Sunday, 13 August 2017

Farmoor etc 12th August

I arrived at Farmoor slightly after its opening time to be told there had been no sign so far of the adult WWB Tern seen yesterday up until the evening. It sounded like it had gone, and sure enough nobody on the causeway had seen any sign of it.

After some time there, there didn't seem to be much point in staying any longer - despite a good number of hirundines and the odd Swift zooming about. Hence I made my way down to the Pinkhill Hide and, forewarned, entered the code now needed for the new lock. The scene before me was very different from earlier in the spring - with tall vegetation and several new pools immediately in front of the hide. Consequently, the views of the main area of water at the back were very obscured. The pools looked promising for dragonflies but the conditions were nothing like good enough for them, so as usual there was nothing to see!

I then decided to head down to the southern end to try to find the rather smart Ruddy Shelduck that had been present recently. However there was no sign of that either, so I had to make do with the pair of Egyptian Geese.

Egyptian Goose. Go to my website for a larger image

Thereafter I visited Ewelme Watercress beds for the first time, but of course there was no sign of the Great White Egret seen yesterday - hardly surprising given the compact size of this site, and its proximity to some surprisingly busy local roads.

On my return, I stopped off very briefly at Lark Hill in Wantage and was pleased to find a couple of Wheatears hopping around on the mown gross that covers the underground reservoir. It is a shame it is surrounded by a tall chain link fence! 

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Faringdon Folly Park Pond: 5 & 6 August

This is a new site for me, which I decided to try this weekend, following Bill Haynes' stunning records of 60+ Small Red-eyed Damselflies, and various other Odonata, just a few days ago.

It is in a somewhat surprisingly urban location, very close to the new housing estates that have appeared recently in Faringdon. There is a small parking area at SU294948 from where is a short stroll to the pond which is used for fishing. There is a path that circumnavigates it, but the best spot for the SREs seems to be on the floating weed/moss off the nearest bank.

On Saturday morning, in a brief visit, abruptly curtailed by heavy rain, I found only 1 Small Red-eye but there were several other species around, including 2 late Emperors (one ovipositing) over the far side, Common Darters, inc a tandem pair also ovipositing, and Azure and Blue-tailed Damsels.

This afternoon there was no rain but conditions were far from ideal with only occasional sunny intervals. Nevertheless there were several SREs on view (perhaps 20+).  I spent some time trying for photos which were far from easy as they were some way out on the weed, and rarely presented themselves sideways on. Also there was one Brown Hawker, a few Blue-tailed Damsels and the odd Common Darter.

So with the sad demise of Shellingford Pit, it seems that this urban pond is now the premier site in the County for Small Red-eyes!

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

For all the latest news on dragonflies and damselflies in Oxfordshire, see the current sightings page on my website.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Pit 60: 15 July 2017

A dull morning at Pit 60, with a heavy shower of rain which failed to bring in any migrants apart perhaps from several Sand Martins hawking over the water.

Interest today was mainly limited to the 5 Oystercatchers present, that were being very vocal at times with much excited displaying taking place. It seems a bit late in the season for this! When I arrived at the LL hide, two were on the island just in front of the island and I managed to open the shutters cautiously without disturbing them. One briefly posed under the wooden "archway" before they both flew off:

Under the arch!

In flight - at a challenging speed for the 500f4 & x1.4TC!

In the middle of another display "run"

Just as I was about leave, one of the Common Terns, that had hitherto been right down the far end, suddenly alighted on one of the posts in front of the hide, which allowed this shot to be taken (from inside the hide!):

Common Tern - go to my website for a larger image

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Northern Scotland in June: Coast to coast

I've got a bit behind with my blog entries due to a couple of UK trips. So here is my entry covering the first of these in June.

With a business commitment in Aberdeen in June, some time in advance I decided to stay on for a few days afterwards, with the main aim of getting a better photo of the elusive Northern Emerald. So I booked a couple of nights in Gairloch well in advance. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't cooperative and any hopes of this rare dragonfly were extinguished by a forecast of low temperatures, rain and high winds - quite the opposite of what is needed!

So I modified my plans a little, and spent my first night in Speyside where the forecast was a little better. Arriving in the late afternoon after driving over from Aberdeen, I found the temperature to be about 17C and calm, but pretty overcast, so I decided to try the pool with boardwalk just to west of Loch Garten which is a known site for the very localised Northern Damselfly. I was fortunate to find a few in the vegetation near to the boardwalk with one in particular quite close, but low down.

Northern Damselfly - for a larger image, click here

Round the far side I found this female Emerald Damselfly:
Emerald Damselfly

It was then time to find my hotel - the Fairwinds in Carrbridge which was very small (only 4 bedrooms) but economical and a very pleasant, peaceful place to stay. It didn't serve dinner so I had to walk to the nearby pub, but the breakfast was excellent. The grounds had a nice pond, and a Red Squirrel coming to feeders, as were masses of Siskin. Crested Tit had also been seen here, but I couldn't find any. 

