Sunday 29 May 2016

Oxon dragonfly mini tour: 28 May

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Goring Railway Bridge
The forecast for today had been changing all week gradually for the better, so it seemed high time for a tour of some of the current Oxfordshire hot spots for dragonflies. With reports of two emerging Club-tails earlier in the week, the railway bridge at Goring seemed the obvious place to start. I reckoned there was no need for a particularly early start, so I arrived there around mid morning, having walked down the riverside path from Goring, seeing only the odd Banded Demoiselle and one Blue-tailed Damselfly en-route. At the bridge I found a surprising number of other Club-tail seekers, but no actual Club-tails, apart from one spent Exuvia that was pointed out to me.

I spent some time here during which time there was no hint of anything crawling up the wall. Wandering a little further along the path I came across a good spot for Banded Demoiselles, with at least twenty present.

Male Banded Demoiselle

Female Banded Demoiselle

Returning to the bridge, there still seemed no sign of anything and so I decided to cut my losses and head elsewhere. Club-tails can be very elusive. In several attempts to see this species at this site in the last ten years or so, I think I have only been successful about one time in three, although last year I was most fortunate to capture an emergence on camera.

Barton Fields, Abingdon
Given recent reports from Abingdon, the Barton Fields area was my next destination, where I arrived early afternoon. Parking in Barton Road, it was not far at all to the pool (SU512970) in the vicinity of which the Variable Damselflies were found last year. This year, the access seemed improved, and various paths down to the pool had been conveniently cut - seemingly just for dragonfly watchers although I was the only one present!

Almost immediately on arrival I had the first of several sightings of Hairy Dragonfly, flying low around the waters edge, without any realistic photo opps. Further on, towards the eastern end of the pool, I found the main reason for my visit - a Downy Emerald again flying around low over the water but pausing from time to time momentarily. I spent some time trying for flight shots but failed completely - it was just moving too fast for me. But then to my amazement it suddenly landed very close by. Unfortunately at the time I had my 400f5,6 lens on the camera with no extension tubes, so I had to retreat to 3.5m to get it in focus! Here I grabbed a few hand held shots before trying to get to the extension tubes, but in vain as it took off and showed no signs of returning. Still, this was a stroke of luck as emeralds are always difficult to photo, and Downies very rarely settle in view in my experience.

Downy Emerald (c) Stephen Burch
For a larger image click here

Other species at the pool itself included Azure, Common Blue and Red-eyed Damselflies, Banded Demoiselles and one Four-spotted Chaser. I didn't find any Variables, but I didn't spend too long looking for them.

At one point, a family of Swans swam past, I couldn't resist a quick shot of one of the cygnets that were in a particularly appealing phase of their development.

A cute Mute Swan cygnet

There was also some butterfly interest around the pool, with this Orange-tip briefly obliging:

Orange Tip

Shellingford Pit
Buoyed by the good conditions and the excellent range of species, I decided to then head south and west to check out my local patch site of Shellingford Pit. Last year the water levels at this site got very low by the end of the summer, with much of it dried out. This year looks like being another bad year in that respect, with levels already very low. By the time I arrived, there was a cool breeze and perhaps because of this, and/or the low water levels, I found very little activity. All I could find was a few Azure Damselflies along the sheltered bank on the eastern side of the pit. It remains to be seen how the season progresses here. Hopefully things will get going shortly.

Monday 16 May 2016

Venus Pool, Shropshire 14 May

A family weekend in Shropshire gave me the opportunity to visit a new site for me - Venus Pool near Shrewsbury. This turned out to be better than expected. Shortly after arrival, a helpful local showed me a sunning Grass Snake just outside the main hide.

Birdwise, although various scarcities from earlier in the week had moved on (Gargeney and Little Tern), I was still able to have some memorable moments with a pair of Little Ringed Plovers that displayed briefly very close to one of the hides.

Click here to enlarge this image
Click here to enlarge this image

Displaying Little Ringed Plover

After this "show", there was a rather more distant strange encounter between a super aggressive Moorhen that took on at least one Carrion Crow! It even seemed to have the upper hand at times, as shown below.

Moorhen attacking a Carrion Crow! 
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Thursday 12 May 2016

North East Greece Trip Report now available!

It has taken some time, but my report on my recent trip to north east Greece is now available on my website. This includes plenty of photos and a full account of my visit and the sites I visited. Many of the photos are available as larger images than any shown so far on this blog.

To see it click here.

                                                                          White Pelican

Sunday 8 May 2016

Little Whittenham 8 May: No oriole but first damselfly of the season!

Alerted by Badger's helpful text, we had a pleasant but fruitless walk this morning around Little Whittenham Wood and Clump. Not a hint of any Oriole, but there were a few Garden Warblers and plenty of Blackcaps.

