Natural History Diary : May 2019
Thursday 30th May
Today I saw some Small Whites at the allotment, and a Holly Blue in the garden.
Monday 27th May
I visited Lardon Chase this morning. Conditions were not great for butterflies, as there was a lot of cloud and a cool wind. However I saw Small Heath, Common Blue, Brown Argus, Small Blue, Adonis Blue and Brimstone. The male Adonis were starting to look a bit worn. I found a huge queen Hornet as well. Birds were mostly heard rather than seen: Blackcap, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat.
Common Blue ♀, Lardon Chase, 27-May
Adonis Blue ♂, Lardon Chase, 27-May
Hornet, Lardon Chase, 27-May
Common Blue ♀ | Lardon Chase Adonis Blue ♂ | Lardon Chase Hornet | Lardon Chase
Friday 24th May
The first stop today was at Loch Morlich, where a male Goosander was seen. We continued to the Cairngorm base station, where I saw two Ring Ouzels and a Willow Warbler. While some of the group went up the mountain, the rest of us went to Avielochan, where a pair of Slavonian Grebes were in residence, but we couldn't find them. There were at least three Goldeneye and a Little Grebe on the loch.
We returned to the private estate at Inverlaidnan for another attempt at Capercaillie. This was no more successful than before, but we did see a pair of Tree Pipits by the phone mast, and a Redstart and a Spotted Flycatcher in a clearing in the forest. There were some butterflies here: several Green-veined Whites and at least a dozen Green Hairstreaks.
Lunch was taken in Strathdearn (valley of the river Findhorn). A distant Rough-legged Buzzard was spotted here, and there were Redshank, Curlew and Oystercatcher near the river. We continued along the valley to Daltomach, and were about to return when two White-tailed Eagles were spotted on the hillside. They were too far away for photos, though. On the way back the only Red Squirrel of the trip was spotted.
Finally, we stopped at Aviemore and visited Craigellachie NNR. Here we found two Wood Warblers and a Pied Flycatcher. Two Ospreys flew quite low over us, which produced the best photo of the week.
Ring Ouzel ♂, Cairngorm, 24-May
Ring Ouzel ♀, Cairngorm, 24-May
Osprey, Craigellachie NNR, 24-May
Ring Ouzel ♂ | Cairngorm Ring Ouzel ♀ | Cairngorm Osprey | Craigellachie NNR
Thursday 23rd May
Today we headed for the east coast. The first stop was near Tipperty, where an Iberian Chiffchaff had taken up residence in a stand of young pine trees. Although we could hear the bird calling, it was very elusive, and kept slipping away through the trees. After a while we gave up trying to see it, and headed to the estuary of the River Ythan at Waulkmill. There was a hide here, which gave some shelter from the cold wind. As the tide was out birds were spread out over the mudflats. On getting out of the minibuses a small flock of Common Cranes were spotted; they landed in a nearby field. Other birds seen here included Shelduck, Curlew, Whimbrel, Bar-headed Goose, Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose.
The next stop was further down the Ythan near Newburgh. There were lots of Eider, Black-headed Gulls, Arctic Terns and Sandwich Terns about. A Peregrine appeared overhead and put everything up. There were some Sand Martins, half-a-dozen Bar-tailed Godwits and a Little Tern here as well (but there was no sign of the King Eider). A couple of Yellowhammers were seen in the gorse. Some Grey Seals were hauled out on the beach.
After lunch we drove onto Collieston. A Tawny Owl was spotted sitting in a tree near the road, but it didn't like the minibus stopping too close and flew off into the wood. At Collieston we tried to find a reported Bluethroat, but there was no sign of it. As we were running out of time, we had to abandon the last planned stop and instead return to Nethybridge.
