. Until recently the males have continued to sing from the top of the reeds as they seek mates. Now, with broods well on the way to fledging, both male and female spend their time much more in the pursuit of food, and they are far more elusive as a result – providing a real challenge.

Reed Warbler - note frayed wing feathers

Reed Warbler
I didn’t stay long as the hide was already occupied by others in search of the Kingfisher. However, in the time I was there I was able to capture a few good shots. Interestingly, and as a reference to my earlier blog on moulting, one of my shots shows how frayed wing feathers can get for these small creatures. Those will need to be replaced before the long trip back south.

Damsels and Dragons

At this time of year many of our feathered friends are beginning to moult out of their spring plumage. This change of clothes, the stresses of seeking a mate and raising a brood can leave some birds a little run down. Perhaps feeling a little vulnerable, the smaller birds tend to be less showy, lingering instead in the deeper foliage. Waterfowl are already well into their “eclipse”, and much less striking to look at.

As a result I tend to look for other subjects for my photography. However, this year that has been far from easy. The cool and wet weather has been a real bugbear, severely limiting the numbers of days I have been able to get out and about. Yesterday was a bit different though, being warm and sunny.
After work I wandered over to Tophill to see if I could find some dragonflies. A few days earlier I had found a good patch for newly emerged Four-Spot Chasers, so I decided to make a return, but this time with camera to hand.

These really are magnificent creatures, spending most of their time on the wing surveying their territory and searching for food. Occasionally another would enter the patch and you could hear the clashes of wings as they duelled mid-air. However, from time to time one would settle on a bulrush head and provide some stunning views of those marvellous but delicate wings. Ever on the alert, even at rest, the dragonfly continues to watch what is going on around it, often tipping its head skywards looking out for prey or interlopers.

One tip: when dragonflies do land they face their bodies towards the sun. Photographing them with the sun behind you is much less frustrating!!

I had chosen one of the pools created around the site. While the Four-Spots flew a couple of metres above the water, it was interesting to note that well below them, and amongst the reeds and grasses was a myriad of Common Blue Damsels. I guess that they felt relatively safe at those lower levels. However, one or two did stray a bit too high, and were very quickly spotted. Some were very lucky to avoid being devoured.