Monday 29 August 2016

Baulking & Shellingford: 29 August

With the glorious bank holiday weather this afternoon, it was time to switch back into dragonfly mode especially as the season is coming to a close. I was also keen to try out my new 100-400 zoom lens on dragonflies for the first time, after it had worked rather well for the Little Stints last weekend.

First of all, I headed to Baulking Pit to see what that had to offer - not somewhere I have tried much before for Odonata. This was notable for the the unusual sight of a couple of Spitfires performing a flying display for the White Horse Show in nearby Uffington! Less welcome was a proliferation of notices telling people to keep out and stick to the public footpaths only.

Around the pit, there was quite an impressive collection of late season dragonflies to be seen, with masses of Common Blue Damsels, one late Black-tailed Skimmer and 20+ of both Migrant Hawkers and Common Darters. Unfortunately, there didn't seem to be much scope for photos here.

Nearby Shellingford Pit was again desperately in need of more water - I just hope the best pool, which is very shallow, doesn't dry out completely before the autumn rains arrive. Despite the low water levels, there were still a few Small Red-eyed Damsels around, plus several Migrant Hawkers and Common Darter. The great thing about this site is that it can be really good for photography, and today was no exception, so there were several opportunities to try out the new 100-400 lens, as I had hoped. Unusually for this site, unfortunately the Migrant Hawkers were not obliging for flight shots.

Migrant Hawker - the upper image is a crop of the lower one.

Common Darter

Sunday 28 August 2016

Standlake Pit 60: 27 August

Enthused by Jim Hutchin's excellent Greenshank close up on the Oxon Bird Log earlier in the week, I decided to give Pit 60 a try although it was a close call over the alternative of Otmoor where the Purple Heron was still clearly around. In the event, I think I made the wrong decision as the Purple Heron was reported at 11:40 - when I would have been there!

Anyhow, when I arrived at the Langley Lane Hide shortly after 08:00 it was empty and there was a distinct lack of avian interest. However after a bit, a Greenshank duly appeared feeding along the edge. Photos were difficult as it never stopped moving and it kept getting obscured by the vegetation that is growing up in front of the hide, as it seemed to favour the short vegetation instead of the waters edge. Over the course of the morning, it (or another bird) reappeared at intervals, and once very briefly two were present together, but they never stopped their perpetual motion feeding action.

Greenshank - note small prey item between its open bill.
For a larger image, click here.

Other birds included a few Common Terns, a Green Sandpiper that did not oblige, and a glimpse of a fly past Kingfisher. At some point Jim appeared with his monster new lens! Other fly pasts included Grey Heron and Little Egret

As the light deteriorated towards the end of the morning, I left the hide only to be hit by a heavy shower on the way back to the car - but nothing like the atrocious conditions later on in the afternoon!

From the photographer's point of view, with Pit 60, there is always the chance of something coming quite close. Downsides include the limited species variety and the elevated aspect of the hide.

Fly past Grey Heron
For a larger image, click here.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Farmoor: 20 August

Today's forecast wasn't too good, but it still seemed worthwhile giving Farmoor a go this morning, in the expectation that the two Little Stints would still be around. Arriving a little later than originally planned, Mark and Peter helpfully pointed them out to me as I had managed to walk straight past them!

I then found I had forgotten a vital piece of equipment - the tripod & head, but I tried a few shots anyway and quickly concluded it was worth going back to the car to get it, along with my brand new "toy" - a Canon EF 100-400 USM II lens, which is my first ever serious zoom lens.

It proved to be ideal for the Stints that were amazingly tame at times, coming well inside the 3.5m close focus distance of my 400mm DO lens. At their closest approach, 400mm was far too much, so the ability to zoom out was also vital (generally unheard of in my experiences of bird photography!).

There were also apparently a couple of Whinchat on the wires on the west side of F2, but I didn't go that far. I did however notice a few Swifts in among the hirundines - it can't be long before they depart.  

Click here for a (much) larger image

 Little Stint

Saturday 13 August 2016

Pit 60: 13 August - no GW Egret!

I spent around 3 hours in the Langley Lane Hide this morning hoping for the Great White Egret to show, as it had been last reported as recently as Wednesday. It didn't!

However, there was a reasonable collection of other things to see during the wait. The highlight was probably a Hobby that flew over the hide and caused a juvenile Starling to panic so much it flew into the hide through the observation slit I had open! Fortunately it quickly found its way out again.

Waders included 3 Oystercatchers, 1 Green Sandpiper and several Lapwings. The Common Terns were still around and their occasional close-ish approaches to the hide probably kept me here longer than I would have otherwise. Unfortunately, apart from the odd Little Egret that was about it... Perhaps I should have tried Otmoor for the Purple Heron but, as that is being seen so infrequently, the chances of me connecting with it are virtually zero.

When it warmed up later, I saw Common Darter and Brown Hawker along the lane.

Common Tern

Sunday 7 August 2016

Grand? Oxon tour: 6 August

With the splendid weather today, it seemed worth visiting various sites in the county for both birds and dragonflies.