Shelduck, Waulkmill, 23-May
Eider ♂, Ythan Estuary, 23-May
Eider ♀, Ythan Estuary, 23-May
Shelduck | Waulkmill Eider ♂ | Ythan Estuary Eider ♀ | Ythan Estuary
Wednesday 22nd May
After three days of reasonable weather, it was raining this morning. After breakfast we went into the Abernethy Forest, but Crested Tit proved elusive. We than had a walk in the forest at Loch Mallochie, where we found Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Siskin and Tree Pipit. The next stop was a private estate at Inverlaidnan, where we drove along forest trails for over an hour, looking for Capercaillie. Not surprisingly, we failed to find any. In the afternoon we went to Lochindorb, where I saw my first ever Red Grouse. We found a pair of Black-throated Divers in the loch, but they were hard to see in the choppy water. At Dava we saw an Osprey carrying a huge trout. It had great difficulty trying to manoeuvre this heavy load into the wind. Finally, we stopped at the Old Spey Bridge at Grantown-on-Spey. The highlight here was a pair of Dippers feeding at least four juveniles. It was amazing to watch the adults diving into the fast-flowing water to get food. I also saw a Grey Wagtail, a couple of Swifts and an Osprey here.
Red Grouse, Lochindorb, 22-May
Osprey, Dava, 22-May
Dipper (juv), Grantown-on-Spey, 22-May
Red Grouse | Lochindorb Osprey | Dava Dipper (juv) | Grantown-on-Spey
Tuesday 21st May
It was back to the mainland today, so we took the ferry from Lochmaddy to Uig. I saw a Kittiwake over the Little Minch, and there were quite a few Gannets and auks. We stopped at Broadford on Skye, where we saw two Rock Pipits and two Siskin, a Common Sandpiper and a Greenshank. We then took the very steep and twisty road to Applecross, stopping at the viewpoint. We had a fruitless search for Ptarmigan here, but one of the guides turned up a Four-spotted Chaser. A remarkable find at 700m ASL!
We returned to Lochcarron, where I saw my first Goldfinch of the week. Then it was back to Nethybridge via a petrol station at Tore, where three Red Kites were seen.
Gannet, Little Minch, 21-May
Rock Pipit, Broadford, 21-May
Gannet | Little Minch Rock Pipit ♀ | Broadford  
Monday 20th May
I had a walk before breakfast. There wasn't anything of note by the coast, but in a patch of vegetation near the hotel I found two juvenile Stonechats, a Linnet and a Sedge Warbler. I also saw a Song Thrush. After breakfast we drove onto South Uist. From Carnan Road we saw a Knot, four Red-breasted Merganser and two Wigeon. We continued to a reed bed at Balgarva, where a Bearded Reedling had been seen, but we couldn't find it. There was a Reed Bunting, and a Litle Egret (an uncommon bird in the Hebrides). At the coast at Ardivachar the tide was going out, which had exposed a lot of seaweed. This had attracted a lot of birds: Common Gull, Herring Gull, Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Raven. An Arctic Skua made a couple of passes, flushing the smaller birds. Two Little Terns were seen here.
On the way to the museum at Kildonan a male Hen Harrier was seen. I saw a couple of Green-veined Whites and a Red Admiral at the museum. After lunch we looked for a Garganey at Loch Bee, but it couldn't be found. We did see a couple of Common Sandpipers here, also Teal, Wigeon and Shoveler.
Next, it was back to North Uist and the moorland west of Marrival (230m ASL). Here we had some good views of a hunting Hen Harrier. A White-tailed Eagle and a Kestrel were seen here. A bit further down the road we saw two Cuckoos. Finally we stopped at the coast at Grenitote. A flock of ten Ringed Plovers came in for a drink and a bath in a freshwater stream. A Redshank was busy on the mud flats. From there it was back to the hotel.
Sedge Warbler (juv), Benbecula, 20-May
Stonechat, Benbecula, 20-May
Oystercatcher, South Uist, 19-May
Sedge Warbler | Benbecula Stonechat (juv) | Benbecula Oystercatcher | South Uist
Ringed Plover, South Uist, 20-May
Arctic Skua, South Uist, 20-May
Common Gull, South Uist, 19-May
Ringed Plover | South Uist Arctic Skua | South Uist Common Gull | South Uist
Sunday 19th May
Today was the first day of a week-long birding trip to Scotland with Heatherlea. After a long journey up to Nethy Bridge yesterday, it was a 4.30am start this morning to get the ferry from Skye to North Uist. We stopped at Achnasheen en route where a Redwing was singing, and a Cuckoo was seen.
