Saturday, 23 May 2020

A week's moths

There's been a lot of moth action this week in the heat wave. Here's a selection of a few I don't see too often my end.

 Eyed Hawkmoth- at the Old Vicarage
 Shears (above and below) at the Old Vicarage

 Rough-winged Conch, Phtheochroa rugosana at the Old Vic
Grey-streaked Diamond Back ,Plutella porrectella at the Old Vic
 Hook-streak Grass-veneer, Crambus lathoniellus- the first grass moth of the year at the Old Vic
Seems to be a good season for Figure of Eighty both at the Old Vic and Beddington 
 Poplar Grey at the Old Vicarage
 I don't usually see these two together- Hebrew Character (left) and Setaceous Hebrew Character (right)
 Large Nutmeg at the Old Vic
 Buttoned Snout at Beddington
Mottled Pug at Beddington
 Pale Oak Beauty at Beddington
 Toadflax Brocade at Beddington
and the first Elephant Hawkmoth of the year at the Old Vic

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Day In Kent

Beautiful warm weather yesterday, with a high pressure over the continent extending over UK and a variable southeast to southwest breeze, set the scene for some late spring birding and eastern vagrant/overshoot hunting. There's been an influx of Red-footed Falcons in the country and a scattering of Black Kites and other bits like Great Reed Warbler and Bee-eaters so we focused on Sheppey- Shellness and North Swale Nature Reserve to see if we could find a Red-foot etc. 

Best Kojak and I could muster up was an adult breeding plumage Great White Egret, complete with dark bill, bluish lores, off yellow patch on tip of long scapulars and plumes on back. Other highlights included a second-calender year Eider in the Swale, Sanderlings, Barwit and Whimbrel .

In the afternoon a Red-footed Falcon was found a short distance away at Oare (a near miss for us) so we crossed the Swale to have a look by which time it had moved on. Booming Bittern and a dusk hunting Barn Owl made the trip worth it. Ebirds lists HERE and HERE

 Adult breeding Great White Egret 
 Second-calender year Eider- looks like the bird will need to moult before it can fly north 
 Summer Sanderlings 
 Oystercatcher (800 in the high tide roost), Ringed Plover and Dunlin 
Hairy Dragonfly- Spot on segment one is best identification feature 
The high pressure and easterly airflow continues today, with a mini influx of rare raptors on the near continent and a scattering of scarce migrants (Bluethroat, Collared Pratincole and rare moths too in the UK). Classic high pressure late spring/summer vagrancy weather with clear conditions and a continental airflow enabling cross-Eurasian exploration by first-summer birds and pioneering vagrants. 

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Oxfordshire weekend

I visited Otmoor this morning for the first time since restrictions. 77 species in less than a two mile walk (Ebird list here). There's not too many places I visit with that density of species and I only covered a fraction of the site. Highlights included a male Garganey, a third-summer Yellow-legged Gull, Marsh Harrier, at least 3 Cuckoos, Curlew, Redshanks and Oystercatchers and a booming Bittern.

In the afternoon went with the family to Aston Rowant for a walk. Had Firecrest and Marsh Tit in the woods.

The mothing has picked up both at Beddington in the week and back at the Old Vic. The cold north east wind and then the frosty nights have finally abated with warmer days and milder evenings. Things are set to improve as this week goes on.

 Red Kite at Aston Rowant. It was here in the Chilterns that Red Kites were re-introduced into England. There's been a large influx of Red Kites to the South Coast recently. I was wondering if the reduced traffic flow had created food shortages (of road kills) for them so birds were going on longer range hunting flights (in addition to second calender year birds on the usual walkabouts) and were concentrating on the coast. There's been a report locally of a Red Kite stealing food from a toddler too .There was a movement of 300+ in Cornwall last week which is unprecedented for that part of the country. As there are several Black Kites in the country too, presumably there is also an element of continental migrants moving in too. 
 Male Wheatear at Otmoor 
Early Purple Orchid at Aston Rowant  
 The first Burnished Brass of the year at Beddington
 Light Brocade at Beddington
 Rustic Shoulder-knot at Beddington
 Brown Rustic at the Old Vic
Dark Brocade at the Old Vic (I think- awaiting confirmation). No- it's a Large Nutmeg- still a first for site. Thanks Dave Wilton for id.
 View from Aston Rowant looking north (above and below). The Cretaceous chalk looks north over progressively older rocks, so its literally looking back in time. The oldest rocks of North Oxfordshire are lower Jurrasic (about 200 mya). The chalk was laid down as recently as 65 mya.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Lockdown Ease- scramble to Kent