Attracted by the superb recent photos on the Oxon Bird Log of juv Cuckoo, I thought it would be worth starting here. Unfortunately (as so often happens to me on Otmoor), there was no sign of my target, although others including Mark Chivers had reportedly had distant glimpses of one along the bridleway much earlier. One had also been heard near to the first screen but I found nothing there as well. The first screen also seemed quiet with only a few distant Mandarins, so I didn't stay very long.

At least as I returned the dragonflies had started to get going, with several Brown Hawkers, one glimpse of a probably Southern Hawker and both Common & Ruddy Darters. Along the Roman Road there were some serious Brown Hairstreak seekers and one brief view of their target in flight. However I left them to it, having previous photos of this charismatic butterfly.

Tar Lakes
This site is developed and managed by the excellent Lower Windrush Valley Project, like the adjacent Rushey Common and also nearby Pit 60. The car parking is at Rushey Common. Unlike these other reserves, the general public has free access to Tar Lakes which is of course a boon for dragonfly watchers but there is the inevitable downside of disturbance from dog walkers and their charges.

It is a site that looks good for Small red-eyed Damselfly on the floating vegetation around the edge of the first lake. However as last year, all I could find were a few Red-eyes at the entrance end and none further on. There were also several Emperors around both at the near and far ends, including 2 ovipositing females that gave me my first photo opp of the day! Other species included 100+ Common Blue Damsels, 1 Blue-tailed Damsels, 1 Banded Demoiselle, 1 Brown Hawker and a few Common Darters. Not a bad collection. although none of these species were particularly notable.

The far lake is newer and had very little of interest around it, apart from a shallow pool at the north eastern corner of the site that had a further Emperor or two and a few damsels. Access is difficult here though.

Ovipositing Emperor

Pit 60
As I was driving back, I made a spot decision to try Pit 60 for the Great White Egret. Arriving at the Langley Lane Hide, initially there was no sign but after a bit I spotted it right down the far end, appearing and disappearing into the reeds. No point in any photos from that range! Apart from a few Little Egrets, Common Terns and a flock of Lapwing that was about it. I saw no dragonflies worth noting here either.

Shellingford Pit
My last site visited today was Shellingford Pit - my favourite local patch site for dragonflies. Unfortunately the water levels here are once again dreadfully low with only two small pools left. As a result this site is a shadow of its former self and may well shortly dry up completely which would presumably be catastrophic for the dwindling Odonata population that continues to hang on. That would be a great shame but it is unclear why the water levels have gone down so much in recent years. Possibly it is due to the active quarry over the road digging ever deeper and presumably pumping out water to avoid flooding. From discussion last year, it seems that the OCC, that own the Pit are powerless to do anything about this.

Given its decline, it was good to find a few Small Red-eyed Damselflies out on the floating vegetation. However most were well out from the bank which made for difficult photography. This site is one of very few in the county for this species. I have now seen them every year since 2006 here but it remains to be seen for how much longer they can hold on.

Remarkably, there were also 3 Green Sandpipers here as well, but as ever they were very wary

Small Red-eyed Damselfly

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Wat Tyler CP, Essex: 30 & 31 July 2016

As most keen Odonata hunters will know, Wat Tyler CP is the place for the very rare (in the UK) Southern Migrant Hawkers which are generally seen in a very narrow 2-3 week time window running from the 3rd week in July until early August. Last year we visited in mid August and were too late for anything other than an unusual female that had taken on some of the male's blue colouration.

This year I was keen not to miss out, and following news that they were again being seen, this weekend seemed the best time to go. However, with a marginal forecast it seemed touch & go as to whether it would be worthwhile or not. In the event, quite late on Saturday morning we decided to give it a try and set off on the relatively long trek via M4 & M25. Arriving at around 13:15 we parked in the marina car park, as last year, and headed round the back of the adjacent pond to the concrete ramp. Here we were told we had just missed a most obliging male by no more than 10mins! But surely it would re-appear shortly they said. However the brief slightly brighter spell came to an abrupt end and by around 15:00 there had been no further sign. With the weather not looking good, we decided to head off to the nearby RSPB West Canvey Island Marshes reserve where c. 12 had been seen earlier in the week. Of course we saw none!

Returning to Wat Tyler, it was the same story - overcast conditions and not a hint of any rare blue hawkers. At around 17:30 it was getting cooler by the minute and it was clearly a waste of time staying any longer. So we headed off to our pre-booked room at a rather grotty and very warm Premier Inn in Basildon - right by a major dual carriageway. These places are not designed for summer temperatures it seems with almost no ventilation and no A/C.

Fortunately, it was a completely different story the next morning when we were amazed to see blue skies - much better than forecast, unlike the previous day that had been worse than forecast. Arriving back at the ramp mid morning, it was great to find immediately a settled male being photographed from all angles by an appreciative small crowd. Thereafter there were regular sightings all morning, of up to 2 males and 1 female. According to others they were settling more often than last year but flight shots were more difficult as they seldom hovered for more than a second or two at a time.

For a larger version of this image, click here 

Southern Migrant Hawkers