We crossed the Skye bridge and continued to Uig. While waiting to board the ferry I saw a couple of Sedge Warblers, two Cuckoos and a Hooded Crow.
From the ferry a range of seabirds was seen in the Little Minch: Gannet, Fulmar, Great Skua, Arctic Skua, Razorbill, Guillemot, Black Guillemot, Puffin, Shag, Great Black-backed Gull, Common Tern and Red-throated Diver.
Near the harbour at Lochmaddy we saw two Ravens, four Eider Ducks, a distant Golden Eagle and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers. We continued to the RSPB reserve at Balranald, where a Corncrake was calling from a patch of vegetation next to the road. We then had a couple more near the visitor centre, which gave some good views. Some Green-veined Whites were seen here. We then headed further west to Àird an Rùnair where there were lots of Ringed Plover and Dunlin, but the main attraction was a pair of Dotterel.
We drove south to Benbecula, and stopped at Loch Fada where we had good views of a female and two male Red-necked Phalaropes. From there it was a short trip to the hotel at Liniclate.
Corncrake, North Uist, 19-May
Dotterel, North Uist, 19-May
Red-necked Phalarope, Benbecula, 19-May
Corncrake | North Uist Dotterel | North Uist Red-necked Phalarope ♀ | Benbecula
Thursday 16th May
I returned to field east of Barton Fields in Abingdon this afternoon, looking for a reported family of Stonechat, but there was no sign of them. As it was mostly cloudy there were few butterflies about (just two Peacocks and a Small Copper), but there were some Banded Demoiselles, and quite a few Azure and Common Blue Damselflies. I also found what I think is a Variable Damselfly (dark form of the female). I found a female Muslin Moth and a Drinker larva. I saw a Blackcap, and there were two Common Terns over the river. I heard Chiffchaff, Cetti's Warbler and Cuckoo.
Muslin Moth ♀, Abingdon, 16-May
Small Copper, Abingdon, 16-May
Variable Damselfly ♀, Abingdon, 16-May
Muslin Moth ♀ | Abingdon Small Copper | Abingdon Variable Damselfly ♀ | Abingdon
Wednesday 15th May
Just one Peacock and one Holly Blue at the allotment this morning. The first juvenile Starling of the year appeared in the garden, and there were several visitations by a Holly Blue.
Tuesday 14th May
I had a trip out to Pewsey Downs NNR in Wiltshire today. With a mostly clear blue sky and an agreeable temperature it was almost the perfect day for some butterflying, but the rather brisk easterly wind was a bit annoying. I started out by walking up Knap Hill. There wasn't a great deal to see initially, just some Skylarks. Because of the wind I went straight up to the top, where some gorse bushes provided shelter from the wind. I found some Wall Browns almost immediately. As usual they were quite flighty, not staying settled for long before rising up to battle other males. I counted about eighteen individuals, but there were probably more. I also saw a Green Hairstreak, a Small Copper and a Yellowhammer.
I walked round the west side of Knap Hill, to keep out of the wind. But it wasn't until I got to the south side that I started to see Marsh Fritillaries. Because of the wind they were either down in the grass basking, or fluttering low over the vegetation. I saw about thirty, of which three were females. There were some more Green Hairstreaks here as well.
After lunch I headed the other way towards Walkers Hill. Once I'd got out of the wind Marsh Fritillaries started appearing, and I saw about fifty. Again, most were males. I saw my first Common Blue and Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet of the year. As I descended the valley there were lots of butterflies engaged in aerial battles with their own and different species: Small Heath, Brown Argus, Dingy Skippers, Grizzled Skippers, Common Blues and Marsh Fritillaries. While not fighting they were either feeding or basking. In total I'd seen at least 150 butterflies from 12 species, which is pretty good for mid-May.
