Tuesday, 25 August 2009

You can't always get what you want

So said the Rolling Stones and for birdwatching it is certainly true. This summer I have been teased by Kingfishers. I had the pleasure of seeing three or four on my canoe trip down the Thames and was even able to get a picture with my old Fuji digital. I have also seen one at Barwick Ford as I passed through in the car. I know the river supports a population so I have set myself the challenge of getting a pleasing image of one of my local kingfishers.

My plan was to use a trick I'd seen on Springwatch a while back, namely to craft a suitable stick from a branch and extend it horizontally out from the bank as a perch over the water. I fashioned a suitable hazel branch, dressed myself in full camo gear and sought out an appropriate spot on the riverbank down towards the ford.

Two attempts and four hours of stake-out time have so far proved fruitless on the kingfisher front, but the visits have been rewarding in themselves for 'just being in nature' and observing a small area for a long time. My pole was visited by a ladybird, a comma butterfly basked on the leaves of ripening blackberry and a fledgling moorhen took an hour to pass along a 20 metre stretch of rivers edge, negotiating tunnels of branches, sedges and overhanging brambles, teasing it's ever calling and remarkably patient parent with its 'three steps forward, two back' progress. Chaffinches and Tits passed through the trees and most dramatically against the clearest of blue skies, a buzzard passed overhead announcing its arrival with its evocative raptor call. It came back again, harried by a nagging crow a few minutes later, its late afternoon circuit curtailed by the attention.

These are resident birds to the area who first came to our attention two or three years ago. They are regular visitors above the village and we have seen five together this summer, suggesting the successful fledging of three young. It warms the heart to know the local ecosystem, under the good stewardship of our local farmers, can support the majesty of these birds. I have waited a long time to capture half decent shots of these wonderful birds and the pursuit of a kingfisher gave the opportunity.

....But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need

I think I did.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A visit to RSPB Fowlmere

A few days into my recent two week holiday I decided to make a late afternoon visit to RSPB Fowlmere. The weather was not promising. Rain threatened and the sky was heavy with cloud but that aside the reserve was as beautiful as ever. Crouching in the farmland in South Cambridgeshire, RSPB Fowlmere is a reedbed oasis surrounding a natural chalk spring that feeds a stream that meanders through the west of the site and the reedbeds that surround it. Trees encircle all and produce a feeling of seclusion from the the more managed country landscape of the area.

Unless you are very good at spotting small birds in leaf filled trees or reedbeds, inland bird spotting can be a challenge in the summer so I didn't anticipate a long list of sightings on the visit, though I was hoping to see a rather special raptor which for me is the star of the place. I followed the boarded path through the wooded area out to the reedbeds. On sunny days there would be the prospect of seeing dragon and damselflies as the path reached the reeds, but I received no such treat today. I kept eyes peeled as I headed first to the Spring Hide where I settled myself for a few minutes to watch a Water Rail and Moorhen explore the pond edges and then on to the Reedbed Hide with its lofty position giving the most expansive view of the site.

Crows picked their way through the cut reed stand to the right, later joined by a Grey Heron that fished the shallows close by. A flight of Swallows passed through and stayed for a while, wheeling above the water and dipping down to take insects or a drink from the pond's surface.
These, and a Wood Pigeon were my only confirmed sightings save for one, that put in an appearance later on as I returned back along the walkway. Powerfully circling above the reeds a Marsh Harrier thrilled me with its controlled flight, moving high then swooping low around the outcrops of trees and bushes in the reeds.

I returned to the car park before the rain really came down, happy that I'd seen the Marsh Harrier and hopeful of seeing Kingfishers and a bit better at identifying small brown birds on my next visit!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

The Return of the Treecreeper

I say return, but I know they have been here all the time. That said I have now seen just four Treecreepers in 10 years in Barwick and two of those were yesterday. I saw my first not long after we moved here as it moved up the Ash tree at the back of the garden and my second sighting was at the back of the Badger's Eye Plantation, moving through the trees.
Yesterday's encounter took place in front of our noses as we sat in the shade at the top of the garden. It was late in the afternoon and the Ash tree was alive with birds, mostly Blue, Great and Long-tailed Tits in what I assume was a mixed feeding flock that was working down the ribbon of trees of our little valley. Earlier in the day we had seen the Nuthatch on our nuts, itself a noteworthy appearance and now it appeared on the lower branches of the Ash, hazelnut in its beak. It flew to the trunk of the tree, possibly to work on its nut, and in landing disturbed what until now had been the invisible form of a Treecreeper Certhia familiaris.