The following day the weather was poorer, with wind and cloud to start, but I spent as much time as possible in Speyside reckoning that it would be even poorer to the north west (which it was)!

Changing to birding mode, I tried the minor road along the southern shore of Lochindorb which can be good for photography from the car. Sure enough, despite the near gale force winds, I found several Red Grouse families, some with very small young, and a confiding group of Oystercatchers hunkered down at the waters edge.

Red Grouse

I then tried a small loch where I have previously found Slavonian Grebe and was again successful, but this time it came much closer than before. Shame about the light and wind, though!
Slavonian Grebe - for a larger image click here

While I was waiting for the grebe to appear, this Common Sand appeared:
Common Sandpiper

After this, I headed further south to a well known, accessible Osprey eyrie and found an adult and juv in residence but views were distant. 

With the weather improving later in the day, I again tried for some dragonflies at the Loch Garten pool - but it was very wind swept and no Northern Damsels were showing. All I could find was a few Four-spotted Chasers. I then tried the larger pool in the middle of Tulloch Moor, where in 2010 I had found many immature White-faced Darters in early June. This time, I found the road closed, and so had to walk in to find nothing except more Four-spotted Chasers.

Thereafter it was time to head over to Gairloch, where the weather was poor, as I had feared. The next day, the temperature was no higher than 11C, with gale force wind and some very heavy and prolonged showers. Nothing like dragonfly weather and even finding birds was difficult. It is however a great part of the world, with magnificent scenery. 

My birding highlights were few. Great Skua on a wet walk round the headland at Redpoint, and some Black Guillemots in the nearby bay were about it. Plus Red-breasted Mergansers in the bay at Poolewe, I suppose. I spent some time looking for divers in bays and fresh water lochs without any success, and didn't take a single shot with my Canon 7D mkII!

Panorama from Redpoint beach

The following day the weather was also similar, so I headed east as soon as possible. Tempted by a favourable forecast in Speyside I diverted from the direct Aberdeen route to try for dragonflies again. But when I arrived I found it to be about 12C and overcast, instead of the forecast 16C and sun! So I got straight back in the car, and decided to try the east coast first at Collieston. The small headland here is a pleasant spot, and again provided me with views of various seabirds, including Razorbill, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and best of all, an Arctic Skua harrying the terns. 

With my return to Aberdeen airport for the flight back to Heathrow looming, I tried the Ythan Estuary for breeding terns. I first parked in the main car park and walked through the dunes to the estuary mouth to find a very full tide, and very distant terns. So I quickly decided to back-track to the road bridge over the estuary, where the terns were coming very close in the strong wind. Unfortunately I only had about 15mins here, but with longer I could have probably got some good Arctic and Sandwich Tern shots. 

Arctic Tern. Click here to enlarge

Sunday, 9 July 2017

8 July: Shellingford Pit RIP

I visited Shellingford Pit for the first time in many months today. Given its declining water levels over recent years, and the lack of rain last winter and spring I was fearing conditions might be poor. However what I found was the worst possible - all the pools had completely dried out, so there was nothing left other than rapidly hardening baked mud:

A bone dry Shellingford Pit

This will have destroyed all the dragonflies and damselflies that used to inhabit what was a nice little site. It was the stronghold of Small-red eyed Damselflies in the county and was a great place to get close to a good collection of other species. In its heyday, it even had a Lesser Emperor once. Going back several years, when the water levels were much higher, it was also a good spot for birds with highlights including Ring-necked Duck, Jack Snipe, Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear.  Lapwing & Little Grebe bred here in some years.

No more I fear. It is not completely clear why this site has gradually dried out, but lack of recent rain and the pumping activities at the working quarry over the road are the most likely causes. 

Prospects for the future look bleak here...

Saturday, 17 June 2017

North East Poland - May Trip Report

I spent 5 nights in the famous birding region of north east Poland in May, with three in the Bialowieza forest area and two in the marshes of Biebrza. I didn't come across any widespread devastation in Bialowieza and managed to see my three target species (Collared Flycatcher, River Warbler and Thrush Nightingale), although views of all were frustratingly brief with limited photo opportunities.

In Biebrza, I found Aquatic Warbler at the renowned Dluga Luka boardwalk without any difficulty. My first visit in the late afternoon was successful - so no real need for my subsequent dusk and dawn returns.

A trip report is now available on my website, with full details of sites visited and illustrated with some of the photos I took.