Wall Brown ♂, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Marsh Fritillary ♂, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Wall Brown ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Marsh Fritillary ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet | Pewsey Downs NNR
Common Blue ♂, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Dingy Skipper ♂, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Grizzled Skipper ♂, Pewsey Downs NNR, 14-May
Common Blue ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Dingy Skipper ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR Grizzled Skipper ♂ | Pewsey Downs NNR
Monday 13th May
I went to Farmoor this afternoon, mainly to look for dragonflies. The reservoirs resembled their summer state, with just the usual residents present. There were three Common Terns out in the middle of F2. On the way to Pinkhill I saw the first of eight Orange-tips. Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Reed Warbler and Sedge Warbler were singing. Round the back of Pinkhill, where it was more sheltered, I started seeing Banded Demoiselles, and Large Red, Common Blue and Azure Damselflies. Near Shrike Meadow I saw two Whitethroat. There were some Brimstones and Peacocks about too.
Banded Demoiselle ♂, Farmoor, 13-May
Large Red Damselfly ♂, Farmoor, 13-May
Azure Damselfly ♀, Farmoor, 13-May
Banded Demoiselle ♂ | Farmoor Large Red Damselfly ♂ | Farmoor Azure Damselfly ♀ | Farmoor
Sunday 12th May
I went over to Ivinghoe Beacon to join the Upper Thames Branch field meeting today. The weather was fine and the car park was full. We set off and I found a Duke of Burgundy quite quickly. A couple of Willow Warblers were singing, but I didn't see either of them. I then found what is probably a Sawfly, but I haven't identified it yet. A few Green Hairstreaks were found in various hawthorn bushes as we went down the slope. On the north-facing slope we found more Dukes, Grizzled Skippers, Dingy Skippers and Brown Argus. A Yellowhammer and a Whitethroat were singing.
I then drove down to Pitstone and parked by the church. I spotted a Small Blue as soon as I got into the pit, and I saw about twenty in an hour. The most numerous species was the Dingy Skipper, with at least thirty seen. I also saw a dozen Green Hairstreaks, three Grizzled Skippers, four Small Heath and several teneral Common Blue Damselflies.
Sawfly sp., Ivinghoe Beacon, 12-May
Duke of Burgundy ♂, Ivinghoe Beacon, 12-May
Dingy Skipper ♂, Ivinghoe Beacon, 12-May
Sawfly sp. | Ivinghoe Beacon Duke of Burgundy ♂ | Ivinghoe Beacon Dingy Skipper ♂ | Ivinghoe Beacon
Brown Argus ♂, Ivinghoe Beacon, 12-May
Small Blue ♂, Pitstone Chalk Pit, 12-May
Small Heath, Pitstone Chalk Pit, 12-May
Brown Argus ♂ | Ivinghoe Beacon Small Blue ♂ | Pitstone Chalk Pit Small Heath | Pitstone Chalk Pit
Saturday 11th May
This afternoon I walked along the Thames from east of Barton Field in Abingdon through to Orchard Lake. The first species I came across was a Red-headed Cardinal beetle. This was followed by a couple of Banded Demoiselles. Orange-tips, Green-veined Whites, Brimstones and Holly Blues were quite numerous. Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps were singing; I saw one of each. A Hobby flew along the river towards Abingdon. Once off the path I started to see teneral Azure and Common Blue Damselflies. Along the track to the west of Orchard Lake I saw a Garden Warbler and more damselflies. I spotted a dark dragonfly fluttering around a bush, before it landed right in front of me. It turned out to be a pristine female Downy Emerald, which is always a hard species to find, let alone photograph. On Orchard Lake I saw a pair of Canada Geese with three goslings, and a pair of Mute Swans with seven cygnets. I also heard a Cetti's Warbler and a Willow Warbler.