Determined to find my first Odonata of the season in this mini heat wave, I returned down by the river but to no avail. However right back by the car, I found a single mature Large Red Damselfly behind the pond, which follows the teneral singleton reported last week from Otmoor by the Robys and David Hastings.

For all the latest Oxon damsel and dragon news, make sure you check this page regularly!

Large Red Damselfly

Saturday 7 May 2016

Farmoor & Pinkhill: 7 May

Having somewhat missed out on spring in Oxon so far, I decided that a fairly early start was called for and so arrived around 07:00. There was a Barn Owl in the fields to the south of F2, but it quickly disappeared well before I could get the lens on to it.

Walking north along the paths between the river and the reservoir, it was nice and peaceful although even at that hour a dog walker was about. Nearly all the expected warblers were singing away, with Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, Reed Warblers (Shrike Meadow and Pinkhill), Whitethroats, Lesser Whitehroats and Cetti's Warbler (Pinkhill). There were also 2 Oystercatchers along the river and a couple of Common Sands.

Sitting in the splendid new Pinkhill hide, Tom's walk appeared and we all heard a Gropper out in the middle and saw a Cuckoo flying across and back a few times. There were at least 2 present.

Click here for a larger image


Walking up onto the causeway it seemed very quiet. Although Tom had seen a distant Black Tern earlier there was no sign of it now. There were plenty of Common Terns around though and some were showing an interest in the large number of rafts that have suddenly appeared in the middle of F1. Waders were notably absent, apart from one Ringed Plover that flew past without stopping.

Returning along the river there was real avian drama with a Mute Swan taking exception to a Greylag on the far bank and was apparently trying to drown it, while the other adult goose and a brood of goslings disappeared quietly up  river! At one point the Greylag looked to have succumbed but it then seemed to wake up and struggle free before hiding in vegetation further up the bank. At this point the Mute Swan appeared to lose interest and swum off. I've no idea why the Swan was being so aggressive. 

Tuesday 3 May 2016

Lake Kerkini area April 2016 - other birds

The general area around Lake Kerkini has much to offer as well as pelicans, herons and the like. My prime target was Grey-headed Woodpecker that I managed to find on my first morning. This finally completed my set of all the European Woodpeckers. The ever colourful Bee Eaters and Hoopoe were also quite numerous but there seemed to be a remarkable dearth of warblers, shrikes and the like. Some other birders agreed with me on this, so it didn't seem to be just my lack of birding skills! Perhaps I was too early in the season.
Grey-headed Woodpecker - a difficult bird to see and photograph
Bee Eater not on a wire!
Bee Eater in flight
Hoopoe in the evening light
Great Reed Warbler in the early morning light - one of the few species of warbler making their presence known

Monday 2 May 2016

Mid Wales - Early May Bank Holiday

Just back from a good early May bank holiday weekend in the Abergavenny area of mid Wales, despite a fair amount of rain! This year I didn't get any real chance for bird photography, but despite the apparently quite late season (up in the hills the trees were hardly in bud let alone leaf) we did see most of the regions specialties during 3 walks.

On day one, our circular walk from Llanthony Priory took us up about 1000 ft onto the ridge above, along and back down. Birds included plenty of singing Tree Pipits, Willow Warblers and a brief snatch of Redstart song. There were also Ravens overhead and a pair of Stonechats in what seemed to be good Whinchat territory! Walking the exposed ridge we were hit by a brief hail storm but apart from that the weather was fine but with a biting northerly wind.

The view down onto Llanthony Priory where our walk started!

The following day we did a walk in varying amounts of rain above Talybont Reservoir. This again produced Tree Pipits and Willow Warblers galore, with the added bonus of brief view of a distant Redstart picked up from a brief burst of song. Clearly the conditions weren't conducive to prolonged singing! Later on that day we found a couple of Wheatears from the B4560 where is goes up over a moorland stretch (close to a handy Pizza van in the middle of nowhere!).  

Finally on the damp Bank Holiday Monday we did a surprisingly productive walk which included a rough path by the river Usk at Llangynidr. The river had several Goosanders, Grey Wagtails and a couple of  newly arrived excited Common Sandpipers, as well as one of  our main targets - Dipper from the road bridge. Overhead the damp conditions brought in our first Swifts of the year, along with hirundines. At one point I heard another very brief song in the rain which sounded very much like a Pied Flycatcher. A quick search showed I was right and we eventually had quite good views of it from below and in flight as it sallied out over the river and then back again a couple of times. 

For those that don't want to walk, the road bridge over the Usk a bit further upstream at Talybont on Usk produced an effort free view of a Dipper as there is a place to pause on the A40 side of the river, from where is was only about 50m to the centre of the bridge! 

Mid Wales at this time of year can be magical but with the cool April and the early bank holiday this year, perhaps we missed at its best. Also the weather didn't help and may have contributed to us missing out on Whinchat and Wood Warbler (although the latter can be a bit hit & miss in the Abergavenny area in our experience).