Here is a brief taster! To see a gallery of my better trip images, click here.
Red-backed Shrike in Bialowieza 
White-winged Black Tern in Biebrza
Aquatic Warbler in Biebrza
Citrine Wagtail in Biebrza

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Upper Thames Valley: 10 June

I went on another walk along the Thames today mainly looking (unsuccessfully again!) for Clubtails - although I did get a glimpse of a dragonfly flying away at bush-top height that might conceivably have been one!

Despite the wind and not particularly overcast conditions there were some damsels and one Emperor to be seen, but nothing unusual.

Birds provided more interest with a pair of Curlew coming quite close to the path briefly.

Curlew - goto my website for larger images

On my return, I tried for a few rather closer pics using the 100-400 mk II lens with an extension tube, which seemed to work OK hand held, demonstrating what a versatile (and portable) lens it can be:

Banded Demoiselle (showing signs of wear)

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Otmoor 3 June 2017

I took a break from the Clubtail survey today after two unsuccessful trips to the upper Thames (Radcot/Tadpole Bridge) and decided it was high time for a visit to Otmoor. Arriving well after 09:00, I was surprised to find some the regulars had only just got there as well, and we all had a wander along the Roman Road in brilliant sunny conditions.

Very quickly someone spotted some elusive butterflies high up in the tops of the bushes on the west side of the track. They were really difficult to follow in flight and almost impossible to see when settled, as they were nearly always facing end-on or horizontal - presumably to make the most the sunlight. Eventually sufficiently clear views were obtained and it was decided these were Black Hairstreaks. These seem to be very early this year, as they are not normally on the wing until late June, according to my book. This was a new butterfly for me! There must have been more then the two that were the most seen at any one - at least 4 I would guess and maybe more. But no pics - they weren't showing any sign of coming lower while we were there.

Further on at the end of the Roman Road, at the corner with bridleway, there was a female Beautiful Demoiselle and then just a few yards along the bridleway, there was a male that posed quite well for photos. That was more like it!

Beautiful Demoiselle

I then switched into bird mode and tried for photos of the Turtle Dove. There was nothing doing at the cattle pens, but it was purring away well in the usual Oak Tree beyond. On my return, it was still there. At one point a Woodpigeon flew into the same tree whereupon the Turtle Dove started vigorously displaying at it! Seemed like a case of mistaken identify and a sign that this was an unpaired bird so far?

Turtle Dove

Out over Greenaways there were several Hobbies zooming around, and a Marsh Harrier. I couldn't however spot the large grey birds with long necks that were reputed to be there.

Along the bridleway, there was an impressive range of Odonata, including numerous Azure Damselflies, Large Red Damsels, 1 Blue-tailed Damsel, Red-eyed Damsels, Four-spotted Chaser and just one Hairy Dragonfly seen briefly in flight only.  On the path to the first screen, there was one teneral Ruddy Darter.

The first screen was quiet but there was a distant male Wigeon which seemed an unusual June find.

I didn't see anything very different on my return, by which time it was cloudier and possible more windy as well. There was however this striking, tiny bug at the eastern end of the bridleway that I reckon is probably a Red-and-black Froghopper. Anyone of a different opinion?!

Red-and-black Froghopper (probable)

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Tadpole Bridge to Radcot: 14 May

Following my successful start to the Clubtail count yesterday in their stronghold around Goring, today was an exploration into the Upper Thames where recent records have been much less frequent.

Starting at Tadpole Bridge, our aim was a one way walk to Radcot, which involved a two car manoeuvre. Things started amazingly well with this adult right by the track within c. 200m of the bridge!

Clubtailed Dragonfly just W of Tadpole Bridge

Unfortunately thereafter there was no further sign of emerged insects nor exuviae, despite plenty of scanning of any man made structures.

Notable birds along the way included at least 2 pairs of Curlew, CuckooGrey Wagtail at Rushey Lock, Sedge Warbler, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Goring 13 May

With the Black-winged Stilts having departed, it seemed time to start my participation in the BDS Clubtail count. I parked in the public car park in Goring and then walked down to the river and along to the railway bridge which is a famous Clubtail site.

As I went, I was looking for exuviae, as these are said to be easier to locate early in season than the adults. I was surprised to almost immediately find two - on the top of a low wooden post by the waters edge. Thereafter I found three more at two different locations before I reached the bridge itself. All were on man made structures - either wooden posts or walls that go down into the water.

They seemed to be easier to find than I had feared.

Clubtail exuvia

At Goring Railway bridge itself I found someone else on a similar quest! He had found six exuviae along the wall under the bridge.

So a successful start to the Clubtail count with records of exuviae from three different 1km squares - SU59080, SU5979 & SU6079.

If this inspires you to join in the count, I'm sure it isn't too late - just get in touch with the BDS organisers ASAP.

Even if you are not participating in the survey, if you find any Clubtails or their exuviae in Oxon, please let me know and I will add to my dedicated page on my website.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Farmoor - 6 May

Back in good old Oxon, so where better to go in early May than Farmoor where all sorts of waders and the Bonaparte's Gull had been reported during the week...