Red-headed Cardinal, Abingdon, 11-May
Banded Demoiselle ♀, Abingdon, 11-May
Green-veined White ♂, Abingdon, 11-May
Red-headed Cardinal | Abingdon Banded Demoiselle ♀ | Abingdon Green-veined White ♂ | Abingdon
Orange-tip ♀, Abingdon, 11-May
Azure Damselfly ♂, Radley Lakes, 11-May
Downy Emerald ♀, Radley Lakes, 11-May
Orange-tip ♀ | Abingdon Azure Damselfly ♂ | Radley Lakes Downy Emerald ♀ | Radley Lakes
Friday 10th May
A lot of cloud today, but in sunny intervals I saw two Small Whites and a Small Tortoiseshell at the allotment, and a Small White and three Holly Blues in the garden.
Thursday 9th May
A poor day weatherwise, with frequent showers and a cold wind. I visited Farmoor in the late afternoon. There were many Swifts about (walking across the causeway with Swifts zipping past at head height is one of my highlights of the year), and also a good number of House Martins, which are later than usual this year. There were also some Sand Martins, but I only spotted one Swallow. The only other birds of note were two Common Terns, four Dunlin (looking very smart in their breeding plumage) and four Yellow Wagtails (one male and three females). A party of 32 Greylag Geese flew in as I was walking back to the car in the rain.
Yellow Wagtail ♀, Farmoor, 09-May
Dunlin, Farmoor, 09-May
Swift, Farmoor, 09-May
Yellow Wagtail ♀ | Farmoor Dunlin | Farmoor Swift | Farmoor
Wednesday 8th May
A female Small White made a brief appearance in the garden at midday today.
Tuesday 7th May
A better day today, with some hazy sunshine, although it was still quite chilly. I went over to Farmoor. A group of about 27 Black Terns were flying low over F2, but as usual they didn't come into camera range. There were sone Arctic and Common Terns as well. There were only a few Swifts and only one Swallow. A bit further on I came across two Sanderling on the causeway. Down at Pinkhill the usual warblers were singing, but it was still too cold for most insects (apart from a male Orange-tip). On the way back across the causeway I heard a Cuckoo, and then I spotted two Whimbrel, which were calling loudly. They flew a wide circuit of F1, then one landed on the wave wall not far from where I was standing. It didn't stay for long, though. Both birds departed to the north.
At home I saw two juvenile House Sparrows and two Holly Blues.
Sanderling, Farmoor, 07-May
Whimbrel, Farmoor, 07-May
Jackdaw, Farmoor, 07-May
Sanderling | Farmoor Whimbrel | Farmoor Jackdaw | Farmoor
Monday 6th May
There was a juvenile Wood Pigeon in the garden this morning.
Wood Pigeon (juvenile), Abingdon, 06-May
Wood Pigeon (juv)) | Abingdon    
Sunday 5th May
Pretty cold again this morning. As it was sunny I went down to the Elan valley after checking out of the hotel. I found a Treecreeper and a Siskin in the trees on the river bank. Up in the oak woodland I had a close encounter with a Wood Warbler, which was flying around a small clearing, and didn't seem bothered by me taking photos. I also spotted a couple of male Redstarts. The sun had disappeared behind cloud by 11am, so I headed for home.
Wood Warbler ♂, Elan Valley, 05-May
Wood Warbler ♂, Elan Valley, 05-May
Wood Warbler ♂, Elan Valley, 05-May
Wood Warbler ♂ | Elan Valley Wood Warbler ♂ | Elan Valley Wood Warbler ♂ | Elan Valley
Saturday 4th May
A pretty chilly morning, but at least it was sunny. I visited the Gilfach reserve north of Rhayader. I saw a pair of Ravens and heard a Cuckoo as I got out of the car. It took some time before a female Redstart showed up. I saw two Dippers near the waterfall. After half an hour in the hide without seeing anything I walked up the hill to the farm. On the way a Garden Warbler was singing in an oak tree. I found a solitary Wood Warbler in the Oak woodland. There was another Garden Warbler near the farm. I walked back on the south side of the river but didn't find much at all. When I got back to the car park an Orange-tip flew across the road. After lunch I walked along the path on the north (south-facing) side of the valley. Here I saw a pair of Stonechats. I was surprised to find a Green Hairstreak in a sheltered spot, followed by a Peacock, a Common Heath and several Green Tiger Beetles. I walked back to the car park along the road. I was looking at a plant in a sheltered hollow off the road when I saw another two Green Hairstreaks and a Small Copper. I then upset a Meadow Pipit by getting too close to its nest, and flushed a pair of Tree Pipits.