We only saw it because it moved. In the brief flapping and tweeting that followed the Nuthatch lost it's nut and the now distinguishable Treecreeper could be followed as it moved up the trunk of the tree. Shortly afterwards another, (it's pair?) was spotted as they moved to mid-height in the tree, before the two birds moved off to disappear again into the surrounding trees.

Now, whenever we visit the ferrets at the top of the garden or get something from the sheds, we will always take a good look at the trunk of our Ash tree, to see if the Treecreepers are there. Years is too long to wait before seeing these beautiful birds again.

My personal 'rear of the year' and possibly a good birder quiz pic!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

The Badger's Eye Guide to the Butterflies & Moths of Barwick, Herts v1.1

Updated 24th August 2009 to include;
Hummingbird Hawkmoth

As this blog is part diary, part Natural History notebook this entry is a baseline of butterflies and moths spotted and photographed in and around Barwick so I can refer back and add to it in the future.

I've found two web resources particularly useful in identifying species;


Gatekeeper or Hedge Brown (male) - Pyronia tithonus

Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria

Red Admiral - Vanessa atalanta

Comma - Polygonia c-album

European Peacock - Nymphalis io

Painted Lady - Vanessa cardui

Small Tortoiseshell - Aglais urticae


Hummingbird Hawkmoth - Macroglossum stellatarum

Small Magpie - Eurrhypara hortulata

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Anyone know a Coleopterist? - the puzzle solved

Update on my earlier post 'Anyone know a Coleopterist'. I saw the beetle in the garden again today and armed with the knowledge of spines on the tibiae as the key identifier I was able to identify it definitively as a Lesser Stag Beetle Dorcus parallelopipedus - it only had one spine!

Monday, 10 August 2009

Insects on the Echinops

The sun was out on Wednesday last and the Echinops thistle attracted numerous hoverflies, bees and other insects throughout the afternoon.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Badger's Eye Sunset

I recently bought a camouflage hood and gloves to aid my wildlife watching and a warm sunny evening last Wednesday provided the first opportunity to test out their invisibility properties. Checking the wind direction I decided my first stop would be the badger's sett so I hooded up and entered the wood, crept close to the sett and settled down to wait.
I'd set up my camera and checked exposures and tried to tune in with the wood and observe any changes. Sad to say the first thing I saw was the decayed corpse of a badger a few yards away, which gave me quite a jolt and sent my mind racing through possibilities as to what had caused the death of the badger so close to home - poisoning, disease, a large animal attack (well the adrenalin was running a little from the surprise!) - and could it be the body of the youngster that I had photographed and published in my very first blog? The body was too decayed to surmise anything with my experience so the question remains unanswered.

As I pondered I was distracted by a more positive image. Two badgers had emerged and were digging in the sandy dirt a few yards away towards the edge of the wood. Fully camouflaged and down wind I found I was able to stalk surprisingly close to them and get some shots, though the light was extremely difficult. They were completely oblivious to my presence and continued to dig the sand clear of the hole they were developing. Occasionally they met and sniffed each other before moving on to their next task. After a few minutes they moved off into the brush so I decided to sneak away and head up through the wood to the top to see if the family of hares were around. I spooked an adult hare towards the top then emerged from the darkness of the trees to the golden light of the setting sun out to the west. The wheat crop had been cut to stubble earlier in the week and I settled myself in the tree line with a panoramic view of the field and the setting sun behind.
To the left, gambling in the hazy light, a group of hares congregated, nine in number, playfully jumping and feeding between the stubble. This must have been several families and clearly the spring and summer had been successful for them. Quite close in the grass to my right a Roesels's Bush Cricket began its song as a few crows and pigeons dropped down to pick spilled grain from the harvest in the last of the day. I relaxed in the landscape, shooting pictures of the sun sinking through broken cloud on the horizon, turning their edges to dazzling golden leaf. A few minutes later another player entered the scene at great pace. A solitary badger bounded across the field, perhaps un-nerved by the lack of cover in the field than he was used to and disappeared in the set aside long grass that surrounded the field, out to maraud through the night.

As the sun finished its dissolution into the horizon I headed east to round the plantation towards the growing corn crop, now standing at four feet and starting to flower. From the horizon tree line above the River Rib a copper moon began to rise into the sky. Streaks of blue-purple-grey cloud contrasted across the fully emerging disk, the great craters casting minute shadows across the surface. Descending further the last rays of the day illuminated the procession of small mouton clouds. I dipped through the hedge, across the ditch and went in for dinner.