I arrived at gate opening time (08:00) and decided to head along the causeway looking for waders and other migrants. There were plenty of screaming Swifts overhead and one solitary Yellow Wagtail that immediately departed.Further on the only waders on show were two summer plumaged Dunlin, one of which was brighter than the other. Fortunately, my encounter with these confiding birds coincided with a very rare brighter spell

Dunlin - click here for a larger image.

Next up was the Pinkhill hide which was also quiet, apart from a Cuckoo calling in the bushes and trees along the river. It then gave a brief flight view as it moved elsewhere. Sedge and Reed Warblers were also singing away but I didn't see either.

With a tentative report of the Bonaparte's Gull, Black Tern and Turnstone along the southern shore of F2, I decided to head off in that direction. Walking by the river, I spotted a couple of Common Sandpipers, and a little further on by Shrike Meadow there was my first Whitethroat of the year.

Arriving in the vicinity of the southern end of F2, I found 2 flighty Turnstones, 1 Common Sand and a few disgruntled birders who reported no sign of the Gull nor the Black Tern. And so it was - no sign of either. It was also distinctly cool and unspring-like! Time to depart...

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Mid Wales 29 April - 1 May

We had a good bank holiday weekend in Wales despite a noisy hotel (Elan Hotel) and mediocre weather. The highlight was the excellent Gilfach Reserve which is run by the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust. We last visited here three years ago but our visit this time was somewhat different with only the Otter Hide providing much in the way of photo opportunities.

I spent some time here over three visits, with the early morning one being most productive for the Pied Flycatcher. The late afternoon produced the Dipper and Nuthatch, while an early afternoon session produced nothing at all!

A delightful Pied Flycatcher. Click here for a larger image
Dipper on the stream
Go to to my website for larger versions of all the above

The courtyard wasn't productive for photos, apart from this Common Pipistrelle bat that surprisingly appeared in the late afternoon, well before dusk and allowed itself to be photographed!

Common Pipistrelle

Friday, 14 April 2017

Lark Hill 14 April

One of at least 3 Wheatear this afternoon on the mown grass around (and on top of) the underground reservoir:

Goto my website for a larger image

Wheatear - taken though the tall chain link fence

Saturday, 8 April 2017

8 April: A quiet Farmoor & Rushy Common

Last week Farmoor seemed to turn some reasonable photo opportunities, judging by the Oxon Bird Log, so I thought it was time for a visit - my first in some time.

Arriving just after the 08:00 opening time, the causeway was shrouded in mist with almost zero visibility. However by the time I'd got half way across it had mostly lifted but didn't reveal much. A Common Tern flew past, and the light was absolutely superb for photography, but all I could find to point the lens at were Great Crested Grebes, none of which were particularly close-in. Disappointingly, there were no waders, wheatears, nor any wagtails (other than Pied) - probably due to the splendid sunny, settled weather!

Great-crested Grebe. 
Visit my website for a larger image.

Reaching the western bank and turning south, there was a Willow Warbler in the bushes at the top of the zig-zag path, and a Blackcap near the concrete path. Walking past Shrike Meadow, I was surprised to hear the unmistakable song of a Lesser Whitethroat. Even more surprising was that it was singing from an exposed, if distant perch, in the still fairly early morning sun. 
Lesser Whitethroat

Pinkhill had little of interest near to the hide but there were distant Cetti's and Sedge Warbler songs. Returning along the causeway there were five Red-crested Pochards (4m & 1f). That was about it! 

From the latest reports on the Oxon Bird Log, it seems I could well have walked past the Bonaparte's Gull!

As it was still only mid/late morning, I decided to head over to Rushy Common to see if the Avocets were still present. They weren't, but Tom Wickens kindly pointed out a lone Mediterranean Gull among the Black headeds. There were also two Egyptian Geese over the far side, and then flying around. Also, from the car park there were several Sand Martins over the new pit on the opposite side of the road when I arrived, but they didn't appear to stay long and were gone when I returned to the car.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

1st April

Looks like I guessed right - the Black-necked Grebe had gone from Farmoor this morning, and I went for these delightful birds instead. It is several years since I've seen one in Oxon - well before my camera days!

Firecrest in Oxon!
To see slightly larger images go to my website

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Texas Trip Report now ready!

It has taken me a considerable amount of time to sift through all the photos I took on a recent successful trip to Texas, but a trip report is now, at last, available on my website!

Highlights of this trip in late January and early February included Whooping Crane, Sandhill Crane, a large Snow Geese flock, Ross' Geese and much more besides. 
Whooping Crane with Blue Crab
Adult and juv Whooping Cranes  
Ross' Goose 
Snow Geese
Osprey with fish

For more pics and a full account of this trip, see my website.