Dipper, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Willow Warbler, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Stonechat ♂, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Dipper | Gilfach Farm Willow Warbler | Gilfach Farm Stonechat ♂ | Gilfach Farm
Green Hairstreak, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Small Copper, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Green Tiger Beetle, Gilfach Farm, 04-May
Green Hairstreak | Gilfach Farm Small Copper | Gilfach Farm Green Tiger Beetle | Gilfach Farm
Next stop was the Red Kite feeding station at Gigrin Farm. There were small-bird feeders there, which had attracted some Siskins and a Lesser Redpoll. But the main action occurred when food was put out for the Red Kites. Suddenly there were dozens of them (I estimated that there were over 200), all wheeling around in a fairly tight space, and diving down to grab food. There was a leucistic individual among them. A brave Buzzard landed, and found itself ducking out of the way of diving Kites, before grabbing some food and fleeing the field. This is an experience not to be missed!
Siskin ♂, Gigrin Farm, 04-May
Lesser Redpoll ♀, Gigrin Farm, 04-May
Red Kite (leucistic), Gigrin Farm, 04-May
Siskin ♂ | Gigrin Farm Lesser Redpoll ♀ | Gigrin Farm Red Kite | Gigrin Farm
Friday 3rd May
Today I visited the Elan Valley in Powys. Conditions were not good to begin with, as it rained a bit and was quite cold. There was a bit of sunshine later in the morning. As I walked into the oak woodland I found two of my target species, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler, quite quickly. I then spotted target 3, a Siskin perched at the top of a dead Larch tree. My fourth target species was Redstart, which I also found. Otherwise there were Blackcaps and Willow Warblers singing, a couple of Song Thrushes, a Treecreeper, two Nuthatches, two Goldcrests and a Coal Tit. Overhead I saw a Raven, two of Red Kites and two Buzzards. On the way back to the visitor centre I spotted a female Goosander in the river. After lunch I drove along the shores of the reservoirs, which turned up a few more Pied Flycatchers and Redstarts.
Wood Warbler ♂, Elan Valley, 03-May
Pied Flycatcher ♂, Elan Valley, 03-May
Redstart ♂, Elan Valley, 03-May
Wood Warbler ♂ | Elan Valley Pied Flycatcher ♂ | Elan Valley Redstart ♂ | Elan Valley
Redstart ♀, Elan Valley, 03-May
Song Thrush, Elan Valley, 03-May
Goosander ♀, Elan Valley, 03-May
Redstart ♀ | Elan Valley Song Thrush | Elan Valley Goosander ♀ | Elan Valley
Thursday 2nd May
I visited Cors y Llyn NNR in Powys this afternoon. It was cloudy and not very warm. I was surprised to see some Sand Martins near the farm buildings. My target species here was Tree Pipit, and I saw one, but it didn't come into camera range. I also saw Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler.
Wednesday 1st May
A reasonable morning weather-wise. I headed to Farmoor again. The reservoirs were surprisingly devoid of anything of interest, other than a few Common Terns on F2. No hirundines or Swifts! When I got down to Pinkhill I started hearing warblers: Blackcap (4 seen), Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler (2 seen), Willow Warbler, Cetti's Warbler (1 seen), Reed Warbler, Whitethroat (1 seen), and a Grasshopper Warbler, which I spotted in the reeds at the back of Pinkhill. I found two Banded Demoiselles and three Large Red Damselflies. As I was going back over the causeway I saw two Dunlin, two White Wagtails and heard a Cuckoo.
Whitethroat ♂, Farmoor, 01-May
Banded Demoiselle ♂, Farmoor, 01-May
Dunlin, Farmoor, 01-May
Whitethroat ♂ | Farmoor Banded Demoiselle ♂ | Farmoor Dunlin | Farmoor