What with an ease in lockdown and what could be a brief bit of freedom before the second pandemic wave, Kojak and I headed off to Kent for  a day's birding. We did Shellness (Ebird list HERE), Oare (HERE) and Sevenoaks Wildlife Reserve (HERE). It was pretty tough going with a strong cold North East wind blowing. However we managed 86 species but we certainly missed Spring while lockdowned with just a few waders present in the Thames Estuary. Highlights included a few Barwits, Knots, Sanderling, Whimbrel, Hobby, a Mandarin (at Sevenoaks) and plenty of Marsh Harriers. A Black Kite in the area managed to avoid our detection but was seen near Faversham at the beginning of the day and over Harty Ferry on Sheppey at the end of the day - so basically the same area we spent most of the day without seeing it!

 Bar-tailed Godwits, Knot and a Sanderling 
 Only one adult male summer Bar-tailed Godwit in a flock of 64 birds- perhaps its a non-breeding flock or a flock dominated by females still heading north (females winter further south than males so could travel north later than males?).  There was also a presumed non-breeding flock of Black-tailed Godwits at Oare which often summer at Oare and don't bother migrating to Iceland.  First-summer and non-breeding waders notoriously create semi-resident or limited migratory groups- only migrating part of the way to the breeding grounds. The Knots were also in non-breeding plumage suggesting this group of birds are in no rush to get to the breeding grounds. Barwits winter from north-west Europe to west Africa (there were large number in Dakhla Bay, Western Sahara when we visited HERE). According to the migration atlas birds that winter in the UK breed in Northern Europe and Western Siberia and the birds that winter further south and migrate through the UK in Spring are heading to the Siberian Taimyr and Yamal peninsulas. There is generally a month between the UK breeders leaving and the African migrants arriving. Both populations head to the Wadden Sea before they fatten up to continue further north or east east. Unlike Dunlin where the UK wintering population (alpina) and the migratory population (schinzii) are taxonomically different, in Barwit its the same sub-species. Our Barwits are of the nominate lapponica which differ from the Asian sub-species baureri, one of the main characteristics of nominate is the clean white underwings (barred on the Asian race). Barwits are famous for completing long range, non-stop migrations. 
 The only Whimbrel of the day 
 Female Marsh Harrier, extensive cream on this bird, presumably an older bird
A Grey Seal battling the white horses on the rough Swale
 A second-summer Yellow-legged Gull at Sevenoaks.
It was my first visit to Sevenoaks reserve, which is an impressive inland site. Over 200 hirundines were hawking low over the water this evening presumably keeping out of the wind

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

The Old Vicarage- Quiet couple of days

Temperatures dropped from the mid 20s to 12 C between Saturday and Sunday and this morning there was a frost too. The wind was very strong on Monday so all in all the last two or three days have been pretty tough going. It was a good excuse to get some work done and I spent the last two days writing the moth and butterfly list of the Azores. 

Also did a bit on the garden, did the airfield Sunday morning before the front moved in and also moth trapping Saturday night when it was still warm.

We finally harvested our first crop today which we planted from seed- one radish (below).

Potatoes have gone in (above) and Tomatoes are waiting (below)

The Ponies have been moved around a bit to make more space for some more food growing 
 Scalloped Hazel - a first for the Old Vicarage from Saturday night 
Female Bee Moth 

The Airfield is clearly intensive agriculture with huge monocultures and clear signs of large scale herbicide/chemical treatment (below). However just shows that this kind of farming is not necessarily bad for wildlife considering the large populations of farmland birds up there including Corn Buntings, Yellow Wagtails, Skylarks, Grey Partridge etc . In fact to be honest before I moved to the countryside I was led to believe from the conservation literature that it was a complete wasteland of birdless and natureless chemical saturated monocultures. That may be the case in some areas but in the Worminghall area everywhere we have explored has been pretty interesting and there are all sorts of little magic spots and hotspots. As lockdown now begins to be eased , it was interesting to discover the wildlife in regular farmland. Here's the ebird list that we started about a month ago HERE